In a Speculative Fiction setting there are often a lot of people going on about how incredible and powerful the Phlebotinum is, which is why people who have it are the ones who move the plot rather than all the ordinary Muggles who need to be rescued.
Except, sometimes, the superhuman devices or abilities in the story aren't really all that earthshaking, at least not compared to the more mundane methods available. Sure, being able to create fire with your mind might be neat, but if it's not on a large enough scale, you might be better off with a handheld lighter. And a Trick Arrow that electrocutes people could be useful, but we do already have stun guns. And that guy saying he'll Take Over the World now that he's got skin as strong as steel? Yeah, apparently he's never heard of armor piercing bullets. Of course, if they don't work, there's always the Nuclear Option.
Sometimes the usefulness of Muggle methods will be a big part of the story, like Van Helsing using modern scientific methods against vampires in Dracula. Other times supernatural abilities and Muggle abilities will be kept largely separate thanks to the Masquerade, but when they do intersect the superiority/equality of Muggle methods will be clear. And then there are some stories where it's clear the writers didn't really think about what ordinary people could contribute, or They Just Didn't Care, but the fans certainly will.
In some cases, it applies if and only if the Muggles are Crazy-Prepared. A girl who freezes you at will can easily kill regular soldiers, but not if they have insulated suits specifically to fight her.
On the flipside, it can become unsatisfying fast if Fridge Logic sets in and critically-thinking viewers recognise that the only reason the Muggles win is because the supers are holding Idiot Balls, suffering from Misapplied Phlebotinum and using Hollywood Tactics rather than embracing the true potential available.
Related to, but distinct from, a Mundane Solution, which is where the Phlebotinum is given a specific weakness to some commonplace thing that it didn't necessarily have to have. See also Weaponized Weakness, when muggle methods are used to exploit an already dangerous Achilles Heel or Weaksauce Weakness.
This trope is the main power and indeed the only hope of the Un-Sorcerer. Also a key characteristic of the Badass Normal, who utilize such methods in a way to keep up with (and sometimes defeat) the other superpowered beings of the universe. Can also lead to The Magic Versus Technology War, with the Tech Level being that of the present day.
Compare with Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better, which is when mundane weapons work better than fancy shiny phlebotinum-powered weapons, though not necessarily as sometimes the "mundane" weapons are pretty phleotinum-loaded too. Compare Postmodern Magik, which is when technology and magic intertwine. Also compare to Medieval Stasis, as this trope assumes the supernatural is locked in such while the muggles continue to advance. Contrast Guns Are Worthless, where those fancy muggle toys are, well, worthless in the face of a supernatural threat.
Unrelated toTropers Do It Without Notability.
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Anime and Manga
The WW 2 / Vietnam war-era weapons that have crossed over to the world of Halkeginia in Zero No Tsukaima appear to far out-power all elements of offensive magic except that of the Void. Giant golem? LAW*
beats it. Dragons? WWII era Zero beats them. Giant walking magically impervious armor? Flak cannon shoots straight through it.
One variant of the Zero packed a 20mm cannon. It would be disappointing if the dragons didn't drop over.
In Mahou Sensei Negima!, while a combination of magic and technology usually works best, it seems that cell phones are almost universally more useful than the Telepathy that mages tend to use, so long as there's reception. In terms of pure offensive firepower, the magic world does not appear to have anything like nukes. In a flashback, Nagi talks about it a little.
Darker than Black employs this trope a lot. Despite their (sometimes) awe-inspiring powers, the majority of Contractors are not Immune to Bullets; they are usually no match for a well-trained squad of armed police or soldiers. Contractors are therefore seldom used in open combat, and are employed more like special operatives where they're able to get the jump on people.
Shinryaku! Ika Musume's titular Musume is quite powerful, and would make for an excellent B-movie monster - until the JDSF arrives on the scene. At the end of the day, squids are squishy, and there's only one of her.
In, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, all the main characters have very efficient magical weaponry, and yet it's Homura who seems to be the most efficient magical girl out of the group, despite mostly killing witches with stolen military and Yakuza firearms rather than her powers. Though that's because her powers are over time - which can't kill witches alone, but do end up driving much of the plot.
Very few of the good guys in Yu-Gi-Oh! had any supernatural abilities. The Pharaoh did, and so did Aki from Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds, but that was about it. (Kaiba might have had a few remnants of the magical skills that his past self as Priest Seto had, but couldn't use them at will.) Still, they tended to fight and defeat sorcerers, demons, and Eldritch Abominations on a regular basis.
To drive this point home, one of two people to defeat the Pharaoh in a duel was Yugi himself, in what was likely the greatest duel in the first series. And just a few episodes before that, Yugi had defeated Yami Bakura without the Pharaoh's help.
One of the Marshal Law comics sends superheroes back to World War I. They turn out to be pretty useless to the war effort.
Fables spends a good chunk of the war between the Fables of Fabletown (living in the real world) and the Adversary (what they ran away from) showcasing the advantages mass modern technology has over magic.
And a highly-effective-seeming and entirely magical plan for taking out Earth is dismissed when it's explained that modern "mundane" technology would not only quickly pick up on the plan and foil its latter stages, but invite a devastating counterattack that the Adversary's forces wouldn't have a prayer against.
Quite often, one of the reasons for the Reed Richards Is Useless trope is that superhero super-science is somehow less practical than real world science.
Subverted in an issue of Justice League of America: the son of the recently deceased Green Arrow has to fight a bad guy and his mooks using an old set of arrows his father left behind. He laments on the fact that they're all ridiculous trick arrows, such as a handcuff arrow or a boxing glove arrow, and wishes his dad would have had at least one regular arrow among them. He ends up defeating the bad guy with a boxing glove arrow.
Often played with in the DC Universe and the Marvel Universe. Some characters manage to do very well against superpowered adversaries with nothing more than the training and technology you see in the real world, The Punisher being a perfect example. Oftentimes, though, the police, the army, would-be Heroic Bystanders and others are completely ineffective against the villains.
