While I went through this basement looking for loose dollars, I ran into a beautiful princess. She looked pretty happy where she was, but even so, I figured she'd give me the $105 I needed after a daring Bubble Rescue. I had no idea it was all an elaborate trap. That "helpless princess" turned into some kind of coneheaded bird/starfish thing hell-bent on destroying me. I knew from high school, college, and summer Adventure Camp that you couldn't trust women, but Nintendo had always been a place where they made sense.
Bob the adventuring hero is approached by Alice, who is in some kind of trouble. Her village is being ravaged by a monster, or she's being forced into marriage against her will
. Bob, like a good hero, goes to help her... except, whoops! It was all a lie. Alice isn't in trouble; she's the mastermind, and Bob just walked straight into her Evil Plan
This is when a seeming Damsel in Distress
is luring the hero in for her own ends, usually by playing on his heroism (and sometimes his lust for her).
Just about Always Female
. Compare Femme Fatale
, False Innocence Trick
, Honey Trap
, Wounded Gazelle Gambit
. A subtrope of Using You All Along
Due to the nature of the trope, spoilers ahead.
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Anime and Manga
- An episode of Digimon Adventure 02 had Daisuke against a Sadistic Choice to save one of the other four Digidestined/Digimon pairs (in an Unwilling Suspension, no less). As it turns out, Daisuke said he couldn't do it and offered to be captured instead... and then he stalled and revealed a mind-controlled Shapeshifter Digimon was trying to lure him into a trap.
- In one episode of Sailor Moon, Zoicite seeks to lure out Tuxedo Mask by pretending to be Sailor Moon and "rescue" people, and then he makes it look like he's captured. He then attacks Tuxedo Mask when Tux tries to save him, thinking he's Sailor Moon. When Tuxedo Mask releases him, he stabs him In the Back.
- In Full Metal Panic!: The Second Raid, Yu Lan does this to one of Mithril's agents when he "rescues" her. Turns out that she was with Amalgam, and had been disguising herself as one of the ambassadors who were kidnapped in a hostage situation. It's obvious before the poor sap got his throat slit open that he was very satisfied with having rescued such a beautiful Damsel in Distress. She even gives him a flirty, appreciative look after he unties her.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds: Barbara from the Crashtown Arc.
- Tsubaki from Mirai Nikki. Looks and acts like a Nice Girl, but is really a Manipulative Bitch.
- There's an entire village of these in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, all under Guame's control. They fool every single male on the Dai-Gurren (except for Leeron).
- In an early episode of Samurai Flamenco, the title character stumbles across a young woman being mugged. After he rescues him, the woman promptly turns on him and reveals that the "mugging" was just a ruse to lure him there so the thugs could capture him. The woman ends up Bound and Gagged while her goons are given a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown by Flamenco Girl for their troubles.
- In Ratman, main character Shuto is tricked into joining the "evil" organization Jackal when his classmate, Mirea Mizushima, is abducted by them. Not only is she the little sister of Jackal's leader, but was the one who suggested that they recruit Shuto to be inducted as the titular Ratman. It's ultimately a Subverted Trope, however, as she's a genuine Nice Girl and Jackal's members are more Anti-Villains than anything. Plus, by becoming Ratman, Shuto is able to (sort of) live his childhood dream of being a superhero.
- Minatsuki "Hummingbird" Takami from Deadman Wonderland. She plays up her Shrinking Violet and Innocent Flower Girl role for all it's worth when she's matched to fight Ganta; she acts like she's horrified by the violence, and adds in some clumsiness and sexual tension to really throw him off. Not only was it a complete act, she's crazy as hell and in prison for a very good reason.
- Lily is introduced as such in the Fatal Fury first OVA. In a subversion, it's not really by choice because not only she's a little girl, but Geese is forcing her to play the role to get his rival Jeff Bogard killed. And poor Lily never forgives herself for that.
- Ava Lord from the Sin City story "A Dame to Kill For".
- During her "field test" (i.e. kill everyone at a presidential candidate's party), pre-teen X-23 disguised herself as the wounded Sole Survivor of the attack. She fooled Captain America. After learning the truth, Steve spent years tracking her down hoping to bring her to justice.
Films — Animation
- Meg in Disney's Hercules is genuinely in trouble the first time Hercules helps her out, but she later plays a Decoy Damsel to lure Hercules to a rock slide and a hydra, with help from Pain and Panic as Decoy Kids. She's not happy about having to do it, and it isn't her idea, but she did make a Deal with the Devil and cannot go against her employer, Hades.
- Inverted by Tangled: Mother Gothel sets up a situation where Rapunzel is the damsel, and she the rescuer, to lure her back.
- Harley Quinn did this in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, pretending to be a mugging victim so Robin could come to her rescue. When his back was turned, she knocked him out with an oversized mallet.
