Never Tell Me the Odds
C-3PO: Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately three thousand, seven hundred twenty to one.
Han Solo: Never tell me the odds!
A character is told by the Smart Guy or Straw Vulcan that If His Calculations Are Correct then it's a Million-to-One Chance of them succeeding and/or surviving. Naturally, the Determinator presses on anyway. Naturally, he succeeds, proving statistical analysis to be useless.
And yes, no matter what, the moment ridiculous odds are mentioned, the probability of failure approaches zero (mostly due to the Million-to-One Chance).
The Other Wiki calls this "neglect of probability". Contrast I Like Those Odds, which have a similarly Badass sentiment.
Han Solo: Never tell me the odds!
— Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Examples:
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Anime & Manga
- Code Geass' penultimate episode has a countermeasure for the FLEIJA superweapon; however, in order to work properly the user needs to input critical information 19 seconds before the explosion, and activated, the window of opportunity is only four-hundredths of a second. Lelouch and Suzaku, working together, manage to pull it off.
- Also in Code Geass in episode 2 Cecile says to Suzaku that "It's possible, but the chances are close to zero." In one of the previous scenes he asked Cecile if his friend Lelouch can be alive. Unsurprisingly it turns out that he is alive and leads terrorist force against Britanian army.
- Inverted in an episode of Dai-Guard: the Humongous Mecha's primary weapon is damaged. When it goes back into combat with a backup, one pilot asks their chances of winning. The response: "You'll fight much better if you don't know."
- Inverted in Eyeshield 21, where not only does everyone want to know the odds, at one point Hiruma reminds the team that 99% chance of winning is still 1% chance of losing.
- Although Hiruma will take the chance of winning if it is anything more than 0% (and he rarely says the odds are 0%)
- GaoGaiGar does this several times. "With courage, 1% becomes 100%!"
- Averted in Kaiji, which is about gambling - the path to success is to find a strategy or cheat that leaves as little as possible to chance. In the first season finale, Kaiji's rigged lottery fails and he panics, taking a blind chance for the first time and missing an opening purposefully left him by the Big Bad. He suffers a humiliating defeat.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion: Misato ignores Ritsuko's estimations of the probability of success catching the tenth angel being 0.0000001% (one in a billion). Once you know more about the EVA-01, the odds may have been way higher in the first place...
- The operations against Ramiel and Sahaquiel have a higher probability of success (still only a small fraction of a percent), which makes you wonder whether Ritsuko and the Magi supercomputers are cooking up numbers out of thin air.
- In the first arc of Slayers Lina expresses a logical explanation for this trope: If you dwell on the fact that you only have a Million-to-One Chance, you'll go in expecting to fail, which guarantees that you will.
- Also happens enough times in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. When anti-spiral Nia tells Simon that the probability of success is less than one percent, Simon says that as long as it is not zero, it's as good as 100%. Lampshaded and taken Beyond the Impossible when the Dai-Gurren Dan is faced with an actual zero percent chance. As Lordgenome's head states: "This operation had a zero percent chance of succeeding, but it seems that theoretical calculations are pointless with you." Sheer awesomeness and Rule of Cool beat even impossible odds!
- In strict fairness, Lordgenome probably wasn't taking into account that King Kittan was carrying a used Giga Drill inside the Space King Kittan frame.
- Plus, in probability while an impossible event has a probability of zero, an event can have a probability of zero and not actually be impossible - it would simply have to be the one event out of an infinite number of possible outcomes, like picking out the exact number of a point randomly chosen between, say, zero and one.
- Dr. Ichigaki in YuYu Hakusho
- In the two-part episode of Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL where Yuma duels Charlie McCoy, Charlie's Number gives him unearthly luck, enabling him to roll a six on his gamble-cards every time. Astral - who seems to have incredible skills with mathematics - keeps calculating how unlikely the odds of are of so many lucky rolls, and it gets annoying until it reaches the Stop Helping Me! level.
Films
- The Empire Strikes Back is the trope namer here, although it happens elsewhere in the Star Wars works.
- Interestingly enough, the exact quote suggests a very high probability of success. 3720 chances to succeed versus one chance to fail... Oh, right.
- The Expanded Universe also defines this as a universal Corellian trait. Any Corellian character will most likely not care about the odds of success, or having been informed will take the odds as a challenge to be beaten.
- Another bit of EU fluff has Leia finding out exactly why he doesn't want people to tell him the odds. He has no idea what they mean.
- Iron Man features this exchange between Tony and his onboard AI during the final fight:
Tony: Take me to maximum altitude.JARVIS: With only 15% power, the odds of reaching that altitude are—Tony: I know the math! Do it!
- In The Lord of the Rings: The Return Of The King, when Aragorn suggests that Gondor march against Mordor as a diversion, Gimli comments, "Certainty of death, small chance of success... What are we waiting for?"
