Whenever someone is tied up, the bad guys often leave something sharp in the room that the victim can use to cut themselves free. Even if tied to a chair, they can move the chair to the object to cut the ropes. This is as unrealistically common in serious drama as it is in adventure, action and other genres that don't take themselves seriously. A rarer and more Bad Ass way of escaping from bonds that doesn't require an Idiot Ball is to somehow break the bones of one hand and pull the crushed hand through the loop before the swelling sets in. (Ouch!) One step further, and it becomes a Life-or-Limb Decision.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- In an episode of Spice and Wolf, some thugs beat up Lawrence, tie him up, then leave him in the woods to die. Lawrence uses the embers of his campfire to escape, but he does burn his arms in the process.
- A variation of this trope appears in Natsume's Book of Friends: When the titular Natsume is captured by Matoba, he has his wrists bound with a type of restrictive paper that can't be seen by normal humans and is then left in Matoba's hotel room with one of his shiki as a guard. Fortunately, Natsume spots a glass of water on the table and breaks it, then punches out the shiki and uses the Newly Created Sharp Thing Made From A Conveniently Placed Breakable Thing to cut through his bonds before escaping out the window. In Matoba's defense, he wasn't then aware of Natsume's power and likely assumed that his shiki would stop any escape attempts even if Natsume did manage to break free from his restraints.
- Batman. All the time.
- Deliberately invoked by the Joker in the standalone story "Slayride". Tim Drake/Robin wakes up to find himself tied up by the Joker in a car he stole from a family on Christmas Eve. Robin searches behind his back for something to cut his bonds, and finds a small toy car, snaps the hood off it and starts cutting. But shortly after that, the Joker snatches the car hood out of Robin's hands, because the Joker placed it there. Just to provide false hope. Oh, that Joker!
- Averted twice in The Punisher MAX, where the sharp thing is hidden somewhere that won't get checked. In Frank's case, a razor blade slid inside the slit in his skin that he just made with it (to pass it off as a wound received in the preceding exchange), and later a convict hides a razor blade under his goddamn fingernail to break Frank out of prison (so Frank can kill the convict's brother's murderer).
- In the prequel graphic novel to Mad Max: Fury Road, Max is staked out in the desert by the Buzzards to die. However because they're impressed with his skill as a warrior, their leader stabs Max in the femoral artery, saying he can pull out the knife and bleed to death quickly in a futile effort to save himself, or he can die a slow death from the heat. Max is able to pull a hand from the ropes, but it's too damaged in the process to undo the knots, so he pulls out the knife only to pass out from blood loss. Fortunately a third party turns up who has a motive to save his life.
- The Dark Knight:
- It's subverted. Harvey Dent attempts to do the chair-hop, but ends up simply falling over, knocking over a steel drum and landing in a gushing pool of gasoline. This doesn't end well.
- Likewise, The Joker uses broken glass to escape, but his handcuffs were taken off during his interrogation and the glass was broken when Batman was bouncing him off the windows.
- In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the conveniently-paced burning object (the lucky charm shamrock lighter) fails to be properly used, leading instead to a Disaster Dominoes sequence.
- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull plays it straight, with Mutt throwing his knife so Indy can cut the ropes that tie him (the knife opens while he tries, but what happens isn't addressed).
- Subversion in the 1967 film Doctor Dolittle starring Rex Harrison: He just asks mice to chew through the ropes.
- A conveniently placed dog appears in the Canadian kids' film Bailey's Billion$. Two kids are tied up in a cage, and a dog is in another cage. He bites through the ropes on the kids' hands.
- In Blades of Glory, Chazz is tied up in a room full of ice skates.
- In Halloween III: Season of the Witch, (the one without Michael Myers) the main character is bound to a chair so a laser powered by Stonehenge can shoot out of the microchip in the Halloween mask he is being forced to wear and will cause snakes and bugs to crawl out of his mouth. Anyway, he manages to take out the television from across the room by flinging something at it. The camera cuts away and cuts back to him with a glass shard in his hands, covering the fact that there's no logical way he could have grabbed it.
- In the movie Pan's Labyrinth we are shown several times how the maid Mercedes hides her knife in her belt after using it for her work. So when Captain Vidal captures her for a spy and ties her hand in front, it is logical that she can get loose.
- Both versions are simulated by Riddick in Pitch Black. He dislocates both shoulders (eat your heart out, Riggs!), and slips his cuffs through some Conveniently Placed Starship Damage before cutting them off with a Conveniently Placed Plasma Cutter.
