Engineered Heroics

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
I'm a professional beach bully. I pretend to steal your girl, you punch me, I go down, she swoons, you slip me 50 bucks.
—Beach Bully, Futurama

So, there's someone that you need to impress. Maybe it's a pretty girl that you'd like to date, or maybe it's someone that you need on your side. What's the best way to get their attention? Why, a bit of Engineered Heroics, of course. Basically, this trope is for when a character sets up a situation that seems like a spontaneous feat of derring-do, but is actually a deliberately concocted circumstance. Usually involves the use of a friend as an aggressor, though this runs the risk of an actual aggressor showing up.

One of The Oldest Tricks in The Book. The inverse of a Wounded Gazelle Gambit. Compare Make It Look Like a Struggle. See also Relationship-Salvaging Disaster. Supertrope of Monster Protection Racket.

Examples of Engineered Heroics include:

Anime and Manga

  • Subverted in Cross Game, where a guy attempts this on Akane. Akane's response? Pull out a cell phone and call the police. Which rapidly leads to the exposure of the plan.
  • In Rappi Rangai, to get the main character accepted in a princess's kingdom, his party of Kunoichi had him pretend to beat them to become a bodyguard for the princess.
  • One chapter of the Yu-Gi-Oh! manga featured a boy who loved superhero comics but wasn't strong himself. His father wanted to make him more self-confident so he hired some kids to pretend to attack someone while the boy was in a superhero costume. It worked, but then the hired kids turned it around and started really hurting the boy in order to get more money out of the father.
  • In one episode of Sgt Frog, Paul runs Momoka through a VR simulation of various plans to get Fuyuki to declare his love for her. One such plan involves him saving her from some thugs, thus sending adrenaline to his brain and heightening his emotions. Paul forgets to take into account that Fuyuki is a Grade-A wimp, and the simulation ends with Fuyuki running away and calling for a police officer. Momoka points out that this is probably the wiser course of action.
    • Paul then hypothesizes that Fuyuki would leap into action if it were an alien attack, and changes the simulation accordingly. However, after initially spazzing out over the alien, Fuyuki again runs away.

Comic Books

  • In The Tick, there is a professional service that sets up engineered fights so fledgling superheroes can build up their reputation. The Tick stumbles into one of these fights and tries to help, never realizing that the villain is just an actor.
  • Booster Gold has spent his entire career trying to redeem himself because of this trope. Traveling back through time with advanced weaponry, he set up a disaster to allow people to see his heroics. In an inversion, in his current time-traveling series, his real heroics are erased from history, and people rarely see him doing good.

Film - Animated

  • A variation occurs in Tangled: In her pursuit of Rapunzel, Mother Gothel strikes up an alliance with the Stabbington Brothers. She tricks them into thinking they'll get Rapunzel, whom they plan to sell to the highest bidder, and when they advance on the girl, she knocks them both unconscious, making it look like an impromptu rescue.
  • In The Incredibles, Syndrome's ultimate goal (aside from killing Mr. Incredible) is to be hailed as a hero, so he sets his own robot to wreak havoc on Metroville. He tries to destroy rather straightforwardly, if not in the usual manner, by simply pressing buttons to disable it and faking that he's beating it up. The AI, being created to learn from defeat, quickly figures this out.
    • The sequels uses the same Trope in a very different way. At first, DEVTECH claims to want to build confidence and trust back for Supers by having ElastiGirl fight crime openly in Metroville. However, it's all a trick meant to accomplish the opposite goal. The Big Bad intends to cause a catastrophe that the Parrs will be blamed for, hoping to quash any and all attempts to legalize super-heroic activity again. Naturally, neither Helen nor her family like being used as Unwitting Pawns, and when DEVTECH is brought down and exposed in a very public battle, the Supers Relocation Program is reinstated, making Supers legal once again.
  • Oscar and Lenny from Shark Tale stage a public brawl, in order to give Lenny (a vegetarian shark) an opportunity to drop off the radar and start a new life, and to allow Oscar to keep up his charade/image of being a 'shark slayer' while scaring off any fear of retribution from The Mafia.

