Damsel in Distress

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"Why is she always the one getting kidnapped? I'm the princess!"
Amalia Sheran Sharm, Wakfu

A character, usually female and nubile, is portrayed as helpless and in danger in order to put the cast in motion. In particular, the cast is unified, putting aside differences in pursuit of the rescue.

This works if the damsel in distress is a beloved character, but can be very annoying if the audience wouldn't mind her dead, or sees the helplessness as Character Derailment. An Action Girl who becomes a damsel in distress is likely a Faux Action Girl, though not always; if they can reclaim their Action Girl credentials after being freed, they were just experiencing Badass in Distress after being thrown a Distress Ball.

Don't expect people to cut her some slack, even if she logically would not have the power or abilities necessary to help. In more recent works the damsel is more likely to rebel one way or another, which can either help or make things worse. The screaming associated with this trope has largely been replaced with getting angry and telling her captors to put her down, but she will still scream when they throw her off a building.

Sometimes the character gets kidnapped for the sake of her good looks or royal blood, but in recent works she's more likely doing something that is a threat to the party that kidnaps her (reporters are common), which allows her to look smart and independent before she needs to be saved. Alternatively, she can end up prisoner as a Heroic Sacrifice; realizing that there is only enough room to get all the children on the transport, or attempting to free other prisoners (which may or may not succeed before her capture) are popular.

Generally expected to give The Hero a Smooch of Victory when he rescues her. Unless he doesn't.

Chained to a Rock is an ancient form; Girl in the Tower and Hypnotize the Princess are slightly more recent. A non-endangered form exists in the Living MacGuffin, who is safe but out of the hero's reach, be it with distance or conditioning love/marriage. Distressed damsels are often Bound and Gagged, especially where Author Appeal is concerned.

If the kidnapper in question is particularly nasty, expect an I Have You Now, My Pretty situation to occur. If the character does not become a Damsel Scrappy but still is constantly captured, they are a Designated Victim. A more sexist version is the Disposable Woman.

For the Gender Flip, see Dude in Distress. See also Distress Ball, Standard Female Grab Area, Determined Widow, The President's Daughter and Save the Princess. If the girl is actually faking this for her own benefits, depending on her purposes she's either a Deliberately Distressed Damsel or a Decoy Damsel. If she's got a strong spirit despite her fighting disadvantages, she's a Badass Damsel.

Not to be confused with the 2012 comedy film Damsels in Distress.

This item is available in the Trope Co catalog.

Examples of Damsel in Distress include:


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Anime & Manga[edit | hide]

  • In Bleach, Rukia Kuchiki gets to be the Distressed Damsel in the Soul Society arc, despite the fact that she was a bit of an Action Girl in previous episodes. In a sort-of subversion, though, she agreed to go because she knew she'd be executed for giving her powers to a human... and Rukia actually wanted to die in the first place.
    • Despite her Quickly-Demoted Woman status, it could be argued that Rukia was actually just a Badass in Distress... for a really long time.
    • The anime spoofs her DID gig here.
    • Also, the above quote is a response to Rukia's refusal to play the part of Distressed Damsel. She's also pretty upset that Ichigo is fighting her brother, even though her brother is trying to return her to her execution.
    • In the Arrancar and Hueco Mundo arcs, Orihime Inoue heavily deconstructs the trope. She went with Sosuke Aizen willingly to protect her friends right after they got their asses kicked by the Arrancar (had she not gone, they would've been killed and Karakura would've been destroyed right on the spot)... The story arc is absolutely NOT shy about showing the tremendous emotional and physical strain it brings on her to the extreme of causing her an epic Heroic BSOD that almost made her cross the Despair Event Horizon; sure, Ichigo and Ishida manage to reach for her, but It Got Worse immediately afterwards, and before that she was throughly abused by Loly, Menoly, Nnoitora and Ulquiorra, among others. It takes Orihime almost a year to fully get over the horrible effects of her imprisonment.
  • In the anime of Chrono Crusade, Rosette takes on this role towards the end in the series. In the manga, Azmaria tends to play this role the entire time.
  • Samurai Champloo: Given the number of times that Fuu ends up getting kidnapped, I don't think she can regret her investment in saving the two male leads to be her bodyguards.
    • Considering how most of the kidnappings were all just random encounters, you wonder why she wasn't more concerned with separating from them.
      • This was lampshaded in an old "Anime Insider" magazine, which featured a match-up pitting Fuu against Excel and Hyatt in an eating contest. On her stats, Fuu's pet peeve is listed as "getting kidnapped."
  • Parodied in The Devil King Is Bored when the titular Devil King kidnaps a kingdom's princess because he's, well, bored, and thinks that fighting some heroes would be fun. He even places a portal to hell in the middle of a populated town. With a sign above it that says "Portal to Hell."
  • Subverted regularly in Sonic X, most notably with the episode Young Girls Jungle Trap where the female characters are captured multiple times—and get out of it entirely by themselves multiple times, too.
  • Both in Burst Angel 's anime and manga, this is the official duty of Meg. And invariably Jo goes tilt everytime the thing happens.
  • Played with and subverted in Code Geass R2 when Kallen is captured and becomes a hostage for 1/3 of the season with Lelouch swearing to rescue her. She is then put in a plexi-glass cage and even given a frilly, cleavage heavy dress. This is a subversion since Kallen is by far the show's number one Action Girl, Lelouch's personal bodyguard and one of the deadliest pilots in the CG universe, thus she re-affirms all three facts within moments of being rescued.
  • Let's see... a Mysterious Waif who's below the Competence Zone and happens to be the daughter of the main character? Yup, Vivio of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha was destined for this role the moment she was introduced. Of course, with her now actively training on her powers, and another Time Skip putting her into the Competence Zone's minimum age, she likely won't end up as Damsel in Distress again.
  • Happens several times in Mahou Sensei Negima First is Konoka during the Kyoto arc, but that's a Justified Trope since she had not waken up her own powers and she didn't have any similar to self-defense training. Then a demon captures Asuna. Then it is inverted and the True Companions have to rescue Negi. Lastly, Asuna and Anya are held captive by Fate. Unfortunately, the rest of the team is unaware of this, as Asuna is replaced by a doppleganger, and Anya is MIA to begin with.
  • Subverted and likely deconstructed in Monster: Realizing that Johan has plans to meet up with (and presumably do horrible, unspeakable things to) his estranged twin sister, Nina, Tenma rushes off to rescue her. The thing is, in the rush, the good doctor seems to have not accounted for two things—1) Being mostly a Non-Action Guy, he is woefully unprepared for things like a crazed lackey stabbing him in the face with garden shears and 2) Nina is pretty damn awesome in the art of Aikido, which she immediately demonstrates by saving him. Looks like she didn't need your help after all, Tenma. Too bad the same couldn't be said for her parents...
    • Also played straight with Eva when she is rescued from The Baby by Martin
  • Generally played straight in Ranma ½ with Akane Tendō. Two plotlines in the 38-volume manga (and two of the movies) involve her Bound and Gagged and in need of rescue. A good number of the other girls fall prey to this throughout the series, and the entire female cast winds up like this in the second tie in movie.
    • Interestingly, Ranma (both in male and female forms) ends up like this even more often than Akane, who more than once has to help him out. And no one remembers this as well as in Akane's case.
    • Actually, subverted. It happens, to both characters, a lot more than just twice, but in all cases, they invariably make their kidnappers regret it, if they don't just free themselves outright. Akane Tendō only remains kidnapped usually because there's some obstacle that prevents her just going home (with Pantyhose Tarō, for example, she needs to cross a deep river to escape, but is incapable of swimming), she ends up emotionally bonding with her captor when they have a Pet the Dog moment with her (with Prince Tōma, for example, she is touched by his description of how he too lost his mother at an early age), or Ranma inadverdently pisses her off and she refuses to let herself be saved out of spite/wounded pride. Or sometimes some combination of the three.
  • Pokémon: Pikachu often gets itself[1] caught in Team Rocket's traps. However, it often gets itself out, so this is an aversion.
    • Nearly every character, male of female, had a turn as this. Amusingly Team Rocket themselves might actually be one of the most recurring examples.
    • In Pokémon Special, Platinum initially seems to be the living embodiment of the trope, as she rarely goes ANYWHERE without getting herself into trouble. It was so obvious that Diamond was able to point out and lampshade this only after 4 chapters into the story; most anime and manga characters don't realise this sort of thing ever.
    • A Gardevoir actually serves as the damsel (fitting enough) in the episode where Hunter J makes her first appearance.
  • Subverted in G Gundam. Maria Louise really wants to play the Damsel part so her Knight in Shining Armor George De Sand comes to her rescue, so she gets Domon to help her plan her own kidnapping so he can fight George, who refused to duel with Domon per Honor Before Reason motifs. It backfires spectacularly, though: not only does the far more Genre Savvy George deduce their plan right from the start, but he also delivers a What the Hell, Hero? speech to Maria as he and Domon fight. Maria and Rain Mikamura barely escape with their lives from the battlefield and, as punishment, Maria gets sent back to Neo France until the Neo Hong Kong arc.
  • In the later Full Metal Panic!! novels, Action Girl Kaname turns into an extreme Damsel in Distress. She may have more or less given up for a while after the events of Continuing On My Own, but it's only a temporary thing, and it's not that long before she starts to regain some of her old vigor and determination. Of course after that she ends up being more or less mind controlled by Sophia aka the First Whispered Ever, but that's a bit of a different matter.
  • Subverted in Magic Knight Rayearth, as a part of the Twist Ending of the first season. The girls thought that Princess Emeraude was the Damsel in Distress. She actually had the power to break through Zagato's prison all the time... but didn't do it because she was in love with him since they met. And because she was the real Big Bad. Who summoned the girls to KILL her, and Zagato kidnapped her to save her from them. The problem was solved in the end. Very dramatically.
  • Nia generally fits this role in the third and final arc of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, while also somewhat subverted with being Brainwashed and Crazy. Once she snaps out of this with the help of Simon however, she fits this trope to a T.
  • Cho Kanan, Lirin, and Yaone all hold their own separate moments in Saiyuki. Both Yaone and Lirin being saved successfully by Kougaiji. And Kanan becoming the traditional Disposable Woman.
  • Averted with Yuno Gasai and of Mirai Nikki, since she's quite the Yandere Action Girlfriend and so far she's only been whacked counted times with the Distress Ball. Not to mention, after she gets hit with it, she's very likely to pull a SHe's Back and recover soon.
  • Nao from the Liar Game starts off as one of these, extremely naive and crying whenever someone who she put her trust in (even if she shouldn't) deceived her and always relying constantly on Akiyama to help her. But she matured and now, she's quite a force to be reckoned with, able to sweetly use her honest character to trick others, even deceiving Magnificent Bastards Yokoya and Akiyama on separate occasions without either of them realizing it until afterwards.
  • Relena Peacecraft from Gundam Wing is falsely accused by her detractors of being one. Since she's an Actual Pacifist she never fought her way out guns blazing, but she wasn't a Damsel Scrappy either, actually trying to talk down her captors in the three instances where she's in enemy hands throughout the anime,[2] even showing her Guile Hero chops by turning the first instance into a massive payoff. She once even dissuaded Heero from killing or harming her with words alone.
  • Akiko Aoshika from Wolf Guy Wolfen Crest. Haguro tries to invoke this trope with Ryuuko, but she points out that Inugami isn't interested in her.
  • Lyra/Kitty from Kimba the White Lion.
  • Brutally deconstructed in Revolutionary Girl Utena. Many shows have DID girls who go through Hell and back, but remain sweet and nice and without many psychological marks because many writers won't know what to do. Utena, however, points out that in RL, people of both genders stuck in these roles will more or less stop being "pure" and "sweet" and start acting more passive-aggressive and manipulative, if they're forced into situations where they can't seize direct power. This is very obvious in the cases of Shiori Takatsuki (looks sweet and gentle and demure, but is very malicious and has horrible self-esteem since her "best friend" Juri is a beautiful and strong Lady of War), Kozue Kaoru (repeatedly gets herself in trouble and flirts/sleeps with other guys to catch the attention of her twin older brother and "prince", Miki), and specially Anthy Himemiya (once performed a huge sacrifice, paid the price by both suffering immense physical pain and becoming a passive figure as the Rose Bride, ultimately became a mix of Broken Bird and puppet to her Manipulative Bastard brother Akio a.k.a. Dios aka End of the World) and Utena Tenjou (she's not one since the beginning, but her insecurities and naiveté more than once play quite a part into shoving her close to the "role") This is not to say that Being Tortured Makes You Evil, or that it's stupid to be remain nice after a tragedy. It's just pointing out a general trend: if weakness is imposed on people, it will bring consequences.
  • Played with in Spice and Wolf. Holo isn't a Distressed Damsel - in fact her counterpart Lawrence usually takes the part of the Dude in Distress - but she's Genre Savvy enough to be well aware of the trope. She jokes around with Lawrence about him liking meek women he could comfort, and enthusiastically play-acts the part for him in jest. She even fools Amati into being her Knight in Shining Armor, largely for kicks. But when she's genuinely crushed by the revelation that Yoitsu has been destroyed, she bitterly accuses Lawrence of hiding it from her because he liked seeing her helpless and ignorant.
  • In the manga and Brotherhood series of Fullmetal Alchemist, Winry is taken 'hostage' by the military after Ed and Al discover the truth about the homunculi. Although, Winry as no idea, but if Ed and Al do something wrong then the powers that be will kill her. To save her, they end up in Briggs and enlist the help of Scar to rescue her, by pretending to have him kidnap her. Well, granted the plan was Winry's idea in the first place, so she half rescued herself.
    • And don't let me forget that this dirty little trick was played off on Roy and Riza as well: Much the same thing was done to Riza to make sure Roy didn't act up. However, she's more of a Badass in Distress here because she's a hostage, she knows it, and it doesn't faze her in the slightest. She remains courageous to the point where she confronts Selim Bradley about being a homunculus, then uses her position as a hostage to prevent him from killing her on the spot.
  • Naru Osaka of Sailor Moon needs to be saved from a Monster of the Week attack fairly regularly, to the point where it gets frequently lampshaded in Fan Fiction.
  • Lampshaded in Gun X Sword when Van asks Wendy "Why do you keep getting caught?" (As it happens, she keeps getting in trouble because she's not afraid to mouth off to the villain of the week . . . which usually pisses off said villain.)
  • Aura's kidnapping is the drive behind most of volume 2 and 3 of Corsair, however, being a Plucky Girl she doesn't act overly distressed about it or her impending execution, and when Ayace finally shows up to rescue her, her reaction is pretty much: "You're late!"
  • Done twice in Rosario + Vampire, once to Mizore through an Arranged Marriage, once to Moka for being a Living MacGuffin. In Moka's case, it's actually both this and Badass in Distress, depending on which of her personalities we're talking about.

