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Strong as They Need to Be
Vegeta: Wait a damn minute, something's wrong here.
Gohan: Huh?
Vegeta: Back on your planet, the Namekian couldn't even stand up to Nappa. Yet here he is, now, taking on Freeza. In his second form!
Gohan: What do you think happened?
Vegeta: Well, either Freeza hit me so hard I'm in a delusional coma, or...
Gohan: Or...?
Vegeta: POWER LEVELS ARE BULL$#!%!

Every so often, the villain is just too powerful. They're going to destroy the world, or at least control it. Sometimes, if the writers really want it to seem like a big deal, the villain will threaten the entire galaxy, universe, or even multiple realities. It seems all hope is lost. And there's nothing the heroes can do to stop it.

Then, suddenly, the hero will decide that he's serious. This time is for reals. He'll whip out some until now unforeseen strength, and promptly show the villain what for, usually demolishing the bad guy so completely that it prevents them from ever pulling that world threatening crap again, or at least until the writers want them back.

This trope isn't The Power of Friendship, nor The Power of Love. It isn't just a Forgotten Superweapon, and only rarely is it related to positively sick levels of training. No, this trope is only really in effect when a character suddenly displays a level of power that has not even been hinted at up until its point of use. There have been no scenes depicting the character practicing towards this level, and no dialogue has given any indication that the character is aware that they are capable of it, or indeed, that they even know this level of power to be possible. They simply find themselves in need, and are subsequently capable of defeating their enemy, with no outside help whatsoever.

If any explanation is given at all, this is usually handwaved as the character having simply held everything back up until this point, never mind all the dangerous, possibly near-death encounters they've most likely been through up until this point that could've really used something like this.

Another explanation is that the extra power is used only in dire emergencies because it's extremely dangerous, has a very limited number of uses, or is positively guaranteed to cause Really Bad consequences. If so, it's an example of Godzilla Threshold, not this trope.

It goes the other way too. Characters can often be found struggling to defeat a particular foe, when considering their skill and compared to the baddies they faced in the past, it should be a piece of cake. Used to pad out time length with elongated fight sequences as well as to prevent the protagonists from defeating a villain that the writers need for later. This conspicuous decrease in power invariably is a staple of shounen filler arcs.

This trope does not always need to involve powers relating directly to beating the tar out of things, of course. If any hero is suddenly able to call upon powers they've never shown or hinted at before, with no explanation given by him or any other character, chances are they're Strong As They Need To Be.

