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Faux Action Girl

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"I'm a shinobi, too, but I'm always crying and relying too much on Naruto. I came here thinking that I was past all that... but still, I hesitate. I haven't really prepared myself at all. I can't do anything, I can't say anything... All I can do... is to trust them!"
Sakura Haruno (in a moment of clarity), Naruto

In the modern era, appraisals of gender roles have advanced considerably. Feminist movements, changing ideas of the ideal or attractive woman, and the overwhelming popularity of female characters who kick ass and take names has led to the formation of the Action Girl: the now near-universal idea in action-oriented fiction that being a woman doesn't affect a character's ability to be an effective fighter. Naturally, not every female character in those works is or even must be an action hero, but it's common enough that pretty much any story where people are expected to fight regularly will at least take a crack at it.

However, some writers, whether due to somewhat sexist worldviews, demographic-related pressure, or reliance on outdated tropes, just don't quite manage it. They want the natural popularity of the character type or the praise for defiance of gender norms and therefore appropriate its framing, but they end up falling into the same old pitfalls as the good old Damsel in Distress or Satellite Love Interest. Thus, the Faux Action Girl is born: an Action Girl whose "action" aspect is more of an Informed Attribute than anything else.

She's supposed to be The Hero (or one of the heroes) but never gets to actually do anything heroic. She has a well-grounded reputation as a strong fighter in her field but always fails miserably in the line of battle. Her talents and skills are well-known to fellow characters but for some strange reason, they're never seen by the viewers outside of perhaps A Day in the Limelight episode. Her status only exists as an established reputation and depends heavily on Genre Blindness; she never acts the way she's supposed to. Sometimes, the only way she qualifies as anything more than the Damsel in Distress is if you Take Our Word for It. If the writers are feeling merciful, however, the Faux Action Girl can be relied on to actually defeat her share of Mooks — or, in rarer cases, a female enemy.

The key to identifying a Faux Action Girl is the disproportionate hype — whether she's overrated or under-performing. Also, note that context does play a role; for example, in a show full of incompetents who think they're tough fighters, it doesn't matter if a female character behaves the same way. It is also possible to have a female character who doesn't fight or isn't as capable as some others for perfectly justified reasons whereas a Faux Action Girl is much less powerful or competent than other characters and true Action Girls for no logical reason. Note that villainesses are rarely Faux Action Girls because we expect them to be threats.

The Worf Effect used too many times on a legitimate Action Girl may turn her into a Faux Action Girl.

Please note that a Faux Action Girl is someone who already has a reputation as a fighter. If she is just a captured girl, then she's a Damsel in Distress. If she gets rid of the Distress Ball, she's just a Badass in Distress. If she has just started fighting and doesn't have the experience/fame handy still, she's likely Skilled, but Naive or a Naïve Newcomer, and there's still room to see if she can grow into a real Action Girl or not. Merely because an Action Girl is captured does not automatically entail her transformation into a Faux Action Girl; generally, it is down to the nature of her kidnap/capture and how she deals with this circumstance in contrast to her other informed feats.

The characterization usually involves a form of Informed Ability: Most of these girls have big reputations and great past exploits. More or less the Distaff Counterpart to Miles Gloriosus and Fake Ultimate Hero. If the only one who lauds her "reputation" is the girl herself, then it's a case of either Small Name, Big Ego or Know-Nothing Know-It-All. It's often the outcome of a Gender Incompetence scenario.

If much of the show's screen time is dedicated to showing the girl in question training and practicing only to lose when it counts, that's not this trope. That's Hard Work Hardly Works, and it can hit anyone (even The Hero in some stories).

Also contrast with Chickification, in which the producers take a character who is shown to be a legitimate Action Girl and make her incompetent. See also Standard Female Grab Area, the standard weakness of a Faux Action Girl, even though showing her drugged while her back is turned would make more sense.

