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Miles: I can't do this yet!
Peter: Everybody knows that the best way to learn is under intense, life-threatening pressure!

Evidently, life-threatening situations bring out our hidden powers. The threat seems to have to come from Fate for it to work out. Don't Try This at Home.

At a moment of extreme stress, a superpower pops out that the character never knew was there. They might have continued to lead a normal existence, doomed to be — at best — a character in a romance, if it had not been for that car wreck, or fall from a great height, or evil-doer...

The idea presumably has its origins in the fight-or-flight reaction that humans experience when in great danger or under great stress, as a surge of adrenaline can indeed make someone capable of something that they weren't a minute ago.

A preferred training method of the Sink or Swim Mentor. Contrast with New Powers as the Plot Demands, which is about powers manifesting as an easy way out of danger. This trope is about danger being used as a not-so-easy way for powers to manifest. This trope is a common way of introducing Powers in the First Episode. If the power can only ever be used in life-threatening situations, it's a Defence Mechanism Superpower. Compare with Traumatic Superpower Awakening, when the powers appear as a result of trauma that is not immediately life-threatening and Crisis Makes Perfect, in which a person masters a skill rather than manifesting superpowers under pressure. Don't confuse it with Crash Course Landing, when a passenger has to learn how to fly or else they die.

This trope is the central concept of Japanese Spirit.

A Death-Activated Superpower is when both happens. They die, then they fly. Compare Uninhibited Muscle Power.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • This is how most +Anima gain their powers. When a child is in life-threatening danger, they sometimes manifest a Power Tattoo that lets them partially turn into a nearby animal. True to the trope name, this makes flight a somewhat common power; Birds are just about everywhere, and sprouting wings is great for a quick escape.
  • The 2003 anime version of Astro Boy, which addresses the ridiculousness of his various built-in gadgets by giving him a highly modular construction that reconfigures itself in response to danger. He gains his iconic rocket boots after tripping and falling out the window of a high rise office tower.
  • This is how Eren's titan shifting ability was awakened in Attack on Titan when he was in the belly of the titan who ate him. Also, his ability as the coordinator manifested when their group was surrounded by titans outside the wall with little hope of surviving.
  • In Baki the Grappler, a young Baki throws himself off of a cliff in order to trigger "endorphins" that enhances his senses.
  • In BirdMen, Karasuma is having trouble flying, so Takayama, just picks him, flies to a distance and let's go. Karasuma starts flapping his wings in panic, and now he can fly!
  • Bleach:
    • This is the only method of development that works on Ichigo. He has to be put into life-or-death situations where he has no choice but to power up or die, including when he first obtained his own shinigami powers — Urahara severed his chain of fate which meant Ichigo had to transform into a shinigami or die. Urahara is a firm believer in this method of training anyway, but all Ichigo's mentors have noticed it's the only way to train Ichigo. His Quincy power was suppressing his Soul Reaper power in an attempt to protect him from the danger of being a Soul Reaper; it only lets up whenever Ichigo's in mortal peril. This doesn't work when he trains to develop his Fullbringer powers. Xcution forces him to fight a Yakuza member controlled by Riruka's powers and turned into a monster. While frantically dodging attacks and scared out of his mind, Ichigo fails to activate any powers, then eventually gives up and begs them to tell him how. Chad explains that a Fullbringer has to pour their emotions into an object with sentimental value. Ichigo them almost immediately succeeds.
    • Orihime and Chad's powers manifest the first time when they are on the verge of being killed by hollows. Both of them not only have their own lives on the line but need to protect the lives of others. Tatsuki's life is almost lost while trying to save Orihime and Karin gets caught up in Sado's battle. Without them manifesting their powers, there would have been several lives lost, not just their own.
    • Uryuu thinks he is successfully rebelling against his anti-Quincy father but appears to actually be following the path his father has secretly laid out for him. While Ryuuken denies Isshin's accusation that he's putting his son through the die-or-fly experience, his reaction (that it's entirely up to Uryuu whether he lives or dies in Hueco Mundo) produces a smirk from Isshin, as it's exactly what a Sink or Swim Mentor would say.
  • A dark example in Blue Exorcist, to attempt to awaken his demonic heritage, Yukio goes to greater and greater lengths of putting himself in danger, culminating by jumping off a tall building. When that works long enough to save him from the fall but then goes away, he proceeds to put his gun to his head. He gets a phone call before he is able to pull the trigger.
  • Buso Renkin: As a buso renkin is the physical embodiment of the wielder's fighting instinct and will to survive, it is common for people to learn how to summon them when their life is in serious danger. Kazuki, for example, learned how to summon the Sunlight Heart while fighting a homunculus note , while Tokiko gained the Valkyrie Skirt when she was attacked by a captured humanoid homunculus while having her injuries treated with a kakugane.
  • In the Sakura Cards arc of Cardcaptor Sakura, this effect is deliberately invoked by Eriol to help Sakura change the Clow Cards into Sakura Cards.
  • Dragon Ball Z:
    • Piccolo throws Gohan at a mountain for this express purpose. Good thing it worked. Of course, instead of flying, Gohan goes into "hidden power" mode and vaporizes the mountain, which was a lot more than Piccolo expected.
    • It didn't work in the Abridged Series. Cue offscreen *smack*, then Gohan whining.
    • The above was foreshadowed in Gohan's first appearance, where he was about to go over a waterfall. When Goku arrives, he's somehow clinging to a branch far above the fall with no idea how he got there.
    • Goku later invokes this when trying to get Gohan to transform into a Super Saiyan. It works, but only when Gohan is put in genuinely life-threatening danger.
      Goku: The power comes in response to a need, not a desire. You need to create your need.
    • In Dragon Ball Super, Goku's new Ultra Instinct form can only activate this way; being closer to a state of mind rather than an actual powerup, it only ever seems to activate whenever Goku's back is against the wall. Even after the Tournament of Power is over, Goku can't activate Ultra Instinct willingly.
  • In Fate/kaleid liner PRISMA☆ILLYA, Luvia shoves Miyu out of a helicopter in an attempt to get her to fly. It doesn't work and she hits the ground hard. Fortunately, Sapphire was able to shield her body with magic, so she wasn't hurt.
  • Future GPX Cyber Formula:
    • Hayato Kazami and Asurada learn the Lifting Turin Saga completely by accident. Asurada in its AKF-0 version bounce off course during a test drive and in order to avoid a painful crash landing and keep Hayato, its driver, safe, it reverses its effect fans and causes the car to float around the turn. Lo and behold, Hayato's just discovered his most gamebreaking driving skill ever.
    • Before that, he learns the Internal Drift when Super Asurada AKF-11 is about to crash on the wall when he tries to pass Kaga while trying to pass Knight Shoemach's time, also during a test drive.
  • The Girl Who Leapt Through Time made her first time leap when flipped into the path of a train.
