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Cohn: "Think they've got a chance?"

Jensen: "Frankly, no. Not a chance in the world. I'll be surprised if they get halfway to Navarone. It's just a waste of six good men."

The Suicide Mission is an assignment, task, or quest where it's expected that everyone (or nearly everyone) involved will die in the attempt. They're popular in works involving war and action, providing a convenient way to raise the dramatic tension Up to Eleven.

There are numerous reasons for a Suicide Mission to be ordered. Perhaps the situation is truly dire, the line must be held, and the advancing enemy must be stopped. Alternately, General Ripper may believe it's an acceptable tactic, or Colonel Kilgore sets one up to eliminate a nuisance. A general that doesn't fall into the above categories will often be humanized by asking the Commander of the mission rather than ordering.

To be clear, a Suicide Mission is not (always) Unwinnable by Design. There are times when an important task must be attempted without regard for the safety of those undertaking it. A goal must be accomplished, even if the entire team has to die to do it.

The members of the mission will usually be expendables, criminals, Death Seekers, or selfless heroes for the greater good. Expect Anyone Can Die to be invoked throughout the mission, Dwindling Party, and Sole Survivor for anyone who manages to survive. If the characters repeatedly survive these missions, they might be Surprisingly Elite Cannon Fodder.

May result in a Bolivian Army Ending.

Contrast with Suicide Attack. Also see Kill'Em All.


Examples:


Anime & Manga

Comic Books

  • Nth Man the Ultimate Ninja begins with a squadron of American commandos sent to rescue John Doe from the basement of the Soviet KGB. This includes flying a bomber over the city, a tank battle down the streets of Moscow, and a direct assault on the KGB itself. The mission started with over a hundred men, and only two survive to the end.
  • The Suicide Squad gets their name for the suicide missions they get sent on.
  • This is a recurring idea in Sin City, where almost every mission is said to be one in which the hero could easily be killed. Considering the Anyone Can Die structure of the narrative, it isn't far-fetched to believe that they really will meet their end.

Film

  • In Kiss of the Spider Woman, the protagonist accepts a suicide mission to pass a message to political revolutionaries in order to demonstrate his newfound courage.
  • The Matrix. Neo and Trinity's plan to rescue Morpheus.

 Tank: "This is loco. They've got him in a military-controlled building. Even if you somehow got inside, there are three Agents holding him. I want Morpheus back too, but what you're talking about is suicide."

  • In Deep Impact, the crew of the starship Messiah assign themselves one last mission, well aware of the fact that they don't have enough fuel to get away after they they activated the nuclear bombs.
  • The Dirty Dozen centers around one of these.
  • The middle part of Dr. Strangelove, right before Slim Pickins rides the bomb to oblivion!
  • Played for laughs in Monty Python's Life of Brian: the "crack suicide squad" of the Judean People's Front shows up at the crucifixion, apparently to rescue Brian. Their leader cries "Attack!", whereupon all of the members stab themselves and die at Brian's feet.

 "That'll show 'em!"

 Miracle Max: "Have fun storming the castle!"

Valerie: (aside) "Think it'll work?"

Miracle Max: "It would take a miracle."

  • This is the plot of Das Boot; the German U-Boat is supposed to get to Italy via the Strait of Gibraltar, one of the most heavily defended Allied naval zones in the world.
  • Any film adaptation of the Battle Of Thermopylae, such as The 300 Spartans and 300.

  King Leonidas: (from 300) "A new age has begun. An age of freedom! And all will know that three hundred Spartans gave their last breath to defend it!"

  • The mission of the 13 Assassins to kill Lord Naritsugu definitely counts as this, with many of them seeing it as their last chance to die an honorable death in an age of peace.
  • Implied in Disney's Hercules when a de-powered Herc goes to take on the rampaging Titans by himself. Megara tells him he'll be killed; his despondent reply is to tell her: "There are worse things."
  • Sunshine is arguably a suicide mission from the beginning and definitely is one once their Oxygen Garden is destroyed.

