The Action Survivor is an Innocent Bystander in dangerous circumstances. He won't so much get The Call as be pinned by a telephone pole, thus trapping him in an adventure that a more qualified Action Hero would have trouble sorting out.
The Action Survivor is the opposite of the Action Hero; he's pretty normal in just about every way. If the Action Hero is ostensibly a fantasy idealized-self, the Action Survivor is more of a self insertion for the viewer, giving us someone easily related to because we're wimps. However, Wish Fulfillment figures into this character's development. While outrunning shadowy evildoers and keeping the MacGuffin out of reach, he'll discover he's far more cunning, resourceful and resilient than he gave himself credit for...He'll likely learn more along the way.
Some movies will even give the slender protagonist a power upgrade via ancient prophecy/the one-ness, etc. Most films forgo this for Badass Normal... or suck a little less. If the character gains super powers this way, expect them to have to go from Super Loser to competent.
Subverted in Code Geass. Ordinary guy Lelouch gets mixed up in an insurgent attack and reactionary annihilation of the area when suddenly he is randomly handed his "geass". Then he reveals that he is NOT an ordinary guy and proceeds to not just survive the conflict but fight, commanding the insurgents like his own personal army (like they later become). We also later find out that his gaining his "geass" was anything but random.
Plenty in Zone of the Enders: Dolores, as its premise is an ordinary family thrust into world shaking events. James may or may not count as he is actually pretty big and has had military training, though he starts off pretty damn rusty and with none of the 'elite pilot/man of destiny' badges given to the other ZOE protagonists. His son Leon on the other hand is a meek and pussywipped computer programmer with an obvious Oedipus complex, yet manages to surprise even himself by facing up to vicious beatings, pushes his programming and mathematical skills to their absolute limit (he is the primary designer of a module for atmospheric entry at one point, despite having no training and only scrap to work with), and showing remarkably quick thinking in a crisis.
He contrasts nicely with his sister Noel, who takes after her father by being tough, bluntly spoken and powerfully built. She however often comes across as a Faux Action Girl, possibly because she's far too levelheaded to perform the moments of terrified bravery her brother manages. Perhaps he realises she's far more masculine and infinitely less whiny (though that's like being less hot than the sun...) than he will ever be and feels the need to compensate.
Naruto has Shikamaru. Unlike the "born great" Sasuke or Kakashi , he has no motivation and is an average ninja (compared to the ridiculously overpowered main characters and bad guys). However, he has a genius level intellect, and when duty calls, he can use that intellect to defeat much stronger opponents. Significantly, he was one of the first characters in the series to defeat an Akatsuki member, and the first to defeat one in a one-on-one fight. With a hole in the ground and some string.
The surviving members of the Japanese taskforce in Death Note.
The main group of Bio-Meat: Nectar, especially in part 1. Just some kids running away from The Swarm armed with ingenuity, guts, lighters, and hairspray. Slightly subverted in parts 2 and 3 when they come closer to being Action Heroes.
The main cast of 20th Century Boys. None of them, except Otcho, are particularly strong, fast, or badass, and they're all up against a Big Bad trying to take over the world with the help of a brainwashed cult. Admittedly, they do level up over the course of the story (especially Kenji).
Kaname from Full Metal Panic!. Normal high school student that just happens to get involved in an elite military unit. Subverted (Double Subverted?) In that she isn't an ordinary person, but her particular abilities aren't likely to help her in a situation requiring near-superhuman strength and agility, though she is fairly athletic for a girl her age.
Keiko Yukimura from YuYu Hakusho has no supernatural powers to defend herself from demonic and powerful forces. She gets by by being plucky and resourceful, shown especially when she and Botan are up against zombies controlled by insects.
Saiga of Speed Grapher had become a credentialed Action Survivor by the beginning of the series, as a veteran war photographer. After he becomes an Empowered Badass Normal he still exhibits every other feature of the trope.
Myung Fan Lone from Macross Plus. Here we have a person whose life has been almost 100% CRAP for years, completely helpless as Sharon Apple has staged everything to give Isamu the thrill of death... and suddenly something snaps inside of her. The next scenes have her escaping from her prison and using her smarts and quick thinking to stop Sharon.
Hercule/Mr. Satan of Dragon Ball Z and GT. He and his dog are the only survivors of an otherwise 100% genocide on normal humans in the Buu Saga and complete mind control of humanity in GT. All because he had the sense and decency to befriend Buu.
Yukiteru Amano in Mirai Nikki is this trope mixed with a healthy dose of Cowardly Lion. Before the Battle Royale for Godhood started, he was just a loner who stood on the sidelines, and in most situations, he prefers running away or leaving most of the killing to Yuno, but despite this, he's actually killed just as many diary owners as she before he Took a Level in Badass.
Mako Mankanshoku from Kill la Kill is essentially the Cloud Cuckoolander from a slice of life high school comedy, who somehow found herself in a high-stakes shonen action show. She survives handily, in no small part by operating on Toon Physics instead of whatever set of rules everybody else is following.
While on Earth, humans are still one of the dominant life forms in Digimon V-Tamer 01 and Digimon are nothing but data. In the Digimon World, everything is data and humans are, at best, strategists who are useful enough at something to gain protection from monsters.
