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- The hero is still in time to stymie the villain's overall plan, but only at the cost of a Heroic Sacrifice, or the death of the Love Interest, close friend(s), or (rarely) an innocent bystander. Often results in a Bittersweet Ending or Downer Ending.
- The hero has to come up with a new plan to beat the now-strengthened villain; often the additional strength arrives and is defeated in the final act, but this can also be a Your Princess Is in Another Castle.
- The villain's plan is his own undoing; he succeeds thoroughly but loses anyway.
- The villain's plan was sabotaged by the heroes (or sometimes by a third party) so that his success becomes a failure. The viewers often don't find this out until afterwards.
- The villain is a Well-Intentioned Extremist, and his plan really was for the greater good or at least close enough to be debatable.
- No twist, The Bad Guy Wins. Typically found only in comedies or very dark works. Sometimes a setup for a sequel.
If the final stage of the plan involves a Time Bomb, then it is an example of this trope only if the heroes arrive too late to prevent it from going off. If the heroes defuse the bomb or divert the missiles midflight, then they're Just in Time. This is not to be confused with Unrequited Love Switcheroo.
Compare Remembered Too Late.
WARNING! There are unmarked Spoilers ahead. Beware.
The hero is still in time to stymie the villain's overall plan, but only at the cost of a Heroic Sacrifice, or the death of the Love Interest, close friend(s), or (rarely) an innocent bystander. Results in a Bittersweet Ending or Downer Ending.
- The Dark Knight: Batman arrives in time to rescue Harvey Dent but the Gotham Police are too late to save the love interest. The trope is invoked a second time when Gotham's citizens refuse to participate in the Joker's plan, but the Joker points out Batman still cannot redeem the corrupted Harvey Dent.
- Which was part of the plan, really. Joker was counting on Batman being just fast enough, and the police not being fast enough. That's why he switched the locations. Batman thought he was saving Rachel. Joker KNEW he'd choose Rachel, he's already jumped off of a skyscraper to save her.
- Notably, one of the major themes of Batman Begins is recognizing when it isn't too late to make a difference or turn things around, whatever naysayers may say.
- Team America: World Police: Seemingly invokes but also parodies this trope: Before the Big Bad sets off his doomsday device, he says "You see? No knight came riding in on a white starrion[sic] to save the day. Your world is now over... in five minutes."
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Scooby gang were too late to stop Glory from opening the portal; only a Heroic Sacrifice could close it again.
- Also, "Becoming". Different villain (Angelus), different portal, same result.
- In the second season of 24, the good guys discover the bomb, but it's already armed and can't be stopped. They decide the best course of action is for someone to fly it into the desert, where its effects will be minimized. Jack Bauer volunteers to do so, but George Mason, who's already dying of radiation poisoning, sneaks aboard the plane with a parachute and convinces him to bail out before it's too late.
- Again in season 8: Jack and co. arrive at the apartment where Hassan's execution is being broadcast from, only to discover that the broadcast was time-delayed and that the execution already took place.
- Not sure which of these it fits, it seems mixed, but "The Green Candle" from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Rita makes a candle made from the magic wax Tommy was covered with when she turned him into the Green Ranger. If it burns out while in her hands not only will it strip Tommy of his powers, they will bolster her own magical strength. At the end of the two-parter Jason is too late to stop the candle from burning out while in Rita's possession. They're able to stop the drained power from being added to Rita's own by giving Tommy's coin to Jason (granting Jason the Dragon Shield), but the fact remains that they're down a man, meaning their fight has gotten that much harder.
- In Torchwood: Children of Earth, the world governments have finished rounding up 10% of the world's children and are preparing them to be sent to the 456 when Jack discovers he can use the transmission sent by the 456 to defeat them and save the children, but only at the cost of a child's life. The only child available? Jack's grandson. Worse yet, his mother can do nothing but watch. This leads to Jack suffering a Heroic BSOD.
- In Halo's fifth level, Cortana sends the player to stop an outbreak of the Flood, "before it's too late!". Turns out it is, and the only way to stop them from spreading out into the galaxy is to destroy the titular fortress world along with any human survivors still on it.
- In the level "The Covenant", Johnson is captured to be used to activate the array. Master Chief is a bit too far away, so Miranda goes in after him. They almost sacrifice themselves, but Truth kills Keyes before she can carry it out, then activates the rings. MC and the Arbiter, with the Enemy Mine help of the Flood, arrive Just in Time to deactivate them.
- The Main Quest of Oblivion revolves around recovering the Amulet of Kings so the last of the Septim line, Martin, can relight the Dragonfires to maintain the barrier keeping the daedra from invading Tamriel. Unfortunately, nearly every step in this involves you arriving too late.
- In Modern Warfare 2, you hear your commanding officer yell at you over the radio that General Shepherd has set you up; and should not be trusted. You get the memo shortly after Shepherd shoots you and your team mate, Ghost, in the chest, and has his goons soak your bodies in kerosene and set you on fire. Thankfully, Soap and Price decide to take him out for good.
- Still, at the end of the game Soap and Price are wanted as traitors with no real way to clear their names, the Americans have repelled the Russian invasion but at the cost of many civilian deaths and the eastern seaboard heavily damaged by an EMP, Makarov escaped, and World War III is just getting underway.
- Final Fantasy Tactics - Not only does Ramza never show up in time to make any difference (except punch out some demons), he is played for a Unwitting Pawn for most of the game. (Okay, so he's eventually Vindicated by History, but that's centuries down the road.)