Films — Live-Action
- Elsa in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Albeit she's not the Big Bad. And she explains that she isn't really a Nazi, but just wants recognition for finding the Holy Grail and believes that the Nazis are the best equipped to help her do that. Later, however, she actually becomes a true Damsel in Distress when she takes the grail past the seal. This causes the temple to collapse and she nearly falls into a chasm, but Indy grabs her in time. Despite the danger of falling, she insists on reaching for the grail below her. Indy can’t keep her gloved hand from slipping and she plunges to her Death by Materialism.
- Elektra King in the James Bond film The World Is Not Enough, an oil heiress who conspires with the terrorist and her one-time captor (and current lover), Renard, to cause an oil shortage by blowing up a Russian pipeline with a nuclear detonation and thereby substantially increase her own oil holdings. She manipulates Bond, but he ultimately sees beyond her deception and manages to confront her.
- Brigid O'Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon.
- A variant is done by Selina Kyle in The Dark Knight Rises. While she never actually traps anyone, she has no problem pretending to be a scared, helpless victim, if it means the police will overlook her long enough to make her getaway.
- Played straighter by love interest Miranda Tate who is really Talia al Ghul, and conspiring with Bane.
- Black Widow's introduction scene in The Avengers. As Joss Whedon commented, "This is my entire career in one scene: Look, she's helpless! No, she's kicking their asses!"
- In the book The Last Knight, the hero rescues a woman from captivity in a tower, only to discover that she was being held there as a murder suspect. The rest of the book is about him trying to recapture her and bring her to justice.
- Dilvish, the Damned is a collection of fantasy stories written by Roger Zelazny. In one of the stories, Dilvish hears a Damsel in Distress. His Genre Savvy sidekick, Black, a demon horse, warns him about this, stating that it is the oldest trick in the book.
- Older Than Radio: Milady De Winter in The Three Musketeers.
- The Jack Reacher story Echo Burning plays with this - there's an on-again, off-again question about the leading lady's actual motives for recruiting Reacher.
- Senna from Everworld. Played With because she really is in trouble, but she has full intentions of becoming the Big Bad herself, and is manipulating the heroes to achieve that goal. Made worse because they know this but really have no choice but help her, since letting Loki or Ka Anor get her is potentially even worse.
- In Replica, the evil Annie Perraut was able to fool Andy just by Clark Kenting (as all characters are clones, she looks like the prisoners). Basically, he wanted a helpless Amy who would see him as her savior, rather than the proud one who was his girlfriend once.
- C.L. Moore's 1934 story "Shambleau" - generally acknowledged as epoch-making in the history of Science Fiction - begins in what seems a classical Damsel in Distress situation: The protagonist, space adventurer Northwest Smith, sees a "sweetly-made girl" pursued by a lynch mob intent on killing her and intervenes to save her, but finds her not a girl nor a human being at all, but a disguised alien creature, predatory and highly dangerous. Soon, Smith himself needs rescuing and barely escapes with his life.
- In a Dresden Files short story Backup, Harry runs into this. Unfortunately, the person who knows she is a Decoy Damsel (Thomas) cannot tell him she's playing him, for a variety of reasons. This leads to Thomas having to frantically run around behind the scenes making everything work out, including letting Harry throw him into a wall.
- Gets a Call Back in Cold Days, where Harry tells a companion he still has no idea what the hell happened on that case.
- In The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Daystar meets a picture-perfect damsel-in-distress who attempts to trick him into giving her the Sword of the Sleeping King. While she is in fact distressed, she's also being manipulated by his pursuers.
- In the short story "The Stymphalian Birds" by Agatha Christie, a Con Woman claims that her husband is abusing her and arranges for the mark save her from him in a way that involves giving her a lot of money. This works so well that she then claims that someone is blackmailing her over the way they dealt with her husband. Unfortunately for her, the mark feels out of his depth and decides to involve Hercule Poirot.
Live Action TV
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- The show famously pulled this off in its first scene, playing on a horror movie stereotype—a blonde, timid Catholic school girl sneaks into a scary place with a bad boy. The twist? She's a vampire (Darla, specifically), and the boy doesn't live long enough to see the opening credits.
- In the Pilot, Xander's best friend Jesse is nabbed by the Master's goons. By the time they free him in the sewers, he's already been vamped.
- The Anointed One tries this on Buffy in "Prophecy Girl", standing on the school lawn and wahing for help. Buffy sees right through him.
- A whimpering brunette vampire who impersonates Cordelia in "When She Was Bad."
- Inverted with Faith's introductory scene, when the Scoobies rush in to 'rescue' her from a disco vampire.
- And Buffy herself does this to lure out vampires; there's a reason the Slayer is always an attractive and vulnerable-looking female, after all.
