"Sometimes a plan is just a list of things that don't happen."Similar to A Simple Plan, but applied to crime dramas, thrillers, and the like, this is either a very simple plan or a very complicated plan where everything goes wrong for the sake of going wrong. Usually an Anvilicious way of saying crime doesn't pay, or just making the characters dance for your amusement. For example, a criminal (or a group of criminals) has an elaborate masterful plan to rob a bank, or perhaps murder someone, or whatever. But that's a lot easier said than done, isn't it? Soon cracks start to show after the plan goes through, or during the execution of said plans, likely in the form of loose ends. Everything starts to unravel when the Plethora of Mistakes are shown. Maybe someone went ahead in such a way it made the planning fall pathetically apart. Somebody forgot to disable the security camera, or someone left behind a crucial piece of damning evidence for Inspector Javert. Or maybe one of the group members was a loose cannon who lost his/her cool and killed someone, when the rules of the plan were "not to kill", as it would make things more complicated. Or maybe, during the bank heist, somebody got greedy and started to take more than what they could carry, thus going over the pre-established time limit. Or someone Failed a Spot Check for the guards, police, or people who would notify them. Or someone is starting to crack under pressure. Either way, the person or party involved has to fix the mistakes, which usually causes even more mistakes. The bane of Stupid Crooks everywhere. Sometimes overlaps with Diabolus ex Machina.
— Tiger, Spinnerette
Tropes that lead to this one
- Can't Get Away with Nuthin' : likely plays a HUGE part in this trope as well. Very rarely do criminals get away with their plans in mainstream media.
- Comedic Sociopathy: As the suffering of the involved is funny.
- Guilt-Ridden Accomplice: Exactly What It Says on the Tin, someone who feels guilty over their crime. Expect these people to undermine and sabotage the heist out of guilt or remorse.
- Failed a Spot Check: Those who are oblivious to their surroundings (alarms, law enforcement patrols, witnesses) or to the evidence they leave behind (using traceable cellphones and/or unencrypted, compulsively saved e-mails, leaving fingerprints or DNA or being caught on surveillance cameras, etc, etc)
- Leeroy Jenkins: Has no patience for complicated plans and no concept of the word "wait" or "stop."
- Motive Decay: When the motive goes from "get money in this intricate way we have planned" or "smuggle/sell these drugs in discreet amounts and ways" or similar into "get as much money as we can even if it exposes how we did it," "let's get high off our own product and bring and fling as much as we can," or the like.
- Psycho Party Member: An accomplice whose desire for violence or chaos overwhelms any sort of planning or reservation. Or alternatively someone who was otherwise normal, but lost their marbles due to the pressure.
- Stupid Crooks: Sometimes the criminal(s) just aren't very smart. Although they can be very smart and calculating and still have this trope happen to them.
- Tragic Mistake: If it's from the criminal's POV, expect to see a bunch of tragic mistakes.
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Anime & Manga
- Light Yagami/Kira comes dangerously close to this in Death Note. Especially with the loose end Naomi Misora.
- Armored is of the Guilt-Ridden Accomplice flavor.
- The Asphalt Jungle turns into one of these due mostly to emotional misjudgements and plain, simple bad luck.
- Several movies by The Coen Brothers feature seemingly simple plots gone horribly wrong.
- The Big Lebowski by contrast, has a number of complicated plots gone horribly wrong, mainly by crashing into each other.
- Blood Simple.
- Burn After Reading
- The Ladykillers (The heist itself goes off without a hitch, it's dealing with the sweet old lady who witnessed it that's problematic)
- Raising Arizona
- No Country for Old Men. Boy howdy!
- Before The Devil Knows You're Dead: Almost to the point of parody. It makes Reservoir Dogs look like Heat.
- Bound (1996). On both sides of the scam.
- The armored truck heist in the film Dead Presidents.
- A Fish Called Wanda.
- In The Great St Louis Bank Robbery, George Fowler (played by Steve McQueen) is recruited to be the getaway driver for the titular bank robbery. John Egan (the gang's leader) has planned everything meticulously and timed things down to a second. However, Ann, (George's ex-girlfriend) finds out about the robbery and tries to inform the authorities. John kills her for knowing too much and changes the plan so now Willie is the driver and George has to come into the bank with the other robbers. The day before the robbery the bank makes a small change that causes the entire plan to unravel. The police show up and Willie panics and drives off without the others. The robbery ends with John shot by the police while taking a woman hostage, Gino committing suicide in the vaults and George captured.
- The Liars Club (an obscure teen thriller)
- Somewhat subverted in the Denzel Washington film Out Of Time, as the protagonist was able to narrowly intercept and fix the mistakes before they got worse.
- Stag (similar to Very Bad Things, but came out before it)
- Snatch.. Let's just say getting a diamond onto an aeroplane is not nearly so simple as it seems. Neither is understanding Brad Pitt as a pikey.
- The Next Three Days plays with this a little.
- A Perfect Murder plays with this.
- Reservoir Dogs. The heist goes to hell due to one of the crew going psycho and shooting up the joint upon the alarm being sounded, and the cops showing up much earlier than they were supposed to due to one of their own (Mr. Orange) actually being an undercover cop. And then things get worse.
- Valkyrie in which a group of German officers resisting Hitler attempt to assassinate him in 1944. They fail.
- Very Bad Things starts with a bachelor party that's dirtier than their wives/fiances want. Then, while high on cocaine, the hooker they hired is killed when her head is impaled during sex. Hiding the body ends up making things worse and that's when Murder Is the Best Solution comes up... again and again...
- The book (and less so, the movie) The Hot Rock. The "simple" crime of stealing a diamond becomes a series of crimes as things keep going wrong. As one character says, "I've heard of the habitual criminal but never the habitual crime".
- This is a recurring theme in the John Dortmunder novels by Donald Westlake (of which The Hot Rock is the first). Dortmunder is a spectacularly unlucky criminal. The other novels (some of which have been filmed) are: Bank Shot, Jimmy the Kid, Nobody's Perfect, Why Me?, Good Behaviour, Drowned Hopes, Don't Ask, What's the Worst That Could Happen?, Bad News, The Road to Ruin, Thieves' Dozen, Watch Your Back, What's So Funny?, and the novella Walking Around Money.
- The misleadingly titled book and movie A Simple Plan. (Or rather, the initial plan is simple. Because of the people involved, it all goes wrong.)
- In the Parker novels by Richard Stark, Parker's carefully planned heists seldom go according to plan; usually due to either the greed of one of his partners or interference of other criminals. Basically, they're the serious, pulp-fiction version if the Dortmunder novels, mentioned above, which makes sense when you realize that Richard Stark is a pseudonym for Donald Westlake.
Live Action TV
- In Game of Thrones, Robb Stark is a great battle tactician, but when it comes to politics he made two MAJOR political mistakes that would eventually cost him dearly, all because he refused to play Realpolitik.
- In Season 3 of Justified Quarles has a rather inspired plan on how to turn Harlan County into a major new source of illegal Oxycontin. He quickly has most of the operation up an running but needs someone local to Harlan County to run it for him. Instead of making a deal with Boyd Crowder, he instead backs Devil in his coup against Boyd. This fails and Boyd refuses to work with Quarles. Quarles then makes the mistake of assuming that US Marshal Raylan Givens is being paid off by Boyd and tries to bribe Raylan. Raylan reacts very badly and starts looking for a way to take down Quarles. The increasingly desperate Quarles tries to make deals with the other powerful Harlan criminals but it just ends up making the situation worse. By the end of the season Quarles is abandoned by everyone and ends up getting his arm chopped off when he tries to rob Limehouse.
- On Luther, this happened to DCI Ian Reed in the fifth episode of series 1. His plan to get hold of some diamonds goes horribly wrong, leading to several unnecessary deaths, and his attempts to fix the mistakes leads to John Luther discovering he's a Dirty Cop. And trying to fix this ends with the death of Zoe (Luther's wife) in a Gun Struggle, which causes Luther to swear revenge on him and kills any hope he had of a peaceful resolution.
- On Prison Break this happens to Michael's well thought out plans a lot, almost to the point of being a Diabolus ex Machina.
- The entirety of The Shield involves Vic Mackey and his Strike Team committing a lot of police corruption in order to enrich themselves and to cover up their own crimes. Their eventual downfall can be traced back to two particular crimes that is the cause of their excess of mistakes; the murder of Terry Crowley in Season 1 and the Armenian Money Train Heist in Season 2.
- Episode Good Night of Homeland had a relatively simple plan of getting Brody through to the Iranian boarder through Iraq. Instead they had problems with their drone, their planned route was cut off, nosey Iraqi cops shows up at a inopportune moment, a land mine blows up the truck carrying Brody and cripples one of Brody's escorts, and then there is a shoot out with Iraqi soldiers. Their was nothing "simple" about it.
- The 2013 Bonnie and Clyde TV movie portrays the infamous Outlaw Couple as going through this trope at the start of their criminal career. Clyde wants to rob a payroll to get enough money so he and Bonnie can leave Texas, but the plan is faulty and he gets caught and sent to jail. When he gets out, he and Bonnie rob a bank, but their getaway car runs out of gas and Bonnie is captured. When they rob a store, a panicky accomplice accidentally shoots and kills the store owner. Over time, they become addicted to the outlaw lifestyle and stop caring about who they are hurting. They still make plenty of mistakes, but now they 'correct' them by killing the police officers who come after them.
- Fiasco ("A game of powerful ambition and poor impulse control") is specifically described as "like making your own Coen Brothers movie", and cites several of their films listed above as inspiration.
- Paranoia is loaded to the brim with incompetent and uninformed characters, armed with shoddy equipment and conflicting goals, blundering their way through a city already well on its way toward falling apart at the seams.