"A stupid person can make only certain, limited types of errors; the mistakes open to a clever fellow are far broader. But to the one who knows how smart he is compared to everyone else, the possibilities for true idiocy are boundless."You can't tell a man who knows. This is a character archetype. These characters:
— Vlad Taltos, Iorich
- Are extremely smart and/or good at whatever it is they do.
- Know it, and are probably pretty arrogant (in fact, they tend to think they're even better than they are).
- As a result, are continually driven to go farther. Usually they succeed (remember, they're really good), but their failures are spectacular.
- Often suffer some impediment, or endure some prejudice, to the point where being dramatically and demonstrably more awesome than everyone else in their field is a necessity if they're going to be seen as a success at all.
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Anime & Manga
- Sousuke Aizen from Bleach is considered the biggest mastermind in the series, capable of playing the entirety of Soul Society in his palm. He enjoys using his cunning to manipulate everyone, but he despises Kisuke Urahara, who is perhaps the only person who can match him in intelligence.
- Sasuke Uchiha is a child prodigy and one of the few survivors of the all-powerful Uchiha clan. However, his older brother and the one who slew their clan came back and easily defeated him before subjecting him to the same psychological horror he went through as a child, being forced to relive his clan's extermination in his mind for 72 hours. When Naruto, who had always been inferior to him, manages to almost defeat him, it reinforces the severe doubts he has on himself and coupled with his greater troubled mind, he defects.
- Kakashi's childhood self also ticks all the boxes. Another child prodigy (Chuunin at 6 and Jounin at 13), he was driven by his father's ostracism and suicide to be the perfect ninja, prioritising the mission above all else. He viewed his team-mates, Obito especially, as dead weight, and though he was genuinely brilliant this arrogance got him badly hurt when he tested an unfinished technique on an enemy. The next day, again as a result of his arrogance and in spite of his skill, Obito is killed. The adult Kakashi is heavily aware of his failings, and desperate never to repeat his old mistake again.
- Death Note:
- Villain Protagonist Light Yagami is impossibly clever, charming and manipulative. But for all his great plans, he ends up falling victim to his own pride too often. By the end of the series, Light can't even consider the possibility he might fail anymore.
- L also has traits of this. He's confident enough in his abilities that he's willing to get very close to a serial killer that can kill supernaturally.
- So does Matt. He's the 3rd smartest of the Wammy's Kids, and very much falls into the category of Brilliant, but Lazy. He additionally gets a little too confident that he won't miss anything important going on at Misa's and completely misses Misa and Mogi escaping with the help of a "delivery man," until it's too late, and attempts to talk himself out of a confrontation with Takada's bodyguards which ends up getting him shot a million times over and killed as a result.
- Lelouch in Code Geass is a brilliant strategist and turns out to be a gifted leader, but the higher he aims, the more he is prone to his goals going horribly wrong. By the end of the series, his paranoia and strategic cornering has led to the destruction of Tokyo, nearly killed his sister, and turned his army into the praetorian guard of a city-razing sociopath. Luckily, he gets Genre Savvy about this trope and intentionally sabotages his ultimate victory to ensure that he doesn't screw things up after taking over the world.
- Seto Kaiba in Yu-Gi-Oh! has great confidence in his skills and is a genius who can create impossibly advanced gadgets while he's still a high schooler. He starts the series as the undefeated champion of Duel Monsters, but his arrogance earns him a beating by The Power of Friendship. He never quite abandons his pride through the series.
- Sora from .hack// is at the maximum level possible in The World, has the maximum possible stats, and goes around killing people for fun. Much of his arrogance is probably due to his age. Apart from that, he also openly manipulates everyone and is essentially the most obvious sufferer of Chronic Backstabbing Disorder ever. He has information sources no one else has and is basically invincible in any of the fights he gets in, constantly killing BT. He gets called on it, but it never hampers him until finally motivated into doing something somewhat heroic (he didn't realize he couldn't get away) and taunting the big bad, at which point she turned him into a Sequel Hook, and the show ended.
- Taikobo from Hoshin Engi. He's a brilliant strategist who once managed to save an entire village by getting them drunk so they couldn't fight an army that came to capture them and then killed the leader, causing the army to scatter. He's famous for manipulating most of the cast with ease...but the first time he met Dakki, he ended up being enslaved and forced to watch members of his clan get thrown in a pit filled with crocs and snakes, one of them calling him pathetic. His ego went down in size after surviving that.
- This is the reason why many former beta testers die in Sword Art Online- they're unshakably confident in what they know about their game from their time playing the beta, to the point at which they don't realize that their knowledge is out of date until it kills them. Some specific examples follow:
- In the first volume of Progressive and the second episode of the anime, Diavel becomes leader of the raid to defeat the boss of the level, and acts based on what he knows, intending to claim the last attack bonus so that he'll be at an advantage when it comes to deciding a leader. To that end, he plans on charging in when the boss is almost dead, puts his fellow beta tester Kirito in the back where he's less likely to get it, and, in Progressive, attempted to buy Kirito's Anneal Blade through an intermediary for another advantage. Too late, Diavel learned that the boss's new weapon in its second phase was different from in the beta, and paid for his mistake with his life.
- In a side story in Volume 8 of the main series, Kirito teams up with a beta tester named Kopel, who intends to trick Kirito into going into an area full of plant-like monsters, cause more to come, hide while the monsters kill Kirito and steal Kirito's gear once he's dead. Unfortunately for Kopel, he didn't realize that the plant monsters don't use sight to track their prey, which means that his Hiding skill is useless, and he's the only player who dies.
- Dragon Ball Super: Goku Black's plan to kill mortals and take over the multiverse as the supreme god was nearly flawless outside of two major errors. He didn't seem to notice that Goku's body was corrupting him since he didn't have the desire for immortality, only gaining more power. This error gimped Fusion Zamasu's immortality and made it possible for the heroes to destroy his physical body. His second major error was not coming up with a counter to deal with Zen'o outside of probably hoping that Fusion Zamasu could beat him.