Often a result of the writers letting the Rule of Cool take over. Compare with I Am Not Left-Handed, Only the Author Can Save Them Now, and New Powers as the Plot Demands. Can overlap with Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass, and Power Creep, Power Seep, and Berserk Button. If called upon to Handwave or put a lampshade on this, the character might give a "World of Cardboard" Speech. Contrast Drama-Preserving Handicap. For the phenomenon of "As Big As They Need To Be", see Artists Are Not Architects, Your Size May Vary, and Telescoping Robot.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Asuka, in the End of Evangelion, manages to kill (sorta) NINE EVANGELIONS. Each with the ability to fly, and each armed with a massive greatsword that can turn into a replica Lance of Longinus and ignore any AT Field. With only 20 seconds for each, due to her power cord being cut. Armed only with a short knife. After having just wiped out a small army of a battleship, several tank battalions, a couple of artillery brigades, a few more VTOL gunships, AND tanking an N2 Missile. Then subverted, as they were faking being defeated.
  • In Dragon Ball (particularly Dragon Ball Z), this is very common. One character is beaten, and a few moments later (without any chance of training), he is so much stronger that he can beat the guy who has just defeated him without even sweating. This is justified for the Saiyans after the first arc with a technique called "Zenkai", basically that "Saiyans get stronger after being put near death". More often than not, a Zenkai gets a Saiyan to equal or slightly exceed the power of the next opponent they face. That opponent then often reveals another form, and beats them again.
    • Fusions and Transformations generally make a character strong enough to exceed the biggest threat currently out there. Either their opponent then gets a Transformation, or the protagonist gets handed an Idiot Ball, or that's the last fight of an arc.
    • The majority of training characters go through is done offscreen or over time, and the end result of it is generally that they gain as much power as needed to be relevant, interesting to watch, or able to stall until Goku or Gohan enters the fight.
    • Vegeta, whose Abridged Series counterpart provides the above quote, says this because he didn't see the above mentioned training (and fusion) that Piccolo went through. However, this quote is somewhat hypocritical of him, as this same arc he'd received three Zenkai to keep up with, and then beat, Cui, Zarbon, and Jeice, respectively. He later received another, deliberately invoked Zenkai by letting Krillin mortally wound him before receiving magical healing, although this didn't exactly succeed in allowing him to keep up with Frieza's final form (although he was closer than any of the others were, save for Goku).
    • Goku directly invoked this trope in the Buu Saga, using up the rest of his time on Earth to force himself to a ridiculously high Power Level and hold off the villain long enough for Trunks to escape.note 
  • Bleach's Ichigo. For a large amount of time during the Bount Arc, Ichigo is unable to use his Bankai, for very loose reasons. Then once he is able to, he still isn't as strong as the last time, despite being immune to the spirit damping effects of the real world.
    • Also true for Kenpachi. Ichigo was able to match him in open combat with his reiatsu fully released, and yet for every fight after that Kenpachi displayed more and more strength. Justified in that he was unconsciously suppressing his own reiatsu. With each fight where he nearly died, he released more and more of his reiatsu.
    • In the end, it seems that every other story arc gives a different explanation for why Ichigo can't access his full power. First it was just because he hadn't been formally trained, and didn't know how to control his spiritual power. Then it was said that if he isn't taking the fight seriously enough and isn't completely focused on winning his powers suffer. Next, his substitute badge was suppressing his reiatsu, because the high brass of the Shinigami were worried that they couldn't fully trust him, and that the previous substitute would turn him against the Soul Society. And finally, it turns out that "Zangetsu" is actually his Quincy powers, and that he was suppressing his shinigami abilities because he originally didn't want him to become one. One starts to sense a touch of desperation in making sure that Ichigo isn't so powerful as to completely destroy the plot.
  • Pokémon:
    • Ash Ketchum. One minute he's beating a League champion in a tough battle. The next he's struggling against some also-ran.
    • In episode 746, Iris' Axew, a mon in its first stage with a spotty at best record, managed to somehow put up something resembling a fight against Cynthia's Garchomp a mon that beat four of Paul's team with one hit each.
    • In episode 648, for Ash loses against friggin Kenny, of all people, due to his rather foolish choice of using Buizel against an Empoleon.
    • The actual competence and strength of Pokemon is highly dependant on the plot.
  • Soul Eater, such as with the ending of the anime giving the main groups a couple of late superpowers. While the 'courage punch' had some precedent (the important of courage having been used numerous times, but never quite so explicitly), things like Maka's Weapon form and Kid's Sanzu Lines had no such setup whatsoever.
    • While Maka's weapon form was certainly an example, Kid's Sanzu Lines were nothing new if you read the manga-the alternate ending is to blame, here.
  • This is an explicit power of Kuwabara from YuYu Hakusho - his spirit energy literally increases when fighting a stronger foe. It's also evident and completely ignored in most of the rest of the cast.
  • D.Gray-Man revels in this trope. One time you'll see the whole cast ganging up on a single demon and taking several episodes to beat it, at great cost. The next day, despite being weary of the fight, they can kill them by the dozen.
    • Averted with level 4 akumas, who are still crazy tough and require you being general strength just to beat one. The first one actually had a lot more punishment than the rest of them as it had all the generals, the protagonist and a recently re-empowered Action Girl against it.
  • In Sailor Moon, Mars and Jupiter seem to have natural abilities that may or may not carry over in their transformed states. Mars uses hers often; Jupiter's implied ridiculous amount of strength, alas, does not really jibe with how fights are choreographed and is much rarer than it should be compared to some other shows. She also tends to get her ass handed to her if she does get to use it.
  • Yoshimori Sumimura works two ways: either everyone's praising him for being way stronger than he should be because he took out a tough opponent; or he's getting lambasted for letting a weak opponent walk all over him. The way he fights tends to be ludicrously inefficient against weaker opponents, though, which provides a legitimate flaw for somebody who's Weak, but Skilled to exploit.
  • At least in the manga, Samurai Deeper Kyo was this trope. Period. There are even one or two techniques used by the heroes that they had never tried, just imagined, and after getting a power up or going into a Super Mode, they just do it. And we're not talking about trying a "roundhouse back flying kick". We talk about "the technique that draws my blood make-up over your body to boil your blood from inside".
  • One Piece: This tends to be played for laughs; Luffy defeats Arlong in the previous arc, who was the most powerful pirate in the East Blue. Yet he's easily restrained by Buggy and his mooks for his "execution" despite showing displays of super-strength and persistence.
    • The most glaring example is the Davy Back Fight Arc. Last arc, Luffy defeated Enel, an extremely skilled fighter who used one of the most powerful Devil Fruits ever seen. In the Davy Back Fight, he has trouble with Foxy, who, even if one takes into account his Weak, but Skilled status, is indeed extremely weaker than Enel.
  • A rare villainous version: In Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, the Anti Spiral King is shown to only use as much power as the Dai Gurren Brigade uses. This is to specifically invoke Hope Spot after Hope Spot — every time the heroes get stronger, the Anti Spiral King effortlessly powers up to match them, all in the name of maximizing the terror and despair they feel. It doesn't work.
    • The Deconstruction is also mentioned: The end result of being "As strong as you need to be" in a universe where everyone else can do the same thing is the "Spiral Nemesis" — eventually, two factions each following this trope will fight each other, leading inevitably to the explosion filled destruction of the universe. Given the fact that the last fight between the ASK and DGB literally destroys one universe, he probably has a point. It's also mentioned that those with the Spiral Power instinctively recognize the truth of the Spiral Nemesis when told about it.
  • Fiamma of the Right from A Certain Magical Index explicitly has this as his power. His ability, The Holy Right, usually manifests itself as a giant bird-like claw growing out of his shoulder. The Holy Right is nearly omnipotent, but it only uses the right amount of force to accomplish what Fiamma wants at the moment. The more powerful his opponent, the more powerful it becomes.
  • Inazuma Eleven the Orge take this trope which has already been used regularly up to eleven. First season Raimon has to fight the third season's Bonus Boss, who can easily defeat Zeus, the first season's Big Bad that the heroes needed to struggle so much to win in the TV anime. What do they need to win within 30 minutes? A Kid from the Future, four new players, and some four-tier above abilities the heroes learn because they're getting really serious.
  • In Naruto, the 4th Shinobi War has Kabuto using Impure World Resurrection to summon an army of invincible dead ninja. By invincible, I mean they regenerate at insane rates, often From a Single Cell. To beat them, the Allies have to wound them, and then quickly seal them with a Cloth Binding Jutsu (or a few other techniques used by some main characters) before they heal. So, how fast do they heal? When the Seven Swordsmen appeared, the entire Third Division launched a Worf Barrage at them, only for the Swordsmen to heal before anyone could respond. In the anime, when Gari was "killed", Pakura jumped in and started fighting the protagonists of the week. Only after they gained the upper hand in a lengthy, drawn out fight did Gari recover and stop them from sealing Pakura.
  • In Yu Gi Oh Zexal, the mighty Number monster "Heart-eartH" operates on this principle. It always has a tiny 100 Atk points and 100 Def points. Until you attack it (while it's in attack position), and it gains attack points equal to the Atk of the monster attacking it. So, attack it with a mediocre 1500-Atk monster, and it'll have 1600 Atk points, destroying the weaker monster. Attack it with a gargantuan 5000-atk point monster, and it'll have 5100 Atk points. Combined with its other defenses against destruction by effects, it took some highly advanced cooperative maneuvers by the heroes to get Heart-eartH out of their way.
  • Rosario To Vampire: Just how strong Outer Moka is tends to vary. One minute she can uproot trees with her bare hands and lift giant hammers, while the next she can be physically restrained by ordinary human mooks.

