Action Survivor

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"Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em."

Not all protagonists are Hollywood Action Heroes; powerful, grizzled and tough. Some are decidedly less... action-y. One of these is the Action Survivor, who is very much a normal guy in abnormal circumstances. He won't so much get The Call as be pinned by a telephone pole, trapping him with an adventure a more qualified Action Hero would have trouble sorting out.

The Action Survivor is almost the opposite of the Action Hero; he's pretty normal in just about every way, so much so that if the Action Hero is ostensibly a fantasy idealized-self, the Action Survivor is more of a self insertion for the viewer, giving us someone easily related to because we're wimps. However, Wish Fulfillment does figure into this character's development. While outrunning shadowy evildoers and keeping the MacGuffin out of reach, he'll discover he's far more cunning, resourceful and resilient than he gave himself credit for... if he doesn't learn these tricks and more along the way, that is.

Some movies will even give the slender protagonist a power upgrade via ancient prophecy/the one-ness, etc. Most films forgo this entirely and have them turn Badass Normal... or just plain suck a little less. If the character gains super powers this way, expect them to have to go from Super Loser to competent.

Traits include:

  • Average to toned body
  • If male, Perma-Stubble at low setting
  • Light of foot rather than big and tough (think Deadly Dodging vs. Made of Iron)
  • Generally, will suck at fighting and need rescuing, choose flight, or win just by sheer luck and the skin of the teeth.
  • Gets very angry when someone they care about is threatened.
  • "What the fuck is this!" reaction to action, which doesn't stop them from...
  • Being amazingly good at improvising and just plain surviving the movie's action, hence the trope name.

Note that he's not just good at "merely" surviving the adventure like a mangled heap of bones, but is actually quite capable of surviving mostly unharmed while somehow managing to delay or disrupt the Evil Plan enough to foil the bad guy. In fact, said villain will likely be completely blindsided by their involvement, having planned for everything except this Spanner in the Works.

One overlooked trait of these types is that they're uncommonly decent. They'll often get at least one chance to walk away (often given "in good faith" by the villain), but choose to keep fighting rather than run away because of altruism, love, upbringing, or a sense of duty. Or they're just plain bored with their small lives and choose to keep adventuring for the fun of it.

The Action Survivor is common not only in action movies, but also horror movies and videogames, where an unprofessional protagonist adds to the desperate horror feel.

By the adventure's end you can expect him to be incredibly happy to have things go back to normal, although his growth throughout the adventure means he'll be standing up to his Pointy-Haired Boss, dump his harpy girlfriend for the Action Girl, or plain not go back to his normal life.

Related to the Final Girl—a specifically female, horror movie version. The Right Man in the Wrong Place is often this type of hero. On the Super Weight scale, he's primarily Muggle Weight, sometimes making the jump to Iron Weight upon taking a level in badass. See also Action Duo. Also compare Unfazed Everyman.

Examples of Action Survivor include:

