This is a comedic trope where a character (usually The Hero) believes that they intimidated an enemy, usually complete with the hero getting cocky and/or grinning like a goof until they realize that what was truly scary was either a bigger fish, an Enemy Rising Behind, or The Cavalry arriving Just in Time to save them.
Depending on the situation, the hero's reaction is usually either an Oh, Crap!, or getting deflated about the fact that they're not as intimidating and badass as they thought.
Another variation is where a hero is trying to reassure a terrified bystander not to be afraid of them, only to turn around and see the real source of the bystander's fear.
If the party who sees the threat first reacts with aggression instead of fear, see Stab the Scorpion.
Related to and often overlaps with Always a Bigger Fish, but not always. May also overlap with Enemy Rising Behind in some cases. Compare and contrast Right Behind Me (though this can be used in conjunction with it). May involve Failed a Spot Check on The Hero's part if he really should have noticed something sooner than he did. Compare Framed for Heroism, Correlation/Causation Gag.
- In the first episode/chapter of Attack on Titan, young Armin is being bullied by some older kids about the outside world (which Armin believes in but the other kids don't), and Eren and Mikasa rush to the rescue. When the bullies see Eren, they get ready to take him, but when they see Mikasa behind him, they run for the hills. Eren, being the cocky kid he is, thinks he scared the bullies off.
- Beastars: When Haru (a rabbit) gives a dressing-down to Alpha Bitch Mizuchi and her Girl Posse, the bullies suddenly freak out and run away. Haru thinks she was the one who scared them off, until she realizes her wolf classmate Legosi is standing behind her.
- When the members of Fairy Tail try to pull of a Zero-Approval Gambit in Edolas, Wendy starts roaring ineffectually at some random civilian. Then Gajeel shows up behind her and scares the man away without Wendy appearing to notice.
- Rurouni Kenshin did this in a filler episode when Yahiko is trying to protect his love interest from some thugs and leads them into a narrow space to attack them one at a time. The lead thug gets wise and starts to order his group to attack en masse only them to notice Kenshin and Sano standing on the roof above him threatening to come even the odds if they try it. Everyone save the leader get intimidated and wisely runs off without Yahiko knowing (at least 'til the end of the fight).
- One time when Toriko is facing a particularly fearsome monster, the creature suddenly balks. Although Victory Through Intimidation has happened before, Toriko realizes that the creature is too powerful to be scared of him. He then realizes that there must be something even stronger right behind him! It turns out to be the creature's master.
- In Tintin book "The Crab with the Golden Claws", Captain Haddock is pinned down behind a sand dune by enemy troops. When they shoot his bottle of whisky, he charges their position screaming at the top of his lungs and spinning his rifle around his head like a club. The enemy flees. Haddock calms down, turns around, and discovers that they were fleeing because The Cavalry have finally arrived, not because they were afraid of him.
- In The Maxx, a group of kids scare off some older people because of Maxx towering up behind them. The kids just think they were intimidating.
- Happens to Ord of the Breakworld twice. First with Lockheed the Dragon, then a newly resurrected and extremely pissed off Colossus.
- The Punisher by Garth Ennis: Frank is being pursued by a low-level mobster and amateur cryptozoological oceanographer who's being coerced into revenge by the ghosts of all his friends Punisher killed (that might just be hallucinations resulting from a brain injury). He finally corners Punisher on a dock, and Frank looks uncharacteristically scared, but not of the mobster. It turns out he finally found a living Colossal Squid.
- The issue of Daredevil where he's looking for Bullseye on a smuggling gang's ship, and finds a cell with a captive young girl (Yuriko Oyama, who would later become Lady Deathstrike):
Yuriko: Behind you!
Daredevil: I know, a guard. Where there's a prisoner, there's usually -
(Spins and kicks the mook)
Daredevil: A GUARD! And when there's one guard, there's usually more, so let's go!
