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File:Dinosaursvsaliens 9393.jpg

What really killed the dinosaurs.

The old boy-scout maxim of "be prepared" and the G.I. Joe motto of "knowing is half the battle" could never have prepared the heroes for this Villain. The Outside Context Villain is, quite simply, a curve ball that no one saw coming.

He, she or "it" may be a mysterious foreigner from the next town over or a continent away, with skills, technology or mystic powers no one heard of, much less imagined. Or they may be a Time Traveler from the future... or the past, an invader from a parallel universe, outer space, or even stranger places. When they arrive, the heroes won't have any defenses in place capable of stopping them, no idea how to defend against their onslaught, and no clue what their end goal might be.

Finding out the answers to the above questions will be the heroes' top priority. With luck they'll find scattered legends foretelling their arrival and possibly how they were beaten last time. If not, The Professor might theorize all new means to defeat them. One popular method is to summon a hero from the same place or era to battle them, because this villain is so bad that even a random Joe from the villain's home will at least have an idea how to stop them. Of course, said villain will likely assimilate better to the environment than such Fish Out of Water heroes. If the Outsider is an interloper in an existing conflict, he may become a Conflict Killer that forces an Enemy Mine situation if he turns out to be Eviler Than Thou.

Named for the Outside Context Problem from the Iain M Banks book Excession.

Compare Giant Space Flea From Nowhere, but played dramatically. Compare also Diabolus Ex Nihilo, where such a villain is used to shake things up and then discarded. Contrast Generic Doomsday Villain and Normal Fish in a Tiny Pond.

Examples of Outside Context Villain include:

Anime and Manga

  • The Apostles from Berserk are far more powerful than normal humans, and even then, there are several Apostles above even them. The Five Godhands and the Kushan Emperor are terrifyingly powerful. The scariest part about them is that, even in a Crapsack World like the Berserk universe, they will make things much worse if they come to power.
  • The Arume from Blue Drop, all-female alien race (actually hyper-evolved humans hitting an evolution dead end) from parallel universe. Of the Mars Needs Women variety, except that they're Venus. And they won.
  • The Neuroi from Strike Witches. They came en masse, massacred humanity without a word of communication, covered the land with miasma that ate at the crust of Earth until it shattered, and pushed humanity to the point where sending teenage girls into combat with them was the only viable option remaining.
  • While he is (arguably) a regular guy, Johann Liebert in Monster is so far above everyone else in cunning and knowledge that he doesn't fit in with the rest of the decidedly normal cast. Everyone is potentially a plaything for him to manipulate with total ease and kill off when he's done with them. Just being next to him causes major psychological damage if it he doesn't cause them to kill themselves first.
  • The alien spaceship that appears in the last twenty seconds of the second season finale of Zombie Land Saga appear to be an example of this. The show has already established zombies, immortal bartenders, and an ancient curse as part of the setting (the ancient curse is the reason the protagonists are needed to save the Saga Prefecture from its decline), but not one word had been said about the possibility of an attack by hostile extraterrestrials until that point.

Comic Books

  • The storylines in Ramba normally dealt with mobsters, drug dealers, mercenaries, etc. In "Vendetta From Hell", Ramba fights a black magic coven that summons a demon in an attempt to kill her. This was the only appearance of the supernatural in the series.
  • It's arguably a Seinfeld Is Unfunny trope now that fighting (and beating the hell out of) cosmic beings is passe in superhero comics, but in its original context the "Galactus Trilogy" from Fantastic Four fits this. The appearance of an all-powerful "villain" that was beyond good and evil, and who immediately put the protagonists in a literally helpless situation, was pretty much unprecedented in superhero stories at the time.

 The Human Torch: We're like ants...just ants...ants!!

