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Anime and Manga
- This is what the entire plot of Angel Densetsu revolves around. The main character is so scary looking that everyone mistakes him for an inhuman monster, everything he does is misinterpreted as something threatening and his social awkwardness doesn't help. His "reputation" grows to the point that gang leaders challenge him to fights all the time. Fortunately, usually Defeat Means Friendship. The kicker? He's quite possibly the most gentle, kind Actual Pacifist in the world.
- Sakaki of Azumanga Daioh is looked up to by fellow classmates due to her looking "cool" and "mysterious". In actuality, she's just very shy.
- Furuichi in Beelzebub is somewhere between this and Action Survivor. Yes his best friend is the biggest delinquent in all Japan, but Furuichi can't fight to save his life. Until he got tissues to summon demons from the Behemoth Squad (and Behemoth himself) to give him their powers.
- This reputation both helps and hinders him. On the one hand, he's considered a ringleader of delinquents by many school officials and so whenever the actual delinquents do anything worth punishing, his name will at least come up, if he doesn't get punished as well. On the other hand, he's managed to unite several delinquent groups to help fight Lord En and they really only listen to him because he had this reputation.
- Also, being Genre Savvy, Furuichi knows that this rep is still going to bite him more than be helpful. He knows he's the Butt-Monkey.
- Slightly meta example, but Rotton the Wizard from Black Lagoon. When he makes his first appearance in a bar, he sits quietly in the corner, in his Badass Longcoat and Cool Shades, armed with two broom-handle Mauser pistols. Most people, both characters and fans, thought he was the most badass motherfucker in history, based on apppearances. Subverted later in the episode, when everyone was proven to be dead wrong.
- In Cromartie High School, Kamiyama's clean-cut appearance as well as his choice to enter a school of delinquents initially earned him a reputation as a wolf in sheep's clothing.
- Mara Shin of Dorothy of Oz has a four million dollar price on her head for allegedly killing Selluriah, the Witch of the East. However, Mara is actually just a normal high school kid who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and got blamed for it because a hysterical soldier accused her of it after finding her standing over Selluriah's dead body and wearing her magical boots. It also doesn't help that she allows Abee and Number 50 to escape from some Eastern soldiers who want them dead for being Western spies, or that she helps wayward scientist Dr. Nedbar escape from Tick Tock with the Witch of the South's newest and deadliest creation. Or that she travels with three supposedly dangerous escaped biological experiments, all of whom are incredibly loyal to her and will lay down their own lives to protect her. The fact that she doesn't have very good control of her powers in her witch form contributes a bit to the mess as well...
- Mister Satan (Hercule) from Dragon Ball. Everyone who doesn't know the Z-Fighters assumes that Mister Satan is the World's Strongest Man who killed Cell. Although he is stronger than average humans, he would immediately die if he fought any of the Z-Fighter enemies (however, he always manages to survive).
- Holyland: Yuu just wants to be left alone. However, being forced to take down bullies that try to have their way with him leads to developing a reputation as a fearsome bully hunter and in turn leading more punks to fight him.
- In one scene of Juuni Senshi Bakuretsu Eto Ranger, during the first encounter with the extremely powerful Genen the Cruel, the other Eto Rangers have all been driven back, but Bakumaru is staring her down in a display that even gets her complimenting him on his bravery. After she's forced to leave, he's still in that defiant position; the others then realized that he wasn't standing up to her, he was frozen in peril and fainted standing up because he's a mouse and she's a cat.
- Kazuo gets this in Kengan Ashura. Due to not understanding business jargon, he acts completely unconcerned when the director of Ohma's first opponent wants to make a very expensive bet on their fight, leading that director (who is specifically mentioned as being fairly smart) to believe he has Nerves of Steel. Later on, he accidentally hits Julius' head with a thrown can (he didn't even see the guy) just when he was about to break Sawada's legs. Nikaido gets convinced he is extremely skilled for doing that perfectly from a blind spot and later dodging his nearly invisible needle (he bowed at the exact right time to apologize for throwing the can), while Julius is surprised that the guy managed to hit him without exuding any "bloodlust".
