Want to incapacitate somebody without killing them? Then the most foolproof way of pulling this off is with the Inescapable Net, which is exactly what it sounds like. It's a net that, when thrown over someone, causes them to just flail around helplessly, trapped like a bunch of fish, ready to start dying.
This trope is particularly popular in children's animation, where the intended audience usually just accepts the application of this trope without considering the general silliness of the idea. Suffice to say, this trope is much more difficult to pull off in live action television, in which the participants usually just end up looking silly.
To some extent this is Truth in Television. Animals surprised by nets usually don't have enough time to figure out a way to get out of it before the hunter is able to incapacitate them permanently. Of course, anything that is substantially stronger, smarter or with more escape time than your typical hunted animal doesn't have this excuse. Sometimes, however, heavy weights will be added to the edges of a net to make it more difficult to escape from, or the corners will be attached to long ropes to drag the captured target away. Even without the weights, some nets are just so heavy by themselves that they require several men to carry around as seen in nets used by commercial fisherman which are strong enough to carry hundreds of fish in one catch. Also, as the method they are often portrayed in fiction is used in traps, just the gravity alone is enough to bring an impact equivalent to getting hit even if the net is not heavy as seen in net guns used by policemen. And some nets are designed to tangle people with their holes to make it more difficult to escape despite weighing less than a pound.
- One Piece uses this trope sometimes, always justifying it:
- Don Krieg can fire a weighted net from his gauntlet, which is used to send people into the water. It doesn't stop the main protagonist Luffy from beating him, but it does send him sinking helplessly after the coup de grâce, requiring someone else to save him.
- The Marines have some net launchers with ammo reinforced by sea prism stone, meaning that any Devil Fruit user caught in it is completely powerless.
- Largo, the villain of the Little East Blue Filler Arc, used a Devil Fruit based on this concept, allowing him to make extremely durable nets out of any substance that he ingested, from mucus and iron to fire and boiling water.
- In the Pokémon anime, Pokémon caught inside Team Rocket's nets will only rarely manage to free themselves, despite them usually being pretty powerful in battle. Usually handwaved as being electric/whatever proof nets. The peak of this trope may be when Team Rocket captured Cresselia, a Legendary Pokémon, with an ordinary net.
- Justice League of America: One Silver Age story has the Flash trapped in a net intended to shrink around him and crush him to death.
- Spider-Man: Averted in a very early comic featuring Kraven the Hunter's debut. Kraven catches Spidey in a net, but Spidey reasons that, just as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, the net must have a weak joint in it, and he then tests the netting until he finds a part he can make big enough to escape through.
- Wonder Woman and the Star Riders: Purrsia catches Dolphine in a net Dolphine can't escape without the aid of the other star riders despite having magic relating to water and being in the ocean.
- In Duel to the Death, Ching Wan's Old Master Shaolin monk mentor is captured with a net by ninjas... and the net in question looks incredibly flimsy, lightweight, and doesn't even completely cover him.
- The Hunger Games: At one point, Rue is inescapably trapped under a net tied to tree trunks. A freeze frame reveals the trap's poor set up which Rue should have had no problem escaping from.
- Spoofed in Kung Pow! Enter the Fist: the hero is trapped in a net that isn't even big enough to cover his head.
Mayor: Master Betty, my compliments! That tiny net was sure-fire!
Master Betty: Mm, yes, a tiny net is a death sentence. It's a net and it's tiny!
- In The Kunoichi: Ninja Girl, the Iga ninja abduct one of the village women by throwing a net over her as she is working in the fields and dragging her into the woods.
- In the first movie, the mercenaries manage to catch the Predator hunting them in a net thanks to Dutch playing bait, but the alien promptly tears the net apart by firing his plasma caster.
- The Predator nets in the film series are quite effective, but that's also because they automatically contract on the target and are apparently made out of something like piano wire, so targets are less incapacitated and more cubed. How well this works when the "prey" starts bleeding an insanely corrosive acid, however...
- The Running Man: A CODA Net Gun is used to capture the protagonist.
- Star Wars: In Return of the Jedi, the protagonists find themselves suspended in snare-nets laid by the Ewoks. They are able to quickly escape, but not before the Ewoks arrive in force to surround them.
- In Lone Wolf book 8, The Jungle of Horrors, your traveling companion Paido is snagged by the bad guys in a net that is also studded with fish hooks, making it practically impossible to quickly free him before they drag him off. You see him again a couple of books later, alive but covered in scars from where the hooks were pulled out.
- One of the purchasable items in the Fighting Fantasy Gamebook, The Forest of Doom is a Net of Entanglement, which you can use to ensnare a sleeping ogre.
- Star Wars Expanded Universe:
- "Connor Nets" are capable of doing this to starships. Connor Nets are justified by them being EMP's in the form of a net to tangle stabilizers and shut down engines.
- As well as Stokhli Spray Sticks, which basically fire electrified riot goop.
- Force Nets, which are actually a darkside method of executing someone by constricting the net.
- Lampshaded/justified in the Planet of the Apes book: The protagonist and narrator writes that he was so panicked he did exactly the wrong thing when trying to escape from the net, which led to his capture.
- Warrior Cats: In one of the field guides, one cat tells a story about how his ancestor got chased through an old rabbit warren by some kind of terrier. He dashes out of one of the tunnels, only to get caught in a net and become at the mercy of the human and the dog.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Averted in "Consequences". The Watcher's Council traps Angel under a net, and to make sure he stays down they start whaling on him with crowbars.
- The Colony: Used in each season. In the first season Grand Finale, the colonists drop a huge, weighted cargo net on a group of raiders that had been channeled into a narrow corridor. In the second, one of the colonists is hit by a net with weighted corners made of very light fiber that wraps around him and tangles him, rendering him completely immobile.
- In The Electric Company (1971), Spider-Man catches criminals this way with his webbing.
- Midsomer Murders: In "A Rare Bird", the killer uses birding nets to entangle his first two victims before killing them. Justified as birding nets have a very fine, almost unbreakable mesh, and the killer only needs them to hold long enough for him to deliver the killing blow/shot.
- Who Wants to Be a Superhero?: One second season episode has this happen to the good guys early on to act as a lead-in to the supervillain death-trap challenge.
- Dungeon Fighter Online: The Brawler subclass has a skill called Heaven's Net, where they throw a net forward and use it to pull enemies up to them, as well as immobilize them.
- Rise of the Triad has troops that can fire nets at you. If you don't have a knife handy (a knife whose sole purpose it is to cut nets, apparently), your character is pinned down hard until you shake it off. No moving, no shooting, not even any turning. Though curiously, if you DO have a knife, you can still run around as usual until you cut the net off.
- Warcraft III:
- The Ensnare ability, throwing a net on the unit to keep it from moving. While it makes sense when bringing down air units to ground level, why ground units never try to break out is anyone's guess.
- The Undead have a similar (air-only) ability with sticky web strands.
- Girl Genius: There is significantly little struggling shown but Agatha and Larana's group is captured by Larana's father using a net when returning to The Incorruptible Republic of the Immortal Library of the Grand Architect from the adjacent old Corbettite Vaults and only Violetta escapes capture, and she managed to avoid the net entirely.
- The Order of the Stick: Parodied when the party gets trapped in a net on an island with an orc tribe hunting after them. They quickly figure out a way to get out of the net, but Elan warns them that the presence of the net is proof that they were supposed to be caught, and that trying to escape from the net is ultimately futile because the narrative structure is working against them. They're then beat up while still removing the net.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: "The Runaway" starts with Toph Bei Fong — badass, fearless, unstoppable, justifiably self-appointed "greatest Earthbender in the world" — being trapped in a net and hauled off to prison, apparently helpless to break out or put up a fight. It was all an act.
- Darkwing Duck: This happens several times, the most egregious of which is when a villain made entire of malleable, liquid water gets trapped in an ordinary net.
- In The Fairly OddParents, fairies are literally incapable of escaping if trapped in a butterfly net. Not a special, fancy net—an ordinary butterfly net. Talk about Weaksauce Weakness! Rules of magic. Handwaved the first time it's brought up, with Wanda stating that if it has wings and flies, a butterfly net will catch it.
- Many Hanna-Barbera cartoons.
- Done most blatantly in Superfriends. These are characters with the ability to vibrate through walls, move entire planets, turn into lightning bolts — but put them under a net and they have no idea what to do. If you're lucky, it'll be a kryptonite net, but that still doesn't explain that no one else can escape.
- Also used in Scooby-Doo and shows like it to capture the monster at the end.
- In Lady Lovely Locks dragon-hair nets are almost completely unbreakable and are resistant to most magic. Ravenwaves uses one to capture Shining Glory, while Maiden Fairhair uses one to stabilize the castle after a tunnel was dug underneath it.
- Looney Tunes: In Elmer's Candid Camera, Elmer puts a net over Bugs Bunny. Bugs then begins gasping for air and pretends to die, causing Elmer to sob and call himself a murderer.
- The Mega Man cartoon useds this on occasion. Since Mega Man's a robot, the nets are either metal or electrified, and one instance has him invoke this in order to get into where Dr. Light's being held prisoner.
- The New Adventures of Superman: In "The Men from A.P.E.", Superman dumps the villains in the ocean and ten scoops them up in a fishing net. Apparently, Lex Luthor has nothing on him capable of dealing with a net.
- In Rose Petal Place Nastina uses spider webs to trap Rose Petal on a few occasions.