- The Riddler, one of Batman's most famous enemies. He's a genius by any standards, far less psychotic than most of Gotham's criminal elite, and has even shown himself to be an excellent detective in his own right. So why can't he just put his intellect to good use and live a life of comfort and fame? Because he would have to accept that he is Gotham's second most intelligent inhabitant. He NEEDS to prove that he is smarter than Batman, so he keeps needlessly challenging him and losing.
- Bruce himself is not above this, either. Two arcs ("War Games" in his own series and "Tower Of Babel" in Justice League) come to happen because he made 'perfect' plans (to take over the Gotham underworld in "War Games" and take out League members in case they went rogue in "Tower Of Babel"), but was not as Crazy-Prepared when it came to taking measures to prevent them from being stolen and implemented by other people.
- Lex Luthor is also prone to this. Being a multibillionaire who innovated, conquered, and murdered his way to the top of a multibillionaire empire wasn't enough. His motivation for ANYTHING comes solely from his ambition to prove that he can do what others can't - so in almost any continuity when he can't beat Superman, but Superman can beat the brains out of him, he goes into a steady Villain Decay as a result of his obsession with this humiliating reversal of his motives.
- In James Robinson's arc of Fantastic Four, the team is expertly brought down by a genius calling himself the Quiet Man. He sets the Thing up for murder, has the Human Torch depowered, causes the FF to lose both their homes and patents, Reed and Sue lose custody of their children and the team torn apart. He's been helped by the Psycho Man using the power of an alternate universe to manipulate everyone. The Quiet Man plans to have Earth invaded by this other world, all so he can shut down the portals and "save it" and blame it all on Reed. Reed dares him to go ahead, the Quiet Man giving the shut-off signal...and nothing happens, the attack continuing. As the Quiet Man gapes in shock, Reed dryly points out to thus supposed genius mastermind that it may not have been the smartest move to give ultimate power over two worlds to THE PSYCHO MAN.
- In the Mickey Mouse Comic Universe, this is the flaw of the character Clarabelle Cow. She's a genuinely smart woman — certainly more so than her friend/rival/love interest, Horace Horsecollar. Unfortunately, Horace comes off especially bad against Clarabelle because he's a Know-Nothing Know-It-All, so Clarabelle has an overinflated sense of her own intelligence, which leads her to doing foolish things.
- Happens all too often to Donald Duck, of all people: he'll start a new job, quickly become a master and then go beyond it, and then his magnus opus will ruin him due him not listening to the obvious suggestion than someone less expert (usually his nephews) will give him.
- Mystique falls victim to this in issue 16 of Wolverines: She's been manipulating the team almost from the beginning, and eventually gives up on pretense and outright seizes control of them from Shogun. However even though she's firmly in command, she still can't dispense with manipulating them rather than being up front about what her plans are and how they will solve everyone's problems (in issue 15 outright telling Sabretooth that the rest of the team isn't smart enough to understand). When she tries to prevent X-23 from helping Shogun and Skel rescue the rest of the Paradise experiments because she needs her (the other two are expendable), Laura balks at being controlled and triggers a mass walk-out by the entire team, who all agree to help just to spite Mystique (except for Laura, who genuinely wants to help). It turns out the rescue mission is a trap by Sinister. Had Mystique been honest about her intentions and not been so determined to manipulate the rest of the team — who she had control over, anyway — the entire situation likely could have been prevented.
- Knights of the Dinner Table: Brian Vanhoose has a streak of this. He's able to pull off a lot of brilliance, but he always pushes it and eventually his plans come tumbling down.
- Linus seems to have this trait in Peanuts. He often explains things using scientific facts and theories (most of which are true), quotes philosophers and the Bible, and often compares simple things to famous works of art. On the other hand, there are times when he acts naive or downright foolish; his well-known belief in the Great Pumpkin is mocked by the other characters, even by his usually-tolerant friend Charlie Brown.
- Jason from FoxTrot is incredibly intelligent, excels in school, and is an overall technical wizard. But he frequently does incredibly stupid things, potentially getting himself hurt or in trouble in the process.
- A large portion of the plot of the Alexandra Quick series is driven by the title character's tendency to do incredibly stupid things in incredibly clever and badass ways.
- Soul Chess: Much like canon, Aizen, though in this case, instead of Urahara, the one he despises most is Lelouch. Aizen knew of Lelouch's intellect, having lost to him several times in Chess, and thought he would make a decent rival/adversary (enough to make Ichigo the "back-up hero"). Unfortunately for him, he never realized how much of a threat Lelouch was to him — not until he enters hell after Lelouch uses his Geass on him and commands him to commit suicide. Even then, Aizen didn't learn about what happened until his apprentice enters hell with his lover and tells him. After that, Aizen takes Lelouch far more seriously in every subsequent confrontation.
- Robb Returns: Petyr Baelish is quite smart, and he knows it. However, used as he is to deal with nobles, he gets captured by Street Smart sellsword Bronn, who not only knows nobles even better, he also knows where Baelish would hide his secret books.
Films — Animation
- Megamind. Megamind's intelligence is hyper-advanced compared to Earth standards, he's a genius inventor, and his hobby is creating grandiose revenge schemes against the kid who bullied him in elementary school. Worth mentioning that these schemes don't just fail, they fail... Until one day they don't, setting the plot in motion.
Films — Live-Action
- Mark Whitacre, the title character of The Informant!, is an accomplished scientist who speaks several languages and sorely overestimates his own prowess when he gets between his company's corrupt leadership and an FBI probe. Not only that, but it turns out he's been embezzling millions from the company and spinning outrageous lies to make himself look good, both in the company and in his personal life. Not that he isn't brilliant (he earns two PhDs while in prison), but he's determined to succeed big and when that fails, he fails big.
- Katharine Parker in Working Girl, a high-ranking business woman that speaks fluent German and views herself as a trailblazer for women in the business world, with a giant head to match. When it's discovered that she stole a brilliant idea from her equally intelligent secretary, she's promptly (and satisfyingly) fired and disgraced.
- Detective Kujan from The Usual Suspects condescendingly tells Verbal Kint, the prisoner he is interrogating, that Kujan is smarter than him, that Verbal is stupid, a cripple, weaker than the criminals he associated with, and that Verbal will not be free until he will tell Kujan exactly wants he wants to know. And then The Ending Changes Everything.
