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Improvised Lockpick

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Swordfish: Both the password and the key!

Not everyone has a lockpick on hand when they need it. Whether due to the difficulty of obtaining lockpicks, the possible embarrassment of being caught with one, or simple unpreparedness, a character might be forced to confront a lock with only only whatever supplies happen to be at hand. Fortunately, in fiction, anything can serve as a lockpick. A character might take it even further by using something that couldn't turn the lock or even fit inside it in real life.

Note that in Real Life, in order to pick a standard pin-tumbler lock, two tools (rather than one as is often portrayed) are needed; a torque wrench and a pick. The torque wrench is used to turn the cylinder, while the pick is used to manipulate the pins in such a way to allow it to turn. A flat headed screwdriver can substitute for one. In addition, a screwdriver can also be used to force the lock (literally just twist it hard enough to snap the pins) or rake it (drawing it across the pins in a particular way until they snap in place).

Related to MacGyvering, especially when people get creative in their improvisations. Shapeshifters and characters benefiting from Toon Physics might also be able to turn parts of themselves into keys or lockpicks, in a Mundane Utility alternative to Shapeshifter Weapons.

Super-Trope to Skeleton Key Card and Hairpin Lockpick.


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  • "Victory by Computer": Supergirl manages to break out of a locked room by using a paper clip which she found and straightened to unlock one door.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Brave Series: In the animated series, Sick Demon's body can reshape itself like goo, including turning one fingertip into the shape of Dragon Brave's cell key for a jailbreak.
  • The Legend of Zelda (Akira Himekawa): In the adaptation of Oracle of Ages, Raven sneaks Link a fishing hook to use to escape Queen Ambi’s prison, and shows him another one to prove that he's on the hero's side.
  • In One Piece, during the Marineford Arc, the key that holds Ace's handcuff is shot down by Kizaru, so Mr. 3 creates a duplicate key with his wax powers. It works.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh!, when Jonouchi is chained to the Ax-Crazy Chopman as part of Kaiba's Death-T challenge, he uses a metal candle stick to pick the lock and free himself.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: During his first encounter with Anthony Lupus, Batman was left manacled on a construction site at the mercy of a rampaging werewolf. Batman manages to locate a bent cotter pin in the mud and, holding it in his teeth, uses it to pick the lock on his manacles. A text box at least attempts to justify this by pointing out that Batman has spent countless hours teaching himself how to pick very complex locks with extremely crude tools.
  • Irredeemable. A flashback shows Gilgamos in a prison with Alexander the Great. They are Reduced to Ratburgers and Alexander shows him how to pick the lock using the rat's bones. In the present day Gil is in a cell again but there aren't any rats, so he tears off one of his wings and uses the bones from that.
  • Lab Rats: Trilby picked up lock-picking skills while living in Metropolis' Suicide Slum. Since Quinlan never gives the kids gear or useful information about what they might need on their missions, he usually has to make do with improvised materials to open safes and doors.
  • Rough Riders: While hanging upside down from a tree, Houdini is able to snap off a twig with his teeth and use it as a shim to manipulate the pawl on his handcuffs.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics): Dylan Porcupine can pick locks with his quills.
  • Strangers at the Heart's Core: While investigating her parents' disappearance, Supergirl finds their house's door is locked from the inside; undeterred, she picks one of her hairpins and snaps the lock open.
  • In X-Men, Gambit does this while trapped by Cameron Hodge. He is hanging by his hands trapped in manacles and frees himself by curling up, using his teeth to pull out a metal spike that had been shot through his leg, and using it as a lockpick — with his feet.