  • In Watchmen, a giant squid monster attacks New York, and the world governments unite to fight this terrible threat. The all-too-human Big Bad created the alien-looking monster as a Batman Gambit to prevent human extinction through nuclear war.
    • Dr. Manhattan serves as a non-villainous equivalent. He's basically the only Super in the world, and sports godlike powers. World politics are changed forever when he shows up. This leads to moments like him ending the Vietnam War in about a week, and the escalation of the Cold War because the Russians are scared shitless. A noted scientist makes the comment that absolute terror is, in fact, the sane response to the existence of such a being.
  • In the "burnt offering" arc of Cable and Deadpool, Cable is kicking the collective asses of Deadpool and the X-Men. The authorities call in... the Silver Surfer, whom even Cable didn't expect, resulting in an epic beatdown and eventual semi-depowering (even though Cable breaks the Surfer's board). This is notable since the Fantastic Four and X-Men characters rarely interact, so the Silver Surfer appearing really was a surprise.
  • The Anti-Monitor in Crisis on Infinite Earths was out of context for the entire DC Multiverse. A being that could and did successfully annihilate nearly all the universes and forced the heroes to collapse the five remaining universes into one, forever transforming the DC Universe and everyone in it. His power was so overwhelming even an assemblage of the mightiest beings from all remaining worlds proved little more than a distraction. Even with its shell torn away, its power drained, and its power source dismantled, it took Superman and Superboy (along with some help from Darkseid) to finally finish it off... which in turn triggered a supernova. He was that nasty.
  • The Authority have most of their story arcs based around these.
  • The Hasbro Comic Universe:
  • Kremzeek in Ghostbusters. Unlike every other foe that the boys in grey have faced, he does not play by the rules of proton streams, being able to shatter them with ease and destroy ghost traps. And this factors into his defeat. Because to him, the Ghostbusters are Outside Context Heroes that has no idea how to defend against.

Fan Works

  • Inverted in Finishing the Fight, where the capabilities of the Master Chief and UNSC technology are beyond the ability of most of Faerun to combat.
  • Played with in Dungeon Keeper Ami. Sailor Mercury is transported into the World of Dungeon Keeper and has a rather unconventional approach to being a Keeper, as well as the whole evil alignment. She's more like an Outside Context Stealth Hero.
  • Tamers Forever Series: The Triad never considered Daemon returning as part of their plan, it causes a inconvienience.
  • Secret War: you thought Taryst was the Big Bad? ehh! wrong! It's Inquisitor Edracian who's behind everything but it's a subversion as many characters excluding Attelus and a few others knew of him and his involvement already.


  • Apocalypto plays the Mayincatec human sacrificing, forest ravaging, pox ridden, corrupt and decadent civilization this way. And of course by the end, the Spanish arrive.
    • This becomes Fridge Brilliance - and Fridge Horror - if you stop to consider just how provincial these forest villagers are. As far as they know, the only other people in the known world are separate tribes very much like them. Intertribal violence, when it occurs, is a fairly open-and-shut affair involving relatively small groups of warriors - sort of the ancient equivalent of an old-time gang rumble. Expansionist armies are totally beyond the imagination of these village folk. But consider: these people have a strong folk tradition, with stories populated by dangerously clever animals and beings who possess literally cosmic power. When Jaguar Paw hears that "Our lands were ravaged," one can only shudder at the thought of who - or what - he thinks could possibly be responsible.
  • Simon Phoenix in Demolition Man, a Human Popsicle from the 20th century awoken in a future of Perfect Pacifist People. OK, Dr. Cocteau probably did expect him.
  • Conan the Barbarian (1982): as in Apocalypto, the villain's advanced warriors appear out of nowhere to assault the hero's Doomed Hometown of Noble Savages (in a slight inversion from the books to say the least). It's lampshaded by the music, which goes straight from Arcadian Interlude to something like "Ride of the Valkyries" when they Jump Cut to the arrival of the Riders of Doom.

 The ashes were trampled into the earth, and the blood became as snow. Who knows what they came for... weapons of steel...? or murder? It was never known, for their leader rode to the south... No one would know that my lord's people had lived at all.