- Despite being heavily Demoted to Extra in the Lyrical Nanoha franchise, people are terrified if they hear that Nanoha's magic teacher is Chief Librarian Yuuno, because Nanoha is one of the most badass characters in the multiverse and is called the "Ace of Aces". Yuuno is actually a Stone Wall with little offensive abilities.note
- Mx0: Through an unlikely sequence of events, Taiga starts the manga off mistaken for a genius mage capable of kicking a teacher's ass no problem, when he actually has no magic ability at all. Though in his case, it's more "Mistaken for Super" than "Mistaken for Badass", as he would never have been able to bluff/survive through the first term without being a considerable Badass Normal.
- Seiji from Midori Days is badass but his Bromantic Foil's constant rumor mongering makes it hard for Seiji to get a girlfriend.
- One Piece:
- Most of Buggy's character arc after hitting the Grand Line. Due to his past with Gold Roger, as well as a series of coincidences and some truly desperate prisoners looking for a leader, Buggy has become something like Pirate Moses.note
- During the war, he reinforces his false reputation, by accidentally going up against the world's greatest swordsman. Luckily for Buggy, his Devil Fruit power makes him immune to swords.
- Later he takes Blackbeard's place in the Seven Warlords of the Sea solely for the fact that his actions during the war convinced the Marines that he was pulling the same con that Blackbeard was (intentionally keeping his bounty low and staying under the radar until he's ready to make his move). Buggy mistakenly gathering a following of some several hundred of the worst criminals in the world from Impel Down was seen as just a tad similar to Blackbeard's play in the Whitebeard pirates to gain the Yami Yami no Mi. He's even got a new nickname: Genius Jester Buggy.
- This would also happen to Usopp, who accidentally unravels most of the work Donquixote Doflamingo had done over the past ten years and revealed his true nature to the entire world. Since this includes freeing all of his slaves, many of whom are incredibly strong fighters, the former slaves regard Usopp as their savior and will defend him to the death. As a result, he becomes known as "God Usopp," and Doflamingo issues a bounty of 500 million Berries to anyone who can turn him in, putting him in the top echelons of criminals in the world. When the arc ends, the World Government gives Usopp an official bounty of 200 million Berries (previously he had a bounty of only 30 million, as his masked alter-ego Sniper King), third highest among the Straw Hats, and the wanted poster retains the title "God" for him.note
- Most of Buggy's character arc after hitting the Grand Line. Due to his past with Gold Roger, as well as a series of coincidences and some truly desperate prisoners looking for a leader, Buggy has become something like Pirate Moses.note
- The One-Punch Man character King is a Fake Ultimate Hero who manages to reach S Class by being accidentally credited with the defeat of many powerful monsters (actually killed by Saitama, the main character). Bystanders credit him for the kills, and because of his dangerous appearance and reputation many bad guys fear him when he appears. In reality, he's an ordinary man who's too afraid to correct everyone's assumptions.
- In chapter 15 of Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai, Kaguya sees that Shirogane is entirely immune to her feminine charms and concludes that he must have great self-discipline. He is actually too terrified of a beetle that's also in the room with them to even acknowledge her existence.
- In The Authority story "The Magnificent Kevin": Kevin has this happen to him with a couple of foes. Most notably, as the story opens, two groups of opposing spec ops forces that he worked for converge on him in his bedroom. He is under the sheets looking at porno and notices none of this. The two opposing forces massacre each other while he is otherwise engaged. The funny part comes when it is mentioned that this sort of thing seems to happen to the assassins they send after him all the time, which causes the higher ups on all sides to send more assassins to kill someone who must have been superhuman to kill all the previous assassins, which results in a bigger massacre, and so on and so forth. Subverted in that "Kevin" probably would be a badass by normal human standards, just not in the Authority universe, and he isn't so much "mistaken" for badass as "employed by too many of the wrong people on both sides of the tracks."
- Bob, Agent of HYDRA, is mistaken for badass in Cable & Deadpool when he accidentally knocks out a symbiont dinosaur that he'd been trying to run away from.
- An Astro City story featured Mitch Goodman, a soap opera actor playing a superhero who foiled a convenience store robbery. He rode the ensuing publicity to promote his acting career, but things turn sour when he soon becomes targeted by real supervillains.
