A female character is put into immediate danger in order to put the cast in motion. Her plight unites the cast, causing them to put aside their differences and work together to save her or provide the premise for The Quest and is considered Older Than Dirt.
The nature of the distress varies. The classic damsel has been kidnapped or captured and is locked away, awaiting rescue and afraid for her life and virtue. She may also be lost or stranded in a hostile area, trapped, desperately ill, or suffering any number of terrible fates where she needs help to survive.
This set-up is plausible if the damsel in distress is a beloved character, but can be very jarring if the audience fails to see what's so valuable about the damsel and why the rest of the cast should drop everything to go to her rescue. Some damsels are so annoying that the audience wouldn't mind seeing them dead; others end up in trouble in a way that just screams Character Derailment. This is particularly dangerous for the resident Action Heroine who will seem suddenly weak and helpless if her stint as a damsel isn't properly justified — if the moment is bad enough, she can be demoted to Faux Action Girl. On the other hand, anyone can have a bad day; perhaps she just had a moment of Badass in Distress after being thrown a Distress Ball.
A possible way to shake things up a bit is to give the damsel something to do besides stand around uselessly. The Damsel out of Distress will put up a fight, which can either help or make things worse. The Defiant Captive damsel will snarl and rage where her meeker sister would scream. There are even subversions in the line of Play-Along Prisoner: the Decoy Damsel puts on all the appearance of this trope, but her helplessness is all for show.
Sometimes the character gets kidnapped for the sake of her good looks or royal blood, but in other works she's more likely doing something that is a threat to the party that kidnaps her (reporters are common), which allows her to look smart and independent before she needs to be saved. Alternatively, she can end up prisoner as a Heroic Sacrifice; situations where she puts herself in peril so that others can get away are popular, even if her plan ultimately fails.
This is a type of Living MacGuffin. Chained to a Rock is an ancient form; Girl in the Tower and Hypnotize the Princess came later. Damsels may also be Bound and Gagged or put into Unwilling Suspension, especially when it satisfies Author Appeal.
If the kidnapper in question is particularly nasty, expect an I Have You Now, My Pretty situation to occur. If the character does not become a Damsel Scrappy but still is constantly captured, they are a Designated Victim. Compare with Disposable Woman, where a barely-developed character is killed off for Emotional Torque, but forgotten not long afterwards. Common for a Caged Bird Metaphor to be used.
For the Gender Flip, see Distressed Dude. See also Distress Ball, Standard Female Grab Area, Determined Widow, I Have Your Wife, Save the Princess, Hostage MacGuffin. If the girl is actually faking this for her own benefits, depending on her purposes she's either a Deliberately Distressed Damsel or a Decoy Damsel. A damsel who rescues herself is a Damsel out of Distress who probably used an Improvised Weapon. If she has a strong spirit despite captivity then he/she is a Defiant Captive. If the hero leaves the damsel in distress (for the moment), that's Delaying the Rescue. If the hero tries to rescue them even though they don't need rescuing, then The Victim Must Be Confused. See also The Captivity Narrative for a plot based on this.
Not to be confused with the 2012 comedy film Damsels in Distress.
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- Lola Bunny at the end of this UK advert for Walkers Crisps.
- Child Ballad King Estmere. The king goes wooing on the recommendation of his brother, and arrives to find the lady is being forced to marry. He rescues her.
- Child Ballad The Maid Freed from the Gallows has the heroine about to be hanged if she is not ransomed. Various relatives arrive and declare they are there to see her hanged. Finally, her true love arrives and ransoms her. (Most American versions of this ballad feature a Gender Flip version, of a man about to be hanged, but this is the older variant.)
- Comic book heroes seem to spend about half their time rescuing some girl they've been dating on-and-off for about seventy years from something each issue, from Olive Oyl to Lois Lane. (Unsurprisingly, people who Love someone's alter ego often suffer from this trope.)
- Batman sometimes has a Distressed Damsel love interest. Julie Madison and Vicki Vale in The Golden Age of Comic Books; Silver St. Cloud in the Seventies, and Jezebel Jet in the modern age. No, wait, scratch that last one...
- Marvel Mystery Comics, which started in 1939, operates approximately half on this trope. The damsels are more likely women of the week than romantic interests, and sometimes don't even have names.
- The Angel is a world-wandering costumed vigilante with no specific purpose, so seeing a random woman in danger is always a good way to get him involved in a plot. The woman in the second story was in danger because she had something someone wanted. The one in the third was kidnapped off the street to be a Human Sacrifice.
- The woman in the third Human Torch story is literally Chained to a Railway.
- In the second Namor story, it isn't the hero being spurred to action, but the police, as Namor kidnapped and almost killed a woman (because he didn't realize humans couldn't breathe water).