Literature

  • The attempt to destroy The Guns of Navarone.
  • There are quite a few of these in Lord of the Rings. Hope beyond possibility of success is one of his major themes.
    • Aragorn leads a hopeless march against the gates of Mordor, to draw the orc armies out of Frodo's way. Fortunately, Frodo destroys the Ring before all the good guys are slaughtered.
    • Frodo believes his own mission is this, since he holds very little hope that he and Sam will make it to Orodruin and is certain that there won't be a return if they do.
    • Faramir has a suicide mission to retake Osgiliath.
    • The end of the Battle of Helm's Deep, where Theoden charges out into the army of uruk-hai is a suicide mission also, to buy time for the women and children to escape.
    • The Rohirrim showing up at the Pellenor Fields is a suicide mission too, since everyone would have died if Aragorn and his army of the Dead hadn't arrived.
  • Tolkien likes this trope in general. In the Silmarillion, Thingol sends Beren on a suicide quest to get a Silmaril from Morogth's crown in exchange for his daughter's hand.
  • In Scott Westerfeld's The Risen Empire, Captain Laurent Zai and his frigate is ordered to destroy a far larger (and more advanced) enemy battleship's receiver array, after his failure to commit ritual suicide after failing to rescue the Emperor's sister from a hostage situation. Naturally he fails again (I.E Fails to die and become a matyr, not the above mission). Gee, he just can't catch a break.

Live Action TV

  • The series finale of Angel
  • The Doctor Who serial Planet of the Daleks. When Jo points out the Thals can escape using the Dalek ship, the Thal she talks to is afraid that will make them hesitate when they are needed.
  • Shows up rather unexpectedly in the finale of Power Rangers Turbo, where all magical and alien technology has been lost, all allies are captured or missing in action, and four of the five rangers go into space on a human space shuttle with the vague goal of "try to find the bad guys and fling ourselves at them in futility". Fortunately when they do randomly come across a member of the evil alliance in the first episode of Power Rangers in Space, there's also a convenient potential ally with four extra morphers to keep them from becoming instant corpses, but they hadn't been expecting that.

Role Playing Games

  • This is par for the course for Troubleshooter missions in Paranoia. Given the use of clones, fatality rates over 500% are normal, and survivors are treated with suspicion by Friend Computer.

Video Games

  • Battlefield: Bad Company centers around B Company, an army company where the most troublesome members of the Army are sent in the hopes that they get killed in their assigned suicide missions.
  • The final plot mission of Mass Effect 2 is named "Suicide Mission" because no ship (except the bad guys) has ever returned after trying to use the Omega-4 Mass Relay. Whether it actually results in anyone dying or not is dependent on how you played the game up to that point and your choices during the mission.
  • One occurs at the end of Modern Warfare 2. With the rest of their squad dead, Soap and Price exact revenge against Gen. Shepherd by taking on the entirety of Shepherd's so-called "Shadow Company". As Soap put it best, "We've got one good UMP. They've got a thousand." And as a testament to their sheer force of will, they succeed and kill Shepherd, along with several hundred Shadow Company soldiers.
  • In World of Warcraft, Thassarian, one of the Knights of the Ebon Blade, gets sent on a Suicide Mission because the Alliance is unwilling to accept him as a Death Knight. However, you later find out that Thassarian's superior had been brainwashed by a Scourge agent, so it may have been his doing rather than the general's own decision.
  • Occurs throughout the Halo series, to the point where this is the only reason the Covenant rank of Arbiter even exists; at moments of extraordinary crisis, the Prophets will pick a disgraced Elite with a distinguished combat record to become the Arbiter, and send him on suicide missions of great importance so that he can regain his honor upon death. Unusually for this trope, the Arbiters are generally held in high regard by the rest of the Covenant.
    • On the lower end of the Covenant military hierarchy, hordes of Grunts are often sent out to die for the sole purpose of making the enemy waste their ammunition.
    • Humanity had its own suicide troops in the form of the SPARTAN-III super soldiers, war orphans who were expected to die by the time they turned 10-12 years old. Even those transferred to more elite units, like Headhunters and Noble Team, weren't expected to live too long.
  • Prince LaCroix in Vampire Bloodlines keeps sending the Player Character on Suicide Missions to get rid of you without sparking a civil war with the Anarchs (who have been rooting for you).
  • In the City of Heroes backstory, the Rikti War ended with a suicide mission led by Hero 1 to cut off the Rikti homeworld from Earth. For a long time, only one survivor, Ajax, was known; Lady Grey's task force reveals that three more survived on the Rikti homeworld: sisters Infernia and Glacia, and Hero 1, turned into a Rikti named The Honoree.
  • In the BETA-infested setting of Muv Luv Alternative, the standard UN tactical doctrine for shutting down enemy bases (hives) involves dropping mechs onto the bases from orbit a la Starship Troopers, while ground forces distract and neutralize the enemy anti-air units. Once the orbital drop squads break into a hive's interior to destroy the hive controller, they are essentially cut off from reinforcements and supplies and outnumbered at least 100 to 1 by BETA. Takeru and his squad was given the mission of destroying the BETA Superior in the Original Hive at the end of Alternative, with predictable results.
  • The six Warriors of Cosmos in Dissidia 012 Duodecim who didn't appear in the 13th cycle of the conflict (being Kain, Tifa, Laguna, Yuna, Vaan and Lightning) give themselves to cut off the source of Chaos' Manikins that had been overwhelming their side, so that the remaining ten would stand a fighting chance in the next cycle. Whether they actually died or were simply freed from the cycle of conflict isn't totally clear, but they all acknowledge that, in doing this, they wouldn't be part of the next cycle, for better or worse.

