The usual example [of] an Outside Context Problem was imagining you were a tribe on a largish, fertile island; you'd tamed the land, invented the wheel or writing or whatever, the neighbours were cooperative... and you were busy raising temples to yourself and the whole situation was just running along nicely like a canoe on wet grass... when suddenly a bristling lump of iron appears sailless and trailing steam in the bay and these guys carrying long funny-looking sticks come ashore and announce you've just been discovered, you're subjects of the Emperor now, he's keen on presents called tax and these bright-eyed holy men would like a word with your priests.
The Vandenreich in Bleach. No other individuals exemplify this more than As Nodt, who brutalized Byakuya Kuchiki, Kirge Opie, who (briefly) imprisoned Ichigo, and Juhabach, who killed Yamamoto. They qualify as both this and as knights of Cerebus.
The Apostles from Berserk are far more powerful than normal humans, and even then, 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.
While he is (arguably) a regular guy, Johann Liebert in Monster is so far above everyone else in cunning and knowledge that he doesn't fit in with the rest of the decidedly normal cast. Everyone is potentially a plaything for him to manipulate with total ease and kill off when he's done with them. Just being next to him causes major psychological damage if it he doesn't cause them to kill themselves first.
Marder from Panzer World Galient, in a sense. The Panzer technology acquired by his army allowed him to take over the Volder kingdom, since Arst's culture and technology is far more primitive. Only when Jordy stumbled across the Iron Giant Galient could the world's populace stand a prayer against his forces. As it happens, Marder actually hails from the artificial planet Lanplate (which is inhabited by the descendants of former Arstians).
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.
Celestial Being from Mobile Suit Gundam 00, as seen from the perspective of the Superpowers. No one expected a force of high tech mobile suits to show up and tip the status quo. Even more unexpected is that Celestial Being's founder shows up to give a speech, after being supposedly dead for centuries.
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.
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 Shingeki No Kyojin 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 even 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 literally 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.
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.
It's arguably a Seinfeld Is Unfunny trope now that fighting (and beating the hell out of) cosmic beings is passe 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 pretty much 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 basically the only Super in the world, 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.
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.
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 literally 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.
In W.I.T.C.H. the girls faced Prof. Takeda, a Mad Scientist who plans to wipe out all magic because his daughter was put in a coma because of it.
Inverted in Paperinik New Adventures. Paperinik and his enemies usually have human-like abilities and similar technology level to what Paperinik has access too, but Xadhoom (who, thankfully, is on Paperinik's side) is literally a Physical Goddess, with enough firepower to destroy city-sized warships in one shot and devastating planets in minutes while holding back and effective invulnerability to anything.
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.
In the The Culture/Harry Potter crossover Ruskbytes 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.
Ryuugis 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.
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.
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:
[The Joker hijacks a news broadcast]
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."
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.
Arguably the case of zombies in every Zombie Apocalypse movie, as zombies are almost universally portrayed as so menacing because humanity is completely unprepared.
Dick Tracy: The Chicago police believe to the very end that Big Boy Caprice has kidnapped Tess Trueheart, even after it has become clear (to the audience) that The Blank has become the infinitely more dangerous threat to the city. (And since Breathless Mahoney is killed in the climax, she proves to be The Greatest Story Never Told.)
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.
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", watch as a fan groans*
Well, some fans. The Vong (and the whole New Jedi Order) is pretty much the definition of Base Breaker among Star Wars EU fans- some think they're great villains and did a good job of shaking the setting up, while others hate them and think they're totally out-of-place with the rest of the setting, with very few in-between.
while naming the Yuuzhan Vong. Extremely unusual addition or not, those guys dominated the scene for much of the post-Palpatine era. A subversion might come into play, sine 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.*
It's implied that he did have at least some information about them, but it's more likely that he only saw them as a potential problem to his ascent rather than the reason for it.
The same goes for Thrawn. A Chiss (blue-skinned humanoid)? As an Imperial Admiral in the xenophobic Galactic Empire? With chess-maneuvering that's soDangerously Genre Savvy that he gives Darth Revan a run for his money? Who happens to be the most respectable, even likable villain thus far in Star Wars history?
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. Of particular note is 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.
In the Worldwar series, the invasion of the alien Race upsets all the best laid plans of every side in World War II.
And oddly enough, the humans in the same series fit this trope for the Race, as well. They were expecting knights on horseback, same as they found on their last survey - they expect all species to advance at the same snail's pace as themselves - and so when they find humans in tanks and planes, they are just a bit surprised.