    Comic Books 
  • Superman loves to do this, to the point that he has occasionally become so powerful that, in order to allow him to believably fight small-time thugs, the writers actually needed to reset the universe. Twice.
    • That would mean Superman's enemies as fall under this, so he doesn't one hit KO them, or vice versa.
    • Early seasons of Justice League left Supes vulnerable to strength fluctuations to give the rest of his teammates a chance and front row seat to The Worf Effect. One instance during the first movie had him taken down by a foot soldier with just one laser blast; the writers admit that they purposely did this as to prevent his teammates from becoming obsolete. Lampshaded in one episode where Flash offers to answer Big Barda's request for help from the League, only to initially be told anyone who wasn't Superman was useless to her.
      • In the Justice League Unlimited series finale, this is explained by saying that Superman always holds back when using his powers, because he "live[s] in a world made of cardboard" and is always afraid that, if he loses control, someone might get killed. "But you can take it, can't you, big man?" He then proceeds to slam Darkseid through a half-dozen (deserted) skyscrapers with a single punch. He still loses in the end, but not because of Darkseid's fighting prowess; he completely outclasses Darkseid and is curb-stomping him until Darkseid brings out a secret weapon that causes extreme psychological pain and uses it against Supes. Darkseid's face afterwards clearly reflects that if he had brought out the pain weapon even a few seconds later...
    • Even with the post-Crisis Superman, some writers (Mark Waid is a good example) like to write him as a being of godlike power, capable of surviving things like the super-nuke in Kingdom Come that would kill literally anyone else. Eric Burns describes this as Superman having his "no one can kick my ass because I'm Superman" bit set that day.
    • And on Smallville, his powers actually do fluctuate, based on solar coronal activity, the fact that they're still developing, and the fact that he lives in a freakin' town full of Kryptonite.
      • Some stories suggest that, like Hulk, Supes' power level is affected by his mood. In For the Man Who Has Everything, he was so mad at Mongul that he actually wanted to kill him, and he went absolutely apeshit on him. Mongul is normally stronger than Supes.
    • One of Superman's mainstay abilities is his Eye Beam, traditionally his only true ranged-attack. Rarely limited by an official explanation (save it perhaps de-charges him more quickly if he's acting as a solar-powered battery), Supes generally only uses it against opponents when he's completely restrained or when it wouldn't result in the censors bearing down on him for using it.
      • His invulnerability fluctuates this way too. In some comics, you can put him in a room with a little red sun lamp and kick his ass. In others, he can fly through a red star, then smack into a planet and get up and fight (albeit depowered) as happened in the definitely canon Infinite Crisis.
      • It helps that this is also in effect with his weaknesses. Is a dime-sized chunk of Kryptonite enough to bring him to death's door, or is a room full of Kryptonite something he can overcome with Heroic Resolve? Does Kryptonite also affect his powers, making him more vulnerable to the enemy's usual method of attack, or is he still bulletproof? Does a candle-strength amount of red sun energy act as an instant and total offswitch for all of his powers, or would he need to be under an actual red sun or the equivalent thereof for a time for his powers to be drained away? ...yes.
  • The Mighty Thor frequently invokes this trope, with the idea that he was "holding back" for fear that unleashing his true power would kill his opponent. Almost always accompanied by a line such as "Now you must face the full might of Thor!" Thor states that even against superhuman foes on Earth, he doesn't dare use his full strength for fear of killing them. There's clearly some ego involved in this, of course, since Earth has some superhumans who are every bit as strong and durable as Thor, if not moreso (see: Hulk, Juggernaut, Hercules, Sentry, etc). Though during the Mutant Massacre he got so angry he did kill the super-strong Blockbuster (who might not have been "Class 100" level but was clearly no pushover) with a single blow, so he's not just blowing smoke, either.
  • For another DC example, what powers the Martian Manhunter has, and to what degree, varies enormously with who's writing him and the needs of the current story. He seems to have all and only the abilities he needs to put the story where the writer wants it. Sometimes he's like a combination of Superman and Plastic Man (except weaker), and other times he is the most powerful being on Earth (as in a storyline where he turned evil and everyone was terrified of fighting him). In Blackest Night, a zombie MM points out "I'm as powerful as Superman. Why does everyone FORGET that?" before kicking some ass. For that matter, his Kryptonite Factor toward fire is alternately treated as a Weaksauce Weakness that keeps him from being too overpowered, or a psychosomatic weakness that can be overcome with willpower; the two inconsistencies go hand in hand.
  • The Infinite Crisis OMACs are an interesting case. They're villains, which is unusual for this trope, and Strong As They Need To Be is their explicitly stated ability. When they sight a superhero, they'll identify the hero and reconfigure to have the powers and abilities they need to win the fight. Nearly everyone has asked the obvious question, which is: Why are the bad guys going out of their way to give the heroes a fair chance? Why don't they just configure themselves with the Superman-killing abilities and lay waste to everyone? No answer has yet been given. Fan theories quite naturally abound; for example, as machine-based creatures, it's been suggested that it would take far more energy for them to hit someone as hard as Superman could all the time than to reconfigure into more limited forms. The fact that the Infinite Crisis Brother Eye was made by Batman would explain a lot. (Of course, the real reason is so that OMACs could believably pull off a Red Skies Crossover with any hero on the roster, even near-Badass Normal ones.)
  • The Incredible Hulk's level of physical might and durability varies tremendously. This one, however, has a built-in explanation: Hulk's physical might—and in the 2003 movie, his physical mass and size—is directly related to how angry he gets. Hence the Catch Phrase "The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets." For example, Wolverine has fought him several times—most of the time to a standstill until he manages to get one good cut in and piss the Hulk off enough that his anger really flares up. At the same time, during the Onslaught event, in the last battle with the titular villain, Jean Grey mentally removed any blocks Banner may have had to restrain himself, and he beat the hell out of the physical form of a being that could alter reality with a thought. In short: hope your first punch knocks him out. Similarly to Darwin below, in one story Hulk developed the ability to breathe in space by getting angry enough.
  • Darwin, the Evolving Boy from the X-Men comics literally has this trope as his superpower. Whenever placed in a situation he is unsuited for, he will gain a new power capable of dealing with it. Place him in total darkness and he gets the power to see in the dark. Stick him in a burning building and he becomes immune to fire. Trap him underwater and he grows gills. It will not, however, give him an instant 'I Win' button for every fight. An often mentioned example is when they tried to get him to fight Green Scar Hulk: instead of gaining something to match or negate his powers, Darwin's powers instead teleported him to the next state over to get away from the Hulk. His power is to evolve whatever he needs to survive, not necessarily to win. Although he can sometimes maneuver himself into a situation where his power is forced to give him the specific adaptation he wants, he has no direct control over it.
    • There is a similar X-character named Lifeguard. Her power is to gain the ability she needs to save others. No telling whether or not that ability will be something that will keep her safe or defeat the enemy.
  • The Amazons from Amazons Attack, when Wonder Woman's people invaded the United States seemed to fluctuate wildly in their power. In one scene they're giving Supergirl and Wonder Girl a hard time, then Superman shows up and trounces them effortlessly, then they're taking down fighter jets with flying horses and spears, Batman can beat them in a straight up fight, they can invade Washington DC and the army can't do a thing to stop them, then they get shot down by soldiers. They're not Immune to Bullets, and they beat the US army with spears and giant bees note !?
  • Spider-Man has this problem very often. His strength, while theoretically possible to mathematically calculate, is subject to plenty of fluctuation. Even his webbing is subject to this, sometimes being broken by a Badass Normal and sometimes strong enough to hold up a car or two.
    • The ultimate expression of this was when he was attacked by Firelord. Panicking, dodging, and running for his life, he sees the Herald of Galactus survive everything he can throw at him unharmed, up to and including an exploding gas station. But when two kids nearly get killed by his uncaring foe, Spidey loses his cool - and proceeds to pound Firelord into the pavement, punctuating every barrage of fists with statements on the order of "Hey, you don't attack kids!" It takes the arrival of Captain America and the Avengers to snap him out, by which time Firelord is flat on his back, eyes crossed, and dazed for quite a while. Just to elaborate, this is a being on a power level roughly equal to Thor or the Silver Surfer, and leagues above the power level of Spidey or any of his usual foes.
    • On at least two occasions Spider-Man has been trapped on tons of debris when someone's life was at stake. In two occasions he was able to tap into a reserve of strength that allowed him to lift the debris of him, all the while disbelieving it ("Come on, Thor couldn't lift this...the Hulk couldn't lift this!").
    • Venom also goes through this, ranging from only being a little bit stronger than Spidey himself to being able to match the Juggernaut blow for blow. This is actually part of Venom (Mac Gargan)'s powers; when injured or threatened, the symbiote can increase in mass and strength to meet whatever threat it is fighting with equal force.
    • Subverted when Spider-Girl happened to be in similar situation, with evil god Set trapping every superhero on Earth under an unbreakable forcefield. May was doing everything she could to beat him and even dropping a building on him didn't slow him down. However, when May called all her Heroic Resolve for one final attack and it was looking like this trope was going to be used....she kicked him in the nuts. After that, Set admitted that he was holding back on her. Unluckily for him, that kick was painful enough to make him stop upholding the force field and released the superheroes who unleashed a giant ass-kicking upon him.
    • Also applies to the Spider Sense. Sometimes it allows Spidey to see and avoid multiple attacks and enemies coming from any direction, in the dark, while blinded, even while barely conscious, other times Peter will just stand there saying "spider sense tingling!" until he gets hit, and occasionally it won't go off at all even when it should.
      • This can be seen as a case of Don't Think. Feel. When he allows his spider sense to guide him, he can dance around enemies. When he tries to focus on what is causing it, his reaction speed decreases. Interestingly, one side story showed that his spider sense is always going off a little bit because of all the random dangers around us that we don't notice. Except when he is freefalling while webswinging.
  • The Thing is another character whose strength has actual limits and there are some foes that he simply cannot overpower. Although we pretty much have to be told this for this to be true; at one point he was even asked point blank how strong he was and his answer was "STRONG ENOUGH!"
  • Peter David pretty much stated this trope when responding to comments of his writing of She-Hulk. Fanboys were quibbling about She-Hulk's power level under PAD's run and he said she'd be as strong as the story required - as the story was more important than the stats.
  • Wolverine's Healing Factor is a prime example of this. It goes from From a Single Cell to needing some time to heal from a relatively minor attack.
  • Legion of Super-Heroes has the character Nemesis Kid, whose power is exactly this. He develops abilities strong enough to deal with anyone he's directly fighting. If he fights a martial artist, his skills will be superior, if he fights a cosmic powerhouse, his strength will go through the roof. Naturally the only way to defeat him is to go after him in pairs because he can only adapt to one power at a time. He dies at the hands of Princess Projectra, not a particularly strong fighter, whose only ability is casting illusions. He can see through them, but this does not stop her from snapping his neck for murdering her husband.
  • Sentry has this problem, one time being able to fight with Hulk as equal, having his ass handed to him by She-Hulk or Hercules another and then going into a level where he can kill Ares, wipe the floor with Thor and destroy Asgard single-handedly or kill Molecule Man. May be justified as his powers may depend on his emotional level or how much he's influenced by the Void. Not to mention the writer. At any given time he may just be Super-Fabio, but then again he may also be a high scale reality warper, have complete control over every molecule in the universe, or be the angel of death.
  • Gladiator from the Shi-Ar Imperial Guard and his evil female version Stronian have powers depending on their confidence, so if they feel even a small amount of fear, doubt or regret, they're getting weaker.
  • Deadpool, whose healing powers are literally taken from Wolverine, has his own healing ability fluctuate wildly depending on how powerful they need to be for the plot. This is explained away as a result of the constant battle between his cancer and his healing powers, as sometimes the cancer gains ground and sometimes the healthy cells gain ground. It even becomes a major plot point when his healing factor stays in a weakened state and he seeks medical attention to try and improve it. He is literally immortal though, since after meeting Death herself when he was having near death experiences he fell in love with her, Thanos became jealous of Deadpool and prevents his soul from passing on so they can never be together.
  • Jack Kirby's Celestials, through it's more visible in alternate realities - in Earth X they as a whole cannot match Galactus, in other worlds they are capable of effortlessly killing three wielders of The Infinity Gauntlet and in What If?: Secret Wars they can take Doctor Doom, possessing the Infinity Gauntlet AND the power of the Beyonder, despite that both are individually powerful enough to defeat Abstracts, who are supposed to be far above Celestials. And in another reality one of them is no stronger than a fleet of spaceships.
  • Deconstructed with Plutonian in Irredeemable - he doesn't really have super strength - he is a reality warper and breaks laws of physics without thinking about it, so he can subconsciously set himself to be as strong as the situation requires him to.
  • Lobo may have this as an explicit superpower. Or he could have been lying. Regardless, he can go toe to toe with Superman and regenerate From a Single Cell... and then get himself killed (briefly) by a surprise knife to the guts.
  • Just how bad is Cacofonix's dreadful singing voice in Astérix? At best, it's bad-karaoke level, where other people find it annoying and embarrassing but also quite funny (like in Asterix the Gaul, Asterix and the Falling Sky, Asterix and The Big Fight, and a few throwaway scenes where he's needed to sing for a pun without interrupting the plot); it's usually Suckiness Is Painful (Asterix and the Gladiator, The Mansions of the Gods, and most of the throwaway scenes with him in books where he isn't plot important); but if necessary he can also be a Weather Manipulation Brown Note with Reality Warper powers (edging into this in Asterix and the Normans where his singing is said to be the essence of true fear, possibly Asterix and the Soothsayer where his singing may be causing the Gods to strike the village with lightning, but especially Asterix and the Magic Carpet where he can create rain indoors and Asterix and the Secret Weapon where he's working on a song so bad that it creates an apocalyptic thunderstorm and terrifies all animal life from the forest, including a dragon). Some of this is Sequel Escalation, especially early on when Goscinny was still working out what was funny about each character, but it zigzags quite a lot - it's weird to go from him being a borderline abomination in Secret Weapon to performing under a beautiful, cloudless starry sky with only a little annoyance from the other villagers in Falling Sky.
    • He then goes all the way to the opposite extreme, which he'd never been seen in before, in Asterix And Obelix's Birthday, where he becomes an unusually good singer for a page in order for some gags to work. During that sequence he has a Groupie Brigade of screaming teen girls who love his music, big-selling albums (in 50BC), and is the respected, feared Caustic Critic judging a reality-show-like singing contest. Other bards in the same scene are shown to be Hopeless Auditionees who are far worse than he is. The mere existence of someone worse than Cacofonix is unthinkable in most of his other stories.
    • The potion's effects and dosage are all over the place. For instance, Obelix gets three drops of magic potion in Asterix and Cleopatra to boost his strength such that he can pummel his way out of a pyramid, and claims he notices no difference (a later story establishes a dose large enough to work on him would have turned him to stone). However, in a later story, a barrel of potion gets spilled into the sea, causing all the fish in the Channel to be superpowered enough to savage the fishermen trying to catch them, even though the concentration must be much, much lower. In Asterix and Obelix All At Sea the potion is used to restore Asterix from a severely injured state after losing a fight, despite having no technical healing powers. On top of that, the relative effectiveness of larger doses over smaller doses is flipflopped since the plot of Asterix and the Olympic Games is centred on the fact that everyone who's taken potion becomes equally strong and equally fast, regardless of their real capabilities.

