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Springtime for Hitler and Germany.
Winter for Poland and France.


"We got the wrong play. We got the wrong director. We got the wrong actors. Where did we go right?"

Max Bialystock, The Producers

A character's attempt to deliberately fail at some task (usually to fuel some other, hidden goal) backfires when the intended failure proves impossible; in other words, they failed to actually, well, fail. (Something like that.)

This is usually caused by Finagle's Law at work, where the attempt to fail is so spectacular that is Crosses the Line Twice, going from So Bad, It's Horrible to So Bad It's Good (or perhaps even Crazy Enough to Work).

In a variation, the person will fail at the initial task as planned, but somehow manage not to accomplish the hidden goal that the failure was supposed to yield. The person is now doubly cursed, as they now have to deal with the fallout from their planned failure without being able to enjoy the rewards of the goal they were actually striving for.

Essentially Fake Real Turn, with "fake" and "real" replaced with "failure" and "success" respectively. Common for people with Dismotivation. May be caused by a Plague of Good Fortune. If the initial failure would be getting in trouble with the authorities, see Can't Get in Trouble For Nuthin'. If the planner is perfectly content with the success of the first part of the scheme, it's a Xanatos Gambit.

Not to be confused with Gone Horribly Right, where a person aims to succeed rather than fail, and the success turns out to be a bad thing instead of a good thing. See also Reverse Psychology. When the sheer magnitude of fail is impressive in itself, that's Epic Fail.

Examples of Springtime for Hitler include:

In-story examples

Anime and Manga

  • Tanya from Saga of Tanya the Evil volunteered to train a group into an elite battalion in a month. For context, training a new recruit into a rank-and-file mage takes two years. Tanya's idea was to making the training so inhumane, that everyone would drop out. In the anime, no one even dropped out because they were scared of what Tanya would do to them if they did. Before that, Tanya tried to make a flyer for the unit he was supposed to make. The idea was to make it look impressive to the oblivious officers administrating the army, but horrendous to the soldiers that had the opportunity to enroll (by plagiarizing the Hazardous Journey ad). The soldiers were impressed. So much so that Tanya received large stacks of applications. In the anime and manga, there are multiple stacks, and if they were placed on top of each other would easily be several times taller than he is (admittedly he does have the body of a 10 year old girl, but that is still a lot of applications).
  • In Tytania a weak planet sends a starfleet against the almighty Tytania empire just not to surrender without a fight and do it on more or less profitable terms. They assign the worst officer they have as the admiral, but he somehow manages to win the battle. Hilarity Ensues. Well, it doesn't turn out to be fun eventually.
  • A variation of this can be found in Full Metal Panic!, where Sousuke purposefully is very curt and detached from people so they won't be friends. It always fails, and he constantly ends up with a bunch of unwanted Nakama that all really like him.
  • Irresponsible Captain Tylor usually manages to complete missions that were planned to fail by their admiral. What sometimes causes disasters for authority.
  • In one episode of Power Stone, a number of characters have been sent to work as slave labour in the mines to pay off their debts. Falcon and Gunrock come up with a plan to rescue them by losing everything and being sent as well. Cut to them holding massive piles of cash.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: The Sugar Mountain arc of "Steel Ball Run" is like this, with deadlier consequences than usual. Due to the effects of an enemy Stand, Gyro and Johnny must rid themselves of everything they obtained in a recent Honest Axe trade. The problem is that their attempts to rid themselves of everything often wind up with them getting more.
    • And that wasn't even the worst of it. After finally disposing of all their wealth, they then have to trade away a pair of mummified ears...the one item they were after in the first place.
  • In a K-On! episode, Tsumugi decides she wants to get hit on the head, but Ritsu doesn't want to do it without a reason, resulting in various attempts that fail miserably.
  • A grimly hilarious example occurs in the 4th Ninja World War arc of Naruto when Kabuto resurrects a number of famous and extremely powerful ninja. He then controls their bodies and forces them to fight their former allies. Some prove to be so tough that even when they outright explain what they're about to be forced to do, it doesn't help. The trope is indisputably played best with the 2nd Mizukage whose desperate attempts at getting defeated are all thwarted. He was not amused. The readers, however, were.
    • Then again, some of what he was yelling only made sense to readers after others in the manga figured it out, so at least the flaws weren't glaringly obvious and the army wasn't handed an Idiot Ball. Though the bits about his giant summoned clam and it's mirages were the most hilarious thing ever, as was his breakdown over how no one seemed to get what he was saying.

2nd Mizukage: I keep trying to tell you, attacking me now is useless! I'm nothing but a mirage!Attack the clam first! I told you, the clam's creating the mirage! Oh, COME ON! I've told you! I've told you already! That clam is a mirage too, you idiots! Aim for the real one, GODDAMMIT!!!

  • Played for (what else?) laughs in Ranma ½. Ryoga receives a magical drawing on his belly which gives him superhuman fighting abilities. But the drawing is so ridiculous that he wants to get rid of it, and the only way to do that is to lose a fight. Ranma, of course, agrees to help. Unfortunately, Ryoga's fighting abilities have become so superhuman that even when he's blindfolded, restrained, and weighed down, and later in his little black pig form, Ranma can't lay a finger on him.

Comic Books

  • Disney Comics:
    • A Donald Duck story pretty much retold The Producers: A group of shady film makers plan to make their Big Damn Movie fail spectacularly and run off with the investors' money, and employ Donald (who they believe is a huge idiot) to do just whatever needs to get done, then he gets more duties (like acting coach) and in the end, cameraman. When they film the final battle sequence (they are trying to shoot Laura of Arabia), he's supposed to film it from the perspective from above (from on top of a pyramid). He sleeps during the shooting and the scene can't be re-shot. Then he's supposed to cut the scene, but realizes it doesn't work without the perspective from above. Then one of the producers just arbitrarily re-cuts the scene while Donald is asleep. The scene then ends up getting praised by critics, making the movie a huge success.
    • A Mickey Mouse story had the main investor of a stage director who had produced nothing but flops thus far go this route by having the play insured. Unfortunately, the director's latest ridiculous project (an adaptation of Hamlet set in the world of soccer) seemed to be actually working leading the investor to dress up as the ghost of Shakespeare to try to sabotage the production.
    • In the short Carl Barks comic "The Colossalest Surprise Quiz Show", Uncle Scrooge takes part in the titular quiz show. The show gives big sums of prize money to the contestants and the questions are ridiculously easy. However, Scrooge learns that he's reached the upper limit of his income tax bracket. This means that he would actually suffer a huge loss if he landed any money from the show. He doesn't want to chicken out, so he goes to the studio, but answers every question: "I don't know." The result? He receives a special bonus prize of $120 000 for being the dumbest person in the history of television.
      • Did Not Do the Research: A higher tax bracket affects income within that bracket; taxes for any income prior to that level remain unchanged. There's no way someone as obsessed with money as Scrooge wouldn't know this.
    • A William Van Horn story had Donald taking a high tech aptitude test after being fired for the Nth time and being told that he's best suited for doing the lowest possible jobs. Whenenver he gets one of these jobs, an disaster occurs which he then solves prompting his superiors to promote him... and is forced to resign, to stay as low as possible. The story ends with his nephews congratulating him on being promoted several times despite the test stating that he would always remain in the bottom of the ladder... with Donald (looking like he's about to burst into tears) saying "Yes... but I couldn't even succeed in THAT!"
  • The Bumpkin Billionaires was a long-running UK comic strip clearly inspired by The Beverly Hillbillies, and entirely based around this trope. The title family won a huge sum of money, and quickly discovered that they hated being rich... and so each strip would detail a new scheme of theirs designed to lose as much money as possible, much to the despair of their bank manager. Of course, their schemes were destined to fail, often resulting in the family ending up even richer.
  • The first arc of Ex Machina concerns an extremely offensive piece of art. It turns out the artist was so sick of the art world that she sought to make something that no one could possibly praise. She fails, it appears in the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and she vandalizes it in disguise so it can be taken down without her publicly giving in to pressure to remove it.
  • An issue of the Silver Age "World's Finest" has Batman suddenly receiving a bag filled with a million dollars, and desperately trying to spend it all on worthless investments to help someone stuck in a ripoff of Brewster's Millions. Unfortunately, Robin and Superman (who aren't privy to the deal) think Bruce is in financial trouble, and sabotage every scheme. (For example, when Batman buys an empty gold mine, Superman throws down a meteor filled with silver, leaving Batman with even more money.)
  • A hilarious example occurs in the Gotham Adventures Harley and Ivy arc. Gal pals Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy hear about an upcoming stupid action movie themed around... well, them. Naturally pissed off, they head to Hollywood to stop it, but Ivy sees how much money the flick is budgeted for and decides to take over. The two don't plan to release it—Poison Ivy's just in it for the money and Harley likes seeing the Batman actor blow up "over and over and over again"—but after they're sent back to Arkham, the film's backers release it anyway. It quickly becomes a smash hit.
  • This has happened in Archie Comics a few times:
    • One Josie and the Pussy Cats story had their sponsor Mr. Cabot lamenting the Pussycats' success, having sponsored them because he thought they'd lose money and he'd get a big tax loss. He tries to sabotage both the Pussycats themselves and the seniors' club he owns by having the Pussycats play there, expecting them both to lose money and give him a big tax loss. Unfortunately, the Pussycats are a hit, and Mr. Cabot's club gets a six-month waiting list for people to join, earning Mr. Cabot another huge fortune.
    • In another story, Jughead tried to prove that people would believe anything. To prove it, he makes up a pamphlet with bogus stock tips and puts it with Mr. Lodge's morning mail, expecting Mr. Lodge to follow the tips, lose a fortune and prove his point. The first tips earn Mr. Lodge $60,000 and get him out of another company right before it crashes, which Jughead dismisses as a fluke. Following through on the rest of the tips earns Mr. Lodge a grand total of over $2 million.

Fan Works

  • In XSGCOM, while negotiating with the goa'uld System Lords, Weir wants to avoid going to war with Ba'al, so she tries to make a request that they will refuse by demanding that the goa'uld cede them every star system within two and hundred and fifty light-years of Earth. They go for it, and Earth inadvertently becomes an interstellar empire.
  • In the second Love Hina arc of Sleeping with the Girls, the main character walks several of the local girls through how in worlds that run on the Rule of Funny, such as theirs (a romantic comedy universe), plans will almost always fail because it's funnier that way, even if you are planning to fail. If you are planning to fail, you will almost inevitably succeed.

Films — Animation

  • Miles from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse didn't like going to the school he was in, so he tried to get expelled by doing poorly academically. He got a 0 on a true or false test. He also actually answered all the questions. The teacher said that the only way someone would get a 0 is to know the answers and choose to answer them all wrong on purpose, and then she gave him a 100% and said she won't give up on him.