- The American president (played by Harrison Ford, no less) from Air Force One. The film's rating permits showing that using a glass shard cuts you while you're cutting the rope.
- The Matrix Revolutions: Trinity, in the real world, gets tied up by Smith in Bane's body. She's thrown down into a hatch where some conveniently placed sharp things were broken earlier.
- In The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the Orcs and Uruk-hai carrying Merry and Pippin are attacked by the Riders of Rohan, allowing the hobbits to crawl to a nearby axe and cut the ropes binding their hands.
- In the sci-fi movie Xchange, the conveniently placed sharp thing is a spool of monofilament line capable of cutting through basically anything. And it shows that when a nervous person is working with monofilament behind their back, someone's apt to lose a thumb.
- Played with in Funny Games. A knife that's been left in the family's boat is later used by a tied-up Ann to try and free herself. Subverted, in that Paul and Peter see her, take the knife away, and throw it overboard. A few minutes later they send her over as well.
- A memorable example in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, Batman starts to cut himself free with a switchblade. But when he sees that Joker has brainwashed Robin into "Little J.J.", he finishes freeing himself through sheer force, and then throws the knife at Joker's face. He ducked, but jeez.
- Of course it helps if you're such a Memetic Badass you can create your own sharp object. At the start of an otherwise forgetful Chuck Norris action movie, our hero is staked out in the desert to die. To taunt Chuck, the villain leaves a bottle of water in his hand. Chuck is able to break the glass with just one hand, giving himself the glass shards to cut his bonds.
- In Madeline, the bad guys leave Madeline and Pepito tied up in a trailer full of their props. Since they're jugglers by profession, this includes swords. It also includes a conveniently-placed motorcycle, which they use to get away.
- Older Than Feudalism example: One of Aesop's Fables, "The Lion and the Mouse".
- Frequently averted, subverted, and lampshaded in Discworld.
- Particularly noteworthy is in Feet of Clay: "Sometimes, and against all common sense, people inconsiderately throw their bound enemies into rooms totally devoid of nails, handy bits of sharp stone, or even, in extreme cases, enough pieces of old junk and tools to make a fully functional armored car."
- Perhaps the earliest example: in The Light Fantastic tied Rincewind finds a sharp rock and starts cutting the rope. He gets exactly the result he expected — cuts to his wrists till they bleed.
- Played straight in Jingo: the cabin Angua is imprisoned in a ship just happens to be the one that The Boat drills through to latch onto the ship, making a sharp pointed metal drill tip available.
- In the second The Lord of the Rings novel, Merry and Pippin are captured and tied up by Orcs. There are two Orc factions present, and they start fighting over where to take the prisoners... one dead Orc falls on Pippin with his sword in convenient reach of the hobbit's bonds.
- In Edmond Hamilton's Star Kings, the main hero, while prisoner on the enemy ship, manages to escape and draw the attention of his own side's ship. The bad guys are victorious in the battle, and they tie him up in a chair. However, the battle forces a crash landing, which cracks the chair just enough for the hero to saw through his bindings after half a day or so.
- In the Known Space short story "The Borderlands of Sol", by Larry Niven, an extremely limber Beowulf Schaefer has his arms very securely tied to the coolant line of the Big Bad's superweapon. It just so happens that he has a piece of monomolecular wire sewn into one of the buttons on his clothing, but its not like his hands are free to reach it... so he uses his feet instead. Instead of trying to cut his bonds directly, he cuts the coolant line right through, making for a big mess involving a miniature black hole that was being manipulated by a mechanism using said coolant line, and the antagonist being Hoist by His Own Petard.note
- Gets used in Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn when Simon and Miriamele are tied up by cultists serving the Storm King, with the variation that the Sharp Thing is the Magic Mirror that Jiriki gave to Simon. They are forced to smash it and then maneuver the incredibly sharp pieces with their bodies, something that (realistically) leaves their skin cut to ribbons. It's worthwhile, though, considering what they are about to be sacrificed to.
- Invoked in Animorphs: after kidnapping Chapman in one novel, the heroes arrange his escape because they can't kill him. They leave broken glass near the tied-up Chapman, which reinforces the idea that the Animorphs are "Andalite bandits" - Andalites don't use glass, and don't understand its sharpness.
- Used in The Lost Scrolls After Harry, Garth and Gid fail in their attempt to save Meagen and Jesse. As the evil cult people start to ready the poison, Harry starts frantically looking around for anything he can use to free them. It takes him a bit to remember that he has a knife blade he sewed into his tunic at the beginning of the book...