- Mister Miyagi in The Karate Kid is less arrogant than most examples of this trope. However, he still seems unable to resist opportunities to be clever, even when it goes counter to his goals. His Wax On, Wax Off teaching regimen in the first movie (or rather, his refusal to explain it) almost drove his student away. His impromptu bet at the bar in the second movie may have paid for Daniel's college, but also humiliated the man he was trying to talk out of a duel to the death with him. His "sweep" joke in the third movie drove Daniel straight into the arms of the Evil Mentor when he needed support.
- This is the basic accusation leveled at the showrunners and scientists of Jurassic Park: they were so eager to actually clone and revive the extinct dinosaurs that they didn't stop to consider if this was in any way a good idea. It wasn't.
- Loki tends to follow a pattern in Thor and The Avengers: he'll devise a clever plan, successfully manipulate everybody, have them where he wants them...and then he'll Kick the Dog, giving the heroes the motivation they need to bring him down. He seems to have gotten smarter in Thor: The Dark World.
- Ex Machina:
- Nathan's undoing is his pride. He needed to construct a scenario in which Ava would deceive and use Caleb to facilitate her escape, thus proving her sapience. His failing is that someone clever enough to be capable of assisting her, would also be clever enough to outwit him, and thus all his machinations fall apart because Caleb caught on to the game and played into it, which Nathan didn't figure out until it was too late.
- This also applies to Caleb, when he rightly guessed that Nathan was still able to observe him and Ava when the power outages occurred, and put his plan to free Ava into motion before Nathan realized it was too late. What he didn't count on was Ava betraying him and leaving him locked up in the monitoring room. Meaning, while he saw through Nathan's gambit, he still fell for the Damsel in Distress act that Ava was doing after all.
- The Hunger Games: Foxface dies because, lacking the know-how to forage food from the forest for herself, she relies on stealth to observe and steal from other Tributes - meaning that she doesn't recognize nightlock berries and, assuming them to be safe because Peeta collected them, inadvertently poisons herself with them.
- While this is true for the book, an early shot during the training sequence indicates that Foxface actually had a higher knowledge of the flora in the area than the other tributes. In fact, the addition of this shot carries the implication that she committed suicide rather than dying at the hands of, or killing, the other tributes. The fact that the Nightlock berries were out in the open had to have set off some warning bells as well, if she were clever enough to avoid the other tributes without being detected after all this time.
- The Vorkosigan Saga: Miles Vorkosigan, as illustrated by the following quote from Mirror Dance:
"My game plan all my life has been to demand acceptance of this," a vague wave down the length, or shortness, of his body, "because I was a smart-ass little bastard who could think rings around the opposition, and prove it time after time."
- Incidentally, he succeeds. Mostly.
- Moist von Lipwig of Going Postal and Making Money is a con man turned government official, who runs his government offices as though they were successively more complex con games. Which of course, in a very real sense, they sort of are.
- There's a phrase that appears in Discworld novels fairly often (though it's considerably older) that actually describes this: "So sharp he kept cutting himself, as my grandmother used to say."
- Ponder Stibbons as well; his impediments are the rest of the staff.
- The Klatchian mastermind behind the international incident in Jingo may qualify as this; he is certainly clever, and his plan would have worked very well, apart from one small problem: his opponent is Vetinari. As a result of this little oversight, his failure is truly monumental and extremely humiliating.
- The cleverness of these characters actually provides a good contrast with Vetinari, who is indisputably Discworld's premiere Magnificent Bastard. On the very rare occasions when he does make a mistake, Vetinari always recovers and learns from them. Also, he knows better than to push his luck, (his family motto is translated as "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"), and has thus so far avoided any spectacular cock-ups.
- He did, however, have a Reverse Psychology Backfire happen in Men at Arms: by trying to manipulate Vimes into investigating a case which Vimes already wanted to investigate, he just ended up discouraging him from investigating it. Also, he has occasional moments of Wrong Genre Savvy: he's clever enough to know the usual conventions of the plot, so he sometimes gets caught flatfooted by things going differently.
- There's also mention of a dwarf who asked his king for an impossibly vast reward similar to the wheat and chessboard problem. The Dwarf King, upon realizing how vast such a reward would be, threatens to execute the dwarf who is "too [dwarven expletive] clever by half." The dwarf hastily amends his reward to "all the gold he can carry". The king agrees to this, after breaking one of the dwarf's arms.
- High Elves (Noldor) in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion have a racial tendency towards this; Fëanor is probably the Poster Elf for the trope, but many of the others come to a bad end at least partially due to being clever enough to get themselves into trouble and not quite clever enough to get themselves back out. Also, there's the Men of Nûmenor.
- The eponymous character from Artemis Fowl.
- And also Opal Koboi, who in the fourth book has her ears surgically rounded and a human pituitary gland inserted into her head so she can pass for human - but it also drains her fairy magic, making it so that she inadvertently uses the last of it to convince an old Italian widow that she is her daughter and she works with her on the farm. When Opal realizes her mistake and tries to backtrack, it fails so miserably that she's actually happy to get arrested by the LEP a week later.
- Locke from The Lies of Locke Lamora and its sequel by Scott Lynch. He spends his life running elaborate (and usually successful) cons on nobles while posing as a petty thief. The end of the second book covers a massive failure; he's spent the entire book on a plot to rob a casino, and it goes off flawlessly — except that the paintings he steals are fakes, put out for the express purpose of being stolen.
- Kvothe from The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. A child prodigy, he talks his way into his world's premier university at the age of fifteen, after having spent three years as a beggar, and promptly antagonizes both one of the masters and the wealthiest and most politically connected student in the university. Between that and his perpetual poverty, he spends most of his time doing absurd things (learning an entire language in a day and a half, getting certified as a musician on a lute with a broken string) just to keep his head above water.
- A Song of Ice and Fire
- Tyrion Lannister. As a dwarf, quite literally... And unlike some on this list, he's fully aware that he's pushing his luck in most of the stunts he pulls.
- Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish is described using this exact phrase by Ned Stark. He is, however, an unusual example of this trope because (so far) he has gone from strength to strength without anything more serious than some minor setbacks, to which he quickly adapts. It helps that nobody has any idea what his actual goals are.