- Guess again. At Fort Besselat, he floods the battlefield, essentially stopping the Lion War as it reached its peak. He also would have probably succeeded in rescuing Orlandeu even if Delita hadn't staged that execution. Before that, he spirits both the Virgo Stone & the Germonic Scriptures away before the Knights Templar can get their hands on them. Granted, they eventually get them anyway, but he still shows up JUST in time to thwart the Big Bad. Whether or not he managed to save his sister is a matter of debate.
- While Ramza fails to stop the corrupt church or the machinations of his childhood friend turned evil Delita, he does arrive in time to deal with a much worse threat, in the form of the Fallen Angel Ultima.
- Persona 3. The party is the Unwitting Pawn that, about halfway in, allows the Big Bad to summon the Eldritch Abomination, and find out three-thirds down the story that they've been too late to stop it ever since. They nonetheless manage to prevent the Abomination from destroying humanity, though the main character dies in the process of doing it.
- In Mega Man Zero 4, Zero arrives at the final boss barely in time (which is an improvement over his usual tardiness; see below) to stop the destruction of the last good land on Earth...but must sacrifice any chance at escape for himself.
- In Endstone, they didn't stop Jon from rocking the two over-stones. Kyri stops him but is tossed through time, leaving her daughter behind and alone.
- In the Lonelygirl15 story "lonelygirl15 Season One Finale", the gang rush into the Order base just in time to see that the Ceremony is over, and Bree dies from having the blood drained out of her. In the Grand Finale, "The Ascension", the Order attempt to do the same thing to Nadia, and the gang arrive in time to interrupt the Ceremony, but too late to save Nadia, who dies from loss of blood anyway.
- Peter Chimaera's Quarter-Life: Halfway To Destruction - the "bad guy from the game" announces Gordon Freeman and his friend Jim are too late to stop his plan before he even begins listing off his demands, and Jim is "blowed to smitheroons"
"IF YOU DO NOT AGREE TO MY DEMANS" - "TOO LATE".
- Ranger was two hours too late to catch the wolves in Comic Fury Werewolf. He had his whole plan thought out, victory was assured for the villagers...And then he un-voted...
- Broken Saints features a subversion that is closest to this: the heroes arriving in the secret lair at all is actually part of the Big Bad's plan; he wants them to become his first disciples in the new world order. Though the heroes are too late to stop the plan, a pair of Heroic Sacrifices allows them to reverse the effect.
The hero has to come up with a new plan to beat the now-strengthened villain; often the additional strength arrives and is defeated in the final act, but this can also be a Your Princess Is in Another Castle.
Anime and Manga
- The characters of Mahou Sensei Negima responded to Chao's preperations by using the time-traveling watch she'd given them to Set Right What Once Went Wrong despite the item being powered only within the few days of the School Festival thanks to the World Tree's magic. After that it was purely a matter of thinking on their feet and hoping for a good outcome. This also falls into the fifth type since her goals as opposed to their own were righteous in their own way.
- Bonus points for being too late because of said time machine, which was rigged to send them into after she had won.
- The Mummy: The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor consists almost entirely of this trope. We can't let Han place the Eye of Shangri-La on top of the tower, or the world is doomed! Wait, he did it? Crap. Okay, as long as he doesn't bathe in the waters at Shangri-La—if he does, the world is doomed! Oh, he did that too. Never mind, just make sure he doesn't raise the Terracotta Army, otherwise the world is d-- ah, nuts. All right, don't let Han cross the great wall with his army, or the world is doomed! By this point, it gets a bit hard to care.
- Outside the raising of the army, it's more a matter of the characters failing on location rather than arriving too late.
- Terminator 3. The goal is still to stop Skynet, but with half the planet nuked it may take a few more movies.
- A New Hope; after Luke and Ben find the destroyed remains of the Jawa mobile base, and Ben realizing it was done by Stormtroopers, Luke realizes these are the same Jawas that sold his uncle the two droids. Then he realizes, that means the Stormtroopers are going there next. He panics and rushes home, but it's too late; the place is destroyed and his aunt and uncle have been murdered. Of course, as Ben later tells him, he really couldn't have done anything anyway. Still, this is what convinces Luke to leave Tattoine and ultimately bring the Empire down.
- Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. The plan to bring the Storm King back to life was set in motion five hundred years ago and, atypically of the genre, the heroes really can't do anything to stop it. They are saved in the end only because Simon manages to Take a Third Option. Word of God says this almost ended up as the sixth type due to Creator Breakdown.
- In Dark Force Rising, Luke and Mara rescue Karrde before he can be forced to reveal the location of the Dark Force fleet. Han and Lando fight to keep Thrawn from capturing the other man who might know where it is and fail, but Karrde has been moved into a Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal and shows them, which should mean Thrawn's forces and the little New Republic team sent out to see if Karrde is right get there more or less at the same time, right? Wrong. Thrawn's already been there, leaving only the fifteen malfunctioning Dreadnaughts out of the hundred and eighty five working ones as bait for a trap. Three Big Damn Heroes moments with three different groups let our heroes survive, but the Empire is much stronger now than it was.
- Happens in the main arc in Babylon 5.