    Film 
  • Wolverine pulls this off in X-Men: The Last Stand when he faces down Dark Phoenix in the climactic scene of the movie. His healing powers are inexplicably multiplied to the point where he can walk up to Phoenix (who by this point had already atomized several main characters and the entirety of Alcatraz island), taking multiple psychic blasts which flay the muscles from his bones only to fully regenerate in less than a second. Keep in mind that this version of Wolverine took some time to heal from a single gunshot or being hit by a log. This was so egregious that it got a Word Of God Retcon, stating that Phoenix's out-of-control abilities also amplified the powers of nearby mutants. It's also been surmised that Jean was Fighting from the Inside, not letting her full power (which could easily turn Wolverine, adamantium skeleton and all, to vapor) be brought to bear.
  • In Push, Nick starts out unable even to fix a roll of the dice, and ends up kicking Victor's well-trained and highly experienced ass, even though Victor was shown earlier literally mopping the floor with Nick... and the ceiling, too. Similarly, during the fight he lost, Nick is shown deflecting a bullet, a trick he had not practiced or even seen until just moments before. All this with no training, and with very little practice, apparently only because It Was Time For Him To Win.
    • Also, during the final confrontation, Agent Carver clearly pushes Nick mentally ("WHERE WERE WE?!")... but instead of jumping, as he was presumably pushed to do, Nick turns around and tele-punches Carver. How did he do this? No one, before or after that moment, was ever shown as able to resist a push.
  • Godzilla's power varies from film to film. Sometimes, he's able to defeat enemies with a single breath of his atomic breath, while others, he struggles in a tooth-N-claw battle against his enemies. Most of this is explained by many of the movies being set in one of several Alternate Universes, so they would be different versions of Godzilla. Still, particularly in the later Showa era, Godzilla usually suffers a total Curbstomp Battle in round one, and then inexplicably bounces back more powerful than before. During his "second wind" he will be able to counter or outright ignore the attacks that caused him severe injury the first time. While Godzilla does have regeneration as one of his powers, the speed and convenience of these turnarounds is still somewhat odd. The best example of this is in Godzilla vs. Gigan, where Godzilla gains a true second wind after being beaten to the point of being little more than rag doll in Gigan and King Ghidorah's claws, to turning the entire battle around after being thrown into a building and smashing it. A variant of this occurs in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla which had him gain a new power (temporarily) to get a good grip on his foe.
  • This is actually the ability of David in Unbreakable where he is as physically strong as he needs to be. In one scene he tests his limits by bench-pressing. He strains with the initial weight, but no matter how much weight he adds, he's still able to lift it.
  • Inverted in Puma Man, in which the "superhero" is capable of tearing apart a car or ripping into a brick wall with his bare hands, but at the movie's climax is just barely able to overpower an elderly Donald Pleasence in a struggle.