  • Gundam X has Newtype powers work this way, as demonstrated in the Estard arc. The Frost brothers sic potential Newtypes on the Double X, with the intent that the near-death rush of battle will awaken their powers. Out of the four Pilots of the Week, only the last one develops powers in this way. Which is just fine by the Frosts, who despise Newtypes and were sending the candidates to their deaths; the one who does develop powers and survives his fight gets shot anyway.
  • Macross Delta: One of the primary themes running through its story, especially with regards to Hayate and Freyja's development is the concept of risking one's life to awaken their full potential.
    • Freyja in particular only gains full access to her Fold receptors when either Hayate is endangered or she is. While this trait goes away with training, it never quite fades.
    • Hayate goes for a quite literal version of this in the second episode, where for his induction into Delta Flight he is asked to 'ride the wind' by jumping off the Elysion's deck.
  • In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha The Movie2nd As, Hayate's initial awakening as the mistress of the Book of Darkness is depicted like this, with the book whisking her up into the sky to save her from getting hit by a truck.
  • My Hero Academia has a "other person in danger" variation: the first time that Izuku managed to use One For All, if badly, was when he saw Ochaco, a girl who was nice to him earlier, about to get killed. Then, after he gets in, Aizawa, already a Sink or Swim Mentor, threatens him with expulsion if he can't keep up with the class. This pressures Izuku to find a way to make his quirk work without totally wrecking himself (he does it by only breaking one finger) and actually gets an impressed smile out of Aizawa.
  • Mai's powers manifest themselves this way in My-HiME, after Natsuki attacks Mikoto and she tries to defend her. Later, they come out more fully when her little brother is in danger.
  • Naruto:
    • Jiraiya resorts to literally throwing Naruto off of a cliff to force him to learn how to tap into the power of the Kyuubi demon sealed within him. Luckily for Naruto, this "strategy" works and enables him to get the chakra needed to summon a giant toad.
    • The Uchiha clan's hereditary super-eye power, Sharingan, first manifests in a life-or-death situation. They can use it at will afterwards, although it takes time to get to full potential.
    • Naruto's first successful use of the Rasengan is in his battle with Kabuto, in a situation in which failure would have meant defeat.
  • In the Nasuverse, the Mystic Eyes of Death Perception seem to be awakened by near-death experiences; though this is extremely unlikely to happen. Which makes sense: the power is said to result from a person gaining an intuitive understanding of death in all its forms, which could only result from a close, personal brush with death.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion Gendo Ikari: "Pilot the mecha against the thing that just wiped out an army and survived a nuke." Shinji (rather sensibly): "Uhhhm....what!?". But seriously, this is how the first few Unit 01 battles go. Shinji (with little-no training) has to go out and fight things that ignore (basically) nuclear strikes. To quote: "Unless you (Shinji) succeed, humanity HAS no future." Have fun with that.
  • Noein: Haruka's La'cryma captors lock her in a glass pod that slowly fills with water, hoping that her fear and stress will awaken her Dragon Torque powers. They do start to awaken, but she is unaware of them and Karasu rescues her before she drowns.
  • One Piece:
    • In the Alabasta arc, Zoro comes up against an adversary whose body is made of steel. With no option to retreat, it becomes a "cut steel or die" scenario. No points for guessing the outcome. It's even lampshaded to an extent, when Zoro declares, after learning of his opponent's ability, that he will be able to cut steel by the end of the fight.
    • Garp's preferred training method, especially when it came to his grandchildren. Then when he realized that his being away from home for so long did not work towards his goal of making them marines, he left them with a friend to raise them and make them marines. Said friend was a mountain bandit. He was asking for it, really.
    • A flashback in the Fishman Island arc shows us a variation, as one character's hidden power awakened through someone else being in danger: Shirahoshi unknowingly first displayed her ability to summon Sea Kings when she was a child, after crying out to her mother who was seconds away from being shot dead.
  • Pokémon: In Fighting Fear with Fear!, Gary gives Gligar the option to use the Razor Fang to evolve when Gligar desires to become stronger. However, Ash doesn't let Gligar evolve until they have spent time training together. Just as Gligar accomplished its training and thus conquering its Acrophobia and fear of battling, Team Rocket's attempt to steal Gligar leads both Ash and Gligar falling down a cliff, and Gligar can't dive fast enough to stop Ash from falling. Knowing that he needs Gligar to evolve, Ash throws the Razor Fang towards Gligar, who grabs it and immediately evolves into Gliscor, gaining enough speed to stop Ash from falling to death.
  • The first time Leina pulls off the Dragon's Tail in Queen's Blade is during her training session with Echidna. Said training session? Echidna openly and actively trying to kill her for three days straight. (Both combatants are coated in sap that prevents any injuries, but that sap does wear off over time...)
  • Ranma ½:
    • In the Hiryuu Shouten Ha story arc (Rising Dragon Wave in the US) Cologne never gets around to disclosing the legendary technique's final step to Ranma. However, he figures it out all on his own just as Ryouga's fist is about to turn him into paste on the side of the mountain.
    • The Nekoken's training in a nuthsell — Cover a child in fish. Throw them into a pit full of starving cats. The child learns or dies.
  • Rebuild World: Twice with Akira's more grounded Bullet Time like ability called Compressed Time: First, Akira uses it unknowingly while falling through the air when fighting Nelia, but despite training on how to use the ability, he can't directly invoke it. It takes being Eaten Alive by The Great Serpent Mechanical Monster and cut off from his Virtual Sidekick for Akira to be able to muster the ability on his own. The ability stems from Akira being a rare Differently Powered Individual resulting from past genetic engineering known as an Old World Connector.
  • In The Seven Deadly Sins, King Arthur is said by several characters to have a lot of latent magical power, but he has no idea how to access it. He's repeatedly thrown himself into life or death fights in an attempt to access it, but so far, it doesn't work. He is eventually killed, then when Merlin ressurrects him, he finally awakens his powers.
  • At the end of the Soul Eater anime, Maka discovers that she is also a weapon, like her father when fighting Kishin, though this is not what allows her to defeat him. (And it's not clear if she remembers this afterwards, as she was having an insane episode at that point.)
  • Shizuka Saeki from Talentless Nana discovered her time-rewinding ability when she slit her wrist in hopes of joining her parents in the grave.
  • Retasu in Tokyo Mew Mew gained her mermaid form when she jumped into the ocean, despite being terrified and unable to swim, to try and save a small child. Technically, a Mew Aqua also helped.
  • Subverted and parodied in the Tower of God anime (season 1, episode 12). Paracule is despairing at enemies coming from every direction, and then suddenly he and his allies are floating high above the battlefield. He briefly thinks he awoke a dormant power within himself until someone points out it's Lauroe who flew them up with Shinsu.

