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Mistaken for Badass

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The Tourist is a monster. After intercepting The Courier and stealing The Package, he's liquidated or turned every agent, assassin, and hitman sent to retrieve it or kill him. Every spy agency this side of the Atlantic is scouring their records, trying to discover who he is, what he knows and who he works for, but one question burns brightest: "What does he want?"

To find that nice local bakery that makes the chocolate croissants.

Somehow The Protagonist has been Mistaken for Badass, through no merit of his own other than some well-timed ducking, a little obliviousness, and a lot of incredible coincidences. He's a bumbling, perfectly normal Nice Guy that has gotten mixed up in a very real, serious, and deadly affair. Maybe he muddled his way through some Spy Speak and convinced the CIA he's the MI6 operative they sent, or somehow knocked out or killed a highly lethal assassin before they made a hit, or otherwise had the MacGuffin fall on his lap. Or he's the only survivor of that nasty mess-up he was caught in, due to inhuman level of luck, maybe not even realizing just how deadly it was. Everyone believes an Innocent Bystander would have no chance of doing this, so not only must The Tourist know what's going on, but he has also proven himself as the most competent of all the dangerous people involved. It helps a lot that there are often several sides who will never sit together and add up everything they know about the case, but will watch each other just enough to overhear their rivals' suspicions and assume that the other side "knows something".

This guy does not just survive the attentions of those interested, but does so in a way that convinces the bad guys he's a Badass who is Made of Iron. If someone insists he "drop the act", he'll confusedly answer he doesn't know what they're talking about, he's just Joe Average and wants them to quit trying to kill him. Of course, they conclude he's using a deep cover Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass act. All things considered, this is not that far from the truth.

This character can be mistaken for The Paragon of any profession that requires a lot of training and competence, not just spies but also martial artists, cops, thieves, or what not.

In the most extreme instances of this trope, the protagonist doesn't even notice what he's doing. He may kill every assassin dispatched against him with casual obliviousness, disassemble the evil plot with trivial ease, and otherwise destroy the bad guy's evil empire without ever becoming the wiser. Sometimes, they do clue in to what's going on about half way through the plot but still keep it up anyway.

This can be done completely straight in an action movie or drama, with the character panicking once he realizes just what he's gotten into. On the flip side, this can be amazingly funny in a comedy by using both slapstick methods of beating opponents and making fun of all these "professional" organizations out to get our hero.

Clueless Detective may be overestimated the same way. See also Mistaken for Spies, Inspector Oblivious, and And You Thought It Was a Game. Compare Seemingly Profound Fool.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • This is what the entire plot of Angel Densetsu revolves around. The main character is so scary looking that everyone mistakes him for an inhuman monster, everything he does is misinterpreted as something threatening and his social awkwardness doesn't help. His "reputation" grows to the point that gang leaders challenge him to fights all the time. Fortunately, usually Defeat Means Friendship. The kicker? He's quite possibly the most gentle, kind Actual Pacifist in the world.
  • Sakaki of Azumanga Daioh is looked up to by fellow classmates due to her looking "cool" and "mysterious". In actuality, she's just very shy.
  • Furuichi in Beelzebub is somewhere between this and Action Survivor. Yes, his best friend is the biggest delinquent in all Japan, but Furuichi can't fight to save his life. Until he got tissues to summon demons from the Behemoth Squad (and Behemoth himself) to give him their powers.
    • This reputation both helps and hinders him. On the one hand, he's considered a ringleader of delinquents by many school officials and so whenever the actual delinquents do anything worth punishing, his name will at least come up if he doesn't get punished as well. On the other hand, he's managed to unite several delinquent groups to help fight Lord En and they really only listen to him because he had this reputation.
    • Also, Furuichi knows that this rep is still going to bite him more than be helpful. He knows he's the Butt-Monkey.
  • Slightly meta example, but Rotton the Wizard from Black Lagoon. When he makes his first appearance in a bar, he sits quietly in the corner, in his Badass Longcoat and Cool Shades, armed with two broom-handle Mauser pistols. Most people — both characters and fans — thought he was the most badass motherfucker in history, based on appearances. Subverted later in the episode, when everyone was proven to be dead wrong. Though, he does salvage some of his reputation by being the only one smart enough to bring a bullet-resistant vest.
  • In Cromartie High School, Kamiyama's clean-cut appearance as well as his choice to enter a school of delinquents initially earned him a reputation as a wolf in sheep's clothing.
  • Mara Shin of Dorothy of Oz has a four million dollar price on her head for allegedly killing Selluriah, the Witch of the East. However, Mara is actually just a normal high school kid who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and got blamed for it because a hysterical soldier accused her of it after finding her standing over Selluriah's dead body and wearing her magical boots. It also doesn't help that she allows Abee and Number 50 to escape from some Eastern soldiers who want them dead for being Western spies, or that she helps wayward scientist Dr. Nedbar escape from Tick Tock with the Witch of the South's newest and deadliest creation. Or that she travels with three supposedly dangerous escaped biological experiments, all of whom are incredibly loyal to her and will lay down their own lives to protect her. The fact that she doesn't have very good control of her powers in her witch form contributes a bit to the mess as well...
  • Mister Satan (Hercule/Hercule Satan) from Dragon Ball. Everyone who doesn't know the Z-Fighters assumes that Mister Satan is the World's Strongest Man who killed Cell. Although he is stronger than average humans, he would immediately die if he fought any of the Z-Fighter enemies (however, he always manages to survive). This status ends up being beneficial: Satan asks the people of earth to lend their energy in the final battle with Majin Buu, and his status convinces all of them to do as he says, unknowingly giving their energy to Goku.
  • In Gundam Build Divers Re:RISE, it turns out team BUILD DiVERS is technically this. Freddie had watched the original Build Divers in action and when his town was under attack, he called out for Build Divers for help. He ended up seeing Hiroto, Kazami, May, and Parviz and before he could realize the mistake, Kazami forced the "mission" to start.
    • Kazami himself is this. When he's first introduced, he boasts about how he worked alongside Build Divers and Avalon, but as the series progresses, we see that he may be a keen builder, but his piloting skills suck. Freddie and the other villagers still think he's this, but it takes him a while to get it through his head to actually do something.
  • In one scene of Juuni Senshi Bakuretsu Eto Ranger, during the first encounter with the extremely powerful Genen the Cruel, the other Eto Rangers have all been driven back, but Bakumaru is staring her down in a display that even gets her complimenting him on his bravery. After she's forced to leave, he's still in that defiant position; the others then realized that he wasn't standing up to her, he was frozen in peril and fainted standing up because he's a mouse and she's a cat.
  • In chapter 15 of Kaguya-sama: Love Is War, Kaguya sees that Shirogane is entirely immune to her feminine charms and concludes that he must have great self-discipline. He is actually too terrified of a beetle that's also in the room with them to even acknowledge her existence.
  • Kazuo gets this in Kengan Ashura. Due to not understanding business jargon, he acts completely unconcerned when the director of Ohma's first opponent wants to make a very expensive bet on their fight, leading that director (who is specifically mentioned as being fairly smart) to believe he has Nerves of Steel. Later on, he accidentally hits Julius' head with a thrown can (he didn't even see the guy) just when he was about to break Sawada's legs. Nikaido gets convinced he is extremely skilled for doing that perfectly from a blind spot and later dodging his nearly invisible needle (he bowed at the exact right time to apologize for throwing the can), while Julius is surprised that the guy managed to hit him without exuding any "bloodlust".
  • Despite being heavily Demoted to Extra in the Lyrical Nanoha franchise, people are terrified if they hear that Nanoha's magic teacher is Chief Librarian Yuuno because Nanoha is one of the most badass characters in the multiverse and is called the "Ace of Aces". Yuuno is actually a Stone Wall with little offensive abilities.note 
  • Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid: While accompanying Shouta to his mage exam, the other attendees end up mistaking Kobayashi for being some kind of arch mage due to the fact that she got first place in both the written and practical parts of the test (the former part because the coding language she uses at work is based on the series' magic system, and the latter because she had Tohru pretending to be her familiar). And when they tried to sense her magical powers, they ended up sensing Tohru instead, furthering the misconception.
  • Mx0: Through an unlikely sequence of events, Taiga starts the manga off mistaken for a genius mage capable of kicking a teacher's ass no problem, when he actually has no magic ability at all. Though in his case, it's more "Mistaken for Super" than "Mistaken for Badass", as he would never have been able to bluff/survive through the first term without being a considerable Badass Normal.
  • Seiji from Midori Days is badass but his Bromantic Foil's constant rumor-mongering makes it hard for Seiji to get a girlfriend.
  • One Piece:
    • Most of Buggy's character arc after hitting the Grand Line. Due to his past with Gold Roger, as well as a series of coincidences and some truly desperate prisoners looking for a leader, Buggy has become something like Pirate Moses.
      • During the war, he reinforces his false reputation by accidentally going up against the world's greatest swordsman. Luckily for Buggy, his Devil Fruit power makes him immune to swords.
      • Later, he becomes one of the Seven Warlords of the Sea solely for the fact that his actions during the war convinced the Marines that he was pulling the same con that Blackbeard was (intentionally keeping his bounty low and staying under the radar until he's ready to make his move). Buggy mistakenly gathering a following of some several hundred of the worst criminals in the world from Impel Down was seen as just a tad similar to Blackbeard's play in the Whitebeard pirates to gain the Yami Yami no Mi. He's even got a new nickname: Genius Jester Buggy.
    • This would also happen to Usopp, who accidentally unravels most of the work Donquixote Doflamingo had done over the past ten years and revealed his true nature to the entire world. Since this includes freeing all of his slaves, many of whom are incredibly strong fighters, the former slaves regard Usopp as their savior and will defend him to the death. As a result, he becomes known as "God Usopp," and Doflamingo issues a bounty of 500 million Berries to anyone who can turn him in, putting him in the top echelons of criminals in the world. When the arc ends, the World Government gives Usopp an official bounty of 200 million Berries (previously he had a bounty of only 30 million, as his masked alter-ego Sniper King), third-highest among the Straw Hats, and the wanted poster retains the title "God" for him.note 
  • Overlord (2012)'s main character Ainz Ooal Gown is constantly mistaken for The Chessmaster by Demiurge in his home series, and Tanya thinks he's Being X in Isekai Quartet. He's already badass to begin with, people just think he's more than that when he's usually just winging it and a regular human inside his lich avatar.
  • In The Seven Deadly Sins, none of the Demon Clan want to consider that Meliodas abandoned them of his own free will, so they concluded that the goddess he eloped with was some genius seductress who manipulated him every step of the way. In reality, Elizabeth- though not defenceless- is extremely idealistic and impulsive, someone her fellow goddesses feel ashamed to have in their ranks. Basically, the entire Holy War was thrown completely off course by the mythic equivalent of a chance meeting and a teenage hookup.