Note for video games: Gameplay and Story Segregation can cause some characters to look like this. With female foes and bosses, once the player knows what to do, the boss can become little more than an enemy with greater health, and so easily defeated that they don't seem to be a threat. However, they are still capable of defeating the player's character if they get careless. Therefore, any examples of this trope in videogames have to be in the storyline, not in the actual gameplay.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • An in-universe example from Berserk: Farnese leads the Holy Iron Chain Knights, but they never expect her to actually fight. The Knights are traditionally led by a maiden, so she is entirely there for looks and because she comes from a noble family. Not that the men she commands are any better (the order only exists to give young scions of important noble families prestigious but cushy knightly duties), with the notable exceptions of Serpico and Azan. In-story Farnese is not very happy with this and later she begins to toughen herself up.
  • Bleach:
    • Hiyori Sarugaki was once vice-captain of the Twelfth Division and is a Visored —a Shinigami who has an inner Hollow, but you wouldn't know the Visored are supposed to be powerful as she repeatedly gets her ass kicked in the series, including getting nearly strangled to death by Ichigo's Superpowered Evil Side and bisected by Gin when she tries to bumrush Aizen.
    • Nanao Ise is a vice-captain of the Eighth (and later First) Division of Seireitei, so you'd think she'd be a decent fighter to be second-in-command to Shunsui Kyoraku, but she never fights and gets easily knocked unconscious merely from Yamamoto raising his reiatsu to a high enough level. Deconstructed when she actually does join a battle and she's so scared of her sword's power that she needs a Rousing Speech to properly use it. This does have an in-universe explanation, as Kyoraku's previous vice-captain, Lisa, went out on a mission on her own and never came back (as she was one of the eight transformed into a Visored and banished)—it's heavily implied Kyoraku purposely keeps Nanao off the frontlines because he just can't bear the same thing happening to her.
  • Burst Angel: Meg is supposedly highly skilled at combat, even though she's usually the dame in distress. Of course, since her partner Jo is a big badass Action Girl, Meg has nothing to worry about.
  • Cells at Work: Platelets!: Splash Curl is enthusiastic and willing to spring into action, but she is very quick to buckle when faced with difficulty.
  • Chainsaw Man: Fumiko Mifune's first appearance has her come off as a dangerous, horny, and outright unhinged woman... only to then repeatedly show that she's an otherwise average Public Safety member who is completely in over her head working as Denji's bodyguard. She's (understandably) unable to do anything against Barem's Chainsaw Man devils and needs to be bailed out by Quanxi. Then after Denji gets attacked by a paranoid Public Safety member, Quanxi needs to bail her out again while she, Denji, and Nayuta run away. Then after trying to stop Denji and Nayuta from returning to their apartment,note  she gets attacked by an old lady mind-controlled by Nayuta and needs to be saved by Denji. Then after grabbing a squad of Public Safety members she opens fire on Barem, only to be blindsided by the Whip hybrid and taken hostage. Girl just can't get a win.
  • Curse of the Undead Yoma has a Shrinking Violet ninja girl, Aya, whose claim to fame is the big reveal as to how she got her scar during the climactic end battle. It's a paradox. She vanishes at one point and reappears without it. She regains the scar from Maruo's horse tapdancing on her face while she tries to hold it in place with her garroting ninja wires. Not the brightest attack she could have mustered considering it's about 3 times the size of a normal horse.
  • Marcille from Delicious in Dungeon starts out this way for the first few chapters but thankfully gets better fairly quickly. Being the only female in the group she was also pretty damn useless, getting captured by monsters and needing rescue from her male allies (all of whom were barely above Badass Normal while she was a fully qualified mage) and doing little else but complaining about the food. However, she very quickly sheds this and becomes The Smart Guy around the time she starts showing off what she can really do with her magic.
  • Felicia from the OVA Night Warriors: Darkstalkers' Revenge sadly becomes this due to making her a victimized darkstalker suffering discrimination while wandering the Earth. Anybody who has played the videogames can tell you that Felicia is a legitimate badass Action Girl who can go toe-to-toe with the most powerful monsters ever to walk the Earth and come out unscathed and victorious. However, when she finally gets involved in the darkstalker war with Pyron, she gets beaten, captured, and rescued four times in the miniseries. She's ultimately rescued by two battle competent male characters three of those times and once by an elderly human civilian. She actually lampshades how she's usually good at fighting herself after losing. Then again, the atmosphere while on Earth left her considerably weak.
  • Digimon Frontier: Downplayed with Zoe/Izumi. She is the only female member out of the 6 spirit warriors, and she loses in several one on one fights and only winning against the lone female enemy Ranamon. A massive step back compared to the other three Digimon animes before it, where there are more female characters and they are just as competent and characterized as the males. That being said, she’s the only other character, aside from Takuya, to claim both her opponent’s Human and Beast Spirits at the same time.
  • Despite most of the girls in the Dragon Ball series unfortunately obtaining a serious case of Chickification whenever they become mothers with the exception of Android 18 who participates in the fighting tournament during the Buu arc and is an active fighter in the Universal Survival arc, they still manage to avoid this trope when they are in their action-oriented years. However, one character who plays this trope completely straight is Pan in the anime-only Dragon Ball GT, where there are multiple claims that she has similar latent power to Gohan, but it's never shown, as she only wins a few fights with help and one by herself. Notably, she's one of the only good-aligned Saiyans in the franchise to never canonically achieve Super Saiyan, despite the fact that characters with far less Saiyan blood could manage the form. It's pretty telling when Dragon Ball Super gives Pan more genuine Action Girl moments as an infant.
  • In the Fatal Fury games, Mai Shiranui's always been Ms. Fanservice and Andy Bogard's Clingy Jealous Girl, but still remains a proud Action Girl and gets the job well-done when needed. In the anime, however, she's all too often used as a hostage to lure Andy out to fight and as an even more blatant Ms. Fanservice; apart of her friendship with Sulia and defeating Panni (another girl) on her own, poor Mai doesn't get to show even a bit of her strength. It's implied that she might fit more as a Deliberately Distressed Damsel in-story, however.
  • Final Fantasy: Unlimited. Lisa is supposed to be a martial artist and a magic user, but most fights have her using a totally ineffective attack, then cowering with the children she's "protecting" until Kaze shows up and saves everyone with one summon.
  • In Fire Emblem, Princess Sheeda is depicted as a warrior fighting for the heroes' noble cause despite the fact that she consistently fails to so much as swing (or sometimes even hold) her lance when the fighting starts. She is, however, placed in positions where the heroes need to rescue her, given to helping the manly men around her by returning their weapons to them, and bandaging wounded soldiers despite the fact that she is not a healer, but a Pegasus Knight. The most heroic thing she does is step in the middle of a fight between two good guys and convince them to stop fighting with The Power of Love. In the games, she's a genuine Action Girl, never gets kidnapped, and has a good spot on the Character Tiers. In her defense, however, while she doesn't demonstrate a fighting ability in the anime, she does demonstrate her impressive canonical courage, best shown when she gets Navarre on her side at the very high risk of her own death.
  • Fist of the North Star:
    • Mamiya, who is supposed to be the leader of her village's defense force, spends more time getting captured or getting cornered by the bad guys, only to be saved by Kenshiro or Rei at the last minute.
    • Reina, from the first Raoh Den movie is supposed to an elite general in Raoh's army, but all she does is get wounded fighting Souther's army. Twice.
  • The Gundam series tends to be very odd with this trope. Many of the females who are Mobile Suit pilots tend to be very competent in their role and if they're killed, they're usually done in by some Ace Pilot who got the better of themExamples. Some girls, however, tend to have this trope applied to them due to being way in over their heads. These are usually relegated to those who don't actually start out as actual pilots for one reason or anotherExample, although there are some infamous cases where they did, such as Lumamaria Hawke and Aida Surgan.
    • Gundam Build Fighters Try actually made this part of Fumina Hoshino's Character Development. When Team Try Fighters first enters the tournament, her Winning Gundam is basically just there to be support, literally transforming into power-up items for her male teammates Sekai and Yuuma. Then Lady Kawaguchi, the #1 female fighter in the world, challenges Fumina to a 1-on-1 match and it quickly becomes apparent that she geared the Winning towards support too much, and can't stand on her own despite being a talented builder and fighter. Kawaguchi encourages her to become more self-reliant, which results in her upgrading to the Star Winning Gundam, which can still support the boys but does so without "sacrificing" itself and is more than capable of kicking butt on its own.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Battle Tendency: Poor Lisa Lisa. Despite being by far the most experienced Hamon user in the Part and the one who trains both Joseph and Caesar, she has a total of one serious fight in the entire series, where she defeats a fake double of the Big Bad and is then immediately tricked and incapacitated by the real thing, spending the rest of the climax as an unconscious Damsel in Distress. Araki has stated in an interview that Lisa Lisa was originally going to have a much more active role in the finale, but the editors were afraid of the idea of Joseph being upstaged by a supporting character and convinced Araki to change it, something Araki regrets heavily.
  • In the Hentai Maranosuke, Momoi, a ninja, realizes she's this despite/because being the Big Bad's favorite/a member of the Elite Mooks when facing fellow member, Zegenshi. Her Endaban is stated/proven to be Awesome, but Impractical (a mechanical ambush/assassination weapon that she never effectively uses and can't even hunt game with), a flashback shows that her promotion invoked the trope just because she was her clan's idol (as in supermodel) and spared her from the fate of the other girls that were being harvested for the immortality potion. However, she proves to at least be Weak, but Skilled in her knowledge of ninjutsu and the "training" with her master proved to be a Chekhov's Skill in making her capable of withstanding the title character's libido without passing out like legit Action Girl Mina.
  • In My-HiME the very badass Natsuki Kuga was not this trope. She tended to serve as the Butt-Monkey whenever the tone of the show turned comedic, but she still got the work done when it was needed. In its Elseworld spin-off, My-Otome, that trait was exaggerated into complete Faux Action Girl-ness. Despite supposedly being both The Ace and a Supporting Leader, she never once managed to achieve anything without blundering and spent a good chunk of the series depowered. Lampshaded in the manga, where in Natsuki's first (and only) fight, there is a panel of her crying tears of joy that she finally gets to do something.
  • Naruto: Out of all the kunoichi in the series, Sakura suffers from this the most, largely because she's constantly compared to Naruto and Sasuke, whose random power-ups become downright gratuitous towards the end, whereas she is mostly relegated by Kishimoto himself to cheering for them from the sidelines, crying and relying on them, and distracting the enemy solely to give them a chance to do all the fighting. It doesn't help that she never informs her team of any of her plans and she ignores anyone who tells her not to do something, which constantly forces them to save her.
  • One Piece:
    • Rebecca in the Dressrosa arc. Introduced as "The Undefeated Woman" in a colosseum tournament, it initially seems she's the real deal, as she constantly does battle with people who sincerely want to harm her and yet remains undefeated. Then it turns out that her fighting style is entirely based in dodging and tricking her opponents into falling out of the arena, and in a straight fight she's helpless. Worse, this is how she was trained, as her teacher did not want her to soil her "innocent hands" with blood (understandable, since said teacher turned out to be her father). She spends the rest of the arc constantly having to be saved, or worse, being the problem when her non-Action Girl aunt confronts the Big Bad to stall for time and Rebecca is forced into fighting her via People Puppets because she got too close. However, that's the point of Rebecca's character, as she was never meant to be a warrior and after Dressrosa is saved, she is finally able to drop her weapons and live a peaceful life.
    • Charlotte Smoothie was introduced as one of Big Mom's Three Sweet Commanders, and having one of the highest bounties in the series. Yet unlike the other two Sweet Commanders Cracker and Katakuri, who both have big fights against the main protagonist, Smoothie has not put her fighting skills to use. In her first scene, her plan to ambush Brook was taken over by Big Mom, and the only thing she did during the wedding chaos was grabbing Nami (and quickly being forced to release her by Reiju). This is especially glaring considering that Katakuri was constantly on the attack, and people who ranked lower than Smoothie got more screentime than her.
  • Pokemon Reburst: Eight volumes worth of material, and Miruto never actually let her Pokémon out of its Pokéball and has never actually participated in a battle, allowing the male lead all the action even if he really could've used the help. This despite the fact she is supposedly part of an organization meant for investigating crimes. It gets really kind of ridiculous when she and her group have to take on someone in an area where Burst is neutralized... and she still doesn't take her perfectly working Pokeball out.
  • Ranma ½: Early on it is established that Akane is a trained martial artist, and she is shown defeating numerous boys at her school. However, she is constantly kidnapped by various villains throughout the series and movies. She also routinely is incapable of winning fights against significant enemies without Ranma's intervention. She spends the majority of the first two Ranma ½ movies being held captive and waiting for Ranma to save her, and does nothing to make this task easier for him. This is especially absurd in the first film, as she is never tied up, locked up, guarded, or seriously restrained in any way after she is captured.
  • Reborn! (2004): We have Bianchi who defeats one opponent in an early arc, but is helpless against the later enemies. She later retreats to the sidelines as a mentor/home tutor. As well, there's Chrome, the only female member of Tsuna's guardians, who starts off strong but quickly requires Mukuro to do everything for her. Subverted in Chrome's case: she's weak because she wants to rely on Mukuro. When she decides that she'd rather fight as an equal and protect him, she turns out to be much stronger than when she first appeared.
  • Record of Lodoss War:
    • Deedlit has been accused of being this in the OAV, but it's a rather unfair claim since not only she is fairly new to the outer world, her powers are more of the supporting kind from the very start. Technically speaking, she begins as an Action Survivor in the OAV and upgrades to Action Girl status in the TV series
    • Also Shiris in Chronicles of the Heroic Knight. Though fairly competent in the original OVA, in the tv series she loses almost every fight she gets into, including the Designated Girl Fight. Orson eventually dies to save her, and his sacrifice feels wasted as she does nothing productive in the remaining episodes.
    • Sheer from the So Bad, It's Good spin-off Legend of Crystania exists to be captured, walk around, and stab Ashram who is possessed by Barbas, freeing him from the evil god's control. It's even more insulting when you realize she's the same person from Record of Lodoss War and was a genuine Action Girl there.
  • Saiyuki: Yaone is a really good example of this as well as the White Magician Girl. Constantly running around trying to fight off her opponents, she perpetually loses or forgets that's she's supposed to fight against them all together. These days she's just mostly left at home when the boys go out to play.
  • Samurai Deeper Kyo: Yuya is said to be the bounty hunter with 100% success rate. Too bad we only see her in action a few times. Later in the story, she acts nothing more than a "damsel in distress".
  • Shakugan no Shana: Pheles is a rare antagonist version of this trope. The way Wilhelmina talks about her before she shows up, you would think she was a Physical God. When she does show up, she descends from the heavens (surrounded by a tornado) to Ominous Latin Chanting, and the main character's expression is a very clear Oh, Crap!. Cue the heroes taking her down in about 5 minutes. And about an episode later, she subverts Defeat Means Friendship by revealing that she was actually a significantly less powerful doll created by the real Pheles, who is not at all interested in the talk the heroes have just been having with the doll. Of course, this would completely explain why she was taken down so easily by the heroes before. The real Pheles shows up in person very shortly, once again with Ominous Latin Chanting. Cue the Big Bad taking her down in about 5 minutes.
  • Tiger & Bunny: Karina Lyle, aka Blue Rose, is an in-series case, and treated rather realistically — she's a conflicted teen trying to live up to her public image as a domineering badass despite poor combat abilities that put a serious damper on powers that are actually rather decent, a ridiculously impractical costume for the sake of the sponsors (and one she did NOT choose), and serious misgivings about her job. She still gets stuff done because she genuinely wants to save people, but it's telling that one of her named publicized special moves, the 'Cutie Escape', involves ducking and running from whatever criminal menace is trying to reduce her to a smear on the pavement this week. She gets better by the end of the series, gaining more confidence and skills to match.
  • Yuuki Cross from Vampire Knight is initially presented as a relatively competent heroine, and she does try, but it becomes apparent from the very first episode that much of the plot revolves around protecting and rescuing the poor girl. She gets a little better after Kaname re-turns her into a vampire, but that's only for a little while.
  • Virtua Fighter: Pai Chan has this problem in-universe. She's not that bad of a fighter, technically speaking... but her ex-boyfriend aka the Big Bad knows how to deal with her kicking-based martial art style, and so he trains his mooks specifically to neutralise her and so the poor kid spends most of her time getting beat down by non-mooks and getting abducted. Pai finally ends up being much more competent in the second season, being able to take on and beat even tougher opponents (it also helps that these newer opponents don't specifically neutralize her style, so we get to see what happens when she's not too held back with overly crippling specific opponents).
  • GoLion/Voltron: Princess Fala/Allura is a downplayed trope. When not piloting one of the lions she can barely do anything useful, but it's the lion thing that is most important. Allura averts/defies this trope in Voltron Force, set seven years after the events of the original series.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!:
    • Zigzagged with Mai Kujaku from Yu-Gi-Oh! between the manga and anime. In the manga, she is setup as a powerful duelist that manages to defeat Ryuzaki (the Japanese Championship runner-up) offscreen, after which she’s never shown to win any of her onscreen duels. While those losses are kept in the anime, she also has a couple of wins as well, two of which were against Pegasus in the Doma Arc and Jonouchi in a rematch, albeit by a technically against the latter.
    • Downplayed with Rio Kamishiro from Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL. She’s introduced as The Ace, winning her first onscreen duel against one of Girag's Barian-possessed duelists, defeating her CXyz without a Numbers Monster, and helps Yuma out when he’s surrounded by an army of them alongside Shark. But in her next three focused duels, she loses to Shark, even after pulling out a new Xyz Monster, has her body possessed by Abyss when he uses her to duel Shark again, but is then tossed aside near the duel's climax so Abyss could finish it himself, and then is toyed with by Vector throughout her and Durbe's duel against him, before he easily finishes her off, despite reawakening to her memories as Merag.
    • Yu-Gi-Oh! VRAINS
      • Downplayed with Aoi Zaizen/Blue Angel. She’s introduced as a highly skilled player and part of the show's initial Power Trio. However, though she does manage a win here or there, particularly a personal victory against Baira in the series, she also has a consistent habit of facing off against major characters, falling victim to The Worf Effect in a crushing defeat, and then falling out of the story for the duration of the arc. This becomes particularly painful when she goes through a lengthy arc to improve her skills, revamp her look and deck twice as Blue Girl and then as Blue Maiden, and finally gets in another victory after waiting half the series... and then gets handily defeated by the current Arc Villain a few episodes later.
      • Emma Bessho/Ghost Girl is presented as a skillful hacker and bounty hunter hired by Akira Zaizen to gather information about Yusaku/Playmaker. During her debut duel against him, she manages to keep him on the ropes, even locking him out from using his Skill until the final turn, but in her later duels she never displays that same sort of competence again, only winning once against Naoki/Brave Max. Her duel against Kengo/Blood Shepard stands out in particular as that’s her only duel where the outcome could’ve gone either way and she still loses.