In his first fight against the Masters of Silence Iron Man was confronted with the fact that they were immune to his repulsor bolts. In their second battle Iron Man wore the so-called War Machine armor, equipped with guns. A lot of guns. The Masters of Silence were promptly trashed before being confronted with the fact they had been tricked in attacking Stark in first place.
Subverted in the backstory of Irredeemable. An alien race to attempting to conquer the Earth, and all of the world's superheroes were powerless to stop it. A Badass Normal called the Hornet snuck onto the main ship and got the aliens to leave peacefully. This incident earned the Hornet widespread acclaim, but the truth was that he was just as powerless as everyone else. He only saved Earth by making a Deal with the Devil.
Something of a central theme to The Boys. The first American superheroes prove useless against the Wehrmacht in the Second World War, the G-Men are handily wiped out by Red River personnel armed with machine-guns and flamethrowers, and the US military wipes the floor with the superheroes occupying Washington D.C.
In The Moment It Began, instead of being defeated by The Power of Love, Lord Voldemort, the most powerful Dark Wizard in the world, is defeated... by Snape's Muggle father Tobias and his trusty handgun.
The series plays with it a ton. While the magical world rarely if ever applies the scientific method to magic, just like in canon, that's because sometimes science doesn'twork on magic. But once in a while characters find out that it does work, which usually leads to an Awesome Moment.
Sort-of-done in My Immortal. Instead of telling Ebony to kill Vampire/Harry via magical means, Vloxemort gives her a gun to shoot him. Of course, given TaraGilesbie hasn't displayed any real understanding of how the actual series works...
An example appears in Oh God Not Again to explain why Theodore, a Slytherin, is in Muggle Studies. When asked why he was there, Theodore noted that his father learned the hard-way that Muggles weren't as harmless as he thought after being shot on a trip to Las Vegas, and wanted his son to learn as much about Muggles as possible.
Discussed in the Zero No Tsukaima/Prototype crossover Unfamiliar, while magic can do many thing technology can't it's also inefficient for more mundane things. For example an earth mage can do the work of ten farming machines, however it takes years to train a earth mage whereas you can build farming machines in days.
Subverted in some Axis Powers Hetalia fics involving human beings trying to take on the Nations themselves. As it turns out, all conventional weapons (whether it's a knife or a .50 caliber rifle) could do is simply stall them long enough for the Muggles to escape with their lives.
I've finally figured out how to bypass the defenses of Voldemort's hideout. It was actually easier than dealing with the Mob, since Death Eaters aren't quite as good as taking pain as they are dishing it out. They also have absolutely no experience or talent for psychological warfare or interrogation, rather they just choose to cast a few spells and expect things to work. They also don't expect people to be able to dodge. They called me a muggle, whatever that means, I called them target practice.
In Fallout Equestria, while magic and magic powered devices are capable of amazing things, guns and explosives tend to be more reliable in combat. Even Alicorns can easily be dispatched by completely normal gunfire without their magic shields (and at several points cannot react to conventional attacks fast enough to get those shields up). Even these shields can be broken by enough force, say dropping a train car on top of the Alicorn.
In the french movie Arthur et la guerre des deux mondes (Arthur and the war of two worlds), the Big Bad entered the human world thinking he would rollover humanity with his army of really stupid mooks... he did rollover the population of a mostly unarmed and peaceful really small town. But when an actual human army show up, they pulverised the Evil Army in seconds. Hell, the tanks were completely overkill. Granted, the Hero does lampshade the fact that the Big Bad had utterly no clue about humans capabilities, as he come from a millimeters-sized population of fairy-like creatures that lived in the gardens and forests.
In Episode III, the vast majority of Jedi are gunned down by common soldiers. Because they were Just Following Orders, the Clone Troopers didn't necessarily have any malicious intent (and thus the Jedi couldn't sense their impending doom until it was too late.)
Episode II has a Jedi leaping up to the platform to challenge Count Dooku... only to be nonchalantly gunned down by Jango Fett. This scene was probably just meant to make Jango look that impressive, but if anything, it made the Jedi look incompetent; Jango wasn't even doing anything special, just pointing his blaster and firing, yet this was somehow too much for the Jedi to handle. It's amazing he wasn't already gunned down by the hordes of droids he was just battling below.
Speaking of which, all of the Jedi who didn't have several metric tons of Plot Armor on WERE gun down by the droids.
It's also mentioned in the wiki that projectile weapons, dubbed "slugthrowers," while primitive when compared to blasters and lightsabers, have the advantage of being extremely difficult to deflect with a lightsaber, since the blade of a lightsaber is energy while the slug is a physical projectile. All the lightsaber does is melt the projectile, meaning they are not shot in the chest with a bullet, but shot in the chest with molten metal. They also have the advantage over blasters for being easier to maintain and having the ability to be silenced.
In their second movie, the judicious use of the scientific method and cassette tapes of upbeat muggle music turn the Big Bad's slimy energy source against him.
In the Underworld series, vampires and werewolves have been fighting for centuries with neither side being able to achieve victory. In Underworld Awakening, humans get involved and drive both species to near extinction almost immediately.
Even before that, In Underworld: Evolution, we learn that the only reason the Lycans and Vampires have been around is because their Father and his human "cleaners" pretty much allow them to live at his whim. The Cleaners clean up after them using technology like advanced explosive grenades and guns. Once the moral leader Dad has died, it took the humans 9 days to start the systematic eradication and complete genocide of the Vampires and Lycans that we see in Underworld Awakening.
In The Mist, strange monsters from some other world are brought in after some secret military experiments in a nearby base. At the end, it is revealed that the military actually has the situation under control, leading dozens of survivors to safety and almost casually burning down the nightmarish nests with flame throwers.
Syndromes long term goal in The Incredibles is to invoke this trope, to give away his advanced technology that matches (and many ways, surpasses) the powers of the supers so superheroes aren't special anymore.
In ParaNorman, the zombies walk into town, only to be more scared of the normal people than the people are of them. They are quickly mobbed and several of them are literally pulled apart. Although, the zombies really don't want eat anyone, and this trope is very subverted when the witch comes along.
The Fair Folk are ethereal folk capable of enchanting humans and messing with their minds. Yet somehow they always seem to hide from humans. Why? Well humans have lots and lots of iron.