- One from The Adventures of Tintin. In a deadly game of cat and mouse between the protagonists' ship and a submarine, Captain Haddock accidentally gets the ship stuck going astern (backwards). When this results in a torpedo barely missing the ship, the villains marvel at the captain's tactical genius.
- Knights of the Dinner Table: A series of misunderstandings has Switch convinced that Tank is a cold blooded killer you would not want to mess with.
- Mr. Black, from the Harry Potter Fanfiction 'Make A Wish', written by Rorschach's Blot. Throughout the story, he somehow manages to convince everyone that he's: a veteran Magical Law Enforcer; the world's deadliest assassin; a rampaging and particularly creative psychokiller; a rare creature specialist; a master of stealth and evasion; a master of detection, ward, and deadly ancient spells; a member of various old organizations, rebellions, and militias; a vampire hunter; a sex god; a master archaeologist; at the very least, a 13000 year old immortal; the destroyer of countless civilizations; and finally Death Incarnate. He was just a regular guy on vacation. Or is he?..
- It certainly doesn't help matters that he accidentally (not knowing Merlin and Myrrdin were the same person) refers to Merlin as a Bratty Half-Pint whose sole saving grace was being a decent cook.
- It's even worse in some of the spin-offs other authors have done. In Terminal Justice for example, Harry eventually learns that due to the mechanism behind his survival of the Killing Curse, he is in fact Death Incarnate.
- A light example from the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic Twilight's List: Rainbow Dash thinks that Twilight is playing it cool and has nerves of steel, asking her out flat out without any signs of nervousness or trepidation over asking her out or Rainbow Dash possibly saying no. This continues for a good chunk of the story, as Twilight is extremely calm about setting up the date, not showing any signs of anxiety, inspiring Rainbow Dash to do the same and be as awesome and play it as cool as possible. Naturally, at the end, when Twilight realizes that she went out on a real date with Rainbow Dash, she freaks out.
- Miller, from the My Little Pony Fanfiction of the same name, written by totallynotabrony. A human wakes up in Equestria as a pegasus, and he eventually finds himself in the middle of a major drug operation, but all he wants to do is get home. Thanks to his luck (or unluck), the criminal underworld nicknames him "Miller the Killer".
- At a meeting with some griffin gangsters, he eats meat and lets his love of ground beef slip (cows are sentient in Equestria).
- His new acquaintances instruct him to kill one of his coworkers at the machining shop; he has the pony run "to make it sporting", and when Miller swoops down to try and talk things out, his "victim" trips through a pane glass window, cuts himself, and bleeds out in seconds. The other gangsters arrive on the scene to see Miller emotionlessly (Miller has not gotten a hang of all the fine muscle controls that show equine emotion) watch the other pony die after "shoving" him through a window.
- On a drug run, Miller encounters a hit squad of four griffins. The auspicious appearance of a hydra takes out three of them as the fourth and Miller both escape with their lives.
- The fourth griffin challenges Miller later that night, and Miller leads the chase scene... which ends with a griffin strung up dead, caught in clotheslines.
- In How Trixie (Somehow) Saved Hearth's Warming, Trixie's showboating accidentally convinces one of Santa's reindeer, Vixen, that she's a badflank heroine after saving Vixen from freezing to death. This results in Vixen deciding Trixie can help her stop the Big Bad and save Hearth's Warming. Trixie is fairly talented and did help the mane six stop a Diamond thief on one occasion, but not nearly as much as she likes to say she is or Vixen thinks she is.
- Xander in the crossover Stand Ins and Stunt Doubles has this happen twice.
- The first time because he instructs the Avengers on how to calm the Hulk (having just learned that he lives in the Marvel universe and all the comics he read were actually him getting prophetic visions) and they mistake his comment of being an independent contractor to mean he's a mercenary, not a construction worker.
- The second time, the members of Angel Investigations are telling Chuck Norris style jokes about Xander to lighten the mood and the Pylea humans who overhear take them as actual facts.
