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"Leave anything for us?"
—General Kirby and John Matrix, Commando
When the police/military/other supporting group to the scene only after the hero has defeated the monster, killer, or Big Bad.
Sometimes this is played for humor, or to play up their uselessness compared to The Hero. Often, though, it serves the same purpose as No Ontological Inertia—while the hero has to defeat the Big Bad alone for the purposes of the story, The Cavalry is necessary to sweep up loose ends and ensure a happy ending, especially in real-world settings where the hero is on the side of law and order. Thus, they'll arrive just too late to interfere in the big fight, but just in time to handcuff the crooks... and to ensure that the hero isn't anticlimactically killed by a stray remaining mook or some other logical but narratively unimportant danger that wouldn't necessarily have gone away with the Big Bad's death. It also makes Post Dramatic Stress Disorder less hazardous for the hero, or allows the After-Action Patchup to go on without worrying about clean-up.
Usually signified by the growing sound of sirens in the background. On occasion, the knowledge of their approach is what makes the villain's attacks especially frantic, or especially powerful, or what have you—he has to finish the hero and flee.
(Note that this is really about cases where the cavalry arrives, as it were, just after the nick of time. If the hero defeats the killer, then phones the police to come mop up, and they turn up 15 minutes later in response to the phone call, that doesn't count.)
- In Holyland, after Yuu beats Shougo, the other thugs beat Yuu up and the police only arrive while the beatdown is already in progress.
- If Officer Jenny shows up, it's always after the villain (usually Team Rocket) has been defeated by Ash and his friends.
- In Pokémon Ranger and The Temple of The Sea, Jenny shows up to arrest the Phantom after Ash defeats him.
- In Berserk, Guts and Caska are attacked by over 100 enemy soldiers. Guts manages to create an opening for Caska to escape, and she runs to get the rest of the Band of the Hawk. Eventually, the Cavalry arrives to bail out Guts, only to find the battlefield quiet, with corpses littered all over it. They find Guts still and unmoving against a tree, and immediately assume the worst. And then Guts wakes up from the nap he took after single-handedly winning a battle where he was outnumbered by over a hundred to one.
- In One Piece, Shanks and the Red-Hair Pirates show up at Marinford at the end of the Paramount War after Ace and Whitebeard died.
- Often happens in Lucky Luke, as a subversion of the trope found in classic Westerns of the cavalry always arriving on time. Lampshaded in one adventure (I think it was "The Great Duke") in which the cavalry arrives late, and the commanding officer has a nervous breakdown because of the breach of tradition.
- In Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, the cops arrive to clean up the mess after the climax. This is a rare case in that the heroes also have to flee the scene.
- Astro City: The Honor Guard shows up after Steeljack puts the villain out of commission, and just get to lug him off to prison and send for an ambulance for Steeljack.
- In a 2-part Darkwing Duck comic that was published in Disney Adventures, Gizmoduck shows up with the police to help Darkwing nab Megavolt, only to see that he's already managed to capture the villain.
- Issue #27 of The Powerpuff Girls has the girls not allowed to go out for any reason—even crimefighting—until they clean their room. Each time they do, Him secretly makes it messy again.
- Towards the end of Bone, Phoney Bone arrives with reinforcements immediately after the dragons subdue their queen, Mim.
Phoney: Ohh! I missed the war!
Film - Live-Action
- The police come to save Sarah Conner and zip up Kyle Reese in a body bag only after the Terminator is defeated.
- Die Hard:
- Mostly subverted in the first three films, in that the police show up early in the film, but cannot intervene due to terrorists threatening hostages/airports/cities, leaving John McClane the only man able to save the day.
- Played pretty straight in the end of Live Free or Die Hard, though.
- At the end of Eight Legged Freaks, the state police arrive, expecting to find aliens, rather than giant spiders.
- In Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Clamp and his SWAT team enter the building just in time to see the gigantic mushy puddle that's left after all the gremlins get electrocuted.
