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- Bleach. The Gotei 13 contains roughly 3,000 soldiers, yet its strength rests almost entirely with its thirteen Captains, thirteen Lieutenants and a couple of over-powered seated officers. As a result, these individuals are always sent to the front lines while the rest of their divisions stay behind. There is also an entire spy network (the Onmistukido) and a Kidou Corp which never get used.
- In numerous Gundam series, the military units are composed of weaker "grunt" mobile suits that are largely ineffective and are destroyed in large numbers by the much more powerful Gundams and other "hero mechs", which are always piloted by the main characters (protagonists and antagonists) of the narrative. The "grunt" mobile suits are always piloted by characters who don't have major narrative roles, assuming they are ever seen at all.
- Subverted in Fullmetal Alchemist: at the very beginning, Edward Elric confronts the Head of the local Corrupt Church without any help of the army. He later explains that, after dealing with the leader, he sent a report to his superiors in the military, who reacted by sending troops to deal with the trouble created by the collapsing of the church. It's then revealed that those troops were sent to replace those of the General in charge of the region, because they were dealing too well with the population, while his superiors needed bloodshed.
- In Blue Gender, this is combined with Show, Don't Tell, as it is mentioned that humanity's militaries were defeated off screen, but we are never shown or told exactly how. The humans show themselves capable of defeating the Blue without tremendous difficulty in the series, and if they were to use modern day military tactics, the humans should, by all accounts, have been able to win pretty handily.
- Par for the course in Dragon Ball, where by the Z era the weakest of the villains is a One-Man Army. In the Cell saga, after a botched attempt to take Cell down, they've apparently gotten Genre Savvy enough about the relatively efficacy of lone martial artists versus modern militaries and send Mr. Satan instead.
- Played largely straight in Aldnoah.Zero. Outside of our main characters, the greater United Earth military is incompetent to the point of hilarity when they face Martian Kataphrakts. Most of the time, UE Kataphrakts just stand in one place shooting uselessly at their enemies and not even bothering to use even the most basic of evasive or flanking maneuvers.* The story tries to justify this by claiming that everyone is a New Meat to the war thanks to Heaven's Fall killing off so many veterans.
Films — Animation
Films — Live-Action
- The army in pretty much any Godzilla movie (with the sole exception of the 1998 film, which annoyed long time fans). The first time can be excused as they had no idea what they're dealing with, but in every sequel Godzilla shows up and the army attacks do nothing to him and actually cause just as much, if not more, collateral damage. Even the damage caused by Godzilla himself can be blamed largely on the army since shooting Godzilla just makes him angry and causes him to advance and attack, causing worse destruction than had the army did nothing about it.
- In Godzilla Final Wars, this trope is subverted as making Godzilla the last resort for humans to use when militaries fail to defeat monsters such as Gigan, Anguirus, King Caesar, Rodan, Kumonaga, Kamacuras and Roland Emmerich's "Zilla" from slaying human cities.
- Also partially subverted in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah. The military's cold-based weaponry, especially on the Super-X III, excel at freezing Godzilla to keep his temperature from rising for several precious hours and stopping the aggregate forms of Destoroyah. However, once Destoroyah goes into his three larger forms and Godzilla temperature passes a certain point the military becomes useless again until Godzilla's rage and temperature reach the point where Destoroyah is superheated by him and tries to flee only to be quick-frozen by the Super-X III and Freeze Masers and shattered by the plunge to the ground, then the weapons keep Godzilla from exploding or super-melting and only having a local meltdown.
- Godzilla (2014). As per usual for these films. However, they eventually realize this and decide to just dismantle their plans to kill all of the kaiju (which might not have even worked at all) and just do their part to distract the MUTOs so Godzilla can kill them. Though to his credit, Lieutenant Ford does succeed in taking out the MUTOs eggs which not only stopped the world from being overrun by the things, but also pissed and distracted the MUTO long enough for Godzilla to get his Heroic Second Wind.
- In the DC Extended Universe, the military are knocked down, blasted or captured within seconds when they attack super villains such as General Zod, Doomsday and Incubus in Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad respectively. This is when the iconic titular superheroes Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and the Suicide Squad come in to save the day.