- In the early days, Betty Brant and Gwen Stacy would serve this role. Then it was notoriously subverted in the 1973 Amazing Spider-Man story The Night Gwen Stacy Died, in which archvillain the Green Goblin kidnaps Spidey's girlfriend, Spidey goes to rescue her... and she dies, turning from Gwen Stacy into the Gwen Stacy.
- Also subverted, in a different way, by Mary Jane Watson after her marriage to Peter. Whenever she's confronted by obsessive stalkers, she (almost) always manages to escape on her own, without any help from her super-powered husband. Even more subverted by the fact that, more often than not, Mary Jane is the one who bails out Spider-Man whenever one of his opponents has the upper hand in a fight. Even before their marriage, when Mary Jane was witness to a Spidey fight going poorly, she'd often brazenly distract or sabotage the bad guy, relying on her charm and wit to save her from the dangerous consequences.
- Even Aunt flippin' May has taken out bad guys. When (fairly) recently the Chameleon had assembled a group of Spider-Bad guys to go after Peter Parker (this is just before Civil War, natch) the Chameleon himself disguised himself as Peter to go and kidnap Aunt May. Aunt May opens the door, and lets her nephew in, and gives him some tea and biscuits while she has to finish her knitting before revealing that she drugged the fucking tea cause she'd recognize her beloved nephew anywhere and Chameleon obviously was an impostor, holding up "GOTCHA" written across the sweater she just made in a knitted moment of awesome.
- Lois Lane is probably the most famous damsel in distress, and in almost all versions (comics, cartoon, films) needs to be saved frequently by Superman.
- Supergirl. It very rarely happens to Kara, though, and when it does, it is because she has been overpowered by someone like Darkseid or she is playing along, and she hardly ever needs to be saved.
- In Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man, Lex Luthor and Doctor Octopus kidnap Lois Lane and Mary Jane Watson and admit openly that they are bait to lure the heroes into their trap. Both women are understandably pissed off about it.
- Wonder Woman:
- In her defense, it rarely happens and is usually because of some stronger magic de-powering her or cosmic asshole pulling some tricks. In the early days, Diana is often seen bound and gagged in her comics (thanks to her creator being a bondage fetish) but this subverted as she's the one who breaks herself free which, which was incidentally at the time an allegory for the slavery of Africans.
- One time in Superman: Red Son Russian Batman was able to capture Diana by using her lasso against her but after Russian Superman pleaded with her to save him, Wonder Woman broke her lasso and knocked down Batman easily. But this was a bad thing as breaking her lasso cut her powers in half and permanently damaged her... Whoops.
- Fables Snow White, Rose Red, Cinderella, Beauty, Brair Rose (sleeping beauty) and Red (Red Riding Hood) all get their fair share of "damseling" (mostly when they were in in the Homeland fighting the armies of the Adversary) but usually can look after themselves the rest of the time.
- Brair Rose's curse of falling asleep every time she pricks her finger would seem like a major disadvantage until it's revealed she can make everybody around her sleep as well.
- Heather Hudson attempted to invert this trope in Alpha Flight, even referencing it. When she finds out her two-hour wait for her husband (Guardian) is a set-up, she tries to storm out: "Other wives and girlfriends may be content to play bait for the good guys, but I'm not going to stand around waiting for you to use me to lure Mac into your lair." But by then, Mac's been captured; they want revenge against Heather, too. (The woman with her throws her across the room.)
- The New Teen Titans: Raven, dear God in Heaven! Her being a pacifist, it kind of makes sense that she'd have trouble fighting with kidnappers.
- The main character of Empowered almost always ends up captured by villains, as a parody of Faux Action Girls. Naturally this leads to her being the laughingstock of the superhero community. Nonetheless, despite all the ridicule she receives and her general lack of success as a superheroine, she proves to be a Determinator who refuses to quit.
- Most of the women in Sin City due to its Noir roots.
- Subverted with Jadina from [Les Légendaires; her typical Spoiled Sweet attitude, natural clumsyness and the fact she's a princess seems to make her designed for this role, and Danael even mentioned she has been this at least once; however, she never falls into that role, and actually is the one saving her friends most of the time, sometimes even doing so when weakened. This reaches its paroxysm in Book 14, where after she got temporary depowered and had her friends saving her, but still saves her friends from the new Big Bad Abyss, who none of her friend could even scratch. And all of this while still depowered. Wow.
- April O'Neil from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In almost all of the TMNT continuities, she is a good friend of the Turtles, and is a love interest to Donatello in the 2012 cartoon. While it varies by incarnation, as the turtles' most prominent human friend she is often in need of rescue, particularly in the 1987 cartoon.
- In Violine, Violine is regularly in need of saving, and occasionally tied up as well.
