Unluckily Lucky

"Y'know, people are always telling me how lucky I am. But the truth is, everything I touch turns to shit."
Nathan Drake, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Some people are a magnet of fortune. Some people are constantly beaten up by it. Then there's these guys.

Some characters seem to live in a strange limbo of fortune: They are constantly finding themselves trapped in awful situations, many times without even trying. This would be seen from almost any perspective as rotten luck; but despite all that they always manage to come out of all those problems without a scratch, much less troubled than any reasonable person would expect, or even with the upper hand.

From another perspective: These people have an amazing ability to come clean out of any sort of pickle thrown at them, no matter how unlikely the chances or ludicrous the way. Anyone would say Lady Fortune has them under her wing, except that there's the little fact that they always get themselves into those sorts of situations in the first place, and in fact seem to attract them like honey to bees.

Are they Born Lucky? Are they Born Unlucky? It's hard to say. Friends, enemies, and even themselves will be hard pressed to give a straight answer. Answers will probably lean towards the lucky side, since no matter what they still come out alive out of anything; just don't expect that to mean much while they are knee-deep into yet another trouble.

Note that characters that are lucky in some aspects and unlucky in other completely different ones do not qualify under this trope. The main factor here is that their luck and unluck are at odds in the same circumstances.

If the unlucky events that follow these characters are sufficiently awful, they have a good chance of being a Walking Disaster Area or The Jinx; and if they are strange enough, they can be a Weirdness Magnet. Compare with The Fool, who gets out of dangerous situations by pure dumb luck without even realizing it, as well as Plague of Good Fortune.


Anime and Manga
  • The titular Great Teacher Onizuka is sometimes this. In one example from the anime, he comes across a large bag of money (that's good), which he spends all at once. It turns out the money was the school's field trip funds, which was planted on him in order to frame him for embezzling (that's bad). He somehow manages to convince the school not to fire him (that's good), but only by pledging an even more expensive field trip which he can't possibly afford (that's bad). He then fails to earn anything near the amount needed, only to win a car in an unrelated lottery (that's good). He then lends the car to a complete stranger, with no guarantees that the stranger will return it on time, if ever (that's bad). The stranger turns out to have been hired by the person trying to frame Onizuka (that's bad), but has a change of heart and returns the car anyway (that's good). At the last possible minute, naturally.
  • Touma Kamijou of A Certain Magical Index is extremely unlucky, thanks to the "Imagine Breaker" power of his right arm cancelling out the good fortune he would otherwise receive. However, it also negates the powers of both magicians and espers. He has the bad luck of getting dragged into battle against powerful members of both factions, but also the good luck of having the power to defeat them.
  • Medaka Box: Kumagawa Misogi is repeatedly referred to as the weakest person in the world. His inability to win is also repeatedly remarked upon. However, due to his knowledge of both these facts, he can always turn his losses into benefits to screw over others. And despite his label as the weakest, this just means that he is aware of the the weaknesses of everyone. This makes him capable of taking down nearly any opponent other The Hero and some exceptionally powerful beings.

