Vaarsuvius: How will I achieve complete and total ultimate arcane power?
The Oracle: By saying the right four words to the right being at the right time for all the wrong reasons.Some characters have very bad flaws. They could be perverts, cowards, bigots - but sometimes these "flaws" actually turn out to be very fortuitously beneficial. You see, since Johnny was a cowardly, bigoted pervert, he ran away in fear from the first black dude who just happened to be walking down the street while he was watching a woman take her clothes off. As a result of his haphazardness, he crashes right into a supervillainess making her devious escape from the superhero. And so, all is right with the world. This trope is when this event comes up in fiction - only there, expect our cowardly, bigoted pervert to be given a stern lecture on why those are such terrible character traits. Naturally, this turns into a pretty serious Broken Aesop when we've seen the villain in question kicking puppies - and all our heroes are naturally completely absent of such negative character traits. Where this trope works best is when the writer doesn't call attention to an Aesop, and the coincidence just becomes something "that happens".
— The Order of the Stick, "For The Future"
- In ElfQuest, Rayek is able to guard the spirits of all the elves who die in the destruction of Blue Mountain. But he wasn't at Blue Mountain to preserve the elves' heritage, he happened to be there on a booty call with the villainess.
- The Woodsman in Fables is remembered as a hero for saving Little Red Riding Hood from the Big Bad Wolf. The reason he was at Grandmother's house, however, was because he wanted to rob the place.
- Back to the Future: Marty was always told that his parents met when George was hit by a carnote and nursed back to health by Lorraine. When he time-travels back to 1955, he's distressed to discover that the reason it happened was because George climbed a tree to peep on women changing, but slipped and fell, landing in the road. Even worse, he rushed in to save George from the car, got knocked out himself, and woke up being attended to by Lorraine — and she'd apparently fallen for him, making it look like the Florence Nightingale Effect was the only reason they'd ever gotten married in the first place.
- A big one happens in Pan's Labyrinth. Mercedes makes two big mistakes. First, she tries to escape from the compound the same night that she finds Vidal has grown suspicious of her. Her attempt to flee proves to Vidal that she is, in fact, guilty of helping the rebel forces. Her second mistake is that when she escapes, she stabs Vidal in several non-critical points. As a result, instead of being killed by a subordinate, Vidal staggers out and orders them to capture her instead- guaranteeing that she's in for horrific torture. By complete random coincidence, though, the rebel forces are in the same part of the woods where she is surrounded by Vidal's soldiers. The soldiers are surprised and massacred by the rebels, the result being that the compound now has too few soldiers to adequately defend against a rebel attack. Seriously. The Chessmaster couldn't have planned a better strategic turn of events than that.
- The killer from Rear Window would have gotten away with it if it weren't for the hero's voyeurism.
- In Absolute Power, the American President having an affair with a married woman, the killing of his mistress by overzealous Secret Service agents, and the subsequent cover-up are uncovered by a burglar who was in the process of breaking into the house. He predictably ends up doing something about it. In the novel version he tries to blackmail the President which ends as badly as one would predict. The investigation is left to the real protagonist, a corporate lawyer with connections to the mistress' husband (who was deleted entirely from the movie).
- A man was engaged to be married, but his fiancee's beautiful younger sister kept flirting with him. One day he dropped by his fiancee's house to find no one was home except the sister, wearing only a slinky bathrobe. The sister said "I know you are engaged to my sister, but if you come upstairs with me, I'll give you one last fling before your big day." The man turned around and bolted out the front door for his car, only to find his family-to-be standing in the front yard. His fiancee embraced him and his future father-in-law shook his hand, welcoming him to the family, and apologized for the set-up, but they wanted to be sure his intentions were purely for the daughter who was intended for him. The moral of the story is: Always keep your condoms in the car.
- In the Discworld books, as the favoured of The Lady (luck) this is pretty much Rincewind's way of life. He's saved the Disc several times over, mostly by running for his life and stumbling into the villain's plans. You can count the amount of times he acted bravely on purpose on one hand.
