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The Greatest Story Never Told
"The problem with being a secret agent," he thought as he soaked among the soap bubbles, "is that your mission is so secret that nobody knows how jolly brave you were."

So the character has finally rescued his friends, saved the world and done whatever deeds that prove he is a true hero. But nobody will ever know. Maybe he's a mere buffoon or a comedy sidekick, or the outcast of the society. Sometimes the media just hates him and ended up turning his story upside-down. Sometimes the Fake Ultimate Hero takes all the spotlights. Sometimes nobody believes his story (or he doesn't even try to tell it because it's so implausible). Sometimes his memory gets erased. Sometimes a weird time travel mechanism makes it so whatever happened didn't actually happen in time. Maybe it ends with Kill 'em All. Maybe the whole incident needs to be hushed up to protect important secrets. Or sometimes, for reasons of his own, he chooses not to tell anyone.

And occasionally, usually only in works that can comfortably invoke Rule of Funny, all the spectators are utter dimwits and can't even grasp what they've just seen (a Confused Bystander Interview sometimes follows).

At any rate, none of the other characters (or at larger scale, history itself) have to change their opinions about him. This can overlap with the Wild Wilderness trope often as no one outside the setting would know who the heroes were or what they did. In worst cases, by dealing with the greatest story never told, The Hero had missed the less-urgent but more well-known events. And thus the public think of him as a Fallen Hero.

May be A Day in the Limelight when done well, and if executed properly can be a clever way to introduce a character through a retcon or a remake in a series where he is never mentioned again. Poorly executed and it is likely to be reviled as filler, or a pointless Bittersweet Ending or Downer Ending. Often features What You Are in the Dark.

Contrast Famed in Story, Can't Stop the Signal, and Based on a Great Big Lie. Compare Victory Guided Amnesia, in which not even the hero gets to remember, and Hero of Another Story, in which a someone other than the main character(s) is having their own adventures, and may or may not be recognized for it in-universe but will only be given token attention story-wise. Not to be confused with The Greatest History Never Told.

Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In the aftermath of the Captain Kuro arc of One Piece, Usopp swears the "Usopp Pirates" and Kaya to secrecy about them defeating the Black Cat Pirates, despite the fact that it would clear his reputation as a liar. He does this so that the villagers would not worry about pirate attacks.
    • The Alabasta Arc, as well, features the world at large never knowing the full events about the Civil War and Crocodile's defeat.
      • This continues to happen as the story progresses - the World Government usually goes to great lenghts to cover up their failures and mistakes to make sure its enemies do not gain support.
  • The Zero Requiem plan of Code Geass involves creating world peace with no one ever knowing the real details behind how it came to be. Well, a chosen few know, but the truth certainly isn't going to make it into the history books.
  • Pokémon - Ash Ketchum is occasionally recognized by random people who saw him lose in regional tournaments. Nobody seems to know he saves the world a few times every year on the side.
    • Ash himself can't remember the first time he did so.
    • Even more bizarre, no one even mentioned him bringing down two legendaries on live television.
      • Being the ONLY person in the whole of Sinnoh to have managed to take down even one of said legendaries, you'd think that'd earn him some street cred.
  • After Gohan in Dragon Ball Z destroys Cell, Hercule steps in and takes all the credit instead. Not that the heroes mind — they like their privacy. This would become a plot point in the next arc, as Hercule, being the Fake Ultimate Hero, is responsible for most of the energy granted from the Earth's population into Goku's Spirit Bomb, destroying Buu. Even then, the Dragon grants a wish for everyone to forget the devastation Buu causes (the people still somehow remember Hercule as the savior, though).
  • The ending of Revolutionary Girl Utena shows everyone slowly forgetting about Utena and everything she did. Well, almost everyone. While Akio muses on how, despite what she managed to do, she failed to achieve revolution because of this trope, Anthy proves him wrong by voluntarily walking out of the fairy tale-like world of Ohtori Academy to find Utena, signifying the end of Akio's machinations.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: The entire series ends up being a GSNT due to Madoka's wish—only Homura remembers what happened, and even Kyubey only acknowledges that she might be telling the truth.
    • Homura's back story goes unknown for most of the series. It turns out she has been trying to protect Madoka in over 100 timelines and keeps repeating the same month trying to find a way to save her.
  • Gundam 00 has this as the entire premise: everyone thinks Celestial Being is just a terrorist group that just happens to be capable of curbstomping everyone into the ground all by themselves. It does change a little at the end of the second season when they get some recognition for exposing A-LAWS but they're still regarded as terrorists.
    • The Distant Finale at the end of The Movie may have seen them eventually recognized as heroes, if humanity's first two interstellar spaceships (the Sumeragi and the Tieria) being named after members of Celestial Being is any indication.
      • Not to mention the start of the movie, where there's Celestial Being: The Movie, where they're heroes fighting to defeat A-Laws in an inaccurate retelling of the second season.
  • In the G Gundam prequel manga Fight 7th, Shuji Kurosu and his friends AKA the future Master Asia and Shuffle Alliance go to South Pole to keep a crazed terrorist from destroying the space colonies. They succeed, but fail to make it to Gundam Fight's Finals in time and are eliminated. Not only is their story is untold, their home nations also consider them cowards and traitors.
  • Gundam 0083 is all about this trope. The Federation builds a Gundam specifically designed to deliver a nuclear warhead, which gets stolen by Zeon remnants, all as part of a plan to use a Colony Drop to weaken the Federation's authority. All evidence of the incident is hushed up afterwards and the data of the GP-series Gundams is completely erased, though some elements of them show up in Zeta-era machinesnote .
    • The manga Gundam Legacy has a similar tack, especially in the final volume (ironically set one year after 0083). Another group of Zeon holdovers has plans to nuke their home colony as punishment for "knuckling under" to the Federation, and an alliance of Federation, Zeon, and Titans characters forms to prevent the crisis. Again, the incident is hushed up afterwards, and the characters involved either disappear into history or get Reassigned to Antarctica.
  • A Certain Magical Index: Touma Kamijou saves the day all the time, yet no one in Academy City (besides his True Companions, enemies, and Unwanted Harem) have a clue who he is. How Touma is not treated like a celebrity after defeating Accelerator is beyond me, as people do mock Accelerator all the time for the loss. Touma doesn't mind much, as fame doesn't interest him. Touma's adventures are well known in the world of magic, where he is regarded as The Dreaded.
    • Touma isn't a celebrity for defeating Accelerator because Academy City proceeded to put the lid on this, and then publicly acted as if it hadn't even occurred. Also, it wasn't 100% effective. There is still a urban legend going around the City that a level 0 defeated him. What is not known is that Touma was responsible. Also, the reason why Touma was on vacation during the angel fall arc wasn't that he wanted to go on vacation, but that Academy City was still trying to do damage control as a result of Accelerator being beaten.
    • Touma almosts single-handedly defeats some terrorists who hijacked the plane he was on, then leaves to his destination when the plane lands. Despite several people, including the pilot and a flight attendant witnessing this, they don't mention him at all when they get interviewed by reporters.
    • Later, Touma helps save the world and end World War III, but goes missing for a while, with the people who know him thinking he is dead. When he returns, his friends are relieved, but everybody else yells at him for skipping so much school for "no reason".
    • In episode 7 of A Certain Scientific Railgun, Touma saves everyone from the Graviton Bomber's bomb, but since everybody else ducked and closed their eyes, only Mikoto saw it. Everybody assumed Mikoto was the one who blocked the explosion. Later, Mikoto asks Touma why he didn't step up and explain that he was the one who saved the day. Touma says that as long as no one got hurt, it doesn't matter who did it.
    • Why stop with Touma? In Indexverse, the world won't reward you with fame for being a heroic person. Just ask that Shiage guy.
    • Or that Accelerator guy and his little friend.
    • Or that Misaka girl. And Kuroko girl. And Uiharu, and Saten. They solve the Level Upper case and defeat Therestina, and yet no one acknowledges their exploits. Heck, Academy City continues to treat Misaka and her Sisters like dirt.
  • The short film Kigeki is about a young girl who seeks out the Black Swordsman to save her village from an approaching army, in return for a special book. The Swordsman agrees and decimates all 200 soldiers in one night, then, being a vampire, he devours the corpses. The girl sees it all, and before he goes the Swordsman tells her that if she ever breathes a word of it he'll return and kill her too. Many years later, she has continued to keep the secret.
  • Naruto
    • Itachi assassinating the entire Uchiha clan to protect Konoha from a civil war and another Ninja World War that would inevitably follow it.
    • The battle between Minato and Tobi which took place during the Kyuubi attack. Because the only people involved died or went into hiding, nobody knew what really happened that night.
  • A good chunk of the Nations' actions and even relationships in Axis Powers Hetalia would likely be publicly hushed up or disguised.
    • For instance, Russia's direct involvement in Bloody Sunday and the subsequent pain can be nauseating to watch. But at the same time, the viewer/reader somehow knows that most people would never get to hear his side of the story.
    • It's also implied in a strip involving France and one of his soldiers that even if people knew their Nation's tales, they would be too incredible to actually be believable.
  • In Rurouni Kenshin all the events of the Kyoto arc involving Shishio Makoto will always be kept secret, even if the heroes' actions have saved the Meiji Government from chaos.
    • In one episode, Kenshin is taking a walk and sees some thugs threatening a kid. Kenshin is about to intervene when an Old Master takes out the thugs. Because of his Super Speed, Kenshin is the only one who sees this. To everybody else, the thugs just fell unconscious for no reason. Kenshin meets with the old man, who explains that, like Kenshin, he helps people and is not interested in fame.
  • Kirito/Kazuto from Sword Art Online may apply. He saved thousands of people by winning a duel against Kayaba to end the death game earlier.Then, he saved another three hundred from a Fate Worse Than Death by the hands of Sugou. Not satisfied, he was essential for the capture of a serial killer trio.What he got as a reward? A book that talks about his deeds in SAO (without telling who the "Black Swordsman" really is) and money for helping the police.
  • In Murasakiiro No Qualia, only Hatou knows what happens in all the parallel worlds/all the possibilities, due to being able to communicate and share memories, knowledge and experience with her alternate selves. Thus, no one else knows the whole story.
  • In Now and Then, Here and There After Shuzo Matsutani comes from a happy family in modern day earth and is a happy clumsy kid whose a bit jealous of his kendo rival for winning over his crush. He ends up tortured, witnessing multiple murders, the aftermath of a multiple rape victim, and becoming a child soldier. At the end he's sent right back to his own time. The other person from his time to stay behind to lead the new world.
  • The anime of Sailor Moon was originally intended to only run for one season, with Usagi's final wish for a normal life reviving her, Mamoru and the other girls but with no memories of meeting each other or of anything else that happened. Had the show ended there, this means that they fought and died to save the world, but nobody will ever know including themselves (though Artemis has hope that they will all meet again).
  • In a sense, it could be said about the ending of Bokurano. The fifteen kids fight and die to save the world, but nobody except for Machi's brother (who's going to die at the end of his battle), their closest relatives and a few selected government people know about it. And the relatives know just because Machi and Ushiro took their time to travel through Japan and bothered to tell them, otherwise they would be in the dark too.