Films — Live-Action

  • Named for the archetypal example, which is a play that is guaranteed to close in one night, from Mel Brooks' movie-turned-musical-turned-movie The Producers.
    • The plot of The Producers revolves around overselling percentage shares of the play (25,000% of the production, in fact) and under-reporting the cost, then writing the play off as a total loss after it closes in one night (because flops are not investigated by the IRS) and not having any profits to distribute amongst the oversold investors. This could make the main characters incredibly rich, provided that the play is a complete and total failure; if it succeeds at all, they'll likely go to prison for investment fraud. Basically, they're trying to pull the theatrical version of a Ponzi scheme.
    • To ensure that the play fails, the plotters seek out the worst possible script, the worst possible director, and the worst possible lead actor. They find (respectively): a laudatory biography of Adolf Hitler written by a not-so-ex-Nazi, a flamboyant director who turns the affair into an over-the-top musical, and a hippie named "Lorenzo St Dubois" (who accidentally wandered in during casting call) to play Hitler. Any one of those alone would have made for a simply bad play, but together they make the finished play so damn ridiculous that once Hitler starts singing, the crowd stops leaving in disgust, and starts laughing their asses off. This is done brilliantly: the hypothetical unspoiled viewer would have the exact reaction to the musical, the same progression from "this is horrifying" to "this is hilarious" that the unfortunate audience does.
    • In the Broadway adaptation, the lead role is initially given to the ex-Nazi writer, but when he breaks his leg, it goes to the Camp Gay director—with exactly the same results.
    • The trope namer is so well-known that the term "Springtime for Hitler" is occasionally used to explain Ponzi schemes to others, especially in the wake of the Bernie Madoff scandal.
  • The Producers was not the first movie to use this trope. It was used in a 1964 movie starring Maurice Chevalier, Akim Tamiroff and Mike Connors (later of "Mannix"), filmed in Italy as Operation Fiasco but released in the USA (where Mel Brooks probably saw it) as Panic Button. This film is a comedy about a crooked producer who deliberately makes an inept movie so that he can get a tax write-off when the movie flops; he is stymied when the movie is an unexpected hit. That this movie suffered Weird Al Effect is probably because it didn't feature a singing, dancing Adolf Hitler.
  • A long-forgotten B mystery movie, The Falcon in Hollywood. A murder occurs on a movie set and in the end the killer turns out to be the film's producer who had oversold investment shares and underreported the cost, and was deliberately trying to make it a flop by doing things like hiring a director who had never directed the film's genre before, casting a motley assortment of has-beens and unknowns, etc. The producer turned to sabotage and murder when the film being made was turning out to be surprisingly good.
  • The Mouse That Roared (see in Literature, below).
  • Brewster's Millions predates both of those. It was first adapted into film in 1914, then remade in 1921, 1935, 1945, and then one last time in 1985. The film is an adaptation of a novel written in 1902 by George Barr McCutcheon. It was adapted for the stage in 1906. The amount Brewster will inherit varies between versions, as does the the amount he must spend and the length of time he has to spend it. In each version, two things remain the same—the conditions of the will (that Brewster must waste his entire inheritance, with no assets left over, in order to receive an even larger one) and that Brewster's feverish attempts to lose his money will inevitably backfire and leave him with more than he started with.
    • In the Richard Pryor version of Brewster's Millions, Pryor's character tries to blow his full allowed gambling allotment on a series of absurd longshots. Not only does every one hit, leaving him several hundred thousand in the black, but the word has been put out on him, leaving him unable to place another big bet in Chicago.
  • In the first Major League film, the new Indians owner wants desperately to move the team to Miami, but due to the terms of the lease the team has with the city of Cleveland, she will only be allowed to move them if attendance drops below a certain figure. To this end, she assembles the sorriest bunch of losers she can find, but her plans are thwarted when the team starts winning.
    • Note the team started to win only to piss her off once they found out her plan.
    • A deleted scene subverts this entire element of the movie: it was originally scripted that the owner actually didn't want to dump the players and leave Cleveland - she actually believed that they had the potential they ended up showing. She was deliberately playing the part of a villain in order to give the team an "enemy" to unite against. Test audiences didn't care for the Mood Whiplash of discovering this fact about a character they loved to hate, and the scene was removed (all the scenes of her angry reactions to the end of the film were shot months later, after they thought filming had wrapped).
    • The bizarre thing about this plan is how much unnecessary effort she puts into fielding a terrible team. She brings in players that, while clearly with faults, have enormous upside: a flamethrowing ex-con, a Cuban with monster power, and an ex-All-Star catcher with clear "fan favorite" potential. Where she found these guys is anyone's guess, but the effort seems misguided when every major league franchise has at least FIVE different teams full of minor leaguers. Tanking would have been as simple as trading the current Indians players and just promoting bad minor leaguers.
  • In 1984, the Democratic party felt they can't win so they nominated a woman as vice president to gain female voters for next time. Inspired by it, the film Head of State has the hopeless party's leader select a minor black politician (Chris Rock) as their candidate, to win points with minorities and set himself up for a win in four years. Chris Rock nominates his older brother as vice president and obviously they win, subverting the Mighty Whiteys' best attempt to sabotage their campaign. And of course, Hilarious in Hindsight today.
  • In Man of the Year, Robin Williams played a Jon Stewart spoof who protests the corruption in politics by running for president himself as a joke. He wins due to a bug in the voting machines' programs that awards the most votes based on some obscure formula involving double letters.
  • This is the basic plot of the Spike Lee film Bamboozled, which stars Damon Wayans as a writer for a television network seeking to get out of his contract. He wants to create an intelligent television program about African-Americans, but the network won't go for his ideas. So to get himself fired he creates a show using the most offensive African-American stereotypes possible... and it becomes a runaway hit.
  • In the boffo 80s flick Ruthless People, Danny DeVito's wife is kidnapped the day he was planning to kill her. He refuses to pay her ransom, hoping that the kidnappers will kill her and do his dirty work for him.
    • Which is a version of The Ransom of Red Chief by O Henry.
  • The Hudsucker Proxy wherein the board of Hudsucker Industries, hoping to temporarily depress the company's stock price so that they may purchase a controlling interest before the deceased president's shares are available to be purchased by the public, intentionally chooses the apparently incompetent Norville Baines as the new president. However Norville's new invention proves so popular that the stock price reaches record heights.
  • Another Coen Brothers movie, The Big Lebowski, features a plot thread wherein the young trophy wife (in the parlance of our times) was kidnapped and a ransom demanded of the title character, the other Lebowski, the millionaire. Instead of having the ransom money dropped off, the Big Lebowski instead is strongly implied to have sent a briefcase containing old phone books, hoping that the kidnappers would kill his wife. He also sends a bum, a deadbeat, to make the drop-off, knowing full well he'd screw it up. While the drop-off is, indeed, screwed up, nobody gets killed by the kidnappers because they never had Lebowski's wife to begin with; that poor wo--that poor slut kidnapped herself.
    • Not even that. Her friends were in need of money and staged the kidnapping when she left to visit some friends.
  • The Jidai Geki film Harakiri is probably the cruelest, most gruesome example of this trope. Motome, a desperate young ronin who needs money to provide for his family, approaches the local daimyo and ask his permission to commit Seppuku there so that he may have the honor of being buried on his land. He expects that the daimyo will refuse his request and instead give him a few coins to go away. Unfortunately, the daimyo calls his bluff and forces him to go through with the act. To make matters even worse, Motome is so destitute that he has already sold the metal blades of his swords, so he has to disembowel himself with a blade made of bamboo.
  • Al Pacino's character in S1m0ne tries to do this when the eponymous Simone (a movie actress who is, unknown to any but him, completely computer-generated) becomes too popular. His attempts include having her "direct" a movie that features her eating pig slop and going on a TV interview and saying she likes to eat dolphin meat. She remains popular despite this, so he erases the software and drops it in the ocean, only to be arrested for her presumed murder.
  • This is the basic plot of Rambo: First Blood Part II. Rambo's superiors send him to Vietnam in order to search for US prisoners of war, in the expectation that he will find nothing, and in doing so free the United States from having to pay reparations to the Vietnamese government. As it turns out, Rambo finds the prisoners after all, and despite attempts by his superiors to abandon him in Vietnam, he successfully brings them back home.
  • Cold Turkey: Norman Lear's satirical film involves a tobacco company that, as a PR stunt, offers $25 million to any town in America whose entire population can give up their product for thirty days, reasoning that no town will be able to take them up on the offer... except, of course, one does.
  • Lobster Man from Mars. A Hollywood film producer screens a science fiction B-Movie in order to get out of paying millions in back taxes, only to go to prison when it's a great success.
  • The protagonist of What a Way to Go hates money and wants to live a simple life with a man she loves. So she marries a poor man she loves very much. Through incredible luck, he suddenly becomes rich, then due to incredible bad luck, he dies, leaving her a rich widow. Then, with another man, it happens again. Then again. Eight times altogether.
  • In the 1972 film The Candidate, Peter Boyle is a campaign consultant hired by the Democrats to find a challenger for a senate seat occupied by a very popular Republican incumbent. They figure they'll never win, but it would look too bad to let the incumbent run unchallenged. Boyle approaches Bill McKay (Robert Redford), an idealistic liberal activist and lawyer (and the estranged son of a popular former governor), for the role—he's going to lose anyway, Boyle says, so he can use the spotlight to gain attention for his causes. McKay agrees—and they both get so caught up in the election game that they end up winning. The film ends with a horrified Redford turning to Boyle on election night, just as the cheering crowds surround them, and asking, "...what do we do NOW?"
  • In the film Stuck on You, Cher's character wants to get out of a detective show she's starring in. Hoping to get the show canceled quickly, she insists on hiring a co-star (Greg Kinnear) who has been unable to find work as an actor in Hollywood due to being attached to his conjoined twin (Matt Damon). Her plan blows up when the show becomes even more popular, and her co-star ends up becoming the show's Breakout Character.
  • The entire plot of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days revolves around this idea: a girl is writing an article that requires her to act like a horrible date/girlfriend and get dumped, but is unlucky enough to choose as her "victim" a guy who just made a bet that he could make any woman fall in love with him. Thus he refuses to end their relationship no matter what she throws at him.
  • Office Space has Peter Gibbons' interview with the Bobs, in which he tries to portray himself as a slacker who doesn't care about his job, so that the Bobs would get him laid off. But his interview was so over-the-top that the Bobs instead saw him as "a straight shooter with upper management written all over him" and fast-tracked him for a promotion, which was the opposite of what Peter wanted.
    • He wasn't actively trying to get fired; he just didn't care one way or the other. He was still on his "happy high" from therapy, and nothing could bother him (especially given he just got Jennifer Aniston's number), so he just told the Bob's whatever he wanted to.
  • In the 1942 Edward G. Robinson film Larceny Inc., three criminals open up a luggage shop next door to a bank so they can drill a hole through a wall in the basement into the bank's vault. But, the luggage shop actually starts turning a big profit and becomes successful, and later, the bank offers them thousands of dollars for the use of their basement so they can expand the vault, making the criminals wonder if it'd be better to just go straight.
  • In the Russian comedy "Elections Day" the crew of musical radio is sent to rise the campaign for some lame candidate to the Samara Oblast governor elections. The candidate was meant to distract some voices from the rival party, but the radio crew prevailed and won the elections. It turned that they have mistaken Samara for Saratov, and they have to start the campaign again.


  • One of the earliest examples of this trope occurs in the Leonard Wibberley novel (later adapted into a Peter Sellers movie) The Mouse That Roared. Set in the years immediately following World War Two, it's about a minuscule European nation, the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, that declares war on the US, planning to surrender and accept a bounty of post-war aid. Instead, the dozen-man invasion force (armed with swords and longbows) accidentally wins the war by capturing a newly-made superweapon and its creator while strolling through a Manhattan evacuated for a nuclear drill.
    • In one of the sequels, The Mouse on Wall Street, Fenwick has become wealthy due to part of the settlement of the aforementioned war. However, the Duchess feels that this newfound wealth is corrupting Fenwick's idyllic lifestyle, so she sets out to lose it all on the stock market by picking stocks at random (by throwing darts at the financial section of the paper). However, when other Wall Street traders notice Fenwick is investing heavily in a particular stock, the traders conclude the Duchess must have inside information and immediately invest themselves, driving the price of that stock higher and earning Fenwick even more money. In the end, she sells off all the stocks for cash, has the cash shipped back to Fenwick, and secretly burns it.
    • The Mouse fill-in-the-scenario book/film series ran on this trope. In The Mouse on the Moon. the prime Minister of Grand Fenwick, desperate for indoor plumbing, tries to milk aid out of the US after their main export of wine has turned explosive by asking for cash for a space program. The US, seeing a cheap way to look like they are helping to make space international without doing something as stupid as actually helping another nation get an advantage over them in the space race by funding someone competent gives them a million dollars. Keen to top this, the Soviets send them an old rocket, which the PM plans to turn into a boiler for the new hot water system. The scientist from The Mouse That Roared discovers how to make an anti-gravity mix out of the explosive wine and without telling the PM that he is what he's doing, takes off successfully with the PM's son as co-pilot and beats the US and Soviets to the moon!
  • In Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead a client hires Howard Roark to design a really far-out type of motel, something really wild and different. The client had actually oversold shares in the motel, and because Roark had a reputation for having his projects become unsuccessful, hired him with the intent of having the motel fail and thus be able to keep the money. However, Roark's design for setting up the motel as a camp, with individual cottages becomes a tremendous success.
  • Here's an exchange from the New Jedi Order, when Wedge's forces were trying to make the Vong get a few victories they didn't deserve so that they could then be taken advantage of.