- A minor character example in Copperhead when Martineau is kidnapped by Clay to aid his escape from prison.
- Ariana Black of The Ariana Black Series gets kidnapped or otherwise endangered by Voldemort at least once per fic.
- Nala is this at times in The Lion King Adventures, most notably when she's kidnapped by Scar and Hago in King's Ransom.
- Tales of the Emperasque has Isha, Eldar fertility and life goddess, kept in prison by Nurgle. Her rescue is the first Moment of Awesome of many.
- InInfinity Crisis, Jane Foster is captured by the villains as a hostage (justifiable as half of Thanoss new allies were Thors enemies, so they naturally targeted Thors ex for maximum impact).
- In Hellsister Trilogy, Darkseid locks Highfather's daughter D'reema away so she can't ruin his scheme by speaking the Life Equation.
- Discussed in Fate/Reach Out:
"Well then," Yosuke smiled. "Now we have a plan; Emiya fights, Teddie supports, I investigate, and Satonaka..." he paused as he stared at the lone girl of their party. "Well, try not to get kidnapped, alright?"
"Ha-ha, very funny," said lone girl deadpanned.
- Lampshaded and averted in the first movie, especially in a scene where Robin Hood and his Merry Men try to "rescue" Fiona from the ogre they believe has kidnapped her, only to have her rebuff him and beat up all his men in a combination of styles from Xena: Warrior Princess and The Matrix.
- And in Shrek Forever After, where in an alternate universe where Shrek was never born and never came for her, Fiona eventually decided to rescue herself.
- Played straight at first but later subverted with Fiona in Shrek 4-D, who at first is helpless after Thelonius kidnaps her, but eventually gains the upper hand and beats him.
- In Toy Story, Andy purposely has Bo Peep play this role, so Woody could save her. Not that she minds...
- Shows up often in Disney Animated Canon:
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: Snow White falls into an enchanted sleep after taking a bite from an apple given by the disguised Queen and is awoken with True Love's Kiss.
- Ariel's daughter Melody becomes this in The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea when she's transformed back into a human and Morgana locks her up in unmeltable ice. Melody's friends Tip & Dash have to save her.
- Beauty and the Beast: Belle is rescued by the Beast from a pack of wolves after leaving his castle, which is what convinces her to return to said castle in order to patch up his injuries.
- Aladdin: Jasmine is trapped in an hourglass slowly filling with sand during the final battle and nearly drowns in it until Aladdin breaks her out.
- Parodied in Disney's Hercules.
Hercules: Aren't you a damsel in distress?
Megara: I'm a damsel... I'm in distress... I can handle this. Have a nice day.
- Tarzan: Jane is attacked by baboons and rescued from them by Tarzan, due to being an unprepared Fish out of Water in a wild environment.
- Kida from 2001's Atlantis: The Lost Empire, who spends the last third of the film crystallized by the villain and her boyfriend and his teammates actually have to rescue her and change her back.
- Subverted in Titan A.E., when Akima is jettisoned into space, captured, and held to be sold into slavery. The rest of the crew undergoes a makeshift rescue operation, only to find out that she successfully knocked out all of her captors and is patiently waiting to be picked up.
- Played with in Happily Never After, in which The Prince (whose name is revealed to be Humperdink) is searching for one of these (or a lady in waiting or whatever else is a typical princess) and sounds excited that Ella could be one of those things. When he asks if she's a damsel in distress, her response is "I will be. Kind of. At midnight". To say the least, Ella does more ass-kicking than servant boy Rick or Humperdink.
- Straight example in Hoodwinked, where Red Puckett is Bound and Gagged and loaded into a tramway cabin filled with dynamite, and it's up to Granny to rescue her.
- Michelle, the little badger from Once Upon a Forest, inhales a poisonous gas and falls ill. Thus, it's up to her friends Edgar, Russel, and Abigail to find the herbs to heal her. Her damsel status stands in a bit of contrast to Abigail, who fights an owl while trying to save her.
- Odette from The Swan Princess is under an enchantment by Rothbart that causes her to turn into a swan when moonlight leaves the lake by his castle in the morning and she needs Derek to break the enchantment, but she also turns down Rothbart's marriage proposals without a hint of remorse or fear even though she knows he's a powerful sorcerer and he killed her father. Also, she doesn't exactly wait for Derek to show up and does everything she can to try and let him know where she is and what he has to do.
- Studio Ghibli, happens quite a lot. Though it was subverted in the first Ghibli production Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind as the titular Heroine can completely look after herself to the point where the male Love Interest is the one who gets the Rescue Romance. However the following females leads aren't as lucky.