    Comic Books 
  • An Astro City story featured Mitch Goodman, a soap opera actor playing a superhero who foiled a convenience store robbery. He rode the ensuing publicity to promote his acting career, but things turn sour when he soon becomes targeted by real supervillains.
  • In The Authority story "The Magnificent Kevin": Kevin has this happen to him with a couple of foes. Most notably, as the story opens, two groups of opposing spec ops forces that he worked for converge on him in his bedroom. He is under the sheets looking at porn and notices none of this. The two opposing forces massacre each other while he is otherwise engaged. The funny part comes when it is mentioned that this sort of thing seems to happen to the assassins they send after him all the time, which causes the higher-ups on all sides to send more assassins to kill someone who must have been superhuman to kill all the previous assassins, which results in a bigger massacre, and so on and so forth. Subverted in that "Kevin" probably would be a badass by normal human standards, just not in the Authority universe, and he isn't so much "mistaken" for badass as "employed by too many of the wrong people on both sides of the tracks."
  • Bob, Agent of HYDRA, is mistaken for badass in Cable & Deadpool when he accidentally knocks out a symbiont dinosaur that he'd been trying to run away from.
  • Knights of the Dinner Table: A series of misunderstandings has Switch convinced that Fat Slob Tank is a cold-blooded killer you would not want to mess with.
  • Tintin: The Red Sea Sharks. In a deadly game of cat and mouse between the protagonists' ship and a submarine, Captain Haddock accidentally gets the ship stuck going astern (backwards). When this results in a torpedo barely missing the ship, the villains marvel at the Captain's tactics.

    Fairy Tales 
  • "The Brave Little Tailor": The tailor takes great pride in killing seven flies at once and even wears a belt with the phrase "Seven in one blow!" to commemorate it. However, both a giant and a king mistakenly interpret the boasting as being about seven men, mistaking him for a strong and fierce warrior instead of a humble tailor. Although initially unintentional, the tailor later uses misunderstanding to his own gain.