Film - Live Action

  • Johnny in My Boyfriend's Back tries this by having his friend gear up to pretend to rob the convenience store where his crush works, but is unaware that an actual robber shows up until it's too late.
  • Marty and his dad George planned this to get George and Lorraine together in Back to The Future. Unfortunately (or maybe, fortunately, depending on one's interpretation) Biff comes gunning for Marty and then assaults Lorraine for real, resulting in George finally growing a spine and becoming a real hero.
  • Attempted by Ignacio in Nacho Libre, but he ends up picking a fight with a random passer-by instead, who kicks his butt.
  • Subverted in Mr. Deeds, where the girl stages the fake attack with one of her friends. The guy beats said friend up.
  • Happens a couple of different ways in 50 First Dates. Among the ploys Adam Sandler's character uses to get Lucy (Drew Barrimore) to notice him are a penguin he places in the road (which she nearly kills), and his friend staging an attack on him (she beats him within an inch of his life with a baseball bat she keeps in the car). Basically, he's engineering chances for her to be heroic.
  • Occurs at the start of Hitch, Will Smith entices a dog away from its owner so that his client can appear to have jumped in front of a car to save it, so that the client can get a date with the owner.
  • Maverick (1994, Richard Donner) beats several baddies in a fist fight to scare Angel, only to later pay them money for throwing the fight.


  • Encyclopedia Brown - Encyclopedia catches a guy in the act when he notices that his glasses emerge unscathed despite putting them in a place that supposedly took a lot of punches.
  • Happens in Wodehouse's Love Among The Chickens, but backfires upon the 'hero' when the guy he paid to upset the boat spills the beans.
  • Played with in "The Case of the Discontented Soldier" by Agatha Christie, in which the situation is engineered by a third party playing matchmaker, and both the hero and heroine are left with the honest belief that he genuinely saved her life.

Live Action TV

  • In an episode of Flight of the Conchords, Bret is trying to woo a lady who works at a pet store, and convinces Jermaine to pretend to mug them so he can impress her. Jermaine has his friend John, an actual mugger, help out, but he doesn't get the concept and actually steals her purse.
  • Monk: Played straight and subverted in episode Mr. Monk and the Billionaire Mugger.
  • Played Straight, but then Averted in an episode of Drake and Josh. Drake accidentally let it slip that a girl he was dating was part of a competition between he and his brother...only he actually liked her. One of his several attempts to show her that he's "honest" involves two nerd "friends" that he constantly takes advantage of to make it seem like he found one of their wallets and returned it to them. The girl clearly sees through this and walks off...and then one of the nerds come back and asks Drake if he stole his mom's credit card from the wallet. He did.
  • Dennis on 30 Rock became the Subway Hero after pushing a woman in front of a subway car then saving her.
    • Parodied a second time when Tracy has Kenneth kill a "Hero Cat" who saved his owner's life by dialing 911. When Tracy forgets the whole thing, Jenna ends up "rescuing" the cat (who then dials 911 to save Kenneth).
  • In Men Behaving Badly Gary hides behind a paper when his girlfriend is been threaten while driving and spends the whole episode worried about his reputation. So he rings up a agency to send over a big bloke in a leather jacket to his local pub for him to beat up. He finds a big bloke in a leather jacket who he quickly beats up. Then a much smaller, skinnier guy in a leather jacket appears wanting to fight Gary. He runs away shortly after.
  • Scrubs deconstructs a version of this, where J.D. pays a hobo to fake a heart attack in front of his new girlfriend so he can rescue him. The hobo then proceeds to demand more money when J.D. tries it again and again.
  • Sheldon tries to set this up in The Big Bang Theory. He pretends to be unable to open a jar in order to make Leonard seem like an alpha male. It then fails because Leonard can't open it, despite Sheldon having loosened the lid.
  • On Stargate Atlantis, Lucius Lavin goes into the Engineered Heroics business after his Mind Control empire falls through. Then he tries to haggle on the payment after the hired villains did their part... When the protagonists show up, the hired villains, as their sworn enemies, perform some actual villainy.


