You're at your fairly mundane job, which isn't anything martial (military, police, security guard, etc), doing your job, when all the sudden there's an explosion, or gunfire, or someone shouting that you're now a hostage. The professional badasses who'd normally kick ass and Chew Bubblegum, if they weren't out of bubblegum, are not available for whatever reason (slow to respond, killed, corrupted, etc).
So what do you do? Do you hide in a closet or something, and hope the bad guys pass you by or otherwise don't notice you while your friends/coworkers/family possibly face a Fate Worse than Death?
Hell, no! You're a man, not a mouse! (Unless your name is Mickey, and if it is you're unlikely to be in that situation in the first place - but we've got sources that say you'd kick ass if found in it anyway.)
You step up to the plate, and start kicking ass. Sure, you might die in the process, but at least you went down swinging, instead of cowering in fear.
Often these characters are either long lost ex-military or scientist working on the latest Phlebotinum.
Related to Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass, but the character isn't bumbling or otherwise incompetent, they're just not specifically competent or trained in the situation in question. Sometimes can also be a Badass Bookworm, and most commonly a Badass Normal. The Right Man is often The Only One who can save the day, for whatever reason. If not the protagonist, they may be a Badass Bystander.
Also see "Die Hard" on an X. A type of Action Survivor. On the TV Tropes power scale, these usually rate as Muggle Weight or Iron Weight. Compare Falling into the Cockpit, Stumbled Into the Plot and It Began with a Twist of Fate, and compare/contrast Unlikely Hero, Heroic Bystander and Spanner in the Works.
- Medical student Otonashi, in Angel Beats!, winds up in an underground train accident that left only a handful of badly wounded survivors in a blocked subway tunnel. Otonashi was able to keep most of the survivors alive for an entire week; he himself died just minutes before rescue crews finally arrived. This also counts for the main story, in a way; ordinarily Otonashi would never have made it to Purgatory, as he died fulfilled. His amnesia got him in, and only someone who knew what fulfillment felt like would be able to help the SSS accept their former lives and move on to new ones.
- Negi from Mahou Sensei Negima! started off like this, tasked with teaching an Unwanted Harem after he graduated from magical school. Now look where it led us.
- In the anime of Golgo 13, Duke Togo is on an airliner that's hijacked for ransom. A British intelligence officer recognises his name on the manifest. The problem then becomes finding an unobtrusive way to let Duke know they want to hire him to take out the hijackers, as Duke doesn't do good deeds for free.
- In Campione! Godou was an average teenager whose only special ability was his skill at baseball. However, after encountering Verethragna he proved to be just crazy, reckless, and determined enough to stand up to and beat a Heretic God. The kind of recklessness Godou showed is a common trait among Campione. Many were ordinary humans until they encountered a Heretic God and were just too stubborn and lucky enough to kill them, usually getting themselves temporarily killed in the process.
- Almost every hero in Sin City has a habit of fitting this trope, Marv and Dwight stories especially. They almost always start off with the protagonist stumbling upon a crime for which they have to take action.
- The essential premise behind John McClane of Die Hard. Except for the third movie, he always stumbled into a position to not only kick ass but save the day, but if not he would be okay with someone else doing it. He says so repeatedly. Die Hard 2 had the tag line, "John McClane is back in the wrong place at the wrong time!" While he is a policeman (though always off-duty when the actual excitement happens), he is not a trained counter-terror expert or anything. A line in one of the trailers for the second movie, unused because Trailers Always Lie, has McClane himself lampshading his situation. As he is running through the tunnels under Dulles Airport, he pauses for a seconds and mutters, "How can the same shit happen to the same guy, twice" and then runs off again.
Thomas Gabriel: On your tombstone, it should read: always in the wrong place at the wrong time.
- Many Jackie Chan movies have Chan playing an ordinary guy forced into heroism by extraordinary situations.
- Stanley Goodspeed in The Rock is an FBI biochemist with no field training, and the only man who can disable a set of nerve bombs. He's forced to take the Action Movie Guy role, when all the other soldiers end up dead.note
- Firestorm (1998): Firefighter Jesse Graves is just doing his job and attempting to recue a civilian trapped in the path of an oncoming forest fire. He wasn't planning on having to fight a bloodthirsty gang of escaped convicts, or uncover a massive conspiracy, but that's what he does.
- Symbologist Robert Langdon, star of Dan Brown's books Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code and The Lost Symbol, is a life-long tweed-wearing academic and Harvard professor who has claustrophobia. He is thrown into larger-than-life and often very dangerous situations where a lot is at stake, and only he has the expertise to get to the bottom of many a Conspiracy Kitchen Sink. Langdon has survived shootouts, car chases, pursuit by the police, attempted drownings and much more.
- Stephen Swain in Matthew Reilly's Contest. He is just a radiologist at a hospital before fighting deadly aliens in a life and death contest.
- David Weber's Empire from the Ashes: Lieutenant Commander Colin MacIntyre is just an astronaut on a routine training exercise in Mutineers' Moon who ends up, consecutively, as captain of the ancient warship Dahak in order to save the planet from the Ancient Conspiracy, then Planetary Governor of Earth to prepare humanity for the return of an ancient enemy, then Emperor of Humanity...
- Older Than They Think; G. K. Chesterton's Father Brown provides an Ur-Example by dropping the trope name in the story "The Sins of Prince Saradine".
Father Brown: One can sometimes do good by being the right person in the wrong place.
- Robert A. Heinlein:
- In Have Spacesuit Will Travel, the young adult main character wins the title's suit in a contest, repairing it to get it fully operational just in time for him to save all of humanity.
- Starman Jones is about a kid who basically lies his way onto a starship, and finds himself in a number of adventures, at least one being a situation that only he could have gotten everyone out of.
- Citizen of the Galaxy is about a slave boy who gets bought by an old cripple who takes him under his wing, and gets pulled into events beyond his control time and time again.
- The main protagonist of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan novels and related movies. At one time he was a US Marine, but that's years behind him, and at the beginning of his debut in the novel The Hunt for Red October, he's a historian and an intelligence analyst for the CIA. From there, he gets shoved into the role of Hero because he's the only one on the scene with all the information needed to complete the mission.
- The hero of Terry Pratchett's Johnny Maxwell books is constantly described as being nobody special, so ordinary that people don't notice him. ("I was in the shop with my mates." "I remember a black boy and a fat boy, I don't remember anyone else." "That was me!") He becomes a hero because he does what needs to be done, when other people would walk away and leave someone else to do it.
- Travis S. Taylor's The Quantum Connection stars an semi-suicidal electronics repairman/programmer who, on contract from the government, figures out the purpose of some alien hardware, then gets kidnapped by said aliens and proceeds to hack his way into ownership of their ship, then goes on to save the world.
- In the Tom Clancy novel Red Storm Rising, one of the protagonists of the Iceland situation, Lt. Michael Edwards, is forced into the role when he's (apparently) the senior surviving officer after the Soviet missile attack on the US military facilities located there. Prior to the events of the novel, he's just a USAF weatherman, whose only claim to martial fame is being a marathon runner. It eventually got to the point that he was given a Navy Cross and when he protests that he's Air Force, a Marine general's only response is "this here says you're a Marine. note
- The title Midshipman of the Seafort Saga is on a routine space flight when disaster removes the entire chain of command down to him, leaving him in charge. He has no leadership or officer skills and gets by on the fact that he must be the Right Man In The Wrong Place and that he is willing to take responsibility for making horrible choices for the right reasons. He does what it takes first to keep order on his ship, and eventually to save the human species from being wiped out by Starfish Aliens.
- Special Circumstances: In Princess of Wands, Barbara Everette finds herself battling an Eldritch Abomination when on vacation in Louisiana, triumphing over it even though she's completely unaware of the supernatural world at the time due in part to her unwavering faith in God, and in part to her father insisting that she be able to take care of herself in any situation.
- Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga: In The Warrior's Apprentice, Miles Naismith Vorkosigan has flunked the physical part of the entrance exam to a military academy. He leaves his planet and due to this trope, winds up the admiral of a mercenary fleet at the age of 18, among other things.
- 24: Jack Bauer keeps trying to get away from CTU (Counter Terrorist Unit), yet at the beginning of every season, he always somehow ends up being the one person in place to stop a major terrorist attack. For example:
- At the beginning of season 4, he's an assistant to the Secretary of Defense in Washington, DC, in a desk job. He has to go to the CTU office in Los Angeles to do a review of their work—on the same day that a major terrorist attack in Los Angeles launches.
- At the beginning of season 8, he's in New York City planning to move to Los Angeles with his daughter, but then when an ex-contact shows up at his doorstep, he finds himself dragged into a major terrorist attack in New York City.
- Doctor Who: "The Doctor's Wife" confirms the Doctor's (and the fans') long-held suspicion that the TARDIS purposely lands him in places where disaster is about to strike, so he can become this.
The Doctor: You didn't always take me where I wanted to go!
The TARDIS: No, but I always took you where you needed to go!
- The entire plot of The Expanse hinges on James Holden just happening to be within range of a distress call and being too noble to ignore it. As OPA leader Fred Johnson says later:
Fred Johnson: You're either some kind of genius, Mr. Holden, or you're the luckiest dipshit in the solar system.
- Firefly's Malcolm Reynolds was very much the right man to take on a very wrong pair of passengers, which ultimately ended in the events of Serenity.
- Mystery Science Theater 3000: All poor Mike Nelson wanted to do was have his time card signed and get paid for his job. Instead, he gets shot up into space and forced to watch bad movies when the last guy bailed.
- On more than one occasion Bulk and Skull have managed to save the Power Rangers when they were in trouble. And every single time, it is awesome, and completely surprises the villain.
- The Sentinel: Blair Sandburg, M.A., anthropologist; "strictly an observer." Tell that to Garrett Kincade, among others.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Commander Benjamin Sisko expected that he was receiving an essentially administrative and diplomatic job in the ass-end of nowhere. What he got was serving as commander of one of The Federation's most important strategic outposts, plus, you know, the whole "Emissary" thing...
- The Everyman Hero archetype from Feng Shui was built with this kind of character in mind.
- The Elder Scrolls:
- Common throughout the series. In the majority of cases, the Player Character starts off as a penniless prisoner (or penniless shipwreck survivor) who is thrust into a situation where they are the only person capable of stopping the Big Bad from Taking Over The World or even bringing about The End of the World as We Know It. In a few cases, you are The Chosen One backed by one or more deities, but this typically doesn't become apparent until you are already well into the game in question's main questline, meaning you had to choose to put yourself in that position first.
- Prevalent in side quests as well, especially Guild and Faction questlines. Your status as The Chosen One of the main questline does not directly apply, but you still find yourself in these situations and must act to save the Guild or Faction. (And in a few cases, such as Skyrim's College of Winterhold questline, saving the world from an entirely different threat than the one in the main quest.)
- A common thread in the Fallout series. The player character is usually a normal vault dweller/tribal/courier thrust into legend. The Fallout 3 classes, in particular, tend to be especially harmless, like the uber deadly Marriage Counselor. Of course, you don't have to be a badass to save the world. Or at least, you don't have to start out that way.
- Gordon Freeman from the Half-Life franchise is the Trope Namer, from the G-Man's quote about him above. Ordinary scientist of theoretical physics, forced to become a One-Man Army against a horde of alien gribblies. And not only does he kill the aliens, he also kills most of the military force sent to contain the situation whose orders include killing any witnesses of the incident. Interestingly enough, although the trope is named in Half-Life 2, the situation is a subversion from that point onwards, as the G-Man himself has purposefully left Gordon at a specific place and time, rather than Gordon falling into it by accident or chance. Then again he's still really not supposed to be there and not at all prepared for the situation, so if you think of it as Gordon just continuing where he left off the trope is still being played as straight as before.
- Every Dragon Age PC is some degree of this:
- The origin stories in Dragon Age: Origins all have the right person in the wrong place at the wrong time, although for gameplay reasons every character has at least some training in combat.
- Hawke of Dragon Age II rose to prominence and played a key role in one of the most important events in Thedas's history almost totally unintentionally. The plot of the game explains how s/he managed to find themselves in these situations. This is stressed more than in the first game: the Framing Device consists of a borderline conspiracy theorist who thinks Hawke planned almost everything from the start, and Varric, who was actually there and has to explain how much more complicated it was.
- In Dragon Age: Inquisition, the player character is widely assumed to be The Chosen One of Andraste. Later on, it turns out that they obtained their rift-sealing Mark by interrupting Corypheus' ritual to open the Breach. Unless Andraste acted *very* subtly, it was a complete accident.
- Roger Wilco, from the Space Quest series, has saved the day numerous times despite being a simple janitor (and not a very good one at that.)
- The Security Officer from Bungie's Marathon series. He (may have) just happened to be the one Durandal roped into his schemes, and as a result saved the human race from alien slavers and a chaos god.
- In the first group of games in the .hack franchise, the main character Kite only got the power to Data Drain because his friend Orca (who was originally supposed to receive it) fell into a coma as he was about to receive it. Because of that, Aura had to give Kite the power because he was the only one there.
- The G.U. series as well. Haseo just happened to create a PC that fit the parameters of Skeith's vessel by blind chance. Had he not been an epitaph user, Ovan would have never approached him.
- Isaac Clarke of Dead Space and Dead Space 2, an engineer who survives two necromorph outbreaks and beats insanity. Played straight then subverted by Isaac in the third game. He eventually decides to STAY and fight instead of just walking away from the situation which, at the time, was very easy to do.
- Far Cry 3: Jason Brody was just some guy on vacation when he was captured by Vaas's pirates.
- Despite the baggage on his family name, all TRON 2.0's Jet Bradley wanted to do was program video games and stay the hell out of corporate intrigue. But when a phone conversation with his father is interrupted by intruders in the laser lab, he runs in to see what's going on and ends up zapped to cyberspace to fight a computer virus and a very hostile corporate takeover.
- Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider 2013 reboot. While it was her theories about Yamatai that led to the crew heading for the island and getting shipwrecked, she certainly didn't expect it to happen. And once she's there, her inner badass starts to wake up (or more accurately, the exterior it's buried under gets forcibly ripped away). She's one of two actual archaeologists in her team, and the only one with actual competence, seeing as her mentor Whitman is just a narcissistic self-promoter and she's ultimately the one left to piece solve a centuries-old mystery and upset the plans of the local psychotic cult.
- Jack from BioShock is a subversion. Jack's airplane crashes, but Jack survives and swims to a lighthouse which happens to contain transport to the underwater city of Rapture. He is quickly given help with survival by Atlas, while Andrew Ryan immediately convinces himself Jack is from some foreign government and sends splicers to kill him. With some help from Atlas, Jack defeats everything that gets in his way, heads to Ryans office to kill the man... and shortly before doing so, Ryan reveals that Jack's entire past is fabricated, he was genetically modified to grow to an adult when he was a baby, and Atlas is controlling him through a hypnotic phrase.
- In Turning Point: Fall of Liberty, a game set in an Alternate History where Winston Churchill died in a car accident before World War II, Carson is a steelworker helping build a skyscraper in New York when the Germans invade. He fights his way out and joins La Résistance.
- In a sense, the Hero in Quest for Glory IV is this. In all the other games of the series, the Hero has gone to the current setting specifically to either make a name for himself (Quest for Glory I) or to investigate the problems there (the rest). The Hero did not intend to make his trip to Mordavia, and instead was shanghaied by the Big Bad and unceremoniously dumped in the middle of the Cave of the Dark One when the teleport spell fizzled out. With absolutely no knowledge of what the hell is going on, he jumps right into doing what he does best: Spanning the Works one minor problem at a time.
- In Dawn of the Dragons, the player character was a farmhand enjoying a perfectly normal day picking turnips when an army of beastmen attacked.
- In Kingdom Hearts I, Sora's Keyblade didn't originally belong to him. It was supposed to be Riku's, but he had turned to Darkness, forsaking his Keyblade. So it ended up with Sora instead.
- Prisoner 849 from Unreal. Originally just another criminal being transported in the Vortex Rikers prison vessel, the ship crashes in a planet overrun by a warrior race which made everyone in the planet their slaves. Over the course of the game and the Expansion Pack Return To Na Pali s/he rampages across the planet, offing the warrior race's leader and (most of) their ranks in the way. In RTNP this extends to the UMS crew who learnt the hard way to NOT to mess with someone like hir.
- Cloudscratcher: When pirates invade a fancy restaurant, Felix is the first one to fight back.
Felix: You're ruining my friend's birthday!
- Schlock Mercenary: This Qlaviql ore freighter captain is in command of the only ship able to respond to an attack on his homeworld by a frigate armed with a powerful plasma lance. With guts and a "dream mess" created from the ore mined from asteroids, the frigate is destroyed. This ultimately results in his being declared the leader of the planet.