Web Comics

  • Exterminatus Now is centered on two mercenaries who are repeatedly sent on suicide missions.
  • In Digger, the statue of Ganesh sends Digger and Ed underground to deal with an undead god. He doesn't expect either of them to survive the task.
  • Due to the nature of time travel in Homestuck, anybody who goes back to change the past will die after their purpose has been fulfilled, and their timeline will cease to exist altogether. Aradia put this to good use with her temporal clones, using them as a psychic shield against the Black King's Vast Glub. And then they were all killed by Jack.

Western Animation

  • One episode of Mighty Max involves Max recruiting a team of legendary heroes as they plan to enter Skullmaster's lair to destroy the Crystal of Souls. Each hero teaches Max something important to use on his journey. They succeed in destroying the Crystal, but the heroes stay behind in Hell to Hold the Line while Max is transported to safety.

Real Life

  • When the Lenin Nuclear Power Station at Chernobyl exploded, many of the efforts to bring the situation under control or at least prevent it from getting worse were essentially this. Alexei Ananenko, Valeri Bezpalov, and Boris Baranov in particular quite knowingly and willingly went on a suicide mission to drain water from below the reactor, preventing a much worse disaster.
    • Similar to Chernobyl, a recent example would the Fukashima power plant in Japan. After an Earthquake and a Tsusami, the Fukashima Nuclear Plant unexpectedly began spewing smoke and was in danger of going critical while leaking lethal amounts of radiation. The Fukashima 50, a group of maintainance and repair/support crews stayed behind to try and fix the Nuclear Plant.
  • Happens from time to time in warfare:
    • At the Battle of Cold Harbor during the Civil War, some Union soldiers wrote letters beforehand declaring "I died at Cold Harbor."
    • Any number of battles during World War One were similar to Cold Harbor in this respect, with men going over the top with little or no expectation of survival.
  • Special Operations units occasionally are used in this fashion. The St. Nazaire Raid is an excellent example with the British Commandos and Royal Navy losing 72% of their personnel either killed or captured. However in the process, they also prevented the Germans from using the dock as St. Nazaire to house the battleship Tirptiz that could make in into the Atlantic and cause havoc with their convoys.
  • As mentioned in the 300 example, the Battle of Thermopylae, which pitted 300 Spartans and their allies against the massive Persian Army to buy time for the rest of the Greeks to mobilize for war.
  • Kamikazes. "Duty is heavier than a mountain; death is lighter than a feather." Doubled as a Senseless Sacrifice as the Kamikazi didn't inflict enough damage to balance the loss of machines and trained men.
  • The Forlorn Hope during Napoleonic sieges. Breaching fortifications took weeks, so everyone on both sides knew where the attack would be made. The Hope was the first squad the attackers sent into the breach. Casualties were astronomical, and Hopes were usually made up of men who desperately craved advancement or atonement. (Men who survived the Hope could expect automatic promotion and a removal of any negative marks from their records.)
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