- In a Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Teen Titans crossover, an evil cult summons Gachnar the fear demon, accidentally summoning Xander (who had Gachnar in his pocket) as well. When Xander tells the cultists not to order around his pet and calmly crossing the ritual circle, Raven becomes terrified of him, assuming Xander must be a being of unfathomable power to both keep a name rank demon as a pet and ignore powerful demon binding magic. In reality, demon binding magic doesn't affect humans and he keeps Gachnar as a pet by feeding it Twinkies. Read Here
- After winging both Karasuba and Akitsu in Birds of a Feather, Minato gains a reputation as the Demon Tamer Ashikabi who "battled Karasuba across the city for three days and three nights before emerging victorious and taking her as his woman".
- In Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum, Mad-Eye Moody commends the Golden Trio for sitting with their backs to the wall and drawing their wands on him the moment he raised his voice. Ron wonders if they should mention that sat there by chance and drew their wands due to being on pepper-up potions, but Hermione shuts him up.
- In The Sages Disciple, Crow deliberately invokes this trope by trying to make himself look far more dangerous and powerful than he actually is by doing things such as joining Caster on the front lines instead of hiding. So far, he's convinced Emiya Kiritsugu that he's a high-tier Puppet Master by using Caster's mini-Wicker Men as decoys, Rider thinks that he's an oracle due to his future knowledge, and the rest of the competitors see him as a combination of Magnificent Bastard and The Wonka. The only one that has a hint that he isn't quite what he seems is Kirei.
Films — Animated
- Rango spun a lot of tall tales about his alleged prowess, but when the hawk attacked Dirt, Rango's wild chase and dumb luck had the townspeople assuming he was actually fighting off something five times his size and doing a great job of it.
- The Man Called Flintstone. Due to his incredible resemblance to superspy Rock Slag, Fred Flintstone is recruited by Slag's boss to impersonate him when he's injured. Fred manages to convince the Big Bad the Green Goose that he's Slag, which is a problem as the Goose wants Slag dead.
- Mater in Cars 2 is mistaken for a spy and spends most of the movie thinking that actual spy Holly Shiftwell is flirting with him. Holly, meanwhile, believes that Mater is a deep-cover agent.
- In The LEGO Movie, Emmet is thought to be the "Special," or the one destined to defeat Lord Business. In actuality, he's a bumbling, adorkable, normal guy.
- In A Bug's Life, Flik mistook the circus guys for great fighters after a bar brawl went south and the whole place was sent rolling. He then proceeded to sell them as great heroes to his people, first out of actually believing it, later on to hide the fact that he screwed up. That being said, they did make a fine job at appearing like something similar to a bunch of superheroes to the ants thanks to their abilities.
Films — Live-Action
- The Soviet comedy film The Diamond Arm tells the story of The Ditz (played by the famous Soviet clown turned comic actor Yuri Nikulin) who, due to a series of coincidences, was mistaken by a smugglers' gang for a fellow smuggler, and had diamonds hidden inside a fake injury cast on his arm by them. Hilarity Ensues.
- The basic premise of the film If Looks Could Kill.
- Also the basic premise of North by Northwest, though he does figure it out eventually.
- Le Grand Blond avec une Chaussure Noire (The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe) has The Ditz played by Pierre Richard first mistaken for a spy, then used as a decoy by the only agency that knew he isn't... and everyone's cluelessness continued into the sequel Le Retour Du Grand Blond.
- It was remade as The Man with One Red Shoe.
- Pierre Richard plays an unemployed comic actor in The Umbrella Coup, who is invited to play an assassin, but enters a wrong office and gets confused for a Professional Killer by The Mafia. And Hilarity Ensues.
- He doesn't find out what's going on until the very end of the film. Even when the real killer assassinates the target and gets shot by police, the actor thinks it's all a game.
- Saw. "Mistaken for a hitman" variant.
- Probably the point of Inspector Clouseau The Pink Panther, less so in the 2006 remake since Dreyfus manages to finally get through to him and he has that whole self-doubt part before he gets back into action. Peter Sellers' Clouseau would never have caught on to that.
- Another "mistaken for a hitman" variant occurs in the original El Mariachi, which has the title character, a musician, mistaken for an assassin who carries a guitar case full of weapons who is out to kill the local drug lord.
- The Man, with Samuel L. Jackson and Eugene Levy.
