- Crack Defeat. The focal characters lose to an unlikely competitor.
- Dark Horse Victory. A plot involving competing rivals in a contest, where the focus of the story is the rivals, but the winner is neither of them. Do note, however, that this trope doesn't have to signify a resolution of the conflict.
- The Meddling Kids Are Useless, where the eponymous kids do everything except resolve the plot.
- Almighty Janitor: This trope is about someone with low position in an organization exercising power or authority as if he had a higher position. Not a Plot, but a Character.
- Hero of Another Story: A Round Character who is implied to have Offscreen Heroics outside the Story where he is a Hero of Another Story. Not a Plot, but a Character.
- Badass Bystander: A Living Prop, Spear Carrier, or Bit Character who is revealed to be badass. Not a Plot, but a Character.
- Decoy Protagonist: Someone played up to be The Protagonist, who is usurped in role by the real Protagonist later in the narrative. May lose his prominent role completely and get Demoted to Extra or worse, killed. Not a Plot, but a Character.
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Anime and Manga
- Zetsuen no Tempest has The Mage of Exodus Megumu Hanemura— who didn't have any trace of involvement in the first half of the story, which was about Mahiro's quest to avenge his Dead Little Sister with his good friend Yoshino, which happens to involve Saving the World from the eponymous "Civilization Blaster" (which was revealed to literally be the source of all Conflicts in the story) as well— ending up being the one Saving the World and "getting his girl" (Who herself was never even named).
- Pokémon has done this often. The biggest offender is the two part 'Red Gyarados' arc. First Ash, Misty, and Brock end up getting captured by Team Rocket, meaning Lance had to save them. Then, Lance was the one to defeat the Team Rocket Trio and destroy the base where the evolution experiment was being conducted. Then, Lance was the one to defeat and capture the lead grunt, and finally, Lance was the one to capture the red Gyarados after Ash and his friends failed to stop it. Why were Ash and the others there again?
- Digimon Tamers has a mild example, with it being the adult scientists and government agents who come up with, build and plan how to defeat the D-Reaper, the kids simply have to bring the resulting device to the D-Reaper's core. It enters this trope by the amount of screen time and plot focus said scientists get, and the last few episodes pointing out that the kids are kinda standing around getting in the way during the periods where they're not actually fighting.
- In Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-, while both the protagonists Syaoran and Sakura does managed to escape from the tube that Fei Wang seals them in, it is Kurogane and Fai that finished the Big Bad off when he is distracted by the destruction.
- Macross Delta: You’d expect Hayate to be the one who kills Roid; instead Keith does the deed while Hayate is busy saving Mikumo from the Sigur Valens. Justified because Hayate abhors killing and Keith has a more personal reason to go after Roid.
- The Future Trunks Saga of Dragon Ball Super marks the first arc where the villain, aka Zamasu isn't defeated by the Z-Fighters. Instead he is defeated by Future Zen'O as a last ditch effort after Zamasu turns into a bodiless Eldritch Abomination that the heroes seemingly couldn't touch at all.
- In one Annual Special of The Avengers written by Kurt Busiek, both the Avengers and the Squadron Supreme are extorted into participating in a "tournament" against the villainous Champion, who wants to take on both teams to prove that he's the World's Best Warrior. The stipulation is that if they don't participate, and win, he will kill millions of innocent people. Indeed, the teams split up into various skirmish teams and try to locate Champion, who ambushes and defeats all of them one by one. Champion, a man of his word, goes back to his lair to activate his Weapon of Mass Destruction, only to find that Ant-Man, who wasn't even one of the Avengers he'd challenged (and wasn't even in the story until now), has deactivated it. Both teams then show up with the full rosters and curbstomp an angry Champion who whines to Captain America that this is very unsportsmanlike. Captain America retorts that the Avengers don't care one whit about proving who's "toughest". Their first priority was to save lives.
Film - Animated
- Robots, Rodney was played up to have the makings of a hero when he stood up against Corrupt Corporate Executive Ratchet with his Ragtag Bunch of Misfits. At the final confrontation? his Robot Buddy Wonderbot who is a robot (who up until then, was just a Plucky Comic Relief) built specifically to help in dishwashing is the one who fights the Bigger Bad, puts The Big Bad right back to his place, and kicks the Jerkass receptionist out. Justified in that Rodney was played up as a Science Hero, not an Action Hero, and in the climax, he actually played Supporting Leader and helped collectively defeat The Big Bad's minions.
- Toy Story 3 has a particularly touching one. The Hero duo Woody and Buzz, along with the rest of the toys are facing their Darkest Hour, the show has already Shoo Out the Clowns (i.e. The Little Green Men Trio, who were also The Load, and everyone had lost hope and given up and were just waiting for their death from the Incinerator Pit they got themselves trapped into. Cue a literal Deus ex Machina from out of nowhere (it was never in the shots!) in the form of THE CLAW, controlled by none other than The Little Green Men trio, whom Mr Potatohead "rescued" (and ignored for repeatedly saying "You have saved our lives, we are eternally grateful!") back in Toy Story 2. Which prompts him to echo their words to them after their rescue. As for the relevance of The Claw; The LGM were toys obtainable only through a Claw Crane Game in Pizza Planet. They consider The Claw there as sort of savior that will "take the chosen to a better place". Making The Claw scene in Toy Story a Foreshadowing.
- Also, at the end, Lotso doesn't get his comeuppance at the hands of the heroes. Instead, he's found by a garbage man who decides to tie him at the radiator of his truck as some kind of decoration. Thus giving him his And I Must Scream fate.
Film - Live Action
- In Goldfinger, the role of James Bond in the plot is actually rather limited. He spends most of his time tailing Goldfinger and hanging out in his base as a prisoner, always trying to get intel outside, but failing. Sure, he does manage to kill both Goldfinger and Oddjob, but that doesn't affect the plot very much, and the bulk of the work ends up being done by the US Army and the CIA. They even disarm the nuke for Bond. The only vital thing Bond does manage to do is, ironically enough, screwing Pussy Galore (who then performs a Heel–Face Turn and sabotages Goldfinger's 'grand slam').
- The Meteor Man: A guy is given superpowers by a meteor and tries to clean up his corrupt neighborhood. At the end the bad guys have him, but he makes an impassioned speech and the listening apartment dwellers fight back (one, a jazz fan, by throwing his valuable records as Frisbees).
- In Iron Man 3, Tony realizes the Big Bad is still alive but unfortunately, he doesn't have his armor. Fortunately, a newly super-powered Pepper Potts comes in to take care of business.
- In, The Jackal, the terrorist released from prison and hired to help stop the feared assassin (who he worked with in the past) from killing a politician, doesn't kill him in the end, as the Jackal gets the best of him. Instead, he is killed by the terrorist past love interest. Becomes Death by Irony, because the Jackal kept taunting him about how he can't protect his women. But clearly, his women can protect him.
- In Starship Troopers, Rico seems set to lead the team that captures the Brain Bug. After being diverted from his primary goal to find his desperately endangered ex-girlfriend, however, he has to abandon this objective. He finds the bug anyway, but is unable to capture it because of the hordes of warrior-caste arachnids surrounding it. After escaping, he and the others who survive from his group find that the Brain Bug was eventually captured by a minor character from much earlier in the series who left off being a drill sergeant to fight again, and whose character arc was never followed much beyond that.
- Extremely common in the films of Denis Villeneuve, to the point that it may as well be a Creator Thumbprint. Examples include Simon, and not Jeanne discovering Nihad's identity in Incendies, Detective Loki killing the Big Bad and rescuing the main character's daughter in Prisoners, Mary, Adam's girlfriend, accidentally getting herself and Anthony killed allowing Adam to take his identity in Enemy, and Alejandro killing Big Bad Alcon while Kate is sidelined in Sicario.
- In the John Boland novel White August, scientist Dr. Garrett has been vital in figuring out what is causing the freak England-wide snowstorm, and develops a device to track down its source. He helps track down several lesser weather control devices that are shielding the main one, but just as he locates the last one, is shot down and is rendered comatose. The United States military resolves the conflict by dropping an atomic bomb near enough to the final device to knock it out.
- In The Hobbit, Smaug isn't killed by Bilbo, or Gandalf, or any of the dwarves. It's Bard the Bowman who finishes him off- though Bilbo does manage to give some indirect assistance by finding out Smaug's weak point.
- Similarly, in The Lord of the Rings, Frodo becomes corrupted by the One Ring before he's able to destroy it, but Gollum ends up causing it to be destroyed by accident while trying to take it from him.
- In Monstrous Regiment Polly is the protagonist but it is the Duchess (channelled by Wazzer) who saves Borogravia.
- In the first trilogy of John Carter of Mars, all main antagonists are felled by someone else's hands other than the titular character.
- Sab Than is killed by Tars Tarkas during the first book's climax. This trope is actually a plot point since Than was betrothed to Carter's love interest. Martian customs decree that he cannot marry a woman if he killed her husband/betrothed, and Tars being the one to do the deed allows Carter to marry her.
- After besieging her domain and exposing the false goddess Issus, Carter simply hands her over to an angry mob to do with her as they will, resulting in her literally being torn apart.
- Played with in the third book, which has a Big Bad Triumvirate. Carter only kills one member of the group before the final confrontation, while the other two turn on each other during the climax. The last bad guy standing is then offed by the Dark Chick of all people for killing her father.
Live Action TV
- In the season 5 final of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy has defeated Glory, but Glory reverts to the form of her human host Ben, and Buffy can't kill an innocent human even if that means a powerful Demon God will be able to return to menace everybody again. Enter Giles.
Ben: She could've killed me.
Giles: No, she couldn't. Never. And sooner or later Glory will re-emerge, and... make Buffy pay for that mercy. And the world with her. Buffy even knows that ... and still she couldn't take a human life. She's a hero, you see. She's not like us.
(Giles calmly smothers Ben to death)
- Merlin (2008) has a particularly cruel version of this. Throughout the entire series, we are told that Merlin will guide Arthur into being the king of Camelot. Together they will unite Albion, legalize magic and rule through a new Golden Age. However, Arthur dies in the Grand Finale and Merlin goes into self-imposed exile, leaving Queen Guinevere to accomplish all these goals. While the two set the framework for Albion and indeed make it possible, they aren't the ones to achieve that Happy Ending.
- Season Five has Jack attempting to prove that President Logan was the mastermind behind the conspiracy that included the death of Former President David Palmer, only Logan's wife Martha ends up being the one to trick him into confessing.
- The eighth season not only takes Jack out of action early on in the finale but builds up Chole and Core Ortiz as the ones who are going to expose the conspiracy and coverup of the current President (having fallen under Logan's sway), which includes protecting terrorists who were involved in the day's events. Only Chloe and Cole both end up getting arrested and the one to expose the crooked wrongdoings is... the President herself, who hits a major Heel Realization and out of guilt confesses everything that's happened.
- Supergirl's first crossover with The Flash has the two heroes go up against a Villain Team-Up of Livewire and Silver Banshee. However, the villains are actually winning until some firefighters whom Kara saved in a previous episode show up and blast them with water; this causes Livewire to accidentally defeat herself and Silver Banshee with her electrical powers. This does tie into Kara's arc about people learning to trust her again after the Red Kryptonite incident, but it's odd when, during the show's first superhero team-up of all times, the Muggles wind up saving the day.
- Newspaper Spider-Man's conflicts are often settled by someone else, in contrast to his hardcover comic counterpart.
- In DM of the Rings the three remaining players in the game, playing Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas, get very annoyed that for all their hard work, victory or defeat in the campaign comes down to a dice roll by the DM for whether or not Frodo, now an offscreen NPC after the hobbits' players left to play Star Wars d20, can throw the Ring into Mount Doom.
