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Outside-Context Problem
aka: Outside Context Villain

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"An Outside Context Problem was the sort of thing most civilizations encountered just once, and which they tended to encounter rather in the same way a sentence encountered a full stop."

The Outside Context Problem is, quite simply, a curveball that no one saw coming; more strictly, it is a curve ball that nobody could possibly have seen coming.

They may be a mysterious foreigner from the next town over or a continent away, with skills, technology or mystic powers no one heard of, much less imagined. Or they may be a Time Traveler from the future... or the past, an invader from a parallel universe, outer space, or even stranger places. When they arrive, the heroes won't have any defenses in place capable of stopping them, no idea how to defend against their onslaught, and no clue what their end goal might be. It might even be a mysterious object, or just some unexplained supernatural phenomenon.

Finding out the answers to the above questions will be the heroes' top priority. With luck, they'll find scattered legends foretelling their arrival and possibly how they were beaten last time. If not, The Professor might theorize all new means to defeat them. One popular method is to summon a hero from the same place or era to battle them, because this villain is so bad that their only hope is that a random Joe from the villain's home will at least have an idea of how to stop them. Of course, said villain will likely assimilate better to the environment than such Fish out of Water heroes. If the Outsider is an interloper in an existing conflict, he or she may become a Conflict Killer that forces an Enemy Mine situation if he turns out to be Eviler than Thou.

Named for the Outside Context Problem from the Iain M. Banks book Excession (as seen in the quote above). The classic example he gives is a stable, powerful, and wealthy society suddenly facing a hostile invader whose advanced technology and bizarre philosophy are completely alien to them.note 

Super-Trope to Technologically Advanced Foe, Outside-Genre Foe and Evil Learns of Outside Context. Compare Giant Space Flea from Nowhere, but played dramatically. Cosmic Horror Reveal is a subtrope, where Eldritch Abominations appear with little foreshadowing. Compare also Diabolus ex Nihilo, where such a villain is used to shake things up and then discarded, and The Spook, which might fit in the context but is still a surprise apparition. See How Unscientific! for moments that break the conventions of the story's main genre, which is a major part of these villains. Contrast Generic Doomsday Villain and Normal Fish in a Tiny Pond. Compare/Contrast Genre Refugee. Frequently found in the Alien Invasion genre and can result from an Ass Pull. Often overlaps with Vile Villain, Saccharine Show. Occasionally, the introduction of one of these may cross the Godzilla Threshold. noreallife


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    Comic Books 
  • American Vampire: The series takes place in a setting featuring vampires of many breeds and bloodlines. And then after a long timeskip in Second Cycle, it introduced an Eldritch Abomination seemingly unrelated to them that can turn humans and even vampires into her puppets. In one hand, the Vassals of the Morning Star (a prominent vampire-hunting organization) is revealed to have been originally created to destroy the Beast millennia ago, but they failed ever since their founder went evil and hid the creature and with the rise of the Carpathian vampires, they have been focused in fighting vampires primarily. The heroes have no way of fighting it conventionally (nukes have proven ineffective as the US nuclear tests were in fact attempts to destroy the Beast) and they are particularly outgunned specially by the time they are facing it as the Beast's minions infiltrated positions of power in the government to freeze the VMS.
  • Batman: Bane functions this way in Knightfall. A villain who has been cut off from the outside world for almost his entire life, his existence is at best an urban legend to most Gotham City natives. When he murders six prostitutes and carves images of bats into their flesh, the Gotham police naturally blame Batman. Even after he and his gang launch rockets at Arkham Asylum, enabling the world's most dangerous criminals to escape and wreak havoc on the city, most Gothamites are too preoccupied with trying to stop the Joker, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, and all the rest that they remain ignorant of Bane's ultimate plan for the city: to permanently cripple Batman, seize control from Gotham's mob bosses, and rule over the city as its "king."
  • Captain Atom: In Captain Atom: Armageddon, Captain Atom is this for the Wild Storm Universe. The WildStorm heroes, especially the more powerful ones like Mr. Majestic and The Authority, thought that they had their world pretty much in hand, and that they could handle just about anything that came their way. When Captain Atom showed up and, through no fault of his own, contracted a condition that was going to cause him to destroy the universe, they figured that they could cure him. When that failed, they figured that they could kill him. Cue a very satisfying series of Curb Stomp Battles.
  • Crisis on Infinite Earths: The Anti-Monitor was out of context for the entire DC Multiverse. A being that annihilated nearly all the universes and forced the heroes to collapse the five remaining universes into one, forever transforming the DC Universe and everyone in it. His power was so overwhelming even an assemblage of the mightiest beings from all remaining worlds proved little more than a distraction. Even with its shell torn away, its power drained, and its power source dismantled, it took Superman and Superboy (along with some help from Darkseid) to finally finish it off... which in turn triggered a supernova. He was that nasty.
  • Daredevil: When Daredevil faced Zebediah Killgrave, the Purple Man, his abilities proved to be this for the legal system, as there's no law that could convict a man for simply asking for favors.
  • DC Rebirth: It's revealed that Dr. Manhattan is the one who turned the pre-Flashpoint DC Universe into the New 52. Up until this point, the Watchmen universe and the DCU were never even connected. He's apparently outside of every context.
    • As Doomsday Clock progresses, it is revealed that the DC Universe itself is a Out Of Context Problem to Dr. Manhattan. No matter what he does to change the timestream for the sake of making the universe more of a Crapsack World, heroes still rise (with Superman usually being one of the first), and while he can adapt and curb-stomp in retaliation, he is still surprised that things like the Lantern Rings and magic can hurt him.
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: This happening is what starts some of the franchise' subsets:
    • Magica De Spell started out as one, being the first character capable of not only matching wits with Scrooge but also using magic (through various gadgets at first, but still magic). Even after she became a recurring character, her abilities, modus operandi, and willingness to try everything she thinks may work are so radically different from anyone else that nobody knows what trick she'll pull next, with her schemes including giving the Beagle Boys overwhelming superpowers (she failed only because they were that stupid and screwed it up), banishing his greed (she pulled it off twice, in two different ways), brainwashing Santa Claus into doing the job for her (she had asked him for the Number One Dime for years before stumbling on a way to straight-up brainwash him), forcing Paperinik to steal the Number One Dime (again, pulled it twice, first by gaslighting him through illusions and making a magically-enforced promise to stop if he gave her the coin and later by discovering his secret identity and blackmailing him into it. His gadgets allow him to just waltz through the Money Bin's defenses, so he can do it at will), hypnotizing Scrooge into exchanging his entire fortune and economic empire for an old slipper, and more.
    • In the "Donald Versus Saturn" miniseries the problem is Rebo, a full-fledged Galactic Conqueror only held back by the fact he only has two subordinates and none of them can make combat robots to man his fleet.
    • In Paperinik New Adventures the new problem is the Evronian threat: Paperinik, both in his superhero identity and as Donald, has faced all sorts of opponents, including time travelers, superpowered opponents, magic users (notably he's the only character capable of taking Magica in a fair fight), and even aliens, but an entire species of Planet Looters made even Rebo pale.
    • Normally the Junior Woodchucks deal with environmental problems, poachers, and Corrupt Corporate Executives. In Threat From the Infinite (whose events are alluded to in Paperinik New Adventures) the enemies are the T'zoook, aliens who came from nowhere and are causing damage to the environment while looking for something, and the entire first half of the series has the JWs trying to figure out what their deal or even their name even is, before the Space Police (that was looking for the Tz'oook to fine them for ruining multiple worlds) reveals it: they're the survivors of the original Earth civilization, forced to escape on the City Ship when their hyperpolluting civilization caused the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event and surviving thanks to their relativistic travel speeds making time pass slower for them. Now they're back and, after finding Earth fixed itself but has a new dominant species, they are looking for their old cities so they'll be able to use the machines kept there to cause a Societal Collapse and retake the planet in the confusion.
  • First Strike: Baron Ironblood has decades of experience with weird super-science, allowing him to be prepared for anything Cybertron throws at him. But both Ironblood and Cybertronians as a whole are completely caught flat-footed by magic, in the form of it's most powerful wielder.
  • The Matrix: A Matrix comic book story by Neil Gaiman pitted the Machines against aliens and their Living Ship. Unable to defeat the aliens on their own, the Machines were forced to train a human to do it for them, even equipping him with a specially built spaceship called the PL-47.
  • Hawkgirl: In the fourth issue, Hawkgirl teams up with Galaxy, Supergirl, and Steel to fight a dragon, which stymies all four of them because it seems to run entirely on fairytale logic and thus doesn't respond to attacks that should logically hurt it.
  • Revival: The opening shows the US government responding to nonantagonistic undead with a quarantine like an infectious disease. CDC scientists examine the problem but are helpless to address it since it arises from Hindu mysticism. Routine police investigation of a conventional murder somehow leads to attack by a ninja assassin. This all emphasizes how death itself is an Outside Context Problem.
  • Runaways: This happens quite frequently to the Runaways, since they are a bunch of kids with very little training:
    • Early in the first volume, the team encounters a vampire. In the Marvel Universe, vampires are so far outside the expertise of most established heroes as to necessitate the existence of specialist like Blade or Hannibal King, and thus this lone vampire wipes the floor with the Runaways, only dying because he tries to feed on Karolina, whose blood turns out to be solar-charged.
    • Towards the end of Brian K. Vaughan's run, the team battles the Gibborim, who previously managed to kill all of their parents and their original leader with barely any effort. The only reason the team survives is because the Gibborim are dying after failing to secure a new sacrifice.
    • During Civil War, the Runaways run afoul of S.H.I.E.L.D., which sends a Brainwashed and Crazy Kree assassin after them, resulting in several of them being gravely injured and sent to a Black Site.
    • The Runaways inadvertently become a Outside-Context Problem in the "Dead End Kids" arc when they are sent back in time to 1907. With so few other superpowered individuals around, they stick out like a sore thumb and their attempts to secure the parts needed to return to their own time accidentally starts an arms race between two superpowered gangs, resulting in widespread destruction and mayhem.
    • During Secret Invasion, the team happens to be in the middle of New York City at the very moment that the Skrulls are invading en masse. Xavin, normally the person most likely to seek out a fight, takes one look at the size of the invading force and panics, clocking all of their teammates and trying to carry them as far away from the Skrulls as possible.
    • In the "Homeschooling" arc, the Runaways find themselves being targeted by the US Military. The opening salvo alone kills Old Lace and leaves Klara injured and scared out of her mind (which is a serious problem because her powers go haywire when she's scared.) In the end, the only thing they're able to do is flee through a hidden tunnel as the military burns their house down.
  • The Shade: The Shade's powers explicitly come from a source outside that of "normal" supernatural forces such as magic, worked perfectly well when the Genesis event depowered everyone else, and render him immune to being converted into a Black Lantern. The Flash is lucky their fights were mostly to keep Shade from being bored, and that he's mostly neutral rather than an active villain these days since he can be neither killed nor contained.
  • Sonic the Comic: Chaos appears randomly in the middle of Metropolis City, uses his ability to induce extreme fear in his opponents to catch the Freedom Fighters off guard completely and kills Johnny Lightfoot, becoming the only villain to successfully kill a Freedom Fighter.
    • Colonel Granite and Operation Starwatch also serve as this, being completely unknown to Mobius par the Freedom Fighters leading an Alien Invasion from Planet Earth, invading Mobius, trouncing the Freedom Fighters with superior firepower, and planning to sell off the conquered Zones to human industrial developers (and rename Mobius "Planet Percy" after his first name).
  • Superman:
    • Superman is this from Lex Luthor's perspective. Before he showed up, he could think of himself as the unchallenged greatest person in the world by ordinary standards, being fabulously rich, famous, brilliant and free to do as he pleased. An existence of superpowered alien who foils his plans and becomes far more beloved figure than he ever was, is something he could never have predicted and is shown to be the driving reason behind his hatred of him.
    • Legion of Super-Heroes/Bugs Bunny Special: Neither the Legion nor their enemies can deal with Bugs Bunny because he is a gag character who cheerfully and shamelessly runs on cartoon physics, whereas they are super-hero comic-book characters; hence, they are forced to pretend that their universe does not break the laws of physics whenever it is plot-convenient. Thus, they are overwhelmed by Bugs manipulating minds without even trying, pulling things out of nowhere, manifesting new and sudden powers, and ignoring reality whenever it suits him.
    • In The Death of Superman, Doomsday showed up out of freaking nowhere to curbstomp most of Earth's heroes before going off to accomplish what no one else dreamed was even possible: kill Superman.
    • When Kryptonite debuted, it was an outside-context problem, as back in the Golden Age, unlike all later portrayals, Superman knew nothing of his alien heritage, and nobody, not he, not the general public, not even the Villain of the Week (who had gotten the kryptonite from a jeweler, of all things) knew any of its properties, and so ascribed Superman becoming completely helpless in the villain's presence to the mumbo-jumbo fake spell the villain had uttered as a last-ditch attempt at intimidation. Then the villain goes on to extort people on the threat of hexing them, and they believe this will work, something that would not be possible in any later story, when people know what kryptonite looks like and its adverse effects on Superman, but nobody else.
  • Ultimate Marvel:
    • Galactus is this for the entire Ultimate Universe when he shows up in Cataclysm: The Ultimates' Last Stand. After the events of Age of Ultron, he tears his way into the Ultimate universe where he bumps into his Ultimate counterpart, the Gah Lak Tus swarm, which proceeds to fuse with him, amplifying his hunger. Following a short fight with Captain Marvel, who manages to wound him with a last ditch effort attack, he travels to Earth to consume it and recharge. Once he gets there, there's no fanfare, no warning, nothing. Galactus just drops out of the sky on a normal sunny day and proceeds to blow up New Jersey. The rest of the series centers around the Ultimates scrambling in a desperate attempt to figure out who he is, where he came from, and how they can possibly stop him.
    • The Ultimates: Even in a world where magic and gods are known to exist, the idea of someone working for the literal Devil is nigh-impossible for the Avengers to swallow. They just think the Ghost Rider is a souped-up Mutant. They are wrong. They are very wrong.
  • The Ultimates (2015): The team is specifically created to solve Outside Context Problems before they occur. Their first task was to solve the Galactus problem permanently (or as permanently as comic books get), before he devoured another world. Their last mission had them, with Galactus as their benefactor, combatting a multiversal threat on a scale they couldn't even percieve at first.
  • Usagi Yojimbo: The series asks the question: what happens when a Slasher Movie villain appears in Hollywood Medieval Japan? Its answer: Jei-san, a Serial Killer who tends to carve a bloody swathe through his opponents and countless innocents. Protagonist Usagi, meanwhile, usually handles him just's getting rid of him for good that's a problem, because like any good slasher, Jei just keeps coming back, no matter what Usagi does.
  • Watchmen:
    • Dr. Manhattan. He's the only Super in the world (other "capes" do exist, but they're just people in costumes), and sports godlike powers. World politics are changed forever when he shows up. This leads to moments like him ending the Vietnam War in about a week, and the escalation of the Cold War because the Russians are scared shitless. A noted scientist comments that Manhattan is for all intents and purposes God and that absolute terror in response to that statement is, in fact, the sane response.
    • A giant squid monster attacks New York, and the world governments unite to fight this terrible threat. The all-too-human Big Bad created the alien-looking monster as a Batman Gambit to prevent human extinction through nuclear war.
  • Wonder Woman: A minor example in DC Ink's Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed. The Amazons are Artificial Humans created by the gods, so they're immortal and never age. Diana was a clay sculpture the gods turned into a human being, and ages normally. When she starts going through puberty, they have no idea how to handle it.
  • X-Men: In X-Men #11, both Professor X and Magneto assumed that the Stranger was a mutant, and tried to recruit him for their respective teams. It turned out that he was actually an extremely powerful alien, who did not appreciate it when Magneto tried to hector him into joining the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, and he proceeded to curb-stomp the annoying little villains before going home to his own planet.