The Jaime Reyes incarnation of the Blue Beetle did not so much answer The Call as accidentally pick up what caused it, take it home, and put it on his dresser. He didn't want to be a hero in the beginning; instead he got told "Hey kid, we need you to help save the world." (And wound up throwing up in the Batcave.) He gradually eased into being a hero after realizing his own resourcefulness, and while he does have an alien bugsuit, he's not a fighter by nature (and actually got told by Robin that he kinda sucked at fighting) and tends to get by on cleverness and his brilliant brain, simply using the suit as a tool and flying by the skin of his teeth. All the more so when he's been thrown into a do-or-the-world-dies situation without his super powered bug suit. A rare case of a superhero NOT actually being an Action Hero, perhaps even less so than his predecessor, Ted Kord.
Smiley Bone of Bone always seems to know exactly where incoming arrows will be and to have a shield ready appropriately and facing the right way.
Julie Martin from Echo is just an amateur photographer who had the misfortunate of witnessing, and getting caught up in, the murder of Dr. Allison Porter of the Phi Project. Now she is stuck in the Beta Suit and trying to figure out what is going on, who is doing it, and how she can get out of the entire situation. Fortunately, she has Ivy Raven to help her out.
Yorick in Y: The Last Man fits this to a Y. Sometimes he is a bit of a jerk.
Pendragon from Vampirella is just a stage magician with no fighting ability, but he keeps managing to get by.
Tobias Talltree of Clouded Sky is just an ordinary kid who happens to have the great misfortune of having received a Murkrow as his starter Pokémon, the consequences being that not only is he mistrusted and held in contempt by everyone, but is also constantly being forced into one life-threatening situation after the other through no fault of his own, and continuing to come out of them all unscathed through sheer dumb luck.
Hands: Andrew is a normal guy dumped into Equestria, but can be surprisingly dangerous if pushed, especially if he has his weapons on him. As the demon found out...
Shining Armor from the Pony POV Series. While he is a trained guard and has training sufficient training, he ends up facing off with an insane Hooviet Super Soldier who devotes a small army to trying to kill him. He manages to survive the battle and handle himself pretty well. This is fortunate for him, considering he's also a Weirdness Magnet who attracts situations where one needs to be this.
The Matrix. As Thomas Anderson, the protagonist basically stumbles through the events of the film, relying on luck and the help of others to get him out of situations. As Neo, however...
In the sequels, a number of the residents of Zion are this. Of particular note is the character Michael Karl Popper aka the Kid. He's not a combatant or even technically gifted like the Operators, but his bravery and determination help at key momentsnote Beyond his role in the Last Battle of Zion, his most significant accomplishment is waking himself up from the Matrix without using a red pill.
The Lord of the Rings. Frodo and Sam repeatedly rely on their wits and relentlessly good luck to get them to Mordor intact, such as in Balin's Tomb and escaping Osgiliath, and Frodo repeatedly states how he wishes he had never gotten the Ring in the first place.
In the behind-the-scenes features of The Fellowship of the Ring, Sean Astin talks about how much effort he put into learning swordsmanship for the films' fight scenes. In the first of these filmed - the Nazgűl attack on Weathertop - he was specifically asked after a few takes to tone it down, so as not to make Sam appear to be too competent.
Mary Jane during the final battle of Spider-Man 3 actually manages to hold on for a long time on her own before absolutely needing to be rescued.
Collateral has Jaime Foxx as this sort of protagonist.
Bait features Jamie Foxx as a petty thief fresh out of jail who finds himself a pawn in a game played between federal agents and a thief they try to catch. In this case, Foxx's character has a fair bit of Combat Pragmatist in him.
Jack Burton from Big Trouble in Little China. Though he's the main protagonist, he's essentially a bumbling sidekick to the real heroes: both he and the viewers are left to puzzle over the details of the long-running conflict the rest of the heroes had already been fighting with the villain.
And in the original Dawn of the Dead, Steve (a TV station's helicopter pilot) and Fran (a floor director). Peter and Roger, being SWAT cops, don't really count.
John McClane, from Die Hard, was initially an Action Survivor Action Hero. In fact, the movie became an instant classic largely because of the contrast between McClane and the ubermensch Action Hero characters of Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and a million B-movie "stars". Not to say that McClane isn't a certifiable badass, but in the first movie, he's pretty much an ordinary cop thrust into extraordinary circumstances, and he spends much of the film bleeding and swearing at his ill fortune in having been caught up in the plot.
His sidekicks in each movie, none of whom wanted to get involved, are more traditional Action Survivors. Officer Al Powell was picking up Twinkies, Zeus Carver was just looking after his electronics shop, and the Justin Long guy was a dweeby hacker.
Ellen Ripley in the Alien series. But as her character is increasingly subjected to this in the series, she becomes more of an orthodox Action Hero trope. Throughout, she manages to retain most of her sensitivity and humanity, but learns how to be badass when necessary along the way.
Roxanne Ritchi in Megamind, an intrepid reporter who, through repeated kidnappings and familiarity with Evil Lairs, has become both resourceful and Dangerously Genre Savvy.
