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Outside-Context Villain
Who expected this?

An Outside Context Problem was the sort of thing most civilisations encountered just once, and which they tended to encounter rather in the same way a sentence encountered a full stop.

The Outside Context Villain is, quite simply, a curve ball that no one saw coming. They come from a different genre; none of the protagonists have any context to understand them.

He, she or "it" may be a mysterious foreigner from the next town over or a continent away, with skills, technology or mystic powers no one heard of, much less imagined. Or they may be a Time Traveler from the future... or the past, an invader from a parallel universe, outer space, or even stranger places. When they arrive, the heroes won't have any defenses in place capable of stopping them, no idea how to defend against their onslaught, and no clue what their end goal might be.

Finding out the answers to the above questions will be the heroes' top priority. With luck they'll find scattered legends foretelling their arrival and possibly how they were beaten last time. If not, The Professor might theorize all new means to defeat them. One popular method is to summon a hero from the same place or era to battle them, because this villain is so bad that even a random Joe from the villain's home will at least have an idea how to stop them. Of course, said villain will likely assimilate better to the environment than such Fish out of Water heroes. If the Outsider is an interloper in an existing conflict, he may become a Conflict Killer that forces an Enemy Mine situation if he turns out to be Eviler than Thou.

Or, one could try simply coughing or sneezing on the newcomer, possibly infecting him with an alien disease against which he has no antibodies and killing him instantly.

Named for the Outside Context Problem from the Iain M. Banks book Excession (as seen in the quote above). The classic example he gives is a stable, powerful, and wealthy society suddenly facing a hostile invader whose advanced technology and bizarre philosophy are completely alien to them.note 

Compare Giant Space Flea from Nowhere, but played dramatically. Compare also Diabolus Ex Nihilo, where such a villain is used to shake things up and then discarded, and The Spook, which might fit in the context but is still a surprise apparition. Contrast Generic Doomsday Villain and Normal Fish in a Tiny Pond. No real life examples, please.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Bleach: Yhwach was a bolt out of the blue for Ichigo's group and the Gotei 13. Mayuri did actually foresee Yhwach coming as a result of Uryuu Ishida's actions in the Soul Society arc, but when he tried to warn Yamamoto, Yamamoto dismissed Mayuri's concern as paranoid. Had he listened to Mayuri, the Gotei 13 would have had more than 17 months preparation time instead of being caught completely unaware and unprepared by a quincy army they didn't even know existed. It's also very heavily implied that Urahara, Isshin and Ryuuken have been fully aware of Yhwach's activities for at least nine years and possibly longer but they have kept the knowledge within their tight circle which also left both Ichigo's group and the Gotei 13 completely unaware and unprepared. However, this is implied to be because Urahara's group have their own plans rather than burying their head in the sand as Yamamoto did.
  • The Apostles from Berserk are far more powerful than normal humans, and there are several Apostles above even them. The Five Godhands and the Kushan Emperor are terrifyingly powerful. The scariest part about them is that, even in a Crapsack World like the Berserk universe, they will make things much worse if they come to power.
  • The Neuroi from Strike Witches. They came en masse, massacred humanity without a word of communication, covered the land with miasma that ate at the crust of Earth until it shattered, and pushed humanity to the point where sending teenage girls into combat with them was the only viable option remaining.
  • Wanna know who The Man Behind the Curtain is in Houshin Engi? There's several and they're all aliens.
  • In Majin Tantei Nougami Neuro, you'd expect the next major villain to be a demon, since Neuro is a demon and all. Only one other demon is ever shown in the series and Neuro easily controls him. Instead, the series goes in a completely unexpected direction by making the first truly major arc follow a super powerful AI that can turn people into criminals and slaves via brainwashing. How do they top that? Six humans who are really, really evil. That evil is where they get their superpowers, in fact. A series about a demon detective never once goes the supernatural route.
  • The D-Reaper of Digimon Tamers. The series' writer decided that the final boss would be neither Digimon nor human. The result was something that the heroes or the audience would have never expected.
  • Each new Dragon Ball villain tends to be this to a varying extent, but special mention goes to famous Evil Overlord Frieza whose power advantage over all the protagonists (and antagonists) combined was akin to helpless mortals opposing a god. Even though later villains could make mincemeat out of him, they almost always started out in a similar "tier" of power to the heroes; Frieza started out several tiers ahead.
  • In Pokémon: Diamond and Pearl Ash and his friends once encountered an actual ghost. While there are many Ghost type Pokemon, the one they faced was a human ghost that was going drag them into its realm.
    • Another episode had Ash, his friends and Team Rocket encounter an evil Malamar. While Pokemon have played antagonistic roles in the series beforehand, they were either under the control of a person or they were just acting territorial. This Malamar was planning World Domination on its own and even came up with a weapon to do just that.
  • Toriko has been a simple Good vs. Evil story of the benevolent IGO vs the monstrous Gourmet Corp, which is why, a third power, consisting of hidden agents within both groups, collaborating with wealthy folk called NEO take everyone off guard.
  • The Titans of Attack on Titan are Humanoid Abominations that legend states literally appeared out of nowhere one day, and began to devour humanity to the brink of extinction. In the centuries since, humanity has learned only a few precious bits of information about them and that merely increases the mystery around them. The massive, 50m walls that surround humanity's last stronghold protected them for a century — and then one day, a 60m Titan appeared out of thin air and kicked a hole in the wall, allowing the normal-sized Titans to enter. Attempting to learn their origins and why certain humans like Eren can transform into Titans is one of the driving goals of the series.
    • Even among the Titans, the Beast Titan is inexplicable. It's a 17 meter horror that bears a striking resemblance to Bigfoot, and displays uncanny levels of not only sentience, but intelligence and the ability to speak fluently to humans. It also commands the Titans accompanying it, and at least one of the major factions is interested in obtaining it — probably because it has some means to transform humans into Titans. It has only appeared in a single chapter thus far, but leaves carnage and mystery in its wake with the promise that this isn't the last we've seen of it.
  • Not quite a villain, but Kuya and the nation of Kunnekamun in Utawarerumono mark their entrance into the plot by walking all over the various medieval Japanese nations with their state-of-the-art Humongous Mecha.
  • In Naruto, the Fourth Ninja World War was being fought between the Shinobi Alliance on one side, and Tobi and his White Zetsu Army, Kabuto and his zombie army, and the real Uchiha Madara on the other side. About 200 chapters after the war starts, Sage of Six Paths' mother, Kaguya Ootsutsuki shows up as the real villain. This is particularly jarring since she appears with almost no foreshadowing and is revealed to be pulling the strings since the very beginning. The audience first knew of her existence barely 30 chapters ago, and no more than 5 people alive in universe at the time knew her name. To top it off, she died centuries ago and her role in the War was due to Black Zetsu using Madara to revive her. There is an in-universe justification for this: Black Zetsu (who is such a good Chessmaster that he was able to manipulate all of ninja history) erased nearly all records of her existence or the truth of her demise in order to ensure nobody could foresee her revival and/or properly oppose her.
  • Akemi Homura in Puella Magi Madoka Magica is an example as she is a time-traveling oddity of a magical girl whose existence even Kyubi cannot explain. Her powers also work much differently than the other magical girls and no one seems to be able to effectively counter them, at least until she faces the Big Bad at the end.