- Subverted in Lethal Weapon 3; upon arriving a building with a car bomb in the garage, Riggs insists that he and Murtaugh have a look under the justification that "the bomb squad never gets here on time!" They go to the bomb, Riggs messes around with it, screws up the timer, and it goes off—and seconds after it does, the bomb squad shows up, having arrived in plenty of time to deal with the bomb had Riggs and Murtaugh not interfered.
- The Mist
- Played straight (probably intentionally) in Hot Fuzz, complete with a helicopter.
- In Firewall, the police show up practically the second after Harrison Ford killed the last bad guy.
- The movie version of The Mask... The Mask has just finished flushing out Dorian Tyrell and his goons, when the police burst in with his best bud in tow, to 'arrest those men!'
- The military arrives after The Monster Squad succeeds in banishing Dracula and the other monsters into Limbo.
- In I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, the police arrive after our Heroes have killed Mr. Big (and most of his Mooks).
- Big Trouble in Little China: The police arrive after David Lo Pan and the three Storms are destroyed. Justified in that Jack Burton and Wang Chi deliberately did not notify them.
"Cops got better things to do than get killed!"
- Demolition Man: The San Angeles police arrive at the CryoPrison after John Spartan has killed Simon Phoenix.
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit?: The police arrive right after the weasels die laughing and Judge Doom is liquidated.
- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: After Mola Ram is killed, a company of British-led Indian troops arrives to capture the remaining Thugee. Though they arrive when the main trio are trapped hanging from a bridge and the Thugee are about to shoot them full of arrows.
- Judge Dredd: After Dredd kills Rico, the rest of the Judges show up outside the building.
- Predator 2: After Harrigan kills the Predator and the other Predators let him go, the rest of Keyes' team arrives in their helicopter and the Los Angeles police arrive in squad cars.
- Silence of the Lambs: The local police and FBI arrive after Clarice Starling kills Buffalo Bill.
- Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow: The British Airborne Aircraft Carriers arrive to rescue Sky Captain and Polly Perkins (and presumably all of the animals) after the rocket ship is destroyed and Dr. Totenkopf's scheme is foiled.
- Felix and the Marines show up just after Bond beats the villains in GoldenEye.
- The police usually shows up at the end of each Friday the 13 th film to clean up the mess that Jason leaves behind.
- At the start of the 2009 Sherlock Holmes film, Inspector Lestrade and the police arrive in time to arrest the villain and his mooks, after Holmes and Watson have defeated the mooks and unmasked the villain.
- In Case 39, after Emily has climbed out of the water, we hear the sound of approaching police sirens right before the credits start rolling.
- This is so prevalent in Filipino action movies that seeing the police actually arrive on time to aid in the warehouse shootout counts as a twist.
- Commando: The United States Army arrives only after Matrix has defeated every enemy soldier on the island, including the Big Bad and his Dragon.
- Captain America (comics): Reinforcements arrive after Captain America has killed Red Skull and his lieutenant.
- Parodied in a short featuring The Three Stooges, literally involving the U.S. Cavalry; their commander isn't pleased. "You mean we made this nasty trip for nothing?"
- In Robert E. Howard's "The Phoenix on the Sword", Conan the Barbarian deals with both assassins and Eldritch Abomination, and then, his courtiers show up. One is, however, able to show it was not All Just a Dream.
- In Colas Breugnon, the military aid sent by prince de Nevers to help a besieged town arrives only after both sides have made an agreement, ended the siege and proceeded to feast together; these latecomers are welcomed with laughter and politely asked to go away.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire Lord Walder Frey showed up at the climactic battle of the civil war only after it was over - assuring the victors that, of course, he had been riding to their aid. Ever since he's been mocked as the "Late Lord Frey" as a dual reference to his tardiness and refusal to just die already (He's over ninety and has over 100 descendants.)
- Sunshine: After Con and Rae take down Bo, the police turn up just in time to arrest them for being at the scene of the conflict.
- Monty Python's Flying Circus had "The Bishop", in which the title character would always arrive just too late to prevent various members of the clergy from getting bumped off (by the Church Mafia?)
- Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Friday's Child". After the Klingon is killed, Scotty and a Security team arrive to prevent any further hostilities.
- Lampshaded, actually:
Kirk: The cavalry doesn't come over the hill in the nick of time anymore.
- 1960's Batman series. The Gotham police always arrive after Batman and Robin have subdued the Guest Villain and his henchmen to take them into custody.
- A mid-90s adaptation of Joan of Arc had her army prepare a rescue outside the city walls, only to look up and see the smoke of her pyre rising above the rooftops.
- In 24, the cavalry usually manages to help somehow and has saved Jack at least once; but they did arrive late in Season 6. Jack storms the enemy base kills all the Mooks and hangs the Big Bad. His partner arrives with a heavily armed strike force moments later; but given that the strike force failed epically earlier in the day, their late arrival may have been for the best.
Mike Doyle:(looks at Jack's carnage, shakes head) Damn, Jack.
- 'The Goons' episode The Red Fort features an inversion. The hero, Major Bloodnok is about to be shot by firing squad as Neddy Seagoon rides forth with the Cavalry to rescue him. Point of view rapidly shifts back and forth between the galloping cavalry and the firing squad, up until the final moment when Bloodnok is shot, ending the episode.
- Played for drama in Magic: The Gathering's Ravnica novel when all of the angels, along with their sky fortress, Sunhome, fail to show up during the final battle; they don't reappear until the end of the next book.
- The first boss fight in Beyond Good and Evil ends with Jade and Pey'j defeating an alien monster and then the Alpha Sections who are supposed to protect them from the aliens arrive. Pey'j proceeds to chew out the "defenders" but is promptly told to shut up. It is later revealed that Alphas are part of a Government Conspiracy and they were supposed to arrive late, wherease Pey'j is a high-ranking member of La Résistance.
- Both Max Payne games end with Max being found by the police after the final shootout. Though in the first game, they are out to apprehend him.
- Invoked in Dawn of War: Winter Assault. General Sturnn holds back his Imperial Guard reserves, knowing that they would be cut to pieces if they tried to make landfall during a fight.
- Entirely possible to do in Fire Emblem, but that's up to the player. In one case in Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, defeating the enemy before their help arrives (really easy to do) makes you miss a really good recruit-able character, making him a case of What Happened to the Mouse? afterwards.
- Done in the Aladdin episode "The Secret of Dagger Rock. Iago and Abu, armed to the teeth (or beak, in Iago's case) show up up to help... only to to find the action ended hours ago.
- Scooby Doo. "And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for You Meddling Kids!", just before the cops snap on the handcuffs. This is eventually lampshaded in Scooby Doo Mystery Inc.
- Swat Kats: "Looks like the Enforcers are here - late as usual."
- Jonny Quest episode "The Quetong Missile Mystery". After the Quests have destroyed the missile and escaped from General Fong's forces, Commissioner Wa and a boatload of Quetong police show up (and presumably take the remaining Mooks into custody). Possibly Lampshaded when Dr. Quest says "Too bad they missed the party."
- Part of Daffy's thrilling conclusion pitch of The Scarlet Pumpernickel to the WB execs. Only a part of it, mind.
- Princess Luna from My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic is well known for her vanishingly small amount of screen time, and the constant comments from the fans of "Wow, it would sure be nice if the second most powerful character in the show would notice that the villian is about to take over the world" is lampshaded when she turns up at the END of "A Canterlot Wedding" and asks if she's missed anything.
- The Spartan relief force arrived at Marathon just in time to take a curious look at the Athenian's work.
- The Siege of Khartoum in 1885. By the time the relieving British Army arrived, the Siege just ended in favour of the Mahdist rebels, killing Chinese Gordon and much of the Egyptian garrison within. The British Army, realising their failure, withdrew.
- The failure of the steamers to arrive on time caused a huge political fallout back in Britain, causing the collapse of the Gladstone government and a Strongly Worded Letter of rebuke from the Queen to the Prime Minister. It wouldn't be until 1898 that the British would reconquer Sudan.