Mistaken for Spies
The characters arrive in the Adventure Town
, just as soon as something nasty happens.
Odds are, they will end up getting accused of doing it and/or being enemy agents and temporarily incarcerated for it.
More common in the Cold War
-era, or in shows that travel back to that time.
After 9/11, this trope was largely replaced by Mistaken for Terrorist
See also The Corpse Stops Here
and Mistaken for Badass
Anime and Manga
- One credit card commercial had a traveler suffering a variety of mishaps due to not carrying the right credit card. The final one has him get concussed by his overhead luggage, and then telling the customs agent (Thanks to his injury and possibly a My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels grade phrasebook) 'I am a spy' when trying to request a doctor. This gets him thrown in jail.
- Str.A.In.: Strategic Armored Infantry with some rather justified suspicion being thrown at Sara after her identity is revealed. The big bad is her brother, after all.
- The 90s anime version of Sailor Moon has Ami Mizuno first being mistaken as an agent of Queen Beryl's before she is revealed to be Sailor Mercury.
- Happened to Tsukune in Rosario + Vampire when the school thinks he is a spy for humans attempting to destroy the Monster World.
- Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle: When the main characters arrive in the town of Spirit, they are accused of being behind the disappearances of various local children.
Films — Animated
- In one of the time-travelling strips from Archie Comics, Jughead ended up in the middle of the Civil War and was immediately accused of being a spy for the South until Lincoln himself pardoned him.
- In The Warlord, this happens to Mariah when she is accidentally stranded back in the USSR after spending years in the Lost World of Skartaris.
- Subverted in the Dan Dare story Operation Saturn. The Saturnian rebel leader Tharl accuses Dan and Digby of being spies of the ruling High Lords. It turns out, though, that Tharl never actually believed this and it was just a ruse to make sure he could trust them.
Films — Live-Action
- The plot of Cars 2 involves British intelligence agents mistaking Mater for an American ally.
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Happens to Phoebus and Quasimodo when they try to sneak into the Court of Miracles to warn the Parisian Gypsy community of Frollo's imminent attack. Considering that both men were very heavily associated with Frollo, it's no wonder they were accused of espionage. Oh, and the entire accusation is a musical number.
- North By Northwest.
- The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe, a French comedy where the title character, an innocuous concert violinist, is marked as a spy by infighting government high-ups - he's blithely unaware of being a pawn in their scheming through the film. Played pretty straight-faced; the American remake, The Man with One Red Shoe, was considerably broader.
- Wallace Ritchie from The Man Who Knew Too Little is mistaken for a secret agent by just about everyone. He doesn't mind, because he thinks it's all a play, with him cast in the role of a secret agent.
- François in the Timeline movie.
- While this is the reason given for killing him, it's possible that this was just an excuse, given that the English Lord who has him killed is an evil Jerk Ass.
- Plot of the otherwise forgettable If Looks Could Kill.
- Subverted in the James Garner film The Pink Jungle. He goes through the whole film insisting that he's not a spy, just a fashion photographer. At the end everyone is finally convinced he's just a photographer, and then in the final scene, it's revealed he's really a spy.
- Played straight in another James Garner film A Man Could Get Killed.
- Hot Tub Time Machine: Because the group has 21st technology such as iPods and cell phones that Blaine and his gang confuse with spy equipment and the fact that Lou was carrying Chernobly, Blaine assumes that all of them are Soviet spies.
- Minor variant in Moscow on the Hudson. Robin Williams' character, a Soviet defector, is being followed by a man in an overcoat down a street. Robin Williams confronts him and demands to know why he's being followed and if he's from the FBI, CIA, or KGB. The man calmly replies he's G-A-Y to which Williams' realizes what he means and laughs.
- Jackie Chan's role in The Tuxedo.
- In The Big Lebowski, The Dude is mistaken for a private detective by Delfino, another private detective who is searching for Bunny Lebowski.
- Frantic. The wife of the protagonist is kidnapped when she's mistaken for the next link in a courier chain after picking up the wrong suitcase at the airport.
- In X-Men: First Class, when Charles demonstrates his telepathy to the CIA by revealing what they're thinking at that moment, they accuse him of espionage, since they can't believe he could have found out any other way. Luckily, Raven is present to demonstrate her shapeshifting abilities.