    Literature 
  • This happens on both sides of the fence in the Warhammer 40,000 fiction. Often Chaos Space Marines or other alien enemies of the Imperium require a lot of Imperial Guard cannon fodder to be hurled at them before they die. Then you have series like Dan Abnett's Gaunts Ghosts, where the killing of Chaos Space Marines is almost-but-not-quite offhanded.
    • This is often true of the loyalists as well.
    • Guants group did shoot them in the back from ambush while they were utterly massacring another Imperial unit.
    • Orcs get this treatment a lot too. Sometimes they are almost a joke and a minor threat to guardsmen unless they have a huge numbers advantage, and sometimes the same kind will be a difficult fight to Space Marines one-on-one. Same applies to Tyranids.
      • Orcs are a special case. A feral Ork army is almost laughable in terms of strength, while a carefully constructed WAAAGH! is almost unstoppable. Often, you'll see something in between the two. The strength of the Orks depends on the strength of the local WAAAGH! It's a species that runs on Clap Your Hands If You Believe, thus this trope is easily justified. The writer just has to limit how hard they can "clap."
      • This is not strictly correct. The strength of Orks actually depends on the strength of their opponent. Orks are a survivor race, and much like the Darwin Boy example in the Comics section, Orks are actually a very straight example of this trope. Orks who face a more powerful and able opponent will be just as tough, whereas if the opponent is incompetent they wont be any worse, but they'll not be any better than they would normally be. So it isn't about the whole Clap Your Hands If You Believe, which is not just inaccurate, but overused concerning Orks, but it is that Orks get better through reacting to stimuli. Comparing Orks between stories, or in certain games such as Gorkamorka, where they don't have as much of a dedicated opponent, the contrast is rather striking.
    • Possibly justifiable in cases where the story is about different chapters/regiments/hives/etc. as experience plays a big part in war.
    • The Imperial Guard often suffer from the inverse form of this trope being as Weak As They Need To Be. Their performance will be pitched at a level where they are being beaten and thus need rescue by the heroes of the story but not being so badly outclassed that those few heroes can't make the difference between defeat and victory.
  • This is an explicit rule in Diane Duane's Young Wizards series. The Powers That Be ensure that every wizard has enough power to deal with whatever the current crisis is. Luckily, drama is preserved by making failure a real option; just because you're strong enough to solve the problem doesn't mean you'll figure out the solution, or want to pay the price.
    • This is also why older wizards tend to be weaker than their younger counterparts. Their skill with magic is such that they don't need as much power.
  • Done well, and justified, in a fight scene from Too Many Magicians: Lord Ashley is dueling a villain whose sword is enchanted, and keeps flickering in and out of visibility. As he's pressed hard by his foe's invisible attacks, Ashley's fear activates his own power of prescience, allowing him to intuit exactly where the blade will strike next. This turns the tables on the villain, who begins a fighting retreat ... at which point, Lord Ashley's growing confidence causes his prescient power to shut down again, as it's established that it only works when he's under stress. Luckily for him, his opponent doesn't realize that's what happened, and when Ashley hesitates, his foe seizes the opportunity to escape rather than attack.
  • In the Dragonriders of Pern book All the Weyrs of Pern, a character asks one of the dragonriders how much a dragon can lift. F'lar, the Dragonrider, considers the question before answering "they can lift as much as they think they can." This turns out to be Justified a few books down the line, when it's revealed the dragons have telekinetic powers that somehow no one had noticed in over 2,500 years.
  • In The Elric Saga, Stormbringer is noticeably fickle this way. It can empower Elric to slaughter his way through hundreds of human opponents or even kill gods one day and have trouble dealing with a single lesser (if generally still supernatural) foe the next, as the plot and Rule of Drama demand. Of course, it's worth remembering that the runeblade is itself of demonic origin, alive and sentient in its own fashion, and obviously evil to the point of outright treachery at times...
  • This inconsistency is one of the complaints against World War Z's zombies. Zombies which can shrug off overpressure created by artillery and tank blasts have absolutely no business being killed by small arms or plucky civilians' melee attacks.
  • Gotrek from the Gotrek & Felix is always just strong enough to take down the current monster that he should really have no chance against. This matches the rules for slayers on the tabletop, but in his case it seems to affect his actual skill as well.

