Engineered Heroics

I'm a professional beach bully. I pretend to steal your girl, you punch me, I go down, she swoons, you slip me 50 bucks.
— Beach Bully, Futurama

So, there's someone that you need to impress. Maybe it's a pretty girl that you'd like to date, or maybe it's someone that you need on your side. What's the best way to get their attention? Why, a bit of Engineered Heroics, of course. Basically, this trope is for when a character sets up a situation that seems like a spontaneous feat of derring-do, but is actually a deliberately concocted circumstance, possibly with friends taking the role of a fake "aggressor". The situation can go horribly wrong if the situation becomes one of actual rather than simulated danger, such as an actual aggressor showing up.

The inverse of a Wounded Gazelle Gambit. Compare Framed for Heroism and Make It Look Like a Struggle. Supertrope of Monster Protection Racket.

Contrast Heroism Addict, a Real Life disorder where a villainous character puts someone in genuine danger (and occasionally kills them) to make themselves look "heroic" while trying to save them, and usually on a serial basis. Do not confuse with Heroic Engineers.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Subverted in Cross Game, where a guy attempts this on Akane. Akane's response? Pull out a cell phone and call the police. Which rapidly leads to the exposure of the plan.
  • In Rappi Rangai, to get the main character accepted in a princess's kingdom, his party of Kunoichi had him pretend to beat them to become a bodyguard for the princess.
  • One chapter of the Yu-Gi-Oh! manga featured a boy who loved superhero comics but wasn't strong himself. His father wanted to make him more self-confident so he hired some kids to pretend to attack someone while the boy was in a superhero costume. It worked, but then the hired kids turned it around and started really hurting the boy in order to get more money out of the father.
  • In one episode of Sgt. Frog, Paul runs Momoka through a VR simulation of various plans to get Fuyuki to declare his love for her. One such plan involves him saving her from some thugs, thus sending adrenaline to his brain and heightening his emotions. Paul forgets to take into account that Fuyuki is a Grade-A wimp, and the simulation ends with Fuyuki running away, albeit taking Momoka with him, and calling for a police officer. Momoka points out that this is probably the wiser course of action.
    • Paul then hypothesizes that Fuyuki would leap into action if it were an alien attack, and changes the simulation accordingly. However, after initially spazzing out over the alien, Fuyuki again runs away and someone else always saves them before Fuyuki can, until the simulation moves literally everyone in town out of their way.
  • One Detective Conan case involved a house catching on fire when a girl was inside. It turned out the culprit set the fire so he could pull a Heroic Fire Rescue Romance. He didn't anticipate getting caught or that Ran rescued the girl before he could.
  • Done in conjunction with a Frame-Up in the Dressrosa arc of One Piece. A flashback shows that Doflamingo came to King Riku II, the former king of the country and tells him he'll sell the island to him (Doflamingo is a descendent of the former rulers that preceded King Riku you see). King Riku begs the citizens for the money fully intending to pay it back. But once he had it, Doflamingo used his string powers to take control of Riku's body as well as his army to attack the citizens. Once the people hated Riku for "tricking them", Doflamingo and his top lieutenants swooped in to "save the day".
    • Done by the heroes in the Fishman Island arc, not for fame but to help undo the Fantastic Racism between fishmen and humans. The New Fishman Pirates have captured most of the island's royal family, and call out a challenge to the Straw Hat Pirates. Luffy's all for it, but Jinbe stops him; if Luffy were to just beat up Hody Jones, it would merely be seen as "another human beating down a fish man". Instead, Jinbe plans for himself and the mermaid princess Shirahoshi be captured, and for Luffy to pull a Big Damn Heroes when Shirahoshi calls for him. It works, and the spectacle also buys the time for the rest of the Straw Hats to reunite.
  • In Bleach, Ginjo tricks Ichigo into trusting him by saving Ichigo's sister from a Hollow attack he and his partner Tsukishima arranged. For added verisimilitude Tsukishima alters Ginjo's memory so that he'll even believe his own engineered scenario.