Zigzagged in Harry Potter, where in The Magic Versus Technology War, magic tends to nearly always win. For example, Muggle surgery was useless in Order of the Phoenix when dealing with magical injuries. However, in Goblet of Fire, Harry mentioned that Muggle surveillance equipment might be useful; Hermione tries to refute it, but only on the grounds that the amount of magic present around Hogwarts prevents anything electrical being used.
Regarding weapons, there are extremely long debates, some on this very wiki, about how far this goes. It's generally accepted*
that a Muggle with a shotgun would usually beat a wizard, but since that's a rather vague scenario you get questions like "What happens if the wizard is smart enough to turn invisible or teleport behind his back?" or "Can a wizard cast a shield charm that deflects the entire burst, not just the first bullet?"
This happens in-canon, of all places, too. These themes are usually downplayed, but still there. For example, in Goblet of Fire, an owl is sent out. At least one day later, a letter is sent by Muggle post. The letter arrives that morning, and the owl arrives well after breakfast.
Also, when Mr. Weasley is in St. Mungo's for a magical snakebite whose wounds won't close, he and a young trainee healer decide to try closing them up using stitches. It doesn't work, the implied reason being that the snake's venom dissolved through them.
Additionally, who is to say that a wizard healer even knew enough about muggle medicine to properly perform the procedure? Metal staples were another option besides stitches, but if the healer had as much understanding of muggle medicine as Mr. Weasley did about technology, the failure seems inevitable. Wizards in this 'verse seem smug on the superiority of magic, and speak of muggle tech as silly, even when they have no or very little understanding of the extreme complexity and precision involved.
Indeed, the average Wizarding population seems to be so ignorant of Muggle technology that the newspaper "The Daily Prophet" feels that it is necessary in the third book to define for its readers what firearms are (rather amusingly described as, quote, "a kind of metal wand that Muggles use to kill each other"). Keep in mind that Muggles have been using firearms as common weapons for more than six hundred years.
Taken Up To Eleven in Charles Stross's The Trade of Queens, the last book of his Merchant Princes series. A parallel world with magic has has people able to "walk between worlds". Unfortunately, all they do with this is smuggle drugs. The U.S. Government slowly figures out what's going on. Then Lawrence Livermore Labs figures out how to do "world-walking". The magic world tries stealing a tactical nuclear weapon and setting it off in Washington.. This provokes Massive Retaliation. It does not end well for the magic world.
In Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange And Mr Norrell faeries seem to suffer from creative sterility, or at the very least, extreme laziness, due to their innate magic abilities. Long after human civilization has invented wooden floors and stones castles and drink from metal cups, Faeries sit on dirt floors in holes in the ground and drink from stone cups. And that was several centuries before the book takes place, by which point humans have invented printing presses, firearms, and steam engines.
"In men reason is strong and magic is weak. With fairies it is the other way round: magic comes very naturally to them, but by human standards they are barely sane."
In The Dresden Files killing a wizard is considered a very dangerous proposition since, if they know they're going to die, they can expend their life energy to create a "death curse" that can do really horrible stuff to their killer. So Kincaid explains that, if he ever wanted to kill Harry, he'd do it from a mile away with a sniper rifle; the bullet would outrun its own sonic boom, making it impossible to hear coming, and once it plows through Harry's brains, he's not gonna have time left to cast any sort of spell. After being told this, Harry reflects on the fact that wizards are going to have to get used to modern day tech as the great equalizer. And at the end of the book "Changes," it looks as if someone has made good on the idea. It is revealed in Ghost Story that Kincaid carried this out at Harry's request so that he could try to get out of being the new Winter Knight. It doesn't work.
This is also the reason for the Extra Strength Masquerade: bringing in mortal forces is the equivalent of a nuke in the supernatural community (and not just because they havenukes). Bear in mind that this is a setting where the main character, more powerful than average but far from the most powerful magic user in the setting, can throw a werewolf through two buildings with magical brute force. Then consider that everyone from Fallen Angels to the Billy Goats Gruff use machine guns.
In Turn Coat, Morgan talks about a battle he had with a skinwalker. He couldn't match the monster with magic, so he went for the next best thing. He lured the skinwalker onto a nuclear testing site right before they detonated the bomb, and hopped into the Nevernever right before detonation. Even Harry has to admit that it was pretty damn awesome.
It is something of a recurring theme in the series that muggle abilities are just as deadly as magic, in their own way. In fact, throughout the series Harry has come within a hairsbreadth of death when dealing with ordinary humans with purely mortal weaponry. For example, in Small Favor he is ambushed and nearly killed by two of Torelli's goons, and admits that if things had played out just a little differently, the two hitmen would have killed him, Murphy, and Molly, with no magic required. And ultimately, the thing that finally kills Harry is not a wizard or supernatural monster okay, technically it was half of one or elder deity....it's a sniper shooting him as he steps out Thomas' boat. It's not that an individual human is very scary to the supernatural, but hundreds of humans, with guns and tanks and helicopters and bombs...
It's mentioned that magical creatures need to pay attention to keep their construct intact, and having their constructs get torn up is in part breaking their concentration. Enough and it forces them back into the Nevernever because they need to keep concentrating to stay in our world. Then... ectoplasm. Ew.
Harry uses this to his advantage, too. There's been more than one supernaturally inclined baddy that thought he was totally out of the fight once he'd exhausted his magic, or they'd disarmed him of his staff, only to receive a few slugs from a .44 while they're gloating.
This is one of the reasons that the Red Court did so well against the White Council in the war. Most magical creatures don't interfere with technology nearly as much as wizards, so they (and even more so, their goons) can threaten wizards much more successfully. Additionally, money and law are mentioned as facets of power, and that any self-respecting magical faction has a lot of money they can throw around.
Another factor is that killing another being magic is both difficult and leaves a magic "stench on the murderer, since magic is essentially life force and your using life to destroy it. Bullets don't come with such issues.