- A major plot point in the western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Tenderfoot lawyer Ransom Stoddard kills the notorious outlaw Liberty in a gunfight, making him a local hero. Except it wasn't really Stoddard...
- The Stupids features a family like this foiling an arms deal between corrupt military officials of multiple nations. The family patriarch Stanley Stupid alone manages to inadvertently defeat at least three assassins.
- Carry On films:
- A plot driver in Carry On Cleo where the escaped slave Hengist Pod is concussed hiding under a table while his badass neighbor, Horsa, takes out a squad of legionnaires and makes good his escape. With all the witnesses dead the authorities assume Hengist is the badass swordsman and he is made personal bodyguard to Julius Cesar... Hilarity ensues.
- Another example in Carry On Cowboy when a stagecoach carrying Marshal P. Knutt and a young woman note is attacked by outlaws. He shoots wildly while she kills them all and then lets everyone, including Marshal (yes, that's his name) believe he did it. He is mistaken for a lawman because of his name (he actually fixes drains) and is recruited to deal with a problem that some "rats" are giving the town.
- íThree Amigos!: The entire plot is based on this. Three actors are mistaken for actual heroes and somehow manage to beat the bad guys.
- The 1968 Disney movie Never a Dull Moment starring Dick van Dyke. This one used the "mistaken for hitman" version.
- Kiler, a Polish comedy, is about an innocent taxi driver named Jerzy Kiler, mistakenly arrested as a professional hitman, then sprung out by a mobster who needs his services. Deciding he needs to play his part until he can clear his name and outsmart the mobster, Jerzy looks for inspiration by renting movies like The Professional, Taxi Driver, Psy and others. Hilarity Ensues.
- A lot of Danny Kaye movies involve this, especially The Kid from Brooklyn, where a milkman is mistaken for a prizefighter, right down to the well-timed ducking slapstick. Also, The Court Jester, in which Kaye's character impersonates a jester, unaware that he is also an assassin. A series of well timed coincidences convince everyone he is the ruthless killer they believe he is. Also, The Inspector General, based on The Government Inspector (see Theater, below).
- Galaxy Quest: Actors in a Star Trek Expy are mistaken for their characters.
- The protagonists in Tropic Thunder were mistaken for real soldiers by the drug lord. It didn't help that Tugg played with a real severed head and made the onlookers think he has no fear of death.
- Amazingly, they manage to take on said drug lord in multiple skirmishes while firing blanks.
- The plot of the Chris Farley movie Beverly Hills Ninja.
- The "Wetwork Man" in Horrible Bosses. The protagonists think he is a Professional Killer. He actually urinates on people for money. This is why you should not hire assassins off the internet.
- The 1997 comedy The Man Who Knew Too Little starring Bill Murray. The main character thinks he is acting as a spy in street theatre, but is mistaken for the real thing. Highlights include being seen innocently sharing a sandwich with a cop, leading to the assassins thinking he has law enforcement ties.
- Don Ameche plays Gino in "Things Change", a humble shoe shiner who is mistaken for a wealthy and powerful Mafia don after being hired to take the fall for an actual Don.
- In The Big Lebowski, a private eye who has been following the Dude is very impressed, assuming that his encounters with the kidnappers and dealmakers means he's been "playing one side against the other" and is "in bed with everybody" rather than being yanked around by the various parties and screwing things up in his own drug-fueled haze.
- Admiral Metternich per Pelasgiamus from A Symphony of Eternity is this trope in spades in space! He's a dirty coward who constantly tries to avoid battle and in doing so lands in the thickest of it, only for him to survive by virtue of winning the day. Not help by the fact that when he's afraid his red eyes blaze away, making those around him mistake that for battle lust. Combined with the fact that he actually is a very competent strategist and tactician he is a genuine military maverick who combined with a tendency to avoid battles, with his entire fleet, and come up with plans that focus on winning without fighting, at the very least facing the opposing fleet only with an overwhelming advantage to his side or distracting and bating on a large enemy force while others win, all with a minimal struggle or no battle at all makes him one of the most feared and successful officers in the Imperial Navy, a case where he's both the coward and the hero and the same time. So much so that he is made a Captain directly from civilian life and manages to become a Rear Admiral in less then three years! Unfortunately for him because of his astonishing victories he's sent into even more dangerous zones of war.