    Comic Books 
  • In All-Star Superman, at the end of "The Superman-Olsen War", Jimmy laments that his turning into Doomsday to stop an out-of-control Superman is the coolest "what-I-spent-my-day-doing" story ever and he can't tell anyone. No one except some of the P.R.O.J.E.C.T. staff, Jimmy, and Superman himself know.
  • In the DC Universe, Booster Gold is going through his entire superhero career as The Greatest Story Never Told, as he deals with Time Travel, so he has to be an idiot in the history books in order to prevent anyone messing with the timeline from having 'Eliminate Booster Gold' as step one.
    • Batman knows, because Booster's failed attempt to prevent Batgirl's handicapping as per The Killing Joke results in Joker's camera having pictures of a beaten Booster. When he revealed this to Booster, he offered himself as a Secret Keeper.
  • The UK Sonic the Comic did this in spades for Miles "Tails" Prower's early appearances. He had several comic where he would return to the Nameless Zone or join the Zonerunners in Chemical Plant Zone where he would perform great feats (usually by fluke), save the day, but on return not be able to say anything to Sonic either because it's hard for him to explain what happened or because Sonic is just too damn eager to move onto the next thing. A Summer Special issue continued this tradition by having a comic where Tails took out a whole swarm of badniks, only to have the last one catch him off guard and have Sonic to save him from it. Sonic admonishes Tails for not being able to defeat "one measly badnik" and doesn't believe Tails' protests that there were many more of them.
    • In another story, Dr. Robotnik becomes all-powerful after stealing the power of the Chaos emeralds. Sonic and Knuckles defeat him and revert the changes he made to reality, then Sonic complains that it was the toughest challenge he'd ever won and nobody would ever know it happened.
  • In Don Rosa's Donald Duck stories, Donald saves the feathers of his uncle and his nephews numerous times on each of Scrooge's treasure ventures. Most of the time no-one seems to notice his involuntary self-sacrifices, though the trope might feel a bit ignored, as Scrooge often observes the hapless heroics while commenting calmly on the situation. The answer might be that Donald has saved them so many times the bravado has lost all effect.
    • Finally, finally subverted in Rosa's final Donald story, The Magnificent Seven (Minus Four) Caballeros, in which Pancho Pistoles and Jose Carioca are flabbergasted by Donald's off-hand comments about his adventures with his rich uncle, particularly when he backs it up by saving their bacon repeatedly. Actually being noticed, much less 'praised'', did wonders for Don's self-esteem (as opposed to his ego).
  • One of the many, many spinoffs to The Sandman was a miniseries called, Merv Pumpkinhead, Agent of D.R.E.A.M. in which the eponymous character — who mostly exists in the main series as comic relief — saves the Earth from a madman who wants to use Morpheus' dream-sand to conquer it. Predictably, nobody in the Dreamworld believes a word of it.
  • Depending on your views on Adrian, the main plot of Watchmen may or may not play it straight. He claims to be saving the world- by killing millions of people and creating enough fear to prevent a nuclear holocaust that would kill billions instead. For obvious reasons, he doesn't admit to it, but he also loses likely trillions of dollars and his own peace of mind as well in the process and doesn't benefit from it at all.
    • Technically, assuming that his predictions of the nuclear war and its prevention are right on the money (questionable but possible), he does save his own life and business by saving the world. Hard to sell anything after the civilization is gone, even if you personally survive the holocaust in some remote location.
    • It's also left deliberately ambiguous as to whether the story never gets told or not.
  • The League of Losers from the Marvel Universe. After a time-travelling supervillain called Chronok wipes out pretty much every superbeing on the planet thanks to future knowledge and technology, a group of little-known heroes (and one villain) are the only survivors. They manage to stop Chronok before he can kill everyone, saving the entire timeline...and are stuck in the alternate future. Not only will nobody in the 'core' reality ever know who saved the world, they won't even know it needed saving.
  • In Saga Of The Swamp Thing, even the other DC superheroes are surprised and stymied by Woodrue's attempts to unleash Gaia's Vengeance, as none of them had ever seen fit to include backwoods Louisiana as part of their protected territory. After Swamp Thing get the Green to settle down and quit listening to the Floronic Man's ravings, the Justice League (and presumably the world at large) has no clue what it was that stopped the plants from attacking, they're just relieved that somebody is looking out for all those little unregarded dots on the map.
  • A six-issue limited series from Marvel Comics told the story of a normal human who was down on his luck and borderline suicidal who gets killed right as an extra-dimensional big bad is opening a rift with a magic artifact intending to unleash the embodiment of Death upon the multiverse. His resulting passage through the gate closes it and bonds him to the weapon making him immortal and causing him to be reborn into another universe anytime he dies as only the weapon can end his life. He eventually foolishly returns the weapon to the Big Bad after getting a promise to leave Earth alone and return him there but upon seeing all the deaths occurring sacrifices his life and dies a noble hero to end the Big Bad's scheme once and for all. Meanwhile back on earth you see the heartbreaking disposal of his worldly possessions such as family photos in a trash can while being called a worthless loser.
  • A Doctor Strange/Spider-Man team-up involved Spidey's associates (including J.J.) being abducted to another dimension through the manipulations of Baron Mordo. After Strange and Spider-Man freed them, they could see how badly the experience had traumatized them, and Spidey asked Doctor Strange to erase their memories, knowing they would forget his heroism too.
  • An issue of Invincible Universe has Best tiger killing the guardians of the globe. it turns out to be him keeping a villain busy who had been trying to brainwash him into killing them for real but he's able to track him down and shoot him in the exact spot to take away his power without killing him. The issue ends with the hero of the story being told off for ignoring their main responsibility and that they need to "pull their weight".
  • A running theme in several stories by Will Eisner who noted that the fact that people in real life were heroic in all kinds of small, invisible ways that people will never know, made him "angry at life". Several stories in The Spirit qualify, most famously, "The Story of Gerhard Schnobble".

