Max Payne: Well at least I fucking tried!
Alvaro Neves: [Sarcastic Clapping] Well done with your effort. The whole city is grateful, the Great American Saviour of the Poor.
Max Payne: That's right!
Be it an action movie from North America, a graphic novel from Asia or a video game from Europe - not all stories from all countries are going to be set in the same places; some will be set in their creator's native home, but many others can just as well be set in Bulungi, or Überwald, or SPACE.
However, there is one thing you can almost always count on happening:
- Is there a US Crime Caper about outfoxing an ex-Yugoslavian human trafficking ring and saving the poor local townsfolk from their corrupt grip? Expect the gun-wielding Magnificent Bastard making it happen to be a tough-as-nails ex-FBI agent straight out of Los Angeles, looking for a new start in the old world.
- Is there a Japanese Space Opera show about some Earthlings from all over town on an adventurous romp through space and time? You can bet that The Leader of the crew is going to be some futuristic Osaka youth, along with The Lancer and The Smart Guy, with maybe a few token non-Japanese thrown in for some spice.
- Is there a British based-on-a-true-story war drama about an obscure Asian civil conflict? At best, you can expect at least one British freelance reporter to mournfully narrate it all from the sidelines - at worst, you can expect the entire story to focus on an aid worker from Essex and him getting tangled up in the struggle.
- Is there a humorous Russian film about a Fish out of Temporal Water travelling back in time and encountering Ming Dynasty China? Almost certainly the time traveler's going to be a lazy modern-day St Petersburg slacker schoolkid who ends up 'bettering' the highly advanced civilisation with his marginal knowledge of recent Russian pop culture and a quick aesop in some modern Russian values, usually to either great positive or very negative effect.
- Is there an inspiring South African Sports Story about a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits somehow qualifying for, say, the Cheese Rolling discipline at the Olympics, even though not a single South African has ever ever rolled any kind of dairy product down a slope in the history of the world before? Well, since Underdogs Never Lose, not only will they roll that cheese down that hill faster, more efficiently and more artfully than the Opposing Sports Team - a bunch of Jerkass three-decades-in-a-row gold medalists from Ireland - they will somehow set up a new record in the process through their sheer patriotic energy alone. After one or two days of hardcore practice montages. Also, expect the story to be Based on a Great Big Lie.
These kinds of works are always going to feature some important character who represents the work's domestic country or culture, even if there is no particular in-story reason for them to be there. Whether said character is a fish-out-of-water Vanilla Protagonist following the Call to Adventure or just a mauve-shirted Right Man in the Wrong Place - the principle is identical.
The reason any foreign setting will feature a familiar spirit is so that there'll be someone that the author - or, more commonly, the intended Target Audience - will be able to hold on to and navigate by (either that or because the producers wouldn't trust them to care for the story if there were no fellow countrymen involved). Alternately, this could be a mere effect of budget restraints - not everyone can afford to include (decent) foreign parts, particularly not for leading characters.
Needless to say, this very often intersects with various other tropes of the same bent, such as, the White Male Lead, the Token White, the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, the Vanilla Protagonist, the Standardized Leader, Lead You Can Relate To, America Won World War II and America Saves the Day, and But Not Too Foreign. Mighty Whitey, Strange Cop in a Strange Land and Foreign Correspondent cover aspects of this trope, but are ultimately subtropes to the Homegrown Hero. Audience Surrogate and Write What You Know, in return, are Supertropes.
It should be noted that this often not only applies to the work's country of origin, but that of the audience that's primarily expected to be exposed to it, either because they are from that country/culture, or because it just happens to be very popular with them.
Contrast Token Minority, which does the exact opposite.
Examples of this trope:
- In Chrysalis Visits The Hague, the protagonist lawyer is German-Swiss... And since the author himself is German, it's not difficult to see why that is.
- The author of The Final Sword is reportedly from Denmark, and the OC heroine who is touted as the only true savior of the Citadel and consistently outshines canon swords has very heavy European fantasy influences to her, even though the story is set in Japan and the fic's canon is exclusively about Japanese swords and Japanese history.
- A Kid in King Arthur's Court: The eponymous kid happens to be American, getting sent back to pre-medieval England.
- In Beer Fest, an American Ragtag Bunch of Misfits come to Germany to participate in an underground beer-drinking competition. They proceed to literally beat the Germans at their own game.
- Big Game: It's a story about a president whose plane gets shot down over Lapland. Which president? The US President, of course.
- Blood Diamond is about a Rhodesian and a Sierra Leonese surviving the Sierra Leone Civil War... with the obligatory bystander/love interest being an American journalist.
- Casablanca: Set in the titular Moroccan city during World War II, where refugees from all of Europe gather to escape Those Wacky Nazis - and the main character is the American expatriate who runs the local nightclub.
- The bread and butter of EuroTrip, where a group of American tourists explore a landscape of European stereotypes.
