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Criminal Doppelgänger
Oh man, I can't tell which one is which!

A wanted criminal or escaped convict who just so happens to bear a striking resemblance to a main character and, through a number of Contrived Coincidences, invariably ends up getting confused with his counterpart.

In general, someone on the run from the police who has absolutely no ties to any of the main characters but looks like one of them is always bound to cross paths with his unwitting double, at which point the main character is often mistaken by the police for the criminal when they finally enter the picture. Occasionally, this leads to the completely innocent main character being thrown in jail in the criminal's place, without police ever looking at the main character's identification or giving him a trial to prove his innocence or even telling him what the Bewildering Punishment is for.

This regularly leads to Acting for Two, Emergency Impersonation, Swapped Roles and either Clear My Name or Clear Their Name. A Beard of Evil, irregular scar, or similar facial characteristic(s) may be employed so audiences can more easily differentiate between the original characters and their look-alikes, especially in comics and animation.

This is a subtrope of Identical Stranger; is a Sister Trope to Evil Twin (evil identical twin), Evil Counterpart (evil Alternate Universe persona), and Evil Knockoff (intentionally created evil duplicate); and is also an Undead Horse Trope.

Compare: Costume Copycat for a variation found with costumed superheroes.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime And Manga 
  • One Piece inverts this. The crew is wanted by the authorities, and therefore all have wanted posters. Their pictures are all from photographs except for Sanji's, whose photo they could not take. They decide to draw his picture in instead, and the drawing is so bad that it ends up barely resembling Sanji. At one point, the crew get attacked by Duval, a guy who looks exactly like Sanji's terribly-drawn wanted poster, because he's fed up of being mistaken for Sanji.
    • Played with again later in the series when a bunch of impostor pirates dress up as the Straw Hats and try to use their infamy to their own advantage. The irony being that even though they look nothing like the originals in the first place, by this point in the story, two years have passed and the Straw Hats now look different to varying degrees. Also an inversion in that the main characters are the notorious criminals, while the doppelgangers are relative unknowns; only their captain even has a bounty, and his is comparatively low.
      • This turns into a Casting Gag in the anime, as the Straw Hats' voice actors are mixed around to voice the "Fake Hats", such as Sanji's actor voicing the fake Luffy.
  • In Faye's first appearance in Cowboy Bebop she mistakes Spike for the guy who was supposed to help her smuggle a computer chip hidden in a gambling chip during a game of blackjack. The screen was fuzzy so she couldn't see the details but he had the same fluffy hair and snazzy blue suit and, by sheer power of coincidence, even performed half the code phrase before walking off with the completely normal chip.Pete and Moila, two notorious crimin
  • In the Dirty Pair, Kei and Yuri get mistaken for notorious criminals Pete and Moira. Kei and Yuri end up finding the crooked pair in order to take them down and restore their reputation. As galaxy renowned WWWA consultants, they were naturally very insulted. They also didn't expect them to be a pair of old men.
    Kei: Hey, how are they supposed to look like us? You've got to be kidding me.
    Yuri: I second that!

    Comics 
  • In the Crossover Archie Meets The Punisher, a criminal the Punisher has tracked to Riverdale looks very similar to Archie.
    • And the series ends with Wolverine getting word of a dangerous mutant that looks like Jughead.
  • One Disney comic, where Mickey and Goofy are Texas Rangers. The criminal they are chasing turns out to be an exact look-alike of Goofy. Both at some comment on how disappointed they are that "someone that handsome is acting so stupid."
  • It was not uncommon for superheroes in the Silver Age to run across a criminal who was a dead ringer for their Secret Identity. I know that it happened to Superman and Batman and I am sure there were other examples.
  • Bruce Wayne's childhood friend Thomas Elliot (a.k.a. Hush) got facial reconstruction surgery to look more like Bruce so that he can impersonate him and more easily get away with sapping from Bruce's wealth.
    • Black Mask dressed up as Batman after War Games and committed multiple murders in a bid to discredit Batman and remove him as a threat.
  • In Ultimate Spider-Man, some random crook dressed up as Spidey and committed a bunch of crimes culminating in murdering Captain Stacey (Gwen's father) during a robbery. Spidey was so enraged that he nearly killed the guy.