    Asian Animation 
  • BoBoiBoy: Ochobot forgot what powers he gave to Gopal, so he tries unlocking his superpowers through various means to no avail. When he gets kidnapped by Adu Du and a sawblade swings towards him, Gopal surprises himself when he turns it into pizza. It's after he also turns a bomb into a chocolate bar does he realise his powers are (apparently) turning things into food. Justified by the fact that his powers are amplified by his fear.

    Comic Books 
  • Marvel Universe:
    • There is a relatively new phenomenon called Secondary Mutation in which known mutants (typically X-Men) suddenly develop a new mutant power at extremely convenient moments, such as a healing power (after receiving an otherwise mortal wound) or the ability to become indestructible (in the middle of a bombing). It started in New X-Men as an excuse by Grant Morrison to give Emma Frost transform-into-diamond powers,since they were not allowed to bring the transform-into-metal Colossus back from the dead and had a story idea they wanted to use which needed that power.
    • Richard Rider a.k.a. Nova was depowered for a long time and Night Thrasher guessed that he could reignite Rider's powers with a high stress incident. To create one, he kidnapped Rider, dropped him off a building and found that his hunch was right when Rider instantly repowered in the fall, including his flight power. He tried it a second time after another depowering, only to be rescued before the splat and having it made very clear that a second power-up was not what would have happened (he got his powers back again, of course, in another story arc).
    • Spider-Man first discovered his powers this way. While he is walking home, feeling sick after being bitten by the spider, a car is about to hit him. His new Spider-Sense kicks in and he instinctively leaps up the side of a building, clinging to it.
    • The transformation of Jean Grey into the Phoenix was originally presented as this, then retconned into a subversion, with a primal power of the universe using her as a template to create an avatar. (This ultimately went horribly wrong.)
    • Amara from New Mutants discovers her powers this way. Selene drops her in a volcano and she ends up learning to manipulate lava. Guess her Code Name? Magma, of course.
    • Wolverine is a prime example of this — his claws first popped out during the attack on his parents.
    • This is Darwin from X-Factor's main power. He always mutates the most simple and convenient power he needs to survive whatever situation he's in. This can range from surviving without a head, to being part Death, to teleporting out of the way of an angry Hulk.
  • The DCU:
    • Invasion! (DC Comics) introduced the "metagene", which gives humans superpowers as a way to survive lethal trauma, as a way to Hand Wave the many heroes and villains with Freak Lab Accident origin stories. The concept was demonstrated by an alien scientist performing a mass execution of fifty abductees; six of them survived, gained powers, and briefly formed a superteam.
    • Superboy later introduced a character called Sparx, who came from a family who had all tested positive for the metagene. Members of her family deliberately endangered themselves to try and trigger their powers.
    • Another story featured wannabes hanging around hoping for the day of their Origin and one relating how one guy decided to stop waiting and shoved a fork into a toaster. While the guy he's talking with starts rattling off possible powers, the answer for what he got was 'electrocuted'. Destiny doesn't like it when you try and cheat.
    • Shazam! has this as a slightly more mundane situation for the Batson siblings and/or Freeman: they are often in freefall and their only chance of survival is to say their magic words to change into their Flying Brick modes.
    • Wonder Woman (1987): Though Cassie had just received powers when her mother and Jason Blood were attacked by Artemis she wasn't sure she had any, and had no clue what they might be if she did. She stepped out a window on an upper floor hoping for flight or durability (she had both) and then discovered to her delight she also had super strength when trying to prevent Artemis from killing anyone she held dear, since Artemis is also stronger than a baseline human.
  • The Sandman (1989) In one short story, a dreaming man who falls off a cliff literally must fly or die. It ties into An Aesop about how you don't know if you can do something until you've done it.
  • In Strikeforce: Morituri, candidates for the Morituri Process must survive Biowar Facility Alpha, a greenhouse garden loaded with lethal traps. The stress of survival is required to trigger the superpowers granted by the Process.
  • In ElfQuest, Zhantee's shielding power first manifests when he saves Skot and Krim from being struck by a falling branch. Justified in that this is the first opportunity he'd had to invoke it after being exposed to the Palace, which enhances elves' powers.
  • The original Liberty Belle, a member of the All-Star Squadron, had an experience like this. She'd been kidnapped by Baron Blitzkrieg, who used her, a lightning bolt, and the stolen Liberty Bell in an attempt to cure his blindness (don't ask). The experiment worked, but the bell fell off its rig toward Libby; she raised her hand in a desperate bid to stop it, and it flew across the room, hitting Blitzkrieg instead. Turned out the experiment had given her sonic powers as a side effect.
  • In Wanted this happens where Wesley must shoot the wings off of flies or Fox will blow his brains out.
  • The "Pureheart the Powerful" sequences of Archie (1966-7) had this as Betty/Superteen's origin story, as she tried to rescue an unconscious Archie from falling off a cliff.
  • A Running Gag in the French comic Raghnarok: the titular Raghnarok is a young dragon who has yet to manage to fly, so his mother tosses him off a cliff every chance she gets (Amusing Injuries are in full effect, so he only get bumps, bruises, and an ever-deeper aversion to flying from the whole thing).
  • Zenith reactivates Siadwel Rhys' powers by dropping him out of the sky. (About the most useful thing he ever does in his own book.)
  • In Sonic the Comic, Tails first learns that he can fly after accidentally walking off a cliff.

    Fan Works 
  • John in With Strings Attached, when he is held prisoner in a net he can't break and furiously wishes he could turn into water. Splash! Though the experience almost drives him crazy.
    • Also Ringo, twice. First, he has his choice of telekinetically levitating himself (which he's never thought to do before, because he can only hold something 5-7 seconds) or getting torn apart by crazed "Beaglemaniacs." Then, after a pair of disembodied arms throws him off the garage roof where he stranded himself (It Makes Sense in Context), he suddenly teleports to safety—if ending up in the Plaza Hotel, currently under siege by thousands of Beaglemaniacs, is "safety."
    • Similarly, George in The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World, when he desperately turns into an air elemental for the first time so he can carry John away from an angry mob. After he turns back to himself, he describes the experience as being like “an idea wrapped in air” and how he was terrified that he'd fly apart.
  • Koizumi Itsuki from Haruhi Suzumiya can already use ESP to fly and fight, but only inside closed spaces. In Kyon: Big Damn Hero, to make him realize his powers were unlocked for use anywhere it took being thrown off of a cliff to fight against a robot attacking Kyon by Haruhi (who had forgotten Koizumi didn't know).
  • In the Negima fanfic 'Fang Vice Addiction', this is how Evangeline tries to teach Negi to fly without a broom. It repeatedly fails, with her having to rescue him, so eventually she just jumps herself, expecting him to save her. It works.
  • In the MLP:FiM fanfic Aurora, the Big Bad (and Twilight Sparkle!) ascend to a higher plane of existence in moments of desperation. The Princesses' moments of desperation are worthy of terror...
  • The Powers of Harmony invokes this when Blair, on Ophiuchus' insistence, forces Twilight to get over the mental block on using her powers by tossing her over Neighagra Falls. To say that she's not happy afterwards is an understatement.
  • In the Pony POV Series, this happens literally to Scootaloo during the Wedding Arc. To save Twilight and Sweetie, she grabbed Sweetie in a move that sent them both out a window, and, with the only other options being die or get captured by Queen Chrysalis, finally manages to fly to save them both. This act also earns her Cutie Mark.
  • In Chapter 31 of Pokémon Reset Bloodlines, when Ash asks Misty about how she learned to use Water-type moves, she reveals that she learned Waterfall when it was either that, or fall to the rocky bottom of one.
  • In Neither a Bird nor a Plane, it's Deku!, Izuku learns how to fly after he's blasted off Mt. Fuji by a laser cannon. He doesn't even realize he's doing it until All Might and Firestorm point it out to him.
  • Downplayed in Of Quirks and Magic. To get Izuku to surrender his control of magic, Strange locks him in an infinitely long hallway flooded with water: he either lets go and successfully makes a portal to escape, or he drowns. Strange wasn't actually going to drown him and considers fetching him in about a minute, but Izuku manages to tap into the Sling Ring and make his portal.
  • Fate/Harem Antics: Shirou Emiya masters his Projection powers just in time to summon two swords when Angelica Ainsworth was about to kill him.
  • In Pokemon: Divinus, Gary discovers that the Divinus have the ability to fly when he changes his mind while attempting suicide.
    • Ash discovers the ability to clone himself while making a Sadistic Choice.
    • May discovers the ability to change the material her body is made out of when Giovanni shoots her.
    • Serena discovers the ability to become completely undetectable when in a "bad situation".
    • Barry discovers the ability to move at impossible speeds when carrying his team in a race.
  • Equestria Girls: Friendship Souls:
    • Fitting for a Bleach crossover, and lampshaded by Ditzy Doo while training the Humane Five with their Fullbrings. Rarity can't find it in herself to disagree, considering that most of them did in fact first unlock their Fullbrings with their lives or those of their loved ones on the line from Hollows, and Ditzy preparing to fire a Cero that could kill Pinkie and Fluttershy is what leads to the former's epiphany to unlock the next level of hers, while taking one of the most powerful and deadly attacks in Ditzy's arsenal head-on is what lets the rest of them reach their own next level.
      Ditzy: Desperation. It’s as simple as that. People have a hard time growing without either a lot of innate discipline and motivation, or they get pushed to the breaking point of absolute desperation. Since I don’t have time to teach you the discipline you’d need to grow stronger, that leaves desperation as our go-to, dirty quick-fix.
    • Sunset follows a similar progress with her own Soul Reaper powers, having bonded with her blade to gain her Zanpakutou during her first battle with a Hollow and getting her Shikai while fighting the Sternritter Fleur de Lis. During her Training from Hell under Discord with Clover at the same time the Humane Five are training their Fullbrings, it's only when both of them brought to their very limits fighting skeletal copies of themselves after eight floors of grueling battles with skeletal constructs with their spiritual power being suppressed and sapped all the while that their Zanpakutou respond to their determination to win by granting them access to even greater power than they had before to triumph at the last stage.
    • This is the usual process behind a Menos becoming an Arrancar. In theory, all you have to do is tear off your Hollow mask. In practice, your will needs to be strong enough to hold your destabilizing spiritual power together as your body reshapes itself. Fail and you die, but succeed and you achieve far greater power than before along with regaining some of your lost humanity. The more advanced you are in your evolution gives you better odds of survival, but it's still a risk. Vasto Lorde Adagio, pinned down by Luna's shadows as the Soul Reaper Captain and her subordinates capture and take her friend Ember from Las Noches, tears her mask off in a fit of rage and determination to get the power necessary to break free and stop them. It works, and while she fails to prevent Ember from being taken she now has the power to be a proper threat and get her back.
  • Kimi No Na Iowa: Natural Born shipgirls Reawaken their true natures in response to danger.