Innerspace - Mild-mannered hypochondriac Jack Putter (Martin Short) finds himself mixed up in a war between the evil corporation and the US government. Mind you, the original reason he took matters into his own hands was the prospect of having a tiny little corpse rotting inside of his body. At the end of the movie, though, when he realizes that a life of adventure is more fun than what he originally had, he grabs onto it with both hands.
Theo in Children of Men is a depressed white-collar worker who spends most of the movie getting shot at and never picks up a gun or any kind of weapon at all except a discarded car battery, which he drops immediately after smashing someone across the face and flees. He manages to get Kee all the way to the Human Project while constantly running from people who are trying to kill him. Of course, he doesn't actually survive the film.
The Roy O'Bannon character in Shanghai Noon. According to Owen Wilson, the character was originally intended as a more straightforward Action Hero, but he and the producers re-tooled the character into a cross between Action Survivor and Honest John.
Also Wichita, and especially Little Rock, who is only twelve. Tallahassee is exempt, because he was a Badass to begin with.
The titular character of Shaun of the Dead. He works at an electronics store, enjoys getting drunk, listening to records loudly, and playing video games. His whole plan consisted of picking up his mother and girlfriend, and going to his favourite bar to enjoy a cold beer. In fact, the only reason he survives is the timely arrival of the military.
Evil Dead - Ash. One of the more enjoyable aspects of the films is him gradually becoming Dangerously Genre Savvy to the point where he does the stuff you normally yell at people on the screen for not doing:
Ash: It's a trick. Get an Axe.
Terri Doolittle (Whoopi Goldberg) from Jumpin Jack Flash. She's a bank worker who finds herself on the run from international spies after she accidentally intercepts a message from a British secret agent using the eponymous alias.
Anthony Hopkins plays a millionaire magazine publisher in The Edge who finds him self in a survival situation involving a crashed plane, mother nature's wrath, a hungry bear and a murder plot. He comes out of it all pretty well.
His dad started as this in the first film. He just happened to be very good at video games and Sark was under direct orders to keep Kevin in the games until he died playing (much for the same reason Tron himself wasn't killed; Master Control wanted the User-Believers broken. Killing the User-Believer champion and an actual User would demoralize any who opposed). From there, it was one crazy Indy Ploy to the next because he didn't know what he was doing with his User abilities.
Joan Wilder in Romancing the Stone is a classic case. Starting out as a romance novelist who barely leaves her dowdy apartment, she ventures off to aid her sister and becomes . . . a romance novelist who lives her plot lines.
A number of Hitchcock's heroes fall into this, but especially Roger O Thornhill, in North by Northwest.
El Mariachi has a rare action hero example. The Mariachi is on the run throughout the film and survives through cunning and dumb luck. This aspect of his character fades away in the sequels as he takes a level in badass.
Apocalypto has a similar feel to it. The main character is running scared through much of the movie, although by the end, he makes a stand.
Babe in Marathon Man is the definition of this trope. He spends the majority of the film just barely escaping the bad guys through sheer luck. His only special ability is running away. However, by the the time the movie is over he has Taken a Level in Badass.
In War of the Worlds, the protagonist is (like in the novel, listed below) a dockworker trying to survive the alien invasion with his two children.
Ed Okin (played by Jeff Goldblum) in Into the Night. He's an insomniac office drudge whose wife is cheating on him who gets pulled into a criminal conspiracy involving three different flavors of organized crime, the Iranian secret police, CIA and FBI agents, and even Elvis impersonators. At first its all he can do to merely keep his head above water. But by the end, he can face down an Iranian gunman with no hesitation at all.
Ed Okin: This is ridiculous. You... You're a big shot, huh? You got a gun. Now what, shithead? You. Huh? Maniac... [pauses and takes a deep breath] Let me ask you something. Maybe you can help me. What's wrong with my life? Why is my wife sleeping with someone else? Why can't I sleep?
Lois in Man of Steel, who with an unfamiliar weapon and the help of Jor-El's Virtual Ghost, manages to fight her way off Zod's ship. She clearly has no fighting experience and visibly fumbles with the Kryptonian gun, but she is definitely no Distressed Damsel.
Katniss in The Hunger Games, to an extent. Most of the plot comes together because of her spontaneous decisions, as well as outside characters forcing into situations; she even mentions at the end of the first book that she'd rather just live a normal life.
Richard Mayhew in Neverwhere. Survivor really is the word here, as the sole fact that he lived to see the ending is an ample feat of badassery.
"If you can survive for the next day or two," he confided, "you might even make it through a whole month."
Rincewind the 'Wizzard' from Discworld. The man is a champion runner, great at improvising and never willingly goes along with insane plans. Not that that stops it from happening. Of course, since he is literally The Lady's plaything, the extraordinary coincidences are no accident. At this point, due to some of his companions and their publications, so many people know about him and his penchant for surviving anything the universe can throw at him that they genuinely believe he is amazingly good at what he does.
Ridcully: I think you're all missing the key point here. Chap survives. Talented.
His personal philosophy is "It doesn't matter where you're running, it only matters where you're running from." Seems like a good mantra for any Action Survivor.
Nobby might qualify as well. After all, he's "survived countless massacres by not being there".
