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When something bad happens, most people gape in fear and shock. They are the Innocent Bystanders. But sometimes one person decides to help out, and in the doing, becomes a hero. That's the Heroic Bystander.

The Heroic Bystander is not someone who is normally expected to be a hero in time of crisis, such as a police officer or a lifeguard. Instead, it's an ordinary person, with no special training, who happens to save a life through their own inner courage and resolve.

It doesn't have to be a life that is saved. A Heroic Bystander can also defend a person's reputation, or help someone out who needs help, when no-one else is doing so.

This can be used as a device to show the growth of a character, such as having a cowardly individual show remarkable resolve in coming to someone's rescue. It can show how someone is transformed from a passive outsider, to someone who gets involved and tries to help others. Sometimes, it can be used to let a wimp have their day in the sun.

See also I Am Spartacus, which sometimes uses this. If he's the protagonist, then he becomes an Action Survivor. Compare Badass Bystander or Civilian Power.

Contrast Never Be a Hero.


Anime and Manga

  • In Sailor Moon, Nerdy wimpy Umino/Melvin proves himself a hero after he pushes his lifelong crush Naru/Molly out of the way of an enemy attack. Others express surprise that Umino, of all people, had saved a life. Is it any surprise they become a couple later?
  • Mobile Suit Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz pulls this in the climax by having a nameless member of the Mariemaia Army shoot Dekim after realizing that he and his fellow Treize loyalists had been manipulated into fighting a war they wouldn't have supported normally.
  • Similarly, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED's ending features Patrick Zala ordering his men to cause The End of the World as We Know It. After a moment of stunned silence, a lone mook questions the order, and is immediately shot as a traitor. The wounded mook decides that his boss has gone completely off the deep end, and promptly returns fire.
    • Kira also starts out as one, who tails Cagalli because she's going the wrong way, and just happens to arrive in the Strike's hangar at the exact right moment to save Murrue Ramius and gets thrown into the Strike's cockpit by pure chance.
  • Yusuke Urameshi of Yu Yu Hakusho has his Super-Hero Origin in a First-Episode Resurrection after he is killed saving a little kid from being hit by a car. He is told that he is being given a chance at resurrection because he wasn't supposed to die then: the Powers That Be never expected a Delinquents like him to make a Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Gantz pretty much begins with a double occurrence of this trope.
  • In Princess Tutu there's Autor, an annoying, geeky character who seems to care very little about other people. However, when an axe-wielding man tries to cut off Fakir's hands to stop him from finishing the story, Autor pushes him out of the way and uses nothing more than a book and his bare hands to defeat the man. ...He appears to faint right afterwards, but it still shows that there's more to him than may meet the eye at first.
  • Rachel from Baccano! spends the majority of the Flying Pussyfoot hijack/massacre saving lives and rescuing hostages entirely unprompted, even though it was her job as an information gatherer to lay low and stay out of trouble. She got an injured leg and hand for her effort, but her conscience is clean.
  • In the first episode of Code Geass, when a truck crashes, the Britannian civilians merely stand and gawk at the scene, with some casually taking pictures with their cellphones. Lelouch is the only person who bothers actually trying to help.
  • Maybe not directly helping anyone, but in Death Note, when the police surround the news building with their face-concealing helmets, knowing that Kira needs only a face and maybe a name to kill, one reporter on another channel speaks up. "This is right. This is the way a constitutional nation should behave!" He then proceeds to give out his full name on national television.
  • Early in Fullmetal Alchemist, Ed swiftly takes out one of the two hijackers in the train's engine room. When the second hijacker reacts to this, the engineers he no longer has his gun pointed at promptly beat the shit out of him with their shovels.
  • Mahou Sensei Negima has Johnny the airship pilot, who is apparently the Magic World's equivalent of a cross-country trucker. He's earned his stripes by loaning his airship to the heroes and performing some high-intensity stunt-flying for them during the raid on Old Ostia.
  • In the Spin-Off manga of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Puella Magi Oriko Magica, we have Sayaka Miki doing this all the way in the hallways.

