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Unintentional Backup Plan

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"Marty, we've succeeded, not exactly as I planned, but no matter. Let's go get Jennifer and go home!"

Where, although the original plan didn't work out, something else that may or may not be completely unrelated accomplishes the same goal. When played for laughs, expect the person who made the original plan to still say, "Just as planned." May also involve MacGyvering if the unplanned event simply gives the hero what is necessary to recover from the failed plan. Might also turn a Funny Background Event into a Chekhov's Gun.

Often used to invoke an I Meant to Do That. Might also involve the plan going horribly wrong and then what caused it to go wrong yielding the intended result. Contrast Nice Job Breaking It, Hero and Nice Job Fixing It, Villain, for when they unintentionally rescue their enemies' plans. Compare and contrast Xanatos Speed Chess and Gambit Roulette, which involve planning for things that could ruin your plans or adjusting your plans when they might fail. Inverse of Spanner in the Works, where someone or something causes what would have been a perfect plan to not accomplish its goal. Contrast Despite the Plan and Xanatos Speed Chess, where (partial or complete) failure is something the planners needed to actively compensate for.


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  • The Old Spice commercials fit this trope pretty well. It was supposed to advertise a body wash, but no-one seemed to buy that particular product. However, the Old Spice brand as a whole has become far more popular.

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Death Note, Light Out-Gambits Near by fooling him into stealing a fake Death Note. However, because of Mello's own unrelated failed Indy Ploy to kidnap Takada, Near realizes the note is fake and is alerted to the location of the real Death Note, which he also steals and replaces with his own fake, allowing him to outwit Light.
  • Dragon Ball: Doctor Gero created several androids to kill Goku. Unfortunately for him, either they were too weak to kill him or they performed a Heel–Face Turn. It was Cell, Gero's supreme creation — who wasn't involved in the plan to kill Goku at all — who completed Gero's objective by self-destructing and killing Goku in the process.
  • The climax of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Battle Tendency plays this to ridiculous extremes. Confronted by Kars, who has managed to become the Ultimate Lifeform, Joseph decides to grab the Red Stone of Aja and run. Eventually Joseph manages to dump Kars into a volcano, but he survives thanks to his Adaptive Ability. Kars then proceeds to cut off one of Joseph's hands and decides to kill him using the Ripple to invoke Ironic Death, but Joseph ends up blocking it with the Red Stone of Aja, triggering the volcano to erupt, sending both of them on a rock high into the sky. Kars tries to escape by growing wings, but Joseph's severed hand ends up distracting him long enough for a stray volcanic rock to hit him and launch him even higher, outside of the Earth's atmosphere. Joseph comments to himself that he planned none of this out, but his reputation for cunning schemes allows him to claim that he planned everything from the start, knowing that Kars would be pissed off thinking that.
    • In the next Part, After Jotaro punched Dio so hard he flew into the air, Dio landed near a staircase that had a car driving across it. Dio claims that escaping via car was his plan all along, but Jotaro calls him out on his bullshit.
  • Naruto: Just before he dies, Uchiha Itachi plants a mysterious crow inside Naruto with the message, "I hope you never have to use it." Jump to the 4th Ninja War where Itachi has been revived as a zombie under the enemy's control. He and Naruto fight, that crow appears, and suddenly Itachi is on the good guys' side. Itachi explains that the crow contained a pre-prepared genjutsu that would hypnotize whoever saw it to protect Konoha, programmed to only respond to the presence of Itachi's eyes. The plan was that if Sasuke decided to turn on the Leaf and use Itachi's eyes to power himself up, the genjutsu would turn him good. However, now in control of himself, Itachi can work to undo the resurrections and talk some sense into Sasuke personally.
  • In the last episode of Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, after Panty and Stocking beat the Big Bad, Garterbelt comments that things went "approximately as planned", reflecting on the fact that he temporarily died during the battle and that the Big Bad managed to go One-Winged Angel. This follows up on two "just as planned" comments and one "not as planned" comment earlier in the episode.
  • One Piece:
    • Blackbeard planned to capture series protagonist Monkey D. Luffy and hand him over to the World Government in order to get appointed as a Warlord. But then Luffy and his crew got shot up into the sky right when he approached them and, sometime later, Luffy's brother Ace (who's an even more notable pirate than Luffy) showed up to confront Blackbeard over unrelated matters. Blackbeard captures Ace instead and his plans go even better because of it, as a series of crazy events ultimately leads to Blackbeard getting himself the ultra-destructive powers of Ace's captain Whitebeard.
    • At the end of the Fishman Island Arc, Luffy gives Big Mom treasure from Ryuuguu Palace so she'll spare the island for not meeting her candy-tribute quota. Among that treasure is a relic called the Tamate Box, which, unknown to either pirate, has a powerful bomb placed inside by Fishman Island's leaders in case the Box was stolen. In the Totto Land Arc, when the planned assassination of Big Mom starts to go pear-shaped and it looks like Luffy's group will be killed, the chaos knocks the Tamate Box open, and the explosion destroys the structural integrity of Big Mom's palace, causing the whole thing to collapse and providing the perfect diversion for escape.