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender The Search Part 1, Azula escapes and the gaang has to capture her again, and Sokka is, as often, ridiculed for being the only non-bender trying to compete with them with a boomerang. When Azula is captured, she suddenly looks very scared into Sokka's direction. He of course thinks she finally understood the force of mighty Mr. Boomerang, but it's actually a huge wolf spirit that escaped from the spirit world.
- Jaune Arc, Lord of Hunger: In "Vengeance", Winter is fighting Adam Taurus when she notices Darth Nihilus approaching them from behind him. She reacts by immediately going Oh, Crap! and flees the battle at top speed. Unaware of the danger behind him, Adam assumes that she ran away because she's afraid of him and he angrily calls her a coward. As he is about to give chase, he hears the sound of footsteps behind him. He then turns around and finally sees what actually caused Winter to break off their duel so suddenly.
- In The Lion King (1994), Simba and Nala get trapped by the hyenas while exploring the elephant graveyard. Simba tries to roar at them to scare them off, but only a little wimpy roar comes out, him being a cub and all. Amused, the hyenas encourage him to try again, and this time there's a huge, scary roar. The hyenas, Simba and the audience all have a moment to be shocked before Mufasa (obviously the real source of the second roar) jumps in to save the day.
- In the opening of Monsters University, Mike, as a kid monster, gives a little roar that all his classmates turn around at. At first he thinks he's got them all impressed, but then also turns to see that they're actually in awe of the scarers marching in behind him.
- On Balto, Boris scolds the polar bear cubs Muk and Luk for horsing around. He thinks he's getting through to them when they stand petrified, but then he bumps into what they're really scared of: a huge grizzly bear.
- In The Rescuers Down Under, the Big Bad, McLeach, starts bragging about having "whooped" a bunch of crocodiles...only to turn around and see that they were really trying to avoid the Inevitable Waterfall. He tries to escape, but the current's too strong and he plunges down the waterfall to his watery grave.
- At the climax of The Rugrats Movie, the babies are cornered on a bridge by the escaped circus monkeys. Suddenly, the monkeys flee, shrieking with fear. The babies start cheering...only to turn and spot a huge vicious wolf ready to pounce at them. Thankfully, Spike saves them just in time.
- At least two of The Land Before Time sequels involve this trope.
Cera: AAAAAHH!!! SHARPTOOTH DROOL!!!
- The Mysterious Island: Littlefoot gets angry because he believes someone ate a treestar he was saving for later. When he confronts them about it, Cera gasps "Oh no!", seemingly scared of Littlefoot. But it's actually the Sharptooth sneaking up on them that they were cowering from.
- The Secret of Saurus Rock:, Cera starts snapping at Ducky and Petrie. They wince, and Cera doesn't notice the Sharptooth right behind her...at least until it drools on her.
- The Incredibles: Dash lands on a goon's hovercraft and starts giving him rapid-fire punches, but suddenly stops with a terrified look on his face. The goon, believing he caught Dash off his guard, knocks him off the hovercraft with a single punch... only to turn around and notice at the last second that his hovercraft is heading straight towards a cliff, and the hovercraft promptly explodes on impact.
- In a particularly trippy scene from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, after Flint basically betrays her, Samantha dismisses Earl's warning that a Cheese Spider (a hamburger-spider monster) is hiding behind an old sign, as she dismisses it as "acting weird" (which refers to Earl "lying") It slowly creeps up to her only for it to roar and make her scream like a parrot.
- In Doom, Pinky has a brief moment of believing he's on the winning side of a Mexican Standoff, before realizing why the other two participants seem far more concerned than expected.
- In Willow, Master Swordsman Madmartigan prepares to make a Last Stand against the Evil Army. He does some fancy sword kata and the army rushing at him stops, then starts running away. Madmartigan grins until he notices a shadow and turns to see a giant, two headed dragon that rose up out of the moat behind him.