Bilbo Baggins, the titular protagonist of The Hobbit, is pushed out of his front door on an adventure he doesn't want to go on, playing a role he has no idea how to play (he's recruited as a "burglar"). He is rather inept at first, but finding The One Ring helps him a great deal and in Mirkwood especially he comes up with some clever rescues for the Dwarves. He also notably spends the entire climactic battle unconscious, invisible because of the Ring and hit in the head by a stray rock. Other hobbits in related works have similar roles.
Older Than Radio: The protagonist of H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds pretty much does nothing to actually advance the plot; he's little more than an observer of the unfolding Martian invasion. Better still, he's just trying to stay alive long enough to reunite with his wife, whom he had left with relatives when the Martians first touched down.
David Wong from John Dies at the End. David is completely unremarkable in almost every way, which makes him an unlikely hero when monster comes knocking at the door of the universe. The eponymous John fits too, as despite the fact that he's a little more competent than Dave, he's totally nuts. In fact, if anyone in the story can fit the archetype of the Action Hero, it's Molly... the Golden Retriever.
Professor Jerry Lukacs of Pyramid Scheme isn't the only person to have gotten sucked into his particular adventure (stranded in a primitive world where all of Earth's myths are real) but other than that he's a pretty classic example of this trope.
In Dean Ing's Man-Kzin stories "Cathouse" and "Briar Patch", Carroll Locklear is a skinny civilian ethologist captured by the Kzinti when they attack the ship he was traveling on; he toughens up fast. (Notably, by the end of the first story the only one of his original captors still living is the one who's come over to his side.)
Ron Weasley in Harry Potter, a self-deprecating everydude who ends up in battle usually out of loyalty to Harry. Initially common sense and loyalty are his biggest assets, but by the end of the series he's hardened enough to hold his own in serious battle.
Raul Endymion, of the later half of the Hyperion books, is a not-wholly-remarkable human who ends up having to run away from some absurdly powerful super-beings, usually thanks to some very lucky flukes... until he ends up killing one of them one-on-one, anyway.
Five of the seven Beta clones in 7th Son are civilians with no combat or self-defence training who have to learn how to fight and shoot on the fly. They have the "running away" part down to a fine art, though.
Bubo the rat from A Night in the Lonesome October isn't actually a part of the Game, yet he manages to not only discover what's going on, but to play a subtle yet pivotal role in its outcome. Not bad for a mundane rodent.
Zak Arranda in Galaxy of Fear. His sister Tash is Force-Sensitive and usually benefits from it when things get too harrowing, but he doesn't have that extra guidance. He's also twelve.
Night Watcher - Despite already being a Cowboy Cop, Captain Kotov during his first encounter with a vampire, being taken completely unaware at first, then freaking out and going into a survive-above-all mode. He came out of it okay physically but not mentally.
Deception Point - Rachel Sexton, Michael Tolland and Corky Marlinson, a data analyst and two civilian scientists find themselves on the run from military black ops assassins.
Tom Holt's frequently uses this for his protagonists:
Robin Goodfellow from the Cal Leandros series. Though loyal to Cal and Niko, he would rather not go into battle if not required. And centuries of running from the angry fathers of his girlfriends... and boyfriends... has made him very fleet of foot.
In Sherlock Holmes, Watson tries to give this trope a go when Holmes is presumed dead. He doesn't get very far, though.
Tyrion Lannister of A Song of Ice and Fire is a dwarf, but is more than capable of surviving the occasional scuffle by his own wit and guile, and by holding some passable fighting skills in his own right.
Skeeter Jackson, in Time Scout, as a child finds himself accidentally in medieval Mongolia, where he has to struggle desperately to survive, with no more training than a neglected child of a wealthy, modern family might havenote i.e. none.
Nathan Brazil and Mavra Chang go through some horrifying things, like the Holocaust or being temporarily deformed into bastardized farm animals, but they always return to normal in the end. It helps that surviving is their super power, and everything BUT dying can happen to them.
Kitty of The Bartimaeus Trilogy counts as this, once saying that her only real skill is surviving. Bartimaeus says something to the effect of surviving being one of the better skills out there.
J. Eugene Raxford in Donald E. Westlake's The Spy in the Ointment was a minor social activist before the FBI drafted him into infiltrating an umbrella organization which had mistaken his group for a similarly-initialed group of minor terrorists.
Eliza and her husband George in Uncle Tom's Cabin. One scene is based on the real-life story of Eliza Harris (see Real Life below).
Richard from The Power of Five. Small-town journalist drawn into saving the world because Matt once called out telepathically for help. But he has followed Matt all over the world and done his best to protect him, without the benefit of training or powers, and is still alive as of the Bittersweet Ending of Oblivion.
Pi Patel from Life of Pi is a scrawny, bookish ordinary teenager with no special knowledge beyond having been raised by a zookeeper...who manages to not only survive a shipwreck and 277 days alone in the Pacific with a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena, and a tiger, but also a crazy cannibal and an island that eats people.
Mitchell and George in Being Human. They are underestimated so much that it's a shock when at the end of Series 1 George kills Herrick and gets Nina to become a werewolf too.