Wedge: Tycho, we're about to achieve a tremendous victory we don't want.
Tycho: We'll put that in your biography. General Antilles was so good he couldn't fail when he tried to.

  • The O. Henry story The Cop and the Anthem focuses on a hobo who intentionally tries to get arrested so as to go to jail during the winter by committing various petty crimes, all of which he fails to get arrested for. Somewhat subverted in that in the end he decides to clean up his life, then immediately gets arrested for loitering outside a church.
  • In Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Parliament, by Paul Gallico, the heroine of Mrs. 'Arris Goes To Paris decides to run for Parliament on the platform of "Live and let live". The Labour Party nominates her as part of a back-room deal, on the assumption that her candidacy is a joke and couldn't possibly succeed. Of course, she wins.
  • The first book of the Jesse Stone series by Robert B. Parker has the alderman of Paradise, MA, attempting the same gambit by hiring the self-destructively alcoholic Jesse Stone to be the new police chief, believing he will be easy to control. Unfortunately for them, he sees the new job as his last chance before his life gets completely ruined (as well as being self-aware enough to be suspicious that they hired him after he was drunk for the interview), and takes the opportunity to bring down their entire right-wing militia and swing the rest of the police force to his side.
  • In the Gordon Korman book Radio Fifth Grade, the school bully begins reading stories on the school's student-run radio show as part of an English project—horrific stories about pet kittens violently fighting each other. The student running the show is too intimidated to say they're terrible. When he finally gets the courage to say so, the bully admits he was intentionally writing bad stories and wanted someone to say so, so he could stop writing them.
  • The PG Wodehouse story Peril at the Tee involves two crappy golfers playing a round with each other. As the consequences of winning would be to neither's liking, both of them attempt to throw the game. However, the methods they employ actually improve their technique. As an example, one of them is wearing a tight-fitting jacket, figuring it will restrict his swing into total ineffectiveness. Instead, it ends up correcting his chronic overswing.
  • In a book [Insert Mystery Novel Title Here], a young man talks about his father's bankruptcy; it was caused by striking oil. He had been financially well-off as a failed oil prospector, getting investors and earning two or three thousand dollars a week. As soon as he struck oil, he finally had to start paying his investors back and went bankrupt.
  • Emil Of Lonneberga frequently gets sent to the tool shed as punishment for pranks. His little sister Ida eventually gets jealous, and decides that she wants to go to the tool shed, too. However, most of her attempted pranks backfire into nice actions, and when she eventually manages to commit one, it (of course) gets blamed on her older brother.
  • In Don DeLillo's Libra, the Kennedy assassination is portrayed as a plot set in motion by an ex-CIA agent who intended it to fail so that the United States would be steered into a war with Cuba. Due to postmodernist confusion, somewhere along the line the "failing" part fell out of the equation, but the facts are so fractured and disjointed that no-one will ever know for certain how that happened.
  • Happens in How NOT to be Popular by Jennifer Ziegler. Maggie attempts to make everyone hate her (or at least think she's weird) so that she won't form any attachments in her 10th high school. However, everything she does makes people like her more. For example, she decides to dress in ugly clothes from her parents' thrift shop, but ends up starting a new trend. Her parents come to school with her one day and her mother talks about how to keep your vagina tight, but all her female friends think she's cool for being so open minded. A guy even asks her on a date, and she starts political arguments with him over dinner, only for him to think it's interesting. She ends up being more of a Blithe Spirit to the school and a Manic Pixie Dream Girl to the guy.
  • Subverted in Ender's Game: Ender thinks that the teachers are setting him up to fail when they give him the Dragon army; It is later revealed that the army was hand picked to help him succeed.
    • And again in his final test. Tired of being built into a hero and having the fate of all humanity on his shoulders, Ender opts to win the battle by crossing the Moral Event Horizon, believing his superiors will never let him take command on a real battlefield after he does. Turns out, the "test" was actually a real battle being fought by humanity without Ender's knowledge, and he just unknowingly won the war for the humans, committing genocide against the buggers in the process.
  • Percival Everret's novel Erasure has this after an avant-garde black novelist sells out. Infuriated by the roaring success of shitty ghetto fiction that turns black people into caricatures, he writes "My Pafology," the true story of Van Go Jenkins, a youth in the ghetto. He intended it to be a blatant parody, the book itself is incredibly awful, reproduced in its entirety and written completely in ebonics. And then it hits the best seller list and people start wanting to meet the (completely fictional) author who wrote such a "raw and stunning work." Oops.
  • In one of the later Legion Of The Damned books by William C. Dietz, the insectoid Ramanthians have invaded a world in the Clone Hegemony. The entire thing is meant as a distraction, to draw forces away from the true objective, Earth. However, to the surprise of everyone, the clone general in charge of the planet proves to be hopelessly incompetant, leading to the Ramanthians not only surviving, but holding the world against enemy attack. At one point, the Ramanthians even say that the clone general is "The best General we have."

Live-Action TV

  • In the Seinfeld episode "The Millennium", George attempts to get fired from the Yankees to get out of contractual obligations when a more lucrative position with the Mets appears to be forthcoming. However, no matter what he does, he, of course, cannot get fired; some of his trespasses include dressing in Babe Ruth's uniform and spilling food all over it, and running on the field during a game wearing a nylon bodysuit. All of these end up getting him PRAISE from the head of the organization or being massively popular with the fans ("HEY! BODYSUIT GUY!"). When he finally commits an offense bad enough to get fired for (driving around the parking lot while hurling insults at the club and George Steinbrenner, all while dragging the World Series trophy from his bumper), his superior steps in and takes the blame. However, the superior in question gets the job George wanted.
  • Taking the self-referentiality another level up, in season 4 of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Mel Brooks casts Larry David in the lead of The Producers, believing that he will make the show a flop and therefore never have to deal with revivals of it again. Of course, it's a success. Brooks and his wife Anne Bancroft imitate the scene in The Producers in which the two heroes commiserate at the theater bar.
  • Happens in an episode of Touched By an Angel where a professional basketball player accepts a large sum of money to throw a big game. He takes a bunch of ridiculous shots trying to miss on purpose, but thanks to the heavenly intervention, he makes every bucket.
  • In the first series of Blackadder, Blackadder resorts to an increasingly desperate set of measures to get out of an arranged marriage including dressing up as a stereotypical Camp Gay of the period. The plan backfires when his betrothed believes he has dressed up as a Spanish nobleman to impress her.
  • The premise of VH-1's Free Radio is that a radio station's shock jock leaves for satellite radio. The station gives an idiotic intern his own show, to keep 'em afloat. His show becomes more popular than the original shock jock's.
  • The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin
    • When Reggie Perrin decides to tank his hyper-successful Grot stores, he hires the three most incompetent people he knows, along with a random manual laborer, and puts them in jobs completely outside of their experience. All four of them reveal unsuspected talents for their positions, and Grot's profits soar even more.
    • Most things about Grot embody this trope. The company was founded as a resounding fuck you to the business world and was intended to be an embarrassment that died quickly. It became a multinational.
  • One Neighbours storyline saw Lou Carpenter setting up a restaurant named Little Tommy Tucker's which he intended to make a loss so he could declare it a tax write off. He had the staff dress up in embarassing Victorian street urchin style costumes and required the patrons to "sing for their supper" by doing a turn up on a stage. Inevitably, the whole thing was so kitsch that the restaurant became a success.
  • Malcolm in the Middle
    • An episode features Francis playing Commandant Spangler at pool. If Francis wins, the other cadets will beat him to a pulp because they fear if Spangler loses, he will pettily take it out on the entire school. However, Spangler threatens to punish Francis personally if he doesn't play at his best. Eventually, Francis makes the decision to half-ass his game, but Spangler catches on and tries to make Francis win by intentionally playing badly. Francis returns the favor. It escalates until no-one cares about the score; everyone is just too impressed by the amazing trick shots both players are making to lose the game.
    • Another episode had two members of Dewey's special needs class running against each other in a school election. Realizing that the campaign was costing their friendship, one of the kids tried to throw the election by deliberately triggering his Tourette's syndrome during a big speech. Naturally, dropping a Cluster F-Bomb in front of the whole school makes him so popular that he wins anyway.
  • Inverted in an episode of All in The Family, where Archie is determined to do everything he can to avoid being forced into retirement (including dyeing his hair jet-black). Oddly enough, it works...but turns out at the end that if he had taken the retirement deal he would've gotten a severance package worth more than his salary.
  • Frasier
    • One episode has Niles being forced to act like an ass in front of his wife's friends so that she will have an excuse to break off the marriage while maintaining her social image (It Makes Sense in Context). One attempt has him rudely criticise a man's drinking problem. Instead of being insulted or offended, he has an epiphany and realises that he needs to stop drinking. Everyone ends up thanking Niles and praising him as a good person.
    • In another episode, the brothers Crane desperately try to sabotage the performance of a truly abysmal actor, to save him (and themselves) from humiliation. The show goes on anyway.
  • Dexter, "Si Se Puede". Now that Dexter has Miguel Prado very interested in his... extracurricular activities, he suggests a target that would be impossible to get to through his means—an Aryan Brotherhood leader in a maximum security prison, giving out kill orders to his gang on the outside—in the hopes that Prado will leave him alone. Instead, Miguel goes for the plan whole-hog, arranging for the victim to get transferred into county for testimony so Dexter can spring him and kill him.
  • In the third series of The IT Crowd, Jen is elected Employee of the Month, and has to make a speech. The geeks plot to make her the laughingstock of the office by feeding her a bunch of complete nonsense about IT to use in the speech—like, for instance, the "fact" that the entire Internet resides in a small black box. Unfortunately, it turns out that nobody else attending the speech is even remotely computer-literate either. Though it does end up causing an embarrassment when the "Internet" is destroyed through a fight spilling over from next door...
  • Being Human (UK): Annie is trying to play matchmaker between Hugh and his ex Kirsty, so she gets George to date Kirsty and be the world's worst boyfriend. Unfortunately, Kirsty likes everything they think will drive her away, from German Expressionist films to kebabs, and she even likes George's terrible poetry.
  • House: After Chase claims that women aren't shallow enough to be attracted to him solely based on his looks, House bets him $100 that no matter how undesirable Chase acts during a Speed Dating event, he'll still get no less than 12 out of 20 women who want to go out with him again. After one night of trying as hard as possible to turn women off, the Mr. Fanservice is $100 poorer.

Chase: I play videogames.
Speed Date: (genuinely impressed) Wow! Professionally?
Chase: (snort) I wish, bro.

