"The clacks company was a big bully, sacking people, racking up the charges, demanding lots of money for bad service. The Post Office was the underdog, and an underdog can always find somewhere soft to bite." — Going Postal
Simoun. At the start of the series, Simulacrum and its Simoun are portrayed as nigh-invincible from the perspective of the other countries, and we see them inflict heavy defeat after heavy defeat on wildly superior enemy forces in episode after episode until Rock Beats Laser in the end. It's this trope, only the underdogs aren't the protagonists.
Hilariously used in Saki where the reason Kaori was so successful during her turn was because she was a complete beginner in a table filed with professional players. Since she didn't even really know what she was doing, her discards looked very random in everybody else's eyes, making their attempts to read how the game would go based on the professional Meta Game fall completely flat in regards to her. Thanks to that, plus a decent amount of good luck, Kaori was able dominate her table while stumbling all the way.
This actually a well-known phenomenon in any professional (or just Serious Business) game: You can't predict the opponent's Meta Game if they don't have a metagame. It is a phenomenon noted in Game Theory. Essentially, in many situations, there is usually a best choice and strategy. And more often than not, the only thing that can beat this is no plan at all as part of making a good choice in a game is based on what you know the other person to be doing. This is especially notable in games where patterns play a heavy part of the game like poker. The unseen corollary then becomes to switch to tactics that are particularly effective against new players.
Kaori's school, Tsuruga Academy, is also something of an underdog compared to Kazekoshi and Ryuumonbuchi; they only have five actual members, and had to recruit the aforementioned Kaori to even be able to enter. When Momo, their vice-captain, wins the most points in her match against Sumiyo of Kazekoshi, Touka Ryuumonbuchi, and Nodoka Haramura (one of the protagonists and a relatively experienced mahjong player), her close friend Yumi makes it clear that she's quite proud of Momo. Unfortunately, Tsuruga doesn't make it to the nationals in the team or individual tournament.
Also played straight with Achiga in the spinoff manga, which defeats Bansei, which is undefeated on the prefectural level for about ten years, to advance to the nationals. Once there, they win the first match, get second to the prestigious Senriyama team in the quarterfinals, and in the semi=finals, not only defeat Senriyama, but also get first place over the champions, Shiraitodai.
Eyeshield 21 will either avert, play it straight, or subvert it depending on what point in the series you're referring too. In the spring season, they won two games, lost two games, and tie one game. In the Tokyo Tournament, they only lost once. In the Kanto Tournament and Christmas Bowl, they play this trope as straight as can be.
Princess Nine brings the protagonist's team from narrow victory after narrow victory to the quarter-finals before Koshien Stadium, which they're trying to reach in order to prove that an all-girl's team can compete on equal ground. Opposed to them is the best-ranked team and favored victors for the national championships at Koshien, which is also their own school's rival boys' team, giving them something extra to prove. It comes down to the final pitch at the bottom of the ninth, with their only chance left to push the game into overtime and score in the tenth inning. They lose.
Excel♥Saga parodies the typical Japanese aversion in its Baseball episode by having Excel's team lose so badly the score covers most of the scoreboard in nines. They were actually doing fairly well until The Ace started playing. Their ace.
Ash's match with his Unova League rival Cameron in Pokémon notably has this happen to Cameron. Cameron accidently brought only 5 mons to Ash's 6, ends up facing half his team with only Riolu, two of which have a type advantage and still pull off the win. Notably flying in the face of Ash's luck which is more typical of anime, combined with Unova being the Pokemon version of America shows some implications. Oddly enough he gets beaten 3-6 right after.
Medaka Box: This is played with in regards to Kumagawa Misogi. In his own words, he never seems to win or get what he wants, but his awareness of this fact allows him to screw over others and create minor victories.
Naruto's battles against Kiba and especiallyNeji in the Chunin Exam. After that, he isn't regarded as an underdog anymore.
In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha ViVid, the four main characters Vivio, Einhart, Rio and Corona are not the only contestants, who participate in the Inter-Middle Championship for the first time. One of the others in Miura Rinaldi, a pupil of the Wolkenritter, who is, like Einhart, just two years older than the ten years old Vivio, Rio and Corona. In her first match of the elite class, she fights the 18 years old veteran Micaiah Chevelle, who has participated in the tournament for seven years. To surprise to everyone, Miura wins. And then, there is her third match, against The Heroine Vivio, a Handicapped BadassClone Jesus and the daughter of Nanoha and Fate. Side character Miura wins. She defeats the main character of the series in the third preliminary match of a tournament.