Doctor Who - A fair number of The Doctor's many companions can be characterised as Action Survivors, normal folk catapulted into the Doctor's dangerous life.
It caused Rose, Jackie, Martha, Mickey and Captain Jack (who was a combo of Cowardly Lion and Lover, Not a Fighter when he met the Doctor), to take serious levels in Badass. Captain Jack is an Immortal Action Hero, like a James Bond for the 51st century, Martha and Mickey are freelance Alien hunters and Rose and Jackie were last seen wielding a BFG each.
Both Rory and Amy have taken this even further. The Last Centurion and the head of Area 52.
This also goes for most members of Torchwood, particularly Gwen and Tosh (Owen mainly Took a Level in Jerkass, but when you know his back story, he goes to extreme Jerkass Woobie territory, and he is pretty badass). Both are at first shell shocked at the sight of gunfire. Then they...learn to cope with it.
Compared to the other Doctors, the Fifth Doctor can be seen as this
Most everyone involved in action scenes in Fringe tend to fall in the Badass category, but every now and then we have action survivors like Henry Higgins and Sam Weiss. William Bell somewhat falls in this category, but leans more so towards Badass Grandpa territory given that he can more than hold his own during a shootout.
Dave of Hells Kitchen, season 6. In one episode, he performs extraordinarily well despite his situation.
Most of the stranded characters of LOST were ordinary people who ended up doing extraordinary things in the name of self-preservation. A few became cold-blooded murderers while the rest shot, stabbed and blew up whoever or whatever threatened their lives.
While the growth of Bulk and Skull of Power Rangers is mostly in terms of character, we do get occasional scenes of them fighting monsters when they absolutely have to, in a couple of occasions actually saving the Power Rangers, and in their Crowning Moment of Awesome, standing up against Astronema to buy the Rangers more time, and leading the charge against the armies of evil.
Red Dwarf - The crew of the Red Dwarf is this. At least, Dave, Rimmer and The Cat. They all start out at pretty much the bottom rung of human (or hyper-evolved cat) existence. After everyone dies and they are left to fend for themselves in a hostile universe they slowly become more and more competent. While hardly Gordon Freeman or Ellen Ripley, they do manage to fight off a fair amount of hostile GELFs and other nasties. Dave and Rimmer end up noticeably less pathetic, and The Cat... well... at least he's aware that there are people other than himself.
John Connor lives and breathes this trope throughout The Sarah Connor Chronicles. As the future savior of humankind, John is too important to be sent out on missions or otherwise put in the line of fire. Instead, Terminators actively seek him out, with his allies constantly fighting to keep him safe. The few times he has had to go up against a Terminator alone, he demonstrates remarkable cunning, ingenuity, insight and downright sheer badassery.
Smallville gave their version of Lex Luthor this as an actual "superpower" caused by his exposure to kryptonite when he was younger.
Elena in The Vampire Diaries is pretty competent while trying to defend herself. For example, when a strange vampire is trying to kill her, she stabs him with pencils - repeatedly - and then breaks a mop over her knee to try to stake him, and when a werewolf attacks her, she instantly sticks a knife into his gut. She's also adept at using her surroundings while trying to run away if pursued by a supernatural. This is magnified in Season 4 after she transitions. She goes so far as to kill Connor to protect her brother.
Matt. He is one of the few characters who is human (after Elena becomes a vampire) and has no superhuman abilities.
The titular character of Veronica Mars is this in the few times she has to fight back. One shining example is her clawing one of the villains across the face with her fingernails, followed by stabbing him in the leg.
Harrison Blackwood and Suzanne McCullough in the War of the Worlds television series. Blackwood is a kooky scientist who refuses to wield a gun through most of the series and carries a tuning fork to keep himself calm and collected. Many of the plots are motivated by him either getting trapped somewhere or staying one step ahead of the Morthren aliens (via the use of strange technology). Suzanne (as a fellow researcher and mother) also proves to be a capable fighter in several episodes, and goes along with the rest of the team in several dangerous missions.
In Arrow three of the female characters qualify: Laurel whose drive for justice and involvement with the Vigilante sometimes mean she has to fight off an attack using self-defense lessons (as opposed to actual martial arts/or battle training); Thea clocks a thug with a bottle in 1x23 to protect Roy; and Moira shoots the Vigilante when he comes to question her.
Juliette Silverton, D.V.M., in Series/Grimm. Mild mannered veterinarian who threw a pot of boiling water in the face of an ogre, punched out a weredragoness, and beat the stuffing out of a friend's abusive husband using ordinary household objects.
While much of Dino Attack RPG's cast consists of soldiers and other Action Heroes, many characters are just civilians who were suddenly thrust into the action. Examples include characters such as David "Hotwire" O'Neal or Minerva Fabello.
Gordon Freeman from Half-Life. Over the course of the games, however, he has turned into an Action Hero, by the time of Half-Life 2 he has become a leader of the Resistance. Breen even berates his troops for being unable to slow down, let alone stop, a theoretical physicist with a crowbar.
This trope is played up at various points in Freeman's Mind with regards to Gordon's inner thoughts.
Barney Calhoun in Blue Shift.