    Fan Works 
  • All That Glitters (Othellia): Anna uses a piece of wire included among her adventuring group's supplies to pick the lock on Hans' cuffs.
  • The Tommyverse: On two separate occasions, the ponies Cheese and Tomato have used their tails to pick locks.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Frozen (2013), Snowman Olaf uses his carrot nose to unlock the door behind which Princess Anna is dying of her frozen heart.
  • Kung Fu Panda:
    • Kung Fu Panda: A stray feather from Zeng's body lands near where Tai Lung is being held as prisoner. He scoops it up with his tail and uses it to pick the lock of the acupuncture device that's holding the rest of his body immobilized.
    • Kung Fu Panda 2: When Po and the Furious Five are brought before Shen's cannon, Viper uses the end of her tail to unlock Tigress's cuffs.
  • In the animated The Littles movie Here Come The Littles, Cousin Dinky uses his tail to pick the lock on a trunk, with little success at first.
  • Pinocchio: Jiminy tries to free Pinocchio from his cage by climbing inside the padlock, and opening it with his umbrella, but does not succeed.
    Jiminy: Must be one of the old models.
  • In The Rescuers Down Under, Frank the frilled lizard tries to pick the lock of his cage with his tail. It takes him a while but he succeeds.
  • In Rio, as Blu and his friends are attempting to free Jewel from Nigel's clutches, Blu briefly tries picking the lock on Jewel's cage with one of his talons.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Aggression Scale, Owen snaps the arms off Lauren's sunglasses and uses them to pick the lock on the office at the car yard.
  • In BloodRayne II: Deliverance, Muller uses the frame of Piles' glasses to pick the lock on Rayne's manacles.
  • The Box (2018): The boy manages to get the box open with a knife after the attempt with the hairpin didn't work.
  • Edward Scissorhands: Edward's hands make a fine lockpick in a pinch, which the neighborhood Jerk Jock uses to try to get him arrested.
  • Firestorm (1998): When the convicts are locked in the bus in the path of the fire, one of them attempts to pick the lock on the door with a pen supplied by one of the guards.
  • In Horror Express, the creature bends a nail and uses it to pick the padlock holding its crate shut.
  • In Kung Fu Hustle, during his infiltration into the asylum that contains the Beast, Sing the protagonist uses a steel wire to open the lock to the Beast's cell.
  • Murder on the Orient Express (2017). Hercule Poirot uses his L-handle cane to force open the door to the murder victim's cabin by levering it against the door handle until it breaks the lock.
  • Terminator:
    • Terminator 2: Judgment Day has Sarah Connor picking the locks of her restraints and the lock to her room with a paper clip she stole earlier. The awesome thing is that Linda Hamilton learnt how to pick locks for her role and did it for real on that scene — and the U.K. censoring committee actually tried to cut the scene because they feared people would learn how to pick locks from watching the movie.
    • In Terminator: Dark Fate, Sarah Connor borrows a piece of metal from another detainee to pick the lock on their cage, but federal agents turn up to take her into custody before she succeeds.
  • In Time Bandits, Wally uses Kevin's knife to pick the lock of the cage they are trapped in. It works, but the knife's blade is noticeably bent and mangled afterward.
  • U.S. Marshals: Mark Sheridan breaks the arm off the sunglasses of his arresting officer and later uses it to pick his handcuffs after the transport plane crashes. The next day Agent Royce does the same thing after Sam Gerard handcuffs him during an argument. Gerard, who witnessed Sheridan's escape attempt, immediately notes that he's seen the skill before, foreshadowing the reveal that Sheridan and Royce used to work together and received similar training.