Zig-Zagged in Shokugeki No Soma. The protagonist is a no-name New Transfer Student who no one else really have much expectation of. He had won some of his matches (against Nikumi and Alice), and lost some (against Shinomiya and Akira).
Averted in the first season of Love Live!. Played straight in the second season, though it's not easy for μ's to win the Love Live contest, particularly as they're going up against A-RISE, who won it in season 1.
Central to The Mighty Ducks movies. In the sequel, they are merely in over their heads, but have a few "secret weapons" in the form of unlikely or impossible technical feats.
Shaolin Soccer has a team of shaolin monks with Charles Atlas Superpowers as the underdogs. In spite of their martial prowess, they all became real losers in the real world, and have no experience playing soccer before the film begins.
The special features and DVD audio commentary of Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story parody and mock this trope, which was used as standard within the film itself. The commentary claims that the original ending of the film had Globo Gym win and Average Joe's lose the competition, and there is even a deleted scene showing this "true" vision, and an over-the-credits clip included in the theatrical release has villain Dwight Goodman ranting at the audience and criticizing their need to have the film end on such a cliched note. The treasure chest full of money won at the end of the movie even has "DEUS EX MACHINA" written on it. However, comments from the creative team and the original script, which was included on the DVD, reveal that this is all tongue-in-cheek, as the plan was always for Average Joes to win at the end, even if the details changed in different versions of the script.
High School Musical has the inexperienced basketball jock Troy and math geek Gabriella auditioning for the leads against professionally trained Sharpay and Ryan. The rest of the school is horrified and tells them to get back to where they belong. Naturally they win everyone over and get the parts.
Done in We Are Marshall, a movie based on the real life decimation of a football team and the attempts to put another back together again. After the new team finally wins one game, we cut to the epilogue and find out that was pretty much it for them winning for that season...and many seasons after that before they finally became a decent team again.
Mike Bassett: England Manager appears to play this trope straight, by having England beat Argentina in the World Cup when it looked as if they would go out. It's really more of a subversion however, because it was only because of how appalling England's form had been since Bassett became manager that they were underdogs in the first place.
Saturday Night Fever included a scene where John Travolta's dance moves are completely inferior to a Puerto Rican couple's, but he is nonetheless declared the winner of the competition. This is quickly revealed to be a subversion, as the judge's decision was based on racism and Travolta's infuriated character gives his award to the deserving couple.
Subverted in A Shot at Glory in which a small Scottish football team from the Third Division (managed by Robert Duvall and owned by Michael Keaton) reaches the Cup Final against all odds - and loses.
In Coach Carter the school basketball team qualifies for the state tournament as the lowest seed and get mocked by their opponents (who are much better on paper). They lose the game, though not until the final shot, and win the respect of their opponents. The students also emerge from the experience as overall better people, not just as better students.
In Here Comes The Boom, an overweight high school teacher, played by Kevin James, trains for a few months and then goes on to become a professional mixed martial arts fighter and wins a UFC tournament... after just a few months training.
The CHERUB book "Divine Madness" has James try to envision himself "as the plucky underdog in a kids movie" during a Martial Arts exercise. Needless to say, he's one of the "losers" when it's all over.
Harry Dresden is often the underdog, and usually wins in the end. At one point, he ends up fighting the Billy Goats Gruff (no, really), who are a fairy tale example, for beating the much larger and more powerful trolls. When Harry faces the eldest (and most powerful) brother, he acknowledges Harry as a fellow underdog.
Eldest Gruff: I dislike being cast as the troll.
Dresden may be a subversion of this, as while he's normally in an underdog position, he's one of the smartest, strongest, and most clever wizards out there. It's gotten to the point where most powerful enemies are more concerned about him than the entire White Council.
The Pit Dragon Trilogy initially ignores this, then mocks it. Heart's Blood is big, tough, and most certainly not an underdog.
This can actually be broadened to the Disworld as a whole, where the Theory of Narrative Causality actively enforces this. For instance, the seven quasi-centenarian Silver Horde in Interesting Times fight againt five armies and win, because they've been at this business so very long and outnumbered as heroes always are. The same Silver Horde, on being told to stand down by Captain Carrot, laugh and point out that they've got him outnumbered, until they remember that, by outnumbering a lone man who truly believes what he's fighting for, they're the bad guys, and bad guys share a common fate on the Disc...