Chell of Portal has only a set of long-fall boots and a portal gun to help her against the city-sized industrial complex run by GLaDOS, and yet by the end of the second game said AI has come to the decision it's better to just let her go than try to kill her.
Isaac Clarke from Dead Space, who is just a simple engineer tasked with what he thinks is little more than a repair job. Most of his weapons, in fact, are mining tools. Isaac could actually be argued as a deconstruction of one, as its heavily implied throughout the game, then said flat-out by Kendra near the end, that he's gone completely insane due to the incident.
He isn't much tougher by Dead Space 2, though justified in that he was mostly in stasis for the three years in between. The game mostly takes the concept further and details the kind of Sanity Slippage that would understandably occur to people in Isaac's situation.
Isaac also might not qualify in that he is specifically an Engineer trained to work in hostile, potentially fatal situations alone. He's had training on how to survive most things, and judging from the clearance to access some military weapons as well, probably general firearm training as well.
From the prequel game, Extraction, there's Doctor Karen Howell. Just a botanist, but she be hardcore.
Frank West from Dead Rising - an overzealous photojournalist after a big story. His character model from earlier versions of the game depicted him as being overweight.
The various protagonists of Silent Hill games, except Alex from Homecoming, who is a special forces soldier. ...or is he?
The protagonists of Left 4 Dead. Bill (a retired soldier) and Francis (a well built biker) aren't as "normal" as Zoey (college student) and Louis (office worker), however.
The four characters of Left 4 Dead 2. Coach (an overweight high school football coach), Ellis (a mechanic), Rochelle (a young journalist), and Nick (a con man). Well, Nick isn't that normal, but he's no Action Hero.
Ethan Mars from Heavy Rain, without a doubt. He started out with the American Dream, only to have it all stripped away when his first son dies, he goes into a coma for months, his wife leaves him, and his second son is kidnapped Despite his lack of experience (He even states he has no idea how to use a gun), he can still save the life of his son from a serial killer.
Nathan Drake from the Uncharted series. Although he is a treasure hunter who is quite athletic and skilled with firearms, he looks and acts very much like an average Joe, panicking more than a few times throughout his adventure. His catchphrase is practically "Oh Crap!". He's even more so in the sequel: when things get way too big for him, he's initially happy to walk away, but when it comes down to the wire, he jumps into the action with both feet. Of course, even when he does so, he knows he's in well over his head, and he barely makes it out alive. Lucky doesn't even begin to describe it; Sully even bows out of the adventure early because he "doesn't have [Nate's] luck."
In Uncharted: The Golden Abyss, Nate points out they're up against professional killers. Sully says, "Well, we're professional survivors! They got nothing on us."
All of the main characters of Incredible Crisis are all just family members (consisting of the Salaryman father, the housewife, the pudgy son and the teenage daughter) trying to get home for Grandmother's birthday, only for each to be caught up in their own series of bizarre situations.
The Hacker in the original System Shock, where the only thing didn't make him quite normal was the Military-Grade Neural Interface.
Final Fantasy VII - Cloud Strife used to be this, Crisis Core and Before Crisis shows him as a plain old infantryman, only distinguishable by his motion sickness and his ability to make it through missions when all the other Mooks get killed off. When his hometown gets it however, he cracks down and becomes a Badass Normal, doing what none of the Turks and SOLDIERs that safeguarded him until now were able to do: kill Sephiroth. After which Hojo jumped at the opportunity to make him an Empowered Badass Normal.
It's inferred that he might have received training from his father beforehand since it was a 'gift from Jecht.'
One of the backgrounds in Alpha Protocol is "Recruit" - meaning Mike has essentially been recruited for the titular organization straight out of CIA training. As a result, he is entirely unprepared for the challenges that he ends up facing (up to and including being betrayed and forced to go on the run.) It actually makes the most sense as a background, he was used due to the fact that he was expendable.
Alan Wake is a horror writer who spends most of the game dressed in a tweed jacket, possesses relatively unimpressive athletic abilities, and is better suited to run from his enemies than to stand and fight. That said, he manages to pull through thanks to his wits, his Genre Savvy nature (thanks to being a writer), and his superior survival instincts.
The City Elf Warden in Dragon Age: Origins has limited weapons training, very little combat experience (fighting through Arl Howe's palace was probably their first actual battle) and has never seen a darkspawn before. S/he picks it up rather quickly.
Hawke in Dragon Age II was either a regular grunt in the Ferelden army or a barely-trained apostate mage. Once s/he gets to Kirkwall, s/he starts to take levels in badass very quickly.
Shas'la Kais in Fire Warrior was a raw recruit thrown into a particularly hellish warzone, and pitted against Imperial Guardsmen, Space Marines, and not one but two Daemon Princes. He comes out of the fight victorious, but missing several limbs and in a coma.
Fiona in Haunting Ground, an 18-year old art student who wakes up in a castle after a car accident that claimed both her parents. Despite having Hewie and Lorenzo to aid her in her escape and numerous weapons scattered throughout, there are times when she has to use her wits to get out of sticky situations (pushing a bookshelf atop of Debilitas and crushing him with a chandelier, and tossing a jar of sulfuric acid at either Daniella or Riccardo.
