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Breaking Out the Boss

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When a character, most often The Dragon, The Renfield or Sycophantic Servant, breaks the Big Bad out of prison, Bedlam House, or some other area designed to keep them locked in. This is most commonly done either in the form of freeing the Big Bad from a Tailor-Made Prison, or breaking out a Sealed Evil in a Can. Sometimes, this will be part of an Evil Plan thought out by the Big Bad.

Generally, one of three possible outcomes occurs:

  1. The person or thing being broken out is fully cognizant and quickly gets back on their feet, barking out orders as though nothing happened.
  2. The person or thing being broken out is heavily tired by their long captivity, and must be minded by their liberator. Perhaps his mental faculties are in order, but his body is not, perhaps the opposite. Regardless, it will normally take anywhere from a few days to a few years to recover. Rarely, this state can be permanent.
  3. The liberation backfires, and the entity kills, enslaves, or otherwise harms its allies. Often a consequence of unleashing the Sealed Evil in a Can (because Evil Is Not a Toy), and may lead to an Oh, Crap! or My God, What Have I Done? moment. Usually the result when being captured and sent to prison was All According to Plan.

For cases where the Big Bad in question was brought Back from the Dead, see Resurrect the Villain. Compare Pet Gets the Keys.

This has no relation to individual video game bosses being set free to fight you, although this does overlap (usually with Final Bosses).


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The person or entity is fully cognizant:

    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • At the start of Cavewoman: Raptorella's Revenge, Raptorella's followers bust her out the Marshville jail.
  • All-New Ultimates: When they learned about him, the watchdogs broke Scourge out of prison.
  • Mega Man: During the events of Time Keeps Slipping, the comic's second story arc, Dr. Wily is sprung from being transported from prison by Time Man, one of the 2 Robot Masters that Dr. Light didn't feel were ready for his initial presentation while a Sniper Joe distracts Mega Man and the authorities long enough for the mad doctor to make his escape.

  • Money Talks: Diamond thief Raymond Villard is sprung from a prison transport bus by his partner and several mercenaries, who kill all of the other guards and prisoners except for one man who is handcuffed to Villard.
  • In X2: X-Men United, Mystique plays a critical role in breaking Magneto out of his plastic prison, by injecting iron into the bloodstream of one of the security guards so that he can kill the guard by extracting it from him and use it both as a weapon and a transportation method.
  • Transformers (2007): "I... am... MEGATRON!" You'd never guess it if you'd just watched the movie, but his minions had different ideas of what type this example was.
  • Storm Shadow busts Cobra Commander out of Einsargen Prison at the start of G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Although initially disoriented, Cobra Commander quickly recovers.
  • El Indio's gang break him out of prison early in For a Few Dollars More, and he jumps right into action.
  • Dead in Tombstone opens with the Blackwater Gang storming a prison to free Red as he is about to be hanged.
  • Bank Shot starts with Ballentine in prison. Karp visits him with plans for a bank robbery and a plan to allow him to bust out.
  • The Hot Rock: Not the boss, but the gang have to break Greenberg out state prison to learn where the diamond is.
  • An anti-heroic example occurs in The Revengers. When the Revengers discover that Benedict is alive and has been captured by the Mexican authorities and imprisoned in the same Hellhole Prison he freed them from, they reunite to break him out.
  • In Logan Lucky, Jim's plan involves breaking Joe and Clyde out of prison, using them to pull off The Heist, and then sneaking them back into prison before anyone knows they were gone.
  • Luke Santee and his gang break into the prison to free Luke's brother Wes at the start of More Dead Than Alive.
  • Swashbuckler opens with Captain Lynch and the crew of the Blarney Cock assaulting the prison to rescue Lynch's first mate Nick from his Public Execution.
  • In Yellow Hair and the Fortress of Gold, Yellow Hair has to break Pecos out of the prison in the Mexican fort in order to recover the horn containing the Treasure Map.
  • John Doe: Vigilante ends with the S4D vigilantes breaking John Doe out of the courtroom. Technically he is not their boss, he was their inspiration, but given their devotion to him, it seems inevitable that he will end up leading them (if he chooses to).
  • In The Bravados, a confederate of the gang poses as the hangman and stabs The Sheriff to break the gang out of jail the night before their hanging. Zachary reaction indicates he was expecting this.