  • Boston Legal: Denny gets arrested for possessing a concealed handgun and tries to get found guilty so the Supreme Court can overturn the conviction and destroy Massachusetts handgun laws. Despite the most ridiculous closing argument by his own lawyer, he's found not guilty.
  • A common version of this trope appears in sitcoms where a main character, usually male, wishes to rid himself of an unwanted girlfriend but is unable or unwilling to break up with her directly. They go out on a date and the main character belches, farts, eats sloppily, and does all sorts of disgusting things in hopes that the girlfriend will break up with him. Instead, she is flattered that he is so comfortable with her and might even behave similarly.
    • In an episode of Drake and Josh, Drake wants to break up with his girlfriend Ashley because of her annoying laugh. However, he can't because Ashley's mom is his English teacher. So he takes her on a textbook "Springtime for Hitler" date.
    • Zack of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody tries to use this trope and gets a similar level of success.
    • In an episode of Big Time Rush Gustavo pays a girl to date Carlos and then get him to break up with her. Unfortunately, when she tries to break up with him he's okay with her spending all his money and being demanding and emotional. The kicker is when they date for real he breaks up with her because she doesn't like corn dogs.
    • An episode of Seinfeld averts this trope completely. Jerry laments that his girlfriend stopped speaking to him because she assumed he was picking his nose after spotting him scratching it. George, who is dating a very much unwanted girlfriend yet is uncomfortable about dumping her, is inspired to deliberately pick his nose while she can see him doing it. It works.

George: I was in there right up to my wrist!

  • The Office has an episode where Jim tries to sabotage Dwight's speech by giving him a bunch of quotes from Mussolini, Hitler, etc., but in the end, Dwight's speech is a huge success.
    • What a lot of people forget is that Hitler was actually an incredibly charismatic guy; this just gets overshadowed by the fact that he has become a byword for pure evil, and no-one really wants to say anything nice about him for fear of looking like they support him. By all other metrics he was an utter moron, but boy, could that guy talk.
    • There's also the fact that most of them probably didn't know enough to tell that the speech was derived from such sources.
      • You would have expected Dwight of all people to know, however. But the stress of having to give the speech and unlearn all the awful comedic speech advice given by Michael simply overwhelmed his good sense.
  • News Radio
    • In the episode "Pure Evil", Dave has been demoted to being Bill's producer while Lisa has taken his job as news director. In an attempt to be fired from his job and hopefully restored to his previous one, he lets Bill do a fake interview with President Bill Clinton. Unfortunately, Dave is not fired, as Bill's routines garner the station its best ratings ever.
    • Taken up a notch in the "Who's The Boss?" two-parter. By the end of Part 1, Lisa doesn't want to be station manager again due to the pressure and craziness of the office. She's willing to let Dave takeover again, but he doesn't want the job by this point. (He reasons that since his demotion, he's happier and actually enjoys coming to work.) The trope kicks into gear in Part 2, where Jimmy decides to hold an election for station manager. Both candidates actively try to fail (openly expressing their desire to lose, giving ridiculous answers to questions, etc.). Ultimately, Lisa wins the election, but Jimmy declares Dave "the new boss"... for reasons nobody finds entirely clear. Though he failed at failing, the trope is subverted when Dave accepts what happened and even likes it.
  • A serious example from I, Claudius, a favor-seeking senator informs an ailing Caligula that he'll gladly offer the gods his own life in exchange for that of the Emperor, if only the gods would take it. Caligula soon recovers from his illness and of course, being Caligula, insists that the senator commit suicide since "obviously" the gods have taken the man up on his offer, in exchange for restoring Caligula's health.
  • Not exactly intending to fail, but certainly not intending to win. In the Australian Dramedy House Rules, a suburban housewife puts herself as a protest candidate for a by-election caused by the death of the local member of parliament. However, when the candidate for the party for whom the electorate is a safe seat fails to lodge his application in time, she finds herself standing essentially unopposed and is elected to state parliament.
  • One episode of The Games had Gina attempting to make a strike situation worse in order to teach the Minister a lesson. It backfired, and she ended up saving millions of dollars in wage demands and single-handedly bringing financial stability to the Games. Everyone was shocked.
  • In Hellcats a law professor is trying to teach his students the meaning of failure by assigning to research the fake case Koramatsu vs Tennessee but he didn't count on two of his students finding a guy named Koramatsu and convincing him to sue the state.
  • In one episode of Covert Affairs, Annie is trying to make herself look like someone Trapped by Gambling Debts so her mark will have a reason to believe she needs a way out, and incriminate herself in providing one. She bets her last chips on an event with extremely low probability... and it comes up, winning her thirty thousand dollars.
  • In the episode "Double Agent" of Get Smart, Maxwell Smart needs to lose a lot of money gambling so that KAOS will think he has gambling debts and is willing to defect. Naturally, he ends up winning. He even discards a poker hand of four kings, only to be dealt four aces.

Newspaper Comics

  • In the comic strip Dilbert, this is Wally's problem—he wants to quit the company, but by getting fired, because that way he can get a generous severance package; thus he acts as incompetently as possible. The problem is that the company is manned by the original Pointy-Haired Boss, so everything Wally does either gets his approval or is ignored completely. Oddly, this is based on someone Dilbert creator Scott Adams worked with, and he said, "This wouldn't have been much fun to watch, but he was one of the most brilliant people I've met, and completely committed to his goal." In a later Dilbert treasury What Would Wally Do?, Adams briefly mentions in his intro that yes, said co-worker did ultimately succeed.
    • Also, the following exchange:

Dilbert: The company pays me ten dollars for every bug I fix in my code, Ratbert. I want you to do your little rat dance on my keyboard so I'll have lots of bugs to fix.
Ratbert: [dancing around] How am I doing?
Dilbert: Not so good. You just authored a web browser.

  • One Blondie comic strip featured a wealthy person coming to the company playing a game of golf with Dagwood and Mr. Dithers. Mr. Dithers tells Dagwood to do poorly in the game so the new person will look good. Dagwood accidentally plays a great game.
  • An arc of Tank McNamara had sports fanatic Sweatsox coaching a Little League team, and learning that to advance to the playoffs, his team had to lose the current game. So, tied in the bottom of the ninth, he sent the most out-of-shape boy to bat. Sweatsox, with a smirk, thought, "I've forfeited." The boy, however, managed to get his first hit of the year, winning the game, and was carried off on the shoulders of his cheering team; Sweatsox was furious—and his wife said sarcastically, "That's the trouble with kids these days. They got no sense of values." (Sweatsox did at least have the grace to look ashamed of himself when she said that.)

Professional Wrestling

  • There is a WMG that the WWE's writers and John Cena are attempting to have him pull a Face Heel Turn by making his opponents (except The Nexus) look good, but the female and younger male members of the WWE Universe are eating this up and cheering for Cena even more.
  • This happens a lot in pro wrestling now. With the death of Kayfabe, fans' love of a Draco in Leather Pants and the IWC's refusal to boo who they believe is the better wrestler, heel heat always eventually turns to pop. Currently, nothing CM Punk can do, be it his holier-than-thou attitude or attempt to flee the company with the WWE Championship, will keep half the crowd from cheering for him. The current feud between Randy Orton and Christian is between two guys who will always get huge pop no matter how heelish they act (Christian being the nominal heel here). And on the Divas side, Beth Phoenix and Natalya have turned heel and supposedly formed an alliance to stop the WWE from being taken over by "the Barbie doll Divas." They're still getting more pop than current Divas Champion Kelly Kelly.
    • What makes the last scenario all the more absurd is that Beth was friends with Kelly literally one day before Kelly won the championship. Her abrupt heel turn only came about because Kelly's scheduled feuding partner, Kharma, had to take a year off from wrestling after becoming pregnant.
    • And as for CM Punk - he was in his hometown of Chicago on the night he won the world title. And he is also currently feuding with Triple H, who is actually loathed by WWE fans outside of Kayfabe.
  • After Ric Flair assumed leadership of the WWF Vince McMahon had an episode long Villainous Breakdown, where he finally reveals that he intends to pull this trope and kill the business. He plans to inject a lethal dose of poison and do what killed WCW: bring in the NWO.

Tabletop Games

  • Checkers has a rule that you must capture an opponent's piece if you're able to. As such, it can be played with a variant rule where the goal is to lose all your pieces as soon as possible. Since both players will be trying to do so, one of them will invoke this trope.
  • In a published scenario for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles role-playing game, a pair of villains try to reproduce The Producers scam, but by selling shares in a research facility with only one researcher, and he's a Mad Scientist. Unexpectedly he creates a successful bionic man.
  • There is also a classic conundrum around the gaming table. Say, for example, I am trying to shoot a warning bullet over someone, but not hit them. If I roll a critical failure, should the GM say that I failed at my task of failing and hit the target?
  • In 1979, Parker Brothers produced "The Mad Magazine Game", a reverse-Monopoly game where each player starts with $10,000, and you win by losing all of your money.
  • In 1965 Avalon Hill created a game called $quander (Squander), in which each player started with a million Squanderbucks. The first player to lose all of his money won the game.

Video Games

  • Big Boss in the original Metal Gear sends Solid Snake on a mission which he's assumed to fail. He doesn't, and Big Boss gets a couple rockets to the face for his trouble.
  • Almelexia from The Elder Scrolls III: Tribunal tried this by sending the Nerevarine {you} to Sotha Sil to become a martyr for her cause, which is to establish a monotheistic state where only she is worshiped and only she is the savior of the people. You end up killing her and thus starting the fall of the Tribunal temple.
  • In The Legend of Kyrandia III, the protagonist Malcolm is summoned by the Fish Queen for a game of Tic-Tac-Toe. Despite her enthusiasm for the game, she is exceptionally bad at it, and will always demand a rematch if Malcolm wins. Thus, you have to go out of your way to lose.
  • Similarly, Episode 106 of Sam and Max requires you to lose a game of Tic-Tac-Toe against a bunch of computers trying to create the most intelligent A.I. ever. Needless to say, the A.I. is ridiculously bad at Tic-Tac-Toe, requiring you to go out of your way to lose.
  • Something similar can be found in The World Ends With You. At one point, a Reaper challenges you to a Tin Pin match. No matter what you do, he'll let you go: If you win, he lets you through because he promised it, if you lose he's so happy because he won that he let you go away anyway.
  • Alita Tiala in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney hired the eponymous character, thinking he would be incompetent enough to lose and get Wocky Kitaki convicted, due to Apollo being a rookie. Apollo manages to get his client off, and pin Alita as the real murderer.
  • Thane, the dying repentant assassin of Mass Effect 2, willingly joins what is by all accounts a suicide mission to perform The Last Dance—he's dying of a terminal illness and wants to die doing something right for the galaxy. If you play your cards right, Thane can come through the suicide mission unharmed. If you take the time to gain his loyalty (and play your paragon cards right) you can reconnect him to his estranged son, giving him a reason to want to live till the end, if he survives.
  • In Runescape, there's a low-level quest that basically gets you to fetch 3 odd items. Among them is a piece of burnt meat. You get burnt meat if you have unfavorable luck while trying to cook meat. Meat is one of the easiest things to cook successfully, and if your cooking level is above 10-20, there's a very slim chance to burn meat, which leaves many mid-high level players stuck and forced to buy burnt meat from someone else. What many people don't know is that you can get guaranteed burnt meat by cooking cooked meat, so it's averted in this way.

Web Animation

  • Part of the surprise ending of the Homestar Runner cartoon "A Death-Defying Decemberween". After sledding down the Steep Deep, Homestar complains about his success, revealing that he had hoped to die in the attempt, so he could get out of visiting Marzipan's parents. And he only survived because Strong Bad, attempting to sabotage Homestar, removed the mattress Homestar had hidden at the bottom of the Steep Deep... not realizing that Homestar had filled said mattress with "hammers, broken glass, and candy canes sucked down 'til they're all pointy".
    • Strong Bad is sent an email from someone named "Sibby" requesting that SB write a song about him. Strong Bad reacts badly, announcing "I will never ever ever ever ever write a song about Sibby!", only to suddenly notice a hip-hop beat playing in the background; the Cheat is actually setting his rant to music. Soon Strong Bad finds that the "song" is a hit, being sung by Strong Sad and even played on the radio. SB loses his temper and screams "I freaking hate Sibby!". Not five seconds after that, "I Freaking Hate Sibby" starts playing on the radio.