Resident Evil occasionally dips into this trope. The most obvious examples come from the Outbreak subseries, which star perfectly average citizens of Raccoon City. Claire Redfield during the events of 2 counts, since she's merely a college student with some general self-defense training from her brother Chris at that point. Leon from the same game counts to a lesser extent, being a rookie cop with zero experience on the job, though his formal police training presumably makes him more qualified than Claire.
Like the Flynns above, Jethro "Jet" Bradley from TRON 2.0 was just a game designer and got "drafted" by Ma3a to combat a nasty virus from inside Cyberspace. By the end-game, he's fighting off hordes of digitized mercenaries sent by the rival company. It's given a brutal deconstruction in the spin-off comic, though, as the fellow winds up in bad shape mentally.
The Player is this in Dark Souls compared to other characters from action games. You'll grow more powerful over time, but combat revolves around being defensive, and blocking and dodging rather than just annihilating opponents.
Rare female example and highly unusual for a fighting game, but Pyrrha from Soul Calibur 5. Pyrrha's awkward stance, clumsy throws, strong aversion to killing and even wounding, and timid disposition indicate that she has little in the way of skill or experience. She clearly gets through her battles through fighting with the desperation of a cornered rat than any skill, strength, or courage. Although anyone who has seen Sophitia's main throw knows that this runs in the family.
Clock Tower: The First Fear, wherein 14-year-old Jennifer Simpson is brought to the Barrows Mansion with her friends Ann, Lotte and Laura on the pretense of a new family. When her friends and Ms Mary disappear, all she's got are her wits and (occasionally) a wooden plank to survive the ensuing horror. Her friends (particularly Lotte) get the action part at times, but not the survivor.
Ib: The main characters could all be called this; all they have throughout the game are their roses, minds and (in Mary's case) a palette knife to counter the malevolent monsters in the Gallery World.
Mary is actually an aversion, as she's later revealed to be the antagonist, but even she earns this title during the Together Forever ending. Just her methods are slightly... underhanded.
In the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot, Lara Croft begins as a terrified twenty-something archaeology grad just trying to survive after being shipwrecked. She already has some wilderness survival training in her background, but is so green she apologizes to a deer she has to kill for food and has absolutely no combat experience or training. Her first human kill is a horribly traumatizing experience that leaves her in tears, and it's only because the world she finds herself in is kill-or-die that she's able to do it again. By the end of the game, she's battered, bloody, torn up and probably suffering PTSD, but she just keeps on going.
Ellie in The Last of Us fits the trope. She's just 14, and has never known the world before the cordyceps infection. She starts off green, but gradually learns to survive by watching Joel, to the point that she takes care of him after he's badly injured. Joel fits in some ways, and definitely was an action survivor at one point, but 20 years of living in the ruins of society have changed him. Despite his age he's tough and strong, and is willing to kill and torture to survive and protect Ellie.
Eight of the twelve protagonists of Eternal Darkness are, in the words of one reviewer, "one blonde college student, a peasant dancer, a puppy-dog messenger ... a [doctor] wearing a powdered wig, a monk with no weapons ... a fat architect, a nearsighted old guy, and an anemic photographer". All of them are very much capable of standing up to the brunt of the forces and powers the Eldritch Abominations bent on invading our realm, with the "anemic photographer" taking down a fearsome guardian second in power only to its Ancient and living a long life afterwards. Often, it takes effort from Pious himself to dispose of them, and even then, the mighty liche who could bind Mantorok fails to kill both Lindsey and Alex.
Leandra from Joe Dever's Lone Wolf is a female example of this, having spent several days in her village, overrun with Giaks.
Red of Transistor is another female example of this, starting the game as nothing more than a popular and well known singer in Cloudbank and ending the game as the uncontested master of the Transistor.
The tourist class in Nethack plays like this. In the beginning, a tourist starts with some gold, a lot of food, an expensive camera, a Hawaiian shirt, some scrolls of magic mapping...and not much else that would help him or her survive a dungeon full of angry monsters and deadly traps. What is more, his or her physical and mental stats tend to be mediocre at best, and to add insult to injury, shopkeepers will see the tourist as an easy mark and raise their prices. All that being said, if the tourist does manage to make it into the second half of the game, the combination of a jack-of-all-trades status and a powerful artifact will make the class one of the strongest for facing the final battles. Of course, that's a big if.
Into the Woods has The Baker and Cinderella, neither of whom are particularly adept at fighting off all the craziness that comes their way in the musical. Nonetheless, they both prove to be extremely resourceful, determined, and surprisingly courageous. And along with two other characters, they successfully manage to overcome and defeat the Big Bad in the end, after everyone else dies.
Moloch von Zinzer from Girl Genius. A former soldier who became a mechanic because "it makes you more valuable". Got away alive and with equipment to sell once Klaus crushed his boss. Survived when their "gunboat" was blown up by Bang. "Inherited" a brain-freezing device that killed his brother only to accidentally break it. Eventually was Put on a Bus to Hell... and when the protagonist walked into the biggest Death Trap of Europe, she found him there alive and well, and only slightly crankier than before.
Moloch:Nobody "sent me." I don't have any "secret knowledge." I just don't want to die. Violetta: I don't believe you! That's cheating!