Comic Books
  • Zayne Carrick from the Knights of the Old Republic. The clumsiest, most unlucky Jedi of his generation, he manages to survive the massacre of his fellow Padawans by simple virtue of arriving late to the knighting ceremony made by their Evil Mentors. He runs away, pursued by said mentor Jedi under trumped-up charges of becoming Sith, and in trying to prove his innocence and raise hell on the masters' plans he runs into all kinds of problems involving the Mandalorians, the returning Sith, said mentors becoming more mustache-twirling evil from the stress and hundreds of relatively mundane (yet hair-raising) problems. Despite all that, he doesn't die no matter how crazy things get, manages to kill anybody who threatens him, builds a reputation as a formidable warrior that helps him occasionally, and eventually gets the girl.
    Zayne: The Force does not want me dead. It doesn't want me happy, but it doesn't want me dead.
  • Jimmy Olsen, even in his more competent iterations, is a world-class Weirdness Magnet with a tendency to get into major trouble as a result. However, except for a few occasions, he always comes out with nary a scratch or even angst.
  • In Marvel, Rick Jones is a lot like Jimmy Olsen. But then, he's always partially blamed himself for Bruce Banner being turned into the Hulk, and tries to help him (both Banner and the Hulk) as a result; this tends to make the nature of his luck (good versus bad) ebb and flow.
  • The Water Wizard (now called Aqueduct) was an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain just like everyone who was invited to meet at the Bar With No Name during the original "Scourge of the Underworld" story in Captain America's comic. But he missed the meeting when his car blew a flat tire. He was upset at what he thought was just more bad luck at the time, but could only say prayers of thanks - and turn himself in for his own safety - when he found out that everyone who did make the meeting was ambushed and murdered by Scourge.
  • Scooby-Doo #20 (Gold Key, July 1973) had a story titled "Unlucky Luck," where Velma tries to break Scooby and Shaggy of being superstitious. She has Fred and Daphne plant a ladder and a black cat along a designated path on which she has Scooby and Shaggy follow as part of a game. Of course, they're hesitant, until crossing each bad luck path results in some fortune—a wallet full of money and boxes of candy and dog biscuits. Velma thinks her plan has worked until Scooby and Shaggy go back for their luck talismans—they think if that was bad luck they had, just think of how much good luck they'll have now.
  • Martin Soap in The Punisher suffers misfortune after misfortune throughout his time in the series. Miraculously enough, he also survives all of it in one piece. He ultimately becomes one of the very few Punisher characters who leaves the series with his life and sanity intact.

Fan Fic

  • The title character of Alexandra Quick is pretty heavy on this. Almost every year something comes up that tries to kill her but she almost always has available just the right tool or asset that will allow her to escape with her life. This also functions on another level as she's Skilled, but Nave and Too Clever by Half so that in addition to the world trying to screw her while also giving her what she needs to save herself, she tends to throw herself needlessly into dangerous situations while being smart enough to get herself out.

  • The movie 29th Street follows Frank Pesce, the "luckiest man alive in spite of his bad luck."
  • Lampshaded by Charlie at the end of Kangaroo Jack. At first, it seems incredibly unlucky that he and Louis lose $50,000 when the titular kangaroo runs off with Louis' jacket—until it turns out that had they delivered the money to the mysterious "Mr. Smith," he would've killed them as ordered by Charlie's mafioso stepfather. Not only that, but thanks to the events of the film, Charlie gets said stepfather thrown in prison, develops a hot-selling line of hair-care products, and finds True Love.

