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Crisis Makes Perfect

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"Everybody knows that the best way to learn is under intense, life-threatening pressure!"
Peter B. Parker, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

At the beginning of the story, the protagonist attempts to demonstrate a skill, and fails dismally. This is a sure sign that at the climax they're going to save the day by attempting this skill again and getting it right (usually for the first time ever).

A sister trope of Chekhov's Skill and Chekhov's Hobby, in which the protagonist mentions or demonstrates that they can do something which will turn out to be valuable later. Crisis Makes Perfect is when the protagonist demonstrates that they can't do something right up until everything depends on them being able to.


Compare Becoming the Boast, where a character who has been boasting about their ability all story is called on to demonstrate it, admits they can't, and then has to do it anyway; Die or Fly, where a crisis brings out a previously-unsuspected ability; and One Bullet Left, another trope demonstrating that the hero can do amazing things when the climax of the story depends on it. Also see Traumatic Superpower Awakening.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • FLCL episode 4 "Full Swing". Naota is so bad at swinging a baseball bat that he refuses to swing during games. At the end of the episode he swings a guitar perfectly to stop a falling satellite bomb in its tracks.
  • In Naruto, Naruto is given a week to learn Rasengan. He doesn't manage it until the last day, when Kabuto is about to kill Tsunade and the only move Naruto knows that will put Kabuto out of the fight is Rasengan. Notably, the fight giving him a case of Impaled Palm was the only reason his method of attempting the technique changed enough to pull it off.
  • Fate/stay night [Unlimited Blade Works]. Shirou's attempts to use Strengthening magic on materials consistently fail in his nightly practice until after Archer fixes his Magic Circuits, but he gets it right in do-or-die combat situations right from the start. Notably, though, this is justified, though in spoileriffic manner: Shirou's magic is limited to 'stuff to do with swords'. When he's just trying to strengthen a random object, it's not going to work because the object is insufficiently sword-like. Only when he's making objects more weapon-like does his power work.
  • An episode of Pokémon involves a guest character's two Bellossom failing to perform a stunt for a performance—until a Team Rocket attack prompts them to try it again, and they succeed.
    • Several times in the series, a Pokemon will learn a new attack when they're on the losing end of a battle.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Happily Ever After, Thunderella has trouble focusing her storm-control powers. In the climax, she successfully throws a lightning bolt at the villain, which creates a distraction for Snow White to deal the final blow.
  • The opening of How to Train Your Dragon 2 has Hiccup and his dragon Toothless practice rider-less flying combined with squirrel-suit flying, a difficult task for both of them because Toothless can't make tight turns without a rider to control his prosthetic tail fin and because Hiccup can't gain altitude, only glide. The climax relies on the two of them both pulling off these tricks again, aided by Toothless' discovery of stabilizing back spines to let him turn sharper even with a stiff tail fin.
  • In the The Hunchback of Notre Dame sequel, Madellaine struggles with her ambition to become a tightrope walker. At the end, she pulls it off to save Zephyr.
  • In The Land Before Time, Petrie is a young pterodactyl who doesn't know how to fly, but he learns pretty quick when he has to save Ducky from the Sharptooth.
  • In The Tigger Movie, Tigger shows Roo the Whoopty-Dooper Loopty Looper Alley Ooper bounce. Roo can't do it at first, nor later when he's practicing before bedtime. At the end, he has to do it to save Tigger from an avalanche.
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Peter B. provides the page quote while he and Miles are fleeing from Alchemax and Dr. Octopus. Sure enough, Miles is forced to web-swing and succeeds, however briefly, after Peter's attempts to walk him through it failed. In the climax, Miles develops his own web-swinging style while rushing to the Super-Collider after everyone else left him behind.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Down Periscope, the diving officer screws up her maneuvering early in the film, but then in the crucial moment near the end gets it exactly right thanks to the captain Obfuscating Stupidity and giving incorrect orders to induce her to jump in with the correct ones. It's noted that the captain used this to help her get it right when she speaks to him afterwards and asks him how much longer he would have waited before doing it properly.
  • In Enola Holmes, the titular character fails for most of the movie to pull off a certain jiu-jitsu move. In the climax, with her life at stake, she somehow manages to do it.
  • In the climactic game of Major League, veteran pitcher Eddie Harris is flagging at the top of the ninth inning, when Yankees power hitter Clu Haywood comes up to bat. The Indians' manager calls Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn in as relief pitcher, even though Vaughn has never failed to give away a hit to Haywood in the season. The catcher protests, but the Indians' manager insists, saying, "I've got a hunch he's due." Vaughn throws three straight fastballs and strikes Haywood out.
  • In Maverick, Maverick has a superstition about being able to draw exactly the card he needs, which fails every time he tries it except during the climactic poker game with everything riding on it.
  • A running gag in One Crazy Summer has Hoops repeatedly failing to make improvised basketball shots (wastebasket, trash can, Ack-Ack). During the boat race, one of the villains cheats by using a sniper rifle to shoot out the line for their sail. Unfortunately, they have to repair it by putting the line back through the halyard hole and they don't have the equipment to do so. Their solution: tie the line to a metal ball and have Hoops throw that through the hole. Somehow, he makes it. Even he is surprised.
  • In Santa Claus: The Movie, Santa attempts to show Joe the Super Duper Looper maneuver he's been trying to teach his reindeer, but Donner's acrophobia forces the reindeer to abort it. At the climax of the movie, when Santa has to save Patch and Joe from an endangered Patchmobile, he is forced the perform the Super Duper Looper in order catch them, shouting encouraging words to Donner. The Super Duper Looper is performed flawlessly, and Patch and Joe are rescued.
  • In Shanghai Noon, Owen Wilson's character is shown to be a terrible shot. When it comes to the final shootout, however, he manages to put his only remaining bullet through his opponent's heart. It's hard to tell who's more surprised by this.
  • In SpaceCamp, the pilot trainee is unable to recover from a spin in the simulator. After being inadvertently launched into space, she finds herself having to do it for real.
  • A Running Gag in Steel is John Henry Irons (Shaquille O'Neal) not being able to make basketball shots. Then he successfully lobs a grenade through a vent in a very similar way to save lives.note 
  • In Willow, Willow attempts to perform a disappearing trick and it goes disastrously wrong. At the climax, he foils the evil sorceress by successfully vanishing the MacGuffin.
  • Mole's catchphrase in the 1996 film version of The Wind in the Willows is "But I can't throw for toffee!" But near the end he manages to literally throw a spanner into the works of the Weasels' dogfood machine.
  • In Rocket Man, Randall has proven that he's an absolute genius, having designed several of the pieces of equipment in the Mars lander, but he can't rewire them when spinning around. Sure enough, the craft gets sent into a flat spin when they're trying to leave and he has to rewire the entire electrical system in less than two minutes. With some encouragement from the mission director after a brief moment of panic, he pulls it off flawlessly.