- Towards the end of the Street Fighter film, Guile gets cornered by a bunch of Bison's mooks, who are all armed with assault rifles. Guile pulls the only weapon he has; a knife. The mooks start backing up. Guile acts cocky until Cammy calls to him and he sees that The Cavalry arrived behind him without him noticing it, at which point he deflates like a balloon that's been pricked with a pin.
- This occurs in the movie Avatar, when Jake Sully stands his ground against a titanothere - a massive, armored rhino-like herbivore - trying to assert dominance. Suddenly, the titanothere backs up and flees, and Jake crows victory - just before noticing the thanator behind him. His pinned-eared Oh, Crap! is a thing of beauty.
- Happens in Batman Begins. Rachel is being followed by two Falcone's thugs, and they confront her outside the subway. One is behind her and another in front. She smacks the one behind her with her purse, then turns around and points a taser at the one in front of her. He looks afraid and runs off, which causes her to jeer at him ("Yeah, you better run!") until she turns around and sees that Batman was behind her. (And had taken care of the other thug.)
- The Three Musketeers (1993): At the end, our heroes are confronted by the goons that have been pursuing D'Artagnan throughout the movie. Suddenly the goons' leader screams like a girl and the goons turn and run away. The heroes think they scared the goons away when suddenly the entire Musketeer Corps appears from behind the heroes, chasing after the goons. The goons could see them coming but the heroes couldn't.
- During their trek through Moria in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the fellowship gets surrounded by every orc in Moria and prepares to make a Last Stand. Suddenly the Balrog is heard growling from out of sight, which causes the orcs to panic and flee. Gimli jeers at them as if the orcs were running from the party, but everyone else is much more concerned about the new threat.
- The French film The Bear (L'Ours) ends this way. The cub is being chased by a cougar, who corners it near a stream. The cub gives little roars trying to scare the cougar away... only to last unleash a powerful roar that turns out to be coming from a full grown grizzly bear, who is the younger cub's surrogate parent. Terrified by the adult grizzly, the cougar runs away.
- The titular St. Bernard in Beethoven does this for the timid, mousy Ted when bullies harass him. As Ted overcomes his fear and raises his fists to challenge the bullies, he doesn't see Beethoven behind him, silently and ominously baring his teeth. Ted thinks the bullies got scared and ran merely because he stood up to them.
- Happens to Harold Lloyd in The Kid Brother, when he threatens a bully with a stick, not noticing until the bully runs off that it was a snake curled in the branches that scared him away.
- Happens in Attack of the Clones during the battle in the Geonosian arena when two battle droids suddenly run away from Obi-Wan after seeing the acklay behind him. His response is to slice the thing to pieces.
- Quest for Fire: Three Neanderthals run afoul of a large tribe of proto-humans who demonstrate their strength by smashing the ground with their clubs. One of the Neanderthals, played by Ron Perlman, starts his own demonstration, howling and making stabbing motions with his spears. Suddenly, the proto-humans start shying away, as if impressed by the display. Eventually, the Neanderthals realize that a whole herd of mastodons has appeared behind them.
- Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. While in Gotham, Clark Kent sees a satirist cartoon showing a criminal apparently cringing in fear before a cop wielding a night-stick, when he's actually reacting to the Bat Signal.
- See No Evil, Hear No Evil: Dave is trying to use a knife to threaten a burglar and, unable to hear the cops behind him, assumes the burglar is responding to his threats.
- In The Over-the-Hill Gang Rides Again, the Baltimore Kid attempts to cow some cowhands who have been Firing in the Air a Lot with his reputation. The cowboys aren't impressed and are about to throw down, but Nash tells them that he always finds it advisable to look heavenwards before starting trouble. The leader does so, and immediately backs down, as he sees Agnew and Fitch on the roof with a rifle and a shotgun aimed at them. The Kid thinks it is his reputation that caused the change of mind.