  • Ciaphas Cain:
    • THE HERO OF THE IMPERIUM, Ciaphas Cain himself. Every dangerous situation he gets into is a result of him trying to avoid one that sounds more dangerous on paper, only making it out through luck and foiling an enemy plot in the process. For example, instead of joining the frontline against an ork horde, he attaches himself to a search party investigating tunnels the orks might be able to use, and finds Necrons instead, and only escapes due to Jurgen's Anti-Magic properties. In another, he goes away from the main battle with Chaos forces to an out-of-the-way dredger where there might be a demon summoning taking place. As he'd fervently hoped against, there was.
    • "Jinxie" Penlan of the Valhallan 597th causes accidents through her clumsiness every time she's mentioned, but they all work out in her favor. This actually improves her squad's morale since they trust her to be resident Weirdness Magnet.
    Cain: She's not nearly as accident-prone as she's supposed to be. I'll grant you she fell down an ambull tunnel once, and there was that incident with the frag grenade and the latrine trench, but things tend to work out for her. The orks on Kastafore was as surprised as she was when the floor in the factory collapsed, and we'd have walked into right into that hrud ambush on Skweki if she hadn't triggered the mine by chucking an empty food tin away...
  • Rincewind from the Discworld series. He is The Lady's favourite... which is a very bad place to be. He stumbles into so much disaster while running away from more disaster that only the Theory of Narrative Causality has kept him alive for so long. In fact, in one story he accepts to join a Magnificent Bastard scheme by someone who called him the (un)luckiest bastard he's ever met before even being told what it is; this is because he's Genre Savvy enough by now to know that if he declined and walked (and then ran) as far away from the scheme as he could, the scheme and its potential collateral damage would still find him. Part of the problem is that, as he is the favorite of the Lady, Fate (the literal god of such) absolutely hates him.
    • Rincewind's luck is so uncannily unpredictable that even Death finds him baffling. Every being in the multiverse (even gods) has an hourglass that runs out of sand when their time is up. Rincewind's hourglass looks like something made by a glassblower on LSD who had the hiccups, and features sand occasionally flowing upwards. Death keeps it on his desk as a curiosity.
  • In The Wheel of Time, Mat Cauthon is Born Lucky and uses it to get through battle after battle safely. However, the same luck (or fate) keeps getting him in battle after battle...
  • Rene Arroy from the Arcia Chronicles was Born Lucky, so when things are left up to chance, they usually go his way. However, this also means that he casually subjects himself to incredible dangers that, even though he always manages to survive them (in some way), have long-lasting and grave consequences for him.
  • Blake Thorburn, in Pact, inherited seven lifetimes worth of terrible Karma from his (very evil) forebears to the family name, and as a result people tend to dislike him, animals hate him, twists of fortune don't go his way, and he's often caught up in events that force him to fight various supernatural creatures. However, he's usually able to pull through thanks to his own luck-it's theorized in-story that, as Blake is, unlike his predecessors, actually trying to do good and improve the world, the universe is giving him just enough rope to hang himself instead of just crushing him.
  • Discussed in Animorphs #12: The Reaction. After Rachel has jumped into a crocodile pit to save a kid and caused her house to collapse by accidentally morphing into an elephant, she then gets interviewed about the two incidents...
    Interviewer: How did it feel to fall into a crocodile pit, then have your house fall on you?
    Rachel: Not very good.
    Interviewer: Don't you think you're incredibly lucky?
    Rachel: Um, no. If I were lucky I wouldn't keep falling. Right?
    Interviewer: But you weren't hurt either time.
    Rachel: I think winning the lottery would be lucky. Having the house fall on me, that's not all that lucky.
    Interviewer: Do you have any advice for other kids like yourself?

Live Action TV
  • In The Amazing Race, season 21, part of the reason eventual winners Josh and Brent wound up over 12 hours behind the lead teams and set the record for bottom-2 finishes without getting eliminated was they kept catching unlucky breaks, but at the same time they repeatedly got saved by dumb luck.
    Brent: Weve had good luck, weve had bad luck, weve had dumb luck.
  • In the Babylon 5 episode "Grail", the character Thomas Jordan (aka "Jinxo") believes he's at the center of a curse on the Babylon stations; he was one of the people who constructed them, but the first three blew up while he was on leave, and the fourth disappeared after being completed (that time he didn't take leave at all until the task was finished), so he deliberately stayed on Babylon 5 after it was completed so it wouldn't suffer a fatal catastrophe, despite his long-term ability to sustain himself there being questionable at best. The character of Aldous Gajic has a different perspective; perhaps Jinxo was Born Lucky, having escaped catastrophe four times. Either way, it fits; good fortune for Jinxo to escape, and bad luck for the first four stations he helped build.
  • In Supernatural, Sam and Dean Winchester, as well as Castiiel, are at the center of one cosmic disaster after another, but they continue to survive and are even brought back from the dead on the occasions they do die.

  • "Your Lucky Day In Hell" from Eels' album Beautiful Freak about someone whose life has been unlucky from the start, but tries to marvel at the thought of having one lucky day in his awful life. As the title indicates this doesn't provide much fun to look forward to.

Tabletop Games
  • In Old World of Darkness, the dhampyr suffer from this. Their birth (a child of a human and an eastern vampire) is so unlikely that it messes up their fate. As the result they gain supernatural luck, which they can learn to consciously manipulate, but at the same time they attract trouble a lot.