    Card Games 
  • Go Fish. A house rule (so common that most people don't know it's not a base rule) is that if you ask for the wrong card and your normally turn-ending penalty draw either completes a pair or it's what you asked for, it doesn't end your turn.

  • Bill Cosby talks about a plan for revenge in the album, "Revenge". In the routine, he recalls a childhood acquaintance named Junior Barnes hitting him in the side of the face with a slush-ball one snowy day. Cosby makes a perfect snowball to hit Junior Barnes with, but when he is unable to find Junior Barnes, he puts the snowball in the freezer, and waits until summer. In the time that passes, he's befriended Junior Barnes, and when he least suspects it, Cosby goes to get the snowball from the freezer, only to realize his mother has since thrown the snowball away. With this turn of events, Cosby goes back outside and simply spits on Junior Barnes.

    Fan Works 
  • Jaune Arc, Lord of Hunger:
    • To keep the Mask of Darth Nihilus from falling into Darth Vader's hands, Alpha dumps the mask on a remote world far from the Empire's reach. Church picked Remnant because its civilization hadn't discovered spaceflight. He had no way of knowing that Remnant's Dust technology doesn't work outside the planet's atmosphere. This means that even after Remnant undergoes an industrial revolution centuries later, they still don't have a space program, leaving Nihilus's spirit trapped there with no means of returning to the greater galaxy.
    • After recognizing Jaune as an unstable sociopath, Cinder decides to use him as a Red Herring in order to distract Ozpin while she targets the Fall Maiden. She has no idea that Nihilus's soul would perform a Demonic Possession on Jaune's body and go on a rampage the next day, so she didn't even need to set Jaune up for anything.
  • Towards the Sun: After Calling the Old Man Out, Zuko informs Iroh that he "has sick relatives to visit". He means this quite literally; his plan is to break Azula out of the asylum, and he's afraid of being stopped. What he doesn't realize, however, is that in the Fire Kingdom, "visiting sick relatives" is actually frequently used as a cover for fleeing the capital to avoid getting killed for dissent. As a result, his honesty was the perfect cover; by the time anyone realizes what he meant, it's too late.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Back to the Future:
    • In Part I, Marty's plan to take advantage of his mother, and for his father to come to her rescue, was going to fail epically and embarrassingly. However, Biff unwittingly came to the plan's rescue and let George genuinely rescue Lorraine from an attacker.
    • Back to the Future Part II: Initially, Doc had intended for Marty to take his son's place at the meeting with Griff to turn down his request to take part in a crime, but it went awry when Marty Jr. showed up due to Doc's sleep inducer not having enough power to knock him out for the duration after it was used on Jennifer. As a result, it leads into a chain of events in which Marty unintentionally causes Griff and his gang to wreck the Town Hall courthouse. However, this results in them getting arrested before they can get Marty Jr. into trouble. So, mission accomplished, but not in the way Doc had in mind.
  • A villainous version happens in The Fugitive: Dr. Charles Nichols's plan was apparently to kill both Richard and Helen Kimble in what would appear to be a botched robbery. But when Richard was able to fight Sykes off and only Helen was killed, it now looked as though Richard was the killer, leaving him to be convicted and sent to death row, effectively getting rid of him anyway.
  • James Bond: In Licence to Kill, Bond is trying to assassinate Franz Sanchez to avenge his friend Felix Leiter and his wife Della. However, he gets stopped midway through his attempt by Hong Kong narcotics moles who were infiltrating Sanchez's syndicate. After Sanchez saves him, Bond gets him to believe one of his associates was behind the attempt instead. Sanchez has Krest brutally executed and he gives Bond a place in his inner circle.
  • In the climax of Pacific Rim, Stryker Eureka is carrying a nuclear bomb that will close the Breach and prevent further kaiju from coming to Earth. But Stryker Eureka is critically injured by the Category 5 kaiju, and cannot make it to the Breach. So instead, they decide to set Gipsy Danger's nuclear reactor to overload in the Breach instead.
  • In Predator, Dutch's plan to lure the titular menace into a deadly knife-trap fails when the Predator spots what he's up to and simply goes around it. Just as it's about to kill him, Dutch notices it's standing right under the trap's counterweight... a giant log.
  • Played straight over the course of the Star Wars saga. Back during The Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon Jinn's original plan was for Anakin to bring balance to the Force. However, he ends up falling to the Dark Side and it seems that he won't. In Return of the Jedi, however, he does bring balance to the Force by ensuring that the last of the evil aspect of the Dark Side of the Force dies with him.
  • Tommy Boy: Paul and Beverly Barrish are a husband and wife pair of con artists who deceived auto parts magnate Big Tom Callahan by Beverly marrying him with Paul posing as her son. They expected to simply bleed Big Tom dry for about a year before Beverly divorced him and got a big payday. Then, he immediately died at the wedding and they were put in a situation where they could make more money by selling the company. However, Big Tom's son, Tommy, thwarts their plans by selling enough brake pads to show that Callahan Auto was still viable after Big Tom's death and exposing them.