- Kong: Skull Island: Chapman is confronted an enormous stick-bug-like insect, which he opens fire at. It doesn't really seem hurt the creature, but the insect shies back, turns tail and runs after a short pause anyway. Chapman realizes something's not right, hears a growling sound, turns around and is instantly devoured by a Skullcrawler.
- There are several stories and fables where a small, non-threatening animal (such as a mouse) invokes this with a much larger and more threatening animal in order to keep the larger animal from eating it. The smaller animal will claim that he's actually a Pintsized Powerhouse that all creatures are afraid of, and invites the larger animal to walk with it and see how animals flee from it. After seeing multiple animals supposedly fleeing from the smaller animal, (naturally they're actually fleeing from the larger and scarier animal) the larger animal becomes impressed and leaves the smaller creature alone. Variants include this being done with a mouse and a lion, a mouse and the Gruffalo from The Gruffalo, and a fox and a tiger from a Chinese legend.
- Prince Caspian. Led by Peter, Edmund and Caspian, Narnia engages Telmar in a field battle. Suddenly, the Telmarines stop in their tracks and start surrendering or running away with no apparent reason; when the Narnians look back, they see the trees tackling.
- In an episode of Mortified, Taylor attempts to scare off some bullies with her (non-existent) martial arts skills. After going through some What the Fu Are You Doing? moves, the bullies suddenly back off and leave. Taylor is convinced of her martial arts prowess, unaware that the bullies had left because of two cops walking up the beach behind her.
- In a Hornblower episode, Hornblower and a landing party are cornered by the French on the beach, they decide to do a Last Stand, the marine complement of the landing party lines up and fire... And the French explode. The landing party is shocked for a while before noticing that the Indy has just shot at the French from their guns.
- In one Garfield strip, the eponymous cat goes to a zoo and starts imagining and acting out what it would be like if he were a wild animal. At the end he takes a swipe at the patrons and thinks that he's intimidating them when they react, unaware of the huge lion that has come out and is sitting right behind him.
- This trope is played out on the box of the Quest for Glory IV game, but not in the game itself. The box features a little imp running away from the Hero, who is delighted and trying to menace the little creature. The Hero is failing to notice the hulking Eldritch Abomination with tons of huge, sharp teeth behind him, whose tentacles are getting ready to ensnare the Hero.
- The Witch and the Hundred Knight: One map ends with Hundred Knight preparing to fight a gigantic spider, which Metallia points out to be a fearsome opponent.... only for the spider to suddenly flop over and die. Turns out it died of sheer fright at the sight of the real boss that Hundred Knight must battle.
- Also crossing with Throw 'Em to the Wolves, in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, the after Nathan beats the final boss, the latter taunts the former to pull the killing trigger. Nathan suddenly lowers his gun and starts walking backward, causing the final boss to mock him for not having the will. It turned out that actually Nathan saw a bunch of guardians approaching his way and was getting his ass out of there, while the final boss saw it too late and gets brutally killed.
- In The Order of the Stick collection Don't Split the Party, during Elan and Lien's underwater fact-finding mission, the two are attacked by a giant crab. Elan tries to use sea creature telepathy to convince the crab to go awaynote , and when the crab scuttles away, he thinks it worked until Lien points to the shadow of the bigger monster (an ancient black dragon that's stalking Vaarsuvius) that scared the crab away.
- Pixie and Brutus: Pixie jumps on Randal during a game of "cops and robbers" and then asks if he's all right, thinking she knocked him over with the force of her tackle. Actually, he flopped over to appease her "big brother" Brutus.
- Done in several Looney Tunes episodes. In one case, there was a variation where Sylvester is being chased by a Bully Bulldog named Spike and his little Hero-Worshipper Chester. Spike tries several times to beat up on Sylvester, but keeps getting mauled by an escaped puma. The variant is that neither Sylvester or Spike ever see the puma, and both are convinced that Sylvester is responsible. When Sylvester tries to menace both dogs at once, (now far away from where the puma is hiding) little Chester cleans his clock.