    Comic Books 
  • One Biggles comic book set in modern times had the all-British hero declaring there's a place for skirts. In the end, he recants this sexist statement as his female sidekick has proved her worth. By pushing a single button. Admittedly it was the Big Red Button to activate the Self-Destruct Mechanism of the Supervillain Lair, but still...
  • DC Comics:
    • As a rule, Black Canary is always a Faux Action Girl under the pens of Judd Winick and Andrew Kreisberg. The Green Arrow comic is particularly bad about having her lose to villains she really ought to be able to beat. She tends to fare much better under Gail Simone and Chuck Dixon.
    • Thorn became this in the Harley Quinn solo series, where she was essentially served as a tough-talking superheroine who would be easily dispatched by Harley and Ivy. There was even a multi-issue subplot where the girls got sick of her meddling and just kept her bound and gagged in their apartment so they could torture her for fun. Years later, she was made into a more competent vigilante when she reappeared in her own mini-series and a tie-in storyline in Birds of Prey.
    • Wonder Girl Cassie Sandsmark became a Faux Action Girl in Teen Titans whose character mostly existed to be moody and obsessed with her boyfriend after spending years as a proper Action Heroine in Wonder Woman (1987) and Young Justice. This was partially due to the size of the cast in Titans, but mostly due to her being handed to new writers who made no attempt to stick with her previous personality and interests.
  • Spoofed in various ways in Adam Warren's graphic novel Empowered:
    • The eponymous heroine is considerably more insecure than most of the other examples here, halfway between a Faux Action Girl and a pure Damsel in Distress. However, at one point her boyfriend reassures her by saying he admires her guts in continuing to try and fight despite knowing that she'll probably end up getting her butt kicked and captured, as opposed to all the other heroes who have it relatively easy. It's also eventually revealed that when she does maintain her confidence, her powers actually work, such as when she effortlessly rescues said boyfriend early in the story. Also a bit of a deconstruction of this trope, as her poor track record is a major source of misery for her; her self-esteem's pretty much nonexistent and her reputation as a crime-fighter is the exact opposite of what this trope usually calls for. She routinely gets called things like "Useless Lass" and "Captain Kidnapped". As the story progresses she gets much better at using her powers and more generally competent, but most of the other characters don't notice (then again, most of them are jerks).
    • In-universe, Sistah Spooky is considered this, with her A-lister status being regarded as inflated due to her being a Twofer Token Minority. This is mostly averted in the story proper, where she's shown to be an exceptionally powerful Black Mage and a very competent (if seriously unlucky) hero, so it's very probably just prejudice from the people who see her as an Affirmative Action Girl.
    • Another in-universe one is Ocelotina, who has a fairly profitable franchise releasing footage of her career as a spunky Animal-Themed Superbeing. However, in all that footage, she never actually demonstrates her "feline superpowers" and is always quickly incapacitated by her Weaksauce Weakness before being tied up by thugs and stripped, gagged, or spanked. This is because, in reality, she has no superpowers whatsoever, and the "footage" is basically thinly-veiled softcore bondage porn. She considers Empowered to be her inspiration, as Emp showed her just how well "hapless superheroine gets tied up a lot" could work out for someone looking to get famous for their sexuality. Emp doesn't consider this much of a compliment.
  • The Baroness is depicted as this in G.I. Joe (IDW), crossing over with Big Bad Wannabe. She's an egotist who's deluded herself into thinking that she's a brilliant manipulator and combatant. In reality, she tends to fold like wet paper in straight fights if she doesn't sneak up on her enemy or bring back-up. Notably her first appearance ends with her getting knocked out by a single hit from Destro, who at that point had zero prior combat experience. It's strongly implied throughout the comics that her whole motivation is a desperate desire to be taken seriously by others.
  • Liz Sherman of Hellboy and B.P.R.D. is a pyrokinetic who has been with BPRD on and off for decades since she became a ward of the bureau. Still, despite her power set, years of experience, and one would assume extensive training as an agent, she keeps being kidnapped, possessed, and used as a power source by various beings. She is always rescued by other BPRD agents when this happens. In her early appearances, she was basically a Damsel in Distress.
  • In the early days of Marvel Comics, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby did a lot towards fleshing out comic book characters so they were more than just guys in tights punching things. In order to keep an option for romance and appeal for female audiences, they often included a token girl on the team. Unfortunately, while they tried, they could never think of interesting powers or personalities for female heroes, so most of Stan and Jack's work tended to include these types. Fortunately, these improved significantly over the years. Examples:
    • Fantastic Four: Susan Richards had been a Damsel in Distress in most of the early stories until rewritten as a far more powerful and effective heroine by John Byrne; however, under later writers, she didn't always live up to this standard, and occasionally degenerated into this trope, mostly by giving her powers some kind of time or concentration limit despite no such obstacle for the others.
    • X-Men:
      • Jean Grey, in many of the early books. While later writers greatly expanded her personality, abilities, and role on the team, here she is mostly a damsel in distress whose identity is based on her longing for Scott Summers more than anything else. Men often have to direct her in the most basic use of her powers. When the team trains in the Danger Room, the males are shown battling or facing danger, while Jean threads a string though a board with holes in it. Things improved in the later books.
      • On the villains' side of things, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants had the Scarlet Witch, who had the ability to give people bad luck. Unfortunately, the potential for this power wasn't truly realized until she was expanded upon after doing a Heel–Face Turn and joining the Avengers.
    • The Avengers: Janet Van Dyne/The Wasp, in many of the early comics. In one issue, after she has been absent for the entire fight, she reappears on the last page. When asked where she was, she responds that she had to go powder her nose. Like the above, she improved later down the line.
    • Captain America's long time love interest Sharon Carter was a high-ranking agent who led large squads of fighters into the battlefield. She was, as a rule, the first to be knocked down, in order to give Cap a reason to protect her. She's now a much better fighter.
  • MonsterVerse graphic novel Skull Island: The Birth of Kong: Helen Karsten is billed by Aaron Brooks as survival instructor who excelled in the Navy, but she's the very first member of the new Skull Island expedition to die, being quickly torn apart by a pack of Death Jackals before she even gets a single hit in. Rather than being a writing flaw, Helen's subpar performance as an Action Girl appears to be a deliberate attempt to invoke this trope, as the sheer speed with which she's wiped out showcases how outmatched mankind really is against Skull Island's hostile creatures; even the smaller ones.
  • The old Nintendo Power comics of the early '90s gave us a comic based on Star Fox for the SNES; there the team gained a fifth member, the female fennec Fara Phoenix. She is the leading test pilot in the Cornerian Army and can fly an Arwing well; however, when we first meet her, she's hopelessly taken hostage and runs off after being rescued. Later on, she and Fox playfully show off their flying skills, only for her to be instantly shot down by an enemy cruiser (which she charged head-on), and doesn't fully participate in battle or much else when officially on the team.
  • The comic book prequel to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic: Jarael started out as a pretty Action Girl in the first story arc of the series, to the point of saving protagonist Zayne Carrick from the villains in the climactic scene. Since then, while she's kept the fiery temper and violent disposition, she becomes incompetent in dealing with anything other than Mooks, and continuously has to be rescued from Mandalorians, Corrupt Corporate Executives, and rampaging HK assassin droids, among other things.
  • One X-Wing Rogue Squadron issue shows Ysanne Isard on a training course, dressed in a commando outfit and shooting holographic representations of enemies in a simulated live fire drill, but she tends to avoid getting her hands dirty in actual struggles. The one exception is at the end of Isard's Revenge when she tries to get outshoot Iella, but is quickly killed.
  • Conan the Barbarian: Marvel's version of the pirate queen Belit received years of regular appearances and character development, in comparison to her short story counterpart. Despite being a formidable fighter in regular combat, she was often depicted as disarmed, kidnapped or incapacitated in order to have her boyfriend Conan come to her rescue. Her sword-fighting skills were also depicted as inferior to both Conan and Red Sonja, because Belit had no formal training in her chosen weapon (unlike the other two).

    Fan Works 
  • Hungary, one of the most badass and lovely characters in Hetalia: Axis Powers, is reduced to this in the infamous Dark Fic All He Ever Wanted. Fully crosses into Chickification when she's raped and tortured by Prussia.
  • Infinity Train: Blossoming Trail: Grace is made out to be a dangerous Passenger who's even managed to skin a vampire. However, she rarely gets a chance to prove said reputation: in particular, by the time the Fog Car saga rolls around, the enemies are so far above her she has to sit back and let others fight them instead. She only gets one good hit near the end, and even then, her biggest contribution isn't by fighting, but by revealing the truth to The Apex kids, ending the group once and for all.
  • Miraculous! Rewrite: In "Animaestro", Ladybug is depicted this way in Ladybug: The Movie. It presents its take on Paris' superheroine as a walking Not Like Other Girls cliché who's completely dependent upon Chat Noir, with the movie's plot revolving completely around him. Lila, who provided her voice, insists that this is true to real life.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: Genocide: Keiko becomes a Humongous Mecha pilot, but she's overshadowed by all her teammates, she never defeats a single enemy and she barely contributes in one battle.
  • The remastered version of The Night Unfurls has a rare Played for Laughs example. When first introduced, the Princess Knight of Feoh, Alicia Arcturus, is described as a celebrated figure who looks like the ideal, noble knight in every way. Except that the protagonist Kyril is not impressed in the slightest, internally remarking how "it wouldn't take much to knock her off her horse". His observation proves to be spot on when Alicia and her two subordinates accompany Kyril to clear out an orc den. She proves her "might" as a knight by stabbing her sword into a greenskin's gut... and getting her blade stuck. To rub salt in the wound, it turns out that Alicia performs worse than her own two subordinates (i.e., minor characters), a fact the narration points out as if to subtly mock her underperformance.
    "Lady Alicia are you hurt!?" Kendra approached Alicia already reaching for the healing supplies on her belt. Vera watched their rear, head on a swivel as she held her bloody sword. They had made a good accounting of themselves having slain two orcs each. Kyril had slain the rest, while Alicia only got one.note 