    Fan Works 
  • Jaune of the RWBY series really attracts this kind of situation. In Arc of the Revolution, Jaune befriends members of the White Fang and helps them liberate a labor camp. Due to a combination of sheer coincidence (like mistaking Amber's lightning for being his doing), his enemies' inadvertent mistakes, a Gambit Pileup he isn't even aware of, and finally The Power of Friendship, he winds up being seen as a legendary warrior by the Fang and winds up as their leader.
  • After winging both Karasuba and Akitsu in Birds of a Feather, Minato gains a reputation as the Demon Tamer Ashikabi who "battled Karasuba across the city for three days and three nights before emerging victorious and taking her as his woman".
  • In A Boy and His Dog, a sequence of events ends up giving timid Hanataro Yamada a reputation of a Soul Reaper able to match against members of the 11th Squad and brave enough to travel without his Zanpackto (in truth left behind because his work doesn't require fighting).
  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Teen Titans crossover Made in the Shade - The Shadow Knows, an evil cult summons Gachnar the fear demon, accidentally summoning Xander (who had Gachnar in his pocket) as well. When Xander tells the cultists not to order around his pet and calmly crossing the ritual circle, Raven becomes terrified of him, assuming Xander must be a being of unfathomable power to both keep a name rank demon as a pet and ignore powerful demon binding magic. In reality, demon binding magic doesn't affect humans and he keeps Gachnar as a pet by feeding it Twinkies.
  • Cheating Death: Those That Lived:
  • Deku? I think he's some pro...: Izuku is initially mistaken for a retired Pro Hero with an analysis Quirk due to his exceptional analytical skills.
  • The premise of Denial in a nutshell. A series of Contrived Coincidences allow Taylor to defeat several of the setting's more powerful villains, leading everyone to believe that she is a ridiculously powerful parahuman.
  • According to this fan theory, Elim Garak is actually this.
  • Deliberately invoked in The Fourth Council Race in the First Contact War. An armored division manages to force their turian counterparts to retreat and the division they relieved starts playing Sabaton's "Ghost Division" over their speakers to convince the turians they're facing an elite force, turning their retreat into a rout.
  • In How Trixie (Somehow) Saved Hearth's Warming, Trixie's showboating accidentally convinces one of Santa's reindeer, Vixen, that she's a badflank heroine after saving Vixen from freezing to death. This results in Vixen deciding Trixie can help her stop the Big Bad and save Hearth's Warming. Trixie is fairly talented and did help the Mane Six stop a diamond thief on one occasion, but not nearly as much as she likes to say she is or Vixen thinks she is.
  • Jaune yet again in In the Kingdom's Service, where he gets kidnapped by the Vale Secret Service, though for the opposite reason as in the author's other work Professor Arc. Namely, Jaune's transcripts are obviously fake to anyone who digs through them... yet Ozpin accepts him anyway. Combined with how bad frontier town records are, the VSS naturally become suspicious and pre-emptively spirits him away for interrogation and/or disposal. Unlike most examples, they quickly figure out Jaune is just a stupid teenager due to one of their members having a Semblance that lets him know if someone is telling the truth. On the other hand, others like Blake start assuming Jaune is unusually competent after he easily tracks her in the Emerald Forest despite her best efforts to stay hidden (Jaune is wearing glasses with thermal imaging and can see someone up in the trees).
  • Mr. Black, from Make a Wish. Throughout the story, he somehow manages to convince everyone that he's: a veteran Magical Law Enforcer; the world's deadliest assassin; a rampaging and particularly creative psychokiller; a rare creature specialist; a master of stealth and evasion; a master of detection, ward, and deadly ancient spells; a member of various old organizations, rebellions, and militias; a vampire hunter; a sex god; a master archaeologist; at the very least, a 13000-year-old immortal; the destroyer of countless civilizations; and finally Death Incarnate. He was just a regular guy on vacation. Or is he?...
    • It certainly doesn't help matters that he accidentally (not knowing Merlin and Myrrdin were the same person) refers to Merlin as a Bratty Half-Pint whose sole saving grace was being a decent cook.
    • It's even worse in some of the spin-offs other authors have done. In Terminal Justice for example, Harry eventually learns that due to the mechanism behind his survival of the Killing Curse, he is in fact Death Incarnate.
  • Rock invokes this trope in Marriage of Chaos after one of the gunmen whose group had been decimated by Hansel and Gretel gets the drop on him.
    Gunman: Give me one good reason I shouldn't blow your head off.
    Rock: (Nods towards Hansel and Gretel) I'm their father.
  • Miller, from the My Little Pony Fanfiction of the same name. A human wakes up in Equestria as a pegasus, and he eventually finds himself in the middle of a major drug operation, but all he wants to do is get home. Thanks to his luck (or unluck), the criminal underworld nicknames him "Miller the Killer".
    • At a meeting with some griffin gangsters, he eats meat and lets his love of ground beef slip (cows are sentient in Equestria). His reputation grows as a result.
    • His new acquaintances instruct him to kill one of his coworkers at the machining shop; he has the pony run "to make it sporting", and when Miller swoops down to try and talk things out, his "victim" trips through a pane glass window, cuts himself, and bleeds out in seconds. The other gangsters arrive on the scene to see Miller emotionlessly (Miller has not gotten a hang of all the fine muscle controls that show equine emotion) watch the other pony die after "shoving" him through a window.
    • On a drug run, Miller encounters a hit squad of four griffins. The auspicious appearance of a hydra takes out three of them as the fourth and Miller both escape with their lives. The fourth griffin challenges Miller later that night, and Miller leads the chase scene... which ends with a griffin strung up dead, caught in clotheslines.
  • Roman and Neo in A Monster's Marriage learn of Jaune's existence and try to put pressure on him to get at Cinder, whom they know he has some sort of connection to. After only an hour of observation, they realize that Jaune knows everyone in his neighborhood by name, has access to drug lord Big Daddy Bane's books, and has done work for Junior taking care of "some rats and leaks". Roman starts internally freaking out over how connected Jaune must be and how much power he has, especially after learning Jaune is Cinder's husband. In reality, Jaune is simply a friendly guy, the talk of Big Daddy Bane and his books referred to a book club they're both in, and Jaune worked as a handyman and exterminator for Junior, taking care of literal rats and leaks. The only part of Roman's assessment that's actually true is that Jaune and Cinder are married. While Neo quickly figures out Jaune's harmless by talking to him, Roman doesn't.
  • In this untitled Phoenix Wright fic, consummate manipulator Dahlia is repeatedly thrown off guard by Larry Butz's impetuousness and ignorance of social cues. Fleeing a social situation for the first time in her life, she concludes that Larry must be "her most skillful enemy yet".
  • Jaune Arc in both Professor Arc and The Beacon Civil War. In Professor Arc, Jaune Arc fakes his school transcripts as per canon, leading to him being accepted into the prestigious Beacon Academy for Huntsmen and Huntresses. Only not as a student, but as a teacher instead, since his transcripts are excessively impressive. In Beacon Civil War, a boys vs girls war exercise in Beacon has Jaune Arc and his teammate Lie Ren trying to evade getting captured by the girls and being subjected to the whims of their much stronger female teammates. Through a series of events, Jaune finds himself becoming the boys' leader. In both cases, Hilarity Ensues.
  • In The Sage's Disciple, Crow deliberately invokes this trope by trying to make himself look far more dangerous and powerful than he actually is by doing things such as joining Caster on the front lines instead of hiding. So far, he's convinced Emiya Kiritsugu that he's a high-tier Puppet Master by using Caster's mini-Wicker Men as decoys, Rider thinks that he's an oracle due to his future knowledge, and the rest of the competitors see him as a combination of Magnificent Bastard and The Wonka. The only one that has a hint that he isn't quite what he seems is Kirei.
  • In Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum, Mad-Eye Moody commends the Golden Trio for sitting with their backs to the wall and drawing their wands on him the moment he raised his voice. Ron wonders if they should mention that they sat there by chance and drew their wands due to being on pepper-up potions, but Hermione shuts him up.
  • Xander in the crossover Stand-Ins and Stunt Doubles has this happen twice.
    • The first time because he instructs the Avengers on how to calm the Hulk (having just learned that he lives in the Marvel universe and all the comics he read were actually him getting prophetic visions) and they mistake his comment of being an independent contractor to mean he's a mercenary, not a construction worker.
    • The second time, the members of Angel Investigations are telling Chuck Norris style jokes about Xander to lighten the mood and the Pylea humans who overhear take them as actual facts.
  • A light example from the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic Twilight's List: Rainbow Dash thinks that Twilight is playing it cool and has nerves of steel, asking her out flat out without any signs of nervousness or trepidation over asking her out or Rainbow Dash possibly saying no. This continues for a good chunk of the story, as Twilight is extremely calm about setting up the date, not showing any signs of anxiety, inspiring Rainbow Dash to do the same and be as awesome and play it as cool as possible. Naturally, at the end, when Twilight realizes that she went out on a real date with Rainbow Dash, she freaks out.
  • The Vasto of White: Several characters think that Lilynette Gingerbuck must be incredibly powerful because other Hollows obey her orders. They only obey her because she is Coyote Starrk's partner; Starrk being the powerful one they actually respect.
  • Wandering of a Sword Hero: Shirou assumes the other three heroes are Magi like him or at least something equivalent, not knowing they were all ordinary young men before getting summoned.
  • Xander, Willow, and Jesse in Wood it Work come across as horrible monsters to the actual monsters in Sunnydale due to a combination of their innocence keeping them from realizing who/what they're dealing with and Xander's growing fondness for carpentry. After being offered store credit on the honor system, Darla initially intends to rip them off, only to see Xander making what she believes to be a torture device for vampires that even includes spikes made from a church's fence, convincing her to rush deliver their payment that very night. In reality, Xander was just making a cool prop for Jesse.

