When important figures feel they need extra insurance, someone takes on the appearance and role of someone else, especially in dangerous situations. Though this is still used today by some leaders, before the advent of modern photography this was much easier to pull off, since the average person would probably not know what the leader looked like outside of a vague description or drawing, making any differences between the double and the real person less noticeable. In more modern works the close resemblance may be explained away by Magic Plastic Surgery, while science fiction settings may use Send in the Clones and have the clones be made with this specific purpose in mind.
This is very much a Truth in Television, and generally the more paranoid a leader the more doubles they will have. Saddam Hussein reportedly had over 50 doubles that he used at various times, and other notorious leaders like Josef Stalin and Hitler have also had confirmed body doubles.
In Japan this practice was known as kagemusha (literally "shadow warrior"), and was fairly common during the Feudal Era for warlords. Oftentimes the kagemusha were convicted criminals who took the opportunity in exchange for not being put to death. Of course, given the perilous position they were in, this rarely guaranteed their ultimate survival.
In a less notorious case, General Bernard Montgomery employed a double to confuse the Germans during World War II. This story became a book and a film, called ''I Was Monty's Double''.
Related to Emergency Impersonation, I Am Spartacus. If the double is covering up for the fact that the leader is actually dead, it's an El Cid Ploy. See also Decoy Getaway for a practical application of a Body Double. See also Decoy Leader, when a leader uses someone else to pose as them, while not necessarily looking anything alike. Not to be confused with the Real Life practice of actors using body doubles for stunts and/or nude or sex scenes. Also not to be confused with the thriller starring Melanie Griffith. For other types of impersonators, see Celebrity Impersonator. Ideal for this purpose would be an Identical Stranger, but This Is Reality, and those who don't live in a genre where such a convenient person exists will just use a person who looks passably similar.
Since this trope is often part of a Shocking Swerve, be warned that there are inherently SPOILERS below.
In Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny, aspirant singer Meer Campbell fills this role for Lacus Clyne, though she's actually working for the Big Bad, who has told her that she'll be able to help keep the fragile peace if she poses as Lacus. Meer eventually began to crack under all the stress and self-esteem problems, she decided that she didn't care that she's being used to further Durandal's goals and only wanted to continue to pretend being Lacus since nobody loved Meer herself. Lacus herself faced Meer and managed to talk her out of it... only for poor Meer to be shot to death while Taking the Bullet for Lacus and perish in her arms.
In Murder Princess the maid Milano takes princess Alita's place during an invasion and dies, causing the body-swapped Alita to take on her dead maid's name and role.
Makoto in El-Hazard: The Magnificent World reluctantly agrees to impersonate Princess Fatora (with whom he bares an uncanny resemblance, despite being the opposite sex) after she is captured.
In the second-to-last episode of Samurai 7, Ukyo uses other clones of the Emperor, who are all genetically and physically identical to him as his body doubles. It almost works.
A fairly innocent example occurs in Cardcaptor Sakura through Sakura's use of the Mirror card to stand in for her when she has to do some emergency card-catching. However, Sakura's spiritually aware brother Touya is fully aware that it's not really Sakura, but plays along anyway.
In Code Geass, C.C. occasionally stands in for Zero/Lelouch when he needs to keep up the Masquerade of being a normal student. Given that C.C. is also immortal, there's also a practical application of this, as if she were to take a bullet for Lelouch she could just walk it off.
In R2, Sayoko masquerades as Lelouch while he's off doing his Zero thing. It actually causes some minor problems for him; upon his return, he has to deal with the repercussions of Sayoko mistakenly playing him as The Casanova. That and Sayoko is a highly athletic ninja and Lelouch gets tired from running a block.
Captain Kuro of One Piece hypnotized one of his crew members to think that he was Kuro. After a good get-up, Captain Morgan took him in, and Kuro was assumed captured while he went on to put together a three year long plan.