    Live Action TV 
  • Pro wrestling loves this trope. The good guy will consistently get beaten and be depicted as brutalized and exhausted, until they suddenly bounce back for a victory.
    • John Cena is a particular offender. He needs to be able to lift his opponent onto his shoulders in order to perform his finisher but against gigantic opponents he is often unable to do so (despite him having lifted the likes of The Big Show and The Great Khali in the past). Whether he eventually manages depends on whether he is booked to win that night or not.
  • In the Buffyverse as a whole the strength of vampires varies greatly, from clearly superhuman on a level that can't hope to be matched (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel Season 1) to being able to be beat by the Badass Normal of Angel, Charles Gunn, easily. Additionally, some vampires are shown to be able to bend steel bare-handed, while others have been held back by wooden doors.
    • When asked about the strength of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Joss Whedon replied, literally "as strong as the plot needs her to be".
    • Angel tended to do this a lot as well. Particularly notable with Connor, whose abilities seemed to correspond directly to how inconvenient it would be. When he's on their side, he gets beaten up by practically everything not an ordinary vampire. When fighting against them, he took out almost the entire team single-handedly, twice.
      • But then again, he ended a threat that had lasted for an entire season by punching a hole in the face of an "evil" goddess. Because he was the only one awake who could.
    • The Turok-Han vampires in Buffy season 7 also seem to suffer from this. The first one nearly killed Buffy the first two times she fought it, forcing her to use literally everything she could get her hands on to defeat it the third time aroundnote . As for an entire army of them in the series finale, the newly activated Slayers, along with Xander and Dawn, the team's resident Badass Normals, take them down pretty easily.
  • In Smallville's Grand Finale, Clark flies up to Apokolips, a planet with engines on it, and shoves it all the way back into space saving the day and exhibiting about a billion times the super strength he's ever demonstrated in the TV series. This is Silver Age level power for Superman and even that character was normally moving inert planets when he moved something that massive. Possibly justified, as Apokolips was said to have been drawn to Earth by humanity's despair, amplified by Darkseid's corruption. However because Clark became a beacon of hope, he was able to eradicate Darkseid's influence, severely weakening Apokolips in the process.
  • In Supernatural, vampirized Hunter Gordon Walker was strong enough to rip off two vampire's heads and could even kill his partner with his bare hands, but when fighting Sam, his strength appeared to be downgraded.
    • Castiel tends to fall in to this as well, likely because he's so powerful the writers feel they need to gimp him to keep the Badass Normals relevant. In his first appearance in season 4, he's described as "cosmic" and both the heroes and villains seem to think he's more powerful than anything they've encountered. Half a season later, he gets his ass kicked by Alistair. In season 5, he's cut off from Heaven and gradually loses his powers, however the order he loses them in doesn't make much sense (his healing is gone by the second episode, yet he's still able to time travel halfway through the season). In season 6, he gets his powers back, but major villain Eve is somehow able to nullify them by virtue of being older than he is. The writers tried to reverse this in season 7 by making the leviathans even stronger than angels, but due to them displaying far less power and routinely getting their asses kicked by humans, demons and ghosts (all of which are much weaker than angels) this came off as a bit of an Informed Ability.
  • In Toku series such as Kamen Rider, Super Sentai, Power Rangers and the like, this trope is in effect, with power levels depending on how pissed you are, what time of episode it is, how fast the plot needs to move past one fight, and how loud you yelled before rushing in. Hikonin Sentai Akibaranger, a parody Super Sentai series, had the Rangers realize that the general leaving is like an Event Flag for the good guys to start winning; the Monster of the Week was been invincible before, but they realize what always happens soon after the general says something to the effect of "I'll leave this to you" to the monster. As suddenly they're pummeling the previously-unbeatable foe, Red triumphantly cries out that consistent power levels do not exist! Yeah, it's that kinda series.
    • It's most on display in Kamen Rider Decade and other crossover occasions. Decade and Rising Ultimate Kuuga can each supposedly destroy the world. Shadow Moon, an Ensemble Darkhorse Breakout Villain from Kamen Rider Black, utterly hands them their spandex-covered butts. Then Kamen Rider Double shows up and just as easily beats down Shadow Moon. In general, in a Massively Multiplayer Crossover, count on the featured team or hero to be much more effective than the various Fake Shemp rangers and riders in the background, and the featured villain, who was the enemy of one team or hero, to be a match for all involved (going up several orders of magnitude in power) while the less focused-upon ones to easily be knocked aside in one punch (beaten in seconds whereas it took a whole episode for a Monster of the Week and much of the season for The Dragon or Big Bad.) In short... Akiba Red knows what he's talking about.
    • It's most ridiculous in the Kamen Rider franchise, where Riders will have officially published stats like running speed, jumping height, and punching and kicking power. The manual (sometimes a literal one! We saw the stats on Professor Ryouma's computer in Kamen Rider Gaim!) says exactly what every Rider can do, no more, no less, and what advantages and disadvantages each form has. Count on absolutely none of it to be adhered to in any actual episode, making publishing or even thinking about those details kinda silly.

    Video Games 
  • Cutscenes. In any game Cutscenes will either give you a game breaking ability you never get to use in gameplay or knocked out by the but of a gun despite normal gameplay that only makes you slightly dizzy.
  • In any game with Action Commands expect to see this happen. Characters do notable things getting to that point in the fight, but then do something a fare deal more impressive well when they need to.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Snake's barely able to fight after being stabbed in the shoulder, but spends a good five minutes in a microwave corridor intended to vaporize anyone who entered immediately after suffering a heart attack, and is still just about able to kick away Scarabs.
  • In Devil May Cry 4, Nero's Devil Bringer can bring small enemies in and toss them easily and against large ones bring him in fast. Against bosses it gets alot more powerful, tossing a dazed Berial and Dagon, block punches from the massive Savior and become five times larger to break its face apart.
  • God of War: Kratos has this all the time. It's particularly notable in the second game when the Colossus of Rhodes stamps on him, and he tosses it away. But there's a wall in the way? Must go all the way around this convoluted route rather than just, I don't know, knock a hole in it. Or in the first game, when your method of getting through a gate with thin bars that something else already ripped a hole in is to push over a 60 foot high statue.
    • In God of War 2, his insane strength might be justified that in the beginning Kratos still has all the powers a full-fledged god can brag about, he doesn't brag "Fear the new god of war" while beating the first mooks for nothing, still the trope applies for the rest of the second game and the sequel as well, in God of War 3 Kratos stripped of all his powers he gained on the previous game, can take the pressure of Cronos — a being who dwarfs the Colossus of Rhodes — trying to squash him and push him away, after this display of strength it makes one wonder why Kratos needs to face through all the puzzles and locked doors at all.
  • Ser Cauthrien in Dragon Age: Origins is a boss example. Despite being an experienced soldier and undeniably a Badass Normal, she somehow has almost as much health as a fifty foot tall dragon.
  • In the older Warcraft games and stories, Deathwing was, while powerful, still rivaled by the other Aspects and it was only by tricking them into creating the Dragon Soul and wielding it against them was he able to pose a significant threat to all four of them combined. This was also initially the case after he returned in World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, as he fought the Life Aspect Alexstrasza in the Twilight Highlands and, while Deathwing won, the fight was fairly even and both of them were severely injured by the end of it. It's later revealed that Deathwing was saturated with dark energies to such an extent that he was effectively unkillable even by entities like Alexstrasza and the other Aspects. In order to wipe his matter from existence and kill him for good, you need a much greater amount of power delivered in a much briefer assault—so they grab the Dragon Soul from the past, supercharge it with more power than it's ever had, attune it to Deathwing so it can harm him, and get Thrall to fire it at him... and even then, it takes multiple shots.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog's speed is very inconsistent from game to game. At Sonic's best he's fast enough to outrun planes, rockets, missiles, etc. while at his worst Sonic can't catch an obese scientist fleeing from him on foot. Of course, if you believe the implication that he almost never uses his full speed save for VERY special circumstances just to challenge himself, this is justified.
  • Bayonetta's ability to activate witch time seems to be on when the plot needs her to have it. She can activate it for minutes at a time at will with no cost; during normal gameplay she needs to precisely dodge attacks or use magical energy with a device.
  • How high and how far Mario is capable of jumping varies from game to game and whether or not he is under player control at the time. For instance, Mario will be unable to jump over obstacles unaided if at all that he would have been more than capable of jumping over unaided in other games, and/or still not be able to do the same despite demonstrating the ability to jump significantly higher than said obstacles in cutscenes or in battle in the very same game.
    • The biggest fluctuation occurs between the RPG games and the platformers. In the platformers, Mario has to depend on Boss Arena Idiocy to beat Bowser; in the RPGs, he can beat Bowser with nothing but the clothes on his back.
    • Bowser himself is usually depicted as a Mighty Glacier, yet often demonstrates jumping prowess that Mario could never dream of, among other feats. His actual size and strength also varies tremendously, as does his actual confidence. Princess Peach herself has demonstrated athleticism compared to Mario as well as vaguely-defined magical powers at points, yet when Bowser comes a-calling she's suddenly completely helpless. In general, it's safe to say that the game informs how capable the characters are more than anything else.
  • Resident Evil 6 has this with the Ustanak. Depending on how big of a threat the plot needs him to be at the time, he can either be a Nigh Invulnerable One-Hit Kill machine that Jake and Sherry need to hide and run from, or weak enough that Jake can trade blows with him in close quarters.
  • Listen to the stories of various Dwarf Fortress players for a while and chances are, some of their tales will include bizarre occurrences of random civilian dwarves pulling a One-Hit Kill with a household tool or their bare hands on a huge monster that just effortlessly massacred the entire well-trained, well-equipped military. Similarly, expect to hear plenty of stories of usually One-Dwarf-Armies getting oneshotted by a random low-level mook.
  • Super Robot Wars runs heavily on this to allow the Massive Multiplayer Crossover to function, so that something like a Gundam can take on the much larger and more powerful enemies from a show like Getter Robo. At the particularly extreme ends of the spectrum is something like Bonta-kun, which is essentially a mascot costume with a machine gun, being able to take on universe-destroying threats from GaoGaiGar FINAL.
  • Justified and integrated in the story in Planescape: Torment. Vailor, a suit of armor animated by a zealous spirit of a dead Mercy Killer has dedicated his life (or unlife, he doesn't really care) to eradicating evil and injustice, and as such, Forces of Justice grant their champion sufficient powers to defeat it. You can basically point him at the Final Boss, explain what an immense injustice he represents, and Vailor will gain enough powers to kill it.