    Comic Books 
  • The storylines in Ramba normally dealt with mobsters, drug dealers, mercenaries, etc. In "Vendetta From Hell", Ramba fights a black magic coven that summons a demon in an attempt to kill her. This was the only appearance of the supernatural in the series.
  • Fighting (and beating) cosmic beings may now be passé in superhero comics, but in its original context the "Galactus Trilogy" from Fantastic Four fits this. The appearance of an all-powerful "villain" that was beyond good and evil, and who immediately put the protagonists in a literally helpless situation, was unprecedented in superhero stories at the time.
    The Human Torch: We're like ants... just ants... ants!!
  • In Watchmen, a giant squid monster attacks New York, and the world governments unite to fight this terrible threat. The all-too-human Big Bad created the alien-looking monster as a Batman Gambit to prevent human extinction through nuclear war.
    • Dr. Manhattan serves as a non-villainous equivalent. He's the only Super in the world (other "capes" do exist, but nearly all of them are Badass Normals who rely on gadgets, martial arts, or a combination of the two with the only one who even approaches "superhuman" levels being Ozymandias), and sports godlike powers. World politics are changed forever when he shows up. This leads to moments like him ending the Vietnam War in about a week, and the escalation of the Cold War because the Russians are scared shitless. A noted scientist makes the comment that absolute terror is, in fact, the sane response to the existence of such a being.
  • In the "burnt offering" arc of Cable & Deadpool, Cable is kicking the collective asses of Deadpool and the X-Men. The authorities call in... the Silver Surfer, whom even Cable didn't expect, resulting in an epic beatdown and eventual semi-depowering (even though Cable breaks the Surfer's board). This is notable since the Fantastic Four and X-Men characters rarely interact, so the Silver Surfer (who rarely intervenes in Earth's affairs even within Fantastic Four storylines) appearing really was a surprise.
  • Deadpool himself becomes this in Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe, as his Medium Awareness gets a boost into Dangerously Genre Savvy, letting him subject the whole of the Marvel Universe to a Just Shoot Him scenario, where Plot Armor no longer applies.
  • The Anti-Monitor in Crisis on Infinite Earths was out of context for the entire DC Multiverse. A being that could and did successfully annihilate nearly all the universes and forced the heroes to collapse the five remaining universes into one, forever transforming the DC Universe and everyone in it. His power was so overwhelming even an assemblage of the mightiest beings from all remaining worlds proved little more than a distraction. Even with its shell torn away, its power drained, and its power source dismantled, it took Superman and Superboy (along with some help from Darkseid) to finally finish it off... which in turn triggered a supernova. He was that nasty.
  • The Authority have most of their story arcs based around these.
    • In Captain Atom: Armageddon, Captain Atom is essentially an out of context hero to both the Authority and the entire Wildstorm universe.
  • Bane functions this way in Batman: Knightfall. A villian who has been cut off from the outside world for almost his entire life, his existence is at best an urban legend to most Gotham City natives. When he murders six prostitutes and carves images of bats into their flesh, the Gotham police naturally blame Batman. Even after he and his gang launch rockets at Arkham Asylum, enabling the world's most dangerous criminals to escape and wreak havoc on the city, most Gothamites are too preoccupied with trying to stop The Joker, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, and all the rest that they remain ignorant of Bane's ultimate plan for the city: to permanently cripple Batman, seize control from Gotham's mob bosses, and rule over the city as its "king."
  • Doomsday showed up out of freaking nowhere to curbstomp most of Earth's heroes before going off to accomplish what no one else dreamed was even possible: kill Superman.
  • Chaos appears randomly in the middle of Metropolis City, uses his ability to induce extreme fear in his opponents to catch the Freedom Fighters off guard completely and kills Johnny Lightfoot, becoming the only villain to successfully kill a Freedom Fighter.
    • Colonel Granite and Operation Starwatch also serve as this, being completely unknown to Mobius par the Freedom Fighters leading an Alien Invasion from Planet Earth, invading Mobius, trouncing the Freedom Fighters with superior firepower, and planning to sell off the conquered Zones to human industrial developers (and rename Mobius "Planet Percy" after his first name).
  • Fenris from Lucifer is known, vaguely, by many of the characters, but since the conflict and all of the big hitters are Judeo-Christian in origin very few of them take a minor character from a forgotten religion very seriously. Lucifer himself warns them not to underestimate the guy and still ends up getting outplayed and very nearly killed, and Fenris eventually ends up with the largest major character kill count and a very good claim at being the Big Bad.
  • One A Nightmare on Elm Street comic had Freddy deal with this, when the teenagers he's after try to destroy him by summoning an ancient Mayan monster that can dwell within dreams like he can.
    Freddy: What the fuck?
  • In any "Marvel vs. DC" crossover, the difference in power levels that are typical for the two companies' most iconic characters mean that the DC heroes usually have to be deliberately hobbled in some way to prevent the typical "misunderstandings" that occur from being a total curb-stomp leaving the Marvel heroes dead or at least hospitalized. There are a few Marvelites who could believably exchange all-out punches with Superman and survive, but Spider-Man is normally not one of them (in the crossover where they meet, it's explained away by Luthor secretly zapping Spidey with a "red sun ray" to power him up).
  • In IDW's Transformers works, neither side was expecting the forces of the Dead Universe to appear, as shown by their curb-stomping any Autobot and Decepticon they encounter in the process of gathering up Jhiaxus' stuff for their own ends.
  • Paperinik New Adventures has this happen rather often:

    Fan Works 
  • This occurs freqently in crossover works. Characters from series A have experience in dealing with the threats and factions associated with their series. They also have a view of how the world works and what is or is not possible based on their experiences and which may be an accurate view of the world in the source material for series A. Then the author introduces characters and elements from series B which has different rules or power levels. In some cases, this works both ways as not only do the A-characters not know what to make of the B-characters, but the B-characters are also surprised by aspects or abilites of the A-charactes and the world they move in.
  • Inverted in Finishing The Fight, where the capabilities of the Master Chief and UNSC technology are beyond the ability of most of Faerun to combat.
  • Played with in Dungeon Keeper Ami. Sailor Mercury is transported into the World of Dungeon Keeper and has a rather unconventional approach to being a Keeper, as well as the whole evil alignment. She's more like an Outside Context Stealth Hero.
  • Tamers Forever Series: The Triad never considered Daemon returning as part of their plan. Naturally, this proves to be a catastrophic error.
  • Secret War: you thought Taryst was the Big Bad? ehh! wrong! It's Inquisitor Edracian who's behind everything but it's a subversion as many characters excluding Attelus and a few others knew of him and his involvement already.
  • Inverted in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Smallville fic Stakes and Fenceposts, where Clark Kent is portrayed this way to the Buffy-verse villains and heroes. Both sides are completely baffled and terrified at how powerful he is, thinking he's some kind of Humanoid Abomination. Some of the fights are shown from the villains' perspective.
  • Deoxys in Latias Journey, an Eldrech Abomination of Warhammer 40,000 proportions... in what starts out as a pretty straightforward Pokémon story.
  • The Ironstorm Army is this in Yognapped. In previous years, Minecraftia's greatest battles were fought against a shadowy cult with swords and bows. When teams of masked soldiers with advanced firearms appear out of nowhere and start marching into the largest population centers, not even the heroes can prevent millions of casualties and the regression of Minecraftia to an After the End state.
  • In the The Culture/Harry Potter crossover Culture Shock, the Culture finds it hard to believe that Potterverse wizards, for all they appear primitive, can manipulate both layers of the Grid simultaneously, something only an even more advanced faction had previously demonstrated, nevermind things like the moving paintings that they can't even explain.
  • The Harry Potter fanfic "The Squad", the British Army is this to the wizarding world. The titular squad is a group of SAS Commandoes sporting state-of-the-art anti-terror training and equipment. Let's just say high-powered scoped sniper rifles, assault helicopters, and claymore mines are all great equalizer when it comes to Death Eaters and their wands.
  • The Pony POV Series has Princess Gaia. Twilight and the others are looking for the missing Fluttershy, and don't even realize that there even is a new Big Bad let alone that it's Fluttershy's Superpowered Evil Side.
    • In the Dark World, this role falls to Discord's sister Rancor, who joins the villains just as the redeemed and new Elements of Harmony begin their campaign against Discord's rule. Interestingly, she's as much this to the villains as to the heroes, as none of them (except for the Valeyard and Fluttercruel) even knew about Discord's family. She ultimately ends up being a Spanner in the Works for everyone (even The Voice) by betraying Discord at the right moment in order to steal Destruction's power for herself.
    • Queen Chrysalis in the Wedding Arc is this intentionally, having spent years enforcing The Masquerade while systematically infiltrating Equestria on every level so that her invasion would go off without a hitch. However, she then ironically becomes a victim of the inverse of this trope, as numerous ponies she didn't bother to view as a threat have Misfit Mobilization Moments and begin to throw wrenches in her plans.
  • The Master of Death: Outsiders are this by definition, but even discounting what Potter specifically can do, Potterverse spells can do things like transfiguration that the Dresdenverse has no conception of.
  • Zero vs Kira: Thanks to the Death Note, Light is this to the Britanians and Black Knights alike.
  • Death Note Equestria: Thanks to the powers of the Death Note (which even she doesn't fully understand), Twilight Sparkle as Kira becomes this to the entire Equestrian government. That said, just as L is figuring out the limits and rules of her powers, the golems suddenly show up, taking both sides by surprise.
  • In Perfection Is Overrated, the Mai-HiME cast faces SUEs armed with powers such as mind control, time manipulation and Anti-Magic. One even opens a portal to the Mai-Otome world and brings over an army of Schwarz members with Slaves.
  • Equestrylvania: The reason Dracula's forces are so effective against Equestria's military is that they come out of nowhere, and are like nothing the ponies have ever faced before.
  • The God Empress Of Ponykind: Discord, due to not acting like a normal Chaos Daemon. Not even the Chaos Gods know what he is or where he came from.
  • Superwomen of Eva: A hero version. The titular superpowered Action Girls (product of fusioning the female (main and secondary) cast of Neon Genesis Evangelion with (for the moment) DC Comics and Marvel Comics superheroes' powers) are this to both NERV and SEELE and their beloved "scenario". Much Hilarity Ensues as they try to reign in a Villainous Breakdown and race to find some way to put them out of the way (without showing their hand to the other group).
  • In Magical Pony Lyrical Twilight the Equestrians are this to the TSAB and their High Council, being naturally-occurring (as opposed to deliberately-engineered) nonhuman sapients who are not servile familiars and having abilities the Bureau has no experience with. The fact that their entire species can use magic in one way or another probably doesn't help.
  • Star Wars: Paranormalities: Let's just say this story has that title due to thriving on these. The Valkoran Empire seem pretty normal for the most part at first, initially believed to be pirates/political terrorists before being revealed to be cultists, but their leaders are something else entirely. Maesterus is a Force user who isn't actually a Sith Lord (despite dressing similarly to one) with Lovecraftian Superpowers, Juganak is strong enough to dismantle a walker with his bare hands, Neur is a brain-damaged human-Twi'lek hybrid, Machinus is a droid with the soul of a Nautolan, and Masochus is an insane ex-Sith Lord who skinned himself down to the bone. Let's not even get started on Valkor himself...
    • The Forceless Collective, an army of Eldritch Abominations from another galaxy that can possess other living creatures and it's theorized that there are other Forceless born from the Force wounds created by mass genocides. Like the Yuuzhan Vong, very few in the galaxy knew about their existence aside from the Valkoran Empire.
    • Gestroma. Why? Deranged, Forceless-possessed Imperial mutant supersoldier turned Bounty Hunter that wants to Kill All Humans.
  • Mega Man: Defender of the Human Race has the Stardroids, extremely powerful robot aliens that no one on Earth knew about before they invaded. Their mere presence en route to Earth enabled them to scan Bass's memories and even make him go haywire, when he was the most powerful robot in the series before they arrived.

    Film 
  • Apocalypto plays this twice, first with a small hunter-gatherer tribe being suddenly invaded by the comparitavely industrialized Mayans and in the end the Spanish arriving.
  • Simon Phoenix in Demolition Man, a Human Popsicle from the 20th century awoken in a future of Perfect Pacifist People; to counter this threat the unfreeze an old-school cop familar with violence. OK, Dr. Cocteau probably did expect him.
  • Conan the Barbarian (1982): the villain's advanced warriors appear out of nowhere to assault the hero's Doomed Hometown of Noble Savages (in a slight inversion from the books to say the least). It's lampshaded by the music, which goes straight from Arcadian Interlude to something like "Ride of the Valkyries" when they Jump Cut to the arrival of the Riders of Doom.
    The ashes were trampled into the earth, and the blood became as snow. Who knows what they came for... weapons of steel...? or murder? It was never known, for their leader rode to the south... No one would know that my lord's people had lived at all.
  • Common in Batman films:
    • The Joker is this in The Dark Knight. In the conflict between Batman, the cops, and organized crime, all with their own brand of rational goals, nobody was prepared to deal with a mastermind who was exclusively in it For the Evulz.
    • At the beginning of the 1989 movie Batman, the city officials are concerned with Boss Carl Grissom and want to nab Jack Napier only because he's Grissom's "number-one guy." Even after Napier has become The Joker and killed Grissom, and he and his goons have targeted them for assassination, Vinnie Ricorso and his lackeys think that Grissom is still alive and are busying themselves with taking care of his operations while (they think) he's on vacation. It takes until almost the end of the movie for the media and the police to finally confirm that Grissom is dead and that the Joker has taken control of Gotham City's underworld:
    Joker: Joker here. Now, you fellas have said some pretty mean things, some of which were true, about that thief, Carl Grissom. He's dead now, and he's left me in charge."
    • In Batman Forever, Bruce Wayne is so wrapped up in stopping Two-Face that he barely even listens to Edward Nygma (the future Riddler) when Nygma tries to tell him about his pet project. Doubly ironic, in that Wayne's ignoring him is precisely what sends Nygma over the edge into supervillainy.
    • Much like in the comics, Bane's arrival in The Dark Knight Rises is unbelievably downplayed by the police, considering him just an overblown gangster; when chasing his crew after a terroristic assault on the Gotham Stock Exchange, the police force immediately start ignoring him when Batman reappears and diverts nearly every cop in the city to the chase, letting everyone Bats hasn't taken out himself escape. Even when Jim Gordon was brought to their hideout the concept of a literally underground army is laughed at and dismissed out of hand.
  • This is how the aliens are viewed in Cowboys and Aliens. As a result, they're initially referred to as "demons", something the cowboys do have context for.
  • Battleship involves an international naval exercise being interrupted... by alien ships coming from underwater to seal an island chain in an impenetrable force field, leaving three destroyers to fight them.
  • Loki in The Avengers is, as SHIELD agent Natasha Romanova (aka Black Widow) puts it, "nothing we were trained for"- most of the eponymous superteam are used to terrorists with fancy weapons, not mad physical gods from Another Dimension. Fortunately, Loki's elder brother Thor has dealt with his crap before and joins the human heroes.
    • The Chitauri experienced this as well, since it's clear they were expecting to simply waltz in and easily conquer the human race. Instead, their invasion is repelled in only a few hours by a team comprised of two Badass Normal soldiers, an Asgardian warrior, a guy in powered armour, a super-soldier... and the Hulk. Best summed up in The Stinger;
  • Imhotep in The Mummy 1999. He was an Ancient Egyptian priest who was mummified alive and cursed. The result of this curse is that, when he comes back, he's practically invincible and no one except for the Medjay really know how to deal with him, and even the Medjay have no way to stop him on hand—their whole presence near Hamunaptra was to keep him from getting out in the first place.
  • This is the entire point of the movie Predator: five heavily-armed military men hunting down a missing cabinet member when suddenly... technologically-advanced alien hunter!
  • The Romans in Rome Sweet Rome are completely unprepared for facing the United States Marine Corps. Several Romans die in a confrontation that they thought was just a parley, because the Romans didn't heed the Marines' warning to halt, and they thought they were maintaining a safe distance because they were out of archery range.
  • The Long Good Friday is about a London gangster whose operations suddenly come under attack from an unknown party. He assumes that it's a rival mob trying to take over his territory, but eventually discovers that it's the IRA. He has no idea why they're after him, and his advisers warn that they operate in a completely different world than him.