Ballads[edit | hide]

  • Child Ballad King Estmere. The king goes wooing on the recommendation of his brother, and arrives to find the lady is being forced to marry. He rescues her.
  • Child Ballad The Maid Freed from the Gallows has the heroine about to be hanged if she is not ransomed. Various relatives arrive and declare they are there to see her hanged. Finally, her true love arrives and ransoms her. (Most American versions of this ballad feature a Gender Flip version, of a man about to be hanged, but this is the older variant.)


Comics[edit | hide]

  • Comic book heroes seem to spend about half their time rescuing some girl they've been dating on-and-off for about seventy years from something each issue, from Olive Oyl to Lois Lane. (Unsurprisingly, people who Love someones alter ego often suffer from this trope.) Batman? Well, until a few decades ago, the one he would be constantly saving was his oft kidnapped sidekick, Robin: The Boy Hostage (aren't we all glad they toughened him up).
    • In the early days of Spider-Man, Betty Brant and Gwen Stacy would serve this role. Then it was notoriously subverted in the 1973 Amazing Spider-Man story "The Night Gwen Stacy Died", in which archvillain the Green Goblin kidnaps Spidey's girlfriend, Spidey goes to rescue her... and she dies, turning from Gwen Stacy into * The* Gwen Stacy.
    • Also subverted, in a different way, by Mary Jane Watson after her marriage to Peter. Whenever she's confronted by obsessive stalkers, she (almost) always manages to escape on her own, without any help from her super-powered husband. Even more subverted by the fact that, more often than not, Mary Jane is the one who bails out Spider-Man whenever one of his opponents has the upper hand in a fight.
      • Even before their marriage, when Mary Jane was witness to a Spidey fight going poorly, she'd often brazenly distract or sabotage the bad guy, relying on her charm and wit to save her from the dangerous consequences.
      • Even Aunt flippin' May has taken out bad guys. When (fairly) recently the Chameleon had assembled a group of Spider-Bad guys to go after Peter Parker (This is just before Civil War, natch) the Chameleon himself disguised himself as Peter to go and kidnap Aunt May. Aunt May opens the door, and lets her nephew in, and gives him some tea and biscuits while she has to finish her knitting before revealing that she drugged the fucking tea cause she'd recognize her beloved nephew anywhere and Chameleon obviously was an impostor, holding up "OWNED" written across the sweater she just made in a knitted moment of awesome.
    • See the infamous image of the JLA being told that they have doomed their love interests... except that Batman doesn't have a love interest. He has Robin. Ho Yay indeed.
      • At least he was smart enough not to think of Robin's real name.
    • Batman sometimes has a Distressed Damsel love interest. Julie Madison and Vicki Vale in The Golden Age of Comic Books; Silver St. Cloud in the Seventies, and Jezebel Jet in the modern age. No, wait, scratch that last one...
  • Role-reversal: Yorick in Y: The Last Man is the spoilt "damsel" who has to be saved by the tougher and more experienced women around him, Action Girl 355 in particular.
    • However, Yorick sometimes has his moments, even in the beginning when he's useless most of the time. In one Crowning Moment of Awesome, Yorick is the prisoner of an Israeli commander who is about to shoot down a space shuttle with two live men on board. He attacks her from behind and ruins her shot. And then he knocks her out. Despite him being locked in handcuffs which not even an escape artist like himself can get out of.
  • Heather Hudson attempted to invert this trope in Alpha Flight, even referencing it. When she finds out her two-hour wait for her husband (Guardian) is a set-up, she tries to storm out: "Other wives and girlfriends may be content to play bait for the good guys, but I'm not going to stand around waiting for you to use me to lure Mac into your lair." But by then, Mac's been captured; they want revenge against Heather, too. (The woman with her throws her across the room.)
  • The New Teen Titans: Raven, dear God in Heaven! Of course, her being a pacifist, it kind of makes sense that she'd have trouble fighting with kidnappers.
  • The main character of Empowered almost always ends up captured by villains, as a parody of Faux Action Girls. Naturally this leads to her being the laughingstock of the superhero community. Nonetheless, despite all the ridicule she receives and her general lack of success as a superheroine, she proves to be a Determinator who refuses to quit.
  • Stephanie Brown, star of the current Batgirl series, is growing a relationship with Detective Nicholas Gage. She comes to his rescue relatively often, as befits a superhero, and points out that he is a damsel in distress in their relationship.
  • Most of the women in Sin City due to its Noir roots.
  • Heavily subverted with Jadina from Les Légendaires; her typical Spoiled Sweet attitude, natural clumsyness and the fact she's a princess seems to make her designed for this role, and Danael even mentionned she has been this at least once; however, she never falls into that role, and actually is the one saving her friends most of the time, sometimes even doing so when weakened. This reaches its paroxysm in Book 14, where after she got temporary depowered and had her friends saving her, but still saves her friends from the new Big Bad Abyss, who none of her friend could even scratch. And all of this while still depowered. Wow.
  • Amusingly subverted in the Arsenal limited series. Lian Harper, Arsenal's four-year-old daughter, is being held hostage by Vandal Savage. Vandal being a six-foot-plus mountain of muscle with hands the size of ten-pound hams, he's calmly letting her sit on his palm (where he could easily crush her simply by closing his fist) while engaged in a hostage stand-off with Arsenal and Black Canary. And then...

Black Canary: Lian honey? Show Mr. Savage the finger trick that Auntie Dinah taught you.
(Lian reaches over with both hands and dislocates Vandal Savage's thumb, forcing him to drop her.)

Fairy Tales[edit | hide]


Films -- Animation[edit | hide]

  • Lampshaded and averted in Shrek, especially in a scene where Robin Hood and his Merry Men try to "rescue" Fiona from the ogre they believe has kidnapped her, only to have her rebuff him and beat up all his men in a combination of styles from Xena: Warrior Princess and The Matrix.
    • And in Shrek Forever After, where in an alternate universe where Shrek was never born and never came for her, Fiona eventually decided to rescue herself.
  • In Toy Story, Andy purposely has Bo Peep play this role, so Woody could save her. Not that she minds, of course...
  • Disney is rather infamous for this in their earlier princess movies (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, etc.).
    • Aurora (sleeping beauty) has the excuse of being in a magical sleep at the time, though.
    • Parodied in Disney's Hercules.

Hercules: Aren't you a damsel in distress?
Megara: I'm a damsel... I'm in distress... I can handle this. Have a nice day.

    • A more recent straight example would be Kida from 2001's Atlantis: The Lost Empire, who spends the last third of the film crystallized by the villain, and that her boyfriend and his teammates actually had to rescue her and change her back.
  • Subverted in Titan A.E., when Akima is jettisoned into space, captured, and held to be sold into slavery. The rest of the crew undergoes a makeshift rescue operation, only to find out that she successfully knocked out all of her captors and is patiently waiting to be picked up.
  • Played with in Happily N'Ever After, in which The Prince (whose name is revealed to be Humperdink) is searching for one of these (or a lady in waiting or whatever else is a typical princess) and sounds excited that Ella could be one of those things. When he asks if she's a damsel in distress, her response is "I will be. Kind of. At midnight". To say the least, Ella does more ass-kicking than servant boy Rick or Humperdink.