- Sheeta in Castle in the Sky needs her secretly royal butt saved frequently by everyone from Pazu to Sky Pirates and killer robots. She only subverts this twice, once while escaping on a train where she saves Pazu from Dola's boys with a shovel inciting the line "That's one strong girl" and when she makes a deal with the Big Bad so that Pazu is freed while she remains the Damsel. Should be noted her rescues do make some of the most exciting points in the movie.
- My Neighbor Totoro: Mei at the end of the movie when she runs off alone, it gets so dire the neighboring farmers believe she drowned in the river. Satsuki, Mei's older sister, retrieves her with the help of Totoro.
- Porco Rosso: Porco has to win the dog-fight against his old rival Curtis otherwise the main female character Gina will have to marry Curtis.
- In Princess Mononoke, San is introduced as an infamous figure and powerful threat to Iron Town and its leader Eboshi who she will stop at nothing to assassinate, but then she's knocked out by Ashitaka the hero and rescued from the town. Subverted later when San saves Ashitaka from bleeding to death despite initially being ready to kill him, only stopping when Ashitaka reveals he had saved het since she's "so beatiful". But sadly then it's played straight again as San is swallowed up by the demon boar and Ashitaka has to pull her out, for the titular character San is ironically the one who is most frequently in need of rescue.
- In Spirited Away, Chihiro at the start of the movie needs to be saved and protected by Haku. It turns out Haku saved her even earlier than that as a river spirit during a flood when she was a toddler. The rest of the movie inverts this since she learns to be independant and save her parents. Hell Hayao Miyazaki got the idea for the movie when he witnessed his grand daughter being a "lazy bum".
- For Howl's Moving Castle, at the start of the film Sophie is saved from being harassed by soldiers by Howl despite him also being pursued himself by the Witch of the Waste causing Sophie to promptly fall in love with him. This trope is played with through most of the movie, with Howl continuing to protect Sophie as necessary and Sophie looking after Howl throughout and ultimately giving him his heart back saving him from dying.
- Lupin III:
- In The Castle of Cagliostro, Clarisse is pursued by the Count and one of Lupin's priorities in this story is protecting/rescuing her.
- The Fuma Conspiracy: Murasaki, who twice found herself the target of kidnapping and/or traps. The first was when she was captured by a Fuma Ninja during her wedding, and demanded the MacGuffin in exchange for her life. The demand motivated Goemon and company to steal the vase and deliver it to the Fuma.
- Lupin III: The Columbus Files shows an example of Fujiko being a Damsel in Distress and a Action Heroine, but without being a Badass in Distress. During the opening, she loses her memory, and her entire personality changes. She's terrified of nearly everything, and everyone is a stranger to her. When she contributed to part of her rescue via pure Muscle Memory, that also terrifies her.
- Strange Magic: Dawn, being a Princess Classic is kidnapped by The Bog King as a hostage to exchange for a stolen love potion.
- In Megamind, Roxanne Ritchi routinely gets kidnapped by the titular supervillain, to the point where basically no deathtrap can scare her anymore.
Roxanne: Can one of you punch my frequent kidnappings card?
Megamind: You of all people know we discontinued that promotion.
- One of the major complainants fans had about Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is that Tifa doesn't get any massive kick ass moments like in the games, she does get one cool moment when she fights Loz but then is overpowered by his Super Speed and has to be helped by Cloud again. She is however the last ally to help Cloud in the climax.
- In Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV, Luna is kidnapped by Glauca, though to her credit she doesn't stand by and let her rescuer do all the work.
- Parodied in Quest for Camelot when Kayley tells her mother Julianna she wants to be a knight and rescue damsels in distress... then immediately asks what is a "damsel, anyway?" Ironic because both Julianna and Kayley play the roles of the DID in the movie, Julianna throughout the plot after being captured by Ruber and Kayley initially when she escapes into the Forbidden Forest and having to be rescued/babysat by Garrett before she takes a level in badass to recover Excalibur and save Camelot.
- King Kong:
- The original 1933 film treated Fay Wray's Ann Darrow as nothing more than a prize for an evil gorilla.
- The 1976 film starts this way, but Jessica Lange's Ann Darrow gets to know King Kong, sees that he's lonely and forms a bond with the big guy.
- Naomi Watts' Darrow from the 2005 film takes the latter step further, and is more assertive in trying to stop a money hungry publicist from making Kong a circus attraction.
- The Ur-Example of this in film would probably be the protagonist of the 1914 silent melodrama serial The Perils of Pauline. A "talkie" version of the series was made in the '30s; the title was later used for a 1947 biopic of original Pauline actress Pearl White, and a 1967 film that was a camp spoof of the genre.
- Pearl White also starred in a nearly-identical series, The Exploits Of Elaine, around the same time.
- A large number of Bond Girls fit this trope.