    Comic Books 
  • One early Superman comic zigzagged this trope like crazy when Clark Kent, bemoaning how Lois Lane never had the time of day for him because she was too focused on Superman, had a friend suggest to him that he should talk Superman into dressing up in his clothes and doing something heroic to impress her. Due to his super-senses, he noticed Lois Lane was eavesdropping on them and wisely dropped the plan, only to be forced into pretending he'd gone with it after all when she happened to catch him changing into Superman a bit later. By the end, this game of mistaken identities had her utterly befuddled, and he was not doing much better at sorting out the situation for himself.
  • In The Tick, there is a professional service that sets up engineered fights so fledgling superheroes can build up their reputation. The Tick stumbles into one of these fights and tries to help, never realizing that the villain is just an actor.
  • Booster Gold has spent his entire career trying to redeem himself because of this trope. Traveling back through time with advanced weaponry, he set up a disaster to allow people to see his heroics. In an inversion, in his current time-traveling series, his real heroics are erased from history, and people rarely see him doing good.
  • Deconstructed in Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog.note  Antoine feels the need to impress his dad, so he and Sonic arrange for Sonic to dress up like Evil Sonic (long before his upgrade to Scourge) and have Antoine pretend to defeat him. Then the real Evil Sonic shows up, and Antoine knocks him out with one karate chop. Antoine's so stunned when he finds out what happened, that he faints.
  • In one of the lowest points of his superhero career, Hank Pym attempted this in order to redeem himself in the eyes of The Avengers, creating an indestructible robot to attack the Avengers Mansion so that he could blast its weak point, saving the day. He doesn't even manage to pull this off, as The Wasp defeats the robot after discovering Hank's plan, and his attempt at doing this gets him kicked out of the team until he eventually redeems himself.
  • In Astro City, the Conquistador's plan is to gather numerous criminals to simultaneously commit crimes across Astro City so he can use his heroic identity to Kill Them All as part of his heroic debut.

    Film - Animated 
  • A variation occurs in Tangled: in her pursuit of Rapunzel, Mother Gothel strikes up an alliance with the Stabbington Brothers. She tricks them into thinking they'll get Rapunzel, whom they plan to sell to the highest bidder, and when they advance on the girl, she knocks them both unconscious, making it look like an impromptu rescue.
  • In The Incredibles, Syndrome's ultimate goal (aside from killing Mr. Incredible) is to be hailed as a hero, so he sets his own robot to wreak havoc on Metroville. He tries to destroy it by simply pressing buttons to disable it while faking that he's beating it up. The AI, being created to learn from defeat, quickly figures this out.
  • Oscar and Lenny from Shark Tale stage a public brawl, in order to give Lenny (a vegetarian shark) an opportunity to drop off the radar and start a new life, and to allow Oscar to keep up his charade/image of being a 'shark slayer' while scaring off any fear of retribution from The Mafia.

    Film - Live Action 
  • Johnny in My Boyfriends Back tries this by having his friend gear up to pretend to rob the convenience store where his crush works, but is unaware that an actual robber shows up until it's too late.
  • Marty McFly attempts to get George and Lorraine together in Back to the Future with this, by telling George to find him "parking" with Lorraine in Doc's car, appearing to take advantage of her. He is to pretend to give Marty a vicious beating for trying to "hurt" Lorraine. It couldn't be simpler. But instead, it becomes a double subversion - the first subversion is that while Marty is planning to pretend to harass Lorraine so George could "save" Lorraine from Marty, the plan goes horribly wrong when Biff shows up, throws Marty to his friends, and begins to molest Lorraine. The second subversion is that the plan works anyway, as George manages to find enough courage to punch Biff out cold when he does come by on his cue, which wins Lorraine's heart.
  • Attempted by Ignacio in Nacho Libre, but he ends up picking a fight with a random passer-by instead, who kicks his butt.
  • Subverted in Mr. Deeds, where the girl stages the fake attack with one of her friends. The guy beats said friend up.
  • Happens a couple of different ways in 50 First Dates. Among the ploys Adam Sandler's character uses to get Lucy (Drew Barrimore) to notice him are a penguin he places in the road (which she nearly kills), and his friend staging an attack on him (she beats him within an inch of his life with a baseball bat she keeps in the car). Basically, he's engineering chances for her to be heroic.
  • Occurs at the start of Hitch, Will Smith entices a dog away from its owner so that his client can appear to have jumped in front of a car to save it, so that the client can get a date with the owner.
  • Maverick (1994, Richard Donner) beats several baddies in a fist fight to scare Angel, only to later pay them money for throwing the fight.
  • A villainous version in Thor: Loki makes an arrangement for the Jotuns to enter Asgard and kill Odin while he sleeps. His actual plan is to sweep in and kill them thereby making himself the hero of Asgard with a good excuse to wipe out their entire planet.
  • In The Beastmaster, Dar has his tiger attack Kiri and then pretends to drive it off in an attempt to seduce her.