  • Foundation and Empire: Devers constructs an elaborate plan to defeat Bel Riose and The Empire, only for it to do nothing. Instead, political infighting on Trantor wins the war for them. This is taken as a sign of the inevitability of the Seldon Plan's success.
  • Harry Potter:
    • In a rare villainous example, Voldemort is unaware that Harry is his final (de facto) Horcrux. As a result, he gave himself a way to win even after the other sources of his power were destroyed. He ruins it, though, by using the Killing Curse on Harry again.
    • The heroes had one in place as well. Dumbledore originally planned to depower the Elder Wand by having Snape kill him by consent. This was ruined when Draco Malfoy Disarmed him during their encounter, and Dumbledore never got a chance to reclaim it. Later, Harry Disarmed Draco of his usual hawthorn wand, taking it for his own — and by doing this, Harry (by pure luck) became the master of the Elder Wand, essentially preventing Voldemort from ever becoming its master. This is eventually what allows Harry to win against Voldemort.
  • In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf and Aragorn's Batman Gambit pays off in getting the One Ring to Mount Doom, but the One Ring itself spans their plans by finally corrupting Frodo at the last crucial moment. Fortunately, Gollum shows up to take the ring for himself before accidentally falling into the volcano and destroying it.
  • When the heroes of Relativity encounter a powerful telepath named August Moon, they find it nearly impossible to fight him because he can read their minds and know what their attacks will be before they make them. At one point, however, Ravenswood sadly recalls how he and August used to be friends before he became a villain. The memory distracts August long enough for him to be defeated.
  • In the Isaac Asimov short story Waterclap, an engineer from a moon colony tries to sabotage an Underwater City via a suicidal "accident", believing that space colonization resources are about to be cut in favour of ocean colonization. The ocean city administrator's wife bluffs that she's part of the science budget council, and that the ocean city is prototyping technology intended for colonising Jupiter, which convinces him that his sabotage would backfire. When the engineer stands down and entire thing is over, it is revealed that while the wife was bluffing, the husband is a member of the council, and while they might not have been thinking in that direction before, his wife made a very good argument for why they should consider colonizing Jupiter...

    Live-Action TV 
  • Freqently on The A-Team, prompting Hannibal to spout his Catchphrase, "I love it when a plan comes together."
  • In episode 27 of Mimpi Metropolitan, Melani's plan for Reno's proposal is Reno will rescue Dita from "kidnappers" (Bambang and Alan) and bring her to the proposal location. What ends up happening is Dita beats up Bambang and Alan and they decide to run away from her to the proposal location, so the proposal succeeds anyway.

    Video Game 
  • ZigZagg in Dragon Quest Builders 2: While Hargon always had the illusory world as a backup plan, it didn't work the way he'd intended, as his targets bypassed it entirely. However, he was still able to put it to good use by placing his Vengeful Ghost and the remnants of Malroth there, then waiting for the Scions' time to pass.
  • Mary Skelter 2: Otsuu's plan was to go back in time to save Little Mermaid from going berserk and getting killed by Red Riding Hood in self-defense. However, the resulting timeline screws over the rest of the heroes, so Otsuu and Little Mermaid decide to reset things back to how they were in Mary Skelter: Nightmares. The backup plan is Little Mermaid's microphone, which carries a recording of her: it somehow makes its way into the Nightmares timeline, restores Jack's memory of the Mary Skelter 2 timeline after the recording is played back, Jack then stops Nightmare Otsuu from using the Jail Core to reset time, and everyone works together to bring Little Mermaid back from the dead in the Nightmares timeline instead.
  • In Metal Gear Solid you are given two options to escape the prison cell after getting captured. Once the guard runs to the bathroom, you can either fake your death with ketchup or hide under the bed to lure him into the cell thinking you've either committed suicide or escaped. What you choose is up to you and they both work the same, but each one Only Works Once. Bungle them both, however, and you're apparently now at Ocelot's mercy and put on the torture rack a couple more times. Thankfully, the Cyborg Ninja unexpectedly shows up to smash open the door for you after this.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY: While Ozpin makes it clear that he doesn't think the teenaged heroes are anywhere near ready take on Salem's forces, he and Qrow try anyway because they have no alternative plan for protecting either Haven Academy or the Relic of Knowledge. During the confrontation, the group unsurprisingly does not do well against the villains. What Ozpin doesn't know is that there are two other plans in play at the same time: Blake rallying the Faunus of Menagerie is what stops the White Fang assault on the school and Raven playing Cinder like a fiddle is what prevents Cinder from obtaining the Relic. While the heroes all learn about Blake's plan, only Yang knows the role that Raven played.
    Qrow: I don't know how, but we did it, Oz.