Anime and Manga

  • Shamo has its protagonist Ryo Narushima in this category for give or take the first 3 volumes of the manga. After that well...Lets just say he adapts to his surroundings a tad too well.
  • Rokuro "Rock" Okajima from Black Lagoon. Goes from everyday Salarymanhood to surviving multiple gunfights, kidnappings, car chases, boat chases, and the list just goes on.
  • Usopp from One Piece is something of this. Usually, he has only his amazing ingenuity, and spends half the battle running away.
    • Vivi would count too, although she's usually more willing to fight than Usopp is.
  • Arguably Kyon, from Haruhi Suzumiya, depending on your interpretation of the show. Just an Ordinary High School Student... whose closest friends happen to be an alien, a time traveler, an esper... oh, and a Reality Warper. Somehow, he's able to survive his many adventures, usually caused by Haruhi's desires, due to the intervention of the afore-mentioned friends. Amazingly, he takes much of it in his stride.
  • Kaiji - The title character is an ordinary loser whose genius and bravery only awaken when thrust into life-threatening situations. The "uncommonly decent" aspect also applies very much.
  • Ship Leesoo from Tower of God. Having the lowest fighting stats of all, he must rely purely on his smarts and running away abilities (though he can fight, it's just not that amazing when everyone else is terribly powerful). He mainly survived at first because he got teamed up with Hatsu and Anak, but then proved to be smarter than, well, The Smart Guy, Koon. He also does an embarrassingly good job of taking care of his companions.
    • Unlike other Action Survivors, he was however intentionally climbing the Tower.
  • Simon starts as this in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. He eventually gets upgraded to Action Hero after he gets over Kamina's death.
  • Subverted in Code Geass. Ordinary guy Lelouch gets mixed up in an insurgent attack and reactionary annihilation of the area when suddenly he is randomly handed his "geass". Then he reveals that he is NOT an ordinary guy and proceeds to not just survive the conflict but fight, commanding the insurgents like his own personal army (like they later become). We also later find out that his gaining his "geass" was anything but random.
  • Plenty in Zone of the Enders: Dolores, as its premise is an ordinary family thrust into world shaking events. James may or may not count as he is actually pretty big and has had military training, though he starts off pretty damn rusty and with none of the 'elite pilot/man of destiny' badges given to the other ZOE protagonists. His son Leon on the other hand is a meek and pussywipped computer programmer with an obvious Oedipus complex, yet manages to surprise even himself by facing up to vicious beatings, pushes his programming and mathematical skills to their absolute limit (he is the primary designer of a module for atmospheric entry at one point, despite having no training and only scrap to work with), and showing remarkably quick thinking in a crisis.
    • He contrasts nicely with his sister Noel, who takes after her father by being tough, bluntly spoken and powerfully built. She however often comes across as a Faux Action Girl, possibly because she's far too levelheaded to perform the moments of terrified bravery her brother manages. Perhaps he realises she's far more masculine and infinitely less whiny (though that's like being less hot than the sun...) than he will ever be and feels the need to compensate.
  • Tenma in Monster.
    • That's less demonstrated than informed; he spends most of his screen-time locked in emotional constipation. He's slow to observe and slower to react no matter how experienced he should've gotten in crisis situations, and survives mainly through serial rolls of the Villain Ball tropes.
  • Naruto has Shikamaru. Unlike the "born great" Sasuke and Naruto, he has no motivation and is an average ninja (compared to the ridiculously overpowered main characters and bad guys). However, he has a genius level intellect, and when duty calls, he can use that intellect to defeat much stronger opponents. Significantly, he was one of the first characters in the series to defeat an Akatsuki member, and the first to defeat one in a one-on-one fight. With a hole in the ground and some string.
  • The surviving members of the Japanese taskforce in Death Note.
  • Female versions: Suzu and Princess Shoukei from The Twelve Kingdoms.
  • The main group of Bio-Meat: Nectar, especially in part 1. Just some kids running away from The Swarm armed with ingenuity, guts, lighters, and hairspray. Slightly subverted in parts 2 and 3 when they come closer to being Action Heroes.
  • Arguably the entire main cast of 20th Century Boys. None of them, except Otcho, are particularly strong, fast, or badass, and they're all up against a Complete Monster Big Bad trying to take over the world with the help of a brainwashed cult. Admittedly, they do level up over the course of the story (especially Kenji).
  • Kaname from Full Metal Panic!. Normal high school student that just happens to get involved in an elite military unit. Subverted (Double Subverted?) in that she isn't an ordinary person, but her particular abilities aren't likely to help her in a situation requiring near-superhuman strength and agility. While she is fairly athletic for a girl her age, her sport of choice is softball, not something combat-related.
  • Bleach - Being chased down by the Nigh Invulnerable Walking Wasteland Aizen has required Keigo, Tatsuki, Chizuru, Mizuiro and Don Kanonji to become this. Special mention to the last two.
  • Keiko Yukimura from Yu Yu Hakusho has no supernatural powers to defend herself from demonic and powerful forces. She gets by by being Plucky Girl and resourceful, shown especially when she and Botan are up against zombies controlled by insects.
  • Nijima of Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple has no martial arts training but manages to be the only one who escape Berserker. Also he has excellent information gathering skills.
  • Saji Crossroad in Mobile Suit Gundam 00
  • Tsukune Aono of Rosario + Vampire had a dangerous habit of Taking the Bullet for his (technically stronger) friends. He was surprisingly resilient even before he Took a Level in Badass via Emergency Transformation, though, and he's a decent strategist and the Only Sane Man, which makes him invaluable to the team.
  • Saiga of Speed Grapher had become a credentialed Action Survivor by the beginning of the series, as a veteran war photographer. After he becomes Badass Abnormal he still exhibits every other feature of the trope.
  • Myung Fan Lone from Macross Plus. Here we have a person whose life has been almost 100% crap for years, completely helpless as Mailer Daemon Sharon Apple has staged everything to give Isamu the thrill of death... and suddenly something snaps inside. The next scenes have Myung escaping and using brains and quick thinking to stop the Big Bad.
  • Hercule/Mr. Satan of Dragon Ball Z and GT. Him and his dog are the only survivors of an otherwise 100% genocide on normal humans in the Buu Saga and complete mind control of humanity in GT. All because he had the sense and decency to befriend Buu.

Comic Books

  • The Jaime Reyes incarnation of the Blue Beetle did not so much answer The Call as accidentally pick up what caused it, take it home, and put it on his dresser. He didn't want to be a hero in the beginning; instead he got told "Hey kid, we need you to help save the world." (And wound up throwing up in the Batcave.) He gradually eased into being a hero after realizing his own resourcefulness, and while he does have an alien bugsuit, he's not a fighter by nature (and actually got told by Robin that he kinda sucked at fighting) and tends to get by on cleverness and his brilliant brain, simply using the suit as a tool and flying by the skin of his teeth. All the more so when he's been thrown into a do-or-the-world-dies situation without his super powered bug suit. A rare case of a superhero NOT actually being an Action Hero, perhaps even less so than his predecessor, Ted Kord.
  • Yorick in Y: The Last Man fits this to a Y. Sometimes he is a bit of a jerk.
  • Smiley Bone of Bone always seems to know exactly where incoming arrows will be and to have a shield ready appropriately and facing the right way.
  • Julie Martinfrom Echo is just an amateur photographer who had the misfortunate of witnessing, and getting caught up in, the murder of Dr. Allison Porter of the Phi Project. Now she is stuck in the Beta Suit and trying to figure out what is going on, who is doing it, and how she can get out of the entire situation. Fortunately, she has Ivy Raven to help her out.

Fan Works

  • Tobias Talltree of Clouded Sky is just an ordinary kid who happens to have the great misfortune of having received a Murkrow (alleged in-universe as a bearer of ill fortune) as his starter Pokémon. Not only is he mistrusted and held in contempt by everyone, but he is also constantly being forced into one life-threatening situation after another through no fault of his own, continuing to come out of them all unscathed through sheer dumb luck.