Comic Books

  • Various Marvel Comics heroes have gone through this at different times:
    • The Mighty Thor's hammer can supposedly only be lifted by those who possess a hero's nature and a pure heart. So far this effectively means Thor, Captain America, Wonder Woman, Superman, a couple supporting cast characters from the Thor comic like Beta Ray Bill, and a random paramedic who handed it to Thor after he found it in the aftermath of an Avengers fight. By the time Thor realized the significance of this, the guy had wandered off.
    • When Reverend Stryker tried to kill Kitty Pryde on national television, one of his security guards shot and detained him. Who would let a teenage girl be killed in front of them and do nothing?
    • Upon being attacked by three supervillains at once, Moon Knight manages to defeat two of them but is tied up by Coachwhip's electrical coils. Coachwhip is about to fry Moon Knight when a bystander sprays her with a hose, shorting out her equipment and knocking her out from the feedback.
    • Obscure 1970s hero Omega the Unknown was battling Electro in a TV studio, with Electro getting the upper hand until one of the children in the audience hit Electro in the leg, distracting him long enough for Omega to rally and knock him out.
    • When Aunt May's boyfriend Nathan is attacked by a gang of thugs, Spider-Man intervenes to stop them. It looks like a typical one-sided fight until one of the goons puts a knife to Nathan's throat. There's not much Spidey can do until an elderly bystander sneaks up on the goon from behind and stuns him with her Cane Fu, dizzying him and allowing Spider-Man to reel him in with a webline to punch him out.
    • When battling the crazed Bookworm, a villain who could bring anything he read about to life, Sleepwalker became caught in a stalemate, with the Bookworm able to create new monsters as fast as Sleepwalker could blast them. One of the Bookworm's friends, realizing that he'd gone insane, gave him a book with blank pages, which distracted him long enough for Sleepwalker to finish off the last of his creations and capture him.
    • A technologically minded crazed civillain decides to disrupt the Avenger's appearance on the David Letterman show. The villain ends up in a force-field with Letterman while the heroes battle the robots threatening others. Letterman takes a prop and wallops the guy on the skull, saving the day.
    • Mary Jane Watson, Spider-Man's former wife, invoked this trope on multiple occasions:
      • Spider-Man was being overwhelmed by a demonic Hobgoblin in the sewers of New York, until Mary Jane lights his cape on fire. While Hobgoblin is distracted, Spider-Man throws the flaming villain a large pile of demon-possessed sewage, causing an explosion that defeats both monsters.
      • When Mary Jane was kidnapped by a Stalker with a Crush named Jonathan Caesar, Spider-Man tried to rescue her. Caesar responded by sending a pair of mercenaries named Styx and Stone after our hero, who nearly killed him until Mary Jane escaped from Caesar and his goons on her own and used the gun she stole to scare away the mercenaries.
      • A fashion show Mary Jane attended was crashed by the White Rabbit, who was there to collect a debt she was owed by one of the partygoers. With no one else willing or able to do it, Mary Jane subdued the White Rabbit herself.
      • When a mutating powers virus grants normal people the same powers and abilities as Spider-Man, Mary Jane watches the spider-powered citizens having the time of their lives from the sidelines. When the virus mutates those infected into giant spiders, Mary Jane finally becomes infected with powers and comes to the aid of defenseless citizens. She later joins in the final battle with the villain responsible for the madness, saving Spider-Man and motivating him to use his head and then defending him once he formulates a plan to save everybody.
    • When The Mighty Thor was attacked by what he thought was Skurge The Executioner, an old enemy turned friend who had been killed in a Heroic Sacrifice, he was initially unwilling to fight back against a brother in arms. Little Kevin Masterson intervened and tried to help Thor only to be swatted away by "Skurge," who was in fact a Costume Copycat simply using Skurge's equipment. Knowing that the real Skurge would never strike a defenseless little kid, Thor realized he was facing an impostor and proceeded to deliver the villain a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown.
    • Daredevil fought Pyro and the Blob to keep them from abducting a young mutant girl and forcing her to register with the U.S. government. After taking out Pyro, Daredevil attacked the Blob but was quickly knocked down. The Blob was about to stomp Daredevil when the girl he was trying to protect used her telekinetic powers to pull him out of the way. Daredevil then got the girl to use her powers to pull a large bell down from a nearby church, knocking the Blob out after Daredevil blinded him and then lured him under the steeple.
      • Not to mention that Daredevil is only, well, Daredevil because he was a Heroic Bystander to a blind man about to be hit by a truck hauling radioactive material.
  • DC Comics, the Syndicate Rules Justice League graphic novels. Super-powered villains are trashing a local scientific facility. Many citizens, wrongly believing they are helping the real Flash and Green Lantern, attack the bad guys and give the doppelgangers a chance to defeat the villains.
  • The Captain America novel 'Liberty's Torch'. A crazed militia puts the Captain on trial and kidnaps a lawyer, a Mark Gruenwald homage, to give him an ultimately pointless defense. The lawyer even assists (a bit) in the climactic battle, preventing the Big Bad from escaping (and causing that Smug Snake to very satisfingly break his jaw).
  • Astro City once highlighted the story of Pete Donacek, a former hockey player and a doorman at an Astro City hotel. He once saved a little girl's life during a giant robot attack. He sees her every day, doesn't even know her name, but knowing that he did that kind of thing for someone, that he went to Astro City and lived the dream of being a real hero... As he puts it, "My name is Pete Donacek. I live in Astro City. I wear a uniform too."
  • Jimmy Olsen (in a story a few years before this typing) rushed to Superman's aid when the hero was overcome by kryptonite fire on his suit. A few burns were nothing when it came to saving his pal.