    Film 
  • Jim Varney's signature character Ernest P. Worrell inadvertently switched places with a crime boss in Ernest Goes To Jail. Getting Ernest in jail is justified, seeing that a corrupt attorney working with the crime boss is the one who got him there.
  • Played With in Wrongfully Accused when Leslie Nielsen's character spots a Wanted Poster for himself and doodles over his mugshot. After adding things like glasses, a funny hat, bushy eyebrows, and a long beard and mustache, a sheriff immediately arrests someone else who just so happens to reflect Nielsen's changes.
  • The movie Bullseye! features Michael Caine and Roger Moore playing a pair of Con Men who attempt to exploit their resemblance to a pair of nuclear physicists (also played by Caine and Moore) who believe they have invented a limitless supply of energy.
  • Inverted the classic Russian comedy Gentlemen of Fortune about kindergarten teacher who is recruited by the police to impersonate a big-shot criminal, stage a break-out in a prison with the criminal's buddies, and lead the police straight to the criminals' cache of stolen goods. Hilarity Ensues.
  • The twist ending of Following is The Reveal that Cobb was deliberately grooming "Bill" to be his fall guy for the police to arrest—aside from deliberately planting evidence to falsely implicate him, he even surreptitiously convinced Bill to start dressing like him.
  • The Roberto Benigni movie Johnny Stecchino is about a bus driver (Benigni) who gets mistaken for a look-alike gangster, the titular Johnny Stecchino (Benigni again). In this case, though, Dante (the bus driver) is deliberately lured to Johnny's hometown to take the fall for him.
  • The Alfred Hitchcock film The Wrong Man is about a guy who just happens to look almost exactly like a robber who was robbing various stores. The guy gets arrested when he shows up at an insurance office the real robber has already robbed twice. The robber is caught when he commits a robbery while the protagonist is in police custody. And it was Based on a True Story.
  • This is the plot of the John Ford comedy The Whole Town's Talking, starring Edward G. Robinson as a meek man who looks like a vicious gangster.
  • In The Muppets sequel, Muppets Most Wanted, there is an antagonist named Constantine. According to director James Bobin "he looks like Kermit". As the interview continues, both Bobin and Empire Magazine lampshade Acting for Two, and discuss tropes.
    Is Kermit playing both roles?
    "No."
    So you had to find someone who looked just like Kermit?
    "Yes."
    Must have been an extensive search.
    "Yes. (Laughs) The thing with Muppet films is we pay homage to clever tropes and genres, so if you can imagine a doppelganger movie, most of the things you can imagine you'll see in this."

    Literature 
  • In Around the World in Eighty Days, Phileas Fogg is wrongly pursued around the globe by Inspector Fix because, in addition to the suspicious circumstances surrounding his sudden departure, he answers to the description of the gentleman who robbed the Bank of England.
  • Les Misérables has Champmathieu gets arrested in Jean Valjean's place because he just happens to look exactly like him.
  • James Thurber's short story "The Remarkable Case of Mr. Bruhl" centers around this.
  • The Great Impersonation by E. Phillips Oppenheim features an identical English gentleman and German spy.
  • Doris Egan's Ivory trilogy has a different take on this. In Two-Bit Heroes, Ran and Theodora are mistaken for the local infamous criminal Stereth Tar'krim and his girlfriend Cantry. However, this is because Ivory is a planet where the natives all tend to be tall and have dark hair/eyes/skin. Theodora is a short pale redhead from another planet. Cantry is a pale blonde from a third planet. Photography doesn't seem to exist here and all anyone knows about Stereth is that he has a tymon (foreigner) girlfriend. So when Ran and Theodora show up, everyone assumes they're the criminals. And Theodora continues to be mistaken for Cantry through the rest of the book, even though she keeps pointing out they have different hair colors. But by Ivory standards, they don't really pay attention to hair colors, so...presumably their facial structure must be similar, at least.
  • Suspicion by Friedrich Dürrenmatt has an interesting case: Dr. Emmenberger, a Swiss doctor of medicine and Dr. Nehle, a German Back-Alley Doctor do look a lot alike and Emmenberger decides to make use of that: He and Nehle switch identities during WWII, Emmenberger gets Nehle a license and works in a concentration camp while Nehle, posing as Emmenberger, works at a hospital in Chile. After the war, they switch back. Emmenberger kills Nehle (who now is considered a war criminal) and passes now undetected as a renowned head of a private clinic.
  • Several times in the original Nancy Drew series as well as in The Nancy Drew Files series, Nancy was plagued by the criminal actions of a lookalike.