Films -- Live Action[edit | hide]

  • The Ur Example of this in film would probably be the protagonist of the 1914 silent melodrama serial The Perils of Pauline. A "talkie" version of the series was made in the '30s; the title was later used for a 1947 biopic of original Pauline actress Pearl White, and a 1967 film that was basically a camp spoof of the genre.
    • Pearl White also starred in a nearly-identical series, The Exploits of Elaine, around the same time.
  • A large number of Bond Girls fit this trope.
  • A rare example of a role-reversal is in the movie version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where Luke Perry is pretty much the Dude in Distress. (He had clearly Taken A Level In Badass by the end of the movie, though, electrocuting a vampire at the High School Dance.)
  • Live Free or Die Hard attempts to make this one more feminist-friendly by having Lucy McClane reject this role at every turn.
  • Ditto for Elizabeth Swann in the first Pirates of the Caribbean, except the feminist-friendly parts were added by the actress herself. Said actress gets a much more fitting role in the sequels.
    • Played straight and then subverted as said damsel takes a level in badass over the course of the movies. It gets lampshaded by Jack when he refers to her as "a certain damsel in distress... Or should I say distressing damsel." after her Shoot the Dog moment of leaving Jack to die.
    • If Elizabeth is this in the first movie, then Will must be as well, because he ends up having to be rescued from the exact same situation. She manages to instigate his rescue despite being marooned on a deserted island, and then actively fights alongside him in the final battle.
  • Played entirely straight, and yet done remarkably effectively in "Superman: The Movie" (1978) - I'm referring to the famous helicopter rescue, but basically all of the climaxes in the movie involve this trope. Also used in the sequels.
  • Aversion: In The Proposition, this role is occupied by the retarded younger brother. Obviously, there is no Rescue Romance. At the end, however, Charlie still has to rescue the police captain's wife from being raped and killed, although the captain himself - despite being Ray Winstone - is also being threatened, though not with rape.
  • Subverted in Ever After: when Danielle is sold into slavery, Prince Henry shows up to rescue her. But, being the capable heroine she is, she has already threatened the bad guy and freed herself.
  • Willie Scott in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
  • The female lead in Legend, it doesn't help that she's innocent to the point of stupidity either.
    • Hey, she did manage to trick Darkness into believing her Face Heel Turn long enough for her to free the unicorn. Of course, she got knocked out immediately afterwards.
  • Giselle starts out like this in Enchanted but reverses roles with Robert in the end.
  • Princess Leia from Star Wars manages to be this and simultaneously an Action Girl. However she is something of a subversion because her plea for help was not a plea for a rescue but rather a plea to get the plans to the Death Star to Bail Organa on Alderaan. She wasn't expecting a rescue at all (and the guys didn't plan to do it either).
    • And she wasn't exactly what one would call grateful when she did get the rescue, either.

Princess Leia: I don't know who you are or where you've come from, but from now on you'll do as I say, okay?

    • Carrie Fisher herself said: "I was not a damsel in distress. I was a distressed damsel."
    • Rather funnily, Han Solo, of all people, plays this role in Return of the Jedi. He is rescued from a dragon... by a princess. And he is helpless and weak when she rescues him, seeing as he's blind at the time. This doesn't prevent him from (accidentally) knocking Boba Fett into the Sarlacc Pit - and then, in a double subversion, rescuing best friend Lando Calrissian after Lando had come to rescue him!
      • And even if Jabba has her as his slave girl, in the end she's the one who kills him.
  • Trillian in the film version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
  • In Hudson Hawk, a kidnapped Andie MacDowell pretends to suffer side effects from curare poisoning so she can annoy the typewriter symbols out of her captors and lampshade the trope: "I'm not a very good damsel in a dress, am I?"
  • Averted in the Iron Man film. Pepper Potts has to be rescued, but is enough of a threat that the villain feels compelled to shoot her instead of taking her hostage. She's also generally competent and helpful throughout the film.
    • Indeed, the one scene that seems obviously headed for her being captured and turned into a distressed damsel has her instead easily evading the villain's clutches, and then immediately alerting the authorities to his evil plans.
    • Done again in the sequel, when Happy Hogan insists on accompanying S.H.I.E.L.D Agent Romanov on her mission and fights a bad guy when they enter the building. By the time he has won the fight, he sees that she's taken down every other bad guy there is.
    • And in Iron Man 3, the Big Bad Aldrich Killian is taken down not by Tony or Rhodey but by Pepper, thanks to her temporary superpowers from being dosed with Extremis serum.
  • Rogue turns into one of these in the X-Men movies.
  • Cheryl in I'm Gonna Git You Sucka when she's kidnapped by Mr. Big's Mooks.
  • Double subverted in True Grit western: the main character is a 14-year old girl trying to prove her companions she doesn't need babysitting, and succeeding. However, eventually she does, in a perfectly classical way: first getting kidnapped by outlaws, than falling into a snake pit.
  • Subverted in The Avengers 1998. Emma Peel is captured by Sir August and brainwashed into a hallucinatory state. You'd expect Steed to break in and rescue her, but instead she escapes from Sir August, fights off her delusions and breaks out to freedom by herself.
  • In Perfume, the Villain Protagonist sets his murderous sights on Laura Richis, a beautiful, virginal young lady. Her father becomes wary of the danger and does everything in his power to protect his daughter.
  • Tank Girl. Sam (a 10-year-old girl) is captured several times, with Tank Girl spending the movie tracking her down in order to save her. Subverted at one point when Sam cleverly uses a deadly toy to puncture a child molester's hand.

Sam: That's what you get for being a perv!

  • Tina (Cameron Diaz) in The Mask.
    • Although she is able to get Dorian to take off the mask and then kick it to Stanley, which pretty much leads to the battle being won.
  • Cliffhanger. Jessie Deighan turns into one. She's a helicopter pilot. She does mountain rescues. Then she gets scared by bats in a cave, and cringes in a corner while the he-men fight.
  • Subverted hilariously in a scene of The Boondock Saints sequel with Agent Eunice Bloom. She's snatched into an impenetrable panic room by a baddie (right in front of the cops, no less), and pandemonium breaks out. One of the cops even worries that she might be "touched and stuff", and it's played as high drama for a bit. He needn't have worried; in the next shot, Special Agent Bloom has the baddie pinned down and sputtering for relief.
  • Wild Wild West. Rita Escobar, whose husband was kidnapped by Dr. Loveless and who ends up getting imprisoned and kidnapped by Loveless herself.
  • Played straight in The Princess Bride. Princess Buttercup gets kidnapped by Vizzini, nearly eaten by the shrieking eels, is the oblivious target of a murder plot, gets set on fire, falls into a sand trap, and nearly gets maimed by a rodent of unusual size. At one point she even contemplates taking her own life.
  • Subverted with Kelly in Mystery Team. Yes, she DOES get kidnapped... but it's not like the Mystery Team were much help in saving her.
  • Reconstructed in the Scooby Doo movie. They point out that while, yes, Daphne did get kidnapped a lot, she never let that discourage her from joining the gang in their latest mystery.
  • Shiori in Kuroshitsuji gets to be in distress three times in one movie... or four times if flashbacks count. She is supposed to be a strong female character. Meanwhile Ciel, her male counterpart from the original manga, only gets captured twice in more than a hundred chapters... and that's including the flashbacks.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • At least as old as The Bible itself, as shown by the case of Sarah, daughter of Raguel, saved by Tobias with Raphael's help.
  • Played straight in numerous medieval tales from all over Europe, with Lyonesse, Guinevere and Iseult as model examples.
  • Mercilessly subverted way back in 1495 in Matteo Boiardo's epic Orlando innamorato. Princess Angelica of Cathay (China) is distressed by the Muslim Tartars at the city of Albracca. Riding to her rescue are the French, the Indians, and several other Muslim armies including King Sacripante of Circassia. She thinks all this isn't good enough and escapes to find the missing Christian champion Orlando before returning to be rescued.
  • Constance Bonacieux in The Three Musketeers.
  • Wendy Darling, Tinker Bell and Tiger Lily (who is an interesting case, as she is also Badass Princess) to Peter Pan.
  • Aouda in Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days. She then shows more than a glimpse of an Action Girl, though.
  • Twilight: Bella Swan is ineffectual against a group of rapists and Edward must swoop in to save her. Prior to this, Edward had to save her from a careening truck. Later in the book, she is ineffectual against a vampire, and Edward and his family must swoop in to save her. Subsequent books have the same formula, right down to warring factions—werewolves and vampires—putting aside their differences to save Bella. Bella herself is absolutely useless in a fight until she herself gets cool powers.
    • Like Sookie Stackhouse Bella is actually the only human with enough bad luck to attract both werewolves and vampires (and various deadly situations) that are impossible to kill or harm unless by other supernatural creatures. One of the reasons of her insistence to become a vampire (aside from spending eternity with her beloved Edward) is to avert this trope. Like she says in the first book: "I can't always be Lois Lane. I want to be Superman, too."
    • In the movie at least, Bella attempts to fight back against the rapists and maces the vampire before running for it. While neither is winning a battle, it's at least some form of self-preservation.
    • Let's just say that it's realistic insofar as, a lot of the time, Bella could not realistically be expected to fight off vampires and so on. Everyone else's willingness to sacrifice themselves for her, on the other hand . . .
  • Though reasonably competent, actor Lee Nicholas (in Tanya Huff's Smoke and Shadows series) seems to have an attraction for evil forces that want to possess his body, hold him hostage, and otherwise put him in peril—perhaps because the series protagonist has a crush on him. At one point, Lee actually says that he's "getting tired of being the designated damsel in distress".
  • Buttercup in The Princess Bride spends almost the entire story waiting for her true love to come save her. Of course she's in this mess because she gave herself up to save him—and he did promise he'd always come for her.
  • In House of Leaves, Pelafina writes in her letters that she is this character, and that her son has to save her from being locked up in the mental institution.
  • Esmeralda in Notre-Dame de Paris. Her mere presence is the catalyst for pretty much all the action in the book. Victor Hugo kind of rips into this trope by having Esmeralda literally pine for her knight in shining armor, only to be hanged by him in the end. Had Esmeralda been a little more proactive about her own fate, maybe things would have worked out better for her.
  • Christine in Phantom of the Opera... sorta kinda.
  • In The Phantom Tollbooth, Milo's quest rapidly turns into one to rescue the princesses Rhyme and Reason from the Castle in the Air. In this case the princesses were in exile and weren't informed that they were allowed out of the Castle in the Air until Milo found them. By that time, there was a huge group of very PO'd monsters racing towards them, so running was pretty much the only option any of them had.
  • In The Moomins, Snork Maiden, and being so pathetic has made her the least popular character.
    • She often does it on purpose, since she fancies herself as a romantic heroine. She can be quite undistressed when she wants to.
  • In John Barnes's One for the Morning Glory, Sylvie the goblin's prisoner.
  • How about Elayne, Egwene and Nynaeve from the earlier books of The Wheel of Time? They have a strange ability to get shielded, tied up and locked away only to be rescued by someone, though they did manage to get themselves away from the Seanchan in Book 2. Not to mention the time they actually berated Mat for saving them. They do get called on that later on by Birgitte however, who tore each of them a verbal new one and forced them to apologize. They'd also just about broken themselves out of there when Mat showed up.
  • In James Thurber's The 13 Clocks, the Princess Saralinda is kept in her Evil Uncle's castle. In fact, she is not his niece, and he intends to force her to marry him once he is free of a curse.
  • Although Terry Pratchett insists he's unable to write characters like this, Ginger in Moving Pictures spends her short-lived Holy Wood film career playing the role of one Distressed Damsel after another.
    • He's clearly forgotten Violet Botell in Hogfather. Susan does lampshade it by berating her in her mind for her intentionally helpless behaviour.
  • The Silmarillion: Played straight with Finduilas, killed by the orcs, Nienor Niniel (when Glaurung wipes her memories off). But very much subverted with Lúthien: when imprisoned by her father, she frees herself. Although she is then captured a second time and needs some help to escape, she then proceeds to almost single-handedly free her lover Beren (and a number of other prisoners) from Sauron—yes, that Sauron. Another example from Tolkien is Celebrian, the wife of Elrond, killed and possibly raped by the orcs.
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs. To be just, he has a lot of Dude in Distress as well, but:
    • Jane in Tarzan.
    • Meriem in Son of Tarzan.
    • Dejah Thoris in several John Carter of Mars books, most notably from the beginning of the second to the end of the third.
    • An anonymous group of women in The Gods of Mars, thrown to animals, inspires a Gladiator Revolt.
    • Thuvia in Warlord Of Mars and Thuvia Maid of Mars
    • Tara in Chessmen of Mars
    • Valla Dia in The Master Mind of Mars
    • Virginia Maxon in The Monster Men
    • Dian in At the Earth's Core
    • Emma von der Tann in The Mad King meets Barney Custer when he sees that her horse ran away with her.
    • Both Sanoma Tora and Tavia in A Fighting Man of Mars. Sanoma loses her spirit entirely, which is evidence enough that she is not, after all the Love Interest.
  • Judge Dee's cases often include at least one of these young ladies; ranging from vagabond thieves, to reluctant prostitutes to innocent young ladies of gentle birth. However they are seldom quite helpless or useless.
  • Wilkie Collins' Victorian novel The Woman in White (1860) features the character Laura Glyde (nee Fairlie), who is the embodiment of this trope. She's got the emotional strength of a Kleenex.
    • The interesting part is that Marian Halcombe, her half sister, is an amazingly strong character for a Victorian novel, almost an Extraordinarily Empowered Girl by the standards of the time. Of course, while Laura is the epitome of blushing Victorian beauty and fragility, Marian is described as "ugly", even having a slight mustache on her upper lip. Maybe this is a case of an Ugly Tomboy and Girly Girl.
  • In Wen Spencer's Endless Blue, Paige is captured by Mary's Landing and Turk must come to her rescue. Also Eraphie did not flee of her own will but was captured by Hardin; Mikhail comes to her rescue as soon as that becomes clear.
  • Diana Mayo, heroine of The Sheik. She's kidnapped by a rival Sheik, forcing the titular character to rescue her, during which he realizes he's fallen in love with her.
  • In the Dragonlance series, Laurana becomes this after being captured by her Arch Enemy Kitiara and having her love interest Tanis Half-Elven try to rescue her. Partially subverted though in that Laurana no longer trusts Tanis as he has been Dating Catwoman, refuses his help and ends up breaking free on her own. Though she does end up needing Tanis's help to complete her escape.
  • Esther Friesner loves to avert and parody this trope.
    • In her "Majyk" trilogy, we first have Mysti in Majyk by Accident whose only source of distress is her Welfin relatives and who bullies Kendar into marrying her so she can leave the "jolly greensward ho" and stop skipping around like an idiot and her only REAL distress is when the curse hits her after Kendar refuses to follow through with a promise he made during the wedding vows.
    • In the second book, Majyk by Hook or Crook, we have not only Mysti who has become the swashbuckler with a secret identity, A Blade for Justice (and prefers to be referred to by his/her full name), but we also have Anisella, who wears nothing but chain mail, has a black belt in helo kiti and a green barette in po kipsi, and crumples like a McDonalds napkin when even barely brushed by wool... or any other fabric.
    • The third book in the trilogy, Majyk by Design, gives us a male example in Prince Boffin who has been turned into a toad but also gives us great parody in Kendar's aunts (mercenary swordswomen)and his soon-to-be sister-in-law Dulcetta who, although she is generally the TYPE of girl who would fall into this category, actually kidnapped the man whom everyone thought kidnapped her and hatched a scheme with him to write romance novels. When the main characters find her she is heard screaming for help with the help of a metric ton of Purple Prose and while she is recounting to them the story of what happened runs off to write when the characters paraphrase her cries as "Help me". She thought it was perfect. It also comes to pass that her mother, who raised her to be a docile, dependent woman, was a barbarian swordswoman herself and only gave it up because she preferred regular bathing.
  • Jez is kidnapped at the beginning of the second Kingdom Keepers book, setting the plot in motion.
  • Inverted in Journey to the West where Sanzang, the only human of the group, and a man to boot, is often kidnapped by the newly introduced Big Bad of each chapter.
  • In Patricia A. McKillip's The Book of Atrix Wolfe, Saro is trapped in a spell, rendered The Speechless, and ends up a Scullery Maid in Cinderella Circumstances.
  • In Andy Hoare's White Scars novel Hunt for Voldorius, the Bloodtide tells the White Scars and Raven Guard that Malya is being subjected to being made a new Bloodtide, and begs them to rescue her.
  • Ginny Weasley in Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, although no one realizes it until near the end. And she did attempt to save herself by throwing the diary away first, stealing it back only because she was afraid of being outed.
  • Conan the Barbarian. Very often
  • In Black Beauty, Lady Anne.
  • Averted in Komarr, by Lois McMaster Bujold. Ekaterin Vorsoisson destroys the villains' secret weapon.
  • Tenar to Ged in Earthsea Trilogy. (It can be argued that Ged is also a Dude in Distress to her.)
  • In the first book of the Time Scout series, Margo ends up in a 16th century Portuguese prison. In the third, Birgitta is saved by Skeeter from a beating. In the fourth, Birgitta is saved from gang rape and murder. In the third and fourth, Ianira is in the hands of Jack the Ripper.
  • Lampshaded in Soon I Will Be Invincible, where it is noted the Corefire has the requisite "reporter girlfriend who always needed rescuing."
  • Subverted most of the time by Jenna Heap in Septimus Heap, as she usually manages to get safe by herself.
  • In L. M. Montgomery's The Blue Castle, Valancy foolishly goes to a dance where drunken men start to harrass her. Barney Snaith arrives in time. The main character in Anne of Green Gables is saved by her future husband from a catastrophe resulting from her attempt at impersonating Elaine the Lily of Astolat from Tennyson's poem. Hilarity Ensues.
  • In Teresa Frohock's Miserere an Autumn Tale, Lindsey is in Hell. Lucian realizes he must open a Gate, which has been forbidden to him, to rescue her.
  • Amy Goodenough in the Young Bond novel Blood Fever.
  • Agnes and Antonia both get their chance to fill this roll in The Monk. One will live to be rescued, one will not.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series, everybody is the Distressed Damsel sooner or later. There's even episodes where Buffy takes this role. In the first few seasons, Willow is the main Distressed Damsel. In second two, she and Xander share the role. As Willow grows in power in seasons three and four, Xander, Giles, and even Spike end up in this position more often than the others. In seasons five and six, it's Dawn. In season seven, it's the potentials.
    • Buffy was quite literally this in the Season Two episode Halloween, when an enchanted costume causes her to become a very helpless 18th century noblewoman.
  • In Angel's "A Hole in the World", Fred tries to fight her status as Damsel in Distress:

Wesley: You have to lie down.
Fred: I am not -- I am not the damsel in distress. I am not some case. I have to work this. I lived in a cave for 5 years in a world where they killed my kind like cattle. I am not going to be cut down by some monster flu. I am better than that!

The gang takes off to attempt to save her anyway.
  • Alex Cahill is kidnapped in almost literally every other episode of Walker, Texas Ranger.
  • In Firefly, it seems that every episode that centers on River has her in serious danger, needing some Big Damn Heroes to save the day...except for "Objects in Space," where she hits the villain with one hell of a Xanatos Gambit.
    • The ironic part is that by Serenity, she's activated hidden Waif Fu powers that would have let her handily deal with every one of the bad guys gunning for her in the series.
      • River in the series got so smart and powerful that Serenity's own crew starts to worry about whether she's safe to keep around.
      • It makes sense, given that Serenity was used to tie up loose ends in the story. Given how "Objects in Space" went, it seems that the next season would have had River slowly regain her former fierce intellect and use it far more often.
    • She showed some signs of her impending badassery earlier on in the episode "War Stories" when she gunned down three of Niska's men with her eyes closed in order to save Kaylee, who would have shared Damsel in Distress duty had the series actually continued. Joss Whedon has said something to the tune of, "Whenever we wanted to up the suspense, we just put the cute engineer in danger."
    • And it's been similarly commented that anytime a man infiltrates the ship he does so by befriending Kaylee, flirting with her and then threatening her at gunpoint. (This happens twice, with Simon in the pilot and then Tracy in "The Message", and probably would've been a continuing trend.)
  • Lana Lang in Smallville. The whole first season was one big Lana capture-fest. And most of the second. Usually by kryptonite mutants who loved her. And once they had her, they often tried to kill her, for no better reason than to give Clark a chance to arrive Just in Time! One later-season character actually commented sardonically to his obsessed stalkermutant friend "Lana Lang? Gee, how original."
    • Subverted with Lois Lane in more recent episodes; while she tends to need rescuing on a semi-regular basis, she often ends up saving her own skin, and will never be defined as "helpless". She also lampshaded this trope in the Season 10 episode "Harvest", when she ended up getting kidnapped by a rural community who wanted to sacrifice her in a harvest ritual, after wanting to prove to Clark that she didn't need protecting:

"I promise to eat a heaping helping of crow when we get back home, but right now, do your super-speedy thing because this fair lady needs some rescuing big time."

  • Gossip Girl does it at least once per season, when characters put aside their problems to help Serena: in season 1, when the Nate/Blair/Chuck love triangle takes second place to Serena's confession that she (allegedly) killed somebody; in season 2, when again the aforementioned love triangle is paused when the three characters try to get her out of jail, and in season 3 when all pending matters (Chuck's grief over his father's death anniversary, Lily's postponed confession to Rufus about a night with her ex-husband, Eric's and Jenny's constant fighting, Dan's lingering feelings for Vanessa) are frozen (and then solved or exposed, one by one) when she's on a car accident and over half of the cast go to the hospital to be with her.
  • Often done in Scrubs about a patient's dying or miraculously recovering ending bickering about less important matters.
    • One episode turns the plot of that episode into a medieval fantasy. In it, the patient becomes a damsel in distress that everyone works together to save.
  • In Power Rangers in Space, just try to count how many times the Rangers themselves get tied up, to either figure a way out in time for the big fight, or be rescued by the one Ranger who wasn't there at the time.
  • Supernatural tends to apply this trope so much it gets annoying after a while. The Victim Of The Week (usually female) is either being threatened and can't help herself out or Sam is pinned to something and helpless against the MOTW or Dean is doing something stupid/going off on his own, getting nabbed and needing Sam to save his arse.
    • They've subverted it twice with Sam, though. In Bloodlust, the vampires capture him but let him go after they've given him a good talking to and in The Benders, he manages to get out of his cage without Dean's help and Dean ends up being the tied up one in need of saving.
  • Farscape put pretty much every character, male and female, hero and villain, into such a situation—notably John, who is captured and tortured at the end of the first season and is rescued by Aeryn (with help), and Aeryn, who is captured and tortured at the end of the final season and is rescued by John (with help). This makes sense, as she is the Action Girl at the start of the show, and while he's not quite an action hero by the end he has gotten badass enough to return the favor.
  • Subverted (a bit) in Doctor Who (notorious for women who needed rescuing from bug-eyed monsters at every cliffhanger) with Jo Grant (UNIT assistant to the Pertwee Doctor) who was a trained spy/escapologist, and thus was the one who freed the Doctor when they were captured. (Lampshaded also by Sarah Jane Smith when she rescues the Doctor from a cell in The Android Invasion and quips: "This time I'm saving you!" She'd also done it in the first episode she was in, The Time Warrior.) Jo Grant was originally conceived as an Emma Peel-type Action Girl but they cast Katy Manning after her somewhat ditzy audition, a classic example of the difference between what the producers say they want and what they actually want.
    • Barbara Wright alternately played this trope straight and subverted it. The most memorable straight example would be in the very first Who serial An Unearthly Child, where she spends most of the last two episodes screaming and crying. She seems to have gotten it out of her system by the next serial, where she's perfectly happy to go on a commando raid into the Dalek city. Her most memorable subversion is probably The Crusade, where she does get kidnapped, but rescues herself and is on her way back to rescue everyone else by the time Ian shows up to save her.
    • Mary Tamm was initially leery of taking a companion role in the series for this very reason, but she was assured that her character, Romana, would be an intellectual equal to the Doctor and a competent woman to boot. Supposedly, she left the role later on because she felt it had reverted to this trope (although possibly she left because she was having a baby—the internet is not very clear on the matter.)
    • Lampshaded in the new series episode "The Empty Child", when the Doctor learned that Rose was hanging from a barrage balloon during a Nazi Blitz attack. "I've travelled with a number of people, but you're setting new standards for being peril-friendly."
    • On a whole, the companions in the new series seem to swing between playing this trope straight and subverting it. In the event that the companions are captured and can't save themselves, they at least try to, or find information, or help the Doctor, or at least sass their captors.
      • It at least makes sense why this would happen. To create tension you need someone to be captured, and since the Doctor's companions are 90% female, it unfortunately becomes this trope.
  • Parodied in the Captain Proton holoprogram in Star Trek: Voyager with secretary Constance Goodheart, whose only function is to be captured by the villainous Dr Chaotica so Captain Proton can rescue her, and whose only dialogue is an ear-splitting scream. When Seven of Nine is roped in to play Constance she asks what her function is. Tom Paris (playing Proton) replies awkwardly that her job is to "tag along on all the missions".
  • Topanga plays with this trope in the second season's Halloween episode of Boy Meets World:

Cory: (seeing Topanga in a long gauzy dress) Why'd you have to wear that?
Topanga: I'm a damsel. But not the distressed kind, one who's totally calm and in complete control of her own destiny.