  • Encyclopedia Brown - Encyclopedia catches a guy in the act when he notices that his glasses emerge unscathed despite putting them in a place that supposedly took a lot of punches. Encyclopedia whispered this in Sally's ear. She wasn't pleased.
  • Happens in P. G. Wodehouse's Love Among The Chickens, but backfires upon the 'hero' when the guy he paid to upset the boat spills the beans.
  • Played with in "The Case of the Discontented Soldier" by Agatha Christie, in which the situation is engineered by a third party playing matchmaker, and both the hero and heroine are left with the honest belief that he genuinely saved her life.
  • In Christopher Pike's Spellbound, the heroine's boyfriend, who is suspected of killing his previous girlfriend, decides to rescue his reputation by setting the heroine up to fall in a river and then dramatically saving her. It doesn't work out; another character rescues her first, and then the heroine figures out what happened and reveals it in open court.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In an episode of Flight of the Conchords, Bret is trying to woo a lady who works at a pet store, and convinces Jermaine to pretend to mug them so he can impress her. Jermaine has his friend John, an actual mugger, help out, but he doesn't get the concept and actually steals her purse.
  • Monk: Played straight and subverted in the episode "Mr. Monk and the Billionaire Mugger". Sydney Teal, while trying to mug ex-cop Archie Modine, is shot dead by Modine, and witnesses see a uniformed cop running away from the scene, who soon becomes known as "Fraidy Cop". What leads Monk to discover that the murder was deliberate and not self-defense is that he was wearing kneepads when he died, indicating he expected Modine to knock him down. Furthermore, a similar incident is described by Teal in his autobiography about a mugger trying to rob him and his girlfriend in a parking garage, and the discovery that Teal and Modine were roommates in college. In the original case, Teal wanted to impress his girlfriend, so he asked Modine to pretend to mug him. It worked, and for a moment, Teal got to be Superman. In return, twenty years later, Modine begun to have an affair with Teal's wife, and found a way to kill Sydney: he contacted him, reminded him of the first prank, and asked Teal to return the favor. Teal couldn't refuse the opportunity to replay one of the best nights of his life.
    • What further provides proof that the murder was deliberate is that Sydney Teal always went the extra mile. In fact, he not only planned to get knocked down, but "Fraidy Cop" is not a cop at all: he was hired by Teal. After Modine "fought" off Teal, he was supposed to run up and congratulate Modine for his heroism.
  • Played Straight, but then Averted in an episode of Drake & Josh. Drake accidentally let it slip that a girl he was dating was part of a competition between he and his brother...only he actually liked her. One of his several attempts to show her that he's "honest" involves two nerd "friends" that he constantly takes advantage of to make it seem like he found one of their wallets and returned it to them. The girl clearly sees through this and walks off...and then one of the nerds come back and asks Drake if he stole his mom's credit card from the wallet. He did.
  • Dennis on 30 Rock became the Subway Hero after pushing a woman in front of a subway car then saving her.
    • Parodied a second time when Tracy has Kenneth kill a "Hero Cat" who saved his owner's life by dialing 911. When Tracy forgets the whole thing, Jenna ends up "rescuing" the cat (who then dials 911 to save Kenneth).
  • In Men Behaving Badly Gary hides behind a paper when his girlfriend is being threatened while driving and spends the whole episode worried about his reputation. So he rings up a agency to send over a big bloke in a leather jacket to his local pub for him to beat up. He finds a big bloke in a leather jacket who he quickly beats up. Then a much smaller, skinnier guy in a leather jacket appears wanting to fight Gary. He runs away shortly after.
  • Batman had this when the Penguin was running for mayor of Gotham City. He'd send his mooks out to commit crimes so he could thwart them and come off as a hero.
  • Scrubs deconstructs a version of this, where J.D. pays a hobo to fake a heart attack in front of his new girlfriend so he can rescue him. The hobo then proceeds to demand more money when J.D. tries it again and again.
  • Sheldon tries to set this up in The Big Bang Theory. He pretends to be unable to open a jar in order to make Leonard seem like an alpha male. It then fails because Leonard can't open it, despite Sheldon having loosened the lid.
  • On Stargate Atlantis, Lucius Lavin goes into the Engineered Heroics business after his Mind Control empire falls through. Then he tries to haggle on the payment after the hired villains did their part... When the protagonists show up, the hired villains, as their sworn enemies, perform some actual villainy.
  • In Frasier, Daphne's dad had a money-making scam that involved him making crude passes at women in Manchester pubs, then getting pretend beaten up by their dates.
  • Subverted in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Will has his friend hire a thug to 'rob' a store, and he'd beat the robber to impress his girlfriend. But then a REAL robber holds up the store, and Will nearly gets himself killed hamming it up before he does take down the robber. His girlfriend ends up pissed that he stood up to a man with a gun.
    • Another episode had Will have a friend go to a girl and act like a total sleaze before he came in and dismiss him to impress said girl.
  • Married... with Children had an episode of Peg saving Al from a robber, and worse, having it caught on the news, which as you can imagine is a major embarrassment to him. Jefferson tries to help by having Al take Peg to a seedy bar, where a contact would insult Peg, Al would knock him out and Bud would get it on film. Unfortunately, when it comes time to deal the blow, Peg punches out the man herself just as Bud takes the photo. However, the end of the ep has Al successfully pulling this off using one Kelly's dates.
  • This is the plan of the United States government in the second season of Revolution. Their initial step started with Randall's actions at the end of the first season. After that they pulled the same gambit on a smaller scale: put people in danger through an intermediary, then ride in at the last minute to save the day.
  • In one episode of Diagnosis: Murder, the Villain of the Week is a mentally-unstable former Air Force pilot who was given a dishonourable discharge for disobeying orders and has been trying to find work as a commercial airline pilot. He drugs the flight crew of a plane he's travelling on, knowing that as the only passenger with cockpit experience, he'll be chosen to land the plane safely.
  • The classic Doctor Who serial "The Enemy of the World" played this straight not once, but twice.
    • To infiltrate Salamander's security, Jamie stages an attempt on Salamander's life so that he can save the man at the last minute, earning jobs for both himself and Victoria.
    • Salamander's whole plan to sway public opinion in his favor hinges on causing natural disasters so that he can "predict" them and save people by warning them and evacuating affected areas.
  • Burn Notice pulls this in almost every single episode. With some exceptions, Mike's plans generally follow the same structure: First, Mike causes a problem (or exacerbates an existing problem, or creates the illusion of a problem) for the target. Second, he poses as someone who can solve that problem. Third, he uses this problem-solving persona to get closer to the target, usually while covertly making the problem worse the whole time, so that the target becomes more desperate for Mike's help. Finally, Mike uses his position to get what he wants, which is almost invariably either destroying the target's operation, making the target look like a traitor to their boss, stealing something, or blackmailing the target into doing something Mike needs.