- On the other hand, Gimli is almost definitely well-aware of their history of not only surviving such odds, but winning outright, so he may just be working off a different set of statistics.
- The Expository Theme Tune of The Guns of Navarone mentions the incredible odds twice.
- I Robot has the premise of Will Smith as a robot-hating cop, due to a traffic accident in which a robot chose to save him instead of a small girl, simply because his chances of survival were better.^{note } In a flashback, Smith's character can be seen begging the NS-4 to save the girl instead of him.
Spooner: That girl was somebody's baby. 11% was more than enough. A human being would've known that.
- Before the Battle of Beruna in ''The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe'', a Narnian soldier informs Peter and his centaur general Orious that the enemy has greater numbers.
Orious: Numbers alone do not win a battle.Peter: No ... but I bet they help.
- This exchange between Spock and Kirk in Star Trek:
Spock: Jim... the statistical likelihood that our plan will succeed is less than 4.3%.
Kirk: It'll work.
Spock: In the event that I do not return, please tell Lieutenant Uhura...
Kirk: Spock. It'll work. - In Apollo 13 When President Nixon starts asking for odds on the astronauts' safe return, Gene Kranz simply says, "We're not losing those men!" Inverted, in that he already knows the odds, but refuses to give them out.
Literature
- Because Discworld runs on the Theory of Narrative Causality, it's a universal law that million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten.
- In Guards! Guards!, the characters note that saying "It's a million to one chance but it just might work" practically guarantees success. Needless to say, this leads to the comic relief team engaging in a painstaking process of rebalancing their odds of success to be EXACTLY one in a million. By the time they're done, the archer who's supposed to hit the dragon's weak point as it flies overhead has been handicapped to truly amazing levels. He then misses, naturally.
- In Equal Rites Esk tries a feat of magic which, if she'd actually studied magic, she'd know is impossible. As she hasn't and doesn't, she succeeds. (It does have consequences later, though.)
- Star Wars again: Rogue Squadron (mostly in the X-Wing novels, but also everywhere else) succeeds in so many "impossible" and "one-in-a-million" missions that their unofficial motto is, "Impossible is our stock in trade". Given that they were founded by the only two X-Wing pilots to survive the first Death Star...
- In fact, disdain for the odds practically becomes Corellia's hat: Han Solo, Wedge Antilles, and Corran Horn all explain their Never Tell Me the Odds styles with "I'm Corellian." Though Wedge, at least, does look at the odds and try to compensate for them, and Corran is annoyed that Han's managed to reinforce that hat to the point where Corellians are commonly seen as reckless gamblers.
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy parodies this with the Heart of Gold that's essentially powered by extremely slim odds of something happening.
- In Towers of Midnight Birgette tells Mat that the odds of getting back from the Tower of Ghenji are one in a thousand. Mat responds by taking out ten coins and predicting that when he throws them every single one will land heads up (1/1024 chance if you were wondering). They do, and Mat remarks that "for me, one in a thousand is good odds." Being ta'veren means that when Mat is around one in a thousand actually IS good odds.
- The Phantom Tollbooth: Milo's quest was impossible, but he did it anyway, because nobody told him it was impossible until after he was done.
- Literal variant: In Robert A. Heinlein's Tunnel in the Sky, two students discuss whether to drop a survival course before their practical wilderness exam. One (who drops it) asks if the other has seen the casualty statistics on last year's class, and the other (who takes the exam and prevails) replies that he doesn't want to see them.
Live-Action TV
- Doctor Who:
- Inverted in "The Doctor Dances", where Captain Jack actually asks for his odds of survival (and then, of course, defies them anyway). Notably, he doesn't try to fight them. Having been told he is dead, he has a drink and then gets rescued.
- From The Doctor's Wife
Idris: You were thinking you could build a working TARDIS console out of broken remnants of a hundred different models and you don't care that it's impossible.
The Doctor: It's not impossible as long as we're alive.
- Parodied in Firefly:
Inara: Any chance [Jubal Early] might survive?
Mal: Air he had left, chance'd be one in about... a very big number. - In Star Trek, Spock mentions the odds of the crew's success being very low. Naturally, Kirk presses on anyway.
- Averted in "Errand of Mercy". Spock calculates very poor odds of attacking the Klingon headquarters. They attack anyway, and fail and are surrounded—though they do make it as far as the commander's office.
- Lampshaded in the film Star Trek: Generations
Kirk: I take it the odds are against us and the situation is grim.
Picard: You could say that.
Kirk: You know, if Spock were here, he'd say that I was an irrational, illogical human being by taking on a mission like that. Sounds like fun!
- Lampshaded in Star Trek: Voyager, Seven of Nine and Tuvok are discussing the captain's latest plan, Tuvok points out it isn't the first time the captain has beaten the odds. To which Seven replies "She does seem to succeed more than random chance would allow. I'll add that to my calculations."