    Live Action TV 
  • The Rifleman had a criminal who looked near identical to Luke (Even played by Chuck Connors). Unlike most examples though, since Luke is a pretty decent and well-liked guy and his doppleganger is such a Jerk Ass, people are pretty quick to realize that he isn't Luke.
  • The Dukes of Hazzard: A frequent trope in several episodes, and a particular favorite trick used by Boss Hogg and Rosco in their never-ending quest to frame the Duke boys:
    • "Double Dukes," where Boss hires two men to rob Hazzard Bank, and to make the heist convincing to the community and most importantly the authorities, has the men wear clothing, wigs and masks resembling Bo and Luke. Boss even has a Dodge Charger painted to resemble the General Lee. Bo and Luke are able to prove their innocence and expose their doubles.
    • "The $10 Million Sheriff," where a vicious bounty hunter paints a stolen Dodge Charger as the General Lee, fooling Bo and Luke.
    • "Too Many Roscos," where an experienced bank robber named Woody has a facelift so he can exactly resemble Rosco. He does this as he and his two associates run the patrol car driven by the real Rosco off the road and into a lake, kidnap him and allow the community to believe that the real Rosco to be presumed drowned. After the community begins mourning the presumably dead sheriff, "Rosco" reappears, much to the joy of the community. Although there are obvious clues that this man is an imposter—namely, by bungling simple facts while remembering in detail an expected armored car delivery to Hazzard Bank—the community is fooled, and this allows Woody and his friends to pull off a seemingly easy bank robbery.
    • "Twin Trouble," where twin jewel thieves use this to their advantage by having one of the sisters pull off the robberies and the other be somewhere else, claiming complete innocence and non-involvement in the crime. Bo is dating the "innocent" sister while Luke saw the other one pull off the robbery, naturally leading to conflict before the Duke cousins realize what is actually happening.
  • Gunsmoke: The 1972 episode "Alias: Festus Hagen" sees the dumbfounded, loveable and dim-witted deputy sheriff arrested as a bloothirsty outlaw named Frank Eaton. Eaton had been wanted for bank robbery, murder and numerous other crimes, and the impression on the community at first is that Festus had cleverly been concealing his identity. But Matt realizes quickly that something is amiss and seeks to clear his friend's name. Sure enough, Matt tracks down the real Frank Eaton ... and sure enough, he exactly resembles Festus. Eventually, Festus escapes custody (just before he is to stand trial), meets Eaton and the two get into that episode's requisite brawl. When Eaton gets the upper hand and is clearly winning, it is the U.S. Marshall who arrested Festus in the first place who comes to the rescue.
  • Bonanza: Late in the series' run, Lorene Greene doubles up as Bradley Meredith, a professional gambler and con man who fools Virginia City into believing he is Ben Cartwright. Both of his visits come when the real Ben is out of town on business, although Meredith always has a clever explanation as to "Ben's" quick return and to engage in his latest scheme — always which ultimately involves liquidating the Ponderosa at a hefty payoff. Ben always shows up in time, however, to set things straight and thwart his phony look-alike's plans. Two such installments (one in 1971, the other in 1972) were filmed, and rumor had it that Bradley Meredith was planning to return in the spring of 1973, had Bonanza not been cancelled.
  • An episode of Kenan & Kel once had Kenan's father Roger mistaken by the title characters for a jewel thief nicknamed "The Diamond Bandit" that they heard about on an America's Most Wanted-type program.
    • There was also a clown that tied the duo up and robbed Chris's store who just happened to be exactly like the clown who was later hired to perform at Kyra's birthday party.
  • There is an episode of The Monkees in which Micky gets in a bit of trouble because he looks absolutely identical to a dangerous gangster wanted by the police.
  • The A-Team episode "Showdown" has a drug lord terrorizing his enemies with his trio of goons. Said goons were ordered by the same Big Bad to disguise themselves as the A-team so that everyone else will put the blames on the real ones. That is until the real A-team show up...
    • The fake A-team doesn't have a Murdock however, and the latter is angry when he finds out.
  • The self-explanatory It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode "Dennis Looks Like a Registered Sex Offender."
  • An episode of The Brady Bunch had Peter being mistaken for a lookalike kissing bandit at his school.
  • Happened not once, not twice, but three times on Gilligan's Island. Gilligan had a Russian Spy double, Mr. Howell had a freeloader double, and Ginger had a... well, OK, she wasn't a criminal, until she went back and started using Ginger's fame.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "The Massacre of St Bartholemew's Eve", one of the villains just happens to look like the First Doctor (William Hartnell).
    • In "The Enemy of the World" there's a dictator named The Salamander who just happens to look like the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton).