    Films — Animated 
  • Beavis And Butthead Do America : For almost the entire film, both the FBI and the bad guys think Beavis and Butthead are absolute geniuses, thanks to an absurd series of coincidences. Of course, the titular characters are completely oblivious to the whole bio-weapon smuggling situation.
  • In A Bug's Life, Flik mistook the circus guys for great fighters after a bar brawl went south and the whole place was sent rolling. He then proceeded to sell them as great heroes to his people, first out of actually believing it, later on to hide the fact that he screwed up. That being said, they did make a fine job at appearing like something similar to a bunch of superheroes to the ants thanks to their abilities.
  • Mater in Cars 2 is mistaken for a spy and spends most of the movie thinking that actual spy Holly Shiftwell is flirting with him. Holly, meanwhile, believes that Mater is a deep-cover agent.
  • In The LEGO Movie, Emmet is thought to be the "Special," or the one destined to defeat Lord Business. In actuality, he's a bumbling, adorkable, normal guy.
  • The Man Called Flintstone. Due to his incredible resemblance to superspy Rock Slag, Fred Flintstone is recruited by Slag's boss to impersonate him when he's injured. Fred manages to convince the Big Bad the Green Goose that he's Slag, which is a problem as the Goose wants Slag dead.
  • Rango spun a lot of tall tales about his alleged prowess, but when the hawk attacked Dirt, Rango's wild chase and dumb luck had the townspeople assuming he was actually fighting off something five times his size and doing a great job of it.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The plot of the Chris Farley movie Beverly Hills Ninja. Until the end, that is.
  • In The Big Lebowski, a private eye who has been following the Dude is very impressed, assuming that his encounters with the kidnappers and dealmakers means he's been "playing one side against the other" and is "in bed with everybody" rather than being yanked around by the various parties and screwing things up in his own drug-fueled haze.
  • Carry On films:
    • A plot driver in Carry On Cleo where the escaped slave Hengist Pod is concussed hiding under a table while his badass neighbor, Horsa, takes out a squad of legionnaires and makes good his escape. With all the witnesses dead the authorities assume Hengist is the badass swordsman and he is made personal bodyguard to Julius Cesar. Hilarity Ensues.
    • Another example in Carry On Cowboy when a stagecoach carrying Marshal P. Knutt and a young woman note  is attacked by outlaws. He shoots wildly while she kills them all and then lets everyone, including Marshal believe he did it. He is mistaken for a lawman because of his name (he actually fixes drains) and is recruited to deal with a problem that some "rats" are giving the town.
  • The Court Jester, in which Danny Kaye's character impersonates a jester, unaware that he is also an assassin. A series of well-timed coincidences convince everyone he is the ruthless killer they believe he is.
  • The Soviet comedy film The Diamond Arm tells the story of The Ditz (played by the famous Soviet clown turned comic actor Yuri Nikulin) who, due to a series of coincidences, was mistaken by a smugglers' gang for a fellow smuggler, and had diamonds hidden inside a fake injury cast on his arm by them. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Dumb and Dumber: When Lloyd mistakenly interferes in a ransom payoff, the kidnappers who go after him and his friend Harry think they're a pair of devious thieves before learning the hard way that they're actually as dumb as they appear to be.
  • Galaxy Quest: Actors in a Star Trek Expy are mistaken for their characters by a race of aliens who Cannot Tell Fiction from Reality.
  • In the 1943 Abbott and Costello comedy Hit The Ice, this trope kicks everything off. The duo play two sidewalk photographers who inadvertently say the right password to a gangster who thinks they're hired thugs, and they quickly astound him with stories of "shooting" people in broad daylight - including the police. They think he wants to get a picture of him and his "business partners" leaving a bank, when he actually wants them to cover their escape after they rob said bank. Hilarity Ensues.
  • The "Wetwork Man" in Horrible Bosses. The protagonists think he is a Professional Killer. He actually urinates on people for money. This is why you should not hire assassins off the internet.
  • The basic premise of the film If Looks Could Kill.
  • The Kid From Brooklyn, where a milkman is mistaken for a prizefighter, right down to the well-timed ducking slapstick.
  • Kiler, a Polish comedy, is about an innocent taxi driver named Jerzy Kiler, mistakenly arrested as a professional hitman, then sprung out by a mobster who needs his services. Deciding he needs to play his part until he can clear his name and outsmart the mobster, Jerzy looks for inspiration by renting movies like The Professional, Taxi Driver, Psy and others. Hilarity Ensues.
  • The Liquidator: In 1944 during World War II, tank corps Sergeant "Boysie" Oakes stumbles while trying to find a place to take a piss and unwittingly shoots and kills two men attempting to assassinate British Intelligence Major Mostyn in Paris. Mostyn mistakenly believes Oakes was lethal on purpose. Twenty years later, Mostyn (now a colonel in British Intelligence) and his boss are in trouble due to a series of embarrassing security disasters. To save his job, the chief orders Mostyn to hire an assassin to illegally eliminate security leaks without official authorisation. Mostyn recruits Boysie into the Secret Service without first telling him what his employment will entail, luring him in with a lavish apartment and a fancy car.
  • Subverted in Lucky Number Slevin, where the hapless everyman caught up in events is really a trained assassin engaging in Obfuscating Stupidity to enable his revenge plot.
  • The Man, with Samuel L. Jackson and Eugene Levy.
  • In A Man Could Get Killed, a search is on for stolen diamonds and a government agent has been killed trying to recover them. When an unsuspecting William Beddoes (James Garner) arrives in Lisbon on behalf of an American bank, he is mistaken for the dead agent's replacement.
  • The 1997 comedy The Man Who Knew Too Little starring Bill Murray. The main character thinks he is acting as a spy in street theatre but is mistaken for the real thing. Highlights include being seen innocently sharing a sandwich with a cop, leading to the assassins thinking he has law enforcement ties.
  • A major plot point in the western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Tenderfoot lawyer Ransom Stoddard kills the notorious outlaw Liberty in a gunfight, making him a local hero. Except it wasn't really Stoddard...
  • Another "mistaken for a hitman" variant occurs in the original El Mariachi, which has the title character, a musician, mistaken for an assassin who carries a guitar case full of weapons who is out to kill the local drug lord.
  • The 1968 Disney movie Never A Dull Moment starring Dick van Dyke. This one used the "mistaken for hitman" version.
  • The basic premise of North By Northwest, where the enemy agents try to put a face to the name "George Kaplan" by paging him and checking to see who gets up. Unfortunately for Roger Thornhill, he waves over a waiter at the same and everybody now believes that he is George Kaplan. Thornhill figures it out relatively quickly but has to play along when nobody believes that he isn't Kaplan.
  • Probably the point of Inspector Clouseau The Pink Panther, less so in the 2006 remake since Dreyfus manages to finally get through to him and he has that whole self-doubt part before he gets back into action. Peter Sellers' Clouseau would never have caught on to that.
  • Saw. "Mistaken for a hitman" variant.
  • Le Grand Blond avec une Chaussure Noire (The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe) has The Ditz played by Pierre Richard first mistaken for a spy, then used as a decoy by the only agency that knew he isn't... and everyone's cluelessness continued into the sequel Le Retour Du Grand Blond.
  • They Call Me Bruce. As All Asians Know Martial Arts, the title character likes to pretend he knows martial arts to make himself look cooler. After he accidentally knocks out a robber (and himself) while wielding nunchaku, a Mafia boss decides he'd make the perfect courier for a shipment of drugs (unknown to Bruce, who thinks he's delivering flour).
  • Don Ameche plays Gino in Things Change, a humble shoe shiner who is mistaken for a wealthy and powerful Mafia don after being hired to take the fall for an actual Don.
  • ˇThree Amigos!: The entire plot is based on this. Three actors are mistaken for actual heroes and somehow manage to beat the bad guys.
  • The protagonists in Tropic Thunder were mistaken for real soldiers by the drug lord. It didn't help that Tugg played with a real severed head and made the onlookers think he has no fear of death. Amazingly, they manage to take on said drug lord in multiple skirmishes while firing blanks.
  • Pierre Richard plays an unemployed comic actor in The Umbrella Coup, who is invited to play an assassin, but enters a wrong office and gets confused for a Professional Killer by The Mafia. And Hilarity Ensues.
    • He doesn't find out what's going on until the very end of the film. Even when the real killer assassinates the target and gets shot by police, the actor thinks it's all a game.