- Grand Admiral Thrawn of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, especially The Thrawn Trilogy. He'd probably claim that he's not arrogant, and it's true that he has no qualms about accepting a good idea just because it's not his, but he definitely has an ego underneath his self-control. He's an alien in a xenophobic Empire whose talents caused him to get that rank. His main problems are not leaving wiggle room for unknown unknowns and putting entirely to much trust in people he's manipulated both staying manipulated and making good decisions. To a lesser extent, Talon Karrde.
- In the Star Wars Wraith Squadron trilogy both of the computer hacker characters fall to this somewhat. Grinder falls to this in that Face catches him pulling pranks as he was the only one who could have defeated the security on Face's X-wing. However when in the field, he is quite cautious, unlike his replacement. Castin falls to this in a much worse fashion when he opens an access panel without scanning it first, triggering a hidden layer—which ultimately led to his death. Grinder had previously dealt with a similar system and had the foresight to scan it before opening it.
- Harry Potter
- Hermione is the smartest person in her classes, tends to be rather rudely disparaging of her peers' intelligence, and is discriminated against for being a muggle-born.
- Dumbledore is also qualified for this trope. He is one of the smartest and most powerful wizards in the setting, and he knows it. However, Dumbledore is a reformed version of this trope. He used to be arrogant and controlling, until an unfortunate accident led him to realize what he was becoming. At that point, he decided to settle down and become a teacher, because he felt he could not be trusted with any real power. During the story, of course, we do get to see him affording himself more power to bring down Voldemort, but no more than necessary.
Dumbledore: Being, forgive me, rather cleverer than most men, my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger.
- Voldemort is a half-example—he's a magical genius, yes, but he tends to generalize this and assume it means he's smarter than everyone at everything. Given that he is in actuality not even remotely competent at long-term planning, he manages to get all the downsides of this trope with scant few of the benefits. His main flaw as a strategist is that he'll get so carried away with a clever plan that he forgets his opponents are also clever, and so follows predictable patterns. The most glaring example, as pointed out by Dumbledore, is that he decided to make every Soul Jar he built out of significant magical artifacts that can be traced to him which he guarded in varying ways (held by his chief lieutenant, bank vault, under a magic pool on an island in an underground lake filled with zombies). If he'd gone the simple route and used a random rock he then threw in a lake there would have been no way to stop him.
- Douglas Adams' Dirk Gently. In a scene where he tries to outwit the local Inspector Lestrade, and fails miserably, the inspector sensibly points out that Dirk may be really smart, but the weakness of really smart people is that they assume everyone else is stupid.
- Foxface in The Hunger Games manages to survive without killing a single soul, simply stealing food and hiding. It bites her in the ass when she steals some berries Peeta had picked without either of them realizing that they were poisonous.
- Or DID it bite her in the ass? In the movie especially, there are hints she committed suicide on purpose and covered it up so that her family back home didn't get in trouble with the Capitol. Foxface: cunning to the end.
- Katniss actually wonders if Foxface is the most intelligent out of all the tributes. As the Games go on and she realizes that Foxface has lasted so long without a direct confrontation against anyone, Katniss wonders if Foxface, not the intimidating Thresh or the totally batshit Cato, is the real danger.
- Kendra in Beastly. She has a history of using her magic to punish rotten people like Kyle, but it bites her in the ass when it attracts too much attention and gets her in trouble with other witches. While her grand plan to improve Kyle via the curse she puts on him does work perfectly (it's designed so that he really can't break it without improving himself), it's also what convinces the other witches to banish her from ever going home. Leastwise, until Kyle accidentally puts a loophole into the spell that lets her go home after he breaks the curse. In the book Bewitched, Kendra apparently had a knack for this even before she had a lot of experience as a witch.
- Themistocles Papadapoulos in the bridge book series Bridge in the Menagerie. He delights in deception plays, which frequently confuse opponents into making the one play that can defeat his contracts or ensure theirs when he's defending. One chapter of the second book has an entire section on him called "Too Clever By Half."
- Steerpike in the Gormenghast books. He's extremely clever and a master Manipulative Bastard, but his first real failure comes from arrogance, overplanning, and underestimating his opponent.
- A key trait of Dr. Impossible in Soon I Will Be Invincible, who starts the book by narrating about it.
"Has the world's smartest man done the smartest thing with his life?"
- Reaper's Gale, the seventh book of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, discusses the downsides of this. When Fear Sengar points out that former slave Udinaas, by the measure of his intelligence and vision, should have been a king and not a slave, Udinaas acidly counters that he's too smart and driven and would be unable to stop once he'd started to openly question the system. Too many people like him on the loose and any governmental system would eventually collapse in bloody rebellion. Thus he deems it safer for society at large and himself in particular to spend his days scraping fish.
- Both Rabbit and Owl from Winnie-the-Pooh. Rabbit once noted they're smarter than say Pooh or Piglett as they have brains rather than being stuffed with fluff. That being said, they aren't as smart as they think, especially Owl who acts like he can read and write, when in reality, he can only spell his own name (which he does incorrectly).
- Said verbatim by Pierce to Jeff on Community, but it was used incorrectly to be an example of the trope.
- This happens constantly on Columbo. So many of the killers come up with really great plans that would have allowed them to literally get away with murder. However, too many of them try to add in a flourish or touch which ends up containing the clues Columbo needs to figure out the truth.
- More than once, a killer goes to massive lengths for the "perfect" alibi only to have that be the very thing that trips them up. How often has Columbo done the math to realize how far you'd have to go out of your way to ensure you're seen at a specific time and place?
- Often, the killer will steer Columbo to a suspect they've managed to expertly frame. But in almost every case, Columbo sees through it simply because there's no way someone could be smart enough to commit such a complex murder but then be dumb enough to leave so many obvious clues behind.
- A Senator tries to make himself look the victim of the same "killer" of a man he murdered. He puts a bullet from that gun into a wall and fakes it being fired at him during a party. With several people present, the man openly says that if Columbo finds the bullet, he can figure out it's from the same gun. Columbo agrees...and says he's already run the tests as he found that bullet in the wall three hours ago. The man's face falls as he realizes he just implicated himself in front of witnesses.