    Films — Animation 
  • Queen Emeraldas receives this treatment in Arcadia of My Youth: while Captain Harlock (the ultimate badass of the Leijiverse) clearly treats her as his equal, she never actually does anything to back up that cred in the movie, even spending some time in the Damsel in Distress role. This is possibly justified by the movie being Harlock's Origins Episode, so Emeraldas merely accompanies him on his first pirate venture without infringing on his spotlight. In all other Leijiverse media, she is consistently depicted as a proactive and danger-defying individual.
  • The Emoji Movie builds up Jailbreak as a tough-as-nails, hypercompetent Hackette who can reprogram Gene into the "meh" he's always wanted to be, but she spends most of her screen time being a pushy jerkass rather than doing any actual hacking. Besides nearly falling to her death in the Just Dance app, her most plot-relevant action is embracing her former identity as a Princess Classic emoji so she can summon the Twitter Bird, something which notably contradicts her character arc. We only see her reprogram something once, and it's not Gene — rather than any of her own Hollywood Hacking skills, it's her turning down his Love Confession that turns him into a "meh."
  • In Quest for Camelot, Kayley aspires to knighthood and heroism, but when things get dangerous it quickly becomes clear that a background of farm chores and haphazard self-training hasn't left her very well equipped to defend herself, and she spends most of the film running away or relying on Garrett (who's blind!). This was apparently brought on by differing creative ideas in the development - where she was first going to be more heroic and tomboyish, and then changing their minds to make her more girlish. She does have several moments of competency throughout the film but it's unclear if we're supposed to take her as an Action Girl or Action Survivor.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Li Chiu-lan, the protagonist of the Shaw Brothers spy film The Brain Stealers is shown holding a pistol on the film poster, introduced beating up a bunch of karateka during the opening credits, and... pretty much does squat for the rest of her screentime. When a henchwoman tries to kill her via an adder under her bedsheets, Li is reduced to screaming hysterically until her partner Jia-wen arrives to her rescue. Her fight in the Tokyo Tower had her dangling over the tower's railings while a mook tried to Hand Stomp her, until Jia-wen saves her again by knocking the mook out and grabbing her hand. She managed to beat up the imposter, Peter, who is posing as her brother, but that's because of Peter's own incompetence, and in the final battle she pretty much gets pushed around by mooks and gets thrown into a cell, which she only escapes because of an Enemy Civil War suddenly happening between the villains.
  • Jinx from the James Bond movie Die Another Day is supposed to be a top NSA agent, and in an early scene she does manage to complete an assassination, but thereafter she only manages to get strapped to a laser Death Trap and almost drown in an ice hotel. In the end, she's given a Designated Girl Fight with Miranda Frost by way of consolation prize.
  • Van Helsing: Anna Valerious is sometimes attacked for this, but more context is required. She's in danger so much because she's literally the only target from Dracula and his brides, and the first time they attack in the movie is said to be unusual, since they've never attacked in daylight before, and she outright says she was unprepared. She does pull off several heroics, even if her only actual kills are one of the Depraved Dwarfs and Dracula's last surviving bride. Most of the times she needs saving, Van Helsing does also, and the one time she gets captured is semi-justified - she's just had to watch her brother die and discovers that Van Helsing has been bitten by a werewolf, so she's too distracted to be on guard for Aleera's presence.
  • A Kid in King Arthur's Court provides a very ridiculous example of this trope with Princess Katie. In the training sequence, she is shown to be an excellent swordswoman, archer, and horse rider, thus she should be "of course, able to take care of herself"...except then she gets kidnapped by some mooks in broad daylight and needs to be rescued by Calvin and King Arthur. A fight begins. Now on the good guys' side, we have Arthur (a very old man), Calvin (a nerd who fails at baseball and has only trained in swordfighting for a couple of days) and Katie (who is young, fast and has trained in swordfighting all her life). Arthur and Calvin fight and kill the mooks while Katie gets kidnapped again. The same film also subverts the trope, however, with Katie's older sister Princess Sarah. The viewer spends the entire movie believing that tomboyish Katie is the tough one of the pair, only to find out that Sarah is the secret identity of the Black Knight, who has been fighting the enemy all along.
  • In Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Amelia Earhart continually insists she is able to take care of herself but isn't seen doing anything remotely badass except for flying a plane for about two seconds before handing it to Larry.
  • Star Wars:
    • In The Force Awakens, Captain Phasma appears to be a formidable elite First Order officer. However, she never gets in any fights or fires a single shot in the entire movie. Her only significant contribution to the plot is when she gets easily captured by Han, Finn, and Chewie, who then force her to lower the shields on the Starkiller base. She immediately complies with their order, essentially selling out everyone in the base to save her own skin. She continues the trend in The Last Jedi where all she manages to accomplish is knocking Finn down once, surviving an attack because her armor is blaster-proof, and going down in a single hit from Finn when he gets back up.
    • Zorii Bliss is a downplayed example in The Rise of Skywalker. She's the leader of a group of spice smugglers with years of experience and wields blasters, but in the film itself she only gets into one direct fight that we see and promptly gets her butt kicked by Rey (who is admittedly Force-sensitive). Zorii does turn up later at the battle on Exegol, though the most we see her do is take out two TIE Daggers and a Star Destroyer's cannon before joining up with Poe.
  • Underworld (2003): Amelia is one of the three Vampire Elders who are said to be more powerful than the average vampire. However, she spends most of the story offscreen, and her one appearance shows her getting easily killed by the Lycans ambushing her train. Most of this happens offscreen too, but there's no indicator that she fought back. Evolution would remedy this with a flashback to the Dark Ages, showing her as a Lady of War effortlessly killing William's werewolves, suggesting that her death was a case of Worf Had the Flu.
  • In Pan, Tiger Lily is a perfect example of this, a character who comes off as very strong and more than capable of defending herself when she faces off against the main characters and yet when confronted by an actual villain, she is completely useless.
  • Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Maid Marian is presented as a stoic and capable fighter that can put up a good fight against Robin Hood himself and nearly kills one of his men... cut to her being completely defenseless against the Sheriff's Attempted Rape at the movie's climax. A downplayed example somewhat as she never managed to kill someone yet it's still jarring to see that all she can do at the moment is scream for Robin.
  • Sheena. Roger Ebert noted the incongruity of "a jungle woman who has ruled the savage beasts since infancy [being] pulled along by a television anchorman fresh off the plane." This is out of Sheena's character, considering that in the comics she's a badass who takes down many savage animals and corrupt poachers.
  • The Arcee triplets in Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen, who failed to do any major damage while chasing down Sideways in Shanghai, and end up getting destroyed in the film's final battle. Even their screentime in the film was under a minute.
  • Audrey in Daybreakers, she gets captured no less than three times, and the men are called upon to save her every time.
  • Heather Mason is a lot less credible in Silent Hill: Revelation 3D than in her game Silent Hill 3. Despite the fact that she is allegedly the hero of the film who is destined to defeat the order of Silent Hill, she never once actually fights her opponents, but more or less lucks out thanks to very simple means. When confronted with her Evil Counterpart, she defeats her adversary with a hug and instead of facing off against the Big Bad herself, she relies on Pyramid Head, of all characters, to fight the final battle for her.
  • Marie, the sole female Delta member from Operation Delta Force. She kills a handful of faceless mooks, shoots a terrorist about to ambush one of the Deltas in the final shootout, and ends up getting captured by the main villain, Johann Nash, and held at gunpoint as a Human Shield.
  • Sarah Ryback in Under Siege 2: Dark Territory. Early in the movie, it's established that Casey has trained her in martial arts. However, she never gets an opportunity to put those skills into practice and remains a hostage for the entire duration of the hijacking.
  • Karai in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) and its sequel. She's the Shredder's lieutenant and second-in-command but in combat, she's not as capable as her status suggests. In every fight scene she's in, she's easily bested with little effort, even being knocked out instantly by April O'Neil of all people in the sequel.
  • Jess in The Mansion is indicated to be training as a policewoman, and has little trouble applying submissions holds against the boys, but when confronted by the killer, despite looking to be able to fend them off, she's easily taken down.
  • Dolemite: The title character's Amazon Brigade has been trained in karate to kick ass. We see a bunch of them take on various local mooks in the film's climactic fight sequence. In a later scene, however, that doesn't prevent one of them from getting strangled to death by the town's schlubby mayor.
  • Spoofed in The Final Girls with Paula. She may well have been a legitimate Action Girl in the original version of Camp Bloodbath, as it is said that she was the Final Girl in that movie. However, when Max and her friends get sucked into the movie, everything goes sideways, and while this version of Paula may still look the part with her tank top, leather jacket, and black Camaro, she never confronts the killer and instead dies in a fiery, accidental car wreck just minutes after her introduction when she and Kurt try to escape.
  • The Viking (1928): When Helga is first introduced, she is wearing a helmet and armor, and a title card tells us that she is "living the life of a Viking sea rover under the protection of the famous Leif Ericsson". In the very same scene, she also falls from her horse (much to the amusement of the onlookers), and sprains her wrist, which she keeps rubbing, and needs to have patched up by her male companion. During the treatment, the pain is visibly troubling her, although she comically tries to act tough. The entire sequence signals that she is not really cut out for the "life of a Viking sea rover", but is much rather a big tomboy who only wants to be tough, but is not.
  • Four Days in September: Maria, the leader of the MR-8 left-wing terrorist cell that Fernando joins. She comes off as a badass, running all the newbies through target shooting practice and talking a big game about the need for radical action—but MR-8 still brings in two men, experienced operators, to run the big job (a kidnapping of the American ambassador). However, as the last few hours before the 10 pm deadline tick away, she becomes much more vulnerable and hesitant, wondering if they've gone too far. Not only does she have sex with Fernando in a Pre-Climax Climax need for emotional comfort, she tells him her real name (Andreia). Late in the film she bursts into tears at the thought that the kidnapping was All for Nothing.
  • Doomsday introduces Viper as a sadistic Dark Action Girl and seemingly The Dragon to Sol. In her first actual fight scene against Eden, she is beaten and killed quite easily. This one however is justified, as Viper is a cannibal living in post apocalyptic Scotland who seems to let her fellow cannibals do the fighting for her, and Eden is a trained soldier (amusingly enough, played by Rhona Mitra, who plays Sonja listed above).
  • Tekken (2010): Nina Williams is touted as a master assassin. She fails to kill Jin despite having Anna as backup and is easily beaten by Christie in their tournament fight the next day.