Web Comics

  • The Bruno the Bandit plot "Skeleton Crew" reports the writer's real life experiences at a software startup run as an investment fraud scam.
  • An interesting part fiction/part real example occurred in Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures, when a donation-war was declared between Bishounen Incubus Abel, and enigmatic demoness Regina, with a full backstory going to the winner. Abel does NOT want to win. He REALLY doesn't. And for a while, he seems to be succeeding at failing. But some tension remains, and when the finally tally is revealed... well, let's just say that you can find the latest chapter of Abel's Story here. And considering the content, you really can't blame him for wanting it to remain private.
  • Freefall does that here.
  • El Goonish Shive has Ellen attempt to get Elliot in trouble. She is told to choose a topic to discuss for two minutes in Elliot's speech class. Her first choice? PMS. The teacher approves, and Ellen freezes up, not expecting that result. Not to mention she didn't know a single thing about PMS due to being an Opposite Gender Clone created by accident the night before.
  • DM of the Rings features a D&D version of this: Aragorn is attempting to fall off the animal that he is riding. The GM rules that he needs to make a Riding roll to dismount. Aragorn rolls a critical failure, and assumes that this means he fell off. The GM decides that, since Aragorn was trying to fall, his failure means that he stays on the creature's back and rides it over a cliff.
  • Dinosaur Comics: T-Rex tries to do something funny and instead accidentally finds himself with a job as a florist.
  • In Order of the Stick, Xykon sets up one of these, deliberately leaving the Monster in The Dark to guard Miko, knowing full well that the infamously incompetent creature would fail, and that Miko's escape and foreseeable immediately subsequent actions would play the desired role in his larger plan.
    • Not really this trope since it succeeded.
  • Like in the King of the Hill example below, Something*Positive has an arc where a man applies for a job at Aubrey's nerd phone sex line, expecting to be rejected out of hand and gaining material for a sex discrimination lawsuit. Aubrey promptly hires him to deal with Nerdrotica's growing gay male customer base.

Western Animation

  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, when Zuko learns lightning-bending and asks the lightning to strike him
  • In one episode of the second Animated Adaptation of The Addams Family, Gomez intentionally tried to fail at something, just for a change of pace. Naturally, his every attempt at failing actually succeeded. At the end of the episode, Morticia managed to cheer Gomez up by pointing out he had actually failed at failing, so, in the end, he succeeded in his goal.
    • Well his goal was to fail. He succeeded at failing by failing to fail, which itself is still a failure to succeed. Really this could go on forever.
  • An episode of Daria had Mr. O'Neill assign his class a project in which each student must attempt something they know for sure they'll fail at. Most succeed, with disastrous results, and even those who fail end up harming themselves somehow in the attempt.
    • The point of the project was O'Neill's misguided idea from a teacher's learning lecture simply put that, failure is not a bad thing and can provide learning opportunities. What he failed to realize was that failure was not the goal itself, but the ability to learn from that failure; not just any failure would do. Later, when Daria attempts to cheer him up/get him out of his funk of seeing himself fail at something he was sure would work by saying he should complete the assigned project himself, he promptly calls it a load of hooey.
  • Launchpad's inability to properly land a plane is a Running Gag in Disney's DuckTales (1987). In the series's finale, during a Race Against Time to stop a cursed artifact from turning the entire world (and everyone in it) to gold, Scrooge orders Launchpad to "just crash!" into the temple—Launchpad instead makes a perfect three-point landing, and even complains how he "had a chance to crash on purpose, and blew it."
  • Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends
    • Bloo attempts to get banned from supper to avoid eating the disgusting-looking food being offered, referred to only as "It". He attempts massive amounts of pranks to get banned, but it backfires on him spectacularly as everyone else except him gets banned instead. Just to give context, that episode's A-plot is about Mr. Herriman being paranoid over others finding out about his carrot addiction, leading him to punish everyone except Bloo because he was afraid they were "onto" him. It ended with Herriman (and Wilt) going to jail for stealing Madame Foster's jewelry (It Makes Sense in Context).
    • Bloo wants to get removed from the house so he doesn't have to fight "the new guy". To get himself banned from the house, he tells Mr. Herriman about pranks he has done, such as flooding the house, setting off 1000 lawnmowers on the grass and breaking every clock in the house. Everything is going well until Bloo mentions he's getting in a fight "with the new guy" (a huge bruiser who would surely kill Bloo), prompting Mr. Herriman to refuse to sign the release forms, forcing Bloo to fight the new guy, it the hopes that it would finally rid Herriman of Bloo and his shenanigans. Herriman's letting Bloo get away with his pranks so he will get beaten also backfires, when it turns out the new guy just wants to show Bloo his comedy routine. And then Double Subverted when Bloo gets himself beaten up anyway.
  • Rocko's Modern Life
    • In "Wacky Delly", Ed Bighead's cartoonist son Ralph wants to get out of a contract for a second show, so he uses Heffer's idea of making a cartoon about "deli meats", and even lets Rocko and his friends help him make the cartoon. Ralph hopes the resulting mish-mash will be canceled quickly and he can get on with a career as a serious artist. Unfortunately for Ralph, Wacky Delly becomes a hit, despite his best efforts to sabotage production, which include overexposing the film, doing an episode consisting of nothing but a still image of a jar of mayonnaise, and attempting to flood all of "Holl-o-wood" by melting the ice caps with an orbital laser. A speech from Rocko inspires Ralph to enjoy his success and make the show "real art," so he makes a high-brow Fantasia-like episode, which gets it promptly canceled. Then he goes off into the desert and spends ten years carving a bowl of fruit out of a rock formation, prompting a conveniently placed bystander to say "Hey, not bad — but have you seen Wacky Delly? The first season, that is — before that new guy ruined it."
    • In another episode, though by no means done intentionally, the strange "edits" that Rocko's home movie receives winds up making it a world-wide phenomenon. Unfortunately, he does not want his parents to see the video... and naturally they do, but for some reason, they love it. He even wins an award for the video. Of course, it still showed him nude, but that's beside the point.
    • In yet another episode, Ed Bighead has been asked to deliberately throw a golf match against the CEO of his company. In fact, he has confederates in this plan secretly (but not-so-subtlely) dropping pianos on the balls after Ed hits them. It works well at first, but then Heffer discovers that Ed's allies are cheating and starts cheating in Ed's favor. Like with the pianos, no one notices Heffer doing anything (despite him being extremely conspicuous) and Ed gets blamed for every successful shot.
  • South Park
    • In the episode "The Death Camp of Tolerance", Mr. Garrison attempts to get fired by acting in a grotesquely Depraved Homosexual manner so he can sue the school for discrimination. However, everyone in town is primed to be politically correct towards him because of this, so when the students raise their objections to his behavior, their parents merely assume that their kids are being homophobic and end up shipping them to the title camp to teach them a lesson. Much to his horror, however, Garrison finds his "bravery" being applauded by everyone in town to the extent that he receives an award for it. Instead of accepting, Garrison and his 'assistant' demonstrated the kind of behavior that scared the kids and shouted that he should have been fired and actually asked to be fired so he can sue. While it made the parents understand they shouldn't have sent their children to the tolerance camp, Garrison ended up sent there; while the reason given was that he could learn to "tolerate himself", the real reason was punishment by the principal for trying to bilk money from the school.
    • In "Jakovasaurs", the town stages a fake game show for Jakov to "win" the prize of airfare to somewhere that isn't South Park. The problem is that Jakov is too dumb to win a contest that's rigged in his favor, and Officer Barbrady is too dumb to let him win.

Mayor: What color is blue?
Jakov: I DON'T KNOW!
Barbrady: Blue?
Mayor: What?!?
Barbrady: Blue is blue?

    • In the episode "The Losing Edge", the boys deliberately try to lose all their baseball games because they find the sport extremely boring and don't want to go regional. Turns out every other team feels the same way, and they're all "better at sucking". The teams' losing strategies even developed over time, feats like hitting the ball right into the opposition's hand shows that losing can actually be more impressive than winning.
    • Yet another episode had the boys write a book called "The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs" which would be so inhumanely disgusting it would be banned. They put the blame on Butters, but everyone loves the book despite making them vomit regularly. Butters then writes a followup called "The Poop That Took a Pee" which the boys find so stupid it will get Butters banned, but readers love this as well. However, someone is inspired to kill the Kardishans because of the book, which finally gets Butters' work banned.
      • Also subverted in that The Poop That Took a Pee was implied to only be successful because no-one would admit that the book wasn't as 'good' as the previous work.
  • Two Stupid Dogs where the Dogs appear on a take-off of The Price Is Right, and try to lose in order to get a dog food consolation by deliberately bidding low on an expensive rug. Somehow, they go on to play the pricing game after the closest contestants are both fifty cents away from the actual price of the rug. Said pricing game has them guessing everything at one dollar, and winning every prize, save one: dog food worth ninety-nine cents. Then it's the wheel spinning bit where the smaller dog shoves the wheel away from the winning space to the five-cent space, but is told by the Bob Barker wannabe that he cheated, so they "win" yet again.
  • In a Dudley Do-Right cartoon, Dudley tries to get kicked out of the Mounties so that he can go undercover as a member of Snidely Whiplash's gang, but his efforts at committing crimes backfire. At one point he blows up a dam, but discovers that this solves the city's irrigation problem. Then he burns down a building, only to find that the building was scheduled for demolition, and is lauded by the government for saving them a fortune in taxpayers' money. He ultimately gets kicked out of the Mounties for eating peas with his knife.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Homer's Enemy", Frank Grimes tries to humiliate Homer Simpson and show the world how much of a buffoon Homer is by tricking him into entering a power plant model-designing contest for kids. Except Homer wins the top prize. This pushes Grimes far off the edge, and he goes on a rampage resulting in his own death.
    • In "Team Homer", Mr. Burns' performance is dragging down Homer's bowling team, so Moe says Burns might end up having a little "accident". As Burns limps into the bowling alley, complaining of a knee injury and saying he'll have to withdraw, Moe leaps out (in a ski mask) and bashes his knee with a tire iron, popping it back into place and allowing him to stay on.
  • Jimmy Two-Shoes: In order to escape an Arranged Marriage to the Weavil Princess, Beezy attempts to fail at the challenges he must pass to win the right to marry her. Unfortunately the weavils, who arranged the marriage entirely to get rid of her, makes sure he passes.
  • An episode of the cartoon version of Punky Brewster had a plot mirroring Brewster's Millions, with the money coming from a game show rather than an inheritance. Somewhere, somebody reading this has just had an idea for a Reality Game Show...
  • On Archer, the title character tries to convince everyone there is a mole in the office in order to get access to the mainframe and cover up his Hookers and Blow adventures. None of them bite, but all the gossip about it scares the real mole into revealing himself.
  • On Total Drama World Tour, thanks to his animal-hurting curse, DJ begins trying to lose, only to finally turn around the Curb Stomp Battle that Team Victory had been suffering. Naturally, when he starts trying to win again, he's eliminated.
  • King of the Hill
    • "Suite Smells of Excess": In the Texas vs. Nebraska game, Hank impersonates a VIP ex-Nebraska player over the phone and attempts to sabotage Nebraska by giving their secondary coach an idiotic play. The unexpected play works, and Nebraska wins the game.
    • In "Cops and Robert", Dale comes up with a Zany Scheme where he applies for a job at the local Hooters equivalent, gets rejected, and sues for sexual discrimination. Much to his shock he gets hired anyway, and he actually does pretty well - the customers appreciate having a guy to talk to about sports and beer, so he gets even more tips than his busty, scantily-clad co-workers, Then Hank, Boomhauer, and Bill come running in from the B-plot, chased by an enraged man who trips and accidentally yanks down Dale's shorts. When he tries to sue for emotional damages, the boss agrees but still fires Dale due to the fact he was giving customers free appetizers which is employee theft.
  • Goof Troop: Pete wins ownership of a race horse that appears to be incapable of winning a race, so he instead offers shares of the horse's ownership in order to sell his used cars, giving away more percentages than are actually available. Goofy then discovers the only problem was a bad nail in the horse's shoe and, despite Pete's efforts to sabotage him, rides the horse to victory and ends up sending Pete to jail.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Green Isn't Your Color", the Shrinking Violet Fluttershy accidentally becomes a famous model. Fluttershy dislikes the attention and would quit, except for the fact that she doesn't want to disappoint her best friend Rarity, who's encouraged her to take the job. Secretly, though, Rarity is jealous of Fluttershy's newfound success, and almost wishes her failure out of spite. Twilight Sparkle, being the confidant for both secrets but finding the stress of keeping both parties unhappy too much to bear, comes up with a plan to make Fluttershy's next runway event be as ungraceful as possible using Twilight's magic. This works, initially, except that Rarity, being utterly disappointed in herself for her own feelings and completely unaware of Fluttershy's, decides to support her friend with cheerful applause. This, combined with Rarity's great fashion sense convincing the fashion-critical crowd that her opinion has weight, ends up making Fluttershy more popular than ever.