    Films — Animation 
  • BIONICLE 2: Legends of Metru Nui: When Matau falls off the tower, he suddenly grows wings.
  • A Bug's Life: Dot's subplot involves her trying to get her wings to work. She finally succeeds after being chased off a cliff by Thumper.
  • The Incredibles:
    • Subverted early in the film: when their plane is about to be hit with a missile, Helen shouts at Violet to block it with a forcefield or they'll all die. Violet, panicking, fails to create the field and the plane is shot down (Helen saves everyone in another way). Afterwards she apologizes to Violet, saying it was completely unreasonable to put that pressure on her.
    • Violet finally learns to create large force fields when jumping at her brother to save him, and Dash is desperately running from guards in velocipods when he finds that he can run on water.
    • Jack Jack apparently doesn't manifest his powers until Syndrome tries to kidnap him. However, the short film Jack-Jack Attack reveals that Jack Jack did manifest his powers beforehand: a Mozart CD is the catalyst. The sitter did say that Mozart was good for babies, but she apparently didn't know the effects on superbabies.
  • The climax on the film Rio. Blu must fly or he and Jewel will die. And he did.
  • In Astro Boy, the rocket boots activate under similar circumstances, while his weaponry activates in moments of crisis during the final battle.
  • In Hotel Transylvania 2, Dracula attempts to teach his grandson how to fly by throwing him from a tower. His friends protest, but he claims that was how he was taught. It doesn't work and Dracula has to catch him.
  • Not quite the discovery of superpowers, but in the same vein: at the end of the The Animatrix short Kid's Story, the eponymous Kid frees himself from the Matrix by throwing himself off the roof of his school.
  • As a glitch, Vanellope from Wreck-It Ralph has corrupted code and occasionally suffers from random short-range teleportation, especially when stressed. The trope develops in two stages. First, when she exposes King Candy as the rogue character Turbo, he tries to crash her into a column, forcing her to actually concentrate and figure out how to glitch consciously to escape the trap. Then, she sees Ralph falling to his death in a Heroic Sacrifice, and effortlessly performs a Teleport Spam to Catch a Falling Star. After that point, she adopts the power for herself and it becomes her in-game ability, making her extremely popular with players.
  • Barbie in the Pink Shoes: After their trip into the world of Swan Lake leads to their transformation into swans, Kristyn and Hailey struggle to use their wings. They figure it out quickly when a pair of hunters show up.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The movie The Pumaman (featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000) had Valdhino toss random people out of windows in order to find the man who has the Puma Man powers. He finally hits paydirt when he tosses Tony out and he lands on his feet like a cat.
    • That's not exactly true, Valdhino had enough biographical information to be fairly sure both where and who Tony (a.k.a. Puma Man) was. If anything Valdhino's actions were more to demonstrate that Tony really was the descendant of "Gods from another world". YMMV on whether this actually Makes Sense In Context or instead is Insane Troll Logic. The other young American men thrown out of windows during the movie were the result of the Big Bad trying to "strike first" is his own words.
  • In Sky High (2005), Will discovers he has super strength after he tries to protect his friends from Warren. He also discovers he can fly after Royal Pain throws him out of the floating highschool.
  • In Jumper, the main character first uses his teleportation powers to avoid drowning after he falls through thin ice into a frozen lake.
  • A mentally ill would-be superhero in Kick-Ass takes the first option given by the trope name.
  • In Unbreakable, David discovers his invulnerability after surviving a horrific train wreck unharmed. Turns out his mentor, Elijah, was behind it because of this trope; he has caused many disasters in order to find someone like David.
  • X-Men Film Series
    • Bobby Drake's ability to turn his body into ice happens because his original powers were not enough to withstand Pyro's fire attacks in X-Men: The Last Stand.
    • There are several examples in X-Men: First Class. First, Dr. Schmidt threatens to shoot Erik Lehnsherr's mother unless he figures out how to use his power to move a coin. Erik is unable to do so until after Schmidt kills his mother, the pain of which triggers his abilities. Later, Erik takes this approach during Banshee's flying attempts (though given that Banshee's costume contained metal, he could easily have caught him if it didn't work). Later, Alex Summers grasps his energy-blasting ability just as he needs to.
    • Invoked by Ajax in Deadpool (2016). His Super-Soldier factory works by grabbing people, pumping them full of a mutant-gene-kickstarting serum that is catalyzed by adrenaline, and then torturing them until the trauma gives them superpowers (or they die, whichever comes first). Wade's powers get activated after he's left on the edge of suffocation for a whole weekend.
  • Fantastic Four (2005) also has this. Johnny has been trying to master flight ever since he got his powers (with no one really believing he can do it), when Doom fires a heat-seeking missile at the Baxter Building he leaps off the edge to try and lure it away and right before he splatters all over the pavement he finally nails it.
  • In Doctor Strange (2016), the Ancient One strands Strange on Mount Everest to force him to figure out how to open a portal to get back. He nearly freezes to death before he manages it. Mordo's reaction shows this isn't the first time she's done this.
    Mordo: How is our latest student doing?
    The Ancient One: We shall see...any second now.
    Mordo: Oh, no, not again...
  • The movie Highlander (and the spinoff TV show, also called Highlander) has as its main plot driver the Immortals, people who experience a phenomenon called The Quickening if they are mortally wounded. They soon heal, much faster than ordinary humans, and afterwards, do not age and can only be killed if they are completely decapitated. In the series, it is confirmed that if someone who would otherwise be an Immortal dies of sickness or old age, they are just... dead. At one point, one of the characters forces a Quickening on someone by stabbing them. This doesn't go over well.