  • In The First Law, there's a couple of scenes where Nicomo Cosca, an infamous mercenary turned seedy drunk tries to do a knife throwing trick where he points out a target and says he will hit it. Inevitably, the knife hits way off course, which doesn't exactly instill confidence in his allies. However, in a climatic fight, he actually succeeds in doing the trick and hits an opponent right between the eyes.
  • Played with in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, where Harry has been attempting to cast Patronus spells all book so that he can defend himself from Dementors, but can't seem to get it fully right. He does get it to succeed once, but he (and the audience) doesn't see it happen because he's in the middle of a Quidditch match and looking for the Snitch. (Plus, he didn't have real Dementors to deal with that time.) Later, he has to save himself and two others from an entire swarm of Dementors, and fails the first time, but eventually he travels back in time and is able to save his earlier self with a Patronus he'd (at the time) thought his dead father had somehow cast. By that point he'd realized he would succeed because he already had.
  • In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry has trouble with the summoning spell, Accio, until he finds out that he needs it to beat a dragon.
  • Played with in Ursula Vernon's Dragonbreath series. Danny Dragonbreath is a young dragon who is sensitive about his inability to breathe fire. When facing a giant octopus in the climax of the first book, he does finally manage to breathe fire— but because he's underwater at the time, it has no effect.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Chuck season 3 when he was training to be a "real" spy, Chuck had to do an Improvised Zipline using a power line and his belt as the pulley, but failed. Then at the end of the ep in a real situation he was forced to use a power line as a zip line with his belt as the pulley. This time he succeeded.
  • In Family Ties, in the Season 3 episode "Auntie Up," with Elyse out of town and Mallory grieving the death of her beloved great-aunt - his own Aunt Trudy - Steven says "funerals, first dates and plumbing" have always been Elyse's job, while he handles "colds and flus, open school nights and office supplies." He also says, "I don't deal that well with death myself." Season 3 would end with the two-parter "Remembrances of Things Past," in which Steven travels to his own father's funeral, which he had known was imminent since the Season 1 episode "I Never Killed for My Father," and he must comfort his mother.
  • In Fringe, a villain threatens a biological attack unless Olivia can make a box of lights switch off with her mind. Fringe Division assumes he's mad, and prepares a rigged box to fake the effect - but the episode ends with Olivia having to use her latent mental powers to switch off another box, wired directly to the bomb that will release the contaminant. She succeeds.