    Literature 
  • As mentioned, the Trope Namer is from The Culture series; the Excession. And when a civilization like the Culture considers something "Outside Context", things are about to get hairy...
  • This is a major plot point in Foundation and Empire, when a man called the Mule shows up out of nowhere and starts conquering planets. Hari Seldon's predictions, which have been infallibly running the show for centuries, are suddenly no longer accurate because he could not possibly have foreseen the Mule's arrival, as the Mule is a mutant. However, Hari knew that something was bound to happen in his thousand-year plan, so he put together a secret team to make sure the unexpected could be fixed. The fact that the plan still works on time after the Mule is defeated is a tip-off to one protagonist that something is up.
    • By the end of Foundation and Earth, Golan Trevize comes to the conclusion that this trope is the main reason why he choose Gaia over the Second Foundation — Psycho-History and the Second Foundation's means of manipulation and planning are based on human behaviour (the Mule thought like a human, he just had an ability others did not), leaving them open for problems if faced with truly alien ways of thinking.
  • When you say, "Space adventure about a magical force," you (impassively or fondly) think of Star Wars. When you say, "religiously sadomasochistic alien zealots," you blank out. When you add "that are immune to The Force", you get the Yuuzhan Vong. Extremely unusual addition or not, those guys dominated a large portion of the post-Palpatine era. A subversion might come into play, since there are theories that Palpatine, having foreseen the invasion through the Force, orchestrated the Clone War and the Galactic Civil War specifically to prepare the Galaxy.
  • George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • The Seven Kingdoms are ripping themselves apart in civil war, blissfully unaware that the demonic Others are amassing their army of the undead just north of the Wall. Only the Night's Watch has taken any steps to fight them, and they are woefully outnumbered and much of the knowledge they used to have about the Others has been lost.
    • Mellissandre and her red god R'hllor. She's dismissed as a witch and a heathen, but she's got real power that quickly shifts the tides of the War of the Five Kings.
    • Aegon the Conqueror, who arrived in Westeros from distant Valyria and quickly conquered six of the seven kingdoms in a series of Curb Stomp Battles due to his use of dragons. Particularly Harrenhal, a massive impregnable fortress that was built to withstand any invasion by land, but was absolutely defenseless again dragons.
    • Although the people of Westeros hear rumors about Daenerys Targaryen, the Mother of Dragons and pretender to the Iron Throne, no one expects the return of Aegon Targaryen, son of Rhaegar, who was presumed slain during Robert's Rebellion. He suddenly lands in Westeros with an army of elite mercenaries without any warning. Even the reader doesn't know about him until midway through the fifth book.
  • In the Shadowleague books, Lord Blade is this for the people of Callisoria, and possibly even his fellow Loremasters.
  • The Vord in Codex Alera come as a nasty shock to the Alerans, who thought all they had to deal with was the Marat, the Canim, the Icemen, and each other. The only information about them the Alerans have is bits of nearly-forgotten Marat folklore from the last time they almost ate the planet.
  • The premise of the Worldwar series has World War II being thrown into confusion when the alien Race arrives with its invasion fleet, forcing former mortal enemies to fight together to save humanity. Oddly enough, this works both ways - the Race had been expecting the same knights on horseback their probes found a mere seven hundred years earlier. But not only have the natives gone on to invent tanks and airplanes, they've also devised weapons the Race never conceived of, like chemical warfare, suicide attacks, and wet-navy warships. Combined with mankind's extreme tenacity, fanaticism, and potential for cruelty, the Race consider just glassing the damn planet at least once a book.
  • The characters of World War Z repeatedly lampshade that nobody even believed in zombies, let alone knew anything about how to defeat them. note 
    • Additionally, Iran gets one in the form of Pakistan. Iran considered itself (and, early on, genuinely was) safe and secure, with abundant natural resources, highly mountainous terrain that was extremely unforgiving to zombies, and cities located far away from one another that could be easily isolated if one of them were to be overrun. Unfortunately, Iran's attempts to stop the flow of refugees from neighboring Pakistan - including blowing bridges at the border - enraged Pakistan's government and triggered a nuclear war that destroyed both countries. The man being interviewed describes how, unlike longtime rivals and nuclear powers India and Pakistan, the lack of historic enmity between Iran and Pakistan and the relative infancy of Iran's nuclear weapons program meant that the two countries had never developed the mechanisms and diplomatic channels to prevent war between them.
  • In Triplanetary, the first book of the Lensman series, the heroes have escaped from the clutches of the villainous Gray Roger, figured out his nefarious plans, have mustered the space cavalry, and at last have his evil forces on the ropes — and then out of nowhere a brand new super-advenced alien species called the Nevians barges in on the battle, easily trounces every ship with its ability to partially neutralize inertia, and kidnaps the heroes several light-years away. This signals the beginning of the Lensman Arms Race.
  • H. G. Wells The War of the Worlds. This trope works in both directions. The humans had no idea about the alien invaders and the alien invaders had no idea about human diseases.
  • The New Republic in The Eschaton Series is essentially 19th century Prussia IN SPACE, trying to pretend The Singularity never happened. It is therefore unequipped to even understand the Festival, which is the Edinburgh Arts Festival hopped up on nanotech, much less defend against it.
  • From the point of view of the bad guys (and readers), this is what happens in Weber's Out of the Dark. So you got your typical science-fiction alien invasion of Earth opposed by assorted teams of Ragtag Bunch of Misfits, but there's really no way humans can win, since genocide by biological warfare would be fairly easy for the aliens if things get too out of hand...and then freaking Dracula decides he's getting tired of all this alien shit.
  • In the Mistborn series, up until the end of the second book, everyone has been dealing with understandable threats: The Lord Ruler was a badass but defeatable foe in the first book, while the various kings struggling for power, including the army of koloss, were predictable and understandable, if dangerous and well-armed, foes. Then in comes Ruin, who is a literal god of destruction and unmaking.
  • The appropriately named Outsiders from The Dresden Files, who come from outside reality and do not play by the normal rules that govern supernatural beings. Particularly Nemesis, an entity that can infect people's minds and warp their personalities to sway them to the Outsiders' cause. It can alter the fundamental mental nature of the beings it infects, such as removing the Cannot Tell a Lie restrictions that normally bind the fae, something that everyone believes to be impossible.
  • Karl Schroeder's science fiction works, especially Lady of Mazes. A recurring theme involves small societies whose ancestors exiled themselves from an all-encompassing transhuman future full of godlike artificial intelligences that manage everything. These societies strongly restrict technology and knowledge to keep from accidentally growing the AIs all over again and try to provide meaning for their people's lives, to the point that after a few generations the people have completely forgotten any other way of life existed. And then the outside world comes for them, unable to tolerate a pocket of humanity that does not take part in their "enlightened, perfect" transhuman society.
  • In Sourcery, Coin the Sourcerer walks into Unseen University and starts altering the whole world with limitless magical power, the first sourcerer to show up in centuries. Discworld's wizards normally have to work within fairly consistent rules and limits, largely because they can only draw upon and channel natural background magic that already exists in the environment; sourcerers can generate magic -or at least draw it in from Somewhere Else where it's functionally infinite- completely at will, meaning that they can brute-force reality itself by sheer power until the only explanation for what they do is A Sourcerer Did It. This is highlighted by the fact that even Lord Vetinari is caught completely off guard and spends most of the book as a small lizard. His credentials as a schemer and anticipator have not yet been established at this point in the series, but even if they had, there's no reason he would ever have anticipated this.
  • In "The Depths of Shadows" by Jack Butler, a hardened team of heavily armed, heavily cybered up street samurai walk right out of a Willian Gibsonesque world into a Dwindling Party nightmare when they encounter an honest to God vampire.
  • In Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, Space Hotel USA is invaded by Vermicious Knids, carnivorous aliens who have decimated several planets' populations but cannot invade Earth itself (they burn up in its atmosphere). Humanity is almost completely unaware of their existence, and the crew and guests of the hotel can only run for their lives when they attack. Luckily, an exception to humanity's unawareness is up there with them — Willy Wonka, who knows all about the creatures and whose Great Glass Elevator is actually Knidproof. Although it takes some doing, he manages to rescue the remaining crew and guests, making him an Outside Context Villain to the Knids!
  • The main characters of Relativity are all superheroes. The villains are all, well, supervillains. Both sides are pretty evenly matched, all things considered. And then along comes Phanthro, who can travel through time and alter history...