    Video Games 
  • Fallout: New Vegas includes a quest where you hire a bodyguard to escort you through a slum, in order to investigate said bodyguard's reputation as a Bad Ass. At one point, he runs ahead of you to take out a gang of thugs around a corner. Depending on your skills, you can out him as a fraud by either pointing out he only shot three times for the four thugs and then blackmailing him, or by examining the thugs themselves to discover they're still breathing (though, this being Fallout, it's possible to brutally maim their bodies once the quest is finished, while the game continues to tell you they're only pretending to be dead on examination).
  • Central to the plot of Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando. Qwark, disgraced due to his actions in the first game, puts in motion a plan to provide cute pets to the galaxy that are really vicious monsters, with him saving the day after the pets go on the rampage (Qwark is in disguise as the head of the company that makes them). Since Qwark is an idiot, the device that's supposed to cure the monsters makes them grow really big instead, and the titular characters have to fight this supersized monster as the final boss of the game.
  • If you get 100% Completion in McPixel, you can get a scene in which McPixel ships a bomb to one of the stages in the game, along with a business card offering his services to defuse the bomb.
  • In The Sims Medieval, the Monarch has a quest where they can try to court the Princess of Effenmont. Part of the courtship process involves recruiting one of the other hero characters to pose as a robber so that the Monarch can "rescue" the Princess from them.