- Not fully the the case, but in Firefly, the crew are trying to steal the Lassiter from this major war criminal with the help of Saffron. He stumbles onto their plot to steal the Lassiter, but it turns out he seems like a nice, soft-spoken guy that loves Saffron, and that she just might have lied to them again. He goes out to get a reward for them, and after he leaves, Mal goes on to call out Saffron for her stories and games. However, the "War Criminal" comes back to find Mal and Saffron in the middle of this conversation, lectures her, and when she tells him how much of a fool he is, he informs them that he had alerted security the second he saw them and now armed Alliance guards are coming to take them in. Mal and Saffron escape, but this is much more difficult.
- Before the writers' strike, this was originally the plot of the second season of Heroes. Peter didn't manage to catch the vial containing the deadly plague virus before it hit the ground and shattered, leading to a desperate attempt to contain it before it ended up wiping out 99% of humanity.
- In the fourth season of Angel, the good guys completely fail to stop the Beast's plan to blot out the sun. It gets sorted out eventually, but it was only the first stage of the Big Bad's plan.
- Subverted in Stargate SG-1: the good guys are racing to destroy Anubis' fleet with the Ancient outpost on Antarctica. As the good guys enter the outpost, they run into Anubis who gloats at them with this trope's name. The subversion occurs when O'Neill steps forward and sticks his hand into Anubis, revealing that it's only a hologram and the Goa'uld was bluffing to buy itself time. Anubis responds by ringing Kull Warriors into the outpost in order to kill the good guys but O'Neill manages to activate the outpost's Attack Drone legions and blasts Anubis' fleet into smithereens while the rest of the team kept the Kull Warriors occupied. Afterwards, O'Neill entered a stasis chamber because he knew the Ancient knowledge in his mind will kill him otherwise.
- In Supernatural's season six finale, Dean, Bobby, and Sam arrive just too late to prevent Castiel from absorbing all the souls from Purgatory While Castiel's plan to gain enough power to prevent the Apocalypse from being reinitiated works, the power goes to his head and a worse enemy comes out of it—which is why they were trying to stop him.
- In one episode of Burn Notice, slippery master thief Natalie, who has already managed to avoid getting caught by Team Weston once before, tricks the group into stealing a chemical weapon for her that she intends to turn around and sell to some Arms Dealer contacts. Michael tries to take the weapon back from her before the deal goes down, but while he's holding Natalie up, her clients arrive at the site for the purchase. Michael has to adjust quickly and come up with a new plan to get out of it.
Michael: Let's go.
- Happens in the final misson of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. The SAS team plus Sgt. Griggs has met up with an American sniper team and is about to enter the nuclear launch facility to take down the Big Bad, only to watch in surprise and horror as two ICBMs lift off right in front of them. The new mission objective is to find fire control and input abort codes that will disarm the missiles in mid-flight.
- A similar scenario occurs in Red Alert 1: Stalin has a nuclear facility, and it is unknown whether any atomic bomb has been armed yet.
- Naturally, some of them are, in time for them to be launched during the mission. Next mission: infiltrate the command centre, deactivate the bombs in flight.
- A similar scenario occurs in Red Alert 1: Stalin has a nuclear facility, and it is unknown whether any atomic bomb has been armed yet.
- Metal Gear Solid 4: Act 3. Ocelot can now disable the world's conventional armed forces, but cannot yet launch a nuclear strike or assume total control over their information warfare machine, but see type 5 below.
- Just about all the endings of the original Drakengard. The canonical one plays it straightest: You're too late to stop Furiae's death and the breaking of the last seal, and have to stop Manah's final form single-handedly. The other endings are some variant of this as well (usually involving being too late to stop Furiae from kicking the bucket somehow), but with copious amounts of It Got Worse and Mind Screw thrown into the mix.
- In The Legend of Zelda a Link To T He Past, you are too late to save Zelda anew, which leads to the second quest.
- In the second Onimusha game, when Jubei finally confronts demonic Evil Overlord Nobunaga, Nobunaga immediately tells Jubei that he is too late and that Nobunaga has completed the final step of his plan, animating a giant golden statue. (Considering that you could only learn of this plan through a couple of notes left laying around, players who either didn't find or pay attention to these notes could conceivably have no idea what Nobunaga is talking about). Fortunately Jubei gets an Eleventh-Hour Superpower from the MacGuffins he has been collecting, enabling him to take Nobunaga down in a not terribly difficult boss fight.
- The finale of the main campaign of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The original plan to relight the Dragonfires to keep the forces of Mehrunes Dagon at bay is rendered moot when Mehrunes Dagon and his army finally break through and appear in the capital. In the end, Martin Septim shatters the Amulet of Kings and sacrifices himself to become an avatar of the dragon god Akatosh and banishes Mehrunes Dagon back to Oblivion. Sadly, Martin does not survive the ordeal.
- In the chess game chapter of American McGee's Alice, Alice has to go to Red territory to rescue the White Queen; like in an actual chess game, the Queen is the strongest piece, meaning that the benign White forces are doomed without her. But Alice arrives too late; the Queen is executed just as she arrives. Alice has to battle the Red army and defeat the Red King (the stage boss) at the Twelfth Square, and finally, set the Pawn she brought as her guide. As per the rules of chess, the Queen is restored via Twelfth Square Pawn Promotion, and the area is cleared.