  • The X-Files: Gillian Anderson may consider Scully to be a good feminine role model, but there's no getting away from the fact that the character spent a worrying amount of time (especially in seasons 1 to 4) being kidnapped, tied up and drooled over by freaks and fruitcakes. Of course, Mulder had a tendency to rush headlong into dangerous situations which usually lead to Scully having to save his ass, so maybe it doesn't count.
    • Yeah, Mulder seems to get captured/injured/drugged/whatever just as much as Scully does, often because he doesn't stop to actually think before he does something. It was one of the earliest shows to divvy up the proportion of Distressed Damsel and Dude in Distress pretty equally between the male and female protagonists.
  • Mrs. Peel from the original The Avengers series. Almost all of the episodes feature her in some kind of predicament, generally clad in tight fitting (not to say clinging...) apparel and bound in a weird situation. Examples are: tied in aluminium foil to act as an electric conductor to electrocute Steed when he touches her, tied to train tracks (classical but effective), bound to a Mad Scientist patented reclining table to act as guinea pig for his super strong laser, tied, scantily clad in a harem outfit...
    • Don't forget the episode where she's literally locked in a gilded cage wearing a very skimpy feathered costume.
  • Possibly the only reason why Kate exists on Robin Hood. Partially justified in that she's just a simple peasant girl who has been thrown into a guerilla-style war, but which inevitably leads to Fridge Logic when one wonders why on earth the outlaws keep letting her tag along with them on dangerous missions that she's obviously not equipped to handle.
  • Jeremy Clarkson tried to take advantage of this on Top Gear when he drove his Toyota into a ditch and then called emergency services, claiming to be a pregnant woman about to be eaten by dogs (rather than a fat, old man who can't judge terrain).
    • This works if you're not Jeremy Clarkson—the AA prioritises "lone woman" calls, as well as some other categories like disabled drivers.
  • Frequently subverted on NCIS, where Team Gibbs often race to rescue the damsel in question (usually Abby), only to find she's overcome the villain by her own efforts. That's a testimonial to team spirit.
  • Used not infrequently with Gwen in Merlin. It hasn't started becoming annoying quite yet, but the jury is still out on how many more times a plot can revolve either around her putting herself in a situation (however morally justifiable) that requires Arthur to half-kill himself just to get her out of it (a la The Last Dragonlord), or around her being rescued successfully, only to fall over about seven seconds later and end up needing saving all over again (Lancelot and Guinevere, I'm looking at you.), before things start getting really tiresome. She's the only main character in the show to lack either magic powers, or having been trained to be a Knight in Shining Armour since childhood. And, like Smallville, every character that's not Merlin ends up with the role in at least one episode, including the future King Arthur.
  • Elena in The Vampire Diaries, more often than not. Justified as she is pretty much the only main character who doesn't have any sort of magic ability. She is constantly being threatened and/or kidnapped to enrage Stefan or sometimes Damon.
    • Then again, the first time a vampire tried to kidnap her, she didn't just take it and wait for Stefan to save her, she fought back and tried to kill the vampire with a pencil.
  • Though Veronica, Sarah, and Sofia all get this at one point or another in Prison Break, LJ is the epitome of this trope. Any time he's on screen he's either being used as a bargaining chip against his dad and uncle or being rescued by his dad and uncle; the kid spends most of the series tied to a chair. All of them though are justified, since they're basically average citizens stuck in a mass conspiracy against people trained to make them this.


Music[edit | hide]

  • It can be argued that Anhura from the musical-in-album-form Razia's Shadow fits this trope. She argues against her father and seems to have the same sense of a greater destiny as Adakias, but she doesn't do anything about it except sit around singing wistfully (Adakias has his share of wistful singing, but he's much more proactive). She's first a damsel when her father refuses to let her marry Adakias, but Adakias rescues her by eloping with her. This causes her to grow ill, and a third of the second act is therefore spent trying to cure her illness. Then once they do, Pallis bursts in, and Adakias sacrifices himself to save her when Pallis attempts to murder her. Depending what you think happened directly after the end of the song and before the narrator's epilogue, Anhura either ends up with Pallis, basically staying a damsel, just a rescued one, fixes everything herself while Pallis retreats, getting out of the trope, or everything fixes itself without her help, which keeps Anhura thoroughly useless and in this trope.
  • Mentioned in Will Smith's song Wild Wild West:

Any damsel that's in distress
Be out of that dress when she meet Jim West

  • Subverted in the video of Mean by Taylor Swift. Taylor is shown tied up on railroad tracks by a villain, who is all gloating over her predicament. Not long after, a friend of the villain's comes along, the two villains get drunk, fall asleep, after which Taylor simply gets out of her ropes and heads off.


Myths & Religion[edit | hide]

  • This is Older Than Feudalism, dating back at least to the Greek myth of Perseus and Andromeda.
    • The story of Hesione and Heracles is very similar to that of Perseus and Andromeda. However, Deianeira, another woman in Heracles' adventurous life, subverts it by taking matters in her hands shortly after the rescue.
    • Eurydice is in a classic Damsel in Distress situation. Unfortunately, Orpheus does not come up to expectations.
    • Of all the Greek goddesses - perhaps surprisingly - Hera is the one who most often finds herself in this position. However, Zeus very efficiently keeps away the unfortunate suitors.
    • Subverted with Helen of Troy, who is anything but innocent in what happens to her.
  • In Ramayana, Sita is a crown example.
  • In Celtic mythology (Mabinogion), Branwen finds herself in this position. Subverted with Deirdre, who voluntarily put herself in the situation which was considered as distress by her fiance.


Radio[edit | hide]

  • The Shadow's companion Margot Lane served the function of designated hostage more often than not...especially if a Mad Scientist needed a "test subject."
    • Margot Lane is also an example of Flanderization. In the early episodes with Orson Welles, she was fairly competent and saved The Shadow almost as much as he saved her.


Theatre[edit | hide]