- Lampshaded in The Goblin Tower by L. Sprague de Camp. Fugitive king Jorian, the wizard Karadur, and the woman Vanora have been tied up in Jorian's bedroom by a couple of other wizards. Jorian's sword is hanging by its baldrick on his hatrack, and though Jorian has his ankles and wrists bound, he manages to worm himself to his feet, knock the hatrack over, and (with the help of Vanora's feet) cut through his bonds. Prompting this exchange after he releases the others:
Jorian: These knaves were tyros after all, or they'd never have left aught sharp where we could come upon it.
Karadur: Remember, my son, that they are accustomed to coping with foes, not by such crude devices as swords and cords, but by spirits, spells, and the transcendental wisdom of magic.
Jorian: So much the worse for them.
- Played with and averted in the Stephen King novel Gerald's Game. The female protagonist is left handcuffed to a bed, naked, with no one alive for miles around. She makes her own conveniently placed sharp thing by breaking a water glass...which she then uses to cut, not the handcuffs, but her own hand, so the blood can act like a lubricant so her hand will slip out.
- In A Taint in the Blood, Kate is captured and tied to a camp bed in an old cabin. She escapes by breaking the bed till she can squirm across the floor, and then lighting a Coleman stove and using it to burn through the rope.
Live Action TV
- Parodied in Police Squad!, where a kidnapped woman begins sawing away at her bonds on the requisite sharp object, wipes her forehead with her hand from the strain of it all, and then puts her hand back into the ropes to continue sawing away.
- Subverted on NCIS. Jenny, while tied to a chair, spends considerable effort edging a flat shard of metal towards her with her foot. Then the guy kicks her out of range. (Yes, he kicks her out of range, not the convenient sharp object. Ouch)
- Used on Leverage when a mook has to escape.
- Firefly. In the pilot episode, Dobson is seen sawing at his bonds with a sharp object.
- The possibility is raised that Jayne left it with him for exactly that purpose. It would not be out of character for him...
- Also, when Jubal Early has Kaylee tied up, River suggests to her that there must be something sharp nearby. Justified since she's in the engine room with a whole bunch of tools, making Early Too Dumb to Live.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: In the episode "The Dark Age", bad guy Ethan Rayne has Buffy tied up, with her arms wrapped around the edges of a table and tied together beneath it. There is a conveniently located screw sticking out the bottom of the table that she uses to saw through the ropes.
- Michael has to do this in Burn Notice when a former friend sells him out. He escapes but bloodies his wrists.
- In The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. episode "Crystal Hawks", Brisco manages to get himself loose from the ropes he's tied up in by using a partially exposed screw in Crystal's cart.
- In Warehouse 13, Claudia is handcuffed with no way out. Looking around, she picks up a plastic spatula and tosses it down disgustedly. After the action falls, Artie shows up and tells her he sees seven ways out of the situation. He picks up the spatula and corrects himself: "Sorry, eight."
- In Hawaii Five-0, a serial killer who has Max tied up creates his means of escape by smashing several objects with a golf club, then leaving the room for a minute. Max tips his chair over and uses a glass shard to cut the rope. He's not done yet; he gets back in the chair and pretends he's still bound, and when the killer raises the club to cave in his skull, he runs him through with the shard.
- In the series Once Upon a Time, in the episode called "Hat Trick", Emma does this with a tea cup from which she had drunk earlier. While falling into a drug-induced unconciousness, she drops the cup, and when she wakes up she's bound and gagged. So she drops a pillow onto the tea cup and stomps on it, breaking it, and uses it to cut the rope.
- In Homeland, Carrie manages to sever her bonds this way when held prisoner by Abu Nazir, but her escape is unsuccessful.
- John Sheppard in Stargate Atlantis uses a conveniently placed rock to cut the rope when he has hands tied behind his back. It makes more sense once you know it's a scenario cooked up by an AI.
- In Series/Supernatural this happens in almost every other episode, one or both of the boys gets tied up and finds a nail or a knife or a sharp edge of some sort to break the ropes.
- Invoked in The Walking Dead, when Milton drops a scary-looking tray of sharp things the Governor happened to have laid out in the holding cell, and deliberately leaves one lying out of sight when he clears up the others.
- Double Subverted in Snobs: Abby is captured and tied up below the deck of a ship. She tries using a letter opener to cut through the bonds, but one of her captors comes back in and takes it from her before she can finish. Luckily, the titular dog finds her and finishes the job.