  • Elven ranger Shulana of Mark Acres' Land Between the Rivers Chronicles, who can only be strong when Bagsby tells her it's okay to go all out, otherwise she'll get trounced by mooks left and right. She HAS shown exceptional skill, it's just that she must remain a Faux Action Girl until Bagsby gives the word. The rotund middle-aged farmer woman, Marta, winds up being more competent despite the fact she was never trained for such combat and doesn't know any magic.
  • Tallia, from Ian Irvine's first tale in The Three Worlds Cycle, is supposedly a master of armed and unarmed combat. Odd, then, that she so often is knocked out, overpowered, or otherwise comes up short.
  • Vi Sovari, the only female wetboy in Brent Weeks' Night Angel Trilogy. When first introduced, she is touted as the most promising apprentice wetboy in the city - a clear equal (if not superior) to protagonist Kylar Stern. However, for most of the series, all we see of Vi is her getting her ass kicked by fat mage women, falling to pieces over her own emotional baggage, and pining over Kylar. Contrast with Kariss Whiteoak in Weeks' other series, Lightbringer: a female character with a healthy balance of strength and emotion, whose reputation as a BAMF is well-deserved and appropriately demonstrated.
  • Alistair MacLean's (actually John Denis) Air Force One Is Down goes to great detail describing master thief (now secret agent) Sabrina and how good she is, then portrays her as a classic Damsel in Distress throughout the rest of the book. Most notably in a scene where Sabrina can't lie to the Big Bad because she can't keep her thoughts off her face.
  • The Twilight Saga:
    • Alice beat her combat veteran boyfriend Jasper in a practice fight in Eclipse. He beat Emmett and tied with Edward, indicating that Alice is the best fighter of the four. However, in a hostile situation, Emmett and Jasper are the ones who step up, and Alice's fighting prowess was never even mentioned outside that scene. It should also be noted that she can see the future. This would be a rather useful advantage in battle, though that doesn't explain why she wasn't important in the battle itself.
    • Vampire-Bella from Breaking Dawn also counts. She gets all sorts of training in combat from Emmett and is trained by Kate as to how to protect others with her shield against offensive attacks... and spends the climax just sitting there with everyone else. Her shield halts an attack from Jane and Alec each, but it's nowhere near any of the badassery she was hyped for. The movie does fix this by showing that during the climactic fight Bella and Edward serve as a Battle Couple and take down Aro, but... it turns out that the whole thing was All Just a Dream.
  • Wanderer/Wanda from The Host (2008) was apparently quite the badass in some of her previous lives. This is somewhat at odds with how she acts once on Earth.
  • Jaheira in the Baldur's Gate novelizations, in contrast to being a full-on Action Girl in the game. She's a druid and fighter with a "tough warrior exterior", yet she is unable to deal with even a spider getting under her shirt without Abdel Adrian ripping it right off.
  • Vereesa Windrunner from Richard A. Knaak's Novel Day of the Dragon novel (set in the Warcraft universe). Here we're informed she is just as capable a ranger as her sisters in the first "of the Dragon" book, and in that book and every subsequent one, her grand accomplishments include being kidnapped, marrying Rhonin, and standing around in Dalaran next to her husband leading one of the least active factions in World of Warcraft.
  • Whitley from Wereworld who is supposed to be training as a ranger and who says that she can fight faints at the first sight of Drew in his Wolf form and later is thrown off her horse to fall frozen in fear.
  • Mallory of Melissa Marr's Carnival of Souls has been in training all of her life to be able to fight daimons and is sure she can take them. She then loses the only fight she gets in and has to be rescued.
  • Bernadette Manuelito, a policewoman in the Leaphorn & Chee series by the late Tony Hillerman, was criticized for this by Hillerman's own daughter Anne Hillerman. She felt Manuelito came across more as the "love-struck girlfriend of Jim Chee" than as a strong law enforcement officer in her own right. Anne was happy that Manuelito was given a bigger role in Skeleton Man—in which she found the missing jewels and confronted the villain—but disappointed that she ultimately had to be rescued by Chee. As a result, Anne's novel, Spider Woman's Daughter (2013), a continuation of the series, centered on Bernie.
  • In the John Carter of Mars books, red Martian women in general are supposed to be strong and have adapted to their harsh, violent world in terms of being ready to fight if necessary, but all they can ever do is play the Damsel in Distress. They have attitude, but apparently they're just physically absolutely inferior to both men and monsters. They also don't go properly armed like the men do, even though that should make sense if they were as advertised.
  • Dream Park: Lt. Madonna Philips in The California Voodoo Game is introduced as an Olympic-caliber fencer who dons a Chainmail Bikini in front of the opposition, then switches to practical garb for the actual adventure. However, her inexperience leads to a novice's mistake that gets her "killed out" very early in the Game.
  • The Hunger Games:
    • Glimmer in the first book is definitely an antagonistic example. She's presented as a Career, someone who's trained their whole life to be a Tribute (i.e., fighter in the titular games). Unfortunately, she's shown to be incompetent with a bow, she doesn't display any notable skills, and she dies extremely early in the Games before she gets to do anything notable. She is more threatening in the movie, where she is seen slaughtering a couple of Tributes during the initial bloodbath and Cato lets her kill one other Tribute who was Too Dumb to Live.
    • Cashmere from Catching Fire. She's from District 1, a career, trained from a young age to excel in the games. She even won the 64th games. She doesn't end-up doing much and dies the second day, trying to avenge her brother. One of the few examples of a Faux Dark Action Girl.
  • In Victoria, the female soldiers of the Lady Land Azania tend to come across this way, mainly due to the main character's Plot Armor. They have the most advanced technology in the setting, and are generally very competent and successful wherever he is not involved, but suffer humiliating defeats every time they move against his unit. Taken together with said character's condescending attitude toward them, this has somewhat unfortunate implications.
  • Sally Broadbent of Tyrannosaur Canyon is described as the quintessential independent Western woman, a skilled rider, and a crack shot. Then she's captured without much fuss, bungles an escape attempt, and spends the rest of the story being present while Tom and Ford save the day.
  • Kings of the Wyld has an in-universe example. Some of the new female "mercenaries" are pretty clearly just Chainmail Bikini-clad models and dancers hired to make the male mercenaries look good during the parade. They even respond to catcalls with blown kisses, when Clay notes that most female mercenaries respond to that sort of thing by beating the offending party within an inch of their life. It's later subverted when it turns out that they actually are competent mercenaries; at the final battle, Clay sees them in sensible armor fighting beside their coworkers.
  • Played with in The Perils of Enhancegirl. Enhancegirl spends the first five chapters very concerned that she's going to turn out to be this due to a string of defeats and successful kidnap attempts, especially by comparison with more competent heroes like Spectra. By later chapters, she's got more victories under her belt and is much more confident in her power.
  • Harry Potter: Fleur Delacour is apparently the best student in Beauxbatons, but in all three Tasks, she performs the worst - she at least completes the First but scores the lowest (it doesn't help she's given the most docile, easiest to tame dragon), is the only competitor to outright fail the Second, and gets taken out first (admittedly, by an outsider) in the Third. Other than an offscreen mention of lulling a dragon into a trance, she never demonstrates anything beyond what a witch her age should be able to do, and she gets rescued by Harry during the Third Task despite him being three years her junior. Even after joining the Order of the Phoenix, she still either sits out of or is barely mentioned in the major fights.
  • In The Lies of Locke Lamora, despite the narration assuring us that the women of Camorr are "to be underestimated at one's mortal peril", their performance in the actual story leaves a lot to be desired and they are often easily overpowered by male characters. The girl thieves from Locke and Jean's childhood flee pretty quickly when Jean makes it clear he Would Hit a Girl, Nazca is the daughter of one of the most feared men in the city and the one everyone thinks should be his successor, yet she is easily dispatched and killed by The Falconer on the Grey King's orders, then delivered back to her father in a barrel full of horse piss. And the Berengias sisters are supposedly the elite soldiers of Capa Barvasi who regularly fight sharks for the entertainment of the rich, but the only enemies they manage to kill are faceless mooks with inferior weapons and people who weren't expecting to be attacked like Capa Barvasi himself - when they finally face a named character, both of them end up killed by Jean, despite the fight being two against one. The latter doesn't even end up with any lasting damage from the fight!
  • Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath like making Captain Kirk into a Rare Male Example, shilling him to be one of the best examples of an "Alpha Male" (when in the show he was a happy Agent Peacock) but almost always ending up as a hostage against Spock or threatened with rape. Gets worse in the genderswap story "The Procustean Petard" when he's turned into a woman, is sexually assaulted by Kang and can't even fly his ship properly.
  • Gor: Tarna in Tribesman of Gor is an In-Universe example. She claimed to be skilled with a sword, but it's made clear that she was empty boasting because when Tarl duels her, he easily disarms and defeats her, and he wasn't even using his full strength.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Amazing Race:
    • Most of the athletic female teams come off as this, save for Kisha and Jen, who are the only ones to make the Top 4, then they ended up winning when they returned for Unfinished Business. Generally, the strong physical female teams tend to get eliminated earlier than the ones who rely more on their intelligence.
    • Sam and Renae from the Australian version are another exception, also making the top 4.
    • Canadian hockey players Natalie Spooner and Meaghan Mikkelson were an incredible exception on the Canadian version. They claimed an incredible number of first-place finishes (seven) and went to the final leg. They ended second and it was likely only caused by a nagging injury from before the Race.
  • Erica in Breakout Kings is supposed to be this badass former bounty hunter who can track anyone and who killed five very dangerous men, but she does not live up to the hype. In "Out of the Mouths of Babes," a middle-aged former school counselor is able to outrun her and give her the slip. When she is useful, it is in roles that seem to have been written for Philomena, the con artist from the pilot whom Erica replaced.
  • Cleopatra 2525: Rose, aka "Sarge", completely failed to live up to her supposedly badass nickname. Routinely kidnapped, captured, and tied up, she was pretty much useless. Worst example was one episode where, in trying to save her younger sister, she herself was captured.
  • Criminal Minds: During season six, Ashley Seaver joined the team for a short while. She was supposedly the best at the academy but did absolutely nothing to prove it[[note]]Season six is a season that most fans tend to forget about specifically because of her.
  • Doctor Who: Sara Kingdom is introduced as the Space Security Service's best and most loyal operative, with a Samus Is a Girl sequence, and she shoots her own brother on behalf of Mavic Chen. However, as soon as she does a High-Heel–Face Turn and the Doctor takes her on as a companion, all her combat skills disappear and she spends most of her time asking the Doctor to explain things, running down corridors, and experiencing Doctor Who's notorious Big-Lipped Alligator Moment Christmas Special ("The Feast of Steven"). While shooting some Daleks would perhaps have been helpful, her personality itself remains intact, particularly her extreme loyalty. In the Dalek TV show that Terry Nation had been trying to make, she was going to be a Damsel in Distress her (other) brother had to rescue, but this got a bit of a Fix Fic when Big Finish adapted the story, as it switched her and her brother's roles around.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Yara Greyjoy has earned the loyalty and respect of her crew, but she doesn't do much onscreen to justify her reputation. The one time we do see her fight, she and her crew are eventually driven off, though it's implied that the biggest reason is she'd simply given up on her mission as a lost cause. Even when we do see her fight properly in Season 7, she still ends up getting captured by Euron while Theon has a Heroic BSoD and abandons her and spends the first half of Season 8 his captive. We never see her actually win a straight-up conflict.
    • The Sand Snakes consider themselves to be elite warriors who can take on the best in Westeros. Of course, most of their victories came about because they ambushed people who weren't trained warriors and they weren't even able to defeat Jaime Lannister, who only has one hand. Come season seven, Obara and Nymeria Sand both die in a battle with Euron, by their own weapons in fact, showing they weren't really as good in combat as they thought they were. Yara comes off much better in the same battle despite being captured, killing lots of mooks and being the only one that puts up a real fight against Euron.
  • Highlander: Cassandra is an immortal witch, with the rare (in this setting) abilities of Compelling Voice and Voluntary Shapeshifting. She is also thousands of years old and much more experienced than most of the other immortals we encounter (with four exceptions). Yet her fighting skills are far from impressive, and she is not much of a strategist. The only time in which she has a chance to kill a fellow immortal, the immortal in question is already exhausted from a previous fight and on his knees after receiving a quickening.
  • Justified: Ava Crowder always talks a big game, but her only real achievements are killing her (unarmed) abusive husband, successfully resisting her first kidnapping, and shooting Delroy (who thought she was on his side). She fails to intimidate Bo Crowder, and is easily kidnapped by him, loses a shootout to Dickie Bennett, is brutally beaten by Judith when she tries to fight her, and otherwise gets her ass kicked any time that her opponent can actually hit back.
  • Kamen Rider Kiva: Yuri and her daughter Megumi are supposedly some of the best Fangire Hunters, but they seldom get in more than two or three blows before the villain begins shrugging off their attacks, and either captures or starts pounding them, requiring them to be saved by Kiva or Ixa. By episode five, you're rolling your eyes at them for thinking they can do anything, like Mooks Shooting Superman. It doesn't help when the Transformation Trinkets for the Ixa suit not only pass by Yuri (whom it was originally developed for) and her daughter too, but are used by male characters. At least Megumi gets a loaner on the second version once in the TV-series and the movie.
  • Kamen Rider Zero-One: Yua Yaiba/Kamen Rider Valkyrie is promoted as the first main female Rider to appear in the franchise, but she gets Demoted to Extra in the later parts of the main TV series. While she is a decent fighter, she doesn't win any fights against opponents that are stronger than Mooks without help. Even in Vulcan and Valkyrie, where Yua is the co-protagonist and gains her new form Justice Serval, she spends most of her fight with Kamen Rider Metsuboujinrai getting beaten down, only landing one blow that fails to inflict any permanent damage. She loses her ability to transform after the fight, unable to do much in the second half. In Girls Remix, a special that's specifically designed to give Female Riders a chance to shine, Yua's only contribution is appearing in suit in the prologue, getting blasted away by the villain in about 5 seconds and not showing up again for the rest of the special, with Zero One's female representive slot being taken by Is instead.
  • Merlin: Isolde was presented as a tough, no-nonsense Action Girl. She is injured in her first battle and dies in her second.
  • Mutant X: Emma DeLauro. Frequently described as one of the strongest New Mutants in the world and deemed a good enough all-rounder to be included in the Mutant X team, and yet she very rarely does anything useful, especially compared to Shalimar Fox, the resident Action Girl. Granted she was also there for her psionic powers, but if Adam was wanting a psionic why did he not just use Vanessa, a minor psionic character who showed she, at least, could kick some GSA butt.
  • Revolution: Charlie Matheson starts out as this. She's incompetent, at least early on. On top of that, she usually ends up being saved. However, she managed to not screw up in episode 2 by tricking Nate and succeeded in killing the warden and another man. It may be because she isn't good with close range or unarmed combat, she is a good shot with her crossbow, but since crossbows can't fire as quickly as a real bow after a single shot she tends to be helpless. Which may be why her father warned her not to go into the woods. Too many people in the village have gotten hurt or killed trying to save her ass. Not that the village got into trouble over her in the pilot episode.
  • Robin Hood: Kate. One of the other outlaws calls her "a good fighter", and she insists that "I can look after myself" even though she gets into trouble and has to be rescued by her male co-stars no less than fifteen times over the course of one season. To get a gist of this percentage, keep in mind that there were only thirteen episodes per season, and Kate only appeared in eleven of them. At one stage she was kidnapped by an evil tax collector three separate times in one episode.
  • Amberle in The Shannara Chronicles is presented as an all-action modern heroine in contrast to her original book incarnation, carrying a sword and frequently demonstrating that she knows how to use it. However, her fighting skills invariably seem to fail her when she needs them, and there's hardly an episode in the first season where she doesn't need to be rescued by Wil or Eretria at some point. It takes her until the 6th episode, more than halfway through the first season, to actually kill an enemy.
  • In Sleepy Hollow, Katrina is constantly described as being an all-powerful witch, with numerous characters gushing over how strong she is. From what we actually see, she spends most of the series being a Damsel in Distress, creating love triangles, and failing to do magic. She does manage to feed the other heroes a lot of useful information from captivity and has some success in messing with the villains' heads, but if you want a woman who actually gets things done you'd best look to Abbie or Jenny.
  • Smallville: In the second season episode "Precipice" Lana Lang trains intensely in martial arts and by the end of the episode is able to take down a serious jock. But for the rest of her series run, these skills are never used again. Then the creators "listened to fan complaints" about her being this and had her come back in season 8 with Faux Navy SEAL training that she somehow got in eight months or so (this is absolutely impossible to do). That training pretty much gave her Charles Atlas Superpower. Then they made it so she radiates kryptonite so that she could have a reason for leaving the love of her life, Clark. From this to God-Mode Sue, all in one season. There's a reason she's a Creator's Pet.
  • Space Sheriff Sharivan: Miyuki and her teammates. In their very first appearance, they prove they're strong enough to beat Sharivan and yet, in every other episode they appear, they're unable to win a single fight and always need Sharivan's help (yes, the same Sharivan they had beaten so easily).
  • Star Trek: The Original Series: If you thought there were no Dark Action Girl examples, you'd be wrong. The Romulan commander in the episode "The Enterprise Incident" is easily duped by Kirk and Spock, and, though explicitly stated to be a soldier, the most badass thing she does is slap Spock across the face in a fit of Woman Scorned fury.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: While Dax is a student of Klingon martial arts and is frequently called upon to mix it up in fight scenes, she generally only wins fights against mooks. She repeatedly loses fights with more formidable foes, ironically suffering from a bit of The Worf Effect before the trope's namesake joined the cast himself. She loses fights to him as well.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Tasha Yar. She's supposed to be the Enterprise's tough-as-nails security chief. While she does win a number of fights, that doesn't stop her from getting kidnapped in one episode and fumble a hostage situation in another. The writers had no real idea what to do with the character, which led the actress, Denise Crosby, to quit the show before the first season even ended.
  • Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger: Marie Gold (movie only). She is DekaGold, and has time-stopping powers. But then, her only on-screen display of power is when she had her transformation sequence interrupted and then was poisoned by the bad guys, so the Dekarangers had to hurry and save her.
  • Victorious: Jade acts tough and edgy, but she usually folds whenever there's any real danger. A good example of this is when she makes fun of a female prisoner who's behind bars, but is easily pushed around by this same prisoner when she gets arrested.


    Pro Wrestling 
  • A unique case happens in WWE when they are pushing a woman in a feud who has very little wrestling experience.
    • The first one to have this happen to her was Sable who had it written into her contract that she couldn't take bumps. In this case, she was feuding with Jacqueline who in Real Life could go toe to toe with the men and barely break a sweat. Since Sable wouldn't take bumps Jacqueline had to rely on attacking from behind and using kicks in their matches. Jacqueline won the newly reinstated Women's Championship... when Marc Mero held Sable's feet down for the pin. Sable would only ever do about four moves in total in her match so one Sable Bomb and the supposedly dominant Jacqueline lay limp on the canvas for the 1-2-3. She would recover from this however and become Women's Champion again as well as Cruiserweight Champion while Sable ended up leaving the company.
    • Luna Vachon also suffered from this in her feud with, you guessed it, Sable. They were set to compete in a mixed tag match at WrestleMania XIV and in their training for it, Sable refused to learn how to bump and Luna was warned that she would be fired if she damaged or hurt Sable in any way at all in the match. So in the match, Luna had to rely on her partner Goldust to do all the work while she acted as Sable's punching bag. She was able to get some more offence in on her in a strap match at the 1999 Royal Rumble, since hitting her with a strap was less dangerous than bumping her.
  • Stacy Keibler. A crafty fanservice-providing manager, yes. A wrestler, no, but that wouldn't stop WWE from trying to push her as one. She would turn down an offer to become Women's Champion, but not before participating in a month's worth of build-up that involved her beating Molly Holly three weeks in a row and getting a good showing against the reigning champion, Trish Stratus. This period did not change the fans' perception of Stacy as "just an eye candy manager". It was considered Villain Decay for Molly rather than Stacy Took a Level in Badass.
  • Maryse is a rare villain case. While in her 2008 run on Smackdown, she demonstrated legitimate wrestling ability and won the Divas' Championship, she soon went down with a knee injury. After her return, she was immediately pushed in a Divas' title feud and the announcers constantly talked up how menacing and aggressive she was. Her matches told a different story—she would literally have her opponents beat the crap out of her for 90% of the match while the only offence she would get in would be a few slaps and maybe a backbreaker. If she was winning the match then she'd use her finisher. It was pretty hard to take Maryse seriously as a top heel when she only used one move and was never shown actually kicking any ass like the announcers claimed she was. It's telling that when John Cena gave her "The Reason You Suck" Speech in 2017, he said "you didn't do jack" the first time she was in the company (forgetting she was a two-time Divas' Champion). That same year when he and Nikki Bella were facing her and The Miz in a mixed tag, they hyped her up as training for her first match in six years, but in said match she did very little, and most of Nikki's offence was sold by The Miz.
  • Ashley Massaro, the 2005 Diva Search winner. She revealed years later that she had never been trained properly, only on a per-match basis. Yet she still received two Women's Championship matches and competed at two WrestleMania events - both of which were based around her being the cover girl of Playboy rather than legitimate athletic talent. And she had to wrestle one of them with a broken foot!
  • In the WWE version of FCW, Rosa Mendes did occasionally look like a credible villain due to Angela Fong's dramatic selling and Alicia Fox's busted lip but after that, she only managed to be intimidating by virtue of standing next to someone else who was. Mendes debuted on cable sneak attacking Melina Perez several times but could never gain the advantage in these fights, despite Perez's lack of vigilance, and had to be bailed out by Beth Phoenix each time. Phoenix eventually deemed Mendes no longer useful and easily brushed her aside. Her next big moment was causing Zack Ryder to depart from WWECW for fear of her safety after being speared by Tiffany. Even her moment where she was supposed to turn on now baby face Phoenix saw Mendes talk a big game she couldn't back up, Mendes only getting some offense due to a freak accident injury suffered by Phoenix.
  • Eva Marie was brought to the main roster almost immediately after signing with the company and like Ashley, wasn't trained properly. In 2015 she attempted to get more training, to mixed results. She eventually left the company when her contract expired. She returned in 2021 although she rarely competed and was soon released.
  • The Women's Division was the most criticized part of All Elite Wrestling. The initial effort to push Riho, a diminutive Ricky Morton type Tag Team wrestler from child filled Ice Ribbon and parody promotion Dramatic Dream Team whose strongest singles run was as World Wonder Ring ST★RDOM's High Speed(read:small) Champion, fell flat as she came off as a little girl scared of her competitors. The attempt to push "Native Beast" Nyla Rose fell flat, as rather than build her up with a series of impressive wins she merely had a tussle with Amazing Kong before being scarificed in a failed bid to elevate Riho. An intense match where Hikaru Shida busted open Britt Baker and fended off her resulting rage established Shida as the wrestler AEW's women's division needed but her title win further destroyed Rose and Shida's run was hampered by the COVID-19 Pandemic. Without crowds to play off of, Shida had to rely purely on matches with opponents fans did not find credible and on terse second language promos. Rather than build up another wrestler to face Shida, jobbers were instead allowed to get offense on her, which made Shida look worse more than it made the jobbers, some of whom were never seen again, look better. Credible competition would be found in NWA World Women's Champions Thunder Rosa and Serena Deeb, however, and their arrival to AEW would revitalize the careers of Baker and Rose, finally giving AEW a respectable women's division. However this also gave AEW the confidence to create two more divisions, with lackluster results. A tag team division built around Ivelisse Vélez and Diamante fell flat enough to be quietly retired, partly due to miscommunication between Ivelisse and Diamante making them look like a tag team that didn't understand tagging, Ivelisse and Diamante losing a televised non title match to a irregular team without getting any televised defenses first(or afterwards) and a personal dispute during a singles match between Velez and Rosa, which made them look like incompetent wrestlers. The second singles division struggled due to building around the inexperienced Jade Cargill, but didn't limp quite as much as the first, as Jade at least carried herself like a champion, unlike Riho, and wasn't thrown around around by women half her weight as Nyla was.

  • Aida gives us both a Faux Action Girl and a Faux Action Guy in none other than our two leads. Aida is the rebellious, strong-willed leading lady who subdues a guard early on and is said to be "better with a sword than with a sponge." Radames, our leading man, is an Egyptian captain who has won several battles and is supposedly an overall badass. One could argue that since the story itself is more of a love story than anything, it's more forgivable that we don't see either of these two performing such great feats. However, at the end of the play, a fight breaks out. On the good guys' side, we have Aida, Radames, and Mereb, a physically weaker boy who's "better off cheering from the sidelines." And who's the one who does all the fighting while everyone else stands there watching in horror? Mereb, who dies in the process.