  • The Age of the Five: This trope is played literally straight in Priestess of the White — the heroine is knocked off a cliff and manages to use magic to stop herself before hitting the ground.
  • The Belgariad and Malloreon use this trope straight for sorcerers, who usually discover their power by accident in a fit of anger or frustration. Since the one unbreakable rule of the universe is "you can't unmake something with sorcery, and if you try, the universe unmakes you", most potential sorcerers don't survive the discovery of their powers.
  • In the Darkover series, the most effective test to see if someone possesses the Alton Gift of telepathic forced rapport is to have someone who has the gift use it on the person who might have the gift. If they have it, then it will activate. But if they don't, then they probably won't survive the attempt. This is why Lord Kennard Alton risks doing it to his oldest son Lew as a child to prove to the Comyn Council that he is a valid heir to the Alton Domain, but not his younger son Marius for whom there is no urgent need to prove he has the gift.
  • Several times in the Deryni universe, someone discovers that s/he has Deryni (magic-user) blood in an extreme situation. Not all Deryni, even very powerful ones, are Healers; but those who are often first discover that they have that power when someone is hurt and there is no Healer available.
  • Obligatory Discworld reference: Archchancellor Ridcully once disputed Ponder's notions about evolution using this trope, proclaiming that nobody's ever seen a lizard evolve into a bird to save itself after falling off a cliff.
  • In Dune, the Bene Gesserit have at least two such tests. In the Gom Jabbar an acolyte must hold their hand in a pain inducer and endure unbearable pain or be pricked in the neck with a poisoned needle. In the ritual to become a Reverend Mother they ingest a deadly poison and have to exert conscious control over their biochemistry to neutralize it.
  • Harry Potter:
    • In a more literal example, it's mentioned that Neville Longbottom's Uncle Algie made multiple efforts to "scare" Neville's hidden magic into manifesting when he was a baby — most notably by throwing him off a pier and dangling him out a window. Neville's magical nature was finally revealed when Algie simply dropped him by "accident" — and he bounced.
    • In a less literal example, Harry finally masters a difficult spell when facing the prospect of playing chase with a dragon. He quips that now they know what to do the next time he has trouble with a spell.
  • The Inheritance Cycle has Eragon first discovering that he can do magic when chased by two Urgals intent on killing him. Brom explains to him afterward that a non-lethal variant of this is how young Riders are taught to use magic: setting them tasks that are impossible to do without magic until they get so frustrated as to trigger it.
  • Jumper:
    • Davy first "jumps" (teleports) involuntarily to escape his abusive father. At first he thinks he just blacked out after his dad beat him, and begins hitchhiking. The first time he consciously realizes he "jumped" is when some truckers try to rape him, and he is suddenly back in the library.
    • Happens again in the sequel, Reflex, in which the main character's girlfriend-in-the-first-book-wife-in-the-sequel "jumps" to safety after a probably-fatal fall. Apparently, being teleported by a teleporter enough times can pass on the ability, though the characters have no idea how that works.
  • An odd variant in the Knight and Rogue Series. When Michael is tossed off a cliff his magic activates on its own and saves him. Despite not wanting to die, he stops it the moment he realizes what's going on. (Fortunately, he's only a few feet from the ground at this point). The only time his powers don't manifest when his life depends on it is when he's desperately trying to put out a fire.
  • Life, the Universe and Everything: This is exactly how Arthur Dent manages to fly, after reading from the guide that flying is the art of "throwing oneself at the ground and missing" — he has to completely focus his attention on something else (typically something immensely banal, as per the themes of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) or simply forget that he's supposed to be falling. Once achieved, he simply hovers there and can move around at will... but he has to be careful not to think too hard about what's going on.
    The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (on flying): ...Do not listen to what anybody says to you at this point because they are unlikely to say anything helpful. They are most likely to say something along the lines of, 'Good God, you can't possibly be flying!' It is vitally important not to believe them or they will suddenly be right.
  • In Mistborn, Allomantic powers are activated by "Snapping", which involves some form of trauma. Most nobles give their children a savage beating at some point in their life, hoping they're latent Allomancers. Kelsier was Snapped by the death of his wife. Vin apparently snapped as a newborn due to an unusually difficult birth. The best way is to experience "mist-sickness", which only affects latent Allomancers and by design causes just enough harm to Snap them.
  • A key part of Clary's role as protagonist in The Mortal Instruments. Despite having been raised with no knowledge of her Nephilim ancestry she starts to exhibit an intuitive, and encyclopedic, knowledge of angelic runes once she gets caught up in the events of the Shadow World. She is even able to come up with powerful runes that other Shadowhunters have never seen before. It turns out that the captive angel Ithuriel had been putting them into her mind, and this aspect of her abilities starts to diminish after he is freed, such that she can no longer pull new runes out of her head at will.
  • In The S-Classes That I Raised, it was orginally thought that the requirement for someone to Awaken is to go through a life-threatening event, but it was later learned that this isn't the case. It still applies to the Awakening of some indiviuals, however. For instance, Yoo Myeongwoo was attempting suicide when he Awakened.
  • In The Secret Texts, the shape-shifting characters only fly after dropping out of a building, or off of a mountain.
  • Septimus Heap: In Darke, Septimus must try the Flyte spell without its charm in order to escape from Dungeon Number One, and succeeds at it.
  • Bran's first dream sequence in A Song of Ice and Fire. To all appearances, this does save his life, but the poor kid would be a lot happier about the flight he was promised if he could grasp a metaphor.
  • Gully Foyle of The Stars My Destination suddenly can "jaunt" (teleport) much further than anyone has managed before when he is marooned in space — and then gets really ticked off. "Jaunting" started as "burn or teleport" for the discoverer, Charles Fort Jaunte, about a century before. He was later put in an inescapable, slowly flooding chamber by his fellow scientists to force him to replicate the process.
  • The Stormlight Archive:
    • Discussed by Rock when talking about how to test the extent of Kaladin's Surgebinding powers.
    • Invoked in a horrifying manner by the Envisager cult. They thought this trope was how you gained Surgebinding powers, and deliberately jumped off cliffs and otherwise put themselves in deathtraps in hopes of bringing back the Surgebinders. Since at that point it was impossible to create new Surgebinders (the spirits that allowed it having retreated to their own world after the humans killed most of them), all the Envisagers succeeded in doing was killing themselves in horrible ways.
  • Sword of Truth: Richard's magic, a lot of the time. Being a War Wizard, Richard's magic tends to do whatever the plot requires of it, without Richard understanding what he's doing, or how he's doing it.
  • In The Time Traveler's Wife, great stress seems to be the activator of involuntary Time Travel. The time traveller mentioned in the title uses his power for only the second time, completely involuntarily, to escape from the car crash which killed his mother. Later on, he gets to travel back to this moment and watch it from the sidelines at multiple angles...
  • In Tolkien's Legendarium, magical powers are often unlocked by an intense need to use them.