It's more than just that. Besides the incredible rapid technological advancement, the fact that humans had pursued weapons of war that the Race never even conceived of, like chemical warfare, suicide attacks, and wet-navy warships - coupled with their extreme tenacity, fanaticism, and potential for cruelty - made the Race consider glassing the planet at least once every book.
The Seanchan in The Wheel of Time, are an empire of conquerors from beyond the sea, founded by the son of a great king from a thousand years ago who sent an army sailing to the west. They appear for the first time in the second book of the series, but even four books later most people in the known world don't believe in them.
In the final book Shara is an even bigger example of this, surprising EVERYONE (except the readers).
The characters of World War Z repeatedly lampshade that nobody even believed in zombies, let alone knew anything about how to defeat them.
Hilariously averted in Real Life: The Military DOES plan for zombie outbreaks!
In Triplanetary, the first book of the Lensman series, our 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 our heroes several light-years away. This signals the beginning of the Lensman Arms Race.
H. G. WellsThe 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.
In The Excalibur Alternative, the heroes are a medieval troop who none of the alien races they are meant to subjugate can really touch. Of course, to the heroes themselves, the aliens that abducted them were this.
The Mesan Alignment from Honor Harrington. For all the experience the heroes have fighting their proxies, those are just that: catspaws, pawns, disposables who know not of their true masters. They have plans on plans on backup plans stretching centuries, claws sunk into places no one expects and their technology breaks the rules the rest of the galaxy has comfortably become used to.
Subverted in Harry Harrison's Invasion: Earth, when an alien craft rumbles through New York and crash-lands in Central Park. The military shows up prepared to enter the craft. When asked, the guy in charge simply states that they're following established protocol for exactly this sort of situation. It's likely this is also true in Real Life.
In Hells Gate, both the Union of Arcana and Sharona are this to one another. The Arcanans are a society based on magic, with their most advanced mechanical weapon being the crossbow, and they run into the Sharonans, who pack World War One-era firearms and artillery that utterly devastates the Arcanans, as well as Psychic Powers that give them an edge in communication and seeking out threats and deceptions. On the other hand, the Sharonans are entirely unprepared for enemies who wield magic, including concealable crystals that can spit lightning, magical computers and surveillance devices, and dragons.
The New Republic in The Eschaton Series is essentially 19th century Prussia IN SPACE, trying to pretend The Singularity never happened. It is therefore unequiped 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 being opposed by assorted teams of Ragtag Bunch of Misfits, but there's really no way humans can win, since biological warfare genocide is fairly trivial for the aliens to create if they get tired of the grinding conflict...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 we get 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. Of particular note is 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 fiunctionally 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.
Voldemort really shouldn't have been one when he eventually returned to full power, but most of the Wizarding World flat-out refused to believe he had returned until it was too late. Most were totally unprepared to face him once he and his forces stopped hiding. Only Dumbledore and his closest associates knew he would eventually come back and prepared accordingly. To be fair, Voldemort used a secret grisly bit of Dark Magic that most of the Wizarding World didn't even know exists to keep his soul from going to the afterlife, and even Voldemort was surprised he survived his rebounding curse.
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.
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 LovecraftianPhysical God, not a poser, and that things like pointing guns or swinging swords at her are really quite quaint.
And then things got sort of better when her intro ends with Illyria realizing that the passage of time has already defeated her. She ends up staying with the heroes pretty much because she has nothing better to do, with her army and her worshipers long since dead.
Inverted by Warren. Used to dealing with vampires, demons, and gods, Buffy wasn't prepared to deal with one Ax Crazy human.
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.
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.
The Doctor is this trope completely straight from the point of view of the villains.
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.
When you think about it, the humans/Earthlings/Tau'ri of Stargate were outside-context problems for the Goa'uld: what god-pretender could even conceive of a ragtag bunch of explorers from a backwater planet (Projectile weapons? Chemical rockets? Really!) first wiping out the overlord on their first trip offworld, then setting out to systematically wipe out the rest of them?
Andromeda had the Magog, who were originally Outside Context Villains, since they came from beyond known space. The Spirit of the Abyss turns out to be a whole new layer of Outside Context Villain on top of the Magog. The episode "D Minus Zero" reveals that the Highguard have a protocol to deal with Outside Context hostiles: Step One is to gather information. You need to find out who they are, what they want, and what their capabilities are. Only then can you figure out what to do.
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.
This is subverted and then inverted in Justified. Quarles is made to appear like a mysterious and dangerous Outside Context Villain but after the main characters figure out who he is, they are able to thwart him since to them he is just another "carpetbagger" like countless others who have come to Kentucky in the past. In turn Quarles starts to realize that he is completely unprepared to deal with a lawman like Raylan or a devious criminal like Boyd.