    Web Original 
  • An attempt at doing this in Broken Quest results in an entire village being burnt to the ground.

    Western Animation 
  • The Futurama episode "When Aliens Attack" has a professional beach bully who does this by hitting on a guy's girl, then pretending to go down when they fight, for fifty bucks. When Leela asks for an actual date with him he even bluntly tells her he's gay.
  • On SpongeBob SquarePants, Sandy has Patrick dress as a gorilla and pretend to attack her in a ploy to get SpongeBob out of his house. SpongeBob sees through the ruse, but then a real gorilla appears (in a clever subversion of Mistaken for an Imposter, the gorilla comes dressed as Patrick, while the real Patrick has on the gorilla costume) and SpongeBob has to come save them.
    • In another episode, the "weenie" SpongeBob, wanting to get into the Salty Spitoon, stages a fight with Patrick in front of the bouncer. Patrick somehow manages to telekinetically beat up himself. The bouncer is duly impressed.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Homer Goes To College", Homer plans to get his nerd friends unexpelled by having them save the Dean from being hit by Homer's car... unfortunately the nerds distract themselves considering the impact of wind resistance on their calculation and miss their cue, leaving the Dean to get run down.
  • In the American Dad! pilot, Stan stages a purse-snatching at the mall so that his son can save the day and be more attractive to the ladies. He unfortunately goes overboard, completely forgetting to let Steve catch him.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "The Best Night Ever", Rainbow Dash does this to get the attention of the Wonderbolts at a crowded party, bucking a guest and then rushing in to "rescue" him. It doesn't work.
  • In The Powerpuff Girls a superhero named Major Man setup some crimes so that Townsville would make him their new superhero. The Girls see his ruse and set up their own engineering, with a monster that Major Man can't handle.
    • They pull off their own scheme in "Candy Is Dandy", when the Mayor promises them a piece of candy each time they stop a crime... only for a crime drought to ensue. Cue the girls breaking Mojo out of jail to commit more crimes for them to stop. Things go south when Mojo trolls them by stealing the candy from the Mayor.
  • In one episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987, the Shredder approached the retired super-hero Gadget-Man, who was trying to make a comeback, and claimed to be a "Super-Hero Agent", promising to do something like this to help put him in the spotlight. (Naturally, it would also be a strike against the Turtles.) Unfortunately for the Shredder, he underestimated how clever Gadget-Man was; he caught on, and helped the younger heroes bring the villain down.
  • Family Guy has an episode in which Peter's shenanigans cost Quagmire his pilot's license, so Peter hatches a scheme where he and his friends drug the flight crew of a plane, then Quagmire steps up to the controls, lands the plane safely and gets his license back. The plan works (though not in the way Peter was expecting), and Peter is arrested for hijacking and thrown in prison.

Alternative Title(s):

Engineered Heroism