- The U.S. Armed Forces in the Transformers Film Series are frequently getting steamrolled by Decepticon invasions and every film in the series makes it out that the human military would have easily lost to the Decepticons within days had it not been for Optimus Prime, Bumblebee and the Autobots.
- A memorable aversion is Shaun of the Dead, as part of its Affectionate Parody of Zombie Apocalypse films, where the military just comes in and mows down the zombies in less than a day, with complete ease and not so much as a single casualty. They rescue the protagonists and peace is quickly restored.
- Olympus Has Fallen. The U.S. Air Force only give out verbal commands to the North Korean-hijacked AC-130 instead of shooting it down, allowing the AC-130 to fire back at the Air Force and proceed to cold-bloodedly kill hundreds of innocent civilians and security in Washington D.C. so that the North Korean invaders on the ground can infiltrate the White House.
- Jurassic World. The Indominus Rex breaks out of its cage, and the Asset Containment Unit are sent to go capture it, but as Claire forbids them from using any lethal weapons or an M134-armed helicopter as Owen pleaded due to the Indominus having costed millions of dollars invested in her unveiling at the park, they get wiped out in seconds by the Indominus. Once the staff resorts to the M134 on a chopper, it became too late when the Indominus crashed into the Pterosaur Aviary, freeing the inhabitants there who save her from getting shot by taking down the chopper.
- Train to Busan. South Korea plunges into a zombie apocalypse that gets so bad, given that the country is highly densely populated, that in just under one day the whole country is overrun, and surveillance shows that just about anyone not taking the movie's titular train is doomed. Martial law is declared, but in only a few hours, half to most of the ROK Armed Forces have become zombies themselves off-screen. The remainder of the ROK Armed Forces who survived successfully secured Busan, but they give up protecting the rest of the country altogether and send messages through radio for all citizens to come to them instead rather than vice versa, which they tried but that's supposedly how the rest of the ROK army got infected in the first place.
- In Aliens, the Sole Survivor of LV-426 predicts that the presence of the Colonial Marines "won't make any difference." When the aliens show up, the Marines get overpowered very quickly and become a Dwindling Party. This leaves Ripley — a civilian — doing most of the heavy lifting.
- The Peacemaker has an example of this trope set in The New Russia. The Russian Military of the 1990s is portrayed as utterly incompetent. They can't control their own border crosses, can't protect their own airspace and lose not one but ten nuclear warheads. Granted, the nukes were stolen by a highly skilled Spetsnaz commander, but that still can't explain such incompetence.
- In The Avengers, two police offers learn that the military is too far away to respond in time to the Chitauri invasion in New York City. Notably, the Chitauri soldiers and small aircraft can be destroyed with modern weapons (two of the Avengers are a spy with pistols and a guy with a bow and trick arrows). There's some Truth in Television here: there's no military presence close to New York City, and the NYPD are probably better equipped than the local National Guard. Also, Cap correctly notes the Chitauri are being led by an egomaniac who is thinking about vengeance, not thinking tactically. It should be noted that Cap's plan in the fighting is essentially; "Hold the enemy here until the military arrives to end it." He is counting on this trope being averted, until the World Council panics and tries to write off the whole city. This is averted in a deleted scene when the military finally arrives and they start picking off the Chitauri soldiers one by one.
- An aversion of this trope (and its combination with The Cavalry Arrives Late) provides the punchline for the Cruel Twist Ending of The Mist.
- This Trope is played straight so often on Zombie Apocalypse stories that it probably would be easier to find out the stories where this is subverted (if not flat-out averted). Sometimes it also overlaps with Armies Are Evil (with the military being brutally Trigger Happy on top of ineffective, to not mention being the ones responsible for the Zombie Apocalypse).