  • In the Boysie Oakes novels by John Gardener, Oakes is mistakenly recruited into a British spy agency despite being a coward who wants to be left alone.
  • Ciaphas Cain, THE HERO OF THE IMPERIUM, believes this of himself. While untold billions think that Cain is an amazingly skilled badass, brilliant orator, and all-around star of the Imperium, Cain himself thinks he's a cowardly nonhero but seeks to perpetuate the accidentally-achieved image because the backlash for failing to do so would be catastrophic.
    • The inquisitor who provides the footnotes of the novels and knows what Cain is really like believes this is an inversion; she acknowledges that Cain is one of the best swordsmen she's ever seen and that one of Cain's flaws (that is unknown to him) is his cripplingly low self-esteem when it comes to positive traits that he genuinely has. Then again, said inquisitor is also very likely his lover. Ultimately, the reader comes up with their own opinion on the subject, but any conclusions drawn are likely to fall somewhere in-between heroic and semi-heroic.
  • The main dynamic of Champion is Playing by Emelianov & Savinov. Around half of Dan's winning plans do come from his 21st-century gaming knowledge, but the rest of it comes from his unerringly picking the moves that just happen to do the most damage or defeat the greatest threat, most of the time without even noticing that there was a danger to begin with. Meanwhile, everybody around him thinks that he's a Grand Master manipulator who planned every little thing out in advance.
  • In Ethan of Athos, the eponymous Ethan is a mild-mannered Reproduction Center manager who is trying to find out what happened to the shipment of donor eggs he ordered. Unbeknownst to Ethan, a runaway biological experiment called Terrence has hidden a genetic McGuffin in the shipment. When Ethan turns up looking for the eggs, the agents who are looking for Terrence assume that Ethan is part of the conspiracy, especially after Ethan meets Elli Quinn, who is an actual operative employed by the agents' enemies.
  • Fate/strange Fake: Ayaka Sajyou was just a muggle who due to luck, ends up becoming the Master of Saber in the Snowfield Holy Grail War. Since not a lot of people know the exact circumstances, many assume she must be some ultra-powerful magus and mastermind who somehow slipped under the radar, while she's just a scared girl who doesn't want to be involved in the war at all and needs Saber's help to stay alive. She has a magecraft-practicing Identical Stranger with the same name, but other than Waver Velvet, not many have heard of her.
  • Harry Flashman in the Flashman novels. Although many characters met by the protagonist know him (or come to know him) to be a cad and a coward, his reputation among society at large is that of a brave and honorable man.
    • Flashman lives for this trope. He can run away from a battle and hide in a cesspool, then show up weeks later and be hailed as a hero for being the lone survivor. He encourages this sort of thing, but all he really has to do most of the time is keep his mouth shut.
  • One of the protagonists of a detective comedy series by Leo Gursky is The Chew Toy, a poor henpecked Absent-Minded Professor pharmacologist so modest, naive, painfully honest law-abiding and, well, absent-minded that once he's entangled in something, most strangers refuse to believe he can really be this much of The Ditz. Once he stumbles upon a Briefcase Full of Money and tries to return it to the rightful owner nearly getting killed several times by various people, including both the old owner and the guys who had to receive the money. Another time he picks up a ringing "discarded" cellphone and ends up impersonating a Agent 47 expy before he understands he's in big trouble and has to play along just to survive...
  • Harry Potter thinks this happens to him, and not without reason; his Arch-Nemesis Voldemort thinks the same thing about Harry. He's famous for having supposedly defeated the Dark Lord as a baby, something he doesn't even remember, and the Dursleys have made him think he's "a waste of space" even with the magical accidents that happened around him as a child. Subverted over the course of the books, where he and Ron take on a troll to save Hermione when they're eleven, and Harry thwarts Voldemort twice and survives a third encounter with him, while casting a perfect Patronus at the age of thirteen. It comes to a head where he gets angry at Hermione and Ron for asking him to teach an illegal defense club since Being Good Sucks and he believes he only got lucky. Then gets subverted when all the people interested in the DA bring up these deeds.
  • In the Honor Harrington book The Short Victorious War, Lieutenant Commander Avshari, a communications officer and self-proclaimed tactical ignoramus holding what was supposed to be a milk run watch on the bridge of the dreadnought Bellerophon, manages this after Admiral Pierre's battlecruiser squadrons have the bad luck to come out of hyper within point-blank range of the ship.
  • Discworld:
    • Rincewind ends up like this in Interesting Times, thanks in part to being Shrouded in Myth due to a book based on his misadventures written by Twoflower from the first two books, but also because of his strange tendency to survive otherwise fatal situations. People think it's because Rincewind is some kind of powerful and wise wizard, but it's mostly a combination of being favored by The Lady and his own attempts to remain a breathing coward.
    • Pyramids: Pteppic has survived his final test as an assassin and is standing over his target's bed, but realises that when it comes down to it he can't kill someone for money. (It isn't a real person under the sheet but Pteppic doesn't know this.) Looking his examiner in the eye, he deliberately misses his shot... only for his crossbolt to ricochet back into the target anyway. Said examiner purses his lips and tells Pteppic that he personally disapproves of such unnecessarily theatrical trick shots, before giving him his licence and leaving.
  • In A Night in the Lonesome October, a bunch of magic-users preparing for the imminent ritual confrontation mistook one bystander — though not exactly "innocent" — for a participant. Massive scheming ensued. They (or at least their familiars) learned he never was in their game too late for it to matter.
  • The novel Pest Control has Bob the Exterminator, an elite international assassin. Only he's just an environmentalist bug exterminator looking into symbiotic methods for pest control, and the people he "killed" really did die in a series of coincidental and unrelated accidents. The only way he managed to survive was due to luck, help from an actual international assassin named Klauss, and thorough knowledge of New York's heavily armed crazy people that are no danger unless provoked.
  • Spy School: While Ben is genuinely competent in many areas, most of the school (especially Zoe) spend quite some time convinced that he's far tougher and smarter than he actually is, and that any displays of weakness are just to hide his true skills, or part of a Batman Gambit.
  • Lenny in The Stingray Shuffle drives erratically because he is high on marijuana. The ex-KGB agents following him mistake his driving for elite evasion techniques, and assume he must be former CIA or Mossad.
  • Admiral Metternich per Pelasgiamus from A Symphony of Eternity is this trope in spades in space! He's a dirty coward who constantly tries to avoid battle and in doing so lands in the thickest of it, only for him to survive by virtue of winning the day. Not helped by the fact that when he's afraid his red eyes blaze away, making those around him mistake that for battle lust. Combined with the fact that he actually is a very competent strategist and tactician he is a genuine military maverick who combined with a tendency to avoid battles, with his entire fleet, and come up with plans that focus on winning without fighting, at the very least facing the opposing fleet only with an overwhelming advantage to his side or distracting and bating on a large enemy force while others win, all with a minimal struggle or no battle at all makes him one of the most feared and successful officers in the Imperial Navy, a case where he's both the coward and the hero and the same time. So much so that he is made a Captain directly from civilian life and manages to become a Rear Admiral in less than three years! Unfortunately for him because of his astonishing victories, he's sent into even more dangerous zones of war.