- For example, Honey Rider in Dr. No. Dr. No decides to execute her by cuffing her to the inclined side of a pool with water pouring in from a large pipe. Bond finds her and releases her. Originally she was supposed to be attacked by large crabs while chained◊.
- Thunderball. Bond's fellow agent Paula is kidnapped by a couple of Largo's thugs and taken to be tortured for information. Bond goes to Largo's estate to rescue her but arrives too late. Paula has taken a Cyanide Pill and killed herself so she can't be made to betray Bond and the operation.
- Spectre: In the climax, Oberhauser kidnaps Madeline and traps her in a locked room in the old MI6 building, which is set to be demolished and has already been rigged to blow. Bond has to race through the building to save her life.
- Live Free or Die Hard attempts to make this one more feminist-friendly by having Lucy McClane reject this role at every turn. She is still helpless to physically resist, being an unarmed college student, but when the villain puts her on the phone with her dad, she simply tells him how many bad guys are left. John kills the villain Gabriel by shooting his own shoulder to hit Gabriel's heart, which frees Lucy and now that she is traumatized by John shooting his own shoulder on purpose just to save her, she becomes caring to her dad just like in the original Die Hard and her rebellious personality towards John now faded to dust.
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Ditto for Elizabeth Swann in the first film, except the feminist-friendly parts were added by the actress herself. Said actress gets a much more fitting role in the sequels.
- If Elizabeth is this in the first movie, then Will must be as well, because he ends up having to be rescued from the exact same situation. She manages to instigate his rescue despite being marooned on a deserted island, and then actively fights alongside him in the final battle.
- Played straight and then subverted as said damsel takes a level in badass over the course of the movies. It gets lampshaded by Jack when he refers to her as "a certain damsel in distress... Or should I say distressing damsel." after her Shoot the Dog moment of leaving Jack to die. By the climax of the third film, the same young woman who had previously been kidnapped and held prisoner by Captain Barbossa's crew has become The Pirate King, thanks in no small part to Jack's gaming the system of pirate politics.
- Syrena the mermaid from On Stranger Tides is saved more times than cartoon Little Mermaid.
- Ditto for Elizabeth Swann in the first film, except the feminist-friendly parts were added by the actress herself. Said actress gets a much more fitting role in the sequels.
- In the Spider-Man Trilogy, Mary Jane gets kidnapped by the villain in the climax of all three movies. She's also in distress twice before the climax of the first.
- They tried to play it less straight in Spider-Man 2. After Spidey gets knocked down in the climax, M.J. picks up a steel beam and tries to sneak up on Doctor Octopus (Doc Ock, Experience learning from his earlier encounter with Aunt May, brushes her aside).
- Kirsten Dunst actually only signed on for Spider-Man 3 when they promised not to make her a Damsel in Distress. When plans changed, Sam Raimi tried to make it up to her by giving her more to do in the finale. She ends up saving Spidey by chucking a cinder block at Venom, and uses some web to swing out of the way of a falling truck.
- Done remarkably effectively in Superman: The Movie (1978) - the famous helicopter rescue, but all of the climaxes in the movie involve this trope. Also used in the sequels.
- Played fairly straight in 'Sync' episode 6, where computer prodigy Yoshi appears to have no sense of fighting or quick reasoning skill whatsoever. Ruthlessly exploited by our 'Genre Savvy' main character when he gets her to panic in his favor by suddenly yelling, "Oh god, look at all the bad guys coming to get you, get on the motocrcycle, quick, they're right behind us!'
- IT 1990 Bill's wife Audra is captured by the titular monster and is put in a comatose state, even after the surviving Losers's Club save her she remains motionless and shocked due to seeing It's true form. Bill returns his wife to normal by using the the power of his bike Sliver.
- IT 2017 Beverly just after knocking her awful father is captured by Pennywise and is taken to the sewer ensuring the rest of the boys to chase to come to her rescue. Some fans were pissed Beverly is seemly relegated to damsel in distress, when in the books and the original TV Miniseries she never is put in that position. But this opinion false as it's revealed to be a subversion in the 2017 version, as Pennywise only takes Beverly as bait to lure Bill and the others. Plus he can't even eat her since she's not afraid of him really Bev is far more physically competent than her book and 1990 counterpart since she is the first one to actually damage Pennywise.
- Aversion: In The Proposition, this role is occupied by the retarded younger brother. Obviously, there is no Rescue Romance. At the end, however, Charlie still has to rescue the police captain's wife from being raped and killed, although the captain himself - despite being Ray Winstone - is also being threatened, though not with rape.
- Subverted in Ever After: when Danielle is sold into slavery, Prince Henry shows up to rescue her. But, being the capable heroine she is, she has already threatened the bad guy and freed herself.