Fan Fiction

  • In the Axis Powers Hetalia fanfiction Human Curiosity, when Lichtenstein finds herself captured by the HCS a second time, the Swiss Guard rallies the people of Vaduz (the capital of Lichtenstein) to storm the building she was being held captive in and rescue her. This incident convinces the leader of the HCS to not try to recapture any other nations, since their people will probably try to rescue them as well.


  • In Lawn Dogs, Devon, a 10 year old kid, witnesses her father, a former police officer, and an adult bully beat on her adult friend Trent after they mistakenly believed him to have abused her. She intervenes by taking her father's gun and shooting the bully, and from there, stops the situation from getting worse and helps Trent escape.
  • Aunt May in Spider-Man 2 showed her mettle when Dr. Octopus tried to make her a Distressed Damsel. Though he did take her hostage, she saved Spider-Man by hitting Otto with her umbrella before he could impale Spidey in a sneak attack.
  • As well as Stan Lee playing himself in many Marvel movies, usually yanking some other extra out of harm's way.
    • Although he seems to have just as much fun being rescued from such situations (see the Daredevil movie), as well as being turned away from the wedding in Fantastic Four 2.
    • And getting mistaken for Hugh Hefner in Iron Man.
  • In the Die Hard movies, McClane has been a police officer, but he's never sent into the situations he gets into. He's just in the wrong place at the wrong time... again. By Live Free or Die Hard, he's well aware of his lousy luck.
    • Although he's not a bystander in Die Hard 3 - he's a target. It's Samuel L. Jackson's Zeus who's the Heroic Bystander.
    • Number 4 has the meek computer hacker Matt Farrell, who stands up and shoots a mook, twice!
  • This is the entire premise of Dustin Hoffman's Hero.
  • In Tim Burton's Batman, when the Joker gases the crowd at his parade, the only one who tries to help is Alexander Knox, an annoying reporter who'd spent most of the film as Plucky Comic Relief. He doesn't get very far because Vicki Vale accidentally runs him over a few minutes later, but it's the thought that counts.
  • Superman II. During Superman's fight with the three Kryptonian supervillains, they smash him with a bus. The citizens of Metropolis join together and charge the villains, only to be blown away by the bad guys' super breath. However, their intervention gives Superman enough time to pull himself together and come up with a cunning plan to lure the villains away from the city.
  • The Dark Knight Saga: The Joker arranges for two ships full of refugees (one with regular citizens and the other the contents of the local prison) to be wired with explosives, then informs the refugees that they have the detonators for the other ship and if one ship blows up before midnight, he won't blow up the other one. The Joker was out to prove that People Ain't No Damn Good, but one man on each ship decides to not blow up the other one, even if it meant their own deaths. Special awesome points to the convict who tossed it while the other side was dithering.
    • What makes this even better is that the convict who throws the detonator out the window gives the cops a condescending look and tells them that that's what they "should have done fifteen minutes ago".
  • In Vantage Point, Forest Whitaker's character, Howard Lewis, is an classic Heroic Bystander, up to and including pushing a kid out of the way of an tumbling car.
  • Pvt. Henry Hook in Zulu does this, going from malingerer to badass.
  • Ted Striker does this in Airplane!, and again in the sequel.
  • Chris Evans's character in Cellular is just a random guy on the street, but when he gets a call from a kidnapped woman he's never met he goes to extraordinary lengths to save her.
  • The old German gentleman in The Avengers. He's just a face in the crowd... but he stands up to a homicidal god, because the alternative is to live in a world where everybody knelt.