- In one episode of Castle, Castle has his character Nikki Heat tied to a chair and can't figure out how she will escape, so he has Alexis tie him up for research. He ends up knocking over a garbage can and using a broken soda can to cut free.
- In a later episode, Castle and Beckett are locked in a room and are bound with zip ties. Castle finds a screw and uses it to saw at Beckett's binds. A decent amount of time passes and he doesn't even make a dent in it.
- Doctor Who. In "The Caves of Androzani" the Doctor is chained to the wall in a spaceship's control cabin. He's able to break free of the wall, and finds a vertical glowing energy beam he can use to cut the chain, through trying to do so while standing with his back to it is rather painful.
- In the Haven episode "301", Audrey uses broken glass to cut through her ropes. Her hands get very bloody in the process.
- Game of Thrones. In "The Sons of the Harpy", after kidnapping Tyrion Lannister, Jorah Mormont steals a fisherman's boat, then returns to where he's left Tyrion lying in the sand, his longsword stuck through Tyrion's bonds to hold him in place. He finds Tyrion frantically rubbing the ropes against the blade, but Jorah was only away for a moment, not enough time to escape.
- In King's Quest V there is a mouse you save really early on in the game. If you don't, you lose about 300 turns later on when you are tied up and nothing rescues you.
- This is an option in the video game Darklands when you are tied up by devil worshipers in a hamlet. The game features an illogical subversion; it can be easier to break the ropes with brute force if strong enough than it is to cut them.
- Parodied in The Secret of Monkey Island. When Guybrush is thrown underwater tied to a heavy idol, the ground around him is littered with swords, scissors, and other miscellaneous sharp objects, all of which are just out of reach. If you wait a while, you'll hear two people on the dock discuss whether they should throw a knife into the water, and then decide not to. The solution, of course, is to pick up the idol and climb out.
- Parodied again in The Curse of Monkey Island. After Guybrush is swallowed whole by a very large snake, you can see that all around you are: a Snake-Slicing machete, a can of Snake-Away, the Jaws of Life, a good-size Snake-Beating plank, some high-fiber cereal, and a Nine Iron golf club. All of these things would easily allow him to escape if they weren't outside the snake.
- In Broken Sword II, this is the very second thing you do in the game - after knocking over a Conveniently Unstable Bookshelf to get rid of a poisonous spider, you find a sharp bracket on the wall behind it.
- In Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood, the three McCall brothers are tied up in a shed where there was a saw. Only William uses the saw, however, and just goes to untie his brothers.
- Played with in Rule of Rose; the sharp thing is very deliberately placed, as well as controlled by the villain: a pair of scissors that is automatically lowered by rope to cut the protagonist's ties, and then lifted up again beyond her reach.
- In the into to FEAR 3, the Point Man is being interrogated by a pair of Armacham troops, up until the point that that Paxton Fettel waltzes into the room and possesses one of them. As soon as he does so and attacks the other guard, the Point Man produces a small knife he'd hidden up his sleeve and cuts the zip-tie around his wrist, then kills the guard Fettel is possessing.
- Nightshade on the NES has this or a variant in a couple points. Right at the start of the game, you use a Conveniently Placed Candle (The game even notes it's there "For no explainable reason" when you examine it) to free yourself from a chair. Later, one of the continue scenarios has you use some sharp metal protruding from the wall as part of your escape.
- Johnny Rocketfingers
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: In the LucasArts adventure game based on the movie, you instead use a convenient polearm held by a set of armor.
- This also occurs in the "Big Top Trap" episode of The Perils of Penelope Pitstop.
- An episode of Captain Planet had Gi tied to a chair in a room used to gather coral from a reef. One sharp piece falls conveniently nearby and we all know what happens after that...
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Aang uses the ludicrously spiky helmet of his own guard.
- Inspector Gadget: Given Penny's propensity for getting Bound and Gagged, inevitably she stumbled across more than her fair share of conveniently placed sharp things.
- In "Ketchup Vampires" after Huberta has kidnapped Bella she takes her form in order to seduce Pino, Pino however sees through the disguise and bounds and gags her, he then locks her in a dungeon, she manages to escape by cutting the ropes with a rusty pipe in the cell.
- Fillmore!: In "Codename: Electric Haircut", Fillmore is able to cut through his bonds with a CD that fell on him when he was being tied up.