  • In Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl, Mulch uses his beard hair (dwarves are weird in this series: their beards function more like antennae) as a lockpick by pushing it in as far as it can go and plucking it, letting the hair stiffen until it can be used as a key.
  • In Bad Mermaids Meet the Sushi Sisters, Steve the sea horse uses his tail to pick a lock.
  • In Richard Scarry's Best Christmas Book Ever!, Lowly Worm uses his foot (technically the tip of his tail) to pick a lock.
  • In John D Fitzgerald's The Great Brain at the Academy, TD makes an impression in wax of the key to a locked room, then carves a duplicate out of wood.
  • Isaac Asimov and Janet Asimov's Norby and the Court Jester: Ing has a hat/helmet with a thin gold pick. He wears it so that he has an excuse for keeping a lockpick around when he's acting as a Don Juan.
  • In one of Harry Harrison's The Stainless Steel Rat books, Jim picks a lock with the wires connected to his Shock Collar on a rare occasion when he was strip-searched thoroughly enough to deprive him of his regular tools.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Batwoman (2019)
    • In the pilot episode, Kate Kane palms a paperclip from Bruce Wayne's desk before putting her hands up after being caught breaking into his office. It's no surprise when she gets free of her handcuffs.
    • "Mine is a Long and Sad Tale". In a flashback scene, Beth Kane as a child pulls a nail from the wall and uses it to briefly escape from the basement she's imprisoned in. In the present day Kate Kane is handcuffed in the same room but can't reach the nail, so uses a hobnail from her motorcycle boots.
  • Burn Notice. Michael steals a motorcycle by turning the ignition lock with a penknife, then kicking the handlebars to break the steering lock. As he does this, he explains in a voiceover how motorcycles are easier to steal than cars because they have fewer anti-theft devices.
  • In the Historical Re-Creation Churchill's Secret Agents: The New Recruits, the eponymous recruits are taught how to pick handcuffs and door locks with hairpins, bicycle spokes, or fence wire. They then have to use their skills in an SOE training exercise where they have ten minutes to uncuff themselves and break out of the courtyard they're in. They do well, but in their final graduation exercise find they can't get through a locked door in time, and resort to kicking it open.
  • Farscape. Deconstructed in "The Hidden Memory". Stark has spent two cycles building a device that can open his cell, if only he can find the correct sequence for the door lock. Problem is he can only try one sequence at a time (with a likely infinite number of potential combinations). When John Crichton (stuck in the cell with him) responds to this revelation with laughter, he retorts that it's not like Crichton has come up with anything better. Fortunately, Aeryn turns up to rescue them both. Ironically in the first episode Crichton and Aeryn were able to escape from their cell on Moya using just a Cutlery Escape Aid.
  • FBI: Most Wanted: In "Chains", Hana steals a piece of wire and uses it to open the handcuffs on her and Ollie.
  • Game of Thrones. Sansa steals a corkscrew in "The Gift" and uses it to pick the lock on her bed chamber in the Season 5 finale "Mother's Mercy".
  • Get Smart
    • Double Subverted when Max has to get the Chief's phone from a locked box while the Chief is kidnapped. Max goes to a special hidden file cabinet and pulls out a piece of paper. He goes to the wall safe and uses the paper to open the combination door to the safe... then gets a hammer from the safe and bashes the locked box with it so he can get to the phone inside.
    • The Hairpin Lockpick trope is also spoofed, with Max wearing a hairpin solely for that purpose instead of using an actual lockpick.
  • In Hannah Montana, Season 1 "Good Golly, Miss Dolly" when Miley, Lily, and Aunt Dolly need to get inside the school to recover a tape on Miley accidentally professing her love for Jake, Aunty uses her long fingernail to unlock the doors.
    Aunt Dolly: I haven't carried a house key in years.
  • In the iCarly episode "IPsycho", Sam gnaws on a duck bone into a lock pick to unlock the door out of the recording booth that she, Carly, and Freddie are trapped in by Nora.
  • The ever-resourceful MacGyver (1985) once needs to open a door with a palm-print reader as the lock. Mac uses toner from a copier to adhere to the residue of the previous palm print, then carefully blows away the rest and lays a blank page on the scanner. Pressing his palm on the paper activates the scanner, which reads the residual palm print of an authorized user and grants Mac access.
  • In an episode of The Musketeers, Aramis picks the lock of some manacles with a cross attached to his rosary beads.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000: In ''Space Mutiny", the Mads are imprisoned in Ancient Rome, and Bobo tries to cough up a key to escape. (Not because he lifted a key from the guards, but because "I've swallowed so many things over the years, there's bound to be a key in there somewhere!") The best he can get is a hairpin, but that's enough to pick the locks and free the Mads.
  • In MythBusters, Jamie and Adam are trapped in a room and need to use the filament of a light bulb to pick the lock and escape. It takes a while, but it works within their time limit.
  • Probe: In "Now You See It....", Austin picks the lock of a van with a paper clip.
  • In Rome, Titus Pullo keeps one of his thugs in a locked cage, feeding him off scraps, in punishment for trying to steal from him. Unfortunately, the slave picks the lock with a piece of bone and nearly kills Pullo.
  • Star Trek: Voyager. In "Hope and Fear", Captain Janeway removes a microfilament from her commbadge to rewire Seven's cortical implant so she can walk through the Forcefield Door, essentially this trope Recycled In Space.
  • Gerry Anderson's marionette series Thunderbirds has the episode "Vault of Doom", wherein the Bank of London installs an airtight vault to discourage safecrackers. One bank employee is in the vault when it gets shut for the day, and the Thunderbirds team race to tunnel through reinforced concrete to rescue him. Happily, Lady Penelope's manservant Aloysius Parker is a former safecracker. He asks Lady P for a hairpin, which defeats the lock and opens the vault door in seconds.
    Bank Manager: Let's go back to the old design; at least it took him five hours to open it.
  • In the Vegas (2012) episode "Exposure", Jack forces open a locked desk drawer by using a letter-opener on the lock.

    Tabletop Games 
  • HeroQuest: In the quest "Legacy of the Orc Warlord", you are held prisoner in Grak's dungeons, as he seeks revenge on those who killed his father, Ulag. While the guard sleeps, you manage to pick the lock of your cell with an old rat bone, and have to escape from the dungeon.

    Video Games 
  • In the Banjo-Kazooie "Banjo is Back!" teaser trailer, Banjo wields Kazooie as a lockpick.
  • Cataclysm lets you use hairpins to pick locks. If you don't have one, you can also fashion makeshift lockpicks from scrap metal, which is easy to get in large amounts.
  • Divinity: Original Sin II:
    • Undead characters are able to pick locks using their fingers as skeleton keys.
    • Through the magic of Item Crafting, player characters can make lockpicks out of spare nails, needles, or even an old key and a bar of soap.
  • In Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara, as in the tabletop game, characters usually need special lockpicking tools to open doors, but can also attempt it with improvised implements at a substantial penalty to the Disable Device roll.
  • In Fallout 3, New Vegas, and 4, a screwdriver is used as a torque wrench while the picking itself is done with bobby pins. In the 2D games, you can get an actual set of lockpicks, but they're not necessary if your skill rating is high enough, suggesting you're using some random object.
  • In Ignac, you have to make an improvised key from your bed spring to open the bathroom.
  • In The Last of Us, Joel uses shivs to unlock doors to supply rooms, expending them in the process.
  • In Life Is Strange's third episode, Chloe and Max break into the school to steal some files. When trying to get into the principal's office, Chloe tries to pick the lock with hairpins (claiming she learned how to from Frank). Subverted, in that she'll never succeed; the player, as Max, texts Warren how to build a pipe bomb, does so, blasts the door open, and then rewinds time so she can unlock the door from the inside.
  • In the Citadel DLC for Mass Effect 3, Samantha Traynor uses her biotic toothbrush to pick the Normandy's vent lock.
  • The fifth (and unreleased In-Universe) Qwark Vid-Comic in Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal has Captain Qwark captured by a decapitated Dr. Nefarious and locked in a cell, to await the most Cruel and Unusual Death the latter could possibly imagine. Qwark breaks himself out of the cell with the antenna on his head. But his escape did not go unnoticed.
  • Early in Timeless The Forgotten Town, the player character picks a locked drawer with two wooden hair sticks.
  • In Zak Mckracken And The Alien Mindbenders, the heroes need to access a particular chamber to acquire the crystal that powers their device. The alien who gives them this assignment provides them with the key to open the door, but it disintegrates upon being picked up. They make do by going to a hair salon and cutting down the giant bobby pin hanging outside, then using it to pick the lock.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Spirit Hunter: NG, Akira and Seiji need to break into a shack to obtain some oars for a boat. Seiji asks Akira to find items that could substitute for a tension wrench and a metal wire; once he has them, Seiji is easily able to pick the cylinder lock.