- Played straight in most of Animorphs, due to the Adults Are Useless setting. The military doesn't seem very worried about the Earth being invaded by aliens. Even after losing an aircraft carrier (and everybody on it), the kid's hometown being quarantined, and the governor of California making an official speech about how the aliens are invading the world, they simply consider this as a hoax and don't bother investigate. Downplayed when they finally admit that aliens are indeed invading; they send some Redshirts to die in support of the main cast, and give them heavy weaponry to save the world with, but don't have a very important role in the end.
- The aurors in Harry Potter may qualify, depending on whether you consider them as an army or not. In the sixth book, they fail to kill or capture any Death Eater, put innocents in jail (where they are captured and Brainwashed by said Death Eaters) instead, and do nothing to prevent the ministry from being infiltrated by Voldemort. Even after he (more or less publicly) takes over, none of them seems to resist him, even passively.note The only known exceptions are three named characters who in addition to being Aurors have also been moonlighting as members of Dumbledore's secret anti-Voldemort militia for the past several books, and even they have virtually no effect on the plot. And that's before two of them get killed.
- In the first half of World War Z, every single armed force of the world (save for Israel and... that's all) holds the Idiot Ball until the world gets really screwed. While the zombies are being protected by solid Plot Armor (only headshots seem to affect them, and things like napalm and high caliber explosives that should transform them into liquid bits of corpses are ineffectual) armies still make bad decision after bad decision that caused the apocalypse. They get somewhat better towards the end, but not before the situation becomes critical because of their errors, most damningly at the Battle of Yonkers.
- Zigzagged in Day By Day Armageddon where the military was seemingly wiped out and accidentally unleashed radioactive zombies upon the world nuking major population zonesnote , their remnant is ultimately revealed to be going quite strong and actually putting up a good fight to save the world which they actually succeed at.
- In The Southern Reach Trilogy, the border guard from the army can't contain Area X when it breaks through the old borders. Having no special training like the expedition members, the members of the military either get killed off by what the biologist became or they go crazy and turn on themselves.
- In The Walking Dead, the U.S. Armed Forces were wiped out by the walkers so fast that they have already been long gone when Rick Grimes woke up from his coma, which between 4 to 6 weeks. The series mainly shows their demise by scattering military equipment in cities. Ironically, the whole show's premise focuses on a group of survivors fighting for their lives even though they can't possibly be as powerful or large in numbers as the U.S. Armed Forces, although it's possible the reason why the main cast composed of Rick Grimes, Glenn Rhee and all others are surviving while the U.S. military didn't is that they learned how to sneak through the walkers using strategy, quick thinking and planning out how to evacuate as while the U.S. soldiers tried executing all walkers in the shortest amount of time possible, which was a fatally bad idea given there were too many walkers to be killed just by manpower, and weapon firing noises attract even more walkers.
- In the second series of Doctor Who in episode Doomsday, the military rush to repel the Cybermen invasion but their efforts only cut down small numbers of the Cybermen. The soldiers' conventional firearms did nothing against the Cybermen, while their rocket-propelled grenades did prove effective though they only had a small supply of these large, heavy rockets and therefore the soldiers were either killed or taken prisoner and converted into Cybermen.
- In Sentinels of the Multiverse, regular militaries are unable to do anything to stop the more powerful, overt villains like Baron Blade, Citizen Dawn, or Grand Warlord Voss, so it falls to the heroes to defeat them. In the case of Warlord Voss, if he has more than ten minions on the field by the start of his turn, he wins automatically as his armies overrun Earth.
- While Warhammer 40,000 doesn't feature this as a whole(after all, you are the army), it does in a hierarchical manner, where militaries considered inferior to that of the main character(s) have no effect on the story. In stories featuring Space Marines the Imperial Guard are useless, while in stories featuring the Guard the PDF are useless. In the latter's case it's a minor meme in the fandom that the PDF is only mentioned in a footnote that's some variation of "The PDF responded but were killed to a man".
