In the unlikely event I ever become president of a company, my first order of business will be to promote the janitor to executive vice president. Then I'll call him into my office and say "All right, Herb, I want you to tell me what's going on in the company. Care for a drink before we begin? I think I have a bottle of Scotch around here someplace." "Lower left drawer of your desk," Herb will reply, "Right behind your box of El Puffo cigars, which, I might add, are excellent."
Charlie, the seemingly omniscient farmer mascot for Farm Bureau Insurance. Everyone from heads of state and industry to surgeons call Charlie for advice because "everybody knows farmers have some of the best advice."
Anime & Manga
In Dragon Ball Z, this is the very basis of Vegeta's rivalry with Goku. Goku not only surpasses Vegeta in every way after the Namek Saga, but is the very first Saiyan to reach Super Saiyan Status in over 1,000 years and defeats their long time oppressor, Frieza. While Vegeta is still very powerful and usually second only to Goku in strength, the catch here is that Goku is a third class saiyan warrior while Vegeta is the prince of all Saiyans.
In Naruto, the eponymous character has remained a genin (the lowest possible active duty rank) throughout the entire series so far. However, he is prone to ignoring any rules or orders that he doesn't like, and gets away with it by virtue of personal connections with the brass and being one of the strongest ninjas in the Hidden Leaf.
One filler episode features an old man nicknamed "The Ten-Thousand Year Genin", who has been a genin for half a century despite being as skilled as a jonin (the highest active duty rank) because his guilt over causing the death of his comrades has led him to refuse promotion.
In Yu Yu Hakusho, the Spirit Detective title when compared to the Spirit Defense Force who are all at least A Class fighters. In fact, the SDF is only called in where there's a Godzilla Threshold.
Clare from Claymore is ranked dead last among Claymores at # 47, and is treated like a piece of garbage as as result of being seen as weak. However, she ends up being one of the most powerful Claymores through pure gumption and determinator and becomes capable of taking on — and winning — against Claymores ranked in the top 5. Part of her success comes from the fact that she has been Power Copying higher-ranked warriors like no tomorrow since about chapter 20. It's also possible that she was given bottom rank to disguise her actual potential.
At the start of the series Blackbeard was one of these, serving little more then a Giant Mook with no bounty under Whitebeard for decades. A while before the story starts, he is nominated to take over a vacancy as commander of the 2nd Division, but passes it up, saying he has no such ambition, and the position is given to Ace. Considering that the top 4 Division commanders of Whitebeard are his strongest fighters, and Blackbeard had no Devil Fruit powers at the time, this says something about him. Subverted, as it turns out that all he wanted was the Yami-Yami Fruit, killing Thatch of the 4th Division for it, then fleeing, making his own crew, capturing Ace, cashing in, becoming one of the Seven Warlords of the Sea, and revealing that he has a lot of ambition, and this is just the start of them.
The Marines mistake Buggy the Clown for this and believe he kept a low bounty as a way of not drawing attention, the reason being his association with Shanks, one of the Four Emperors and his past history as part of Gold Roger's Crew. He is now one of the Seven Warlords and is thus no longer an Almighty Janitor.
Tony-Tony Chopper is the Strawhat Crew's doctor, but has the ridiculously low bounty of 50 berries while his teammates are all in the tens- or hundreds-of-millions. This is because he has been mistaken by the Marines as the Strawhat Crew's mascot. In truth, he is monstrously powerful and a vital member of the team.
Sanji's constantly doing more covert work for the crew, and is one of the top 3 fighters, but lacked even a bounty until the Enies Lobby Arc. His 77 million bounty isn't even the third highest. It's the fourth, right behind Robin's bounty of 80 million, despite being near equal strength to that of Zoro and Luffy, both of whom have bounties that are in the hundreds of millions. Then you add in that horrible sketch they put as a bounty picture, which makes him near unrecognizable, and that's when you figure out why fans call "Black Leg" Sanji The Chew Toy of One Piece.
Foxy the Silver Fox has a bounty of 26 million Berries, yet came closer to killing the protagonist than several villains in the series thus far. Foxy's bounty (a measure of power between pirates) is by far the lowest of any main villain in the Grand Line, the next lowest one being over twice as much.
A few Marines count as lesser examples, as some are ranked fairly high, but not quite far enough to suit their abilities:
Vice-Admiral Garp is very high up in the Marines, though one would wonder why the guy known for being on par with the Pirate King and is referred to as "The Hero" hasn't reached the top by the time the series began. As it turns out, he had actually been offered a position as Admiral numerous times, but refused them all.
Captain Smoker's Cowboy Cop tendencies are implied to be the reason he had the rank he did at the start of the series, considering he's a massively skilled combatant with Logia powers(Notably, the only other Logia users shown in the Marines are Admirals). This is even pointed in the Enies Lobby arc, when several Marine Captains are sent after the exhausted Straw Hats; despite it being pointed out that they share the same rank as Smoker, they are a lot easier to take down. However, averting one of the conventions of this trope listed above, Smoker actually has been gaining promotions as the story progresses, first to Commodore after his second major appearance, and becoming a Vice-Admiral after the Time Skip.
Given that Soul Society puts a Power Limiter on Captains and Lieutenants when they enter the world of the living (so that their spiritual power won't endanger the Muggles; in severe emergencies the limiters are removed), and Ikkaku and Yumichika are stronger than most Lieutenants yet don't have the limiters...one has to wonder how much damage the two of them inadvertently do.
Judai Yuki of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX willingly remains in the Osiris Red dorms despite the fact that he's the best duelist in Duel Academia. He just likes being in Red, though he has been offered a promotion.
Isamu Alva Dyson from Macross Plus continues to blatantly flaunt his hair-trigger temper and insubordination because he doesn't want to rise too high in rank, as he wouldn't be allowed to fly anymore as a pilot.
In the "true" ending of the Unlimited Blade Works route of Fate/stay night, Rin talks with Shirou after class, telling him that she has been accepted as a student at the Clocktower, and is allowed to bring him as her apprentice. This way he would be there for free but be the lowest on the totem pole, not even officially registered there. Despite his Reality Marble, something that, chances are, nobody else there could ever hope to obtain.
Asato Tsuzuki from Descendants Of Darkness looks (and is paid) just like a normal Shinigami, but is extremely efficient in his work and can singlehandedly control twelve shikigami, including all of the extremely powerful Four Gods.
All the protagonists of Soul Eater are of this kind: Maka and Soul Eater began the series about to complete their training. However, when they failed their final test they were forced to go back to the beginning in order to improve. Black☆Star is a bottom-ranked student because he spends all his schoolwork time on training instead, but his innate assassin abilities and soul wavelength (and his constant drive for self-improvement) makes him more powerful than Maka. Finally, Death the Kid became a Shibusen student even though he doesn't need to (it was an attempt to bail the other main characters out of a pinch); being a shinigami he's already as powerful as a full-fledged technician.
The manga eventually sees some of them break out of this rut, to the point that they're not only of a rank that reflects their abilities — two-star meisters and Weapons — but members of a 'young elite' team, Spartoi. Kid is the only one of the main groups who lacks this promotion, due to unforeseen circumstances. Though he's got further to go: his classmates need to become Death Scythes and, say, be three-star meisters. He needs to be as good as hisdad.
Suzaku is one of the top two knightmare pilots in the entire world and controls an unstoppable Super Prototype, but is treated like dirt by the Britainia military because of the fact he is Japanese. This continues even after he is knighted by his love interest and only changes after he is made one of the twelve highest ranked warriors in Britainia.
Lelouch himself. He's only ranked 11th Prince of Britannia (which, considering his mother's status as 6th consort out of Charles' 108 wives and his many, many half-siblings, is pretty good), and is even exiled at age 10. Despite this, he is not only 2nd to Schneizel himself in terms of strategy, but actually builds his own revolutionary organization from near-scratch (taking a small group of Shinjuku terrorists and making them an army). He's also only Vice-President of the Ashford student council (any rank below President Milly is a glorified slave).
Mirielle's hair stylist from Noir gives excellent information on the happenings of international organized crime.
Gauron, as further explained in the Light Novels. One Amalgam member explained that with his skills, he could have easily been promoted to commander. However, because he had cancer, and that most of Amalgam's members had a hard time getting along with him (with them even making him the butt of a joke where they called him "Mr. Iron" — a metal that isn't able to amalgamate with Mercury, therefore indicating he "isn't one of them"), they never promoted him to that rank. Instead, they allowed Gates (who was obviously less competent and skilled) to take that position. Despite the lack of rank, however, Gauron still managed to be a very powerful, wealthy terrorist.
The janitor in Full Metal Panic Fumoffu after Sōsuke and Issei fed him his pet koi, whom he saw almost like a grandaughter. He then commences to attack Sōsuke and Issei, one an experienced soldier and the other a very talented martial artist, and not only are they unable to defeat the janitor in combat, they are overwhelmed by his superiority. Which is why you should always Beware the Nice Ones when they have a Chainsaw in easy reach.
Sosuke:(On the ground, half conscience, chanting) ...Live ammunition...has no effect on this guy...
Negi is technically still working under a "provisional" magic license and hopes to eventually become a full mage. Despite the fact that he's an absolute genius at spell development, has defeated/proved himself more competent than a number of high level mages, and is probably one of the top ten most powerful people alive.
His father Nagi counts academically, as he dropped out of magic school. However, he was the leader of the Ala Rubra through sheer magical power.
Although all of the Kurogane Five from Shin Mazinger are badass enough to take on giant robots on foot, Kiku is the one that takes the cake. A little old cleaning lady with super speed and can tear you apart with Razor Floss without even the slightest effort.
In the Dengeki Daisy manga, the eponymous "Daisy", a former cutting-edge software engineer and an accomplished super-hacker, is the school janitor. Also rather quite almighty.
"School janitor? A school janitor, he says? Do school janitors usually do these kinds of things? THEY DON'T!!!"
Detective Conan: Conan is just a kid (in appearance, at least), and nobody ever listens to kids. Once he has solved a crime, he usually has to resort to his tranquilizer wristwatch and voice-changing bow tie in order to relay his deductions through a handy Sock Puppet.
In Rosario + Vampire, the bus driver appears to be far more knowledgeable and respected by the other staff than one might expect. He doesn't actually show any almighty powers or fighting skills aside from, apparently, being able to drive his bus anywhere, but he's impressive enough that some fans had promoted him to one of the three Dark Lords until that got Jossed.note Given that he has the same highly-distinctive glowing white eyes as the apparently-immortal Headmaster Mikogami, who is one of the Dark Lords, it's widely assumed that the two are related.
Mobile Suit Gundam SEED universe: On a both literal and organizational level there's the Junk Guild, which are just that: the guys who go cleaning up debris in space and on Earth, and salvaging anything useful from said debris. They are not to be underestimated however, (especially Lowe Gear), and have their own lines of Mobile Suits (even a Gundam or two). By the end of the first Bloody Valentine War, the Junk Guild was in possession of a prototype of the Wave Motion Gun the final battle of the war was fought over. As well as a digital copy of the brain of the late George Glenn (the original Coordinator and considered one of the greatest minds in human history) as one of their leaders.
Beet The Vandel Buster: When the title character returns to his town for the first time in ages, he's a rather measly level 11. Turns out he hadn't gone to the appraisers (required in order to level up) in 3 years, and thus was actually a level 28. The other way he qualifies for this trope is that despite this level, he's still lower than what is normally expected for someone who has the universe's equivalent of a super move - in fact he has five.
By the end of Hikaru No Go Hikaru is only ranked a 1st Dan, but his skill level is so much higher that a higher ranked player wonders why after losing to him.