- Another variant with the same characters: Sylvester drinks a Jekyll & Hyde potion, and keeps switching between forms. He repeatedly mauls the bulldog while in Hyde form, then switches back to his normal, Jekyll form. Eventually Sylvester becomes convinced that he can scare the dogs while in normal form. The result is the same as above.
- In his first appearance, Henry Hawk sneaks out in the night to try and get his first chicken, but runs into trouble with a rooster who is less than impressed with the tiny hawkling. In the end, the rooster runs away, and Henery thinks he finally scared him off. But then he turns around to find his mother, who's come looking for him.
- Danny Phantom:
- When Danny breaks into the Fright Knight's castle to steal his blade, the Soul Shredder, he wakes up all the skeletons who were guarding it. Danny poises himself to attack with the stolen sword, but instead they all bow down to him. It takes Danny a second to realize that they are all bowing to the Fright Knight himself, who was released after Danny pulled out the blade.
- When Danny runs into the three ghost vultures for the second time in "Bitter Reunions," they take one look at him and fly away in horror. In a rarity for this trope, instead of smugly assuming he scared them, a very confused Danny realizes "that was almost too easy" and wonders what just happened. He turns around to meet his Arch-Enemy Plasmius for the first time.
- In the Archer episode, "Smugglers' Blues" while Archer is in a standoff with the Columbian paramilitary, the paramilitary drop their guns and surrender. Archer thinks he intimidated them but later notices the feared Cali Cartel that pulled up behind him armed with an Armoured Personel Carrier.
- In an episode of The Amazing World of Gumball, Penny outruns a wolf using her shape-shifting powers. When the wolf starts to cower and back away, she taunts it, assuming it is afraid of her. Penny soon realizes that the wolf is actually fleeing from an approaching bear that she had her back to.
- Casper and the Angels: In one story, Hairy performs his scary routine behind Casper so the latter will think he's the one scaring the bad guys.
- The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries: In "Sea You Later", the main characters are underwater and Tweety tries to befriend some fish who flee, making him wonder if his breath is bad. It turns out there's a cat fish behind him. Unwilling to let Tweety become somebody else's meal, Sylvester tries to shoo the cat fish away and believes to have done so until he sees the school of dog fish behind him.
- Final Space: Near the end of episode 1, Gary confronts the armed Avocato, and asks him if he plays cards. Avocato promptly drops his gun and raises his hands, causing Gary to think he managed to talk Avocato into giving up. However, Avocato is actually surrendering because of the armed SAMES standing behind Gary.
- Hilda: Episode 12, while David is giving the Marra (nightmare spirits) and Frida a good "The Reason You Suck" Speech, all of them suddenly back off and look scared. But not because David managed to intimidate them; the Black Hound is standing right behind him.
- In the Ewoks animated series, Wicket and Kneesa go out into the woods to search for Kneesa's long lost sister, Asha, who is discovered to still be alive after so many years. Along with an Ewok woodcutter,the two are threatened by some wild animals which end up running away thanks to Asha's arrival on the scene. The woodcutter believes he has scared the animals away with his axe until Asha drops down from the cliff she was standing on.
- The Simpsons:
- In "Das Bus", when the kids chase Bart, Lisa, and Milhouse into a cave, Lisa tries to stop them by saying they're violating the Model UN Charter. The kids stop which actually surprises Lisa, she proceeds to give a speech until Nelson points out the "monster" behind them.
- "Treehouse Of Horror XIII" begins with Bart dressing like the ghost of Maude Flanders for a seance his family is holding with Ned. He thinks they're afraid of him before he realizes the real ghost is behind him.
- In one episode of Muppet Babies (1984), Fozzie has an Imagine Spot about being pursued by a trio of crocodiles reminiscent of The Three Stooges. Cornered by them, he desperately cries "Shoo, Shoo!" right before they turn and run off. At first, Fozzie thinks he stopped them, but it turns out they scared of Crocodile Dundee standing behind him