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Super Mario Bros:
    • Princess Peach Toadstool has been kidnapped too many times to count. And yet she's perfectly capable of kicking butt in such games as Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario RPG, Super Princess Peach, Super Paper Mario, and the Super Smash Bros. series. Go figure. Adaptations sometimes try to turn her into an Action Girl, but her tendency to get kidnapped is such a major part of the Mario tradition that it becomes very hard to omit or work around. Super Mario Bros Z takes this to the logical extreme: when Peach is kidnapped by Bowser again, it's pointed out that nobody in the Mushroom Kingdom is panicking, because they're all so used to it. In recent games such as Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel, the tables have been turned and Bowser's kidnapping of Peach does more damage to him and his self-deluded plot of creating an galactic empire than her, as Peach, despite her peacefulness, has become a huge monkey wrench and being in Bowser's clutches is an obvious mistake on his part that inevitably leads him to be defeated again by Mario.
    • Tippi also plays Distressed Damsel for all of one chapter in Super Paper Mario, though her capturer only wants to post pictures of her on the Internet. (No, really.)
    • Princess Daisy fills in the role of Distressed Damsel in place of Peach in Super Mario Land.
    • Baby Luigi becomes this in the Yoshi's Island games. One of the babies helping Yoshi save him in the DS game is in fact Baby Peach!
    • Mario himself is the damsel in Luigis Mansion and Super Princess Peach (and the non-canon Mario is Missing)
  • The Legend of Zelda: Peach's contemporary, Princess Zelda, fits the trope, but not in a way that plays the trope precisely straight. While finding/rescuing/protecting her is usually Link's ultimate or major goal in any game where she is present, she almost invariably cooks up some clever ideas whereby she can actively work against the Evil Plan of the Big Bad who captures her. The classic Damsel in Distress, by contrast, is tactically of no use whatever.
    • In the original game, she knows she's going to be captured as part of Ganon's plot, so she fragments the Triforce of Wisdom (which is what he's really after) and hides it in various parts of her kingdom, then enables her most loyal servant to escape to find help while she herself is taken prisoner.
    • In The Legend of Zelda a Link To T He Past, though she is in a prison cell at the beginning, she is quickly rescued by Link. She only gets kidnapped again about a third of the way into the game; she gets rescued in the second-to-last dungeon, after which she and the other Maidens (themselves Distressed Damsels) use their magic to break the barrier barring entry into Ganon's Tower.
    • In The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, she also acts as the mentor by secretly being Sheik.
    • In The Legend of Zelda the Wind Waker, Zelda starts out as leader of a gang of pirates, while Link's just some kid, which makes her more competent then the main character. She's also vital in the final boss fight.
      • In the sequel, The Legend of Zelda Phantom Hourglass, she spends the first half of the game AWOL and the second half as a statue just to make sure she had a reason not to be kicking ass by Link's side.
    • In The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess, she isn't kidnapped - she surrenders to the Big Bad to save her people from genocide, although it amounts to roughly the same thing. While unable to actively participate in the fight for most of the game, she is extremely helpful to the point of appearing to give up her own life when she does appear, and is a vital participant in the endgame.
    • Taken to an extreme in The Legend of Zelda Spirit Tracks, where Zelda manages to be kidnapped despite being a controllable character for almost the whole game.
      • And yet is still able to actively assist Link in combat, including the final boss fights.
    • Played straight, after all these years, in The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword, where Link gets involved in the plot in order to rescue his childhood friend Zelda. She actually barely avoids a proper kidnapping.
  • Pauline (aka "Lady") in the original Donkey Kong.
    • All of the Kongs (besides Donkey) are this to some extent in Donkey Kong 64.
  • Palutena in Kid Icarus. Apparently, being a goddess does not make one immune to this trope.
  • Played with in an entertaining fashion in the Neverwinter Nights mod A Dance With Rogues. The Princess in the story is the player character and spends a lot more time rescuing people than not, and the character who most fits this archetype is Anden, a male character. Pia actually comments on this when you tell her the tale of rescuing Anden for the first time.
  • Aerith Gainsborough from Final Fantasy VII, when she is kidnapped and taken to Hojo's laboratory to be experimented on. Saving her makes up most of the Best Level Ever, so hooray!
    • Also worth noting that the in-game play at the Golden Saucer during the date scene plays with this trope, complete with an evil dragon.
  • Rinoa Heartilly from Final Fantasy VIII was this, with disturbing regularity. She's probably the second most Damsel in Distress out of the entire Final Fantasy franchise next to the example below, which is actually saying a lot (though it doesn't speak highly of her character). To her credit though, she does get much better once she becomes a sorceress, though she still gets taken captive by Seifer later to be held hostage by Adel, but of course he was holding her a weapon-point.
  • Rosa spends alot of time in the first half of the game incapacitated due to some reason or other (illness, kidnapping, etc.) She gets better in the second half though, even refusing to Stay in the Kitchen when told to by Cecil toward the end (a very dumb decision on Cecil's part.)
  • Averted hard in Final Fantasy X with Yuna. Who, while kidnapped three times, managed to escape on her own the first time and actually made a plan to defeat one of the Big Bad's the third time (which the heroes, while pulling off an impressive Big Damn Heroes, messed up) she still escaped on her own. And the second time, she was actually being "kidnapped" by Rikku, so there wasn't any real danger, though the other characters think there is at the time.
    • Nonetheless, The Spoony One held a running tally of how many times she gets kidnapped in the first place, and she beats Rinoa. Probably iconic is how she happens to get kidnapped by the Well-Intentioned Extremist, then gets kidnapped from there by the Big Bad before the party manages to free her.
  • In Star FOX Adventures, Krystal serves the role of the Distressed Damsel, being trapped in a crystal up until the end. Which is ironic, considering that she was originally intended to be the player character.
  • Subverted in The Secret of Monkey Island: Guybrush Threepwood goes through all kinds of peril to save Govenor Elaine Marley, who was captured by the Big Bad LeChuck. He gets to the church on Melee Island just in time to interrupt their wedding, only for Elaine to descend on a rope from the ceiling. Turns out she'd already made her escape, fooling LeChuck by putting a pair of trained monkeys in her wedding dress. At least Guybrush ends up getting the honor of finishing off LeChuck...
  • Maya Fey of Ace Attorney fame. First meeting? Save her in a court case. Reunited in game 2? Save her in a court case. End of game 2? Kidnapped, must save someone else in a court case in order to get her fanny back. Final case third game? Entire PLOT of the case revolves around this.
    • But subverted in MANY ways as well. For example, she helps you out when she can and despite her constant ordeals (her dad dying, then her mother disappearing, then her sister being murder with her as the accused, then her being accused again with her own family trying to kill her, then Pearls being in danger, then her mother getting murdered in front of her right after she was about to be murdered herself), she stills comes out smiling and full of life, something that Phoenix can't seem to understand. Plus let's not forget that at one point in case 3:5 she saves her own life from the Big Bad by channelling said Big Bad's spirit, thus making it impossible for them to kill her; something which is very clever.
  • In House of the Dead 1, the thing that draws the heroes to the mansion in the first place is a distress call from Tom Rogan's girlfriend Sophie, who, despite apparently being a fellow AMS agent and the only survivor of her group, is mostly useless. Depending on how you fared, she may or may not survive. In the later games, you can rescue citizens or your partner from marauding zombies for extra lives.
  • Plucky Girl Yuri Sakazaki from the original Art of Fighting, although after the events of the game she took up Kyokugen Karate lessons from her father to defend herself and became as strong as, if not stronger than, her brother Ryo and her childhood friend Robert... the ones who actually objected more to her taking up martial arts, until she was kidnapped and finally got the training she wanted.
  • Super Robot Wars:
    • Kusuha Mizuha—her face just screams that she is a perfect target to make a Distressed Damsel, and in every installment of Original Generation, starting from OG 1, OG 2, OG Gaiden, there is always a scenario where she is kidnapped, first by Ingram in OG 1, then by Lorenzo & Murata in OG 2 (only in the remake. The scenario was not featured in the GBA version), and finally by the Bartoll units in OG Gaiden. Not even saying 'I'm not just some damsel in distress waiting to be rescued!' in battles can rectify this...
    • In Alpha series, however, it's Inverted. Once Alpha 2 kicks in and the stories get more proper, it's usually her boyfriend Bullet that needs to be rescued.
    • Though not entirely subverting to this trope, somewhat the Ridiculously Human Robot Lamia Loveless fell into this trope in OG Gaiden. After all her whole ass kicking and dramatic development back in OG 2, her story in OG Gaiden involves her getting kidnapped and needs to be rescued TWICE (even our resident damsel needs to be rescued once this time). First she's kidnapped by the Bartolls, all while just being in the wrong place in the wrong time, stripped naked and be somewhat Brainwashed to fight her allies. She was almost saved... but suddenly, the villains managed to snatch her back after the player has to wait for 6 months to see if she's dead or alive, and brainwash her AGAIN. So much that it takes a former badass enemy turned good to save her completely. Of course once she's completely saved, she returns being a formidable girl in battlefield (and that even depends whether the player wants to use her or not), though her story arc was pretty much over at that point.
  • In Assassin's Creed, Altair saves countless Distressed Damsels (and some Distressed Abbots and Islamic Scholars as well) from the city guards, and is rewarded by their family/students helping him escape from Mooks. Despite this happening in the middle of a city, nobody seems to react at all to the attempted abductions and rapes happening right in front of them.
    • They're in Medieval cities in the state of war, and the would-be rapists and murderers are exactly the people stationed to keep the peace, and are the only ones with decent weapons and armour around. Truth in Television, unfortunately.
  • Furiae in Drakengard doubles as this for family reasons (she's your sister, and technically a princess) and because she happens to be the linchpin Cosmic Keystone that prevents catastrophe. As the Downer Ending page points out, this isn't as idealistic as the other examples.
  • Bastila, a trained Jedi, is kept as a hostage during the first part of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. She'd just crawled out of a crashed escape pod's wreckage when she was captured, and her captors were intelligent enough to fasten a neural disruptor to her head (and she didn't have time to determine where her lightsaber was). She does manage to free herself the instant your rescue attempt manages to thin out the guards enough that she can finally get the disruptor off. However, she is quite offended if you comment that you "rescued the damsel in distress" later on, almost as badly as when Carth starts joking about losing her lightsaber being against the Jedi code.
  • Princess Cassima in King's Quest V and moreso in King's Quest VI is a damsel in distress. She is held captive by the wizard Mordak in V and in VI, is actually kept inside a tower by the Grand Vizier Alhazred for a plot to marry her.
    • Similarly, the entire objective of King's Quest II is to rescue Princess Valanice from a tower prison.
      • And in King's Quest III, the Llewdor Oracle lights a fire under Gwydion's rear by showing him the three-headed dragon that's laid waste to Daventry. The dragon demands a Human Sacrifice, and the one "chosen" this year is Princess Rosella his long-lost twin sister.
    • Her first appearance notwithstanding, Rosella tends to take this trope for a joyride. In King's Quest IV, she's the one doing the rescuing, finding a MacGuffin to bring back from Tamir to heal her stricken father. She's briefly relieved of her inventory and locked up, but is freed soon enough due to Mook Face Turn. King's Quest VII has her impulsively putting herself in harm's way, finding a way to free herself from the fire she landed in, and then rescuing a captured king. Top it off with her breaking the More Than Mind Control Malicia pulled on Edgar - who seems to be an absolute sucker for this sort of thing.
  • Tales (series):
    • Symphonia's Colette Brunel. Even though, gameplay wise, she's a powerful and useful Glass Cannon.
    • Shirley from Tales of Legendia, who is constantly kidnapped during the main quest.
    • In Tales of the Abyss, Natalia and Fon Master Ion are held hostage, she could have gone peacefully to avoid any conflict.
      • Ion is always getting kidnapped.
    • In Tales of Vesperia, Estelle is held hostage and used by the villain at the time of the game. She did not use her powers to save an Entelexia because she would have driven him berserk, and the amount of guards could have prevented a feasible escape.
    • In Tales of Rebirth, the first half of the game is dedicated to save dozens of damsels in distress (captured by the Queen of the land. Go figure). But Veigue really cares more about rescuing his not-girlfriend Claire, because she is just so much more important than all those other simpletons.
  • Kairi and her Nobody Namine from the Kingdom Hearts series, though they get a few moments outside the role in Kingdom Hearts II, and really only fall into the role twice each.
    • The other Princesses of Heart don't fare much better but are sometimes useful. For example, Belle has a particularly memorable scene in which Xaldin has both her and the Rose and is forcing the Beast to choose between them. Belle preempts the choice by elbowing Xaldin in the gut, taking the rose from him, and escaping over to Sora right before the party fights him.
  • Kyrie, Nero's Love Interest from Devil May Cry 4 is one of these, in contrast with Dante's demon hunting Action Girl partners.
  • The paramedics from Urban Chaos: Riot Response are usually in need of rescue, which makes sense since they're civilians trying to save injured cops and firefighters while under attack from insane gang members with ELECTRIC SAWS.
    • Also the firefighters, Officer Forrester, and your C.O. Adam Wolf are in need of rescue. The firefighters are excused because they too are unarmed and the Burners have guns. Officer Forrester when he is not being used as a human shield is rather competent at stealing your kills so he too is excused. Wolf is excused because they kidnapped him at his safe house. Both Forrester and Wolf tell you when to fire at the Burner and they mock their would-be kidnapper.
  • Lampshaded in Wizards and Warriors. Each stage (except the last) ends with rescuing a Damsel in Distress, conveniently labelled as "the distressed damsel". (In the last stage, you appear to have rescued a princess, which I guess means that the other stages are variations of the "Princess is in another castle" trope.)
    • Three princess sisters appear in the third game of the series. In order to finish the game, you must promise to marry them after freeing them. Yes, all three.
  • Fire Emblem has had several of these:
    • The original has princesses Maria and Elice, along with Midia, who all fight by your side once you rescue them. Also included is princess Nyna, although she's an NPC who mostly exists for story purposes.
    • Ellis in Mystery of the Emblem