Louise Françoise le Blanc de la Vallière of Zero No Tsukaima or The Familiar Of Zero is considered a screw-up in every sense of the word in the magic academy and her family, her spells blow up in every-bodies faces. You eventually learn, either through the hints throughout the manga or in the last few chapters that she is the wielder of the supposedly extinct fifth element, void. The eponymous familiar, Saito Chevalier de Hiraga, is also considered a wash at first, with no redeeming abilities at all, until you find out that he is actually the second coming of a legendary familiar capable of wielding any weapon, from the magic world or his own, real, world, with great expertise. With weapon being in the very loosest sense of the world, to the point where he can expertly fly a fighter jet because it's a "weapon".
Touma from A Certain Magical Index has a powerful Anti-Magic known as Imagine Breaker, which can negate almost any supernatural power. However, since his power can't be measured, he's given the rank of Level 0, the same as if he had no powers at all. The rank doesn't change even though he's used Imagine Breaker to beat Level 5 Espers (the highest level) and incredibly powerful magic-users on numerous occasions. After all, just because they now know Imagine Breaker is powerful doesn't make it any less impossible to quantify. Also Touma may be able to take on level 5's with his Imagine Breaker but he's still likely to be beaten by a couple level 0 delinquents attacking him at the same time...
In Holyland it is mentioned that many gangsters who know karate don't bother to take the test that officially marks them as black belts even if they can fight at that level because the police can use the qualification against them.note This is Truth in Television to some extent — in many countries, martial arts training means you are considered 'armed' if you get into a fight. If the police take you in, even if it was used in self-defence, a martial artist can be considered to have used excessive force if the martial artist ended up hurting an unskilled and unarmed attacker. If the martial artist threw the first punch, it may be considered aggravated assault.
Zenkichi Hitoyoshi of Medaka Box. Despite being The Lancer, and capable of helping people just as well as Medaka herself, he's still only "General Affairs Manager" within Student Council. Also, people tend to underestimate his capabilities, instead only thinking of him as Medaka's dog.
Kintaro Oe, the main character of Golden Boy. He spends a lot of time doing actual janitorial work — especially cleaning toilets, which he loves. That is, when he's not doing cooler things, like writing an award-winning novel or winning a race against a motorcyclist on his bicycle. At the end of volume 2, a very frightening and powerful politician comments on Kintaro: "In the entire world, he is the only one I must fear. Only that man."
Fairy Tail: Despite not having the rank of S-Class, Natsu and Gray have consistently taken down opponents that are S-Class themselves.
Code Breaker: Ogami Rei, the hero of Code Breaker has managed to take down several powerful Big Bads and fellow power users with his ability. Despite this, he's still known as 06, a status given to the weakest Code Breaker by Eden.
Ash Ketchum of Pokémon, having years (sort of) of experience as a trainer, yet he has no official Championship title to his name. Every time he has to go through a new region, he has to be treated like a rookie trainer again, although it doesn't help that his competence level seems to reset itself.
Even if Ash's competence drops like a rock every new saga or so, this doesn't expel the fact that throughout all his adventures, he has raised powerful and loyal monsters that he can summon at his beck and call at any time. This is probably one of the reasons why the writers made Pikachu the only Pokémon to stay on Ash's team on a permanent basis. Pikachu would be powerful himself, but his competence and power level also goes back to level one here, and he continually fails/refuses to "evolve" into a Raichu when he can.
Issei Hyodou, the protagonist of High School DXD is this seeing as he was reincarnated by Rias as a pawn. However, Rias had to use all eight pieces of her pawn just to even revive him because he's got a dragon on his left arm. With some Training from Hell, he becomes the most powerful character in their group. Ironically, he just wants a harem.
Baby Steps: Protagonist Eiichirou Maruo gradually becomes skilled enough to compete with some of the strongest players in the series, like Miyagawa, but he doesn't even become seeded until many tournaments later.
In Muhyo And Roji, Roji is a Second Clerk for most of the series (which Muhyo tactlessly points out is the lowest of the low for magical law rankings* Second Clerk<First Clerk<Assistant Judge<Judge<Executor), and only ends it at First Clerk. By then, he demonstrates skills that outweigh his rank, and in a sense, even his current job is proof of his status as this, as typically, only Judges are assistants to Executors.
In One Punch Man, the titular Invincible Hero is ranked dead last when he registers in the superhero organization because he got such an abysmal score on the written portion of the entry exam that his full score in the physical portion, in which he broke all of the records by a huge margin, barely allowed him to pass.
Stick from Marvel certainly looks like a janitor, but he's the superhuman sensei who trained Daredevil and Elektra. And briefly trained Wolverine as well, when Wolvie was in a period of mental degradation.
Spider-Man: Peter Parker is a freelance photographer that struggles to pay rent.
In the Hawaii issues of the comic Ninja High School the janitor was, while not the best fighter, definitely a formidable combatant and stronger than the main character, a very skilled ninja herself, for quite awhile.
Deadpool: Gerry, the title character's old, foul-smelling, homeless friend, is actually the former head of a galactic corporation and spends a considerable amount of time pulling strings.
Superman: Clark Kent is a pretty good reporter and by all appearances nothing else. But when he or a friend or a planet or a universe or a multiverse is placed in danger he cuts loose and reveals (to the reader) that he's the alternate identity of Superman. Perhaps making him the ultimate example of this trope. (But "Pretty good reporter" varies, Depending on the Writer. Clark Kent has at times been a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist and best selling author (under an alias). Then the next writer comes around, and he's dragged back down.)
According to Hellboy, theHercules spent the last years of his life working as a high school janitor. (He lived a very long time.)
Brian Bryan from Azrael. The main character's smelly homeless friend was capable of much wisdom, having been a psychatrist in his former 'life'.
Marvel Comics has Damage Control, a firm that cleans up super-powered messes. In many instances, they had the powerful beings working for them. I.e. Hercules, Ares and post-World War Hulk. The foreman, Lenny, is Genre Savvy enough to know his crew might have origins and gain powers.
The Leader, a Hulk enemy, started out as a janitor who got a dose of Hand Wavium and being smart and evil.
Fables. Boy Blue of the good guys scored a massive victory against enemy agents by disguising himself as a janitor. When all the bad guys were present, out came the weaponry. Death ensued. And then we had Flycatcher, who worked for many years as a jantitor for the good guys. Until he took about 15 levels in Bad Ass and become a near-god. He continued wearing his uniform.
Dilbert's garbageman, who ranks as the "World's Smartest Garbageman" and possibly world's smartest person. He's a Gadgeteer Genius who can create a perpetual motion machine without any real effort, among other amazing feats including bringing Dilbert Back from the Dead. Scott Adams has stated that if we can't understand why the world's smartest man is a garbageman, that is because we are not the world's smartest man.
In one strip, Alice complains to the Pointy-Haired Boss that the janitor makes more per hour than she does. The janitor then walks by holding a toilet plunger with a horrible creature stuck to it. Alice says, "I love my job," while the Pointy-Haired Boss says, "I'm giving him a raise," both with wide, terrified eyes.
The title character in the comic strip Frazz is an elementary school janitor who's smarter and more erudite than some of the teachers, and possibly the school principal. He's also a songwriter who gets at least a meaningful amount of royalties — it's somewhat implied he may not even actually need a day job, let alone as a janitor.
Voldemort: (leading an army of trolls into Hogwarts) "Orikal, we need to find where Dumbledore hid-" Filch: (turns the corner and smirks) "You have a hall pass?" Voldemort: "Argus Filch you useless Squib! Still roaming the halls?" Filch: "Kind of in the job description." Voldemort: (starts blasting at Filch, who dodges behind the corner) "I'll give you one chance to surrender. If you do, I promise you a swift death." Filch: (head shots one of the trolls from around the corner) "I surrender, now move a little closer!"
The first part of the Thor and Being Human crossover fanfic series Housemates, "Monsters", involves Loki crash-landing in Bristol, very depressed and damaged, and moving in with Mitchell, George, and Annie. Since he needs to help with the rent and groceries, they find him a job as an elementary-school janitor. The children soon work out he's magic. He animates action figures and things. Loki's always having to point out to the myth-savvy that he's not actually a god, and so Nick Fury has referred to him as the Custodian of Mischief.
There is also a lovely sequence with a boy who's worried because the other janitor is going to poison an anthill and that's sad. Loki magically convinces the ants to leave on their own. Loki sets up the mother-rhinoceros protection charm on the school grounds.
In the sequel the SHIELD helicarrier comes to call him out for a meeting while he's at work, and Iron Man tasers him in the back when he disclaims responsibility for what's happened to Captain America and tries to go back to work. The kids are pissed.
The two children who are used in every schoolchild-related scene in the fic are two little boys named Patrick and Trevor, who are particular scamps and particularly attached to Mr. Loki, and serve as a stand-in for the whole species of 'small child.'
By the end of the third segment of the series, Loki encounters a field trip from said school, in a zoo, during a pitched battle with alien invaders and pseudo-Nazis, while dressed in the... very villainous-looking hero costume Tony made him for the occasion, and saves the group via actual rhinoceroses before running off to defeat some evil airships. When he comes back to sort them out afterward, the headmistress promises him his job back. (He'd lost it due to being kidnapped by SHIELD eight weeks previously and thus not turning up for work.) This means that as the fourth fic starts, an action figure of him as the Avengers' 'magical consultant' is about to start being produced, and he's working as a school custodian in a building where everyone is fully aware that he's a powerful alien wizard. This removes some of the incognito factor of the trope, but must make the experience of having a clean school one of which the occupants are unusually aware.
In A Growing Affection, Naruto's mother was a Genin, before her death. She was also one of the five best ninjas in the Konohagakure. She died helping Minato seal the Nine-Tails in Naruto, only days after giving birth. She also draws Jonin level pay, because the Hokage doesn't want their clients exploiting her S-Rank Jonin level skills for a Genin's day rate.
Discussed in the Peggy Sue fic New Chance, where Minato is explaining to Naruto the difference between ninja rank and class (overall skill). He points out future Naruto was this trope since he had a low rank but high class. He also points out that in some cases this trope happens to ninjas this because A) they've never been part of a village (Haku), B) they are stripped of their rank (Zabuza) or C) they are willingly invoking this trope (Han the Jinchuuriki of the 5 tails).
Film - Animated
In the animated movie The Rescuers, the co-protagonists are a beautiful Hungarian diplomat... and a bumbling janitor who somehow gets talked into going with her on a rescue mission. He gets considerably more badass in the sequel. (They're both mice, like the rest of the Rescue Aid Society.)
Jack Frost from Rise Of The Guardians. He's not one of the Guardians, in fact when the Man in the Moon is choosing a new Guardian none of the others even consider him. However, since he isn't a Guardian, his powers do not fluctuate based on belief until the very end, and with Pitch rapidly diminishing belief around the world...
Film — Live-Action
Steven Seagal's character in Under Siege is a former Navy SEAL working as a ship's cook. His backstory involves striking a commanding officer after a bad mission, and losing his security clearance, etc.
The Trainman of The Matrix Revolutions. Conductor for the train station program and responsible for carrying programs from the mainframe to the Matrix. He looks like smelly hobo, but is effectively a god in his world and can defeat even Neo with just a flick of his wrist.
In Good Will Hunting, the main character is a janitor at a college campus who, without any higher education, is capable of solving questions that are impossibly difficult for the actual professors there.
The character Moses in The Hudsucker Proxy was a mysterious and supernaturally powerful Janitor hinted at being an angel. He's opposed by a bald and menacing janitor, Aloysius, who is an evil version of this trope.
Bill the Electrician in the excellent House II: The Second Story makes a cameo as an example of this trope.
In The Breakfast Club, Carl might only be the janitor, but as the self-proclaimed "eyes and ears of the institution", he knows quite a lot about what goes on around the school.
Kung Fu Hustle is built around this trope, with the world's greatest martial artists all occupying extremely low and unlikely social positions. We first encounter three undercover masters of Kung-Fu who are a submissive baker, a gay tailor, and a sweating coolie. They are in turn trumped by blind street musicians, some shabby landlords, and a dumpy old asylum inmate in his underwear.