- Game of Thrones:
- Cersei Lannister is indeed well-versed in the games of subterfuge and underhanded politics amongst the Westeros' nobles, but she fancies herself to be better than she actually is, causing her to often severely underestimate her opponents. Ironically, this also works in her favor, since her opponents often assume she's too rational to do something stupid, only to be blindsided when she does it anyway.
- Gifted, influential, casually manipulative, and smart-mouthed, Jaime Lannister loves to contemptuously upstage chivalric foes but eventually goes too far and overplays his hand. Then he loses it.
- Rodney McKay from Stargate Atlantis is one of the smartest humans from earth. Despite everyone in the Stargate program being top in their fields, he's the only one to make such a huge deal out of his intelligence. And on number three... while he regularly makes astounding accomplishments while under threat of imminent death, his biggest failure? Blew up a solar system (well, five-sixths of a solar system), and almost destroyed two universes. His pride is so great that he often refuses to work with other scientists on the team because he's convinced they'd just slow him down. This gets pointed out magnificently in an episode where he's working with Real Life celebrity scientists Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse Tyson, or rather, refusing to work with them. This gets taken to a literal level when an Ascension machine rewrites his genome. He creates a new form of math just to keep up with his new discoveries. After being forced to choose between ascending or dying, he invents a cure for himself, returning himself back to "normal" genius levels, not realizing he was in spitting distance of ascending. For a kicker, all his notes and his new mathematics are so complex that even he can't figure out what they meant, making virtually everything that happened completely moot. Did get a nice Deus ex Machina out of it for the next season opener, though.
- Samantha Carter from Stargate SG-1 isn't arrogant, but she knows how smart she is, is constantly being expected to do more and more impressive things to save humanity's collective asses, usually succeeds at saving the day but occasionally has some pretty spectacular screw ups, and gets discriminated against for being female and human by Ba'al and the free Jaffa.
- Dr. Nicholas Rush in Stargate Universe is, quite possibly, even more arrogant than McKay. At the very least, he loves to put other scientists down. At the same time, he sees Eli as a protégé of sorts and isn't as hard on him as on others. In fact, on at least one occasion, he told another crewmember that Eli is actually smarter than him.
- This seems to be a recurring theme for advanced alien races throughout the Stargate universe. Once they reach a point in their technological development where they could be mistaken for gods, on some level they start to actually believe it, and as a consequence they develop blind spots in their thought processes you could steer a Goa'uld Mothership through:
- The Asgard have become so dependent on their technology that they are literally incapable of thinking outside the box. They were very nearly destroyed by the Replicators because they kept throwing more-advanced weapons technology at an enemy that eats technology; they simply can't conceive of any other way to deal with the problem. It took Humans - less advanced technologically, but with more flexible thought processes - to help them gain an advantage. To their credit, they realized and repeatedly come to humans for help.
- The Ancients are For Science! to such a degree that they never consider the long-term consequences of their actions. They tend to create massive, ambitious scientific projects which fail just as often as they succeed. And because these projects are so huge and ambitious, dealing with things like genetic engineering, quantum mechanics, and the nature of reality itself, the consequences of those failures are catastrophic. If they're lucky, their inventions merely explode spectacularly. If they're not so lucky, they can rip a hole in the universe. Sometimes, projects that initially seem to be successful develop long-term side-effects that are even worse than the problems they were designed to solve. The Wraith, a hostile mutant race inadvertently created in a world-seeding project, are only the most glaring example.
- Doctor Gregory House. Hell, his choice of role model and reason for becoming a doctor (a burakumin medical genius working as a janitor in a Japanese hospital) was almost explicitly one of these, although without the implied arrogance.
This guy, he knew that he wasn't accepted by the staff, he didn't even try. He didn't dress well. He didn't pretend to be one of them. The people that ran that place, they didn't think that he had anything they wanted. Except when they needed him. Because he was right. Which meant that nothing else mattered. And they had to listen to him.
- Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory is a brilliant theoretical physicist. He's also insufferably arrogant and ignorant of basic social interaction. At least once the other characters acknowledged that if he wasn't Leonard's roommate they wouldn't hang out with him.
- Doctor Who: The Doctor has a tendency to drift in and out of this trope, possibly more so in his third incarnation. The Tenth Doctor is especially given to telling people how clever he is.
- The Fourth Doctor did a lot of this and even gets a line naming this trope in the unaired Development Hell episode "Shada", after one of his signature Logic Bombs works too well and leads to him cutting off the oxygen on the spaceship he was hijacking:
Doctor: I was being too clever by three quarters.Chris: You never do anything by halves.
- The Fourth Doctor did a lot of this and even gets a line naming this trope in the unaired Development Hell episode "Shada", after one of his signature Logic Bombs works too well and leads to him cutting off the oxygen on the spaceship he was hijacking:
- Villainous example: Orta from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Ensign Ro". Extremely good Bajoran terrorist with many impossible victories against the Cardassians, but his failures cost him his right eye and the ability to speak without a voice synthesizer. Over the course of the episode, Picard and Ro find that Orta did not make a strike they were investigating, because he didn't have the resources to do so (his freighter could only move at half impulse, for example)...because his rep was such that others were terrified in dealing with him.
- Gul Dukat in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine managed an extremely elaborate set of nasty surprises for anyone hijacking Terok Nor, then managed to get himself caught up in them because he beamed over to gloat at the crew for tripping them. Their was another set of security precautions he didn't know about set in place in case he tried to abandon his post after the first set was triggered.
- Sikozu of Farscape definitely fits this trope, especially given her arrogance over her high intelligence. Doubly so given her knowledge comes almost exclusively from book-learning, leaving her woefully underprepared for the actual realities of the universe. Trying tell a Pilot how best to pilot his Leviathan, because you read about Leviathans in books? Good luck with that.
- Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear is a Badass Driver version. He can do astonishing things with a car (or a hammer) but his devotion to Tim Taylor Technology means his failures are spectacular too.