  • Cellular has this type of protagonist. He was aided during the shootouts by William Macy as an about-to-retire cop who survives!
  • The title character of Paul Blart: Mall Cop.
  • Perhaps averted in Saving Private Ryan; the "guy with the BAR" who goes right through the whole movie, doing his job, in all the firefights: not a scratch.
  • The Matrix.[context?]
  • The Lord of the Rings. Frodo and Sam repeatedly rely on their wits and relentlessly good luck to get them to Mordor intact, such as in Balin's Tomb and escaping Osgiliath, and Frodo repeatedly states how he wishes he had never gotten the ring in the first place.
  • Mary Jane during the final battle of Spider-Man 3 actually manages to hold on for a long time on her own before absolutely needing to be rescued.
  • Wanted: Wesley starts as this, but then grinds to level 99.
  • 28 Days Later[context?]
  • Arguably, Sam Witwicky in Transformers, and to a lesser degree Mikaela.
  • Stanley Goodspeed in The Rock.
  • Collateral has Jaime Foxx as this sort of protagonist.
  • Bait features Jamie Foxx as a petty thief fresh out of jail who finds himself a pawn in a game played between federal agents and a thief they try to catch. In this case, Foxx's character has a fair bit of Combat Pragmatist in him.
  • Jack Burton from Big Trouble in Little China. Though he's the main protagonist, he's essentially a bumbling sidekick to the real heroes: both he and the viewers are left to puzzle over the details of the long-running conflict the rest of the heroes had already been fighting with the villain.
  • Jason Tripitikas in The Forbidden Kingdom (although he does take a level in badass before it's over).
  • Ben (1968) or Barbara (1990) in Night of the Living Dead.
  • Arguably most Jackie Chan movies, with Who Am I? being the most notable. Jackie's characters tend to be "the Everyman thrust into situations that would crush the spirits of most people."
  • Subverted in A History of Violence. At the start of the movie, Viggo Mortensen's character seems to be an ordinary man in the right place at the right time, but is he?
  • Michael in the 2004 version of Dawn of the Dead.
    • And in the original Dawn of the Dead, Steve (a TV station's helicopter pilot) and Fran (a floor director). Peter and Roger, being SWAT cops, don't really count.
  • John McClane, from Die Hard, was initially an Action Survivor Action Hero. In fact, the movie became an instant classic largely because of the contrast between McClane and the ubermensch Action Hero characters of Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and a million B-movie "stars". Not to say that McClane isn't a certifiable Badass, but in the first movie, he's pretty much an ordinary cop thrust into extraordinary circumstances, and he spends much of the film bleeding and swearing at his ill fortune in having been caught up in the plot.
    • His sidekicks in each movie, none of whom wanted to get involved, are more traditional Action Survivors. Officer Al Powell was picking up Twinkies, Zeus Carver was just looking after his electronics shop (although he was kind of a badass motherfucker), and the Justin Long guy was a dweeby hacker.
  • Ellen Ripley in the Alien series. But as her character is increasingly subjected to this in the series, she becomes more of an orthodox Action Hero. Throughout, she manages to retain most of her sensitivity and humanity, but learns how to be Badass when necessary along the way.
  • Roxanne Richie in Megamind, an intrepid reporter who, through repeated kidnappings and familiarity with Evil Lairs, has become both resourceful and Dangerously Genre Savvy.
  • Sarah Connor in the Terminator series is especially this in the first film, but Took a Level in Badass and has changed completely to Badass Action Hero by the second movie.
  • The protagonist of almost any Alfred Hitchcock movie.
  • Innerspace - Mild-mannered hypochondriac Jack Putter (Martin Short) finds himself mixed up in a war between the evil corporation and the US government. Mind you, the original reason he took matters into his own hands was the prospect of having a tiny little corpse rotting inside of his body. At the end of the movie, though, when he realizes that a life of adventure is more fun than what he originally had, he grabs onto it with both hands.
  • Theo in Children of Men is a depressed white-collar worker who spends most of the movie getting shot at and never picks up a gun or any kind of weapon at all except a discarded car battery, which he drops immediately after smashing someone across the face and flees. He manages to get Kee all the way to the Human Project while constantly running from people who are trying to kill him. Of course, he doesn't actually survive the film.
  • The Roy O'Bannon character in Shanghai Noon. According to Owen Wilson, the character was originally intended as a more straightforward Action Hero, but he and the producers re-tooled the character into a cross between Action Survivor and Honest John's Dealership.
  • The protagonists of Eagle Eye.
  • Jack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October. Though he was once a Marine his main job before saving the world was as a Desk Jockey for the CIA. "Next time, Jack, write a goddamn memo."
  • Wikus from District 9, who starts out as an office worker before his Viral Transformation into an alien makes him a MacGuffin Guy.
  • Quite a few Harrison Ford roles are of this type of protagonist:
  • Columbus of Zombieland, a World of Warcraft-playing Hollywood Nerd who manages to survive a Zombie Apocalypse mostly through being Genre Savvy. His previously-debilitating anxiety and phobias actually becoming more rational and practical once said Zombie Apocalypse happens.
    • Also Wichita, and especially Little Rock, who is only twelve. Tallahassee is exempt, because he was a Badass to begin with.
  • The titular character of Shaun of the Dead. He works at an electronics store, enjoys getting drunk, listening to records loudly, and playing video games. His whole plan consisted of picking up his mother and girlfriend, and going to his favourite bar to enjoy a cold beer. In fact, the only reason he survives is the timely arrival of the military.
  • Evil Dead - Ash. One of the more enjoyable aspects of the films is him gradually becoming Dangerously Genre Savvy to the point where he does the stuff you normally yell at people on the screen for not doing:

Ash: It's a trick. Get an Axe.

