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Exact Eavesdropping

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In books and vids, those being eavesdropped upon always thoughtfully explain what they are talking about for the edification of the eavesdropper. The eavesdroppee says, 'Of course, as you all know, the cab to which I refer is Sherlock Holmes's hansom cab which had been accidentally driven off a bridge during a heavy fog while following the Hound of the Baskervilles, and which I found it necessary to steal for the following reasons.'

If a character in almost any type of fiction gets a chance to eavesdrop, they will almost certainly hear something important. So, for instance, if our hero finds himself hiding in the villain's base listening to a conversation, chances are it's going to be about the villain's latest plans for world domination, rather than two random Mooks talking about their weekend plans. It's also very likely that the villain will take this opportunity to go over important information everyone they're talking to should already know, in order to give the hero all the context and backstory he needs. In this way, this trope can function as a sort of in-story version of As You Know, only instead of filling in backstory for the audience, it's being done for the character, and is a way to get vital, plot-moving information from one group or person to another.

In less serious circumstances, it can also be a way for a one character to learn what someone else thinks of them. So whenever Alice is unseen but can hear Bob talking, chances are Bob will say something important about Alice.

There will also be occasions where Carol, whom Bob is talking to about Alice, knows full well that Alice is listening and will often be asked to talk to Bob specifically for this sort of information. Or, of course, that Bob knows (or guesses, or hopes) it and tailors his talk to Alice in a way that Carol won't realize it. (Many Exact Words evasions of The Promise to never tell feign this on a Surrogate Soliloquy.)

This applies even if the talking character would not normally be coherent. Characters who talk in their sleep in the grip of Past Experience Nightmares often give remarkable clues to the trauma causing the dream. Babbling under the influence of drugs can also produce this.

In Real Life, there are law enforcement stakeouts and electronic bugging. However, stakeouts usually require officers to take hours-long shifts over the course of a week — or longer, and electronic surveillance has the eavesdropper dealing with a signal-to-noise ratio.

Since this trope is Older Than Steam, subversions appear frequently. Two of the most common are: first, to have a character think they've overheard one thing, when in fact they missed an important detail that changes the situation entirely. This can lead to Innocent Innuendo and/or Out-of-Context Eavesdropping situations. The second subversion is to have a character who is aware of this trope annoyed when it completely fails to happen. Despite this, it's still played straight often enough to be an Undead Horse Trope.

The trope mostly exists because Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic, and because The Law of Conservation of Detail cuts off any eavesdropped conversation that is not relevant or necessary.

See also: Contrived Coincidence, and Conveniently Coherent Thoughts for a mind-reading variation. Contrast The Omniscient Council of Vagueness. Characters who are likely to benefit from this trope include the Snooping Little Kid and Amateur Sleuth. If the eavesdropper gets caught, the question is How Much Did You Hear? Occurs frequently when you use Curtain Camouflage. Easily-Overheard Conversation is a given for this trope. Staging the Eavesdrop is when someone tries to intentionally invoke this trope on others in other to achieve some kind of goal. Contrast Out-of-Context Eavesdropping.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Attack on Titan, different parties managed to discover the Secret Identity of Krista Lenz through listening in on conservations between members of the influential Wall Cult. It resulted in Ymir joining the military to find her and means that The Mole was aware of this information for some time.
  • In Case Closed, Shinichi listens in on a transaction between two criminals and hears them discussing the details of the exchange. Justified in that he specifically followed them expecting something shady to be going on (though the criminals do go out of their way to make sure all the details are spoken aloud). He's also never able to actually use the knowledge for anything useful, seeing as he gets knocked out and de-aged almost immediately after.
  • Doraemon:
    • Doraemon: Nobita and the Knights on Dinosaurs have Doraemon and gang befriending the denizens of an underground world and going on a raptor race for sport. Nobita, lagging behind as usual, ends up being flung into a restricted building in the underground world... and conveniently overhears a discussion involving the underground army intending to invade the surface world.
    • Doraemon: Nobita and the Tin Labyrinth does it again in a scene where Suneo and Gian, hiding in the robot city of Mechapolis via Human Mail, overhears two robots on their plans to Kill All Humans in their internment camps.
    • Doraemon: Nobita and The Space Heroes have Nobita and his new alien friend, Aron, infiltrating Ikaros' base and overhearing Ikaros' plan to activate the nuke which can turn Planet Pokkoru into debris in an Earth-Shattering Kaboom within two days.
    • Doraemon: Nobita's New Dinosaur have Suneo and Gian escaping their cell in Jill's hideout and conveniently passes Jill's office... just as he's having a conversation with his boss, Natalie, which spills details to Gian, Suneo, and the audience that they're actually from the Time Patrol and the good guys of the film.
  • Invoked in Fullmetal Alchemist: Hohenheim notices that Edward was eavesdropping on Hohenheim's conversation with Pinaco, so he brings up a topic he would have wanted to discuss with Edward.
    • Played straight later when Winry arrives right on time to hear Edward accuse Scar of killing her parents.
  • In the manga version of Girls und Panzer, Yukari follows Miho into a cafe as she meets with Kikuyo, one of her family maids, and manages to overhear that Miho will be disinherited if she loses to Pravda in the next round.
  • Hayate the Combat Butler uses this for humor.
    • The first time, Hayate, Wataru and Nagi are spying on Saki (Wataru's Meido) and Kaoru's marriage meeting. They can't hear what's being said, so Hayate reveals that he knows how to read lips, and provides 'long-range' version of this trope for the younger two. This being for humor, he reads it completely wrong. Afterwords, Wataru has interrupted the meeting and Nagi asks Hayate how confident he is in his skills, he replies that he's fairly confident.
    • In the last episode of the second season, Maria does similar to the above, with significantly better results. This one is only in the anime though.
    • There's also a scene in which Nagi hides Isumi in, what is functionally a closet, and gets Wataru to admit his feelings for Isumi. Unfortunately she comes out of hiding before he leaves and he furiously backpedals, killing any chance of the confession having any effect.
    • There's also a scene during the Athens arc where it's implied that Yukiji knows that Karou is listening and gives Hinagiku love advice to give up her chase (in Hinagiku's case it's of Hayate), it's possible she's trying to get her fellow teacher to give up on her as well.
  • Used (straight) a couple of times in Nanaka 6/17, with plot significance.
  • In Negima! Magister Negi Magi, Cute Ghost Girl Sayo floated in just as the Elaborate University High teachers were informing Negi and his small group of True Companions of everything they'd already just discussed. This worked well in favor of School Newspaper Newshound Kazumi Asakura.
    • It's also sometimes subverted (though better examples exist in Ken Akamatsu's previous work, Love Hina). Take the second manga's whole "Negi is a prince" fiasco. And then...
    • Another instance was when Nodoka overheard Negi and Asuna's talk about activating Pactio cards.
  • Duck in Princess Tutu hides behind a fountain and hears what Mytho truly thinks of Tutu. Justified in that Fakir, with whom Mytho was speaking, knew she was there and purposely brought up the subject.
  • Puella Magi Kazumi Magica has Mirai Wakaba during the combat between Kazumi and Satomi.
  • Sacrificial Princess & the King of Beasts: When Sariphi was small, she heard her parents talking about how they had adopted her to give as a replacement of their true daughter, who had been chosen as a future sacrifice to the Beast Kingdom when she would be old enough. To add insult to injury, Sariphi had just learned that her name means "sacrifice", and when her adoptive parents realized she was eavesdropping, they didn't make any effort to comfort her, limiting themselves to stare at her with cold contempt. The trauma caused Sariphi's Chronic Hero Syndrome, leaving her to feel her existence has no meaning if she can't be useful.
  • In Saki Achiga-hen, there are two instances of this.
    • This is seemingly played straight, but eventually subverted, when the Achiga team overhears their coach, Harue, talking with Kumakura, coach for Miyamori about an offer for Harue to go pro. Ako believes that it's proof that she's given up on them winning the tournament, but Arata refuses to believe it. The next night, Shizuno catches up with Kumakura, who tells them that Harue refused the offer until the girls graduate.
    • This is played straight with Kirame Hanada. In a flashback, Mairu, captain of the team, has a long conversation with her best friend Himeko about why they chose Kirame for the vanguard position even though she's not one of the best players; it's because she never goes under zero. While Mairu and Himeko pass under the bridge where Kirame is sitting, Himeko mentions that Kirame would be upset to hear about essentially being a sacrificial piece for the team. Kirame doesn't reveal herself or get upset, though.
  • Subverted in Sword Art Online: Alternative Gun Gale Online. Karen Kohiruimaki, an extremely tall girl who suffers from Height Angst, overhears some short high school girls talking about how tall she is. She assumes they're making fun of her, but it later turns out that they think it's cool.

  • In "The Famous Flower of Serving Men", how the heroine's story is revealed.
  • In "Willie's Lady", the eponymous lady instructs her despairing husband on how to set up a situation in which he can get his antagonistic mother to go over the necessary steps to break the spell that is preventing his wife from giving birth. Which she does. In detail.

    Comic Books 
  • Disney Mouse and Duck Comics: In the story "The Mystery of the Old Mansion", Mickey happens to sneak into the villain's lair and overhear him just as the villain, for no reason whatsoever, decides to recap his backstory and describe his plans out loud to no one in particular.
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: In the first volume, the eponymous League is being employed by the mysterious Mr. M. Eventually, Captain Nemo sends Griffin (the Invisible Man), to find out more about Mr. M. While Griffin is in the room, not only does "Mr. M" reveal himself to be Moriarty, but he then explains his entire backstory to a character that already knows it, allowing the eavesdropper and the audience to gain vital information. This is almost-instantly subverted when Griffin doesn't pay attention to it. He found it 'quite boring, really', and forgot almost all the relevant details.
  • Spider-Man 2099: Miguel O'Hara happens to be eavesdropping on his mother and Tyler Stone when Stone lets slip that the Rapture he ingested was only temporary, rendering his genetic transformation unnecessary. Even worse, he hears that his mother and Stone had an affair before he was born and that Stone is his biological father.
  • Strikeforce: Morituri: After Scaredycat sets up her terminal to track unusual messages, she intercepts part of a communication where Dr. Tuolema is ordered to stop working on a cure for the Morituri effect.
  • Superman:
    • In Bizarrogirl, Catherine Grant spies on Lana Lang while the red-haired woman is speaking to Supergirl on the telephone. She hears their entire conversation, but she misses the part about Supergirl's secret identity being Lana's "niece".
    • In The Untold Story of Argo City, Fred and Edna Danvers go into their house's basement right when Kara is discussing how to get her birth parents out of a pocket dimension.
    • In The Hunt for Reactron Flamebird is using her Super-Senses to listen to different conversations all over Paris when she overhears Nightwing and Supergirl talking about her; the former saying he really likes her, and the latter calling her a nutjob who cannot be trusted.
    • "Superman and Spider-Man": As Doctor Doom finally explains Parasite his plan -letting conveniently out what his scheme's success requires his ally's death-, Spider-Man (who is crawling among the machinery lining the ceiling) hears every word and decides to crawl out of the complex in search of reinforcements.

    Fairy Tales 
  • The Brothers Grimm's "The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs": After being turned into an ant, the main character overhears the devil give solutions to the three problems he encountered on his journey to Hell.
  • In "The Grateful Beasts", the blinded and crippled Ferko happens to rest under a gallows, where he happens to hear two ravens discussing magical cures in the vicinity.
  • In "The Raven", doves land on the ship's mast and talk about the perils the hero's brother will face.
  • "Rumpelstiltskin" features a character - usually a servant, depending on the telling - overhearing the eponymous imp in the woods gloating about how the princess will never guess that his name is Rumplestiltskin.
  • In Schippeitaro, the cats talk about how they fear the title dog where the hero can hear.
  • In tale type ATU 432, "The Prince as Bird" or "The Bird Lover", of the international Aarne-Thompson-Uther Index, a human princess marries an enchanted prince in the shape of a bird (or a djinn or ghoul in Arab variants), he is hurt and does not return to his human lover. She goes after him and eventually stops by a tree where a pair of birds are talking about the princess's injured lover and how to cure him (it often involves killing the birds and using their blood).
  • This trope is what initiates the plot in almost every variant of the Aarne-Thompson-Uther tale type ATU 707, "The Three Golden Children": the king or prince walks the cities at night and spies on the only illuminated house of three sisters; the sisters are talking about marrying their ruler, and make grand boasts that draw his attention.
  • In "True and Untrue", True hears of magical cures from a wolf, a fox, a bear, and a rabbit.
  • In "Faithful John", Faithful John hears of the peril the king and his bride are in from ravens who happen to be talking of it and the magical curse that will fall on anyone who says it.
  • In "Parsley", the ogress explains to her neighbor how Parsley can't escape owing to a spell she cast, and Parsley hears it and how to break it.

    Fan Works 
  • In All Mixed Up!, Oscar manages to hear the entirety of Mariana Mag's origin story that she spills as a Motive Rant to Otto. It's justified considering he's stuck as a basket of orange-striped kittens (his own personalized anagrammed object) which are known to have excellent hearing.
  • In The Beast Of Gusu, Wei Wuxian tends to do this, accidentally and purposefully, thanks to his Super Hearing (which renders many attempts at secrecy useless). He even mentions that Lan Wangji must expect him to be listening in at any point, so he can’t be faulted for it.
  • In Chrysalis Visits The Hague, this is implied in one chapter, which is reciprocated as a surveillance transcript listening in on some of the main characters talking about lawyer Estermann's and judge Colm's secret diplomacy and Lyra Heartstrings' secret identity.
  • In Common Sense Jessie overhears James and Meowth talking about giving up on pursuing Pikachu as they've been wildly unsuccessful so far and it's hurting their record. Though it's fully justified given that they're all in the hot air balloon together and the latter two think Jessie's asleep.
  • I'm Nobody:
    • Roxas overhears a conversation between Vexen, Xemnas and Xigbar that they really, really did not want anyone hearing, as they were discussing how they lied to everyone about the true purpose of the Organization and were planning to kill either Roxas or Xion. Vexen notes later that he should make sure nobody overhears those discussions in the future.
    • After Roxas defects, Marluxia and Larxene discuss how they should modify their old plan to take control of Sora now that Namine is not around, and their discussion is overheard by Xigbar. He also makes some inner comments about being careful not to be overheard.
  • In The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World, after the crappy bard Terb is called away from the tavern by his furious boss Folse, John realizes they're about to have a conversation worth listening to. Knowing he can't just follow them without attracting unwanted attention, he focuses his very sharp ears intently, listening for their chatter, and manages to hear and isolate their conversation, where he indeed learns some very useful things. He also gives himself a raging headache, but he soothes that away with a Healing Potion.
  • In Lost in Camelot, Morgana decides to confess her feelings to Merlin and arrives at his room just in time to witness a romantic moment between him and Bo where he explicitly refers to Bo as the only person he'll ever love, leaving Morgana devastated. Later on, Morgana finds Bo and Merlin in a corridor just as the two are talking about how Arthur reacted to the news that Merlin has magic when even Morgana didn't know that yet.
  • In Neither a Bird nor a Plane, it's Deku!, Izuku's Super-Hearing manifests at the exact moment that his parents are arguing with police and medical professionals about the nature of his powers and how they don't make sense given his diagnosis as Quirkless.
  • In New Reality, Brit overhears Yuan's part of conversation with Botta, whom she only knows by his distinct accent. She gets busted, but learns quite enough to know the gist of it.
  • In Return of the Hero, this is how Nate learns that Kelly isn't his mother, and that he's really the son of Ash Ketchum.
  • The Stalking Zuko Series is entirely told from Katara's first person POV, so the only conversations that don't involve her are those she eavesdrops on. Katara usually is good at hearing everything relevant, but in one conversation in Not Stalking Zuko, she realizes that Zuko has made a reference to something he and Aang talked about while she wasn't there, leaving her confused.
  • The Ultimate Evil: When Valerie is making a delivery during her brief stint as a mail-girl, she ends up in Valmont's office. While Valmont and Shendu are shown the animated Gnome Cop, she hides in the cupboard and finds out that someone has hired the Dark Hand to hunt down the Talismans and taken an interest in her. However, Valmont's comment that he can have her quickly assassinated prevents her from telling her friends everything about these findings.

    Films — Animation 
  • An Extremely Goofy Movie: Bradley decides to talk to the Gammas about how they're going to cheat immediately after kicking Goofy out of the fraternity. Evidently, he didn't expect Goofy to come back in to return his pin. What makes this even weirder is that apparently this is the same plan they've acted on for years.
  • A Goofy Movie: Pete is about to enter the hotel room right when PJ is berating Max for his lack of foresight in changing the map, even repeating what Max told him (though in context doing so was not unnatural). Of course Pete decides to use this pertinent information for malicious purposes.
  • Ratchet & Clank: Life of Pie: After getting attacked by a space squid from another dimension, Ratchet decides to track the source of the dimensional portal. It turns out to be the lair of Dr. Nefarious. Ratchet and Clank get there just in time to secretly watch Nefarious show off his Interdimensional Travel Device to his minions.
  • In the first Shrek film Shrek is about to confess his love to Fiona, when he overhears Fiona talking to Donkey, saying that no-one could love a monster like an ogre. Of course, he is unaware that she is talking about the curse that turns her into an ogre, which she conveniently doesn't explicitly mention again until just after Shrek gets disgusted and leaves.
  • Zootopia: From their hiding spot at Cliffside, Nick and Judy are able to overhear and record Mayor Lionheart talking about his involvement in the scheme.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Badhaai Ho: Nakul just happens to drop in as Sangeeta is talking smack about Nakul's family. He breaks up with her daughter.
  • Subverted in The Big Lebowski. The Dude is in a conversation with Jackie Treehorn when the latter receives a call, writes down something on a notepad, tears off the notepad, and excuses himself. The Dude, in full sneaky investigator mode, grabs the notepad and shades it with the side of a pencil to highlight the impression made on the next sheet of paper. It turns out to be an anatomically exaggerated picture of a man.
  • In Children of Men, Theo is right there to overhear the members of The Fishes disclose the earlier ambush to be an inside job and that are they are about to kill him and kidnap Kee.
  • The Tramp in The Circus. First he overhears the Gypsy woman telling Merna her future. Then later he is back at the right time to overhear Merna telling the Gypsy woman about her Love at First Sight.
  • The protagonist of the martial arts film, Death Valley, just happens to overhear his sister's plans to usurp leadership from his family and to have everyone killed off, including himself, just as he's sneaking outside her bedroom suspecting she's up to no good.
  • Firehouse Dog: Shane is able to overhear the exact part of a conversation where Corbin Sellars tells the arsonist to set another fire so that he can build a football stadium, alerting him to the fact that another fire is about to be set.
  • Friends with Benefits has Jamie managing to listen in when Dylan is repudiating her as a potential girlfriend to his sister.
  • Goldfinger is a notorious example, with the title character being overheard by Bond revealing all the details of his plan to a group of people he murders 30 seconds after leaving the room. In the original book, he only killed the people who didn't agree to help with his scheme, making that scene more plausible.
  • India Sweets And Spices: Alia is in the bathroom and hears as the aunties are bad-mouthing her just outside the door in the hall.
  • In I Shot Jesse James, Frank James overhears Bob Ford's girlfriend Cynthy confess to John Kelley that she's leaving Bob. He later uses this information to break Robert Ford, in revenge for Bob killing his brother Jesse.
  • Opportunity Knocks: Eddie and Lou were just about to leave the house when they hear the voicemail Jonathan's friend sends him, letting the duo know that no one will be in the house anytime soon and they can have the run of it.
  • Paul: Agent Haggard can tell that he's being Locked Out of the Loop, slips in his earpiece, and hears Zoil and the Big Guy talking about important parts of the mission.
  • Rags: Andrew manages to eavesdrop on Lloyd and Charlie just in time to hear them discussing the fact that Charlie is Rags, inadvertently spilling Charlie's secret and giving Andrew and Arthur the information they need to plan their climatic scheme.
  • A Recipe for Seduction:
    • Bunny is eavesdropping on a phone conversation with Jessica and Lee, in which she discovers she's in love with Harland and that Harland has a "secret chicken recipe".
    • Lee is at the bar while Billy and Bunny are having a conversation, allowing him to learn exactly what they're planning and how they want to get rid of Harland.
  • A key twist of Reindeer Games is when Rudy tries to escape in a hotel and stumbles onto the pool area where he soon hears a conversation revealing Ashley and Gabriel aren't brother and sister at all but lovers who have been setting Rudy up all this time as part of their scheme.
  • The Rocketeer has movie star Neville Sinclair hearing Cliff Secord tell his actress girlfriend Jenny Blake about the rocketpack Sinclair is looking for.
  • In Sorry, Wrong Number, Leona overhears on the phone two men talking about a planned murder, but they can't hear her.
  • Star Wars
    • This occurs in Attack of the Clones, when Obi-Wan is sneaking through the Geonosian caverns and happens upon Count Dooku and the Separatists, who are in the middle of a conversation which tells him everything he needs to know.
    • Averted in the Revenge of the Sith next movie, when Obi-Wan again sneaks around but happens upon the separatists just too late to hear Grievous telling the others where they will be hiding next. Of course, this time it's important for the plot that he doesn't get to know it yet.

  • In Ayla and the Networks of the Whateley Universe, the Whitman Literary Girls magically eavesdrop on She-Beast and Nephandus, and hear just what they're looking for but they totally misinterpret it because She-Beast isn't doing anything wrong.
  • Justified in A Brother's Price: Cullen hides behind a curtain to eavesdrop on a conversation between Eldest Moorland (his sister), and Eldest Whistler. As Eldest Whistler specifically asked for a private conversation, Cullen has some suspicions what they're going to talk about. He is correct, Eldest Whistler asks Eldest Moorland for Cullen's hand in marriage. He is delighted.
  • The second series of The Chronicles of Amber subverts and lampshades this - when Merlin's Aloof Big Brother and the corrupt clergyman talk as they walk through the hall, Merlin only hears a snippet of the conversation and is annoyed that This Is Reality.
  • Subverted at one point in Chronicles of Chaos when Headmaster Boggin begins his address to the Omniscient Council of Vagueness with what would have been a very useful and informative As You Know speech, but it stopped by his audience and told to get to the point. It is played straight later, however.
  • In Dark Angel, this is twice invoked by Angel.
    • The first time, Angel has Gillian confront Tanya about her spreading rumors about her and her mother, and cheating on David, while David is in earshot, which Gillian didn't realize. Consequently, David overhears Tanya basically admitting to all of it and threatening Gillian, resulting in David and Tanya getting into a huge argument and breaking up.
    • The second time, while Gillian is attending a house party, Angel instructs her to hide in the closet of an upstairs bedrooms and just listen. Soon after, Tanya and Kim enter to have a supposedly private conversation, and Gillian overhears them plotting to get revenge on her and David, as Angel intended.
  • Happens all the time in David Eddings' books. Almost each time the heroes arrive in a new place, they will come across a pair of enemy mooks telling each other everything that is to be known about it (and, typically, calling each other by name in their very first lines). Justified in that there are prophecies taking an active hand in making sure things happen as they're required to. Sometimes the prophecy is not exactly subtle in how it works. It's also occasionally subverted, such as very early in The Belgariad, when Garion hears Mister Wolf and Aunt Pol (later revealed to be Belgarath and Polgara, millennia-old sorcerers) that makes no sense to either him or the first-time reader, but makes perfect sense to Wolf, Pol and the repeat reader.
  • Played with in Dealing with Dragons. The stone prince doesn’t really understand the conversation he overhears about the wizards’ plot, and he mistakes Woraug’s name for warthog, but he manages to relay enough to Cimorene and Alianora for them to figure out what’s going on.
  • Subverted in Dr. Hyde, Detective, and the White Pillars Murder: The detectives overhear several conversations, but learn nothing. The important conversation is the one they were specifically invited to watch.
  • The Empirium Trilogy: During Eliana and Harkan's discussion of Blood Queen Rielle, her legacy, and what it means to Eliana, she mentions how she killed her and Remy's mother. Their conversation comes to a grinding halt when she hears Remy let out a soft cry of despair. He had just been arriving with a large stack of books.
  • Justified in Eragon. While meeting with Jeod in Teirm, Brom sends Eragon away to do some busy work, and Eragon instantly knows they want to talk about things he shouldn't hear, so he finds a secluded spot where he can sit and uses magic to listen through the wall, hearing about all of the things they didn't want him to, such as how Brom and Jeod are agents of the Varden.
  • In Sarah A. Hoyt's A Few Good Men, Nate tells Lucius that while they had pumped him full of babble juice, he had explained everything, with careful digressions to clear up points.
  • Subverted in Forward The Foundation by Isaac Asimov: Hari Seldon's granddaughter Wanda genuinely overhears (perhaps telepathically) members of the Psychohistory Project plotting against Professor Seldon, but, being a little girl, she doesn't understand their complicated words. It never becomes clear whether the term is "lemonade", "layman-aided", or "Elar-Monay" (the names of the conspirators). And the plot isn't to kill Seldon at all—only his robot wife.
  • As both Tash and Zak Arranda of Galaxy of Fear have a penchant for snooping, they end up in position to use Plot-Sensitive Snooping Skills on villains at many points in the series.
  • In Harry Potter, it's frequently subverted, as eavesdropping is quite easy thanks to things like invisibility cloaks, mental connections, and other magical things, but the information never quite makes it in one piece.
    • In Philosopher's Stone, Harry overhears Snape confronting Quirrell and thinks Snape is trying to force Quirrell to help him steal the Stone. It turns out that Quirrell was the one after the Stone, and Snape suspected him and was trying to scare him into giving up on it.
    • In Goblet of Fire, an old man listens in on a conversation between Voldemort and Pettigrew about how Voldemort's about to come back and kill Harry in the process, before the two catch him and kill him — he heard everything, but none of it would have made any sense to him. Harry meanwhile has a vivid dream about the whole sequence, not even knowing who the old man is. He does understand the conversation and hears a lot of important information that's pertinent to him, but even he has no details about exactly what's about to happen, which is why he finds out the hard way at the end of the book. Harry has a reunion of sorts with the old man as a result of the Priori Incantatem in the duel with Voldemort at the end, and it seems that not only has he remembered the conversation, but now he kind of knows what it means.
    • In Order of the Phoenix, a key prophecy that Voldemort relied on almost totally turned out to have been garbled in transmission. This time, Snape (in his capacity as a spy for Voldemort) does the eavesdropping, and only hears that Harry has the power to destroy Voldemort, but he's caught and thrown out of the room before he can hear the rest. Nevertheless, he gives the incomplete information to Voldemort, who thinks if he kills Harry he will be unstoppable but doesn't realise that by trying to kill Harry, he will give Harry the power to destroy him. But in keeping with this trope, the character happening to eavesdrop at the exact moment of the delivery of a prophecy no one was expecting is quite contrived indeed.
    • In Half-Blood Prince:
      • Dudley overhears Harry reliving Cedric's murder in his sleep. Dudley's not sure who Cedric is, but he mocks Harry about it nonetheless.
      • In the film version, Lavender breaks up with Ron because she heard him mumbling Hermione's name while semi-conscious.
      • Hagrid accidentally overhears Snape and Dumbledore arguing about something — Snape apparently promised Dumbledore he'd do something but is now trying to back out of it. No one figures out what this might be until the following book, where it turns out Snape had promised Dumbledore he'd kill him.
    • In Deathly Hallows. While wandering around with no idea what to do next, the trio happen upon some other refugees who mention the Sword of Gryffindor, cluing them into its significance. Then, when they're looking for it in the forest of Dean, the portrait of ex-Hogwarts headmaster Phineas Nigellus overhears Hermione telling Harry where they are and relays that information to Snape, so that he can arrange for them to find the sword — but he'd been attempting to ferret that information out for a while.
  • Played very straight in C. S. Lewis' The Horse and His Boy. While Aravis and Shasta are separated, they both manage to overhear important, secret pieces of information—in her case, a plan to invade the country of Archenland, and in his, the shortcut through the desert that will allow them to get there ahead of the invaders. This happens right in the beginning, too, when Shasta overhears Arsheesh and the Tarkaan haggling over him. Shasta habitually eavesdropped on Arsheesh though, which ups his odds.
  • Parodied by Woody Allen in "A Look at Organized Crime"
    Wiretapping cannot be employed indiscriminately, but its effectiveness is illustrated by this transcript of a conversation between two gang bosses in the New York area whose phones had been tapped by the F.B.I.
    Anthony: Hello? Rico?
    Rico: Hello?
    Anthony: Rico?
    Rico: Hello.
    Anthony: Rico?
    Rico: I can't hear you.
    Anthony: Is that you, Rico? I can't hear you.
    Rico: Hello?
    Anthony: Operator, we have a bad connection.
    Operator: Hang up and dial again, sir.
    Rico: Hello?
    Because of this evidence, Anthony (The Fish) Rotunno and Rico Panzini were convicted and are currently serving fifteen years in Sing Sing for illegal possession of Bensonhurst.
  • In The Mad King by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the hero takes a cheap hotel room which is one of several created by dividing up an attic with thin partition walls. In the night, he is disturbed by voices from the next room — which turns out to be the villains, whom he had been following and then lost track of — going over their plans.
  • In Mary Cary, Frequently Martha, the protagonist learns her family history when she's entertaining the children of one of the board members. Said board member is entertaining a visiting friend who has her suspicions as to who Mary is, and, though Mary is trying to listen and keep the children occupied, she manages to hear every relevant thing about her parents and the whereabouts of an uncle who isn't aware of her existence and his involvement with the orphan asylum nurse.
  • Played straight and responsible for most of the suspense in the period piece A Murder For Her Majesty. The main character witnesses the murder of her father and overhears a conversation by the killers, which is what kickstarts the plot. She overhears two conversations later on by the killers and co-conspirators. She herself, disguised as a boy, is discovered for who she is by accidentally saying things out loud that the bad guys overhear when near her. A lot of convenient overhearing, but what the heck, it makes the story fun.
  • Played relentlessly straight in the Nero Wolfe novel The Black Mountain. Our heroes have flown to Europe, traveled to a village in Montenegro, hiked into the hills, snuck into a largely-abandoned castle on the merest chance the bad guys might be there, and arrive at exactly the right moment to overhear the baddies discussing the entire plot and admitting to all their guilt.
  • In Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens, the author scornfully comments on how, in the theatrical productions of the traveling players, the comic relief character always happens to overhear the villains' plans and tell the hero. Then in a later chapter, Newman Noggs, the comic relief character of the story itself, happens to overhear the villains' plans and runs to tell Nicholas.
  • Played extremely straight in Ozma of Oz, the third Land of Oz book. The Nome King has transformed people into decorations for his palace, and challenged the main characters to guess which ones they are. This was a needle-in-a-haystack game until Billina the Hen overheard the Nome King and his servant going over all the information she needed to know, and it's very much an As You Know conversation.
  • In Persuasion, Anne is sitting by herself after the group has broken up during a long walk, and is concealed by the greenery when her old love Captain Wentworth is walking by with Louisa Musgrove, having a discussion about how important it is to be firm and decisive. And then Louisa relates a somewhat inaccurate account of how her brother married Mary Elliot rather than Anne, attributing it to Lady Russel's persuasion (rather than Anne's lack of love). Which all informs Anne that Wentworth is still very angry and hurt over their broken engagement.
  • Subverted in the 1903 book Riddle Of The Sands where the hero sneaks up to spy on the plotters, only to complain that, unlike in books, they are thoroughly familiar with the subject, so talk quickly in low voices, and refer to the details in brief, cryptic remarks.
  • Averted in The Saga of Tuck, when many minutes of taped conversations must be screened for the necessary information.
  • In Rudyard Kipling's The Second Jungle Book story "Letting In the Jungle", after being thrown out of the human village Mowgli overhears the village hunter Buldeo telling some other men that the couple who had adopted Mowgli are due to be executed. Armed with this knowledge Mowgli sets out to rescue them.
  • Queen Etheldredda in Septimus Heap does this to verify everything she hears, to the point that she doesn't trust anything that she hasn't eavesdropped upon.
  • Happens a lot in The Sight. Characters often hear conversations about crucial plot details or the meaning of the book's prophecy while trying to hide from them.
  • Usually justified in The Ship Who.... The Sapient Ships of the title have numerous audio pickups on board and (after the first book) can rapidly review recordings and amplify the audio to be aware of anything said in their quarters. Nancia in PartnerShip records extensive collusion to commit crimes and abuse power among her passengers, but can't use it because she neglected to inform them that she's a brainship.
    • Brainships' brawns also usually wear "contact buttons" when going out while on duty that have an audio/visual feed which the ships can adjust in various ways, and sometimes use to percieve things that the more human senses of the brawns miss.
  • Generally averted or subverted in A Song of Ice and Fire; characters will only get partial information, or the true meaning of the conversation will be obscured by the conversation, or the information will only be relevant to a completely different plotline. Brienne, for instance, tends to hear all kinds of interesting information about other characters and events in her travels, but she dismisses most of it as it's entirely irrelevant to her own quest.
    • Subverted in A Game of Thrones; Arya overhears a conversation between conspirators, but the conversation involves the political situation on a different continent, they don't drop many particular details, and speak metaphorically for a large chunk of the conversation. Since Arya's only ten, not only does she misunderstand, she forgets large parts of the conversation (and also misidentifies the dragon skulls being stored in the room she's hiding in as "monsters" when asked.) As a result, when she tries to relate the conversation to someone else, it's garbled to the point of incoherency.
    • It's also subverted when Bran overhears a pair of political conspirators, who turn out to be Jaime and Cersei. He also uncovers their incestuous relationship. They catch him, and Jaime immediately retaliates by throwing him off a tower; although Bran survives, he has few memories of what happened and so can't explain the truth. By the time everyone else puts two and two together, it's too late.
  • In Connie Willis' novel To Say Nothing of the Dog, the main character finds himself eavesdropping on a few occasions, and frustrated because no one gives enough context to be useful. He even references this trope, as the page quote shows.
  • In Ruth Frances Long's The Treachery of Beautiful Things, Jenny hears the Woodsman and the Goodwife plotting against her.
  • This is how Jim finds out that Silver is a pirate in Treasure Island; he happens to sneak into the ship's food store for a midnight snack just before the pirates park themselves outside to plot their mutiny.
  • In The Virgin Widow the protagonist, Anne Neville, is hiding in Tewkesbury Abbey after her husband's defeat. She happens to overhear Edward IV and her childhood sweetheart and former betrothed Richard discuss whether Richard wants to marry her now that she is free. Richard is noncommittal, which deeply hurts Anne, but he later tells her that he couldn't appear too interested because he knew his brother George was going to do everything to keep them apart.
  • Máel Dúin of the medieval Irish romance The Voyage of Máel Dúin is looking for the pirates who killed his father Ailill. When he finds a pirate fort on an island and eavesdrops on the people inside, they just happen to talk about the time they killed Ailill. Not enough: When Máel Dúin returns to the same island much later and, again, eavesdrops on the pirates, they just happen to discuss how they would react if Máel Dúin would turn up right at this moment ...
  • The sleeptalk version is played straight in the first book of The Wheel of Time: Rand's father Tam has a high fever and unconsciously reveals to Rand that he is not his real father.
  • Subverted in Chapter 1.3 of Worm, when Taylor hears Lung ordering his followers to murder children and attacks, only to discover that what she heard was Lung laying out the rules of engagement for a fight with a gang of teenage villains.
  • Subverted in one children's novel, in which the main character thinks she overheard a murder plot, but realizes the people were talking about writing a book.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Ashes of Love:
    • Run Yu learns Jin Mi's real parentage when he eavesdrops on the Pavilion Chiefs talking to Luo Lin.
    • Later Jin Mi eavesdrops on Run Yu and Sui He, and learns several secrets both of them wanted to hide.
  • The Barrier: Fernando's superior Erique drops by office and says he wants him in his own office in a couple minutes. On the way to his own office, Enrique is met by someone who comes to tell him about "one his men", who is actually Fernando himself, going into a technically restricted area without permission. The short notice given by Enrique, combined with a convenient angle in the hallway, allows Fernando to hear most of the conversation without being seen by either participant and figure out that his best option is to ditch the meeting with Enrique and not stay in the building much longer.
  • In Battlestar Galactica, when Callie follows someone and listens in on a conversation, she hears exactly what she wanted to hear despite the characters not having a need to say it again.
  • This trope is parodied in an episode of Blackadder III. Baldrick overhears two actors discussing how they intend to murder the Prince in a hilariously gory fashion, and immediately suspects a plot. In fact, the actors were merely rehearsing a play.
  • Parodied in one of The Colbert Report's Tek Jansen stories. The hero is hiding in a kitchen when the bad guys enter and explain their evil plan out loud. They then leave the kitchen, having entered it for no other reason.
  • Columbo: Subverted in an episode where Columbo is investigating a Hollywood director. He sits down at the studio's cafe, and the two extras seated beside him launch into some gossip that directly relates to Columbo's case and casts suspicion away from his current suspect. After a little digging, the cagey Columbo figures out that the two extras are frauds because they're wearing costumes that don't fit into any scenes being filmed that day. The director hired them to throw Columbo off his scent.
  • In The Comic Strip Presents' Enid Blyton parody "Five Go Mad in Dorset", the Famous Five overhear two villains conspiring: "Blah, Blah, Blah kidnapped scientist blah blah. Blah blah Kneecap Hill blah blah. Blah blah atom bomb blah." That's right - the villains actually say "Blah blah".
  • Crazy Like a Fox: In "Hearing is Believing", a blind woman having dinner at a restaurant overhears two men plotting murder.
  • Doctor Who: In "The Time Warrior", Sarah and Hal arrive outside the window just in time to hear Irongron and Linx discussing Irongron's plans to assault Sir Edward's castle tomorrow morning.
  • The Eternal Love: Tan Er overhears Yi Huai telling his accomplices he was just using her and doesn't care what happens to her.
  • Parodied in an episode of Family Matters. Steve Urkel eavesdrops on Laura from the hotel room directly above hers, immediately hearing a seductive male voice that he believes to be Laura's date in her room. A couple seconds later, the voice proceeds to talk about dog food — Laura was watching TV by herself, and the voice was from a dog food commercial playing on the TV.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Subverted when Arya tries to relay Varys and Illyrio's cryptic conversation to her father in "The Wolf and the Lion". Since she's only eleven and doesn't understand most of it, the information gets all mixed up in her head and Ned justifiably tells her Not Now, Kiddo.
    • Played straight when Locke overhears Jon and Sam speculating about Bran.
  • In an episode of Gilligan's Island, two Soviet cosmonauts land on the island after missing their target. Gilligan later overhears the two of them plotting to get the castaways drunk at a party and tie them up so they can't return to civilization and embarrass the Soviet space program by telling the world that they missed their target. One wonders why the two Russians would be privately conversing with each other in English.
  • In one music video and song for the Studio100 series Kabouter Plop called "Jij Praat Teveel". Kwebbel can be seen doing this and even sings about it.
  • Happens very, very frequently in the Spanish cop show Los Hombres de Paco. There are way too many examples to list from that show.
  • Lost Love in Times: Zheng Tong overhears Noble Consort Yin discussing how she assassinated Yuan Xi and her plans to kill Yuan Ling.
  • The Nutt House: Norman happens to hear Sally and Charles talking about both the exact amount of money the hotel is in debt, and Charles's weakness for champagne.
  • Subverted on The Office. When Jim is promoted, Dwight goes through an elaborate plan to bug his office, and ends up with hours and hours of Jim talking to clients about paper.
  • Our Miss Brooks: "Mrs. Davis Reads Tea Leaves" begins with Mrs. Davis reading Miss Brooks' tea leaves at breakfast and seeing Miss Brooks and Mr. Boynton renting "honeymoon cottage" and surrounded by children and rabbits. Later, in the Cafeteria at lunch, Miss Brooks hears Mr. Boynton talking to teenage Harriet Conklin about renting the cottage at the end of June with Miss Brooks . . . if she'll agree. Miss Brooks expects a proposal of marriage, what Mr. Boynton has in mind is running a summer camp.
  • Power Rangers Beast Morphers: Played with in one episode, where Scrozzle overhears the Rangers talking about how they're going to lure Evox into a trap. He 'ports out, revealing Zoey was eavesdropping on him, to make sure he took the bait.
  • Princess Agents: Chu Qiao overhears Yuwen Zhuo and Yue Qi discussing how Yuwen Yue's training her to use against the enemy, and she'll probably be killed.
  • Queen for Seven Days: Dowager Queen Jasun tries to warn Lee Yeok to beware of Lee Yung. Lee Yung hears everything she says.
  • The Republic of Sarah: Adam overhears Corrine and Danny discussing having sex before, due to him hiding in the kitchen closet at just the right moment.
  • The Rise of Phoenixes: Played for laughs. Zhi Wei says Zi Yan is "a wife-fearing husband who is also perverted and strange". Zi Yan is hiding behind a curtain and overhears everything.
  • In Robin Hood Marian was always in the right place, at the right time, to hear exactly what the Sheriff and Guy of Gisborne were planning, and pass it on to Robin. The villains would often discuss their plans right in front of her and then wonder how Robin was always one step in front of them.
  • Ruyi's Royal Love in the Palace:
    • Hailan happens to be right outside the door when Xiyue admits she framed Ruyi and poisoned the pregnant women.
    • Miaoqian listens to Yunche and Jiuxiao discussing what to do about the saddle that was tampered with.
  • Although it happens in nearly every Kid Com and Teen Drama, whenever a Saved by the Bell character listens in on a conversation, it always relates or leads to relation problems.
  • Smallville: In the series 5 finale Lana manages to overhear Clark and Chloe talking about how he needs to kill Lex. Lana being Lana, she rushes out and tells Lex, never once stopping to consider that Clark might not want to kill Lex
  • In 24, they keep hearing of and eavesdropping about imminent attacks, but the characters are extremely unlucky in that the eavesdroppers tend to use terms like "The Target" instead of actually giving useful information.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): In "A Penny for Your Thoughts", using his newfound powers of telepathy, Hector B. Poole hears Mr. Sykes thinking that he plans to use his $200,000 loan to bet on horses so that he can win back the money that he has embezzled. He later learns that Mr. Smithers plans to rob the bank and go to Bermuda, though this turns out to be nothing but a fantasy that Smithers has on an almost daily basis.
  • War of the Worlds (2019): Chloe's son Sacha overhears her speaking with his uncle while he's in the bathroom next door. Due to this, he learns Chloe's brother not only raped her, but Sacha is the result. It appears that this was accidental eavesdropping, though it's unclear.
  • Averted on The Wire. The vast, vast majority of the intercepted chatter is useless fluff.
  • In an episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, Indy, while fighting in Europe during WWI, is told to spy on the Germans. When he gets to their base in the middle of the night, he falls asleep listening to the German soldiers talk about the most mundane topics, and barely wakes up in time to hear them discuss their acquisition of two howitzer guns.

  • Occurs twice with the same incident in WHO dunnit (1995)'s backstory. Tex overhears his wife Victoria conspiring with someone over the phone to murder him (though he doesn't know who their co-conspirator is). When he confronts them afterward and threatens them, Victoria's Butler overhears and plots to kill him in retaliation.

  • William Shakespeare plays with it a couple of times:
    • In Hamlet, first Hamlet, eavesdropping on Claudius, decides not to kill him, since it sounds like he's praying. Actually, Hamlet had just missed the important part, and Claudius was really lamenting the fact that he couldn't pray, because of all the murdering and usurping he'd been doing lately. Then Polonius tries to set up this trope, hoping to learn something by eavesdropping on Hamlet talking to his mother. Instead, he gets stabbed, which isn't particularly helpful.
    • Another Shakespearean instance, which proves pivotal to the plot — the eavesdropping scene in Othello. Horribly subverted as Othello completely misunderstands and misinterprets what Cassio is saying (it doesn't help the courtesan he's seeing chucks Desdemona's hanky back in his face either).
    • Shakespeare even invokes this trope twice in Much Ado About Nothing:
      • The supporting characters conspire to have Beatrix and Benedick overhear them talking about how each is crazy in love with the other in order to get the two to fall in love. It works, sort of.
      • And in the same play, the villains conspire to have Claudio overhear a conversation he misinterprets, which is basically the entire plot.
      • Given that the "Nothing" in the title was pronounced "Noting" in Shakespeare's day, the title hangs a lampshade on it.
    • In Twelfth Night, Sir Toby and others overhear Malvolio talking about how he would like to marry Olivia and stop Toby from drinking. This kicks off their plan to humiliate Malvolio.

    Video Games 
  • This is a game mechanic in Assassin's Creed. One of your submissions in each assassination is to seek out very specific people, sit on a bench nearby, and listen to their conversations. These inevitably give you some information about the target or ways you can infiltrate their strongholds and kill them.
    • Of course, since you're reliving someone else's memories, and the Animus explicitly cuts out the unimportant or irrelevant bits, it's possible that he waited for hours to hear the relevant information and didn't pay much attention to the rest or remember it.
  • Actually averted in Batman: Arkham City and Batman: Arkham Origins. You can pick up on random thugs conversing with each other when going through the city. More often that not, it's just nonsensical (although sometimes hilarious) banter.
  • Averted in Crash of the Titans. The local Mooks will simply be chatting about whatever from the time you enter the area until the time when you get within sight. There is even an achievement for sitting through one of these conversations.
  • Deadpool: fifteen seconds of loud explanations from the unaware mooks on how the door and lever work,
    Deadpool: Alright, High Moon, we get it!
  • In Final Fantasy II, Leila eavesdropping on Firion and the imposter Princess Hilda lets her and the rest of the party know when it's time for them to play Big Damn Heroes.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics:
    • Before arriving to Lionel Castle, Ramza is secretly hearing the conversation between Agrias and Ovelia. Mustadio doesn't seem to realize the "secretly" part.
    • When Loffrey is sent to negotiate the mediation of the church in the War of the Lions with Dycedarg, which the latter rejects, the conversation slowly becomes a subtle threat of revealing how he poisoned his own father in order to fulfill his plan of becoming the ruler of Gallione and, eventually, regent king of Ivalice. His brother Zalbaag is shocked, while listening to everything behind the main door.
    • After Delita dismisses Ovelia to talk in private with Orran and Valmafra, she pretends to leave by closing the door, but she remains hidden listening the conversation. Paranoia ensues.
  • Flashback: Conrad drops in a ventilation shaft just in time to listen to the shapeshifting aliens discuss their plans to teleport their hordes in and exterminate mankind.
  • One of the key mechanics in Hitman (2016). The game even notifies you when a conversation you're overhearing could lead you to an assassination opportunity.
  • A villainous variant in Hyperdimension Neptunia Rebirth 1; while the party are discussing their plans to infiltrate Avenir and find out their plans, their Avenir contact is outside listening in on the entire thing.
  • In King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow, the hero, through a hole in the wall, overhears the Big Bad voicing his Evil Plan for the princess in a letter to his villain friend.
  • Listening in on conversations in the Laura Bow games will earn you vital information needed to solve the murders, although there are a few times when you can spy on someone and they're doing something totally harmless, like sitting alone in their room or sleeping.
  • At one point in The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero, the Hayworths, while explaining how they wouldn't have been able to bear it if their recently rescued son had been hurt, mention that they'd had a daughter who'd died tragically after they left her with a friend while they went on a business trip before Colin was conceived. Unknowingly to them, the girl who'd rescued their son was their long-lost daughter Renne, who had spent years believing that her parents had sold her to a brothel at the age of five. She was also hiding in Lloyd's closet in order to avoid them, allowing her to hear their side of the story. It's later implied that KeA had used her history-altering powers to arrange for Renne to be there to hear that, so she'd be more willing to be helpful later on - and start on the path to recovering from her various mental health problems that originated from that perceived betrayal.
  • In Lufia & The Fortress of Doom, Lufia happens to overhear the Hero and Aguro discussing whether the Hero would be able to kill Lufia, given that they had just been told that she is the Sinistral of Death and that her merely existing allows the other Sinistrals to reincarnate.
  • Subverted and poked fun at in Max Payne. When the elevator Max is in reaches the designated floor you can sit in and eavesdrop upon some mooks talking. They're discussing... bullet time in television. You can choose to enter bullet time yourself and kill them that way, just for kicks.
  • Metal Gear:
    • Invoked in Metal Gear Solid, where the FOXHOUND members (particularly Liquid and Ocelot) have lengthy conversations about critical details in their plan within earshot of Snake at the exact moments that he happens to be there to spy on them. It turns out they are deliberately playing off this trope to keep up the appearance that they are capable of launching the nuke from REX. They aren't, however, as Ocelot "accidentally" killed the DARPA chief while torturing him to find out the passcode to arm REX. Since they know Snake has the PAL key which is the only other means of arming or disarming REX (and it can only be used once), but have no idea how to use it themselves, they stage these conversations so Snake will overhear them, think they are going to launch a nuke imminently, and use the PAL key to disarm REX, but actually activate it instead. It works.
    • In Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, there are a couple of sequences where you have to listen in on conversations with a directional mic. You have to keep the aim focused on each speaker as they walk around to hear everything they say.
  • Subverted in NEO: The World Ends with You. On Day 6 of Week 2, Rindo and the Wicked Twisters happen upon Motoi(a Player) having a conversation with Shoka(a Reaper), which ends with Shoka killing Motoi. Rindo uses his ability to change fate to alter some of the events of earlier that day so he can arrive earlier, and hears a little more of the conversation each time. It isn't until Rindo has done everything he can to hasten his arrival that he manages to get there just as the conversation begins and hear the most important part- Motoi wants to become a Reaper by eliminating Shoka(who was targeted for helping the Wicked Twisters), and has been manipulating Rindo and the others for some time.
  • Subverted in Octopath Traveler: during the second chapter of Therion's path, he takes a seat at the bar of Noblecourt's tavern and listens to the chatter of the patrons. At least two conversations pass before he hears anything with any relation to his reason for being in town. Travel banter with Tressa has her point out that getting information based on listening to chats in an alehouse is a pretty long shot; Therion admits that it's a matter of experience and patience.
  • Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door has you listen in on Grubba monologuing a layout for everything he wouldn't have wanted somebody who just happened to be listening to know. He lampshades it at the end by saying "Well, since I'm thinking out loud here, I think I'll put this here paper in this drawer." and then a few seconds later "There, now that that's all settled."
  • In Pokemon Platinum, when the player is infiltrating the enemy base they will conveniently walk into a room where the Big Bad is giving a speech to his mooks laying out his Evil Plan point by point. (This is partially subverted later when the Big Bad reveals that he was leaving out key points of the plan during said speech.)
  • In Shounen Kininden Tsumuji has a gameplay mechanic in which you can listen to any conversations and remember them to solve puzzles.
  • In one of the early levels of the first Splinter Cell game, one of your objectives is to listen in on a conversation with your laser mic. Although you get there in plenty of time, if you don't set your mic up once they start talking, you can miss important parts of the conversation and fail the mission.
  • In Stardew Valley, the player character sure has a tendency to walk in on particularly revealing moments.
  • Played with in Tomb Raider: Legend, where—in the first level— Ms. Croft stumbled upon two guards talking about monkeys and how they react to cigarettes.
  • Played straight all the time in Vagrant Story. The main character even has special magic eavesdropping powers.
  • World of Warcraft: The Sylvanas novel has a scene where the titular character, after breaking free from the Lich King's control, tries to go back to her home city of Quel'thalas in secret; she arrives just in time to overhear her childhood friends Lorthemar and Halduron talking about how the undead monster Sylvanas has become isn't really her, just a monster wearing her face, and that it would be a Mercy Kill to put her down for good. This is what pushes her to abandon her old life and embrace being the Queen of the Forsaken, and prompts her decision to join the Horde.


    Web Videos 
  • Laughed at by CinemaSins Attack of the Clones part 2 episode:
    Just once I'd like to see somebody hiding in the corner somewhere, and the bad gyus AREN'T talking about the most important essence of their plan in the earshot. Just once, I'd like to hear they had bagels for breakfast of something.
  • Noob: La Croisée des Destins: After some time looking for Tenshirock, Dead finds him just in time to overhear Tenshirock telling someone else that he considers the shared casual play session he's currently having with Dead to make peace with him after years of mutual hostility to be a joke. In the previous movie, Dead had tolerated Tenshirock temporarily opting out due to his casual play avatar Rock getting possessed by one of the game's villains, but Rock had become usable again by the time that conversation happened.

    Western Animation 
  • In an episode of American Dad!, Roger is trying to trick Steve into thinking he's adopted. Then Steve happens to overhear his father Stan saying to his mom, "As far as I'm concerned, we only have one child!" Steve is horrified, not realizing that Stan is actually disowning Steve's sister Hayley due to her anti-gun beliefs. Roger lampshades it: "I just love when crap lines up like that."
  • Subverted in children's cartoon Arthur. Arthur notices that his sister D.W. has been acting strange and upset lately, so he sets out to find what's wrong with her, and eventually places a walkie-talkie in her room at night to hear her sleep-talking. D.W. apparently catches on to this: "I'm sad... because... because... BECAUSE ARTHUR IS A DODO-BRAIN!" (Eventually it turns out that she's upset because she wasn't invited to a friend's birthday party — nothing to do with her brother at all.)
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, a bathing Katara swims by Toph and Sokka just as they are talking about her. This may or may not have been deliberately engineered by Sokka in order to get the girls stop fighting.
  • In The Crumpets episode "Family Secrets", Li'l One walks outside to the brick his dog was supposed to fetch and hears a conversation between his sister Ditzy and their neighbor Cassandra through a hedge. At that time, Ditzy gossips secrets of her family to Cassie in a successful attempt to re-float her grounded head. She also shares her rumor that Pa has a mistress, which makes Li'l One yell happily (and stopped yelling, oddly without being noticed by the girls) to find a way to kick their father out of their house.
  • This occurs in "Flirting with Disasters" in Danny Phantom where Valerie eavesdrop in time to hear Sam and Tucker talking about the dangers of dating her to Danny. Danny confesses he wants to be her boyfriend regardless which shocks both Sam and Valerie. Luckily, Sam notices Valerie before they could dig deep with their other conversation dealing with Danny's secret identity whom Valerie currently chases.
  • In the Fairly OddParents special "School's Out! The Musical", this is what screws the Pixies out of a victory. Flappy Bob happens to walk past them just as they start gloating about how they've been using and manipulating him his entire life and insulting his intelligence. This prompts him into a Heel–Face Turn and he proceeds to identify the loophole that completely undoes their Near-Villain Victory.
  • A subversion kicks off the plot in the first postscript season episode of Kim Possible after So the Drama. After Bonnie plants the notion in Ron's head that he isn't good enough for Kim and that it's only a matter of time until she "trades up", he spends a day moping but reassures himself that Kim wouldn't do that. Then he overhears Kim telling Monique that Bonnie is right and that it's time to "trade up". If he waited a little longer, he would have realized they were talking about cell phones and the rest of the episode would have been really boring.
  • On The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, Flapjack overhears sailors talking about K'nuckles. Camera cut to his shocked expression after every line.
    Fat sailor: I told you, Ernie, we'll take care of him [K'nuckles] like the last guy.
    Ernie: And just how did we take care of him because...I forgot.
    Fat sailor: We'll feed him to the shark!
    Ernie: And then what happens... I mean, after we feed him to the shark?
    Fat sailor: He dies.
  • Subverted in the The Powerpuff Girls (1998) episode "Little Miss Interprets". The Powerpuffs repeatedly overhearing snippets of perfectly innocent statements concerning their surprise birthday party which lead them to believe that everyone in Townsville is plotting to kill them.
    • Played straight in the episode "Film Flam" where the Professor goes to Bernie Bernstein's trailer to confront him for being disrespectful to Bubbles only to overhear him and his partner discussing about how the movie about the girls is actually a scam to rob Townsville's bank.
  • She-Ra: Princess of Power: When Romeo the Horde soldier is escaping from Castle Bright Moon, he overhears Angella say that the force dome is damaged and will need at least a week to repair.
  • Parodied on The Simpsons. While Bart is overhearing a conversation between Principal Skinner and Groundskeeper Willie, Skinner reveals that he is trying his hand at stand-up comedy. He invites Willie, giving him directions to the comedy club starting from the Simpsons' house.
  • Parodied in the Sonic Boom episode "Battle of the Boy Bands", when Sonic, Knuckles, and Tails are eavesdropping on Justin Beaver's producer and manager, trying to get information on a supposed brain-washing scheme.
    [producer and manager talk about scheduling]
    Tails: I guess it makes sense that he wouldn't conveniently reveal his evil scheme the exact moment we happened to be listening.
    Producer: Shifting gears completely, how's our evil scheme coming along?
    [scheme is discussed]
    Knuckles: Justin's producer conveniently revealed the whole scheme, right in front of us! Talk about lazy writing!
  • In the last episode of The Spectacular Spider-Man, Harry lingers just long enough to accidentally hear Gwen, his girlfriend, and Peter, their mutual best friend, confess their feelings for each other. He's able to use this information to his advantage, however, when his father's apparent death guilts Gwen into staying with him.


Video Example(s):


Theo's Game Cartridge

After figuring out the nature of Project Blue, Lucks uses Theo as an unwitting spy and later holding him hostage after destroying his Cartridge leaving Theo in an unconscious state on the cartridges' Motherboard.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / SoulJar

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