- Brazilian writer Luis Fernando Verissimo wrote a short story about a loser who ends up kidnapped by some thugs who mistake him for a Mafia boss and plan to kill him. He eventually reasons that it was more thrilling than anything that ever happened in his life, and asks for some champagne (something he had never tasted) before getting murdered.
- The novel Pest Control has Bob the Exterminator, an elite international assassin. Only he's just an environmentalist bug exterminator looking into symbiotic methods for pest control, and the people he "killed" really did die in a series of coincidental and unrelated accidents. The only way he managed to survive was due to luck, help from an actual international assassin named Klauss, and thorough knowledge of New York's heavily armed crazy people that are no danger unless provoked.
- In A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny, a bunch of magic-users preparing for the imminent ritual confrontation mistook one bystander — though not exactly "innocent" — for a participant. Massive scheming ensued. They (or at least their familiars) learned he never was in their game too late for it to matter.
- One of the protagonists of a detective comedy series by Leo Gursky is The Chew Toy, a poor henpecked Absent-Minded Professor pharmacologist so modest, naive, painfully honest law-abiding and, well, absent-minded that once he's entangled in something, most strangers refuse to believe he can really be this much of The Ditz. Once he stumbled upon a Briefcase Full of Money and tried to return it to the rightful owner nearly getting killed several times by various people, including both the old owner and the guys who had to receive the money. Another time he picked up a ringing "discarded" cellphone and ended up impersonating a Agent 47 expy before he understood he was in big trouble and had to play along just to survive...
- Lenny in The Stingray Shuffle drives erratically because he is high on marijuana. The ex-KGB agents following him mistake his driving for elite evasion techniques, and assume he must be former CIA or Mossad.
- "The Brave Little Tailor": "Seven in one blow!"
- Ciaphas Cain, THE HERO OF THE IMPERIUM, believes this of himself. While untold billions think that Cain is an amazingly skilled badass, brilliant orator, and all-around star of the Imperium, Cain himself thinks he's a cowardly nonhero but seeks to perpetuate the accidentally-achieved image because the backlash for failing to do so would be catastrophic.
- The inquisitor who provides the footnotes of the novels and knows what Cain is really like believes this is a inversion; she acknowledges that Cain is one of the best swordsmen she's ever seen and that one of Cain's flaws (that is unknown to him) is his cripplingly low self-esteem when it comes to positive traits that he genuinely has. Then again, said inquisitor is also very likely his lover. Ultimately, the reader comes up with their own opinion on the subject, but any conclusions drawn are likely to fall somewhere in-between heroic and semi-heroic.
- Harry Flashman in the Flashman novels by George Macdonald Fraser. Although many characters met by the protagonist know him (or come to know him) to be a cad and a coward, his reputation among society at large is that of a brave and honorable man.
- Flashman lives for this trope. He can run away from a battle and hide in a cesspool, then show up weeks later and be hailed as a hero for being the lone survivor. He encourages this sort of thing, but all he really has to do most of the time is keep his mouth shut.
- Rincewind of Discworld ends up like this in Interesting Times, thanks in part to being Shrouded in Myth due to a book based on his misadventures written by Twoflower from the first two books, but also because of his strange tendency to survive otherwise fatal situations. People think it's because Rincewind is some kind of powerful and wise wizard, but it's mostly a combination of being favored by The Lady and his own attempts to remain a breathing coward.
- The Dorothy of Oz example above was cribbed from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz where the Munchkins assumed that Dorothy must have been an insanely powerful Munchkin sorceress to call up a storm and squish the East Witch with her house. Compounding this misunderstanding was that Dorothy was the size of a adult Munchkin and wearing her blue and white gingham dress. In Oz, Munchkins favor blue, and only magic users wear white. That's why they called the North Witch for help.
- Invoked by Rand in The Wheel of Time: Tam gave him a heron-marked sword at be beginning of his adventures, but he had next-to-no training. Throughout the first book everyone he met openly doubted that someone so young could be a blademaster, but troublemakers didn't want to risk being wrong.
- It is also averted when in less than a year he actually earns the title when he defeats a genuine Blademaster in combat.
