Unintentionally Notorious Crime
Crime doesn't (always
) pay; you never know who your victim might be. Just because your victim didn't turn out to be a superhero, alien assassin
, or a fellow crook
doesn't mean you've gotten away with it. You might find that things went a little bit too well and you've committed a crime that'll get you far more attention that you want; an Unintentionally Notorious Crime. You might discover that the random woman you've just robbed is The Cape
's wife, and now his Hero Secret Service
is on your tail, or that bag you're running away with might carry the MacGuffin
, or perhaps you tried to steal a car and ended up "kidnapping" the kid in the back seat. Either way, you're in over your head.
The crime might escalate either because of the victim (either because they're rich, important, or famous, getting a lot of unwanted attention, or the media just happens to pick up on it) or because of the payoff (usually by stealing something more valuable than expected, either because everybody wants it
or it's worth more than it appears
). Note that the intended crime itself doesn't have to be minor; a Serial Killer
drawing unwanted attention by picking a victim who happens to be important also fits, for example.
If it focuses on the criminals, then it'll either focus on how in over their head they are (as they flee from the law and possibly other criminals) or be played as a case of Can't Get Away with Nuthin'
(especially if it's the "important victim" variant).
When the story focuses on detectives (or other law enforcement) investigating this trope, it's often either revealed as a humorous twist (the "master criminal" turns out to be some lowlife in the wrong place at the wrong time) or a red herring (if a crime appears to be this trope, it'll usually be subverted
). When the trope is in effect from the start and played straight to the end, it's usually so that there's a reason the detectives will be under pressure to solve the case.
Sister trope to Accidental Murder
(which may or may not be the result of a more minor crime). Stupid Crooks
are especially prone to this trope. For other cases of things going so well they go badly, see Gone Horribly Right
. Compare Robbing The Mob Bank
, Mugging the Monster
, and Bullying a Dragon
, where the crime is foiled
because the crooks are in over their head, and Colliding Criminal Conspiracies
when it's foiled because they're caught up in another crime. This trope can lead to Crime After Crime
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Anime and Manga
- In the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex episode "Embraced by a Disguised Net – CAPTIVATED", a member of an Organ Legging gang accidentally kidnaps the daughter of a politician who was denying their existence. The team are able to take advantage of this trope by having the politician denounce the gang to make the kidnapper panic (they know she's a professional who won't kill the girl). It turns out that a rival had given her a list which included the politician's daughter so she'd be branded a traitor.
- This trope is part of the origin story of Green Lantern Simon Baz: being forced to resort to grand theft auto after being fired, he once stole the wrong car and mid police chase, he found a bomb inside. Faced with no other options, he drove the car into his now abandoned former workplace and ran. The explosion was seen as an act of terrorism and Baz was captured and under interrogation when the ring came to him...
- The plot of the Sereinty: Better Days miniseries involves the crew raiding a buried money cache that turns out to be several thousand times more valuable than they thought.
- Batman: Depending on the Writer, what was either a desperate mugging or a hit on a potential mob witness turns into something much bigger. And then there was the robbery of a chemical plant's payroll department by a small-timer in a hood.
- Dick Tracy: In the Crewy Lou storyline, Crewy steals Tess Tracy's car in order to make a getaway. However, she fails to notice Bonny Ann Braids napping in the backseat, turning it not merely into an unintentional kidnapping, but making it It's Personal for Tracy.
- Just about anyone who threatens Lois Lane in any incarnation of Superman (except for continuities where it would be a case of Mugging the Monster).
- The fanfic Princess Celestia Gets Mugged is all about this. Three crooks attempt to kidnap Sunny Skies, who is actually Princess Celestia in disguise. It's only once they find out who Sunny Skies really is that they start to panic.
Films — Animated
- Toy Story. Woody is jealous of the attention Andy pays to Buzz Lightyear. He schemes to knock Buzz down behind a desk, which would inconvenience him but not hurt him. Instead, because of a series of accidents, Buzz is knocked out the room's window, and the other toys want to lynch Woody because they think he intended to knock Buzz out the window.
Films — Live-Action
- In one of Labyrinths of Echo' sequels; a forest witch who was feeling lonely enchanted and effectively kidnapped some likable strangers... who happened to be the King Incognito with his entourage. After the problem was resolved, she said something to the effect of "Why Didnt You Just Say So — I'm crazy, not stupid".