 Loki: "There are no men like me.

Old Man: "There are always men like you."

  • In The High and the Mighty there's Gustave Pardee, filmmaker, who's terrified of flying and, as his wife recalls, has been known to start crying because the laundry put too much starch in his shirts. Then the plane they're on suffers an engine fire ... and Mr. Pardee, almost singlehandedly, prevents panic among his fellow passengers, reassuring them with calm conversation and little jokes.


  • In Dan Abnett's Brothers of the Snake, Antoni is an ordinary human, living on a fairly primitive world, who leads a Space Marine to where the Dark Eldar have landed. When one attacks her, she manages to kill it. (The rest appear, and the Space Marine arrives to deal with them.)
  • In King Lear, one of Cornwall's servants sees him blinding Gloucester and tries to intercede. Regan kills him, but not before he fatally stabs Cornwall.
  • Subverted in Rainbow Six; during a hostage situation one of the hostages distracts one of the terrorists, seemingly giving the Rainbow sniper an opening to headshot the terrorist. Later on, the sniper admits in actuality the hostage's action didn't make a difference one way or another, since as a professionally-trained sniper he already had a good shot at that point, but goes to congratulate the hostage anyway because what he did still took major balls.
  • Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings, who's just a guest at his uncle's birthday party. He just so happens to be given the One Artifact of Doom. It takes the first 2 out of 3 volumes of the original edition to turn him from Innocent Bystander to a heroic one.

Live Action TV

  • Subverted to hell and back in the finale of Seinfeld.
  • Niki from Heroes, who aids the rest of the superpowered main characters in New York during the first season finale largely out of choice, and not because of any knowledge of who the villain, Sylar, is. She beats Sylar with a traffic meter, even though she had never met any of the heroes (except Nathan and Parkman) prior to the final fight. Or Sylar, for that matter. She meets bystander criteria by being little more than just a single mom, albeit with super strength.
  • A whole city of heroic bystanders appeared in the finale to Power Rangers in Space. The Big Bad has invaded the city, and threatens to destroy it if the Power Rangers don't show themselves. Bulk and Skull, two comic relief characters that had varying roles throughout the series, step forward and identify themselves as Rangers, and the rest of the civilians follow their lead. This naturally pisses the villain off, but before she can order the city destroyed, the real Rangers announce their presence and morph, and begin to fight her horde of minions. Angel Grove's populace, led by Bulk and Skull, join the fray and help the Rangers successfully fight them off.
  • One of the unique "hooks" in the very premise of the 60s spy series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was that in just about every episode the U.N.C.L.E. agents would be involved with an "innocent civilian" who would become a prime actor in the episode's plot. While sometimes these innocents would be persons persuaded by U.N.C.L.E. to assist them in their operations, in many episodes the innocent was just someone who happened to be around while Solo (usually) or Kuryakin was implementing the plot of the week, and thus got involved in U.N.C.L.E.'s operations as a Heroic Bystander.
  • John's girlfriend, Sarah, fulfills this role in the second episode of Sherlock. She is on a date with John at the circus when Sherlock gets attacked by one of the company while poking about backstage in search of clues. When the fight escalates and bursts out onstage, Sarah grabs a random stick of some sort and beats the crap of out Sherlock's assailant, effectively taking the guy out of the fight and really helping Sherlock out, since he'd gotten knocked over and was lying on the floor at the time.
  • In the Lost episode "Greatest Hits," Charlie is recalling the best moments of his life as he sets out on a suicide mission. #2 is saving a woman from an attacker, and her subsequently declaring him a hero, because three other people had passed by without intervening, and especially because Charlie was terrified and not used to fighting.
  • Near the end of the Criminal Minds episode "Derailed" the unstable villain is incapacitated mid-Freak-Out by one of his hostages, who had a concealed gun the entire time. Could be seen as a subversion, considering the guy was apparently on his way to kill his ex-wife when the train was hijacked.
  • In an episode of CSI, a Character of the Day sacrificed himself to stop a bomb from blowing up a building, grabbing it and running as far as he could before it exploded.
  • Some of the companions from Doctor Who can fit this trope when they first meet the Doctor. People like Martha just happened to get caught up in events, but rose to the challenge.
    • John Smith, the amnesiac human-doctor. While the Doctor is a brave and intelligent time-lord, Smith is really just an average school-teacher, who wants nothing more than to live a happy, human life: but he still makes a heroic sacrifice, 'killing' himself.
    • This is actually a very common trope in the Doctor Who universe - so common that Davros even argued in-universe that everything the Doctor accomplishes is really just accomplished with the help of Heroic Bystanders.
  • Marcy stopped a bank robbery on Married With Children.

Video Games

  • In a heroic combination of this, the Upgrade Artifact and taking a level in Badass, Vent/Aile in Mega Man ZX start out exactly like this. Vent later comments that had he not saved Prairie in such a manner, he'd somehow regret it (despite the fact she's Giro's commander...)
  • If Cole chooses the heroic path in In Famous, the bystanders will gradually cheer him on until they start taking an active role in your defense of Empire City, hurling rocks at random mooks trying to take him down and providing a useful distraction. This is especially useful on the Dustmen who carry insulated riot shields, forcing them to turn sideways to block the pelting and offering you a critical opening to quickly take them down.

Web Comics

  • This is what T. Campbell meant to portray in the actions of Rikk in the first storyline of Fans
  • Girl Genius has Airman Higgs.
    • Technically, Airman Higgs was just doing his job, though no-one ever really expected him to be so good at it. If you want a real example of this from Girl Genius, Lars is probably the closest seen so far.
      • The in-setting description of his actions reads vaguely like a Medal of Honor citation, though with less enemy fire and more "wow this guy just would not quit trying to save his boss's life."
  • Josh and Imp [1]

Web Original

  • In the introductory story "Ayla and the Late Trevor James Goodkind" in the Whateley Universe, we see Ayla go from being the victim of circumstances to the Heroic Bystander when she and her sister run into Sparkler, a psycho superpowered fireball (literally). She saves her sister's life and does the Heroic Sacrifice, only she doesn't die. She doesn't know how to use her powers effectively yet, but still manages to win, and to save a couple cars full of police. This proves to be a major turning point in her life.
    • Unfortunately for Ayla, and the rest of Team Kimba, this happens to them ALL THE TIME!...Generally whenever they go to Boston. It also happens to Chou on her vactaion. Twice. In two different places! Probably another trope, since they are trained, but...Ayla gets it worse, when she fights Cthuloid monstrosity.

Western Animation

  • In The Spectacular Spider Man, Eddie Brock jumps forward to defend his friends and superiors when they're held hostage by the Super Villain Electro. His intervention allows young interns (including Peter Parker) to escape. He later helps by tailing the Lizard, saving Spider-Man from drowning, and baiting the Lizard into a trap set by Spider-Man. John Jameson runs into a room with a timebomb to inform Spidey of its location. Flash Thompson is a subversion, only putting himself in further peril when he tries to help Spidey fight Doctor Octopus, although he later helps Spider-Man by distracting Venom.
    • In the aforementioned Lizard episode, Spidey is briefly knocked unconscious in the train and Lizard is about to take a bite out of his head, when an elderly lady hits the monster with her purse, giving Spidey enough time to recover.
    • Flash also lent a hand the first time Spidey fought Venom, rallying the rest of the Midtown High football team to rescue Gwen Stacy while Spidey dealt with Venom.
  • One episode of The Powerpuff Girls had the title characters kidnapped by an obsessive Fan Boy who added them to his collection of Powerpuff Girl merchandise. The girls are powerless to stop him, and eventually the citizens of Townsville pay the Girls back for continually saving them by going to the fanboy's house, destroying his merchandise, and rescuing the girls before the police arrest him. The end of the episode even credits the "people of Townsville" for saving the day, rather than the Girls themselves.
  • Common in the DCAU, especially Justice League. Every time an incident is affecting large groups of people, the episode will always show at least one nameless bystander being heroic, often inspiring the superheroes to remember what they're fighting for.
  • Even Batman the Animated Series could benefit from this trope. While fighting to rescue a girl that the Mad Hatter had kidnapped, Batman manages to remove the mind control device on one of the Hatter's People Puppets. The man Batman saves is the girl's fiance, and he returns the favor by disabling the rest of the Hatter's pawns. They're programmed to only attack Batman, so they ignore him as he removes their own mind control devices.