- The Indiana Jones series
- Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark. She's captured by Todt and threatened with torture in her own bar and has to be rescued by Indy. Later in Cairo she's captured by the Germans' Arab allies and carried away in a basket. Then she's captured yet again by Nazi troops while she's aboard the ship. Somewhat averted because she isn't completely helpless, including knocking out one of her Arab pursuers with a frying pan and pulling a knife on Belloq in an attempt to escape.
- Willie Scott in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
- Subverted at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Elsa became a distressed damsel when she found herself dangling over a crevasse after she tried taking the Holy Grail from its resting place. However, rather than letting Indiana pull her up to safety, she uses his hold to try and reach for the chalice, which had conveniently fallen just below her. In the final moment, she almost reaches the grail until her hand slips away from Indy's, causing her to suffer a Death by Materialism.
- The female lead in Legend (1985), it doesn't help that she's innocent to the point of stupidity either.
- Hey, she did manage to trick Darkness into believing her FaceHeel Turn long enough for her to free the unicorn. She got knocked out immediately afterwards.
- Giselle starts out like this in Enchanted but reverses roles with Robert in the end.
- Princess Leia from Star Wars manages to be this and simultaneously an Action Heroine. However she is something of a subversion because her plea for help was not a plea for a rescue but rather a plea to get the plans to the Death Star to Bail Organa on Alderaan. She wasn't expecting a rescue at all (and the guys didn't plan to do it either).
- And she wasn't exactly what one would call grateful when she did get the rescue, either.
Princess Leia: I don't know who you are or where you've come from, but from now on you'll do as I say, okay?
- Carrie Fisher herself said: "I was not a damsel in distress. I was a distressed damsel."
- Rather funnily, Han Solo, of all people, plays this role in Return of the Jedi. He is rescued from a dragon... by a princess. And he is helpless and weak when she rescues him, seeing as he's blind at the time. This doesn't prevent him from (accidentally) knocking Boba Fett into the Sarlacc Pit - and then rescuing best friend Lando Calrissian after Lando had come to rescue him!
- If Jabba has her as his slave girl, in the end she's the one who kills him.
- And she wasn't exactly what one would call grateful when she did get the rescue, either.
- Trillian in the film version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
- In Hudson Hawk, a kidnapped Andie MacDowell pretends to suffer side effects from curare poisoning so she can annoy the typewriter symbols out of her captors and lampshade the trope: "I'm not a very good damsel in a dress, am I?"
- Averted in Iron Man. Pepper Potts has to be rescued, but is enough of a threat that the villain feels compelled to shoot her instead of taking her hostage. She's also generally competent and helpful throughout the film.
- Indeed, the one scene that seems obviously headed for her being captured and turned into a distressed damsel has her instead easily evading the villain's clutches, and then immediately alerting the authorities to his evil plans.
- Done again in the sequel, when Happy Hogan insists on accompanying S.H.I.E.L.D Agent Romanov on her mission and fights a bad guy when they enter the building. By the time he has won the fight, he sees that she's taken down every other bad guy there is.
- And shown again with Miss Romanov in the beginning of The Avengers. She's held captive by a group of Russian mobsters who are ready to kill her until Agent Coulson calls her, ready to bring her back in. She easily frees herself and drops everyone she was dealing with in no time flat. With Coulson listening in on the whole thing, showing all the concern warranted by being put on hold.
- Iron Man 3 has Pepper taken prisoner again, but ultimately saves Tony using part of one of his armors while under the influence of Extremis. Worth noting, the same film also had Rhodie and the President of the United States needing rescue at various points.
- X-Men Film Series
- Cheryl in I'm Gonna Git You Sucka when she's kidnapped by Mr. Big's Mooks.
- Double subverted in True Grit western: the main character is a 14-year old girl trying to prove her companions she doesn't need babysitting, and succeeding. However, eventually she does, in a perfectly classical way: first getting kidnapped by outlaws, than falling into a snake pit.
- Subverted in The Avengers (1998). Emma Peel is captured by Sir August and brainwashed into a hallucinatory state. You'd expect Steed to break in and rescue her, but instead she escapes from Sir August, fights off her delusions and breaks out to freedom by herself.
- In Perfume, the Villain Protagonist sets his murderous sights on Laura Richis, a beautiful, virginal young lady. Her father becomes wary of the danger and does everything in his power to protect his daughter.
- Tank Girl. Sam (a 10-year-old girl) is captured several times, with Tank Girl spending the movie tracking her down in order to save her. Subverted at one point when Sam cleverly uses a deadly toy to puncture a child molester's hand.
Sam: That's what you get for being a perv!
- Tina (Cameron Diaz) in The Mask. Although she is able to get Dorian to take off the mask and then kick it to Stanley, which leads to the battle being won.