In The Hunger Games we meet Katniss Everdeen who, along with her partner Peeta Mellark, represents the backwater District 12 in the titular Deadly Game. She not only outlasts her competitors, many of whom are trained professionals, but even manages to make a mockery out of the rules by forcing the game masters to spare Peeta, thus marking the first time the Games have produced more than one winner.
1066 and All That suggests that one reason the English were defeated in the Battle of Bannockburn was that they had been used to fighting against heavy odds but outnumbered the Scots four to one at Bannockburn.
The William Tell Overture by comedian Spike Jones features a horse-race where the horse Beetlebaum remains in last until the very end of the race, where it makes a surprise finish as first place.
He has another song about a car race which is also won by Beetlebaum. Talk about an underdog.
The Underdog by Spoon features the refrain "You've got no fear of the underdog, that's why you will not survive."
Although, in context, that's less a case of "Underdogs never lose", and more "Underdogs sometimes win".
Often implied with Rey Mysterio Jr, having the moniker of "The Ultimate Underdog" and generally something of a bully magnet for heel wrestlers due to his small stature. Despite that, however, he is noted for his remarkable in-ring agility and fairly high success rate. While he suffers a large number of losses as well, it's usually made obvious that they are due to unfair stipulations or illegitimate tactics from his opponent.
Most times, it's a good bet to expect the wrestler, who was displayed as weaker (taking beatings, fleeing his opponement, etc.) in the recent parts of a feud, to score a win on the bigger stage. Bonus points, if he is shown as injured pre-match.
Final Fantasy X's Besaid Aurochs are the worst team in the entire sports league. They lose so badly and with such impeccable frequency, their slogan has devolved to the pitiful, "Do our best!" It is possible to win the big game against the arrogant champs (the Luca Goers), thereby winning the trophy. However, the Auroch's Captain, Wakka, will retire from Blitzball regardless of the outcome. We can safety call this trope averted; the "reward" for beating the Goers is a handful of consumable items, anyway.
While not about sports, this trope is otherwise played straight in the Ace Attorney series. Every time an experienced attorney goes to court against a rookie attorney, the rookie always wins. This goes so far that in a flashback case with Mia defending and Edgeworth prosecuting, this being the first case that either of them have taken, the trial ends with no verdict, due to the defendant's sudden death. The only attorney ever shown losing their first trial is Godot. And it wasn't really even his first trial; just the first one he's prosecuted.
Mia and Edgeworth were both established as having perfect win records previously, and instead of creating a new, credible villain who'd then have to be introduced and summarily never seen again they just used an old character.
You're always the underdog in Ace Attorney cases, the prosecution is always better prepared and more experienced. According to videogame law, other than two trials that end with no verdict, you can never lose. Except for 2-4. But there, the client will demand a guilty verdict for himself once the assassin he hired learns that his employer was going to blackmail him. It's either life in prison or a very, very short life otherwise...
This trope becomes part of the plot in the Apollo Justice arc. Phoenix Wright gets disbarred from practicing law due to presenting forged evidence in court. You learn near the end of the game that Phoenix's friend, Kristoph Gavin, set Phoenix up for the fall since he was passed up for Phoenix in being Zak's defense lawyer for a trial (Zak chose his attorneys by playing poker with them and using the moment to read what kind of a man his opponent was). Kristoph was extremely angry that Zak passed him up, a man with a great track record and lots of experience, for Phoenix Wright, who he accused as a lawyer who purely wins cases through luck and bluffing to make up for lack of experience.
Survivor: Fan Characters loves this trope: nine times out of ten when a positive underdog player or alliance is played up as being hopelessly outmatched by a more numerous and villainous alliance, one of its members will go on to win the whole thing, with four out of its first nine winners fitting this trope perfectly. The only real exception to this is Norman from Season 6 who was the last guy remaining but seemed to have a fighting chance against the crumbling female alliance, only to be eliminated in the same episode.
The main recurring element of Popeye, and a staple of his design in the cartoon - Popeye is always set up as the underdog in whatever he's doing, usually for Olive's affection but also in contests, work, and pretty much any rivalry he can get - the other guy is always stronger, seemingly more cultured, efficient, or otherwise more powerful, and it's up to Popeye to really earn his victory, with or without spinach depending on the cartoon.
A Bugs Bunny cartoon has him, alone, facing a baseball team of giant ape-like players (one of them uses what appears to be an entire sequoia tree as a bat). He wins.
Both parodied and lampshaded in a certain Tom and Jerry comic. Two footy teams are in the final of some championship: one crack-tough, and other lame losers. The latter is presented by the commentators as "their good side is, uhm, that you must be very curious how did they get to the finals".