- In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the Russian Chekov is captured on the aircraft carrier Enterprise and assumed to be a spy. Younger Trekkies had to learn about the world before they realized just how mistaken a decision sending Chekov to scope out "nuclear wessels" was. Hilariously, one of Chekov's interrogators actually seems to have some doubts, in part because just how ridiculous Chekov seems — true, he showed up in the reactor room of an aircraft carrier and is obviously Russian... but then again, he is obviously Russian and makes several bizarre claims. Would Soviet intelligence really be that incompetent?
- In Brave Story, Wataru reaches the first Adventure Town just in time to be framed and imprisoned for a murder/theft. Fortunately(?), another attack that appears to be perpetrated by the same individual(s) happens while he's in jail, so the local law enforcement realizes he can't be the culprit and lets him go.
- Happens to Barney in Silver On The Tree, where he has the misfortune of being caught in Owain Glyndwr's camp while being English. Luckily for him, Merriman is on hand for a rescue.
- Happens in The Heroes of Olympus, and Percy hates it.
- In The Wheel of Time when Rand first arrives to Cairhien everybody assumes him to be a young aristocrat travelling incognito with a secret mission from one of the kingdom's Houses. This suits him and he doesn't try to persuade them otherwise. Being a Ta'Veren (sort of Weirdness Magnet) helps. His actions provoke rush actions of Houses eventually leading to the murder of the king and a civil war.
- In Dead West, Gervas Klarenfeld and the Porcelain Doctor gets mistaken as spies by an overzealous sheriff. Since they were newcomers from the Old World, and everybody in town mistook Gervas for an aristocrat, they were suspicious, and to top it off, they used five different languages in the same conversation (started off in German and English, switched to French as they were speaking with two French aristocrats, the two doctors used Latin for discussing the Porcelain Doctor's medical condition, with ancient Greek for some details). It was also implied that the sheriff acted on his suspicions since he wanted to take the Porcelain Doctor for a night.
- In a The Baby-Sitters Club book, the Pike children are convinced that their new next-door neighbors are spies because they have foreign accents and proceed to spend much of the book basically harassing the couple—ringing their doorbell and running away, recording their voices, etc.
- Chuck does this quite a bit. Morgan, Captain Awesome...
- Doctor Who had this happen so often, some of the audio dramas started doing a Lampshade Hanging on it.
- This is a plot point in "The Caves of Androzani". His unexplained presence on Androzani Minor leads Corrupt Corporate Executive Morgus to assume the Doctor is a spy for the President, leading to several fatal errors on his part.
- Stargate SG-1:
- In the episode "1969", a freak Stargate accident sent SG-1 to a missile silo in the titular year. Naturally, strangers materializing in a high-security area would likely be Mistaken for Spies; Daniel's responding in Russian to a question asking (in Russian) whether they were Russian spies didn't help matters much.
- The same thing happens at least twice more in later seasons on alien planets. Again, it's a case of strangers materializing in a high-security area, although the circumstances are a bit different. In "1969", a freak accident sent them to a missile silo in the past: the location of the stargate in the present day, but it wasn't there yet. In similar episodes later, they traveled to worlds where the Stargate had been found and was recognized as being important, but the locals hadn't figured out how to use it yet. Sometimes, some locals believe the team's story of being aliens who came through the religious artifact or museum piece or whatever they think the Stargate is, but other times, the locals jump to the conclusion that the team is attempting to steal or deface the Stargate or spy on something else of value in the same facility.
- The team is mistaken for a group of terrorists in the episode Bad Guys, forcing them to pretend to actually be terrorists while they stall to get the gate back online.
- Star Trek:
- The original series had a couple examples, both involving time travel:
- "Tomorrow is Yesterday" involves Kirk being assumed to be a spy after the Enterprise accidentally time-travels back to the 1960s — he's breaking into a U.S. Air Force base to retrieve anachronistic footage of his ship.
- In "Assignment: Earth", the Enterprise is deliberately sent back in time to Earth in 1968. Kirk and Spock are arrested as spies when they're caught inside McKinley Rocket Base.
- In the Star Trek: Enterprise episode "Communicator", Malcolm accidentally leaves his communicator behind on a pre-warp planet that's on the brink of war. He and Archer go back to retrieve it, and are assumed to be spies from the other side of the war.
- In Goodnight Sweetheart, Gary is pretending to be a British spy. In one episode, however, the fact British Intelligence don't have him on file leads them to briefly suspect he's a German spy.
- Played for laughs in an episode of Hogan's Heroes. Carter is trying to get himself arrested as part of the plan. He walks into a bar and purposely introduces himself as an American. Everyone he talks to thinks he's a Gestapo agent.
- Happens several times to the heroes of The Time Tunnel.
- The entire premise of The Wrong Mans
- Monty Python's Flying Circus - a guest at a holiday boarding house asks fellow lodger Mister 'Hilter' how long he's staying - Hilter starts shrieking accusations of the man being a spy. Of course he was a little on edge; he hadn't slept since 1945.
- An episode of Murder, She Wrote set in Washington, DC had the local detective convinced that Jessica was one of these, taking everything she said as some kind of secret code. Her repeated denials only served to convince him that he was right.
- A couple of episodes of The Equalizer involve an innocent party who's inadvertently passed a MacGuffin by a spy ring, so have to call the Equalizer when strangers are suddenly trying to kidnap or kill them. It helps that Robert McCall is a former spy himself, so he knows how to deal with the situation.
- In The Men from the Ministry during a trip to New York two poorly-worded notes One and Two left to their hotel and office back at London leave FBI and the British Government into thinking the two are spies planning on defecting to USSR.
- Pretty much the plot of the WWII musical Kilroy Was Here.
- Also the entire plot of Woody Allen's play Don't Drink The Water.
- Can happen to anyone in Team Fortress 2, especially if you're among Pyros, who are tinfoil-hat wearing insane with paranoia. At least in Team Fortress 2, you can't hurt your own allies, so it's prudent to attack everyone in sight with your weapon of choice.
- The "Meet the Spy" video features this trope with the BLU Spy being mistaken for the RED Spy. The RED Spy is actually disguised as the BLU Scout. In this case, however, the characters can hurt their allies...
He could be you! He could be me! He could even b—[BANG!] BLU Soldier: [having just fired his shotgun]
What? It was obvious! He's the RED Spy! Watch, he'll turn red
any second now. [beat] Aaaaaany
second now... See? Red! No wait, that's blood.
- Done to Tear and Luke in Tales of the Abyss, after a hyperresonence mishap teleports them both deep into a hostile country.
- This happens to your party in Final Fantasy V in Karnak. When you visit any of the shops, you find the prices for the equipment are unusually low. However, as soon as you try to purchase anything, your entire party is taken and thrown in jail in a cell next to one containing Cid, the inventor of the crystal amplifier. It turns out that one of the guards saw your party emerge from the meteor and thought them to be in league with the monsters.
- In Order of Tales, Koark goes to Tenshells to visit Extranji, and finds the man mortally wounded. Upon leaving the house, Koark is accused of killing him and arrested.
- Happened to a delegation sent to a Muslim town by Genghis Khan. They were promptly massacred and their goods stolen, Khan wasn't amused, and the slaughter of cities ensued.
- A trio of American hikers that have been detained in Iran because the government thinks that they were spies. The penalty for spying is death and the one woman that they've released will be trialed in absentee if she doesn't return, and naturally Iran is under a lot of international pressure to not do anything stupid (like killing three more than likely innocent people because of mindless paranoia).
- Turns out that they were sentenced to something like three years in prison. Not enough to provoke the US into invading, but enough to seriously piss people off.
- One of the theories about what happened to Amelia Earhart is that she and her navigator Fred Noonan were captured by the Japanese and mistaken for spies (it was shortly before World War II, after all). Another theory has the same happen, but with them actually being spies.
- Due to the actions of the CIA, polio workers are normally accused of being spies in the Middle East (using fake vaccinations to get DNA to track wanted terrorists), leading them to be targeted by militants who accuse them of either spying for America or accusing them of trying to sterilize Muslim children.
- The town of Hartlepool, UK, is famous (probably apocryphally) for hanging a monkey they believed to be a French spy during the Napoleonic Wars. The story goes that a French ship was wrecked off-shore, and when its monkey mascot was the only survivor to come ashore the locals (having never seen either a monkey or a Frenchman before) questioned him, then hanged him when he refused to answer. There's a darker version of the story - it wasn't a real monkey they hung, but a powder monkey, i.e. a young boy employed on warships to prime the cannon with gunpowder.
- When the developers of the ALMA III game were making research on the prospect locations for it, this happened to them.