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Assassin Outclassin'

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Also pictured: Attempt on the assassin's life by the president.

"Some men are coming to kill us. We're gonna kill them first."

Someone is attempting to assassinate someone. But the target refuses to be assassinated, either because of luck, a talent to survive, special fighting skills, or a fearsome Cadre of Foreign Bodyguards.

The assassin may be killed by his target, have poisoned himself before the mission, commit suicide, be executed by his leader or organisation (or alternatively have other assassins sent after him, which sometimes causes him to outclass these in turn) or by the person who contracted him (which was probably going to happen anyway), or join the "outclasser".

A character can evolve into a real 'assassin outclasser' when recurrent assassination attempts fail, which makes the character in question even more cautious, which makes the failure of more assassination attempts even more likely. Such can only happen if the majority of assassins were defeated by the target him/her/itself (and not by a bodyguard or similar), since this title demands that the target defeat — "outclass" — the assassins. The trope itself, however, is just about assassination attempts failing because of the target (like in Tales of the Otori) or some "protector" (see Artemis Fowl, where it's the Battle Butler), or great amounts of attempted assassinations that failed because of the exceptional luck of the target (see The Dark Side of the Sun).

Sometimes, this is a Running Gag. In many cases, that situation leads to a Moment of Awesome or "Who's Laughing Now?" for the assassin's target, but sometimes it can horribly fail, when the lucky streak breaks and the target cannot defend themselves sufficiently anymore, either because of further, much more skilled assassins that were sent or because the target became overly self-confident and careless after outclassing various assassins.

Killing an Assassin Outclasser usually is a Moment of Awesome for the assassin. It will often be a Rasputinian Death since these people are... not easy to kill. Conversely, if the assassin is established as badass only to reveal their target as that much more badass, that's The Worf Effect.

If the assassin refuses to finish the job instead of failing or is verbally convinced by the victim to leave them alone, see Hitman with a Heart. Also compare Mugging the Monster.

As this is a Death Trope, unmarked spoilers abound. Beware.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • Batman: Just about any assassin sent to take out Batman, which includes Deathstroke, Deadshot, Lady Shiva, the Court of Owls, Ra's al Ghul, and the entire League of Assassins.
  • The titular Doctor Zero tries to keep the Cold War cool by assassinating nuclear scientist Dr. Henry Clerk. Clerk, a mere human, not only predicts the assassination attempt, but uses a combination of chemicals and electric shocks to negate most of Zero's powers. His would-be assassin then gets left for dead, dumped in the snow outside the research site.
  • In Hitman (1993), this happens almost constantly, usually but not always, to Tommy, Natt, and Ringo. It helps that the three of them are all also assassins, and Tommy and Ringo specifically are the two deadliest assassins in Gotham-freaking-city. Attempted assassins include but are not limited to: idiot Gotham wannabe assassins, a few dozen ninjas, hundreds of mafia thugs, Johnny Navarone, large chunks of the CIA, super-fast mutant cowboys, a SAS hit-squad (though Tommy and Natt get out of that more because of luck and internal strife in the squad than anything else), a ten-armed demon from Hell, Lobo, Benito Gallo, and Johnny's son Marc Navarone. Among others.
    • Ultimately subverted, though, as Ringo is killed by an army of assassins (led by a super-powered one), and Tommy and Natt both ultimately die at the hands of an even bigger army of rogue CIA assassins (though in Tommy's case it's pretty much voluntary).
    • Pat Noonan and Sean Noonan of the main cast are also killed by assassins (Pat by Johnny and Sean by Benito) but do considerably less outclassing beforehand.
  • This is the entire idea behind the Human Target. Christopher Chance impersonates people who live dangerous lives and takes on whatever comes after him until they're safe.
  • I Killed Adolf Hitler: an assassin comes to kill the main character, but he deals with him.
  • After the New X-Men rescue Mercury (and X-23 and Hellion, who had rushed off alone after her first and were captured as well) from the Facility, Kimura is sent to the Xavier School to assassinate Laura, and has her lined up in her scope and is ready to pull the trigger. Unfortunately she neglected to account for the school's resident telepaths, especially Emma Frost, who proceeds to go Mama Bear on her and telepathically rewires her to go after the Facility's leadership instead.
  • Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (1968): After numerous stories where this is played straight, it's notably averted in "The Assassination of Nick Fury". Bulls-Eye is hired by Hydra to kill Fury, follows him to a concert he attends with his girlfriend Laura, and then shoots him in the back from fifty yards away. Fury dies - and never even knew the assassin was there. It does go wrong for Bulls-Eye after that, as his employers double-cross him, but the assassination itself went exactly to plan. It's also the last new story in the series, so serves as a Downer Ending until a Fully Absorbed Finale revisits events in The Avengers.
  • Attempts have been made on Silver Sable's life several times by her ex-husband, the A-list assassin the Foreigner; she, in turn, has made just as many attempts on his. Apparently, they both consider this some sort of "game".
  • This is used frequently in Sin City. Both Marv and Wallace's main stories involve assassins coming after them in waves, only to get killed.
  • Star Wars: Doctor Aphra: In Issue #16 of the second run, a Crimson Dawn mole tries to stab Domina Tagge. She responds by effortlessly grabbing the woman's arm, snatching the knife she's wielding, and then stabbing her in the back with it.
  • In the New 52's Suicide Squad, this is how Deadshot was sent to Belle Reve Prison. He was supposed to assassinate a senator in Gotham but was thwarted by Batman, causing Deadshot his first career miss.
  • Teen Titans: This is what lead to Deathstroke's feud with the Titans. Deathstroke's son Grant was recruited by HIVE to kill the Titans, and was given the Super Serum that enhanced Slade. Unfortunately for Grant, his system reacted negatively to the serum and he died trying to kill the Titans.
  • In Tintin: The Broken Ear, one Running Gag is the recurrent assassination attempts of General Alcazar by a masked bomber, who is strongly hinted as being Colonel-demoted-to-Corporal Diaz. The attempts all fail miserably, the bomber usually being Hoist by His Own Petard.
  • Ultimate Nick Fury did this by putting a hit out on himself. When the assassin looked through his scope to take out Fury, the only thing he saw was the good colonel sighting him with a rifle of his own.
  • In Watchmen, Adrian Veidt survives an assassination attempt by beating up the hitman, though he can't prevent the man from swallowing a poison capsule so he can't be taken alive. (The spoiler isn't that Veidt survives the attempt; it's that he hired the assassin himself to throw Rorschach and anyone else who might be investigating The Comedian's death a Red Herring and take suspicion away from himself. The hitman didn't even have a poison capsule; Veidt force-fed him one.)

