So you're a bounty hunter, assassin, or some other bloke whose job is to take out assigned targets? Well, you'd better know exactly who you're going after, because there are people everywhere who might look enough like your target to be confusing, and you don't want to go back to your boss(es) and tell them the job's done, and then have the target make you look like an idiot by popping back up again, now do you?
Put simply, this trope is about when one or more people who happen to share personal information with someone who is the target of a hit, bounty, or other similar motive are hurt or killed because the attacker didn't pay close enough attention to their information, said information was incomplete or faulty...or he just didn't care.
to Murder by Mistake
, which is about someone being killed due to a simple error by the murderer.
- Invoked in the original comic book version of Human Target: Chance uses Latex Perfection to pretend to be the target so as to take out would-be assassins.
- Played for Laughs in a White Tiger comic. It's a Running Gag in that series for Angela Del Toro to get mistaken for more famous Marvel characters. This reached the limits of belief when Deadpool mistook her for Black Cat, whom he had a contract on.
- In Archie meets the Punisher, the Punisher is gunning after a drug dealer who looks just like Archie.
- This is played with in The Terminator. The Terminator only has Sarah Conner's name and general location, so it goes through the phone book, finds all the Sarah Conners listed, and starts killing them one by one.
- In Kick-Ass: Frank is pissed with Kick-Ass for ruining his business, then sees him casually walking down the street. Frank gets out of his car and shoots KA in the head Execution Style, but it turns out it was just some kid going to a costume party. Played for Laughs.
- Diamonds Are Forever. A woman named Plenty O'Toole meets James Bond at a casino. Later on she goes to Tiffany Case's residence and is killed by Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, who think she's Tiffany. They were under orders to kill Tiffany because she was a link in the diamond smuggling operation, the same as the other people they killed.
- In The Hound of the Baskervilles, the titular Hell Hound hunts Sir Henry Baskerville, the last member of the Baskerville family. However, it mistakenly kills an escaped convict named Selden, who had been smuggled Sir Henry's clothes and thus carried his scent.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire a very large reward is offered for bringing in Tyrion's head. This has resulted in many male dwarves being killed by mistake. Many unscrupulous bounty hunters know they have the wrong man but figure that by the time the head arrives in King's Landing it will be too decomposed for a proper identification.
- In Survivor In Death, a girl survives the assassination of her entire family because the killers didn't know that she had a friend over for the night, who they took for her.
- In Men at Arms , an assassin targeting the heads of the various Guilds mistakes a maid at the Beggars' Guild for their Queen Molly. The head of the Beggars' Guild wears a "velvet gown" of office and the poor girl was trying it on.
- Invoked a time or two in Masquerade, a Mission: Impossible-type show where they'd recruit civilians with particular abilities for one-off spy missions. In one episode they got an Olympic-level runner to pose as a defecting communist agent to draw out possible assassins. (The runner looked similar to the agent and was given makeup to make him look even more like him.)
- Law & Order
- In one episode, the police track down lead after fruitless lead following the murder of a woman in a parking garage. On inspecting the camera tracking the exiting cars, they see a similar woman in a similar car leaving the garage a few minutes before the murder.
- In an Inversion, an early episode followed a particularly hectic day for the cops (no DA in this ep) and one of the plots involves a serial killer targeting young lovers at a park. The cops pick up a guy who matches the sketch and who refuses to give an alibi and who is I Ded by a witness... only he's Armored Closet Gay and the real killer is much older (and kills again). However, the poor guy gets knifed in prison after arraignment and just before the cops can get him out.
- Golden Boy: Owen's That One Case is the murder of an apparently law-abiding citizen that went cold because it happened the morning of 9/11. In the season finale it turns out that the hitman had received a contract for a drug dealer who looked almost exactly like the victim, and the victim had coincidentally gotten wrong directions that landed him in the hitman's crosshairs.
- In Chimneyspeak, Elgie (a midget with dark hair) was the target of a bounty at some point prior to the start of the series, but the bounty hunters killed several young boys who were roughly equivalent to Elgie in size and hair color. Elgie is haunted by this and has frequent Catapult Nightmares as a result.
- In The Order of the Stick, Elan from was once kidnapped by bounty hunters who mistook him for his twin brother Nale, who was wanted for treason against the Empire of Blood. Fortunately, one of the Empire's generals was aware that Nale and Elan are twins and was able to clear up the mess.
- South Park
- In one episode, wheelchair-bound Timmy gets jealous of Jimmy, another handicapped kid. Timmy pretends to be nice to Jimmy, even giving him a present - a parka that looks a lot like Kenny's. Jimmy puts it on and the universe starts trying to kill him; unfortunately for Timmy, it keeps missing.
- At the beginning of the episode where Cartman took over the school announcements, the kid who used to do them was murdered by a guy who mistook him for someone with the same name.
- Shows up in an episode of Futurama where Bender has pissed off the robot mafia and has a hit out on him. Another robot of the same model is mistaken for Bender and killed.
- In one episode of Family Guy, Chris and Peter are sent to a fat camp, and not long after their arrival other residents of the fat camp start turning up dead. It turns out they're being murdered by a guy who has a grudge against Chris, but keeps picking the wrong target.