- A common theme in Tom Sharpe novels, especially some of the Wilt series in which Wilt comes to the attention of the police who investigate him, find nothing but are sure they're missing something, and so investigate the entirely innocent school teacher more and more urgently until they eventually make a career-ruining mistake which they blame on Wilt outsmarting them rather than themselves getting obsessed over nothing.
- In Ethan of Athos, the eponymous Ethan is a mild-mannered Reproduction Center manager who is trying to find out what happened to the shipment of donor eggs he ordered. Unbeknownst to Ethan, a runaway biological experiment called Terrence has hidden a genetic McGuffin in the shipment. When Ethan turns up looking for the eggs, the agents who are looking for Terrence assume that Ethan is part of the conspiracy, especially after Ethan meets Elli Quinn, who is an actual operative employed by the agents' enemies.
- In the Honor Harrington book The Short Victorious War, Lieutenant Commander Avshari, a communications officer and self-proclaimed tactical ignoramus holding what was supposed to be a milk run watch on the bridge of the dreadnought Bellerophon, manages this after Admiral Pierre's battlecruiser squadrons have the bad luck to come out of hyper within point-blank range of the ship.
- Harry Potter thinks this happens, and not without reason; his Arch-Nemesis Voldemort thinks the same thing about Harry. He's famous for having supposedly defeated the Dark Lord as a baby, something he doesn't even remember, and the Dursleys have made him think he's "a waste of space" even with the magical accidents that happened around him as a child. Subverted over the course of the books, where he and Ron take on a troll to save Hermione when they're eleven, and Harry thwarts Voldemort twice and survives a third encounter with him, while casting a perfect Patronus at the age of thirteen It comes to a head where he gets angry at Hermione and Ron for asking him to teach illegal Dark Arts and bringing up these deeds since Being Good Sucks and he believes he only got lucky. Then gets subverted when all the people interested in the DA bring up these deeds.
- Burn Notice did an episode about a doctor being harassed by a drug dealer so Michael and crew make it look like he's ex-Special Forces.
- A huge part of the premise of Chuck. Once Chuck starts becoming competent as a spy in his own right, Awesome starts getting this, just for being close to the spyjinks and looking more the part.
- In the Leverage episode "The Rashomon Job", everyone on the team (working independently, before the pilot) became convinced that the head of security at the museum they were trying to rob was a clue-tracking badass. Turns out he was a bumbling idiot who just happened to bump into every member of the crew and deliver some non sequiturs that freaked them right the hell out.
- The Monk episode "Mr. Monk is Someone Else" has Monk going undercover as his doppelganger, an infamous hit man named Frank DePalma, to thwart an assassination. In a meeting with a group of mobsters, he leans over to straighten Tommy G.'s tie and everyone reacts like he's making a threat. Monk (being Monk) really did just want to straighten out the tie.
- This looks like it's what's going on in the Monty Python's Flying Circus "Dentistry sketch" until the very end, where the character reveals that he actually was a member of the BDA.
- In Hark! A Vagrant, Fat Pony is mistaken for a hitman, and a successful hitman at that, despite being nothing more than a pony.
- Girl Genius has Moloch von Zinzer, veteran armor crewman and Action Survivor. The results of his devotion to the cause of "not being killed" were taken as evidence of some secret knowledge:
Violetta: You've trained in the way of smoke?
Moloch: Nah. Mom always said that stuff'll kill ya.
Violetta: But...but you are one of us, only you're in disguise, right?
Moloch: 'fraid not.
Violetta: No! You must have some secret knowledge!
Moloch: Sure. I know, deep in my heart, that I really, really, really don't want to get munched by that thing.
Violetta: Chapter sixteen of the Yellow Codex! Who sent you!?
Moloch: Nobody sent me. I don't have any "secret knowledge." I just don't want to die.
Violetta: I don't believe you! That's cheating!
- Zenith in Commander Kitty mistakes CK for a being genius even greater than her target Ace after managing to "compromise her plan" (by showing up in the wrong place at the right time).