Real Life examples

Anime and Manga

  • Neon Genesis Evangelion — Rumor has it that after Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water turned out to be something of a financial disappointment, Gainax's executives planned to deliberately produce an even bigger flop to take advantage of a loophole in Japanese tax law. They thus put Anno, known to be mentally unstable, at the helm and allowed him and the rest of the creative team to throw in whatever insanity they could come up with. Needless to say the plan backfired spectacularly and several of the studio bigwigs served prison sentences for tax evasion, though that may have been due to them secretly stashing large sums of cash in safe deposit boxes. The actual situation was that Nadia was created by Toho, with Gainax simply being the people who created the actual series, so the series' huge success (it was originally only supposed to be 26 episodes) was only to the benefit of Toho. If Evangelion failed Gainax was bankrupt, they had no money (quite obvious for anyone who's seen Eva), and they under-reported the profits since they didn't know how long Eva‍'‍s popularity would last.
  • Supposedly Word of God has it that L in Death Note was designed to be an anti-Bishonen ... his fangirls still found him adorable and cute anyway.
  • Yoshiyuki Tomino made his first four Gundam works to have depressing endings that won't let him make any sequels. Instead Gundam has become one of the most popular anime ever made, and started the Real Robot genre.


  • In 1924, as a way of mocking an art exhibition jury for rejecting his wife's paintings, Paul Jordan-Smith submitted an intentionally bad painting under the false name "Pavel Jerdanowitch," claiming that it represented a new art school called "disumbrationism". Unfortunately, the painting ended up being very well received by critics, and he went on to paint several more before revealing that the entire thing was a hoax.
  • The art world has a persistent urban legend about a museum employee stepping away from a small cart with his lunch on it and returning to find a knot of aesthetes appraising the work for, say, its application of cinema-verite sensibilities to three-dimensional installations.
  • The Dada movement, also from around the 1920s, was a potshot at man's unquestioning admiration of anything labeled "Art" which would be put into galleries. Dada used things like urinals, Postcards of the Mona Lisa with a mustache painted on it, and objects intended to be destroyed, offensive and otherwise without any major artistic qualities. Guess where many surviving Dada works have ended up?

Fan Works

Films — Live-Action

  • This was actually how Hollywood worked from the 1920s to about 1948. Nowadays, the studio makes the movies and the distributor buys the "prints" of those movies, a certain amount of which are then "rented out" to theater. Back then, there was no distributor in the system and many theaters were owned by the studios outright, or vice versa. The "Big Five" studios would rent out an entire year's worth of movies and no less. There were only a few "A" pictures in these "blocks"; the rest of them were B-Movies. The theaters would receive a certain amount of box office profit for A movies, but they would only receive a flat fee for showing B movies—provided the B movies were made with a low enough budget, they were virtually guaranteed to make their money back.
  • In 1955 somebody got the idea to adapt a popular episode of a TV anthology series to film. Burt Lancaster and his business partner decided to fund it, figuring the low-budget picture wouldn't make any money (who would pay to see a film they could watch for free on TV?) and they could use the expenses as a tax write-off. Compounding this plan was their casting of some fat, ugly guy best known for playing villains as the romantic lead. The film? Marty, which became a huge box office smash when its comparatively ugly actors ended up resonating as more authentic to viewers. It ended up winning four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor, and a Palme d'Or.'s 5 Classic Movies Made by People Who Wanted Them to Fail describes its production as having "literally started out as the plot of The Producers."
  • The film version of Battlefield Earth was the subject of a $121.7 million lawsuit, possibly in an attempt to pull one of these.
  • Some speculate that Seltzer and Friedberg at least were attempting to fail on purpose due to the complete lack of quality in their films. Unfortunately, they failed at failing in the box office for so long that, after succeeding at failing with the aptly-named Disaster Movie, they produced another parody film. Vampires Suck did make a profit...
  • An example that's not related to money or contracts: Wes Craven intended for Scream to kill the slasher movie once and for all, by parodying its tropes and making it impossible to take seriously anymore. Not only was it a smash hit, it spawned three sequels and kick-started a wave of post-modern teen horror films (many of which were, you guessed it, slashers) that ran for the rest of The Nineties and much of The Two Thousands.
  • Ahmed Ahmed is an Arab-American actor and stand-up comedian. In the mid '90s, he went in to read for a stereotypical Arab terrorist role. Since his stand-up comedy career was starting to flourish, and because he considered the role an offensive stereotype, he decided he'd go in and treat the audition as a complete joke, completely mocking the role and the producers. Ahmed proceeded to read the part as the most crazed, screaming ethnically offensive Large Ham stereotype he could manage. The casting director loved it and promptly offered him the part.
  • It's rumored that Harrison Ford objected to doing the voice-over for Blade Runner and deliberately gave a flat, monotone performance so that it wouldn't be used (Ford himself denies this). It was used anyway in the theatrical release (Ridley Scott dropped it from later recuts).
  • There has been some speculation that After Last Season was actually an elaborate fraud and that the producers ran off with most of the film's budget.
  • Uwe Boll is infamous for his bad movies; he used to exploit a tax loophole that meant that, no matter how poorly his movies sold, he and his investors still turned a profit. That tax loophole has been closed now, so time will tell if he was just making crappy movies because they're cheaper or if he's a legitimately bad director.
  • Robert Pattinson has been very vocal about his outright hatred for the Twilight series and the characters, particularly his own character Edward Cullen. In interviews he's said that he portrays Edward as a pathetic, socially maladjusted loser, just the way he imagines a 100-plus-year-old virgin would be. Unfortunately for him, this only seems to have encouraged the crazy fangirls.


  • Ernest Hemingway wanted to break out of his contract with Horace Liverwright for a better deal with a new publisher, so he wrote The Torrents of Spring as a mocking parody of the style used by Liverwright's favorite author.
  • Chuck Palahniuk wrote Fight Club when his novel Invisible Monsters was rejected by his publishers for being too disturbing. He intended to make Fight Club even more disturbing to give them something they would at least remember. The publishers liked it, and it was published.
  • Once upon a time, an unsuccessful author of High Fantasy novels was told by the teacher of his writing class that, seeing as he liked Anita Blake and Buffy so much, he should write a novel like those using the teacher's method of novel creation.

Jim Butcher: When I finally got tired of arguing with her and decided to write a novel as if I was some kind of formulaic, genre-writing drone, just to prove to her how awful it would be, I wrote the first book of The Dresden Files.

  • In The Inheritance Cycle, ever since the first book both fans and anti-fans latched onto Murtagh, seeing him as cooler, more sympathetic and moral than the main character. What's hilarious is that he's supposed to be one of the villains. So, time and again, the author tries to write him as an unlikable prick. Unfortunately his turn to evil due to terrible circumstances beyond his control (not to mention that he is literally forced to be evil) makes him The Woobie and gives him more of a character arc than the main character! (I don't think when your author has you have an abusive childhood, hated by your own side, captured, tortured, essentially mind controlled, and has you have the inherent morality use a loophole to save your little brother Messiah who everyone loves whose life is idyllic(later subverted, he is trying to make you an unlikeable prick.)
  • Naked Came the stranger is a book published in 1969 as a joint effort by 24 Newsday columnists led by Mike McGrady, under the pseudonym "Penelope Ashe". McGrady's goal was to write the most cringe-worthy novel he could, with poor writing and vivid, lurid depictions of sex, in an attempt to illustrate his personal dislike of modern literature, which he felt had become tasteless to the point of being mindlessly vulgar. It became a bestseller, and while it did seem to prove McGrady's point, it did little to get his message across.

Live-Action TV

  • SCTV's Bob and Doug McKenzie were created as a Take That to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. In Canada, the show ran two minutes longer than in the U.S. (due to fewer commercials). The CBC required SCTV to fill these two "extra" minutes with "distinctively Canadian content." The writers and performers mocked this idea: "What do you want us to do? Throw up a map of Canada and sit there wearing tuques and parkas?" They ended up doing exactly that to prove their point of how ridiculous the CBC mandate was... and ended up creating the most popular characters in the show's history.
  • A somewhat similar case of Executive Meddling occurred during the first season of WKRP in Cincinnati. CBS wanted more broad, kid-friendly comedy in the show. Producer Hugh Wilson wrote "Fish Story" as a Take That to the executives, a broad farce with silly costumes (Herb in the WKRP "carp" costume fighting the WPIG pig), pratfalls, and contrived explanations. Wilson hated the episode, and wrote it under a pseudonym as the last episode in CBS' initial 13-episode order. It got great ratings, and has always been one of the fans' favorite episodes.
    • In the show itself, after the station's changeover to rock music finally turns a profit, Carlson's mother announces yet another format change. Andy reasons it out: WKRP is meant as a tax-write-off, meant to lose money, and takes her to task over sacrificing her son's self-respect to her profits. Rather than destroy her son's dreams, Mrs. Carlson relents and accepts the profitable station—poor thing.
  • This was what happened behind the scenes of the original Battlestar Galactica. The short version: ABC expected the series to fail, and that they could make money from its failure. The series succeeded, so ABC found a way to make it fail anyway—and they ultimately failed to make any money in the end.[1]
  • Patrick Stewart has admitted in interviews that he only took the role of Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation after being assured by his agent that the show would fail in its first season. His plan was to make some quick cash and go back to acting in the theater. While not finding its feet until the second or third season, The Next Generation ran for seven seasons and eventually became what has been called one of the best television shows ever made, due in large part to Stewart's performance as Picard.