    Web Original 
  • The supervillain Lung, from Worm. has this as an explicit power. The longer he fights the stronger he becomes, slowly morphing from a man into an enormous unstoppable dragon. Ironically he is taken out by the Hero in the first arc and serves as a Starter Villain, despite the fact that he in the past went toe to toe with the literal bringers of the apocalypse. beings that can sink continents and burn cities from the face of the earth.
  • The superheroine Tennyo in the Whateley Universe. In the novel "Boston Brawl", she suddenly gained increased regeneration and strength. In her novel "Christmas Crisis" she went all out to save her parents, and pretty much ripped reality apart. And maybe survived a tactical nuke, or else she somehow teleported away. The author hasn't told us yet.
    • Chou Lee can be 'filled with the Tao', and according to her author, become strong enough to kill anything.
  • The Angry Video Game Nerd example. The nerd is able to beat Jason in a fight, but has trouble beating The Nostalgia Critic.
  • In Epic Rap Battles of History mentions that the reason why Bruce Lee isn't strong is that he's defeated by a small and inanimate aspirin.

    Webcomics 
  • Every single character from Bob and George (though it is sometimes justified). For example, at one point George can't even harm the villain with any of his lightning attacks. Yet later on he destroys an entire castle/base by accident. Megaman's intelligence (and thus, battle skills) also fluctuate alot, but this is explained within the story.
    • Actually, it was explained why George couldn't use his powers against Mynd; Mynd was able to just absorb the electricity. There's also the fact he appears to have a limit on how often he can use his powers (his MP- er, Weapon Energy). And by accident? He destroyed that castle because he was pissed that he had been hung up from the ceiling for months and could have done something about it, but he couldn't because he forgot he could.
  • Played for Laughs in The Order of the Stick with Crystal. As Haley's personal rival, she is always the same level as Haley. Even if she does nothing to earn these levels.
  • Nodwick's muscle strength is just enough to carry whatever load he is asked to move but is not suggested to have super strength.
    • Unlike most of the examples here, people have noticed this as an ability of henchmen in general and taken advantage of it. One villain even kidnapped the entire henchman guild to use them to build a temple because each one could lift stone blocks that would take a team of men.
  • In L's Empire, the king or queen of the Kayoss will always be stronger than the combined power of those they are fighting.
  • In Homestuck, during the Trolls' battle against the Black King of their session, Gamzee suddenly unleashes never before seen power against him, doing almost as much damage as Vriska, a God Tier character with manipulation of luck. This was a result of his class - Bard - who are notorious for dramatically affecting their team's fortune for either better or worse.
  • Butch of Chopping Block is overweight and out-of-shape, and was once outrun by an old lady with a walker, but whenever his life is in danger, he becomes absurdly lethal. Chalk it up to the strip's Negative Continuity.