  • Terri Doolittle (Whoopi Goldberg) from Jumpin' Jack Flash. She's a bank worker who finds herself on the run from international spies after she accidentally intercepts message from a British secret agent using the eponymous alias.
  • Anthony Hopkins plays a millionaire magazine publisher in The Edge who finds him self in a survival situation involving a crashed plane, mother nature's wrath, a hungry bear and a murder plot. He comes out of it all pretty well.
  • Wedge Antilles from Star Wars; despite lacking the Force, Plot Armor, or even a military background, this lone pilot saves Luke's life in the original film, survives the battle of Hoth and was the only pilot to successfully take out an AT-AT in The Empire Strikes Back, and became the only man to survive both Death Star attacks, earning him Ensemble Darkhorse status in fandom
    • Not quite: Wedge did have military training (one of the innumerable former imperial pilots). Though, in the SW universe, not being a space wizard or having said plot armor, that doesn't revoke his Action Survivor status.
  • Sam Flynn in Tron: Legacy. He's not wicked agile like Rinzler. He's not nearly invincible like Clu. He's not a demiurge like his father.

Sam Flynn: I'm a User... I'll improvise.

    • His dad started as this in the first film. He just happened to be very good at video games and Sark was under direct orders to keep Kevin in the games until he died playing (much for the same reason Tron himself wasn't killed; Master Control wanted the User-Believers broken. Killing the User-Believer champion and an actual User would demoralize any who opposed). From there, it was one crazy Indy Ploy to the next because he didn't know what he was doing with his User abilities.
  • Joan Wilder in Romancing the Stone is a classic case. Starting out as a romance novelist who barely leaves her dowdy apartment, she ventures off to aid her sister and becomes ... a romance novelist who lives her plot lines.
  • The eponymous Mystery Team.[context?]
  • A number of Hitchcock's heroes fall into this, but especially Roger O Thornhill, in North by Northwest.
  • El Mariachi has a rare action hero example. The Mariachi is on the run throughout the film and survives through cunning and dumb luck. This aspect of his characters fades away in the sequels as he takes a level in badass.
    • Apocalypto has a similar feel to it. The main character is running scared through much of the movie, although by the end, he makes a stand.
  • Cliff Secord aka The Rocketeer.[context?]


  • Katniss in The Hunger Games, to an extent. Most of the plot comes together because of her spontaneous decisions, as well as outside characters forcing into situations; she even mentions at the end of the first book that she'd rather just live a normal life.
  • Richard Mayhew in Neverwhere. Survivor really is the word here, as the sole fact that he lived to see the ending is an ample feat of badassery.
  • Rincewind the 'Wizzard' from Discworld. The man is a champion runner, great at improvising and never willingly goes along with insane plans.[1] Not that that stops it from happening. Of course, since he is literally The Lady Luck's plaything, the extraordinary coincidences are no accident. At this point, due to some of his companions and their publications, so many people know about him and his penchant for surviving anything the universe can throw at him that they genuinely believe he is amazingly good at what he does.

Ridcully: I think you're all missing the key point here. Chap survives. Talented.