    Films — Animation 
  • Terry becomes this in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker to defeat the Joker once and for all. The Joker is so used to dealing with Bruce's Batman (who is a stoic, honor-bound fighter with a strict no-kill policy) that he loses it when Terry mocks him and gives him a vicious "The Reason You Suck" Speech that utterly deconstructs him. Terry also has no problem fighting dirty and revoking the Joker Immunity.
  • The titular Dracula of The Batman vs. Dracula is very different from Batman's usual rogues gallery who, while not lacking in superpowers, are not supernatural Ancient Evil literal monsters with a vast array of powers. Batman can bring out an extra amount of Crazy-Prepared tools and plans with him, but that only allows him to 'survive' until sunrise. Dracula is also notably one of the only supernatural foe this Batman is shown facing, as even his later teamups with fellow superheroes face super science foes, having Dracula stand out as a very distinct and out of context enemy for Batman to face in '"The Batman'' series.
  • Beast and all his servants from Beauty and the Beast. The setting for the story is a peaceful and normal, French countryside. We then have Beast's castle, where all the humans have been transformed into moving and talking inanimate objects; and there's Beast, who lives up to his name. Because of Beast's appearance, Gaston uses this to rally a mob to kill him. They're mostly foiled because they never expected the castle's furniture to come alive and beat them up.
  • Frozen: Elsa's powers are leagues above anyone else in the entire film, which is one of many reasons why she is depressed. She's so out there and powerful that the antagonists have no real means of countering her, except to attack her very human side. On the other side of the scale, Prince Hans comes completely out of nowhere as a scheming, politically-minded manipulator. In a story about magic and the bond between sisters, no one was expecting the villain to have based their plans on medieval laws of succession.
  • The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part: The DUPLO aliens to the Bricksburgians. None of the heroes' attacks seem to have any effect on the invaders, and they even have the ability to eat lasers, which Metalbeard comments isn't possible.
  • Spike becomes this in My Little Pony: The Movie (2017) to the Storm King. While he obviously knew about the princesses and the magical powers possessed by unicorns, his soldiers were completely unprepared for someone who can sprout non-magical fire from their mouth.
  • The Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf Film Series' villains and conflicts often come so out-of-the-blue that it makes the goats team up with the wolves, something that never happens in the show prior to later seasons. To give some examples:
  • The Fractured Fairy Tale world of Shrek has largely cartoonish, fairytale-based villains. Then Puss in Boots: The Last Wish gives us the physical embodiment of Death itself, played so straight it isn't funny—which is exactly the point.
  • Wreck-It Ralph: Any character who game hops into another game falls into this. Ralph is completely out of context for the people in Sugar Rush since the characters tend to be cute little anime-style characters or anthropomorphic candy, while he's a giant brute able to shatter jawbreakers with his bare hands, something that is thought to be impossible. Vanellope is quick to take advantage of this.
    • The Cy-bugs deserve special mention. They're a Horde of Alien Locusts, capable of rapidly reproducing and then devouring everything in sight. In their own game, where they serve as the antagonists, they're kept in check by a Reset Button that kills them all off between games. If one escapes into another game without such a Reset Button, it can quickly grow an unstoppable army. Calhoun, one of the residents of their home game, even considers them more similar to a computer virus in nature rather than an AI. And of course, the world of Sugar Rush happens to be entirely made out of high-calorie food...

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Avatar: The Way of Water: The tulkans, a society of Sapient Cetaceans who live on Pandora, once fought brutally amongst themselves for territory. Once the bloodshed grew to be too much, the tulkans came together as a species and decreed that no tulkan would ever kill another living thing again, and that any tulkan who did would be forced out of their society in disgrace. That worked out well for many years... until humans arrived on the planet and started killing the tulkans for their brain matter. The tulkans, genuinely unable to comprehend that a species might go against "the Great Balance" and actually wipe them out, did nothing when the whaling ships arrived. Except for one of them, who became an outcast for fighting back.
  • Common in Batman films:
    • At the beginning of Batman (1989), the city officials are concerned with Boss Carl Grissom and his gangsters. They're completely unprepared and baffled by the arrival of The Joker, who decapitates the existing criminal underworld and focuses exclusively on pointless mayhem.
    • In The Dark Knight, Batman is so beyond anything the mob has ever dealt with that they are on the brink of collapse. They reach out to The Joker as a desperate act to get rid of Batman and their other enemies. To say that this backfired would be an understatement, as Joker turns out to be another Outside Context Problem. Batman, the cops, and organized crime all have their own brand of rational goals; nobody was prepared to deal with a mastermind who was exclusively in it For the Evulz.
    • In The Dark Knight Rises, the Gotham police dismiss Bane as just another gangster, but he turns out to be the commander of a revolutionary army that invades and occupies Gotham, which becomes a national concern.
  • Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey has the duo being killed by evil robotic duplicates of themselves, sent back in time by Chuck De Nomolos to kill them so he can take over the future world. But in turn, they didn't count on the real B&T escaping the afterlife with the help of the Grim Reaper, and then constructing good robotic versions of themselves (with assistance from a pair of Martian scientists) to destroy the Evil Robot B&T. De Nomolos himself intervenes shortly thereafter, but is foiled thanks to B&T's ingenious use of Retroactive Preparationand ultimately helps to cultivate the utopia he wanted to eliminate. (Rufus also reveals his involvement shortly thereafter; he'd been in disguise at the the woman in charge of the Battle of the Bands who'd let them in the event to start, having escaped De Nomolos at the start of the film.)
  • Casper: When the hero is a ghost and the primary antagonists are mortals who didn't even believe in ghosts at the beginning of the movie, it puts Casper firmly in this trope.
  • Cowboys & Aliens. The Alien Invasion plot is enough of an outside-context problem in contemporary settings where there's a good chance of characters being a little more savvy, but a bunch of 19th-Century cowboys obviously won't have any idea what they're really up against. Indeed, the heroes refer to the invaders as "demons" in the film, because they actually have a concept of those.
  • DC Extended Universe:
    • The Kryptonians in Man of Steel are a race of indestructible, super-strong Human Aliens capable of tearing humans apart with their bare hands and impervious to any weapons, that absolutely no one in the military has any idea to fight against, let alone defeat. It's only with the help of another member of their race that they have a chance.
    • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is all about how humanity reacts to the events of the previous movie and the unnerving knowledge of this trope hanging above their heads. The government fears Superman acting on his own because of his immense power and their inability to stop him and Batman is outright plotting to bring him down because of the danger he represents.
      Alfred: Everything's changed. Men fall from the sky. The Gods hurl thunderbolts. Innocents die. That's how it starts — the fever, the rage, the feeling of powerlessness, that turns good men cruel.
    • Wonder Woman (2017) is chronologically the first example of this trope with the titular Amazon warrior making her presence known during World War I, long before the Kryptonians' arrival in Man of Steel. The moment Wonder Woman steps into the battlefield, the Germans are unable to stop her advance, as she is able to liberate a town in matter of minutes what took a year for Allied soldiers to achieve. The only things capable of slowing her down are General Ludendorff on strength-enhanced drugs and her half-brother Ares, the God of War, is the only one capable of outright matching her. Ares himself qualifies as this too, since Steve instantly recognizes him as this since there is nothing his crew can do against him, leaving Diana to handle a god herself.
  • The Equalizer: Protagonist Robert McCall is one to The Mafiya that makes up the primary antagonists in the film, especially because Evil Cannot Comprehend Good is in full effect. They're all under the impression that he's an assassin who has been hired by a rival crime family to take them out. However, he's actually a retired CIA superspy who is targeting them because they brutalized and nearly killed a young Hooker with a Heart of Gold under their employ with whom Robert was good friends.
  • Newt Scamander is an outside-context hero in the Fantastic Beasts films: his affinity with magical beasts, many of which have scantly-documented abilities, gives him a curveball to use against wizards with more traditional powers. Using this method, he is able to capture Gellert Grindlewald, the most dangerous wizard alive, single-handedly.
  • The Gods Must Be Crazy is built on this, from the discarded Coke bottle to Xi's response to white society.
  • Often an issue in Godzilla films. Largely due to the monsters being so incomprehensibly huge, but also due to several of them having Bizarre Alien Biology. Militaries and conventional weaponry (and, on occasion, even NUCLEAR weaponry and alien technology) are often proven useless. Japanese giant monsters are usually only killed by either an incredibly advanced weapon (example: the Oxygen Destroyer) or by another monster (usually Godzilla himself).
    • In Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), even in a world stated to be populated by colossal beast gods like Godzilla, King Ghidorah turns out to be the odd one out. While all the other Titans, although destructive, are shown to be a natural part of the planet's ecosystem, most normally avoid humans, and their radioactivity even restores their destruction by promoting ancient plant growth, Ghidorah actively seeks to devastate the world for his own purposes. He also tanks a weapon said to kill all life within two miles, and cripples Godzilla, without a scratch, which is seen as unprecedented, and his energy is enough to awaken and agitate Titans globally. This is because he's actually an alien that arrived from outer space in prehistoric times and now wants to aggressively terraform the Earth to better suit his biology, something which the human ecoterrorists who awakened him to help restore the planet's biosphere did not see coming.
    • From the same universe, Kong: Skull Island. After Kong downs an entire wing of military helicopters, Shea Whigham's oddball character calmly acknowledges that "There was no precedent. We did the best we could."
    • 2016's Shin Godzilla does a very apt job of demonstrating that in a realistic setting, Godzilla himself- or any Kaiju really- is the devastating embodiment of this trope. At first, no one even believes that something like Godzilla could exist, to the point that even the experts brought in by the Prime Minister as consultants refuse to make concrete statements for fear of damaging their reputations. When Godzilla first makes landfall, the government is paralyzed by indescision, unsure as to what department this falls under, or whether they can legally use the Self-Defense forces against what is essentially an animal. Between this and their refusal to endanger bystanders with Self-Defense force weaponry, they don't even get a single shot at Godzilla before he causes massive casualties and vanishes into the ocean. When he shows up the next time, it's even worse. Ultimately it takes a complete government overhaul, aid from foreign powers, a crack team of rebellious international scientists, and the threat of a nuke hanging over their heads plus prep time and access to Godzilla's inert body for a workable plan to be put into effect- and even then it's explicitly a crapshoot.
  • Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny has a notable subversion: the moment a World War II-era bomber appears in the skies over the Siege of Syracuse because it went back in time through a time rift (an event that we see earlier in the film was immortalized with myths of a dragon), the Romans immediately open fire at it with their ballistas and bring it down.
  • In the Mouth of Madness has this for both the protagonist and the authorities in general, who are helpless in the face of reality itself falling apart.
  • A Kid in King Arthur's Court: Calvin is an everyday '90s kid teleported to the 6th century by the spirit of Merlin to help King Arthur. Although he's far from physically impressive and doesn't have any special powers, what keeps him ahead of Lord Belasco is his knowledge of future technology, which is created by a friendly blacksmith, along with his knowledge of King Arthur's story.
  • Played with in Last Action Hero, in which the villain attempts to become this trope by escaping Jack Slater's world of Action Tropes for our own: one where the bad guys can actually win. For him, it's a mind-blowing concept and opportunity.
  • In The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Treebeard states that the danger of enraging the ents should not be an Outside Context Problem to an istari a.k.a. a wizard, for "a wizard should know better!"
  • Multiple in the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Iron Man: There was nothing like Tony's power armor before he burst out of his captives' hideout using a crude prototype. When he did perfect the Iron Man design, he easily beat up a gang of terrorists and out-flew the US Air Force. It took someone stealing his technology just to match him. In the sequel, Tony uses his outside context status to deter terrorists and other hostile forces.
    • Thor: Thor himself, being a visitor from another planet, is nothing anyone has dealt with before. The people he befriends originally consider him a crazy hobo who thinks he's a mythological character. And in The Avengers, Nick Fury explains how the presence of someone from another world (whose "grudge match leveled a small town") left S.H.I.E.L.D. reeling.
      Nick Fury: Not only were we not alone, but we were hopelessly, hilariously, outgunned.
    • The Avengers:
      • The Avengers to the Chitauri's invasion force. It is made very clear that the Chitauri were expecting to simply waltz in and easily conquer the human race. Instead, their invasion is repelled in less than an hour by a team comprised of two Badass Normal soldiers, an Asgardian warrior, a guy in powered armor, a super-soldier... and the Hulk. Best summed up in The Stinger;
      • The Chitauri themselves are one of these. While aliens and monsters had been seen before in the MCU (Abomination, Hulk, Thor and Loki), for the most part the antagonists had been humans or lone aliens with technological boosts. Cue an alien army bursting into Manhattan, in stark contrast to the human mooks Loki had made use of before then.
        Steve Rogers: An army. From outer space.
    • Doctor Strange (2016): The Eye of Agamotto is this for Dormammu, given its ability to bend time. Dr. Strange beats him by using the Eye to trigger a time loop wherein Dormammu can do nothing but keep killing Strange over and over again, preventing his planned invasion of Earth. Because Dormmamu's dimension is a Place Beyond Time, Dormmamu doesn't even have a concept of what time is, much less the ability to counteract its effects, so he's forced to agree to Strange's bargain.
    • Doctor Strange himself is this for Loki, and Thor to a lesser extent, in Thor: Ragnarok. It's implied that Strange knows he's vastly physically outmatched by the two Asgardians, so he does his best to incapacitate them. He immediately traps Loki in a pocket dimension where he falls indefinitely, and is constantly teleporting himself and Thor around so quickly that he spills his beer and breaks bookshelves trying to get his balance back.
  • The Matrix: By the end of the first film, Neo evolves into a Matrix-warping super being like none have seen before. He can fight off and even kill an agent with ease, something that is thought to be impossible. Once he's finished with Agent Smith, the other two agents can only run. In The Matrix Reloaded, the agents fare better (and it's revealed Neo is not the first of his kind), but they're still completely outmatched by Neo. Another problem is Agent Smith surviving their final encounter from the first movie and becoming a virus that infects almost everyone in the Matrix by The Matrix Revolutions. The machines barter with Neo to stop the threat.
  • Monster Hunter (2020) has a team of United States Army Rangers sent to the New World. They quickly learn that the United States Military doesn't exactly have weapons capable of damaging creatures the size of the Chrysler Building, nor does military training prepare you to handle a Giant Spider swarm. The lone survivor of the squad ends up having to start more or less from scratch to deal with these threats, by learning how the natives fight them. When one of the monsters gets into our world at the end, it confirms further that our world's military firepower doesn't come close to handling them.
  • Imhotep in The Mummy (1999). He was an Ancient Egyptian priest who was mummified alive and cursed. The result of this curse is that, when he comes back, he's practically invincible and no one except for the Medjai really know how to deal with him — and the only way they had to deal with him on hand was to simply prevent him from being released in the first place.
  • Col. George Taylor from Planet of the Apes (1968). Despite being captive, enslaved, and thought to be mute, Taylor is out of context to the apes once they realize that he can write, is quite intelligent, and eventually talk once his throat is healed. All the other humans in the film are kept as pets who can't talk or think intelligently.
  • This is the basic setup of the first two Predator movies. Take a relatively generic action film premise, such as a jungle commando mission or an inner-city gang war, with all the regular tropes and plots in play... and then drop an intergalactic alien trophy-hunter into the mix. It gets back with a rage in Prey (2022), which similar to the above mentioned Cowboys & Aliens puts extraterrestrials against people who don't even understand the concept, namely the Predator hunting Native Americans and a French expedition in the 18th century.
  • The creatures in A Quiet Place are described in newspaper clippings we see as having mostly overwhelmed the world's militaries due to their nearly impenetrable armor, speed, agility and incredibly sensitive hearing.
  • RoboCop (1987): After Murphy is rebuilt into a cyborg, he spends most of the film relentlessly hunting and taking down criminals in Old Detroit. RoboCop is so beyond anything they have ever experienced that they're completely helpless before him and he takes down the drug lords who murdered him without taking any damage. A newscaster in the movie compared it to a comic book hero coming to life. It takes the criminals gaining access to military weapons and help from the big number two at OCP just to slow RoboCop down.
  • Invoked in the 2002 live-action Scooby-Doo film; as Fred observes, Mystery Inc.'s "area of expertise is nutjobs in Halloween costumes", and now they're the only hope to save mankind from a literal demon apocalypse.
  • A lot of the Star Trek films rely on this sort of thing. Relatively justified, since the protagonists are explorers, but in some cases, there are problems even they can't really begin to deal with:
  • Star Wars:
  • Invoked by Kyle Reese during his interrogation by the LAPD in The Terminator, when he explains frantically and vainly that the title character is unlike any threat they are familiar with:
    Kyle: You still don't get it, do you? He'll find her! That's what he does! THAT'S ALL HE DOES! You can't stop him! He'll wade through you, reach down her throat, and pull her fuckin' heart out!
  • Terminator: Dark Fate: Carl serves as this to the Rev-9; In the final battle, he holds his own with nothing but a blunt weapon and a few well-timed tackles. Indeed, whenever the Rev-9 is up against Carl, it's on the back foot, repeatedly trying to slash and stab Carl with its blades to zero effect. By the time it figures out it has to match Carl with brute strength, it can only do this once before Carl and Grace double-team it. A T-800 from a future that no longer exists is something the Rev-9 was simply never designed or programmed to deal with, and it's completely at a loss over how to efficiently neutralize this opponent.
  • Violent Night: The villains of the film are a gang of mercenaries who take a wealthy family hostage on Christmas Eve to steal the immense fortune in the vault below their house. They are well armed and well prepared for every eventuality. Except for the fact that Santa Claus is real, he was in the house when they took control, he can hold his own in a fight due to being a former Viking warrior, and he is not happy that they are threatening the sweet little girl of the family.
  • Willy's Wonderland: The murderous animatronics are quite deadly and have been able to prey upon the backwater town for years. When The Janitor gets trapped in the building with them, they attempt to make him yet another in a long line of their victims in a typical slasher movie style. It goes awry when he begins to effortlessly demolish them one by one.

  • Jake Epping aka George Amberson is this to the FBI in Stephen King's 11/22/63. They believe him to be a spy, but cannot explain his existence or seemingly impossible knowledge of events, since he is actually a time traveler from the future. Jake even has his own Outside Context Problem in the form of the Yellow Card Man.
  • In 1632, a whole West Virginia town is transported to that year in Thuringia during the 30 Years War. The resources of a hardscrabble coal mining town make it an immediate badass player in the war filled countryside. Imagine buckets of napalm fired from a trebuchet to break a castle siege and you get the idea. Also almost everyone in town, man and woman alike, is a hunter and pretty gun savvy. Automatic weapons and long range rifles with telescopic sights vs. wheel lock pistols is not much of a contest.
  • Agatha H. and the Airship City takes place in a Steampunk world. At some point prior to the start of the book, something started destroying towns by killing the local Sparks without ever being seen, dropping giant machines from the sky with pinpoint precision, and zombifying the inhabitants of every town it struck. When it was mostly known by rumor it was thought to probably just be another Spark, but it killed all of the people that it could have possibly been and got named the Other. It is heavily implied that the Hive Enginesnote  were dropped from orbit, onto a world which has abundant airships but (at this point) no heavier-than-air flight or space capability.note 
  • Ash: A Secret History: The Big Bad of this Alternate History novel set in the 15th century is the Wild Machines, a collective of naturally-occurring artificial intelligences trying to manipulate a human Reality Warper into destroying humanity. This is something the medieval European protagonists have no context for, but which the protagonists of the Framing Story, a modern historian and his publisher, do. One memorable chapter revises the medieval understanding of the Wild Machines with contemporary terminology: "ferae natura machinae" becomes "silicon-based 'machine' intelligences", "manipulating the energies of the spirit-world" becomes "drew upon solar electromagnetic energy", and "evil miracle" becomes "consciously guided alteration of the basic fabric of probable reality", to name a few.
  • Like the Disney film, most literary versions of Beauty and the Beast use this trope. It starts by following the realistic fortunes of a merchant and his children who lose their wealth and become peasants, with no hint that magic even exists in their world. Then the father stumbles across the Beast's castle...
  • The human George Campbell in "The Challenge from Beyond" (a Round Robin short story by H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard among others), to the worm-creatures of Yekub. He's initially a victim-protagonist who falls to a trap that swaps his mind with that of an alien from another galaxy, but once there (and once Howard gets to write him), he combines the alien brain's knowledge and a human's disregard for the limitations of local culture to pretty much immediately become God-Emperor. The fact that he used to be a boring geology professor only makes him more dangerous, as he has nothing to lose or miss about his former life.
  • Clive Cussler basically has this as the theme to all his books. The villains have crafted intricate and often brilliant plans to amass huge riches/control of a nation or even the world and often without any intelligence agencies even knowing about them and on the verge of success. At which point, enter an oceanographer/adventurer (Dirk Pitt or Kurt Austin), the crew of a seemingly run-down cargo ship (The Oregon Files) or a husband and wife treasure hunting team (Sam and Remi Fargo) to foul it all up. It's openly lampshaded how these maverick heroes were something the villains could never have planned for.
  • Codex Alera is a High Fantasy setting involving the realm of Alera, a Roman-esque society where everyone has Elemental Powers and much of the drama comes from warfare with rebellious lords or monstrous humanoid or Wolf Man invaders. The majority of enemies, while brutal and vicious, are still at roughly a medieval technology level... and then the Vord arrive. The Vord are a swarm of insectlike alien monsters intent on annihilating all life on the planet, have mutable forms and are terrifyingly intelligent, and are such a completely out-of-context opponent that the Alerans fail to grasp just how deadly the threat is for years after their initial (extremely bloody) skirmishes with the invaders, and the entire kingdom is virtually overrun in under a year once the Vord attack in force.
  • The Culture series:
    • Excession: The titular Big Dumb Object appears out of nowhere, doing little but demonstrating technological advancement incomprehensible even to the Sufficiently Advanced Aliens of the Culture. Ultimately, it vanishes again, reporting to its unseen creators that the universe isn't ready to meet them.
    • The Culture is itself an Outside Context Problem for almost every other civilisation in the galaxy, being so technologically advanced that as of Excession, when OCPs are first discussed, they could easily "Sublime" and Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence, but have chosen not to.
  • In Discworld, dragons are portrayed somewhat scientifically—meaning that they're usually about two feet long and tend to be sickly, since their fire-breathing is a case of Crippling Overspecialization. In Guards! Guards!, the antagonists are able to summon a more fantastical dragon from another dimension, and not even the local dragon expert, Sybil Ramkin, knows how to handle it (though she's keen to find out).
  • Domina:
    • The titular city was a crime-ridden island where gangs used Bio-Augmentation to turn themselves into monsters and kill each other. It was easily one of the most dangerous cities on the planet (it's mentioned that foreign spies rarely survive more than a week), but there were clear political lines and people generally understood what was going on. Then the Composer showed up with super-powered zombies and decided to start a Zombie Apocalypse For the Evulz. It takes a significant amount of time to get the gangs to stop killing each other long enough to fight the real enemy; one gang even continues a civil war while they're under attack by zombies. It's eventually revealed that the Composer is a sociopathic immortal from a far distant future, let loose like a wild dog as part of an excuse to give powers to the entire city.
    • Speaking of the Composer, nobody expected Silk to show up. Not only is she also an immortal from the future, but the Composer is her clone. Silk refers to her as her sister. When she arrived to retrieve the Composer, hundreds of people immediately attacked her. She ignored them and teleported straight to the people who could give her what she wanted.
    • And then there are the para, who surprised even Silk. They were aliens heading to Earth at light speed; in the original timeline, they arrived some time around 2200, so Silk was working under the assumption that it would be the same this time. But the same process that sent her back in time scattered a few artifacts across the universe, and the para stumbled across an FTL drive that they were able to jury-rig into a tow boat, allowing them to arrive in Sol two hundred years ahead of schedule.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • The appropriately named Outsiders, who come from outside reality and do not play by the normal rules that govern supernatural beings. Particularly Nemesis, an entity that can infect people's minds and warp their personalities to sway them to the Outsiders' cause. It can alter the fundamental mental nature of the beings it infects, such as removing the Cannot Tell a Lie restrictions that normally bind the fae, something that everyone believes to be impossible.
    • Ethniu the Last Titan from Peace Talks. Aside from the fact that no one seemed to know she still existed, she's so powerful that she smacks Mab through several walls in one blow.
    • Then there's the Oblivion War. A side story reveals that Thomas Raith is a Venatori, a secret player in a war that's been kept hidden from even the White Council, for very good reason: The Old Ones, the creatures the Venatori are trying to keep in check grow more powerful the more they're scrutinized, which means exposing them to any of the other players in the supernatural world would have the same effect as dropping a match on a puddle of gasoline.
  • Dr. Greta Helsing: The final book has angels from Another Dimension invade in hopes of causing the apocalypse, an event that utterly blindsides everyone on Earth, Heaven, and Hell alike. The invaders win so cataclysmically that God has to undo the end of the world.
  • Empire of the Vampire: Aside from the hordes of vampires now free to roam much of the land as they please, Daysdeath has also caused the death of much of the larger plantlife across the continent, including most trees. These have been gradually overgrown and devoured by varying species of fungi, now covering entire forests in a grim parody of their original greenery. On its own, this would have been a challenge to both human logistics and natural food chains. However, in the enchanted woods of the Ossian weald, the lichen somehow mutated into horrific, chimeric abominations of human, animal and fungi, driven by naught but blind hunger. How and why this happened none can explain and few try to uncover.
  • Eurico the Presbyter has the Umayyad Caliphate for the Visigothic Kingdom of Spain. Up until that point, they only had been at war with the Franks in the north, who were linguistically and culturally closer to them. They never really expected an highly organized and massive invasion from the South by an enemy with such a different culture. It doesn't help that the kingdom was also highly disorganized, fragile, and unprepared for such an invasion.
  • Humans in the Faeries of Dreamdark series. When the Djinni sealed away the demons, they enchanted the seals on the demon bottles so that no creature, force, or sapient they had created could open them. But since the Djinni did not create the humans (and have no idea where the hell they did come from), they are capable of releasing the sealed demons.
  • The Expanse series: The protomolecule falls into the middle of an increasingly tense standoff between Earth, Mars, and the Belt, and its presence just makes everything worse. Everyone is scrambling to get control of it, but very few people have even the remotest idea of what it is or how it works, and nobody understands its actual purpose. It gets worse when humanity thinks they have the protomolecule figured out, as it opens a Portal Network across the galaxy to numerous inhabited worlds... all of which are abandoned by the Precursors. Then they hit another outside context problem when the entities that killed said precursors start getting upset that humans are intruding on their realm....
    Chrisjen Avasaral: I have a file with 900 pages of analysis and contingency plans for war with Mars, including 14 different scenarios about what to do if they develop an unexpected new technology. My file for what to do if an advanced alien species comes calling? It's three pages long, and it begins with "Step one: find God."
    • And then there's another outside-context problem. In Persepolis Rising, the Sol system and her colonies have been trying to repair all the damage done to Earth, worrying about precedents and politics and the like. Then Laconia, which has been silent for three decades, mentions that they're returning to the scene. Everyone expects that things have gone poorly for them and are doing a diplomatic mission to ask for help. Instead, the Heart of the Tempest comes through, instantly vapourises a cruiser with a directed magnetic beam that nobody's seen before, destroys the Slow Zone defences, then proceeds to conquer the rest of humanity single-handedly.
  • Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series:
  • In Gulliver's Travels the title character is a fairly normal human, but because the Lilliputians are only about six inches tall he becomes an One-Man Army (or more accurately a Navy) for them. The reverse goes for Brobdingnag, who treat Gulliver like a circus attraction. Taken to a new level in Houyhnhnm-Land, where the Houyhnhnms had never encountered an intelligent Yahoo before.
  • The titular country in Heralds of Valdemar is one where, for most of its history, almost everyone firmly believes that magic only exists in the past tense thanks to a massive spell keeping them from thinking otherwise. The spell is flexible enough to allow them to temporarily think about and strategize against magic when it's being used against them, which is good because all their enemies are willing and able to do so. But because magic's a thing out of old stories to the Valdemarans and they aren't permitted to learn about it, they're consistently caught flat-footed and tend to regard enemy mages with a lot of superstition and fear.
  • The Heroes of Olympus: In The Mark of Athena, Percy Jackson and his friends are attacked by his half-brother Chrysaor, son of Poseidon and Medusa. Normally, when they face a new supernatural being, the well-read Annabeth Chase gives exposition. However, since there are no myths about Chrysaor other than his birth and the fact he fathered Geryon, Annabeth has no idea about his powers and weaknesses, which makes him very dangerous as he easily bests Percy in a fight.
  • Early in The Hidden City, the bad guys get really desperate and summon an Eldritch Abomination. Of all the good guys' side, only Aphrael and the Bhelliom had any idea what Klæl even was at that point. This leads to a scene where the armies of the Church Knights, who have no idea this has happened, coming across what -– to them –- appears to be the King of Hell, who summons armies of alien warriors, and losing thirty thousand men, plus twenty thousand wounded, in a comparatively brief engagement.
  • The Great Evil from Humanx Commonwealth, is so far out of context that it turns out to be from another universe entirely. In fact it's revealed that its nature as an outside-context villain is the whole reason it's dangerous in the first place; in its own universe it was a harmless and benevolent force but due to the physics of the HC universe being different from its birthplace, its powers became destructive. Flinx ends up "defeating" it by dropping it back into its own realm, causing it to instantly become friendly again.
  • Charles Stross's Iron Sky has the Eschaton. One day, without any warning, a large fraction of Earth's population vanished. Then, signals started being received from what turned out to be human colonies on other worlds populated by those who had vanished; they had been sent back far enough in time that their communications at light speed arrived at Earth at the time they left. This, incidentally, is all backstory to the novel.
  • The Malloreon lists off every individual who is required to take part in the final confrontation of the Prophecies, as recorded by ancient oracles. And then the Big Bad starts conjuring up demons and making pacts with the King of Hell. This throws all sides for a loop — to the point that the heroes theorize this is why Beldin, one of the most powerful mages in the world and someone not in any of the prophecies, is tagging along with their group: because the Prophecies insist on keeping their battle equal, as anything else would render the results invalid (and wipe out all existence).
  • In The Night Angel Trilogy, the invasion of Khalidor from the north, starting from the second book but the seeds of which were being planted as early as the beginning of the first. A powerful, magic-using, sadistic empire that had supposedly been held off by the defenses in the North for so long that everyone in Cenaria had ceased to consider them anything other than a distant potential threat. However, because Khalidor has been considered a non-entity in current affairs, no one is vigilant against the steady infiltration and manipulation of events in Cenaria, so that, by the time the invasion proper begins, there's effectively no defense. The Sa'Kage, the secret underground group that runs the city's criminal empire, is likewise caught flat-footed by the fact that Khalidor considers them a pest to be completely extinguished, not a necessary evil to be tolerated as they had for centuries.
  • According to The Nightmare Stacks, British military schools set officer candidates tasks to come up with responses for various situations. The cockier students get trickier assignments. "US Invades Canada" is one of the more plausible scenarios. Others include "Martian Fighting Machines in London", "Invasion by Elves" and "The Apocalypse of St. John". All of these get filed away just in case, in hopes that the UK's armed forces aren't totally unprepared for whatever OCP does come up.
  • Rob of An Outcast in Another World, to some degree. He's from another world, his existence was entirely unexpected, and he brings new ideas and a new perspective. To a larger degree, The Blight are Eldritch Abominations that Elatra is unequipped to deal with.
  • Inverted in Out of the Dark, which seems like a typical Alien Invasion novel. Then Dracula gets pissed and wipes out the invaders.
  • The Rise of Kyoshi has Kyoshi face off against Xu Ping An, a deadly warlord intent on wreaking bloody havoc across the world after being freed from prison. Whilst she reasonably concludes that he is a bender, it doesn't cross her mind that he could be a firebender (since he was an Earth Kingdom bandit leader) nor one capable of generating lightning, which was an ability so rare that even the Fire Nation thought it to be mythical (and the only reason he was imprisoned rather than executed is because they wanted to squeeze the knowledge out of him) until he zaps her. Kyoshi herself ends up as this to Xu Ping An himself, funnily enough; not only did he not expect her to survive being blasted with lightning, he didn't expect her to be the freaking Avatar either.
  • Safehold: Merlin Athrawes. In a world deliberately engineered to be stuck in Medieval Stasis, he's an advanced cyborg with superhuman personal abilities, a secret cave full of futuristic technological goodies, and a mission to break that medieval stasis.
  • Seveneves: "The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason."
  • In the Shadowleague books, Lord Blade is this for the people of Callisoria, and possibly even his fellow Loremasters.
  • In the Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Was Not stories "The Sign of Two" and "Curtain Call", this Trope is a good description of the reason Holmes fails to solve these cases; Holmes’s logical, scientific mind means that he literally cannot comprehend the idea that Jekyll and Hyde could be the same man in "The Sign of Two", and "Curtain Call" would only make sense to him if he accepted the notion that his long-time friend Doctor Mabuse is actually an immortal agent of Satan.
  • George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire has this crop up as part of the "it doesn't matter how clever you are, you're going to get spannered" discourse. And, these are, naturally, the biggest, baddest spanners of all:
    • The Seven Kingdoms are ripping themselves apart in civil war, blissfully unaware that the demonic Others are amassing their army of the undead just north of the Wall. Only the Night's Watch has taken any (tottering) steps to actively fight them, and they are woefully outnumbered. Worse, much of the shakey knowledge they used to have about the Others has been lost. Even the current Watch took some convincing that what they are facing aren't just myths, and is having trouble coming to terms with the fact they're not. The only authority figure in the Seven Kingdoms who takes the threat seriously is Stannis Baratheon.
    • Westeros had a long and storied history of intrigue and conquest long before Aegon the Conqueror and his two sisters flew in with a dragon apiece and curb-stomped five of the seven native kingdoms in quick succession, forcing a sixth to surrender rather than be conquered by force. But, how they did it and what they decided to make of the kingdoms after doing so was on a scale far closer to the larger than life myths of the Dawn Age than, you know, bog standard invasion and politics. The trope is best expressed by Harrenhal, a massive and impregnable castle that was nonetheless defenseless against dragonfire.
    • Dragons coming back from apparent extinction took the Free Cities of Essos (and the not-so-free cities of Slaver's Bay) a little by surprise. But, that was nothing compared to Daenerys Targaryen living up to the stubbornness of her Valyrian blood. And, the fire.
      • Heck, this is pretty much the story of the Valyrian Freehold in a nutshell: get dragons, rise pretty much from nothing, take over almost half a freaking super-continent, change cultures at will... go so hugely and unexpectedly boom that the various physical, political, and social craters wind up smoking and causing various brands of fallout for almost 500 years of chaos. Westeros got the lite version; Essos is still reeling from the full-fat, cane sugar, fully caffeinated original when Daenerys rocks up as... an unpleasantly nostalgic aftershock.
    • The eastern religion of R'hllor was virtually unknown in Westeros at the start of the series, yet evangelical inroads made by the clergy have allowed them to quickly shift the balance of power in the Seven Kingdoms. Also, unlike the two dominant religions of Westeros, the followers of R'hllor are capable of using real magic with some requiring a great sacrifice. That this is suspiciously close to the Targaryen motto of "Fire and Blood" and the old myths and legends surrounding the rise and dramatic fall of Valyrian magic has not escaped readers... and, links back to the above examples, too. Magic is as full of nasty outside-context pitfalls as it is nigh-unimaginable (and highly risky) opportunities. Or just outright bloody chaos.
    • The less magical, more mundane, and usually more subtle version also crops up: paradigm shifting — for when systems get suddenly changes so much, the old version pretty much dies, despite keeping some previous ideas alive. Major power-players like Petyr Baelish, Varys, and Maester Pycelle, as well as even more minor ones like Bronn, Qyburn, and Thoros of Myr to historical leverage points like Ser Duncan the Tall, the Great Spring Sickness, or the formation of the city-state of Braavos all manage to take the various established powers by surprise thanks to flying in under the collective radar to engineer, take part in, or spark paradigm shifts almost nobody could predict until after the once-taken-for-granted sociopolitical landscape is yanked from under them.
    • Euron Greyjoy enters the scene in the third book, and seems to come from an entirely different genre, bringing elements of high fantasy and Lovecraftian horror into the low fantasy world of Westeros. Few people in Westeros even know who he is beyond his role in the Greyjoy Rebellion, but when he returns with a ship full of Valyrian artifacts and deformed mutes, he begins to establish himself as the biggest threat to Westeros save the Others themselves. Not to mention, while most human villains desire wealth, power, or are simple sadists, Euron seems to want something much more: the end of the world.
  • This is the central concept behind Area X in The Southern Reach Trilogy. Everything about it is just so utterly alien to human science that it's implied we aren't even capable of comprehending what it is, how it works, who/what caused it and why.
  • Discussed in the StarCraft novelization Liberty's Crusade. Arcturus Mengsk describes the twin Alien Invasions of the zerg and protoss in a chess context (while playing a game with viewpoint character Michael Liberty) as being like a green army suddenly invading the chessboard midgame and attacking both white and black.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • The Yuuzhan Vong in the novel series New Jedi Order. They hail from outside the galaxy far far away and have a truly alien culture, where pain is a glorified state of living and killing is a sacrifice to their gods, which put them at extreme odds with all the other inhabitants of their galaxy and guaranteed a war as soon as they arrived. And they used completely unique organic-based technology. If that wasn't enough, they existed completely outside the Force and were completely immune to it.
    • A duology of books by Joe Schreiber (Death Troopers and its prequel Star Wars: Red Harvest) both revolve around Zombie Apocalypses happening in the Galaxy Far, Far Away. The results are bloody, gory, and nobody who tries to exploit them, Imperial nor Sith, gets to benefit at all.
  • The Stormlight Archive: The plot of the series is that the Voidbringers, ancient demons from fairytales, are returning to the world to finally defeat humanity after being driven off countless times before. The problem is, the last time they were driven off was four and a half thousand years ago. Not only has that time faded into myth so much that most people don't believe the Voidbringers existed in the first place, but at the Last Desolation the Heralds of the Almighty abandoned their oaths and told humanity that they had finally won for good. That means that the few people who do believe the Voidbringers existed also believe they're never coming back. Very, very few people recognize the signs and know what to expect. And a number of those are operating under the belief that because the return of human magic users is a harbinger of the return of the Voidbringers, killing off said magic users will prevent the Voidbringers from coming back.
    • This is increasingly becoming a theme of the series as a whole. As the story progresses we discover that nobody really knows what's going on or how any of the magic they rely on really works, and more and more powerful characters are getting blindsided by unforeseeable twists (in the case of Odium, quite literally unforeseeable).
  • Terminate the Other World!:
    • Not only is NSLICE-00P a top of the line combat cyborg with bleeding edge weapons technology, she's also technically a dungeon, meaning most of the standard tactics for dealing with superior enemies (waiting for them to run out of ammo and mana) are completely useless on her. Combined with her advanced sensor suites, machine learning capability, and just plain single-minded stubbornness, and anyone who tries to impede her in any way quickly discovers there is absolutely nothing that can slow her down.
    • On the other hand, NSLICE-00P was never designed to exist in a purely magical world. While she and her designers were aware of magic, it is so ubiquitous in the new world that she is caught off guard several times. She is very surprised that a dumb animal has been mutated to the point that it can tear off her metal arms, and immediately retreats to reassess the situation and acquire upgrades.
  • There Was No Secret Evil Fighting Organization is set on an Earth where superpowers are not tied to a purpose; no evil threats, no history of superpowered beings, nothing. One minute Sago was a Ridiculously Average Guy, and the next he somehow knew he had telekinesis. He waited for ten years for someone, anyone, who understood what was happening to show up, but no-one ever did. Then he snapped and started doing his utmost to make Earth magical, driven by a furious obsession that (luckily for him and everyone else) manifested itself in a semi-positive way. There's an Alternate Reality Episode depicting a villainous Sago, who humanity cannot stop from desecrating the solar system.
  • Villains Don't Date Heroes!: At the start, Night Terror is prepared to fight basically anything on Earth; she states at one point that she, personally, is the strongest military on Earth. Then superhuman alien Fialux shows up, who is stronger, faster, and tougher than even Night Terror's greatest weapons can handle.
  • Warhammer 40,000: In the stories about Ciaphas Cain, the Necrons are presented as even more ancient, mysterious and deadly than the other enemy groups. In a galaxy where fighting invincible armies of inhuman monstrosities is routine, people still tend to be clueless and helpless against the Necrons, both because most have never heard of them and because they're so exceedingly deadly and able to do things like teleport at will. Humans often inadvertently build cities and bases on Necron tombs, heightening the terror when they rise from their slumber and kill everything on the planet. Even after Cain has encountered them, about all he can draw from his experiences is an attitude in the lines of "Even if I was a real hero, I'd still run away from them." They even surprise and Curb Stomp the armies of Chaos the same way on one occasion.
  • The War of the Worlds (1898): This trope works in both directions. The humans had no idea about the alien invaders and the alien invaders had no idea about human diseases.
  • The Worldwar series involves a reptilian alien species interrupting World War II by invading the planet in anticipation of a later colonization fleet, forcing the democratic and totalitarian regimes that were previously at each others' throats to work together against the aliens. Ironically, this goes both ways — the Race had scouted out "Tosev 3" some eight hundred years ago and were unimpressed by their probes' images of scruffy knights in crappy armor, and had no idea a species could go from that to radio, planes and atom bombs in a matter of mere centuries. Despite being advanced enough to travel between worlds on Sleeper Starships, the aliens' actual military consists of jet fighters, tanks and helicopters that are the equivalent of our modern armed forces, so while they have the advantage over the armies of World War II, it isn't enough of an advantage.
  • The characters of World War Z repeatedly lampshade that nobody even believed in zombies, let alone knew anything about how to defeat them. note 
    • Additionally, Iran gets one in the form of Pakistan. Iran considered itself (and, early on, genuinely was) safe and secure, with abundant natural resources, highly mountainous terrain that was extremely unforgiving to zombies, and cities located far away from one another that could be easily isolated if one of them were to be overrun. Unfortunately, Iran's attempts to stop the flow of refugees from neighboring Pakistan — including blowing bridges at the border — enraged Pakistan's government and triggered a nuclear war that destroyed both countries. The man being interviewed describes how, unlike longtime rivals and nuclear powers India and Pakistan, the lack of historic enmity between Iran and Pakistan and the relative infancy of Iran's nuclear weapons program meant that the two countries had never developed the mechanisms and diplomatic channels to prevent war between them.
  • Worm and its sequel Ward:
    • The Endbringers are massive, unstoppable monstrosities that regularly obliterate major population centers. Their origins and motivations are completely unknown though the characters theorize that someone is creating them. The entire Hero/Villain dynamic was shaped specifically with the Endbringers in mind once they showed up. They're powerful enough to force cooperation and an unwritten code of conduct between the two sides.
    • In Worm, the source of the powers themselves, the Entities. They are sapient, planet-sized, multidimensional, hive mind, alien beings that use portions of themselves ("Shards") to empower "lesser" beings via trigger events in order to gather data in an attempt to find a solution to Entropy. They reproduce by learning enough data to split off a new version of themselves, and travel by blowing up planets across every alternate dimension. The secret organization Cauldron is dedicated to trying to find a way to stop them, but no one else has any idea what they are or how they work. Until one of them starts ending the world ahead of schedule...
    • In Ward, the Titans, who are gigantic, Endbringer-like creatures formed when a Parahuman undergoes a "broken" second trigger event and merges with their Shard, an event made possible by the destruction of the Entity Scion at the end of Worm. The first was created when due to being stuck in a time loop and suddenly released, Dauntless undergoes 10,000 second trigger events at once. Later, 12 of them are suddenly created when overuse of powers at a critical moment causes cracks in reality to form. Each has different levels of humanity and goals. They are individually as tough and destructive (or more so) than the Endbringers. Much as with Scion and the Endbringers in Worm, no one has any good idea how to fight them, much less defeat them, though at least in this case, being formerly human, maybe there's a way to communicate with them...
  • In The Wheel of Time, in the second book, The Great Hunt, the continent is suddenly invaded by the Seanchan, an empire from an unknown continent across the sea. The Seanchan are the distant descendants of the armies that Artur Hawkwing dispatched across the sea a thousand years earlier to conquer whatever was on the other side of the ocean — something they succeeded at. The invasion is known as the Return, as the Seanchan seek to reclaim the lands that are, by their logic as heirs to The High King, rightfully theirs. This is a massive complication for everyone, as the Last Battle is fast approaching.

  • Gloryhammer: The Deus ex Machina at the end of the album ''Return to the Kingdom of Fife" is based on this: Not even Zargothrax's "countless aeons of scheming across multiple dimensions" could anticipate that the Starlords of Eternity would show up to show their displeasure at his misuse of their ancient superweapons, using power overwhelming even to him. And their intervention isn't that beneficent for the heroes either.

  • Sporadic Phantoms is set in the Animorphs universe, and is about a trio of hosts running basically a true crime investigation in a world that seems like ours, with just a smidge more in the way of science fiction technology. They are in no way prepared for the culty organization that they start looking into to be the "soft" side of an Alien Invasion with Puppeteer Parasites being able to infest people to take them over - often causing contacts who were skeptical of the Sharing to do a complete 180 and support it wholeheartedly.

  • Fesxis from Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues. All of the cast receive their superpowers from a single Mass Super-Empowering Event, which is heavily implied to be hard science caused by the government. The exception is Sebastian, who instead gains his powers from Fesxis — an eldritch, otherworldly shadow spirit with no connection to the empowering event.
  • This is essentially what allows The Ballad of Edgardo's eponymous hero to become a Lethal Joke Character - elemental damage has ridiculous modifiers when used with weapons, while Edgardo is a Bare-Fisted Monk and took a trait that uncaps his Spirit pool in exchange for only being allowed to use rawnote  Spirit. Because he's possibly the only person who's even taken this trait, everyone he fights consistently forgets about the fact that raw Spirit can't be resisted, and with enough Spirit buildup, Edgardo can launch Megaton Punches strong enough to one-shot lower level players and seriously dent even high level ones. And once he reaches the area that instantly refills people's Spirit up to the cap, which he doesn't have...
  • Collection Quest: Part of the reason that Danny has been left alone by both Coil and the PRT is quite simply the fact that his kids now have powers they aren't prepared to handle. Coil's gone so far as to give him a quiet protection service; apparently, whatever happened in a throwaway timeline where Danny died was really bad.

    Tabletop Games 
  • BattleTech: The Clans become this to the Inner Sphere in the mid-31st century. After a period of three hundred years of constant warfare between the five Great Houses, the level of technology in the Inner Sphere had regressed to near 20th century era levels, with virtually all Star League-era technology becoming Black Boxes. Then suddenly a massive army appears from the edge of known space, using BattleMech designs that look like nothing anyone's ever seen before and equipped with weaponry and equipment that's vastly superior to anything produced even during the golden age of the Star League. They curbstomped everyone in their path to Terra, and it was openly wondered if they were even human. It turns out that in those three hundred years, the Star League Defense Forces that left the Inner Sphere had been researching, developing and improving their technology for the day when they would come back and retake the Inner Sphere.
  • Chronicles of Darkness: While all the different game lines for Vampires, Werewolves, Mages, Changelings, and much, much more, all take place in the same world, the different forms of supernatural beings — and their respective antagonists — all tend to travel in their own circles, and either don't interact with the others much or don't even know that they exist. Thus, when they do cross paths, it can lead to all kinds of chaos and misunderstandings.
    • As such, when the inevitable crossover chronicle happens, the general approach is to go even more "outside." For years, the God-Machine, hinted at in the first pages of the original core book, was often used from this. When the God-Machine was better defined, Onyx Path released The Contagion Chronicle, a sourcebook for invisible conspiracies comprised of all the various supernatural groups aimed at investigating, controlling, and stemming outbreaks of the mysterious reality-warping "Contagion" whenever it occurs. It can be memetic, it can be mutagenic, it can infect the laws of physics... and no, nobody knows where it came from.
  • Dungeons & Dragons offers a thousand and one options for this. In general, pulling new monsters, character classes and abilities from splatbooks that the players aren't familiar with or have yet to be incorporated into the campaign would create examples of the trope — upset the usual arcane/divine magic divide with something like psionics, incarnum, or pact magic, throw monsters and classes from a Far Eastern setting into your standard Western fantasy campaign, and so forth. Examples with the trope already built into them include:
    • Summon Magic can literally pull a villain from some other context, or have a party pull this on someone else after getting summoned by another spellcaster.
    • Inevitables are extraplanar robots that enforce the natural laws of the universe.
    • The bodaks' backstory varies by each edition they appear in, but their d20 Modern incarnation is pretty unusual: they're fraal that have risen as undead horrors after coming in contact with pure evil.
    • The aboleths, a race of aquatic aberrations from the dawn of time, have Genetic Memories that stretch back further than lesser races' creation myths, and remember a time before deities. They're freaked out by the illithids, because as far as the aboleths can tell, the mind flayers just showed up out of nowhere a couple of centuries ago. Depending on which edition you're using, this is because the Illithids used Time Travel to escape their civilizations' collapse at the end of the universe, just materialized in the world after coming through a breach in reality itself accidentally opened up by a wizard experimenting with planar travel, or arrived on the Material Plane after sailing between worlds on their irreplaceable interplanar warships.
    • The Expedition to the Barrier Peaks module is an entire campaign of this, as the players have to deal with a crashed alien spacecraft and all the technology it contains. Generally regarded as one of the toughest early D&D modules.
    • Eberron: The Last War ended with the Day of Mourning. On a single day, the nation of Cyre, right in the middle of the other nations, was consumed by mist, killing everything within its borders. The other nations were so terrified that they made peace among themselves, and four years later, no one has any idea what caused it.
  • Exalted:
    • There are quite a few of these. In the past five years, Abyssal and Infernal Exalted — types of Exalted no one's seen in all of history — have started crawling out of the woodwork after their respective bosses got their hands on half of all the Solar Exaltations ever crafted. And for the recently-returned Solars, the eventual return of the Scarlet Empress can seem like this as she would likely reunite and reinvigorate her empire as well as regain control of the superweapon that lies at the heart of it.
    • The Abyssals and Infernals apply doubly so to the Sidereals, who were watching the shop while the Solars were dead and the Lunars were on the run. They have the ability to track all things which reside within Fate... which the Abyssals (who have technically died and surrendered their fates) and the Infernals (who were reforged in Malfeas) don't count under.
    • The quintessential example might be the conquest of Thorns. An army of ghosts and undead, led by the horrifically powerful ghost Mask of Winters, supplemented by the aforementioned Abyssals (being seen for the first time) and a gigantic dying monster, leading to the city being not only taken over, but converted into a Shadowland expanding at a terrifyingly unprecedented rate.
    • The event of the Alchemical Exalted (or Autochthonians in general) entering Creation would play out like this in scenarios with a military context. The reverse holds true as well; the Autochthonians have very little idea what Creation is actually like and it disturbs them fairly badly.
    • In a rare inversion of this trope, the Primordials are terrifying lovecraftian planes of existence which are also sentient and compromised of greater demons and lesser ones as well as being Genius Loci with Malevolent Architecture topped of with Blue-and-Orange Morality. The only thing that saves them from this trope is that they made the universe and have been running things from day 1. That, and the protagonists were literally created by the Gods (who in turn were made by the Primordials because they wanted someone to take care of the boring make sure reality doesn't fall apart business) to destroy them makes the titular Exalted outside context problems to them. That said, the aforementioned Demons, the Yozis, and Undead, the Neverborn, that corrupted half the Solar shards? They are mutilated and imprisoned in the body of their king (and yes, that means Malfeas is imprisoned within himself) and killed-but-that-wasn't-programmed-into-reality-so-you-are-stuck-in-horrific-pain-until-reality-is-destroyed Primordials in that order.
  • Magic: The Gathering:
    • The Eldrazi, being Eldritch Abominations from the spaces between planes of existence which feed on said planes, and don't obey the basic rules of magic. Until their escape, the plane of Zendikar where they were imprisoned was presented as an adventure world. To quote the Rise of the Eldrazi Player's Guide, "Previous quests have been for treasure and glory. In the new Rise of the Eldrazi set... only one goal remains: survival."
    • New Phyrexia's attack. Even when the Mirrans knew they were at war, they expected their opponents to wage war on the people... not the ecosystem.
    • During the Conflux of Alara, all five Shards got hit with this. Each one had been without two colors of magic for so long they had forgotten those colors even existed, meaning that each one suddenly found themselves running into two mini-worlds defined by magic they had never experienced. Best exemplified by Esper, the white-blue-black Shard, which developed into a land of cyborgs who infused etherium into their bodies because only one of their three colors was even capable of artifact destruction, and then suddenly found itself running into red and green, two colors of magic that excel at blasting artifacts into shrapnel.
    • Inverted for the players/series protagonists, the planeswalkers, who able to travel between planes at will, cast powerful magic, and summon completely alien creatures. From the perspective of the planes they visit, they are the Outside Context Problem.
  • In Nomine: Yves, Archangel of Destiny, was the very first being made by God, and named all concepts, things and celestials made during the creation of the world and most of its early history. A few millennia after the Fall, a new Prince arose in Hell to serve as his mirror — Kronos, Prince of Fate, who appears to be the same kind of higher celestial as Yves, but Fallen and corrupted. Yves understands what Kronos is, but not where he came from. He has no memory of ever naming him, nor of any being that could have Fallen to become him. This gap is unique to Kronos, and worries Yves immensely.
  • Pathfinder: Baba Yaga was this to the Linnorm Kings. She suddenly arrived in her Dancing Hut one winter 1400 years ago, conquered half their territory with her army of trolls and fey, established one of her daughters on the throne, and just as quickly left, leaving her army behind to protect the newly-established kingdom of Irrisen. Reign of Winter eventually reveals why she bothered; she sustains her immortality by consuming the Life Energy of her female descendants/daughters. Irrisen, then, ensures she always has a steady supply of that precious bloodline protected and kept ready for her when she needs a pick-me-up.
    • The same adventure path has the players both become, and encounter, this trope. Book five, Rasputin Must Die! has the fantasy adventurers arrive in 1916 Russia. The party encounters land mines, tanks, and modern infantry and firearms, while the Russians, shell-shocked and largely numb from the horrors of the Great War, steady their rifles against flying wizards and armored paladins with steely resolve. After all, after watching your village get shelled and drown on dry land from mustard gas, at least the elf casting Cloudkill is something you can shoot back.
  • Rifts is basically "Outside Context Problem: The Game." In a World… where cyborgs duke it out with mages, vampires, demons, Eldritch Abominations, alien Corrupt Corporate Executives, The Empire, and even combinations of any or all of the above fight for territory, it gets a little crazy. In the backstory, the Coming of the Rifts was this for the people of Earth. A small nuclear war caused the very fabric of existence to fall apart, pouring horrific creatures onto an unsuspecting planet, while nature itself seemed to be trying to tear the planet to pieces. Something like a billion people died in the opening salvos, and their deaths only triggered more chaos and insanity. Three hundred years later, the earth is still recovering, and humans are only just starting to reclaim their world.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade: The Kindred have a great number of prophesies and theories concerning the end times and the Final Nights, and a great many schemes, plans and contingencies laid aside for that eventuality. In "Wormwood", one of the apocalyptic scenarios in the Gehenna sourcebook, absolutely none of this comes to pass — the end times come unannounced, bereft of any of the signs the vampires spent centuries watching for, in a way that none of them predicted, because God has made up His mind that the Kindred have overstayed their welcome on the Earth. One night, the eldest vampires begin to notice a loss in power, and forty nights later every vampire on Earth is dead; many go to their final end never understanding what is happening to them.

  • Warhammer 40,000: Most factions are connected one way or another to the War in Heaven. Orks, Eldar, and Necrons are all descended from the participants, while Chaos and The Imperium were created indirectly by the carnage it left behind. But two of the main factions are totally unrelated to the backstory and have proven hard to deal with in different ways.
    • The Tyranids are a swarm of ravenous bugs invading from another galaxy entirely. Less a species and more of an infectious self replicating ecosystem with a powerful psychic presence. None of the other factions have any idea who they are and where they came from (Despite supposedly being from another galaxy their vanguard of genestealer cults has been around for way longer than they should have been). And nobody has any long term plan to deal with them other than "try not to die" making them the Greater-Scope Villain of the setting. (Fortunately they mostly exist just to get Worfed in the fluff) It is hinted in fact that the Tyranids are actually fleeing their own galaxy — just what could possibly be so bad that these abominations would flee into this galaxy to get away from it!?

    • The other is The T'au, a primitive species of little blue-hooved aliens from a backwater part of the galaxy, that were largely left to their own devices thanks to a Negative Space Wedgie. Over time they developed into a high-tech spacefaring empire and broke onto the scene with technology leagues ahead of what the average human has access to, as well as a surprisingly idealistic approach to interstellar diplomacy and integration of conquered peoples in a setting where genocidal purges are the normal response to anything you don't recognize. Also, their prior isolation means that every other faction (but especially Chaos) is an Outside-Context Problem to them! Their lack of understanding of how the setting works ironically makes them the most unpredictable of all the factions.

    • The Emperor inadvertently set one up for his own Imperium prior to the Horus Heresy. Despite the Emperor knowing about the Chaos Gods, one of the cornerstones of his new Imperium was the "Imperial Truth", a rational, secular philosophy that had no room for gods or "daemons" — he hoped to starve them of faith, which would hypothetically cause them to stop existing. So when fully half of the Space Marine Legions fell to Chaos, not only did the Loyalists go from fighting aliens and isolated human societies to fighting soldiers just as superhuman and well-equipped as they were, but soldiers with access to summoned daemons and the surprising applications of using them.

    • The Harrowing, an event mentioned in Dark Heresy. Fluff indicates that it was an entire eldritch universe barging into the Materium and kicking the shit out of everyone in the region so badly that all the habitable worlds in a sector or three are nothing but lifeless deserts. It may well have been an even more devastating conflict than the Horus Heresy, but almost nothing remains outside of Astartes battle sagas and a few third-hand fragments in some obscure and seemingly unreliable sources. Which isn't even covering what the Imperium had to do to survive.

    • Back in the days of the Great Crusade, the Imperium encountered a species who had long ago ritualized their warfare to enormous arenas where armies would slaughter each other. The Space Marines wasted no time in destroying the keylekid from afar instead of bothering with the xenos' honor system.

    Theme Parks 

  • Beast Wars: Uprising: "Cultural Appropriation" has several sides running into a set of Go-Bots from another universe. Thanks to their being Go-Bots, their tech means they could take the hyper-advanced mankind by surprise, since mankind have become more than a little self-assured of their superiority.
  • The main Toa groups in BIONICLE have a habit of being this, mostly because you don't expect Toa to pop up in canisters next to your island (twice), invade your underwater prison, rise above being The Unchosen One and turn you into a Makuta popsicle or randomly appear at the centre of the world. Even outside of this, there's a whole bunch of these running around regardless, the most notable being Makuta facing an outside context Humongous Mecha.

    Visual Novels 
  • This is uncovered in Double Homework once the protagonist finds out that he and his former classmates have been used in one of the Zeta experiments to study the sex lives of teenagers.

    Web Animation 
  • Hazbin Hotel: Alastor the Radio Demon was a human radio host/serial killer who died, went to Hell, almost immediately launched a bloody onslaught against the established demon lords of Hell, and won with minimal effort and maximum carnage. No one knows why he did this, and more importantly, no one knows how a random sinnernote got that powerful that fast.
  • In HFIL, Raditz theorizes that Guldo's time freeze still works despite the ki-restricting anklets because it's a psychic power. Guru proposes that it could be magic instead.
  • RWBY:
    • This is the reason why Professor Ozpin and his inner circle are so hesitant about what they're doing in the early seasons, especially the third. They know precisely who they're fighting, but the situation they're in is so unprecedented that they're not sure what to do, and Ozpin and General Ironwood are at odds over how best to proceed. The Fall Maiden's magic, which normally transfers from host to host along predictable patterns, was partially stolen by Cinder. As a result, they don't know what will happen if/when the previous Fall Maiden dies and where her power will go. Whatever plan they can come up with is a shot in the dark, and all they can do is try to stack the deck in their favor.
    • In Volume 9, both Team RWBY and the the various figures they meet in the Ever After are this to each other. The Ever After is more or less a Land of Faerie, and thus runs on rules and mechanisms Team RWBY don't understand and often can't brute force their way through, or at least, not without causing significant problems at best. By contrast, whenever they are in a situation where they can simply throw down and fight, their fighting abilities, the abilities they are granted from their semblances, and the capabilities of their Dust infused weapons are so far beyond and so different from anything that the Ever After has ever seen that Team RWBY is virtually unstoppable and can trounce even creatures that are supposed to be unkillable juggernauts without much trouble. It's no coincidence that the Arc Villain of that particular season relies on manipulation and exploiting psychological torment to get what he wants.

  • In 8-Bit Theater, Red Mage serves as this with his Munchkining with RPG rules despite the fact that no one else even understands them, forgetting to record massive amounts of damage from an Eldritch Abomination to slice it open from inside and polymorphing into himself to undo an undesirable shapechange.
  • In Ask White Pearl and Steven (almost!) anything, Garnet has a harder time getting a read on Steven's future than most others.
  • Demonically sapient dream-invading dolphins in Awful Hospital. Bear in mind that the heroine is nowhere near any body of water at the time they contact her. Later revealed to be full-on Animalistic Abominations and strongly hinted that not even the Parliament Assimilation Plot, the putative Big Bads, know why the dolphins are getting involved.
  • The Old Ones in Cthulhu Slippers are this to humanity, and are so powerful they conquer earth in a night and a day. Like almost everything in the comic, it's Played for Laughs.
  • In Erfworld, the Anti-Hero protagonist, Parson Gotti qualifies. He originates from a different universe, giving him a radically different perspective of reality from the locals. Though Erfworlders frequently describe him as a transcendent military genius, the real reason he poses such an overwhelming threat to the world is that he is a Munchkin, summoned into an RPG Mechanics 'Verse suffering from Creative Sterility. The actual Big Bad, Charlie, also shows signs of this, and has been secretly subverting the Fantasy Gun Control Erfworld has been subject to because of Medieval Stasis.
  • The Last Halloween involves the world being invaded by monsters without any sort of warning. Not only are most of these monsters capable of slaughtering dozens of humans with ease, but there are billions of them; one for each human. Humanity is nearly wiped out after a single night.
  • One-Punch Man
    • Saitama is somewhat of an Expy of Superman while living in a World of Badass running on Anime tropes. This makes Saitama highly overpowered compared to all the other characters, and is Played for Laughs most of the time. Since he's largely unknown in spite of his power, he also comes as a surprise to villains, who are more often than not Killed Midsentence by Saitama.
    • On the other end, any antagonist that can survive more than one punch from Saitama is a massive Outside Context Problem for the rest of the characters in the story. While the Hero Association is somewhat prepared to take on the sudden the Alien Invasion by Boros and his minions — after all, it's just a monster attack on a bigger scale — Boros himself as a Frieza Expy is so absurdly powerful, he would have curb stomped any and all of them if Saitama hadn't happened to confront him first.
  • In Stand Still, Stay Silent, we get the Rash, that created the post-apocalyptic setting within only a few months of appearing in a group of refugees of unknown nationality, 90 years before the story really starts. Among mammals, it crosses the species barrier without a problem, except for cats, which have some kind of firewall. Among the infected, the 90-odd% who die a slow and apparently very uncomfortable death (involving skin loss in later stages) are the lucky ones. The rest get horribly mutated into Plague Zombie monsters who can, occasionally, have periods of lucid awareness, mainly to beg for death. This resulted in the disease having an impact well beyond the Black Death combined with the Columbian Exchange on both human population and biome. By the time the story starts, the Nordic countries possibly house what's left of humanity, with just under a quarter million souls, only about 11% of which belong to immune people. All their medical attempts to find either preventatives or cures have either flat-out not worked, or Gone Horribly Wrong. The story hints that the disease may have a magical component to it, meaning that addressing its biochemistry can only ever form part of the solution. It's little wonder it came as a bit of a surprise.
  • In Tower of God, this is more or less why the Irregulars are called thatnote . They're beings who enter the Tower under their own power, rather than being chosen the way everyone else is, and they're exempt from the unbreakable rules enforced by the Administrators of the Tower. Irregulars have a reputation for being mysterious and immensely powerful. Phantaminum entered the palace of the King of the Tower for unknown reasons and killed many of the most powerful people in the Tower easily before disappearing. Enryu killed one of the near-omnipotent Administrators, altering that Administrator's floor forever and leaving behind a weapon meant for killing the king. Urek Mazino "merely" showed himself to be more powerful than basically anyone and created a new, feared political faction in the Tower (feared largely because he's in it). And then there's the comic's protagonist... He seems pretty weak at first, but as the story advances, he keeps causing jaws to drop by breaking more and more rules of what's supposed to be possible.
    "A monster has arrived."
  • Wonderlab: Due to the fact that Distortions were a fairly new phenomena within the comic's timeline, nobody knows how to specifically deal with a Distorted Catt coming to wreck the facility.

    Web Original 
  • The entire premise of Rplegacy's Dark Clouds Gathering fantasy crossover RPG is that a war breaks out between the Legion of Light and the Army of Shadow, which is thrown for a loop when the Phantom-lord Grogna summons his equals from other dimensions to bolster his forces, introducing people, monsters, technology, and magic that are completely unfamiliar to that world. It's then turned around on the Army of Shadow when the Legion of Light does the exact same thing to bring the heroic champions that held the villains at bay.
  • The Dream SMP is largely a story about politics, war, and moral dilemmas... and then there's the Crimson, a Botanical Abomination which can manipulate the players into forming a cult dedicated to serving it, and is trying to spread across the entire server. It's later revealed that the Egg is not, in fact, native to the lands of the Dream SMP at all, making this a more literal interpretation of the trope.
  • Projection Quest has the titular Projection, which cycles between the forms of various characters from other realities to teach Taylor skills and powers from them. In a world where most capes have a singular set of powers they understand instinctively that never grows, Taylor has a continually increasing number of powers she has to learn, and a super-powered partner to boot. Everyone gradually comes to the realization that this makes her impossible to predict.
  • In The Salvation War, angels and demons being very real certainly was a surprise, as were their abilities, but humanity understood them and adapted. In turn, the former two have a much harder time dealing with the humans having suddenly turned from helpless cattle into ruthless and efficient killers.
  • SCP Foundation:
    • The entire purpose of the Foundation is identifying and securing these away from the people of Earth so that their everyday existence and the progress of history won't be disrupted. Unfortunately, they almost never succeed completely since these anomalies are only found after they have already caused noticeable impacts to human life.
    • The "Daybreak" canon revolves around an anomaly which is an Outside Context Problem even by Foundation standards. After the Sun started melting all organic life, no other anomalies really matter.
  • Invoked in Sideways In Hyperspace when Earth's early interstellar travels, with starships carrying a few dozen people and able to travel between systems in weeks, encounter a species operating on a completely different scale, turning up in a system and breaking up entire planets into raw materials. "Outside context problem" is an official designation, which the aliens receive after some initial arguing and a completely failed attempt at formal First Contact.
  • The "Everything Is On Fire" arc in Thrilling Intent suddenly introduced Narn, a mysterious being who invaded Xinkala, set the city on fire, and disappeared as fast as they came. None of the major players in the Onorhant saga have any idea what they were or wanted, and it wasn't connected to the ongoing war between the Clans and the Ban.
  • From TomSka:
    • "The Hole" is about a Bottomless Pit that suddenly appears in Tom's house. Anyone/anything that Tom gets to try and fix it just ends up trapped in there.
    • "The Orb" is about a Reality Warping orb that shows up and turns various objects into other objects, including randomly removing/modifying parts of Tom's body and killing his cat. This gets subverted after Stuart effortlessly kills the Orb using a dart, then Double Subverted when it's revealed that there are thousands of other Orbs flying around the city and causing chaos.
  • While the appearance of Israphel in Shadow of Israphel was certainly unexpected, since Lewis Brindley and Simon Lane initially assumed that they were all alone, they adapted to him fairly quickly. What really took them by surprise was the appearance of the Sentinels, bizarre, Mechanical Abominations , not that unlike the Reapers of Mass Effect in that they corrupt the thoughts of beings, driving them insane. They also did this to the Sand, which was formerly the thing keeping them prisoner. Their appearance had received little foreshadowing, and on top of that, Simon and Lewis only travelled on the inside of one. We still have no idea what they are doing, how they are linked to Israphel, or what they even look like externally.

    Western Animation 
  • Amphibia: The Core. In the second season, we get snippets of King Andrias having meetings with a massive mechanical octopus-like being, but the rest of the cast have zero idea it even exists. Even in the season finale, "True Colors", where the cast finds out King Andrias', well, true colors, in that he wants to use the Calamity Box to become a dimensional conquerer, nobody has any clue that an even greater threat is lurking just beneath their feet. Sasha and Grime have an Oh, Crap! moment when they discover a mural of it, but they have no time to address it in the battle against Andrias. Turns out The Core is The Man Behind the Man manipulating Andrias into thinking he is doing what is right for his family.
  • Archer: “Placebo Effect” features a rare example where the protagonist qualifies for this. The Irish Mob was previously happily running nearly all crime throughout the city, having seemingly done so for years with no issues. They are completely blindsided when their counterfeit chemo drugs scam causes super spy Sterling Archer to go on a “Rampage” against them (as he was himself suffering from Cancer at the time and their scam led to the death of a kindly old woman he befriended at a support group), with them having virtually no idea what even is going on and absolutely none of their members or tactics being prepared for either Sterling’s capabilities or sheer ruthlessness (one tied up mobster even foolishly attempts to pull a You Have No Idea Who You're Dealing With on him, only for the unimpressed Sterling to shoot him dead shortly afterwards). By the end of the day Sterling had destroyed their operation and killed most of their men, but despite this Delaney is still convinced he’s too “honour-bound” to shoot an unarmed man in a wheelchair, which Archer quickly proves him wrong.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • Toph becomes this after she learns how to metalbend, something no one thought was even possible. Once she gains proficiency, all conventional means to restrain and contain Earthbenders, using metals normally unbendable by Earthbenders, not only become useless to restrain her but are weaponized against her enemies.
    • Aang's Avatar State merged with the ocean spirit, La, at Season 1's finale. It is so out there that they destroy the Fire Nation's entire navy fleet and killed their captain without them being able to do a thing to stop them.
    • Aang himself is out of context since, on top of being the Avatar, he is the last airbender, an art thought to be lost for one hundred years. Aang with airbending alone was enough to take down an army unit since no one had any experience with dealing with an airbender.
  • Ben 10: Ben's Celestialsapien form, Alien X, comes from outside of the universe. The 5th-dimensional creators of the universe, the Contumelia, believe that the extradimensional Containment Field surrounding the Annihilargh is impossible to breach. Ben proves them wrong by having Skurd morph a sword out of Alien X's DNA and slicing through the barrier. The Contumelia find this "interesting".
  • Captain Planet and the Planeteers: Despite his name being in the title, Captain Planet and to a lesser extent the Planeteers themselves are completely out of context. We have a group of five kids with magical rings that can control the elements and a person's heart, and who can summon a super hero who rivals Silver Age Superman, against regular humans. Even the villains who are mad scientists and mutants don't stick out as much as them and most villains have no clue how to handle the Planeteers, let alone Captain Planet. Gaia is even worse since she is the spirit of the freaking Earth. Only other god-like beings like Zarm can even consider challenging her.
  • Chaotic The Blight, from "Prexxor Chasm" and "Blight Flight" is scary because it breaks all the normal rules of the setting. It takes the form of a giant green blob that randomly attacks everything in Prexxor Chasm, but it's definitely not a Creature; Creatures that live in a location don't carry over into Location scans, but the Blight does. It's seemingly immune to every attack and Mugic the characters can throw at it, and it's never explained where it is or where it came from.
  • Codename: Kids Next Door: Compared to all the other villains, the Cheese Shogun didn't have a specific grudge against the KND or children in general; rather, he just captured everyone his Cheese Ninjas encountered and used them all as slave labor in his cheese mines.
  • The Fairly OddParents! normally deals with a magical threat (sometimes one that Timmy accidentally creates), which only occasionally reaches world-conquering levels. Wishology introduces the Darkness, an Eldritch Abomination that Fairy World only narrowly defeated in the past, and its return was very unprepared for. It devours both Fairy World and Yugopotamia within minutes of its arrival, and its agents, the Eliminators, are dangerous enough that even Jorgen von Strangle would rather not tangle with them. By Part Two of the trilogy, the situation deteriorates to the point where Timmy revealing Cosmo and Wanda to his parents, friends, and enemies is barely above an afterthought, with the threat of the Darkness throwing Da Rules out the window.
  • Gargoyles: The titular Gargoyles were under a spell that made them sleep for a thousand years before waking up in mid-90s New York where they are the only supernatural creatures around (at least early on). Outside of Xanatos and Demona, most of their earlier enemies were at a loss dealing with them.
  • A Cryptid Episode pulled this off for Generator Rex, where the non-E.V.O Chupacabra throws the entire cast for a loop after expecting, well, the usual nanite-created mutant. A few other non-E.V.O threats would also pop up later, including a T. rex and dimensionally-displaced Ben Tennyson, that would also create fair amount of confusion.
  • Bill Cipher of Gravity Falls certainly qualifies. In a show that normally deals with more low-level paranormal things like gnomes and living golf balls, he's a reality-warper from another dimension with Blue-and-Orange Morality that can possess people, enter minds through dreams, and is utterly powerful in our dimension, once he manages to break through. The second half of the final season is dedicated to the characters trying to prevent him from gaining even more power.
  • Jackie Chan Adventures: Tarakudo turns out to be this for Uncle; for all the old man's knowledge on how to deal with the supernatural, most of it centers on threats from his native China, and he quickly learns he has no clue how to deal with Japanese monsters. Worse still, he can't even "do reeeeesearch" on them because all of the information is written in Japanese, which he can't read. Thankfully, his apprentice Tohru is Japanese and can read it just fine, plus he was raised on the stories of Tarakudo and his Oni Generals and was very familiar with them already, leading to him and Uncle trading roles as master and apprentice for the duration of the season.
  • The Legend of Korra:
    • Season 1 gives us Amon, the leader of the Equalists, who via bloodbending is able to permanently remove a person's bending. Before him, the only person with this ability was Avatar Aang, a Physical God.
    • Season 2 gives us the Dark Spirits, spirits who have been corrupted and turn violent. They are completely indestructible and bending can only repel them temporarily. Before Season 2, spirits were rare in the human world and never harmed humans unless provoked.
    • Season 3's villains are all masters of an unusual form of bending: lavabending, combustionbending, waterbending without accompanying body movement, and weightless flight. The last one belongs to something few would expect, an evil Airbender that does not pull his punches unlike even the historical ones.
    • Season 4 had everyone know Kuvira would eventually march on Republic City in order to reclaim it for the Earth Kingdom. No one knew she would use a Humongous Mecha armed with a spirit Wave-Motion Gun to do so.
    • Throughout the series, Airbenders are still so rarefied that very few people know how to contend with one as a combat opponent even decades after Avatar Aang's re-emergence. After the Harmonic Convergence caused random people throughout the world to manifest Airbending powers, Earth Queen Hou-Teng sought to exploit this by conscripting the airbenders. After they all formally became the New Air Nation, this gave them an advantage to counter their scant numbers when they took up the mantle of managing the chaos in the wake of the Earth Kingdom's effective collapse.
  • Mega Man (Ruby-Spears):
    • Just as Vile and Spark Mandrill in "Mega X" are completely out of context for Mega Man, X himself is an out of context foe to Wily and his robots. When they did try to fight him, he catches Cut Man's weapon and crushes it like it's tinfoil.
    • Mega Man himself was this when he was still just Rock, a regular robot helper. When Wily was about to reprogram Roll, Rock made Wily stop by lying about how Dr. Light built an army of warrior robots, and that they were coming to stop him. Wily believed Rock, because robots couldn't lie. Rock then gets Dr. Wily to release him on the promise that he would show him how to stop the warrior robots, and uses the opportunity to escape with Roll. Wily could only scream in outrage and confusion over the fact that a robot lied to him, when robots couldn't even lie in the first place.
  • My Little Pony:
    • If there was one villain in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic that almost no one, in and out of universe, saw coming, it was the Changelings appearing at the very end of the second season. The only pony to know of their presence was trapped underneath Canterlot, imprisoned by the Changeling Queen and it's implied that she had no idea they existed until she was imprisoned in the first place. As for out of universe? Most theories for the finale didn't factor in shapeshifting insects, and the few that did guess something involving impersonation probably didn't think of something like that. Heck, the villain even used this to their advantage and struck at the best possible moment.
    • The Dazzlings from My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Rainbow Rocks, being Emotion Eaters that use Mind Manipulation, would be normal for one of the show's season openers/finales... but they appear in the High School AU, where magic doesn't normally exist. When Twilight Sparkle and friends try confronting them the usual way, nothing happens, and she spends the rest of the film struggling to find an alternate method while the Dazzlings operate unchallenged until the finale. Even then, beating them is more the result of brute force than actual strategy: their final attack fails until the previous film's villain, who's spent the entire movie trying to atone for her actions, is properly accepted into the group, giving them enough power to defeat the sirens.
  • The Collector from The Owl House is described as "neither witch nor demon", is considered unnervingly alien to the denizens of the Boiling Isles, and was trapped in the In-Between Realm easily over 400 years. When they're freed you immediately realize whythey turn Big Bad Emperor Belos into a smear on the wall with a single finger poke, end the eclipse powering the Draining Spell by moving the moon out of the way as if it were an app on a touchscreen, and start using their Reality Warper powers to remake the Boiling Isles into their personal playground.
  • Primal (2019):
    • The Fire Demon happens to be a particularly strange and frightening example in that the more we learn about him, the less context we have for why he's in the story. He's first introduced as an element of Mira's drawings, a towering, faceless Horned Humanoid heavily implied to be the Scorpion whose emblem is branded on the back of her head. When Mira is recaptured, Spear pursues her to a Viking village and frees her, but there's no sign of the scorpion emblem anywhere. When the village’s chieftain goes after Spear for revenge and fails, he is Dragged Off to Hell by the demon, who offers his assistance to the chief's horror and confusion. The series finale adds a further curveball by revealing that Mira's drawing was really just of the perfectly ordinary Viking who took her — the demon seems to have no personal reason to pursue Spear and Mira, seeing them only as a means to an end in keeping the Chieftain motivated. The demon considers his bargain with the Chieftain fulfilled the moment Spear is wounded, and drags the Chieftain off once again, never directly interacting with the protagonists or even being known to them.
    • Mira and her pursuers also shake up Spear's world quite a bit, introducing metal technology, bows and arrows, wooden ships, and language to the Stone Age setting where everyone communicates in grunts.
  • Reboot:
    • The User of Mainframe is a person that exists completely outside the realm of the protagonists and is unaware of all the damage they cause by playing games on their computer. Game Cubes therefore appear at complete random and often inconvenient times, sometimes serving as Conflict Killers when the people stuck inside have to work together in order to survive.
    • Daemon was introduced in the middle of Season 3 as a virus who'd managed to corrupt nearly all the Guardians offscreen. Since Mainframe is usually cut off from the rest of the Net, there's no way the heroes could know about her. She has little else to do with the plot and doesn't make another reappearance until Season 4, where she finally presents herself and attempts to invade Mainframe.
    • The viruses Megabyte and Hexadecimal were also shown to have been outside context problems, having been accidentally unleashed upon Mainframe via a portal accident cutting the original virus Killabyte in half while he was being upgraded by his creator into Gigabyte.
  • Played for Laughs on Rick and Morty — while usually a sci-fi show with villains who are aliens or extra-dimensional beings, in one episode Rick casually affirms that vampires exist in their world, and acts like the others are dumb for not suspecting this might be the case when somebody is found dead and completely drained of blood. Particularly silly because this isn't even the main plot of the episode, just a subplot that gets tied up off-screen and serves as an excuse for Rick to test out the new experimental technology that the episode actually focuses on.
  • School for Vampires: In "The Vampire who cried werewolf", usual Harmless Villain Vampire Hunter Paulus Polidori temporarily takes a level in badass and actually becomes a threat to the vampires with his latest weapon, a machine that can mimic sunlight. Too bad for him that there was a Werewolf exchange student staying at the school, on whom the machine had the same effect as the light of a full moon...
  • In Spider-Man Unlimited, Spidey becomes one after traveling to an alien world where Beast Men rule over humans. Mainly because he's not quite a normal human, nor is he one of the aforementioned beast men. The villains aren't even able to remove his new Nanomachine costume (which he "borrowed" before leaving Earth) after having him Strapped to an Operating Table despite the Cyberpunk setting.
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks:
    • Season 1's finale gives us an antagonist nobody in-universe saw coming — the Pakleds, a not very advanced race who were thought of as being a joke back in TNG, only now they've managed to salvage all manner of ships into a freakishly-powerful "clumpship" that destroys the U.S.S. Solvang and very nearly destroys the Cerritos (had it not been for the U.S.S. Titan pulling a Gunship Rescue.
    • Season 2's finale centers around the Cerritos and another ship, the U.S.S. Archimedes, planning a First Contact mission. However, a nearby planetoid is blown to bits by an unpredicted solar flare, and the debris gets charged with enough negative energy that it causes a complete power loss onboard the Archimedes, sending it hurtling out-of-control towards the planet they were going to make contact with, potentially causing a catastrophic planetary impact. All the potential suggestions are dismissed, mostly because the Cerritos would experience similar power drain if even one piece of the negatively-charged debris hit them. Even Mariner, who's usually quick to think on her feet with improvised planning, has no idea how to handle this. Ultimately, Rutherford's idea of stripping all the hull panels and navigating the asteroid field with minimal thrusters proves Crazy Enough to Work, and the Archimedes is rescued with no loss of life not counting Boimler's near-death experience in trying to free the very last hull panel (just as they began atmospheric descent!).
    • Season 4's big running plotline is a mysterious, alien spacecraft that attacks ships from the major powers — the Klingons, Romulans, Ferengi, etc. but leaves Starfleet alone for a while; they don't get clued in until halfway through the season, and even they have barely any idea of what's going on. It turns out to be the work of Nick Locarno, a one-time character from TNG who was basically a more dickish prototype for the character of Tom Paris (down to having the same actor!), all as part of a plan to take revenge on Starfleet for his expulsion from Starfleet Academy all those years ago.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious is expertly playing both sides and has virtually everything under control (and most of the things he doesn't control go his way either way, because ultimately, he is Running Both Sides). What he doesn't account for is the Zillo Beast — a prehistoric Kaiju from Malastare, which according to Word of God may or may not be aware of Palpatine being evil — and it comes scarily close to ending Sheev then and there (complete with probably the only time in the entire show where Palpatine shows genuine fear).
  • Star Wars Rebels: "Zero Hour":
    • Thrawn had no idea of the existence of the Bendu, and so is completely taken by surprise. Thrawn can handle Jedi, but the Bendu is another level. Furthermore, the fact that the Bendu is extremely powerful in the Force and a Wild Card means that Thrawn has no cards to play against him. It doesn't stop him from trying, though.
    • To a lesser extent, the Imperials probably didn't expect a force of Mandalorian warriors, a group meant to be unaffiliated with the Rebels and busy with their own civil war, to show up and take out their last Interdictor cruiser, either.
    • Thrawn himself. While the Rebels have encountered cunning and competent enemies before, none of them come anywhere near Thrawn in terms of intelligence, competency, and patience. While enemies like the Inquisitor are dangerous because they're ruthless and powerful in the ways of the Force, Thrawn is dangerous because he's intelligent enough to be able to use the vast power of the Empire effectively.
    • In the finale, Ezra finally defeats Thrawn by summoning a pod of purrgil to destroy the blockade, seize the ships, and hyperspace them both to parts unknown. While Thrawn has experience with Jedi, the Jedi ability to control creatures is one of their lesser known powers, and Ezra's bond with purrgil is entirely unique to him.
  • Steven Universe:
    • Steven himself — being a Half-Human Hybrid makes him something completely foreign to everybody. This has its ups and downs, mostly the latter in early episodes, but it proves beneficial when it turns out his physiology lets him No-Sell the technology used by the the first major antagonists and perform feats previously thought to be impossible, like Fusing with a human being.
    • The Cluster Gems. They're forced Fusions of shattered Gems that cannot take a coherent physical form. Before their first appearance, the Crystal Gems had no idea that such a thing was even possible, let alone that Homeworld had done it. And then there's The Cluster itself, which is made of millions of shattered Gems, is stuck at the center of the Earth, and whose awakening would obliterate the planet. While the smaller Cluster Fusions can be easily poofed in a standard fight, the Crystal Gems just don't have the resources to do the amount of damage to it that would be required, and the plan they did come up with and spent much of the season putting together ends up failing; they solve the issue through Steven connecting with the fragmented mind of the being, allowing it to become lucid and able to control its form.
    • From the non-canon crossover with Uncle Grandpa — the Gems have no clue who he is or where he came from, and are completely unused to his reality warping, fourth-wall breaking antics. And given the list of other Cartoon Network series he checks at the end, they're probably not the only ones who were at a loss dealing with him (no doubt the SWAT Kats, who were also on the list, were incredibly baffled).
    • In the movie, the villain, Spinel, fights in such an unusual way that the Crystal Gems simply can't tell what she's going to do next, in addition to being rusty from two years of peace. The only one of them with any knowledge of her is Pearl, and she didn't even realize Spinel could fight.
  • Teen Titans: Happens to Cyborg when he is pulled back in time to the Bronze Age by a witch to help save her people from monsters. Subverted that the summoning was part of an evil scheme all along.
  • Tom and Jerry: In Jerry's Cousin, Muscles Mouse is a super strong mouse that can easily beat up any cat and shrug off any attack thrown at him. Tom clearly has no idea what to do and surrenders at the end. It's one thing for Tom to encounter a bigger, strong opponent like Spike but to face a mouse with super strength is another.
  • Unicron in The Transformers series. Originally he was a terrifying Galactus Expy in The Movie before he was fleshed out as a god of chaos later on. Still, no-one had any idea how to deal with him in the first place when he showed up. This was lampshaded in the original movie. Kup, the eldest of the surviving Autobots had at least one story for every occasion, usually a bad one. However, upon seeing the massive Unicron, all he could mutter was "nope, never seen anything like this before."
    • Beast Wars: Tigerhawk. Not only was he far stronger than any Transformer seen in the series, except for maybe Rampage, he has mystical abilities never seen by any Transformer that allows him to curb stomp any foe he ever faced. It took a warship firing maximum weapons at him to take him down.
  • Wander over Yonder: Lord Dominator, the Big Bad in Season 2, shows up from another galaxy and takes all of the characters by surprise when she shows to be a much more effective and dangerous adversary than anyone they have ever encountered.

    Real Life 
  • A Black Swan event is a rare, high profile, and hard to predict event beyond the realm of normal expectations in history, science, finance, and technology. These events have such a low probability that they cannot be predicted or foreseen by our statistical tools, and they usually disrupt or completely destroy established systems of thought. By their very nature they are outside the context of current established practices and methods, and require new, outside-the-box approaches to be dealt with properly.
  • Like accidental "black swans", most large frauds are OCPs. They either slip through the blind spots of fraud detection by accident or are designed specifically around the weaknesses of the current system, in many cases by already-known fraudsters such as Artur Alves dos Reis.
  • Donald Rumsfeld phrased it: “There are known knowns … There are known unknowns … There are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” An Outside Context Problem is an unknown unknown with teeth.
  • The 9/11 attacks were this on a large scale. The US hadn't been truly at war outside of minor peacekeeping roles since the Cold War anticlimactically ended with the Soviet Union coming apart at the seams. Most cases involving terrorists hijacking planes were for the terrorists to go somewhere, not using them as kamikaze weapons — let alone causing the first attack on US soil since Pearl Harbor. For the public, they were only vaguely aware of Al-Qaeda at best from previous minor attacks. (The various US intelligence services were aware of the threat, but any cooperation to stop the attacks was halted thanks to a lack of cooperation and communication among the agencies.) This was summed up the best by one of the FDNY firefighters from the documentary film 9/11, as they rushed towards the burning North Tower (the documentarians had been with the firefighters checking out a suspected gas leak, and wound up capturing the only clear film footage of the plane crashing into the tower), one said "What do we do? It's like... What do we do for this?
  • This is a source of some of the nastier examples of glitches and security issues in Computer Programming. Every well-made program attempts to deal with unexpected input and program states, but it's impossible to account for every possible interaction of software and hardware, the creativity of dedicated code jockeys, and the ability of end users to break things.
    • One of the more out-of-left-field examples is Row hammer — an exploitation of basic design elements of modern RAM cards that allows a software process to alter the contents of adjacent memory cells in the physical hardware of a computer.note  While the trick is extremely difficult to utilize, several groups have demonstrated bizarre security attacks that completely bypass all existing protections in a way that's equally difficult to detect and protect against.
    • Almost all computer hardware can experience what is (for it) an outside-context problem: Cosmic Rays. While the hardware and software engineers are usually aware of the existence of the issue (high-energy particles originating somewhere in outer space that can, if they happen to hit the silicon, flip bits in memory or disrupt CPU operations), from the computer's perspective, something that should never happen - something that is, in fact, completely impossible - has just happened; 0 + 0 has just returned 1 (or something equally mathematically impossible). And while some safeguards can be put in place, cosmic ray hits are, by their nature, inherently random.
  • The US government has a variety of disaster protocols. One such protocol is CONPLAN 8888, which covers a zombie apocalypse. Of course, it isn't 100% serious, but it's intended to mimic more mundane emergencies that might overwhelm traditional responses, and thus avoid a complete Outside Context Problem.
  • European colonization caught the native people of the Americas completely off-guard with many unprepared for the new weapons and diseases brought over. The local response could range from being on the receiving end of a Curb-Stomp Battle to full and peaceful assimilation, with a few unique adaptations thrown in for good measure.
    • On the other side of the coin, hurricanes were sufficiently out of context for the visiting Europeans that the Spanish had to borrow a local Carib word to describe them, and hurricanes repeatedly blocked settlement of the Gulf and southern Atlantic coast of what would be the United States, including Florida.
  • The Rashidun Caliphate in the 7th century. Romans and Persians had, under a variety of different political regimes, fought one another in the region for centuries. Starting with the war between the Roman Republic and Seleucid Empire in 192 BC and ending with the Byzantine-Sassanid War, which ended in 628, the two empires fought each other almost non-stop for over 750 years. These wars, of which the 602-628 war was the most devastating, left both sides exhausted and severely depleted and therefore unable to resist the Arab invasions that seemed to come from nowhere in a shockingly short amount of time. While Arabs had been known to both sides for just as long, with Arabs among both empires peoplegroups and trade and alliances between the two empires and various Arab states being long and storied, a completely united Arabian Peninsula united under a single banner and attacking them both at once while they were still recovering from a quarter-century long war with a conquering army instead of a raiding force was not what either empire expected or were prepared for. Sassanid Persia was conquered in its entirety, while the Eastern Roman (aka Byzantine) Empire lost all of its territory in Syria, the Levant, North Africa, and Spain. Both empires would eventually resurge, with the Eastern Romans making headway under the Macedonian Dynasty and ethnic Persians finally rebuilding their own empire under the Safavid Dynasty, but these would take centuries to happen (the Macedonian Dynasty did not come to power until 867 and the Safavids did not arise until 1501) and neither empire would ever achieve their former glories. The Persians in particular would remain deeply affected by the Arab invasions due to their forced conversion to Islam, which as the 1979 Revolution proved retains massive influence over the peoples of Iran to this day.
  • Large-scale barbarian invasions often came across as these to the invaded parties. Due to the almost-complete absence of reliable long-range communication in ancient times, kingdoms and countries often had no prior warning before a tribe of hostile nomads would suddenly appear on their borders. The Mongol invasion of the Middle East in the 13th Century is a prime example. The Crusades had been raging for two bloody centuries before fizzling out from sheer attrition with no real victory for anyone. And during all that, nobody had been paying attention to anything going on further East. Hulagu Khan and the Golden Horde just seemed to come out of nowhere, crushing an exhausted Baghdad in less than a fortnight.
  • The Bronze Age Collapse was the result of a multitude of factors such as natural disasters and economic disruption, but the most jarring was the Sea People attacks. To this day historians have no idea who the hell they were (and are only 99.9% sure they weren't Fish People), as they could've been foreign invaders, starving Anatolian raiders, Mycenaean remnants, or all of the above at once plus more. What we do know is that their unconventional Zerg Rush tactics completely invalidated the chariot-based warfare Bronze Age civilization depended on, leading to them steamrolling everyone but Egypt (who even then suffered a Pyrrhic Victory) and completely collapsing international trade which was already devastated by the aforementioned disasters.
  • Invasive species can become an outside context problem if introduced to a biome that has no meaningful defense against it. Introduced Species Calamity page has more info on that.
  • While volcanoes were known to the Romans before the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE, they were used to tamer Strombolian and Vulcanian eruptions. The sheer violence of the Vesuvian eruption and the massive pyroclastic flows were completely out of their frames of reference; Pliny the Younger's writings of the eruption display a palpable difficulty to grasp what he was seeing. He mentions that after several days of darkness some people despaired that the gods themselves had been killed by the event.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Outside Context Hero, Out Of Context Villain


Surprise! Alien invasion!

In the midst of securing some nuclear warheads, the Brotherhood of Nod learns the enemy GDI Killsats have been activated... but have been pointed *outward* into space..

How well does it match the trope?

4.83 (18 votes)

Example of:

Main / OutsideContextProblem

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