In The Hunt For Red October, the whole defection plot by the senior Russian officers is nearly derailed by the cook. who is actually a GRU agent.
In Brazil, the independent plumber is portrayed as an absurdly competent vigilante handyman.
In UHF, the janitor's television program is the only reason Weird Al's television channel begins to get high ratings. However, the janitor didn't want to have his own show unless he got to keep the role of janitor.
In Zac Efron's 17 Again, a magic janitor grants the wish of Mathew Perry to relive his youth.
Zatoichi films star a man named... Ichi. Zato is his title, the lowest of four ranks in the official blind people guild that existed in Japan at the time. So the title in Japanese means Low-ranking Blind Person Ichi. He ekes out a living as a lowly blind masseur, which was the one job they had for blind people in Japan back then. Ichi is also invincible. Between his sword and his wit, it is rare for anyone in the movies to get the upper hand on him, let alone beat him.
Paid tribute in Bruce Almighty, where God (played by Morgan Freeman) initially appears to Bruce as a lowly Janitor mopping the floors of an empty office building, making him a literal example.
Forrest Gump - war hero, shaper of history, gazillionaire... and groundskeeper for the University of Alabama, which he ended up doing for free because he liked it so much.
Matthew Broderick's character in Election makes the very big mistake of unknowingly pissing off the school janitor when he dumps a box of chow mein in a waste basket he just emptied.
In The Karate Kid, Mister Miyagi was the janitor for Daniel-san's apartment complex. Daniel even tries studying karate from a book while Mister Miyagi watches with a mild expression.... until Miyagi saves Daniel from his assailants and takes him under his wing. Miyagi-san can also fix a car's engine with a karate chop, break massive wooden beams (and melt the coldness in the heart of the person pinned beneath) with a single blow, and when he succeeds in catching a fly with chopsticks, merely sighs in satisfaction before letting the insect go.
During the reboot, Mr. Han's introduction and first few scenes pretty blatantly parody EVERYTHING Mister Miyagi was known for, up to looking like he's about to "pull some Jedi stuff" and grab a fly with chopsticks, only to instead swat the bejeebus out of it... THEN pick it off the swatter with said chopsticks. He's also more akin to the resident handiman than simple janitor, indeed he doesn't seem to clean up anything, including his own house.
At one point in Oh God, God appears as a park litter-picker.
Sam Peckinpah 's Cross Of Iron has the lead character Steiner (James Coburn) as a sergeant who has been busted back to corporal, but whom everybody else in the squad clearly looks to as their leader.
Lucius Fox as played by Morgan Freeman in Batman Begins. He's not exactly a janitor, but he's at a much lower level than he was when Thomas Wayne ran Wayne Enterprises. He knows Bruce is Batman (explicitly stated in The Dark Knight), provides him with his tech, and is actually pretty crucial to Batman winning thanks to his antidote to Crane's fear toxin. Subverted in that he's promoted to CEO when Bruce becomes the majority shareholder.
In the 70's TV movie Paper Man a group of post graduate students use a mistakenly issued credit card by programming a real seeming identity in their colleges computer (which is time-shared out to banks). Thinks take a turn for the worst when the computer (or their created identity) starts killing them off. In fact They had been confiding in the lowly janitor, not realizing he was a killer on the run. He and his partner, both geniuses, had a software company but one killed the other in a dispute and was working as a janitor because he really didn't need an identity to do that. Once he saw what the students had done he began killing off so he could use the identity to re-enter the real world with a high paying job at another software company
In The Stupids movie, Stanley and Petunia enter a planetarium after hours. When the lights go off and they see stars above them, they believe themselves to have died. Soon meeting the janitor, they mistake him for God Himself. Furthermore, the janitor's name is Lloyd, leading Stanley to believe he and the rest of the world have been mispronouncing "Lord" all this time.
A common occurrence in James Bond films is to have a character who serves the Big Bad in a seemingly-innocuous position (for instance, their secretary or driver) turn out to be a much bigger deal (for instance, a trained assassin) once the villains reveal themselves to be, well, villains.
An almost perfect example in David Lubar's "Wizards of the Game". Mercer Dickenson is a high school student who loves to play a Dungeons and Dragons-esque tabletop RPG. His constant ramblings about magic and spellcasting gain the attention of four people living in an elderly home who turn out to be magic-users from another world. They mistake him for a "Magus" and request his help to send them back to where they came from, since they need five to open a portal. To his surprise, Mercer and his friends are able to open a portal, but only after the true 5th magic-user comes to their aid. He is none other than the school janitor, Danny.
John Galt from Atlas Shrugged and his followers. They were the only ones left with the technological civilization to speak of (and they were capable to advance it..), but they did only menial jobs in the outside world.
Hugh Akston: "If you find it inconceivable that an invention of genius should be abandoned among ruins, and that a philosopher should wish to work as a cook in a diner—check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong."
Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthill, from K.A. Applegate's Animorphs, is stranded on Earth as an aristh, or cadet. Over the course of the series, he racks up a ridiculous amount of combat experience, acquires probably more morphs than any Andalite in history, is instrumental in a number of key victories (not all on Earth — see book # 18) — but he doesn't get promoted to full warrior because, well, there's nobody around to do so. In the final book, it's subverted as Ax gets promoted directly to Prince, echoing a joke made way back in The Andalite Chronicles. He subsequently becomes something of a legend, like his brother Elfangor before him.
Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination (originally titled Tyger! Tyger! in Bester's native U.K.) is the story of Gulliver Foyle, who starts the story with the lowest rank in the Inner Planets' Space Navy. Possibly a subversion of this trope, as the trauma of being marooned in space for something like three solid months, then watching a ship fully capable of rescuing him choose not to do so turns out to be his Berserk Button. His response sets the rest of the book in motion.
The books of Daniel V. Gallery have a character called John Patrick "Fatso" Gioninni. He runs the incinerator compartment aboard an aircraft carrier. How is this possible, with all of the honors and promotions he got in World War II? Simple. He'd rather kick back, take advantage of the favors the brass owes him and stick it to the middle management jerks on the ship by means of wacky hijinks. Oh, and being able to fleece the newbie sailors doesn't hurt either.
In Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard Of Earthsea, the great Wizarding School on the island of Roke has numerous masters. In the course of Ged's studies he obtains the recognition of all of them, only to discover that in fact there's one more: the Master Doorkeeper, previously assumed to just be an irrelevant porter but actually a presumably powerful wizard.
Discworld: Every History Monk knows that Lu-Tze is their greatest agent ever; few know that he is in fact the head sweeper, and not officially a History Monk at all.
Additionally, every time Lu-Tze is somewhere in the history, he will just start to work at a place that will be relevant for the history and no-one ever wonders about that, because he's just there and takes care of janitor stuff.
Nanny Ogg, it is hinted, is a more powerful witch than Granny Weatherwax. Granny knows all about what people fear, but Nanny can make herself at home anywhere, among any kind of people, largely by asking people about the mundanities like their families and health problems. In one case she manages to get where she needs to be because nobody bothers to question an old lady who's prepared to do the washing-up.
The distinction is even simpler than that; Granny is an incredibly powerful witch, and expects everyone she meets to know that, at all times, so she invariably behaves as though she is an incredibly powerful witch*
even when, theoretically, she wants them to think she is old and senile because it serves her purpose to be old and senile right now
. Nanny, by contrast, is also an incredibly powerful witch, but she has the invaluable skill of knowing when to turn it off.
And the true heir to the throne of Ankh-Morpork, who keeps the peace, inspires the populace to actually be half-decent every now and then, and alters the place to his will. Captain Carrot of the City Watch.
In that case, everyone knows it. It's just in everyone's best interest to keep it that way, which he encourages.
He does manage to use the authority to Vime's great annoyance in Jingo.
Glenda Sugarbean and Mr. Nutt are an Almighty Cook and an Almighty Candle Dipper. Glenda runs the Night Kitchen but is able to stand up to wizards and to Vetinari, while Nutt has many skills and "talks like a wizard" because he was given books on almost every subject, but prefers to work in the candle vats to keep away from people who might treat him badly based on his species.
There's also Mrs. Whitlow, Unseen University's head housekeeper. She terrifies the senior faculty with her ability to make sure beds get made and meals get cooked, something even the most powerful wizard can't do with their magic.
Ridcully: To the laundry!
Chair of Indefinite Studies: You know Mrs Whitlow doesn't like us going down there.
Ridcully: And who is Archchancellor of this University, may I ask? Is it Mrs Whitlow? I don't think so! Is it me? Why yes, I do believe it is!
Chair: Yes, but you know what she can be like.
Ridcully: Er, yes, that's true...
Mrs. Evadne Cake. A medium (verging on a small). She's feared by virtually every religious institution outside of Fourecks and the Agatean Empire (and the Ankh-Morpork Post Office). This is a result of her habit of volunteering with every temple she can find, and gradually taking over the cleaning, the sacrifices, the prayer rotas, the Vestigial Virgins, and generally becoming this trope, before having a falling out with the relevant High Priest over her habit of talking with the dead and leaving, throwing the entire temple into disarray.
NightWatch has Commander Sir Samuel Vimes end up in the past, occupying the role of Sergeant-at-Arms John Keel ("that's a Sergeant with bits on") where he combines his years of knowledge of police work in Ankh-Morpork, knowledge of future events (to a point) and his own deviousness to become a pivotal figure in the revolution, to the point that once Winder is the new patrician he deems Vimes to be too much of a threat because if the thought entered his head to over throw the government Winder would be powerless to stop him.
Vimes explains this logic to Snouty the watch janitor/jailer in why he wants Snouty to do things for him: as the Janitor Snouty knows where and how to get his hands on things and can do it competently.
Sergeant Jackrum from MonsterousRegiment. He is introduced as a simple, fat sergeant who is part of the last recruitment party in the ass end of nowhere. He soon makes it clear to his squad that a sergeant must be more competent than any officer if they want to keep their men alive and must manipulate the officer into making the correct positions. We then later find out that he is also The Dreaded to all opposing forces and has saved the lives of over a third of the top brass making him the most powerful solider in the army. He has also had over 50 years to learn every trick in the book and add a few of his own ideas to said book making him also the most competent solider as well.
Corporal Strappi is actually a highly ranked officer investigating Jackrum because Jackrum has used his status to dodge his discharge papers for decades
When Poly first sees Commander Vimes, Duke of Ankh-Morpork and second only to the Patrician in terms of power in and around Ankh-Morpork she assumes he is simply a grubby sergeant making rude faces behind Lord Rust. This is made more amusing as the events of Monsterous Regiment take place shortly after Night Watch
Frequently appearing in Chinese Wuxia novels. If an old janitor figure (sweeper, kitchen-servant, etc.) appears in the story and is not promptly killed off, there's a good chance of him or her being a supremely skilled martial artist in disguise.
Example: The Sweeper Monk in Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils, a popular Louis Cha novel, who is an old, old janitor with enough chi power to stop two of China's most powerful martial artists without even blinking. All this time, he's been quietly sweeping floors in the Shaolin Temple.
Also quite likely the model for Lu-Tze in Discworld (see above).
Harry himself might apply (until 'Changes'). He's one of the strongest wizards in the world, in terms of raw power. And due to the circumstances of his birth, his magic is more effective against outsiders. But due to his youth, lack of control/experience, history, and general attitude, he is considered to be at the bottom of the White Council totem pole. On the other side of the coin, he's an extremely gifted private investigator, who has to count on supernatural cases to get jobs, and is frequently stiffed by his clients. He frequently struggles to make rent, especially if his car breaks down, again.
In Catch Twenty Two, the two lowliest soldiers are shown to have the most power.
Ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen is a mail clerk who intentionally gets himself busted back down to Private whenever he can. Because he controls the mail and the mimeograph machine, he can intercept or forge any order he pleases. This makes him the most powerful man in the military, but he uses his power mostly to amuse himself.