    Live Action TV 
  • The Doomsday Machine, from Star Trek: The Original Series. It came from outside the Milky Way, a weapon intentionally designed to be "too dreadful to use." Not even whales can stop it. It eats planets.
  • The Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation. In their first appearance, Q uses them to give the crew of the Enterprise a lesson in just how dangerous the universe still is and how "prepared" they are.
    • The Q themselves could also fit this trope.
    • Interestingly, Species 8472 is an Outside-Context Villain for the Borg: a species from another dimension that they can neither assimilate nor destroy. It proceeds to kick their asses.
  • Angel had many examples of this trope. The first was Sahjan, whose presence was not even explained to the audience until his final episode. Then there was The Beast, the cast given only vague warnings about its arrival and were outclassed by it in every possible way. Then there was Jasmine, who had even less warning and was so beyond their experience the only way they acquired information of her at all was due to a visitor from her home dimension.
    • And then things really get bad when Illyria wakes up. Her two episode introduction is more or less devoted to a long realization that this really is a horrible Lovecraftian Physical God, not a poser, and that things like pointing guns or swinging swords at her are really quite quaint.
  • Before the above, Buffy the Vampire Slayer had Glorificus. Best exemplified by Buffy's expression when told that Glory isn't a demon, but a god.
    • Inverted by Warren Mears. Used to dealing with vampires, demons, and gods, Buffy wasn't prepared to deal with one Ax-Crazy human Mad Scientist.
    • Even before Warren Mears, there was Ted, the titular killer robot from the episode "Ted". Buffy knew how to handle vampires and demons and things that went bump in the night, but a killer robot who pretended to just be a guy? She had no idea how to deal until she figured out his secret.
    • Also The Initiative as an organization - science intruding into a fantasy world.
  • Inverted in Doctor Who. The Doctor is an Outside Context Hero. To the extent that a large group of his enemies, none known for working well with others, pool their resources and abilities to trap him in the ultimate prison, The Pandorica.
    • Doesn't mean it isn't played straight with the spontaneous appearance of Aliens and Monsters in present-day Earth and other settings, although sometimes these are worked into established reality.
    • The Doctor himself has encountered something like this in the "midnight entity," a creature so obscure and dangerous that it completely owns the doctor and he knows absolutely nothing about it. It's so bad that the Tenth Doctor was never quite the same after meeting it.
    • The Silence perhaps. The Doctor routinely sends aliens packing in what comes across as not a long time, hours or days at most. He, Rory, Amy, and River Song spent three months working to defeat the Silence, and even then they turned up in later episodes. The fact that people, The Doctor included, forget the Silence entirely as soon as they stop looking at them makes them not exactly easy to fight.
    • In the 2012 Christmas special Clara is an Outside Context Companion. She constantly surprises The Doctor who finds her extremely unique and fascinating. When he first shows her the Tardis, she throws him for a loop when she refers to it as being "smaller on the outside" which while true is a inversion of the usual human reaction to the concept.
  • Alphas villain Marcus Ayers explicitly calls himself - and all other Alphas - an "out-of-context problem" for normal humans. He then fatalistically points out that only way humans know how to deal with such a problem is to destroy it, which they try to do to him shortly afterwards.
  • Several episodes of Supernatural deal with crazy humans, leaving Dean bewildered. He even lampshades that he can understand all sorts of supernatural things like ghosts, vampires, demons, etc. It's humans he has trouble dealing with.
  • Blake's 7 very nearly had this happen in Series 2, where at one point the intention was for the arriving alien force in that series' cliffhanger to be the Daleks.
  • Short-lived series Threshold was premised on the US government turning to the plans of the one person for whom alien invasion was not an Outside Context Problem. Many of the complications with her plans come from either the aliens being more insidious than she'd anticipated, or resistance and disbelief from everyone else for whom the aliens are completely outside their context.
  • Babylon 5 has a few examples to offer:
    • from a Earther perspective, the Minbari: Earth Alliance knew of their existance and their fame and could conceive their firepower (on a similar level of that of the Centauri warships, that Earth Alliance knew of), but had no idea that Stealth in Space was even possible. The end result was an Hopeless War in which Humans were considered incredibly Badass for forcing the Minbari to actually try to annihilate them instead of just waltzing in and winning automatically, and would have ended with the complete extinction of Mankind had the Minbari not changed their mind at the last moment;
    • the Shadows. The first time we see them, one of their warships appears from literally nowhere and disintegrate a Raider ship for no apparent reason, and one of their emissaries gives the Raider's loot to Londo. It takes a while for the good guys to realize even their very existance, or how powerful they actually are;
    • the Thirdspace Aliens, who, in the distant past, nearly subjugated every single sentient in the galaxy, appear from nowhere with ships that could take on both the Vorlon and the Shadows and telepathic powers so immense that they could brainwash even the Vorlons (until then the most powerful telepaths in the series), and their scouting party is barely defeated before the gate enabling them to show up is destroyed.
  • Stargate SG-1 as well;
    • Initially, the Goa'uld themselves. The Earthers thought the one they'd killed in the movie was a Last of His Kind and that they'd eliminated any threat to Earth when they took it out. Not so much...
    • The Replicators, an extragalactic, mechanical Horde of Alien Locusts who make all kinds of trouble for SG-1 and its allies and eventually invade the Milky Way. By then SG-1 had some experience with them, but the Goa'uld still saw them as this trope.
    • Anubis, whom the System Lords thought had died eons ago after his banishment. Turns out he was Not Quite Dead. His return in Season 5 forces both the System Lords and the Earth/Tok'ra/Free Jaffa alliance to shift their priorities from each other to the new enemy.
    • The Ori in the last two seasons. For nearly a decade the heroes have been fighting the Goa'uld, whose modus operandi is to use technology to trick primitives into thinking they're gods. Now they have to fight aliens who by almost any definition are gods.
    • And, of course, Stargate Command and the Tau'ri (Earth humans) in general are this to the Goa'uld. They had a nice little system set up where they could squabble with one another, had a treaty with the Asgard to keep them off their backs, run their own little kingdoms as they wanted...and then a small group of primitives from a long-forgotten world show up and precede to kick their asses to hard that a system that has survived millennia goes down in under a decade.
  • In Lost Girl, the Garuda catches everybody by surprise because it predates the Fae. There was no myths or legends of it, so there is nothing to reference. However, a few people like Lachlan knew about it and had been preparing.
  • The last half of season 2 of Once Upon a Time is shown to be controlled, at least in part, by Peter Pan. While people on both sides of the fourth wall had probably been expecting him since Captain Hook showed up, it's doubtful they though it'd be as a villain. The first hint we see of him is his disembodied shadow coming to take lost and forgotten boys to Neverland, and even when he is finally shown in person, he's still different from anything they've experienced before. He controls Neverland completely, he can out-gambit Rumpelstiltskin, manipulate people without trying, and even those who have faced him before are unsure how to defeat him, or even if he can be.
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. shows that S.H.I.E.L.D. has a name for Outside Context Problems: 0-8-4, code for an object of unknown origin and utility. Thor's hammer was one, and a laser weapon found in some ancient ruins was another. Obviously, eventually sometimes context is provided; they still don't know much about Mjolnir, but they know where it came from and who it belongs to. Likewise, the laser weapon turned out to be a device commissioned from HYDRA during WWII.