- In Buffy's spinoff series, Angel, this trope is pretty much played straight by Jasmine-possessed-Cordelia, who seduces Connor so they can conceive a baby powerful enough for Jasmine to fully incarnate herself in.
- In the Alias Smith and Jones episode "How to Rob a Bank in One Hard Lesson", Heyes and Curry are hired for protection by two women, who are actually luring them to an isolated spot so that they can hold Curry hostage while Heyes helps them rob a bank.
- In one episode of Psych, Shawn and Gus are hired by a woman who wants them to contact her dead husband from beyond the grave and find out where he hid the money from a robbery because she thinks his old partners are after her. It turns out the widow was the mastermind of the robbery.
- In the Legend of the Seeker episode "Bounty", Richard helps a young woman who claims her brother was captured by monsters, who actually wants to turn Richard in for the reward.
- Saffron from Firefly is like this, tricking the heroes into thinking the town they just helped is giving her to them as a gift. The crew isn't sure what to do with her, but decide to take her with them, since the town is essentially treating her like property. It eventually turns out she's a Femme Fatale who wanted to hijack their ship.
- Fiona of Burn Notice has been known to pull a heroic version; also, Michael fell for one in the episode "False Flag". Atypically, it wasn't her he wanted to protect but the supposed son her supposed abusive husband (actually a mob witness she was out to kill) had supposedly kidnapped—a bit of a sore spot with him.
- Michael ended up the victim of one again in the season 5 episode "Dead To Rights". Larry's "hostage" Anson turned out to be the one behind everything that had happened to Michael in the entire series.
- This kinda, sorta happens in Robin Hood in which Guy of Gisborne is threatening Robin and Marian whilst they're hiding in a tree. The two of them play on Guy's Unrequited Love for Marian and pretend that Robin is holding her hostage, allowing Guy to play the hero and "rescue" Marian whilst Robin makes his escape. It's not a totally straight version of this trope considering that they're not trying to "trap" Guy, but they do successfully trick him by using Marian as a decoy Damsel in Distress, and it is all her idea.
- In the Robin of Sherwood episode The Witch of Elsden, the outlaws find a distressed young woman in the forest who claims that she is fleeing Guy of Gisburne. Will is quite taken with her and seriously put out when it turns out that She is in fact married and has agreed to use her herb magic to help capture the outlaws in return for Gisburne not carrying out his threat to have her burnt as a witch and her husband killed. As she's pretty much a co-erced victim of Gisburne, along with them, the outlaws eventually forgive her deception and she helps them thwart Gisburne's plans in return for them rescuing her husband and getting them both to safety.
- This was a regular part of the stunts on Candid Camera. In one instance, a frail blond Damsel in Distress would be deposited on some street corner with two large suitcases. The suitcases looked identical, but one was empty and the other would be filled with concrete, weighing at least 200 pounds. When some big strong man approached, she would ask him to help with her suitcases ... then she would pick up the empty suitcase and walk away, while the hidden camera recorded the reaction of the poor schmo as he tried to pick up the other suitcase.
- Camille pulls this off in Power Rangers Jungle Fury, dressed in civvys and pretending to be attacked by her own Mooks in order to lure the Rhino Ranger into a trap.
- In the Supernatural episode "Devil May Care" (S09, Ep02), Tracy Bell pretends to be helpless with her car broken down by the side of the road to get the vampire to give her a lift so she could behead him.
- Person of Interest features a variation. Because The Machine won't tell whether the POI is a victim or perpetrator, this effect occurs even if unintended. Several main adversaries are helped by Team Machine unknowingly based on the assumption that they appear to be a victim. Root is the only straight example in that she hires HR to kill one of her identities knowing that it would lead Reese and Finch to save her and in the process expose Finch, the machine's creator.
- Candorville has an accidental example in a flashback. Artemis Kenchu, self-proclaimed vampire hunter, slays several vampires in New Orleans and rescues the girl they tried to kill. As it turns out, she's a vampire too, but she's so evil they decided to kill her, and he's about to be her new servant.
- Detailed in the Werewolf: The Forsaken Night Horrors book, "Bloody" or "Typhoid" Mary is a wide-eyed ingénue running from the clutches of her beastly (no pun intended) family. Taken in by her innocence, her sad story, and her good looks, the Player Characters become her new protectors... just as planned. The real reason for Mary's running away (and the time when the Player Characters encounter her is by no means the first) is she doesn't get enough attention from Daddy... and her idea of having her father prove that he really loves her is having him rip apart an entire pack of unsuspecting Uratha because they're standing in the way of dragging his wayward baby girl home.
- The twist at the end of the Interactive Fiction game Yes, Another Game with a Dragon!