Milo Minderbinder spins his duties as Mess Officer into a world-wide trade syndicate.
The Guns Of Navarone has Andrea, Captain Mallory's trusty second-in-command. The reader finds out at the end that Andrea is actually a Colonel, and significantly outranks the Captain. He just doesn't like giving orders.
Subverted in Company, where the janitor is actually the CEO, secretly watching over the goings-on throughout the building. His second-in-command, the gorgeous but sociopathic Eve Jantiss, is the receptionist. Sure, the other second-in-command, Blake Seddon, is a Vice President in senior management, but since he's awesome enough to actually have an Armani eyepatch we can forgive him for that.
Further, on occasion a literal Janitor named George is found to be an aide to the BOFH in early episodes, giving him and his PFY access to "the bins of the rich and powerful..."
Jack Vance's story "Dodkin's Job" is all about this trope. The protagonist is at the second lowest level of his hierarchical society and is about to be dropped to the lowest, "Junior Executive". So he appeals his case, step by step, to higher authority, and gradually discovers that they all answer to a much lower authority...
A literal example with Juro from Krabat / The Satanic Mill / The Curse of the Darkling Mill (the title seems to vary): since the head-mage has a nasty habit of killing the "best" apprentice at the end of each year, as one mage has to die as part of his pact with the devil, and he figures he might as well get rid of those who could threaten his position, the character in question figures it's safest to adopt a humble Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass disguise, posing as a nigh-retarded janitor, while secretly accumulating power. By the end of the story, he becomes a Hypercompetent Side Kick to Krabat.
Sun Wukong from Journey to the West gets assigned the job of Heavenly... Stable Boy. This becomes a Chekhov's Skill later in the story because all horses gain an innate respect/fear for Wukong because of this.
In The Goneaway World the megacorp that effectively runs the Crapsack World of the title is run by the guy who delivers the mail. Sort of. He doesn't make decisions, he just delivers them. The same ones over and over again in an endless cycle.
Hey, it doesn't matter who makes the decisions or what decisions they make. What matters is what the people who do the work actually hear. Other Wiki.
The old man polishing the furniture in Queen Beauty's palace in Orson Scott Card's Hart's Hope is actually one of the deposed gods of the world — the one called God, in fact.
In the novel Science Fair, the janitor is considered "an example of exactly why you should not mess with drugs". In the end, he nearly destroys America with an EMP.
It technically only happens twice. "Something that happens twice" is the working definition of a tradition on Barrayar, though.
holds the rank of a mere Captain. Admirals, Generals, and Vor Lords tend to follow their orders anyways.
Up until Michael A. Stackpole's Star Wars Expanded Universe novel Isard's Revenge, five years after Endor, Wedge Antilles, the only pilot in the universe to have flown against both Death Stars, still held the rank of commander. Which he still held because he had refused all previous attempts to promote him, preferring to stay in an X-Wing cockpit and dreading the thought of a Desk Job. And the only reason he finally accepts the promotion, to general, is because another officer points out that his subordinates were following suit to stay under him. And because he was about to go on a mission where he'd need rank to pull. Within about a year, he goes from a mere X-Wing pilot to the commanding officer of the Super Star Destroyer Lusankya.
There's actually a meta / Retcon reason there. In The Thrawn TrilogySourcebook, Timothy Zahn wrote that Wedge had accepted one promotion, and one only, to become a Commander. All other promotions had been turned down. But the Dark Empire comic, set about a year later, had Wedge as a General. Stackpole had to ramp up Wedge's importance to the New Republic to make such a promotion plausible, and he did.
In The Manual Of Detection, Arthur, the janitor, is actually the overseer of the entire Agency of detectives. He's also not exactly a good guy.
Starfist Charles Schultz, he's never risen above Private First Class, but he's feared and respected by all who know him. He actually goes "on point" because he knows he's the best and that he'll be able to protect his fellow Marines by taking point.
One of the Gears of War tie-in novels mentions that Private Augustus Cole has refused promotion multiple times because he wants to stay with his buddies and doesn't think a few extra stripes on his arm will help him kill Locust any faster.
In Robert A Heinlein's Starman Jones, the main character is a spaceship stable boy who turns out to have perfect memory. He ends up being promoted to captain.
In the first book of the Codex Alera, the protagonist, Tavi was accompanied by Fade, a menial laborer and deserter living on his uncle's farm... who happens to be Araris Valerian, retired legend, all-around badass, and stated by Word Of God to be the best swordsman in the world.
Isaac Asimov's The Currents of Space is revealed to be this trope in the end.
Odd from Dean Koontz's 'Brother Odd' series of books. Due to his powers is privy to essential secrets of the universe. Enjoys working as a short order cook.
The real decision-making power of the Solarian League, from Honor Harrington, lies in the hands of four Permanent Undersecretaries.
Harry Potter: House Elves are normally subservient to wizards and treated badly. However, they possess powerful magic that can override typical wizard enchantments. One can mention Dobby, who sent Lucius Malfoy flying after being freed by Harry.
Elmutt in the Liavek anthologies is a garbage picker. He's also a FortuneMaker, with the power to transform reality whenever someone poses a question about the future, but despite being probably the single most powerful character in the series, he continues to make a living by looking through garbage for still-useful stuff.
Skeeter Jackson, of Time Scout, gains his first honest employment as a janitor mopping bathrooms for five dollars an hour. He loses his job when he beats up a rapist/terrorist who came at him with a knife, using his mop.
Deryn Sharp is only a Midshipman aboard the Leviathan, but her influence reaches quite far. She has the ear of both Alek, the next in line for the Austria-Hungarian throne, and Dr. Barlow, a scientist who has enough authority to commander the largest ship in the British Air Navy for her own use. And over the course of the story she gain several high placed contacts inside the Ottoman Empire who feed her intel about enemy operations. By the end she leaves the navy to work for Dr. Barlow (who has realized her considerable talents) and the London Zoological Society, who, in this verse, is essential MI 6. It is even lampshaded by a reporter, who compares her to the Bell Captain, who is said the most important person in a hotel, more important than both the owner and the manager.
A Jewish Legend has a wife of famous and learned sage asking him how comes a certain humble and uneducated man can perform miracles, while he, for all his knowledge and wisdom, cannot. The sage answers that the relationship between God and him is that of a king and a senior official, while the other man is more like a slave, or a personal servant - and who is more likely to be heard?
Viktor Suvorov describes in the Liberators a case where a lieutenant-colonel, the duty officer of the district staff cowers in fear upon learning the young private whom he tried to chastise is the district commander's first deputy's wife's driver.
Sherlock Holmes's brother Mycroft, who acts as a human computer for the British government due to his sheer range and depth of knowledge. Sherlock himself said it best:
" ... Mycroft draws four hundred and fifty pounds a year, remains a subordinate, has no ambitions of any kind, will receive neither honour nor title, but remains the most indispensable man in the country.”
In The Helmsman Saga, one of the main characters is Utrillo Barbousse, a Petty Officer who remains in his rank and refuses to be promotes to an officer. However, The Siege has a chauffeur being completely unimpressed with Brim's rank - he is a Rear Admiral, and the chauffeur sees enough of them every day. But when he learns Brim's adjutant is the highest-ranking Petty Officer in the Fleet...
Live Action TV
Lincoln Heights, both Eddie and Jenn Sutton work as a police officer and Nurse, respectively. Eddie has spent 12 years as just a low level beat cop but is clearly capable of being a sergeant or even detective. He actually purposely doesn't test for those positions, knowing that a promotion would take him off the street and put him behind a desk where he wouldn't do much good to the community. His family could certainly use the extra pay. Jenn is more understandable as she most likely would of gone to school to become a doctor, or at least a Nurse Practitioner or Physician Assistant, but became pregnant at a very young age and never went to college.
Chuck is just a shop-floor repairman with the Nerd Herd at the local Buymore (a cheap electronic goods store). But he's also the only person who can keep the staff working. He can fix anything, even top secret technology that he's never seen before. He even manages to balance being an obvious and enthusiastic nerd with somehow being able to seduce very nearly every attractive woman he meets. And this is before he gets accidentally recruited to be the U.S. government's living spy database.
When House was a child in Japan, he witnessed doctors asking for medical advice from what looked to be a literal Almighty Janitor. It turns out the guy was a medical genius who worked as a janitor because he was a Burakumin (an untouchable). House says this is the reason he became a doctor. The man wasn't liked, but he was respected; "Because he was right."
Subverted in the Season 4 premiere where, after the ducklings have all quit or been fired, House starts using the janitor to bounce ideas off of, even having him pretend to be "Dr. Buffer" and deal with the patient's family. Hilarity Ensues.
Returned to again in the Season 8 premiere, where the Almighty Janitor is a prison inmate working as a janitor.
House briefly had another one on his team in one season: The man had all the knowledge of a veteran doctor, having audited med school classes when he was younger, but could not be hired as a doctor because he didn't actually have a medical degree.
Ye Olde Tyme Parody TV Show Police Squad!! had Johnny the Shoeshine Guy. Inspector Drebin would consult him about "the word on the street"; Johnny would say "I don't know nuthin'!", whereupon the Inspector would slip him a twenty and get detailed insider info about the Bad Guys' operations. And in a running gag, after the Inspector left, someone else would come up and Johnny would give them detailed information using the same procedure. The persons in question included a surgeon asking how to perform open-heart surgery, a priest wanting to know about the Afterlife, a fireman needing instructions on how to put out a warehouse fire, Dr. Joyce Brothers needing to know about mental health, baseball manager Tommy Lasorda needing tho know how to handle his pitching staff, and TV music host Dick Clark asking about new musical trends (and getting his supply of anti-aging cream).
Eureka has Henry Deacon, the simple mechanic who knows everything about everything. Need a crash course in quantum physics? Call Henry. Temporal theory? Give Henry a ring. How about a quick list of any of the town's supergeniuses who might possibly know something he doesn't? He can tell you. This is only subverted midway through Season 3, where he is named the town's Mayor-elect in a surprise write-in ballot.
A lot of characters on Eureka could qualify as this, considering it is a town of Mad Scientists. Take Vincent for example. He seems to run a simple restaurant, but is so good at his job that no customer has ever been able to request a meal that he cannot provide. Taggart, who everybody sees as being a nut, is actually probably the greatest trapper and animal expert in the world. Even Fargo, the resident Butt Monkey, is a genius capable of building a sentient house despite being treated as little more than a lab assistant by most of the other residents.
Really, even Sheriff Carter. He may be one of the few town residents who is not a genius, but he is the guy the geniuses call on to fix things when disaster looms.
Handicapped (by the loss of a hand) former Canadian super spy Adderly was banished to the Department of Miscellaneous Affairs, which handles jobs too insignificant to be dealt with by anyone else. Only slightly impaired by his prosthetic, he insisted on running amuck as a Cowboy Cop.
In one episode of The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon recruits a janitor to act as a silent grunt for his physics bowl team, but it turns out that this Janitor is from Ruritania and actually was a high-level physicist there. Sheldon ignores him anyway.
Joel Robinson of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Not only was he a genius inventor capable of creating robotic life capable of independent thought AND humor, but "he did a good job cleaning up the place."
But his bosses didn't like him, so they shot him into space.
They sent him cheesy movies, the worst they could find.
He'll have to sit and watch them all, as they monitor his mind.
Fa la la!
Now keep in mind Joel can't control where the movies begin or end.
Las Vegas: Mike Cannon is an engineer, MIT graduate, and Hollywood Nerd. He starts the series as a valet. He's called in to help the actual security staff several times during the first season. Despite his initial reluctance — due to actually liking being a valet, and the potential pay cut — he eventually becomes full-time security staff. In the final season, he's actually promoted to head of security.
Played with in Lie to Me with Ria Torres, discovered by Lightman working at an airport as a TSA agent, whose naturally developed Living Lie Detector abilities rival those of her future boss.