Video Games
  • The Uncharted series has Nathan Drake. A Walking Disaster Area, his adventures always attract some nastiness along the way; falling architecture, stupidly uneven firefights, exploding vehicles, or the occasional supernatural threat to name a few. While this makes him severely question his luck, his uncanny ability to dodge everything thrown at him (including the bullets), have stuff fall in just the right place, or, in the worst cases, survive and fight with injuries that would kill any other man in seconds, has given him fame amongst his friends as a lucky bastard. In fact, while he keeps getting into firefights, his "health" meter is stated by Word of God to be actually a "luck" meter, meaning until a player dies, he isn't shot, but is narrowly missed instead.
  • In PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, Nathan's ability to get into and out of danger is made into a gameplay mechanic. He reacts with noticeable surprise when his Level 3 Super happens, and it's one of the odd supers that puts the user in some danger. He's the only one not affected by the mutation of El Dorado, and turning what would be a horrible situation for anyone else completely around is the intention with successfully pulling off the whole super. As per the usual Adaptational Badassery, being a Walking Disaster Area is now a super-power.
  • In Dragon Age: Inquisition, the player character's ability to get into life-threatening situations and then survive is the main reason people think they're The Chosen One. It starts with them being the Sole Survivor of a mountain-shattering explosion (by physically entering and escaping the world of dreams) and goes from there. Lampshaded more than once, especially if the Inquisitor tries to downplay the messiah-hood thing.
    Cassandra: A strange kind of luck. I'm not sure if we need more or less.

Visual Novel
  • While every Ace Attorney protagonist is this to an extent, the trait is far more pronounced in the original protagonist, Phoenix Wright. Not only do his cases hit rock bottom several times before finding just the clue or lead he needs to continue pressing on, but outside investigations he's still at odds with Lady Luck. To name the most espectacular ones: He's been hit by a speeding car and sent flying head-first into a telephone pole, only coming out with a sprained ankle; and he's fallen from a burning bridge into a raging river known to be deadly, and all he came home with was a cold.
    Franziska: As always, hard to know if he should be called lucky or unlucky.
  • Both Ultimate/Super High School Level Lucksters/Lucky Students in Danganronpa experience this in varying degrees. Makoto Naegi was accepted into Hope's Peak Academy, which should by all means be the most prestigious honor for a high school student, except the same invitation ultimately leads to his involvement in the school life of mutual killing that the series is based around. Which he then goes on to survive and by extension become the hero who stopped the Ultimate Despair (in a lot of cases surviving by a combination of sharp wits and pure luck). Interpreting his fortune can get complicated, and in Makoto's mind, his luck is generally pretty terrible (as seen in the short-story Makoto Naegi's Worst Day Ever).
    • In the What If? short story Danganronpa IF, Naegi takes a spear meant for Mukuro Ikusaba. While she's treating his wounds in the infirmary, she's not sure whether his being in this situation is extremely good or bad luck: she doesn't know his blood type and can't give him a proper blood transfusion, but the spears missed any major arteries or vital organs.
    • Nagito Komaeda is far worse off, enough to qualify as a Cosmic Plaything. For one early example, in elementary school the plane he was on with his parents got hijacked, and then was later struck by a small meteor in mid-flight, which took out the hijackers but also killed his parents, thus leaving him a massive inheritance (his life just gets worse/better from there). This teeter-totter fortune has given him a blind faith in things going his way when he needs them to, and a belief in all his misfortunes being the precursor to good fortune (almost to the point of Bad Is Good and Good Is Bad). In a dark deconstruction of the trope, the cycle has left him so deeply-disturbed that in his Island Mode ending it's revealed that he's weary of living and hopes to die on the island in some way that leaves "the seeds of hope" behind. All in order to finally be free of all luck and to lend some meaning to his complexly chaotic existence.

Real Life
  • Tsutomu Yamaguchi is sometimes considered the luckiest man in history because he survived the nuclear attacks on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, he could also be considered the unluckiest man ever because... he was in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki when they were nuked.
  • George Orwell wrote in Homage to Catalonia about how he was shot in battle during the Spanish Civil War. Many of the people he talked to while recovering told him how lucky he was to be shot in such a way that the blood wouldn't drown him before he could be recovered from the field. He, on the other hand, wondered how anyone who'd gotten shot in the neck could be called lucky.
  • Roy Sullivan, the man struck by lightning 7 times in his life, who lived through all of them. He eventually died from a self-inflicted shotgun wound due to unrequited love.
  • Ivan Basso crashed on stage 5 of the 2015 edition of Tour de France. The days after the crash, he still had testicular pains, so he asked the race doctor to take a thorough look at what could be wrong. The diagnosis: Early stage testicular cancer. So early that he will most likely make a full recovery after the surgery is done.