- In Retribution Falls, Darian Frey raids the Ace Of Skulls, believing it to be a freighter transporting gemstones, but when it explodes after taking one shot and bodies fall out, it becomes clear that it was a liner. Darian Frey later learns that one the passengers was the son of a duke.
- In the book Holes, Zero steals a pair of shoes. Little did he know that they were owned by a famous baseball player and were being sold for charity — after he took them, he heard lots of people exclaiming, "The shoes are gone!" and shortly afterward, he heard police sirens and threw them away off a highway overpass, (accidentally framing the protagonist in the process).
- In True Talents, Trash wants to buy some art supplies, but is strapped for cash. While at the bank, he gives in to temptation and uses his telekinesis to steal a wad of bills from a trolley. After leaving, he looks through them and realizes that they're all hundred dollar bills — meaning he just walked off with thousands of dollars. This gets him noticed by the wrong people.
- In Judge Dee, an influential criminal tries to kill the judge by trapping him and his deputies under a huge bell, nearly suffocating them. When they manage to prove he was the culprit, he admits to it but tries to pass it off as a prank gone wrong, finally settling on the charge of assault, hoping his connections will let him go free... only for Dee to remind everyone that as a judge in office, he represents the state and the will of the Emperor — and as such, assaulting him constitutes high treason, punishable by Cruel and Unusual Death (getting pulled apart by four buffalos).
- Which, if you're curious, was actually used as a method of execution in Real Life (except that it involved horses instead).
- In the 87th Precinct novel Lady, Lady, I Did It, a shooter opens fire in a store and guns down four people. One of them happens to be Detective Bert Kling's fiancee, thereby guaranteeing that the crime has the attention of every cop in the city.
- In The Professional Killers by J.T. Edson, a pair of hit-men commit Murder by Mistake when they gun down a man who matches the description of their target as he gets off a train. It turns out their target had never got on the train and the man they killed was senior sheriff's deputy.
Live Action TV
- In Saints Row: The Third, the main cast robs a bank that they don't know is owned by The Syndicate. The Syndicate becomes the game's main antagonist.
- Michael and Franklin in Grand Theft Auto V end up escalating their criminal activities when Michael destroys the house where the tennis coach his wife is cheating with is hiding. The house belongs to a notorious drug baron, who demands that they work to pay off the reconstruction costs.
- Later, Trevor arranges for the trio to steal an unspecified piece of experimental military technology. After the heist succeeds, they're told the device is really some kind of nuke and if they don't put it back fast, they and everyone they ever knew will be on the government's kill list. They do put it back, without a hitch, so the only purpose of that was to ensure that Failure Is the Only Option.
- In the Batman: The Animated Series episode "The Man Who Killed Batman", a petty criminal trying to score big, Sid the Squid, participates in a small-time drug run but (apparently) accidentally kills the Caped Crusader himself.
- In one episode of The Batman, a watchmaker steals a rare watch from his shop, setting off the alarm. In the confusion, he causes a major traffic accident. He's sentenced to 20 years and plans revenge after discovering he has the ability to rewind time for a few seconds. At the end, he realizes his plan killed his son, and this somehow supercharges his power, returning him to just before he took the watch. He leaves it there this time.
- There have been many incidents where somebody steals a car without realizing there is a child in the back seat and thus accidentally becomes a kidnapper.
- Similarly, committing a crime with Federal jurisdiction almost always is worse than the same crime at a municipal/local level. The feds have much more in the way of resources than a single police department could ever bring to bear and federal crimes carry stiffer penalties. A person who commits a petty theft, and then takes it across a state border, can accidentally ramp up to a federal crime, or making the unwise choice to vandalize/steal from mailboxes, forgetting that the postal service is a governmental branch.
- In Spain, the penalty for pickpocketing is a small fine as long as the suspect only tried stealing a certain amount (or nothing, if they didn't actually manage to get anything). As a result, a particularly "successful" theft can easily be what gets a serial pickpocket sent to jail.
- Some robbers in Marbella, Spain cut a robbery short when they realized they were this close to pulling this trope. They tied up the lady of a house and threatened her with knives, but fled in terror when they realized she was Dolph Lundgrens wife. Yes, that Dolph Lundgren.