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Angels Dance, a random woman is targeted for assassination simply as target practice for a hitman-in-training by his mentor. The woman survives the first attack and quickly adapts herself to avoiding and turning the tables on her would-be killer.
  • Happens in Blood Simple, when the heroine manages to fight off and kill the Psycho for Hire.
  • Shows up frequently in The Bourne Series.
  • In Dial M for Murder, Margot Wendice's husband, Tony hires a crook named Swann to strangle her to death. However, Margot manages to stab him to death with her scissors, setting off Tony's Xanatos Speed Chess.
  • Near the end of Ghost in the Shell (2017), the Big Bad sends hitmen to take out the members of Section 9. All the assassins end up dead. Even the elderly Aramaki survives by using his bulletproof briefcase as a shield and then takes out all the hitmen sent to kill him with his revolver.
    Aramaki: [in Japanese] Don't send a rabbit to catch a fox.
  • The History of Future Folk: Kevin fails so miserably that Trius realizes he was sent as a ruse so Trius will lower his defenses before the real assassin arrives.
  • The Man Who Knew Too Little starring Bill Murray is this trope Played for Laughs. The main character is oblivious to the fact that he isn't in an interactive play, but rather surviving multiple murder attempts through a combination of mad luck and help from competent agents.
  • In the backstory segment of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, the future Emperor is preparing to raid the last city standing against his unification of China. A group of assassins sneaks into his tent at night and attempts to kill him. Naturally, being played by Jet Li, he fairly easily kills them, then calls for his army to assault the city immediately instead of waiting until morning, razing it to the ground.
  • In A Perfect Murder, a spiritual remake of Dial M for Murder, the same outcome happens. The man that is sent to kill Emily, is instead murdered by her with the sharp end of a cooking thermometer. Furthermore, the man in question wasn't even the guy her husband hired who was Winston, the man she was having an affair with.
  • The Pink Panther Strikes Again is all over this. Chief Inspector Dreyfus has gone insane and sent assassins from around the world to kill Clouseau. But they've also been told to assassinate each other because each country wants to have the privilege of killing Clouseau. Meanwhile, Clouseau bumblingly foils each try, not even knowing about the assassination attempts most of the time. The second to last one, however, thought he succeeded, mistaking a disguised assassin for the real Clouseau.
  • In Pulp Fiction, Vincent is sent to kill Butch after the latter reneges on his agreement to throw a fight. While he's waiting for Butch to come home, Vincent goes to use the bathroom and leaves his gun on the kitchen counter. Butch comes home and finds the gun, and uses it to ambush Vincent as he's leaving the bathroom.
  • Played for Laughs in Speed Racer: When Speed puts up more of a fight than expected, the noise wakes Pops, who gets the Ninja into an armlock. That ninja discovers moments too late that Pops is a champion Greco-Roman wrestler.
    Trixie: Oh my god, was that a ninja?
    Pops Racer: More like a NON-ja. Terrible what passes for a ninja these days.
  • When Order 66 goes out in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, most of the Jedi are taken completely by surprise when their clone troopers turn on them. The clones assigned to Yoda, however, are not in his immediate vicinity when the order goes out. By the time they find him, he's sensed the deaths of the other Jedi and knows something very bad is going down. Without the element of surprise, his would-be-assassins don't stand a chance.
  • Tomorrow Never Dies: Carver orders an Affably Evil assassin named Dr. Kaufmann to kill both his wife and James Bond and make it look like a murder suicide. When his colleagues can't open Bond's armored car to get an item they need, he is ordered to get the information from Bond. This allows Bond (who is of course a government assassin) to get the upper hand by using an electric charge in his phone to knock Kaufmann out.
  • Actually subverted in Skyfall despite featuring the page quote. The Big Bad, Raoul Silva, is trying to assassinate M, so Bond moves her to his ancestral home and work together with his old gamekeeper to make their stand there. They managed to take out Silva and all of his assassins, but not before one of them inflicted a fatal wound on M, who bled out shortly afterwards. The assassins may be dead, but ultimately they succeeded in killing their target.
  • In The Umbrella Coup, Grégoire manages to take out two of the villain's goons while not even realizing they were after him.
  • In War (2007), The Reveal is that when the Yakuza sent Rogue to take out Tommy Lone and his family, Lone managed to kill Rogue after the latter killed his family. Lone then pulled a Kill and Replace in order to go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against the Yakuza.
  • Basically the entire plot of John Wick.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The main cast of canon characters for the 7th Sea RPG includes The Evil Prince Villanova, who thrives on this trope. Assassins are casually sent for him, and just as casually are never heard from again. In several instances, he is seen dispatching at least some of them himself. When he publicly broke the rules of the Swordsmen's Guild, they sent specially trained enforcers, who are about as badass fighters as it gets. Being mailed parts of their bodies yearly pretty much stopped said Guild from further action on the matter.
  • The strategy game Ikusa (set during Sengoku-era Japan) allows the players to hire a ninja to try and assassinate one of their opponent's generals. If the ninja fails, the opponent gets a free retaliatory assassination attempt against the offending player, though there is no (immediate) follow-up if that assassination fails.
  • This is what the board game Kill Dr. Lucky is all about. Dr. Lucky is as lucky as his name would suggest, and the object of the game is to, well, kill Dr. Lucky A) yourself and B) without being seen by anyone. The others can play "Failure!" cards, which represent bizarre happenstance that allows the not-so-good Doctor to escape. Another way to keep the Doc alive is to angry so hard at his assassin that they can't do it (by paying that player Spite tokens).
  • A particularly impressive (and terrifying) example is shown in the Pathfinder Adventure Path Curse of the Crimson Throne. The captain of the Sable Company Marines attempts to assassinate Ileosa when she declares that the Sable Company disband. He's a pretty good shot too and nails her right in the temple with a crossbow bolt. Unfortunately for him, Ileosa is much more powerful than he realized, and she simply pulls the bolt out of her skull, lifts him up by the neck, and stabs him between the eyes with it.