- While the soldiers of Half-Life are pretty tough, and individually competent, the guy who gave them orders is probably very, very dumb. The lab accident engineered an inter-dimensional alien invasion? Let's kill the security guards to prevent them from doing their job! A particular scientist seems pretty good at killing loads of aliens for us? Let's devote all our resources to taking him down! Now because of all this mess we have plenty of witnesses to kill? Let's shoot them on sight instead of gathering them (and then shooting them)! And now our soldiers are being overwhelmed by the aliens that just keep coming? Let's send other soldiers to kill these soldiers! In the end, they evacuate and just nuke the complex to end the resonance cascade, leaving Freeman alone to go to the alien dimension and stop the invasion.
- Left 4 Dead:
- In the comic The Sacrifice, the soldiers are quite bad at fighting zombies. If three civilians and a Vietnam veteran can kill hundreds of infected with hand-made weapons in the worst possible places (airport, hospital, church), do you think that trained soldiers in a base with twenty feet high walls, barbed wires, artillery, choke points and choppers can do the same ? Of course they can't, they're soldiers.
- Left 4 Dead 2 is an aversion. While the CEDA is quickly overwhelmed by the zombie invasion, the military is both far more ruthless and more efficient at dealing with it; the evacuation points of the army are still operational, and for what we know of it, they do manage to save people from the zombie invasion.
- Commented on in Solatorobo, where one character asks what the hell the army was doing when Kaiju were attacking his city.
- The army in Dead Rising 2 decides for some reason to send two ten-man-teams to clear out the ENTIRE zombie infested Fortune City... which has tens of thousands of zombies. Surprisingly, they fail. They immediately decide that the 'new' zombies can't possibly be beaten (even though they're only on par with normal, unarmed, stupid humans at best), again, all because those two squads with no air, armor, or artillery support at all failed, and proceed to just firebomb Fortune City rather than send in a properly equipped force.
- A single necromorph in Dead Space is enough to take out the entire crew of the USM Valor.
- The Mushroom Kingdom's 'army' in Super Mario Bros. is pretty much beyond useless, consisting of a bunch of Toad guards who usually get incapacitated four minutes (maybe seconds?) after Bowser/the Big Bad and their forces arrive and show as much knowledge of tactics as a rock. In the remakes of Super Mario Bros. 3 the entire 'defence' for each of the world's kings is one Toad guard who charges Leeroy Jenkins style at one Koopaling and immediately gets knocked out on contact. And that's the proactive ones. The others just run away scared the minute trouble shows up.
- The Hyrulian army in The Legend of Zelda is pretty useless when they appear:
- In The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, the army refused to follow Agahnim when he usurped the King, but get brainwashed for their resistance, and kidnap their own princess. The Hylian Soldiers are among the weakest enemies in the entire game, their armor not helping their defense in the slightest, and are easily defeated by Link.
- The ones in Ocarina of Time get completely wiped out by Ganon's forces when trying to defend the castle and town. Beforehand, Link was able to sneak past them, and even a random villager noted he was able to as well, until he got stuck in a small crawlspace.
- The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures the Hylian Soldiers get brainwashed again, rely on Zerg Rush, and still fall in droves.
- The Hyrule Army in Twilight Princess get utterly massacred by Zant's shadow beasts ten minutes after they walk through the front door. Keep in mind that this is the entire batallion vs maybe two shadow monsters, the former of which are supposedly armed and the latter who aren't. The most you can say for them is they always at least bravely stood their ground. Twilight Princess goes far enough to actually make fun of this with several characters pointing out how useless and cowardly the army is, and with the way the soldiers tremble with fear and keep their distance (and don't impede you at all) if you charge through the castle town in your wolf form. They'll even outright flee if you Wolf Link does a sudden movement.
- Downplayed in Hyrule Warriors, at least as long as they have a skilled commander/warrior/mage in their midst. Still the Hylian Captain is infamous for his cries of help over even the most simple foes.
- It's noted right at the start of Lufia & The Fortress of Doom that the Alekian army has grown soft and useless over nearly a century of peace, to the point that barely any soldiers even show up to drills anymore, and when a nearby town is suddenly annihilated by monsters, the army is too tied up in red tape to do anything despite fears that the same thing could happen to them. Similarly, though the leader of the Lorbenian army becomes a party member, the Lorbenian army itself apparently has no interest in thwarting a quartet of Physical Gods that nearly destroyed the world almost a century ago.