  • The Joker is this in The Dark Knight. In the conflict between Batman, the cops, and organized crime, all with their own brand of rational goals, nobody was prepared to deal with a mastermind who was exclusively in it For the Evulz.
    • This trope was present in the Burton/Schumacher films too.
      • At the beginning of the 1989 movie Batman, the city officials are concerned with Boss Carl Grissom and want to nab Jack Napier only because he's Grissom's "number-one guy." Even after Napier has become The Joker and killed Grissom, and he and his goons have targeted them for assassination, Vinnie Ricorso and his lackeys think that Grissom is still alive and are busying themselves with taking care of his operations while (they think) he's on vacation.
      • In Batman Forever, Bruce Wayne is so wrapped up in stopping Two-Face that he barely even listens to Edward Nygma (the future Riddler) when Nygma tries to tell him about his pet project. Doubly ironic, in that Wayne's ignoring him is precisely what sends Nygma over the edge into supervillainy.
  • This is how the Aliens are viewed in Cowboys and Aliens. As a result, they're initially referred to as 'demons', something the cowboys do have context for.
  • Arguably the case of zombies in every Zombie Apocalypse movie, as zombies are almost universally portrayed as so menacing because humanity is completely unprepared.
  • Dick Tracy: The Chicago police believe to the very end that Big Boy Caprice has kidnapped Tess Trueheart, even after it has become clear (to the audience) that The Blank has become the infinitely more dangerous threat to the city. (And since Breathless Mahoney is killed in the climax, she proves to be The Greatest Story Never Told.)
  • Battleship involves an international naval exercise being interrupted... by alien ships coming from underwater to seal an island chain in an impenetrable force field, leaving three destroyers to fight them.
  • Brixton in the Fast and the Furious spinoff Hobbs and Shaw is this. He's a Cyborg Super Soldier with Super Strength and Super Toughness . While most other characters in the series (including the titular Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw) are Made of Iron and have Charles Atlas Superpower, they are still regular human beings. A legitimate superpowered being is something completely unfamiliar to anyone in the series.


  • As mentioned, the Trope Namer from The Culture series; The Excession. And when a civilization like the Culture considers something "Outside Context", things are about to get hairy...
  • This is a major plot point in Foundation and Empire, when a man called the Mule shows up out of nowhere and starts conquering planets. Hari Seldon's predictions, which have been infallibly running the show for centuries, are suddenly no longer accurate because he could not possibly have foreseen the Mule's arrival, as the Mule is a mutant. However, Hari knew that he something was bound to happen in his thousand-year plan, so he put together a secret team to make sure the unexpected could be fixed. The fact that the plan still works on time after the Mule is defeated is a tip-off to one protagonist that something is up.
  • When you say, "Space adventure about a magical force," you (impassively or fondly) think of Star Wars. When you say, "religiously sadomasochistic alien zealots," you blank out. When you add "that are immune to The Force", watch as a fan groans while saying the Yuuzhan Vong. Extremely unusual addition or not, those guys dominated the scene for much of the post-Palpatine era. A subversion might come into play, sine there are theories that Palpatine, having foreseen the invasion through the Force, orchestrated the Clone War and the Galactic Civil War specifically to prepare the Galaxy.[1]
  • The Others from George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. Nobody but the Night Watch and the wildlings from beyond the wall believe they even exist, and the rest of the Seven Kingdoms are too busy burning and exterminating each other to care anyway. It will be interesting when the Others make it past the Wall.
    • And from the other side of the world entirely, Daenerys Targaryen. Yes, her existence is known, but only two people in Westeros seem to realize what a great danger — or asset — she could be. No one else thinks of her at all, and everyone even disregards all the reports of her goddamn baby dragons. Again, most of the characters are simply too busy with brutal civil war and political intrigue to think about the last Targaryen at the moment. If and when she finally swoops into Westeros, it should be quite the unpleasant surprise. Or possibly a pleasant one, if she happens to come around the same time as the Other bunch.