  • Girl Genius:
    • After exiting an apparently diverted teleporting device Martellus barehandedly takes on six Smoke Knights, killing them and his cousin Leopold, with their own daggers.
    • The Smoke Knights are also apparently no match for a vigilant Corbettite Monk. The ease in which the monks dispose of the assassins is almost casual.
  • The Hegemonic Brute of the Alpha session in Homestuck was sent to kill Dirk Strider but ends up getting slain by his target a few panels after his appearance.
  • Ménage à 3: When genre-anomalous international spy Bianca comes under attack by what seems to be a team of professional assassins, she survives and escapes, despite being surprised, dressed only in underwear, and accompanied by a confused and disapproving non-combatant.
  • Oglaf: The nameless protagonists of this strip see off their would-be assassins very competently, given that they're caught completely off-guard. But then, how capable can Gingerbread Assassins be?
  • Silenziosa: A man tries to assassinate King Charles by blow-dart. The Queen dispatches the would-be killer with an axe.
  • Unsounded:
    • When Roger returns to Fluirstadt the queen Maharaishala informs him that there were several assassination attempts on him after her sister's assassination, and that she had the perpetrators publicly hanged.
    • General Bell sends an assassin after Queen Maharaishala on Tirnasday, her three hidden wright protectors rip him to shreds and core-leach his body before he can throw the explosive he's carrying, and then cushion the explosive's fall. Maha doesn't even flinch, as she was already aware Bell would be trying to kill her during the festival.