- The volunteer army in Sin and Punishment that was organized to fight the Ruffians are apparently so supremely bad at their job that the La Résistance movement that Saki belongs to was put together just to take both of them out. The game then starts with the resistance movement getting completely wiped out down to three people.
- Star Fox are usually required pull the Cornerian Army out of trouble, and usually arrive late for the Corneria Defense Force (especially in Star Fox: Assault, when they end up having to kill most of the Aparoidified CDF soldiers left alive on Corneria).
- In the Resident Evil series, the police, SWAT team, and even Umbrella's own anti-outbreak forces are swiftly and almost completely wiped out by the zombies in a matter of hours. However, as you find out over the course of the second and third games all three are fully justified: the police and SWAT team were actively being sabotaged by both Umbrella and their own corrupt police chief who wanted to contain the virus and hunt the cops for sport, respectively. Umbrella's own UBCS was intentionally sent in to serve as cannon fodder so a few select members of the teams could gather combat data and destroy the evidence.
- The U.S military takes massive losses in Parasite Eve. By the time the story is over, they've lost squadrons of helicopters, planes and most, if not all, of a Carrier Battle Group in their attempt to stop Eve. This gets very much averted in the sequel, but then comes back in full force for The 3rd Birthday.
- In The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, the Provincial Armies see doing anything that would justify their employers (The four most powerful non-royal nobles in Erebonia) having a private army (including tanks) as beneath them, instead focusing on helping their masters maintain their political power (something they do to the point of outright treason). The few times they're seen even attempting to resolve issues in the first game, they deliberately make things worse. The Imperial Army doesn't look much better in the first game, with the entire 1st Armored Division (which, as it was in charge of the capital's defense, was presumably an elite unit) getting wiped out by a surprise attack, only for a scratch defense force of nine army cadets, half a dozen academy instructors, and a maid (who was secretly an off-duty Ouroboros Enforcer, but still) to do a better job of slowing down the force that wiped them out less than an hour later. In the second game, once the surprise of the sudden rebellion wears off and the surviving units get a feel for what the enemy's new weapons systems are capable of, the Imperial Army looks much more competent.
- We Are All Pokémon Trainers: The Pokepanese military in Kanto more or less held in Vermilion and let Lanius' forces run roughshod over Celadon and Saffron after they attacked, though this changed once Lt. Surge came back and rallied them into fighting back. They also proved mostly useless in the initial portion of the RtAU arc, though this was because the dragons were using Lost Technology they were ill prepared for, and monification created mass chaos.
- When Hadriex finds the other peacekeepers he spends a good minute sarcastically mocking them for their complete and utter uselessness.
- Worm manifests this in three ways, albeit all justified:
- Endbringers won't even notice anything less than a vehicle-mounted heavy weapon, so infantry are right out. Tanks don't have the maneuverability needed for the urban environs Endbringers usually target. Artillery has too much chance of Unfriendly Fire. Each of the three have their own ways to deal with aircraft and their pilots - Behemoth can zap them with lightning, Leviathan can just ground them by summoning storms and Simurgh... well, you'd be lucky if she only destroys them.. The only time they are ever mentioned directly combating an Endbringer (in Scarab 25.4) is so throwaway one can easily overlook it. Even nuclear weapons aren't powerful enough to kill the things note so the only viable strategy is to have hundreds of capes Hold the Line until Scion arrives.
- For the roving bands of supervillains like the Slaughterhouse Nine, take the usual difficulty conventional militaries have with tracking down guerillas or insurgents, then add in the difficulty of taking them down. How do normal ground forces deal with a Mad Scientist like Bonesaw whose definition of dead man switch is "biological WMD", a pyrokinetic who teleports through fire like Burnscar, becoming ever more mobile the longer the fight goes on, or a silicakinetic like Shatterbird who has citywide ability to turn your sniper scope or phone screen into deadly shrapnel? Then there are the Nigh Invulnerable monsters like Crawler or Siberian who could tank an airstrike or cruise missile. That's just the current composition of the Nine; some late members with even more exotic powers would be even worse to handle.