Real Life

  • Truth in Television. In the real world this happens almost any time there is a serious disaster, be it natural (Hurricanes, earthquakes) or manmade (the attacks of September 11th). It seems many normal, average people can find the hero inside when they really need to. In fact, the United States government actually encourages people to be Heroic Bystanders with the Good Samaritan laws.
    • In fact, studies have shown that a surge of adrenaline at the right time can heighten people's abilities far past their normal limits.
    • It's also a rather common occurrence during police chases. There are many instances of civilians helping policemen subdue suspects, while truckers usually collaborate via CB radio to help block rogue motorists.
  • John Smeaton. Kicked a terrorist in the groin. Told the others that "This is Glasgow. We'll set about ye." The man embodies so many tropes.
    • It bears mentioning that the terrorist was literally on fire at the time of groin kicking.
    • And that he kicked him so hard he tore a tendon in his foot.
  • Tank Man. Just... Tank Man. What can you say about a guy who stops a column of armed vehicles with a only his own body?
    • Not to mention that afterwards he climbed on top of the lead tank, had a conversation with the operator, and then resumed his position in front of the column.
    • Also the fact that he appeared to have nothing to do with the protests and was just doing some shopping. (The protests were over by that point; in the famous shot the tanks are actually on their way home, which is why the place is deserted.)
      • And the best part: HE LIVED. Sadly, his fate is unknown.
  • In the Summer 2004 Olympics, a crazy Irish priest invaded the marathon, grabbed the current leader (Brazilian runner Vanderlei de Lima) and pushed him into the crowd. There, a huge Greek man subdued the priest and helped Vanderlei go back into the race (he finished 3rd). The Brazilian Olympic Comitee ended up financing a visit of the Greek to Brazil.
  • Paxton Galvanek witnessed a car crash, and successfully treated the survivors according to military protocol until a real army medic arrived on the scene. The greatest part? He learned how to treat people by playing a game.
  • Anderson Cooper, reporter for CNN, saved a kid when covering the Haiti Earthquake.
  • Ballpark attendee Mitch Davie prevented injuries to a fellow fan by catching a stray flying baseball bat with one hand, his beer unspilled in the other. From the photo, it looks like he closed his eyes as well.
  • Hideaki Akaiwa, resident of the port city of Ishinomaki, hit by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. When his city suddendly turned into a lake, his wife was missing. So he got a SCUBA suit and dove into the water to search for her. In the currents. By night. Among debris and submerged power lines. He found her trapped in their home, water to her neck, and rescued her in extremis. The next day, he noticed his aging mother was still missing. So he searched again the waters for her, too. He also found and rescued her in her home with water to the neck. While most people would call it a day, Akaiwa-sama spent the next several days wading through the mud, searching for more survivors.
  • The actress who plays Divya on Royal Pains was out shopping when someone nearby went into shock. She took immediate action to save his life, and had to convince the EMT's that she wasn't a doctor, she just played a Physician's assistant on TV.
  • In Logan, Utah 21-year-old Brandon Wright crashed his motorcycle into a car and ended up wedged underneath it. The motorcycle's fuel tank started leaking fuel and it caught on fire. A group of bystanders lifted the car off him and dragged him to safety.
  • Pretty much anyone in Emergency Services when off duty. Even the fact that some states don't cover licensed EMTs and Paramedics under Good Samaritan laws doesn't stop them.
  • There's been about a dozen stories over the past year or so about pro and semi-pro MMA stars using their combat knowledge to stop robberies, muggings, etc. In the right circumstances, a rear-naked choke is far superior to the intimidation of a handgun.