Improvised Lockpick

Not everyone has a lockpick on hand when they need it. Whether due to the difficulty of obtaining lockpicks, the possible embarrassment of being caught with one, or simple unpreparedness, a character might be forced to confront a lock with only only whatever supplies happen to be at hand. Fortunately, in fiction, that can be as easy as pulling a bobby pin out of your hair.

This is Truth in Television, as locksmiths and amateur enthusiasts can jimmy a lock with materials like paper clips and hair pins quite easily. A character might take it further by using something that couldn't turn the lock or even fit inside it in real life.

In real life, in order to pick a standard pin-tumbler lock, two tools (rather than one as is often portrayed) are needed; a torque wrench and a pick. The torque wrench is used to turn the cylinder, while the pick is used to manipulate the pins in such a way to allow it to turn. A flat headed screwdriver can substitute for one. In addition, a screwdriver can also be used to force the lock (literally just twist it hard enough to snap the pins) or rake it (drawing it across the pins in a particular way until they snap in place).

Related to MacGyvering, especially when people get creative in their improvisations. Shapeshifters and characters benefiting from Toon Physics might also be able to turn parts of themselves into keys or lockpicks, in a Mundane Utility alternative to Shapeshifter Weapons.

Super Trope to Skeleton Key Card and Hairpin Lockpick.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In One Piece, during the Marineford Arc, the key that holds Ace's handcuff is shot down by Kizaru, so Mr. 3 creates a duplicate key with his wax powers. It works.
  • In Mob Psycho 100, when Ritsu and the others need to break out of their cage, Ritsu uses a spoon to unlock the lock on the cage. He has Gou use his pyrokinesis to make the spoon soft so it can stick into the lock and then has Takeshi use his telekinesis to twist the spoon so it fits the lock.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh!, when Jonouchi is chained to the Ax-Crazy Chopman as part of Kaiba's Death-T challenge, he uses a metal candle stick to pick the lock and free himself.

    Comic Books 
  • In X-Men, Gambit does this while trapped by Cameron Hodge. He is hanging by his hands trapped in manacles and frees himself by curling up, using his teeth to pull out a metal spike that had been shot through his leg, and using it as a lockpick — with his feet.

    Films — Animation 
  • In the animated movie Here Come The Littles, Cousin Dinky uses his tail to pick the lock on a trunk, with little success at first.
  • In The Rescuers Down Under, Frank the frilled lizard tries to pick the lock of his cage with his tail. It takes him a while but he succeeds.
  • In Frozen, Snowman Olaf uses his carrot nose to unlock the door behind which Princess Anna is dying of her frozen heart.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Kung Fu Hustle, during his infiltration into the asylum that contains the Beast, Sing the protagonist uses a steel wire to open the lock to the Beast's cell.
  • In Time Bandits, Wally uses Kevin's knife to pick the lock of the cage they are trapped in. It works, but the knife's blade is noticeably bent and mangled afterward.

    Literature 
  • In The Great Brain at the Academy, TD makes an impression in wax of the key to a locked room, then carves a duplicate out of wood.
  • In Richard Scarry's Best Christmas Book Ever!, Lowly Worm uses his foot (technically the tip of his tail) to pick a lock.
  • In Artemis Fowl, Mulch uses his beard hair (dwarves are weird in this series: their beards function more like antennae) as a lockpick by pushing it in as far as it can go and plucking it, letting the hair stiffen until it can be used as a key.
  • In one of the Stainless Steel Rat books, Jim picks a lock with the wires connected to his Shock Collar on a rare occasion when he was strip-searched thoroughly enough to deprive him of his regular tools.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In one Burn Notice episode, Michael steals a motorcycle by turning the ignition lock with a penknife, then kicking the handlebars to break the steering lock.
  • Double Subverted in Get Smart when Max has to get the Chief's phone from a locked box while the Chief is kidnapped. Max goes to a special hidden file cabinet and pulls out a piece of paper. He goes to the wall safe and uses the paper to open the combination door to the safe... then gets a hammer from the safe and bashes the locked box with it so he can get to the phone inside.
  • In the Vegas episode "Exposure", Jack forces open a locked desk drawer by using a letter-opener on the lock.
  • In Rome, Titus Pullo keeps one of his thugs in a locked cage, feeding him off scraps, in punishment for trying to steal from him. Unfortunately, the slave picks the lock with a piece of bone and nearly kills Pullo.
  • In an episode of The Musketeers, Aramis picks the lock of some manacles with a cross attached to his rosary beads.
  • In Hannah Montana, Season 1 "Good Golly, Miss Dolly" when Miley, Lily, and Aunt Dolly need to get inside the school to recover a tape on Miley accidentally professing her love for Jake, Aunty uses her long fingernail to unlock the doors.
    Aunt Dolly: I haven't carried a house key in years.
  • In Game of Thrones, Sansa steals a corkscrew in "The Gift" and uses it to pick the lock on her bedchamber in the Season 5 finale "Mother's Mercy".
  • The ever-resourceful MacGyver once needs to open a door with a palm-print reader as the lock. Mac uses toner from a copier to adhere to the residue of the previous palm print, then carefully blows away the rest and lays a blank page on the scanner. Pressing his palm on the paper activates the scanner, which reads the residual palm print of an authorized user and grants Mac access.
  • In MythBusters, Jamie and Adam are trapped in a room and need to use the filament of a light bulb to pick the lock and escape. It takes a while, but it works within their time limit.
  • In the iCarly episode "IPsycho", Sam gnaws on a duck bone into a lock pick to unlock the door out of the recording booth that she, Carly, and Freddie are trapped in by Nora.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000: In ''Space Mutiny", the Mads are imprisoned in Ancient Rome, and Bobo tries to cough up a key to escape. (Not because he lifted a key from the guards, but because "I've swallowed so many things over the years, there's bound to be a key in there somewhere!") The best he can get is a hairpin, but that's enough to pick the locks and free the Mads.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Gerry Anderson's marionette series Thunderbirds has the episode "Vault of Doom", wherein the Bank of London installs an airtight vault to discourage safecrackers. One bank employee is in the vault when it gets shut for the day, and the Thunderbirds team race to tunnel through reinforced concrete to rescue him. Happily, Lady Penelope's manservant Aloysius Parker is a former safecracker. He asks Lady P for a hairpin, which defeats the lock and opens the vault door in seconds.
    Bank Manager: Let's go back to the old design; at least it took him five hours to open it.

    Video Games 
  • In Fallout 3, New Vegas, and 4, a screwdriver is used as a torque wrench (the picking itself is done with bobby pins).
  • In the Banjo-Kazooie "Banjo is Back!" teaser trailer, Banjo wields Kazooie as a lockpick.
  • In Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara, as in the tabletop game, characters usually need special lockpicking tools to open doors, but can also attempt it with improvised implements at a substantial penalty to the Disable Device roll.
  • In Zak Mckracken And The Alien Mindbenders, the heroes need to access a particular chamber to acquire the crystal that powers their device. The alien who gives them this assignment provides them with the key to open the door, but it disintegrates upon being picked up. They make do by going to a hair salon and cutting down the giant bobby pin hanging outside, then using it to pick the lock.
  • Early in Timeless: The Forgotten Town, the player character picks a locked drawer with two wooden hair sticks.
  • In The Last of Us, Joel uses shivs to unlock doors to supply rooms.
  • In the Citalel DLC for Mass Effect 3, Samantha Traynor uses her biotic toothbrush to pick the Normandy's vent lock.
  • Divinity: Original Sin 2: Undead characters are able to pick locks using their fingers as skeleton keys.
  • In Life is Strange's third episode, Chloe and Max break into the school to steal some files. When trying to get into the principal's office, Chloe tries to pick the lock with hairpins (claiming she learned how to from Frank). Subverted, in that she'll never succeed; the player, as Max, texts Warren how to build a pipe bomb, does so, blasts the door open, and then rewinds time so she can unlock the door from the inside.
  • Cataclysm lets you use hairpins to pick locks. If you don't have one, you can also fashion makeshift lockpicks from scrap metal, which is easy to get in large amounts.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • In Rugrats, Tommy is often able to pick locks with his toy screwdriver as easily as he can reach and push latches with it.
  • Jackie Chan Adventures subverts this in the Season 4 finale. Viper tries to break the J-Team out of their cell with a hairclip and then with a credit card, but the lock is magically sealed shut.
  • In Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers, Wrench Wench Gadget occasionally uses her tail as a lockpick.
  • In The Proud Family episode "Thelma and Luis", when Suga Mama and Penny break in to rescue Papi from an okra farm masquerading as a retirement home, they find him in a locked cell. Dijonay fails to unlock the cell with her hairpin, so Suga Mama uses her long toenail to pick the lock of the cell.
  • The Amazing World of Gumball:
    • Subverted in "The Robot": When Gumball can't open his locker (Bobert stole his identity and changed the lock), he pulls out and unfolds a paperclip. Instead of using it as a lockpick, he pokes himself in the butt, forcing the door open via head-first Pain-Powered Leap.
    • In "The Points", Gumball shapes one of his fingers into a paper clip, which he then unbends to make a lock pick.
  • Subverted in American Dad! in Season 14 "Portrait of Francine's Genitals": when Roger is hiring a crew to help Stan steal a portrait of Francine's genitals from an art museum, he hires a Belgian locksmith named Claude Verdeer, who has the smallest fingers in the world. It looks like he is about to use his small fingers to pick the lock on the entrance, but then he pulls out a drill to use instead.

    Real Life 
  • A bike lock manufacturer experienced some embarrassment when it became public that their locks could be jimmied with the plastic cylinder from a ball-point pen.

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