    • Earlier, the Red Woman Mellissandre and her/her god's magic. Renly is far and away the most powerful force in the Seven Kingdoms, until her shade assassinates him in the middle of his army and bodyguards.
    • The backstory of Westeros tells the reader of Harrenhal, a massive impregnable fortress that was built to withstand any invasion by land... and was absolutely defenseless again the original Targaryen dragons.
  • In the Shadowleague books, Lord Blade is this for the people of Callisoria, and possibly even his fellow Loremasters.
  • The Vord in Codex Alera come as a nasty shock to the Alerans, who thought all they had to deal with was the Marat, the Canim, the Icemen, and each other. The only information about them the Alerans have is bits of nearly-forgotten Marat folklore from the last time they almost ate the planet.
  • Link, from the Belisarius Series.
  • In the Worldwar series, the invasion of the alien Race upsets all the best laid plans of every side in World War Two.
    • And oddly enough, the humans in the same series fit this trope for the Race, as well. They were expecting knights on horseback, same as they found on their last survey - they expect all species to advance at the same snail's pace as themselves - and so when they find humans in tanks and planes, they are just a bit surprised.
      • It's more than just that. Besides the incredible rapid technological advancement, the fact that humans had pursued weapons of war that the Race never even conceived of, like chemical warfare, suicide attacks, and wet-navy warships; coupled with the extreme tenacity, fanaticism, and potential of cruelty; made the Race consider glassing the planet at least once every book.
  • Capricorn from The Inkworld Trilogy fits this pretty well.
  • The Seanchan in The Wheel of Time, are an empire of conquerors from beyond the sea, founded by the son of a great king from a thousand years ago who sent an army sailing to the west. They appear for the first time in the second book of the series, but even four books later most people in the known world don't believe in them.
  • The characters of World War Z repeatedly lampshade that nobody even believed in zombies, let alone knew anything about how to defeat them.
  • The Nevians for the Triplanetary League, or until the Lensman Arms Race kicks in.
  • H. G. Wells The War of the Worlds.
  • In The Excalibur Alternative, the heroes are a medieval troop who none of the alien races they are meant to subjugate can really touch.
  • The Mesan Alignment from Honor Harrington. For all the experience the heroes have fighting their proxies, those are just that: catspaws, pawns, disposables who know not of their true masters. They have plans on plans on backup plans stretching centuries, claws sunk into places no one expects and their technology breaks the rules the rest of the galaxy has comfortably become used to.
  • Subverted in Harry Harrison's Invasion: Earth, when an alien craft rumbles through New York and crash-lands in Central Park. The military shows up prepared to enter the craft. When asked, the guy in charge simply states that they're following established protocol for exactly this sort of situation. It's likely this is also true in Real Life.
  • In Hell's Gate, both the Union of Arcana and Sharona are this to one another. The Arcanans are a society based on magic, with their most advanced mechanical weapon being the crossbow, and they run into the Sharonans, who pack World War One-era firearms and artillery that utterly devastates the Arcanans, as well as Psychic Powers that give them an edge in communication and seeking out threats and deceptions. On the other hand, the Sharonans are entirely unprepared for enemies who wield magic, including concealable crystals that can spit lightning, magical computers and surveillance devices, and dragons.
  • The New Republic in The Eschaton Series is essentially 19th century Prussia IN SPACE, trying to pretend The Singularity never happened. It is therefore unequiped to even understand the Festival, which is the Edinburgh Arts Festival hopped up on nanotech, much less defend against it.
  • From the point of view of the bad guys (and readers), this is what happens in Weber's Out of the Dark. So you got your typical science-fiction alien invasion of Earth being opposed by assorted teams of Ragtag Bunch of Misfits, but there's really no way humans can win, since biological warfare genocide is fairly trivial for the aliens to create if they get tired of the grinding conflict...and then freaking Dracula decides he's getting tired of all this alien shit.