    Film 
  • Evil Ambitions (on DVD as Satanic Yuppies) has a reporter uncover a Satanic plot to hand the world over to a group of wine-cooler-drinking yuppies. He stops the forces of Hell but Satan simply lets him go, knowing that he'll never be able to write the biggest story of his career.
  • General Custer's speech at the end of the second Night at the Museum. "The greatest battle the world will never know?" Considering said battle took one night, and had only 40 soldiers fighting it, most of them miniatures, presumably Custer is indulging in a little exaggeration.
  • Men In Black mentions this as one of the downsides of being a MIB: "You ever hear of a guy named James Edwards? He saved 80 people on a subway car tonight, and nobody knows he even exists."
  • Salt featured this in the ending, where the main character (Salt) saves America, Russia, the Middle East, and probably the rest of the world from nuclear holocaust by defeating the real villain, a Russian double agent in the CIA. The rest of the CIA arrives to see Salt and the Russian fighting, and because of the circumstances leading up to the ending, the CIA assumes Salt is one trying to kill the President and the world. In reality, she is stopping an Evil Plan by killing the Russian double agents, and no one will ever know except for one CIA agent that can never tell anyone.
  • Mel Brooks' adaptation of To Be or Not to Be. An actor impersonates several Nazi officers, including Hitler, and when the whole deception is over, he remarks to himself, "My greatest performance ever...and no one saw it."
  • In Wag The Dog, Hollywood producer Stanley Motss is initially enthusiastic about the fictional war he'll be "producing" just because of the challenge, but as time goes on the fact that he can't tell anyone about it eats at him more and more. Eventually his refusal to keep quiet gets him killed.
  • In Source Code, the main character is sent to find out who destroyed a train, a few minutes before it happens. After many failed attempts (after each, he is sent back to the time a few minutes before it happens), this trope is invoked when he succeeds so well that nobody knew what he did—apparently he created an alternate world
  • The Legend of 1900 is in essence about one such story: that of a brilliant pianist who's stayed his entire life aboard the ocean liner he was born in. If not for a repaired LP record of the man's music (and the memory of a friend who kept said record), his tale would have literally gone down with the ship forever.
  • In Gangster Squad, the Squad's actions were not recorded in history and the Chief of Police got all the credit for stopping notorious crime lord Mickey Cohen, so only the Squad's friends and family know what they did.
  • At the end of Edge of Tomorrow, only three people will ever know that Cage, Vrataski, Dr. Carter, and J Squad saved the world — and no-one will believe any of them. On a smaller scale, every time Cage participates in the battle on the beach he sees many acts of heroism as well as countless pointless deaths. Every time the timeline resets, only he remembers any of it.

    Literature 
  • When Turtle wins The Westing Game, she never tells any of the other heirs (including her husband) what the answer was, or that it had a winner at all.
  • Several times in The Lord of the Rings it is implied that the majority of the peoples populating Middle-earth have forgotten almost everything about the First and Second Ages, including the existence of The One Ring of Power. Even Gandalf is unsure on the details until he spends almost a year in research. This, of course, changes.
    • And in Tolkien's other books sharing the setting, it eventually becomes clear that the victory over Sauron was partially contingent on the activities of two people who are never mentioned by name nor barely alluded to in the trilogy. (They kept most of Sauron's forces tied up deeper within his domain and well away from the events of the books, preventing him from simply crushing the allied armies and flooding Mordor with so many troops the hobbits likely wouldn't have successfully slipped by.)
    • Also, despite the fact that Frodo essentially saved the world, among his fellow hobbits, he is much less famous than Sam, Merry, or Pippin. This is mostly due to the hobbits' remarkable focus on their own culture over all others, so that Merry and Pippin, as the defeaters of Saruman, and Sam, the Mayor, are respected and immortalized while Frodo is generally ignored.
      • This, of course, is inverted in that Frodo and Sam are, quite justly, the most famous hobbits since, well, ever in the rest of Middle-Earth.
  • Gunner Ferik Jurgen, aide to Ciaphas Cain and often directly responsible for many of his greatest feats, is nevertheless omitted from pretty much all media that deals with the Commissar's life, a fact that irritates Cain to no end.
  • In the new Rynn's World 40K novel, several of these are mentioned in passing, most notably the last actions of a particular artillery crew who died in sending their co-ordinates to other crews, in order to wipe out at least some of the massive Ork horde at their location. The sergeant's last words? "For the glory of Rynn's World, shining gem of the Imperium, second only to Terra itself."
  • Timothy Zahn wrote a pair of Star Wars Expanded Universe novels called "Survivor's Quest" and "Outbound Flight"; "Survivor's Quest" has Luke and Mara looking at the ruin of Outbound Flight and finding survivors, "Outbound Flight" deals with Outbound Flight and the circumstances that led to its crash. They're set several decades apart and were written in that order.
    • From Survivor's Quest we know that the survivor civilization hates the Jedi for having a hand in their situation, and Luke and Mara find a lightsaber and a distinct Chiss weapon. Chiss forces shot down Outbound Flight; thus, the two Jedi assume that this was the site where a Jedi fought invading Chiss and both died. Reading Outbound Flight, we find that this Jedi and that Chiss were working together to save those survivors, knowing that in doing so they were going to die. And no one ever knew. It's a little heartbreaking. Even Luke and Mara, Jedi themselves, never knew.
  • G. K. Chesterton 's Father Brown story "The Sign of the Broken Sword" has Father Brown piece together what really happened in a battle where, according to the official version, "one of the wisest men in the world acted like an idiot for no reason. One of the best men in the world acted like a fiend for no reason." According to Fr. Brown, "First there is what everybody knows; and then there is what I know. Now, what everybody knows is short and plain enough. It is also entirely wrong." Fr. Brown chooses to keep his (public) silence about what really happened because in none of the memorials of the event does he see anyone wrongly condemned, only wrongly praised.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, Jaime Lannister is villainized as the Kingslayer for murdering the king he had sworn to protect, even though everyone knew the king was insane. What they didn't know was that King Aerys was so insane that he had rigged his entire capital to explode if his army was defeated, and Jaime killed him to save the lives of the half million people who lived in the city. The reason Jaime never told anyone this is (probably) that even though he broke his oath to protect the king, he still has a lot more honor than people give him credit for, and it could be he saw no reason to break his oath to keep the king's secrets. A need to be liked isn't really a part of his character, but he is still too proud to make excuses for his actions. It's also implied that the guilt he feels over all the other things he stood by and watched Aerys do plays a part (ironically nobody besmirches his honor for standing by and watching innocent men be burned alive, strangled to death, etc). In the TV show he makes it clear that he just doesn't think anyone would believe him.
  • In Sheri S. Tepper's The Fresco, when a miracle is faked to allow the eponymous fresco to be repainted.
  • In Cthulhu Mythos. None other than The Call of Cthulhu, Gustav Johansen manages to avert Cthulhu's awakening by ramming his head with a steamship, so he's stuck in R'yleh once more as he begins to regenerate - saving mankind from global madness. Johansen never tells anyone and only the narrator knows this from his diary.
  • In Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan universe Miles Vorkosigan undergoes this, somewhat on purpose. He is basically a highly decorated covert ops agent, while in his public persona he projects a spoiled noble who got a cushy job because of his father's influence. "Trying so hard, no wonder he'd succeeded in convincing everyone, even himself, that Lord Vorkosigan didn't... count." So what does he do in Memory when the new security chief has him physically thrown out of the HQ and threatens to do much worse if he ever comes back? He goes home, puts on his uniform and ALL his medals, including multiple of the highest medal his empire could give, the highest given by their mortal enemies, a row and a half of purple hearts and assorted high honors from the many planets he'd saved. Then he goes to see one of the few people who knew he earned all of those. Also a fun scene when the new chief sees him like that. "I didn't clean out my father's desk drawer, if that's what you're asking. Everything here is accounted for, in my classified files. You may be one of the few men on the planet who doesn't have to take my word for it.".
    • The capper is Haroche's line: "Is that really a Cetagandan Order of Merit?"
      • This is in fact typical of the exploits of ImpSec covert operatives. Very few people outside of ImpSec ever hear about them. Miles just has a lot more of these stories than anyone else in the business.
      • And Gregor's reaction: ". . .Good God. . .I don't think I've ever seen you come the Vor lord with intent."
  • Harry Potter:
    • Harry witnesses Voldemort's resurrection, duels him and sort-of defeats him. In the process, he manages to bring home Cedric Diggory's body (killed by Peter Pettigrew on Voldemort's orders). Unfortunately, even though the agent that sent Harry and Cedric to Voldemort is captured, no-one believes Harry's story that Voldemort is back. Even Dumbledore is pilloried in both the press and by the Minister for Magic for supporting Harry's version of events. This is eventually resolved when everyone accepts Voldemort is back a year later.
    • Word of God states that Snape was never fully vindicated; while Harry spreads the story, a good portion of the public are skeptical about his motivations and remain unconvinced.
    • The series offers more poignant examples in the form of Frank Bryce and Regulus Black. Both of them took stands against Voldemort, but no one was there to see it and they died alone. Regulus died in a Heel-Face Turn that nobody knew about until years later, at which point his own White Sheep brother Sirius had died, and who earlier dismissed Regulus as a "little idiot". Frank Bryce likewise is Misblamed for murders committed by Voldemort himself and on his death, the townsfolk still believe he had done it.
  • Patrick McLanahan from Dale Brown books experiences both this and Famed in Story. While he is recognised as a hero for such events as the counterattack against the American Holocaust, there are also many of his world-saving missions that the public will never know about until he's dead if not years after due to being black ops.
  • The very nature of the Oblivion War in The Dresden Files makes all battles the Venatori fight to protect humanity this trope by default. In fact, if any of said battles became known to an outsider, it would automatically become a sound defeat.
  • Star Wars: This is how it is for all of the clone troopers. Non-clones can't tell them apart, many have no idea that they even are individuals (unless they work with them on a regular basis)—for all intents and purposes, they are the same. Which means that any heroism that an individual clone performs will be forgotten in the grand scheme of the entire army. In one novel, The Cestus Deception, a clone named Nate berates a woman who rants at him for his apparent lack of empathy.
    Nate: Men like me protect you.
    Sheeka: From other men like you.
    Nate: No. Men like me don't start the wars. We just die in them. We've always died in them, and we always will. We don't expect any praise for it, no parades. No one knows our names. In fact, by your standards we have no names at all... We don't have names, and no one will ever know who we are. But we do. We always do.
  • In Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, this is the fate of King Eahlstan Fiskerne and his battle with the great red dragon, Shurakai. Beloved as he was, it is only known publicly that the dragon killed him, and that decades later, Prester John came and finally slew the dragon, ascending to the kingship as a result. The League of the Scroll (and the Sithi), however, preserve the true secret of the Fiskerne line: he killed the dragon, taking his death-wound in the process. John took his sword Minneyar, renamed it Bright-Nail, and claimed to be the dragon's killer. This lie festers beneath the plot like an untreated wound and is largely responsible for the Sithi's failure to come to the aid of humanity in its struggle against the Storm King until it's almost too late.
  • The Star Trek: Vanguard series concerns itself with this (focusing on a highly classified Starfleet operation in the Taurus Reach), particularly given that one of its characters, Tim Pennington, is a journalist trying to get the facts made public. One of the books in Star Trek: The Lost Era demonstrates that a century after Project Vanguard the existence of the Scary Dogmatic Aliens at the heart of it all is common knowledge in the Federation, at least on the level of "they were here", but much of what the characters did in the Taurus Reach remains unacknowledged. The Star Trek: Typhon Pact novel Paths of Disharmony features classified records of Project Vanguard as an essential part of its plot, confirming that although some of the events are widely known (the Tholians won't let the memories die, for one thing), much of the true picture is deeply buried beyond the reach of anyone but the highest members of the Federation government and Starfleet Command. The final page of the Vanguard series finale, Storming Heaven, pretty much confirms that this trope is the major theme of the series.
  • A secondary character in Area 7 is a brilliant computer analyst and mathematician, at one point cracking a supposedly uncrackable encryption for the CIA. However, since you can't let your opponent know you've broken his encryption, his highest honor was a medal and a pat on the back.
  • This is the life story of Alex Rider. He saves the world, or at least the country, over and over and over again, and all he gets is everyone thinking that he's a "druggie" because he misses school all the time in order to save their lives.
  • In The Barrow this trope is initially averted as Stjepan makes sure that the family and friends of the people who died in their expedition to the first barrow, all know what happened and how everyone died. However, it is played straight in the end of the book as the expedition to the second barrow ends up costing most of the characters their lives and what happened there will be only known to a few key people who will keep it secret. In fact a number of brave and honorable knights who died on the expedition will instead be remembered back home as traitors and renegades because they never got the chance to return and clear their names.