  • Fallout: New Vegas includes a quest where you hire a bodyguard to escort you through a slum, in order to investigate said bodyguard's reputation as a Badass. At one point, he runs ahead of you to take out a gang of thugs around a corner. If you pass an intelligence check, you get to point out that he fired three shots, but there are four corpses. You can then blackmail him for his deception.
  • Central to the plot of Ratchet and Clank Going Commando. Qwark, disgraced due to his actions in the first game, puts in motion a plan to provide cute pets to the galaxy that are really vicious monsters, with him saving the day after the pets go on the rampage (Qwark is in disguise as the head of the company that makes them). Since Qwark is an idiot, the device that's supposed to cure the monsters makes them grow really big instead, and the titular characters have to fight this supersized monster as the final boss of the game.

Web Comics

  • The entire Dragonslayer deal in Dragon Mango.
  • Nodwick had a high priest who commissioned a pair of talismans enchanted for one-shot summon — one to call a bunch of demons, and another for angels to fight these off, and made up a suitable prophecy. So that one of his descendants could cheat for some reputation, if need be. Except the descendant who used it was kind of moronic and clumsy, and accidentally broke the second tablet. After using the first one, of course.
  • Dilbert was given advice on how to fix his reputation. Dogbert also sells yelling soundtracks and noise cancellation headphones.

Western Animation

  • The Futurama episode "When Aliens Attack" has a professional beach bully who does this by hitting on a guy's girl, then pretending to go down when they fight, for fifty bucks.
    • He's also gay, which explains why he himself is not hitting on the women.
  • On SpongeBob SquarePants, Sandy has Patrick dress as a gorilla and pretend to attack her in a ploy to get SpongeBob out of his house. SpongeBob sees through the ruse, but then a real gorilla appears (in a clever subversion of Mistaken for An Imposter, the gorilla comes dressed as Patrick, while the real Patrick has on the gorilla costume) and SpongeBob has to come save them.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Homer Goes To College", Homer plans to get his nerd friends unexpelled by having them save the Dean from being hit by Homer's car... unfortunately the nerds distract themselves considering the impact of wind resistance on their calculation and miss their cue, leaving the Dean to get run down.
  • In the American Dad pilot, Stan stages a purse-snatching at the mall so that his son can save the day and be more attractive to the ladies. He unfortunately goes overboard, completely forgetting to let Steve catch him.
  • In the My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic episode "The Best Night Ever", Rainbow Dash does this to get the attention of the Wonderbolts at a crowded party, bucking a guest and then rushing in to "rescue" him. It doesn't work.
  • In The Powerpuff Girls a superhero named Major Man setup some minor crimes so that Townsville would make him their new superhero, but the Girls see his ruse, and set up their own engineering, with a monster that Major Man can't handle.
  • In the Star Trek Lower Decks episode “Envoy”, Mariner and Boimler are stuck in a Wretched Hive due to the Klingon officer they were escorting getting drunk and stealing their transport ship. Mariner has to save Boimer from several of the horrid fates Red Shirts often fall victim to, like an alien temptress who wants to use him as a host for her eggs, making an excuse for him after his attempt to apologize to a mean-looking Taxor results in him accidentally saying something insulting, basic Star Trek stuff. Eventually, after Bolmier is really feeling depressed over all the dumb things he’s done that almost got him killed, the pair meet a Ferangi who offers them transport. Now, both Bolmier (and most viewers) assume this Ferangi is a crook who intends to rob them, given his shifty way of speaking, like the ones in Next Generation did, but oddly, Mariner seems to trust him, thinking he's a Bollan; for those unfamiliar with Bollans, they look nothing like Ferangi. Bolmier does not, warning Mariner to stay away from him, and his suspicions are confirmed when the Ferangi pulls a weapon on them. He fights him off and they finally manage to reclaim their vessel and make it back to the Cerretos. In the final scene, Bolmier is in the mess hall where everyone is cajoling Mariner for making such a dumb mistake, but then Mariner excuses herself to answer a call on her PADD. It’s the same Ferangi, now wearing better-quality clothes and talking like the more “civilized” Ferangi on Deep Space Nine. The two are obviously friends, and they set the mugger act up to help restore Bolmier’s confidence.
  • In one episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles , the Shredder approached the retired super-hero Gadget-Man, who was trying to make a comeback, and claimed to be a "Super-Hero Agent", promising to do something like this to help put him in the spotlight. (Naturally, it would also be a strike against the Turtles.) Unfortunately for the Shredder, he underestimated how clever Gadget-Man was; he caught on and helped the younger heroes bring the villain down.