    Music Videos 
  • The music video of Skrillex's "First of the Year" has a child kidnapper very surprised when his victim summons a demon to kill him.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • The Flood, really. A collection of Rudos from across time and space, including Kaiju Big Battel, is out there enough already but they were lead by Jimmy Jacobs, who has never been of any real significance in Chikara and was seemingly tied down in a war against Ring of Honor at the time? As it turns out, he wasn't the leader, for those very reasons.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Exalted has quite a few of these. In the past five years, Abyssal and Infernal Exalted — types of Exalted no one's seen in all of history — have started crawling out of the woodwork after their respective bosses got their hands on half of all the Solar Exaltations ever crafted. And for the recently-returned Solars, the eventual return of the Scarlet Empress can seem like this... especially since she's now a puppet for the Yozis.
    • The Abyssals and Infernals apply doubly so to the Sidereals, who were watching the shop while the Solars were dead and the Lunars were on the run. They have the ability to track all things which reside within Fate... which the Abyssals (who have technically died and surrendered their fates) and the Infernals (who were reforged in Malfeas) don't count under.
    • The quintessential example might be the conquest of Thorns. An army of ghosts and undead, led by the horrifically powerful ghost Mask of Winters, supplemented by the aforementioned Abyssals (being seen for the first time) and a gigantic dying monster, leading to the city being not only taken over, but converted into a Shadowland expanding at a terrifyingly unprecedented rate.
    • The event of the Alchemical Exalted (or Autochthonians in general) entering Creation would play out like this in scenarios with a military context. The reverse holds true as well; the Autochthonians have very little idea what Creation is actually like and it disturbs them fairly badly.
  • The history of the Iron Kingdoms is this: people puttering around with warriors, wizards and the like getting steamrolled by The Empire with seriously high sorcery Power Levels from across the western ocean. It took the creation of "scientific" items such as Gunpowder, Steam engines and War Machines four hundred years later before The Empire finally got driven off
  • The Eldrazi in Magic: The Gathering, being Eldritch Abominations from the spaces between planes of existence which feed on said planes, and don't obey the basic rules of magic. Until their escape, the plane of Zendikar where they were imprisoned was presented as an adventure world. To quote the Rise of the Eldrazi Player's Guide, "Previous quests have been for treasure and glory. In the new Rise of the Eldrazi set ... only one goal remains: survival."
    • Also the case for New Phyrexia's attack. Even when the Mirrans knew they were at war, they expected their opponents to wage war on the people... not the ecosystem.
    • During the Conflux of Alara, all five Shards got hit with this. Each one had been without two colours of magic for so long they had forgotten those colours even existed, meaning that each one suddenly found themselves running into two mini-worlds defined by magic they had never experienced. Best exemplified by Esper, the white-blue-black Shard, which developed into a land of cyborgs who infused etherium into their bodies because only one of their three colours was even capable of artifact destruction, and then suddenly found itself running into red and green, two schools of magic that excel at blasting artifacts into shrapnel.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, this is the problem with a lot of the newer enemies. Humanity had gotten used to "ordinary" aliens like Orks or Eldar, and then here comes the swarm of extra-galactic, hyper-evolving locusts. Or ageless metal skeletons with a grudge against organic life. Or a bunch of little grey communists who went from primitives to mini mecha with railguns in just a few thousand years.
    • Standard Imperial policy is only so outrageously cruel and draconian because otherwise they would get suckerpunched by every out of context problem in the galaxy (for reference, soul-eating psychic jellyfish out of nowhere are one of the more expected, planned-for, and familiar threats). And they're still getting suckerpunched.
    • The Emperor inadvertently set one up prior to the Horus Heresy. His Imperial Truth was a rational, secular philosophy that had no room for gods or "daemons," despite the Emperor knowing damn well that the Chaos Gods were out there - he hoped to starve them of faith. So when half of the Space Marine legions fell to Chaos, not only did the loyalists have to deal with fighting soldiers just as superhuman as they were, but soldiers with access to Demonic Possession or summoned daemons.
    • The Harrowing, an event mentioned in Dark Heresy. Fluff indicates that it was an entire eldritch universe barging into the Materium and kicking the shit out of everyone so badly that all the habitable worlds in a sector or three are nothing but lifeless desert. It may well have been an even more devestating conflict than the Horus Heresy, but almost nothing remains outside of Astartes battle sagas and a few third-hand fragments in some obscure and seemingly unreliable sources. Which isn't even covering what the Imperium had to do to survive.
    • Slaanesh for most of the Eldar. Some seers tried to warn their people that their hedonism was feeding a gestating god, but few listened. Those who did hid inside the Webway or built Craftworlds to flee in, but they did not understand just what would happen when Slaanesh was "born." The god's birth tore a hole in reality, plunging the heart of the Eldar empire into the Warp and instantly consuming the souls of almost the entire species. Most of those who fled did not make it far enough to escape having their souls eaten. And while those hiding in the Webway initially seemed unaffected, they soon discovered that Slaanesh was still consuming their souls, just very slowly.
  • Baba Yaga was this to the Linnorm Kings in Pathfinder. She suddenly arrived from Earth in her Dancing Hut one winter 1400 years ago, conquered half their territory with her army of trolls and fey, established one of her daughters on the throne, and just as quickly left, leaving her army behind to protect the newly-established kingdom of Irrisen. Reign of Winter even reveals why she bothered; she sustains her immortality by consuming the Life Force of her female descendants/daughters. Irrisen, then, ensures she always has a steady supply of that precious bloodline protected and kept ready for her when she needs a pick-me-up.