    Video Games 
  • Two characters from Batman: Arkham Series are shown to be more bark than bite:
    • Harley Quinn is the Joker’s right hand woman reportedly skilled in acrobatics and combat and, when she takes leadership after the Joker’s death, widely shown to be feared by her goons. However, aside from beating up some guards and Nightwing in Batman: Arkham Knight during her story campaign, she never really backs up her reputation and is easily dispatched by Batman whenever he faces against her and loses to fellow Faux Action Girl Talia al Ghul offscreen.
    • Talia al Ghul is told to be a highly skilled ninja warrior with an extremely high intelligence who poses as a serious threat to all those who face her. However, in the game she never displays any of these skills and is captured by the Joker, forcing Batman to rescue her. While she does escape from the Joker and stab him, it turned out that this was a trick to let her guard down so he could shoot her in the back while the person she really "killed" was Clayface helping the clown prince of crime. Though it's implied she did beat up Harley Quinn by herself, this all still happened offscreen and Quinn is also a Faux Action Girl.
  • Jayne Magdalene in the Bionic Commando (2009) remake. In the prequel comic, she's shown as pretty competent. In the game, all she does is get clocked, first clotheslined (literally, with his bionic arm cable) by Spencer and then stomped on by the Big Bad.
  • Zoe in Bully, by way of game mechanics: her profile info says she likes to fight and makes a formidable opponent, but good luck actually getting to fight her. If the trouble meter maxing out for touching her doesn't get you first, it's more likely that she'll just run away. This is because the programming for the girls is all the same, and the rest are generally nonviolent except sometimes against each other.
  • An in-universe example in Cave Story: Sue Sakamoto brags that she's never lost a fight with her brother and is convinced that she's a formidable scrapper, but based on the number of times you have to save her (hint: it's the same number of times as she gets into a fight), even her boast is questionable. Definitely an intentional example, though, as Sue is the only one who even brings up her fighting prowess, let alone tries to convince you she has any.
  • Dengeki Stryker: While all the female Strykers receive substantial hype, they have a poor track record for actually defeating enemies on their own, and seem to contribute mostly by helping male characters to power up. However, this is justified by them being civilians with no combat experience - in the sequel routes in Chou Dengeki Stryker, they've received actual training and are far more effective as a result. Iron Clie, a heroine original to Chou, is just as strong as Stryker Zero right from the start, and after her upgrade into Stryker Hagane, becomes a One-Man Army and the strongest heroic character in the series.
  • The soundtrack to the arcade version of Double Dragon came with liner notes that explained the game's backstory, which revealed that Marian used to be a martial arts instructor in Billy and Jimmy's old school prior to the nuclear war. However, the game itself doesn't do much of a good job of showing Marian's martial arts skills, since she is knocked unconscious by a single blow to the stomach and carried off by a mere mook at the game's own opening sequence. The Neo-Geo fighting game version gave Marian some legitimate fighting skills in order to make her into a playable fighter, although the game barely has anything to do with the original, save for the names of some of the characters.
  • Aurora Bladeseeker in DROD: Gunthro and the Epic Blunder. The other teammates refer to her as a hero and won't continue without her, but all she actually does in the game is explore some roach pits so you have to go rescue her.
  • While Fire Emblem has tons of legitimately badass women, it also has a few Faux Action Girls.
    • Midia from Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & the Blade of Light, for one. She's supposedly a powerful knight, but when we first meet her, she and her squad are in captivity. And she doesn't get better in Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem, when she leads a resistance against an evil Hardin... and gets caught AGAIN.
    • Subverted with Mathilda in Fire Emblem Gaiden. The way Clive talks about her, she seems to be a capable badass Action Girl... then it is noted that she is a Damsel in Distress, being locked up by Desaix. (It doesn't help that a piece of official art shows her in a rather... submissive position.) However, she is really a Badass in Distress, and is one of the better fighters once she is rescued.
    • Juno from Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade is a fairly justified example. She's a level 9 pre-promoted Falcoknight, meaning she would normally be pretty dang powerful, but her stats and growths are terrible. She even needed to be rescued from captivity before joining the party late in the game. The reason it's justified is because she had already been retired from the military for a long time, thus her performance in-game would naturally be shaky. Her husband Zelot has a similar problem, making him a borderline male example.
    • Syrene from Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones is a high-ranking member of the Frelian army, but it's hard to see why from both a story and gameplay perspective. When we first meet her, she and her squad are getting their butts kicked without much of a fight (thus requiring you to rescue her), and she's easily the weakest Pegasus Knight statistically. She can perform somewhat decently if you put in the work, but if you want a Pegasus Knight who's truly reliable, you're better off using either Tana or Vanessa.
    • Micaiah from Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn falls into this, especially in her opening cutscene where she gets grabbed in the Standard Female Grab Area and needs to be saved by Sothe. Then later on, she wanders away from her army camp alone, gets cornered by enemy Daein soldiers intent on killing her and suddenly The Black Knight appears out of nowhere to bail her out. Despite being promoted as General of the Daein Army, she still relies almost exclusively on her unreliable future sight for strategy, gets manipulated by Izuka and the Begnion nobles and has more powerful allies protecting and coddling her at all times, including the Goddess of Chaos, Yune, who possesses her body for the majority of the fourth act and Ike all but taking over for the rest of the game. Particularly jarring as she's supposed to be a strong and influential leader.
  • Mei Ying in Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb is supposedly an intelligent and tough sidekick, but proves herself to be borderline-useless during fights and even manages to get incapacitated and possessed by the Big Bad during the final battle.
  • In the original James Bond game Everything or Nothing, CIA agent Mya Starling is your contact in the New Orleans mission, and it can be reasonably assumed that she can handle herself at least as well as the more actiony Bond Girls. You have to meet up with her in a certain amount of time before her cover is blown. Fair enough, but once you get there, her cover is blown anyway and her entire role in the New Orleans mission is Damsel in Distress.
  • Kingdom Hearts:
    • Kairi in Kingdom Hearts III. She's introduced in the original game as a non-Action Girl, but is gifted a Keyblade in Kingdom Hearts II and undergoes training in Dream Drop Distance specifically to make herself useful as one of the seven Guardians of Light to battle against Master Xehanort's thirteen Seekers of Darkness. When the battle actually starts, however, she quickly shows her inexperience by staring dumbfounded at an enemy who's made a Flash Step in front of her, and later when Xemnas kidnaps her by grabbing her Keyblade hand before she's unceremoniously sacrificed by Xehanort to motivate Sora into completing the χ-blade.
    • Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory was advertised as A Day in the Limelight for Kairi, but keeps her Out of Focus as the events are simply told in a dream world of her creation where every other character—Sora, Riku, Roxas, Aqua, and their respective parties—does all the action.
  • Princess Zelda to varying degrees has shades of this in The Legend of Zelda. Nintendo tends to present her as more active in the fight against her captor and present her as more powerful compared to the pink princess who needs to be saved by a pair of Italian plumbers; however, most of her accomplishments when she is "active" are offscreen (Sheik notably) or doesn't do much overall in the story. Even when she helps in the fight against Ganon, she does notably less than Link and has to be maneuvered/protected by Link while she does her role; although, given Link is a physical fighter and Zelda is a Squishy Wizard, it makes sense that she doesn't fight Ganondorf up close herself and she does kick plenty of ass in Hyrule Warriors. In Super Smash Bros. Brawl, in the Subspace Emissary story mode, the TP incarnation of Zelda is just as much of a damsel and is just as helpless as her "less active" counterpart Peach in the conflict against Petey Piranha up until both girls are freed by Solid Snake, though Zelda does then transform into Sheik and infiltrates Meta Knight's ship.
  • Meryl Silverburgh from Metal Gear Solid was presented as one from the start, though one who was aware of her limitations and strove to overcome them. And in Guns of the Patriots, she did.
  • Metro: Last Light introduces Anna, who is portrayed as the best sniper the Rangers have and thoroughly unimpressed by Artyom's heroics in the first game. Though she does help fight off a horde of monsters at one point (from the safety of a fortified church, accompanied by several other Rangers) her actual role in the game consists of getting captured, getting rescued, and having sex with Artyom. Nor does she participate in the final battle, which is literally the Rangers' last stand. There is a DLC that allows you to play as her, in which she does at least snipe her fair share of Nazis. She still fails miserably at actually achieving what she set out to do, though.
  • Muramasa: The Demon Blade:
  • Ninja Gaiden:
    • Rachel in the Xbox game is a supposedly skilled fiend hunter who kills an Elite Mook fairly easily, but then gets knocked aside by a (relatively) easy boss, and later gets kidnapped by Doku for most of the rest of the game.
    • Momiji in Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword. The manual suggests that she is a strong ninja, and the player controls her for the first level, which seems to indicate that she might play a role in the action as a secondary player character. Unfortunately, at the end of the level, she loses to the first boss and gets kidnapped, where she is held for the rest of the game. She manages to outgrow this one and becomes a competent Action Girl come in Sigma 2 and 3... by fighting like a warrior Shrine Maiden instead of a ninja. Perhaps she chose the wrong class earlier. Gets averted in Dead or Alive 5: Ultimate, where Momiji joins the cast of ninja girls you can select. The difference between her, Kasumi, and Ayane is that her attacks are the slowest, but more powerful... But even a relatively slow ninja is still a ninja.
    • In the original trilogy, Irene Lew, highly-trained CIA agent and the Love Interest of Ryu, suffers from this as she's a Damsel in Distress in the first two games. Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom (which actually is set between the first and second games) plays with this, as Irene seemingly dies while performing a covert operation, but Irene saves herself from this trope when she pulls a Big Damn Heroine moment to save Ryu of all people.
    • Ninja Gaiden II for the Xbox 360 features Sonia, who is also a highly-trained CIA operative. Her story at first mimics Irene's (capture, then saving Ryu's bacon), but she then gets captured again, causing her to fall right back into this trope. However, it's hard to be of any use in the Underworld if you're not a badass Ninja named Ryu Hayabusa. Perhaps a sequel will give Sonia a chance to redeem herself in the vein of Rachel and Momiji. As the original games have apparently been retconned to follow the Xbox titles (and by proxy, Dead or Alive), it's eventually revealed in Dead or Alive: Dimensions that Irene and Sonia are one and the same.
  • The PK Girl actually makes this into a plot point, albeit a somewhat hamhanded one. Action Girl Saffy gets herself into trouble that you have to save her from, causing her to feel that she owes you her life and obligating her to try to save you from your problems... and that coincidentally puts her into more positions you have to save her from.
  • Pokémon:
    • Mars and Jupiter are examples in Pokémon Diamond and Pearl/Platinum. Although they were "Commanders" in Team Galactic, they don't get the chance to build their teams beyond two stock Pokemon and a "tank" (Purugly for Mars, Skuntank for Jupiter), meaning they don't advance that much beyond standard leveling up. However, Jupiter does manage to have an offscreen victory against The Rival, Barry. When they team together at Spear Pillar, they are unfortunately facing off against you and Barry, who took training a little too seriously during the adventure and is ready for Round 2. In fact, once you defeat them in Stark Mountain in Platinum, they decide to finally give up the profession and go back to regular lives.
    • Geeta in Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is hyped up as the strongest trainer in the region, with Nemona in particular insisting she's absolutely amazing. However, her team includes Com Mons, her ace is sent last when it should be firstnote , and her Kingambit is sent out early rather than lastnote . Overall, she's one of the easiest champion battles in the franchise. She seems to be aware of it as well as she remarks that Nemona beat her easily without going all out. She later gets an actual champion worthy team for her rematch in the second DLC, where she switchs her lead and ace positions and replace two of her weaker mons with a pseudolegendary and a fully evolved starter, all with levels 84 or 85. She may have been holding back in her first battle, contrary to what she said.
  • Ratchet & Clank:
    • Sasha, Ratchet's Love Interest, was hyped by the creators as "a female Han Solo". Her supposed enjoyment of video games is never seen in the series, apart from giving Ratchet a console so he could play Vid Comics, and she ends up being the Damsel in Distress by the end of the game, despite having command of a very powerful starship.
    • Angela from the second title. When she's disguised as the Mysterious Thief, she offers up a very tough boss fight midway through the game but later on, she's captured by one of the villains without even putting up a token resistance, forcing you to come to her aid. Though this can be justified in that she is primarily a researcher, and even as the Mysterious Thief, she left most of the fighting to her robots or hired thugs.
  • Reiko Hinomoto from Rumble Roses is said to be a competent wrestler who while her own ability and reputation doesn't match her mother's she is considered to be rather good in universe. In story modes she is usually the damsel in other people's story and even in her own story made she has to be saved by her own big sister a number of times.
  • Shaundi from Saints Row is called up for being this by the Boss in the second game after her ex (a stoned D.J way over his head in organized crime) kidnapped her, leaving her to plan tactic and intel instead of bringing her to a gunfight. She ends up proving herself later in the game and future games have her dropping the drugs and party making her more focused but also a Leeroy Jenkins which end up making her even more of a load until she learns to accept her past self instead of trying to compensate.
  • The Secret World offers the Council of Venice agent in the "A Dream to Kill" arc. Despite looking the part of a superspy, complete with Spy Catsuit and sexy Russian accent, she does little to help you fight monsters and often causes more trouble than she's worth. It turns out, however, that there's a very good reason for this: she's not working for the Council of Venice. Nor, for that matter, is she precisely human. She's actually Lilith, the Big Bad in disguise, and she reveals her real identity to you at the end before kidnapping the MacGuffin girl you were looking for and cutting off your legs Goldfinger-style. (Given that your character is supernaturally empowered themselves, you get better.)
  • In Skate or Die 2, CJ is described as a tough girl who can skate you into the ground, but in the story she hits Icepick with one paint ball and is immediately chased and captured while crying for help.
  • Soldier of Fortune:
    • A rare Faux Dark Action Girl example. The series makes a deliberate point of having enemy female soldiers be weaker than enemy male soldiers. In Soldier of Fortune 2, the female Prometheus soldiers are coded to have worse accuracy and a crappier weapon than their identical-in-rank male counterparts. In Soldier of Fortune: Payback, the female boss character (who's apparently the Big Bad's personal bodyguard) is probably the easiest boss in the entire game.
    • Madeline Taylor from Soldier of Fortune 2. She's introduced in the finale of the first game as a worthy replacement for Hawk, but in the second game we don't see her in combat and, what's worse, she gets killed halfway through the game.
  • Played straight and later inverted for Amy from Sonic the Hedgehog. She was supposed to be an Action Girl pre-Adventure. You wouldn't know this though due to her being kidnapped the only times you see her in Sonic CD and her only real action appearance was in Sonic the Fighters. However, once Sonic Adventure came, she began to fulfill her Action Girl status, and even more so in games like Sonic Advance, Sonic Heroes, and Sonic Chronicles.
  • In the Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace Licensed Game, Padmé says she's been trained in self-defense shortly before you are to fight through a gauntlet of Tusken Raiders and proves to be useless, screaming for help and falling on all fours when struck. Strangely, you get to control Padmé as Queen Amidala later in the game and retake the city of Theed with only a few men by your side. The leap from Damsel in Distress to Action Girl was much needed.
  • Princess Leia is an interesting example in Star Wars Chess. As the game follows the rules of chess the winner has to be the piece that took the previous piece which is accompanied by a cutscene. Leia's losing fights actually see her put up a good resistance before eventually losing, what makes her situation worse is being the only female she is taken care of in some rather simple ways such as being shaken till she loses conciousness.
  • Street Fighter:
    • Chun-Li in V loses all but one of her fights, has to be saved multiple times, and gets herself into the most danger out of anyone in the game's story mode. For the most part it seems she was pushed aside for Karin to literally never lose.
    • Ibuki has shown signs of this herself. In the game's same story mode, even though she "defeats" Balrog, he still is shown standing and is saved from a brutal punch to her pretty face by R. Mika (though Mika's attempt doesn't even much better). However, unlike Chun-Li, Ibuki tends to be instrumental to her own escapes from her own situations. In her own comic, she couldn't escape the net she was caught in by herself despite having her Kunai and had to be saved by Yuta, then later she was captured by an evil ninja, but she escaped with the slightest opening possible.
    • Rose was initially portrayed as the "key" to defeat the Big Bad M. Bison, but she has repeatedly had her butt handed to her by Bison, and even had to be saved from an evil Bridal Carry by Guy before she was taken away.
  • Tales of Vesperia has an NPC called Nan, a high-ranking member of the Hunting Blades (a dangerous guild dedicated to slaying monsters). Despite looking big and impressive, while she does put up a good fight against the heroes when your party fights her, she's never seen doing well against any actual monsters. In fact, late in the game we actually see instances of her being overpowered and injured far too easily by her targets. One sidequest even shows her getting subdued by a monster that your party can defeat in one or two hits (as Karol, her male Implied Love Interest, proves by taking it down like so to save her). That said, Nan is decidedly the only example in this game; all four women in the main party are highly competent Action Girls who kick bucketloads of ass throughout the game.
  • Talis from TechnoMage: Return of Eternity is a victim of this trope. In her introduction, she mentions she's capable of fending off her foes with a sling, with the manual even describing her as a master of it and other weapons, and she's said to have more developed mental faculties than Melvin. In practice, these never come into play, with her never being seen wielding a weapon, casting a spell, or figuring something out, all things Melvin does constantly, and spends most of her time as a Damsel in Distress.
  • Asuka Kazama from Tekken. Despite being said to be a good fighter who mediates fights in Osaka and also can stand up to her physically stronger and demon powered relatives, in a Pachinko FMV she was shown to be scared of and no match in a fight to Devil Kazuya, who preceded to easily Neck Lift her and drop her off a high building. If it wasn't for Jin, she would presumably have died. In the actual Tekken games themselves she isn't much better: she isn't shown to be needing male characters to save her, but after initially being the one who stopped Devil Jin in Tekken 5's canon ending, her plot relevance was swept aside and she was reduced to being the target of a one-sided rivalry from Lili that tends to see Asuka get humiliated repeatedly.
  • The Walking Dead (Telltale):
    • Paige from Michonne may count as this too. She's presented as a Friendly Sniper whose got Michonne's back covered, but she almost gets killed in a fistfight with Randall and when you actually encounter Norma and her goons, she completely fails to shoot any of them dead ultimately forcing you to kill most of the attackers. Though when first meeting Michonne, Paige states she's not a very good shot, even going so far as to joke that it's the reason she hasn't committed suicide.
    • Ava from A New Frontier as well. She's first introduced as this tough, hardened survivor who can knock down guys twice her size in a single punch, but when it comes to actual fighting, she's very useless. She never helps in a combat scenario, gets captured, and mostly lucks out by staying away from danger. Her first potential death is an execution, against which she puts up no resistance; her second potential death is an equally embarrassing way to go out since she gets killed by one zombie jumping her and falls off a bridge in a panic while most other characters go down fighting multiple walkers or at least put up a more determined fight.
  • Zig-Zagged with Elhaym Van Houten in Xenogears. It's a weird case of Gameplay and Story Segregation. She's pretty good in battles, but she's absurdly hesitant in the actual story, to the point of becoming useless several times, despite being a trained soldier. Comes in full swing when she becomes a straight-up Damsel in Distress later in the game.
  • Terra in the Ys series. Although she's apparently a Little Miss Badass, she is never seen in combat, and you in fact have to escort her at one point in Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim, alongside the Damsel in Distress Olha.
  • It's easy to peg Ken Marinaris from Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner as one of these after you learn that she cannot pilot the Ardjet without an AI. But remember, at the start of the game Dingo tells ADA that he'd prefer to pilot without one and she shows him all of the stats he would need to keep track of to be able to pilot Jehuty, so as it turns out, not even the Ace Pilot can use an Orbital Frame without it.