Jennifer from WKRP in Cincinnati is an example of this; despite being a mere receptionist, she is the highest-paid employee at the station, arguably the most competent person in the entire outfit, and untouchable by anyone, including the REAL boss.
Lenny Bicknall from MI High and his replacement Frank London. International superspies forced to masquerade as a school caretaker.
Lewis from The Drew Carey Show. He's a janitor at a pharmaceutical company whose innovations are so extreme they're getting into biotech...
Arguably, Lester Freamon in The Wire qualifies. He's intensely clever and competent, and got shuffled off to the Pawnshop Division for offending someone, rather than lacking ability. Which he proves, when he's palmed off on Daniels.
Sir Humphrey Appleby of Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister, despite being anonymous to the population at large and describing himself as a "humble functionary", is effectively running the country from behind the scenes by the end of the series. - President of Buranda: "I've always thought that Permanant Under-Secretary is such a demeaning title... makes you sound like an assistant typist or something, whereas you're really in charge of everything aren't you?"
Dr. Krogshøj from Riget is, despite his status as a low ranking doctor, one of the most powerful people on the Kingdom Hospital thanks to the effort he puts into digging up dirt on every other employee. Thankfully, he only does it so Justice Will Prevail.
On Fringe, Olivia has trouble readjusting after her return from "over there." Nina Sharp refers her to Sam Weiss, the man who "helped put (her) back together" after she got her cyberarm. As it turns out, Sam Weiss is a bowling alley attendant.
In an episode of Freaky, a troublemaking student discovers too late that the school caretaker is some kind of supernatural being who commands an army of floor buffers. Said troublemaker ends up a permenant stain on the floor of the school gym.
These memory-alpha sites state that the petty officers (naval counterparts to army sergeants) have the most experience in Starfleet. Despite this, this analysis states that the enlisted are excluded from meetings and the chain of command.
Boothby knows all the cadets and gives many of them advice. Picard recommends Wesley pay attention to him even though he's just a janitor and gardener and he himself seeks Boothby's counsel when he's investigating Red Squad. Boothby is also mentioned fondly in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager.
Guinan. She's a bartender and a "listener" who always has good advice and has a special relationship with Picard (turns out they will have met before he was born because she's older than she looks). She also can tell when time has been ret-conned and adopts a defensive posture against Q as though she thinks she's capable of fighting him. Q's reaction suggests he thinks she can as well.
Captain Picard, who clearly is more capable than most Admirals. E-D is a Flagship of Starfleet and yet commanded by a Captain (as opposed to an Admiral).
When species 8472 creates a simulation of Starfleet Academy, the creature in charge of the project takes the role of Boothby.
Tom Paris. Junior Lieutenant. Best pilot in the Federation. Once took down a cruiser with a half broken shuttle craft. Saved Voyager multiple times single-handed. Built an engine that could do infinite speed.
Merlin himself from Merlin. He appears to be a normal boy (and servant to Arthur), but he in fact is quite skilled in magic and can probably kick most people's butts. Arthur's made it so clear by now that Merlin's opinion is the one he values over all others — but still forgets to pay his wages half the time, let alone make him an official advisor. Be honest, Arthur just likes throwing things at Merlin and wouldn't get to do that if Merlin had rank.
Dave Lister has some traits of this in Red Dwarf; though officially ranked the bottommost on the ship's social structure (he was a Third Technician — which translates as "assistant chicken soup vending machine repairman"), he nevertheless has several surprisingly displays of skill, including being able to repair a smashed mechanoid with only a few minor glitches in memory, instantly spot the flaws in a computer's simulation of using a nuclear explosion to dislodge planets to block up a white hole, promptly recalculate the "play" himself due to his skill at pool, and devise a plan to double-bluff a ruthless time-travelling judge-droid. Said judge-droid even demands to know how Lister can justify living his life as such a lazy bum when he has so much potential that he's never bothered to use.
In the Supernatural season 2 episode "Tall Tales", the Winchester brothers stumble upon a series of odd happenings (including an alien abduction complete with probing and... slow-dancing?)—which always get discovered by the janitor. The brothers have no idea what's going on until Bobby shows up later, tells them they're idiots, and says it's a reality warping deity known as a trickster. Guess who's the Trickster? As if that wasn't awesome enough, three seasons later it's revealed he's really the Archangel Gabriel.
In "The Dark Side of the Moon," the Winchester brothers travel to Heaven, and meet a lowly gardener who knows a lot about the whereabouts of God—a question which is a great mystery that puzzles even the greatest of archangels.
The crew of the Orion from the 60s German science-fiction series Raumpatrouille (Space Patrol) are a whole crew of Almighty Janitors. Despite being the best crew of Earth's starfleet, they're backset from rapid space units to space patrol because of the unorthodox methods of their captain. And yet, they still save the day several times, including single-handedly stopping a full-fledged invasion of Earth by an alien power.
In the series finale of Malcolm in the Middle...you get two guesses and the first one doesn't count. Kid had to pay for college somehow.
Not an all-powerful variant but a wise one. The night guard at the Jeffersonian, shown in only one episode, always knows just what to say, although he claims he just attends a lot of lectures at the Institute in his spare time. Given that Bones is hallucinating in this episode, it is possible that he doesn't really exist. Booth, for example, had no idea who she was talking about.
Played for laughs in the Community episode "Contemporary American Poultry", where it's revealed that the cafeteria fry cook could easily become akin to a mafia don for the whole school and control everything and everyone because the only edible food in the school cafeteria are the chicken fingers, and the cafeteria fry cook is responsible for cooking the chicken fingers — and deciding who gets them...
You can say John Sheppard from Stargate Atlantis. He mentions that people "never thought he'd make it past captain", and his job's been in trouble many times due to him having messed with the guy upstairs. Also, shown to be pretty intelligent, but doesn't really like talking about it. You can also say the entirety of his team is like this.
Pretty intelligent? In one episode he casually mentions to McKay that his IQ is high enough to be eligible for Mensa!
Mensa doesn't mean anything when you are around people with multiple doctorates. If you ever want to feel dumb, read the qualifications of NASA astronauts. Theoretically, the Stargate teams would draw from the same pool of people. Not qualifying for Mensa means that you couldn't even be a janitor in Atlantis.
Perhaps a better way of putting it as he's humble enough that he doesn't need to flaunt his intelligence like McKay.
A good example of just how much of an Almighty Janitor he is the two parter, "The Storm" and "The Eye" in Series One, where he manages to hold off an occupying force of Genii soldiers in Atlantis single-handed by outsmarting them at every turn. All the while, while managing to disable key systems so they can't follow him and still find time to accomplish his other objective, rerouting the lightning rod grounding stations to power the City's shield to protect it from an incoming hurricane that covers roughly 20% of the planet's surface.
Depending on just how much you can trust his word, Mycroft from Sherlock.
Mycroft: "For goodness sake! I occupy a minor position in the British Government."
Sherlock: "He IS the British Government."
The Doctor in Doctor Who, who even refers to himself as "The Maintenance Man of the Universe" at one point. Particularly in regards to Earth, as noted in an exchange in "The Eleventh Hour".
Atraxi: You are not of this world.
Doctor: No, I've put a lot of work into it.
Donna Noble, best temp in Chiswick, discovers key information in several episodes by putting her paper-filing and administration powers to good use. In "The Sontaran Strategem", for example, she finds an empty sick-leaves folder that leads them to question the episode's suspicious company.
In the series Warehouse 13, the individuals who control and make decisions for the Warehouse are the Regents who "hide in plain sight" as grocery store clerks, diner waitresses, etc. One particular Regent, Theodora, not only guards the secrets of warehouse full of artifacts and objects that could destroy the world a thousand times over- she also makes the best pie in the county.
Artie: I... You know, I just would have thought that... this waitress is a Regent?
Valda: John Adams was a farmer. Abraham Lincoln was a small-town lawyer. Plato, Socrates were teachers. Jesus was a carpenter. To equate judgment and wisdom with occupation is at best... insulting.
Subverted in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Charlie Kelly tends to view himself as this when in reality he is quite the opposite. The subversion is especially obvious in the episode The Gang Reignites the Rivalry, where Charlie takes a job as a janitor at a local high school and fancies himself as a genius janitor in the vein of Will Hunting from the film Good Will Hunting.
These are actually two episodes. In "The Gang Reignites the Rivalry", Charlie goes undercover into a fraternity, and assumes his janitorial skills will allow him to "Good Will Hunting" the frat brothers and impress them into letting him in. In the two-parter "The Gang Gets a New Member" / "Dee Reynolds: Shaping America's Youth", Charlie leaves his the bar and the gang and becomes a janitor at a local high school, where he tries to mentor students.
The episode "Lesser Evils" from Elementary finds Sherlock and Watson trying to find an Angel of Death among a hospital staff. After questioning all of the doctors, they eventually discover the murderer to be the janitor, who turns out to have been a high ranking surgeon in the Ukraine before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In The Outer Limits episode "The Message", a janitor reveals that he used to be an astrophysicist before he was fired for mental problems, and uses his expertise to save the day.
On Suits, Donna—the all-knowing legal secretary—fits this role to a tee. It's a big part of her charm. Fittingly, when a former managing partner tries to take back control of the firm, the first part of his plan is to neutralize Donna. With her out of the picture he easily out gambits master manipulators like Harvey and Jessica. As soon as Donna returns, she is able to figure out the next part of his scheme within seconds of seeing that Louis is wearing a different suit than usual.
The Dudes from Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil are 3 young adult stoners who live in a car outside of Crowley High. They also have extensive knowledge regarding the titular Book, encourage Todd to become the Pure Evil One, recorded a vinyl metal album and are implied to have experienced a lot of history.
A more straightforward example is Jimmy the janitor. He's a lazy janitor who should probably be fired for his laziness and misconduct. Yet he seems unfazed by any of the Book's weekly surprises, has better people skills than he lets on, aids the gang in saving the world and occasionally antagonizes the aforementioned Dudes. He's also the one keeping them out of the school.
The Janitor from Scrubs is so devious, underhanded and omniscient it borders on a superpower. In fact, he forced a troper to create this separate folder.
He is the king of lies and is mighty enough to domineer over both Dr. Cox and Dr. Kelso and he can make people do things with his mind.
He has the ability to sense when squirrels are scared.
The Janitor can speak several different languages fluently, particularly Spanish.
He was a licensed taxidermist at one point, but had his license revoked for killing and stuffing animals. Not that losing it stopped him at all.
He's an inventor, although all of his inventions are just two already invented items combined together. Knifewrench, the Penstraw, Drill & Fork (Mostly Fork), a Paintball gun that also makes business cards.
In "My House," Janitor made an impressive painting on the wall in one of the hospital rooms.
The Janitor can use fear alone to get the entire hospital staff to do anything.
He doesn't believe in the moon, thinking it's the other side of the sun. A statement which is probably now correct...
He can move pens with his mind, though it only seemed to work in his house on a slightly slanted table. But he did it!
However probably the best exposition of The Janitor's powers is that in "His Story IV" he predicted that Osama Bin Ladin was hiding in Pakistan. This episode aired Febuary 2007.
In Real Life, Janitor's actor Neil Flynn began ad-libbing his lines early on in the show rather than sticking to the script (Dr. Jan Itor being a classic example). Eventually, the entire cast ended up following his lead, and the series creator would sometimes walk in on scenes and have no idea what was being filmed because it was being ad-libbed and deviating from the script so much. Sam Lloyd, who plays Ted, claimed that one time he opened up his script and when it came to Janitor, it just said "Whatever Neil says".
Carla seems to have the most power in the hospital, in that she holds sway over every single full-time staff member, including The Janitor. In "My Nightingale," Carla switched her shift to help the protagonist doctor trio when they are left without supervision for a night. Not that they noticed.
J.D.(voiceover): Even though we all know tomorrow morning, the three of us [J.D., Turk, and Elliot] will go back to being the most unappreciated people in the whole damn hospital. Nurse: Hey, what are you doing here? I thought you were off last night. Carla: I switched shifts to help some friends out. Have a good one.
Carla has nothing on Jordon, who holds so much power she is capable of single-handedly reversing major board decisions in under ten seconds. Carla has to nag Dr. Cox for weeks before she can get more nurses hired.
There was an episode where Turk was in charge of some interns and one of them (a big buff Russian) was being somewhat of a Insufferable Genius. Turns out he was a surgeon with a few years experience back home but had to become an intern again when he came to Sacred Heart.
GURPS I.O.U. features a janitor who will clean up any mess the students get into, up to and including a nuclear holocaust. He will also provide anything the student might need, in exchange for a small donation to the Janitor's Retirement Fund. It's even implied that the janitor in question is a retired deity.
Vampire The Masquerade sourcebook Lair of the Hidden had a scenario in which one of the almost god-like Antediluvians disguises himself as a mere human servant and attempts to guide some of his former students back to the path of Golconda with the help of the player-characters. All while still performing the duties of a servant in order to teach himself humility before the end comes.
In Exalted, Sidereal Exalted have powers that aid them in using this trope, especially when it comes to adopting unobtrusive and forgettable mortal personas with incredible training and advisory skills. Chejop Kejak is "known" in Creation mostly as the humble secretary to the leader of the Immaculate Order, a minor lecturer at the most prominent academy for Sorcery in the world, and an occasional (and often low priority) visitor to the Scarlet Empress, even while he is one of the most powerful individuals in Heaven.
In Nomine specifically points out that many Cherubim (guardian angels) choose to work in jobs which most other celestials would find beneath them, such as janitors. This allows them to keep a low profile and go anywhere without being questioned. With the power a common celestial wields, this can indeed be an Almighty Janitor, or come close to it for those he wants to help.
Figaro from Beaumarchais' plays The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro and the operas based on the plays. From his positions as barber and manservant, respectively, he manages to play the rest of the cast, which includes nobles, doctors and lawyers, like a violin.
The Yang family generals are the heroes of a number of Peking operas. They come in both male and female form. One of them, Yang Paifeng, is all about the titular maidservant, who is in charge of tending the hearth and serving tea, but doubles as a badass fighter.
Also, military dwarves on a month of leave. Sure, they may only be good at hauling stuff right now, but they're still decked out in a *Steel Breastplate* and are only a few days away from training his axe skills up to master.
Ryu in Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter. In a world where your place in society is determined by your D-ratio, Ryu has the depressingly low D-rank of 1/8192. As it turns out though, that D-ratio indicates the chances of a person bonding with a dragon; Ryu beats the odds and proceeds to carve a path of destruction all the way up the chain of command, eventually defeating a trio of 1/4-rank Physical Gods.
The Armored Core series always had rankings, but it isn't until Armored Core: Master of Arena that you can fight each other. In that game, the lowest ranking ones, even after the post-story unlockables are very weak. Along came Armored Core 2 and Armored Core 3. In Armored Core 3 and the sequel Silent Line, the arena also features a post-story unlockable enemies. The catch is that the lower in the rank they go, the tougher they are, so much so that in Armored Core 3, there's an email challenging you to defeat the bottom-most opponent while giving you the Game Breaker OP-I (albeit you need to train it properly first), just to give you a slight, repeat, slight edge over the opponent. To further hammer the point home, the email added "you may be considered unfair should you choose to use the equipment I provided."
Another example would be Armored Core 2's Werehound. he apparently stays at a relatively low rank specifically because he enjoys wrecking the confidence of hopeful new ravens. Too bad that one can simply evade all of his weapons to the point that he has no method of attack whatsoever.
In Armored Core 4, YOU stay at the bottom rank no matter how many opponents you trash. By time For Answer rolls around, and 4's protagonist goes rogue, he's risen in rank— to Rank 9. In storyline, the League is so afraid of him and his mech (As well as Fiona Jarnefeldt), that they send in the Rank 1... with backup, because alone, well...
This will makes perfect sense to anyone that remembers the earlier Armored Core games, who probably just saw the "9" part and went "Oh Crap".
Also in Armored Core: For Answers: You, once again. Even though you're given the option to advance this time, nothing's really forcing you to, and you can destroy any number of other NEXT's and Arms Forts, and still be placed behind the guy who uses a mech speced for construction work instead of combat.
Glenn is one of the best, if not the best, optional character you can recruit in Chrono Cross. But despite being a dual-sword wielding bad ass with familial connections to the higher-ups, his only real job seems to be guarding the resident Distressed Damsel during her walks about town. No explanation is ever given as to why this is or why a bratty ten-year-old girl is his commanding officer: with recognition like that, no wonder he betrays the Dragoons.
First point: he has a childhood crush on the damsel he's guarding. Second: that ten-year-old is a sadistic killing machine.
A much more literal example of this trope is the janitor on the S.S. Zelbess, who is actually the Sage of Marbule.
In Chrono Trigger, the Nu is an odd example of this. In the palace of Zeal Nus serve as janitors, and you can steal their 'Mop' weapons. However, the self-proclaimed God of War's ultimate form at "The End of Time" is a Nu, and Nus are surprisingly capable fighters; as well as having out-of-this-worldly knowledge.
Ramza spends the entirety of Final Fantasy Tactics as a squire, quitting the royal military academy and going rogue before ever obtaining noble title like the rest of his family has/had. He also misses out on acquiring all the awesome holy sword abilities that come with knighthood which every other character who is an actual knight (including his former best friend Delita) possesses. That said, while he may only be a squire he is a monstrously powerful squire who goes on to stop a bloody and pointless war and saves the world from no less than six Eldritch Abominations.
Also, his squire class is one of the strongest classes in the game, thanks to a couple of unique abilites he gets, plus equipment other squires can't use.
He doesn't believe in the moon, thinking it's the other side of the sun. A statement which is probably now correct...
He can move pens with his mind, though it only seemed to work in his house on a slightly slanted table. But he did it!
However probably the best exposition of The Janitor's powers is that in saulted a superior officer after being ordered to fire upon civilians, and was transferred to duty on Mars as punishment. This is why he's just a lowly grunt soldier despite being so Bad Ass that he was able to kill all of The Legions of Hell singlehandedly.
The Movie has a Shout Out to this when "The Kid" is ordered to fire on civilians, assaults Sarge, and is promptly shot in the brain pan.
No matter how many people and Mons you kill, you're still a mere apprentice magician as far as the NPCs in Geneforge are concerned.
Gordon Freeman from Half-Life. Yeah, he's a Badass Bookworm, but his doctorate is in theoretical physics, not ninjutsu, and the resonance cascade happened on his first day in the Anomalous Materials laboratory. He's fairly low on the totem pole.
Half-Life 2 lampshades this when you overhear the Big Bad broadcasting a speech to his Mooks, shaming them for their constant failure in stopping Gordon.
"This is not some agent provocateur or highly-trained assassin we are discussing. Gordon Freeman is a theoretical physicist who had hardly earned the distinction of his Ph.D. at the time of the Black Mesa Incident."
In Iji, the Playful Hacker Yukebacera ranks as a common Tasen Soldier and looks like one. He's also, bar none, the most badass Tasen around and one of the toughest fighters of any race. To put it in perspective, he's the fastest NPC in the game, and has the most weapons aside from the final boss.
In MDK, the main character, Kurt Hectic, who saves the Earth is a janitor. Admittedly, though, a janitor with a sweet suit containing a very powerful sniper rifle. The main thing about him is that he would much rather keep his job as a janitor than be a hero.
Likewise, in the Infocom game Planetfall, the player starts off as an Ensign, Ninth Class (assigned to swabbing the deck); in the sequel, you've been promoted ... you're sent to pick up a load of "Request for Stellar Patrol Issue Regulation Black Form Binders Request Form Forms." Whether this is better or worse than being a janitor is left to the reader.
Cruller from Psychonauts could be a subversion: while he acts as the camp's janitor (and groundskeeper, and chef, and lifeguard...), he's actually one of the most powerful Psychonauts around. He just has a multiple personality problem that can only be cured when he's in the vicinity of large hunks of Psitanium.
Also, in the Level "The Milkman Conspiracy", the Milkman is actually a real badass, throwing around milk bottle molotov cocktails.
Roger Wilco of the Space Quest series of adventure games — a literal janitor who never goes anywhere in terms of rank or popularity even after saving Xenon multiple times.
OK, he was promoted to head janitor between Space Quest I and Space Quest II. Then again, he was the only janitor staffed on the XOS-4's crew.
He was also an official Starcon starship captain in Space Quest V, if only for one game. And it was a garbage scow. The ending of the game also implied that he commanded the Goliath, if only briefly. The opening to Space Quest VI has him busted back down.
Mario. Plumber. Has managed to, among other things, defeat a powerful mechanical overlord and his second-in-command, slay a thousand-year old demon and her three pet dragons, kill the sun, and repel the forces of a powerful nation about a hundred times.
In Paper Mario, there's Parakarry the clumsy Paratroopa mailman. He later joins your team and manages to kick major ass in battle, ultimately being one of the most useful party members in the game.
In the cell phone game Surviving High School, Buck the Janitor features prominently in multiple side episodes, including one where he helps catch the person who's bought all of the tea so no one can have any, and another where he helps a nerd become a janitor-ninja (using a mop as his weapon), defeat the bully, and win the girl. All this is only if you do it right. He also is apparently low-level psychic (he communicates telepathically with one character at one point).
One of the many, many Bonus Bosses in Wild Arms 3 is the legendary fighter, Bad News. He's incredibly difficult to take down and has a ton of HP, second only to the two forms of the ultimate Bonus Boss of the game, Ragu O Ragla. His Secret Identity? Ortega, the clerk at the counter of the arena where you fight him. He doesn't even bother to take off his flannel shirt and apron to fight you. He doesn't have to.
Justified in that he was a former champion of the very arena he works at. So he's really more of a Retired Badass.
Kariya from The World Ends With You qualifies as well. He's a field agent only because he has declined several promotions to the management. True to form, his fighting skills rival those of the top brass, and the Player Characters are appropriately hesitant about fighting him.
The Bonus Boss of Persona 3? An elevator attendant. In a Jackie O. hat. It's Elizabeth, and she will wreck you.
This is lampshaded in her playable appearance in Persona 4 Arena, where the title she is given is "The Lethal Elevator Attendant". For obvious reasons, however, her power is toned down considerably in order to make her competitively viable. Until you face her in Score Attack Mode, that is...
Persona 4 has Igor's assistant Margaret. Also, the game's true final boss is the gas station attendant from the very beginning of the game, actually the goddess Izanami in disguise.
In The Godfather game, while Authority Equals Asskicking is largely in effect, almost all of your levelable skills come from Respect levels gained by free-roaming rather than the plotline promotions up the Family's ladder. This means that your rank can still be "Outsider" while you're already far more accomplished than any number of enemy Underbosses.
In Dead Space, Isaac is effectively a space janitor; sent to fix the Ishimura's communications array, but being roped into saving the universe from alien zombies. He does end up 'fixing' the communications array, at least enough to send a message through it.
Probably Justified given that, well, an engineer on a spaceship has to be ready to tackle ANYTHING that can go wrong on a spaceship in a moment's notice, and a LOT can go wrong on a spaceship, and very quickly. Seriously, just look at the armor he wears: Isaac's suits are rated by how dangerous the environment he'll be working in, and the least effective would be combat armor in most situations, and the best armor he gets is only a single step down from military grade combat armor. The "weapons" Isaac uses are tools that are designed to do anything from cutting through the hull of the ship (plasma cutter) to cutting through live power cables (ripper), and he had to be trained with ALL of them so he could handle any problems that come up. Isaac wasn't just any engineer, he was an engineer trained SPECIFICALLY for when things went seriously wrong on a spaceship, meaning he was the guy that was always sent in when things went horribly horribly wrong, so unlike most of the unfortunate engineers on the Ishimura, he was wearing his suit from the get-go, and trained to be able to handle any number of extreme situations (although probably not alien zombie monsters), which is why he survived when so many others died.
The very obscure game Tonic Trouble features a literal janitor: the alien simply known as "Ed".
While not quite almighty, the snowman janitor in the Lair of the Ninja Snowmen in Kingdom of Loathing is just as powerful and ninja-y as the rest of snowmen there.
In the icy wastes of Mount McLargehuge, where the most elite of ninja snowman assassins are trained, even the guy who mops the dojo floor is fully capable of kicking your ass. Try not to bleed on the floor — you'll only make him angrier.
After fighting through the Battle Company of Castelia City in Pokemon Black And White, you get the singular opportunity to face the chairman of the Battle Company, Janitor Geoff. (And as you might expect, one Pokemon he uses is Trubbish.)
During Black and White, he really is the chairman, he just likes pretending to be the janitor. However, in Black 2 and White 2, he's retired as the chairman to actually become the janitor full-time and give advice to the new chairman (his grandson), henceforth playing this trope straight.
Both games actually have quite a few Janitor Trainers, and some are tougher than Geoff. Not to mention that there are a lot of Trainers in the game with unlikely professions, like Clerks, School Kids, Nursery Aides, Chefs, Maids, and even Preschoolers. Some of them that you encounter after completing the main storyline have Mons that rival even the ones used by Bosses.
Ratchet & Clank has an odd example of this. The plumber appears in almost every series, giving little tips and the like to help Ratchet along. However, occasionally he appears to know WAY more than he's letting on, such as when, in one game, he says "See you next year," alluding to his appearance in the next game, and telling Clank that "I wouldn't risk any more than six minutes," right before Ratchet dies, and Clank must face himself with the choice of saving his best friend, or letting him die and avoid potentially harming time and space. He remembers the advice, goes back six minutes, and no disasters occurred. Who knew a plumber knew so much about time and space? or that Clank would need to know the information anyway?
Nathan Copeland of No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle is an assassin ranked second from the bottom out of a whopping 51 combatants, but is easily more skilled, agile, and powerful than nearly half the killers above him. Justified, as he says he simply joined the ranks and hung around at the bottom waiting to fight Travis.
Cyrus in Dawn of War 2 is a veteran of multiple campaigns and has served two decades in the Deathwatch, and could easily make a much higher rank if he sought it, but is content with being a scout sergeant in charge of training the chapter's initiates. The reason for this is because Cyrus' unorthodox (though often highly successful) tactics has made him unpopular with several of his peers and superiors, but by remaining in charge of training he is able to ensure that all the generations of space marines he trains will be molded to his way of thinking.
X-COM can have this thanks to randomly generated stats. So let's suppose you hire a group of rookies, one of them with no reflexes and who just got his grade from the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy. So you keep him in the base for Psi-lab screening. Having not seen any fight, he is still a rookie among his fellow generals and lieutenants. Results come, showing a psionic strengh of one hundred. The lowest possible guy in the hierarchy is potentially able to Mind Control any alien his squad will come across. While staying inside the craft.
Subverted with Altair from Assassins Creed. While not "largely immune to the whims of the higher-ups", after he royally screws up he is stripped of his rank and the privileges that come with it, effectively starting from the ground up despite having previously attainted the title of Master Assassin. He spends the majority of the game being a badass, trying to earn his status back and eventually gets there... sort of.
Col. Christopher Blair in Wing Commander II gets demoted to Captain after the loss of the Tiger's Claw in that game's prologue, relegated to a desk job on a remote outpost. That doesn't stop him from kicking ass when the Kiltrathi come knocking on his door (despite Admiral Tolwin's efforts to keep him pinned down) and eventually defeating them, and getting his rank back.
He then tries this voluntarily between III and IV after singlehandedly defeating the Kilrathi by retiring to a life of a farmer on a remote desert planet. It doesn't work out and he goes back in action in IV.
According to a sarcastic Hawke in Dragon Age II, this is what being the Champion of Kirkwall entails. Despite ascending to the nobility and later becoming the Champion, Hawke refuses to get themselves into a position of actual authority, preferring to run things from the ground, as this gives them the freedom to act without going through political red-tape. By Act III, this is actually given as the reason why the nobles want Hawke as the new Viscount, because instead of political posturing, they are the only person who actually manages to get things done.
Meet Abe, meat packing slave and former Employee of the Month turned savior of the Mudokon race (well, maybe). He also has psychic mind powers that can open portals made of birds and control his enemies.
In Space Station 13 the Janitor position comes with a free Haz-Mat suit. Captain's garb and Detective's trench coat are both nice, but when the radiation storm rolls around they won't do much good.
The hero of Future Wars is a window washer, who stumbled upon his employer's dark secret and ended up fighting aliens in the past and future.
Golden Sun Dark Dawn's in-game character encyclopedia explicitly says that the royal court of Kaocho would get nothing done if not for Meisa, who appears to be a scribe otherwise (not quite a janitor, but definitely not a position of rank).
Red vs. Blue. While not as competent as some of the others on this page, Church was supposed to be promoted to the rank of Captain after the death of Captain Flowers. However Sister was the one bringing the message and since she took a long time to arrive and then apparently forgot to mention this to Church, he remained a Private and is officially only the acting leader of the Blue team.
Well, really he's only better by comparison as he's practically the only one in Blood Gulch that's neither Too Dumb to Live or impossibly lazy; he still wouldn't be considered a good soldier by regular standards because of, among other things, his increasingly bad aim and horrible temper.
Combined with the fact that technically, he isn't even alive anymore. In fact, he was never alive, he's just an AI, so it's unlikely he even could be promoted.
Despite only being 'trainees' used as practice for Freelancers, the remaining Red and Blue team members manage to take down the Meta. At the very least, Sarge and Tucker are much stronger than their status as simulation soldiers suggest.
Transcerebral Has Gerad, Andrea's school janitor, who seems suspiciously aware of her circumstances
Chief Warrant Officer Thurl from Schlock Mercenary. On paper he ranks barely over the grunts on payroll, in practice he is more vital than Tagon in the day-to-day running of the mercenary company and is the oldest and most experienced member of the crew. He is more adept than several of the actual COs in negotiation and command, and has invaluable contacts with old military and mercenary buddies. He also threatens to quit the moment somebody saddles him with a higher rank.
Schlock himself, as well. He's just a sergeant, but he's easily the most dangerous mercenary in the company, is smarter than he looks, and used to own the company but gave it back for a pittance. Although he usually doesn't, he can ignore orders at will.
A (sadly now defunct and lost to the internet) webcomic that took place at a magic academy had, near its start, a near riot by a bunch of magic using students picking on a non magic user. This is ended when a mysterious figure appears, sending everyone scattering. The figure is revealed to be an extremely intimidating individual, with, among other features, glowing gauntlets of power. Said individual then pulls out a mop and starts cleaning up the mess, revealing himself to be the janitor. Probably a Justified Trope, since it would require someone extremely powerful to fix the kinds of messes that a bunch of irresponsible kids playing around with the fabric of the universe could cause.
So, your home planet of Prospit has been destroyed, you are now exiles living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and you need someone to to lead the rebuilding of civilization. Who do you appoint? Why, the mailwoman.
Chessmaster and Master Anima Yu Han-Sung from Tower Of God was originally offered a position as high-ranker (the top 1% of those who have reached the nigh-impossible goal of climbing to the top of the Tower), but he declined and became proctor of the second floor under Evankell instead.
Parodied by the Onion Radio News: "At the University of Chicago this week a janitor gave the planet some much needed breathing space after bumping the Doomsday Clock back by 30 minutes while dusting it. The janitor has been awarded the status reserved for living gods and flown to Japan to sweep up around an out of control particle accelerator."
The Red and Blue Blood Gulch Teams from Red vs. Blue are simulation soldiers, just meant to be test subjects for new equipment and cannon fodder for Freelancer training. Despite this status, they tend to come out on top of situations where regular UNMC Marines and Freelancers just die. Most recently and most notably, they took out the Meta.
An episode of Freeman's Mind has the titular character thinking of how the janitors must have the highest survival rate of Black Mesa employees caught in the catastrophe: They have a mop for use in melee, know the terrain, and have the keys to all the locked doors he keeps running into.
Despite the "no universal canon" nature of the SCP Foundation, a character named Wilhelm Grungkok starred in exactly one tale written a few years ago. He's still brought up now and then, is one of the longest-surviving members of the Foundation that hasn't been augmented in some way (mostly because he knows when to duck), and between cleaning up the messes of the various "detainees" and overhearing conversation, the man's brain probably contains half the database of a multinational shadow organization for whom the phrase "knowledge is power" is a quaint starting point. And the poor slob still can't even get employee of the month...
The Armory Master of the Paracelsus' Sword in Einsteinian Roulette spends her time reading magazines behind a counter, answering the occasional doubt about weaponry the convicts may come up with and being bothered by some of the aforementioned convicts with "romantic" ideas. Aside from that, she went through 27 HMRC missions (in which loss of limbs and deaths are constant) without as much as a scratch and is perfectly capable of shrugging off nuclear attacks with the assistance of her equipment.
"Yohnny the Yanitor" from Dexters Laboratory gets so fed up with the title character staying behind to work after school, forcing him to stay late as well, that he turns the whole school into an obstacle course to get revenge. Though he lost, so to speak, he had some badass skills for a janitor.
The Fairly Oddparents pays tribute to this concept. Timmy makes a wish that backfires, and Denzel Crocker ends up as a buff, brilliant janitor instead of the hunched, looming teacher.
In another episode when Timmy wishes everyone in the world was super but then later wished that there were no superheroes, turning everyone normal except the supervillains, the only way to defeat the supervillains is for all the kids and other "normal" people, including a janitor, to team up and use their "normal people powers" to defeat them.
Denzel Crocker actually plays this trope straight, even outside of the episode in question; in spite of being portrayed as an incompetent elementary school teacher, you still have to take into account that he's done everything from creating a functional portal to Fairy World, discovering cold fusion (before someone hit the Reset Button on the universe), and creating a functional rocket with embezzled school funds. Oh, and he's always right about Timmy's fairy godparents.
Flying Rhino Junior High has Buford, a former CIA agent, now custodian of the titular school. His expertise is usually called upon to help the students deal with "The Phantom's" latest reality-warping attack on the school. In one episode, a running shoutout to James Bond, he gets to supply the four main students with spy gadgets.
Futurama: "Scruffy. The Janitor." Who is really not almighty at all, but just as lazy and incompetent as the rest of the crew, but owns three times as much stock in Planet Express as any other employee except for Dr. Zoidberg — who, while not a janitor, also fits this trope because he is considered worthless by his coworkers and yet actually owned 51% of the company until he traded his stock to "That Guy" (Steve Castle) for a sandwich.
"Ya didn't even refridgerate it, ya spineless lobsta!"
Agent Dark Booty from Invader Zim is a borderline example. He's a high-ranking member of a secret society dedicated to protecting humanity from paranormal threats, and Dib's contact in the group. We never actually got to see him in action before the series ended, but the indications up to that point are that he really is or was as much of a Badass as that indicates. His day job? Janitor at a NASA facility.
Sizz-Lorr is likely one of the biggest and most powerful of the Irken race, yet he runs a restaraunt on the Irken snacking planet of Foodcourtia. His job title? Frylord. He's the highest ranking Fry Cook in the Irken military.
One episode of Kim Possible featured the school janitor who was actually Canada's greatest secret agent, working undercover. His replacement was another nation's greatest secret agent.
Moville Mysteries features a school janitor who is a former archeologist and adventurer. He devoted his life to keep contained an evil elder god named Polipotanaketl which he accidentally released some years before.