Played with (in both versions) at the beginning of Dance in the Vampire Bund. In both cases a tall, voluptuous, raven-haired beauty in vampish attire is initially introduced as the Princess of Vampires. Of course when Mina Tepes makes her first actual public appearance, her aide Vera becomes completely useless as a decoy.
One episode of Golgo 13 had a situation where Golgo was hired to kill a client's double so he could fake his death. The double arranges for the real man to take his place, taking over the mob boss's life after his death. Unfortunately, he makes the mistake of turning Golgo into an enemy.
One chapter of Franken Fran is about a mobster who frequently makes use of her services to create body doubles. Then, his latest double tries to turn over a new leaf with his company, he assassinates him, and things get a bit hectic.
Subverted in Detective Conan. Kogoro is given the supposedly easy work of spying on a certain man in exchange for a large sum of money... and said man turns out to be a Body Double. The guy that said actor is impersonating? He's found dead some days later — and the dude who hired Kogoro not only is the killer, but he he had used Kogoro to have an alibi for said murder; Kogoro is understandably pissed off, but has no evidence to get to him. Of course, the murderer ultimately doesn't pass through Conan's deducing skills.
Again subverted in a filler case where the Body Doublewas the killer. She was an aspiring actress who worked as the double for a famous idol, then her envy and jealousy peaked to the point of killing her boss, hiding her body, and then impersonating her until the dead woman was found and everyone believed she had commited suicide. Again, Conan easily saw through her.
One chapter of Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei has the title character's family butler recruit a small squad of body doubles for him. He is later thanked for a variety of things he didn't do, including dating one of his students.
In Honoo No Alpen Rose, Toulonchamp's Batman Gambit relays on using his daughter Mathilda as one of these, acting as the stand-in for the lead female Jeudi. Jeudi herself went missing as a little girl in an horrible accident that left her mother Helene Durant with severe physical and psychological consequences, and Mathilda's mission is to make the almost blind Helene believe that she is the real Jeudi; meanwhile, Toulonchamp forces the Durant family to do whatever he wants on the threat of taking Mathilda away, which would send Helene into a Death by Despair. Too bad that Jeudi showed up anyway...
And in another manga by Michiyo Akaishi, Amakusa 1637, the plot heavily leans on lead female Natsuki becoming one of these fora local swordsman, Shirou. Yes, she's one for THAT Shiro. Who in this story, is actually dead.
The premise of the DC character The Human Target was that he was one of these. The Vertigo series played with it by having him literally disappear into each persona he adopted, having to be broken out of the new personality with psychological triggers.
In Cerebus the Aardvark, Lord Julius (a parody of Groucho Marx) hired several "Like-a-looks" to stand in for him (lampshading the fact that anyone with the right build, walk, fake mustache and attitude can look like Groucho Marx.) It was never entirely clear who was the real Lord Julius after that, especially after a mob of increasingly absurd Like-a-looks (including the Elrod the Albino!) invaded the palace and all claimed to be the real one.
In a reprint, Sim mentioned the story was inspired by the scene from Duck Soup where Chico and Harpo both impersonate Groucho using greasepaint and the right props.
In Lone Wolf and Cub, each member of the Yagyu clan has their own double. One of them cheerfully commits seppuku so that Retsudo can tell the shogun his son is dead (and show his severed head as proof).
The in-canon Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic book has her using body doubles to spread misinformation. It helps that All the doubles have her durability and healing powers as well.
One of those was RetConned in an episode of Angel.
Marvel's 616 Universe has created LMD (Life Model Decoys) which can fill in whenever needed. Handy for retcons as well. Nick Fury, among others, has used them.
In the Yoko Tsuno story "The Prey and the Shadow", a secretary named Margaret is blackmailed into becoming the double of Cecilia, her boss's unstable adoptive daughter. As time passes, she's more and more aware that something horrible will happen, but she's completely trapped in the web of lies that her boss extended around her. Once the titular Action Girl and her Power Trio spend a night in the boss's castle, Margaret confides on her so they can both save Cecilia from her "father" and free Margaret from him as well.
