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Rule Number One
"If somebody you knew, whether they were a criminal or a window washer, constantly talked about "the rules", you would never want to hang out with this fuckin' nitwit, would you? You're washing the window and the fucker says, 'Rule #1. No streaks.' What an annoying dude. Get him away from me."
Vern, reviewing The Transporter

He's in a dangerous or uncomfortable situation with other people who are less experienced or trustworthy than him, and he wants to make some things clear. So he bluntly declares a numbered list of "rules" for the situation. Beginning, of course, with Rule Number One, and following it with Rule Number Two, and so forth. The implication of setting out these rules, and providing a semblance of structure by numbering them, is that they are resolute and unquestionable, and that breaking these rules will lead to dire consequences.

Another situation is conveying advice or admonishments, such as with the Mentor Archetype or Old Master. In this case the rules could be 'don't use the Dangerous Forbidden Technique' or 'always believe in yourself'. They are likely to include Rule Zero: "I'm always right."

One version of this trope became so popular that 90% of these will be Stock Shout-Outs to Fight Club — "Rule Number One of [X]: You do not talk about [X]" and/or "Rule Number One: [Y]. Rule Number Two: [Y]!"

There Are No Rules is a inversion, though that itself is sometimes called "Rule #1" nonetheless. This can then be subverted by having other rules follow which are actually restrictive.

The Thieves' Guild most often has each of its members adhere to certain numbered rules.

For the other Rule Number One, see Badass Grandpa.

Characters who live by The Rules are obviously on the Lawful side of Character Alignment, but there's nothing stopping them from being Lawful Good or Lawful Evil. In fact, expect the latter from the Obstructive Bureaucrat who can cite any Rule that justifies him/her not doing anything remotely reasonable or helpful.

Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • There is to be no discrimination between humans and robots in the Eve No Jikan.
  • The Death Note has a lot of rules, but the one that's best-known is the first: "1. The human whose name is written in this note shall die."

Comic Books
  • In an issue of Alan Moore's WildC.A.T.s run, one of the MERCs says: "Rule number 1: Don't @#$%& us. There's no Rule number 2".
  • Knights of the Dinner Table: B.A. is fond of quoting the first rule of HackMaster, whic is "The GM is always right!".

Film
  • "The first rule of Fight Club is - you do not talk about Fight Club."
    • "The second rule of Fight Club is - you do not talk about Fight Club." Just in case you were curious.
  • The Transporter: "Rule number one: Never change the deal." "Rule number two: No names." "Rule number three: Never open the package."
  • The Karate Kid Part II:
    Mr. Miyagi: Aha... here are the Two Rules of Miyagi-Ryu Karate. Rule Number One: "Karate for defense only." Rule Number Two: "Always remember Rule Number One."
  • Scream (1996): Randy Meeks's rules to surviving a scary movie, with Rule Number One being, "you can never have sex".
  • Starship Troopers: "This is for all you new people: I only have one rule. Everyone fights. No one quits. You don't do your job, I'll shoot you myself. You get me?"
  • Ghostbusters: Don't cross the streams....
  • Twins: The rules of a crisis situation -
    Rule 1: Don't move too soon.
    Rule 2: If you choose to bluff, you must be prepared to have your bluff called.
    Rule 3: Duck.
  • Zombieland has Columbus' list of 32 rules for surviving the Zombie Apocalypse.
    Rule 1: Cardio.
    Rule 2: Double Tap.
    Rule 17: Don't be a hero.
    Rule 17: Be a hero.
  • In the film Goodfellas, Henry learns the two most important things in life:
    Jimmy: "Never rat on your friends and always keep your mouth shut."
  • Fluke: Rumbo (Samuel L. Jackson) delivers a variety of Rule Number Ones throughout the movie as a catch phrase.
  • Inverted in Babylon A.D. where it's Sister Rebeka who gives the rules to Bad Ass mercenary Toorop before the Live-Action Escort Mission, the last of which is "No foul language." Toorop gives a not-quite amused smile.
    "You listen to my one and only rule. Don't fuck with me. Or I'll leave you standing in the middle of nowhere with nothing but your ass to sell to get back here."
    • When their relationship loosens up a bit, Toorop admits that Rule Number One for a mercenary is learning how to cook.
  • The Producers - There are two cardinal rules to being a Broadway Producer
    Rule 1: Never put your own money in the show.

Literature
  • In Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, Richard is breaking into his girlfriend's apartment when he receives a mysterious phone call describing "the rules of breaking into an apartment". Rule number one is "never answer the phone".
  • In Terry Pratchett's novel Thief of Time, Lu-Tze often reminds people about Rule One. Unfortunately for them, not everyone gets the message. Rule One is: "Never act incautiously when confronted by a little bald wrinkly smiling man!" Then there's Rule Nineteen, which is "Never forget Rule One, and ask yourself why it was invented in the first place."
  • The Acts of Caine: Matthew Stover's Caine has three rules. They really boil down to "I'm the boss and can kill you to maintain this authority", and serve more to operate as a coercive threat than as a code of behaviour. If he ever asks you "What's Rule Two?", then you are in deep shit.
  • Sharpe: Richard Sharpe has three rules for the men who serve under him: 1) Don't get drunk without permission. 2) Don't steal unless it is from the enemy or you are starving. 3) When it is time to fight, fight like bastards.
  • Vorkosigan Saga: Miles Vorkosigan's cousin Ivan, critiquing someone else's covert op that almost failed miserably: "You play games like that with the big boys, you'd better make damn sure you win, Miles says. Rule One. And there is no Rule Two."
  • In Alice in Wonderland, the King of Hearts reads out Rule Forty-two: "All persons more than a mile high to leave the court."
    `Well, I sha'n't go, at any rate,' said Alice: `besides, that's not a regular rule: you invented it just now.'
    `It's the oldest rule in the book,' said the King.
    `Then it ought to be Number One,' said Alice.
  • From Mass Effect: Revelation:
    "I have two rules I follow," Saren explained. "The first is: never kill someone without a reason."
    "And the second?" Anderson asked, suspicious.
    "You can always find a reason to kill someone."
  • From The Middle of Nowhere, the second volume of David Gerrold's Star Wolf trilogy, trainee Apprentice Engineer Robert Gatineau discovers through multiple encounters that Rule #1 is "Whatever your superior officer says it is."

Live-Action TV
  • Ferengi are immensely fond of quoting Rules of Acquisition.
    First Rule of Acquisition: Once you have their money, you never give it back.
    33rd Rule of Acquisition: It never hurts to suck up to the boss.
    45th Rule of Acquisition: Expand or die.
    Unwritten Rule of Acquisition: When no appropriate rule applies, make one up.
    • Played with: the first Rule of Acquisition was presented as #162 - to create a demand for #1 through #161, and according to Quark's vision, they're only rules because the "Guidelines of Acquisition" doesn't have the same selling power.
    • A complete list of the rules (canon and non-canon) can be found here.
    • Ensign Robin Lefler, who appeared in one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, "The Game", had "Lefler's Laws", a list of rules she made up for herself. She still uses them when she becomes a main character in Star Trek: New Frontier.
    • The Prime Directive is the Federation's Rule Number One.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "Dragonfire": The Doctor welcomes a new companion:
      The Doctor: Do you fancy a quick trip around the twelve galaxies and then back to Perivale in time for tea?
      Ace: Ace!
      The Doctor: But, there are three rules. One: I'm in charge.
      Ace: Whatever you say, Professor.
      The Doctor: Two, I'm not the Professor, I'm the Doctor.
      Ace: Whatever you want.
      The Doctor: And the third... Well, I'll think up the third by the time we get back to Perivale.
    • In the Doctor Who New Adventures novel Set Piece Ace, seemingly left with no choice but to kill the Doctor to save the universe, flashes back to this conversation (and occasions when the Doctor had to make similar decisions) and decides that the third rule — her rule — is "No-one deserves to be sacrificed".
    • In the new series, the following is said to companions, not that they ever listen:
      The Doctor: Rule One: Don't wander off.
    • River Song's personal Rule One is, "The Doctor lies." And it turns out she was given that rule by the Doctor, along with Rule 7: "Never run when you're scared," Rule 27: "Never knowingly be serious," and Rule 408: "You should always waste time when you don't have any. Time is not the boss of you."
    • In "Human Nature", the Doctor leaves a set of 23 numbered rules for Martha to follow while he's transformed into a human and unaware of his true identity. In actuality, there were only about five instructions in the script (as Martha fast-fowards through most of them), and David Tennant hilariously ad-libbed dialogue for the skipped parts.
    • In the Doctor Who New Adventures novel, the list the Doctor gave Benny only has nine rules on it. The five Tennant actually gives are there, including the one about pears.
    • The Doctor's friend Iris Wildthyme has "Wildthyme's Law Rule Number One", which changesh every time to something pertinent to the current situation. Among other things, this rule has been "Grab the nearest bottle and hope for the best" and "A girl never knows when she may need to get the party started."
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
  • NCIS: Gibbs' various rules, cited by the characters throughout the show. A flashback revealed them to have been inspired by his future wife on the day they met. Kate and Ziva both requested that Gibbs write the rules down, only to be told that most of the rules are for day-to-day tasks. Rules in the forties are reserved for emergencies.
    • TWO rules are apparently number one (and two rule number threes), likely due to an oversight on the part of the writers, although later confirmed to have been intentional. This was lampshaded when the female version of Gibbs from CGIS told McGee HER rule number one and suggested he write it down. McGee replies that rule number one has been taken, twice. The other one was inherited from Mike Franks, Gibbs' boss when he first became an NCIS Agent. Mike Franks told Gibbs that he didn't need a list of rules; he only needed "Three Golden Rules". It has not been revealed which of the rules are Gibbs' and which are Franks, nor has the second Rule Number 2.
    • Abby Scuito has her own Rule 1: Don't lie to Abby.
  • Robocop The Series had an episode featuring Murphy's old partner, a cop with a set of rules amounting to "no vigilantism". When said cop was brainwashed, Robo brought him back by making him say his rules. A minute later, he was killed with a rocket launcher.
  • Unproduced 2008 TV pilot Captain Cook's Extraordinary Atlas (available here) mentions three rules that were followed by Captain James Cook when exploring the more fantastic areas of the Earth, and that were supposed to be followed by subsequent "navigators".
  • In one of the most well-known Mash episodes ("Sometimes You Hear the Bullet" - the show's first Wham Episode and its Growing the Beard moment), Henry Blake tells Hawkeye:
    Col. Blake: "All I know is what they taught me at command school. There are certain rules about a war. And rule number one is young men die. And rule number two is, doctors can't change rule number one."
  • In Red Dwarf, Kryten would often quote the Space Corps Directives, with a number each time. Rimmer would try to do the same, but get the numbers wrong; for example, quoting Directive 34124, which Kryten informed him was "No officer with false teeth should attempt oral sex in zero gravity."
  • Fight Club is parodied in the Robot Club episode of Spaced:
    Robot Club Leader: Gentlemen, welcome to Robot Club. The first rule of Robot Club is, you do not talk about about Robot Club. The second rule of Robot Club is, YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT Ro? wait, I? got that wrong. [Unfolding a crumpled up piece of paper and pushing up his glasses] The second rule is, no smoking.
    Tim: Why aren't we allowed to smoke?
    Mike: Shh, we're not allowed to talk about it.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus reads out the faculty rules of the Philosophy Department of the University of Woolamaloo:
    "Rule one - no pooftahs. Rule two, no member of the faculty is to maltreat the Abbos in any way whatsoever - if there's anybody watching. Rule three - no pooftahs. Rule four - I don't want to catch anyone not drinking in their room after lights out. Rule five - no pooftahs. Rule six - There Is No Rule Six! Rule seven - no pooftahs. That concludes the reading of the rules, Bruce."
  • In The Andy Griffith Show episode "The Big House", Barney Fife lays down the law for two new inmates at the jail:
    Barney: "Now, here at the Rock we have two basic rules. Memorize them, so that you can say them in your sleep. The first rule is: Obey all rules. Secondly, do not write on the walls, as it takes a lot of work to erase writing off of walls."
  • The same gag appears in Porridge, only with the rules in the opposite order. According to Mr. Mackay, there are only two rules in Slade Prison. Rule number 1: Do not write on the walls. And rule number 2: Obey all the rules.
  • Harry taught Dexter a code to control his psychopathic tendencies. It had whole sections to make sure he only went after bad guys, but as he tells James Doakes toward the end of season 2 in response to the suggesting that he turn himself in, Rule Number One was always Don't Get Caught. According to Harry, that was the point of the whole endeavor, keeping Dexter alive; thus it's the first rule. Of course, no one wants anyone, even oneself, to know that he's turned his adopted son into a gory weapon of his own vigilantism. Not that it's cut-and-dried.
  • In The IT Crowd, "the first rule of Street Countdown... is that you really must try and tell as many people as possible about it. It's a rather fun game and the more people you tell about it the better."
  • Thunder in Paradise: Spence & Bru continuously quote different "rule[s] #2" at each other, but never get around to mentioning Rule #1.
  • The Slammer: According to Mr Burgess there are two rules to Dance Club. Rule number 1: You must dance! And rule number two: No fizzy drinks near the stage!
  • The Girls Guide To Depravity is all about a set of rules for women in dating and sexual situations. Even the women who are following them know they're fairly dangerous.

Video Games
  • Conkers Bad Fur Day: In the 'Heist' multiplayer:
    Don Weaso: Rule number one: My way, or 'he's a dead mother(bleep)' way.
  • Mass Effect 2: While on Omega:
    Aria T'Loak: Omega has no titled ruler and only one rule: Don't fuck with Aria.
  • Mark Of The Ninja: Right at the start of the game:
    Ora: Rule number one: Don't get me killed.
  • Star Wars: Republic Commando: There are quite a few the Commandos quote on occasion.
    Scorch: Rule #1: Kill 'em before they kill you.

    Scorch: Sev, did that corpse give you a nasty look?
    Sev: Rule 17...
    Scorch: We know, always make sure they're dead.

    Scorch: Rule 23: Never pull sentry duty on an empty stomach.

    Scorch: Sev, hey, I thought you were invincible.
    Sev: Rule 39: Never say no to bacta.

    Scorch: One's an anomaly, two's a trend. Rule 89, Boss.
  • Gears of War has only one rule (or Golden Rule, if you wish): Take cover or die.

Webcomics

Web Original

Western Animation
  • In Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers, Doc has a list of reasons explaining why he is sorry he became a Galaxy Ranger. He only quotes when Goose is driving.
  • Aladdin's Genie.
    Genie: Rule number one: I can't kill anybody, so don't ask. Rule number two: I can't make anybody fall in love. Mwa! You little punim there. Rule number three: I can't bring people back from the dead. It's not a pretty picture. I don't like doing it!
  • On Family Guy, Peter recounts the story of his ancestor, Moses Griffin, who led the Hebrews out of Egypt. His Rule Number One: Shut the hell up.
  • The Simpsons: As Robert Evans told himself when working on Chinatown's sequel The Two Jakes, you must never forget Hollywood Rule Number One: kill Homer Simpson.
  • Phil from Hercules has a whole list of rules for being a hero.
    Phil: Rule number six: When rescuing a damsel, always handle with care.
    Phil: Rule number ninety-five: Concentrate.
    Phil: Rule number ninety-six: Aim
  • Monsters, Inc.:
    Yeti: Rule number one out here: Always... no, never go out in a blizzard.
  • Dragons: Riders of Berk: In "Live and Let Fly", Hiccup establishes a secret 'Dragon Flight Club'. The first rule of Dragon Flight Club is "There is no Dragon Flight Club". This confuses the twins no end.
  • Parodied in Archer, when Archer is teaching Cyril how to be an agent - every rule is "Rule Number One".

Real Life
  • The Sicilian Mafia.
  • The 36 Oaths of the Triads.
  • The grocery store Stu Leonard's has a sign up near the entrance that reads as follows:
    Rule #1: The customer is always right.
    Rule #2: If the customer is ever wrong, see Rule #1.
  • Rule number one on the streets: No Snitching.
  • Rule Number One of Holes: When you find yourself in one, stop digging.
  • Rule number one of combat: Don't get hit.
  • SAG-AFTRA has its Global Rule Onenote 

Wikis, websites and the Internet in general
Right Under Their NosesStock PhrasesSand in My Eyes
Rule 50Laws and FormulasRule of Animation Conservation

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