Live Action TV

  • Star Trek:
    • The Doomsday Machine, from Star Trek: The Original Series. It came from outside our galaxy, having been exiled for being too powerful to be allowed to exist. Not even whales can stop it. It eats planets.
    • The Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation. In their first appearance, Q uses them to give the crew of the Enterprise a lesson in just how dangerous the universe still is and how "prepared" they are.
      • Species 8472 is an Outside Context Villain for the Borg: a species from another dimension that they can neither assimilate nor destroy. It proceeds to kick their asses.
  • Angel had many examples of this trope. The first was Sahjan, whose presence was not even explained to the audience until his final episode. Then there was The Beast, the cast given only vague warnings about its arrival and were outclassed by it in every possible way. Then there was Jasmine, who had even less warning and was so beyond their experience the only way they acquired information of her at all was due to a visitor from her home dimension.
    • And then things really get bad when Illyria wakes up. Her two episode introduction is more or less devoted to a long realization that this really is a horrible Lovecraftian Physical God, not a poser, and that things like pointing guns or swinging swords at her are really quite quaint.
      • And then things got sort of better when her intro ends with Illyria realizing that the passage of time has already defeated her. She ends up staying with the heroes pretty much because she has nothing better to do, with her army and her worshipers long since dead.
  • Before the above, Buffy the Vampire Slayer had Glorificus. Best exemplified by Buffy's expression when told that Glory isn't a demon, but a god.
    • Inverted by Warren. Used to dealing with vampires, demons, and gods, Buffy wasn't prepared to deal with one Ax Crazy human.
  • Inverted in Doctor Who. The Doctor is an Outside Context Hero.
    • Doesn't mean it isn't played straight with the spontaneous appearance of Aliens and Monsters in present-day Earth and other settings, although sometimes these are worked into established reality.
    • The Doctor himself has encountered something like this in the "midnight entity," a creature so obscure and dangerous that it completely owns the doctor and he knows absolutely nothing about it. It's so bad that the Tenth Doctor was never quite the same after meeting it.
    • The Silence perhaps. The Doctor routinely sends aliens packing in what comes across as not a long time, hours or days at most. He, Rory, Amy, and River Song spent three months working to defeat the Silence, and even then they turned up in later episodes. The fact that people, The Doctor included, forget the Silence entirely as soon as they stop looking at them makes them not exactly easy to fight.
  • Alphas villain Marcus Ayers explicitly calls himself - and all other Alphas - an "out-of-context problem" for normal humans. He then fatalistically points out that only way humans know how to deal with such a problem is to destroy it, which they try to do to him shortly afterwards.
  • When you think about it, the humans/Earthlings/Tau'ri of Stargate were outside-context problems for the Goa'uld: what god-pretender could even conceive of a ragtag bunch of explorers from a backwater planet (Projectile weapons? Chemical rockets? Really!) first wiping out the overlord on their first trip offworld, then setting out to systematically wipe out the rest of them?
  • Andromeda had the Magog, who were originally Outside Context Villains, since they came from beyond known space. The Spirit of the Abyss turns out to be a whole new layer of Outside Context Villain on top of the Magog. The episode "D Minus Zero" reveals that the Highguard have a protocol to deal with Outside Context hostiles: Step One is to gather information. You need to find out who they are, what they want, and what their capabilities are. Only then can you figure out what to do.
  • Several episodes of Supernatural deal with crazy humans, leaving Dean bewildered. He even lampshades that he can understand all sorts of supernatural things like ghosts, vampires, demons, etc. It's humans he has trouble dealing with.
  • This is subverted and then inverted in Justified. Quarles is made to appear like a mysterious and dangerous Outside Context Villian but after the main characters figure out who he is, they are able to thwart him since to them he is just another "carpetbagger" like countless others who have come to Kentucky in the past. In turn Quarles starts to realize that he is completely unprepared to deal with a lawman like Raylan or a devious criminal like Boyd.

Tabletop Games


 Previous quests have been for treasure and glory. In the new Rise of the Eldrazi set ... only one goal remains: survival.

    • Also the case for New Phyrexia's attack. Even when the Mirrans knew they were at war, they expected their opponents to wage war on the people...not the ecosystem.
  • In Warhammer 40000, this is generally the problem with almost every enemy. Space Marines could never turn Chaos! These ancient ruins could never possibly contain horrible Terminator-esque monstrosities! The expedition to Tyran must have just disappeared! Needless to say, it's kinda obvious why the Imperium is so damn paranoid.
    • Special mention should go to the Harrowing, an event mentioned in Dark Heresy. Fluff indicates that it was basically an entire eldritch universe barging into the Materium and kicking the shit out of everyone so badly that all the habitable worlds in a sector or three are nothing but lifeless desert. It may well have been an even more devestating conflict than the Horus Heresy but almost nothing remains outside of Astartes battle sagas and a few third-hand fragments in some obscure and seemingly unreliable sources. Which isn't even covering what the Imperium had to do to survive.
    • Note that the standard Imperial Policy is only so outrageously cruel and draconian because otherwise they would get suckerpunched by every out of context problem in the galaxy (including soul-eating psychic jellyfish out of nowhere. Seriously). And they're still getting suckerpunched.
  • Exalted has quite a few of these. In the past five years, Abyssal and Infernal Exalted — types of Exalted no one's seen in all of history — have started crawling out of the woodwork after their respective bosses got their hands on half of all the Solar Exaltations ever crafted. And for the recently-returned Solars, the eventual return of the Scarlet Empress can seem like this... especially since she's now a puppet for the Yozis.
    • The Abyssals and Infernals apply doubly so to the Sidereals, who were watching the shop while the Solars were dead and the Lunars were on the run. They have the ability to track all things which reside within Fate... which the Abyssals (who have technically died and surrendered their fates) and the Infernals (who were reforged in Malfeas) don't count under.
    • The quintessential example might be the conquest of Thorns. An army of ghosts and undead, led by the horrifically powerful ghost Mask of Winters, supplemented by the aforementioned Abyssals (being seen for the first time) and a gigantic dying monster, leading to the city being not only taken over, but converted into a Shadowland expanding at a terrifyingly unprecedented rate.
    • The event of the Alchemical Exalted (or Autochthonians in general) entering Creation would play out like this.
  • The history of the Iron Kingdoms basically is this: people puttering around with warriors, wizards and the like getting steamrolled by The Empire with seriously high sorcery Power Levels from across the western ocean. It took the creation of "scientific" items such as Gunpowder, Steam engines and War Machines four hundred years later before The Empire finally got driven off

