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Just like Pandora should have known better than to open her box, characters in fiction should know better than to ask questions, explore Haunted Castles, read aloud from the Tome of Eldritch Lore, or be curious on general principle. It inevitably starts the plot, which of course starts things moving and gets people dying.
If these characters are in a horror flick, anyone showing the slightest bit of curiosity in Slasher Moviewill die. Or release the Sealed Evil in a Can. Or get their Genre Savvy friend killed as he complains that they shouldn't be there. Or gets them captured. Etc, etc.
Outside of the slasher horror genre, the death rate of this trope drops considerably, even if it still stirs up a hornet's nest of trouble. Since curiosity is often the driving force that starts a plot, it can be used to get heroes into and out of several precarious situations. For example, considering the tone of her Web Comic is goofy and mysterious, odds are Kat and Antimony aren't going to be dead at the end of that particular story... though you can bet your second shadow something interesting will happen!
Sometimes, it pays to be apathetic.
A subtrope of Tempting Fate. Compare Forbidden Fruit, Death by Sex, Too Dumb to Live. In games, can be the cause of Total Party Kill. Often the result of falling for Schmuck Bait. See also Curiosity Causes Conversion and He Knows Too Much.
As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
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Anime and Manga
Spoofed in Dragon Ball when Emperor Pilaf lures the cast into a trap by simply painting arrows on the floor leading to it, and ends up entirely amazed when it actually works. ("I had no idea that heroes could be so stupid. Must be one of those mail-order types.")
The first arc of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni manages to both subvert this and play it straight at the same time. Throughout the arc, you are led to believe that Rena and Mion are targeting Keiichi because he's asking questions about the curse of Oyashiro-sama. As you might imagine, that's subverted, but the truth was that Rena and Mion had nothing to do with the murders, but Keiichi's panic about it fueled his paranoia about it until he kills not only them, but himself too, making this one played straight as well.
But subverted in Nekogoroshi-hen, the aptly-named "Cat-Killing Chapter". Interesting mystery, possible explanations, slight indication that it ties back to the main plot... but everyone decides it's not worth getting involved in.
With this all said, the one arc that makes a point of averting this trope is the PS2-only Taraimawashi-hen, in which you make a point of having Keiichi ignore all of the weird things going on around the village. He still dies, as does everyone else, save Mion.
In the episode of Cowboy Bebop involving the retrovirus "Monkey Business", the protagonists stumble across a box containing a receptacle of the virus and are told not to open it. Faye is intrigued and opens it anyway, and Spike's use of brute force and firearms to separate the receptacle from its container — evidently based solely on curiosity - causes their hostage (who knows what is inside) much nervousness.
Possible subversion, as this inspires Spike to plant said retrovirus on the hostage when they're forced to let her go.
Actually he doesn't realise it's gone. She picks his pocket to get it back, and lives to regret it
In the Trigun manga, Vash and Knives follow a girl who appears on the ship into a closed-off medical room. Things go downhill from there.
In World Embryo Yui has an obsession with Takao. When Riku uses his lies to try to steer her away from him, things go wrong and it ends badly.
Digimon Tamers plays with this trope a bit. Kazu and Kenta, who are less mature and act more like their age than the other characters in the series, nearly get themselves killed multiple times when they go to the Digital World because of their curiosity and lack of understanding on how that place worked. On the other hand, it was curiosity and childlike belief that enabled another character to become a Sixth Ranger to the main team. The message seems be that that there's a line between healthy curiosity, which is what the latter had, and Too Stupid To Live, which is what Kazu and Kenta can be sometimes.
The original Digimon Inverts this hard with Izzy. His curiosty drives him to aquire knowledge and understand the digital world, and when he has that stolen he becomes a zombie until his partner snaps him out of it.