  • In the music industry, there is the phenomenon of the "contractual obligation" album. These are albums produced to fulfill the terms of a contract with a record label, usually at the label's insistence; but which the musicians do not want to record, either because they are unhappy with their contract, or they feel they lack sufficient good material for an album, or they are just no longer interested in doing it. "Contractual obligation" albums are typically either complete garbage done as a "Fuck You" to the record label, something completely silly done as way to blow off steam, a Greatest Hits Album, or a bizarre/experimental art project of some sort. Most of the time, these albums flop as intended; but occasionally, they will go on to achieve a substantial cult following. Occasionally, they will even make a small profit for the label.
  • The quintessential example is Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music: a double album consisting exclusive of layered feedback from multiple instruments. It became a minor success, selling over 100,000 copies, and resulted in the creation of the entire musical genre of Noise (which is particularly popular in Germany and Japan) and strongly influenced Industrial music. Most people assumed that Reed made it as a big middle finger to the record company, but Reed has denied this, saying that he was completely serious at the time, but was also on a lot of drugs.
  • Another good example is The Beach Boys' Party, an album of covers thrown together quickly, as the studio wanted to have a release available for the holiday shopping season, and the planned album Pet Sounds was being delayed due to Brian Wilson's perfectionism. The last song on the album, a cover of Fred Fasset's "Barbara Ann", became a surprise hit, charting at #2, although not initially released as a single; while the album itself hit the top 10 at #6.
  • Lampshaded with Monty Python's Contractual Obligation Album, which was originally released with the tagline "Now a Major Lawsuit." The album actually was produced to finish out a contract, and listening to it, it's clear that the Pythons didn't put much effort into it. Over half the album is songs and brief spoken word pieces by Eric Idle, and the rest is new recordings of old material that the Pythons had written for other projects. But because it's Monty Python, it's of course hilarious.
  • Mike Oldfield's Amarok album includes "FUCK OFF RB" in Morse code, targeted at Virgin's boss Richard Branson. Since Virgin had been pressing him to produce more tracks that could be released as singles, Amarok was deliberately constructed as a solid 60 minutes that is impossible to cut into a single. Many consider it his best album.
  • Love and Rockets (post-punk/synth-rock band consisting of former Bauhaus members) did one of these with their side project "The Bubblemen"—a single release consisting of "The Bubblemen Are Coming," "Bubblemen Rap" and "Bees", and featuring the band dressed in bee costumes—as a "blowing off steam" variation of this trope. The project quickly became a cult hit; and they often performed as The Bubblemen as part of their regular concerts.
  • In the late '60s, Van Morrison recorded an entire album of deliberately, unreleaseably awful songs (The Big Royalty Check, Ringworm, Here Comes Dumb George) in order to get out of his contract with Bang Records. This ended up backfiring on him in the early '90s, when the cash-strapped rightsholders began licensing them out...on "Greatest Hits" compilations, no less.
  • Sara Bareilles was forced by her record company to write a love song for her album Little Voice. So she wrote the "Fuck You" song Love Song. Ironically, it was her first hit.
  • British extreme metallers Cradle of Filth were sick of their then current label Cacophonous Records, yet were pigeonholed into making a new release before they could leave the label. The result was the EP Vempire (Or Dark Faarytales In Phallustein), which many fans of the band consider to be their best release.
  • Supposedly, the guitar "crunches" just before the chorus of Radiohead's song "Creep" were an attempt by disgruntled lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood to ruin the master track. It wound up being one of the most distinctive parts.
  • The power chords to REO Speedwagon's "Keep On Loving You" were a similar reaction by guitarist Gary Richrath to singer Kevin Cronin's song, with Gary thought was sappy and uncharacteristic of the hard-rock group. The combination became an early example of the '80's "power ballad", and their first number one single.
  • Todd Rundgren's The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect is another one of these. He intentionally wrote "Bang The Drum All Day" to be as stupid as possible and it's quite possibly his most recognizable hit.
  • Depending on who you ask, Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear may or may not be one of these. He was divorcing Motown owner Berry Gordy's sister at the time, and legend has it that he had to give all the royalties of his next album to her as part of the settlement. Whether he filled the album with (at the time) uncommercially emotionally raw songs as an attempt at this or not has been much disputed, but it worked. Now, however, it's considered to be one of the finest albums ever made, so it can be argued that this is a time-delayed example of the trope.
    • The actual divorce settlement puts paid to that notion: The actual agreement was that she got $600,000, no matter what; however, that $600,000 would be paid first with the royalties off of "Here, My Dear", then out of Gaye's own pocket. So she was getting $600,000 anyway, and he really had a disincentive for tanking an album.
  • The Residents originally intended their album Duck Stab! to prove that even if they released an album of songs that actually followed traditional song structure, still no one would buy it. The album became one of their most popular.
  • The Turtles, a surf band turned folk-rock band from The Sixties who had cheery bubblegum hits like "Happy Together" and "She'd Rather Be With Me", was having problems with their label, White Whale, who wanted them to keep churning out more commercial product two years later as the band wanted to move into more progressive music. So they wrote the most deliberately banal pop song they could, "Elenore". It obviously was not taken as such, and became a Top Ten hit.
  • Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash was "joking around" with a riff. He hated it. Axl Rose loved it. Over objections within the band, the track was recorded for their album-in-progress. The result? "Sweet Child O'Mine," a song Slash reportedly "really fucking hated to play" during their gigs. Slash had to spend a month recording that riff in the studio to get it just right for the album.
    • The Red Hot Chili Peppers mocked that riff at the end of their 1989 song "Punk Rock Classic." That song's chorus begged "Put us on MTV/ Help me, please, please, please..." One album later, the Peppers' ballad "Under the Bridge" landed them in heavy rotation on MTV—and on subsequent albums, their music has sounded less like "Punk Rock Classic" and more like "Under the Bridge."
  • Steam's "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye", intended as a throwaway B side, instead a #1 hit.
  • Same with Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive," Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby," and Kiss's "Beth" (though the last one didn't hit #1). "Barely Breathing" by Duncan Sheik was similar, intended to be a filler song to bring the album up to proper length, it became his only hit (unless you count the music he did for Spring Awakening.)
  • When the German Kraut Rock band Neu!'s budget ran out during the recording of their second album after completing just two tracks, they decided to fill the rest of the album with sped-up and slowed-down versions of those two songs. In the process, they pretty much invented remixes.
  • Mudhoney were asked to contribute a fast, driving song for a scene of the film With Honors wherein one of the characters runs through the snow. They offered up an instrumental they'd already written and recorded, but the studio insisted on a song with words. So the band added minimal throwaway lyrics to their instrumental, called the result "Run Shithead Run" and sent back both this version and the original, figuring they'd be forced to use the instrumental for the scene anyway. Guess which version ultimately ended up in the movie and on the soundtrack album?
  • In 1976, amateur musician John Trubee, then a teenager, found an ad in a tabloid for a song poem company.[2] He submitted a deliberately offensive, nonsensical poem titled "Peace And Love," hoping he'd get a humorous (and rather offended) rejection letter.[3] He did not. 80 USD and a quick change to the lyrics later, a comically godawful, upbeat country march was set loose upon the world, where it would later gain a marked cult infamy.
  • Kurt Cobain wanted to make Nirvana's third album, In Utero, a noisy punk album in an attempt to get rid of the mainstream audience they'd picked up with Nevermind. It shot to number one on the Billboard charts, anyway.
  • The metal band GWAR got its start this way. Originally, the members were in a different band called Death Piggy, but in a few concerts, they tried a publicity stunt in which they posed as a Fake Band dressing up in Conan-esque barbarian costumes (borrowed from a film they were making at the time) and running around screaming obscenities in the idea that after the audience was subjected to this, Death Piggy's arrival would come as a relief. To their surprise, many fans would stay for GWAR and leave when Death Piggy made their entrance, so they decided to play as GWAR full-time.
  • During the height of Psychedelia, The Hollies (particularly Graham Nash) tried hard to develop a more elaborate, "serious" sound. The results, namely the single "Kind Midas in Reverse," were met with commercial indifference, prompting the label to demand something more marketable. In response, the band recorded the deliberately cheesy bubblegum song "Jennifer Eccles." It was a Top Ten hit, much to Nash's dismay.
  • As a joke, The Four Seasons recorded a version of Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" with intentionally silly, self-parodic falsetto vocals, which they never intended to actually release. Their record company liked it enough to release it as a single anyway: Even though it was released under the name The Wonder Who? for contractual reasons, it reached #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and sold a million copies.
  • Speaking of Dylan, he has often claimed that his much-reviled Self Portrait album from 1970 was intended as one of these.
  • Anal Cunt attempted to make the worst music ever with music so abrasive it's difficult to tell what notes are even being played. They coupled this with lyrics that were frequently misogynistic, racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, or otherwise offensive. Their singer, the late Seth Putnam, even admitted sending copies of their albums to reviewers whom they knew would dislike it solely so they could get negative reviews. They wound up being admired by people who saw through the Stealth Parody and are one of the most influential bands of the grindcore genre.
    • They even attempted making an album that even their fans wouldn't like, Picnic of Love. The album is the opposite of their usual output, featuring acoustic songs with Seth Putnam wailing in an obnoxiously high pitched falsetto about respecting women. Many fans consider it their funniest and even critics gave it much more favorable reviews than their usual output.

Newspaper Comics

  • Bloom County creator Berke Breathed attempted to troll his audience by introducing an anti-Garfield, the most unappealing cat character he could devise. This character was Bill the Cat—who unexpectedly proved very popular with the comic's fanbase and soon within the fictional world as well.

Puppet Shows


  • When Humphrey Lyttelton originally auditioned for the Radio 4 panel game I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, he was apparently in a bad mood, and really didn't want the part, so spent the entire show being irritable and sarcastic. Everyone else loved this, and so he ended up hosting it from 1972 up until his death in 2008. Apparently he was the only thing people liked about the first show, and Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graeme Garden felt they'd done so badly that they turned to each other afterwards and said, "Never again." When it was picked up and became the BBC mainstay that it is, they made this a good-luck ritual.


  • In a 1994 soccer tournament, a bizarre rule allowed the Barbados team to advance in a cup match by scoring against itself. Barbados had to win its game by two goals in order to advance. They were up by one goal, and with the clock running out, they realized that the odds of them being able to score again were small. So they kicked a ball into their own goal to tie the game and send it into sudden death overtime... where a rule existed that the first team to score would be considered a two-goal winner. The ploy worked, and Barbados went on to the finals. Even more amazing, their opponent would have advanced if they would have scored on either goal, and they couldn't.
  • It isn't documented that any deliberate losses actually took place, but the strange playoff system adopted by Major League Baseball for the 1981 season created an environment in which teams could theoretically benefit by losing games. Due to the lengthy midseason players' strike, the season was split into two halves that year, with the winners of each half facing off for the divisional championship. Logic would dictate that if a team won both halves, it would receive a first-round bye; however, Major League Baseball, not wanting entire series to be scrapped, refused to implement a bye system. The original plan was that if a team won their division in both halves of the season, they would face the team in their division with the next best overall record. A sportswriter pointed out that the arrangement would give a team with a good overall record an incentive to lose games against the first-half winner to help a division rival win both halves. Major League Baseball revised the rules so that if a team won both halves of the season, it would face the second half runner-up instead. However, this meant that the teams who won the first half divisional race had nothing to play for in the second half, and in fact could try to "assist" a team that they felt would be an easier playoff opponent by intentionally losing games to them during the regular season. In the end, nobody won both halves of the season, which led to both the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals posting the best overall records in their divisions and not making the playoffs, while the overall-losing-record Kansas City Royals did.
  • Draft systems often encourage losing; for instance, the NFL draft gives the first draft pick to the worst team.
    • Doesn't always work, of course: the NFL draft system hasn't prevented the Detroit Lions from remaining at the bottom of the heap for decades... (The Lions eventually started to shape up in 2011.)
    • Which is why the NBA has used a Draft Lottery for teams not making the playoffs since 1985, after some accused the Houston Rockets and other teams of losing intentionally to get the best picks in the '84 draft (one of the most talent-laden in history with Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley). Even that became controversial, as some still believe the '85 lottery was rigged since New York got the top pick with Patrick Ewing as the prize. Today, the teams with the worst records get the best chances of winning the lottery, which leads sportswriters to ridicule bad teams when they don't try to invoke this trope.
      • 2011's "Andrew Luck Sweepstakes" in which the worst team in the league stood the best chance of using the #1 draft pick to take Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, one of the most NFL-ready quarterbacks in the history of the game. Some fans of perpetually-losing franchises publicly encouraged their team to "Suck for Luck". It's unclear whether any games were thrown by the team that eventually "won", the Indianapolis Colts, who had lost their all-star quarterback Peyton Manning for the year before the season even started due to a neck injury and were legitimately bad as a result. In fact, the only two games the Colts won that year were late in the season, and legitimately jeopardized their chances of getting the #1 pick.
  • This happens in Olympics in Sailing, owing to the scoring system used. Such as Ben Ainslie taking Gold in the 2000 Sydney Games.
  • Averted with Paul "Bear" Bryant's supposed plan to bring desegregation to his Alabama football team. Bryant would never ask his players to lose, but it's believed he knew what would ultimately happen when he scheduled USC to come to Tuscaloosa in 1970. When the Trojans beat Alabama 42-21 with Sam Cunnigham running for 135 yards and two touchdowns, Bryant was finally allowed to start recruiting black players.
  • The last round-robin group match of the 1998 Tiger Cup soccer tournament was between Thailand and Indonesia: Regardless of the outcome of the game, both were already guaranteed to advance to the semi-finals, but whichever team won that game would face Vietnam while the loser would face Singapore. Both Thailand and Indonesia thought Singapore would be the easier opponent. This led to both teams playing to lose, culminating in Thailand deliberately kicking the ball into their own goal while Indonesia tried to stop them. Ironically, they'd both proceed to lose in the semi-finals, while Singapore would go on to win the whole tournament.
  • The 2011 Denver Broncos were in their first year with a new coach (John Fox) and general manager (John Elway), who wanted to build their team around a quarterback of their choosing. However, the team already had Tim Tebow, a wildly popular holdover from the previous regime who was a very flawed passer. So, after they started the season 1-4 with Tebow as the backup, they chose to make him the starter (but not before trading away his best receiver). Many viewed this as an attempt to have Tebow flop publicly, ruin his popularity, and potentially put them in position to draft Andrew Luck (see above). However, Tebow went on to win 7 of the next 8 games (often with Miracle Rallies), steal the AFC west division, and upset the heavily-favored Steelers in the playoffs.