In the first issue of Death Of The Family, Batman takes on who he thinks is The Joker wearing a red hood at the ACE Chemical Plant. He pulls the hood off to reveal Harley Quinn!
In Gate of Hell, the lead female is disguised as the queen and sent away from the royal palace, in order to lure away the rebels that are attacking the palace.
Kagemusha, the famous Akira Kurosawa movie, has a convicted criminal offered the role of warlord Takeda Shingen in exchange for sparing his life.
In the Star Wars prequels, Padmé does this a couple times. As Queen in The Phantom Menace, she switched places with Sabé, one of her handmaidens, during the Trade Federation's invasion, and remained in the handmaiden role for most of the movie; the switch isn't revealed until shortly before the final battle. In addition to protection, this allowed them to confuse Nute Gunray during a pivotal moment. She keeps up the practice as a senator in Attack of the Clones, where her decoy, Cordé, dies in an explosion meant for her.
In Vantage Point, it turns out that the President who was assassinated was actually his body double, which sucks for the guy, but is good news for the rest of the American population. Seeing as the double was shot on camera some skilled maneuvering is used when the President is revealed to be alive, so they make it look like he was only wounded. It helps that the President actually was hurt in a subsequent kidnapping.
One of the plot twists of Batman Begins is that the East Asian man identified as Ra's al Ghul was just a front for the real Ra's — the man who until this point had called himself Ducard.
A non-action example: The Georgian movie Comrade Stalin's Trip to Africa is about a Georgian Jew who is recruited to double for Stalin.
In the 2007 movie Hitman, Agent 47 kills Russian President Mikhail Belicoff in a public appearance, only to discover Belicoff is still alive and well. In a twist, it turns out the living Belicoff is actually a body double who has usurped the murdered Belicoff.
The film The Eagle Has Landed is about a group of Nazi paratroopers who sneak into England in an attempt to assassinate Winston Churchill. The last member of the team succeeds in doing so before being shot, but after he dies, it is revealed that the Prime Minister was out of the country at a secret conference in Teheran - the man who was just killed was a double.
Parodied in Head of State, where Mays Gilliam is running for President. His campaign manager hires a guy who looks similar to him to precede him to all official functions. Mays half-jokes that Tupac could have used a guy like that. In the epilogue, after Mays wins, the body double is shot.
Mary Hoffmans' Stravaganza has this in the first book, as the Duchessa of Belleza uses different doubles for all the flashy ceremonies, such as the Marriage with the Sea. She began this procedure when she became pregnant with her daughter, Arianna. One such double thinks she can outsmart the Duchessa, rat out her secret, and throw her lot in with the di Chimici with no ill consequences. She's wrong.)
In one of Francoise Rivier and Michel Laponte's Jonathan Cap books, a dangerous plan to overthrow an Arabian Sheik depends on one of these, a Middle-Eastern Ordinary Highschool Student named Jamil who is groomed by the terrorist group to serve as the double to the Crown Prince (whom they plan to kidnap, kill, and then replace with the kid, whom they have trapped in a complicated web of lies to make sure he can't escape). Coincidentally, the Big Bad chooses a Parisian private clinic as its hideout since the gambit's supposed to take place during the Prince's visit to France, and a girl named Juliette is operated there... and she happens to be the best friend of Jonathan's Kid Sidekicks and nephews Alex and Nico...
Used in a lighter note afterwards. Once the deal is defused and Jamil is released from his captors's control, the Crown Prince forgives him on grounds of being an unwilling accomplice. Then he makes Jamil replace him during the official activities in Paris, therefore making him a full-blooded Body Double, while he goes outside to have fun with Alex, Nico and a girl named Elisabeth.
Near the end of Robin McKinley's Spindle's End, the characters attempt to thwart an evil fairy's curse on secret princess Rosie by having Rosie's best friend Peony claim to be the princess in her stead. Unfortunately, while everyone else is fooled, the fairy is not.