Video Games

  • Lavos from Chrono Trigger, who also happens to be a literal Giant Space Flea From Nowhere. Notably, Lavos's existence is known to various people at various times (the Zealots used it for an energy source, which wasn't that smart a move), but nobody knew its purpose until 1999, when it woke up.
  • The Parasite from Evolva, that just as Lavos, can be seen as a literal Giant Space Flea From Nowhere.
  • Final Fantasy games are fond of this, with the villain often being something utterly alien to the protagonists:
    • The Cloud of Darkness from Final Fantasy III is familiar to the World of Darkness, but wholly unknown to the World of Light.
    • The Lunarians (specifically, Zemus, Golbez, and the Lunarian Lost Technology) in Final Fantasy IV, which, notably, include the hero, on his father's side anyway. He was raised as a human, so he's just as baffled by the powers of his father's people and the artifacts they left behind. There's supposedly mostly good Lunarians, but we only see one and a Face Heel Turn.
    • Exdeath of Final Fantasy V is known to the inhabitants of the world he comes from, but utterly unknown in the other. Fortunately, people from his world follow to help the defenseless natives of the protagonists' world fight him.
    • Jenova in Final Fantasy VII, an invading planet and life eating parasite from space.
    • The Terrans of Final Fantasy IX, which, like IV, include the hero, who, like IV, has gone native. Unlike IV, all the other aliens are of the "invade and help their planet devour the souls of those that live on ours" variety.
  • Tatanga from Super Mario Land is a space alien that kidnaps Princess Daisy.
  • Another Mario example would be the Smithy Gang from Super Mario RPG, an enemy so outside normal context that it caused an Enemy Mine between Mario, Peach, and Bowser!
  • The Zerg from Starcraft, and the Burning Legion from Warcraft, who are a Horde of Alien Locusts from another part of the galaxy and an army of omnicidal demons from another dimension, respectively.
    • The Zerg are out-of-context for the Protoss more than anything, since they were pretty much running the galaxy as part of their "Great Stewardship". They never imagined a Horde of Alien Locusts coming out of nowhere with the explicit purpose of assimilating them, and destroying their ancestral homeworld.
    • The United Earth Directorate from Brood War may actually be a better example. The Zerg are at least comprehensible to the Protoss as they are also a creation of the Xel'Naga, and part of their power comes from absorbing the knowledge of the Xel'Naga. Terrans, as far as most of the Protoss are concerned, are a bit of background noise in their fight with the Zerg. But then a fleet from Earth shows up and (for a time at least) controls the Zerg and becomes the top power...
    • The Dark Voice and his Hybrids also seems to be this in Star Craft 2, especially in the Bad Future: the Zerg were the main threat that everybody recognized, and then, just as Kerrigan was killed to defeat the Zerg, the Fallen One came in, took over the Zerg, and used them to bring everlasting darkness to the Universe.
  • In Spyro Orange and Crash Purple, the protagonists suddenly find themselves the victims of a villain switcheroo, and have to take on each other's archnemeses.
  • Generally averted in Touhou; the solution in the games is always More (Pretty) Dakka. However, it is inverted with the Lunarians in the manga Silent Sinner in Blue, in that the protagonists are the ones "invading" them. Several curb-stomp battles (and one draw) later, they are defeated by Yukari via Gambit Pileup. It's not the first time Yukari did this to the Lunarians either.
  • In the first Free Space, the two known races of the galaxy, the Humans and the Vasudans are fighting a brutal war. Then, suddenly, in the middle of a skirmish between the two, weird lethal ships that nobody ever saw before jumps in and attack both races indiscriminately. Turns out those ships belong to the Shivans, a race of seriously deadly Horde of Alien Locusts.
  • Similarly in Crysis, the Americans and North Koreans are busily having a scrap on an island and managing to ignore various weird happenings around the mountain in the middle of it, until suddenly the aliens leap out and freeze the whole place solid.
  • In Dragon Age Origins the Darkspawn are this to everyone except the Grey Wardens and the Dwarves. Since it's been hundreds of years since the last Blight, the people of the surface believed that the Darkspawn had been eradicated. When the Fifth Blight strikes, the people of Ferelden are left scrambling to prepare their defenses and it doesn't help that Ferelden has so few Grey Wardens to help. Things get worse after the Battle of Ostagar — everyone is too preoccupied with serious internal problems including a civil war and underestimate the true threat level of the Blight. Nobody in Ferelden is really prepared to fight monsters that a) vastly outnumber them b) carry a lethal and corrupting magical plague and c) are controlled by an insane dragon god that is unkillable unless a Grey Warden strikes the final blow.
  • Few of the factions in Galactic Civilisations II even knew the Dread Lords ever existed, and no-one expected they would ever return.
  • Super Robot Wars Z has The Edel Bernal, who, unlike other SRW BigBads, is not just some godlike being seeking power or self aggrandizement. He just started all the chaos in the game For the Evulz, and the good guys actually freak out somewhat when they come to the realization he just doesn't care as they chew him out during the final battle, and it become epically clear they are fighting a lunatic with no real goal except what entertains him.