    • His personal philosophy is "It doesn't matter where you're running, it only matters where you're running from." Seems like a good mantra for any Action Survivor.
  • Bilbo Baggins, the titular protagonist of The Hobbit, is pushed out of his front door on an adventure he doesn't want to go on, playing a role he has no idea how to play (he's recruited as a "burglar"). He is rather inept at first, but finding The One Ring helps him a great deal and in Mirkwood especially he comes up with some clever rescues for the Dwarves. He also notably spends the entire climactic battle unconscious, invisible because of the Ring and hit in the head by a stray rock. Other hobbits in related works have similar roles.
  • Older Than Radio: The protagonist of H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds pretty much does nothing to actually advance the plot; he's little more than an observer of the unfolding Martian invasion. Better still, he's just trying to stay alive long enough to reunite with his wife, whom he had left with relatives when the Martians first touched down.
  • Jules Verne had a similar style to H. G. Wells, with Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth both featuring an Action Survivor narrator who does little other than recount the story while others engage in the actual action.
  • John Wyndham also uses this in The Day of the Triffids and The Kraken Wakes.
  • Arthur Dent from The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy.
  • David Wong from John Dies at the End. David is completely unremarkable in almost every way, which makes him an unlikely hero when monster comes knocking at the door of the universe. The eponymous John fits too, as despite the fact that he's a little more competent than Dave, he's totally nuts. In fact, if anyone in the story can fit the archetype of the Action Hero, it's Molly... the Golden Retriever.
  • Everyone in Nation, including a wizened priest, a toothless old woman, a pregnant woman, a woman so broken in the brain-pan she is incapable of caring for her own child (yet still gets a Crowning Moment of Awesome), and the two teenaged protagonists.
  • Professor Jerry Lukacs of Pyramid Scheme isn't the only person to have gotten sucked into his particular adventure (stranded in a primitive world where all of Earth's myths are real) but other than that he's a pretty classic example of this trope.
  • In Dean Ing's Man-Kzin stories "Cathouse" and "Briar Patch", Carroll Locklear is a skinny civilian ethologist captured by the Kzinti when they attack the ship he was traveling on; he toughens up fast. (Notably, by the end of the first story the only one of his original captors still living is the one who's come over to his side.)
  • Ron Weasley in Harry Potter, a self-deprecating everydude who ends up in battle usually out of loyalty to Harry. Initially common sense and loyalty are his biggest assets, but by the end of the series he's hardened enough to hold his own in serious battle.
  • Raul Endymion, of the later half of the Hyperion books, is a not-wholly-remarkable human who ends up having to run away from some absurdly powerful super-beings, usually thanks to some very lucky flukes... until he ends up killing one of them one-on-one, anyway.
  • Harry Dresden from The Dresden Files. Despite being the protagonist, trouble usually finds him, and he usually only escapes with luck or by the skin of his teeth. He has proven to be remarkable good at planning if given the chance...which is why a wizards enemies prefer to jump them in dark alleys.
    • Being one of the most powerful wizards in the world helps, though.
  • Five of the seven Beta clones in 7th Son are civilians with no combat or self-defence training who have to learn how to fight and shoot on the fly. They have the "running away" part down to a fine art, though.
  • Bubo the rat from A Night in the Lonesome October isn't actually a part of the Game, yet he manages to not only discover what's going on, but to play a subtle yet pivotal role in its outcome. Not bad for a mundane rodent.
  • Wedge Antilles, at least in his early-set appearances. Experience makes him more of an Action Hero eventually, and a Reasonable Authority Figure, but he's the designated survivor in his 'verse, the anti-Red Shirt who is the only one not blessed with the Force, unusual skills, or obvious Plot Armor to live through everything.
  • Night Watcher - Despite already being a Cowboy Cop, Captain Kotov during his first encounter with a vampire, being taken completely unaware at first, then freaking out and going into a survive-above-all mode. He came out of it okay physically but not mentally.
  • Deception Point - Rachel Sexton, Michael Tolland and Corky Marlinson, a data analyst and two civilian scientists find themselves on the run from military black ops assassins.
  • Pretty much every one of Tom Holt's heroes, but especially Paul Carpenter from the J.W. Wells trilogy halfway through book two, he turns out to be The Chosen One - it doesn't really help at all.
  • The Postman - Gordon Krantz, the titular postman in David Brin's novel.
  • Robin Goodfellow from the Cal Leandros series. Though loyal to Cal and Niko, he would rather not go into battle if not required. And centuries of running from the angry fathers of his girlfriends... and boyfriends... has made him very fleet of foot.
  • Bobby Pendragon fits this trope to a T until he takes a level in Badass.
  • Poor Shinsou. All he really want is a normal life, but the Universe isn't quite done yet with its Cosmic Plaything.
  • In Sherlock Holmes, Watson tries to give this trope a go when Holmes is presumed dead. He doesn't get very far, though.
  • Tyrion Lannister of A Song of Ice and Fire is a dwarf, but is more than capable of surviving the occasional scuffle by his own wit and guile, and by holding some passable fighting skills in his own right.
  • In the Choose Your Own Adventure book Can YOU Survive the Zombie Apocalypse, you are an average person working a corporate job when the Zombie Apocalypse hits.
  • Skeeter Jackson, in Time Scout, as a child finds himself accidentally in medieval Mongolia, where he has to struggle desperately to survive, with no more training than a neglected child of a wealthy, modern family might have.[2]
  • Nathan Brazil and Mavra Chang go through some horrifying things, like the Holocaust or being temporarily deformed into bastardized farm animals, but they always return to normal in the end. It helps that survivng is their super power, and everything BUT dying can happen to them.