  • In Worm, Gadgeteer Genius Bakuda goes on a massive bombing spree, entirely as a distraction so that her gang can break into prison and free Lung, her boss. Lung immediately takes charge of the gang, using the momentum from the bombing spree to launch a massive gang war that prompts every other supervillain in the city to join forces against him.
  • Magical Girl Raising Project: In Limited, Tot Pop successfully frees Pythie Frederica from her prison, partially to recruit her to hunt down a target they are after, and partially out of fondness for her old master. Pythie starts giving out orders the moment she is free. Tot Pop and her followers follow them despite not having any obligation to listen to Pythie.
  • Air Force One is Down (ostensibly by Alistair Maclean but actually not) starts with the supervillain from the previous UNACO novel in jail, where he keeps his mind active by various mental exercises for his inevitable rescue. When this does happen and he's being driven away in a convoy of vehicles he lists several things he wants to be done ASAP, ending with him being provided with a woman ...In That Order. The Number Two replies that if he wants to change that order, the last car in the convoy is carrying a woman for him.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In 24, Andrei Drazen breaks out his supposedly dead father, Viktor Drazen, in 10 PM of Day 1.
  • Criminologist Himura and Mystery Writer Arisugawa starts with the main antagonist, Moroboshi, already in jail, with her cult members protesting her imprisonment. About halfway through the show it's revealed that the cult have secretly been more pro-active in getting her released by way of kidnapping the family of her assigned officer to blackmail him into helping her escape. This plan is enacted perfectly and Moroboshi is delivered back to her followers, immediately taking control of them so that she can hunt down the protagonist.
  • On Leverage, this happens to Nate after he goes to prison at the end of season two to save the rest of his crew. Though, the actual escape is largely of his own making. For bonus points, his crew also takes down the corrupt warden at the same time.
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.:
    • A bunch of Centipede soldiers break Edison Po out of prison. While not the boss (that would be John Garrett), Po is higher up in the Centipede organization than the soldiers (and is the most powerful member to have a name and face at the time). To illustrate how in charge he is, when one of the soldiers tells him "Time to go", his response is to sit there, continue eating his soup, and correct the soldier: "Time to go, sir."
    • The Clairvoyant himself is later rescued by Grant Ward, after he's taken into custody by S.H.I.E.L.D. in "Turn, Turn, Turn". In a unique twist, the audience isn't even aware that this character is a villain, much less The Dragon, until he saves Garrett and murders Victoria Hand and her guards.

  • On Gloryhammer's second album Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards, Zargothrax is broken out of his prison of magical ice by Chaos Wizards, according to the video to "Rise of the Chaos Wizards", he escapes immediately and is fully cognisant.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Deadlands, the Heart O' Darkness adventure requires sneaking into a massive island prison and breaking out one of the biggest baddies in the Weird West. At first glance, he seems weak and barely able to move. What lands him on THIS list and not on the one below is that he IS fully cognizant. Once freed of his cell, he's fine, but he doesn't want to help the party in the slightest. Then there's The Reveal of who you've been working for...

    Video Games 
  • Dr. Wily planned for his capture, and was broken out by Freeze Man, Cloud Man, Junk Man, and Burst Man in Mega Man 7.
  • Inverted in Armed With Wings 3 where it is the greater evil Network who breaks out his subordinate, Vandheer Lorde. But played somewhat straight in that it is Vandheer who is the Final Boss, not Network.
  • Final Fight 3 begins with the Skull Cross Gang rising to power in the wake of the Mad Gear Gang's downfall, and blowing up a police station to distract the cops while they bust their leader, Black, out of prison.
  • In the League of Legends cinematic "Warriors 2020", members of Urgot's anarchist army break into the prison he was locked in at the end of the "Child of Zaun" story to free him. They get ambushed by the Piltovan officers Caitlyn and Vi, who were expecting them, but one of them still manages to reach the controls to Urgot's capsule and open it, letting him rampage free again. However the cinematic ends before we get a resolution to whether or not he was able to escape, with the last we see of him is a disarmed Vi uppercutting him with her bare hands.

