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Impossible Mission Collapse

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A gag where an elaborate, high-risk plan is concocted by the good guys, we hear all the planning, and then it never gets past step one. There are three varieties:

  1. Instant failure: Once they all know what they're supposed to do, they step out the door and immediately one of them trips over and breaks a leg. This never occurs in shows where the heroes are professionals.
  2. Instant discouragement: Once they all know what they're supposed to do, they open the door, notice it's raining and call the whole thing off. This absolutely never occurs in shows where the heroes are professionals.
  3. Instant success: The convoluted scheme for breaking into the bad guy's vault becomes redundant when they get there and find the door has been left ajar. This is particularly effective when the instant success is achieved by good old common sense, such as the scene in The Bourne Identity where Jason Bourne coaches Marie in how to obtain information from a hotel clerk, and she succeeds just by asking for it while claiming to be his secretary. (Compare Cutting the Knot.)

Sometimes this joke gives itself away by having the plan be too elaborate, too dicey, and explained in too much detail.

Subtrope/converse of the Unspoken Plan Guarantee.


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    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Bourne Identity, Jason Bourne creates an extremely complicated plan to retrieve a phone bill for a hotel room he stayed in. It includes sending Marie into the hotel's lobby, counting how many steps she takes, making a total head count of all the people in the lobby, and looking out for security. He asks her if she remembers the number and locations of all the exits and all the signs she has to give him if she think she has been spotted and is being followed. Once she's inside the hotel, he will make a call on a pay phone to the phone in the lobby for her to pick up. And that's just the very first step of the plan to spy out the place. She goes inside and Jason calls the phone, but gets increasingly nervous when nobody is picking up. Which is because she's already standing right next to him with the phone bill in her hand, as she decided to just ask the clerk at the desk and he gave it to her.
  • The Dirty Dozen: Two-thirds of the movie follows the Dozen's training to fulfill the assignment given to them, including memorizing the chateau's layout and step-by-step instructions. The odds are pretty long and it's believed to be a Suicide Mission by the higher-ups, which is why the Dozen Got Volunteered, but they have showcased themselves to be pretty competent individuals regardless. A large number of the deaths that happen during the third act occur because Maggot blows the Dozen's cover way too early by deciding out of the blue to indulge his murderous impulses, forcing them to try to salvage the mission any way they can.
  • The remake of The Italian Job has the crew go over a complex plan to steal their gold back from Steve. When they go to implement said plan, they discover Steve's neighbors are holding a party. They call off the heist due to the large number of witnesses.
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Just like in the book, Harry, Ron, and Hermione come up with a big complicated plan to enter Gringotts Wizarding Bank to steal a Horcrux from Bellatrix Lestrange's vault. It almost immediately falls apart and they have to wing the rest of the mission. While resting after completing the theft, Harry gets a vision confirming where the last Horcrux is and tells Ron and Hermione that they need to move now to get it before Voldemort moves it. In a moment original to the film, Hermione protests, saying that they need to slow down and come up with a plan. Harry replies that there's no point, every time they come up with a plan, everything goes to hell and they have to improvise anyway.
  • The Goonies features a Type 1 example:
    Stef: What about the Fratellis?
    Andy: Yeah, those creeps are still after us!
    Mikey: I've got an idea. I saw this on an old Hardy Boys episode. We'll leave a trail of jewels leading into one cave while we hide out in another. When they go into that cave, we'll make a run for it.
    Mama Fratelli: Now, that sounds like a great idea!
  • Inception shows a montage of elaborate mission planning by the dream team that goes awry when they discover that their target's subconscious has been weaponized, forcing them to Indy Ploy the rest of their mission
  • In Of Love and Shadows (at least in the movie), some young, patriotic officers discover that the commander-in-chief secretly performed unspeakable acts and conspire to oust him. Their little clique is discovered and captured by the troops before they can move a finger.
  • Megaforce holds a variation: Operation: Hook, Line and Sinker is explained in detail in the first act and its "hook" step (blowing up an ammo dump to draw the attention of an Evil General) goes without a problem... then the plan hits a snag because the country the operation is taking place on immediately sues as it is a potential act of war, making the country that the Megaforce was trying to drag the general to (the "line and sinker" part) close its borders, trapping the team behind enemy lines.
  • Uncommon Valor: The climactic raid on the Vietnamese P.O.W. camp is planned with precision, assumed to be a night-time raid with advanced weapons and gear. The CIA stops the team and confiscate their weapons the moment they put boots on the ground, forcing them to make do with a a bunch of purchased World War Two weapons and a lot of improvisation (including attacking during daytime), which unfortunately ends up killing half of the team in a barrage of Heroic Sacrifices needed to make sure their parts of the plan work out.

  • The trio's plan to break into the Ministry of Magic in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Professional in the planning, not so much in the execution (mostly due to the fact that none of them works all that well under pressure). They end up improvising everything on the fly instead. Lampshaded by Harry wondering why they didn't plan anything for after when they get in. It happens again later on when they come up with an elaborate plan to enter Gringotts Wizarding Bank to steal a Horcrux from Bellatrix's family vault. The plan falls apart nearly immediately due to the fact that it revolved around Hermione transforming into Bellatrix and using her wand that they stole earlier as proof of her identity; the trio didn't even consider the fact that word that Bellatrix had lost her wand would have been spread around to Voldemort's followers (and that Bellatrix was essentially under house arrest after her failure to keep them imprisoned earlier in the story).
  • In The Dresden Files novel Changes:
    • Harry Dresden and his comrades prepare a careful plan to launch a distracting attack on the Red Court's holy site at Chichen Itza, while Harry himself and a small group sneak around and rescue his daughter from the vampires. They set up the entire plan, get ready to move out - and then a human prisoner of the Red Court stumbles into the clearing, being chased by a vampire who is quite surprised to find the group. The vampire lets out a scream of warning before being killed, the entire Red Court army is alerted, and the team has to go to Plan B.
    • Earlier in the book, after Harry informs his allies in the Order of St. Giles about the existence of a Red Court storage base in Nevada, they begin planning how to get there, scout out the facility, overpower whatever security exists, and search it for clues, all without Harry's assistance as he can't ride planes. Harry casually reveals that he already scouted out the site, using a newly-acquired artifact that gives him vast knowledge of the Ways.
  • An oft-Discussed Trope in Honor Harrington, where characters express concern by a plan becoming too complicated, such as any operation requiring two forces in different star systems operating in concert (problematic due to the lack of effective faster-than-light communication)
  • In Of Love and Shadows (at least in the movie), some young, patriotic officers discover that the commander-in-chief secretly performed unspeakable acts and conspire to oust him. Their little clique is discovered and captured by the troops before they can move a finger.
  • To Your Scattered Bodies Go (Riverworld) shows how this trope is the converse of Unspoken Plan Guarantee. The entire explanation of the escape plan is: "Targoff listened carefully. At the end of Burton's explanation, Targoff nodded." When it comes time to execute the unspoken plan, events prevent them from even starting.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "This Year's Girl" begins with Buffy planning an elaborate scheme to break Riley out of the Initiative. She's still explaining her plan when Riley shows up, having left with permission.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "The Day of the Doctor", three incarnations of the Doctor are thrown into a dungeon together. They come up with an elaborate plan where they youngest Doctor scans the door with his sonic screwdriver, then the program runs in background, unknown to them, for four hundred years, and will thus have completed by the time of the most recent incarnation, allowing them to molecularly disrupt the wooden door. Sure enough, the current Doctor confirms his sonic has the solution already lurking inside it — at which time Clara opens the unlocked door from the outside.
  • Firefly:
    • The episode "Ariel", in which the crew are sneaking into a hospital and have a long speech memorized using all kinds of medical jargon. They are allowed into the hospital without having to provide an explanation, but Jayne feels the need to make the speech anyway (and gets it wrong to boot).
    • Even more so in the episode "Shindig". Mal is basically under house arrest pending his big swordfight with Atherton Wing; back on Serenity, Badger and his men show up to lock down the rest of the crew and keep them from doing anything disruptive (that could harm Badger's "standing in the community"). The crew spend most of the rest of the episode cooking up an elaborate plan to distract and overpower Badger and his men in order to ride off and rescue Mal. They're just about to swing into action...when Mal shows up, having successfully gotten out of the situation on his own.

    Tabletop Games 
  • This is going to happen in most tabletop Role Playing Games, either from the GM's side or the players'.
    • From the GM side, no matter how well you plan an adventure or scenario, how many ways you anticipate the players reacting, they will find at least one that you didn't expect and chances are good it'll be the one that sends things completely Off the Rails.
    • On the other hand, no matter how well a group of players plans a mission or adventure out, there's a good chance that the GM has something that will blow up that plan immediately. And even if the GM hasn't planned for it, often times one or two bad rolls can crash a plan the moment it gets underway.

    Web Video 
  • This trope was the entire point of the famous Leeroy Jenkins Video, where a guild of nerdy World of Warcraft players painstakingly plot out an elaborate plan to raid the Rookery in Upper Blackrock Spire, only for Paladin player Leeroy to come back to his PC after heating up some fried chicken and name a trope, instantly throwing the whole situation into chaos and getting everyone killed. The entire thing was a staged satire of overly meticulous number-crunching hardcore gamers — as well as the plan being calculated to only have a 32.33% ("repeating of course") chance of success, in reality it wouldn't have worked at all, regardless of Leeroy's suicidal antics.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Looney Tunes Road Runner cartoons, this is almost always a rule of thumb: the longer and more elaborate the setup for Wile E. Coyote's latest scheme to catch the Road Runner is, the quicker it will completely collapse and fail.
    • An example of this is where the camera pans over an extremely long and elaborate chute for rolling a ball on to. After the camera pans over this for some time, we see the Coyote at the top of the chute with a Cartoon Bomb that he intends to roll down it. But the absolute second he lights the fuse, the bomb explodes.
  • In The Penguins of Madagascar, Kowalski comes up with a long and complicated scheme to get a jar from the baboon habitat, which involves Rico impersonating a baboon for a whole year, then signaling the others to attack from the air. In the time it takes Kowalski to explain it, Private simply sneaks in and gets the jar.

    Real Life 
  • There is a fairly popular military saying that states that "no plan survives contact with the enemy", encouraging to keep plans simple. Complex plans are easily foiled by the enemy doing something unexpected, or simply by things like an equipment malfunction or unexpected weather adding additional layers to an already complicated operation.
  • Or, as Mike Tyson put it, "everyone's got a plan until they get punched in the mouth".
  • Another version, attributed to President Dwight Eisenhower, says that "plans are worthless, but planning is essential". In essence, specific plans usually crumble — but the work that goes into them, the intelligence gathered, briefings made, contingencies accounted for, etc. are invaluable when the time comes to play Xanatos Speed Chess.