Continuously subverted in Peanuts, where Charlie Brown's underdog team pretty much always loses. Friendly rival Peppermint Patty even highlights their underdog nature by always assuming her team will win.
Also subverted in the first movie A Boy Named Charlie Brown in which Charlie loses the spelling bee and is afraid his life is over and everyone hates him. Linus shows him that life goes on.
MAD enjoys parodying, subverting and deconstructing many tropes, so it's natural that they'd do it with this one. It happens when they parody Rocky
Played with in The Tainted Grimoire, during the Acqua Alta race. While Luso the underdog definitely defeated the expected winner Diez Carnosa, he only got second. Vaan got first and he certainly ain't no underdog.
Rocky, though the point wasn't so much to beat Apollo Creed as to "go the distance" against him. This counts as a subversion because even though Rocky explicitly tells Adrian he cannot win against Apollo, the film's power relies on the audience expectation that this trope will be played straight.
Rocky was based on a true story, even more impressive than the movie. Granted though, most movie makers would still end the movie adaption with him winning.
The same subversion was used in the final installment of the series, however, where he went the distance with Mason "The Line" Dixon and only lost in a split decision, exactly how he lost to Creed in the first movie. What makes it more impressive is that Rocky is in his 60s at the time of the fight, leaving no impression that had he been younger he could have easily defeated Dixon.
Bring It On has both cheer teams as underdogs for different reasons. The main characters are the reigning champions, but they discover that their previous captain had stolen all of their old winning routines. They're all forced to start again from square one. The Opposing Sports Team is from an inner-city school who invented all of those winning routines, but didn't have the money to compete. Once they get Oprah Expy to fund them in the Nationals, the two teams go head-to-head, each with something to prove. Naturally, the team with more underdog credentials wins (though it is justified since it was their routines that had one five years in a row - it was just a different squad performing them).
In The Great White Hype portrays the exploitation of this trope. The crooked boxing promoter scams boxing fans into believing that a white boxer (gasp!) has a shot at taking down the dominant black champ. The white boxer, who hasn't entered a ring in years, receives some slipshod training and gets thrown to the wolves. He actually lands a good shot, teasing the trope even further, before the champ actually starts paying attention and curb-stomps him. The crowd realizes too late that their Great White Hope was really just hype to make the promoter more money.
Also subverted in The Bad News Bears, where the team comes within reach of winning but ultimately loses by one run because the coach decides to give the less talented players a chance.
The fly ball that would have been a game-winning home run is instead caught at the fence.
Subverted in Whip It, where the Hurl Scouts make it to the finals, but lose to the Holly Rollers in the last few jams. What makes it a subversion instead of a plain old aversion is that the girls are ecstatic to have made it all the way from last place to the finals.
In Real Steel, the climax of the movie is the bout between scrappy "junkbot" Atom and the undefeated champ Zeus, who's never had a fight last more than one round. The match ends when the clock runs out in the fifth round. Zeus wins in points and keeps the title, but the crowd clearly favor Atom for having put up such a good fight.
Not to mention if the clock had lasted another ten seconds, Atom would have won. Zeus took longer than that to get back up after the bell.
Cool Runnings ends with our unlikely heroes, the Jamaican bobsleigh team, crashing out on their final run, as it happened in real life. This is all cast in a heroic light by having the team pick up their sled and walk over the line to finish their run.
Tin Cup. Roy screws his chance of winning the US Open, but still gets the girl.
In Other Peoples Money, a scrappy, old-school New England businessman has to face down a ruthless corporate raider from New York who wants to take over and dismantle his business. At the big stockholder's meeting he gives a heartfelt speech about tradition and hard work and the American dream. The corporate raider gives a speech pointing out that, nice as that is, the company is going to go under and the only way the stockholders are going to get any of their money back is by voting for him. He wins the vote easily.
In Necessary Roughness, the undermanned Texas State team got their brains beat in for most of the season, before tying Kansas and beating the Texas Colts to finish the season at 1-8-1.
Ultimately subverted in Major League: The Cleveland Indians win the big game vs. the New York Yankees, but the sequel revealed they lost the subsequent playoff series and are pretty much back where they started when ML 2 starts.
The final game in "Little Big League" has the underdog Minnesota Twins facing the Seattle Mariners for the "wild card" spot in the post-season playoffs. Trailing by one run and with a man on base, the team's best hitter hits a long fly ball - which Seattle Mariners star Ken Griffey, Jr. jumps up to catch just before it goes over the fence to become a home run.