    Western Animation 
  • Wildfire: Some goblins spent most of an episode trying to release their boss. When he eventually escaped, despite the goblins having been defeated, there was no reason to believe he was any less powerful than before. Fortunately, he was defeated again.
  • In Megamind, Minion constantly does this with his boss, Megamind. Of course, Megamind's "prison" cell is a very comfortable home for him, so it's not usually a big issue.
  • An episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars as a variation of this. The episode, Deception, is about Obi Wan, disguised as a wanted bounty hunter, arrested and is sent to the Republic Jurdiciary Central Detention Center. Once there, he tries to befriends an inmate, Moralo Eval, as, and this is where the variation comes into play, he is hired by Count Dooku to kidnap Chancellor Palpatine. Rumors spread and it must've gotten to the Senate, so they brought Obi Wan to the case to stop him. But in this episode, Moralo is the head boss of the episode as he, Obi Wan, and Cad Bane, breaks out. The episode after that, Friends and Enemies, continues to have Moralo as the leading role until Dooku takes role of the head boss in the next two episodes the Box and Crisis on Naboo. So really Moralo is the brains of the operation.
  • In the episode of Static Shock where Ritchie becomes Static's partner, the Metabreed busts Ebon out of jail. All it took was removing the power restricting suit he was wearing before he was back in action.
  • This is the main plot of Book 2 in The Legend of Korra, where Unalaq assumes the role of being The Dragon to Vaatu, and tricks Korra into opening the portals so that Vaatu can break out during Harmonic Convergence.
  • Thunderbirds Are Go: In "Escape Proof", a tunneling vehicle belonging to the Mechanic leaves a plumber trapped in its wake and it is up to Virgil and Gordon to get him out. Lady Penelope and Parker track down the Mechanic's vehicle and discover that he's heading straight for Parkmoor Scrubs prison, where the Hood is being held. Although the breakout is successful the Hood double crosses the Mechanic and leaves him to be arrested by the GDF while he slips away. The Mechanic also escapes and programs his vehicle to self-destruct.

The person or entity is only partially cognizant:

    Anime & Manga 
  • In the beginning of Code Geass R2, the Black Knights fetch Lelouch/Zero. It falls into type 2 because he is amnesiac after the Time Skip.
  • Dragon Ball: Still in great shape, but certainly past his prime was Demon King Piccolo. He managed to curbstomp Goku the first time they met, before he got rejuvenated by the Dragon Balls. Also, sort of Type 3 for Pilaf, who, even if he didn't get killed, also got no gratitude from Piccolo and got ditched pretty quickly.

  • In Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception, Opal Koboi is broken out of her mental clinic-prison by the Brill Brothers. She is mentally cognizant, but extremely physically weak (even by pixie standards), and it takes several days in a muscle-massager to get her back into shape.
  • Partially applies to Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter. While Wormtail never had to break him out, he did have to a) find, b) feed, and c) nurse his master back to health. For almost a year.
  • The Reapers of Chaos manage to free the god Loki from the prison he had been trapped in at the end of the third book of the six book Mythos Academy series. Their primary goal for the next three books is trying to find a method to cure him of all the injuries that the other gods had inflicted on him before they had locked him up.
  • In the 1980's Soldiers of Barrabas novels, Rogue Agent Karl Heiss is in an African prison subject to various tortures including the faked execution trick, and is barely clinging to sanity, when mercenaries set by his former partner-in-crime ex-ARVN Major General Nguyen Son Ny break him out.