Live-Action TV

  • Chuck - Chuck himself.
  • Sam Oliver (and Sock, Ben and Andi) from the show Reaper.
  • Doctor Who - A fair number of The Doctor's many companions can be characterised as Action Survivors, normal folk catapulted into the Doctor's dangerous life.
    • It caused Rose, Jackie, Martha, Mickey and Captain Jack (who was a combo of Cowardly Lion and Lover Not a Fighter when he met the Doctor), to take serious levels in Badass. Captain Jack is an Immortal Action Hero, like a James Bond for the 51st century, Martha and Mickey are freelance Alien hunters and Rose and Jackie were last seen wielding a BFG each.
    • Both Rory and Amy have taken this even further. The Last Centurion and the head of Area 52.
    • This also goes for most members of Torchwood, particularly Gwen and Tosh (Owen mainly Took a Level in Jerkass, but when you know his back story, he goes to extreme Jerkass Woobie territory, and he is pretty badass). Both are at first shell shocked at the sight of gunfire. Then they...learn to cope with it.
  • Smallville gave their version of Lex Luthor this as an actual "superpower" caused by his exposure to kryptonite when he was younger.
  • Firefly: Simon Tam. He does have some badassery but that is largely because he is such a Determinator Papa Wolf about River. He prefers to be just a reasonably nice Non-Action Guy.
  • John Connor lives and breathes this trope throughout The Sarah Connor Chronicles. As the future savior of mankind, John is too important to be sent out on missions or otherwise put in the line of fire. Instead, Terminators actively seek him out, with his allies constantly fighting to keep him safe. The few times he has had to go up against a Terminator alone, he demonstrates remarkable cunning, ingenuity, insight and downright sheer badassery.
  • Xander on Buffy the Vampire Slayer walks the line between this trope and Badass Normal throughout the course of the series.
    • As of Season 8 he's Badass Normal. Losing an eye will do that to you.
  • Dollhouse - Zone and Mag in the After the End Flash Forward and Distant Finale are eventually revealed to have formerly been a landscape architect and a sociology grad student, respectively.
  • Crichton on Farscape, especially for the first two seasons. Most of his more badass moments are due to dumb luck and bluffing.
  • Red Dwarf - The crew of the Red Dwarf is this. At least, Dave, Rimmer and The Cat. They all start out at pretty much the bottom rung of human (or hyper-evolved cat) existence. After everyone dies and they are left to fend for themselves in a hostile universe they slowly become more and more competent. While hardly Gordon Freeman or Ellen Ripley, they do manage to fight off a fair amount of hostile GELFs and other nasties. Dave and Rimmer end up noticeably less pathetic, and The Cat... well... at least he's aware that there are people other than himself.
  • Sean and Leila of The Event.
  • While the growth of Bulk and Skull of Power Rangers is mostly in terms of character, we do get occasional scenes of them fighting monsters when they absolutely have to, in a couple of occasions actually saving the Power Rangers, and in their Crowning Moment of Awesome, standing up against Astronema to buy the Rangers more time, and leading the charge against the armies of evil.
  • Mitchell and George in Being Human (UK). They are underestimated so much that it's a shock when at the end of Series 1 George kills Herrick and gets Nina to become a werewolf too.
  • Dave of Hell's Kitchen season 6 In one episode, he performs extraordinarily well despite his situation
  • The titular character of Veronica Mars is this in the few times she has to fight back. One shining example is her clawing one of the villains across the face with her fingernails, followed by stabbing him in the leg.