- Cliffhanger. Jessie Deighan turns into one. She's a helicopter pilot. She does mountain rescues. Then she gets scared by bats in a cave, and cringes in a corner while the he-men fight.
- Subverted hilariously in a scene of The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day with Agent Eunice Bloom. She's snatched into an impenetrable panic room by a baddie (right in front of the cops, no less), and pandemonium breaks out. One of the cops even worries that she might be "touched and stuff", and it's played as high drama for a bit. He needn't have worried; in the next shot, Special Agent Bloom has the baddie pinned down and sputtering for relief.
- Wild Wild West. Rita Escobar, whose husband was kidnapped by Dr. Loveless and who ends up getting imprisoned and kidnapped by Loveless herself.
- Played straight in The Princess Bride. Princess Buttercup gets kidnapped by Vizzini, nearly eaten by the shrieking eels, is the oblivious target of a murder plot, gets set on fire, falls into a sand trap, and nearly gets maimed by a rodent of unusual size. At one point she even contemplates taking her own life.
- Subverted with Kelly in Mystery Team. Yes, she DOES get kidnapped... but it's not like the Mystery Team were much help in saving her.
- Reconstructed in the Scooby-Doo movie. They point out that while, yes, Daphne did get kidnapped a lot, she never let that discourage her from joining the gang in their latest mystery. She's also studied martial arts so that she is eventually able to look after herself.
Daphne: (after defeating a henchman who tried to kidnap her) Now who's the damsel in distress?
Daphne: Straight up!
- In The Dark Knight Rises, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) plays this straight when she is cornered by Bane's henchmen on the rooftop while confronting John Daggett. She also fakes it in the bar shootout, where she guns down two of Bane's henchmen, then begins screaming hysterically when the SWAT team bursts in, only to sober up as soon as they have chased Bane's men out.
- Played straight in Django Unchained with Broomhilda.
- Kerry Washington said she took the part because African-American actresses aren't usually offered the "damsel in distress" role.
- Played straight in Desert Heat with a pair of blondes. Complete with threesome Rescue Sex.
- Pretty much the whole point of A Lonely Place to Die, which has a group of mountaineers getting killed off one by one trying to take a young Serbian child they found buried underground in the Scottish highlands to safety.
- Isabelle getting captured by the giants is what sets the plot of Jack the Giant Slayer in motion.
- In Showdown in Little Tokyo, after Yoshida recaptures Minako he takes her with him as a hostage. He eventually ties her up covered in gasoline and tries to burn her alive in front of Kenner.
- Elle Brodys role in Godzilla (2014) is basically to be in danger from the Kaiju and motivate Ford to risk his life to save her.
- Fiona during the climax of The Giver, in which she's sentenced to Release for her role in helping Jonas escape.
- In Annie, Annie is kidnapped by her fake parents and sent on a car chase with them during the climax.
- The Hateful 8 has Daisy Domergue. John Ruth captures her for the Dead or Alive bounty on her head, and believes that a Knight in Shining Armor of sorts is going to try to rescue her. Turns out four such knights mostly wiped out most of Minnie's Haberdashery of innocents to do just that.
- Marian in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is a downplayed example - she directly helps Robin under the nose of the Sheriff and only went through with his scheme because Nottingham was holding the rebels hostage and would've killed them if she turned down his marriage proposal. During her wedding/rape scene she is defiant throughout by outright telling him "It may be my body but it will not be me!" And during the final fight between Robin and Nottingham she does not a bystander as she grabs what she can to help Robin, which isn't much since it's in a chapel.
- DC Extended Universe:
- Lois Lane (surprise, eh?). In just Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice alone, Lois has to be rescued by Superman three separate times. The first was Lex, by proxy, testing if Superman would come for her if she were in danger. The second time was Lex using her to summon Superman.
- Lex also kidnaps Martha Kent to blackmail Superman into fighting Batman.
- In the original script of Game of Death, Hai Tien's wife and child are kidnapped by Korean mafia to force him to undertake the titular game of death.
- In Batman (1989), Vicki Vale, due to the Joker's obsession with her. First, Batman has to save her from a Captive Date with the Joker at the Museum, and then the Joker kidnaps her at the climax of the film.
- In the first Men in Black movie, Edgar the Bug storms the morgue where Dr. Laurel Weaver works after learning Orion, the cat with the galaxy he's looking for is there. Here, he holds her hostage with a gun for a while to avoid getting stopped by agents Kay and Jay and promptly kidnaps her so she can take him to the flying saucers found at the towers of the New World Pavillion, which he plans to use to escape from Earth. He takes Laurel with him with the intent of eating her and feeding her to his family. Thankfully, Laurel quickly becomes a Damsel out of Distress shortly afterwards.