    Video Games 
  • Dragon Quest VIII: This is the whole shtick with Rhapthorne, the Lord of Darkness. He possesses people via the Godbird Scepter and has them kill all 7 descendants of the Sages who sealed him away in order to regain his body, starting with Dhoulmagusnote  and ending with Marcellonote , though the latter resists him for some time until his defeat on Neos, but not before already killing the Lord High Priest of his own free will. Suffice to say, he succeeds.
  • This is Ghirahim's entire motivation in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Surprise surprise, he pulls it off despite Link giving him so much trouble.

    Western Animation 
  • Occurs to recurring baddie Jammerhead in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fast Forward episode "Enter the Jammerhead", after he had been imprisoned during his last appearance. The "partially cognizant" bit comes from the fact that he was suffering from a system crash (Jammerhead is at least partially cybernetic) that had left him catatonic.
  • In one episode of The Life and Times of Juniper Lee, Cordoth's daughter tried to undo his banishment. When he was finally brought back, it was revealed he let himself go and was quite overweight.

The breakout backfires on the liberators:

    Anime & Manga 
  • Minor example in The Rising of the Shield Hero. Idol Rabiett, the corrupt noble and slave-owner, after getting defeated (and Raphtalia sparing his life), he decides to break out a monster T. rex-like dragon to deal with his enemies. The monster promptly crushes him under its foot and then goes in a rampage.

  • Part of the plot of 3:10 to Yuma (2007). Charlie Prince and the rest of Ben Wade's gang attempt to free their leader from being taken to a train bound for Yuma Prison, but when they finally do so, Wade personally kills his men and goes to prison of his own volition, as a favor to the honorable homesteader who took him to the train at the cost of his life.
  • Unusual example: In the movie of Mystery Men, Captain Amazing arranges for Casanova Frankenstein's release from the jail so he can gain publicity by fighting him. It doesn't go well.
  • The parody and pastiche Kung Fu Hustle does this for laughs, when the Axe Gang has an inept patsy with a knack for picking locks break out the Big Bad from his prison. Throughout the prison, the film sends up horror cliches, including the blood-flooded corridor, before revealing the Big Bad to be an old, unkempt, flabby-looking man. Naturally, it turns out his kung fu is virtually unstoppable and he winds up taking over the Axe Gang.
  • In Leroy & Stitch, since Lilo and Stitch have already captured and reformed all the experiments, Gantu fears Hamsterviel will fire him now that he’s no longer of any use to him, so he breaks him out of prison. Gantu then helps Hamsterviel force Junba to create a new evil experiment, Leroy, and Hamsterviel soon after fires Gantu because he no longer needs him since Leroy is a much more competent henchman.
  • The Clive Barker film Lord of Illusions opens with the Evil Sorcerer Nix being stopped by his closest follower Philip Swan from sacrificing a female child and buried in a magical harness. Nix's cult spends the rest of the film trying to resurrect Nix and succeed at the end. The undead Nix expresses his gratitude to his followers, but then reveals himself to be a sadistic Omnicidal Maniac and promptly kills them all for their blind obedience.

  • In the backstory of The Wheel of Time, Lanfear did this accidentally, thinking the Dark One was just an untapped magical power source. When "the Bore" was drilled into his Can, evil and brutal chaos was unleashed on the world. Now that he's been re-sealed, the Forsaken plan to break him out again—this time completely. They (mostly) don't understand that fully breaking him out involves destroying the world itself, and themselves.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Dempsey and Makepeace: In "Hors de Combat", gang leader Frank Price is sprung out of jail, only to be killed by his accomplices.

    Video Games 
  • This happened in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. Grodus freed the Shadow Queen, who promptly destroys Grodus's body just after she possesses Peach. However, The Shadow Sirensnote  intended it to happen all along.
  • In the third game of Mega Man Battle Network, Wily collects the four Tetra Codes so he can awaken Alpha, the prototype Internet to, well, destroy the internet. Alpha then proceeds to eat Wily and Bass.