- Likewise, James May. He's extremely intelligent with an impressive understanding of engineering, physics and other disciplines that aid him whenever a construction challenge is made. However, his too-cautious approach, tendency towards technically complex creations and at times a lack of common sense (not to mention a lack of direction) tend to have him either win decidedly or fail spectacularly.
- Sherlock Holmes from the BBC's modern-day adaptation, Sherlock, is a perfect example. Yes, he's very, very clever; but it does have its disadvantages in that he can't "turn it off" and stop being an Insufferable Genius, even when doing so would be much more prudent. (Not a million miles from The Doctor — which, given that the show is scripted by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, is...not that surprising, really). note
Moriarty: That's your problem, you always want everything to be so clever.
- This is lampshaded when Sherlock believes Moriarty has created a super-hacking bug that can open bank vaults, prison cells and the Tower of London. He confronts Moriarty on how he'll figure out how to use the bug himself. Moriarty then laughs that there is no bug, he just bribed people to open up doors at the right moment and is amazed Sherlock fell for his ruse.
- Shows up often on Survivor.
- Russell Hantz, for example, has some savviness as to the mechanics of the game, finding Immunity Idols before receiving any clues to their location for example - but lost, three times, for being completely insufferable, not grasping that you have to avoid getting on the other players' bad sides. (The third time he played, his tribe was aware of his previous two times and made a point to throw him out fast so they wouldn't have to deal with him.)
- "Boston" Rob, on both this show and The Amazing Race is another great example. He definitely has a talent for this stuff, but... well, on Race he decided to screw with other players by making them think there was an earlier flight. While he gloated about sending them into a panicked search for a nonexistent flight, they found one.
- In an episode of Burn Notice, a supposed spy master gloats on how he's got Mike wrapped around his finger only to get stabbed in the back (literally) by his own underling.
Underling: Problem with guys like you is that you're so busy thinking ten steps ahead, you miss what's right in front of you.
- Jimmy McNulty from The Wire had to drop out of college due to his girlfriend becoming pregnant. He became a detective who has no respect for his commanders and that'll do anything to get a case solved.
- Starter Villain Victor Dubenich is this in the pilot. The entire plan depends on his ability to realize that they are coming after him.
- It is a frequent failing of Hardison's as well; on multiple occasions the other characters point out his tendency to get himself and them into trouble by being a little too convinced of his own cleverness. In "The Iceman Job" he goes so overboard playing the part of a diamond thief that it gets him kidnapped by Russian mobsters who want him to steal some diamonds for them. In "The Gold Job" he demands to be allowed to run what should have been a simple con and makes it so needlessly complicated that the marks start questioning all the hoops they're having to jump through, nearly ruining the entire job. Nate explains to him that he always avoids this by having a relatively simple backup plan, and advises Hardison to take his failure as an object lesson to apply to future jobs.
- Dr Ty Wilson from Monday Mornings has nearly all traits of this archetype. Only thing which doesn't quite fit is that he's not insufferable in the least. He has sweet bedside manners and he's also very nice to his colleagues, which makes him popular. He's an extremely smart and brilliant neurosurgeon with magical hands. He knows it, and doctor Hooten often calls him on his medical arrogance, especially his reluctance to consult with his colleagues who as as brilliant as himself. note The series kicks off with a patient dying on his table. It's rare for him and he feels badly, but even more so when he learns that he didn't check all relevant medical history of the patient's father. He screwed up, big time, and has to deal with his Heroic B.S.O.D..
- Sometimes, these are the chefs that Gordon Ramsay runs into in Kitchen Nightmares. One example from the U.K Series was Nick Anderson of Rococo's. He was a renowned chef in the mid-nineties in England, but a decidedly nasty partnership break-up with the owners of a high-class hotel put him in a deep depression, a creative slump and financial trouble. When Gordon comes to his restaurant, his inflated ego, inability to update his style and his obsession with his past successes meant that he had alienated his customers with a business surviving on the charity of friends.
- In Kamen Rider Gaim, this is ultimately one of Mitsuzane/Kamen Rider Ryugen's biggest weaknesses. He's a genuinely intelligent teenager, but as he undergoes both a Face–Heel Turn and massive amounts of Sanity Slippage, he comes to see himself as a brilliant mastermind who has everything under control and who's "using" the other villains for his own ends. In reality, he's not very good at manipulation, his plans frequently fail, and he's ultimately just an Unwitting Pawn to the villains he thinks he's using.
- In Przygody Psa Cywila Cywil himself is a Rare Dog Example - he's too clever to just follow orders.
- Dominic from Person of Interest. He's an ingenious criminal and skilled coordinator but also too certain of his own abilities, meaning he bites off more than he can chew and reacts badly to things going Off the Rails. As Reese notes, he's smart enough to be a threat but also stupid enough to get himself killed. Sure enough this ends up leading to his defeat and death; he underestimates the abilities of Team Machine and Elias while simultaneously making such a big name for himself that he gets targeted and murdered by Samaritan immediately after arrest.
- Anubis from Stargate SG-1 developed technology that is far more advanced than anyone else at the time, including a device that allows him to directly download information from the brains of captured enemies. When he uses this device, the victim is able to interface with the computer and access plot-critical systems in his spaceship.
- Vicki Kawaguchi of Backyard Sports.
- The Onion Knight in Dissidia: Final Fantasy. He's quite clever, and knows it (and will remind Terra bout his intelligence at every turn). He easily fits parts 1, 2, and 3. Especially 3. You want a spectacular failure? How about causing Terra to go out of control, let her get brainwashed, beat her up when you can't think of any other way out of it, and let her get kidnapped? His Destiny Odyssey is all bout him being knocked down a serious peg, and learning to listen to his heart, not just his head.
- Fallout: New Vegas has Mr. Robert Edwin House, President, CEO and Sole Proprietor of New Vegas. He's a Properly Paranoid genius owner of a Mega Corp. who firmly believes Democracy Is Bad (not entirely untrue, considering the circumstances) and defended Las Vegas from nuclear attack to rebuild it to a point of glory, but is incredibly arrogant and refuses to believe that he could be wrong. He also thinks there's no question that he should be the sole autocrat of New Vegas. As a result, the very start of the game is a result of him getting blindsided by an underling, and he can and will get blindsided again by you if you decide to betray him. Nations can be predictable, but a single person with a really big stake in a matter even bigger than them, not so much.