    • In "Meglos", the villain deliberately invokes this trope by using alien technology to make himself look like the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker).
    • In "Rise of the Cybermen"/"The Age of Steel", Mickey Smith has a double named Ricky, who claims to be London's most wanted. For parking tickets.
  • Monk used this in an episode, in which Adrian happened to be a dead ringer for a mob hit-man. However it was inverted, in that the police didn't mix him up, but instead recruited him to make the other criminals think he was the hit-man, who'd been killed in a traffic accident several days earlier.
  • Green Acres had an episode revolving around this, with a criminal who looked just like Oliver.
  • Invoked in an episode of Supernatural with a shapeshifter that impersonates people close to the victims while committing his crimes so that they'll take the fall instead of him.
    • And again in season 7, when Leviathans carry out a series of high profile robberies/mass murders while impersonating Sam & Dean.
  • In Even Stevens Louis gets Wrongfully Accused for the acts of another student from another school who looks exactly like him and has the same name as he does.
  • An episode of Drake & Josh had Josh be repeatedly mistaken for a wanted criminal after playing one in a dramatization on TV, whose name was the "Theater Thug". This results in him getting beaten up and arrested repeatedly, to the point where he's in the same theater AS THE ACTUAL THEATER THUG and is beaten up and arrested while the real guy makes off with the theater's money.
  • The Adventures of Superman had an episode (s4e6: "Jimmy the Kid") featuring a criminal doppelganger for Jimmy Olsen, of all people.
  • An episode of The Incredible Hulk had David Banner cross paths with a criminal who looked exactly like him (Bill Bixby with a mustache). Despite trying to frame Banner, the criminal was caught by police and attempted to weasel out of it by saying there's a guy who looks exactly like me. The police, who apparently didn't watch tv, dismissed the idea as inane.
  • Happens in Dad's Army when Jones's photo gets mixed up at the printing shop with a photo of an escaped Italian POW, causing Jones to be on the Wanted posters instead of the POW.
  • Only Fools And Horses had a two-part special where Del and Rodney go to Miami, where a Mafia boss who looks identical to Del is facing life imprisonment. The guy's son hatches a plot to fake his death by getting the brothers to stay with them (not introducing them to his father) and have Del dress in his clothes (achieved by arranging for their camper van with all their possessions inside to be stolen), then having Del killed in public. After a few failed attempts, Del manages to work out what's happening, and they are able to escape.
  • The Tracker episode "Double Down" involves Zin using the man Cole had taken his human morph from to get Cole arrested for murder. A subversion, since he wasn't actually the murderer either-Zin used some fancy video manipulation and footage from the suspected killer having been tricked into a fake movie shoot.
  • In the Highlander: The Series episode "The Counterfeit", Rogue watcher Horton hired a female con to take down Duncan, having her get Magic Plastic Surgery to look just like Duncan's late girlfriend Tessa.
  • In Get Smart, Max and 99 just so happen to be exact doubles of the criminal couple Connie and Floyd in the episode "The Secret of San Vittorio." Oddly, though, it's Max and 99 who impersonate the couple to get information. This goes awry when the actual couple shows up and, mistaken for impersonators, are killed. No one feels the least bit guilty about this.
  • A Diagnosis: Murder two-parter called "Gangland" centered on a recently-paroled mob boss who bore a striking resemblance to Dr. Mark Sloan (both roles played by Dick Van Dyke).
  • A real life one is portrayed in Dragnet. An undercover cop is accused of robbing a liquor store; the owner of the store even picked him out of a line up. However, in the end, another man who looks identical to the officer (even dressed similarly) is arrested and cops to the robbery.
  • In the Route 66 episode "I'm Here to Kill a King", Tod Stiles is plagued by an assassin who looks just like him.
  • Psych has a more realistic example: A man is falsely accused because the actual criminal isn't identical but looks enough like him that when people saw him, they thought they mistook him for the real criminal. What made it worse was that almost all of the "evidence" used to prosecute him was eyewitness testimony, which highly subjective.
  • F Troop: Kid Vicious, the notorious bandit double of the goody-two shoes Captain Parmenter.
  • Orphan Black has an example of the main character being one of these. The show starts with Sarah Manning, a former hustler with a criminal record, see a woman who looks exactly like her at the subway station. Moments later, the woman kills herself by running in front of a train. Sarah takes this as an opportunity to impersonate her. It's not just Identical Stranger, though. It's a lot more complicated than that.
    • This is later played straight with Helena, a mysterious serial killer who seems bent on killing all the clones.

    Music 
  • Momus' song "Pervert Doppelganger" concerns a supposed look-alike of the narrator who goes around committing "sexual crimes" and pinning the blame on the (according to him) innocent narrator.
  • Dethklok's song "Bloodtrocuted" tells the story of an electrician who is mistaken by bounty hunters for a wanted criminal who looks just like him.

    Video Games 
  • The reason why Sonic the Hedgehog is captured by G.U.N. twice and why he and his friends are constantly chased throughout Sonic Adventure 2.
  • Mario suffers from this during his vacation to Delfino Island. Bowser Jr. posing as Shadow Mario has polluted the island, and the player is charged with cleaning it up.
  • One Dual Boss of the arcade Beat 'em Up game for The Simpsons is a pair of criminals that look like Homer and Bart.
  • In Ace Attorney, a defendant is found guilty after "Phoenix Wright" horribly screws up their defense. Since the actual Phoenix knows he wasn't involved in the case, he concludes that it must have been someone else that looked like him. It turns out that Furio Tigre, having murdered someone, impersonated Phoenix and purposely gave a crap defense complete with a fake attorney badge, to make sure that the person he had planted the crime onto got convicted. The doppelgänger having appearance characteristics that differ from the real Phoenix Wright gets a Lampshade Hanging from all the other characters.

    Western Animation 
  • Mr. Bean (pictured) was mistaken for an escaped convict in the Animated Adaptation. The two ended up switching places for a short time, and the convict decided to break back into his jail cell after he couldn't stand Bean's landlady.
  • Timmy Turner's real parents on The Fairly OddParents were once arrested during a trip to Niagara Falls by cops who confused them with an Outlaw Couple known as "The Souvenir Bandits."
  • One early Looney Tunes short had a criminal who looked just like Porky Pig, an outstanding citizen working as a bank clerk. So he takes Porky's place in order to rob the bank.
    • A Tiny Toon Adventures episode dealt with a criminal who looked just like Hampton except for facial hair, a scar, and a missing tooth, naturally Plucky can't tell the difference and in the end the real Hamton ends up in prison.
    • And a Duck Dodgers episode has a criminal called Drake Darkstar, who looks just like Dodgers, switch places with him through a series of convenient incidents. In the end, the Space Cadet actually lets Dodgers get sent to jail instead of Darkstar after he learns Dodgers sold his sister to a sausage factory, choosing to stay with Darkstar instead, who was "nicer" (and he objected to what Dodgers did when he heard it).
  • In the Animated Adaptation of Around the World In 80 Days (See Literature above), Around the World with Willy Fog, the real bank robber is shown after the mix-up is resolved. He's also a lion, and generally looks like a thinner, more scraggly version of Fog.
  • Played With in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker where Jordan Price is introduced as a Red Herring in determining The Joker's real identity. Price physically resembles The Joker in every way, except for possessing normal-colored hair and actual skin tone, and is voiced by Mark Hamill. However, while not actually the Joker, Price did work in connection with him and is turned in to Gotham PD by Terry.
  • One of Underdog's enemies was his exact double, Tap-Tap the Chiseler, who didn't have any of Underdog's powers. It didn't stop Tap-Tap from using his image to get stuff like bombs without anyone batting an eye.
  • In one The Pink Panther short, this happens to the Inspector. He gets imprisoned, tries to break out (unsuccessfully) repeatedly, and has to smash rocks to bits.
  • Pac-Man was once mistaken for a bank robber who escaped from prison. The fugitive even managed to fool Ms. Pac-Man... until she read the newspaper a day late, and mistook her husband for the crook.
  • Similar to the Wrongfully Accused example, The Simpsons Movie sees Bart draw over a wanted poster so that it looks like a different family, who get caught instead of The Simpsons.
  • An episode of The Little Lulu Show also had Tubby come in contact with his villainous lookalike, the aptly named Marty The Midget. The two then switch places, with Marty having to deal with Tubby's parents, friends, and the Westside Gang, while Tubby wound up in prison with a bunch of other escaped convicts. In the end, Marty gets arrested and everything is back to normal once more.
  • One episode of Goof Troop had Goofy being an exact lookalike for a member of a counterfeiting gang.
  • In the T.U.F.F. Puppy episode "The Doomies", Dudley and Kitty are able to sneak into a villain's award show by posing as two criminals named "Doctor Rabies" and "Madame Cat-astrophe". The criminals look just like them, albeit with a moustache and goatee.
  • Zig-zagged in The Powerpuff Girls episode "Powerpuff Bluff." Three hardened criminals apply horrible costumes of the girls and everyone in Townsville (except Ms. Bellum) buys it as the real Powerpuffs.
    • The Powerpunk Girls from "Deja View" (DC Comics issue #50, which was originally intended to be a TV episode) may also count as this.

    Real Life 
  • Although there are few people who look almost identical, merely looking close to a criminal has put a number of people in prison whom DNA or other evidence has exonerated. Witness identification is incredibly unreliable in Real Life, as numerous scientific studies on memory and recall have proved.
  • Joseph Lesurques was famously executed in 18th century France for a crime he didn't commit, but the real culprit, who bore a striking resemblance to Lesurques, was discovered afterward.
  • Another notable example is the case of Adolf Beck. He was mistaken for a serial con artist named John Smith and convicted after a bungled investigation concluded that Beck was said con artist living under a false name. He was then cleared partially (of being John Smith) and released after the sentence was over, but was accused again. Luckily, this time the judge had some doubts and postponed sentencing. Ten days later they caught the real John Smith, who resembled Adolf but had a scar which proved that he was the actual criminal.
  • Actors who portray criminals in televised recreations of real crimes in various police reality shows are often mistaken for actual criminals by viewers who can't tell the difference between a dramatization and actual security footage.
    • At least once, the producers of America's Most Wanted actually had to have a special card printed up for a re-enactment actress because so many people were calling the police on her.
  • A Malaysian man inverted this trope to escape execution for trafficking drugs. The courts couldn't distinguish between him and an innocent doppelgänger, his identical twin brother, and so released both.
  • Another real-life case of a criminal using this to their advantage: An armored truck robber in Monroe, Washington hired several people to show up for a job dressed the same as him. When the police tried to chase him, they ran into his hired doppelgangers (while he attempted to escape down the river in an inner tube).
  • One American man saw a televised report of a dangerous criminal who just happened to look a lot like himself. Wanting to avoid this trope, he went to the police himself to explain that he was not the criminal at large. After confirming his identity, the police thanked him for clearing any potential confusion... then ran a background check on him on a whim, to find that he was wanted for other, unrelated crimes, and arrested him anyway.


Costume CopycatDoppelgängerDead Person Impersonation
Identical StrangerActing for TwoPrince and Pauper
DoppelgängerTrope Names from Other LanguagesGesundheit
Criminal AmnesiacCriminalsCrooked Contractor
Mr. BeanImageSource/Western AnimationMr. Magoo

alternative title(s): Evil Identical Stranger
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