    Western Animation 
  • Double Talk, an episode of The New Batman Adventures has Rhino and Mugsy driving Arnold Wesker, the Ventriloquist, insane so his criminal mastermind alternate personality Scarface can emerge. When he does come back, he sets up a grand heist at Wayne Enterprises. When getaway is imminent, he tries to kill them for forcing him out of hiatus early.
    Scarface: When the muscles think they're smarter than the brains, it's time to amputate.
  • An episode of The Batman has Black Mask's thugs organizing their boss's liberation from the GCPD. As soon as Black Mask is free, he electrocutes his right-hand man and hands the reins over to a random goon.
    Black Mask: You, you're my new Number One.
  • Jackie Chan Adventures: If not for Jackie, Shendu would have probably killed the Dark Hand at the end of Season 1.
  • In an episode of The Real Ghostbusters, three ghosts with the attire and personalities of gangsters sneak into the Firehouse in an attempt to spring the "boss-lady" (Spiderlegs, a powerful ghost who was jailed off-camera) but have no idea how to work the Containment Unit. So they decide to grab Slimer and hold him for ransom, which quickly turns into a Pity the Kidnapper story that results in them getting busted. (And worse - for them - contained with their very angry boss.)

Examples for which explaining the nature would constitute a spoiler (spoilers unmarked!):

    Anime & Manga 
  • Fairy Tail:
    • Hades's Evil Plan is to "awaken" Zeref, the Greater-Scope Villain whose true power was allegedly sealed for centuries, making him much weaker than he is said to have been in his prime. This turns out to be a subversion, as Zeref is actually a neutral force with constantly fluctuating power that was never sealed to begin with, but he is so angered by the senseless evil Hades committed along the way that it ends as a Type 3 with Hades's death anyway.
    • E.N.D., the master of the dark guild Tartaros, is sealed inside the book Zeref created him from, so his guild aims to break him out. Like Zeref, this is a subversion, as the true E.N.D. is actually The Hero, Natsu, and the book simply contains his demonic essence.

  • In Hellboy (2004), there's a female Nazi seeking to reincarnate Rasputin. Results in Type 1.
  • In Revolver (1973), an Italian prison official's wife is kidnapped, and the kidnappers demand that a notorious prisoner be released in order for the man to get his wife back. The plan backfires when, after springing the prisoner, the warden then kidnaps him himself, in order to ensure that the man's colleagues do not kill his wife.

    Live-Action TV 

  • In Septimus Heap: Flyte, Simon Heap is breaking out DomDaniel to take over the Wizard Tower and give him the ExtraOrdinary Apprenticeship.

    Video Games 
  • The villains of the first Wild ARMs game spend most of the first act attempting to unleash the sealed Mother, who will ostensibly lead them in their conquest of the planet. It's a case of Type 3 that's bad enough to the point The Dragon simply allows the heroes to kill Mother before resuming said conquest himself.
  • Both subverted and played straight in Dragon Age II. During the Legacy DLC, Hawke is forced to release Corypheus, one of the first Darkspawn from an Ancient Grey Warden Prison with the intent of slaying him, in order to prevent a group of Rogue Wardens or Ghoulfied Carta who are vying to break him out first. Unfortunately, Corypheus manages to possess a nearby Grey Warden just before Hawke strikes the killing blow and escapes.


    Western Animation 
  • In Kim Possible, Dr. Drakken is left in prison for the first half of Season 4, and he's constantly waiting for rescue from his henchmen. On two occasions, other villains show up to liberate his sidekick Shego, but they completely ignore him. In one case, the jailbreaker is Drakken's own cousin, Motor Ed, who takes the time to wave goodbye. When he does get busted out, it's by an alien suffering from mistaken identity.


Video Example(s):


Sly 2: Band of Thieves

Bentley's first objective in "Jailbreak" is to break out Sly.

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Main / BreakingOutTheBoss

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