  • Nobody in Valkyrie Profile Silmeria expected that Lezard Valenth was actually a time-shifted version of himself from the future. By the time anyone figured it out, he had outwitted everybody, forcing the survivors into an Enemy Mine to beat him.
  • The demon from Clash at Demonhead showed up with little foreshadowing (unless you count the fact that he lives on Mount Demonhead), and mucked up things for both the hero and the bad guys. He's arguably a subversion, though- the hero kills the demon after a little sidequest, and then the plot picks up right where it left off.
  • The Reapers/Sovereign from Mass Effect are this to the entire galaxy. They appear to wipe out all space-faring life every 50,000 years, and spend the intervening time asleep in dark space.
    • Driven home in the Mass Effect 3 announcement trailer where it's pretty much made clear, given that the higher-ups constantly tried to silence his/her warnings about them, that no one besides Shepard knows what they are.
  • The Wild Card Ending of Fallout: New Vegas makes the Courier themself this. While the major powers of the region, the New California Republic, Caesar's Legion, Mr House, all were busy watching each other and were getting ready to battle for control of the Mojave Wasteland; no-one saw the simple Courier who was shot in the head and left for dead, suddenly come out of nowhere, turn the tables and create a free and independent New Vegas.
    • Involked by the Legion, one of the reasons why Caesar based their theme off of the Roman Empire was because, compare to all other factions they're very alien.
  • This scenario forms the backstory of Gears of War. Sera's human population had been fighting each other for seventy-nine years and only just come to an exhausted peace when a massive, well-equipped, highly-organized army--the Locust Horde--erupted from the ground in multiple areas simultaneously and brought their civilization to its knees.
    • Even earlier, this happened to the Locust themselves, with the arrival of Lambency. It was the mutation's virulence that lead to the Locust eventually declaring their underground home a lost cause and making war with humanity because waging a genocidal war against humanity so that they could relocate to the surface was deemed easier than holding the Hollow.
  • In Command and Conquer 3 it's business as usual with GDI and Nod killing each other. Then aliens show up and start killing everyone. Everyone but Kane(of course)was blindsided by this.
    • Later the aliens themselves start to see humanity as this since they never expected to be completely outgunned by these "inferior species".
  • The Conqueror in The Last Remnant shows up out of nowhere with an army and starts capturing Remnants until the current world order recognises him as a ruler. As it turns out, this is a Humanity on Trial thing to see how humans are using the power of the Remnants. They fail.
  • In a Bodycount trailer an African militiaman is surprised by a skyscraper rising from the ground, with a large door opening. He promptly gets one-shotted by a laser from a guy in futuristic body armour.
  • Quite possibly the Tuaparang in Golden Sun Dark Dawn, as they're explicitly noted not to be from any of Weyard's known nations or peoples, and have access to extremely advanced technology and Psynergy that doesn't follow the four classical elements .
  • The ZODIAC's from RefleX fit's this trope to a T.
    • Then there is Satariel from the sequel.
  • In Skyrim almost everyone is blindsided by the Dragons. The only ones who have any idea where they came from are the Graybeards, and that's only because their mentor is another Dragon.
    • Also, the Dragonborn can be this. Nobody predicted that a Dragonborn would arrive in Skyrim. Not even the Greybeards. And, especially if Video Game Cruelty Potential is Invoked, nobody predicted that he/she would be such a dick.
  • Guild Wars has a few examples.
    • First in Nightfall was the return of Abaddon, the fallen sixth god, and his Margonite followers. The other gods had gone to great lengths to render him an Un-Deity so much of the players' knowledge of Abaddon is learned while on the run from his various armies.
    • Second in Eye of the North was the appearance of the Destroyers. While foreshadowed in an obscure Dwarven prophecy, nobody really knew about them until they were already halfway through slaughtering the Asurans. Even by the end of the campaign and their destruction very little was actually known about the Destroyers beyond that they were an enemy.
    • Third in the sequel, Guild Wars 2, is the appearance of the Elder Dragons. While they have been present since long before man or god walked the land, they were largely dormant and only hints of their power were seen.
  • Zig Zags a lot in The Legend of Zelda. There are plenty of one-game villains that abruptly appear to conquer Hyrule or some other land from time to time, but there's always a pretty good chance that Ganon is really the one in charge of said villains.
  • Kid Icarus: Uprising has The Aurum, a group of planet-eating robot aliens that only Pyrrhon saw coming. They leave practically as quickly as they appeared.
  • Bonus Boss Bahamut in MH World count as this, being a high fantasy monster venturing into low fantasy one.