Video Games

  • Gordon Freeman from Half-Life. Over the course of the games, however, he has turned into an Action Hero, by the time of Half-Life 2 he has become a leader of the Resistance. Breen even berates his troops for being unable to slow down, let alone stop, a theoretical physicist with a crowbar.
    • This trope is played up at various points in Freeman's Mind with regards to Gordon's inner thoughts.
    • Barney Calhoun in Blue Shift.
  • Chell of Portal has only a set of long-fall boots and a portal gun to help her against the city-sized industrial complex run by GLaDOS, and yet by the end of the second game said AI has come to the decision it's better to just let her go than try to kill her.
  • Isaac Clarke from Dead Space, who is just a simple engineer tasked with what he thinks is little more than a repair job. Most of his weapons, in fact, are mining tools. Isaac could actually be argued as a Deconstruction of one, as its heavily implied throughout the game, then said flat-out by Kendra near the end, that he's gone completely insane due to the incident.
    • He isn't much tougher by Dead Space 2, though justified in that he was mostly in stasis for the three years in between. The game mostly takes the concept further and details the kind of Sanity Slippage that would understandably occur to people in Isaac's situation.
    • Isaac also might not qualify in that he is specifically an Engineer trained to work in hostile, potentially fatal situations alone. He's had training on how to survive most things, and judging from the clearance to access some military weapons as well, probably general firearm training as well.
    • From the prequel game, Extraction, there's Doctor Karen Howell. Just a botanist, but bitch be hardcore.
  • Frank West from Dead Rising - an overzealous photojournalist after a big story. His character model from earlier versions of the game depicted him as being overweight.
  • The various protagonists of Silent Hill games, except Alex from Homecoming, who is a special forces soldier. ...or is he?
  • Another survival-horror example... The protagonists from Fatal Frame are regular, everyday women who get caught up in haunted mansions and Abandoned Hospitals. Their only weapon? A camera]].
  • The protagonists of Left 4 Dead. Bill (a retired soldier) and Francis (a well built biker) aren't as "normal" as Zoey (college student) and Louis (office worker), however.
  • The four characters of Left 4 Dead 2. Coach (an overweight high school football coach), Ellis (a mechanic), Rochelle (a young journalist), and Nick (a con man). Well, Nick isn't that normal, but he's no Action Hero.
  • Ethan Mars from Heavy Rain, without a doubt. He started out with the American Dream, only to have it all stripped away when his first son dies, he goes into a coma for months, his wife leaves him, and his second son is kidnapped Despite his lack of experience (He even states he has no idea how to use a gun), he can still save the life of his son from a serial killer.
  • Uncharted
    • Nathan Drake from Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. Although he is a treasure hunter who is quite athletic and skilled with firearms, he looks and acts very much like an average Joe, panicking more than a few times throughout his adventure. His catchphrase is practically "Oh Crap!"
    • Even more so in the Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. When things get way too big for him, he's initially happy to walk away, but when it comes down to the wire, he jumps into the action with both feet. Of course, even when he does so, he knows he's in well over his head, and he barely makes it out alive. Lucky doesn't even begin to describe it; Sully even bows out of the adventure early because he "doesn't have [Nate's] luck."
  • The main character of Shadow of the Colossus, who, despite not being particularly athletic or skilled with his equipment, takes on sixteen beasts that are hundreds if not thousands of times larger than he is (even if he is Made of Iron).
  • April, in The Longest Journey and Zoe in Dreamfall.
  • The most extreme example of this trope would be from the SNES game Lester the Unlikely, which stars a Hollywood Nerd who Screams Like a Little Girl and can barely defend himself. He has to Save the Princess... if he can stop running away screaming from tortoises. Thankfully, he gets much more confident before the end of the game.
  • All of the main characters of Incredible Crisis are all just family members (consisting of the Salaryman father, the housewife, the pudgy son and the teenage daughter) trying to get home for Grandmother's birthday, only for each to be caught up in their own series of bizarre situations.
  • The Hacker in the original System Shock, where the only thing didn't make him quite normal was the Military-Grade Neural Interface.
  • Final Fantasy VII - Cloud Strife used to be this, Crisis Core and Before Crisis shows him as a plain old infantryman, only distinguishable by his motion sickness and his ability to make it through missions when all the other Mooks get killed off. When his hometown gets it however, he cracks down and becomes a Badass Normal, doing what none of the Turks and SOLDIERs that safeguarded him until now were able to do, kill Sephiroth. After which Mad Scientist Hojo jumped at the opportunity to make him a Badass Abnormal.
  • Tidus prior to coming to Spira never wielded a sword in his life, but he picks up on it very quickly and is able to cultivate a highly effective fighting style based on the high speed he has from his career of as a professional Blitzball player.
    • It's inferred that he might have received training from his father beforehand since it was a 'gift from Jecht.'
  • One of the backgrounds in Alpha Protocol is "Recruit" - meaning Mike has essentially been recruited for the titular organization straight out of CIA training. As a result, he is entirely unprepared for the challenges that he ends up facing (up to and including being betrayed and forced to go on the run.)
  • Alan Wake is a horror writer who spends most of the game dressed in a tweed jacket, possesses relatively unimpressive athletic abilities, and is better suited to run from his enemies than to stand and fight. That said, he manages to pull through thanks to his wits, his Genre Savvy nature (thanks to being a writer), and his superior survival instincts.
  • The City Elf Warden in Dragon Age has limited weapons training, no combat experience, and has never seen a darkspawn before. He/she picks it up rather quickly.
  • Hawke in Dragon Age II was either a regular grunt in the Ferelden army or a barely-trained apostate mage. He/she starts taking levels in badass very quickly.
  • Shas'la Kais in Warhammer 40,000: Fire Warrior was a raw recruit thrown into a particularly hellish warzone, and pitted against Imperial Guardsmen, Space Marines, and not one but two Daemon Princes. He comes out of the fight victorious, but missing several limbs and in a coma.
  • Fiona in Haunting Ground, an 18-year old art student who wakes up in a castle after a car accident that claimed both her parents. Despite having Hewie and Lorenzo to aid her in her escape and numerous weapons scattered throughout, there are times when she has to use her wits to get out of sticky situations (pushing a bookshelf atop of Debilitas and crushing him with a chandelier, and tossing a jar of sulfuric acid at either Daniella or Riccardo.
  • Resident Evil occasionally dips into this trope. The most obvious examples come from the Outbreak subseries, which star perfectly average citizens of Raccoon City. Claire Redfield during the events of 2 counts, since she's merely a college student with some general self-defense training from her brother Chris at that point.
  • Like the Flynns above, Jethro "Jet" Bradley from Tron 2.0 was just a game designer and got "drafted" by Ma3a to combat a nasty virus from inside Cyberspace. By the end-game, he's fighting off hordes of digitized mercenaries sent by the rival company. It's given a brutal Deconstruction in the spin-off comic, though, as the fellow winds up in bad shape mentally.
  • The Player is this in Dark Souls compared to other characters from action games. You'll grow more powerful over time, but combat revolves around being defensive, and blocking and dodging rather than just annihilating opponents.

Web Comics

  • Moloch von Zinzer from Girl Genius. A former soldier who became a mechanic because "it makes you more valuable". Got away alive and with equipment to sell once Klaus crushed his boss. Survived when their "gunboat" was blown up by Bang. "Inherited" a brain-freezing device that killed his brother only to accidentally break it. Eventually was Put on a Bus to Hell... and when the protagonist walked into the biggest Death Trap of Europe, she found him there alive and well, and only slightly crankier than before.

Moloch: Nobody "sent me." I don't have any "secret knowledge." I just don't want to die.
Violetta: I don't believe you! That's cheating!

  • John Egbert of Homestuck is very much this, although less so for his friends who either start out pretty Badass to begin with or have a Beware the Nice Ones streak. Some of the trolls (Tavros and Gamzee in particular) also spring to mind.
    • The rarely-seen "fedorafreak" is the comic's biggest example, being a completely ordinary if hat-obsessed man who might also be the last surviving human on Earth, drawing sustenance from his own urine. Then he died on what was implied to be a quest bed--which means he'll come back to life as god-tier.
  • The teller Koark in Order of Tales is textbook.
  • Teri in Rip and Teri is an English teacher in a spy thriller.
  • Sam of Sam and Fuzzy. A cabbie who got tangled up with the affairs of the ninja mafia, he is decidedly non-actiony.
  • In Sluggy Freelance:
    • Zoe has to play this role a lot in Sluggy Freelance since she's the Unfazed Everyman of the team. Since becoming one of the strip's Weirdness Magnets, she's had to defend herself from vampires, demons, Eldritch Abominations, zombies, Brainwashed assassins, and even rabbits. All with no special skills beyond occasionally turning into a camel. She mainly gets by on luck, cleverness, and the fact that almost everyone else in the Sluggy universe is an idiot.
    • Torg, to lesser extent. While he's usually a little more enthusiastic than Zoe about the weirdness that surrounds them, and has Taken A Level In Badass, he is for the most part just a normal guy thrust into bizarre situations that, statistically, should have killed him at least a dozen times by now.
  • Most of the eponymous salvage workers in The Zombie Hunters, particularly Jenny, as it comes with the territory of living through a Zombie Apocalypse.
  • This is a very good description of the title character of The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob.
  • What It Takes stars an Action Survivor, Colbey.