Part of the Heralds of Valdemar series' approach to magic and mages is that they can be taken down by physical force just as easily as any other mortals. This is a deliberate inclusion by the author, who didn't want magic to become an in-universe game breaker. It's neatly summed up in By the Sword, when a company of Private Military Contractors is brought into Valdemar - a country where magic is all but unknown - specifically to help fight the mages of an enemy nation. When worried Valdemaran citizens stop them to ask what fighting mages is like, the inevitable response is, "They die."
A major plot point in Everworld, where not only do the Coo-Hatch almost hand the Hetwan a victory over Olympus with a fairly-primitive cannon, but Senna's ultimate plan turns out to be importing an army of gun nuts into Everworld to help her overthrow the gods, who, it turns out, aren't quite as immortal as they thought.
The aforementioned white supremacist gun nuts are feared by the protagonists as one of the most dangerous forces in Everworld (a setting filled with gods, magic, aliens, and mystical creatures), even after the death of Senna, their witch leader. And rightfully so, considering just one Sennite armed with an Uzi slew a dragon with ease. The Sennites go on to kill a mythical giant and slaughter the better part of a company of elite Celtic warriors known as the Fianna. For their final trick, they manage to slay Fenrir in seconds in addition to driving off Loki and his grand army of trolls.
Not all of the examples of this trope in Everworld are combat-related, per se. The protagonists' half-joke that their modern running shoes are one of their primary advantages whenever the shit hits the fan. April saves Sir Galahad's life with relatively basic modern first aid and medical skills (painkillers, stitches, and an improvised blood transfusion), even after Merlin himself had written his wounds off as too serious to treat and was preparing to kill the knight out of mercy. Jalil offers to radically increase the productivity of the Dwarf kingdom's mining operation through modern principles of technology and engineering. The introduction of the telegraph is a massive game-changer in Everworld. There are numerous occasions where even if the protagonists can't solve the current problem through sheer power, the simple virtue of their background in the "real world" sometimes gives them the necessary knowledge to tip things in their favor.
In one science fiction story, a group of (essentially) mutants left earth because their powers were feared. Years later, when the "normals" and the mutants met again, the normals had developed technology to such a point that every person had access to more capabilities than the mutants (like Syndrome wanted to do in the Incredibles).
In the world of The Darksword Trilogy, everything is done by magic. Technology and science are considered Dark Arts due to a prophecy about someone without magic destroying the world and mutterings about technology being a bit too effective when it comes to killing things. Halfway through people in tanks show up and demonstrate that technology is indeed a superior weapon.
That has a lot to do with the magic world being founded entirely by exiles fleeing witch hunts on Earth. Most of the more competent and rational mages either died gating the "civilians" there and establishing the magic-trapping field surrounding the world which enabled them to survive without tools, or stayed behind to help guide the magicless societies towards an eventual reconciliation. The latter category included every engineer ("Death Mage") available. Initial emotional trauma led to institutionalized guilt over not releasing magic again into the greater universe once it was safe to do so (as promised), and thus to forgetting about and demonizing the nonmagical. And to being totally unprepared for encounters with it.
In Sergey Lukyanenko's Watch novels, the Others are mostly immune to human weapons by virtue of always having the ability to enter the Twilight, where no human can go. Also, all seriously wounded Others instinctively enter the Twilight to heal up. Also, The Masquerade prevents humans from knowing the truth. Several Others have been killed by Muggle means. Edgar's wife, a witch, is killed by a truck driver having a heart attack. One story involves the possibility of resurrecting an ancient dragon-mage, who, being from before The Masquerade, would go rampaging across Europe. The Others argue that, in a battle between a mad dragon and missile-armed gunships, the gunships would come out on top (Take That, Godzilla).
The only human weapon that almost no Other can escape is a nuke. A nuclear explosion will even reach into every layer of Twilight, leaving no places for Others to hide.
Also partly true with enchanted weapons that can penetrate into Twilight but are otherwise ordinary. A werewolf is gunned down by a submachinegun in the fourth novel.
Given that magic is actually made by humans and absorbed by Others, if humans expand into space, the Others will be hard-pressed to follow them until sizable colonies are created. Add to that constantly-evolving weapons (the fourth book even has remote-controlled guns that make it very difficult to spot danger due to a machine having no evil intentions), and the Others will eventually be helpless against humans.
Muggles seem to come on top even when the playing field is simply leveled. At some point in the fourth book, the villains prop up a SWAT team with charms that render them immune to magical attacks and sit back as the troops effortlessly storm a Night Watch-owned building.
In The World of Eldaterra: The Dragon Consipracy, there are two problems. One, a fantasy race similar to orcs invading earth. Solved with Brits with bolt-action rifles. Second, dragons trying take over the world. Solved by one guy with a grenade.
Discussed in Xanth. In Centaur Aisle, Dor visits Centaur Isle which is near the fringe of magic, and therefore magic is used much less. As a result, they're much more technologically and socially advanced compared to the rest of Xanth which is stuck in Medieval Stasis. This leads Dor to wonder (briefly) if that means it's better not to have magic. His conclusion: Ridiculous!
He had followed the thought to its logical conclusion and found it absurd, therefore the thought was false.
In Robert A. Heinlein's Methuselah's Children the immortal Howard Families flee Earth because the rest of the population are getting ready to imprison and torture them to learn the secret of their immortality serum — which doesn't exist; they're just naturally long-lived. Years later they return, and find that the people of Earth devoted a massive project to discovering the immortality drug . . . and succeeded.
Malazan Book of the Fallen: There are many examples throughout the series of Nigh Invulnerable ancient beings of terrifying power coming up against a Malazan soldier with a Moranth grenado - much to the former's surprise and (often short-lived) chagrin.
Monster Hunter International: Five of the seven master vampires (super-powerful vampires that are more dangerous than even normal ones) aiding Lord Machado are contemptuously dismissive of the titular team they face in spite of warnings from the other two more recent conversions to master vampire, one of them a former MHI member who's very familiar with the ability of human devices thanks to regularly using them when part of the company, and the other a Nazi soldier from WW 2. The five pay for their arrogance and ignorance with their (undead) lives.