  • In Vampire Academy, Lissa Dragomir awakened her spirit powers (which includes the power to bring the dead to life, at the possible cost of her own sanity) when a car crash killed her parents, brother, and best friend, while leaving her alive. In the moments after the crash, she unintentionally brought her friend back to life, though at the time she did not realize that she was actually dead.
  • In La Vita Nuova, Beatrice is said to make any who look upon her experience the joy of Heaven on Earth or kill them where they stand. This is exaggerated, of course, but beyond poetic license, Dante does tend either to enter into a state of radical bliss or despair depending in each of his encounters with Lady Bea.
  • In Wearing the Cape, breakthroughs usually occur as the result of a life-threatening or traumatic experience. The main character's best friend tried to do this literally before the story began, and failed.
  • The Wheel of Time:
    • This probably refers to his mastery of the World of Dreams, particularly his 11th-Hour Superpower of moving between the dreaming and waking worlds at will. He had a mentor, albeit a tough one, for most of it, but that particular trick was one that only one other person had ever accomplished, and that through very unusual means.
    • This is also how Nynaeve finally overcomes the mental block that prevents her accessing the True Source unless angry. Trapped in a sinking ship, her only option is to fully surrender to the Source, and thereby control it.
  • In the Wild Cards series, people infected with a latent version of the wild card virus often "turn their cards" after a near-death experience. Examples include Will-O'-Wisp (stepped on a power line, gained electrical powers), Stuntman (botched a stunt during a student film and fell several hundreds of feet onto solid ground, gained the ability to regenerate from any injury), and the Harlem Hammer (exposed to nuclear waste, gained superstrength and invulnerability but needs to consume heavy metal salts to survive).
  • Worm:
    • Most parahumans get their powers in a Traumatic Superpower Awakening, which can include one of these; Brandish and Lady Photon, for example, got their powers when they were about to be murdered, and Grue got his powers during a violent fight with his and Aisha's abusive stepfather.
    • Faced with a situation beyond their ability to save themselves with their current powers, some parahumans have a second trigger event, which alters or enhances their powers to help them survive. Grue, for example, had the power-draining effects of his darkness enhanced and gained the ability to copy others' powers with it, alongside more minor changes in how the darkness functions. The trauma that triggered it? Having his body rearranged such that his organs were spread around a room while still functioning. He needed the power-copying enhancement in order to copy a nearby parahuman's Healing Factor. It's speculated in-universe that particularly powerful parahumans had a second trigger event essentially at the same time as their first.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Alien Worlds (2020): Skygrazer young live on a heavy gravity planet, so the only way they can get off the ground is crawl to a cliff and launch themselves off. To provide further motivation, the Blob Monsters that prey on ground-dwelling species are following close behind them, so it's either jump and hope you can learn to fly on the way down, or be eaten.
  • Invoked in The Boys (2019) when Homelander tries to teach his son how to fly by pushing him off the roof of his house. It doesn't end well, although it wasn't too long a fall preventing it from being a literal instance of this trope.
  • Charmed (1998):
    • Paige's first use of her teleportation power was to escape her parents' car as it crashed and exploded (discovered through the magic of Time Travel). Her first use of her healing power came when she had only three options: orb out (exposing herself as magical in front of cameras, police, and civilian hostages), let her boyfriend Henry die right in front of her, or figure out how to heal (which is much less obvious as visually it's just a bit of light, and the wound didn't heal all the way as to seem suspicious). Naturally she was glad to discover that the third option was possible (as before she begins to heal him she had no idea that she could).
    • A literal example occurred when Phoebe first discovered she could levitate; a demon wielding a dagger took a swing at her neck, and she literally flew up and out of his reach to dodge it.
  • The Flash (2014):
  • In Fringe, David Robert Jones subjects Olivia to a series of tests for telekinetic ability, including a game where you make lights go off with your mind. With the Bishops' help, she fakes the test. She later finds a bomb attached to a skyscraper that will take out half of downtown Boston unless she can beat the same test for real.
  • Heroes:
    • Nathan Petrelli discovers he can fly when he unconsciously rises into the air while his car is being shunted from behind by employees of a crime boss he is attempting to prosecute. This happened completely against his will; without him in the driver's seat, the car crashes, paralyzing his wife from the waist down and leaving him with lasting guilt about his wife's condition.
    • Claude attempts to help Nathan's brother, Peter, control his power-stealing powers by throwing him off a tall building, hoping to trigger the flight power he'd mimicked earlier from Nathan. In a unique subversion, while Peter's flight power is not triggered by the attempt, the regeneration powers he took from Claire Bennet are triggered when he dies after crashing and being impaled on a cab.
  • In Kamen Rider 555, certain humans that are genetically predisposed to evolve into higher forms have no idea that they have the ability unless an early death kickstarts the process.
  • In Sanctuary (2007), as part of a very complex and convoluted endgame of his, Tesla "experiments" on a group of kids whose DNA he mutates so that they will become vampires under his command in 30 years. They turn into very powerful vampires (30 years ahead of time) when they're killed, because the gene was designed to focus on self-preservation above all else.
  • Sliders has a brief outro in one of its episodes where a woman attempts to push her daughter off their house in what attempts to be a murder attempt. However, it turns out that the woman is just using this trope as a teaching technique as the girl literally flies away while falling since in that world people have wings.
  • Star Trek:
    • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "True Q", Q invokes this to test a young woman that the Continuum thinks may be a Q. He instigates a breach of the warp core while she is in engineering, forcing her to use her latent powers, or die, along with everyone else on the ship.
    • In the pilot episode of Star Trek: Picard, "Remembrance", a girl named Dahj is nearly abducted — until she suddenly kills her attackers. It turns out that she's a "synth" with superhuman abilities that just activated.
  • In Supergirl (2015), Siobhan Smythe first discovers her family's banshee curse when she trips off a rooftop and accidentally triggers a Super-Scream that breaks a hole in the ground, saving her from the impact.
  • In Superman & Lois, an ongoing trend across seasons one and two is Jordan's superpowers manifesting one at a time and getting progressively stronger as he keeps finding himself in life-threatening situations where he needs his powers to survive and/or save somebody else. Both played straight and downplayed late in season two, when Clark takes Jordan to the Arctic for flying lessons. Which involves Jordan jumping into a massive chasm and needing to overcome his fear and activate his Flight before he hits bottom. The downplayed part is that Jordan already has Super-Toughness and Healing Factor by this point, so the impact probably would not hurt him very much. He still screams most of the way down though before going airborne just as he almost reaches the ground.
  • In the Nickelodeon remake of The Tomorrow People (1973), Jade spends much of her series hanging out with Adam and Megabyte and wishing she could be a Tomorrow Person. Her powers are revealed when she saves herself (and her crush Megabyte) from an exploding boiler room.