- Parodied in the Phineas and Ferb episode "Gaming the System", where Perry bursts into Dr. Doofensmirtz's lair, only to be told "Ah, Perry the Platypus! You are too late... wait, is it eleven o' clock yet? * glances at watch* Wait, wait... Now! Now you are too late!" Then Doofensmirtz zaps Perry with his latest invention, the Ballgown-inator, and Perry has to figure out how to defeat Doofesmirtz while wearing an oversized, restrictive dress.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, a lot of emphasis is put on the Aang beating Ozai before Sozin's Comet arrives and super-charges the villains for a period of time. It soon gets demonstrated that they have no way of getting Ozai to fight them before then, and there won't be a world to save if they wait till after. However, it ultimately doesn't matter, as Aang is still able to steamroll Ozai once he goes into Avatar mode.
- There is also a great deal of emphasis put on defeating him during the solar eclipse, but that fails. In fact this could almost fit in the fourth category.
- In Disney's Sleeping Beauty the fairies are too late to prevent Aurora from pricking her finger, forcing them to fall back on the escape clause that Merryweather added to Maleficent's curse.
The villain's plan is his own undoing; he succeeds thoroughly but loses anyway.
- Loyalty has the climax of the Desert retreival arc. Sakura has just spent the better part of Two chapters chargeing alone through the desert, chaseing a hunch that Hinata is still alive. Amazeingly she picks up the trail, and locates the kidnappers. The chase culminates with her spotting Hinata leaned against a tree, tied up. She spends the better part of two hours painstakingly setting up her retreival tunnle and sabatogeingher opponent. Only to discover Hinata was dead long before, her body is boobytrapped. Her eyes have been plucked out. This all leaves Sakura in shock. Hinata was, for all intents and purposes, Sakura's only friend. The Rain chuunin who murdered Hinata sees Sakura in shock, and thinks he'll simply walk up and cut her throat. Instead he gets the surprise of his life when Sakura engages an epic murdurous rage and attacks him. She is nearly killed in turn, but manages to take him down for a Crowning Moment.
- In El Mariachi, Moco succeeds in killing the man who was out to kill him (Azul), and the Mariachi arrives too late to save his love interest Domino from being gunned down by Moco in a fit of jealousy. But when Moco pulls the dick move of shooting the Mariachi's hand so that he won't be able to play again, this is the final straw that sends the Mariachi over the edge, resulting in Moco's death as the Mariachi guns him down.
- Stephen King's The Stand.
- The end of the Dragaera book Five Hundred Years After starts out as a type five or six (it's not clear if the character responsible is a Well-Intentioned Extremist or The Evil Prince) but then ends up as a type three due to a Spanner in the Works. In brief, a challenger for the throne, Adron, uses powerful magic to seize the kingdom for himself, and informs the heroes upon releasing it that nothing they could do would stop him. Unfortunately, at that moment, someone else assassinated the Emperor, meaning that the person the spell will dethrone is Adron himself. This causes a Divide by Zero error in the spell. And since the type of magic Adron was using is powered by direct manipulation of raw chaos, the Divide by Zero actually does tear a hole in the fabric of reality, destroying everything for miles around (including the capital city and Adron himself).
- Happens Foundation And Empire, the second book of the Foundation series. The resolution of the fourth Seldon Crisis doesn't come from Magnificent Bastards as in the previous crisis, but from this trope.
- Dead Rising. Carlito dies if you continue the main storyline, but he has already destroyed one American city and has planted walking children zombie bombs with host families all over the country.
- The third ending of Drakengard. Manah gets the closest to succeeding in her plan—only to get defeated by the dragons, who suddenly decide that enough is enough and that humanity has to die before they end up dooming the world.
- So far in Adventure Quest Worlds, the hero always arrives too late to stop the Chaos Lords from summoning their respective Chaos Beasts (in one case, he/she actually gave the item sought by the first lord of chaos, Escherion, to him so he could use it to free the Lake Hydra, and in another, Discordia was actually a fake Chaos Lord so he didn't have his own Chaos Beast - the real Chaos Lord, Kimberly, on the other hand, used her power of rock to send him/her back in time where her Pony Gary Yellow was enlarged and brought to life). He/she defeats the Chaos Beasts anyway, though.
- In The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, Link's first serious task is to free the Great Deku Tree from a potentially fatal curse. While Link kills the boss that was the source of the curse, the Deku Tree was doomed before Link even started. The Deku Tree knew this all along, he just decided to make the best of a bad situation by getting Link started on his quest. It's later revealed that the Deku Tree reincarnated seven years later.
- Comedic example: In an episode of Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin'?, Ashley declares that she's going to poop in Anthony's bed while he's playing Guitar Hero. Anthony tries to pause the game and stop her, but it turns out that she broke the pause button earlier. By the time he finishes playing... well, I'll let the dialogue speak for itself.
Ashley: You're too late! Enjoy the poop!
- An arc of DuckTales (1987): Glomgold will lose a diamond mine to Scrooge if Scrooge pays a contract by a deadline. After many (Glomgold-induced) failures to pay, Scrooge finally approaches, money in hand, on the day of payment. Glomgold sits back and lets him come, taunting him by counting down the seconds to the expiration, and only after Scrooge presses the payment into his hand at "Three, two..." does he show his watch and reveal the deadline was actually a few minutes ago. This being a children's cartoon, of course, Glomgold can't win, and within minutes, quite by accident, the mine's diamonds are emptied onto Scrooge's land.
- Happens in the finale of The Secret Saturdays: Argost succeeds in capturing Zak and stealing his Kur Powers; unfortunately for him, he had earlier stolen the powers of his anti-matter clone, and as everyone knows, matter and anti-matter tend to not get along well. Cue the villain imploding.