    • 'In Genealogy of Holy War, Edain, Diadora, Yuria and Lynn start like this before they join you. It doesn't end well for all of them but Edin: Diadora eventually ends up brainwashed and dead; Yuria fares just as badly as her mother Diadora, but she survives, eventually coming into her own when she gets the holy spellbook Narga and bravely vows to keep fighting; and it's implied in a veiled way, through Ares vs Bramsel's pre-battle convo and Ares and Lynn's convo when she's freed, that she was raped by Bramsel after he took her captive.
    • In Sword of Seal, Princess Guinevere in the mental/emotional sense, Lilina before you free her and she becomes a Magic Knight. Also, Badass Bookworm Cecilia (in her defense, she was injured) and Mysterious Waif Sophia, who also join your group.
    • In Sword of Flame, Ninian and her Dude in Distress brother Nils, thanks to Nergal (though they later become A Spoony Bard and Spoony Dancer duo and join the team properly; Priscilla (she's even got the evil marquess trying to force her into marriage!), who also eventually becomes a Magic Knight after promotion.
    • In The Sacred Stones, Queen Ismaire of the White Dunes The worse thing? You do not get to save her, and she ultimately dies in the arm of her son, King Incognito Joshua. SNIFFFFF! .
    • Though it should be noted that Fire Emblem applies the imprisonment plot device to both genders pretty judiciously - probably thanks to the easy "recruit opportunity" of prisoners of war. For example, the afore-mentioned Midia is imprisoned with three other characters, all of whom are men. In Path of Radiance, Rolf is held hostage along with Mist, likewise the POWs Brom and Nephenee. In Radiant Dawn Illyana and Aimee are held prisoner, but so are the three male members of their caravan (and the incognito dragon prince, Kurthnaga).
  • Braid takes this trope and inverts it. In the final level (technically the first, chronologically), the princess is in distress because of you. Nice Job Breaking It, Hero.
  • Suikoden V has a Subversion with Princess Lymsleia. While she is held hostage for most of the game, she chooses to use her authority to attempt an escape from the Godwins and in the war in the favor of La Résistance in a supposed assault on them rather than accept the state of affairs.
  • In City of Heroes there is a junior heroine, Fusionette, who is constantly getting in over her head, captured and needing rescuing. So much so that it's become a running joke among the community that she has to be the worst Superhero in Paragon and the only reason that Vanguard even employ her is as an example of others of how NOT to do the missions.
  • Ashley Graham from Resident Evil 4 . Made all the more hilarious by how she was shown to want very much to give Leon a Smooch of Victory (and a lot more than just a smooch) for rescuing her at the end... only for Leon to reject her and make sure she knows that he is not interested.
  • In Legend of Dragoon, Shana fits the bill perfectly. Even when she joins the party she is the light-elemental-healer.
  • Parodied in Reset Generation where EVERY player tries to 'rescue' a princess from every other player.
  • Mega Man:
    • Star Force's Luna Platz becomes one whenever the evil villains attack in the games. There are three occasions in the first game where this happens. When Taurus turns Bud into a monster, then when she (along with Bud and Zack Temple) are forced into doing the swan dance on a trip to AMAKEN. Finally when the kids teacher merges with an evil FM-Ian and goes berserk. Her role as the Damsel in Distress continues into the second game, as she is kidnapped by Hyde-Phantom, then almost trapped in a alternate dimension by Solo-Rogue (along with Bud, Sonia and Zack), then kidnapped by Hyde-Phantom, again and then finally kidnapped by a giant bird monster.
      • And it all comes to a head in the third game. The trip to Alohaha was supposed to be a relaxing affair, but then Jack and Tia corrupt Strong with a Noise Card, causing him to start an earthquake on the island and force him into a fight with Mega Man. Before you can say "it can't get any worse", JOKER shows up and erases Strong. Just as Jack and Tia transform to fight Geo, Luna picked the absolute worst time to show up - and Joker uses THAT opportunity to kill her! Strong, Luna, and Vogue (Luna's Wizard, the youngest of the lot) all get better, but Joker has established himself as a very serious threat - one that Luna fans absolutely despise.
  • When Zero first wakes up at the beginning of Mega Man Zero series, he has to protect the girl who revived him, Ciel, throughout the entire first level.
  • In the Mega Man Fighting Game The Power Fighters, one of the three selectable path objectives is to rescue Roll.
  • At the end of Total Overdose, Ram has to save a Damsel in Distress in a sequence involving many tropes so dead they don't even have entries. The Damsel is tied to the front of a runaway locomotive by the Villain, and Ram must run along boxcars, jumping into and out of boxcars, fighting mooks, and dodging explosives. The subversions could be that the Villain wears a White Hat with an antique emblem of the US Cavalry on it, and that instead of a horse, Ram gets a motorcycle to ultimately ride to the rescue on.
  • Sue Sakamoto in Cave Story is continually kidnapped or imprisoned by various parties.
  • In Max Payne 2 The Fall of Max Payne, Mona Sax's first line is: "God! I turned out to be such a damsel in distress..."
    • She gets to invert the trope, running into a burning building to save Max.
    • The line is an Ironic Echo from the first game, when she denies being a damsel in distress like her twin sister was.
  • The indie game Spelunky, has a character known as the damsel, who can be rescued from most levels for an extra hitpoint. One extra hitpoint. She also makes for a good throwing weapon.
    • If you rescue 8 of them in one playthrough, you can play as her and you rescue Spelunky instead.
  • Castlevania descended into this trope slowly. Early installments forwent hostages altogether (only the arcade rehash Haunted Castle added Simon's wife Serena, as if fighting Dracula weren't motivation enough), and when they began coming, there was uncommon gender balance. The series' first canonical damsel was actually a a guy in distress, Christopher's son Soleiyu in Belmont's Revenge; Richter in Symphony of the Night and Morris Baldwin in Circle of the Moon further balance out the captured maidens in Rondo of Blood (one of whom isn't such a damsel at that). After Circle, however, this trope began to do its worst, e.g. Lydie in Harmony of Dissonance, Mina and later Yoko in Aria of Sorrow, Sara in Lament of Innocence...
    • Dawn of Sorrow plays with this a bit when the bad guys' plan to turn Soma into Dracula is to trick him into thinking that Mina is a Damsel in Distress again and kill "Mina" in front of him.
    • In Order of Ecclesia, while there are distressed damsels, but there are also distressed children and distressed men as well.
  • Marian in the original Double Dragon, where the main objective was to rescue her from the Black Warriors.
    • Subverted in Double Dragon II: The Revenge. The arcade version starts off just like the first game, with Marian being surrounded by the Black Warriors, only instead of being knocked unconscious and taken into their hideout, she is gunned down to death by Machine Gun Willy. A similar thing happens in the NES version, only it shows Marian being attacked by a ninja (instead of Machine Gun Willy) and the game doesn't actually show the murder occur (the opening only says that it happened). Marian stays dead in the arcade version, but in the NES version she is brought back to life if the player completes the game on hardest difficulty level (playing this trope straight in a way).
    • She's a no-show in the arcade version of Double Dragon 3, but in the NES version the game's plot was rewritten (specifically for the localized version) so that the final boss turns out to be a possessed version of Marian named Queen Noiram ("Marion" spelled backwards).
    • Super Double Dragon was about saving Marian too, but you wouldn't know unless you read the manual (mainly because the game was released incomplete).
    • Averted in the Neo-Geo fighting game, where she's one of the playable fighters.
  • EarthBound has Paula in this role a total of three times - kidnapped by the Happy Happyists, kidnapped by zombies, kidnapped by Monotoli. The second time was Ness's fault, though.
    • Ness himself was captured the second time along with Paula.
  • Dana Mercer becomes one about midway through Prototype. Given that the one kidnapping her is a freaking Leader Hunter she is excused for screeching in panic.
  • Liara's establishing character moment in Mass Effect involves rescuing her from a forcefield she got herself stuck inside, fighting off a krogan battlemaster while she hides in a corner, then saving her from a collapsing volcano. To avoid confusion, and confirm her love-interest status, she then proceeds to faint once she arrives on your ship, since she spent anywhere from hours to days without food or water in extremely stressful situation. Once she's had a proper rest she reveals herself for the Badass she really is in the next mission you take her along. And even more so in the sequel.
  • In Neverwinter Nights 2, after you rescue Neeshka from the Fort Locke guards, she says "Does that make me a damsel in distress? I hope not, I hate those women!"
  • Miyu in Red Steel is kidnapped on the first level, and the rest of the game revolves around bringing down the Yakuza in order to save her.
  • It's unclear in |Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 whether Princess Elise can walk under her own power, let alone avoid capture. She does seem to take a few steps during some of the cutscenes, but that might just be inertia from being carried halfway around the world at high velocity.
    • Also occasionally played straight with Cream.
    • Amy Rose a few odd times, most prominantly in Sonic the Hedgehog CD.
    • Tails occasionally plays a girlish-boy-in-distress kind-of role.
    • In the spin-off cartoons and comics, Princess Sally takes the role on occasion too.
  • Annoyingly in the Evolution games for the Dreamcast, White Magician Girl Linear WILL get kidnapped/convinced to leave the party right before the The Very Definitely Final Dungeon and subsequent boss fights. And the two games have final bosses that are definitely That One Boss. And she has the best healing and buffing skills in the game. Good luck!
  • Wonderfully averted in BioShock (series) 2. Eleanor Lamb is setup to be one, but stick her in a combat situation and she absolutely massacres every Mook in her way.
  • Raven inverts this a few times in Ultima IX, then lampshades it when she has to play it straight. She later puts the Avatar into Dude in Distress territory herself...and makes him like it.
  • The entire population of Boingburg (with the exception of Rocket) in Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime.
  • Subverted in World of Warcraft. For the Alliance, you get a quest to rescue the dwarven princess from Blackrock Depths. For the Horde, you're given the same quest in the hopes of improving relations with the dwarves. Not only she does not want to leave, but she is pregnant. And you just killed the father.
  • Flora Reinhold, Professor Layton's foster daughter, gets stuck in this role in his games. In the original game of the series, she's more of a Barrier Maiden than a Damsel in Distress, but in the other two games where she appears so far, she has great aptitude for being kidnapped. She also goes missing in Professor Layton's London Life, the bonus RPG packaged with some releases of Professor Layton and The Specters Flute - but she hasn't been kidnapped. She's preparing to sacrifice herself to prevent The End of the World as We Know It. Poor kid.
  • Bandage Girl from Meat Boy who is constantly kidnapped by Dr. Fetus. In the last chapter in Super Meat Boy, she decides she had enough of it.
  • Deconstructed in Guilty Gear, where Dizzy is more powerful than her guardians, Testament, Johnny and Ky. The "rescuing" is more like calming her down when her power goes out of control. Dizzy herself is a Naive Everygirl who hates violence with passion, so the experience of unintentionally attempting to kill people is traumatizing. If you listen to her in-game quotes, it seems that her enormous powers inflicts physical pain to her. And the few times she snaps? She SNAPS (like the Alternate Universe from the CD dramas in which she succeeds her mother Justice and pretty much destroys the world, or the Midnight Carnival ending in which she horribly kills I-No when she abuses her a bit too much.. In short, Dizzy needs no rescue from others... but from herself.
  • Kaori plays this role in Eien no Aselia despite theoretically having the same ass kicking potential as any stranger would. But she never even acquires a weapon and is instead held hostage for almost the entirety of the game by one person or another.
  • If you romance a Governor's Daughter enough in the 2004 version of Sid Meier's Pirates!, then when you next visit the port the Governor will tearfully tell you that she has been kidnapped by the Evil Colonel Mendoza and beg you to hunt him down and rescue her. (Successfully doing so leads to the opportunity to propose marriage shortly after.)
  • Sylvia in the first Kung-Fu Master, kidnapped if just to force his boyfriend Thomas to enter into a fight with the kidnapper and his group.
  • Breath of Fire:
  • Princess Mari in The King of Dragons exists pretty much to fulfil this role. Though she actually lead the offensive of her kingdom against the hordes of monsters, she just makes things go worse.
  • Princess Kiku in Tenchu gets kidnapped in every game she appears in. It's played with in Tenchu 4, where she orders Rikimaru to kill her as a way to defeat the Big Bad who was holding her hostage, and he eventually complies.
  • Three Wonders has the Princess of Asthar in Chariot.
  • The non-Capcom developed Strider sequel, Strider Returns, has this as its main plot, sending the game's protagonist to rescue his darling Lexia.
  • Tawna in the original Crash Bandicoot. Coco, though more prominantly an Action Girl, takes the role a handful of occasions later on.
  • Every single female character in the Duke Nukem games.
  • In Rune Factory 3 your fiance is kidnapped near the end of the game. This doesn't make her look bad since the one kidnapping her is a super powerful dragon.
  • Lola Tigerbelly becomes one towards the end of the first game in The Spellcasting Series, having been placed in a swinging blade trap by the Big Bad.
  • Subverted to hell in Dragon Age. In the "Paragon of Her Kind" quest, one of your goals is to rescue party member Oghren's wife, Branka, from the Deep Roads, where she is missing. It turns out that she deliberately led her entire clan there in search of an ancient Artifact of Doom. When it turned out the artifact was protected by lots of golems, ghosts, and deathtraps, she deliberately let Darkspawn kill all the men and attempt to turn all the women into Broodmothers, a process that involves force-feeding them the flesh of poisonous monsters and their own relatives, gang-rape by monsters, and lots of Body Horror, so that she'd have a vast supply of monsters to set off the traps and kill the guardians. She's raving insane as well as utterly evil by the time you find her. You can spare her life and take the artifact for yourself, but the better choice, both morally and gameplay-wise, involves fighting and killing her, then destroying it. Even if you spare her, she refuses to be rescued, and stays in the Deep Roads with her prize.
  • There's also a subtle deconstruction in BlazBlue. While on the initial surface, Litchi Faye-Ling is trying to 'rescue' Arakune from his fate as an Eldritch Abomination (and later be captured by Relius), in truth she's been dying of the same corruption and Kokonoe flat out refused to help her, and without any other sources of help, she's Forced Into Evil by joining NOL. In other words, Litchi has been in distress mentally and had to act on her own because nobody is willing to help her, compounded with the fact that she has been hiding her growing corruption from everyone else except Kokonoe, which makes possible helpers like Bang, Taokaka or Carl completely unaware of her distress.
  • Much of the plot of Asura's Wrath is this; about Asura's hellish struggle to save his daughter Mithra. In the end, no one could stop him from saving her, not even the creator of life itself.
  • Dark Souls has several. Rhea is trapped in the Tomb of the Giants after her companions either all abandoned her or died. Dusk of Oolacile and Sieglinde are trapped in golden crystal golems. Anastacia of Astora is murdered and you have to retrieve her soul to revive her. Then again, most of the dudes you meet need rescuing you as well.


Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • Turned on its head in Eight Bit Theater, by the character of Princess Sara. Sara, through countless kidnapping attempts at the hands of countless villains, has apparently gained enough knowledge and experience to become a competent villain in her own right. She even tries to help Garland, her latest kidnapper, in his battle against the Light Warriors. Sadly, Garland isn't nearly as good at the whole "being a villain" thing as she is. "... but if something's worth doing, then it worth doing right."
  • Gleefully mocked (if not outright subverted) in Adventurers, where (lead character) Karn's mother (a White Mage) scolds neophyte White Mage, Lumi, for (among other things) "not being taught how to be kidnapped properly."
    • And in another strip, where Karashi is kidnapped, and has already freed herself and made it back to camp by the time Drecker finds the note left by the kidnapper and announces that they have to rescue her.
  • Possibly the ultimate aversion in Super Stupor, a supervillain tries to kidnap a superhero's wife, and she brings him to tears, then maims him with a garbage disposal. The hero visits him in hospital, and the villain says he fears for the hero's own safety.
  • El Goonish Shive "Painted Black" arc. Grace becomes one when she's captured while infiltrating Damien's base. She doesn't stay that way for long, and actually ends up being the one to defeat Damien after he gets her really, really mad.

Sarah: You'd think the princess would be able to protect herself. She lays down the law in those fighting games.
Grace: Oh, it's all foreplay to her. She's kind of evil that way.


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • In The Gamers Alliance, Amarawyn and Marya both get in trouble a few times, prompting heroes to save them from kidnappers.
  • This video is probaly the best Deconstruction of this trope in the history of anything ever.
  • Whateley Universe: Jinn Sinclair in "Bottle a Jinn", when she is "absorbed" by Rich Bitch Solange (Jinn is a protagonist, but is non-corporeal, and Solange has the power of being able to absorb spirits and steal their powers). Lampshaded when Team Kimba try to rescue her and end up in a huge brawl that gets them into serious trouble with the school administration. They realize afterward that Jinn isn't helpless, is manipulating Solange against her will, and needed a much smarter plan from her team. Ultimately, Jinn cons Solange into letting her go just seconds before Solange will most need her powers.
  • Tania in Wormtooth Nation starts off as one after being nixed.
  • The normally competent Lord of the Supreme Council of The Questport Chronicles, winds up as her sister's prisoner. She's not happy to be rescued.
  • The frequent abductions of Princesses Peach and Zelda are playfully deconstructed in this CollegeHumor video.

Zelda: Ganondorf has an entire army of loyal minions, and they do whatever I say! Link just has that stupid fairy...

  • In The Nostalgia Chick's Dark Nella Saga, the titular Big Bad tied the Makeover Fairy up the bathtub and tortured her by scraping her make-up off. It should be noted that she looked exactly the same afterwards.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Classic Disney Shorts, Looney Tunes, Popeye, and other vintage theatrical cartoons used this trope to death.
    • Popeye saves Olive from Bluto/Brutus...
      • Subverted at least once in an old cartoon - Bluto enters Olive's room, a scuffle breaks out, Olive is crying for help - when Popeye enters, Olive is still yelling while clubbing an unconscious Bluto with a skillet.
    • Buddy saves Cookie from a Bluto-like character...
    • Mighty Mouse saves Pearl Pureheart from Oil Can Harry...
    • Bimbo and/or Koko saves Betty Boop from various baddies...
    • Bosko saves Honey from more various baddies...
    • The pre-Mighty Mouse Terrytoons mouse lead saves his girlfriend from more various baddies...
    • Toby the Pup saves Tessie from more various baddies...
    • Flip the Frog saves Flap, Kitty, and/or Fifi from even more various baddies...
    • Julius saves Alice from Pegleg Pete...
    • Oswald saves Sadie from Pegleg Pete....
    • And of course, Mickey Mouse saves Minnie from Pegleg Pete (Disney only had one recurring villain... pass it on).
      • Subverted in Pioneer Days and Building a Building, where Mickey tries to rescue Minnie but is captured himself, whereupon Minnie breaks free on her own and rescues Mickey.
      • But played straight as recently as Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers
        • Even his dog Pluto gets in on the trope, saving love interests Dinah and Fifi a few odd times.
    • Subverted along with everything else in Chuck Jones' melodrama parody The Dover Boys as their fiancée Dora Standpipe is abducted by villain Dan Backslide - she doesn't break the pace of her cries for help even as she demolishes Dan.
  • Subverted in the Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends special, "Destination Imagination"; the synopsis of the special was to save Frankie after she was kidnapped by an imaginary friend who controls a trippy world inside a toy box, but near the end it's revealed that she wasn't kidnapped at all, and that she willingly stayed with the imaginary friend to keep him company. But at the climax, when the imaginary friend has a Villainous Breakdown and becomes a monster (thanks to a verbal lashing by Mr. Herriman), the characters fight him to protect Frankie from being trapped in the imaginary world forever. However, the gang are roundly defeated by the monster, and ultimately it's Frankie who becomes the hero of the story: not only does she distract the monster so that the gang can escape the toybox—she briefly stays behind but soon escapes on her own, thus completing the subversion—but she chooses to free the lonely friend as well, having offered to bring him to Foster's where he can have all the friends in the world.
  • Nell Fenwick on Dudley Do-Right is a parodic composite of the woman tied to train tracks in the gothic genre.
  • The Perils of Penelope Pitstop is a parody of this genre, since often Penny is more capable than the guys supposed to rescue her.
  • Ursula in no less than three episodes of the original George of the Jungle.
  • April O'Neil in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, at least in the first animated series. To the point that they can recognize her "mumbles" when she's gagged, without seeing her.

Shredder: And while we're at it, let's kidnap April O'Neil. Sure, we've done that twenty or thirty times already, but why mess with what works?

    • Also lampshaded in the Turtles Forever cross-over movie. The 80's turtles stop to save April in their home dimension and explain that they save April at least once a day.
  • Princess Aruzia for the first part of The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin. She is an Action Girl for the rest of the series.
  • Elita One gets this with her love interest Optimus Prime in Transformers Generation 1. To lure Optimus to his doom, the Decepticons capture Elita. However, when Optimus arrives he gets captured himself and Elita first has to save him before he can manage to save her. It's pretty 50/50 with them.
  • This is lampshaded in The Spectacular Spider-Man, when Spider-Man cheerily points out to an ungrateful Norman Osborn that he is Spidey's very first rescue of this type. It's played straight in regards to Love Interest Liz Allan, an Innocent Bystander who gets used as part of a Hostage for McGuffin scenario.
    • Also with Gwen when she is kidnapped by Venom in the season 1 finale.
  • Gwen Tennyson in the first season of Ben 10, although it was actually preferable to the Positive Discrimination that eventually kicked in.
  • The entire episode of "Beauty Marked" in Danny Phantom was made in order to subvert this as much as possible. While Danny and Tucker are under the mindset that the kidnapped Sam needs rescuing, she managed to figure a way out just fine. It is their meddling that gets her captured again/still.
  • The Distressed Damsel is pretty common in Kim Possible. Pretty much every main character (and some of the villains) have been in this situation. Kim. Ron. The Cheerleaders. Bonnie. Kim's Dad. Kim's Grandmother. The Tweebs. Ron's Dad. Shego. Drakken. Shego's little brothers. It's pretty much a requirement of this show that you get captured at least once.
  • Daphne Blake from Scooby Doo is often getting kidnapped by the villain of the week in most incarnations, and earned the in-series nickname "Danger-Prone Daphne". Later incarnations such as the live action movies have her saving herself or fighting off her attackers.
  • Subverted in the movie Batman & Mr. Freeze - Subzero. Yes, Plucky Girl Barbara a.k.a. Batgirl gets kidnapped, but she's so competent that she kicks the asses of her captors (Mr. Freeze being one of them) multiple times, and would have escaped on her own just fine if it wasn't for the fact that she was in the middle of the friggin' ocean. In fact, she is probably more useful in the movie than even Batman and Robin.
    • Babs also tries to bond with Freeze when she learns that he wants to save his beloved Nora and Babs is the only person who can do it. (Heck, she would've accepted to be Nora's blood donor right on the spot, had he not... yanno, kidnapped her instead of asking.) And she befriended and rescued his Kid Sidekick too.
      • They needed to harvest her organs, meaning they needed to kill her first in order to do so. Don't think Barbara would have agreed to that.
      • Not necessarily. In the end, Nora is saved via Babs's blood transfusion.
  • In The Clone Wars, Padme has been captured three times in the first season alone. She's usually well on her way to escaping on her own by the time the cavalry shows up.
  • In the shows Tom and Jerry Kids and Droopy Master Detective, Miss Vavoom is always getting kidnapped by McWolf or any other villain who lusts after her.
  • The Herculoids. Tarra, in many episodes.
  • Space Ghost. Jan, in most episodes. Tio be fair, Gil was a Dude in Distress.
  • Superfriends. Wonder Woman, oddly enough, in some episodes.
  • Mighty Mightor. Sheera, in most episodes.
  • Jez on an episode of Jimmy Two-Shoes. She quickly develops Stockholm Syndrome, though.
  • Subverted on Re Boot. One game sets up this plot with Bob as the rescuing knight and implies Dot is the distressed damsel. The subversion is that Enzo is the distressed damsel and Dot is another rescuing knight.

Enzo: "I don't want to be a damsel in this dress!"

  1. It's canonically male, as seen when a female Pokémon affects it with Attract, if this troper remembers correctly.
  2. by Romefeller late in the TV show, White Fang near the end, and Mariemaia's in Endless Waltz