Western Animation

  • Aku in Samurai Jack. Jack himself is the heroic equivalent of this to the people of the future.
  • In Storm Hawks, Master Cyclonis actually manages to become this mid season 2 by traveling to the other side of the planet and bringing back some of its technology.
  • Mega Man had "Curse of the Lion Men", which had... Lion Men invading the world and turning other people into Lion Men with eye beams. Another episode also had a genie.
  • ThunderCats (2011) presents Mumm-Ra this way to the Cats, as he and the Lost Technology his armies use have both been reduced to superstitions and legends in the centuries since he was first defeated by their ancestors.
  • Unicron in The Transformers series. Originally he was a terrifying Galactus Expy in The Movie before he was fleshed out as a god of chaos later on. Still, no-one had any idea how to deal with him in the first place when he showed up.
    • This was lampshaded in the original movie. Kup, the eldest of the surviving autobots had at least one story for every occasion, usually a bad one. However, upon seeing the massive Unicron, all he could mutter was "nope, never seen anything like this before".
  • If there was one villain in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic that almost no one, in and out of universe, saw coming, it was The Changelings appearing at the very end of the second season. The only pony to know of their presence was trapped underneath Canterlot, imprisoned by the Changeling Queen.
  • Hordak and the Horde in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. All Etheria knows about him is that he showed up one day and decided to start conquering. He fell through a portal to Despondos from the larger universe.

Real Life

  • To most Americans until September 2001, the notion that terrorists might hijack airplanes full of passengers and fly them, not to some other country while making demands, but into buildings as giant bombs, was either unthinkable or the stuff of wild thriller novels. It was also why the attacks (mostly) succeeded, because both the people in the planes and the people in charge of preventing it never knew to look for something like that. It also resulted in a time where flight traffic controllers were trying to figure out why hijacked planes were flying low, and not towards a runway.... Nowadays, even the average citizen knows to Zerg Rush the hijackers in case the undercover security fails, the door to the cockpit stays locked except for brief, necessary periods, and in case all that fails, fighter jets shoot down the plane.
  1. It's implied that he did have at least some information about them, but it's more likely that he only saw them as a potential problem to his ascent rather than the reason for it.