Anime and Manga
- The ending of Death Note.
- This was parodied on a particular Image Board when a certain martial artist explained to Veidt "I killed you and your plans thirty five minutes ago."
- Link please? A CMOA like that should be here for all the world to see.
- Isn't this, like, every Liar Game major arc, ever?
- In the first Story Arc of Grant Morrison's Zenith, the Lloigor Iok Sotot has already beaten and killed most of the heroes, assumed its true form, and actually begins to enter our physical space, when the post-hypnotic command Mandala had implanted in its mind gave it a fatal "seizure".
- In the Watchmen example listed under Type 5, Rorschach leaves his journal behind, which identifies the Big Bad and thus could potentially undermine his victory. The book ends with the question of what, if anything, will come of the journal Left Hanging.
- Ocean's Eleven and, to an extent, Ocean's Thirteen.
- In Damnatus, after the heroes attempt a Type 1 and fail, the Big Bad (half way through his victory monologue) realises that the Soul Jar of an old nemesis has pulled a Type 4 on him by delaying him long enough to be caught in an Earthshattering Kaboom.
- In the first Sword of Truth book, Richard pretends to be touched by Kahlan's power, then makes Darken Rahl open the wrong box, which kills him.
- In the Incarnations of Immortality series, 'With a Tangled Skein', the personification(s) of Fate is trying to prevent a diobolical plot of Satan's to sabotage some sort of ceremony. Many sidequests ensue as they follow their suspect before realizing that they royally screwed up by following a decoy around the whole time. Cue a Satan showing up to mock their failure. It's all right, though, because during the course of the sidequests and subplots they alerted Chronos (the incarnation of time) to Satan's plot, and he simply called the ceremony's hosts and told them to call it off once he was certain they would fail.
- In Mistborn, heroine Vin releases the power of the Well of Ascension and rejects godhood in order to defeat the unknown power in the process of destroying the world. Except that in so doing, she actually unleashed aforementioned power, the dark god Ruin, from his imprisonment, as per a plan that had been set in motion milennia ago. Then it turns out that Ruin's opposite number, Preservation, had been manipulating him into rushing headlong to his own destruction so that a new god combining aspects of both could be elevated.
- Very common on Hustle or Leverage, as befits shows about the good guys' conning the heck out of the villains (and audience).
- The end of ReBoot Season 3, when Megabyte triggers a portal to the Supercomputer to escape Mainframe, but Mouse converts the portal at the last second to instead send Megabyte to the Web. Though if you go through to Megabyte's return in Season 4/My Two Bobs, Mouse's actions only succeed in strengthening Megabyte.
The villain is a Well-Intentioned Extremist, and his plan really was for the greater good or at least close enough to be debatable. If instead the hero had won, it would have been a Nice Job Breaking It, Hero.
Anime and Manga
- The rule of a thumb when fighting Lelouch Lamperouge from Code Geass: when he contacts you first, you have probably already been screwed up three times over by him without noticing it. Depending on how you interpret his character, however, he may either belong here or in the sixth kind.
- Watchmen gives us one of the most magnificent and memorable examples of this trope, as outlined in the page quote above. In fact, this trope used to be known as "Thirty-Five Minutes Ago", for a very good reason.
- If you go back and look you can see that Moore and Gibbons were shoving it in your face the whole time. The two "concurrent" scenes are filled with clocks.
- The Sinestro Corps War, Hal Jordan realizes too late that the Guardians' new authorization for the Green Lantern Corps to kill was the whole reason Sinestro started the war in the first place, meaning The Bad Guy Wins. However, even Jordan acknowledges at the end that the ability to use lethal force like real cops and soldiers does help in defending the universe.
- In the Novelization of the Terran Campaign of the game StarCraft, Danny Liberty talks with Arcturus Mengsk about sending Kerrigan to place the Psi Emitter, which the rebels on Antiga Prime need to lure more Zerg to break the Confederate blockade so they could escape:
Danny Liberty: But the emitter will only amplify. You need a telepath to...Kerrigan. You're going to use Kerrigan to bring in the Zerg.
- In Players of Gor (book 20) Cabot learns of a plot by Cos, Tyros, Brundisium and certain factions in Ar to attack Ar. He gets the evidence, then learns that it's actually happening right now. The evidence is now worthless so he burns it.
- The rule of thumb of anything concerning Revolver Ocelot of the Metal Gear series, the moment you're even minorly involved, you're helping his plans along and you won't know it even if you could read minds. Old Snake stopped Ocelot and prevented JD's nuking, but since it is Ocelot, it was either part of the plan or he had a contingency for such an occassion. In the end, your ultimate goal is achieved, which is to say you accomplished Ocelot's objective, which is to liberate the world from The Patriot's control.
- The opinion of many a more conservative person of the Large Hadron Collider's mode change from firing protons to heavy lead ions as part of the ALICE Experiment, as most US news outlets did not report on the event (the planning of which was the catalyst for many a Doomsday Theory about Black Holes and Strangelets) until an entire day later. Of course, for the rest of us geeks, it's a Crowning Moment of Awesome for Science.
Anime and Manga
- The death of L and Watari in Death Note. The evidence to prove that Light is Kira has finally been found and then Rem kills them. The good guys win in the end, anyway, though.
- Dio in the first arc of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure. Although he seemingly dies along with Jonathan, he comes back for an epic sequel in Part 3, leaving us to imply that he indeed won.