  • Brazilian writer Luis Fernando Verissimo wrote a short story about a loser who ends up kidnapped by some thugs who mistake him for a Mafia boss and plan to kill him. He eventually reasons that it was more thrilling than anything that ever happened in his life, and asks for some champagne (something he had never tasted) before getting murdered.
  • Warrior Cats has a dark example, Scourge became what he is in the present by trying to live up to a reputation he got by lying to stray cats about having beaten a dog and taken his tooth, they get him to fight another dog which he accidentally scares in a true Mistaken-for-Badass fashion with a too large shadow. It goes downhill from there.
  • Invoked by Rand in The Wheel of Time: Tam gave him a heron-marked sword at be beginning of his adventures, but he had next-to-no training. Throughout the first book everyone he met openly doubted that someone so young could be a blademaster, but troublemakers didn't want to risk being wrong.
    • It is also averted when in less than a year he actually earns the title when he defeats a genuine Blademaster in combat.
  • A common theme in Tom Sharpe novels, especially some of the Wilt series in which Wilt comes to the attention of the police who investigate him, find nothing but are sure they're missing something, and so investigate the entirely innocent school teacher more and more urgently until they eventually make a career-ruining mistake which they blame on Wilt outsmarting them rather than themselves getting obsessed over nothing.
  • The Dorothy of Oz example above was cribbed from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz where the Munchkins assumed that Dorothy must have been an insanely powerful Munchkin sorceress to call up a storm and squish the East Witch with her house. Compounding this misunderstanding was that Dorothy was the size of an adult Munchkin and wearing her blue and white gingham dress. In Oz, Munchkins favor blue, and only magic users wear white. That's why they called the North Witch for help.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Walter White/Heisenberg from Breaking Bad is often thought of by the police and rival gangsters as some sort of Diabolical Mastermind. In reality, he's just a hired cook with a bad habit of getting into trouble with his employers. Anytime this happens, Walt and Jesse have to kill their boss in self-defense, which in turn causes the police and other gangsters to believe that he's an ambitious kingpin trying to eliminate the competition. It's not until Season 5 that Walt truly becomes a kingpin in his own right, having learned from his past employers.
  • Burn Notice did an episode about a doctor being harassed by a drug dealer so Michael and crew make it look like he's ex-Special Forces.
  • A huge part of the premise of Chuck. Once Chuck starts becoming competent as a spy in his own right, Awesome starts getting this, just for being close to the spyjinks and looking more the part.
  • On Deadly Class, Marcus is being hunted by the cops for setting a fire in his orphanage that killed a dozen kids. He's thus recruited by an academy for teen assassins who figure that he's perfect for them. What they don't know is that while Marcus did kill a couple of guards in his escape (accidentally), he didn't set the fire. Marcus quickly realizes he's in a school of stone-cold killers and if they realized the truth behind his "reputation," he's a dead man.
  • Drake & Josh: The episode "Eric Punches Drake" has nerdy Eric become popular after accidentally knocking out Drake while imitating a punch he saw in a Kung Fu movie. Rumors begin circulating that Eric punched Drake for making fun of his sister and Drake's popularity plummets. Eric's old nerdy friend Craig reveals to Drake that Eric is too pacifistic to fight. So Drake confronts Eric while he's with his new friends and begins making fun of Eric's sister for real. When Eric is challenged to punch Drake again, he refuses and comes clean, imitating the kung fu punch again and accidentally knocking out a girl in the process, which sets everything back to the status quo.
  • In season 2 of Fargo, Ed Blumquist is mistaken for a hitman nicknamed The Butcher, when in fact he's a fairly unremarkable man who happens to be a butcher's assistant by trade.
  • In one episode of Frasier, Bulldog was being heralded as a hero for throwing coffee on an armed robber. Only Frasier was at the right angle to see that this was an accident, done while while trying to use a pregnant woman as a human shield. Attempts to get him to admit this just leave Frasier convinced that Bulldog simply doesn't have a concience, and he's eventually exposed when Martin claims the gunman has arrived at Bulldog's award ceremony, and his immediate reaction is to grab his own mother as a shield.
  • Future Man has Josh, an aimless janitor who is the only person to beat a major combat video game. He's approached by Tiger and Wolfe who reveal the "game" is really a training simulator sent from their future era to find the one warrior capable of defeating the evil robot army wiping out humanity. They naturally assumed anyone who's a brilliant warrior in this game must be the same in real life and Josh is the Chosen One. A stunned Josh breaks it to them that no one who plays video games is actually that capable at real-life combat. (He does end up as Took a Level in Badass as the series goes on).
  • In the Leverage episode "The Rashomon Job", everyone on the team (working independently, before the pilot) became convinced that the head of security at the museum they were trying to rob was a clue-tracking badass. Turns out he was a bumbling idiot who just happened to bump into every member of the crew and deliver some non-sequiturs that freaked them right the hell out.
  • The Martial Law episode "This Shogun For Hire" has the team tracking Nakamura, a Japanese assassin who became famous for poisoning seven Yakuza members and is attributed with at least seven other murders. It's said the man never uses a gun but "can turn any object into a lethal weapon." Grace goes undercover with this suave man who won't even defend himself in a fight as "I kill when I'm paid." After he gets his payday, the man faces off with Sammo...who takes him down in five seconds with Nakamura begging for mercy. It turns out this "master assassin" is a low-level con artist who's not even Japanese. He was running from cops in Tokyo and mistaken for a chef for the Yakuza meeting where, by accident, he failed to properly cook a blowfish to kill them all. Both the authorities and other criminals assumed this had to be the work of a trained killer and before he knew it, Nakamura was being blamed not just for their deaths but scores of other unsolved murders. He decided to use that reputation to con a mob boss out of a few million dollars for a hit without even bothering to know his "target." Nakamura thinks he can walk off until the team points out the tiny issue that he's now a wanted man by the Yakuza and only a matter of time before a real assassin is sent after him, forcing him to help out for his own safety.
  • Maximum Choppage is built from this trope. A young man returns to Cabaramatta, Sydney after three years of art school in Melbourne, but his parents think he's been in Beijing becoming a martial arts master, and believe he'll free the community from the grip of a local drug lord.
  • The Monk episode "Mr. Monk is Someone Else" has Monk going undercover as his doppelganger, an infamous hitman named Frank DePalma, to thwart an assassination. In a meeting with a group of mobsters, he leans over to straighten Tommy G.'s tie and everyone reacts like he's making a threat. Monk (being Monk) really did just want to straighten out the tie.
  • This looks like it's what's going on in the Monty Python's Flying Circus "Dentistry sketch" until the very end, where the character reveals that he actually was a member of the BDA.