Live Action TV
Ba'al on Stargate SG-1 created numerous clones of himself to act as decoys, and aid in some elaborate schemes of his.
Samurai Sentai Shinkenger: in Acts 44 and 45, it's revealed that Takeru is a kagemusha for the true 18th head, Shiba Kaoru. He is later adopted by Kaoru and made her official successor in Act 48.
Power Rangers Samurai copies this, with Jayden taking the Red Ranger role on behalf of his older sister Lauren.
In the Castle episode "A Dance With Death", the person Beckett found dead and thought she'd identified, turned out to actually be the supposed murder victim's hired body double, who, after the nominal victim died a year previously, had been pulling a Dead Person Impersonation.
Turns out that the houses in Iraq that the Bluth company built were housing a group of Saddam doubles. Though one on of them may be the real Saddam and a double was killed in his place.
Chris Ryan's Strike Back. An assassination attempt on Robert Mugabe fails because of this. Turns out the whole thing had been sent up to discredit British Intelligence, which meant the body double had been set up to be killed.
In Legend of the Seeker, back when Darken Rahl was in charge, one of his officers found a beggar who looked remarkably similar to him and brought him to Lord Rahl with this trope in mind. Rahl almost had the beggar (and the officer) executed, claiming that the guy looks nothing like him (despite being played by the same actor). The officer has the beggar physically altered (painfully) to look just like Rahl and provide voice coaching to have him sound like the Lord of D'Hara. After Rahl's death, the beggar and the officer (who have become friends) escape and engage in cons involving the beggar pretending to be Rahl. As it turns out, Rahl had a backup plan to have his spirit be brought back into the beggar's body. This works, although the beggar's spirit is put in another man's body, much to the beggar's delight (he hated having Rahl's face).
Imogen Heap's song "Bad Body Double" plays with this. The singer talks of a woman who looks a lot like her, although she's "...got some greys, a little extra weight on the side, and dimply thighs..." And once the lookalike finds this out, she starts stalking her, trying to look more like her. There's also the interpretation that the body double is really the personification of her insecurities about herself.
Saddam: And there's a million of us just like me, who dress like me, walk, talk, oppress like me, mustache like me, a big piece of trash like me, and just might be a piece of sh*t, but not quite me!
Role Playing Games
In Survival of the Fittest, Ken Lawson was Burton Harris' body double — and ended up being put into V2 for his pains. Burton, of course, then managed to land himself in V3 too. Both ended up getting killed.
Warhammer 40K: The Dark Eldar Archon Vhane Kyharc takes this Up to Eleven- every Trueborn member of his Kabal has been surgically altered to look exactly like him, and the lower orders wear masks of his face. In theory, this is to prevent assassinations (always a good idea with Dark Eldar), but the truth is, the aptly-named Vhane really is that much of a narcissist (he once bombarded an entire planet with a virus that gave every living thing his face).
The titular king in Henry IV, Part 1 has a number of doubles during the climactic battle.
Similarly, in Metal Gear Solid, Decoy Octopus takes on the appearance of several different people, and has to be psychologically evaluated after each one to return to his core personality.
In the Fan ComicThe Last Days Of FOXHOUND, Revolver Ocelot expresses disappointment at Decoy Octopus' decision to stop impersonating him, because it meant that there was no longer a 50/50 chance that someone out to get him would kill Octopus instead.
In an early version of the Metal Gear Solid 2 story, the events of the Plant Chapter were supposed to take place while Solidus Snake was still in office as the U.S. President. The events would've kicked off with the assassination of Solidus Snake's body double, allowing him to fake his death.
After the first chapter of Rondo of Swords, the player learns that the main character, Prince Serdic, is in fact a double of the actual Prince Serdic.
There are two cases of this in Fire Emblem. First is Samto from the 3rd game, body double of Navarre, second is Shanam in the 5th game, body double of Shanan. The difference is Shanan specifically asked Shanam to be one; Samto is just an average mercenary who kept getting mistaken for the legendary Navarre and eventually decided to roll with it to get hired.
Used for Sakaki Joushiro's backstory in the Samurai Shodown games (more exactly, Warrior's Rage). With a twist, though! The body double was not him but his girlfriend Karen, an Action Girl who posed as a princess's double... but was killed by the Big Bad Oboro. Joushiro got wrongfully blamed for all of it and now he's a runaway.
Tokugawa Ieyasu uses multiple body doubles while on the run in one stage of Samurai Warriors 2.
Suikoden V has Roy serve as this for the Prince after he loses their duel. It comes into play several times, with one of Roy's most awesome moments coming only if the player really screws up.
The Deception series love having the villains sent these into your dungeon before themselves.
In Final Fantasy VI, the wandering gambler Setzer sends a calling card to the Opera House, professing his intention to kidnap the opera singer Maria. The party needs to get on his airship to make their way to the Imperial continent, so they have Celes (who, strangely enough, looks a bit like Maria) act as a decoy and sing her part in the opera that night. She manages to fool Setzer until after he kidnaps her.
In Ace Attorney Investigations 2, the Body Double of the President of Zheng Fa, conspiring with Bansai Ichiyanagi, Marie Miwa and Ryoken Honinbo, kills the true president and takes his place. The truth is not discovered until after the imposter is dead.
In the first Assassins Creed, Robert de Sable has Maria Thorpe impersonate him at a funeral after he (correctly) guesses that he's on the Assassin's hit list.
Had he not done that, Desmond would have never existed, as Altair and Maria end up marrying and conceiving Desmond's ancestor.
In Drowtales, it's revealed in chapter 30 that the "Val'Sharess Diva'ratrika" seen in a parade is actually a double. Slightly different than most examples in that the double isn't there to protect Diva — it's to hide the fact that she's been dead for 16 years, and it was her own daughters that did it. Needless to say, the real Diva, who in fact is Not Quite Dead and took over the body of her servant, is pretty shocked to hear that "she's" holding a parade. After a 15 year timeskipboth the Sarghress and Vloz'ress clans put a large amount of effort into assassinating the various doubles that have been brought out since in an attempt to publicly expose the deception, with Kiel'ndia Vloz'ress succeeding in killing one and having it publicly announced, in a chapter appropriately titled "End of Charades".
The Order of the Stick has several for Xykon one of whose head Belkar uses as a weapon for a short time. This is also something of a subversion, as the doubles look like Xykon simply because they're all skeletons.
In Sluggy Freelance, when Torg or Riff want to get out of something, they have robot doubles which Bun-Bun and Kiki (due to their small size) can operate from the inside to impersonate the real Riff and Torg. Bun-Bun also has Mr. Sock-Lop, a sock puppet that looks just like him, which he brings out whenever he wants to avoid Kiki's overenthusiastic hugs.
On another occasion, Homer unknowingly became a double for Krusty when the latter was being targeted by the mob, and Homer only found out the real reason he was being made to dress like Krusty after completing Krusty's Klown Kollegenote This also serves as a dual Lampshade Hanging of their similar physical appearances and a Development Gag, since Matt Groening originally intended to have Krusty and Homer be one in the same, the irony being that Bart worshiped Krusty but disrespected his dad not knowing they were the same person.
In some incarnations of Transformers, Megatron has one named Megaplex.
North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il is strongly speculated to have had a double. One journalist went so far as to suggest that the real Kim died in 2003. Though now that he is actually/officially dead, we will likely never find out.
Similarly, after Boris Yeltsin left politics there were some theories about how he actually drank himself to death in 1999 and the Yeltsin that lived until 2006 was a body double.
Believed in some cultures to be the purpose of bridesmaids, who are dressed similarly to the bride in order to disguise the actual bride from potential kidnappers (or demons, depending on the interpretation.)
It was speculated that Sister Lucia dos Santos, the only one of the Fatima Visionaries who lived until adulthood, was replaced by one of these in The Sixties so she would neither keep the famous Third Secret of Fatima locked away, nor lie about it.