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"The right man in the wrong place can make all the difference in the world. So wake up, Mister Freeman. Wake up and... smell the ashes."
The G-Man, Half Life 2


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 Bad Asses who'd normally kick ass and Chew Bubblegum, in that kind of situation, 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 in the situation in question. Sometimes can also be a Badass Bookworm (see the first quote for this page). 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.

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, and compare/contrast Unlikely Hero and Heroic Bystander.


Examples:

Anime and Manga

  • Otonashi of Angel Beats. The circumstances of his death involve an underground train accident that left only a handful of badly wounded survivors in a blocked subway tunnel. Otonashi just so happened to be a med student, and 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.
  • Negima started off like this, who was tasked with teaching an Unwanted Harem after he graduated from magical school. Now look where it led us.

Comics

  • 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.

Film

  • President James Marshall, from the movie Air Force One (like Jack Ryan, below, he's long-retired military, in this case Vietnam experience courtesy of the Army)
    • Funny thing is, Harrison Ford also played Jack Ryan in the movie adaptations of Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. Making the above comparison all the more fitting.
  • Ellen Ripley from the Alien franchise, particularly the second movie (the closest to the classic action format). A cargo officer on an interstellar tug with no previous martial experience, she nonetheless manages to destroy alien menaces that claim the lives of fellow crewmen, superhuman cyborgs, and heavily armed space marines alike. Seems like the only ones she can't defeat are the producers.
  • 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!" He is a policeman (though always off-duty when the actual excitement happens), but not a trained counter-terror expert or anything.
  • Dr. Phil Grant, from the movie Executive Decision
  • Many Jackie Chan movies.
  • 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.[1]

Literature

  Father Brown: One can sometimes do good by being the right person in the wrong place.

  • 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."
  • The titular 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.
  • 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.
  • Lieutenant Commander Colin MacIntyre is just an astronaut on a routine training exercise in David Weber's Mutineer's 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...
  • The titular 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.
  • 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.
  • Symbologist Robert Langdon, star of Dan Brown's books Angels and 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.
  • 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 rememember 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.

Live Action TV

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Poor Mike Nelson. All he 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.

Tabletop Games

  • The Everyman Hero archetype from Feng Shui was built with this kind of character in mind.

Video Games

  • A common thread in the Fallout and and The Elder Scrolls games. The player character is usually a normal vault dweller or prisoner 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 Action Guy or Action Girl to save the world.
  • 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. Interestingly enough, in Half Life 2 Gordon is actually a subversion; the G-Man himself has purposefully left Gordon at a specific place and time, rather than Gordon falling into it by accident or chance. The G-Man's quote is actually a reference to the previous game, where the trope was played straight.
  • The origin stories in Dragon Age 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 lead to 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.
  • 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 Cyborg from Bungie's Marathon series would count. He 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 .hack video games, 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.
  • Isaac Clarke of Dead Space and Dead Space 2, an engineer who survives two necromorph outbreaks and beats insanity.
  • Despite the baggage on his family name, all 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.


Webcomics


Notes

  1. On the other hand he does have Sean Connery to help him...
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