Crushed hand variant examples:
Anime and Manga
- In the seventh Kara no Kyoukai, Shiki manages to one-up most of the examples on this page by chewing her own thumb off to get out of handcuffs. Of course, the thumb in question is on her artificial left arm, but it just shows how hardcore the character is.
- It's even more hardcore when you realize that despite being an artificial limb, she can feel through it and is nearly indistinguishable from an flesh and blood arm.
- Lupin III does this quite often, through joint dislocation rather than crushing his hand. The only time we explicitly see his escape is during the first Red Jacket episode. The rest of the time is usually just off-camera.
- In Suki: A Like Story, Asou intentionally breaks his thumb so he can wriggle free from his restraints. This is just one of many signs that he's far more than a simple school teacher.
- In Saw III, Detective Eric Matthews escapes the infamous bathroom by breaking his foot to get it through the manacle.
- In Lethal Weapon 2, Riggs is chained up and thrown into the sea. He dislocates his arm at the shoulder to get out. This is actually a Chekhov's Gun, as he does this to escape a straitjacket earlier in the film, on a bet.
- In The Boondock Saints, the brothers are handcuffed to chairs, so they move to allow one brother to stomp the other's thumb until he can pull it out of the handcuffs. It hurts to watch.
- In Pitch Black, Riddick dislocates both shoulders to escape from being attached to a pole by having his hands put around the pole and handcuffed together.
- It was revealed in the extra features reel on the DVD that Vin Diesel very nearly can do that move in real life. Not quite, but close.
- Assassins. Professional Killer Miguel Bain dislocates his thumb to escape police handcuffs after being arrested during an assassination.
- Miles Vorkosigan used to be able to do this easily when his bones were still brittle enough that he could crush them with his own muscles. The bones were replaced with unbreakable synthetics by the time of Komarr, so that he was unable to escape no matter how hard he tried.
- In Issola, Vlad considers how to get friends out of ceramic wrist bindings. He rejects the break-the-hand approach primarily because he doesn't have the oil he'd need to slide the hands out afterward.
- Played with in The Dresden Files novel Proven Guilty, where Harry is held captive by a pair of villains in an old garage, who are selling him on eBay. There's a tool chest a few meters away, but out of reach, and he can't use any magic because the restraints are designed to trap wizards. However, with a bit of help from Lasciel, he uses a technique that lets him dislocate his thumb and slip one hand free of the restraints. Then he gets to the tool chest and manages to find a hacksaw. Fortunately, the restraints are made by fae troll-smiths, and iron is the fae's bane, so the hacksaw goes right through the restraints. He also levels a few curses at his dad, the stage magician, who never got around to teaching him how to get out of a pair of handcuffs painlessly.
- Variant: In Gerald's Game, the heroine escapes from being handcuffed to a bed in a cabin somewhere in BFE (the only other person who could have let her out is her husband, recently deceased of a heart attack) by using a broken drinking glass to cut the skin around her wrist, partly degloving her hand to slip out of one cuff.
- Mindstar Rising, a sci-fi novel by Peter F. Hamilton, has the protagonist and his fellow captive stomping their hands to crush the bones so they can pull them through the handcuffs. Even though he can create neurohormones to dull the pain, it still severely squicks them both.
- In Shackles, one of the Nameless Detective novels by Bill Prizoni, Nameless employs a variant. Shackled in a cabin, Nameless starves himself till he can slip his hands out through the manacles, tearing off some skin in the process.
Live Action TV
- This is how Dexter escapes the Skinner in season 3 - rocking the table over to land on his hand.
- Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Sarah Connor manages to be even more Bad Ass: after breaking her hand bones, she bites her wrist open, giving her the necessary slipperiness.
- Casey tells Chuck about this trick (breaking one's own thumb), but Chuck's far too pain averse. Casey himself pulls it later. Still later Morgan does it, but discovers he didn't need to break his thumb.
- Defied in Burn Notice. Michael Westin is handcuffed, one hand to each arm of the chair he's sitting in. He notes that breaking your thumbs will work in such a situation, but it's much easier to use leverage and relative hardnesses of the restraints and whatever they're hooked onto to break loose instead, and then you don't have to deal with broken bones.
- During Season 3 of Person of Interest, Fusco breaks his thumb (the bad guys broke two of his other fingers earlier, so a little more pain wasn't that big a deal) to escape from a pair of handcuffs.
- Miss Parker employs the 'crushed hand' variant in one episode of The Pretender when she dislocates her own thumb to allow herself to slip out of a set of handcuffs.