Combine this with Idiot Ball, and you get a cage (made out of Kryptonite bars) that was used to capture Superboy, with a sign reading "LUTHOR'S TRAP TO CAPTURE SUPERBOY" written on it in giant letters... And Superboy, naturally, falling for it, and getting captured. His logic may have been that "no one would actually put a sign like that on a real trap". Although a trap should've been expected, the one with the big sign on it would normally be the decoy, a written version of Sarcastic Confession. However, even if it isn't a "real" trap, it's still a cage, with no obvious reason to fly into it- there's nothing in there. And the bars are made out of Kryptonite. Fortunately for him, this was All Just a Dream.
In Shade, the Changing Man, Shade traps a Celestial in a statue of the mythical Pandora (with box), and she comes to life. Kathy and Lenny find "Pandora's" box and give in to temptation by opening it. The box is empty, but it turns "Pandora" into dust.
In The Lion King Adventures story The Interceptor's Challenge, two overly curious cubs called Tuhuma and Mjanja end up being murdered by Shocker when they decide to investigate the resting place of his body.
In the Iron Man fic "Huge Success", Tony decided to peek at the pym particles sent to his lab for examination before Dr. Pym showed up. He ended up being six inches tall.
The same author made a one-shot fic "The Lilliputian Variation", where the Sheldon of The Big Bang Theory just HAS to know how shrinking gas works. Ends much the same way.
Hocus Pocus: A non-lethal example. When snooping in a house where witches used to live, and informed that a virgin lighting the candle will return them to life, the clueless teen protagonist does just that, incidentally subverting A Man Is Not a Virgin.
Shane Acker's 9 is made of this trope. In the feature film version, it's because of 9's combination of being both very naive and very curious that over half the cast of the movie is killed before it's all over. Admittedly, 1's death was heroic suicide, but it was 9's curiosity that lead him to jam the talisman in the machine and wake it up in the first place.
The Mummy 1999 (Stephen Sommers version): "You must not read from the book!" Too late...
Lampshaded with the very not Genre Savvy line: "No harm ever came from reading a book."
Alone in the Dark (2005) has the cast about to open up a door to some other world or whatever. They decide not to as the last people that opened the door where wiped from the face of the earth but not without some questioning. The villain turns up, and for reasons completely unknown, opens up the door. Sure enough, they really shouldn't have opened the door.
The characters in the Evil Dead films could have saved themselves a lot of trouble by just leaving that tape recorder alone.
Likewise, Professor Knowby himself would've had a relaxing, uneventful weekend if, while working on his translations, he hadn't felt the need to recite a demon resurrection spell out loud.
But the most obvious idiocy belongs to Cheryl in the first one, who hears a sound and goes out into the woods at night alone to investigate...
The main character of The Spiderwick Chronicles just can't help but read the book, even especially after a note tells him not to. Considering he's a teenaged boy, this is understandable.
The Umbrella Corporation people at the beginning of Resident Evil: Apocalypse. The crack team of commandos they sent into The Hive never came back, and one of the two survivors who did barely make it out alive was infected with the T-Virus. What's the smartest move? Re-open the facility and send a second even less well-equipped team in to investigate!
The first victim in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) walks, unprovoked, directly into Leatherface's kitchen. Each successive victim heads in looking for the others. Easiest massacre ever!
Occurs in the film Godzilla 2000. Long story short, some curious scientists come across an ancient spaceship in the middle of the ocean. And, well, not surprisingly, it wakes up after 65 million years of dormancy and now wants to create a "new body" (The Millennian aliens inside somehow turned into pure energy after crashing) to become the dominant species on the planet.
In Godzilla vs. Megaguirus, a kid finds a large egg left behind by a giant dragonfly that came out of an artificial wormhole. It making a mess of the bag he put it in when he and his mother moved to Tokyo makes it impossible to hide for much longer, so he decides to dump it into a sewer. Turns out that the the Meganulons that hatch from such an egg thrive in water....
In Godzilla (2014), curiosity caused a lot deaths at least. In prehistoric times, monsters dove to the depths of the ocean and burrowed past the mantle, far away from human habitat in search of radioactive material that was becoming scarce on the surface. A mining accident leads to the discovery of one of their eggs, which is brought up to the surface for study. A surface where there are new sources of radioactive material to feed on.
The Bible, obviously (Adam and Eve don't die immediately, but still...), including its influence on all other Christian authors (like C.S.Lewis for the Narnia example).
Pretty much the moral of half of HP Lovecraft's stories. The roleplayer jokes are that the only worthy treasure in a Lovecraft game are untranslatable crusty old books that permanently removes your character from play if you accidentally look at the pictures; reading any of it aloud may doom the reader, the group, humanity, the universe, all universes, or all that and beyond; that there are entire hierarchies of threats beyond that who will wipe out the merely-universe-killing threats without even noticing them, only to do the ultimate everybody dies (as soon as the stars are right). While the players have 1920's guns and would probably all die if they were against a single baby shoggoth, with the survivors going permanently insane.
Slight subversion in Tamora Pierce's Daughter of the Lioness. Aly is warned about the dangers of curiosity with this phrase. In response, she tells the other character 'and satisfaction brought it back,' with a short complaint that no one seems to ever remember the second part of the saying.
Angel: If Fred hadn't gotten so curious over Illyria's sarcophagus, she'd still be alive.
The Wizard of Oz remake Tin Man has the young D.G. set off the film's events; she insists on following a singing voice into a dark cave with ominous writing about evil darkness, a creepy, exploding rock face, and then on going in deeper to help a "little girl" crying for help. Her older sister Azkadelia rightly guesses the little girl wasn't what she seemed, and was in fact a (or perhaps "THE") Wicked Witch who was trapped there. She gets possessed for her foresight, and gets (rightly) more than a little peeved at her younger sister, setting her on a wicked rampage.
BIMA Satria Garuda: The hero Ray's father, driven by scientific curiosity, opens a portal to a parallel world. Too bad the inhabitants of the other world now want to invade our Earth for its natural resources and kill Ray's parents first.
Stand Up Comedy
Lampshaded in Eddie Izzard's stand-up comedy routine Unrepeatable.
Izzard: " 'Oh look! Something's moving in the forest about eight miles away! I'll go check'... don't check. Please don't check; that's what curtains are for."
Dave Chappelle invoked this as a response to being told not to visit a strip bar:
"Naked women inside? I'd be like a white guy in a horror movie: 'I've got to investigate'".
Pick an RPG. Any RPG and any medium. Sooner or later a party will wander where they aren't supposed to, as often as not resulting in Total Party Kill.
Survival in Call of Cthulhu boils down to a few simple rules: Don't touch anything, don't read anything, don't look at anything, just keep your head down and keep walking. And that's assuming you even left your house in the first place, ya shmuck.
It's such a well known thing within the horror or mystery genres of Tabletop Games that it's progressed to the point where several games, such as Trail Of Cthulhu or mystery/horror variants of FATE, have mechanics to encourage/push Genre Savvy players away from averting this trope. It makes a dull game if everybody does the "smart" thing and decides that they don't want to leave the house after all.
At the Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights event, following Willing Suspension of Disbelief and the premises for the haunted houses and scarezones, the guests themselves follow this trope by entering dangerous environments on a whim.
One of the houses at the 2010 event at Orlando's park, Legendary Truth: The Wyandot Estate, had a group of ghost hunters entering the long abandoned Wyandot Estate to hold a live seance broadcast. The estate was rumored to be haunted due to the head of the household brutally murdering the rest of his family years before. Guess what happened to the ghost hunters?
The Spider Cliff Mysteries: The Wednesday That Wasn't: The lead's investigation releases a nasty force and after he uses amnesia potion to reseal it, he does it again.
Freefall: A robot reads a note◊ about an aggressive neural pruning program and instead of steering clear he looks it up. The program starts downloading into his head when he goes looking for it, threatening him with a mind wipe.
In Jack, the man who was tricked into selling his soul to a Fallen Angel to live in a Lotus-Eater Machine pursues the truth of his situation when he realizes things are amiss, and is trapped in an And I Must Scream situation for his troubles. The Fallen Angel compares his curiosity to Adam and Eve's decision to eat the Apple. Mortals will always choose knowledge over happiness.
Marble Hornets: A few years ago, a guy named Alex Kralie was shooting a student film of the same name. As he was filming, he started to notice a really tall guy in a suit occasionally lurking in the distance. As of now, Alex is on the run after a failed attempt to rebuild his life, his friend Tim has gone insane and started stalking people while wearing a mask, and we have no idea what happened to anyone besides Jay and Tim. As of late 2014, most of them (including Jay and Alex) are dead.
Played straight with the others, but averted by Alex himself. He's known about the Operator before he started the student film. Alex is actually working with the thing, and it's implied that he's been providing the Operator fresh victims for a long time.
Ben Drowned: If only Jadusable's curiosity hadn't prompted him to accept the shady game cartridge from the old man, or posted anything to the internet, then the reader's curiousity wouldn't have led them to open "The Truth.rtf", thus releasing Ben to the whole of the internet, and things might have gone a bit better for everyone involved.
The protagonists of Sevenshot Kid both refuse to let go of the mysteries they encounter even though they know how dangerous it is getting.
Shows up in the Fan Film of Left 4 Dead. It's a particularly facepalm-worthy moment as the character in question is an Action Survivor with experience shooting the infected and has a very conspicuous assault rifle. Which she puts down before going upstairs and being lured in by the curious noise.
In Tribe Twelve, Noah's investigation of his cousin Milo's death turns his entire life upside down. Then he finds out he and the rest of his family have been Slendy's targets for years. Noah's investigation didn't attract Slendy's attention — it just made him aware that he was on Slendy's list all along.
The Path: The entire premise of this psychological horror game.
In Ao Oni, a group of teenagers decide to explore a old abandoned house, and ends up being chased by big purple monster. Most of the versions, only the protagonist survives. (There are versions that gives the player option to save friends.)
There's also the surprise end near the start; the first time the player passes the bathroom, a shadow is shown moving behind the fogged glass door (which happens to be locked). Guess what happens if you continually try to open it?
Cry of Fear has a pedophile who wrote a short poem about three children. Two of them went home, but the third one stayed, and was tricked into going close up to a bush. The final line concludes that, indeed, Curiosity killed the cat.
Regular Show - Rigby. My God, Rigby. In "Just Set Up The Chairs", he cannot NOT connect the blue and red wires, which of course, unleashes the Destroyer of Worlds.
Inversion. Curiosity is a survival advantage for a predator as he needs to look for food. It is more likely to be counterproductive to a prey species who needs to stay away from unknown things. In other words curiosity, though it can kill a cat, is more likely to help the cat and kill the mouse.
Ferrets have had their curiosity turned Up to Eleven through selective breeding, which combines poorly with their ability to get nearly anywhere.
Inverted as curiosity is also the reason behind many great scientific discoveries and technological advancements.
Currently scientists and psychologists are engaged in a project to create a warning sign for our nuclear waste that will not merely inspire our distant descendants to go on digging, so far without much success.
The core problem can be stated as this: burying it with no warning risks someone digging it up accidentally; buring it with a warning is basically saying "Hey, interesting stuff here" to anyone who is unable to actually read the warning. Even if they can read the warning, future cultures may assume it's just a scare tactic, like the "curses" inscribed on some ancient tombs.
As a quick summary, the linked article describes the catastrophic meltdown as not only stemming from shoddy design, but from its workers deciding to see what happened if they turned its few safety systems off.
The discovery of nuclear explosions is probably the first time that this trope has been played fairly straight in Real Life, aside from merely people (usually in positions of power) just not wanting people to be curious. Ironic considering the trope is Older Than Dirt, most of which have some sort of base in reality.
It almost certainly originated entirely from people in power using it to solidify their control.
Or else it originated in subsistence farming, where when the harvest fails, you die, and if you do things differently, the harvest fails. Germany discovered this in WWI, when the Kaiser's government decreed that potatoes were to be stored, not in Inca-style "lazy beds" in the fields, but in the cellars of public buildings. But public buildings' cellars were heated, so instead of losing some of the potato harvest to moles, they lost almost all of it to mold...