- In the episode "Scientific Method" where the crew discovers they have been boarded by cloaked aliens performing medical experiments. Captain Janeway, in a Crowning Moment of Awesome, has the ship fly into a binary pulsar (two stars close together) to force the aliens to evacuate before their cloaked ships are destroyed along with Voyager, despite Tuvok's warning that their odds of escaping certain death is 1 in 20.
- The finale of Tomica Hero Rescue Force has the team repeatedly told that they only have a 0.1% chance of defeating the Big Bad. This just prompts Hikaru to claim that with the power of their "Rescue Souls", they'll make it one thousand percent.
- In the Stargate SG-1 episode "Solitudes", Jack and Sam are stranded on a glacier on an unknown planet, and Sam starts calculating the odds that another team will find them before they freeze to death. Jack cuts her off before she can actually get to a number, and she sheepishly admits, "I think too much." It turns out she's right — going through all the possible gate addresses wouldn't have been helpful. Fortunately, they're actually in Antarctica...
Video Games
- Inverted in Left 4 Dead 2
Rochelle: Nick, what do you think the odds are that the swamp people are still alive?Nick: You mean, alive Infected, or alive and not zombies?Rochelle: Not zombies.Nick: 100 to 1.Rochelle: Sounds about right.
- In Space Quest VI, the shuttle's automatic co-pilot, Manuel Override, tells Roger he's "97.2 percent certain" he can get the shuttle to Delta Burksulon V after damage caused by a Negative Space Wedgie is repaired. Roger questions the odds:
Roger: Why only 97.2 percent?
Manuel: I judged 97.2 to sound more hip to our audience than would 100. You would have to mention it.
Roger: Sorry.
Manuel: Don't apologize to me. It's the players you ruined it for.- Actually, the name is Auxverride, but it's pronounced the same.
- In Derelict, during the mission "Hail Mary", Lieutenant Mackie dismisses the odds and tells everyone to just get the job done. Considering the consequence for not getting the job done is The End of the World as We Know It, this is a rather sensible reaction.
- In Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal:
Big Al: I estimate our odds at approximately 1 in 63 Million..give or take.
Ratchet: Hey, that's uhh..well you know, not so bad.
Webcomics
- Han Solo's use of the phrase is referenced in this Cinema Bums strip.
- Lampshaded in this Schlock Mercenary strip. True enough, they escape afterward, but they find an alternate — and more statistically sound — method to do so.
- Both Elan and Vaarsuvius lampshade this trope in The Order of the Stick when a tiny demon succeeds in summoning a hugely powerful ally against all probability.
- Parodied in Starslip here.
- The classic Star Wars example is mocked and inverted in this Irregular Webcomic! strip.
- This page of Spacetrawler.
- El Goonish Shive references the Star Wars example here.
- Inverted in the author's notes of this Leftover Soup comic.
- Spoofed in Vexxarr when Minionbot tells about how he's now living his dream to fight implacable enemies and beat them against impossible odds.
Minionbot: It turns out the modifier impossible was chosen more for accuracy than color.
- Forgath lifts the exact quote in this page of Goblins
Western Animation
- In Transformers Animated, Sentinel Prime orders Jazz to bring the ship to full power and take the route through an ion storm, as it is the quickest way back to Cybertron. Jazz states why both reasons are a bad idea. His response: He pulls rank on him and threatens to throw him into the brig with the Decepticons imprisoned on the ship. It doesn't end well. But for different reasons...
- In Family Guy's The Empire Strikes Back parody "Something, Something, Something Dark Side":
C-3PO/Quagmire: Sir, the odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field are 2-1!Han/Peter: Never tell me the o... well that's not bad.
- One smart astronaut in the Samurai Jack episode "Jack in Space" kept giving impossibly high odds throughout the entire episode. Jack beat his odds every time.
- This exchange from Titan Maximum:
Palmer:"Willie! What are the odds [Titan] Maximum could make it through that beam without all our genitals fusing into glass?"Willie:"Um... zero percent."Palmer:"Zero zero? Or 'I'm a wah wah sissy baby and I want my blankie and my baa-baa' zero? Which one, I'm just curious."[...]Willie:"Point zero zero three percent."Palmer:"Sweet!"
Real Life
- During the 1950s Korean war, General MacArthur gave his plan of landing 70,000 US troops far behind the North Korean lines a chance of 5000 to 1 of succeeding. It proved to be a dramatic turning point in a previously losing war.
- Admiral John Jervis at the Battle of Cape St Vincent came up with a fairly good version of this. As his captain called out the number of enemy ships and reached 27 to Jervis's 15 he responded "Enough, sir, no more of that; the die is cast, and if there are fifty sail I will go through them". There were 28 ships in all, he did go through them and he did win.
- Sun Tzu said the strength of an army is not measured in its numbers but in its unity. This has been borne out time and time again in history.