Robert Sheckley has a story where a couple running an electrical appliance store have a few of those stolen. Turns out it was a genie from the past who got a job at the royal palace solely through having influential relatives, and, when the queen demanded spells to clean her clothes or cool her chambers, he found the spells to be too complex and could do nothing but steal some tech from our time. At first, they try to banish him (doesn't work because a genie is immune to all spells except from his own country, which they don't know). Then, they sabotage the devices and refuse to do maintenance on the ones already taken. So the genie attempts to start trading. At first, they are afraid it will cause a Temporal Paradox, but change their mind after the genie says "Don't worry, I'm from Atlantis. A couple of years and nothing will remain of it or your tech". Then they decide to trade as much as possible.
The Name of the Wind has an interesting example - many things are done better with magic, but at higher cost, great risk, hours of headaches perfecting the solution so it doesn't have side effects. In Kvothe's example, it's makes much more sense to use mortar than figure out the dozen-odd sigils needed to magically glue bricks together. Per brick.
In Belisarius Series a superbeing comes back from the near infinite future, only to find that medieval humans can do quite well once they figure out what is what.
A small example from Lordofthe Rings. Saruman, a great wizard, does not bring down the wall of Helms Deep with any spell or incantation, but two giant black powder bombs.
Live Action TV
Buffy the Vampire Slayer periodically showed that even the most Bad Ass of supernatural beasties could be taken down with real world firepower. While it's shown that guns can't kill vampires, they do "hurt like hell," and most other monsters have no such immunity, and even Buffy was once almost killed by an ordinary guy with a handgun. Since the self-imposedMasquerade kept the police or military from getting involved in the plot much, and the Main Characters could only occasionally get their hands on post-medieval weaponry, this didn't stop most fights from being superpowered slug fests. This got a little wonky in Season 4 and beyond, though, when the government did get involved, equipping a lot of Muggle soldiers with hi-tech weapons and sending them off to fight demons, but how successful this actually was tended to vary by episode. One of Joss Whedon's ideas for the season was "magic vs. science, magic kicks ass", which was proved by the Curb-Stomp Battle in the penultimate episode, but up until the Big Bad made his move, it was largely back and forth.
In "Homecoming," when various people, vampires, and demons compete to see who can kill Buffy and Faith, it's the two humans with machine guns and grenade launchers who prove the most effective and deadly (that's not to say they won, but they lasted the longest at least). To be fair, she had to trick them into shooting each other, she couldn't take them out directly.
In "Innocence," the Judge is poised to destroy the world. The Judge is an ancient demon that it had previously taken an entire army to defeat because "no weapon forged can kill him". Buffy shoots him with a rocket launcher. No more Judge. (He didn't even know what the weapon was. His minions, however, certainly did, and ran the other way - fast.
Mayor Wilkins, the Big Bad of Season 3, spent a hundred years making deals with demons in order to become the gigantic snake demon Olvikan and take over the town of Sunnydale, and possibly the world after that. Once he finally becomes a demon, he finds his vampire army being defeated by a bunch of Ordinary High School Students armed with arrows, stakes, and a couple flamethrowers, and he himself is taken down by some strategically placed dynamite.
The setting is full of monsters and vampires that were previously defeated or placed in their can by ordinary non-magical humans with medieval or older technology and numbers on their side.
Stargate SG-1 makes great use of this trope (as, to a lesser extent, do its spin-offs). The Goa'uld have starships, plasma cannons, and teleporters. The heroes have... normal, modern-day U.S. Air Force issue weapons. But the entire Goa'uld society essentially runs on Cool, but Inefficient — their high-tech staff weapons are scary and flashy, but inaccurate and have a slow fire rate; their Space Fighters are impressive, but a surface-to-air missile will bring them down as surely as a plasma blast would. This is often lampshaded in the show. In one episode O'Neill points out explicitly that Earth's comparatively low-tech weapons can be superior to the Goa'ulds' Applied Phlebotinum because the Goa'uld are obsessed with intimidating and impressing their enemies, while primitive Earth weapons are designed merely to kill. As the show goes on Earth gradually gets more and more Applied Phlebotinum of its own, but even then the protagonists remain armed with old-fashioned Tau'ri guns.
The introduction of the Replicators is probably the best example of this. The Asgard are getting their super high-tech asses kicked by robots that assimilate technology—the more advanced the better. So how do you fight them? Bring in primitive ballistic weapons.
In The Asgard's defense, they are smart enough to realize this.
To be fair to the Goa'uld, they do have a serious trump card in the form of their Ha'taks, spaceships that are impervious to nuclear weapons and capable of bombing a planet back to the Stone Age from orbit. It's not until relatively late in the series that the Earth has a defense against a direct attack like that. Much of the series is about preventing such an attack in the first place, usually using guerilla tactics and subterfuge.
Teen Wolf has werewolf hunters, who can be extremely effective and deadly in their usage of modern weapons and technology. Stiles himself has even proven this from time to time, like when he pelted Peter Hale with concentrated acid.
The Outer Limits episode Rule Of Law has a scene where the judge protagonist, armed with a handgun, confronts a lynch mob armed with laser guns. The crooks mock his inferior weapon, but are defeated with ease, owing largely to the judge's superior marksmanship and training.
In the Doctor Who (Seventh Doctor) episode "Battlefield" retired Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart kills the Destroyer Of Worlds by simply walking up and shooting it in the chest with silver bullets.
The reason The Brigadier had sliver bullets was because when the Dr had earlier warned him that the enemies he was facing were immune to bullets, the Brigadier pointed out that his troops were using armor piercing bullets, and then explained how the Unit armory was well stocked in a wide variety of bullets to deal with any of the aliens they'd faced. Then the Dr asked about silver bullets, and right after he left The Brigadier showed enough genre savvy to immediately call up the armory to send over a case of silver bullets.
Look at it this way: The Brigadier was a British soldier who had personally faced down the most evil and terrifying things in the entire universe - the stuff of nightmares - and did not blink even once. That goes way beyond Badass Normal territory. The Destroyer Of Worlds never had a chance. There's a reason why he has his own trope.
Defied in the special episode Dreamland, when the Doctor tries to warn Colonel Stark about the most likely betrayal of his Viperox allies. Stark immediatly points out how absurd it seems that a "an army a giant cockroaches" could defeat tanks and planes, but the Doctor replies by revealing the Viperox once defeated an alien species whose technology was 1000 years ahead of Earth's. When Stark later pull a Heel Face Turn, his forces indeed prove uneffective against the Viperox.
Ultraviolet works on this, because modern technology means the "Code 5"'s - vampires - have to take a lot more care these days. The hunters are armed with the likes of gas grenades loaded with the active anti-vampire ingredient of garlic, and guns with video cameras (which, like mirrors, vampires don't appear in) and carbon rounds (like tiny, very fast stakes).
Lost In Oz uses this as Caleb holds the Wicked Witch at gunpoint. While she claims it can't kill her, it apparently can, as a new host for the Witch's soul is chosen soon after.
A part of Klingon beliefs is that they used to have gods, till some great Klingon warriors came and slaughtered them.
In the world of Warhammer 40000, almost every army relies on technology so advanced it might as well be magic, or actual magic. The Imperial Guard, on the other hand, somehow (barely) hold back an implacable hive mind, undead killing machines, barbarous green savages, and magic-using traitors with just laser guns, tanks, and artillery. And infantry. Lots and lots of infantry.
Da Orks strangely are both Muggles do it better AND Wizards do it better. They still use bullets, guns, tanks, and giant battle axes as their primary weapons, with it being little more advanced than what we have now. However, they are still can kill just as good as any other race, and it is agreed that if the Orks were ever united, they would be able to walk over the rest of the galaxy. However, their technology runs on their collective psychic powers MAKING it work by thinking it will.
In Changeling The Lost part of the angst for the Wizened is that, yes, they have magic and it does spiffy things; the problem is that it's just not sustainable.
Is Mage The Ascension, this problem was deliberately caused and created by the Technocracy.
Werewolf The Apocalypse points out this trope in Hammer and Klaive, the splatbook detailing fetishes (magic items). Fetishes used by the more rural tribes tend to be flashy, ostentatious and straight-forward. The urban tribes, on the other hand, tend to go "Ok, we can find a wooden stick, inscribe it with a few glyphs and anoint it with sacred oils, bargain with a spirit of lightning and thus get something to point at people to kill them — or we could go to the local gunshop to get the same thing for a couple bucks." As a result, the more modern werewolves engage in lateral thinking and use fetishes for purposes that can't be achieved technologically.
In the Gehenna scenarios that involve the Masquerade being blown wide open, it's not uncommon for single squads of human soldiers armed with automatic weapons to take out thousands-year-old elder vampires whose cultural stagnation has kept them from adapting to the times. To wit; they're not so stupid or Luddite that they don't know what a gun is, it's just that guns didn't exist in a time when they were still young and didn't spend as much time as possible ignoring the world, so they have no idea how to practically handle such a threat in person. Escalation happens when the smarter vampires start taking action; for example, a Ventrue using Dominate to force the launch of nuclear missiles.
Genius The Transgression, the New World of Darkness fan-game, subverts this trope. Sure the Inspired can make changes last forever (it's very hard though) and they've built some of the oldest still functioning machines in the world and anything muggle technology can do a Wonder can do better. Despite all this as a rule of thumb: as soon as mundane science reaches the point where it can do something only Wonders could do before, the Inspired start using the mundane solution (e. g. switching from a network of Apokalypsi-based 'communication nodes' to... just connecting to the Internet). Sure, the effects aren't as flashy, but mundane science doesn't fall apart or go berserk when not "fed" enough Mania, it can be maintained by regular people without causing Glamour Failure, it can be mass produced easily. In short, Geniuses do it better, Muggles do it reliably.
In Exalted's Autochthonia, this was made a basic point in the laws of physics of the world by Autochthon, its creator. While the Alchemical Exalted wield far more personal power than any muggle as the warrior champions of their people, Alchemicals lack Favored Abilities, which means muggles can become better at things much faster than them, and they are divinely forbidden from ever achieving a place in the gubernatorial hierarchy - not to mention only mortals can be blessed with the knowledge of how to make other Alchemicals by their patron god. This stands in stark contrast to most of the rest of the Exalted, which have an underlying theme of being better than puny little humans in every way and designed to be rulers and lords.
Though, Exalted lacks a clear division between magic and non-magic, anyway; unenlightened mortals are just so weak that they have no control over their Essence. On the other other hand, the Solar Exalted, among the most powerful of Exalts, explicitly have powers that resemble the 'mortal' way of doing things (shooting arrows that hit you anywhere in the world and leaping over mountains instead of teleporting or firing blasts of fire), and are designed to win out against more obviously magical effects.
The Dungeons & Dragons adventure "The City Beyond the Gate" by Robert M. Schroeck, in Dragon Magazine #100, where a PC party goes through a dimensional gate to modern day London, England. It's specifically stated that if the PC's decide to fight it out with the British police and/or military that they'll be slaughtered, either immediately or after their magic runs out.
Zig Zagged in the d20 Modern Urban Arcana setting. Obscuring mist? We have smoke grenades. Water breathing? We have scuba gear. Fireballs? Rocket launchers deal more damage. But at the same time, some magical effects are impossible to replicate with current mundane tech (Electro Magnetic Pulse spell, spell that turns the traffic in your favor...).
One Call Of Cthulhu adventure involved a villainous plot to psychically link a dreaming Eldritch Abomination to the collective unconscious of humanity, thus driving the world's entire population insane in its sleep. As a campaign-preserving failsafe, one of the proposed alternate endings was that, if the player characters couldn't stop the plot, it would indeed establish such a connection ... only to have the abomination itself go insane because, while its own otherworldly mind was powerful, the minds of humans were equally-strange to it, and there are just so darned many humans on Earth that its psyche would be overwhelmed by sheer numbers. Humanity on the other hand, just has nightmares.
KOTOR makes Jedi not look as invincible as they are generally believed to be. Vibroblades are infused with cortosis, special ore that can resist lightsabers, which allows non-Jedi to fight a Jedi on equal terms, and blasters can still retain effectiveness even after acquiring force powers, especially in the sequel. Basically, although the Jedi still generally have an advantage, it's not a Foregone Conclusion.
Master Vrook: "Nothing is more embarrassing for a Jedi than to be cut down by a stray blaster shot."
HK-47 has a lengthy discussion with the Exile in the second game on how best to kill Jedi (if you earn enough Influence to unlock it). He particularly notes about how Jedi don't like to fight at range but, at the same time, can deflect regular blasters. Sensory Overload is the recommended tactic, because Jedi can't deflect it or isolate themselves from it in battle.
In The Old Republic a Sith totally laughs off the Bounty Hunter character, as a force user 'cannot be defeated by some hired gun'. One short battle later and she's gasping on the floor, heavily injured. Indeed Bounty Hunters use plenty of mundane weapons that Jedi are noted as weak to, such as close range fire attacks, explosives and dart weapons.
All of the player characters which are not Force-sensitive really, in some quests you get to fight force users and win, and one of the dialogue options you get is "The Force is overrated". Since when does Stock Striking do more damage than a lightsaber strike?
An awesome example of this pops up in Final Fantasy VIII. The giant spider robot during the Dollet mission has been hounding your squad all the way down the mountain. You can't kill this thing, as it auto-repairs. All your superhuman strength, training, magic, Guardian Forces, and archaic weaponry cannot freaking stop this mechanical monster. It just keeps coming. Then, you get to the beach, where Quistis is waiting in the gun turret of your hovercraft, manning a .50 caliber machinegun, and she tears the robot apart with nothing but intense, drawn out automatic fire.
Late in the game, the party must board Lunatic Pandora, a floating obelisk with a shield around it. They get through the shield by flying their airship at it and shooting it a lot. They get through the wall by shooting more, until they've blown a hole through the side. The airship itself is one of three that were originally made for the sole purpose of dragging a sorceress into space so she couldn't harm the world any further; she was made docile enough for this to work by what amounts to cryogenic suspension.
Sadly, this trope is generally subverted in other Final Fantasy games. For example, in Final Fantasy VII the Huge Materia Bomb is not sufficiently powerful enough to destroy the meteor. It's zig-zagged in FF7 with the Weapons in plot scenes, however, where the Sister Ray does in fact have enough power to kill both Sapphire and Diamond Weapon; the former with a shot to the exposed head, the latter when upgraded with the Mako reactors in Midgar was able to punch through Diamond Weapon and lose little to no actual power from the actual shot.
The only problem is firing the Sister Ray almost destroyed Midgar in a Mako Overload, and that's just ONCE, and it can only be pointed in one direction. The Big Bad is also practically immune to the Sister Ray...and due to genetic enhancements thanks to his parents, he would of actually gotten STRONGER if hit by it. Still, they do a number on the WEAPONS regardless.
Played straight in Final Fantasy X however. The heros never would have beaten Sin without the non-magical airship and gun.
This trope generally holds true in Final Fantasy Tactics as well, thanks to the Faith mechanic. A character with low Faith can't use magic well and beneficial spells are less effective when cast on them, but by the same token they also take less damage from magical attacks. Thus, wizards tend to get cut down pretty easily by faithless characters if not backed up with conventional weaponry.
In fact, almost all of Ids games include some elements of this. Doom's demonic invasion was basically slaughtered by one man using human made fire power, shotgun, rocket launcher, chainsaw, and BFG. The Wolfenstein... remake I guess had most of the interdemensional beings able to be killed by WW 2 era machine guns.
An example due to Gameplay and Story Segregation: Biotics in Mass Effect were easier to turn into game breakers than other mechanics, and biotic characters are always both powerful and diverse enough to be a threat on the battlefield. In Mass Effect 2, biotics were nerfed and have significant trouble dealing with hardened armor, for which a Soldier with a big gun and anti-armor incendiary rounds is preferred. They're still just as practical during cutscenes, however. Pieces of deleted, and thus non-canon, materials suggest an actual in story justification was going to appear (tech progress hitting the afterburner post-battle of the citadel) to explain those changes in gameplay, but this was scrapped.
In Dreamfall, the Azadi Empire easily conquers a large chunk of Arcadia despite many magic-wielders opposing them by using Magitek and old-fashioned cold steel.
In Fable II, we discover that the Heroes' Guild was wiped out by muggles shortly after guns were invented, because good Heroes were no longer necessary and evil Heroes were no longer worth the hassle (although its stated most of the good Heroes were unarmed/didn't fight back).
EarthBound has Jeff Andonuts, an only character that uses bomb and rockets to make up for his lacking of PSI ability, and sometimes can cause more damages than his friends do.
At first glance, it might seem like Rise of Legends plays magic and technology fairly equally, but then you realize that one of the factions uses Sufficiently Advanced Technology and, in the game's plot, curbstomps the current tech and magic users.
A major theme of Arcanum Of Steamworks And Magic Obscura is that sufficient amounts of one cancel out the other. Guns jam in a wizard tower, but spells fail to work in towns with steam engines and industries. Part of why this is a big issue is because technology is much easier to use and lends well towards the kind of ubiquity you'd never see out of mages.
The best mechanic example of this is healing. Healing potions and spells require you to Clap Your Hands If You Believe - the more character is bent toward magic, the better the results. On the other hand, conventional medicine and pharmacology works for everyone - even mages - on the same, constant and efficient rate.
Nasuverse mechanics seperate "magic" which is defined as something that is "miraculous" e.g. can currently only be achived through magic (timetravel for example). And "magecraft" defined as using magic to achive something that can be achived without the use of magic. Example: Human flight was an act of magic until the airplane was invented, then it became magecraft.
For a direct example, in Fate Zero Kiritsugu largely bases his fighting around normal human weaponry. Mages are pretty much all completely scornful of technology and thus dismiss it completely. Kayneth is utterly shocked when Kiritsugu pierces through his magic barrier with a high caliber bullet and vows not to make the same mistake again. Which is actually when Kiritsugu uses magic to win, but still. Apart from this, magical familiar used for spying are pretty easy to detect and and be fooled by illusions, but you can neither find nor trick a mundane camera with magic.