- The Ghost and the Darkness is Very Loosely Based on a True Story about an Irish colonialist building a railway bridge in British East Africa when the site gets attacked by two ravenous lions... but then he is joined by a completely fictional secondary character, an American big-game hunter played by (first-billed) Michael Douglas.
- James Bond usually departs on entirely international adventures and would not grow even a bit less British through any of it.
- The Darkest Hour, where aliens attack and level Moscow. The leads are a bunch of American tourists (and a Swede who quickly dies being stupid).
- Fast Five, which is set entirely in Brazil, is almost exclusively a clash of American gangsters and American cops - both sides have exactly one important non-American character in their midst.
- A Good Day to Die Hard: Both protagonists are Americans battling The Mafiya in Moscow.
- In The Great Escape, a good portion of the leads are American, whereas in Real Life, there weren't even any American POWs in the camp at the time of the escape. It makes the whole July 4th celebration scene a lot more cringeworthy to watch.
- The Kingdom: There is a series of terror attacks in Saudi Arabia - and we follow a group of investigating US agents.
- In Hotel Rwanda, two of the most prominent characters are a Canadian UN officer and an American reporter, both of whom were at least semi-fictional.
- The Last King of Scotland: It's a movie based on the reign of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin - as told by a Scottish doctor.
- The Last Samurai is another prime example, where said last samurai happens to be a disgraced US military man.
- The Mummy (1999) and its sequels mostly take place in 1920s Egypt, which at the time was British-aligned. Though plenty of Egyptians and Britons figure in the story, the protagonist - a former French Foreign Legion soldier - is American.
- In The Ninth Gate, an American bookseller travels around Europe to discover a Lucifer-raising cult.
- Severance: A group of maddened, blood-thirsty ex-mercenaries roam the woods of Hungary... and the first victims to cross their path are office drones from an Anglo-American PMC on a company outing.
- Taken is about a certain someone taking on a Parisian sex slave ring - that someone is Liam Neeson as a retired CIA agent.
- Team America: World Police plays this for laughs, with Americans doing their part to stop a North-Korean/Arabian conspiracy from Paris to Egypt.
- Zig-zagged in The Third Man where the American protagonist being out of luck in post-war Vienna is very much a deconstruction of this trope. With the British deuteragonist however, not nearly so much.
- Vantage Point: The US President is blown up during a visit to Salamanca, Spain Well, his body double does.. The other leads are an American bodyguard, an American newscaster, an American tourist, and some Spanish cop who is the only one to die.
- Gojira had an all-Japanese cast. When it was dubbed and reedited as Godzilla: King of the Monsters! for American audiences, a subplot was added about an American journalist reporting on Godzilla's rampage.
- The later Showa-era Gamera films had token American children shoehorned into stories set in Japan. Daiei did this specifically because their film distributor assured them the movies would be better-received in the US if there were Americans in the cast.
- In the Mexican film Santa Claus (1959), Santa allegedly delivers gifts to all the children of the world, but we only see a few stops in Mexico City. Santa also has children from every country helping at his workshop, and naturally one of the Mexican kids is Santa's right-hand helper and gets more screen time than the others.
- The Thing (2011): In a polar research station filled to the brim with Norwegians, of course the Americans are the heroes.
- In The Bridge on the River Kwai, the secondary protagonist (who is the only one to escape and return to destroy the titular bridge) happens to be the only American soldier in the otherwise British-dominated POW camp. Needless to say, he used to be British in the original book.
- In Edge of Tomorrow, time-traveling aliens invade and occupy central Europe. As an international coalition readies to beat them back, a US Army PR officer leading an American mecha platoon and a British Action Girl more or less single-handedly beats them at their own game.
- Leningrad: It's a story about the Siege of Leningrad (with 3 Million dead generally considered the deadliest siege in recorded history), and the protagonist is a (fictional) trapped Anglo-American reporter.
- The Great Wall is about the Song-era Imperial Chinese army battling an alien menace at their eponymous great wall, and the protagonists are an English and a Spanish sellsword that somehow wound up in China.
- 1632: An American coal mining community gets transported back in time and plunged into Thirty Years War-era Thuringia, inadvertently injecting the war-stricken Europe with some modern American values.
- Dan Brown's Robert Langdon Series can be summed up as 'an American scholar runs around Europe and uncovers Ancient Conspiracies left and right'.
- In Fatherland, an SS officer from an Alternate Timeline 1960s Germany discovers the hush-up of the Holocaust. But ultimately it's up to an American journalist to make the awful truth public.
- Gorky Park is about a Soviet cop investigating the death of an American and his friends in the heart of Moscow - and promptly receives unasked aid from the victim's brother, an NYPD detective.
- Patriot Games: A CIA agent goes to the UK in his spare time, saves Prince Charles' life, and subsequently gets himself into a lot of Troubles with the IRA.
- A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court: A man from 19th-century Connecticut ends up in King Arthur's court.
- The War That Came Early: World War II breaks out over the Sudeten Crisis in 1938. Viewpoints include an American socialite in a Czechoslovak resort, an American volunteer for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, and an American soldier at the Shanghai International Settlement.
- In Babylon 5, practically all the human representatives are from the US or have US connections:
- Captain Sheridan is definitively American, a Midwesterner whose father (a diplomat) retired to a farm somewhere in corn country, and is apparently a descendant of the Civil War general Philip Sheridan.
- Dr. Franklin's origin and ancestry are never made clear, but it's strongly suggested he's African American, and he speaks like an American.
- Garibaldi is basically American—he was born in New York and his grandmother was a cop in Boston—but he considers Mars his home.
- Ivanova is Russian, but appears to have gone to school in the US.
- Despite his American accent, Commander Sinclair is a subversion: he is from Mars and actually considers himself ethnically British (his ancestors were RAF pilots in the Battle of Britain).
- The major aversion is Marcus Cole, who speaks with a British accent and is apparently from a British space colony.
- Doctor Who: The Doctor sure seems to have a thing for British assistants on their galaxy-saving travels. Then again, the aliens love Cardiff too.
- Farscape: the main character is an astronaut from the US, blasted to a faraway region of space.
- Outsourced: A Work Com set in India... and the protagonist is American.
- Stargate Atlantis is one heavy offender, where six out of the ten regular cast in the "Multinational Team" are Americans.
- Star Trek:
- Star Trek: The Original Series is a classic example: a multi-planetary Fictional United Nations ship is being commanded by the American Captain Kirk. His chief medical officer is also American.
- Of the other four captains, only Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation wasn't American. This is particularly notable for Sisko, an American from Louisiana who turns out to be the chosen emissary of the Prophets and thus the messiah figure of the Bajoran religion.
- The overrepresentation of Americans in the main cast of Star Trek: Enterprise is a common fan complaint about the series.
- The Arma series regularly casts you as an American soldier in NATO intervention and/or peacekeeping operations in fictional countries. Sometimes it's actually closely based on Real Life (like in II's Yugoslavia-esque Chernarus and Afghanistan-esque Takistan) and thus downplayed, but other times (as with Sahrani in I or Altis and Stratis in III) not so much. The creators themselves are Czech (and even made a DLC for the second game adding the Czech armed forces), but the intended target market audience was obvious.
- The Assassin's Creed series plays with this as, while the historical protagonists are Arab/Italian/British/Iroquois/French, the descendant characters of the Framing Device are always American/North American.
- In the Resistance series, Russia, continental Europe and the British Isles are attacked by a deadly mutant virus - and you play, of course, as a soldier of an American intervention force, even before it reaches North America.
- This trope is a staple of the Far Cry series, as the vast majority of the protagonists are American citizens abroad. Some games have handled this differently, though: Far Cry 2 allows a wide selection of protagonists, only one or two of which are Americans and the rest come from all over the world. Far Cry 4's protagonist was actually born in the country it takes place in, moving away to America when very young and only coming back on his mother's dying wish. Far Cry Primal takes place long before there even was a United States, while Far Cry 5 takes place entirely in America. The film adaptation of the first game also does this, as protagonist Jack Carver is Race Lifted from American to German, as per the nationality of its director and the actor playing Carver.
- Taken to a new extreme in Half-Life 2 in which, despite taking place in post-apocalyptic Bulgaria where any semblance of nationstates has been destroyed, 99% of the surviving humans still seem to be American (including Gordon Freeman himself, naturally).
- Max Payne 3 is about everyone's favourite New York cop moving his 'practices' to Sao Paolo, Brazil.
- Men Of War: Vietnam's leads of the South and North Vietnamese sides are American and Russian respectively.
- Resident Evil 4 lampshades the trope: The US President's daughter is kidnapped to a Spanish speaking Ruritania and Leon Kennedy (now a secret service agent) is sent to rescue her. The villains enjoy taunting him over how things won't turn out "like your American action movies".
- Sleeping Dogs is a Hong Kong crime drama... and the protagonist is an undercover San Francisco PD Sino-American.
- Subverted in Spec Ops: The Line. The protagonist, an American spec-ops soldier, heads into a post-sandstorm Dubai expecting to play this trope straight, but his attempts to help out end up making things worse for the locals.
- Siren: Blood Curse does this as a Shout-Out towards this tendency in American remakes of Japanese horror films; most of the new cast consists of American composites of the original all-Japanese cast.
- Dual Blades and Slashers: The Power Battle: In these Turkish made Fighting games that can be described as an Alternate Company Equivalent of Samurai Shodown set in Europe and the Middle-east, the character on the roster who gets top billing of sorts is the Ottoman warrior Efe.
- Subverted in the Modern Warfare trilogy. Despite "Common Knowledge" about the trilogy being a jingoistic America Saves the Day power fantasy, only a few of several playable characters are American, and one of them is responsible for the "No Russian" incident that helped trigger World War III, and another's missions revolve entirely around defending American soil during said war. The two most recurring playable characters, meanwhile, are British SAS agents.
...And even though TvTropes is allegedly an international site, this trope just happens to be American.