    Video Games 
  • In the Shin Megami Tensei franchise, the Big Bad of any game belonging to it is either a Human, a Demon, or an Angel. Devil Survivor 2 then introduces the Septentriones, A group of actual space aliens as the main antagonists.
  • Star Ocean: Till the End of Time has the Executioners, who roll into the galaxy and start destroying everything, apparently sent by masters from beyond our reality to destroy us all, and an order of magnitude more powerful than anything else faced up to that point in the game, with ordinary enemies rivaling bosses in difficulty - if they can be beaten at all. It is even more out of context than it appears at first glance. The characters go to a Cool Gate to travel between worlds, using the overpowered magical abilities that their parents gave them to break their way out of our world and into the world of the Executioners' masters... whereupon they end up dumped in what seems to be an amusement park and fight some guards who you handily beat, them being little better than mooks compared to the characters. They discover that the world that the game has been taking place in is a video game made by people in 4D space, and the Executioners are nothing more than NPCs sent to clean up the errors which have been accumulating in the game world by deleting everything.
  • Lavos from Chrono Trigger, an extraterrestrial, planetary parasite, making him a literal Giant Space Flea from Nowhere. Lavos's existence is known to various people at various times (the Zealots used it for an energy source, which wasn't that smart a move), but nobody knew its purpose until 1999, when it woke up.
  • The Parasite from Evolva, much the same as Lavos.
  • Final Fantasy games are fond of this, with the villain often being something utterly alien to the protagonists:
    • The Cloud of Darkness from Final Fantasy III is familiar to the World of Darkness, but wholly unknown to the World of Light.
    • The Lunarians (specifically, Zemus, Golbez, and the Lunarian Lost Technology) in Final Fantasy IV, which include the hero, on his father's side anyway. He was raised as a human, so he's just as baffled by the powers of his father's people and the artifacts they left behind. There's supposedly mostly good Lunarians, but we only see one and a Face-Heel Turn.
    • Exdeath of Final Fantasy V is known to the inhabitants of the world he comes from, but utterly unknown in the other. Fortunately, people from his world follow to help the defenseless natives of the protagonists' world fight him.
    • Jenova in Final Fantasy VII, an invading planet and life eating parasite from space.
    • The Terrans of Final Fantasy IX, which, like IV, include the hero, who, like IV, has gone native. Unlike IV, all the other aliens are of the "invade and help their planet devour the souls of those that live on ours" variety.
  • The Heartless tended to be these for the various Disney worlds in Kingdom Hearts.
  • Tatanga from Super Mario Land is a space alien that kidnaps Princess Daisy.
  • Another Mario example would be the Smithy Gang from Super Mario RPG, an enemy so outside normal context that it caused an Enemy Mine between Mario, Peach, and Bowser!
  • In Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity, the Bittercold is this for the entirety of the Pokemon franchise, being the first boss besides Dark Rust in Pokémon Rumble Blast that isn't a Pokemon or a Pokemon trainer. Instead, it's a crystalline embodiment of all of the Pokemon's negative emotions, given form because how much negativity has been going around in the Pokemon world as of late. Simply being near it causes Pokemon to suffocate, and if left unchecked, it has the potential to destroy the entire world. It takes the intervention of a similarly outside context entity (A Nature Spirit in the form of a Pokemon) to destroy it, as knowing no Pokemon can do the job, they decide to summon humans who can resist its debilitating effects.
  • Giratina's appearance in Pokemon Platinum, aside from it being the box mascot. Prior to it lunging out of Spear Pillar to attack Cyrus and drag him into the Distortion World, there is no mention of it whatsoever in the storyline, explained by Cynthia as it having been wiped from the ancient legends for fear of it returning.
  • The Zerg from Starcraft, and the Burning Legion from Warcraft, who are a Horde of Alien Locusts from another part of the galaxy and an army of omnicidal demons from another dimension, respectively.
    • The Zerg are out-of-context for the Protoss more than anything, since they were running the galaxy as part of their "Great Stewardship". They never imagined a Horde of Alien Locusts coming out of nowhere with the explicit purpose of assimilating them, and destroying their ancestral homeworld.
      • The Protoss were pretty out-of-context for the Terrrans as well, the Terrans discovered they were not alone when a massive fleet showed up out of nowhere and sterilized one of their colonies.
    • The United Earth Directorate from Brood War may actually be a better example. The Zerg are at least comprehensible to the Protoss as they are also a creation of the Xel'Naga, and part of their power comes from absorbing the knowledge of the Xel'Naga. Terrans, as far as most of the Protoss are concerned, are a bit of background noise in their fight with the Zerg. But then a fleet from Earth shows up and (for a time at least) controls the Zerg and becomes the top power...
    • The Dark Voice and his Hybrids also seems to be this in StarCraft II, especially in the Bad Future: the Zerg were the main threat that everybody recognized, and then, just as Kerrigan was killed to defeat the Zerg, the Fallen One came in, took over the Zerg, and used them to bring everlasting darkness to the Universe.
  • In Spyro Orange and Crash Purple, the protagonists suddenly find themselves the victims of a villain switcheroo, and have to take on each other's archnemeses.
    • Similarly, the Shadow Minions from Spyro: Shadow Legacy. Even Spyro couldn't damage these things until he started learning Dragon Kata.
  • In the first FreeSpace, the two known races of the galaxy, the Humans and the Vasudans, are at war. Then suddenly, weird black ships (with Deflector Shields, something neither race thought possible) show up and start killing everyone. Turns out those ships belong to the Shivans, a race of seriously deadly Horde of Alien Locusts. Even after two games, the only things known about them for certain is that they're extremely technologically advanced and they always have way more power available than you think.
  • Similarly in Crysis, the Americans and North Koreans are busily having a scrap on an island and managing to ignore various weird happenings around the mountain in the middle of it, until suddenly the aliens leap out and freeze the whole place solid.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins the Darkspawn are this to everyone except the Grey Wardens and the Dwarves. Since it's been hundreds of years since the last Blight, the people of the surface believed that the Darkspawn had been eradicated. When the Fifth Blight strikes, the people of Ferelden are left scrambling to prepare their defenses and it doesn't help that Ferelden has so few Grey Wardens to help. Things get worse after the Battle of Ostagar — everyone is too preoccupied with serious internal problems including a civil war and underestimate the true threat level of the Blight. Nobody in Ferelden is really prepared to fight monsters that a) vastly outnumber them b) carry a lethal and corrupting magical plague and c) are controlled by an insane dragon god that is unkillable unless a Grey Warden strikes the final blow.
    • In Dragon Age II, Cassandra and the Seekers are desperately trying to figure out who out of all the key players in Kirkwall, was the Big Bad responsible for the outbreak of the Mage/Templar War. Varric tells her that none of them are responsible, but the Red Lyrium Idol recovered from the Primeval Thaig certainly was a key factor in what happened.
  • Few of the factions in Galactic Civilizations II even knew the Dread Lords ever existed, and no-one expected they would ever return.
  • Super Robot Wars Z has The Edel Bernal, who, unlike other SRW Original Generation Final Bosses, is a godlike being who is not seeking power or self-aggrandizement. He just started all the chaos in the game For the Evulz, and as the good guys chew him out during the final battle they actually freak out somewhat when they come to the realization that he just doesn't care, and it become dramatically clear that they are fighting a lunatic with no real goal except what entertains him.
  • Nobody in Valkyrie Profile 2 Silmeria expected that Lezard Valenth was actually a time-shifted version of himself from the future. By the time anyone figured it out, he had outwitted everybody, forcing the survivors into an Enemy Mine to beat him.
  • The Reapers, like Sovereign from Mass Effect are this to the entire galaxy. They appear to wipe out all space-faring life every 50,000 years, and spend the intervening time asleep in dark space. Driven home in the Mass Effect 3 announcement trailer where it's made clear, given that the higher-ups constantly tried to silence his/her warnings about them, that no one besides Shepard knows what they are.
    • What makes the Reapers so devastating is that the scale and capabilities of the Reapers sits outside of the context of the Citadel's military doctrine. The three primary Citadel species have geared their militaries to cooperate and specialize, with each species supporting one another: the turians serve as the primary heavy combat element, supplying most of the ground troops, armored vehicles, and spacecraft. The asari provide elite biotic special forces and economic and diplomatic clout, at the expense of heavy combat units. The salarians provide advanced technology, intelligence, and covert operations units at the expense of heavy combat elements as well. This works just fine for the enemies that the Citadel is accustomed to fighting. But when the Reapers show up, they're so fast, they have such huge numbers, they have nonexistent logistics requirements, they have technology that at times breaks the laws of physics, and they have firepower and armor more powerful than anything the other races can even hope to achieve, which means they can attack anywhere at their leisure. As a result, the asari military gets smashed and the salarians only survive the majority of the war because the Reapers haven't bothered with them because their intelligence apparatus (geared to fight more conventional enemies) is a nonthreat.
    • In the Leviathan DLC for the third game, Shepard hunts for a mysterious Reaper-killer codenamed Leviathan. Instead of a rogue Reaper as the characters initially believed, the Leviathan are revealed to be giant aquatic lifeforms, with incredible mental abilities and a massive God-complex. They are also the race indirectly responsible for the creation of the Reapers, when a Rogue AI note  turned against them and created the first Reapers in their image.
  • This scenario forms the backstory of Gears of War. Sera's human population had been fighting each other for seventy-nine years and only just come to an exhausted peace when a massive, well-equipped, highly-organized army—the Locust Horde—erupted from the ground in multiple areas simultaneously and brought their civilization to its knees.
    • Even earlier, this happened to the Locust themselves, with the arrival of Lambency. It was the mutation's virulence that lead to the Locust eventually declaring their underground home a lost cause and making war with humanity because waging a genocidal war against humanity so that they could relocate to the surface was deemed easier than holding the Hollow.
  • In Command And Conquer 3 Tiberium Wars, it's business as usual with GDI and Nod killing each other, then aliens show up. The humans are so startled that they call a ceasefire and manage a (very short-lived) truce to deal with the new threat before continuing their war. The aliens are surprised because Earth was supposed to be uninhabitable by that point, so their fleet sent to harvest Tiberium is met with unexpected resistance. And deep within his command center, Kane smiles to himself.
  • The Conqueror in The Last Remnant shows up out of nowhere with an army and starts capturing Remnants until the current world order recognises him as a ruler. As it turns out, this is a Humanity on Trial thing to see how humans are using the power of the Remnants. They fail.
  • In a Bodycount trailer an African militiaman is surprised by a skyscraper rising from the ground, with a large door opening. He promptly gets one-shotted by a laser from a guy in futuristic body armour.
  • The Tuaparang in Golden Sun: Dark Dawn are explicitly noted not to be from any of Weyard's known nations or peoples. They have extremely advanced Magitek (Weyard is just now breaking out of Medieval Stasis; Tuaparang's agents show up in a giant airship), a total war culture, and Psynergy outside the four elements!
  • In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim almost everyone is blindsided by the Dragons. The only ones who have any idea where they came from are the Graybeards, and that's only because their mentor is another Dragon.
  • Guild Wars has a few examples.
    • First in Nightfall was the return of Abaddon, the fallen sixth god, and his Margonite followers. The other gods had gone to great lengths to render him an Un-Deity so much of the players' knowledge of Abaddon is learned while on the run from his various armies.
    • Second in Eye of the North was the appearance of the Destroyers. While foreshadowed in an obscure Dwarven prophecy, nobody really knew about them until they were already halfway through slaughtering the Asurans. Even by the end of the campaign and their destruction very little was actually known about the Destroyers beyond that they were an enemy.
    • Third in the sequel, Guild Wars 2, is the appearance of the Elder Dragons. While they have been present since long before man or god walked the land, they were largely dormant and only hints of their power were seen.
  • Kid Icarus: Uprising has The Aurum, a group of planet-eating robot aliens that only Pyrrhon saw coming. They leave as quickly as they appeared.
  • In Star Trek Online, the Iconians. Up until The Reveal, most of the galaxy believed they were extinct for thousands of years.
  • Chakravartin in Asura's Wrath is a classic example. Absolutely no-one in the story had any inkling what his plans were, or that he even existed, until he straight-up manifested in the world and told the main characters. As the Supreme Being, his powers are infinitely greater than anybody else's. Asura beats him anyway.
  • Tabuu from Super Smash Bros. Brawl. He comes straight out of nowhere and effortlessly beats absolutely every character. Then Dedede's badges activate...
  • In the storyline between the Half-Life games, humanity was so completely unprepared for the Combine invasion that the entire planet Earth was conquered in seven hours.
  • The Grand Menaces from Sword of the Stars almost all have capabilities beyond the reckoning of the playable factionss. The System Killer is Exactly What It Says on the Tin in a universe where the lesser factions can only glass planet surfaces. The Puppetmaster can somehow subvert enemy ships and whole planets without recourse to lesser methods like Boarding Parties and ground invasion. The Locusts are Planet Looters that replicate exponentially if left unchecked. And those are just three of goodness knows how many. All will mop the floor with an unprepared player blindly going Attack! Attack! Attack! and are hard fights even with planning and strategy.
  • Medieval II Total War has two of these in the Grand Campaign. Unless you know it's coming and spend the entire early game preparing for it, the Mongol Hordes can steamroll any faction on the eastern half of the map, and even if you've prepared it's not going to be an easy fight. Then, about the time you think you've recovered from the Black Death towards the endgame, the Timurids show up, and on top of all the Mongols' strengths they have cannon-toting elephants.
  • The 3D Sonic the Hedgehog games generally use this as their source of villainy, as usual Big Bad Dr. Eggman's role is often demoted in these titles to either trying to benefit from the fact the villain is outside the typical context of the series or only rising to the level of being an instigator of the events and then loses his grip on them after some of the plot has passed. Examples include Chaos (a water monster from ancient times Eggman has been trying to harness but only ends up aiding its vengeful rampage) and Biolizard (a last-ditch experiment by a mad scientist aboard a space colony as his final parting gift for a world he believes betrayed him).
  • The Covenant were this for the UNSC in Halo. The UNSC is busy dealing with preventing a devastating civil war with their outer colonies, when suddenly a collective of alien races shows up, burns one of their planets to glass, and declares their intent to do the same to the rest of humanity. Despite this, the UNSC (while far from being on the winning side) adapts pretty quickly and lasts far longer than expected.
    • The Flood are this as well. While fighting aliens had become regular business for the UNSC, nobody expected space-zombies with a Hive Mind to enter the fray.
  • Crusader Kings II has this, unusually for a historically-accurate game, with an expansion pack that introduces an Aztec invasion of Europe. They have different gods, powerful weapons, and spread diseases that Europeans have no resistance to, making them a serious threat completely out of left field for all the dynasties engaged in intricate political machinations.
    • The Mongols and Timurids are also present, and they will utterly WRECK the east side of the map on arrival.
  • As seen on the page image for Giant Space Flea from Nowhere, the Big Bad of Growl, a game revolving around rescuing African animals from poachers, turns out to be aliens.
  • Saints Row IV: In a series about fighting enemy gangs, the cops and other realistic foes, who seriously expected alien invasion?
  • BlazBlue is a series rife with Shinto and Norse symbolism, but the big reveal of Chronophantasma is that Izanami herself is the true Big Bad. Not a symbolically-named machine like the Susanooh unit, the actual Shinto goddess of the underworld is out to destroy everything.
  • The Video Game/Marathon mod Devil In A Blue Dress eventually reveals that the one behind the space pirates was none other than Morgaine Le Fey, straight out of arthurian legend.

