Originated by SF author James Blish and popularized by film critic Roger Ebert during his review of the remake of Narrow Margin, this trope is a term for a Plot that hangs together only because the main characters behave like idiots. A single intelligent move or question by any of the characters, and all problems would be resolved. It's not so bad if the characters are supposed to be acting like idiots, but it's very bad if the Idiot Plot depends on a character picking up the Idiot Ball for the plot to work.
Even worse than that is the "Second-Order Idiot Plot", in which the plot can only function if the world population suddenly loses about 50 IQ points. In fact, author Damon Knight originally coined the term "second-order idiot plot" to refer to a science fiction story that features a fictional society that can only exist if everyone living there is an idiot.
Idiot plots can often be avoided with a simple wave of the hand. If the audience would have spent the entire story wondering why the hero didn't try some obvious tactic, a hand wave at the beginning of the story as to why that wouldn't work would prevent an idiot plot, regardless of how contrived the excuse was. However, if the hand wave is bad, it may actually create a new obvious solution just as bad as the original.
It is important to note that this is not always a bad thing, and is sometimes the entire point of the story. Part of what can make a drama so dramatic or a tragedy so tragic is that the characters truly could have avoided it if they had acted rationally instead of irrationally. (If the characters come to realize this In-Universe, by the way, that's a "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot.) Likewise, this is frequently Played for Laughs in a comedy or satire, either to laugh at the antics of the idiots or make a point about the idiocy in society. This is also very justifiable if most of the cast is not in a position where they can make rational or informed decisions, such as if they're young, poorly educated, or under stress. And sometimes it's just a case of Reality Is Unrealistic; many real-world problems, viewed from a distance with plenty of hindsight and no time pressure to solve the issue now, can seem like Idiot Plots themselves, but the rub is that people at the center of the problem may not have those advantages. That said, calling real life people idiots is easy Flame Bait so No Real Life Examples, Please!
Compare Stating the Simple Solution, when a character looks like an idiot for using a complicated solution instead of a mundane and low-effort one.
- Anime & Manga
- Comic Books
- Fan Works
- Films Animation
- Films Live-Action
- Live-Action TV
- Video Games
- Web Animation
- Web Comics
- Western Animation
- Episode 49 of Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf: Joys of Seasons, about Wolffy inventing a sewing robot and using it to help him capture the goats, has its plot started by Wolffy carrying Wolnie's laundry on a bamboo stick that's too long to fit through a doorway when held vertically with ends of the stick on the left and right. Instead of orienting the bamboo stick so that it can fit through the doorway, he rips it in half and destroys Wolnie's outfit in the process, leading to him inventing the aforementioned robot to sew it back together.
- The Simple Samosa episode "Doctor D" has Dhokla so excited about his first visit to a foreign country, namely France, that he messages Samosa, Jalebi, and Vada on it on social media to the point of spamming them. The three decide to handle the situation by... blocking Dhokla, a very idiotic and out-of-character idea since they're best friends with him. As a result, Dhokla comes back as a celebrity named Doctor D and completely ignores Samosa and the others, a driving plot point of the episode. Thankfully, Samosa, Jalebi, and Vada find Dhokla at one of his concerts as Doctor D and they apologize to each other for being so ignorant, but sheesh.
- Newspaper comic Watch Your Head has a long-running subplot about Handsome Lech Quincy's impending marriage to his pregnant girlfriend Erika. Whenever Quincy is in focus, we hear about preparations and get evidence that the less-than-brilliant Quincy sees no reason to give up his womanizing ways. After about a year of this, the entire thing comes crashing down at the altar when local Jerkass Omar points out that the bride has been allegedly pregnant for over a year and has not even gained an ounce of weight in that time!
- 9 Chickweed Lane is only able to work as well as it does because all the major players are imbeciles; we start with the incompetent fool OSS colonel who set everyone up to fail and end with the idiots who kowtow to his deception, bullying and idiocy.
- Nicole has the plot for its mystery section. Nicole suddenly gets texts on her phone of the kidnapper, who makes it obvious that she will be his next victim. The entire following mystery plot could be avoided, if Nicole had just gone to the police and shown them the texts, leading to her being protected by them and the kidnapper likely being caught. Instead, Nicole decides to keep looking into the kidnapping cases, on her own, without telling anyone what she's doing, or where she's going, which includes the kidnapper's hideout or even telling anyone that she is being targeted.