- Then some are just wild cards. The conventional military could, in theory, get rid of Nilbog, but no one knows how many aces he has hidden up his sleeves as contingency plans, and since he's content to stay in the area he's taken over, no one's bothering to go to the trouble of trying to uproot him.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
- Nobody expected the Royal Guards to stand up against Nightmare Moon, but even with warning of a potential attack and being fully mobilized and ready, they are subdued by the changeling army in about ten minutes. Contrast the six main characters, who, without the Elements of Harmony or formal training, and being caught off guard, take down hundreds before finally being grossly outnumbered and surrendering. While it's largly Played for Laughs, they can't even handle recovering Princess Celestia's pet bird. In the Season 4 premiere, where Princesses Celestia and Luna go missing, Princess Twilight Sparkle instructs the Guards to continue the search, only for Twilight and friends to find them themselves. Even their captain Shining Armor, despite being an allegedly powerful good leader, spends every major threat incapacitated and whose finest hour is throwing his exhausted-to-the-point-of-collapse wife at the threat so she could deal with it instead. This is at least partly due to Story-Breaker Power; until their leader took him out with her scheme he was successfully holding off the entire Changeling army by himself, and when his wife broke the spell he took them all out in one shot.
- The Wonderbolts have a similarly bad track record. Nobody expect them to stand a chance against Tirek, but getting defeated by flying straight into a water tower that is nonchalantly held in their flight path by Spikezilla certainly doesn't win them any points, and failing to save a single falling pony as well as ultimately needing to be rescued themselves after the attempt is just sad.
- The Season 5 finale, through alternate Bad Future scenarios, shows exactly how feeble both these groups are. Without Twilight and Co, every timeline ultimately fell to some villain. Their best showing is in Sombra's future, where all of Equestria has to devote itself entirely to the war effort either as front line soldiers (including Princess Celestia) or support to just barely hold Sombra's forces off, who are composed entirely of regular (albeit brainwashed) ponies.
- In The Transformers, the human military are unable to fight off the Decepticons. The episode "Megatron's Master Plan, Part 2" has a direct fight where only Decepticons remained on earth after the Autobots were expelled to space. Starscream and the Seekers wipe out the U.S. Air Force within seconds and Megatron gloats to the Witwicky family that the U.S. Armed Forces were the best warriors Earth had to offer.
- The Danish Army in World War II had not fought a war since 1864 (which it lost). It was small and largely geared to ceremonial duties in Copenhagen. Denmark also had the misfortune of sharing a land border with a hungry superpower, Nazi Germany. When war came in 1940, the Danes were pragmatic enough not to resist, knowing this would be futile, and the Germans were in Copenhagen within twelve hours. Danish resistance to the Nazis took more creative - and telling - forms.
- Ironically, the order to surrender to the German forces took a bit of time to pass down the commando lines, so around the German/Danish border, some Danish Army units temporary attempted to resist the invasion. When the order to cease resistance finally got through, the Danish losses was 16, while the Germans could count 203 fallen men, so in the short time it happened the Danes indeed did put up one hell of a fight.
- France got this reputation after World War II, where they were the first major power to capitulate to Nazi Germany. The reality is a lot more complicated of course (including a lot of the French higher ups wanting to be a part of Germany), but that didn't stop Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys from become a global reputation.
- Not to forget that the French (particularly the Free French and La Résistance) continued their struggle, often with insane valour. All in all, France's armies always had a pretty good track record of winning wars before that (as in: they won more than they lost).
- The Legion Noire was a French-Irish invasion force that landed in Wales during the Napoleonic Wars in 1797. It was supposed to help French war efforts on mainland Europe by drawing British units away from the actual fighting and demoralising the British countryside, but instead the Legion just plundered a couple of vineyards, got drunk, and ended up surrendering to a bunch on local women whom they mistook for Grenadiers from afar (due to the slightly similar headgear).
- The Australian Army was called in to cull an out of control Emu population in 1932. The Emus won the first round and forced the army to withdraw.