    Web Original 
  • In Noob: Le Conseil des Trois Factions, Gaea's The Scrooge attitude in Noob turns out to have had ulterior motives. Besides a bunch of money, the plan needed one of the game's larger guilds as a target. When she executes it on Roxxor, the biggest guild of the Coalition, she admits that her initial target was Justice from the Empire, her former faction. What happened between the two? Mid-way through Noob, a Frame-Up made her hated in the Empire and she got a literal fan club whose members were convinced that she was a Double Agent faithful to the Coalition. She spent some time basically giving the Sure, Let's Go with That treatment to the fan club while staying in the Empire, but a moment of disappointment with her Empire guild made her change factions, which was made easier by her fan club welcoming her with open arms. With the new faction came a new large guild to target.

    Western Animation 
  • Justice League: In "Epilogue", the Fully Absorbed Finale of Batman Beyond, it's revealed that Terry McGinnis is Bruce Wayne's biological son, as Amanda Waller secretly overrode Warren McGinnis's DNA with Bruce's, and also contracted Andrea Beaumont/The Phantasm to murder Terry's parents so as to spark a similar turn to vigilantism as Bruce. However, at the last minute, Beaumont opted not to do it, because she wasn't willing to kill an innocent boy's parents who have done no wrong to anyone just to make him the next Batman; after all, she’s a vigilante who always did prefer to Pay Evil unto Evil, and she points out that the entire reason Bruce became Batman was to prevent this exact tragedy from happening to anyone else, and that it would go against everything he stood for. But years later, Warren McGinnis was murdered under Derek Powers's orders, which led Terry to Bruce and then becoming the new Batman, after all. Terry is rightfully furious upon finding out about all this.
  • At the end of the two-part My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Princess Twilight Sparkle", it is revealed that before he was turned to stone over a thousand years ago, Discord planted magic seeds meant to steal magic from the Tree of Harmony, capture Princess Celestia and Princess Luna, and spread across Equestria. However, the tree's magic prevented the seeds from flourishing. After over a thousand years, the tree weakens just enough for the plants to resume Discord's original intent. By this time, though, Discord had undergone a Heel–Face Turn, though it still amused him to sit back and see how it played out as an impromptu test for Twilight.
  • Scooby-Doo loves this trope. Fred's plan to capture the Monster of the Week usually backfires because of Scooby and Shaggy's stupidity but somehow, in a way usually unrelated to Fred's plan, the monster is still caught at the end.
  • In the Steven Universe episode "Gem Drill", Peridot and Steven drill into the depths of the Earth to reach the Cluster, an enormous conglomeration of shattered Gem shards left beneath the surface by Homeworld, and destroy it before it awakens and destroys the Earth. Peridot's drill is unable to damage the Cluster, but Steven is able to use his empathetic powers to communicate with the Cluster and convince its components to bubble each other and save the Earth.
  • In Young Justice it seems like the Aqualad double agent plan is doomed to failure thanks to Miss Martian inflicting a Mind Rape on him to "avenge" Artemis who wasn't really dead. Artemis manages to bring her onto Black Manta's sub via a staged kidnapping to fix the damage, but now Miss Martian can't escape without exposing the scheme. Cue Sportsmaster and Cheshire raiding Manta's sub also trying to avenge Artemis and inadvertently breaking her out, allowing her to escape and cover her tracks.


Video Example(s):


Griff Goe's to Jail

Doc did not intend for Marty to cause Griff and his gang to destroy the entrance to the Courthouse Mall in 2015, but they get arrested for it before they can cause Marty Jr to get in trouble. So, mission accomplished, but not in the way Doc had in mind.

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Example of:

Main / UnintentionalBackupPlan

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