    Live Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Xander chooses not to tell anyone about his role in saving the day in "The Zeppo." Namely, while the rest of the cast is in a battle to save the universe with each character getting a high drama moment, Xander escapes from a gang of reanimated corpses, roots gets rooted by Faith, then works out the gang had built a bomb and plan to blow up the school. For the Evulz. As the rest of the cast was fighting in the school to stop the Hellmouth from opening, the bomb would have killed them, and allowed the Hellmouth to stay open. Near the end of the same episode, the other characters (unwittingly) lampshade the fact that they never got to see Xander kill most of the gang and make the leader stop the bomb with the line "The world will never know how close it came to ending last night".
    • "I'm oddly full for some reason." Oz was going out of control as a werewolf and was placed in the school basement, where he eats the gang leader after Xander makes him switch off the bomb.
    • Perfect capper to this episode; all throughout the episode, Cordelia has been making snide comments to Xander about how useless and redundant he is, which has affected his confidence. At the end, she sneers another one at him... only this time, he just smirks back and walks away. Cordelia, flustered, is reduced to yelling "What? What?!" at his back. He doesn't answer, realizing that he is, in fact, Made of Win and doesn't need anyone's validation to be sure of it.
    • Also virtually every slayer that ever lived. Very few people know they exist, they routinely put their lives on the line to save people and are almost certainly going to die very young and very messily.
  • Fame: The TV Series had an episode entitled "The Crimson Blade" where the main character of a swashbuckling play inspires the students to fight back against an oppressive substitute principal. Everyone assumes the Blade is Jesse, the popular student playing the role in the play. It's actually the unlikable Miltie, and in the end only Jesse and Miltie know the truth.
  • The entirety of Doctor Who is arguably a Greatest Story Never Told. With the exception of Jon Pertwee's tenure as the Doctor (most of which was spent with him stranded on Earth) the Doctor rarely, if ever, sticks around after saving the world/galaxy/universe, with only a handful of survivors to know that he even exists, let alone about his involvement. On the other hand, he has justified this as far as "The Power of the Daleks" — he just doesn't want to get stuck with the bill.
    • A touching version of this trope appears in the episode "Father's Day". Pete Tyler sacrifices his life to save the world —- but nobody will ever know except for the one person who matters most; his daughter.
    • A more specific example is the Series 3 finale episodes: During the Year That Never Was, Martha Jones became known world-wide as she traveled the Earth as part of her plan to defeat the Master. But because the plan involved the year, well, never being, the only people who know what happened were those on the Valiant.
    • Inverted in the Series 4 finale "Journey's End". Donna Noble saves the damn universe and isn't allowed to remember it or ANY of her travels with the Doctor else she'll die — although everyone else knows, including a few alien civilizations. Some viewers still haven't finished spewing vulgarities at Russell T. Davies for it.
    • As a matter of fact, a track on the Series 4 OST is named "The Greatest Story Never Told", which is used so extensively throughout Series 3 and 4 (from at least "Gridlock", through "The Fires of Pompeii" to at least River Song's magnificent death) that it is hard to resist the conclusion that RTD knew exactly which trope's chain he was yanking.
    • Actually pointed out and then averted at the end of "The Next Doctor", where the Doctor saves the day from the Cybermen, and Jackson calls out to the entire crowd on the streets about what the Doctor does, how he never gets any credit for saving the world time and time again, and then gets the crowd to clap and cheer for him. The Doctor can't help but show a small grin.
    • This trope found frustrating new heights in Series 5, as the Doctor gradually discovers that the cracks in time have erased Donna's sacrifice and the Cybermen attack on Victorian London from history, making these instead The Greatest Stories That Never Actually Happened, leaving the Doctor alone with the painful memories. And then he presses the Reset Button, and that's a problem no longer.
  • In the Scrubs episode "Their Story", Ted secretly gives the nurses the means to get the pay increase they deserve from Kelso. He doesn't care that they don't know it was him.
    Kelso: Ted! Did you have something to do with this?
  • In an early episode of Bones, Booth threatens a gangster with his gun, warning him to stay away from Brennan (who had provoked him to the point of putting a price on her head). Booth is subsequently late to a funeral, which she berates him for...but he never tells her what made him late.
  • On The West Wing, Vice-President Hoynes, while not a bad guy, occupies a significantly different spot on the Sliding Scale of Cynicism Versus Idealism than most of the characters, rarely doing anything that's not at least partly for his own political gain, and is constantly resentful of having to live in the president's shadow (among other things, he was originally the favorite for the party's nomination). In one episode, though ("Stirred"), he stops sponsoring an Internet education bill that's been his pet project for years, because the Republican-controlled Congress doesn't want to pass such a popular bill with the Democratic VP's name attached to it while he and the president are running for reelection.
    • Also notable because most of the White House senior staff spend the episode considering whether or not they want to replace Hoynes on the ticket, and it's revealed near the end of the episode that Hoynes was able to guess what they were doing.
    • Another example has Toby realizing a Republican senator would be interested in sponsoring a bill to reform Social Security so it won't go bankrupt. He does all the legwork to get a Democrat who's willing to also co-sponsor, and (after having to write up a letter of resignation because one of his earlier attempts embarrassed the White House) the staff discover that both senators won't do it unless they can say they approached each other. Toby, President Bartlet, and the White House get no credit at all.
    • Invoked in the episode 'Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going to Jail', where an FBI agent (played by a guy who'd play another G-Man a few years later) says in response to accusing the wrong people of being Russian spies that the FBI's failures are public while their successes are private, and they don't take a curtain call even with a big win.
  • In Babylon 5, this happens to the victors of the Shadow War when Earth restricts news about that conflict.
    Marcus Cole: "Typical. First time in my life I'm a war hero, and nobody knows about it."
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has an episode where Benjamin Sisko explains how he tricked Romulans to join the Federation in their war against Dominion: by giving a dangerous substance to a criminal in exchange of Cardassian secret writing material, writing a fake info framing the Dominion there and then killing the Romulan contact so that Romulans assume it was genuine (as Dominion must have killed him for it). The Episode ends with "Computer, erase recording".
    • Season 6 Episode 19 "In the Pale Moonlight". It often comes up in rankings as the greatest Star Trek episode ever made.
  • Star Trek: Voyager has "Course:Oblivion" which depicts the adventures of a "fake" (copied) Voyager. They all are destroyed moments before being found by real Voyager, which never finds out what happened. Tear Jerker and Shoot the Shaggy Dog in the same Package.
  • Early episodes of NCIS played with this, as they would be referred to at best as 'a federal agency' when their actions made the news, if their contributions were mentioned at all. Other times, other law enforcement members or agencies would take all the credit entirely, even if the team did all the actual work. This has fallen by the wayside as the show's gone on, though there are still a couple of occasions where civilians don't recognize the name.
    Halloween Party Guest: "Nice costumes, but you spelled CSI wrong."
    • Gibbs does this to a serial killer in one episode. The killer killed multiple people in bizarre ways so when caught the trial would become a media sensation. Gibbs has enough of the case classified secret for (flimsy) national security reasons that the killer is barely mentioned on TV.
  • Beautifully used in LOST for scrappies Nikki and Paulo. It was revealed in Exposé that they were in fact the first to find an important Dharma Initiative station and find that the Others are real after overhearing Ben and Juliet. But by the end of the episode they were killed off.
  • Cousin Skeeter accidentally warps his friends on a space-faring adventure, thwarts a stereotypical bug queen overlord, and even plants a mole so that her 50,000,000 year old plot for world domination will be thwarted in the long run. Then his friends get deneuralized by Kay. IN GOLF PANTS. He rolled a natural 20 on dodge, the others call him stupid.
  • Bulk and Skull have their Crowning Moment of Awesome in "When is a Ranger Not a Ranger?". Unfortunately the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers Monster of the Week erases memories, so no one knows what happened.
    • They get another in Power Rangers Zeo when the two are warped to an alien planet controlled by the Big Bad and help start a successful rebellion. On the planet they're deemed heroes. But as usual once they get back to Earth, no one believes them.
  • In the Criminal Minds episode "Painless", a social pariah stares down a Mad Bomber and survives. Technically, his story is told — but by the guy who steals it for his own, passing himself off as the hero while the pariah is hospitalized. The real events of that day are left untold until the UnSub finally snaps.
  • Bates from Downton Abbey tries constantly to be this, but is increasingly thwarted by Lord Grantham and the rest of the household staff's affection and concern for him. Anna in particular is very good at weaseling the (always very noble) truth about his past out of him, especially once they become a couple. It takes nearly the entire first season of the show for the characters and the audience to find out where Bates lived before coming to Downton, and still longer for them to find out why such an evidently kind and honorable man would have spent time in prison for theft. Turns out he was covering for his evil wife, who had actually stolen the silver.
  • One episode of The Outer Limits (1995), "The Voyage Home", revolved around a trio of astronauts traveling back to Earth from Mars. Earlier, two of the astronauts had been replaced by aliens, leaving just the one human who eventually learns about the impostor. Forced to choose between making it back to Earth and the fame and glory he would receive and preventing the alien species from spreading to Earth, the final astronaut finally decides to be a hero and sabotages the re-entry procedure causing the ship to burn up, with Ground Control believing it to be a disasterous malfunction. The ending narration: The true measure of a hero is when a man lays down his life with the knowledge that those he saves... will never know.
  • Merlin is built on the trope. Magic is punishable by death, and so to everyone except the court physician, Merlin is Arthur's clumsy, moronic servant who can't wield a sword and mainly serves as the Plucky Comic Relief and Butt Monkey of the team. Behind the scenes, Merlin defeats dragons, two immortal armies, and countless magical foes. Also deconstructed to a point, as Merlin has deal with the emotional baggage that being treated as a useless coward while you save everyone's skins.
    Merlin: I just want Arthur to trust me, and to see me for who I really am. Everything I do is for him, and he still thinks I'm an idiot.
  • Person of Interest has an episode with an incredibly small B-plot in which Fusco has to protect the POI model from the Armenian Mob. Even we aren't sure what (mostly) happened, as it is told with just bits and pieces.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons adventure I5 Lost Tomb of Martek. At the end of the adventure the title wizard tells the PCs that:
    Those people that cast you into this desert land will no longer remember you. You are once again free to travel the face of this world as you want. All to whom you tell this tale will believe it to be but a fable. Only you shall know the truth of what you have seen.
  • Exalted: The Lunars' sacrifice during the Balorian Crusade. Creation knows that the Scarlet Empress Fantastic Nuke'd The Fair Folk, but they don't know who bought time for her to do that. Even worse, the Lunars remain anathema in the Scarlet Empress' reign.
    • Though this should be taken with a grain of salt. While there is no question that the Scarlet Empress saved Creation, there are several books that "reveal" that the only reason she succeeded was because some other group helped her. So far the Lunars, Sidereals and Fair Folk themselves have all taken credit for her victory, which really brings into question whether any of them actually are responsible for what happened, or whether they just tell themselves that they are.
    • This is inevitable for the Sidereals. It's not that no one know their deed, it's that there's a strong magic that remove them from the public memory. It's a necessity, really.
  • "For every battle honour, a thousand heroes die alone, unsung, and unremembered."