- Used as a Running Gag in Noob. In the protagonist's faction, we have Sparadrap, very friendly, but also incredibly lucky and oblivious, with a tendency to mix up attacking and healing spells, not to mention a quite big Magic Staff starting Season 2. In the enemy faction, Dark Avenger, who keeps mistaking Sparadrap's attempts at friendship alternating with accidental damage on his avatar and coincidental dodges for a strange but effective fighting strategy. The two have an uncanny tendency to run into each other. When Dark Avenger had to get written out of the series, all the creator had to do was to take the situation to its logical conclusion.
- A bit downplayed with Gervas Klarenfeld in Dead West; the narrator, originally just a commoner journalist gets mistaken as an aristocrat, almost constantly. The confusion is fueled further by his name, which he shares with a legendary (aristocrat) master spy, the Hound of Maria Theresa, and his Heroic Build. He really is a commoner, with no ties to said spy, and with no Psychic Powers, but since the master spy had the power to avoid detection and read minds, and Gervas is quite skilled in Cold Reading (and eavesdropping), he cannot convince most people that he is a commoner. The only characters who believe him are the Porcelain Doctor and the Beast, since they reason he has nothing to gain by lies. And even the Beast thinks that he might have some of the Hound's blood.
- In Season 11 of Red vs. Blue, we find out that rumors have spread about the Reds and Blues being some of the greatest soldiers in the galaxy. This isn't the case, most of the time.
- Thanks to Sips jokingly spreading rumours and photos of him in airsoft gear circulating round the web, Smiffy of Hat Films has been mistaken for a real soldier in the Territorial Armynote by both fans and people in the Yogscast.
- In the episode of Arthur called "Buster Baxter: Cat Saver", Buster saves a cat from being caught in a tree (by happening to be holding an ice cream cone with fish sticks in it), causing eventually the whole town to laud him as a hero after the event gets published in the local newspaper. He lets it go to his head, but eventually is humbled after he isn't able to duplicate the incident without the ice cream, only to then save his friends from a runaway piano, starting the whole cycle over again.
- Sid the Squid, a bottom level criminal mook in Batman: The Animated Series was credited with offing Batman because they saw him knock Batman into a fuel tank which exploded. Lots of people wanted a piece of the guy that took out Batman, while The Joker was furious that some no talent nobody took out Gotham's number one vigilante. Turns out Batman faked it and used Sid's new found rise to prominence to bust a drug cartel that Sid was a level zero flunky for. He benefits at the end when he shows up in prison with a reputation as the guy who almost took out Batman and (with Batman's help) put one over on the Joker.
- Duck Dodgers is a poster boy for this trope, though he is occasionally competent.
- There's an episode where Launchpad was recruited to fill-in for an injured spy. In fact, some of the elements that appeared in this episode later were used in Darkwing Duck
- Launchpad is mistaken for the real Darkwing after a "Darkwing Decoy" plan backfires and he is caught unmasking by the press. Darkwing, thanks to his massive ego, is not pleased with Launchpad's new found fame.
- There was a Rocky and Bullwinkle story, Bullwinkle's Testimonial Dinner, where Bullwinkle sent his shirt to be cleaned at a Chinese laundry in Shanghai. Said laundry was being used by Boris and Natasha as a transfer point to smuggle an atomic bomb wristwatch. The man who was supposed to pick it up was to identify himself by saying, "Perhaps you would rather I be John Phillip Sousa." Bullwinkle ends up saying that exact phrase when the clerk remarks that he's got a funny name.
- In The Simpsons this happens to Homer multiple times. In an early episode, he gripes about conditions at the power plant and is appointed, as the new union leader, to negotiate for the workers to Mr. Burns while they strike. Mr. Burns thinks Homer a "worthy opponent" until he offers Homer a generous deal to step down as leader, and Homer celebrates by imitating one of The Three Stooges in Mr. Burns' office.
- In the Star Wars: The Clone Wars episode Bombad Jedi, Jar Jar Binks is mistaken for a Jedi in a Separatist-occupied city because he slipped which led to him dodging an attack and he was wearing a cloak. The guards were none too bright. Hilarity (and heroism) ensues.
- This helped decrease his Scrappy-ness since he instantly realized that they thought he was a Jedi and ran with it, instead of doing everything completely by accident like in the films. He was clearly trying to channel Obi-Wan with his acting.