- The heroes of Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory are dogged by this trope, between being unable to stop the nuke from being fired successfully to failing to prevent a Colony Drop.
- Even worse, Jamitov Hymem and Bask Ohm use the entire incident as justification for the formation of the Titans. Everyone losses.
- Played a straight in End of Evangelion, where Shinji arrives too late to save Asuka from being eaten alive, and as a result, gets to see the remains of her Evangelion Unit-02 being thrown on the ground. He is subsequently crucified by the MP EVAs.
- Subverted in the Manga version, where Shinji does arrive in time to save Asuka from being eaten alive. He still gets crucified, though, and this time both Shinji and EVA-01 get giant holes in their hands.
- And played with in Rebuild 2.22, where Kaworu arrives too late to prevent Shinji from initiating Third Impact and thus the end of the world, but arrives just in time to stop Shinji from letting it progress too far. Apparently, though, an alien piloting a giant alien in robot armor is able to throw a spear from above planetary orbit...
- Subverted in the Manga version, where Shinji does arrive in time to save Asuka from being eaten alive. He still gets crucified, though, and this time both Shinji and EVA-01 get giant holes in their hands.
- Watchmen', as quoted at the top of the trope itself, is the most obvious example of this trope. Could be taken as a fourth kind due to the journal or a fifth kind depending on your outlook (indeed, part of the book's appeal lies in interpreting it), but Ozymandias is undeniably a villain (having wiped out a heavily-populated city based on a crackpot scheme) and wins.
- The ending of the first Myth Arc of Bionicle. Makuta Teridax is revealed to have been playing the heroes as Unwitting Pawns, taking possession of Mata Nui's body, a Humongous Mecha containing the whole Matoran World, during a crucial part of the process of reviving the Great Spirit so that when the Toa Nuva finally awoke Mata Nui, they woke it with his mind. Mata Nui's soul itself is placed inside the Mask of Life and jettisoned out into space.
- A Donald Duck comic features Donald desperately trying to find and deliver a recycled can of soda to the soda manufacturer, thereby making his total number of returned cans ten thousand and granting him a yacht to a tropical island. He arrives just a few seconds too late, and is greeted by the manufacturer with this line.
- The "Ground Zero" storyline of Peter David's run on the Hulk. Hulk finds a Gamma Bomb planted in the middle of a small town by the Leader. He fights off the Leader's guards, and is about to disable the bomb—when it blows up.
- In the 2009 DCU one-shot "Faces of Evil: Kobra", the new leader of the Kobra cult is broadcasting to the world his intentions to transform the organization and kill everyone associated with his predecessor. He does this from within a Checkmate base, where earlier in the issue, Superman had delivered a bunker full of half-reptilian Half-Human Hybrid babies rescued from the predecessor's Tyke Bomb program. As the new Kobra prepares to execute the infants, Superman takes off from the JLA satellite, but finds only flaming rubble when he arrives at what used to be the Checkmate base, making it apparent that the broadcast was not live.
- Star Wars Episode V. Luke arrives on Cloud City too late to save Han and later the heroes race to save him from Boba Fett only to arrive as the ship takes off.
- Hell, Luke botches it so thoroughly that the heroes have to double back to rescue him.
- On the other hand, the only reason the heroes were able to escape in the first place was because R2D2, who came with Luke, fixed the hyperdrive.
- Moreover, Lando Calrissian is trying to triple-cross freakin' Darth Vader. Think about that for a minute. Do you think Vader wouldn't have pretty much sensed what was going down the moment it started, if Luke hadn't been holding his full attention elsewhere? Between them, Luke and R2-D2 did save Han, Leia, and the rest.
- Also, compare and contrast: Luke went to Cloud City against the counsel of his teachers, and appears to have succeeded in saving his friends. Decades earlier, Anakin listened to the advice from his teachers to ignore his dreams that his mother was in danger...until too late. Which incident turned out to be the more catastrophic?
- Ahem - Episode III, anyone? Yoda loses. The Old Republic is in ruins, the Jedi have been slaughtered, Palpatine is triumphant...
- Arguably, in the long run, this ends up turning into a Type 3 or 4.
- Hell, Luke botches it so thoroughly that the heroes have to double back to rescue him.
- Fight Club, the film version. Project Mayhem's plan to destroy a series of office buildings works, and the Narrator is too late to stop it. Although it's an odd case, as he was also the one trying to do it.
- He did manage to get rid of Tyler, though.
- It's revealed in the final confrontation that Simon Phoenix did this to John Spartan in Demolition Man before they were both frozen. Phoenix had already killed the hostages and chilled their bodies, so that Spartan wouldn't have known about them (via thermal scan) until after the inevitable explosion and so that Spartan would have been blamed for their deaths when they were discovered.
- In Dr. Strangelove instead of then stopping the attack that would set off the doomsday weapon they fail and and small amount of the population has to flee to underground bunkers in order to survive.
- Happens to Harry in Speed when he arives just in time at the building to be blown up by the bomb planted there as a diversion. It's not the showdown and the villain isn't there, though.
- In Daniel Pinkwater's The Snarkout Boys And The Avocado Of Death, the Diabolical Mastermind villain succeeds at destroying a Cosmic Keystone by having an orangutan eat it while the heroes were busy capturing him. The effect of his victory is that all the licensed realtors in the United States are possessed by extraterrestrials.