  • In Hadestown, Orpheus tries working on the song that will reconcile Hades and Persephone for much of the musical. He gets so in the zone that Hades manages to convince Eurydice to come to Hadestown when Orpheus is busy composing. When does Orpheus finally get it right? When Hades is threatening to kill him after he sings "one more song".

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY: Weiss has always struggled with one aspect of her glyph Semblance: summoning spectres of past enemies to fight for her. Every time she tries, she fails. However, when rushing in to defend Velvet from an enormous rogue war machine, she suddenly gets it right for the first time, successfully summoning the arm and sword of the knight she fought in her pre-series trailer, which blocks the mecha's attack and then obliterates the mech.


    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • In The Backyardigans episode "Caveman's Best Friend", Austin has to whistle to get his pet dog-like dinosaur to come back, but he cannot do it until he is about to sink into a tar pit.
  • In BIONICLE: Mask of Light, Takua's new Kohlii move, a Catch and Return front-flip, ends up missing spectacularly. His move becomes the deciding blow in the match against Makuta.
  • In the DuckTales (1987) episode "Top Duck", Launchpad (unsurprisingly) crashes spectacularly the first time he attempts the "Treetop Bebop Tuck and Roll". At the episode's end, he manages it to save Scrooge and the Money Bin.
  • The Legend of Korra:
    • Korra manages to get a grip on the Airbending stance she struggled with earlier just in time to turn around her Pro-Bending match. Later in the season 1 finale she actually airbends, something she had been unable to do all season, after Amon takes away her other three bending skills and is about to de-bend Mako.
    • Bolin lava-bending in the season 3 finale is a subversion, as the skill he had been trying to master all season was metalbending, which he still hadn't gotten by the end of the series.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • In "Sonic Rainboom", Rainbow Dash struggles to pull off the title maneuver while practicing for a flight competition. Come the day of the competition, she pulls it off to save Rarity and several Wonderbolts from falling to their deaths.
    • In "Hurricane Fluttershy", Rainbow Dash sets the goal for every pegasus to achieve 10.0 wingpower so they can make a tornado and lift water to Cloudsdale. Fluttershy initially gets 0.5 wingpower, and trains to get up to 2.3 wingpower. When the pegasi try to create the tornado, they don't have enough wingpower to lift the water, so Fluttershy joins and manages to fly faster than she ever did before.
    • In "Equestria Games", Spike is unable to light the torch with his fire breath, but he later uses it to melt a falling iceberg created by a stray ice arrow, saving the spectators from being crushed.
  • In Regular Show, season 5 "Dodge This", when the park workers form a dodge ball team, Rigby practices his dodge ball throw, the "Rignado", but he can't aim it properly. When his team is against "The Magical Elements" and Rigby and Reginald, one of the giant flying babies, are the only ones remaining, Rigby does the "Rignado" again but this time it hits his opponent and his team moves on to the finals.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Homie the Clown", Homer is repeatedly shown flubbing Krusty's spin-cycle trick (which Krusty describes as "a great piece of buffoonery if you pull it off, but if you blow it, you'll look like a fool"). At the climax of the episode, he is forced to perform the trick by a Mafia Don threatening to execute him if he fails. He's delighted to find that he's actually pulling it off... only to fail horribly at the last moment. Krusty himself was made to ride the bike when he and Homer had to do the trick together, yet Homer (who had to ride on top of Krusty) still manages to nearly jeopardize it.


Video Example(s):


Tiny bicycle trick

Zig-Zagged. During the first act, Homer is shown attempting and failing to master Krusty's spin-cycle trick. Then during the climax, it seems that Homer's just about to finally manage it, only to fail. It's only when he's forced to do it with Krusty, that he ultimately succeeds.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / CrisisMakesPerfect

Media sources:

Main / CrisisMakesPerfect