A subtler example would be Kuzuki Souichirou in Fate/stay night. After becoming a Master, he simply continues with his daily routine while his Servant does the job; coupled with his lack of Magic Circuits, this allows him to pass undetected by enemy Masters and Servants alike. When it comes to fighting, he takes advantage of the surprise factor and tries to kill as swiftly as possible. Finally, he's not above retreating when things go bad.
In the original Spyro game, the last and hardest of the standard enemies you fought were not the magicians, not magical beasts, but Gnorc's wielding grenades and machineguns.
An amusing scene from Scribblenauts: Unlimited plays out like this. You are told to equip an adventuring party for battle with a dragon, including a knight, ranger, wizard, and cleric. No matter what you equip them with, they will attack the dragon in sequence, only to pull out bazzokas and blast it the dragon to pieces.
Just to give you an idea how much better the human weapons are than the demonic armies in the first battle 440,000 demons marched against a prepared group of a few (unnumbered) thousands of humans. 600 human lives were lost. Only 300 demons survived.
The 'Dragon Slayers', the bogeyman of the mutant world in the Whateley Universe, turns out to be a team of seven highly-trained U.S. Marines with complicated tactics but standard weaponry.
And in one Team Tactics training sim during winter term, Team Kimba (with uber-mage Fey, Flying Brick Lancer, and Person of Mass Destruction Tennyo) gets slaughtered by conventional forces who use sniper rifles, regular soldiers with machine guns, and some surface-to-air missiles for Tennyo.
Bowie: Because you fight fire with fire. Wizards are supernatural. What help is a Muggle going to be? Swaim: Thereís a bunch of us and we have helicarriers and assault rifles. We killed Hitler, Hussein, and Houdini. You think we canít nuke Volter-man into next week? Willers: He has limitless dark power. Swaim: That he has to aim through a wand. We can shoot people with a thousand rockets from space! ...With iPhones.
In How Harry Potter Should Have Ended, Snape kills Voldemort with a gun. Then, after his utterly muggle-like victory, he uses a magical time-turner to go back to when Voldemort was a young orphan named Tom Riddle being introduced to the existence of magic by Dumbledore, so that he can kill him way back then and none of the deaths will ever have happened in the first place.
Done quite a bit in Gargoyles. Humans have always been a risk to the gargolyes because of how vulnerable they are to being smashed during the day when they're stone. In the first episode, after being woken up from their thousand year sleep, the Manhattan clan faced off and and lost against a group of well-armed human mercenaries. A human holding Hudson at gun point notes that he doesn't know what Hudson is, but he isn't bullet proof, which Hudson agrees with.
In a later episode taking place on the island containing the offspring of the Greek Gods note that the invisibility shield won't hide them from humans much longer because of the advancement of human technology.
Another episode, taking place on the island Avalon, a wizard who now had an extreme amount of magical power and the power to travel through time, the first thing he warned his younger self was that taking over the world would not be easy because of the human technology (the wizard in the question is from the Middle ages). In fact, the reason he wants to make Avalon his launching point is that it cannot be reached by non-magical means.
Curses were written so the way to counter them would be impossible even with magic ("They shall sleep till the castle rises above the clouds" and "They shall be stone till the sky burns"). Turns out technology (and loads of cash) can do many things that were thought impossible (stuff the castle on top of a sky scraper and set the sky on fire with a gas).
In The Legend of Korra, Amon explicitly says that modern technology now allows any non-bender to go toe-to-toe with a bender, thanks to the spiffy taser gloves his men have invented. In practice, though, a bender still has the advantage at range (they haven't moved up to guns).
Subverted due to most electricity in the city being produced by fire benders working in electrical plants.
Another example is how the Bender police, Metal benders trained as elite cops, were wiped out in a Curb-Stomp Battle by non-benders piloting Giant Mechs.
However, the non-benders have been able to win most of their battles against the benders by either closing the gap or exploiting the weaknesses of elements.
The Real Ghostbusters continues the general theme of the movie, the heroes constantly using technology to fight supernatural threats - successfully - time and again.
This is played with in the episode "The Collect Call of Cathulhu" (Yes, the name is misspelled, something that the DVD collection even commented on.) Normally, muggles cannot face Cthulhu itself without being driven insane. However, the Ghostbusters were somehow able to do so. Word Of God suggested that this was because they faced horrifying monsters on a regular basis, and the beast really wasn't that much worse by comparison.
In a Robot Chicken sketch, the Planeteers become Well Intentioned Extremists, and decide that since the US government is the world's second biggest polluter, they'll perform a coup, take over, and use the might of the US military to force the world into being more environmentally friendly. When Captain Planet refuses to go along with this, they use their powers to brutally murder him. We then cut to a news report about the Planeteers ruthlessly storming the US Capitol building... until all of them were shot in the back by a single overweight security guard.
Another skit had Garagamel finding the Smurf village, not with his great magic, but with Google Maps.
In South Park's "Woodland Critter Christmas" special, the Woodland Critters have the powers of Hell at their hands, ready to bring back the Anti-Christ. How does Santa beat them? With a 12-gauge shotgun.
Here's a case of Nice Job Breaking It, Hero that almost got the heroes killed. In one episde of the Aladdin cartoon series, Aladdin and Jasmine went on a secret covert mission to infiltrate Mozenrath's castle, but did not ask for Genie's help, or even tell him about it. Genie found out what they were doing, and wondered why they would do something so dangerous on their own. (Mozenrath is definately not someone you mess with without some serious backup.) So he followed them anyway, and as it turned out, Aladdin and Jasmine had the right idea. The dark wizard had upgraded his security with Genie in mind, with an anti-magic focus, so the two realized that their best chance of success would be to not use magic - or magical beings - at all. Genie's presence quickly gave them away, and they barely escaped. The one good thing to come out it was, he learned he to start trusting them more.
There are many times throughout history of many native people who used mystics and called to their gods to try to defeat the European colonists. Firearms generally won out.
A variant happened during the Boxer Rebellion. The Chinese martial artists thought that the chi they cultivated from their training would protect them against the Western powers' firearms. It didn't.
Reportedly the Phillipine guerillas also took herbs or potions with psychotropic qualities, making them resistant to pain. They would still die, but they could take more than the usual number of bullets before going down.