- In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "Shadows in The Moonlight", in Olivia's dream, when the son calls on his father, his torturers cut his throat and kill him before his Physical God father appears. Of course, it's not too late to invoke Taken for Granite.
- One episode of the BBC Robin Hood series used this type - Robin Hood and his men attempt a Big Damn Heroes moment to save Allan a Dale's brother and his band of thieves, who are about to be hanged. When they arrive and hide in the shadows, the Dangerously Genre Savvy Sheriff gloatingly reveals that he had hung the group hours ago, since he knew Robin would be here for a dramatic rescue at noon. Instead of saving the condemned men, Robin is staring at already-dead corpses dangling from ropes while the Sheriff laughs.
- Very well done in season 8 of 24, Jack Bauer and his team are storming the base where the terrorists are holding President Hassan, while President Taylor watches what she thinks is a live feed of his "trial". Except the feed is pre recorded and Hassan was already dead before Jack entered the building. The Big Bad and all his men are killed or captured, but they still succeeded in their ultimate goal.
- An interesting example in Supernatural: Ruby succeeded in tricking Sam into releasing the devil (at which point she is superfluous), and then Dean comes through the door.
Ruby: You're too late!
- One particularly memorable episode of Babylon5 has the doctor engaged in a Race Against the Clock to stop The Plague that is about to wipe out an entire species. He discovers a cure, and just when you expect a Just in Time ending, the doors to the quarantine zone are opened to reveal Everybody's Dead, Dave.
- An odd twist to this trope happens in the Deep Space Nine episode "The Visitor", where an elderly Jake Sisko informs his stuck-in-time father that the only way to get him unstuck is for Jake to commit suicide at a certain time. We then realize what that "medicine" was that Jake took at the begining of the episode.
- This is basically how FlashForward ended; the protagonists were too late to prevent the second blackout and all the disastrous effects of the first one can be considered to have been repeated (although they were in time to broadcast a warning that probably saved millions of lives). Since the show was cancelled and the writers didn't have time to resolve the story, this probably would ultimately have turned into an example of 2, 3, or 4, but as it stands we have no idea what was supposed to happen.
- SuperGirl: The episode "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" culminates with Lena Luthor about to give her brother Lex Luthor a treatment to save his life from cancer which would also give him super powers. Although it was decided to be done by doing a normal surgery (per Jimmy's sister), the power suddenly went out in the hospital, and they went ahead with the new treatment instead. Lena correctly speculates that Lex had the power taken out to force the treatment to be tested, and denied Lex the treatment. Lex triumphantly stands up, announcing he had his goon give him the treatment ten minutes ago, and that he had also caused Jimmy to be shot, and then knocks out Lena.
- The Goon Show ends one episode with the time bomb version:
Seagoon: Three seconds? I've got to get out of here!
- Happened in the backstory of Warhammer 40,000 in which the Ultramarines, Space Wolves and Dark Angels Space Marine legions are being stalled by the traitor legions as much as possible while the Siege of Terra rages on. The three legions eventually arrive at Terra, only to find out that the traitor legions had already fled into the Eye of Terror and that the Emperor had been mortally wounded.
- But it should be noted that the fact that the space marine legions were going to arrive and help forced Horus to speed up his plan and ultimately get killed.
- Tanz der Vampire lets Professor Abronsius and his assistant Alfred believe they've saved the beautiful Sarah from the clutches of the vampire lord Graf von Krolock, complete with a dramatic getaway from the ball where she was the Graf's main course. All seems well, and Alfred and Sarah embrace, at which point Sarah reveals a shiny new pair of fangs and attacks Alfred, draining him and making him a vampire too. The rest of the vampires then arrive to claim the audience themselves as their new prey...
- Again, Call of Duty 4. The climax of the U.S. assault on the unnamed Middle Eastern country occurs when the player's marine squad fail to find Al-Asad in the broadcast center, while a simultaneous attack by SEAL Team 6 has found a live nuclear bomb in his palace. An epic scene ensues when every unit still in the city scrambles to make it onto helicopters and out of the blast radius, but the SEAL team fails to defuse the bomb and the player's heli is knocked out of the air by the blast wave.
- Also, the next level has you crawling around in the aftermath of the nuke. Then you die.
- Since Diablo II features the player trying to chase down Baal and the Dark Wanderer, respectively, Acts II and III both end on this note. Duriel, the Act II boss, taunts you saying:
"Looking for Baal?"
- Mephisto points this out as well when you confront him at the end of Act III:
"You're too late! Ahahahahaha!"
- It happens again in the Lord of Destruction Expansion. You have to stop Baal from getting to the Worldstone or all is lost. But when you defeat him it turns out he has already corrupted the Worldstone.
- Don't forget about the first game, either.
"Abandon your foolish quest, all that awaits you is the wrath of my master! You Are Too Late to save the child. Now you will join him... in HELL."
- In Super Paper Mario, the sixth chapter fits perfectly. Sammer's Kingdom is consumed by the Void before the party can reach the Pure Heart.
- Master of Magic intro movie. Non-villainous example, but still:
Tauron: Old man! You seek the spell of mastery!
- In The Godfather game, you arrive too late to prevent Sonny's death and can only avenge him by fighting his killers and finding the man responsible.
- And earlier on, you also fail to prevent your girlfriend's death. But like the previous example, you also have to find and kill the responsible.
- Final Fantasy. Constantly.
- In Final Fantasy IV, you arrive too late to prevent Anna's death. And Golbez from collecting the crystals. And the summoning of the Giant of Bab-il. FF4 is quite full of fail on the part of the heroes.