  • The Six Shooter: "The Capture of Stacy Gault" (one of the comic episodes) has the paranoid townsfolk convinced that the stranger heading into town is the murderous outlaw Stacy Gault, come to rob the bank. He is actually a travelling toy salesman and the man who actually captured Gault, entirely by accident.
  • In the Western Episode of John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme, the townspeople all fear Big Bad Bob. He's actually Big Badge Bob. He makes badges.

    Video Games 
  • Dark Sun: Shattered Lands: Many characters mistake the heroes for members of the Veiled Alliance — a secret organization of good magicians opposing sorcerer-kings. Yes, the heroes are badass and they may deliver a letter found on a dead Alliance courier. But people keep assuming they've got some serious backing, connections and a plan. Instead, they are clueless and fight alone.

  • Zenith in Commander Kitty mistakes CK for a being genius even greater than her target Ace after managing to "compromise her plan" (by showing up in the wrong place at the right time).
  • Girl Genius has Moloch von Zinzer, veteran armor crewman and Action Survivor. The results of his devotion to the cause of "not being killed" were taken as evidence of some secret knowledge:
    Violetta: You've trained in the way of smoke?
    Moloch: Nah. Mom always said that stuff'll kill ya.
    Violetta: But...but you are one of us, only you're in disguise, right?
    Moloch: 'fraid not.
    Violetta: No! You must have some secret knowledge!
    Moloch: Sure. I know, deep in my heart, that I really, really, really don't want to get munched by that thing.
    Violetta: Chapter sixteen of the Yellow Codex! Who sent you!?
    Moloch: Nobody sent me. I don't have any "secret knowledge." I just don't want to die.
    Violetta: I don't believe you! That's cheating!
  • In Hark! A Vagrant, Fat Pony is mistaken for a hitman, and a successful hitman at that, despite being nothing more than a pony.
  • Infinite Leveling Murim Yuseong's first encounter with Gyeonghon Bukli the latter mistakenly assumes that Yuseong is really Chorang Yeong based on the fact that Yuseong used axes technique from the lawful faction of Murim to massacre the Dark Serpent clan, and he knows of no other prodigy in the area who could make him so excited for a fight.
  • Mieruko-chan: Julia frequently mistakes Miko for a bad-ass ghost hunter with Nerves of Steel, when she's really just an Ordinary High-School Student trying not to attract the attention of things she doesn't quite understand. She later thinks that Hana is Miko's partner, when Hana is completely oblivious to the supernatural and just happens to have an uncannily-strong life aura that attracts ghosts.
  • Mob Psycho 100: Reigen may be a powerless Phony Psychic in a setting full of genuine espers and spirits, but he's regularly fooled other espers into thinking he's one due to a combination of Refuge in Audacity, Bavarian Fire Drills, and Mob (one of the strongest espers in the setting) addressing him as Master.
  • One-Punch Man: King is a Fake Ultimate Hero who manages to reach S Class by being accidentally credited with the defeat of many powerful monsters (actually killed by Saitama, the main character). Bystanders credit him for the kills, and because of his dangerous appearance and reputation, many bad guys fear him when he appears. In reality, he's an ordinary man who's too afraid to correct everyone's assumptions.

    Web Original 
  • A bit downplayed with Gervas Klarenfeld in Dead West; the narrator, originally just a commoner journalist gets mistaken as an aristocrat, almost constantly. The confusion is fueled further by his name, which he shares with a legendary (aristocrat) master spy, the Hound of Maria Theresa, and his Heroic Build. He really is a commoner, with no ties to said spy, and with no Psychic Powers, but since the master spy had the power to avoid detection and read minds, and Gervas is quite skilled in Cold Reading (and eavesdropping), he cannot convince most people that he is a commoner. The only characters who believe him are the Porcelain Doctor and the Beast since they reason he has nothing to gain by lies. And even the Beast thinks that he might have some of the Hound's blood.
  • In Season 11 of Red vs. Blue, we find out that rumors have spread about the Reds and Blues being some of the greatest soldiers in the galaxy. This isn't the case, most of the time.
  • Used as a Running Gag in Noob. In the protagonist's faction, we have Sparadrap, very friendly, but also incredibly lucky and oblivious, with a tendency to mix up attacking and healing spells, not to mention a quite big Magic Staff starting Season 2. In the enemy faction, Dark Avenger, who keeps mistaking Sparadrap's attempts at friendship alternating with accidental damage on his avatar and coincidental dodges for a strange but effective fighting strategy. The two have an uncanny tendency to run into each other. When Dark Avenger had to get written out of the series, all the creator had to do was to take the situation to its logical conclusion.
  • Thanks to Sips jokingly spreading rumours and photos of him in airsoft gear circulating 'round the web, Smiffy of Hat Films has been mistaken for a real soldier in the Territorial Armynote  by both fans and people in the Yogscast.
  • This greentext post on Website/4chan involves the police trying to track down an individual, only to be frustrated as they can't find any trace of his existence - no records of employment, no social media accounts, no sightings, nothing at all. They assume the man to be a highly skilled criminal, calling him "a ghost". The joke, of course, is that the real reason they can't find any traces of his activities is because there is nothing to find.

    Western Animation 
  • In the episode of Arthur called "Buster Baxter: Cat Saver", Buster saves a cat from being caught in a tree (by happening to be holding an ice cream cone with fish sticks in it), causing eventually the whole town to laud him as a hero after the event gets published in the local newspaper. He lets it go to his head but eventually is humbled after he isn't able to duplicate the incident without the ice cream, only to then save his friends from a runaway piano, starting the whole cycle over again.
  • Sid the Squid, a bottom level criminal mook in Batman: The Animated Series was credited with offing Batman because they saw him knock Batman into a fuel tank which exploded. Lots of people wanted a piece of the guy that took out Batman, while The Joker was furious that some no-talent nobody took out Gotham's number one vigilante. Turns out Batman faked it and used Sid's newfound rise to prominence to bust a drug cartel that Sid was a level zero flunky for. He benefits at the end when he shows up in prison with a reputation as the guy who almost took out Batman and (with Batman's help) put one over on the Joker.
  • Duck Dodgers is a poster boy for this trope, though he is occasionally competent.
  • DuckTales (1987):
    • There's an episode where Launchpad was recruited to fill-in for an injured spy. In fact, some of the elements that appeared in this episode later were used in Darkwing Duck
    • Launchpad is mistaken for the real Darkwing after a "Darkwing Decoy" plan backfires and he is caught unmasking by the press. Darkwing, thanks to his massive ego, is not pleased with Launchpad's newfound fame.
  • The classic punchline to the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero episode "The Viper Is Coming." A series of phone calls are made to the Joes with the phrase "The Viper is coming" and a series of numbers. The Joes follow each to discover a Cobra secret base and later stopping an attack on West Point and thus believe they're dealing with either a Cobra defector or some brilliant power-player wanting to take Cobra down. Cobra themselves are freaked out with members each accusing the other of being the Viper, allowing the Joes to defeat another of their plots. In the end, the "Viper" comes to the Joes at last: An elderly window washer with a thick accent who was trying to identify himself as the Wiper and those "clues" were his rates and where he'd start. The Joes can't help bursting into hysterical laughter at this.
  • Goofy: In the 1953 short "For Whom the Bulls Toil", Goofy antagonizes a bull that's in his way while travelling through Mexico, and some locals see him accidentally dodging the bull's charges and conclude he's got the makings of a matador.
  • Hong Kong Phooey: The titular character is regarded by everyone as a real superhero, but in actuality he is real terrible at crime fighting. and its Spot who actually catches the crooks he's after. Everyone is unware of this and Phooey is largely lauded as a great superhero.
  • Rocky and Bullwinkle: In "Bullwinkle's Testimonial Dinner", Bullwinkle sends his shirt to be cleaned at a Chinese laundry in Shanghai. Said laundry is being used by Boris and Natasha as a transfer point to smuggle an atomic bomb wristwatch. The man who's supposed to pick it up is to identify himself by saying "Perhaps you would rather I be John Phillip Sousa." Bullwinkle ends up saying that exact phrase when the clerk remarks that he's got a funny name.
  • The Simpsons: This happens to Homer multiple times. In "Last Exit to Springfield", he gripes about conditions at the power plant and is appointed, as the new union leader, to negotiate for the workers to Mr. Burns while they strike. Mr. Burns thinks Homer a "worthy opponent" until he offers Homer a generous deal to step down as leader, and Homer celebrates by imitating one of The Three Stooges in Mr. Burns' office.
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks: In "Veritas", Tendi is cleaning a conference room when a black-ops team walks in and mistakes her for "The Cleaner", a specialist recruited for their mission. Subverted when they run into trouble and Tendi expertly takes out a squad of Romulan guards to the bafflement of the others, because the Cleaner's job was supposed to be beaming the team to safety. Tendi's probably a lot more badass, she just doesn't like using those skills.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars: In "Bombad Jedi", Jar Jar Binks is mistaken for a Jedi in a Separatist-occupied city because he slipped which led to him dodging an attack and he was wearing a cloak. The guards were not too bright. Hilarity (and heroism) ensues. Once he realizes that they think he's a Jedi he decides to run with it, using some improvised acting and a local monster he'd befriended earlier to keep up the ruse.