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Bunker Woman

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"You're lucky to be here at all. And my generosity only extends so far."

We've all seen it before: a female character is abducted and held against her will underground—usually inside a bunker or Torture Cellar. This trope is pervasive and sinister, appearing across genres in everything from comedy to horror, drama, thriller and science fiction. While this trope is fairly specific, it has a large number of variants; for instance, the woman need not necessarily be trapped in a bunker—anything inescapable underground does the trick.

In addition, a man need not necessarily be but is usually the sole trapping force of the Bunker Woman; the trapping man may have a Survivalist Stash or just be Crazy-Prepared for The End of the World as We Know It, he may even lead a Doomsday Cult, either way he likely considers the Bunker Woman an object to be collected for future use. Occasionally, the man considers himself the savior of the Bunker Woman. Lastly, while this trope is generally tied closely to the major narrative of a work of fiction, it also sometimes appears in passing within TV and film.


Compare Disposable Woman and Damsel in Distress, in which the woman plays a peripheral role inciting a male lead to action. In contrast, the Bunker Woman is usually the main character, and it is her struggle as she attempts to escape her captor that twistedly entertains.

Bunker Woman is distinct from Madwoman in the Attic, for here the captive is generally not unfit for society and is a more or less ordinary person who just happens to have been kidnapped, and from Secret Squatter, where a person is living in a house knowingly, but unknown to the homeowners.

Can be a Sub-Trope of Women Are Delicate, though she may end up defying that trope in her escape.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Death Note, Sayu is held hostage by Mello and his gang in exchange for the Death Note. She is kept in a basement, far from her home in Japan, bound and gagged. Although she is physically unharmed, the entire ordeal leaves her basically in an Angst Coma when she returns to Japan, and her family moves out to the countryside, so they can live in a house that better accommodates her wheelchair. At the end of the manga, she is getting better, though.

    Comic Books 
  • The issue of Outsiders that introduces Owlman has him rescuing a little girl from a basement.
  • Silk was kept in a bunker for about a decade in order to keep her safe from people who wanted her dead.
  • The Sandman: Dream Country reveals that Calliope, one of the Greek muses, has been imprisoned in the basement of famous writer Erasmus Fry, who raped her regularly for decades as a way to gain supernatural inspiration for his work. Before he dies of old age, he passes her on to a younger writer named Richard Madocc who does the same. She's eventually rescued by Morpheus who punishes Madocc by giving him an endless barrage of ideas that end up driving him insane.

    Fan Works 
  • Princess Luna spends most of The Death of Princess Luna imprisoned in a forgotten underground cell block situated beneath a remote house, unable to free herself because of the Power Nullifier placed on her horn. The captors have gone to great lengths to convince the entire population of her "death" and intend to sacrifice her under the new moon on a screwed up belief that it shall end "Nightmare Moon" once and for all in all secrecy. Fortunately Twilight and her friends manage to save her in time.
  • Persephone's Waltz has Madoka imprisoned by an insane Homura in an attempt to prevent her from dying. While the basement Madoka is imprisoned in is cushy and made to look like Madoka's room to a frightening degree, Madoka is terrified by Homura. Sayaka becomes a magical girl in order to find Madoka.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 10 Cloverfield Lane - An innovation in the Bunker Woman genre, this film features a woman bunkered by a Crazy-Prepared Crazy Survivalist. The lead woman is unsure as to whether it's The End of the World as We Know It and she has been saved or if she is merely a classic Bunker Woman. Horror ensues as she plots, persistently and inventively, to escape her oppressive captor. Once she does get outside she discovers that he was somewhat telling the truth and now has to evade even worse threats.
  • Batman fights a human trafficker who has a basement full of terrified women in the beginning of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice .
  • A variation in the Hammer Horror These Are the Damned, in which nine children of both sexes are being kept in an underground facility by a government scientist.
  • Cabin by the Lake: A horror movie writer becomes a serial killer when he starts kidnapping young women and keeping them in a locked room inside his cabin. After watching their terror for a few days, he ties them to a concrete block and drowns them in the adjacent lake.
  • The Call - A young woman is abducted, and taken to an underground bunker by a serial killer. The lead, played by Halle Berry, is a 911 dispatcher who received a call from the abducted girl and pursues her to the killer's bunker, where Berry battles him, saving the young woman from certain death underground.
  • Don't Breathe features a young woman held captive beneath a house in a padded room. An escalation of the trope occurs when the first Bunker Woman is freed (and ultimately killed), the film's villain captures the woman who tried to free her and attempts to keep her in his underground prison as a replacement.
  • In Even Lambs Have Teeth, Sloan and Katie are drugged and imprisoned in shipping containers and used as sex slaves.
  • Ex Machina has an artificially intelligent robot woman trapped in an underground fortress—the threat of her death is imminent and she must connive her own escape.
    • A bit of a twist in this case, as unlike most examples on this page, she was not kidnapped- she was built within the bunker and has never been outside of it. Additionally, there are a few implications that her escape at the end may not be a good thing.
  • In the reboot of Friday the 13th (2009), Jason decides to keep Whitney chained up in an abandoned mine instead of killing her, because she reminds him of his mother.
  • In Girl in the Basement, a controlling father kidnaps his daughter and keeps her captive for more than a decade in a hidden bomb shelter built underneath their house. Based on the Real Life Josef Fritzl case.
  • In The Gravedancers, Judge William Langer used to keep women imprisoned in his basement. He forgot about one of them and she perished in the cage. When he returns as a ghost, he keeps Kira imprisoned in her house for several weeks while he tortures and rapes her.
  • Hoboken Hollow ends with Terri Wallace being stunned with a cattle prod by Mrs Broderick and shoved down the old well to await her fate.
  • The Hole has two girls and two boys trapped against their will in a literal bunker with hints that it's deliberate. It is a gender-reversed case where one of the girls engineered the situation to trap the boy she likes.
  • In Kid Detective (2020), this turns out to be the fate of Gracie, although with a garden shed instead of a bunker.
  • In Kiss the Girls, the Serial Rapist keeps his female victims in a basement somewhere in a forest.
  • The Lovely Bones - A young girl is lured into a bunker and killed, the remainder of the film constitutes her family and friends coming to terms with her horrific death.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road centers around a group of women escaping from The Citadel, a mountain aquifer that has been converted into a post-apocalyptic fortress, where they had been kept as breeding slaves by the Big Bad Immortan Joe inside a vault within the mountain. Most of the plot revolves around their escape and Immortan Joe and his army trying to capture them, since he sees them as his property and will stop at nothing to get them back.
  • Played with and gender-flipped in The People Under the Stairs: although the landlords' entire house is a booby-trapped fortress, the only abducted child they were keeping captive there whom they didn't confine to the basement was Alice, the only girl among them.
  • In 2009's The Road, women held underground are discovered briefly. The women are members of a group of individuals who are being held in a bunker by cannibals. When the main character discovers these Bunker Women, he is shocked, but ultimately powerless to save them and he quickly leaves them behind.
  • Room - One of the most emotionally complete films to represent this trope, Room features a woman and her young son's attempt to make a good life for themselves in captivity, and, ultimately, to escape their captor and start their lives anew.
  • Silence of the Lambs; serial killer Buffalo Bill abducts young women and keeps them in a well in the Creepy Basement of his home. The women cannot escape, and are forced to lotion themselves before being brutally murdered and skinned. Clarice Starling, a detective in the film, discovers the bunker of Buffalo Bill at the end of the movie.
  • Split features three girls who are abducted and trapped underground by a mentally ill man with multiple personalities.
  • V for Vendetta - Evey is attacked, but rescued by a strange man. She awakes underground in this mysterious man's bunker and informed that she cannot leave. While her rescuer/captor is not explicitly violent towards her, she is trapped underground against her will all the same.
  • 3,096 Days : The film is based on the true story of Natascha Kampusch, a 10-year-old girl and her eight-year ordeal being kidnapped by Wolfgang Přiklopil.

  • In the Amaranthine Saga, the M.O. of the rogue Amarathine rapist is to kidnap women who are Reavers, imprison them in tiny underground cells, and rape them until they become impregnated. The few victims who are rescued suffer from enormous psychological trauma.
  • Anna Pigeon: In The Rope, Anna is imprisoned for a portion of the novel at the bottom of a natural pit in one of the canyons. This being Anna, she manages to escape.
  • Cassie Dewell: In The Highway'', the usual MO of the Lizard King is kidnap prostitutes and imprison inside an old fallout shelter on a property he owns, so he and his accomplices that sexually abuse them before he murders them. This is what he does to sisters Danielle and Grace when he abducts, and is what initially puts Cody Hoyt on his trail.
  • The Collector: Miranda is abducted by Frederick and held against her will in a cellar of an isolated countryside house. Her cellar room is furnished luxuriously and she is showered with gifts and other comforts, but she can't leave. Miranda tries to manipulate her captor and she sometimes manages to persuade him to let her outside for brief periods of time, but the novel has a Downer Ending.
  • In Further Tales of the City, Mrs. Madrigal traps one of Mary Ann's coworkers in her basement. In this case, she has a good reason - Mary Ann has discovered that Jim Jones is still alive, but he has taken two children hostage and has threatened to kill them if Mary Ann exposes him, while her coworker has found out about this and is planning to break the story herself.
  • In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Rita Skeeter suspects Professor Dumbledore, the popular Headmaster of Hogwarts, was compliant in letting his sister be locked in the cellar throughout her childhood until she eventually killed her mother in retaliation. These accusations plague Dumbledore's reputation throughout the book.
  • Joe Pickett: In Endangered, Liv is captured and held captive in an old root cellar by the Cates clan. They later plan to drown her by filling the cellar with sewage.
  • Judas Child by Carol O'Connell has a little girl being held captive by a serial child murderer, and being helped by another little girl who is actually the killer's previous victim, and may have been her imaginary friend or an actual ghost.
  • The Thinking Machine: In "The Mystery of a Studio", a Mad Artist abducts his muse and imprisons her in a padded closet where he attempts to asphyxiate her with chloroform.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Another female example on All My Children, when the psychopathic Janet imprisoned her sister Natalie in a well so as to take over her life.
  • The Criminal Minds episode "The Bunker" took this a step further, with a psychopathic disaster-prepper and his female accomplice isolating and brainwashing an entire colony of women and their children into believing that their underground shelter was the only safe place left on a devastated Earth.
  • In a rare maternal variant, an obsessive hoarder on CSI was found to be holding her own daughter captive in a sealed-up room inside a house packed with rubbish. It turns out that the daughter was a serial killer and the woman confined her to prevent her from killing any more of her boyfriends.
  • Dexter: New Blood: The modus operandi of the Runaway Killer involves taking runaway girls to a remote cabin with the offer of free lodging. Once the girls are inside, they can't leave, since the door can only be opened from the outside. He then watches them for several days through a security camera before opening the door so he can shoot them with a sniper rifle as they attempt to flee.
  • In Dollhouse, Ballard thinks this is the secret of the titular facility, that the Dollhouse kidnaps young men and women and forces them into some sort of human-trafficking ring. The truth is more complicated than that.
  • The Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "911" has Benson desperately trying to locate a little girl who is being kept in an unknown basement somewhere in the city by a child pornographer.
    • Its hundredth episode, "Control", featured a man who for years had been kidnapping various women and imprisoning them in a basement for varying intervals, forcing them to be a Sex Slave to him, to the point of making them go through a fake wedding, complete with dress.
  • Motive: The Victim of the Week in "Frampton Comes Alive" turns out to be keeping his wife prisoner in a bunker beneath their garage.
  • An NCIS episode had the team finding the body of a woman imprisoned like this. Even creepier, she was clad in a wedding gown, while the bunker was decked out like a typical 1950s household. The search for the killer was juxtaposed with scenes of another woman being held the same way.
  • A rare female on female example on One Life to Live, when Viki (or rather, one of her alternate personalities) imprisoned Dorian in a secret room beneath her mansion.
  • Pretty Little Liars:
    • In the fifth season finale, Aria, Emily, Hanna, and Spencer are captured and held in a large underground structure, where they find Mona, who had been missing and presumed dead since midseason. At first they're forced to play along in a mock high school prom, but when they use that to try to escape, they're separated and subjected to mind games/mental torture for weeks before they escape/are rescued. During the rescue, it turns out there was yet another girl in the bunker, who had been missing for two and a half years.
    • It happens again to Hanna after she tells A-moji that she killed Charlotte; she's held underground and tortured, and her friends are told that if they don't hand over Charlotte's real killer, she'll be killed. She escapes on her own, but not before her friends implicate Alison, who turns out to be innocent, as Charlotte's killer.
    • Alison claims this is what happened to her for the two years she was missing, even identifying the man who was her captor. (The truth is she was simply in hiding after nearly being killed.)
  • Rizzoli & Isles: In "Hide and Seek", Maura is kidnapped and shackled to a pipe inside an abandoned insane asylum.
  • Stranger Things - A young girl known as Eleven is held in an underground facility; Eleven is first seen after having escaped from her bunker prison.
  • Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a common series about an extremely upbeat young woman who spent years in a bunker with a Doomsday Cult, finally being liberated and being naive about all the ways the world has passed her by while she was down there.
  • The X-Files, "Oubliette": A paedophile was abducting young girls and held them hostage in a creppy basement. Word "oubliette" from the title refers to a dungeon with an opening only at the top. We see Amy undergo this terrible fate. When she tries to escape, her captor even deprives her of water and she gets terribly thirsty. We find out that Lucy was kidnapped and held for several years, too, and she was living through it again — she suffers injuries inflicted upon her abductor's new victim.

    Video Games 
  • Captive (RPG Maker): The unnamed protagonist is a teen girl who has been captured by an unknown person and is being held in some sort of basement. Subverted as it turns out she is the amnesiac captor who bumped her head in a fight with a captive.

    Visual Novels 
  • The second Paramedium game features the ghosts of school students who were locked in an underground bunker by their bus driver. He claims that his intent was just to scare the school principal who was about to fire him, but his comments when he thinks he has the upper hand (calling them "sweet little playthings") indicate it was more sinister than that.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender has the Puppetmaster, a mysterious force which kidnaps Fire Nation citizens, which lures its victims into the mountains and prevents them from leaving. It's really an escaped prisoner of war who traps her victims in a bunker out of a blanket hatred for any Fire National.
  • One episode of Family Guy has Stewie kidnapping the head cheerleader so that Meg can take her place on the cheerleading squad.
    • Played for Laughs in one episode where Joe carries around the photo of a kidnapping victim as an example of "that one case he could never solve", and even points out how her outdated haircut and clothes shows how long it's been. When the girl actually shows up at the end of the episode, to buy groceries before going back to the sex dungeon where she's been held captive for decades, Joe doesn't even recognize her and tells her to leave because she's trespassing on a crime scene.
  • The Legend of Korra:
    • In Season 1, Korra is kidnapped by a male villain, locked in a van and trapped in a basement in a mountain. She manages to make her captor think she's unconscious and escape.
    • The season 3 finale sees Arc Villain Zaheer and his lackeys hold a main character hostage in an ancient catacomb with a sinister purpose. It's Korra again, and they're holding her until they can use mercury poisoning to not only kill her, but prevent her reincarnation.

    Real Life 
  • Natascha Kampusch, the Austrian woman who was held in a basement from 1998 to 2006. She wrote a book about it, 3,096 Days, which was adapted into a movie.
  • Elisabeth Fritzl: Austrian also, from 1984 to 2008. This is the infamous case of Parental Incest that produced seven children. It is this case specifically that inspired the Room book.
  • Jaycee Dugard: California, 1991 to 2009. She was abducted at age 11, bore two daughters (one at age 13 and another at age 17) by her captor, Phillip Garrido, and years later, wrote A Stolen Life: A Memoir about her captivity.
  • Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, all discovered in 2013 in Ohio, but kidnapped at different points between 2002 and 2004. Amanda Berry had a daughter by their captor. The memoirs written about it are Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, a Life Reclaimed: a Memoir of the Cleveland Kidnappings by Michelle and Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland by Amanda and Gina. Michelle, who has since changed her name to Lillian Rose Lee, wrote a book about her life after her rescue titled Life After Darkness: Finding Healing and Happiness After the Cleveland Kidnappings.
  • Serial Killer Gary Heidnik kidnapped approximately 6 women and imprisoned them in his basement, wanting his own personal harem. Aside from keeping them chained together, he threatened to harm the others should one try to escape, killing at least two who did. One finally escaped after currying enough favor with him to convince him to release her in the belief that she was going to acquire another woman for him. Instead, she went straight to the police. Heidnik was one of the inspirations for the "Buffalo Bill" character from the "Lambs" example cited in "Film".
  • In 2003, John Jamelske was arrested after it was found that for 15 years, he'd been kidnapping women of various ages and ethnicities and holding them prisoner in his basement for varying intervals (some for two years, others for only a few weeks). He is the basis for the "SVU" episode cited in the TV section.
  • In 2002, a 14-year-old girl named Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her home in the middle of the night and held hostage in an encampment. Her captor held her hostage for nine months, during which time he raped her on a daily basis and chained her to a tree to keep her from escaping.
  • On December 28, 1992, 9-year-old Katie Beers was kidnapped by a friend of the family and held prisoner for 17 days in a cell beneath his garage that he had built for this explicit purpose.
  • Colleen Stan's kidnapper took this to especially depraved lows by sealing her in a wooden box under his bed between 1977 and 1984.
  • In May of 1980, Mary Stauffer was abducted by Ming Shiue, a deranged former student who'd become obsessed with her. He imprisoned her and her daughter in a closet and raped her daily over 53 days before the pair finally managed to escape.
  • On October 15, 2018, Jake Patterson broke into Jayme Closs' home, murdered her parents, and abducted her. He held her prisoner in his home, stuffed under his bed, for three months before she finally escaped on January 10, 2019.
  • Serial Killer David Parker Ray kidnapped several women and tortured them to death in a secluded location he called his "Toy Box."
  • Marc Dutroux, "dubbed the most hated man in Belgium", built a dungeon for the sole purpose of raping girls he kidnapped. While he was arrested for charges unrelated to the kidnapping, his wife and also his accomplice, let two captive girls starve to death in the dungeon.