    Western Animation 
  • Teen Titans
    • Due to the emphasis on the Rule of Cool, the team's powers and abilities were considerably up and down. One infamous example was the case where superpowerless Boy Wonder was able to singlehandedly beat down Cinderblock, with his bare hands. Every other time however, Robin and his teammates struggled to defeat him. The Titans often reached literal godlike levels during the season finales.
    • Cyborg's little trick of reassembling himself after Brother Blood literally took him apart in a fight. This was so ridiculous that the writers included a line of dialogue stating that this was a one time thing.
    • Raven's strength fluctuations are legendary. In some cases she's been beaten by just having her mouth forced shut, but when the plot calls for it she's capable of soloing her Physical God father. Justified because Raven's powers are fueled by her emotions; the more passionate she becomes about defeating an enemy, the stronger her powers become in order to accomplish it.
    • Starfire is pretty bad about this trope. She can survive extreme environments when the plot calls for it, and be totally helpless when it doesn't. In one episode, Starfire winds up wandering around frozen tundra, apparently in danger of freezing to death. Given her super speed and flight abilities, there was nothing in that episode stopping her from flying out of the area, or back to Titans Tower to get proper equipment if things get too hairy. The weirdest part is that Starfire has been shown to be able to comfortably survive in the vacuum of space several times. Then too there might be an explanation for both her (and Raven's) powers in that they're emotion based, which means that theoretically, a villain could defeat Starfire by getting her depressed enough. But the strangest would have to be in 'Haunted' where Robin(HUMAN!) manages to "hurt" her just by grabbing her arms?! Granted at that moment she is really shocked and confused at the way Robin was acting. But this is an alien that took a blast to her face in 'Troq' where she was also visibly upset at being discriminated by Val-Yor.
    • Cyborg and Starfire's Super Strength also varies greatly just compared to each other, as one can be shown at any given moment to be several magnitudes stronger than the other. For example, Cyborg was able to hold Starfire into submission with just one arm in the episode "Switched", but in another episode, Starfire was shown to be much stronger than Cyborg, also with the use of one arm.
      • Robin has been shown to be able to curbstomp all of the other Titans 3 separate times, twice when they weren't holding back, and yet will also lose to villains that any one of the other members of the team can beat singlehandedly.
  • Masters of the Universe
    • In He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983), the more powerful villains were shown to be able to give He-Man a good trouncing on their very first try. However, if the same villains found themselves tangling with his weaker Arch-Enemy Skeletor, they were shown to be unable to inflict so much as a wrinkle on his clothes. This went on up until the introduction of King Hsss, who proved to be eviler than any of them.
    • In the 2002 version, He-Man's Strong As He Needs To Be nature was perhaps best exemplified by the time he effortlessly lifted a stone tower that had to weigh in excess of a hundred tons and threw it into the sun. Punching any of the bad guys with a similar level of force should've turned them into a pasty smear on the nearest wall, yet they were always treated as legitimate threats.
    • In the comic book version He-Man's special power is specifically defined as the ability to have exactly the amount of strength he needs to accomplish what he's trying to do at the moment, but no more.
  • Spongebob Squarepants has this bad. At times he can barely lift stuffed animals or a straw by himself, while at other times he can tear a mailbox out of the ground. There's also his skills with karate; at times he can equal Sandy and even beat her, while at other times he's incompetent to the point where Sandy literally kicks him around like a football.
  • The Powerpuff Girls are notorious for this. One episode will have them proving themselves to adult heroes as the mightiest supers in their entire universe, and another will have all three girls get beaten down by a gang of ordinary thugs. Not to mention one time where an overweight nerd was able to trap them in toy packaging. SERIOUSLY?!
  • Popeye: Just how strong Bluto is tends to vary. Normally, he easily outmatches Popeye until Popeye eats spinach, after which Popeye easily blows him away, while on other occasions, he's either weaker than Popeye and uses trickery to fight back, or can fight Popeye evenly even after the latter eats the spinach.
  • Ladies & gentlemen, The Tick. This trope is a perfect description of his "drama power." The in-story description of it is "nigh-invulnerability." The Tick is always the exact right amount of invulnerable to keep the plot going. So he's much more vulnerable during slapstick scenes.
  • The Simpsons: Comedic example: Mr. Burns. He's always depicted as frail and weak, but just how frail and how weak depends on whatever makes the joke work.
  • Mesmero from X-Men: Evolution. In his first appearance, Xavier was whupping Mesmero quite well until a mysterious voice (Apocalypse) said something about not knowing who he's dealing with, and suddenly Xavier is being plastered on the ground. In his next appearance Xavier defeats him easily. For most of his appearances he's a Squishy Wizard, but in the Dark Horizon Season Finale he can suddenly take on Wolverine and Sabretooth at the same time. Possibly justified because Mesmero's powers were granted by Apocalypse, and the old mutant may well have adjusted how much power he let his minion use based on how much he thought he'd need.
  • The Enforcers of Jackie Chan Adventures. In some episodes, Jackie effortlessly curbstomps all three with no effort, and a handicap to boot; in others, just one is enough to give him trouble for no noticeable reason.
  • As noted above, Gladiator powers are based on his confidence and his appearances during Phoenix Saga in X-Men really shows it. At his first appearance he simply ignores Juggernaut punching him and then threw him to the ocean with one hand. Later, feeling conflicted about fighting Rogue against his personal code allows her to knock him out with one punch.
    • Also, how invulnerable is Rogue? Sometimes the same blast that sends Scott or Jean flying but doesn't put them out of the fight has a similar effect on her, sometimes having a building dropped on her is less than a mosquito bite. This during her Flying Brick days with Ms. Marvel's powers permanently absorbed.
  • The mane cast of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is often subject to this. One example is Twilight Sparkle, whose telekinetic strength varies quite a bit (at one point, she lifts a two-story-house-sized bear and large water tower simultaneously, then later in the series, struggles to pull Fluttershy out of a box, even with the help of her friends). Fluttershy is almost a literal example, as she can match the speed of Rainbow Dash, the fastest pony alive, when she needs to, but in "Hurricane Fluttershy", can only get about one-fifth of Dash's wingpower, despite her training beforehand, and only pulls about half Dash's wingpower because she absolutely needed to. Big Macintosh is able to pull and entire two story house in one episode, but struggles to carry a large cake in another (although balancing is admittedly more difficult than pulling). Spike is repeatedly, explicitly shown to be stronger than his size should allow, but sometimes has difficulty in fetching large books.
    • In "Hurricane Fluttershy," it's proven to be mental: stage fright is why she has trouble flying and she repeatedly goes on about how all eyes would be on her. When practicing with her animal friends, they hold up masks that look like the background ponies, she'll instantly start tripping herself up until she gets better at it. When it's just her and her friends, she's able to fly normally.
  • This is common in Gargoyles, especially with Goliath. Sometimes he can rip the pusher off a bulldozer and hurl it through the air but at other times he has trouble taking on one very strong human.
  • As mentioned under the Superman examples above, this is present in Justice League:
    • Particularly in regards to limiting four of the original seven, in order to keep them from solving every plot before Batman, Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl/Shayera have a chance to act.
      • Superman lives in a "world of cardboard" as he so named the trope for.
      • Green Lantern John Stewart is notably lacking in creativity, and his constructs are overpowered regularly, despite believably being capable of destroying a planet on his own (later it's stated that a couple dozen Lanterns could easily destroy a planet with their blasts).
      • The Martian Manhunter J'onn J'onzz rarely ever uses more than two powers per episode, though he's supposed to be one of the league's heavy hitters. He eventually relegated himself to behind the desk in Unlimited before putting himself out of action until the finale.
      • The Flash's speed and attention to detail were regularly limited to the point where he could be tripped by random thugs or the environment, and couldn't even see himself moving on tape. He eventually does access the upper limits of his power, before it's explained that using that much could kill him. It's stated that he doesn't use certain applications of his power (destructive resonance, phasing, vortex generation) because of how destructive they are.
      • That, and they're really hard to do and he doesn't have time for that.
    • Conversely, Batman, Wonder Woman and Shayera are inconsistently portrayed while being more powerful than they would regularly display:
      • Batman is a Badass Normal who is generally portrayed as being smarter than everyone else, including the brilliant mind reader who first organized the team, and is active in situations that should readily get him killed.
      • Wonder Woman, despite being portrayed as the Naïve Newcomer who didn't know what her items' abilities were until late in Unlimited, could go toe to toe with Superman and dropped her supplications for more power with "Hera, give me strength!"
      • Hawkgirl/Shayera is stated to be a mental match for Batman and his strategic superior, but prefers to brute force her way through matters needlessly, and is generally reliant on her Nth metal mace, which does whatever the plot says it does.
    • In talking to Supergirl, Steel sums it up as being that the original seven have some special quality about them, even though they aren't all the most powerful, that helps them pull through.

    Real Life 
  • Adrenaline does this. People lift cars up to get someone they care about out from under them. However it turns out there's a very good reason that this level of strength isn't always available, as the effort can literally strip the person's muscle from their bones.


The Strength of Ten MenStrength IndexStronger Than They Look
Stock Superhero Day JobsSuperhero TropesSuper Empowering
Smart BallThe Plot Demanded This IndexSurveillance as the Plot Demands

alternative title(s): Weak As They Need To Be
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