  • See the video to "Ich bin wieder hier" by Blümchen for a literal example: Jasmin Wagner's character falls off an airship and grows wings.
  • One of the characters in the video for "Bury It" by CHVRCHES has a moment like this when the heroes are discovering that their telekinetic powers work on themselves.

    Tabletop Games 
  • According to the background for the tabletop role-playing game Aberrant, the first recorded superhero following the Space Station Galatea's explosion was a firefighter whose flame-manipulation powers kicked in when he was trying to save some kids from a burning bus. Likewise, the "eruption" of several other Novas in the setting usually comes about as the result of a massively emotional experience, such as a near death experience. Given the celebrity associated with being a Nova at this point in history, a lot of people often try to kick-start powers of their own through such experiences; the results are often unpleasant and messy, to say the least.
    • Aberrant is unusual this way; the moment of becoming a Nova is similar to exposure to LSD, in that the results are dependent on the personality of the individual and the circumstances under which it occurs. In consequence, Novas demonstrate this trope by their very nature.
  • In the story of the Magic: The Gathering trading card game, those with the "planeswalker spark" can become Planeswalkers, powerful, immortal mages (representing the player in the game). To become a Planeswalker, one must "ascend", which involves great stress and usually horrendous death — the most famous example, Urza, was literally blown to atoms before ascending.
  • In the Dungeons & Dragons setting Eberron, the dragonmarked houses try to induce this on purpose in blood members in their late adolescence to see if they'll develop a dragonmark or not if they haven't already; this is called the Test of Siberys. While contrary to the usual form of this trope it often works, sometimes someone who's assumed not to have a mark due to failing the test needs to encounter a real Die Or Fly situation in order to manifest a mark.
    • The Eberron novel The Grieving Tree had Ashi develop a mark to defend her friends from an angry dragon.
  • Deconstructed in the Mutants & Masterminds setting "Paragons": it's common knowledge that superpowers occasionally manifest this way, so a common cause of death is idiots attempting to invoke this trope by e.g. skydiving without a parachute or setting themselves on fire. Worse, once in a blue moon it works, which means that someone who is suicidal and/or not particularly bright now has superpowers, and moreover, everyone else has renewed encouragement.
  • In both Mage: The Awakening and its predecessor Mage: The Ascension, Mages tended to Awaken under life-or-death situations, or at least situations of incredible duress. Of course, many mages still end up dying shortly after Awakening anyway, since they tend to lose control of their powers or get careless and start eating a Paradox buffet.
  • In Exalted, people tend to Exalt at a moment when they are in dire need of a boost of heroic supernatural power. It's supposed to be fated, but considering how many things muck about with Fate on a fairly regular basis, not even the Sidereals can always figure whose life or death situation will end up resulting in Exaltation.
    • The Lunars get a weird variant on this, seeing as they usually Exalt after managing to survive a life-or-death situation.
  • In Brave New World superhero rpg, superpowers are only ever known to manifest as the result of near-death experience (and the books even mention that it is not known how many people develop superpowers that do not allow them to the survive the life-threatening experience that triggered them).
  • The timeline for the GURPS International Super Teams roleplaying worldbook cites several such metahumans, including two caught in a nuclear bomb test in 1951, a girl whose rapist tried to burn her alive, and an early-1970s illicit American military program to "destruct-train" draftees in order to force a few metahumans out of their numbers.

    Video Games 
  • Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War has you seeing this trope applied firsthand in Mission 4, "First Flight" during the early hours of a war between Osea and Yuktobania when Yuktobanian Rockwell B-1B bombers and Panavia Tornado GR1 fighter-bombers escorted by McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II and General Dynamics F-16C fighters attempt an early evening bombing raid on Osea's isolated Sand Island airbase. A Fighter-Launching Sequence ensues, with the player character and his two wingmen — themselves recently-minted rookies, with only a taste of combat under their belts — taking off (amidst bombs falling on nearby hangars, and enemy jets Buzzing the Deck) in their aging Northrop F-5 fighters to engage the "Yukes" before they can bomb the base to smithereens. The only problem? There are three Osean fighters pitted against what amounts to at least a dozen or more Yuke planes all bearing down on the sparsely-defended airfield. Enter the untested rookie Osean pilot Grimm, who by Falling into the Cockpit is forced to either prove himself in some high-intensity aerial combat or die trying. He succeeds and gets permanently assigned to Wardog Squadron.
  • In Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits, Kharg's affinity for magic awakens when he is about to be executed by firing squad.
  • Dead Island 2: In order to awaken an immune survivor's Numen status,note  the survivor must go through an event that pushes them beyond their physical limits.
    • The Slayers don't awaken their Numen status and gain their fury power until they're kicked off a bridge into a horde of zombies forced to fend for themselves. Normally, this wouldn’t be much of a problem, but at the moment the Slayer is weak and as been suffering from migraines (alongside other symptoms) for at least several days, which leads to their zombie instinct taking over to literally tear the horde to shreds.
    • A similar incident happened to Rainer, but instead he went mad and succumbed to the virus, transforming into a Burster.
  • E.V.O.: Search for Eden does this in the age of dinosaurs, and quite literally at that. After climbing to the top of Mt. Brave, you are given a choice to jump off or leave. Jumping off results in an evolution... you become a pterodactyl.
  • In Final Fantasy XIII, when a l'Cie falters in his or her resolve, they may be challenged by their own power in the form of an Eidolon. Failing an Eidolon's trial is guaranteed death; overcoming the trial grants the l'Cie the ability to summon the Eidolon to assist them. Eidolon battles tend to be That One Boss.
  • Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords applies this trope to the player character, who learns on-the-fly to survive extremely deadly situations, such as poison attacks.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers throws you right into the fray after the lengthy unskippable intro.
  • The Persona series uses this trope for the main characters of each game, usually by having them attacked by Mooks. Innocent Sin does it differently; the main characters all awakened their Personas at different times, and it's not Mooks they were in danger of.
    • Persona 3 uses this as a game mechanic, and it's symbolic.
    • Persona 4 subverts this with most of your party members. While the Protagonist still has his classic "Per...So........Na..." invocation scene, his powers were awakened by Izanami at the start of the game, the source of the rest of your party's powers is the very same thing that would have caused the Die or Fly reaction in the first place.
  • In Sonic Adventure 2, Eggman traps Sonic in an escape capsule with a bomb to try and kill him. Sonic, remembering that Shadow could use the Chaos Emeralds to teleport and having a pseudo-Emerald with him, tries it out for himself to teleport back onto the ARK. He succeeds, and later uses Chaos Control in the fight against him (when playing as Shadow).
  • The player has to do this in Steel Battalion. No training, no tutorial, just the imposing controller and a complex manual. Good luck!
  • In the Tekken series, Kazuya Mishima's Jerkass abusive father Heihachi tossed him off a cliff in order to butch him up. This had the unintended effect of activating the Devil Gene, awakening Kazuya's Superpowered Evil Side.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Fate/stay night, the protagonist Emiya Shirou first uses most of his abilities when protecting himself or, more usually, someone else, from immediate death. The first example is on the third day, in which he easily and instantly uses a perfect strengthening magic, which he normally has a less-than .01% success rate on with an hour to practice. His true ability, Projection, only first manifests when protecting a route's heroine from death, and his later attempts to use it on demand usually turn out less than ideal because he fundamentally misunderstands the ability's true nature.
  • In the backstory of Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, Gentarou Hongou believed that people who have minor psychic abilities (such as communicating telepathically through the morphogenetic field) could unconsciously develop and increase these abilities if faced with emotional trauma. To prove this theory, he kidnapped nine children and forced them into a Deadly Game. Gentarou was right, but he realized too late that his 'subjects' could use their newfound power to get revenge on him.
  • In Spirit Hunter: NG, Rosé speculates that this is how Akira's psychometry came to be- his already fine-tuned instincts were sharpened even more by the grave danger that Kakuya put him in, which awakened his latent ability to glean the information he needed from blood spatter.

  • "Dear Axe Cop, is it possible that you have a secret attack that is so secret you don't even know about it?" Unsurprisingly, the answer is yes, and one of them was that when he's tied up, his ghost comes out and kills everyone and frees him.
    "Wait... That was a secret attack!"
  • This literally happens to Marsha in College Roomies from Hell!!!.
  • In Crepuscule, Setz, who up until then had no special powers outside of the standard for vampires, manages to awaken a fire spirit who manifests to protect him just as he, while unconscious, is about to be killed.
  • Played with and lampshaded in The Dreamland Chronicles. While taking flying lessons, Alex asks if the lessons involve him getting thrown off a cliff. The teacher asks why on earth he would do something so risky. After exhausting all of his other ideas, the teacher does throw Alex off the cliff, only to realize that also isn't going to work, so he reminds Alex of his promise to his Love Interest. This motivates Alex enough to save himself and learn to fly.
  • In El Goonish Shive, Grace first discovers how to create legion forms when she is under pressure to change to a form strong enough to maintain her telekinesis without passing out in order to save Ellen and Nanase's lives during the fight with the Omega Goo as seen here and on the next page.
  • In Girl Genius, Agatha finally consciously taps into her Spark while she and Gil are under attack from slaver wasps, creating some weapons for the two of them to use to fight their way out. Prior to this, Agatha had only been able to invent while asleep or in a fugue state with no awareness of what she was doing.
  • Homestuck:
    • Vriska strands John on a tiny island in the middle of an ocean of oil that's about to be engulfed in fire in order to get him to develop his powers as the Heir of Breath. Luckily, it works.
    • Happens to him again later when Typheus submerges him in oil in order to force him to master his retcon powers by forcing him to either drown, zap himself away (and make zero progress on his quest) or Take a Third Option by zapping the oil away.
    • Even before that, she tried it in a much more literal sense with Tavros. He didn't fly, and wound up paralyzed from the waist down for his trouble.
    • Dave's Bro threw him off a roof to teach him how to Flash Step.
  • Faevv of Juathuur at first seems to be able to release her powers only when threatened by imminent death.
  • morphE begins with the galvanization party. The host puts captives in near death situations to activate their magical potential. It succeeds for 5 of the 8 entrants.
  • A literal example occurs in One Question when Ranu falls off a building and his wings suddenly appear. Unfortunately, he needs some tutoring to learn how to use them...
  • In Pacificators, this seems to be how Daryl learns new tricks. When her platoon was stranded out on the ocean with no food supplies, she learned how to flare her staff's orb brightly. Later, when faced with gun-toting Preservers, she became the first person to discover how to use solar power and used it to sting the enemies.
  • Happens to Terinu when his Bion abilities activate when he's drugged and kidnapped.

    Web Originals 
  • In Alex Reynards' online novel Dangerous Lunatics, Holly discovered her near-immortality-level Healing Factor through attempting suicide... six times.
  • In Elcenia, mages have powers over a single element, however, in order for a potential mage to access their powers they have to get into a situation where they would otherwise die from their element (e.g. water mages must drown, air mages must fall from a height that would kill them, etc.). Fortunately, potential mages can be identified before they manifest powers, though not all of them will choose to access their powers.
  • In Phaeton, this is one way to trigger manifestation in the youngest of people.
  • RWBY:
    • In Volume 6, Ruby learns that the power of her silver eyes can only be triggered by the presence of the Grimm. There is no way to safely train to master her power. All she can do is practice settling her mind into the right emotional state for summoning the power. Beyond that, she has to learn on the battlefield while fighting the Grimm. The first time she attempts to do this against a huge Grimm, she fails. The only thing that stops her from dying is that she's traveling with someone who has the ability to freeze time. That allows her to get into the right mentality for summoning the power; even then, she's only able to stop the Grimm for a moment, but it's just long enough for other options to come into play and defeat it.
    • Oscar has an inheritance of magic that he can't initially tap into. When falling to his death in Volume 7 and with no Aura to protect him, he is able to connect with that magic just in time to save his life.
  • Whateley Universe:
    • This happens to Tennyo in her origin story. She wakes up and finds herself a prisoner, and finds she now has energy powers. When mutant assassins come after her (to send a message to her superhero parents), she finds out (in the nick of time, natch) that she can create an energy sword, and that she can fly.
    • Even closer to the trope, Jade's powers first manifested to save her from being possibly beaten to death by her abusive father. Die or fly indeed.
  • In The Zombie Knight, this happens a lot. The Zombies (resurrected people given power by undead reapers) can go through emergence in a life-or-death fight, but only if they are truly desperate, and not relying on emergence to save them... and the bad guys can have emergence triggered by the good guys' emergence.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
  • In Ben 10, this is how Ben discovered his Wildvine form in the episode Camp Fear. It's downplayed in that Wildvine wasn't particularly useful that episode, though the form was able to handle the immediate threat.
  • Danny Phantom: Danny first gets it his Ghostly Wail he's ganged up on by some really angry ghosts, and later busts it out to defeat his future self when it looks as though he's going to be defeated and everyone will die.
  • The Hollow:
    • Mira discovers that she has mermaid-like abilities after the group's ship crashes into the ocean and she gets stuck in the ejector seat.
    • Kai discovers that he has fire powers when he and Benjamini are trapped in a burning haunted house ride.
  • Justice League Action: Firestorm tries proving to an amnesiac Clark Kent that he's actually Superman by dropping him from the sky, hoping he'll remember to fly. He doesn't, but he does survive the fall unscathed, proving Firestorm right, much to his relief.
  • The Legend of Korra:
    • Bumi discovers he's become an Airbender (as a result of Harmonic Convergence) when he falls from a cliff and inadvertently saves himself by airbending inches from the ground.
    • Happens literally with Zaheer after his lover P'li dies and he is holding an unconscious Korra while surrounded at the edge of a cliff. He discovers that P'li dying severed his last attachment to the world, allowing him to fly like Superman, and continue the final phase of his plans.
    • Bolin discovers his ability to lavabend in "Enter the Void" when he, Mako, Asami, and Tenzin were about to be killed by lava flow. With nowhere to run, Bolin steps towards the lava and tries to bend it... and succeeds.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • This happens in "Sonic Rainboom" when Rainbow Dash finally manages to pull off her Sonic Rainboom technique to save her friend Rarity and her idols the Wonderbolts from plummeting to their doom after Rarity's wings fail and the Wonderbolts are knocked out in their attempt to rescue her.
    • This is pretty much how Fluttershy's ability to fly at high speeds works. She can match Rainbow Dash's flying speed, at least for brief moments, but only when it's absolutely necessarily, and other times seems to be an average flyer at best. In "The Cutie Mark Chronicles", however, this outright failed to work for Fluttershy in a flashback. As a filly, she was a weak flier, and when falling from the clouds to certain death, she couldn't fly to save herself. Fortunately, her fall was broken by a swarm of butterflies.
    • Also fails to work in "Sleepless in Ponyville", in which the flightless pegasus Scootaloo still can't fly even when falling down a waterfall. Thankfully, she is saved by the timely arrival of Rainbow Dash.
  • In Winx Club, Bloom discovers her powers in the pilot episode only after being threatened by an ogre and some ghouls. She also only unlocks her fairy form after almost being finished off by the Trix.

    Real Life 
  • Some people believe that the best way to teach children to swim is to throw them in the water where it's deep. These people are wrong. It is an awesome way to teach children to thrash in water, develop a phobia, hate water/swimming/you or drown, though. Then again, there are those people who think it worked well enough for them.
  • A surge of adrenaline during a life-threatening situation can be seen as this. Some have reported spontaneously committing feats of strength and agility such as ripping steel structures apart, lifting automobiles off of themselves or others, or running or moving faster than one would think physically capable in order to avoid death or save someone else. Adrenaline can lend you some extra strength during such times, but it does so by more or less bypassing your body's natural failsafes (such as pain response) meaning that while you might have superpowers in that moment, you run the risk of keeling over later due to overworking your body far past the breaking point.
  • Learning a language by immersion is a usually less lethal version of this. You take residence in the country in question and have to learn how to use the local language, or else you cannot purchase food, use essential services or get whatever else you need.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Fly Or Die


Blu Learns To Fly

The movie Rio contains a rather literal example during the climax of the film, where Jewel's wing is injured and she falls out of the smugglers' plane with Blu going after her saying he is not going to let her go because they are ''chained to each other birds'' Jewel realizes he loves her and kisses him which gives him the confidence to finally fly for the first time in his life much to their joy and amazement.

How well does it match the trope?

4.83 (12 votes)

Example of:

Main / DieOrFly

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