Short-lived seriesThreshold 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.
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.
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 respectivebosses 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 basically 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
Special mention should go to the Harrowing, an event mentioned in Dark Heresy. Fluff indicates that it was basically 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.
Note that the 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 (including soul-eating psychic jellyfish out of nowhere. Seriously). And they're still getting suckerpunched.
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 programs sent to clean up the errors which have been accumulating in the game world by deleting everything.
Lavos from Chrono Trigger, who also happens to be a literalGiant Space Flea from Nowhere. Notably, 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.
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, notably, 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.
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.
In Pokemon Mystery Dungeon Gates To Infinity, the Bittercold is this for the entirity of the Pokemon franchise, being the first boss besides Dark Rust in Pokemon Rumble Blast that isn't a Pokemon or a Pokemon trainer. Instead, it is the personification 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. It's a giant crystal... thing, who uses attacks never seen in the Pokemon franchise before, as well as causing Pokemon, and even humans to have a hard time breathing when near it. On top of that, its only goal is to bring about The End of the World as We Know It in order for it to be recreated into a less bitter and vile one.
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 pretty much 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 2, 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.
Generally averted in Touhou; the solution in the games is always More (Pretty) Dakka. However, it is inverted with the Lunarians in the manga Silent Sinner in Blue, in that the protagonists are the ones "invading" them. Several curb-stomp battles (and one draw) later, they are defeated by Yukari via Gambit Pileup. It's not the first time Yukari did this to the Lunarians either.
In the first FreeSpace, the two known races of the galaxy, the Humans and the Vasudans are fighting a brutal war. Then, suddenly, in the middle of a skirmish between the two, weird lethal ships that nobody ever saw before jumps in and attack both races indiscriminately. 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 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.
Few of the factions in Galactic Civilizations II even knew the Dread Lords ever existed, and no-one expected they would ever return.
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 demon from Clash At Demonhead showed up with little foreshadowing (unless you count the fact that he lives on Mount Demonhead), and mucked up things for both the hero and the bad guys. He's arguably a subversion, though- the hero kills the demon after a little sidequest, and then the plot picks up right where it left off.
The Reapers/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 pretty much 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.
The Wild Card Ending of Fallout New Vegas makes the Courier themself this. While the major powers of the region, the New California Republic, Caesar's Legion, Mr House, all were busy watching each other and were getting ready to battle for control of the Mojave Wasteland; no-one saw the simple Courier who was shot in the head and left for dead, suddenly come out of nowhere, turn the tables and create a free and independent New Vegas.
Involked by the Legion, one of the reasons why Caesar based their theme off of the Roman Empire was because, compare to all other factions they're very alien.
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 & Conquer3 it's business as usual with GDI and Nod killing each other. Then aliens show up and start killing everyone. Everyone but Kane(of course)was blindsided by this.
Later the aliens themselves start to see humanity as this since they never expected to be completely outgunned by these "inferior species", though justified as the invading alien force are little more than a scouting party with the primary task of harvesting the planet's Green Rocks once the saturation reached critical mass and its inhabitants were killed off by the crystal's lethality.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One could say that The Black Baron from MadWorld fits. Granted he appears several times in the game, but did anyone expect to face him as the final boss?
Gray Mann's Robotic Army in Team Fortress 2 managed to take everyone by surprise. What makes this notable is that Valve managed to sneak in references to this for almost 2 years before popping it on people.
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 even 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 2 in the Total War series has 2 of these in the Grand Campaign. The first is the arrival of the Mongols, an event with barely any warning which causes factions based in the Middle East/southern Russia big trouble. The second is the similarly-unanticipated arrival of the Timurids in the same region. The Timurids are particularly concerning as they have all the strengths of the Mongols, augmented by cannons...mounted on the back of war 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.
Massmouth 2 has the "Rattamahattas", an entire belligerent race which intends to conquer the hero's home planet and has no connection to the Big Bad of the game. They come out of nowhere, their attack fleet is soundly dealt with, then they are never brought up again.
Subverted in Homestuck in which any sort of villain that seems out of context has probably been foreshadowed at least once before. Namely, Her Imperious Condesce, a.k.a. Betty Crocker, who has appeared several times beforehand as John's greatest archenemy.
In a straight example, Bec Noir was this to the trolls. They had all but won their version of the game, when he came literally out of nowhere with no warning or context. In fact, it turns out that he came from the universe that they created by winning.
Even more so, Lord English, who destroys universes from the outside in.
Aku in Samurai Jack. Jack himself is the heroic equivalent of this to the people of the future.
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.
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. 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 took this to their advantage and struck at the best possible moment.