- Mass Effect 2 introduces Miranda Lawson: as she and her sister were Designer Babies engineered by their megalomaniacal Truly Single Parent to be Born Winners, Instant Expert TV Genius barely begins to describe her capabilities. Lawson drops in on Shepard's resurrection without any knowledge of the process and becomes the project's leader through sheer ability in less than a week. Of course, being unfamiliar with failure, she never sees her mistakes coming: her statement that "any Biotic could be a Barrier Warrior" turns out to be completely in error - it takes a Psycho Prototype or a Cool Old Lady to do it - she gets an ally killed if her advice is followed. She is actually cursed with being aware of this trope, resulting in an inferiority complex - she attributes all her successes to her father's design, and only takes credit for her failures.
- Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star has signs of this in the young aristocrat Shirogane Sakuya. He's very smart, always arrogant, blind to any flaws he might have... his more aware brother once considers getting into a room Sakuya's renovated and equipped with security, which Sakuya'd proudly boasted was impenetrable.
But this is him I'm dealing with. It'll look like sneaking in is going to be hard, but knowing him he'll have overlooked something obvious...
- It turns out Sakuya rigged the door extensively, but completely neglected the windows. This despite him being a flight-capable bird, in a school full of other flight-capable birds.
- Suspiria, Insufferable Genius mage prodigy from Flipside. She really is a phenomenally powerful mage, but given her youth, she lacks both the experience and stamina of other mages of her rank, making her a much less formidable opponent than she should be. This has bitten her in the ass twice, in-story (the first with tragic consequences, the second costing her the other main characters' good will and respect and any sympathy the former granted her).
- The Order of the Stick:
- Vaarsuvius is the resident Squishy Wizard and needs to be smart. Also, V's an Elf, so there's the arrogance. The demonic contract plotline manages to skate on the very edge of the "spectacular failure" point without quite falling in.
- Later on, we find that her/his "Familicide" spell killed even people who merely had black dragon blood in them, or anyone related to them, such as their parents. People whose only crime, as V puts it, was "falling in love with a mysterious scarlet-tressed stranger". Cue Heroic B.S.O.D..
- Roy as well, at times:
Oracle: Yes, you've certainly managed to cunningly outsmart yourself at the very least.
- Also Nale. He may be smarter than Elan, but he's definitely not as smart as he thinks he is. For example, Nale had his succubus femme fatale disguise herself and send the party on a dangerous quest to recover star metal. He assumed that the star metal would have been recovered as "everyone" has known about its existence for a great deal of time. However, it hasn't been recovered, and after it is found the only result is Roy, an enemy of Nale's, having the star metal used to forge an Infinity +1 Sword. It's also led to a crippling case of Complexity Addiction; most of his plans are characterized by initial success, followed by everything falling apart when one of the far-to-many moving parts hits a snag.
- This ultimately leads to his death sometime later. Having killed Minister Malack, right-hand man to General Tarquin, Nale's dad, he boasts about it straight to his father's face — in an exceptionally mean-spirited way to boot. He then rejects Tarquin's subsequent offer to reconcile and states outright that he doesn't want Tarquin's nepotism or pity. Tarquin, finally having had enough of his son's crap, proceeds to kill him, explaining that without nepotism or pity, Nale would have been dead a long time ago.
- Vaarsuvius is the resident Squishy Wizard and needs to be smart. Also, V's an Elf, so there's the arrogance. The demonic contract plotline manages to skate on the very edge of the "spectacular failure" point without quite falling in.
- Many, many characters on Homestuck. Rose is one of the worst, admittedly very intelligent and knowledgeable but constantly getting outplayed and biting off more than she can chew. Vriska is slightly more self aware about her overly complicated plans and double crosses but still cheerfully forges ahead, admitting she be bored if she wasn't either succeeding awesomely or crashing and burning in Shakespearean fashion.
- Many devisors and gadgeteers in the Whateley Universe get this, but the biggest of all must be Jobe Wilkins, Prince of Karedonia. A literal child prodigy even before he started breaking the laws of reality — and a first-class Jerkass — he sets about making a nanotech formula to transform anyone into his ideal wife. And then he injects himself with it.
- Sylvester, in Twig, has this as his main protagonist limitation. While he is The Social Expert, he gets overwhelmed by rapid inputs of new information and spends so much time planning for how to react to it that he forgets to react to it. This often leads to him getting punched in the face.
- The title character of Invader Zim is an Evil Genius armed with advanced technology, but his massive ego and faulty programming prevent him from taking over Earth. For that matter, Dib is a Child Prodigy who is much better at investigating paranormal phenomena than the so-called experts... and absolutely terrible at convincing anyone with the resources to do anything about it of what he's found.
- In Iron Man: Armored Adventures, Teenage Tony Stark has many of the problems of his other incarnations (keeping secrets from his friends, arrogantly fiddling with technology he really shouldn't be and some outright hypocrisy) with the problems of a super genius who's been home-schooled all his life and suffering from the loss of his only parent. For example, he creates a really good computer virus that devours data like a swarm of digital locusts but unfortunately merges with a swarm of nano-machines to become the very hungry Technovore monster. When Tony screws up he screws up phenomenally.
- In The Simpsons' first "Treehouse of Horror", Kang and Kodos abduct them in their flying saucer to live in luxury. Lisa snoops around the ship and finds a book titled "How to Cook Humans". Offended at the notion, the aliens blow some space-dust off the book's cover revealing the title to be "How to Cook For Humans". To which Lisa points out that there is still dust on the book, with the title now "How to Cook Forty Humans". Kang (or Kodos) then demonstrate that there is yet still more dust on the book's cover, finally revealing the book's full title "How to Cook For Forty Humans" (the Simpsons were gluttons).
Marge: Now you know what we mean when we say you're too smart for your own good?
- Young Justice: Nobody could say Amanda Waller is an incompetent warden... but at the end of "Terrors", The Alcatraz falls under the control of the Light, there was an almost successful Great Escape, and she is replaced with Dr. Hugo Strange, one of their agents.