- In Final Fantasy V, you arrive too late to prevent the end of the universe but the universe starts reboots.
- In Final Fantasy VI, you arrive too late to prevent the poisoning of Doma. And The End of the World as We Know It.
- In Final Fantasy VII, you arrive too late to give Yuffie the what-for because she's already been kidnapped.
- Or to save Aeris, or to save Sector 7, or to save Cloud's hometown, or (possibly) to save humanity from Meteor and/or Holy, or...
- In Final Fantasy IX you are too late to prevent Brahne's attack on Lindblum.
- In Final Fantasy Tactics, you arrive too late to prevent St. Ajora's resurrection.
- Subverted in Chrono Trigger, in that you arrive too late to prevent Marle from being deleted from the timeline, but you are Just in Time to prevent the event that deletes her. I hate time travel.
- In Assassin's Creed 2, Ezio arrives at the Doge's palace too late to stop Carlo Grimaldi poisoning him, and though the Templar is killed, the Doge dies anyway and another Templar, Marco Barbarigo, is installed as the new Doge. For now anyway.
- The third level of Eternal Darkness. Anthony is corrupted by the evil magical scroll intended for Charlemagne, and he slowly becomes more and more zombified as you progress through the level, desperately trying to find Charlemagne and warn him that conspirators want him dead. At the end of the level, Anthony staggers into a room to find two of the evil monks standing over the king's corpse, slumped in a chair. Really, Eternal Darkness features a few examples of this sort of thing, but Anthony's is probably the best one.
- In Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal, you are too late to prevent Yaga-Shura from burning down Saradush and slaughtering its inhabitants. At least you get to add him and his army to the tally of people killed during the siege shortly afterwards.
- In Rift, the Defiant player characters are too late to stop Regulos thanks to the Guardians smashing the Defiants' capital city to tiny bits. The player character is simply buying enough time to get themselves to a time machine that will give them a chance to make sure the Bad Future they're in never starts. They succeed but mere moments after stepping through all of Regulos' minions slaughter the remaining Defiant stronghold since they had to power down their defenses in order to give the time machine enough juice.
- In Mega Man Zero the title character is exceptionally bad at this. In Zero 2 he chases Elpizo during the failed attack on Neo Arcadia to save him, only to find the Four Guardians standing over his body. Later in the same game he is again chasing Elpizo, this time to stop him from killing X. He arrives just in time to watch Elpizo destroy his friend's body. In Zero 3 he tries to stop a missile from destroying a human inhabited part of Neo Arcadia...doesn't quite make it in time. And in Zero 4 he is standing at the boss door when Ragnarok fires, destroying Neo Arcadia.
- Of course, this does make the vengeance a bit sweeter when you beat the boss in question.
- In Looking for Group, Cale and The Cavalry make a dramatic Gondor Calls for Aid march to the North to help their allies fend off an invasion from The Empire, only to find that the defending forces have already been soundly defeated, the city and fortifications burned to the ground, and the remaining survivors in retreat.
- Subverted in They All Laughed (Project Apollo.net)
Marigold: Oh hohohohoho! So you've finally come, Ray Vincent! But how unfortunate that You're Too Late! My sinister plan for world domination is now unstoppable! Forget saving the world — you'll be lucky to save the taste of bitter defeat!
- Bob and George Only a few moments too late
- The end of Act 5 in Homestuck. The first person to realize what has happened is Rose, in [S] Cascade. They already know something is wrong because they haven't found the Green Sun, but it takes her about five minutes of staring at The Tumor before she realizes what it is, and just seconds before it explodes and kills her and Dave the reader is given a close-up of her eyes widening.
- Evil Empresses, Gender Non-specific Evil Miscellany:
1. My planned assault on the rebel base will take place after my assault on the rebel base.
- In Chop Chop a swashbuckler swings in to rescue someone on death row, who had already been decapitated.
- Swiper the Fox from Dora the Explorer. He is god of this trope.[context?]
- Played straight for comedy in the Phineas and Ferb episode "That Sinking Feeling".
"You know what, Perry the Platypus, I think it's time for you to go. That's right, go on, your services are no longer required. The lighthouse is gone and there's nothing you can do about it, so you might as well run back to Major Monogram and tell him you lost this one."
- The second season finale of Beast Wars ended with Megatron basically erasing the Maximals from existence. Season three had them fix it, but not every region got that part.
- Happened in the Captain Planet episode "Whoo Gives a Hoot". The Planeteers attempt to stop Looten Plunder with a court injunction against clear-cutting an old growth forest. Despite their success in finding what they need to stop the cutting, Looten's clumsy, stupid minions actually managed to succeed in stealing the evidence, leaving Plunder free to continue. The Planeteers and judge eventually discover Looten's deception, only to discover that Looten had already cut down all the trees. The episode ends on that note, with him laughing in their faces about it and daring them to try and stop him again.
- Happens to the heroes in every Season Finale of Code Lyoko except the last one; they'd spend much of each season working to undo the damage XANA had done in the previous one.
- In the She-Ra and the Princesses of Power episode "Mer-Mysteries," the gang spends the entire episode unearthing the spy in their midst and succeed. However, because they were so distracted, they didn't realize that Hordak had already launched a surprise attack which already concluded, even though Glimmer could have teleported them over instantly to stop it. "It happened earlier this very evening," as Double Trouble put it.