    Web Original 
  • C0DA, written by former The Elder Scrolls series writer/designer Michael Kirkbride, takes place in the far distant future of TES universe. Jubal-lun-Sul, the main character, performs this toward the end of the story when he uses his "ghost hands" to effortlessly defeat a horde of Morag Tong assassins, as well as his former friend who hired them, Hlaalu Hir.
  • In Critical Role: Exandria Unlimited: Calamity, Cerrit, a non-magical investigator in a city of wizards, is able to spot an invisible cultist of Asmodeus by the fraction of their pupils left visible for them to see by, and cuts them down in a single strike of his tomahawks.
  • This is the premise of Dream's Minecraft Manhunt series. Dream only has one life and tries to complete the game by killing the Ender Dragon, while the hunters can respawn indefinitely and have compasses leading to his location. He doesn't always win, but he does it frequently enough for the series to keep going and adding more hunters into the mix.
  • King Karn and his wife Starling in JourneyQuest have a heated argument... while taking apart a small army of assassins with little effort. Starling gets wounded by the last assassin, but doesn't die.
  • In The Minister of Chance, Ambassador Durian not only escapes an undercover assassin but even goes on to use her as a political tool against both the political rival who sent her and the rival state of Jura.
  • Volume Five of RWBY has the Albain brothers of the White Fang attempt to assassinate Ghira and Kali Belladonna. Clearly aware of the fact that Rank Scales with Asskicking, the brothers not only send in a load of armed mooks but join the assault on the Belladonna manor themselves. It's still not enough. Special mention goes to Kali, who bludgeons an assassin into submission with a tea tray.
  • Carmilla of the Whateley Universe seems to specialize in this. Right after she manifested, she took down a hypnotized armed security office who shot a hole in her. Then she thwarted the killers pursuing her until she got to America. Then, when the Reverend Englund sicced a team of mutants on her, she ate at least one of them and escaped. Then at Halloween, she faced a mutant assassin, a school-wide invasion of Syndicate troops, and a team of Syndicate killers. Now she has Jobe Wilkins trying to kill her with bio-weapons. It might have something to do with the issue that she's a baby Great Old One.
  • In Until Every Drop of Blood Is Paid, Abraham Lincoln helps fight off a group of assassins led by John Wilkes Booth, even bashing Booth's head in with a log.

    Western Animation 
  • Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender survived six assassination attempts in just his first year as Fire Lord. It’s implied that he killed the first five attempters himself.
  • In Batman Beyond, an assassin, Curare, is sent after Commissioner Barbara Gordon's husband, DA Sam Young. When she fails, the society she's a member of begins hunting her down for her failure. Thinking proactively, she in turn begins hunting down and eliminating them. She succeeds, but fails when she attacks her final target on her list: Batman himself, the one she held most responsible. (For some odd reason, she didn't include either Young or Gordon, but that may be for the best.)
  • In Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, Aquaman's wife Mera caught him in bed with Wonder Woman, so she sneaked onto Themyscira and tried to assassinate Diana. Diana managed to overcome Mera and beheaded her, sending the head back to Atlantis, while keeping her crown. This is how the war between Atlantis and Themyscira started.
  • The titular character of Samurai Jack carves through the myriad of assassins Aku sends after him. Very few pose much of a challenge.
  • The episode of The Simpsons "Lisa the Iconoclast" shows that Jebediah Springfield tried to assassinate George Washington, only to get his ass handed to him; George was no lightweight.
  • Star Wars Rebels: In "Through Imperial Eyes", The Mole sets the sentry droids Thrawn uses in sparring on him, after reprogramming the override code. Thrawn manages to defeat the droids, but not until after the purpose of the attack has been served — to allow Ezra and Chopper to escape from Thrawn's office.
  • In The Venture Brothers Season 3 finale, Brock Samson manages to defeat three assassins sent after him.
  • Young Justice (2010):
    • Episode "Infiltrator": the Team is assigned to protect Dr. Serling Roquette, who has a hit on her because she's the only one who can neutralize the Fog. The Team only manages to stop the three assassins when Dr. Roquette completes the virus that stops the Fog; rendering the hit void due to The Light preferring to avoid killing anyone who might be useful in the future.
    • In the opening of the episode "Insecurity", Black Spider's assassination of a man is thwarted by Green Arrow and his sidekick Artemis.


Video Example(s):


Myshkin vs Alex

Alex Renko attempts to assassinate Boris Myshkin, only to find too late that the retired FSB killer has more tricks up his sleeve than he bargained for, resulting in Alex getting launched out the window... and suffering fatal radiation burns.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / AssassinOutclassin

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