- During a flashback on Hey Arnold!, Grampa Phil recounts how while serving in WWII, he was captured by a Nazi panzer brigade. The Nazi captain (Major!) decided that the bad meat Phil was carrying to a dumping ground was good because Phil warned the Nazis not to eat it in an absurdly long and one-sided I Know You Know I Know. As Phil's narration puts it;
"That's when it hit me! I realized that if I let him think he was smarter than me, I could make him do anything I wanted."
- In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Twilight Sparkle can fall into this trap, though it's not arrogance. She doesn't think she's the best so much as she needs to be perfect. Is she good? She was acknowledged by Princess Celestia as having the most potential of any unicorn she had ever met, and even when outclassed, outsmarted Nightmare Moon and defeated Discord with The Power of Friendship. She has studied magic her whole life, and is likely the most knowledgable magic user in existence with the possible exceptions of the immortal alicorn princesses Luna and Celestia. She has done a lot of good things (and awesome things) with her magic. However, in "Lesson Zero", her perfectionism caused every bit as much chaos as one of those Big Bads and nobody short of the Winged Unicorn princess who raises the sun every morning could put things back. She basically became the villain of the episode, reaching the point where anything goes so as not to have what she sees as a failure, before realizing how far she'd gone. By then she'd done more damage than she could undo herself. She also tripped herself up in "It's About Time", when she used a time travel spell to go back in time and warn herself not to worry, thus causing herself to worry to begin with. Though that one could possibly be blamed on sleep deprivation.
- Bugs Bunny says "Sometimes I'm so smart it frightens me" after he tricks the giant in "Jack Wabbit And The Beanstalk" into a twenty-paces duel that makes the giant disappear into the horizon. Then the giant reappears on the other side. The twenty paces were enough for him to circumnavigate all the way back.
- Wile E. Coyote as well when he's pitted against Bugs. Part of his problem is he overestimates his own intelligence while gravely underestimating Bugs', allowing Bugs to get the upper hand before he ever realizes it, combined with his problem in the Road Runner cartoons of falling for his own traps.
- This trope is the reason why a startlingly huge proportion of people who get roped into scams, cults, and buy into other patent bogus things are actually very intelligent. They think of themselves as being too smart to possibly ever willingly hand over their money to a crook, or be manipulated by someone who heads a Scam Religion, or even come to very invalid conclusions, simply because they believe they're so smart that nobody could fool them, so therefore, anything which registers in their mind as checking out has to be correct, even if there's good evidence that they're wrong. More than a few cons are based on letting the victim think they've spotted the con and can find a loophole to profit from it, when that supposed loophole is itself actually the bait for the real con. This is also the reason why scammers and the like can end up on the other end of this themselves, because they assume that since they're so good at fooling others and know the tricks of the trade they would never fall into the trap themselves.
- Galileo appears to have been one of these (see his entry under Instructional Dialogue), assuming Simplicio really was a caricature of the Pope. Even before he earned the attention of the Inquisition, he alienated the University of Pisa (which prompted his relocation from Venice to Florence—he needed new patronage) and pushed matters so hard that even the powerful Medici family began to find him a liability. The man just didn't know when to keep his mouth shut.
- You might find this in education, when the instructor uses the Socratic Method—feigning ignorance of the subject and asking questions of the students to draw out the correct answer. The intelligent or well-read students will often try to bring out information which, while interesting, either doesn't get to the heart of the matter or assumes that the central question has been answered when it hasn't. This typically leads the instructor to shut the student down—or try to, as such students tend to be stubborn. This is particularly common in American law schools, where the Socratic method is standard. Free advice: There's a reason that Socrates' most famous statement is "I know that I know nothing."
- The Nazis. Most of the senior politicians and generals were brilliant (when the IQ test had been performed on the Nuremberg defendants, most were high above average in the 120-138 range, while the most stupid and clearly insane of them, Julius Streicher, still scored a bit above average) and their military industrial complex had been staffed with tens of thousands of equally brilliant officers, engineers and bureaucrats who used the most advanced technology of their time. They managed to convince themselves so surely of their own superiority that they willingly walked into an unwinnable war.
- Not to mention that the Allied intelligence services were running circles around them, having subverted essentially every German agent while their own agents were placed in very high positions in the German war effort. Much like the scam/con example above, they'd so thoroughly convinced themselves that they couldn't be fooled that they never even bothered to look.
- Pete Carroll, NFL coach of the Seattle Seahawks. Since he'd taken over as coach, he built of reputation of being a clever coach known to call unexpected plays that resulted in epic wins. This popular coaching style made him popular within the NFL and among football fans. His credibility was cemented when he led the Seahawks to their first Super Bowl win in franchise history in the 2013-2014 season against the Denver Broncos and their record-breaking offense. He was able to lead his team back to the Super Bowl for the 2014-2015 season. Until the final twenty seconds of the fourth quarter, Pete Carroll called an excellent game, and even though their opponent, the New England Patriots, took the lead by 4 points, the Seahawks were able to drive down to the Patriots one yard line. Instead of making the logical choice of giving the ball to Marshawn "Beast Mode" Lynch, one of the NFL's top running backs, who, during the game, ran over 100 yards and got a touchdown, he calls for his quarterback, Russell Wilson, to throw the ball into the end zone. The ball gets intercepted and the Patriots win their fourth Super Bowl during the Bill Belicheck and Tom Brady era, and thus instead of being the coach that won back-to-back Super Bowls for his team (and that would've been pulled off against a coach who has done this before), Pete Carroll is now seen as the coach who made the dumbest call in NFL history.
- Cocky medical residents should be reminded of "July Syndrome," a catch-all term for the sudden spike in iatrogenic (caused by medical treatment or examination) problems in teaching hospitals around the United States. July, because that's when after 4 years of medical school and accolades, all the brand-new residents start their residencies at once.
- There is a quote by Gamal Abdul Nasser:
"The genius of you Americans is that you never make clear-cut stupid moves, only complicated stupid moves which make the rest of us wonder at the possibility that we might be missing something."
- Mind you, America being what it is, it might be this trope, Right Hand vs. Left Hand (due to the nation's size), or even Ignorant of Their Own Ignorance...