Created By: FrodoGoofballCoTV on June 4, 2010 Last Edited By: FrodoGoofballCoTV on October 19, 2010

Spies in a Van

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Do We Have This? Should We Have This?? Needs a Better Description. Needs a Better Title. Rolling Updates. Up for Grabs. Seen It a Million Times.

Subtrope of Stakeout

launched as Spies in a Van.

Mostly Exactly What It Says on the Tin. There's a vehicle with relatively few windows and a fair amount of space. On the outside it looks fairly ordinary, inside it is filled with all sorts of electronics and several spies monitoring cameras and bugs they've planted. Most often, it's a slightly corrupt but well - intentioned Anti-Hero Government Agency of Fiction that uses this tactic, but the Big Bad will often have these too.

Expect the following:
  • The spies are snacking, and run out of food, so one character is sent to get more. The others complain about the food.
  • The spies get into a debate over something. It's at that moment one of them notices that for once something is happening and tells the others to be quiet.
  • The spies temporarily end up spying on someone involved in something titillating but only periperally related to the overall mission. If The Hero is spying on a relatively innocent person or its an Anti-Hero spying on a particularly sympathetic Anti-Villain, you can be almost certain either they'll end up working together later, or else their "victim" will turn out to be Not So Harmless.
  • The spies end up kidnapping someone for interrogation.


  • The French agents in the Godzilla in New York City movie. Yeah, that one.
  • The Hero's coworkers in True Lies operate one for the NSA.
Community Feedback Replies: 27
  • June 4, 2010
    Often (as in the True Lies example), this overlaps with Mission Control, since one or several of the characters control the action from a van.

  • June 4, 2010
    The snacking thing seems like a more general property of The Stakeout, a supertrope which we somehow seem to have missed (ETA: and which I now see you have a separate YKTTW for. Well done!)

    Compare Van In Black. In addition to spies, also used by people planning The Caper.

    • Sneakers has a van like this. Whistler ends up having to drive it across a parking lot despite being blind.

  • June 4, 2010
    Once when Homer Simpson was being investigated Marge noticed a pizza van that had been parked on their block for hours. The van immediately pulled away, allaying Marge's suspicions; but it was immediately replaced by a van from Flowers By Irene.
  • June 4, 2010
    Yeah, those vans has serious issues with the camouflage.
  • June 5, 2010
    Here's your page quote:

    You know what? I'm sick of being in the van. You guys are going to be in the van next time. I've been in the van for 15 years, Harry.
    -- Gib, True Lies
  • June 5, 2010
    The Delta Force in Deception Point are introduced like this (albeit in a hidden tent rather than a van).
  • June 5, 2010
    • In The Simpsons Hit And Run, Homer gets paranoid about these strange black vans around Springfield. While expecting them to be this trope under the control of Mr. Burns, they later turn out to be pizza delivery vans. (Different example from the one mentioned above.)
    • In Hitman Blood Money, one of these vans is used by FBI agents to control and monitor their witness protection efforts. Spiking doughnuts meant for the agents there with sedatives or poison is probably the best way to get an FBI agent suit in this level.
  • June 5, 2010
    • A Van of Undercover Cops appears in several scenes in Lucky Number Slevin. They even (briefly) abduct the main character.
  • June 19, 2010
    Bump strike 1!
  • July 7, 2010
    Bump strike 2!
  • July 7, 2010
    The Wire does this a lot, both by the cops and by Omar (a stick-up artist - he only uses a van in season one and briefly in season four, though). Featuring such antics as Detective Sydnor complaining that the van is full of Detective Carver's empties, and the fact that Carver is eating such a variety of junk food while on stakeout outside a mini-mart, Omar looking out the van window and watching for hints of where the stash-house is (and Bailey taking notes based on what Omar observed, on a sheet of notebook paper on which they were clearly playing hangman before), Omar and Renaldo watching a convenience store they suspect is a drug front, and getting distracted watching Detective Kima Greggs watching the same convenience store from her own vehicle, and so on.
  • July 11, 2010
    True Lies featured "Omega Sector", not NSA.
  • July 11, 2010
    In the film Matilda, the title character notices a car is always parked on the street outside their house. The car turns out to belong to cops who are trying to arrest Matilda's father for selling cars with faulty car parts.
  • July 11, 2010
    In the Leverage episode Two Horse Job, Parker and Hardison are using a van to carry out surveillance on Sterling.
  • July 11, 2010
    In the episode of The Simpsons Bart the Murderer a spy van disguised as a Pizza Truck is parked outside the Simpsons's house for days. When Marge asks 'How long does it take to deliver a Pizza?' it zooms off and is replaced with one reading Flowers By Irene.
  • July 11, 2010
    Oh, sorry randomsurfer.
  • July 11, 2010
    'Sokay, you're just Lampshading my example. It's what you do. You're a maniac!
  • July 28, 2010
    Bump strike 3! Winding the launch clock...
  • July 28, 2010
  • August 15, 2010
    No time to edit / launch - grad school... someone can take this. :(
  • August 15, 2010
    • Naked Gun 2 1/2 does this. And then the cops get stuck in the van for parking too close to a wall.
  • August 15, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    The Dog washing van from Arrested Development.
  • August 15, 2010
    The Simpsons pizza delivery van was marked "Two Guys from Quantico" wasn't it?
  • October 6, 2010
    • Leverage again - the FBI themselves have a fairly obvious van as well.
    • Family Guy - Peter uses such a van to spy on Lois.
  • October 6, 2010
    happens in one of the early chapters of The Return when the super-secret paranormal black-ops team take time out to bust a perfectly ordinary bank robbery. Leads to some mild Jurisdiction Friction.

    @Umptyscope also:
  • October 6, 2010
    Another common element is that the van is camouflaged with a fake business logo.

    One example of this is in the Sam And Max episode Reality 2.0. Because Max became president last episode and moved the Oval Office to the corner of Straight & Narrow, the Secret Service is staked outside in a "Secret Service Ice Cream" truck.
  • October 19, 2010
    TBTabby - FYI, it's "Secret Serv Ice Cream." Still a Paper Thin Disguise, tho. As bad as it is, that joke still makes me laugh.