- 8-Bit Theater, being so fond of an Anti-Climax, ends with the Light Warriors not defeating Final Boss Chaos. Instead, it's White Mage and three other such healers - as payoff to a Brick Joke set up in the first pages of a comic that ran for over 1000!
- In Spongebob Squarepants, in the episode "The Great Snail Race". Squidward (who is the first one actually joining with his new arrival racing snail Snellie), Spongebob (joins after knowing about the race), and later, Patrick (joins after Spongebob); decide to join a Snail Race competition. The story focused on Gary's Training Montage From Hell and setting up Snellie as The Rival and revealing Patrick's "snail" Rocky as a... literal rock. At the climax of the story, where Gary gets a Heroic R.R.O.D. from exhaustion from his training, Snellie turns back to help him and they fall in love while Rocky wins despite there being other snail competitors. ROCK. BEATS. SNAIL. which predictably got a You Have Got to Be Kidding Me! response from the other competitors.
- Transformers Generation 1: Near the end of the 3-part "More the Meets the Eye" pilot series, Optimus Prime literally gets shot down while trying to pursue the Decepticon space cruiser. When the other Autobots regroup with him, he notices that Mirage is missing. The scene then shifts back to the Decepticons right as Mirage de-cloaks and guns down the ship's controls. Then bails as the ship plummets into the ocean, taking the Decepticons with it.
- Often used on Looney Tunes for Rule of Funny. "The Dover Boys" has a double-whammy for one. First of all the villain isn't defeated by the heroes, but by the Damsel in Distress, who beats him up even as she calls for help. By the time the Dover Boys arrive to finish the job, they only succeed in knocking each other out. Second, the Dover Boys don't get the girl in the end; instead, she goes with the old guy in the Old-Timey Bathing Suit that keeps popping in and out during the film for seemingly no reason.
- In an episode of Tiny Toon Adventures Babs & Plucky are having a contest to see who can get into the most yearbook pictures. When the yearbook is published they discover that the winner is some random character that nobody knows - who then turns out to be Buster in a Latex Perfection disguise.
- The Simpsons:
- In "The Day the Violence Died", when Bart and Lisa think of a plan to save Itchy & Scratchy Studios they rush over, only to discover that two previously unseen characters named Lester and Eliza (who look like Bart and Lisa did in the Tracy Ullman Show days) have already saved it.
- In another episode, "Poppa's Got a Brand New Badge", Homer, who has started a private security company, is being threatened by local mobster Fat Tony and his gang. As they advance menacingly someone starts shooting and the criminals run away. It tuns out it was Maggie.
- In the third season finale of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) which deal with the Turtles' Final Battle with Ch'rell, the Utrom Shredder (at least until Turtles Forever), the Turtles attempted to stop the Shredder from leaving the Earth and continue his attempt to take over the Utrom homeworld. Despite their best efforts, their final encounter with him, following him entering a new, more powerful exosuit, resulted in them being defeated by the Shredder worse than ever before. Feeling there was no alternative, the Turtles chose to blow up the Shredder's starship rather than let him spread his evil across the universe. However, it is then that the Utroms arrive, and using space-time technology, pull everyone off the ship before it's destroyed, rendering the Turtles Heroic Sacrifice unnecessary, along with everything they did since the beginning of the two part finale. Following that, the Shredder is finally brought to justice, not by the Turtles, but by the Utroms, who send him into permanent exile for his crimes. Whatever bitterness the fans had over this was apparently mirrored in Leo, who spent half the next season dealing with the failure to stop the Shredder by growing angrier and edgier than Raphael.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
- In The Cutie Map - Part 2, Starlight runs away with the Mane Six's cutie marks. Four town ponies who just got their own marks back catch up to her in time, using their special talents to travel faster than the talent-suppressed Mane Six could.
- In The Crystalling - Part 2, Shining Armor is the one to persuade the crowd to evacuate, after three of the Mane Six can't get through to them.