- Ciaphas Cain also owes pretty much his entire career to this trope. The Emperor appears to have it in for him because almost every act of intended cowardice, self-preservation/gratification or caution on his part ends up being turned on its head and landing him smack dab in the middle of another life-threatening situation. Then again he always manages to survive it with flying colours, so the Emperor might just be doing it because he knows he can take it.
- Flashman, like his Expy Cain above, is a Dirty Coward and Glory Hound who, in his quest to stay out of danger and protect his reputation, winds up saving the British empire three or four times, largely by coincidentally fleeing in the direction of someone who can blackmail, seduce and/or threaten him into getting dangerous.
- 24, as per the parody.
- In Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, series Butt-Monkey Johnny Sasaki turns out to be immune to the nasty side effects that arise when the nanomachines are shut down by the Big Bad, and this later allows him to have a Big Damn Hero moment in rescuing Meryl, all because he never got the nanomachine injections in the first place. Meryl asks him how he knew something like Liquid's hijacking of the system would happen, and Johnny says he didn't. He was just so afraid of needles he avoided all the mandatory injections.
- Both of the non-Good-aligned party members in The Order of the Stick:
- Vaarsuvius does this a lot. First, they kill Kubota, who was unarmed and tied up, but was probably going to get away with murder and attempted assassination, simply because V (correctly) guessed that he was a minor villain, and V was tired of distractions. Later, V sells their soul to save their family from a dragon, which they did mainly because they were tired of feeling powerless and wanted ultimate arcane power (an oracle even uses the trope name when predicting this event). After gaining said power, V then teleports the entire Azure City fleet to a safe refuge because they were tired of dealing with them. Lastly, they attempt to kill Xykon, not because he's Evil, but to prove that they're the strongest magic user in the world.
- Belkar is basically a sociopath who never thinks of anyone but himself (and probably his pet cat), but usually his bloodlust is directed at Evil beings. He is always puzzled when others express gratitude for his actions and repeatedly lampshades that he can loot and murder all he wants as long as his victims are the right species.
- In a variation, Eugene Greenhilt desires the Right Thing for the Wrong Reason: he wants his son to kill the evil lich Xykon, but only so that the family blood oath can be fulfilled and he can get into the afterlife. He lords this over Roy at one point: he cannot in good conscience not do the one thing his father wants, so he has no way of bargaining with him.
- Stand Still, Stay Silent: Reynir, especially later on, helps a lot in keeping the other members of the crew from getting killed or assimilated by Invisible to Normals ghosts. However, he's technically a Little Stowaway and ended up with the crew via a complete accident that wouldn't have happened if he hadn't tried to smuggle himself to his ideal vacation spot via hiding in a food crate.
- The Simpsons
- In "Homer Badman" Homer is cleared of indecent assault by dint of Groundskeeper Willie capturing the real course of events on camera during his activities as a peeping tom. Willie is then dragged through the mud the same way Homer was.
- In "The Boy Who Knew Too Much" Bart witnesses events relevant to an assault trial only because he skips school. The episode deals with his turmoil about knowing the suspect is innocent despite overwhelming evidence, but realizing that he'll be in huge trouble if he reveals the truth.
- In one episode of South Park, Cartman decides in prejudiced irrationality that the new Arab student is a terrorist and pulls out all the stops to save Hillary Clinton, who, coincidentally, is in South Park that very same day. Even though Cartman's theory is completely unfounded, it turns out that there are terrorists plotting to kill Hillary Clinton (Russians secretly working for the British)—but the only reason we found out about them is thanks to Cartman's prejudice. This is lampshaded heavily at the end, when they deliver the story's moral about tolerance only for Cartman to point this out.
- Tressa in season 3 of Winx Club. She felt she had been a coward running away from Valtor and his minions while letting her mom Queen Ligea be captured by them. The problem here is that everyone who actually fought Valtor became one of his minions, so it was only because of her cowardice that there's anyone left to even tell the Winx about this so they could mount this rescue mission.