John Egbert of Homestuck is very much this, although less so for his friends who either start out pretty Bad Ass to begin with or have a Beware the Nice Ones streak. Some of the trolls (Tavros and Gamzee in particular) also spring to mind.
The rarely-seen "fedorafreak" is the comic's biggest example, being a completely ordinary if hat-obsessed man who might also be the last surviving human on Earth, drawing sustenance from his own urine. Then he died on what was implied to be a quest bed—which means he'll come back to life as god-tier.
The teller Koark in Order of Tales is a textbook example: initially a pampered son of a scholarly sect, he finds himself forced to take up the role of a legendary hero by the end of the story.
Teri in Rip And Teri is an English teacher in a spy thriller.
Sam of Sam and Fuzzy. A cabbie who got tangled up with the affairs of the ninja mafia, he is decidedly non-actiony.
Zoe has to play this role a lot in Sluggy Freelance since she's the Unfazed Everyman of the team. Since becoming one of the strip's Weirdness Magnets, she's had to defend herself from vampires, demons, Eldritch Abominations, zombies, brainwashed assassins, and even rabbits. All with no special skills beyond occasionally turning into a camel. She mainly gets by on luck, cleverness, and the fact that almost everyone else in the Sluggy universe is an idiot. Torg, to lesser extent. While he's usually a little more enthusiastic than Zoe about the weirdness that surrounds them, and has Taken A Level In Badass, he is for the most part just a normal guy thrust into bizarre situations that, statistically, should have killed him at least a dozen times by now.
Unlike other Action Survivors, he was however intentionally climbing the Tower.
Former minion Maximilian Macallister of Metacarpolis received Mook training but is neither large nor aggressive by nature and has "the sprint of a man who has faced many perils...and has run from every one."
The titular character of Chapel is one of the rare female versions of this trope. She's a drug dealer who rarely wins, but usually, of course, survives. So far.
The Pelvanida scientists from the first Darwin's Soldiers RP proved themselves to be this trope just by surviving. After that, they turned more into action heroes.
The main cast from Red vs. Blue with the possible exception of Sarge. Sure, they're technically soldiers, but half of them shouldn't be anywhere near a battle with their lousy excuse for combat skills, and they're regularly up against individuals who eat squads of real soldiers twice their size for breakfast. Yet, they keep surviving. Mostly.
The protagonists of Sevenshot Kid fit this thanks to surviving multiple encounters with the supernatural.
Ruby and Tom of Ruby Quest. Although Tom has his strength and they handle their Improvised Weapons pretty well, they're mostly just trying to get by.
The lead character in Quick Draw is a Harvard-educated sheriff in the Wild West who can shoot well but is usually overmatched and doesn't fight well. He willingly chose to be a sheriff but he probably didn't understand some of the finer points of the job. Much of the comedy stems from how he's not entirely a conventional action hero
Tucker of Danny Phantom. He occasionally helps with his knowledge of technology, but he isn't as physically fit as Sam nor has superpowers like Danny, making him the most normal of the Power Trio. Having the latter as his best friend, it's natural he gets to go on grand adventures against dangerous ghosts. It's a bloody miracle he survived all those battles.
Max, AKA "The Mighty One," chosen by destiny to destroy the evil Skullmaster, fits the trope to a T. Constantly thrust into the most unusual circumstances he repeatedly saves the world with only his wits and a magic cap.
C-3PO in Droids: The Adventures of R2-D2 and C-3PO blatantly dislikes danger, but he often resorts to duplicity to get things done and always emerges the better for it, contrasting somewhat with the more passive and bumbling character in the films. R2-D2, however, is much more of a dynamic Inspector Gadget-type.
Eileen from Regular Show proves she's one in "Camping can be Cool".
Courage the Cowardly Dog. Throughout the series he has faced horrors that would make most people quake with fear. But he always gathers his wits and saves the day while screaming all the way.
George VI. While it seems odd making this role for a King, he didn't like being King and very much felt The Chains of Commanding but he did his duty and so helped inspire numerous British who did not want to have a "Finest hour" but somehow did so. He also fits the Trope by virtue of being a Spare To The Throne, and thus lacking the training a king normally would receive before taking on the job.
ANYONE who has lived through war, natural disasters, or any life threatening situation counts.
To an extent, the human species itself. We're designed to live in tropical environments, (hence the lack of hair—it's thought to be an adaptation that favors sweating, allowing us to outrun a lot of things in Africa). Yet we have become capable of living in pretty much any climate despite lacking claws, fangs, fur, or other built-in survival gear. For example, if you drop a human off into the woods with nothing but the clothes on their back, they can make a fire, fashion a makeshift knife from stones, and build a small shelter. It probably won't be very comfortable, but if a person knows what to do and how to do it, they'll live. If you take a penguin and drop it off in the woods, even if it had the intelligence and knowledge it would take to survive in the forest, it would not necessarily be able to do so due to a lack of hands.
The town of Misrata in Libya. When Gaddafi's forces encircled the town during the 2011 civil war, its defenders were basically angry civilians with guns. By the time the siege was lifted months later, they were one of the better militias on the rebel side.