    Webcomics 
  • The Old Ones in Cthulhu Slippers are this to humanity, and are so powerful they conquer earth in a night and a day. Like almost everything in the comic, it's Played for Laughs.
  • Girl Genius: Klaus Wulfenbach seemed to have inadvertantly summoned one when he stops time in Mechanicsburg to contain the Heterodyne. Something with a different perception of time noticed that something is amiss...and it is coming to investigate.

     Web Original 
  • The Endbringers in Worm, massive, unstoppable monstrosities that regularly obliterate major population centers. Their origins and motivations are completely unknown though the characters theorize that someone is creating them. The entire Hero/Villain dynamic was shaped specifically with the Endbringers in mind, being so powerful as to force cooperation and an unwritten code of conduct between the two sides.
  • the entire premise of Rplegacy's Dark Clouds Gathering fantasy crossover RPG is that a war breaks out between the Legion of Light and the Army of Shadow, which is thrown for a loop when the Phantom-lord Grogna summons his equals from other dimensions to bolster his forces, introducing people, monsters, technology, and magic that are completely unfamiliar to that world. It's then turned around on the Army of Shadow when the Legion of Light does the exact same thing to bring the heroic champions that held the villains at bay.

    Western Animation 
  • In Storm Hawks, Master Cyclonis actually manages to become this mid season 2 by traveling to the other side of the planet and bringing back some of its technology.
  • Mega Man had "Curse of the Lion Men", which had... Lion Men invading the world and turning other people into Lion Men with eye beams. Another episode also had a genie.
    • The appearance of Vile and Spark Mandrill in "Mega X", given they're from the future. Their armor is literally centuries ahead of any present day weapons, and they are able to shrug off attacks from Megaman and Dr Wily alike.
  • ThunderCats (2011) presents Mumm-Ra this way to the Cats, as he and the Lost Technology his armies use have both been reduced to superstitions and legends in the centuries since he was first defeated by their ancestors.
  • Unicron in The Transformers series. Originally he was a terrifying Galactus Expy in The Movie before he was fleshed out as a god of chaos later on. Still, no-one had any idea how to deal with him in the first place when he showed up.
    • This was lampshaded in the original movie. Kup, the eldest of the surviving Autobots had at least one story for every occasion, usually a bad one. However, upon seeing the massive Unicron, all he could mutter was "nope, never seen anything like this before."
  • If there was one villain in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic that almost no one, in and out of universe, saw coming, it was The Changelings appearing at the very end of the second season. The only pony to know of their presence was trapped underneath Canterlot, imprisoned by the Changeling Queen and it's implied that she had no idea they existed until she was imprisoned in the first place. As for out of universe? Most theories for the finale didn't factor in shapeshifting insects, and the few that did guess something involving impersonation probably didn't think of something like that. Heck, the villain even used this to their advantage and struck at the best possible moment.
    • In a meta-example, lots of fans of the show had speculated about what it would be like if one of the villains from the 80's cartoon was modernized and introduced to the new show, but nobody ever expected the writers to actually do it. So, when in the season four finale, Tirek made his return to the franchise, well, a few folks were caught off-guard.


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