- Charlotte in the climax of Mystery of the Wax Museum, as she is under threat of becoming a waxed corpse.
- The Climax: The heroine Angela spends the entire movie being menaced—either covertly or overtly—by Dr. Hohner, and being rescued by her fiancé Franz. (or Luise, or Carl or the Vienna police...)
- This is Older Than Feudalism, dating back at least to the Greek myth of Perseus and Andromeda.
- The story of Hesione and Heracles is very similar to that of Perseus and Andromeda. However, Deianeira, another woman in Heracles' adventurous life, subverts it by taking matters in her hands shortly after the rescue.
- Eurydice is in a classic Damsel in Distress situation. Unfortunately, Orpheus does not come up to expectations.
- Subverted with Helen of Troy, who is anything but innocent in what happens to her.
- In Ramayana, Sita is a crown example.
- In Celtic mythology (Mabinogion), Branwen finds herself in this position. Subverted with Deirdre, who voluntarily put herself in the situation which was considered as distress by her fiancé.
- Downplayed in the legend of St. George and the Dragon (a tale that has otherwise many parallels with the myth of Perseus and Andromeda): The princess is delivered to the dragon and saved by St. George, but she is not physically constrained, does not ask for help, and there is no romance between the princess and George, nor does the king offer her up in marriage.
- The legendary Battle of Clavijo had a hundred maidens (50 peasants and 50 noblewomen) demanded by the Emir of Córdoba to renew his Royal Harem or sell them as slaves. They were saved by Santiago (Saint James the Greater as he is known in the legend) when he descended from heaven to intervene the Spaniard behalf against the emirate forces.
- Circassian Mythology: In one of the Nart Sagas, Setenaya's "sister" Psatina is abducted by the giant Arkhon Arkhozh, and must be rescued by Warzameg. She isn't entirely helpless, however, and provides her hero with information that helps her escape.
- At least as old as The Bible itself, as shown by the case of Sarah, daughter of Raguel, saved by Tobias with Raphael's help.
- Mary Jane Watson from Stern's Spider-Man pinball.
- Appropriately enough, Princess Peach from Gottlieb's Super Mario Bros..
- Medieval Madness has five princesses that must be rescued from fire-breathing dragons.
- The queen in Big Guns.
- The girl in the aptly-named "Save the Girl" Video Mode in Junk Yard.
- April O'Neal, unsurprisingly, serves this role in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
- Unsurprisingly, the only party member in Dungeons & Dragons captured by the fire-breathing dragon is the Valkyrie.
- The ultimate goal of Popeye Saves the Earth is to rescue Olive Oyl from Bluto — after saving the Earth, of course.
- Nell is this in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends, awaiting rescue from Dudley Do-Right.
- Miss Polly in Cactus Canyon, who not only regularly gets into trouble, but also gets an entire mode ("Polly Peril") where she is Chained to a Railway.
- There's a captured princess in the "Dragon's Keep" table of Full Tilt! Pinball
- The backbox translite for Bone Busters shows one of the female team members being grabbed by an animated skeleton.
- Christine Dae from The Phantom of the Opera
- Strange Science has Jodi, a teenager who's been kidnapped by a Mad Scientist as part of his "Freaky Friday" Flip experiment.
- Princess Ball in Pinball Quest
- The princess from Tales of the Arabian Nights
- Randy Savage has twice seen his valet, Miss Elizabeth, kidnapped by George "The Animal" Steele and King Kong Bundy. Hulk Hogan in the nWo even forced her to say she no longer loved Savage on camera.
- Mountain Fiji was practically invincible, so her enemies in GLOW frequently resorted to attacking and or kidnapping her little sister, often resulting in Mt Fiji losing matches by forfeit or count out as she left the arena to go save her.
- Later in WCW, the nWo would try to send a message to David Flair by kidnapping his Loony Fan Daffney Unger. Scott Steiner actually acknowledged that it might not have been the best idea.
- Smackdown did an angle revolving around Kurt Angle admitting that he wanted to have sex with Booker T's wife Sharmell, leading to many scenes of her failing to fight off or out run Angle before Booker came to the rescue, although he usually got beaten up too, until the very end.
- Stacy Keibler had several instances where someone would attack her. Sometimes it was to provoke the guy she was managing, other times it WAS the guy she was managing, sick of her getting all the attention.
- Trish Stratus was once abducted by MNM on an episode of Monday Night Raw, causing Jerry Lawler to abandon his commentary duties to go find her.
- TNA would later revisit the assault someone else's wife I want to have sex with angle with Scott Steiner going after Kristal Lashley until her husband Bobby made the save.
- At SHINE 15, Valkyrie used a beaten up Solo Darling to lure Amazing Kong away from their leader, The Radiant Rain.