Arguably, subverted in Unseen Academicals, in that the United team hadn't had as much time to practice with the new football and new rules as the Unseen University team, nor did it include an orangutan goalkeeper. Of course, in this instance the real issue wasn't who'd win the match, but who'd survive the match.
The United captain said at the end that his team probably could have won if certain members hadn't wasted their efforts on shenanigans.
Actually subverted in the season one finale of Glee, in which New Directions is a big hit with the audience at regionals but ultimately loses — fair and square, because several of the judges are snobs.
And subverted again in the season two finale, in which New Directions loses badly at Nationals, as a direct consequence of trusting to their underdog powers of 'heart', enthusiasm and lack of preparedness, as well as the unprofessionalism of their default lead singers.
Also subverted in a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode where the inexperienced crew plays a baseball game against a super-skilled team of Vulcans. They get clobbered, but they do manage to score one run in the last inning and celebrate anyway because the Vulcan captain is an asshole and had declared the DSNiners wouldn't score at all. They did it just to piss him off, and succeeded.
A downplayed example in the Babylon 5 episode "TKO". Walker Smith, the underdog, fights the Sho-Rin Gyor to an honorable draw.
Averted in an episode of PBS' Nature focusing on a soccer team from Madagascar who went to the mainland to play a match. They get the crowd cheering when they score a goal but still lose 4:1. The team captain says they had a good time anyway.
Horriby averted by Triple H at Wrestlemania XIX in his match against Booker T. Booker was presented as the underdog all the way in: HHH cut some truly horrible promos (some of which bordered on racism), and by the time the feud was white hot, Booker could not have been more underdog. HHH had been presented as an unstoppably dominant force of selfish evil, and Booker a man who'd made some poor decisions, but could redeem himself at 'Mania. In the match, it turned out that HHH was an unstoppably dominant force. Given that 'Mania title matches usually feature performers kicking out of finishers (to show the importance of the event), HHH duly kicked out of Booker's finishers. When Booker got hit with HHH's first finisher, he stayed down, and HHH got the strap. What made this even more galling was that HHH botched the finish, and as a result it took him twenty seven seconds to make the pin, meaning he not only squashed the underdog, he inadvertently got a legitimate thirty count against the Booker Man. After that, it was pretty much all over for T, and it wasn't until his "King Booker" gimmick a few years later that he managed to build up the slightest credibility as a main eventer again. Needless to say, there's a reason that HHH's 2002-2004 season is called "The Reign of Terror."
It was also around this point that Triple H's status as son-in-law to Vince McMahon (he was dating Stephanie McMahon at the time and they were married later that year) came under intense scrutiny from Smarks.
Spike Dudley's singles run in ECW was built on alternately playing this trope straight and subverting it. A Spike Dudley match would just as likely end with Spike pulling off an improbable victory (taking a beating in the process) or getting utterly trashed (but never giving up).
Played with in Fallout 3 with the Tenpenny Tower quest. Despite having enough money to purchase a room, Roy and his ghouls are denied entry into the complex because they're ghouls. Obviously the underdogs in the affair, helping them gain entry is the morally high option. Come back later and the "underdogs" have killed every human in the tower.Nice Job Breaking It, Hero.
Parodied in thisOnion article, which is also a send-up of an entire genre of summer camp movies.
In Everyday Heroes, Jakob Freilander came to the USA just after World War II. Being a big strong guy who played semi-pro football on the weekends, he decided to try out for the NFL. It didn't end well.
Parodied in the episode "Stanley's Cup" in which Stan's ice hockey team is made to look more and more like underdogs as the episode goes on (as well as setting up every other trope that should lead to a dramatic victory), culminating in a game against an NHL team. They lose. Badly. They even had a straight example for the other team.
Another time they were trying to get out of little league by losing, but the other teams were better at that, until they rallied Stan's dad to get them disqualified by fighting.
In The Legend of Korra, we follow the plucky Fire-Ferrets, a pro-bending team composed of a young Avatar-in-training and two brothers off the street. They are very much expected to lose against the defending champs, the Wolf-Bats. Thanks to some beyond-blatant cheating from the Wolf-Bats, they lose the championship game... though the winners lose their ''bending''.
Monsters University plays with this. Oozma Kappa do work their way to the final competition of the Scare Games and take the trophy... only to face the tragic discovery that a teammate cheated for them. While their victory was nullified, they were permitted back into the Scare Program because they did prove themselves.