Web Original

  • The titular character of Chapel is one of the rare female versions of this trope. She's a drug dealer who rarely wins, but usually, of course, survives. So far.
  • The Pelvanida scientists from the first Darwins Soldiers RP proved themselves to be this trope just by surviving. After that, they turned more into action heroes.
  • Inverted to some degree in a story on Fiction Press which name eludes me the main character is a gangbanger who while escaping from the cops ended up hiding in a museum which came under attack by monsters . He knows how to fight and shoot guns but is just used to fighting humans
  • The main cast from Red vs. Blue with the possible exception of Sarge. Sure, they're technically soldiers, but half of them shouldn't be anywhere near a battle with their lousy excuse for combat skills, and they're regularly up against individuals who eat squads of real soldiers twice their size for breakfast. Yet, they keep surviving. Mostly.
  • The protagonists of Sevenshot Kid fit this thanks to surviving multiple encounters with the supernatural.
  • Due to most of the characters being Ordinary High School Students, many, many characters in Survival of the Fittest qualify, that it's practically impossible to name them all. Being stuck on a Deserted Island and forced to kill your classmates does that to you.
  • Ruby and Tom of Ruby Quest. Although Tom has his strength and they handle their Improvised Weapons pretty well, they're mostly just trying to get by.

Western Animation

  • Tucker of Danny Phantom. He occasionally helps with his knowledge of technology, but he isn't as physically fit as Sam nor has superpowers like Danny, making him the most normal of the Power Trio. Having the latter as his best friend, it's natural he gets to go on grand adventures against dangerous ghosts. It's a bloody miracle he survived all those battles.
  • Noah from Generator Rex is this.
  • Max, AKA "The Mighty One," chosen by destiny to destroy the evil Skullmaster, fits the trope to a T. Constantly thrust into the most unusual circumstances he repeatedly saves the world with only his wits and a magic cap.
  • C-3PO in Droids: The Adventures of R2-D2 and C-3PO blatantly dislikes danger, but he often resorts to duplicity to get things done and always emerges the better for it, contrasting somewhat with the more passive and bumbling character in the films. R2-D2, however, is much more of a dynamic Inspector Gadget-type.
  • Fry is occasionally one of these in Futurama, usually due to his lack of a delta brainwave as a result of becoming his own grandfather.
  • Eileen from Regular Show proves she's one in "Camping can be Cool".
  • Optimus Prime, at least in Transformers Generation 1. As his origin episode shows, he was originally Orion Pax, a robot designed for labor with the personality of a naive teenage, up until the day Megatron duped him into trusting him enough to give him a tour of the factory where Pax worked. Naturally, this was a ruse so the Decepticons could attack and loot the factory, and Pax was critically damaged. Some others he had befriended (who were, in fact, the time-displaced Autobots called the Aerialbots) took him to the scientist, Alpha Trion, who rebuilt him into a powerful warrior who was henceforth called Optimus Prime.
    • Although, it has been hinted that he was, in fact, a legendary hero who had subjected himself to the Well of All Sparks, causing himself to be reborn as Orion Pax, putting aside his true form until it was needed, but still, the Action Survivor scenario was needed to restore it.
  • Luz from The Owl House; being trapped in the Boiling Isles clearly put some muscle on her "weak nerd arms" (as she herself described them) by the end of season 2.

Real Life

  • George VI. While it seems odd making this role for a King, he didn't like being King and very much felt The Chains of Commanding but he did his duty and so helped inspire numerous British who did not want to have a "Finest hour" but somehow did so.
    • He also fits the Trope by virtue of being a Spare to the Throne, and thus lacking the training a king normally would receive before taking on the job.
  • ANYONE who has lived through war, natural disasters, or any life threatening situation counts.
  • One of's The 5 Most Badass Ways People Escaped from Slavery is how Eliza Harris carried several children across a river while jumping from one moving ice platform to another as if it were a Mario game. This is the true story Uncle Tom's Cabin was based on.
  • To an extent, the human species itself. We're designed to live in tropical environments, (hence the lack of hair—it's thought to be an adaptation that favors sweating, allowing us to outrun a lot of things in Africa). Yet we have become capable of living in pretty much any climate despite lacking claws, fangs, fur, or other built-in survival gear. For example, if you drop a human off into the woods with nothing but the clothes on his back, he can make a fire, fashion a makeshift knife from the stones around him, and build a small shelter. He won't be very comfortable, but if he knows what to do and how to do it, he'll live. If you take a penguin and drop him off in the woods, even if it had the intelligence and knowledge it would take to survive in the forest, it would not necessarily be able to do so due to a lack of hands.
  1. Except in The Last Hero, where he didn't want to volunteer but knew running meant he'd just be dragged back - and they were short on time.
  2. ie. none