    Video Games 
  • Getting the bad ending in Giga Wing with Shinnosuke yields an ending in which he is forgotten from history.
  • Final Fantasy I ends with no one remembering the Light Warriors because they repaired the time loop. Even the Light Warriors themselves are rendered unaware of what they did.
    • In fact, the text-only ending breaks the fourth wall to say that the only one who will remember the events of the game is the player, and that it's incumbent on the player to do so, or it was all meaningless.
  • The whole plot of Final Fantasy Tactics. The Church erases Ramza from history to hide its corruption. It then subverts this trope through the game's narrator, who is a historian who reveals the truth of the events, and is a descendant of one of Ramza's (very few) allies.
  • Betrayal at Krondor ends up being this in the context of the series on which the game was based, because it ties into the secret of the Lifestone beneath Sethanon, which is where the final struggle takes place. As a result, Gorath may have died a hero and the best proof that the moredhel and enemies of the Kingdom are not Always Chaotic Evil, but aside from his travelling companions, no one will ever know.
  • The plot of Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia in the game universe's timeline. Shanoa defeats Dracula and wins back her emotions and memories, but she and the story of her adventure vanish from history.
    • Kind of justified in context, given where Ecclesia derives from. Ecclesiastes 9:5: For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten. Further the villagers she saved are descendants of the Belmont line that had lost their way- by saving them she spurred them to train in the ways of vampire slaying again, and they remember Shanoa even if no one else does.
  • The epilogue of Einhänder mentions that both the Earth Force and Selene have deleted every record of the protagonist's existence and endeavours. Only "those who actually fought and were wounded in the war know the name of 'EINHÄNDER'."
  • Happens in the Prologue of the first Mother game: George returns home and tells nobody what happened to him and his wife who by the way never returned.
  • The story of Halo 3: ODST, being a mere aside to the fantastic adventures of the Master Chief. Halo: Reach shares this to some extent with Noble Six's role.
  • Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. After falling in love with the Princess, and watching her plummet to her death, the Prince returns to the Hourglass of Time (which contained the Sands of Time whose released turned everyone in the kingdom into baddies), and used the Dagger of Time to re-seal the Sands into the Hourglass, and undoing the events of the night. The Prince wakes up in his camp with the Dagger in his hand, and steals his way in to the Princess's chambers to tell her the story. She doesn't remember a bit of it.
  • In Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction, you have to save Seoul from destruction in one mission. When you finish it, Fiona would joke about how they would never know you saved them. The mercenary responds that fortune would be preferable to fame.
  • While it is not emphasized, in the Thief series, most of the cataclysmic events that Garret is again and again embroiled in never reach the general public's attention. In fact, the only people who know about most of his exploits are the Keepers, whose very existence itself is unknown to Normal People. Also, Garret himself is referred to as "The Greatest Thief the World Has Never Seen".
  • The Ending of Metal Max Returns after you choose to return home after defeating Noah
  • By the end of ARMA 2, you- having gotten a promotion to leading an ultra-secret USMC detachment to the unstable allied nation of Chernarus- have cut through at least a hundred Mooks and have been in dozens of battles. And that won't get you much alone. But, if you get the best ending, the death toll is more in likely in the couple hundred range, while you have also fought your way through extremely inhospitable terrain often cut off from allied forces, have almost singlehandedly destroyed the Communist insurgency, have engineered an alliance between the Chernarusian government and the underground Nationalist party, have hunted down several very nasty terrorists, and have helped stave off Russian intervention if not all out war. The ending you get? "The war that never was."
  • Single Player Minecraft is essentially this, until a new update anyway, when there are actually mobs that recognize your deeds.
  • The entire plot of Mass Effect 2 features this. It's made fairly clear from the get-go that neither the Council or the Alliance know or care what you're doing against the Collectors. All you've got is yourself, the Illusive Man and your crew of unstable maniacs and if you all die in the ensuing suicide mission, no-one will probably know until it's too late.
    • It's subverted in the last DLC for the game though, where Shepard ends up doing something to stop the Reapers that everyone takes notice and blames him/her for.
    • Invoked by Jacob when he tells Shepard about his background and what he did to get noticed and recruited by Cerberus- stopping an assassination plot on the Citadel that was covered up for political reasons. As he puts it:
      Jacob: "Good deeds are like pissing yourself in dark pants - warm feeling but nobody notices"
    • Narrowly averted in Mass Effect 1. If not for discovering Vigil on Ilos, no subsequent race would have ever known about the Protheans sacrificing themselves on the Citadel in order to derail the Reaper fleet.
    • Also referenced in the "hold the line" speech in the first game; Kirrahe's team would be legendary if the records weren't all sealed.
  • In the Touhou game Imperishable Night, the real incident is not the eponymous unending night; that's actually a spell that the protagonists are casting to buy time so that they can resolve the problem of the corrupted full moon. However, it appears that only the protagonists you choose, the villains causing the corrupted moon, and possibly Keine, know about this. Everyone else assumes that the imperishable night is the true incident; indeed, the stage four boss is either Reimu or Marisa, who confront your characters to end the imperishable night in their usual way, thinking you to be the "final boss".
    • This happens often in Gensokyou, actually. Many of the incidents are found and solved outside the public's knowledge, which makes it a bit hard for Reimu when no one comes to donate to her...
  • This happens every time you do one of the story missions in Infamous, both the voice of survival and the USTV network provide different stories as to what happened, a particular example is the first train mission to save a bunch of civilians from the abandoned trains, the voice claims it was a "group of concerned citizens" and also trashes cole and USTV says something about a bunch of paratroopers that didn't exist
    • It is a justified trope, as in Truth's last message It's made clear that it was Kessler who was keeping him quiet.
    • It's heavily implied that while the rest of the country doesn't know about Cole's existence, the citizens of Empire City know who their hero is. This is enforced by times in the sequel where side missions will involve people who know he helped specific people in the first game and thank him for it, and of course by the end of the game, everyone in the city knows about what Cole did for them.
  • At the end of the original Resistance, Nathan is taken by Black Ops and put into the top secret "Sentinel Program" while the Army is left to believe that He died in the destruction of the conversion center. After the end of the second game only a few people truth about what happened. What's left of SRPA, Capelli, and Malikov.
  • Despite what Rance has done to the whole world, no one really knows about him. Of course, there are a ton of reasons behind it from a queen who's a Clingy Jealous Girl to the fact that the entire country had a civil war. Sengoku Rance may probably be the first time that he'll be mentioned as the savior of JAPAN.
  • Muv-Luv Alternative: Second Lieutenant Takeru Shirogane's achievements and central role in completing Alternative IV, and even his existence, will never be revealed to the rest of the world, due to him ceasing to exist and consequently getting wiped from the memories of everyone except Kasumi and Yuuko, who had vowed to take the secret of his existence, and therefore that of parallel worlds, to the grave. With all of his comrades dead, no one else will ever know that a certain bratty hero saved the world. No one.
  • Dead Rising turns out to be this, one way or another. In three out of five endings, Frank manages to get most-to-all of the details of the story he's chasing but never leaves the mall. He finally does in the ending to Overtime mode, but exactly what happens after that is hard to say aside from heavy implication that eventually became a zombie. In the other endings in which he makes it out safely with whatever survivors he's rounded up, the epilogue states that he was able to write several articles on the events at Willamette themselves, but then again, never learned the truth behind the Zombie Apocalypse.
    • The official ending states that, as any society overflowing with information, America quickly forgot about the Willamette Incident.
    • The sequel, however, ignores the endings in which this happens, though Frank isn't famous regardless.
  • As per it's setting, Call of Duty: Black Ops is all about this trope, as it turns out the main character was responsible for saving the United States from a catastrophic mass attack with nerve gas in 1968.
    • And firing a rifle in Dallas, Texas in 1963. But the less said about that the better.
  • If the player chooses the good ending in Singularity, he goes back in time and shoots himself to prevent his past self from unintentionally saving the Big Bad. Doing so causes him to fall down, then wake up at the beginning of the game with all of his memories intact. He saved the world, and nobody knows it—hell, there isn't even a shred of evidence that it happened.