ReBoot. After becoming an adult and surviving the games, Enzo becomes an incredibly strong fighter, both physically and mentally. However he is still technically a Guardian cadet because he never had the chance to attend the Guardian academy.
The Janitor from Recess. One episode had the kids discover that he was a math genius, whereupon he got scouted by the university, the military and by NASA— only to point out that if being a genius were his job, that would take all the fun out of it, so he'd rather be a janitor.
While not exactly as low as a Janitor and technically high ranking, Optimus Prime of Transformers Animated is in charge of a group of lowly Space Bridge repairmen after screwing up somehow when he was applying for the Elite Guard, respected only by his team. He lacks self-esteem and wants to be a hero more than anything. He's working on it. This has led some to call him "Maintenance Prime", after an insult given to him by SentinelPrime.
And Bulkhead, a big low level rube who is 100% big guy... and the universe's greatest space bridge expert. He was at least working on a space bridge at the beginning of the series, which was his life-long dream anyway, but if it weren't for a certain screw-up with Sentinel, he would probably be much higher up.
Also Prowl, another member of Prime's crew, who happens to be one of the most badass Ninjas on Cybertron. His reasons for being held back were a combination of early life pacifism, and a Heroic BSOD after his master died.
Also Ratchet, a vet of the Great War and is bonded to the single most powerful Autobot weapon in existence. Which is also their ship. Seriously, outside of Bumblebee, the entire "lowly maintenance crew" are absurdly overqualified for their low station.
Terry of Batman Beyond qualifies. He is, after all, officially (and de facto) Wayne's errand boy. Then there's Alfred, Wayne's butler...
SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron fits this pretty well. Due to them getting screwed over by their superior officer, Jake "Razor" Clawson and Chance "T-Bone" Furlong are given a life sentence of tending to a military junkyard. Ironically, this job gives them ample access to most of the technology they need to build their crime-fighting arsenal.
Ben 10. The first few seasons (and associated live action films) established that there is a powerful alien fighting force that takes cover identies such as school teachers, mailmen and phone repair people. They even call themselves The Plumbers, a job most would consider as low or lower than the janitor!
Jim Morales, the Janitor and gym teacher of Kadic, is the one that the heroes have the biggest problem with when they try to sneak off campus. And when he's on their side? The pudgy, nosy man (who's held so many jobs that he doesn't have the time to talk about it) grabs a nail gun, stalks off to the school, and takes down invading monsters that shoot lasers.
Lenny and Carl from The Simpsons; despite being blue-collar workers who are typically as incompetent as Homer, it's later revealed that they are not only important figures in the Stonecutters (ranked 12 and 14 respectively), but are of higher standing than their billionaire boss Mr. Burns.
Lenny and Carl are also revealed to have Masters Degrees in Physics, implying that they aren't so much incompetent as simply incredibly lazy when it comes to doing their jobs. Also, Lenny once took over from Mr Burns after he went temporarily bankrupt and in more than one episode set in the "future", we see Lenny in charge of the Nuclear Power Plant.
In many American schools, the janitors really do get paid more than the teachers. If you ever saw the sorts of messes that a janitor had to clean up in some schools, you'd understand why.
It it worth remembering that many schools are heated by large, complex boilers that need special licensing to operate. There are a lot fewer licensed boiler operators than licensed teachers. This means that if the janitor is *also* a licensed boiler operator, odds are very good they are the best paid person in the building.
At a certain high school in Texas, the head janitor is Louie Ortega, bass player of the Texas Tornadoes, whose records have gone gold, and who holds a Grammy. Also, he can solve any problem, and open any door.
Everyone knows that the secretaries have all the power in both corporations and government bureaucracies. Anger them at your extreme peril.
It is a known joke among university students. A Dean can speak to God, but the secretary at the Dean's Office IS GOD.
It also serves to make a good excuse for a great variety of weapons. While modern Americans may be most familiar with purpose-made ninjutsu weapons such as the ninjato sword (which never actually existed), shuriken throwing knives, and the like-a good ninja will be quite comfortable with killing using a baker's grain threshing sticks (nunchaku, tonfa), a gardener's sickles (kama), a fieldworker's seed planting rod (sai) or walking stick (bo), a mechanic's length of chain (manriki), or any other tradesman's tools that the person they are disguised as would have every business carrying around.
Even more an example of this trope: one theory to the origin of Ninjas is that they originated as commoners who fought against, and later for, local Lords, using weapons made from farm equipment, and careful tactics due to lacking armor and proper equipment.
Albert Einstein: revolutionized the world of physics and our understanding of the universe while working as a clerk in the Swiss Patent Office.
Oddly, "Clerk in a Patent Office" in the late 19th and early 20th century was actually considered a moderate prestige, middle-class job in Western Europe and America, not a "bottom rung" job as it is today. Socially, it ranked right about the level of an accountant or law clerk. The reason was that one had to know a lot about science (as it was known at the time) to be able to weed out actual innovations from junk applications. Nowadays, however, patents have been given to the occasional perpetual motion and infinite energy devices, so it's clear the job requirements have slipped a bit. Einstein could have become the president of Israel, and declined: to refuse to become Head of State is the mark of a true Almighty Janitor
Michael Faraday, being of low birth, started as a secretary and lab assistant at the Royal Institution, and had to scramble to get tickets to attend scientific lectures. He went on to invent the first electric motor, among many other discoveries in chemistry and electromagnetism. While he did eventually earn an endowed professorship, he refused a knighthood and twice refused to become president of the Royal Society.
Court clerks, especially the Clerk of the Supreme Court of the United States, could be considered as a form of an Almighty Janitor. Though officially a clerical position, they have the power to decide which cases get heard. The clerks may do all the case research, write and revise decisions from the judge's notes, and likely learn exactly how to manipulate their assigned judge. Makes one wonder how much they manage to do. Also, clerks are practicing lawyers, and so are especially dangerous.
Peter Adkinson, president of Wizards of the Coast, tended to refer to himself as janitor as a long-running inside joke.
Former Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck frequently called himself the team's "custodian", claiming that the fans were the real owners.
In the U.S. Army, the greenest of officers outrank even the most veteran of groundpounders, but will nonetheless usually defer to the judgment of the soldiers who are in the field, have seen combat, and know what they're talking about. Hopefully.
And speaking of US Military, even the lowest ranking enlisted MP stationed at a guard post outranks every single person on base when it comes to getting into the base.
Unofficial Fourth General Order for Sentries: "I will walk my post from flank to flank, and take no shit from any rank."
Also, if a troop is instructing a class, he is the subject matter expert and is the highest ranking in the room (it would still be wise of him to show the proper courtesies to his students however).
Joel Clark is a US senior drone pilot instructor who got that position when he's still a private.
Army supply staff are rarely promoted beyond E-5 Sergeant, the higher ranks are typically transferred from other specializations due to physical injuries. As long as they control the supplies, they hold the entire base by the balls.
Similarly, utilities operators. You don't want to piss off the guy who controls your electricity or hot water.
There is a bit of American military wisdom that states that while the officers are in command of the military, it's the NCOs who run the military, making the NCO corps in general a sort of collective Almighty Janitor.
Joseph Stalin, in a way, started off as one of these; the other members of the Politburo of the newly-formed Soviet Union gave him the role of "General Secretary" because, from their point of view, it was a menial functionary position within the Cabinet with little relevance to the political moving-and-shaking of the government. Stalin, however, discovered that this allowed him to staff the key positions in the Soviet government with people who were loyal to him and/or consequently owed him favours; when the inevitable power-struggles came after Lenin's death, Stalin had a power-base to work with that the key theorists and political figures of the party, such as Trotsky, didn't. We all know how that worked out.
There's actually a very good chance that your immigrant janitor or cab driver was actually an accredited electrical engineer or doctor back in their home country. Unfortunately they found out that the institution that issued their certification wasn't accredited in Canada, Europe or the U.S.A., so they couldn't legally practice. Yet in spite of this, most still consider themselves way better off than they were back home.
The are other cases when their certifications are accredited, but as a condition of living there, they were not allowed to practice.
Because it's not hard enough: At least with medicine, even if your certification is transportable and you are, technically, free to practice—there's several countries that require foreign-trained medical professionals to pass special exams. If it requires you have obtained particularly specialized vocabulary? If you're not fluent in the language, you could easily be better off taking the janitorial or cab driving job instead...
Additionally, some foreign specialists may not be allowed to work in their specialty because all jobs of said specialty require government security clearance, which a foreign national just can't get even after becoming a naturalized citizen.
Tom Petty (of The Heartbreakers) once worked at the University of Florida. On the music faculty? No. Workaday administrative drone? Nope. Student assistant? Not quite. He was a groundskeeper.
Orlando Serrell was struck in the head with a baseball at the age of 10. Besides having a headache for some time, he developed the ability to keep a perfect memory of everything he experiences. He's in his 40s now and works as a janitor at Wal-Mart.
Bill Crawford was a janitor at the US Air Force Academy. However, in 1976, one cadet, while reading a book on World War II, discovered that Mr. Crawford had in fact earned the Medal of Honor while serving in the Army. It turned out the janitor had single-handedly taken out 3 machine gun emplacements that were preventing his platoon from advancing. He was believed dead, and the MOH was awarded posthumously. However, he had actually been captured and placed in a POW camp until rescue. His badass nature did not falter in the camp, where after being clubbed with a German guard's rifle, he disarmed the guard and beat him unconscious. The reason he hadn't told anyone at the academy that he was a Medal of Honor holder? "That was one day in my life and it happened a long time ago."
Played with in the case of Bill Leasure. On the surface, he seemed like an unambitious traffic cop, who went out of his way to avoid promotion so he could stay at the bottom tier of law enforcement, filling out tickets and incident reports. He actually made his living moonlighting as a criminal mastermind. He did assassinations, committed insurance fraud, was involved with a stolen car ring, and stole luxury yachts.
Bill Pennington of Profound Decisions Live-Action Roleplay. He's the head of the Red Caps (site maintenance and set-up), and is known to have amongst other things waded into the waste storage tanks to retrieve the things that keep blocking up the toilets. He's also a really friendly guy. His son Matt (owner of the company) has described his job as "making sure the toilets don't run out of loo-paper".
Being a television or radio station engineer doesn't sound too glamorous... until you realize that they have highly specialized knowledge necessary to keep that station on the air and are often among the highest paid employees on staff. Most other employees quickly learn to make friends with the engineer since he can hold you hostage when you need your gear repaired.
Nurses. Who do, in fact, run everything. The epitaph of many a failed doctor is “angered the nurses”. Without them on side (or actively hindering you) it’s nearly impossible to get anything done, and no one will be sympathetic.
In hospitals, infection control is extremely important and can have a huge effect on patient outcomes. While everyone who works in the hospital has a role to play in cleanliness, ultimately the primary responsibility for keeping things clean is on the janitors.
Programmers working on free and open source software generally occupy lowly positions in their day jobs compared to the importance of the programs they write.
The Groom of the Stool was literally just the guy who cleaned the king's toilet but in practice became the most powerful courtier because he always had access to the King.
In 1998, then-Brigadier General Mattis, a bachelor, stood duty on Christmas so his married subordinate could enjoy the holidays with his family. For those who don't know, standing duty is an *extremely* low-end job, ususally reserved for newly-minted lieutenant and whatnot. For twenty-four hours, General Mattis was essentially this trope.
One customer who got frustrated with being shuttled from one clueless corporate VP to another gave up and addressed his complaint to the head janitor. It worked.
In a somewhat twisted example, you wouldn't really expect "Park Ranger" to be a job requiring extreme badassery. Except in Africa, where thanks to the lucrative black market for ivory, rhino horn, and other products taken from endangered animals, park rangers are basically paramilitary forces, equipped with things like automatic rifles and rocket propelled grenades, and are regularly up against poachers who may be just as well equipped. A group of Park Rangers from Africa could probably outgun and outfight an entire SWAT team from a major US city.