  • The Marx Brothers were originally struggling as a primarily musical act before an appearance in Texas, where the audience left the theatre during a performance to go watch a mule. This outraged the team, and they began breaking from their script to abuse the audience with pointed jokes. Instead of getting angry, the audience ate it up and the family realized that their real talent lay in comedy.

Tabletop Games

Board Games

  • In Mahjong, if the dealer wins a hand, an extra hand is played which does not count towards the total number of hands in the match, and the dealer keeps the dealer button for the extra hand(s). In the Japanese Riichi variant, it is not uncommon for the player who ends in first place to receive a large bonus (of ranking points in league or tournament play, or cash in gambling play). Thus, on the final hand, if the dealer is in first place, they might be better off not winning the hand because that ends the game and secures their first-place finish, while winning the hand would trigger an extra hand, during which they would have to risk being knocked out of first. This has led to an Obvious Rule Patch in the form of the agari yame House Rule, where the dealer winning on the last hand does not trigger an extra hand if they are in first place.
  • This sort of thing happened to a player at the World Scrabble Championship Tournament. The first letters he drew only needed one extra letter added to make an 8-letter word. In Scrabble, using all seven tiles in a player's rack at once awards the player an additional fifty points. There was no seven-letter word that could be played using the letters on his rack, so if he wanted the 50-point bonus, he needed to play his 8-letter word. Unfortunately, he had the first move. So, he decided to give up his turn by playing a word which he believed was not real, getting his opponent to challenge it off the board so that he could use all his letters on his next turn. Unfortunately, this was the World Championships, which used a slightly different set of letters than what this player was accustomed to: as it turns out, his "nonword" was in fact acceptable, so it stayed on the board and he lost his chance at getting fifty extra points.
  • Craps has two major sets of bets among many other bets - Pass/Come and Don't Pass/Don't Come. Both bet sets have roughly the same odds of winning and the same payout. It's commonly thought that a Pass/Come is a "win" and Don't Pass/Don't Come is a "lose" for the dice shooter, but anyone can make either bet, including the dice shooter - which can lead to an entire table rooting for a seven while the shooter wants anything but.

Card Games

  • A game mechanic in Hearts is "shooting the moon": The object of the game is to avoid collecting points (from heart cards, and the Queen of Spades), but if a player manages to collect all the point cards within a round, instead of the 26-point total being added to their score as usual, their opponents receive 26 points apiece (for a total of 78 points!), or in some variations the player can subtract 26 points from their score; either one is enough to quickly shift the balance of a game. However, since it is an official mechanic, opponents are quick to notice if a player is suspiciously collecting the points during a round.
  • A similar mechanic in Spades with a 'nil' bid—which can be worth 100 points, if the nil bidding side takes no books. If house rules permit, blind bidding doubles that amount. If the other side bids Boston and takes all books, they get more than enough points to overtake the gains of a successful nil. In this (very rare) event, either side can sabotage the other by sabotaging themselves.
  • In one of his poker books, Dan Harrington briefly talks about the practice of tournament poker players selling "pieces" of themselves (essentially, letting people buy or trade for a percentage of their winnings). He recounts the story of someone who accidentally sold more than 100% of himself in a tournament, meaning that any winnings would cost him money out of pocket, and the most profitable course of action would be to let himself be eliminated without winning anything. He won first place.

Video Games

  • Ian Bogost created Cow Clicker as a satire of social games like Farmville. The idea was to distill the games down to core mechanics to expose how ridiculous they are. However, Cow Clicker actually became popular, with some people even paying real life money to click their cows more often.
  • Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty could have been titled "You want me to make a sequel even though I don't want to? Here you go. It's about how much the player sucks. I hope that teaches you a lesson." if that weren't so cumbersome. It didn't quite work... at all...!
    • Supposedly, Hideo Kojima has kept this up for the entire franchise, repeatedly trying to sabotage his own games so that he never has to make another one. The fact that he's up to the fourth numbered MGS game (plus the Peace Walker side-game) after vowing that the first, second, and third MGS game would be the last Metal Gear game he would ever direct should indicate roughly how successful this has been. Unfortunately, there has been alleged death threats involved each time he tries to quit. The aforementioned fourth MGS game, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, was filled with "there, happy now?" moments, like Doing In the Wizard of Vamp's unexplained powers in a deliberately unsatisfying way.
      • Kojima probably doesn't help (or hurt, whichever he actually wants) his case that while the scripting of the games has various degrees of Creator Backlash, the actual design and mechanics of the game are always top-notch. Good games are good games no matter what the story is.
  • Sqij for the ZX Spectrum was programmed by a programmer contractually obligated to deliver another game before his contract expired. In response he attempted to make a game so quickly without quality control with the expectation that it would never be published while still (technically) fulfilling his contract. They published it anyways despite the game not working unless you hacked the memory to disable caps lock and being barely playable if you did all that. They then published it again on a compilation with nothing fixed.

Web Comics

Web Original

Real Life

  • There is a real-life stock market practice known as "short-selling." Short-selling means borrowing shares of stock from someone else and selling them at the current price, then buying equal shares in the future after the price falls and giving them back to the original owner. The most sure-fire way for this plan to lose money is if the stock's price goes up.
    • And this happened to a few short-sellers when Porsche revealed that they controlled Volkswagen in 2008, causing the latter firm to temporarily become the most valuable (by market capitalization) firm in the world. Those short-sellers cumulatively lost billions, one of whom committed suicide as a result.
    • This very practice (and how to get ruined by it) is a vital plot point in the ending of the movie Trading Places.
      • It's also a plot point in Schlock Mercenary, where it gets the crew in trouble for a very unique sort of insider trading—they know the network is going to tank because they're going to blow it up.
  • This is how we got potato chips. Some guy at a restaurant kept sending his potatoes back, complaining they were too thick, too soft, and not salty enough. So the cook, George Crum, got frustrated and sliced them super thin, fried them to a crisp, and poured on the salt. The customer loved it and a new snack food was born.
  • In the Second World War, Alphonse Timmerman was a double agent, working for Britain. His British superiors were deliberately incompetent in their treatment of him, with the hope being that Germany would: a) realize that he was a double agent, b) notice that none of their other spies were being run as British double agents in such an incompetent way, and therefore c) conclude that the remainder of their spy network in Britain was uncompromised (whereas in fact every German spy in Britain had been caught and turned). Unfortunately, Germany never got as far as step a). On the other hand, the Germans never figured out that their entire spy network in Britain (it bears repeating) was now working for MI 5. Let us repeat: Nazi Germany never caught on to the fact that every single German spy in the UK was actually a British double agent. The British Security Services: Crowning Moment of Awesome. Nazi Germany: Too Dumb to Live.
    • Is this the same Alphonse Timmerman that was executed by Britain for treason in 1942?
    • This is justified by the fact that Wilhelm Canaris, the leader of Abwehr, the Nazi foreign intelligence, hated Hitler and in fact attempted to depose or assassinate him at least 17 times. It's entirely feasible that he let the British take over his intelligence network for some quid pro quo—most likely involving how he provided an accurate map of the deployment of the Red Army (Which the UK had) to Hitler a little before the Operation Barbarossa.
  • "Lord" Timothy Dexter is a subversion: everyone else was trying to ruin The Fool, but fate conspired to make him just richer. His entry's in the Real Life section of The Fool, near the bottom. Go ahead and read.
  • The City of Pasadena was founded in part by a bankroller who wanted to capitalize on Medical Tourism, which was popular at the time, and short-sell the land, believing it to be a fad vacation spot. Then the railroad came and it is now one of the biggest cities in California.
  • Touched upon above in the Boston Legal example, but the same happens in real life, and several cases and state laws have never been challenged specifically because "winning" would give them the ability to appeal up to the Supreme Court and have the decision enforced nationwide.
    • Would probably have been averted with Kitzmiller v. Dover, had the Dover school board that wanted Intelligent Design taught in science classes in the district not been defeated en masse in the next election. The new school board, more amenable to evolution, declined to appeal.
    • The opposite is also true; sometimes states knowingly pass unconstitutional laws (particularly in regards to abortion) with the sole hope that they'll be appealed to the Supreme Court and ruled constitutional.
  • Many joke political parties end up doing this as they become more popular. Case in point: the Monster Raving Loony Party, as they would, stood for the Bootle by-election in 1990, and placed higher than the SDP candidate. Screaming Lord Sutch was suitably disturbed by this result.
    • The Polish Beer-Lovers' Party managed to win 16 seats in the Polish Parliament. The result forced them to drop their joke image and become a serious group, the Polish Economic Program—a failure at failing if ever there was one.
  • Many of Donald Trump's detractors claim his entire campaign was this, and that he never expected to win. This was most recently expanded upon by his - now former - friend Steve Bannon in his book Fire and Fury. See here, where he even mentions the Trope Namer.
  1. Battlestar Galactica was a very expensive series, and ABC executives only greenlit it because they thought it would flop. Space Operas were huge at the moment (Thanks, Star Wars!), but execs were expecting audiences to get bored with the genre very quickly. ABC wanted a loss-leader to take advantage of this trend: the logic was that people would tune in for Galactica, then stick around for one of ABC's cheap sitcoms once they got bored with sci-fi. No other sci-fi TV series since Star Trek had lasted beyond one season, so Galactica flopping seemed like a good bet. In spite of the prevailing wisdom, Galactica proved to be huge hit, putting ABC in the position of having a show that was too popular to cancel, but too expensive to continue producing. ABC resorted to screwing the show over to drive down viewership to the point where they could cancel it without completely losing face. And the real kicker: the stunt didn't help the ratings of ABC's sitcoms at all. None of that season's new series were hits, and the previous season's big hit, Mork and Mindy, bled ratings thanks to a bad re-tooling.
  2. That is, a company that takes lyrics from the clients and has studio musicians perform them.
  3. Verses included "Warts love my nipples because they are pink / Vomit on me baby, yeah yeah yeah" and "Stevie Wonder's penis is erect because he's blind."