  • The neutral ending of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne ends with the main character undoing The End of the World as We Know It and restoring it to its previous state. Because everyone else was either destroyed by said ending of the world or killed during your quest to restore the world, only one person aside from the main character will ever know he did it. It's subverted by the fact that all the demons remember it. And, apparently, YHVH. And according to Lucifer, He will not be happy about it...
  • In Tales of Vesperia, the guild Brave Vesperia saves the world from multiple threats including the designs of a madman and the horrific doom he inadvertently unleashes upon the world. They also save many people along the way such as the victims of an incredibly corrupt nobleman. The only people who know of all their deeds and are not actually members of Brave Vesperia can be counted on one hand. Granted some of them are very important people but it is implied that the protagonist at least never gets the recognition he is due because of the circumstances. Namely Yuri allows Flynn to take the credit for most of his accomplishments, and by extension Brave Vesperia's, because this allows Flynn to affect change from within the system in a position of strength. Due to taking all their credit, Flynn gets promoted to Commandant in the end, head of the Empire's armed forces and now has the authority to affect lasting change. Helps that the members of Brave Vesperia are large and by content to let the greater good win rather than claim the glory.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 3 the truth behind The Boss's actions can never be known because she deliberately adopted the persona of a traitor. In reality, she was one of the greatest patriots of all time.
    • In Metal Gear Solid 4 it's revealed that through Big Boss' actions and saving the world, again, that her record as a traitor was eventually cleansed and she was recognized as the hero those who were close to her knew her to be, with Big Boss himself subject to similar acclaim. Solid Snake, the protagonist of the first and fourth MGS games is another example though, since he manages to free the world from the grip of his megalomaniac brother, and the Patriots (by accident no less) and yet not only will no one ever find out, but he was still technically labeled as a terrorist.
  • In Professor Layton and the Curious Village, at the end, Layton tells Luke that the world must never know about the village populated entirely by robots (and their caretaker). The village was created to care for and protect the orphaned Flora, the Baron's daughter, whom Layton hereafter adopts as his own; he wants the story kept quiet because he doesn't want the media to make a spectacle of her.
  • The instructions to Ultima II mention that, should you succeed, your victory will be this.
  • A variant in Dragon Age II: nobody but Hawke and his/her compatriots (and now Cassandra) know the real story of the events of the game. Everyone else idolizes Hawke as the greatest of heroes or curses his/her name as the darkest of villains despite the fact that Hawke was just a refugee who got thrown in way over his/her head. Also, the events of "Legacy" DLC campaign were left out of the official account of Hawke's adventures specifically because the story is so fantastical that no one would believe it.
  • Shadow of the Colossus focuses on a boy named Wander single-handedly fighting more than a dozen giants, all to revive his dead girlfriend. At the end of the game, Wander gets transformed into a baby just before the girl is revived. She finds him crying, comepletely unaware of who he is or what he's done for her.
  • One very important plot point in World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King is that Bolvar Fordragon became the new Lich King, and nobody knows it. There has to be a Lich King to control the Scourge, otherwise it would run amok, so when Arthas was killed, someone had to take his place; but for Azeroth to be free of fear of the Scourge, the people must not know there is another man sitting on the Frozen Throne wearing the Helm of Domination.
  • Sam Fisher from the Splinter Cell series can never receive any recognition for saving the world on multiple occasions due to belonging to the Third Echelon, a branch within the NSA that is even more secretive than the CIA. The Big Bad in the third game even comments on Sam getting no recognition or glory for his actions.
  • The entirety of Valkyria Chronicles III. Ordinary Gallians will never know of Squad 422's deeds, the unholy alliance between Cardinal Borgia and Carl Isler, and how the world is spared from the devastation by an ancient Valkyric superweapon. To make it worse, Kurt and co are still considered bad people by the society. Hm, I wonder why that sounds familiar...
  • In the last act of ''Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, you save at least 15 million people, kill a major international figure, and watch your friends die. It's written off as missile tests and skirmishes. Only you and a handful of others, either in the highest echelons of NATO or on-site, know the truth.
  • In BlazBlue, during the ten-year long Dark War when the Black Beast attacked the world killing off over half the population of the entire world, it mysteriously disappeared for a year, during that time humanity was able to recuperate and had made and gathered many weapons for when the Beast would appear again and even develop a type of magic called Ars Magus. The reason for its disappearance was because a man called Bloodedge , an amnesiac Ragna from a different timeline sent into the past, fought it for a year and sacrificed himself. His sword and red jacket eventually get passed down to Ragna the Bloodedge. And you would think that this would at least be told as a legend. Only Jubei knows about this until he tells Ragna, who probably told no one.
  • Inverted in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, at the end of the game Sora and company's memories are erased of their adventures during the game, but everyone else (Namine, Riku, Ansem the Wise) still remember everything that happened.
  • The 1998 RTS/FPS game, BattleZone, has the entire campaign taking place in a covered-up war between the Soviet Union and the United States on the planets of the Solar System to gain control of the Bio-Metal. The protagonist, Grizzly One, ultimately saves humanity from the Furies, the man-biometal abominations that the Russians were building. His story is completely forgotten and/or covered up by the events of BattleZone II, set 40 years later, in the high tech future of 2004, where the Bio-Metal Wars are (mostly) public knowledge.
  • Most notably on display in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, where Link is sent back in time following the events of the game in order to regain the seven years of life that he lost. This decision led to two primary timelines - the "adult" timeline where the trope is averted and the Hero of Time is loved and revered for generations to follow even after Hyrule itself is long destroyed, and then the "child" timeline where it's played almost completely straight and Link is able to avoid the catastrophic events of the game by warning of Ganondorf's treachery in advance. This Hero of Time later goes on to rescue Termina from imminent destruction in the sequel game The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, and it's left ambiguous as to whether anyone other than a few individuals are even aware of the reality of what happened or Link's hand in stopping it.
  • The subtitle of Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War refers to the late-game missions, which involve rescuing the kidnapped leaders of both Osea and Yuktobania and preventing two atomic bombings, one doomsday scenario, and a Colony Drop, all while flying as the Ghosts of Razgriz—a unit whose very existence is denied by the government for a decade thereafter.
  • Brütal Legend: In the ending, Lars and Lita Halford are hailed as the great heroes who defeated the Tainted Coil, brought down the slaving regime of General Lionwhyte and freed humanity. Eddie Riggs, who made it all possible, is barely acknowledged and expects to fade from history. And he wouldn't have it any other way.
  • The ending of the DLC storyline of Dishonored has Daud save Emily from being possessed by the witch Delilah Copperspoon, with no one but The Outsider knowing about it.
  • At the end of Super Robot Wars Compact 3, Shion, Silky and the Sirbine return to their world after beating the Shura King Alkaid with the Londo Bell. Remuru sees the Sirbine warping out in front of her with Shion shouting where are they this time and she asks Shion where he had been to all this time. Silky notes that they're back to their world and Shion says that he's been to another world. Remuru asks what the heck he is talking about. He just went off wandering didn't he? Silky says to believe them, but Shion tells Remuru, "Oh, I guess I didn't fool you" and Shion tells Silky that no one will believe their tales of another world. Remuru asks for Shion's help since things has gotten a bit hectic since Shion went away and Shion says that he got it and tells Silky, "Let's go Silky."
  • Subverted in The Logomancer. No one can consciously remember the major conflict due to Laser-Guided Amnesia, but Ardus retained enough subconscious details to reconstruct the story in his next novel. So, the story quite literally will be told, just as fiction rather than fact.
  • Mage Gauntlet: Inverted with every legend involving Whitebeard; Hurgoth is a fairly weak demon, and Whitebeard played up his deeds to get the local mage council's permission to experiment with illegal magic. Played straight in the ending, too: in the final battle, Lexi attacks Hurgoth and his minions while Whitebeard performs a ritual to renew the portal seal, well away from harm. At the end of the ritual, Lexi is sucked through the portal as an unwilling sacrifice. The resulting legend tells that Whitebeard fought valiantly alongside his apprentice and defeated Hurgoth once again, but that the apprentice fell in battle. It's heavily implied by notes found throughout the game that this is the usual fate of Whitebeard's apprentices.

    Visual Novels 
  • Fate/stay night mentions this in the conclusion to the Unlimited Blade Works and Heaven's Feel routes. In the first, he can never reveal the existence of his Reality Marble, and thus his defeat of Archer and Gilgamesh, for fear of receiving a Sealing Designation. In the second, Rin only tells the Association that Shirou was a normal human who died during the War, rather than revealing his role and sacrifices.

    Webcomics 
  • One Punch Man: Uses this to parody the super hero genre. Saitama (One punch man) never gets the recognition he deserves for his heroism. At first it was because he wasn't advertised since he wasn't an official hero, but even after he becomes one and saves thousands of people from disasters they still respond with "who are you?" or outright blame him for their problems after he saves them.
  • In the "A Girl And Her Blob" arc of The Wotch, Mingmei and Myrrh have A Day in the Limelight as a massive battle goes on elsewhere... we get bits and pieces of what's going on there as Ming and Myrrh pass through and the plots intersect.
    • At the end, the writer actually credits Justice League's "The Greatest Story Never Told" for inspiration. The next arc has Jason reading a Booster Gold comic book, if you look closely.
  • This strip of Questionable Content is a prime example. It seems to be all in his head, until Tortura shows up again and Steve starts getting noticeably more badass.
  • It is implied in Tales of the Questor that Quentyn's victory in "Hunter of Shadows" is victim of a governmental coverup.
  • One of the points of tension that leads to the break up of the older "Order of the Scribble" adventuring party in the backstory of The Order of the Stick is the fact that their struggle to contain the Snarl and the heroic sacrifice of their friend, Kraagor, must be kept secret.
  • 8-Bit Theater: When White Mage kills Chaos, no one will give her the credit. Since White Mage refuses to let the Light Warriors be recognized as heroes, she lets the Dark Warriors take it, as they're the next best option. She does eventually apologize to Red Mage for doing so and admits to Thief that despite all the wanton destruction and other sociopathic behavior that the Light Warriors' actions did ultimately lead to the fulfillment of the prophecy.
  • This xkcd strip.

    Web Original 
  • For all their goofiness, stupidity, and raging insanity, at the very end of Red vs. Blue: The Blood Gulch Chronicles the Blood Gulch soldiers actually do manage to finally defeat their Omnicidal Maniac nemesis, Omega, and prevent him from gaining control of an entire army of Aliens (heavy implied in the sequel series to be The Covenant) with which he could have brought great destruction to the galaxy. And no one will ever know or care about it. Hell, more than half of the Blood Gulch soldiers themselves don't even realize the implications of their final act.
  • Played with by College Humor. Poor, poor Gary...

    Western Animation 
  • Named for an episode of Justice League Unlimited, where glory-grabbing newbie hero Booster Gold saves the world while everyone else is off saving the world from something else (specifically, from a powerful sorcerer named Mondru). Afterwards, Batman lectures him for not following orders.
    • Between this and Booster's main series, he really likes this trope. It's no accident he's called, "The Greatest Hero History Will Never Know."
    • At least he got the girl in the end, who was the one person who actually knew what he had done... not to mention a Hot Scientist.
      • "Squeaky wheel, buddy."
      • He also got out of the subversion of Hero Insurance by the other Leaguers.
  • The movie The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars features a song called Home Again, which lampshades this trope by describing that all they need is to be home safe; they consider it their "prize" and accept that not many people will ever know about what they did.
  • Kim Possible: Ron's heroism in "Exchange" has to be kept secret to protect the secrecy of the ninja school he saved. Unlike most other instances, this is actually followed up on: In "Gorilla Fist", Kim is all, "Hey, who's that girl, why does she think Ron is a hero, and why the heck won't Ron say anything about her?" when she meets the girl from that episode.
    • Also from "A Sitch in Time" where Ron saves Kim by kicking in his Mystical Monkey Kung Fu, throwing Drakken across the room just by grabbing his ankle - the same muscle-enhanced Drakken who had just defeated Kim and Monique with ease. The catch is that the time-travel device was destroyed, leading everything that happened to be written out of existence.
  • Codename: Kids Next Door, "Training": Cadets Tommy, Sonia and Lee are left behind at the KND Arctic base by regular agents as they fly off to the moonbase. Turns out to be a decoy by the Big Bad to steal the "Codemodule" stored at the Arctic base. After they wash out the Big Bad and his minions, Sonia says when the regular agents return, "Oh, it was just a simulation" (they were supposed to be doing simulation training).
  • Futurama did this thrice. In "The Day the Earth Stood Stupid" Fry, the only person on Earth not affected by the flying brains, is the only one who remembers them after he defeats them. When he saves the universe a second time in "The Why of Fry," the Nibblonians erase his memory of both incidents, although they do give him a flower for Leela. A smaller-scale example occurs in "Time Keeps on Slippin'": due to temporal shifts Fry finds himself married to Leela: neither of them have any memory of the really nifty thing he did to win her love. He finds out just before the evidence of his act is destroyed.
    Narrator (actually Nibbler): Only Fry remembered what had happened. And nobody listened to him or cared what he had to say.
    • The movies eventually bring to light most of what happened, except for the part about Fry's message to Leela.
  • Pick a Fairly OddParents episode. Any Fairly OddParents episode.
  • OR Phineas and Ferb: Perry, the secret agent, pulls this off on a regular basis.
  • The Simpsons did it when Maggie saved Homer from gangsters with a rifle.
  • In the premiere episode of Adventures of the Gummi Bears, Cavin stops Duke Igthorn with the help of the Gummis. However, since he can't tell anyone about the Gummis' existence, he has to claim Igthorn's plan fell apart on its own.
  • On Spider-Man: The Animated Series, attorney Matt Murdock was hired to defend Peter Parker when the latter was framed by Richard Fisk. The source of Murdock's hiring was not revealed to Parker nor the viewer until the end of the two-parter, when the viewer discovers that it was Parker's often antagonistic boss J. Jonah Jameson who had hired Murdock to defend one of his better photographers.
  • In Scooby-Doo! and the Goblin King, for once Shaggy and Scooby save the day without any help from the others and are pretty much heroes - only to have the Goblin King erase everyone's memories.
  • Also, Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated. After Mystery Incorporated destroys the evil alien that's been controlling everyone, the world recreates itself with only Mystery Incorporated and the new Mr. E remembering what happened. They are so out of place in this new world that they head across the country, solving every mystery they come across along the way.
  • The only people in Wakfu to ever know Nox as anything other than a power-motivated Evil Overlord are Alibert, Grougaloragran, and Yugo. Only the last one cares.
  • One episode of The Life and Times of Juniper Lee had June's littler brother, Ray Ray, suddenly become the Te Xuan Ze due to time wraiths rewriting history so that June never existed. Ray Ray manages to find the cause of the problem and save June. But in doing so erases all knowledge of the events save for his own. June doesn't believe him when he tries to tell, writing it off as a dream he was having. Ray Ray starts to doubt too...least till he see the photograph his older brother, Dennis, took of him in the alternate timeline much to his joy.
  • The kids in Code Lyoko risk their lives saving the world from XANA all the time, but thanks to frequent returns to the past, no one remembers it but themselves.
  • In the Ben 10: Omniverse episode "So Long, And Thanks For All The Smoothies", the universe is destroyed. Ben uses Alien X to restore it (imperfectly), but nobody remembers this and anyone Ben tells finds it more likely that he's just hallucinating.

    Real Life 
  • How many feats of extraordinary talent by obscure people have gone unnoticed and possibly destined to be Lost Forever to the world?
    • In recounting the history of the Battle of the Bulge (during World War 2), one historian says with regret that it proved to be impossible to track down all the stories of heroism during the early phases of the battle, as most of the records were lost in the confusion. He describes one such action, in particular, with the following words:
      A platoon of engineers appears in one terse sentence of a German commander's report. They have fought bravely, says the foe, and forced him to waste a couple of hours in deployment and maneuver. In this brief emergence from the fog of war the engineer platoon makes its bid for recognition in history. That is all.
  • The 1925 serum run to Nome, Alaska was run by some 150 dogs and 20 mushers, and the run saved the city of Nome from an epidemic. Now, the only one at all known was the lead dog of the last leg, Balto; this is regardless of the fact that Togo led the run on the longest leg, almost twice as the next longest, and also the most dangerous.
  • Averted now, but for years and years after World War II, Alan Turing and the rest of Bletchley Park weren't allowed to tell anyone about what they had done - namely working on deciphering intercepted messages which had been encrypted using Enigma. This meant they were despised as cowards for not fighting rather than recognised as just as vital to the war effort as the soldiers. Nowadays, fortunately, the site in Buckinghamshire has been turned into a museum so that visitors can learn about what went on there.
    • This was reasonable, as the techniques developed at Bletchley remained useful for a long time after the war. In fact the Allies allowed Enigma-based encryption technology to be sold in the developing world just because they knew how to crack the codes.
    • What makes this worse is Alan Turing's conviction for buggery, sentencing to chemical castration and eventual suicide. One wonders if, had his work been known, he might have been given some amnesty and survived. Thankfully, Turing has finally gotten his due and received a royal pardon for his "crime". At least now he's receiving the recognition he rightfully deserves.
  • For about 10 years, the story of Russian Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov was this. In 1983, (during an extremely tense period in the Cold War) Petrov's new system for detecting a nuclear weapons launch at Russia incorrectly showed a missile being fired by the US and heading toward Russia. Petrov correctly believed that it was a system glitch, but the story remained buried and untold to the Russian public until the 90s, and didn't become widely known in the US until 2006. Link to that other wiki.
  • Intelligence agencies such as the CIA, G2, KGB (now FSB), Mossad, NIS, MI-5, SIS, CSIS, DCRI, ASIS, etc. are built on this trope. They can't tell anyone about what they do, but the truth is that they save the world all the time without our knowledge...well, sometimes they make things worse, without our knowledge either. Similarly there are military special operations which usually can't tell what they do, due to security or political reasons. In-fact the very existence of some special operations units are almost certainly classified. Most of these agencies face a problem - if their job goes well, the public never hears about it. The world only finds out when they screw up.
  • Terence S. Kirk was a Japanese POW in WWII. Now this is a very undesirable position on its own, but what he did, with the help of a handful of collaborators is secretly made an improvised camera and documented what happened, so that it could be used in court about war crimes. Once he got out he showed it to the authorities, who then gave him a gag order not to discuss what happened, which he reluctantly signed. He then complied with the gag order for many years, but later defied it and published the pictures and his memoir. You can read about it in the book "The Secret Camera".
  • Nondisclosure agreements and the sealing of court records exist to invoke this trope, usually to cover up The Greatest Scandals Never Told.
  • Just think of all the books that have been burnt over the course of centuries, whether deliberately or by accident (the Ancient Library of Alexandria comes to mind).
    • Missing films as well. It's estimated that over 90% of films created before the 1920s no longer exist.
  • Many of the finest poets, philosophers and scientists of the ancient world are virtually unremembered because no extant copies of their work exists.
  • Roland McGrath, of the GNU Project. Donald Knuth also semi-qualifies, although he is known by some people.
  • Musical notation was invented fairly early on, but most of it has been lost to the ages and there are some periods where it never existed. If you ever want to hear The Odyssey sung, you better pray that your descendants send a time machine for you.
  • Everything that happened during the prehistorical period, which is most of humanity's existence.
  • Unsung heroes, everyday saints and unknown soldiers through the ages. Countless feats of heroism, compassion, courage and valour are now lost to history. Several iterations of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier have been decorated with the highest honors such as the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Victorian Cross in recognition of this fact.

The Greatest History Never ToldJust for PunGrey and Gray Morality
The Great RepairPlots'Groundhog Day" Loop
Gossipy HensFame and Reputation TropesGullible Lemmings

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