    Web Comics 
  • In Champions of Far'aus, when Skye and Flamel find the exit to a maze they are stuck in with strange and dangerous creatures, it is locked. Instead of picking the lock itself, Skye beats the door handles with her mace, then borrows Flamel’s wand to jiggle the deadbolt holding the doors together, then she kicks the door open.
    Skye: Door: Unlocked.
    The handle falls off of the door
    * CLANK*
    Flamel: Along with, Door: Never to be locked again.
  • Mob Psycho 100: When Ritsu and the others need to break out of their cage, Ritsu uses a spoon to unlock the lock on the cage. He has Gou use his pyrokinesis to make the spoon soft so it can stick into the lock and then has Takeshi use his telekinesis to twist the spoon so it fits the lock.
  • In The Order of the Stick, the Impossible Thief Haley picks a top-quality lock on a prison cell with nothing but two bits of straw and a word of encouragement from her love interest.
  • Sandra and Woo has Woo defeat a padlock on the birdcage to an annoying Tweety Pie expy. Woo's fingers clearly double as assorted lock picks.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • The Amazing World of Gumball:
    • Subverted in "The Robot": When Gumball can't open his locker (Bobert stole his identity and changed the lock), he pulls out and unfolds a paperclip. Instead of using it as a lockpick, he pokes himself in the butt, forcing the door open via head-first Pain-Powered Leap.
    • In "The Points", Gumball shapes one of his fingers into a paper clip, which he then unbends to make a lock pick.
  • Subverted in American Dad! in Season 14 "Portrait of Francine's Genitals": when Roger is hiring a crew to help Stan steal a portrait of Francine's genitals from an art museum, he hires a Belgian locksmith named Claude Verdeer, who has the smallest fingers in the world. It looks like he is about to use his small fingers to pick the lock on the entrance, but then he pulls out a drill to use instead.
  • In Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers, Wrench Wench Gadget occasionally uses her tail as a lockpick.
  • DuckTales (2017): Discussed for laughs when Louie looks up a video on lockpicking to retrieve a dime from a locked room. The video suggests using a dime as a lockpick.
  • Jackie Chan Adventures subverts this in the Season 4 finale. Viper tries to break the J-Team out of their cell with a hairclip and then with a credit card, but the lock is magically sealed shut.
  • The Legend of Vox Machina: Played for Laughs when a huge, elaborate locked door resists the team's magic, only for Vax'ildan the rogue to pick it in seconds with the toothpick from Grog's Dagwood Sandwich. He steals the olive first.
    Vax: All it takes is a little finesse... amateurs.
  • In The Proud Family episode "Thelma and Luis", when Suga Mama, Penny, LaCienega, Sticky, Dijonay and Zoey break into an okra farm masquerading as a retirement home to rescue Papi, they find him in a locked cell. Dijonay fails to unlock the cell with her hairpin, so Suga Mama uses her long toenail to pick the lock of the cell.
  • In Rugrats, Tommy is often able to pick locks with his toy screwdriver as easily as he can reach and push latches with it.
  • The Simpsons: In "The Great Louse Detective", when Homer is being targeted by a murderer, Chief Wiggum proposes recruiting a criminal to help track down his would-be murderer. He takes the Simpson family to a maximum security prison and leads them to the highest-security cell. However, when he places his hand on the biometric scanner, the computer responds "Access denied", so he grabs a fork and jiggles the switch, finally opening the cell and revealing Sideshow Bob.
  • Trollhunters, "Homecoming": Gnome Chompsky's conical horn is used to unlock Claire and Toby's cell.

    Real Life 
  • A bike lock manufacturer experienced some embarrassment when it became public that their locks could be jimmied with the plastic cylinder from a ball-point pen.


Video Example(s):


Rio Blu Tries Using His Talons

In Rio, as Blu and his friends are attempting to free Jewel from Nigel's clutches, Blu briefly tries picking the lock on Jewel's cage with one of his talons. He fails however due to Nigel locking him up in a cage of his own as Nigel knew Blu would try to save Jewel due to being in love with her.

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Example of:

Main / ImprovisedLockpick

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