- Subverted in Maximo: Ghosts to Glory. Princess Sophia turns out to be an evil demon queen controlling the supposed Big Bad, an outcome hinted at by her profile in the manual. After slaying her, it's revealed by the authority of none other than Death himself that the real Sophia is alive.
- Ace Attorney Investigations has Lance Amano, a rare male version. He engineered his own kidnapping to get the money he needed to pay off his debt.
- Ironically enough, Elizabeth Greene in Prototype. Obviously, a catatonic woman being held by a morally ambiguous research corporation in cooperation with the Government Conspiracy needs rescuing, right? As soon as Alex shows up to rescue her, she throws him around like a ragdoll and runs off to start the Zombie Apocalypse.
- Metal Gear Solid Mobile has you called into the facility by Victoria Reed, a scientist who's working on Metal Gears. After a while you discover she was actually a computer program designed to lure you into turning off the building's security so terrorists could take over. Then you find out the entire mission is a computer simulation created by the Patriots to study Snake.
- In Planescape: Torment, you can have a brief encounter with a woman identified by your Namedar as 'Damsel In Distress'. She will ask you to help rescue her sister, but if you are intelligent enough, you can get her to reveal that it's a trap to lure you into an alley and rob you.
- Done again in the plane of Baator, where the damsel in distress is a demon in disguise.
- You can find and fight a few of these in both Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights. Interestingly, the second game in the former series has a male version of this in the first dungeon.
- Done in Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World. Amusingly enough, the psychobitch's name is Alice.
- Eversion. Maybe.
- In The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Blind tries to pull this on Link, disguising himself as one of the maidens he's supposed to be rescuing. Somehow Blind overlooks the fact that all the genuine maidens, including the one he's keeping from Link, are sealed in crystal, which kind of gives him away.
- The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass does it again. This time with four girls in a ghost ship.
- Sayaka Maizono from Danganronpa. At first, she looks like a cute Idol Singer who's being set up as the love interest for Naegi. Then she reveals herself as desperate and unstable enough to try to murder Leon and betray Naegi by framing him for it... and ends up getting killed instead.
- Munna in Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity. In an interesting twist, she also manages to trick the protagonist into believing the Pokémon trying to help him, Hydreigon, is actually his enemy.
- Luna of Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters fakes her own kidnapping to lure the duo into a trap so that she can clone one of them. Of course, not only does "she" later turn out to be The Dragon to the true Big Bad, "she" is soon revealed to be a robotic puppet.
- In the sequel to The 7th Guest The Eleventh Hour, Carl braves the perils of Stauf's mansion to rescue Robin. The twist here is that Robin has already made a deal with Stauf by the time Carl finds her. Choosing her at the end leads to Carl's death.
- The Little Girl from the "It's War!" chapter of Conkers Bad Fur Day, who turns out to be an Enfante Terrible who's attached to the level boss, the Experiment.
- On the fifth table of Pinball Quest, you defeat four monsters guarding the Princess, only for her to be revealed as a vampire in disguise.
- Evil Princess Sara, of 8-Bit Theater. Who's... evil.
- Girl Genius: Zola Apparently helpless, fluttery, bird-brained, and a trouble magnet. In reality, pragmatic, grounded, a con artist, very capable with her gun and at hand-to-hand, and intelligent enough to out-think several players in Der Kastle.
- The Pocalypse: the girl "captured" by vampires in scene 26 of chapter 2 "Damsel in Distress" is actually a vampire herself.
- This is how Harley Quinn captures Batman in Batman: The Animated Series episode "Mad Love".
- In the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode "Bold Beginnings," a free-wheeling heiress teams up with the villain Cavalier to pull this off for the ransom money her family would provide.
- A rather silly example in Justice League (Injustice for All), where the Ultra-Humanite is holding a hostage outside a government building to lure the Justice League there. The hostage turns out to be the Cheetah...which makes one wonder how the authorities who were already there didn't notice that his hostage had fur.
- Done in Samurai Jack, with Aku taking an alluring, yet unconvincing disguise. Jack, to his credit, isn't fooled for a second, and plays along until he has the opportunity to disassemble Aku's plan.
- To Aku's credit, this worked the first time he tried it. Granted, he was posing as an Action Girl, but she was still in distress.
- The Knights of the Square Table in Blazing Dragons attempt to capture a Robin Hood analogue by dressing Sir Hotbreath (Perhaps the least lady-like knight) as a damsel in distress who has a lot of money to lure the fiend into the trap. It...doesn't work.
- In the animated Punky Brewster episode "Punky To The Rescue," the kids are trying to catch a supposed swamp monster they think has taken Henry, Punky's foster dad, captive. Margaux is used as bait with her foot caught in a snare (she's wearing a dress, so she's not hanging upside down). They wind up catching Henry.