  • Sonichu: The author constantly insists that Rosechu is a true Action Girl and she's allegedly as powerful as the main character, but most of the time she doesn't do anything and gets captured as a Damsel in Distress.
  • Lita in Jack had dedicated her whole life training to be able to defeat her monstrous father. When she completes her training and goes to Hell to face him, not only is she too weak to win against even nameless male souls and hellspawns, gets captured, and nearly raped, but she also gets constantly saved each time by males like Cliff and Jack. And yet she's described as among the strongest female characters in the series.
  • Deconstructed in Sidekick Girl. Superhero Illumina does practically nothing to fight crime and takes all the credit while her sidekicks do all the work. She has gone through several of them before the comic started. One of her former sidekicks got fed up with her and left, eventually becoming a supervillain, one wound up in a mental hospital, and another died trying to save her. She has been labeled as a sidekick deathtrap due to her track record. The reason the titular character got assigned to her was because of her competence and the fact that she's immortal would prevent future incidents.
  • Zenith from Commander Kitty is often played up by other characters as being exceedingly dangerous to take on alone. In truth, though, she wields an exceedingly impractical weapon that isn't even lethal, displays fairly weak stamina, and is never shown fighting without her army of goons to do all the work for her.
  • Lei'ella of Inverloch is introduced as a tough thief-catcher who prides herself on being the fastest knife around. But Varden quickly bests her when she confronts him, she comes off worse in a later fight with Berard (admittedly while in a Heroic BSoD), and Varden later has to train her to fight better. This also gets an explanation around that time — Lei'ella was better than the thieves she fought, but that wasn't saying much because most thieves are piss-poor fighters themselves.
  • Yeon Ehwa from Tower of God. The strength test clearly indicated that she was second strongest of the group and she never is too ashamed to boast of her strength and skill, but fact is that she got herself disqualified for burning up her team when she lost control of her flames, had to make herself monetarily dependent from Prince, screwed up the strength test by tripping and got taken over by some no-name antagonists and had to be freed by Viole. It's noteworthy that the author intended her to be that way to begin with.
  • Deliberately invoked in Crystal Heroes where Marina acts like she's a veteran adventurer when going into the library dungeon but freezes up and bursts into tears once the actual fighting starts. Afterwards, she reveals her experience with adventuring really consisted of doing chores for the real party. Not that the rest of the characters fare much better in combat.

    Web Original 
  • Herula in The Wulf Archives. She's a Cat Girl who may be a Marshal in Thae'lynn's forces, but we barely see her on the job. Instead, we see her almost exclusively in her sex games, or as a Damsel in Distress.
  • Lampshaded by the definite Action Girl of the episodic morality story What Is This Black Magic You Call Science?
    Unlike most heroines in this situation (where the dashing, rich, and studly hero saves her, has them fall in love over the span of five seconds, and they get married or something), Chryseis was not going to be rescued, and she knew this.

    Western Animation 
  • Batman: The Brave and the Bold:
    • Alanna in "Mystery in Space!" The men (Batman, Aquaman and her husband Adam Strange) get in trouble early in the episode, but get out of it without her help. Nevertheless, she insists on coming along on their next mission since they obviously can't stay out of trouble without her... and she gets kidnapped by the villain and needs them to save her.
    • Played for laughs in "The Mask of Matches Malone," the Birds of Prey (in this universe, Black Canary, Huntress and Catwoman) have a song where they brag about being better than all the recurring male superheroes. As soon as it's over, they're captured.
  • The Batman: Detective Ellen Yin spends most of her time being saved by Batman, one step behind Batman, or getting her hand held through mysteries by Batman. A borderline case, as she is competent when the writers realize they have no other choice other than solidifying her slide into full-on Damsel in Distress. However, she is promptly Put on a Bus at the end of the second season in favour of Commissioner Gordon (thanks to The Law of Conservation of Detail) and replaced by Gordon's daughter as the only female protagonist on the series. (She did get a Shout-Out in a season 4 episode, though she didn't actually appear; apparently twenty years down the road she becomes police commissioner of Gotham.)
  • Roll started out as this in Mega Man (Ruby-Spears), but by the time season 2 rolled around (get it? "Rolled" around?) she'd developed into a proper Action Girl.
  • Amberley was this in early points of The Dreamstone, being outshone by most of the heroes and the most liable to be captured by the Urpneys (she usually put up a hell of a fight, but it rarely did much good). During the later half of the series, Amberley became more intelligent and able to get out of scrapes on her own.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic
    • Gender Inverted with Shining Armor. He's a powerful Barrier Warrior and talented enough of a fighter and leader to be the captain of the royal guard, but during the three major threats he plays a part in he's brainwashed into helping Queen Chrysalis, placed under a curse that seals his magic by King Sombra, and left drained by Tirek respectively. This continues well into the remainder of the series, with him either being completely absent from encounters period or going down like a complete Jobber, needing to rely on his wife to be able to do anything of note, immediately surrendering to the resurrected King Sombra, his crying at the drop of a hat, and being outright absent from the Series Finale since his sister told him he'd better sit it out. The one time he does an okay job is in Sparkle's Seven where he puts together a fairly competent plan to defend Canterlot from intruders, but even then he and his men fall for obvious distractions, make several glaring mistakes (such as one that helps the villains out in the finale), and it's not even an action role in the first place.
    • Played straight with Spitfire and her team the Wonderbolts. Every time they get a chance to fight, they get easily crushed by the Arc Villain without even laying a scratch on them despite essentially being Equestria's military. Rainbow Dash inexplicably hero worships them and wishes to join, even though most of her encounters with them end with her having to do their jobs for them and/or rescue them from their own incompetence.
  • Transformers:
    • In Transformers G1, Arcee is pretty much a faux action robot chick. She fires her gun a few times but spends much more time running away or getting cornered by male robots. Female robots got tougher after Beast Wars, getting into trouble only about as much as a single male robot is expected to, with Arcee herself varying depending on the series she's in.
    • The version of Blackarachnia that appeared in Transformers: Animated sadly counts. Needing to be rescued or protected from danger by her mech counterparts in pretty much every appearance, which was in direct contrast to her much more capable and badass predecessor. If she wasn't a full-on Damsel in Distress, she came close to it.
  • A villainous example would be Shimmer from Young Justice. She's first introduced as Kobra's supposedly badass bodyguard, only to end up incapacitated by Robin before throwing a single punch. The exact same thing happens near the end of season one, and in season two, she's ambushed and dismissively knocked out by Miss Martian so that the latter can steal her identity.
  • Demented actress Vera Starbeam from Team Galaxy. She provides an unsafe environment for her fellow actors due to her penchant for real explosives and filming actual battles as part of the Cosmic High TV program. She takes the part of a Dark Action Girl in that she is a real threat with weapons, and did plan the destruction of the actual Galaxy High. However, the "Faux" part is entirely due to her inability to grasp the difference between fantasy and reality (especially since her opinion of Galactic Marshalls being villainous was because they arrested her for unsafe usage of explosives during the filming of one of her films), and that Brett's vast knowledge of the program actually proves key in them stopping her from blowing up the school. Principal Kirkpatrick assumes that some therapy may fix this problem.
  • In SpacePOP, mainly due to being as strong as the plot demands and the series shying away from showing fights, the girls can come across as being weaker than presented.
  • Queen Hippolyta is reduced to this in Justice League, as despite being queen of the Amazons she loses every single fight she ever gets into on-screen. She even succumbs to the Standard Female Grab Area from a rather frail professor-turned-evil sorcerer while she's holding a sword in her other hand and as an Amazon allegedly having Super-Strength.
  • Winx Club: It's not uncommon to see the Red Fountain Specialists easily get beaten by the main villains or monsters even though they go to a military academy. They might hold their own against Mooks and occasionally even take on the Trix or the Wizards of the Black Circle for a short while, but that's about it.
    • Among the villains of the show, Chimera has that reputation. She is Stella's rival and would-be-stepsister, a fairly competent magic user, and the top student of another magic academy. When Stella and Chimera finally duel each other, Stella incapacitates Chimera with a single attack.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): False Action Girl, Faux Action Guy


Kamen Rider Valkyrie

Even though she's the co-star of the film, Yua Yaiba's stint as Justice Serval only lasts about a minute and she spends the entire fight getting easily beaten down.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / FauxActionGirl

Media sources: