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Militaries Are Useless

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"What the hell is the matter with you people? You've caused more damage than that goddamn thing did!"
Mayor Ebert, Godzilla (1998)

In some shows, when a country is attacked by some enemy (alien, monster, evil overlord), their armed forces, which are probably made specifically to defend said country, show themselves rather bad at defending it: they use Hollywood Tactics instead of more efficient and logical ones, with a particular reliance on the Five Rounds Rapid, do evil stuff that just undermine their side for no reason, and refuse to cooperate with The Hero.

The aim is to make the Hero the only one who can defeat the villains: how can you save your world when it can defend itself with no problem thanks to its competent military? This is a staple of Superhero settings, and is quite frequent in stories about an Alien Invasion, a Kaiju attack, or a Zombie Apocalypse, because a war consisting of large open Curb Stomp Battles is a quicker way to show how the enemy won than the long and complex battles that would have occurred had the military been competentnote . This tends to be averted when the story follows at least one character in the military, especially when they're the one(s) giving orders, as it's not very interesting to follow the story of someone making bad decision after bad decision, while having the army make good decisions without being an important part of the narrative can take the tension away from the actual characters. In some cases, a middle ground is reached: the military does help the characters, and thus aren't completely useless, but since they aren't the main part of the story they don't take actual initiatives, and let the protagonists do most of the job.

Some genres are more prone to this trope than others, of course. A kickass war epic summer action film can have a thoroughly awesome army with the hero a part of it. A zombie film, almost by definition, has to begin with authority's complete failure to contain the situation. Can't have an After the End story without, you know, the end.

Note that this trope isn't about lots of soldiers dying: that's the Red Shirt Army. A military can achieve great victories by swarming the enemy with disposable soldiers, or lose everything while keeping a low casualty record. This trope comes when the military as an institution is of no use. Either the writer doesn't have them appear, or the situation is always such that the army in question isn't allowed to handle it so that the hero(es) can save the day.

Often overlaps with Artistic License – Military. Compare Armed Farces, which is mainly military humor about bumbling incompetent military personnel, though tends to lack them failing at some specific objective. First cause of an Easily Conquered World, though some countries in Fiction Land can have the worst possible army without being conquered. Can include Police Are Useless and No FEMA Response, where they don't even try to help. Don't expect anything from them when Adults Are Useless, since (most) armies are made of adults. Often overlaps with Conservation of Ninjutsu, The Worf Effect and Tanks for Nothing. Sister trope of Armies Are Evil.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Animatrix: In "The Second Renaissance" Part I the humans had manpower strong enough to overwhelm the robots that they only had to use riot control, ordinary citizens were easily eliminating the droids and did not need to deploy their military. The machines then retreated to and founded the sanctuary nation Zero One where they built high-quality technology capable of economically and militarily subjugating the human race. In Part II, angered over the impending economic crisis, the human race shoots itself in the foot by blocking out the sun in hopes that the machines would wither from lack of solar energy then launch a large-scale ground invasion on Zero One but because the human armies were outnumbered and had slower, heavier and more outdated technology, guess how that turned out.
  • Bleach. The Gotei 13 contains roughly 3,000 soldiers, yet its strength rests almost entirely with its thirteen Captains, thirteen Lieutenants and a couple of over-powered seated officers. As a result, these individuals are always sent to the front lines while the rest of their divisions stay behind. There is also an entire spy network (the Onmistukido) and a Kidou Corp which never get used.
  • In Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, the titular Corps' strenght definitely does not find itself in their numbers, which are in the hundreds, but only in the 9 elite superior members, the Hashira, the additional 4 main characters and 2 reliable side-characters. Only those exact 15 individuals get things done in killing demons stronger than Mook territory, and anyone else in the front lines is part of the Red Shirt Army. Two of the more brutally honest Hashira: Sanemi and Obanai, outright state the Corps are full of useless slayers, and they are only rebutted by the Hashira who vouch for the main characters, who just happened to show promising results after mere months in the force. The official supporting positions, however, like Kakushi the clean-up and transport brigade, and the physicians are useful at helping the main combatants.
  • In numerous Gundam series, the military units are composed of weaker "grunt" mobile suits that are largely ineffective and are destroyed in large numbers by the much more powerful Gundams and other "hero mechs", which are always piloted by the main characters (protagonists and antagonists) of the narrative. The "grunt" mobile suits are always piloted by characters who don't have major narrative roles, assuming they are ever seen at all.
  • Subverted in Fullmetal Alchemist: at the very beginning, Edward Elric confronts the Head of the local Corrupt Church without any help of the army. He later explains that, after dealing with the leader, he sent a report to his superiors in the military, who reacted by sending troops to deal with the trouble created by the collapsing of the church. It's then revealed that those troops were sent to replace those of the General in charge of the region, because they were dealing too well with the population, while his superiors needed bloodshed. Defied with the soldiers from Fort Briggs, who are a Badass Army that take part in aiding the protagonists in the final battle against the Big Bad.
  • In Blue Gender, it is mentioned that humanity's militaries were defeated off screen, but we are never shown or told exactly how. The humans show themselves capable of defeating the Blue without tremendous difficulty in the series, and if they were to use modern day military tactics, the humans should, by all accounts, have been able to win pretty handily.
  • Digimon Adventure tri.: They try to fight Ordinemon in Our Future, but conventional military forces against a fifty-foot tall thing?
  • Par for the course in Dragon Ball, where by the Z era the weakest of the villains is a One-Man Army. In the Cell saga, after a botched attempt to take Cell down, they've apparently realized the relatively efficacy of lone martial artists versus modern militaries and send Mr. Satan instead.
  • Played largely straight in Aldnoah.Zero. Outside of our main characters, the greater United Earth military is incompetent to the point of hilarity when they face Martian Kataphrakts. Most of the time, UE Kataphrakts just stand in one place shooting uselessly at their enemies and not even bothering to use even the most basic of evasive or flanking maneuvers. The story tries to justify this by claiming that everyone is a New Meat to the war thanks to Heaven's Fall killing off so many veterans.
  • Sir Penwood in Hellsing is a good example of useless military, first sending the troops before calling the Hellsing Organisation after massive losses.
  • Kaiju Girl Caramelise: In typical Kaiju story fashion, JSDF helicopters attack Kuroe in her monster form with machines guns to no effect. Not only does she find them ticklish at most, the gunfire manages to hurt Arata by causing a chunk of concrete to slam into his arm.
  • Justified in Neon Genesis Evangelion: military forces unleash all their firepower against the Angels. It is no use, since the Angels' AT fields are impervious to conventional weaponry.
  • Early in Toriko, it's established that even a beast with single-digit capture levels can easily overturn an armored tank. When the Four Beasts invade the Human World, a massive military attack force, including a Kill Sat, are deployed, none of which manage to even scratch one of the Beasts.
  • In Vividred Operation, the military tries to fight the Alone with tanks, planes, and warships, but they only cause minor damage.
  • In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, this is justified. Only the heroines can see the witches. Homera finds the military useful, she steals weapons from them.
  • The JSDF is helpless to contain the spread of the zombie outbreak in Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead, retreating and isolating itself in Toudou, leaving the few survivors in Tokyo to fend for themselves.

    Comic Books 
  • Lucky Luke is an Affectionate Parody of the Western genre, so of course the cavalry is always either critically late to the action, or completely useless despite anything they might attempt.
  • In The Transformers: All Hail Megatron, this trope fits like a glove. The Decepticons conquer Manhattan in a matter of hours, then proceed to curb-stomp everything that gets thrown against them. Cybertronian technology is millions of years more advanced than anything Earth had, and the human militaries didn't know that the Decepticons had Soundwave, who could jam or redirect any sort of guided munition used against them while also breaking even the most complex encryption codes on human communications. Or that Megatron had hidden multiple Decepticons in the forces of the militaries disguised as ordinary tanks, aircraft, and other vehicles. The result was a very one-sided slaughter.
  • Crossed:
    • All attempts of the military forces of the world to try to slow the infection ended in failure and even made things even worse mostly because of the plague spreading so quickly they didn't have to time to react, let alone prevent it. One of the best examples occurred in the Badlands arc. Here, it shows the initial outbreak in the city of San Diego, California and the attempts by the US military to restore order in the city, and, as the epidemic got out of hand, evacuate thousands of surviving civilians from the city to waiting cruise ships and extract them to a supposedly secure island off the California coastline. Everything went to hell when the U.S. Navy fleet sent from Pearl Harbor to protect the evacuation ships at San Diego harbor somehow falls victim to the infection and ultimately opens fire at the survivors, destroying the civilian evacuation vessels still residing on the port and massacring hundreds or possibly thousands. The British army trying to contain the infection in London didn't fare any better and also ended up with the military personal opening fire on everyone during the ill-fated operation.
    • The original arc discusses how the Canadian military attempted to close the US-Canadian border early on to keep the Crossed out. Unfortunately for them, it turned out the Crossed were already in Canada and by the time this mistake is realized, the Canadian forces are spread too thin and are quickly overrun.
    • The Thin Red Line arc downplays this a bit, as the military response Gordon Brown orders, while belated, ultimately does stave off the spread of the infection and manages to quarantine Nottingham successfully. Unfortunately it's implied this all falls apart once Brown is killed.
    • The Quisling arc has two cases of this. First, a group of surviving National Guard personnel are deliberately approached by Oliver shortly after he begins helping Smokey because he hopes they can beat his horde. This hope proves misplaced and the Guardsmen are massacred. Ultimately Oliver escalates to encouraging Smokey to besiege Cheyenne Mountain which he hopes will have enough manpower and firepower to ultimately take him down. They don't.
  • Not Brand Echh: In "The Origin of Brucie Banter", the military briefly tries to take down the Bulk with a tank and two jets, but to no avail. Before they attack, a bystander notes the obvious outcome with irony.
    "Good grief! Here comes the army again! You'd think they'd learn after more than thirty ishes!"
  • In Superman storyline The Unknown Supergirl, an eldritch Abomination named the Infinite Monster slips through a dimensional rift and starts rampaging through America. It is so big that its body's upper half towers above the clouds, and it is surrounded by an impenetrable aura field. The USA army can do nothing other whan wasting bullets and missiles on it repeatedly.
  • Zig-Zagged in Paperinik New Adventures: the Evronians' technological advantage is large enough the alien invaders could quickly overwhelm Earth's defenses (in one occasion an outdated cruiser took on Earth's most advanced military and took out about half of it in seconds before being crippled by its own badly maintained antimatter alternator finally breaking down), but Earth's ingenuity is such that in a straight fight they could cause unacceptable losses, especially if nukes find their targets.

    Fan Works 
  • Deconstructed in Fall of Starfleet, Rebirth of Friendship. The lower grunts of Starfleet are made to lose, so that Lightning Dawn and his team can look like heroes. This has made it next to impossible to win against Dark Conquest, as well as why so many people lose their lives in each battle.
  • It does not take very long for the Titanic Empire to force Earth's militaries to lay down their arms and surrender in POWER RANGERS: Owl Force.
  • Zig-Zagged in The New Age Of Monsters. As usual for kaiju stories, most regular weapons are next to useless against the kaiju. But in the sixty-six years since Godzilla's first attack against Tokyo, earth's military forces have been reorganized and are now equipped with maser cannons and similar technology. And while more powerful kaiju can still easily smash through them, they are capable of driving of and even capturing weaker ones like Zilla or Gorosaurus.

    Films — Animation 
  • At the end of The Incredibles, when the Giant Omnidroid attacks some random cities, the army's response is basically "send some guys attack it with tanks and submachine-guns, then run!". Syndrome's Mooks don't pass up the opportunity to mock this and "take a shot everytime they run".
  • In Despicable Me 3, Balthazar Bratt's fictional TV show "Evil Bratt" had him build a giant robotic duplicate of himself to wreak havoc on Hollywood making the U.S. Army open fire on him but to no avail and the army's commander shrieks at the sight of Bratt firing giant chewing gum bubbles and orders them to retreat. When Bratt does this for real, the army doesn't even show up but that would come to reason since the U.S. Army doesn't have troops stationed in Hollywood.
  • In Wreck-It Ralph, Mr. Litwak's arcade features the game "Hero's Duty" where the player controls a soldier in shooting down giant multiplying bugs called Cybugs. The soldiers are purposely made to be too weak to take on the Cybugs with sheer gunfire for the sake of entertainment to the player(s).
  • At the beginning of Recess: School's Out, a military base containing a tractor beam is raided by the Anti-Recess Legion, led by the film's Big Bad Dr. Phillium Benedict. Somehow the goons manage to decimate security both within and outside the base in just 30 seconds. Either Benedict had some well-trained mercenaries on his payroll, or the base was never well-protected to begin with.
  • Near the end of Superman: Doomsday, the military is sent to arrest Superman (actually a clone created by Lex Luthor) after he starts behaving like a sociopathic vigilante. Superman utterly decimates the forces sent against him, and is only stopped when the real Superman arrives and uses a kryptonite bullet.
    * Right before the battle
    Soldier 1: This is insane, we can't kill Superman
    Soldier 2: You're right, we can't kill Superman.
    Soldier 3: Dead men walking.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • This Trope is played straight so often in Zombie Apocalypse (or other "science gone wrong") stories that it would probably be easier to find out the stories where this is subverted (if not flat-out averted). Sometimes it also overlaps with Armies Are Evil (with the military being brutally Trigger-Happy on top of ineffective, to not mention being the ones responsible for the Zombie Apocalypse).
    • To provide an example, on Bats an entire military battalion sent to deal with the titular killer animals goes to their nest at night and is completely slaughtered, leaving the main characters to do the job. The government operative that went with it is also perfectly aware of the project that made the bats omnivorous and homicidal, delivering in a matter-of-factly "yeah, we did it" when confronted about it.
  • A memorable aversion is Shaun of the Dead, as part of its Affectionate Parody of Zombie Apocalypse films, where the military just comes in and mows down the zombies in less than a day, with complete ease and not so much as a single casualty. They rescue the protagonists and peace is quickly restored.
  • Dawn of the Dead (2004). The military never appears directly other than a colonel promising on television to search for and rescue survivors, so the audience can assume they ran out of fuel and ammo or were all killed since the film's heroes were forced to fend for themselves against thousands of zombies. It's heavily implied that the reason the military fell apart was that almost every military unit accepted civilians who were bitten by zombies, and the military had no idea that bites were infectious so the civilians they took in died then reanimated as zombies thus their fortress and bases collapsed.
  • Train to Busan. South Korea plunges into a zombie apocalypse that gets so bad, given that the country is highly densely populated, that in just one day the whole country is overrun, and surveillance shows that just about anyone not taking the movie's titular train is doomed. Martial law is declared, but in only a few hours, half to most of the ROK Armed Forces have become zombies themselves off-screen. The remainder of the ROK Armed Forces who survived successfully secured Busan, but they give up protecting the rest of the country altogether and send messages through radio for all citizens to come to them instead rather than vice versa, which they tried but that's supposedly how the rest of the ROK army got infected in the first place.
  • The army in pretty much any Godzilla movie (with the sole exception of the 1998 film, which annoyed long time fans). The first time can be excused as they had no idea what they're dealing with, but in every sequel Godzilla shows up and the army attacks do nothing to him and actually cause just as much, if not more, collateral damage. Even the damage caused by Godzilla himself can be blamed largely on the army since shooting Godzilla just makes him angry and causes him to advance and attack, causing worse destruction than had the army did nothing about it.
    • Subverted in Godzilla: Final Wars where humans manage to trap and freeze Godzilla under Antarctic ice. However, without Godzilla around, hostile aliens unleashed giant Kaiju to lay waste to human cities dispatching human militaries even faster than Godzilla ever did. The Big Bad explains near the end that the aliens are planning to farm humans for their mitochondria. The humans realize removing Godzilla was a mistake, prompting them to go thaw the King of Monsters out and restore his role in the ecosystem.
    • Also partially subverted in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah. The military's cold-based weaponry, especially on the Super-X III, excel at freezing Godzilla to keep his temperature from rising for several precious hours and stopping the aggregate forms of Destoroyah. However, once Destoroyah goes into his three larger forms and Godzilla temperature passes a certain point the military becomes useless again until Godzilla's rage and temperature reach the point where Destoroyah is superheated by him and tries to flee only to be quick-frozen by the Super-X III and Freeze Masers and shattered by the plunge to the ground, then the weapons keep Godzilla from exploding or super-melting and only having a local meltdown.
    • Shin Godzilla shows them not only to be useless, but rather stupid, too. While a true reboot, and hence the JSDF in this universe have no idea what they're dealing with at first, the USAF dropping bunker busters onto Godzilla made things worse, as Godzila unleashes his Atomic Breath onto Tokyo, which evolves from black smoke, to a fire storm, into a purple Laser Cutter. This results in half of Tokyo being destroyed, much of the city exposed to radiation, and the deaths of the Prime Minister and much of the Cabinet.
    • Godzilla (2014). As per usual for these films. However, they eventually realize this and decide to just dismantle their plans to kill all of the kaiju (which might not have even worked at all) and just do their part to distract the MUTOs so Godzilla can kill them. Though to his credit, Lieutenant Ford does succeed in taking out the MUTOs eggs which not only stopped the world from being overrun by the things, but also pissed and distracted the MUTO long enough for Godzilla to get his Heroic Second Wind.
    • In Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), the United States military not only are useless, but they nearly very end up handing over Earth to King Ghidorah by using an Oxygen Destroyer to wipe out both Godzilla and King Ghidorah in the water (this only harms Godzilla, who is forced to retreat to his underwater kingdom for cardiac recovery) and without Godzilla to intervene, King Ghidorah is free to take over Washington D.C. as his new base of operations. Even so, the humans helped Ghidorah gain a soldier in Rodan by pitting Rodan against him only for Ghidorah to overpower the radioactive pterosaur into serving him. Fortunately, Dr. Serizawa and Mark Russell are able to revive Godzilla with a nuclear warhead. Even with this boost in strength courtesy of the humans in assisting him, Godzilla still struggled in taking down King Ghidorah though fortunate for him Mothra aided Godzilla by giving him a power boost from her own body's energy while Emma and Madison Russell distracted Ghidorah long enough for Godzilla to gain the strategic advantage. All in all, the US military can be blamed entirely for the destruction of Washington D.C. since had they not intervened, Godzilla could have dismembered Ghidorah in the oceans and ended it there.
  • In Superman II, the United States Army aims to resist General Zod's takeover of Houston, Texas but fail miserably as the Kryptonian criminals are immune to anything thrown at them from bullets to bazooka rocket-propelled grenades. The Secret Service also fail to do anything to stop Zod from taking over the White House in Washington D.C. forcing the U.S. President to kneel before Zod (because Zod threatened to terminate innocent lives should he not). Thus, the U.S. President is forced to summon Superman.
  • The DC Extended Universe zig-zags on this depending on the movie.
    • Man of Steel is a hardcore aversion. While the Kryptonians are well beyond the ability of the military to harm with what they have on hand in the film, the US Air Force is depicted as thoroughly competent and doing the best they can against the invaders. In fact, they save Superman's life a couple of times, and ultimately it is them, and not Superman, who sends most of the Kryptonians back to the Phantom Zone.
    • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice plays it straight more or less, though it's justified case, as Doomsday simply absorbs or regenerates from everything short of Kryptonite. Unlike Man of Steel, their intervention was more of a detriment than anything else- if they hadn't launched the nuke at Doomsday, nearly killing Superman in the process, Superman would've been able to simply punch him into space and end the whole thing there. In the extended cut of the film, the military also tries to drone strike a militia base in Kenya with civilians (including Americans) inside, forcing Superman to destroy the drone to stop them.
    • Suicide Squad plays with it. The military takes heavy casualties against Incubus, Enchantress, and their mooks, and is depicted as comically inept in certain situations, with the titular squad doing improbably better than them in most combat situations despite said squad being of very low quality themselves (the two metas on the squad are simply a guy with slightly-above-human strength and a guy with the ability to turn his hands into a short ranged flamethrower; the rest of them are just street thugs with gimmicks, with the exception of Deadshot, who is heavily armed, competent, and has skill bordering on superhuman), and despite being recruited mainly because they're expendable. However, the Red Shirt soldiers accompanying the squad are effective enough against the mooks, and ultimately, both Incubus and Enchantress are killed by regular US soldiers with conventional weapons.
    • Wonder Woman averts it. The film establishes early on that Wonder Woman is not Immune to Bullets and neither are her superhuman Amazon sisters (who take grievous casualties fighting a tiny lightly armed German landing party), so she still has to be mindful when fighting regular human soldiers. She has a Multinational Team of Badass Normal soldiers from the various Allied nations of World War I accompanying her as sidekicks, and both they and the Red Shirt troops seen in battle scenes prove their mettle as support. Most notably when they take advantage of the hole punched in the German lines by Wonder Woman near Veld to flank their trench line, and when they take out a machine gun that was pinning her down. Props go especially to Steve, who saves Wonder Woman from getting shot early on and later is the one to stop the Big Bad's super-weapon plot via his Heroic Sacrifice. This helps inspire Wonder Woman in her fight against Ares.
    • Justice League is a justifiable case. It's stated that Steppenwolf has been meticulously staying off the grid of any major military force on Earth by being careful and using teleporters (Boom Tubes), hence why he builds his base in the empty wilderness of northern Russia. Only the League responds to the threat he poses because they're the only ones who know about it enough to respond in a prompt time frame, thanks to Wonder Woman and Aquaman being informed by their respective peoples.
      • The same goes for the Steppenwolf threat in Zack Snyder's Justice League. However, the army does provide an impromptu distraction that saves Barry Allen's life in the fight pitting the newly formed League against an angry resurrected Superman who hasn't fully regained his mind, by shooting at the Man of Steel with .50 cal M2 Brownings mounted on Humvees. The Humvees quickly get destroyed by his Eye Beams, of course.
    • In Aquaman (2018), the Brine (a people resembling giant crabs who descended from humans) resist the Atlantean invasion authorized by Orm (Ocean Master) upon their kingdom. The Brine are no match for the Atlanteans and within 55 seconds they are at the brink of losing the war with the Brine King himself forced to surrender his armies to Orm and accept a Mercy Kill to escape servitude to Orm before Aquaman arrives with the Kraken and repels the invasion, thus saving the Brine Kingdom from total assimilation. For the humans, however, this trope is averted by way of dialogue- the whole reason that Orm is trying to conquer the Brine and the rest of the ocean kingdoms is because he considers the surface-dwellers' armies to be a genuine threat that Atlantis couldn't beat on their own, despite their advanced technology and superhuman physical attributes. Given that (despite their weapons having good firepower) Atlantean armor can be pierced by shards of frozen wine and that their hovercraft can be ripped apart by sharks, he probably has a point. Aquaman also notably averts Suspiciously Small Army; the host Orm brings to assault the Brine is huge.
  • The U.S. Armed Forces in the Transformers Film Series are frequently getting steamrolled by Decepticon invasions and every film in the series makes it out that the human military would have easily lost to the Decepticons within days had it not been for Optimus Prime, Bumblebee and the Autobots. Later films subvert it by having the human militaries upgrade their technology on hunting down Decepticons.
    • In the first movie, Major Lennox and the U.S. Air Force successfully take down Blackout and badly injure Megatron (without being able to kill him, only paralyzing Megatron and rendering him nearly immobile) but were no match for Starscream and Brawl. Starscream attempted but failed to stop a squadron of F-22 jets from firing on Megatron. Bumblebee had to take out Brawl, Optimus and Sam together eventually vanquish Megatron and Starscream simply retreated back to space when he realized all his teammates were defeated.
    • In the second movie, the U.S. Army has upgraded their technology and help clear most of the Decepticon mooks in the battle back in Egypt, taking out Devastator and have enough firepower to suppress even Megatron. However, they are still no match for The Fallen, whose telekinetic powers can wipe out even the best infantry units of the American military such as their missile defense systems, tanks and Air Force fighter jets. Though the US Army did indeed help divert the Fallen's attention and telekinetic powers long enough for Jet Optimus to strike him down and easily crack open the Fallen's face and crush his spark.
    • The third movie has the U.S. military failing to create a counterattack upon the Decepticon invasion in Chicago due to both air and ground superiority. It's only when the Autobots arrive that the U.S. soldiers actually start gaining an advantage and ultimately play a crucial role in the final battle since by the time Optimus, Bumblebee and the Autobots emerged from having faked their deaths they helped take down the more powerful and larger Decepticons such as the Driller.
    • This trope ultimately is double subverted in Transformers: The Last Knight where now the US Army has the technology to capture and kill even the biggest, most dangerous Decepticons out there. They set up the NBE Supermax in Ft. Collins that contains the most dangerous Decepticon prisoners on Earth. Even Megatron himself has to go into hiding from the humans to avoid getting put in that prison and forces his scout Barricade to spy on human and Autobot activity to come up with strategies on how can they proceed. So you'd think this was finally an example of the military being effective, right? Wrong. They've completely inexplicably even branded the Autobots into the same category as Decepticons and started hunting them to extinction, and as if that weren't bad enough, the Obviously Evil villains are later able to convince the military to have an alliance with them against the Autobots.
  • D-War, Buraki's armed forces, the Atrox Army which consists of super-strong humanoids, slow-moving rhino-like reptiles that carry rocket launchers on their backs, and many dinosaur-like dragons, take down the local detachments of the U.S. Army, SWAT Team and LAPD, ostensibly due to better technology and the dragons being faster, bigger and stronger than humans. To the film's credit, the Atrox had the element of surprise, even the mook dragons are able to spit fireballs that explode like light artillery shells, and they do take heavy losses due to the humans' firepower. As things are actually presented, though, the U.S. Army only loses that battle due to some of the most egregious Hollywood Tactics ever seen on film (e.g. gathering their infantry and armored vehicles in Napoleonic squares in the middle of city streets to shoot the enemy with machine guns) and would have had absolutely no trouble reducing the dragons to meaty chunks had they even applied the most basic tactics and used smart munitions (even the biggest beasts are Immune to Bullets yet susceptible to relatively light air-to-air missiles; the vast majority aren't even that tough, with the dragons falling to pistol rounds). The Air Force's deployment is a good example as they only send in a squadron of helicopters which fly unusually close the ground, close enough for the dragons to latch on and ram them. Deploying fighter-bomber jets (F-35, F-22, etc.) or even cheap missile drones like the Reaper would have rendered the Air Force effectively untouchable by comparison, and the Atrox plainly had absolutely no counter to weapons with BVR.note  Space Battles has turned "D Wars Humanity" into something of a collective Memetic Loser as a result.
    • The U.S. Army detachment they fight is also unusually tiny, though this could be potentially justified as that small force simply being all that could be deployed in the hour-long time frame. Fridge Logic comes in when you remember that the magical army suffering grievous casualties against a roughly battalion-sized unit of the California National Guard, combined with their largest and strongest Kaiju nearly being killed by three Apache helicopters, suggests that they cannot possibly be as big a threat to the planet as the film otherwise implies.
  • War of the Worlds (2005): Despite the movie's name, it's not so much of a war as it is an invasion and given how powerful the Martians are in both defense and offense, fighting them is a stupid idea. The U.S. military score zero hits on the Tripods, who are well shielded by an energy barrier that can deflect all man-made missiles and bullets. The U.S. soldiers are more of an obstacle than assistance for the film's protagonists, as they block Ray and his children's path to the boat. On the other hand, they are at least "competent" in that they maintain active resistance all the way through the film, including large field battles and urban guerrilla warfare, so much so that people try to join the fight. In the end, it turns out the best military mankind had against the Tripods were the earth's bacteria.
  • In the comedic yet still excessively violent War of the Worlds pastiche Mars Attacks!, when brain-headed Martians arrive to attack the Earth for either fun or an unexplained reason, naturally the U.S. Army attacks them with every strategy there is: air strikes, tanks, armed soldiers on the ground shooting at them. The Martians however have a technological advantage and their spaceships can deflect whatever's thrown at them, including nuclear weapons, rendering all human technology a No-Sell. At most they're able to kill a handful of individual Martians, and even that's not a given due to their heavily-armored helmets and spacesuits. The humans still refuse to accept defeat and keep looking for an effective means of killing the Martians. They only manage to turn the tables when they learn that the Martian's brains explode when they are forced to listen to bad country-western music.
  • In Cloverfield, a giant monster that possibly came from space invades New York City. The US Army fire tanks, guns, RPGs and even send a B2 Spirit Bomber to drop 80 bombs on the monster, whose tough skin renders their artillery inefficient except the viewer could interpret the monster is crying in pain from the firepower. And also the monster is riddled with parasitic lice that are hyper-aggressive and are man-sized which easily overwhelm the US Army. At the end, the US military drop a giant bomb on the monster and its impact remains unknown.
    • Not only is the military utterly useless at its job in killing the monster, but also they jeopardize the protagonists' chance of survival by opening fire on the streets of New York City even as the protagonists have not yet been cleared. They break up the group into evacuation helicopters and in that process one helicopter boarding three of them flies toward the action of the US Air Force bombing the monster. The monster knocks down the helicopter and eats one of them, and the remaining two are forced to take cover under a bridge embracing for the biggest bomb of all that the US army drops on the monster (and them as well).
  • Olympus Has Fallen. The U.S. Air Force only give out verbal commands to the North Korean-hijacked AC-130 instead of shooting it down, allowing the AC-130 to fire back at the Air Force and proceed to cold-bloodedly kill hundreds of innocent civilians and security in Washington D.C. so that the North Korean invaders on the ground can infiltrate the White House with relative ease. The majority of Secret Service men stationed at the White House are shown to be rather incompetent on the battlefield getting bulldozed by snipers, bombers and machine gun operators. The U.S. Army arrive too late when the entire Secret Service is dispatched and Kang Yeonsak repels the Army's attempts to retake the White House using a (fictional) highly powerful defense system called HYDRA 6.
  • Jurassic World. The Indominus Rex breaks out of its cage, and the Asset Containment Unit are sent to go capture it, but as Claire forbids them from using any lethal weapons or an M134-armed helicopter as Owen pleaded due to the Indominus having costed millions of dollars invested in her unveiling at the park, they get wiped out in seconds by the Indominus. Once the staff resorts to the M134 on a chopper, it became too late when the Indominus crashed into the Pterosaur Aviary, freeing the inhabitants there who save her from getting shot by taking down the chopper.
  • In Aliens, the Sole Survivor of LV-426 predicts that the presence of the Colonial Marines "won't make any difference." When the aliens show up, the Marines get overpowered very quickly and become a Dwindling Party. This leaves Ripley — a civilian — doing most of the heavy lifting. James Cameron stated that he intentionally made them come off as unprofessional to evoke images of undisciplined troops in the waning days of the Vietnam War. To be fair to them, they were a platoon-sized light infantry element that had to take on an entire hive in the worst possible circumstances and were being actively sabotaged by Burke, yet still managed to kill hundreds of Xenomorphs.
  • The Peacemaker has an example of this trope set in The New Russia. The Russian Military of the 1990s is portrayed as utterly incompetent. They can't control their own border crosses, can't protect their own airspace and lose not one but ten nuclear warheads. Granted, the nukes were stolen by a highly skilled Spetsnaz commander, but that still can't explain such incompetence.
  • The Marvel Cinematic Universe has this in spades:
    • In The Avengers, two police offers learn that the military is too far away to respond in time to the Chitauri invasion in New York City (the most we see is a single squad of soldiers around a Humvee firing blindly into the air). We otherwise see regular people cleave through their troops and vehicles pretty easily (two of the Avengers are a spy with pistols and a guy with a bow and trick arrows, and one of them briefly pilots a lightly-armed VTOL that succeeds in shooting down many Chitauri aircraft). There's some Truth in Television here: there's no military presence close to New York City, and the NYPD are probably better equipped than the local National Guard. Also, Cap correctly notes the Chitauri are being led by an egomaniac who is thinking about vengeance, not thinking tactically. It should be noted that Cap's plan in the fighting is essentially; "Hold the enemy here until the military arrives to end it." He is counting on this trope being averted, until the World Council panics and tries to write off the whole city. This is averted in a deleted scene when the military finally arrives and they start picking off the Chitauri soldiers one by one.
    • No military shows up in Avengers: Infinity War besides the Wakandan one, without even a Hand Wave as to why (note that one of their members is literally an American Air Force officer and the heroes had advance warning). It's implied that Defense Secretary Ross wouldn't have sent men to help the Avengers even had they asked, but that still doesn't explain why NO ONE else would have, since the planet was at stake. Rwanda and Ethiopia both border Wakanda and have reasonably modern militaries who are perpetually on high alert (given both countries' border conflicts) and have conducted blitzkrieg offensives before, and there's also a U.S. base in nearby Djibouti with a large number of drones that were conducting operations against al-Qaeda at the time the film takes place (a single USAF craft has enough firepower to level the entire Outrider force). Given that War Machine, Bucky, and Falcon alone killed more aliens than the rest of the heroes combined (prior to Thor's arrival) using only small arms and a handful of bombs, even a small unit from a modern army (e.g. a company) would have wiped Thanos's army out effortlessly. For Avengers: Endgame, you could at least Fan Wank it and say that half of the Earth being wiped out caused the collapse of any real world military forces above the local level.
    • The Falcon and the Winter Soldier takes this to comical levels while lacking the potential explanations of the above. As in most MCU productions, the main villains are carrying little to no weapons and armor and, despite their super-powers, are not bulletproof. However unlike most other villains, the Flag Smashers are both highly public and conduct their operations over a long period of time. Thus there is no reason that the entire conflict involving them wouldn't have been nullified if, at any point, a single competent infantryman with an assault rifle was present during any of their scenes. Inexplicably, no one thinks to send a heavily-equipped fighting force after them, least of all the US military. Instead they send two normal guys without weapons (bar Walker's sidearm and shield) to get into fist-fights with the super-powered terrorists (notably, the one time Walker does bother to pull a gun - a century-old pistol - he immediately downs a Flag-Smasher and has to be disarmed of it by circumstance lest the series end there). Moreover Walker and Hoskins seem to be operating without any kind of support team, and thus no reconnaissance, logistics, or oversight. They don't even have a guy in an earpiece telling them where to go. The two of them just move around Europe at random - they even hang out in food courts in costume while technically still on the mission while commiserating about how they have no intel. Moreover, when Walker actually does kill one of the terrorists, the next episode shows him running off into some industrial wasteland while flipping out with no one tracking him except Falcon and Bucky; there was no one around to pick him up for a debrief. The US military is literally just not tracking him or the Flag Smashers, having apparently just given him the costume and the shield and told him to go get into fistfights with terrorists on another continent. If they had tried the same thing with the average street gang, much less al-Qaeda or ISIS, both Walker and Hoskins would've been dead within a day. Unsurprisingly, solving the conflict ultimately comes down to the titular protagonists.
  • An aversion of this trope (and its combination with The Cavalry Arrives Late) provides the punchline for the Cruel Twist Ending of The Mist.
  • In both Escape from New York and Escape from L.A., the special forces of the United States are completely incapable of recovering either the President or the MacGuffin stolen by the President's daughter, forcing them to send Boxed Crook Snake Plissken in to do the jobnote  This is lampshaded in L.A.:
    Malloy: We sent in a five-man rescue team. Within a few hours of landing on the island all but one of them were dead.
    Snake: Hell of a team.
  • In Rampage (2018), based on the video game series of the same name, the military is sent to fight off genetically modified animals (George the gorilla, Ralph the wolf, Lizzie the crocodile) but their conventional weapons fail to even hurt the animals. At first when it was just George and Ralph the U.S. Army failed miserably to stop them with ground units and helicopters but were able to scare them into hiding and taking refuge by sending in even more ground units and a Warthog to shoot at them (which implies that human firepower can at the very least painfully sting George and Ralph). Lizzie at that moment pops up and she rescues George and Ralph by diverting the military's attention towards her. The U.S. Army give her the same treatment - but she proves a lot more resilient and quickly demolishes the U.S. Army within seconds. One soldier shoots an RPG at her tusk - and her tusk remains intact. The Army calls in a full retreat and the Colonel is convinced now's the time to bring in the MOABs leading to the main cast arguing that will only kill even more people than the monsters. And seeing that Lizzie can survive whatever bomb is thrown her way, it was doubtful the MOABs could have had any effect on her.
  • Star Wars:
    • The New Republic military in the sequel trilogy. They utterly refuse to actually do anything about the nascent First Order as the First Order blatantly violates treaties and attacks neutral worlds, despite the New Republic starting with an overwhelming military advantage. This leaves an extremely tiny group of privately-funded Resistance members to pick up the slack. Then in The Force Awakens the entire New Republic navy gets knocked out in a surprise attack by Starkiller Base (because apparently every single warship of a galactic-scale polity was focused in one system). The Last Jedi further emphasizes their uselessness when Leia tries to get into contact with various military factions (presumably the Republic's remnants) to support the Resistance's war against the First Order; none of them even send responses, with The Rise of Skywalker revealing that they were too scared to fight the First Order after Starkiller Base destroyed the Hosnian system.
    • The Prequel Trilogy takes it a step further: the Republic doesn't even have a military until the end of the second movie. When the Trade Federation invades Naboo with their robot army in The Phantom Menace, the galactic authorities are completely impotent to stop them until Queen Amidala calls for a Vote of No Confidence in Chanceller Valorum's leadership. Star Wars: The Clone Wars and other EU material clarifies that many planets in the Republic did have militaries, but they were independent rather than under the central authority of the Republic, and were not fit for expeditionary warfare, so nothing could be done. As a result, saving the day falls to two Jedi and the local gendarme. Further EU material reveals that (at least in the old Legends continuity) the Republic's military was completely disarmed following the New Sith Wars by the Ruusan Reformation. Then Revenge of the Sith ends with an outright inversion: Palpatine commandeers the new Clone Army, successfully exterminates all the Jedi and enslaves most of the alien races, puts down the remaining Separatists, and establishes The Empire.
  • The Dark Knight Rises: the U.S. military's sole response to Bane taking over Gotham and holding it hostage with a nuclear bomb is to send a very small special forces team to infiltrate the city, Escape From New York style. Also like Escape From New York, they quickly die without having accomplished anything. The U.S. government makes no effort after that. The paramilitary CIA operatives at the beginning of the film also get killed by Bane's thugs after being played for fools. Of course, Batman and the Gotham PD end up having to save the day.
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog (2020), the military is shown to be utterly incapable of their jobs, giving Dr. Robotnik maximum leeway in the operation and not caring about his true intentions. Even worse, poor Major Bennington isn't even able to introduce himself or complete a sentence when he confronts Robotnik, simply walking away when he takes over the operation without any challenge whatsoever.
  • Battle for the Planet of the Apes: A hundred or so villainous soldiers fail to kill or capture three intruders despite their superior numbers and home court advantage. Kolp angrily lampshades this, and The Dragon defends himself by saying his men are weak and sick from radiation poisoning. They don't do much better against Caesar's army in the climax.

  • Played straight in most of Animorphs, due to the Adults Are Useless setting. The military doesn't seem very worried about the Earth being invaded by aliens. Even after losing an aircraft carrier (and everybody on it), the kid's hometown being quarantined, and the governor of California making an official speech about how the aliens are invading the world, they simply consider this as a hoax and don't bother investigate. Downplayed when they finally admit that aliens are indeed invading; they send some Redshirts to die in support of the main cast, and give them heavy weaponry to save the world with, but don't have a very important role in the end.
  • The aurors in Harry Potter may qualify, depending on whether you consider them as an army or not. In the sixth book, they fail to kill or capture any Death Eater, put innocents in jail (where they are captured and Brainwashed by said Death Eaters) instead, and do nothing to prevent the ministry from being infiltrated by Voldemort. Even after he (more or less publicly) takes over, none of them seems to resist him, even passively.note  The only known exceptions are three named characters who in addition to being Aurors have also been moonlighting as members of Dumbledore's secret anti-Voldemort militia for the past several books, and even they have virtually no effect on the plot. And that's before two of them get killed.
  • In the first half of World War Z, every single armed force of the world (save for Israel and... that's all) holds the Idiot Ball until the world gets really screwed. While the zombies are being protected by solid Plot Armor (only headshots seem to affect them, and things like napalm and high caliber explosives that should transform them into liquid bits of corpses are ineffectual) armies still make bad decision after bad decision that caused the apocalypse. They get somewhat better towards the end, but not before the situation becomes critical because of their errors, most damningly at the Battle of Yonkers. Interestingly, different armies fail for different reasons. In China, they employ Zerg Rush tactics, which backfires when each fallen soldier turns into an enemy. In the United States, the generals look for a decisive, "Shock-and-Awe" type victory, equipping the soldiers with a lot of Awesome, but Impractical equipment that isn't effective against Zombies.
  • Zigzagged in Day By Day Armageddon where the military was seemingly wiped out and accidentally unleashed radioactive zombies upon the world nuking major population zonesnote , their remnant is ultimately revealed to be going quite strong and actually putting up a good fight to save the world which they actually succeed at.
  • In The Southern Reach Trilogy, the border guard from the army can't contain Area X when it breaks through the old borders. Having no special training like the expedition members, the members of the military either get killed off by what the biologist became or they go crazy and turn on themselves.
  • The War of the Worlds (1898) features this, but too a far lesser extent than the film versions. The British military is able to score some hits on the tripods, but we only see a grand total for 3 or 4 get taken out by conventional arms in the book. This is due to the inaccuracy of the weaponry in use at the time, as the field guns in late 19th century militaries wouldn't be able to hit the fast-moving tripods without getting lucky, and would be vaporized as soon as they were sighted by the Martians. Within just 50 years of the novel's publication, military technology had advanced so much that the film adaptations had to give the Martians Deflector Shields just to keep them from being demolished by Earth's armies. It's kind of worrying to think that the tripods — the scariest weapons H. G. Wells could envision at the time — became obsolete to real life weapons in less than a century.
  • Worm manifests this in three ways, albeit all justified:
    • Endbringers won't even notice anything less than a vehicle-mounted heavy weapon, so infantry are right out. Tanks don't have the maneuverability needed for the urban environs Endbringers usually target. Artillery has too much chance of Unfriendly Fire. Each of the three have their own ways to deal with aircraft and their pilots - Behemoth can zap them with lightning, Leviathan can just ground them by summoning storms and Simurgh... well, you'd be lucky if she only destroys them.. The only time they are ever mentioned directly combating an Endbringer (in Scarab 25.4) is so throwaway one can easily overlook it. Even nuclear weapons aren't powerful enough to kill the things note  so the only viable strategy is to have hundreds of capes Hold the Line until Scion arrives.
    • For the roving bands of supervillains like the Slaughterhouse Nine, take the usual difficulty conventional militaries have with tracking down guerillas or insurgents, then add in the difficulty of taking them down. How do normal ground forces deal with a Mad Scientist like Bonesaw whose definition of dead man switch is "biological WMD", a pyrokinetic who teleports through fire like Burnscar, becoming ever more mobile the longer the fight goes on, or a silicakinetic like Shatterbird who has citywide ability to turn your sniper scope or phone screen into deadly shrapnel? Then there are the Nigh Invulnerable monsters like Crawler or Siberian who could tank an airstrike or cruise missile. That's just the current composition of the Nine; some late members with even more exotic powers would be even worse to handle.
    • Then some are just wild cards. The conventional military could, in theory, get rid of Nilbog, but no one knows how many aces he has hidden up his sleeves as contingency plans, and since he's content to stay in the area he's taken over, no one's bothering to go to the trouble of trying to uproot him.
    • In addition, many of the above threats are highly mobile and strike with little advance warning. It's easier to get a Mover capable of transporting a few hundred Capes to the site of an Endbringer attack on an hour's notice (and for decades, having that much lead time was actually considered a great success for the early warning systems) than it is to transport a brigade of soldiers and all their equipment in that same timeframe. The most powerful force in the world is useless if you can't get it to the battlefield on time - and with things like Endbringers, if you don't repel them in a matter of hours, there likely won't be anything left of whatever you're ostensibly trying to protect, whether you 'win' the fight or not.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In The Walking Dead, the U.S. Armed Forces were wiped out by the walkers so fast that they have already been long gone when Rick Grimes woke up from his coma, which lasted between 4 to 6 weeks. The series mainly shows their demise by scattering military equipment in cities. Ironically, the whole show's premise focuses on a group of survivors fighting for their lives even though they can't possibly be as powerful or large in numbers as the U.S. Armed Forces, although it's possible the reason why the main cast composed of Rick Grimes, Glenn Rhee and all others are surviving while the U.S. military didn't is that they learned how to sneak through the walkers using strategy, quick thinking and planning out how to evacuate as while the U.S. soldiers tried executing all walkers in the shortest amount of time possible, which was a fatally bad idea given there were too many walkers to be killed just by manpower, and weapon firing noises attract even more walkers.
  • In the second series of Doctor Who during the episode "Doomsday", the British military rush to repel the Cybermen invasion but their efforts only cut down small numbers. The soldiers' conventional firearms did nothing against the Cybermen, while their rocket-propelled grenades did prove effective though they only had a small supply of these large, heavy rockets and therefore the soldiers were either killed or taken prisoner and converted into Cybermen. Later on, during the "Zygon Invasion" arc, UNIT soldiers allow themselves to be ambushed and slaughtered twice, even though the second time they had several seconds of Zygons just standing there menacingly, while the soldiers were armed to the teeth (and Zygons are not Immune to Bullets), and the Zygons need to be within a few feet in order to use their flesh-disintegrating lightning bolts. Ironically, UNIT isn't disbanded by the time of the Jodie Whittaker-era New Year's special Resolution because of their lack of effectiveness overall, but because some random bean-counting asshole noticed that there hadn't been alien attacks recently (that he knew of) and declared the whole group a waste of money.
    • Usually, this trope is averted, with UNIT actually being capable of battling most aliens, often even without the Doctor's help.
  • Any kind of military in Power Rangers is rare to begin with. For whatever reason, the armed forces of the United States (or any other countries) never seem to help out whenever the Earth is in danger; it's always up to a bunch of teenagers with attitude (whenever the villains have the upper hand against the Rangers, they'll often refer to the planet as being "defenseless", even despite the countless militaries that could fight against them, let alone the possibility of nuclear strikes). This may be justified by the fact the Rangers take a lot less time to respond to the usual Monster of the Week than any conventional military force could; furthermore, the Humongous Mecha used to deal with giant-sized monsters are shown to be effective against monsters, but not so much against small fighters or other non-monster targets (as the finale of In Space shows us), so presumably the reverse would hold true (ie. there's not much fighter jets or tanks could do against giant monsters).

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Sentinels of the Multiverse, regular militaries are unable to do anything to stop the more powerful, overt villains like Baron Blade, Citizen Dawn, or Grand Warlord Voss, so it falls to the heroes to defeat them. In the case of Warlord Voss, if he has more than ten minions on the field by the start of his turn, he wins automatically as his armies overrun Earth.
  • While Warhammer 40,000 doesn't feature this as a whole (after all, you are the army), it does in a hierarchical manner, where militaries considered inferior to that of the main character(s) have no effect on the story. In stories featuring Space Marines the Imperial Guard are useless, while in stories featuring the Guard the local Planetary Defense Forces are useless. In the latter's case it's a minor meme in the fandom that the PDF is only mentioned in a footnote that's some variation of "The PDF responded but were killed to a man".

    Video Games 
  • The Doom series is known to downplay this trope.
    • The manuals for Doom and Doom II both explain that a unit of Space Marines were sent to fight the demons before being massacred, leaving Doomguy as the sole survivor. Of course, Doomguy then proceeds to bust a cap in Hell's collective ass alone, with little more than a shotgun and a pistol-caliber machine gun. The only "living" troops you encounter in-game are zombies possessed by demons. The manual for Final Doom downplays this by noting that the United States Space Marines easily defeated the first demon incursions in that expansion with few losses... but were overwhelmed in the latest ones when the demons changed tactics, leaving Doomguy as the sole survivor yet again.
    • Doom³ has the Marines getting easily overrun ten minutes into the demonic invasion. Those that weren't killed by demons were possessed by Lost Souls to become zombies. Furthermore, Bravo Team gets taken down by a single Imp, the same low-ranking demon that the Doom Marine manages to easily kill hundreds of times. Despite being a Badass Normal with mostly modern weapons, the Doom Marine is able to cleave through Hell's armies, invade Hell itself, and end the invasion all on his own, while everyone else flails ineffectually in the background (though Resurrection of Evil, Lost Mission, and Resurrection indicate that a few other survivors did almost as well).
    • Doom 3's expansion pack, Resurrection of Evil, has the same situation happening again, with twice as many marines. Apparently, they didn't learn from the previous incident.
    • DOOM (2016) has NeoPhalanx, the military organization that appears in the game, getting overrun (killed or turned into Possessed Soldiers) as usual, though they at least manage to put up a fight, as several dead Possessed (both soldiers and civilians) are found in "The Foundry".
  • Fallout: the closest thing that post-apocalyptic southern California has to an army (besides local City Guards) is the Brotherhood of Steel, who are directly descended from pre-war U.S. Army special forces and act as defenders of the region against raiders and Super Mutant marauding parties. But they sure do go out of their way to avoid helping you. It's made clear that a full invasion of the Cathedral by the heavily armed Brotherhood would have led to a quick victory over the Master's defenses, as at the time they outnumber the Super Mutants and are borderline immune to most of the enemy's weaponry due to their Powered Armor (you can take advantage of this fact yourself). Despite this, the Elders of the Brotherhood are more than happy to just sit back and make you do all the work, not even allowing you access to their vast weapons stockpiles as they send you on your way to face the Super Mutant army. They claim that they can't take action until proof of the growing mutant army is provided, yet at the same time, they also refuse to send out scouts to confirm said information in the first place. They continue taking this approach even after the mutants start actively massacring towns, several of which regularly communicate and trade with the Brotherhood. Needless to say, It's Up to You to save the world.
  • Half-Life:
    • The soldiers sent to contain the Black Mesa incident in Half-Life are pretty tough, and individually competent. However, they hardly stand a chance against the invading Xen aliens, especially when they start showing up in larger numbers and with stronger units, and their directive to kill all Black Mesa personnel makes them an active hinderance to Gordon and his colleagues, who actually have a plan to stop the invasion.
    • Taken even further in Half-Life: Opposing Force, where the government decides that since the military's clean-up is going poorly, the best course of action is to send in another unit — the Black Ops — to clean them up along with the Black Mesa staff and invading Xenians. This doesn't make matters any better, and the Black Mesa facility is ultimately destroyed with a nuclear bomb as a last-ditch effort at containment.
  • Destroy All Humans!: As the protagonist of the game is Crypto, an alien bent on destroying humans, the military arrive to oppose him but because their technology is much weaker and less advanced than Furon technology, Crypto manages to defeat the entire U.S. military within a few days and inaugurate himself as the new President of the United States. Even before and if Crypto never came to earth, the military was already doing a horribly bad job fighting for freedom because Majestic was mind-controlling American citizens with junk food, television, and a government-run by puppets (that includes putting in a puppet as the President) right under the military's noses.
  • Left 4 Dead:
    • In the comic The Sacrifice, the soldiers are quite bad at fighting zombies. If a college dropout, an IT analyst, a biker, and a Vietnam veteran can kill hundreds of infected with hand-made weapons in the worst possible places (airport, hospital, church), do you think that trained soldiers in a base with twenty feet high walls, barbed wires, artillery, choke points and choppers can do the same ? Of course they can't, they're soldiers.
    • Left 4 Dead 2 is an aversion. While the CEDA is quickly overwhelmed by the zombie invasion, the military is both far more ruthless and more efficient at dealing with it; the evacuation points of the army are still operational, and for what we know of it, they do manage to save people from the zombie invasion.
  • Little Tail Bronx
    • Commented on in Solatorobo, where one character asks what the hell the army was doing when Kaiju were attacking the city.
    • There is a proper military force in Fuga: Melodies of Steel, and they really do their best to hold off the Berman Empire's forces, but considering the Bermans have kidnapped the Taranis Crew's friends and family, they know it's only a matter of time before they start getting killed off, so the lack of military help in the game is justified by the time-sensitive situation they're in. This ends up getting Played for Drama in Chapter 10. The Gasco army finally arrives to aid The Taranis... only to meet Hax in his Tarascus super-weapon tank, which begins to wipe out the entire calvary with one casual shot from its Soul Cannon. Fuga: Melodies of Steel 2 is looking to avert this, however, as one of the gameplay features shown is that you can pay a fee to have the military aid you on your quest.
  • Dead Rising has a zig-zagged example.
    • The Special Forces in the first game are an aversion. They are competent as expected for a special forces unit, they send in a company sized force, supported by Blackhawk helicopters to clear the area which they did it efficiently. Unfortunately they also happen to be there to cover up the incident rather than rescue all survivors. And they also happen to be responsible for razing Carlito and Isabella's hometown after a failed experiment involving genetically-engineered wasps.
    • The AZU (Anti-Zombie Unit) of the United States military from Dead Rising 2 is a straight example. They send in a two ten-man operatives to clear out the entirety of the zombie infested Fortune City (which outnumber the 20 soldiers to the city's ten thousands worth of population) without additional backup (no helicopters, IFVs, no fire support). It ends as expected; while they initially did well, its only when the gas begun to emit and the zombies began to mutate that they start to lose badly and their lack of additional support means that the only survivors left are the Dwight, and a couple of AZU soldiers who managed to held off the infected.
  • Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth: the U.S. Marines, FBI, and Coast Guard put in a fairly lackluster performance overall. The Marine squad assigned to breach the Esoteric Order of Dagon temple gets killed in literally the first minute of their mission. The crew of the USCGC Urania all get killed by Deep Ones (albeit after taking many with them). The FBI agents get mostly murdered by the shoggoth in the factory. In each case, private investigator Jack Walters has to take over and salvage the situation pretty much alone. To their credit, the Marines do manage to take Innsmouth from the Deep Ones and their armed cultists, but that all happens off-screen. A U.S. submarine also heavily damages the Deep Ones' city of Y'ha-nthlei, but unlike in the original story, even that is accomplished with the help of the protagonist (who, in this version, kills Mother Hydra to disable the shield she was casting, leaving the city vulnerable).
  • A single necromorph in Dead Space is enough to take out the entire crew of the USM Valor.
  • In Devil May Cry 5, when the demonic Qlipoth tree breaks into human world and opens the path to demon invasion, the human military are powerless to stop even the weakest swarm of demons, with one soldier being the last one alive of his platoon when Nero and Nico bust into the scene to clean things up.
  • The Mushroom Kingdom's 'army' in Super Mario Bros. is pretty much beyond useless, consisting of a bunch of Toad guards who usually get incapacitated four minutes (maybe seconds?) after Bowser/the Big Bad and their forces arrive and show as much knowledge of tactics as a rock. In the remakes of Super Mario Bros. 3 the entire 'defense' for each of the world's kings is one Toad guard who charges Leeroy Jenkins style at one Koopaling and immediately gets knocked out on contact. And that's the proactive ones. The others just run away scared the minute trouble shows up.
  • The Hyrulian army in The Legend of Zelda is pretty useless when they appear:
    • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past: The army refused to follow Agahnim when he usurped the King, but get brainwashed for their resistance, and kidnap their own princess. The Hylian Soldiers are among the weakest enemies in the entire game, their armor not helping their defense in the slightest, and are easily defeated by Link.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: The soldiers get completely wiped out by Ganon's forces when trying to defend the castle and town. Beforehand, Link was able to sneak past them, and even a random villager noted he was able to as well, until he got stuck in a small crawlspace.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures the Hylian Soldiers get brainwashed again, rely on Zerg Rush, and still fall in droves.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess: The Hyrule Army get utterly massacred by Zant's shadow beasts ten minutes after they walk through the front door. Keep in mind that this is the entire batallion vs maybe two shadow monsters, the former of which are supposedly armed and the latter who aren't. The most you can say for them is they always at least bravely stood their ground. Twilight Princess goes far enough to actually make fun of this with several characters pointing out how useless and cowardly the army is, and with the way the soldiers tremble with fear and keep their distance (and don't impede you at all) if you charge through the castle town in your wolf form. They'll even outright flee if you Wolf Link does a sudden movement.
    • Downplayed in Hyrule Warriors, at least as long as they have a skilled commander/warrior/mage in their midst. Still, the Hylian Captain is infamous for his cries of help over even the most simple foes.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: While the Hyrulean Army gets utterly annihilated in the backstory to an even greater extent than usual, the set-up takes pains to justify it this time around. The main culprits behind the total bloodbath were the Ganon-possessed Guardians, an army of powerful Magitek robots that the Kingdom of Hyrule had originally dug up for the express purpose of fighting against Ganon. Not only were the soldiers woefully outgunned, they hadn't anticipated their own weapons being used against them. We never get to see whether or not the army was truly useless as usual under normal circumstances, but it's clear the odds were heavily stacked against them this time, and compared with previous games NPCs are far more likely to praise the strength and bravery of those doomed soldiers.
  • It's noted right at the start of Lufia & The Fortress of Doom that the Alekian army has grown soft and useless over nearly a century of peace, to the point that barely any soldiers even show up to drills anymore, and when a nearby town is suddenly annihilated by monsters, the army is too tied up in red tape to do anything despite fears that the same thing could happen to them. Similarly, though the leader of the Lorbenian army becomes a party member, the Lorbenian army itself apparently has no interest in thwarting a quartet of Physical Gods that nearly destroyed the world almost a century ago.
  • The volunteer army in Sin and Punishment that was organized to fight the Ruffians are apparently so supremely bad at their job that the La Résistance movement that Saki belongs to was put together just to take both of them out. The game then starts with the resistance movement getting completely wiped out down to three people.
  • Star Fox are usually required pull the Cornerian Army out of trouble, and usually arrive late for the Corneria Defense Force (especially in Star Fox: Assault, when they end up having to kill most of the Aparoidified CDF soldiers left alive on Corneria).
  • In the Resident Evil series, the police, SWAT team, and even Umbrella's own anti-outbreak forces are swiftly and almost completely wiped out by the zombies in a matter of hours. However, as you find out over the course of the second and third games all three are fully justified: the police and SWAT team were actively being sabotaged by both Umbrella and their own corrupt police chief who wanted to contain the virus and hunt the cops for sport, respectively. Umbrella's own UBCS was intentionally sent in to serve as cannon fodder so a few select members of the teams could gather combat data and destroy the evidence. Conversely, the Delta Force soldiers found in The Dead Factory actually faired quite well, all things considered — true they were slaughtered, but they took out five Tyrant T-103s armed only with MP5s in the process. Yeah, that big invincible asshole who chased Leon and Claire all throughout the game, was only pissed off by being dropped in molten steel, and ultimately took a rocket launcher to bring down? Delta Force took out five of them with 9mm automatics.
  • The U.S military takes massive losses in Parasite Eve. By the time the story is over, they've lost squadrons of helicopters, planes and most, if not all, of a Carrier Battle Group in their attempt to stop Eve. This gets very much averted in the sequel, where the military absolutely rolls over the GOLEMs, but then comes back in full force for The 3rd Birthday.
  • In The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, the Provincial Armies see doing anything that would justify their employers (The four most powerful non-royal nobles in Erebonia) having a private army (including tanks) as beneath them, instead focusing on helping their masters maintain their political power (something they do to the point of outright treason). The few times they're seen even attempting to resolve issues in the first game, they deliberately make things worse. The Imperial Army doesn't look much better in the first game, with the entire 1st Armored Division (which, as it was in charge of the capital's defense, was presumably an elite unit) getting wiped out by a surprise attack, only for a scratch defense force of nine army cadets, half a dozen academy instructors, and a maid (granted, the instructors were a mix of elite veterans, an A-ranked Bracer and a Dominion of the Gralsritter, and the maid was secretly an off-duty Ouroboros Enforcer, but still) to do a better job of slowing down the force that wiped them out less than an hour later. In the second game, once the surprise of the sudden rebellion wears off and the surviving units get a feel for what the enemy's new weapons systems are capable of, the Imperial Army looks much more competent. There are two cases of useless militaries in the third game, but both times it was the fault of their civilian superiors: in one case the Imperial Army was ordered to stand down during a crisis because the Chancellor wanted the Provincial Army to try and fail to handle the situation first in order to make them look bad, and in the second the Provincial Army's sensible deployment plans kept getting overridden by the whims of the self-serving incompetent who was the acting Duke, allowing a crisis to form and escalate.
  • Warhammer The End Times: Vermintide has the State Troops of Ubersreik (stated to consist of twelve units of halberdiers, eight units of crossbowmen, and three engineer units to fire and maintain the town's cannon batteries) being overwhelmed by the Skaven within hours. You come across a lot of their corpses, but never any living help - or dead Skaven for that matter. It's not fair to regard them too badly for losing, as they were swarmed by tens of thousands of enemies tunneling into the city itself, but they come off very poorly compared to the protagonists. Repelling the invasion is entirely in the hands of the the Ubersreik Five, who succeed. Later, despite having months to rebuild its defenses and the Skaven Clan Fester having incurred quintuple-digit casualties against the U5, the city then falls almost immediately when they're absent. Saltzpyre has a line lampshading this in the Horn of Magnus mission, when the team arrives to find their supposed reinforcements already dead.
    Saltzpyre: The garrison has been slaughtered! Doesn't anyone in this town put up a fight!?
    • This is mostly the case in Vermintide II as well; Helmgart, Ussingen, Bogenhafen, and so on are littered with corpses of State Troops and stashes of arrows, bullets, and gunpowder they left behind, and the U5 still have to carry the fight largely alone. However, the garrison of Fort Brachsenbrucke puts up a stiff fight against the combined Skaven/Norscan offensive with their muskets and cannons and can be seen repulsing an assault in the background of the titular level; they still need to be bailed out by the U5 (who, as usual, proceed to kill over a thousand enemies and take several key tactical positions in about half an hour) but it's made clear that the battle was not going easy for Fester and the Rotbloods.
  • [PROTOTYPE] is a rare zombie apocalypse story that takes place before things have fallen apart, and so is unable to simply skip over the part where the military somehow fails to hold back the zombies. The player can hop in a chopper or thermobaric tank and clear out every hive in about thirty minutes, yet in the hands of the Marines these weapons are insufficient for gaining, or holding, an inch of ground. Even when they develop a gas that kills infected and is harmless to humans they are somehow unable to capitalize on it. The sequel is much the same but at least attempts to justify it by having Blackwatch be plagued with corruption and their command structure infiltrated by Evolved who are actively sabotaging their efforts.

  • Trevor (2020): Played with:
    • Private Young and Private Shelley don’t accomplish anything when fighting Trevor except maybe accidentally kill Dr. Clay, and themselves killed about 30 seconds later, although it's justified given that it’s only two of them against Trevor.
    • Enid and Dr. Stern have faith that once the military gets to the facility in force, the trope will be soundly Averted.

    Web Original 
  • We Are All Pokémon Trainers: The Pokepanese military in Kanto more or less held in Vermilion and let Lanius' forces run roughshod over Celadon and Saffron after they attacked, though this changed once Lt. Surge came back and rallied them into fighting back. They also proved mostly useless in the initial portion of the RtAU arc, though this was because the dragons were using Lost Technology they were ill prepared for, and monification created mass chaos.
  • When Hadriex finds the other peacekeepers he spends a good minute sarcastically mocking them for their complete and utter uselessness.

    Western Animation 
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • Nobody expected the Royal Guards to stand up against Nightmare Moon, but even with warning of a potential attack and being fully mobilized and ready, they are subdued by the changeling army in about ten minutes. Contrast the six main characters, who, without the Elements of Harmony or formal training, and being caught off guard, take down hundreds before finally being grossly outnumbered and surrendering. While it's largely Played for Laughs, they can't even handle recovering Princess Celestia's pet bird. In the Season 4 premiere, where Princesses Celestia and Luna go missing, Princess Twilight Sparkle instructs the Guards to continue the search, only for Twilight and friends to find them themselves. In To Where And Back Again they were absolutely incapable of preventing Queen Chrysalis's changelings from invading and replacing every single key member of Equestria's government, despite it literally being the exact same tactic she used last time. In the Season 8 finale they finally succeeded at something, and it was capturing a now-powerless child who had already been defeated. Someone give them a gold star. Even their captain Shining Armor, despite being an allegedly powerful good leader, spends every major threat incapacitated, once actually stood behind his infant daughter while she fought enemy soldiers (no, really), and whose finest hour is throwing his exhausted-to-the-point-of-collapse wife at the threat so she could deal with it instead. It's very telling that Queen Chrysalis recognized that taking him out would render the country defenseless, to the point that she didn't even bother having a plan to deal with the guards. One wonders exactly how bad Zephyr Breeze must have been at his job to not only get reprimanded, but actually fired from this organization...
    • The Wonderbolts have a similarly bad track record. Nobody expect them to stand a chance against Tirek, but getting defeated by flying straight into a water tower that is nonchalantly held in their flight path by Spike certainly doesn't win them any points, and failing to save a single falling pony as well as ultimately needing to be rescued themselves after the attempt is just sad. Later episodes have apparently rolled with this, at least acknowledging it for laughs, such as having Spitfire do Matt Foley's (an abrasive loud-mouthed oaf who is terrible at his job) "Living in a van down by the river" bit nearly word-for-word.
    • The Season 5 finale, through alternate Bad Future scenarios, shows exactly how feeble both these groups are. Without Twilight and Co, every timeline ultimately fell to some villain. Their best showing is in Sombra's future, where all of Equestria has to devote itself entirely to the war effort either as front line soldiers (including Princess Celestia) or support to just barely hold Sombra's forces off, who are composed entirely of regular (albeit brainwashed) untrained civilian ponies with no combat training whatsoever.
    • And to top it all off, while Sparkles Seven largely showed them in a rather positive light with them putting together a fairly competent plan to defend Canterlot that involved anti-flight and anti-magic defenses, they never-the-less made boneheaded mistakes like falling for very obvious distractions and not considering that their defenses would impair their own forces who also relied on flight and magic. The Legion of Doom even uses their anti-magic defense, made from pieces of Queen Chrysalis's throne no less, against them when they take and destroy Canterlot with absolutely no resistance.
  • TaleSpin: Zigzagged. The first episode establishes that the Cape Suzette cliff guns are a credible defense capable of driving back Don Karnage. Karnage (and the Panda-La army) are able to get past them from time to time with significant trickery or a super-weapon of some kind but in general the cliff gunners are portrayed as brave in the middle of battle and savvy enough to see through a lot of Karnage's attempts to get past them (like by covering the Iron Vulture in a cloud of smoke). The pilots for the city's air defense are also no slouches fighting bravely in the face of danger (with one making a particularly good showing in the Panda-La episode until the heat-seeking rockets come out) but in the end they'll get overwhelmed and Baloo is the one who will save the day with a flying trick.
  • In The Transformers, the human military are unable to fight off the Decepticons. The episode "Megatron's Master Plan, Part 2" has a direct fight where only Decepticons remained on earth after the Autobots were expelled to space. Starscream and the Seekers wipe out the U.S. Air Force within seconds and Megatron gloats to the Witwicky family that the U.S. Armed Forces were the best warriors Earth had to offer.
  • One reason why the U.S. military scarcely appears in Transformers: Prime is that Agent Fowler clears them out of any potential Decepticon attack because Decepticons are too powerful and strong for humans to challenge as only Autobots can counteract Decepticon actions of war. The U.S. military's uselessness is visually demonstrated in the Season 3 premiere when Megatron uses his newfound fortress Darkmount to wipe them out immediately (since the Autobots were unavailable).
  • Turtles Forever: When Utrom Shredder unleashes the Technodrome upon New York City, the U.S. Army and Air Force attempt a counter-offensive attack with tanks, fighter jets and ground troops but they get eliminated within seconds and Shredder laughs at their failure.
    Utrom Shredder: (evil laughs) Did they really believe their military could stop this Technodrome? Fools!
  • In Justice League, the US military folded almost immediately with the Thanagarian invasion, after offering only token resistance. It was implied, though not clearly stated, that the aliens' advanced technology disrupted human electronics and weapons, leaving it to the superheroes to save the day. Otherwise, they normally don’t have issues fighting aliens, as Superman: The Animated Series has shown when they were dealing with Darkseid’s forces.

    Real Life 
  • The Danish Army in World War II had not fought a war since 1864 (which it lost), and so was small and largely geared to ceremonial duties in Copenhagen. Denmark also had the misfortune of being situated in a strategic spot between Great Britain and Nazi Germany as both countries scrambled to invade neutral Norway. When war came in 1940, the Danes were pragmatic enough not to resist, knowing this would be futile, and the Germans were in Copenhagen within twelve hours. Danish resistance to the Nazis took more creative - and telling - forms.
  • France got this reputation after World War II, where they were the first major power to capitulate to Nazi Germany. The reality is a lot more complicated, of course (with internal political divisions contributing to defeat, among other things), but that didn't stop Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys from becoming a global reputation. It is worth noting that they did manage to inflict about 150,000 casualties on the Germans in the Battle of France (compared to, for example, about 1,000 Coalition dead and wounded from all causes in the First Gulf War), so while they were soundly defeated, they still didn't exactly go quietly.
    • Not to forget that the French (particularly the Free French and La Résistance) continued their struggle, often with insane valor. All in all, France's armies always had a pretty good track record of winning wars before that (as in: they won more than they lost).
  • The Legion Noire was a French-Irish invasion force that landed in Wales during the Napoleonic Wars in 1797. It was supposed to help French war efforts on mainland Europe by drawing British units away from the actual fighting and demoralizing the British countryside, but instead the Legion just plundered a couple of vineyards, got drunk, and ended up surrendering to a bunch of local women whom they mistook for Grenadiers from afar (due to the slightly similar headgear).
  • The Australian Army was called in to cull an out of control Emu population in 1932. The Emus won the first round and forced the army to withdraw.
  • The Afghan military was militarily defeated when the Taliban increased their attacks on them alongside the police and the National Directorate of Security in early 2021 after President Donald Trump and the Taliban signed the Doha Agreement. Most soldiers/officers chose to leave the battlefield due to lack of supplies, "persuasion" from village/tribal elders to leave instead of facing the Taliban head on, corruption/incompetence from military/political leaders and the assassination of various Afghan military personnel by Taliban fighters in order to cripple the organization. Those who resisted either joined with various anti-Taliban militia forces with others who left the Afghan National Police (And other law enforcement units) and the NDS after Kabul was captured by the Taliban or were allowed to leave Afghanistan alongside NATO forces.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Armies Are Useless


A Gross Misunderstanding

Due to his background as a member of the US Marine Corps, Brony analyst and reviewer Josh Scorcher aka "Firebrand" has a number of gripes about the nature of the Militaries Are Useless Trope and how Armies are portrayed in most forms of media because of it, along with focusing on how even Friendship Is Magic keeps falling into the same pitfalls that most other cartoons have in-regards to the effectiveness and competency of armed forces by listing the numerous issues regarding both the Royal Guard and The Wonderbolts in the episode Rarity Investigates.

How well does it match the trope?

4.58 (19 votes)

Example of:

Main / MilitariesAreUseless

Media sources: