Follow TV Tropes


It Can Think

Go To
"The other raptors and I have constructed a crude suspension bridge to Venezuela where I shall lie low and assume odd jobs under the name 'Mr. Pilkington'... but perhaps I've said too much."

[operations deck is plunged into darkness]
Ripley: They cut the power...
Hudson: What do you mean they cut the power? How can they cut the power, man? They're animals!

Our heroes are battling the fearsome Monster of the Week. Maybe it's got acid for blood, or More Teeth than the Osmond Family, or can violate the laws of physics with ease. But gradually our heroes realize something even more terrifying. This creature isn't just some mindless predator. In fact, it could be just as smart as they are...

During discussions of this trope, the building and agricultural activities of ants may come up.

It can evoke What Measure Is a Non-Human? to the viewers, often involuntarily, whenever the monster turns out to be as intelligent as a human being (i.e. pretty likely sapient). Nevertheless, the existence of this trope can mean that the antagonist had a motivation or goal simple enough to be mistaken for the behavior of a mere animal, so that many of its scenes could be acted by a Non-Malicious Monster without much difference. Until it does something unexpected.


Smarter Than You Look and Obfuscating Stupidity are the human equivalents. Not Even Human is this trope's inverse (a thing that seemed to have intelligence at first is revealed not to). See also dehumanization for when non-human creatures’ ability to think intelligently is dismissed because they are not human. The Non-Malicious Monster is an aversion, a creature that is led by instinct and not any advanced thought.

Compare Monster Is a Mommy, similar in terms of humans underestimating the motives of "monsters". See also Super-Persistent Predator and Suspiciously Stealthy Predator.



    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • In Bakugan Battle Brawlers, the Bakugan (actually aliens from another world turned Card Game) are sentient beings who had their self-awareness suppressed due to negative energy. When they regain their sanity, the forces of darkness try to crush them... In the New Vestroia season, there is a government conspiracy lead by the King of the Vestals to keep the fact that Bakugan are self-aware a secret from the rest of the population.
  • Dragon Ball Z: Typically, Saiyans are reduced to mindless, destructive animals when they become Great Apes. When Vegeta becomes one during his fight with Goku in the Saiyan Saga, however, he retains all of his higher reasoning and intelligence, and can even speak. It isn't clear why this is the case; theories range from Goku's brain-damage and Gohan's half-breed nature interfering with the transformation, to Vegeta simply having been properly trained growing up in how to use the Great Ape transformation.
    • Kid Buu, the most primal of the forms of Majin Buu displays a degree of cunning you wouldn't expect. While he's incapable of speech like Fat and Super Buu and only hollers like a wild animal he is a lot smarter than you'd think. If his arm gets cut off he can use the appendage to attack an opponent when they least expect it, if he is hit by a barrage of blasts and pinned down, he'll break his body apart and reform himself elsewhere. And as shown when he fought The South Supreme Kai, if an enemy manages to be strong enough to actually defeat him, he'll absorb him into his body.
  • The ELS in Gundam 00 Awakening Of The Trailblazer are at first somewhat single-minded and simplistic in action, and some of the characters in the series remain unconvinced that they are truly sentient until, near the end, the ELS are observed adapting their tactics and countering the humans' strategies in battle. One character even exclaims "They're learning!"
  • Macross:
    • The Vajra encountered in Macross Frontier come off as a bit of a scientific dilemma: they're spacefaring critters with apparently eusocial behavior that can overpower starships, but they themselves have little centralization in their nervous systems (i.e. "no brains"). At first it isn't clear if they even communicate with each other. Only later, when they started using complex military tactics and began reacting to Ranka's and Sheryl's singing, was it made clear that they have some sort of guiding intellect. In the end, it was obvious: the Vajra aren't individuals per-se, they're more like individual cells. The "Vajra" organism is, in fact, the entire species, spread throughout the Galaxy, and communicating with itself via cellular-level Subspace Ansibles.
    • The Space Whales from Macross Dynamite 7 are initially thought to just be animals. Very big, very powerful animals, but nonetheless just animals. The poachers trying to kill them are the first to notice that the Whales can identify who is a threat and choose their targets according (they do not harm the good guys, who are trying to protect them), while everyone else seems to realize they're smarter than they look when Basara sings to them and they start singing back.
  • Mazinger Z: In the Mazinger-Z vs Great General of Darkness, when Kouji faces Mykene's War Beasts for first time, he -accostumed to the mindless, silent drones that Dr. Hell used- gets utterly shocked when they begin talking to him. Quickly learns that that is not the only difference with the Mechanical Beasts. They are intelligent, capable to think on their own, devise complex strategies, fight coordinatedly and even lay traps. Oh, and they are pretty cunning, too (they dragged and dunked Mazinger in the ocean, knowing that his robot's mobility is crap underwater, unlike the aquatic Beast that was waiting for him).
    Kouji: It talks!
  • In Attack on Titan, several unique Titans show signs of having intelligence, in contrast to most that are little more than mindless animals. This makes sense, since they are actually people capable of transforming into a Titan form and therefore maintain their human intelligence.
    • During the battle of Trost, Eren realizes that the Colossal Titan is moving strategically by kicking the door in (to let the smaller Titans in) and then smashing the defensive cannons on the wall (to decrease resistance).
    • The Rogue Titan, which kills other Titans instead of humans, puts up its fists in a boxer's stance and knows to crush the nape of a foe's neck to kill it for good. The Rogue Titan is Eren.
    • Armin realizes that the Female Titan is trying to capture a certain member of the Survey Corps, after it lifts up his hood to examine his face instead of killing him straight away.
    • Hange realized that some Titans must be intelligent after discovering a notebook left behind by a dead soldier in which the soldier reported that a Titan tried to talk to her.
  • School-Live! has a zombie, Megu-nee, who was the only adult and the Sensei-chan Cool Big Sis, that regains its humanity for a time period. While she's scratching at the door trying to get to the students her adult instincts kick in and she tries to hide herself in order to avoid attacking them. She locks herself in the basement but eventually turns full-zombie and ends up Killed Off for Real. It's heartbreaking. Although it's implied that even when she's fully turned, the fact that she can pull off a very disconcerting Slasher Smile upon attacking the group implies that there is still some form of thinking going on inside her necrotic brain.
  • If you only watched the first few episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion you might be forgiven for thinking the Angels are just brainless gigantic monsters. As the series goes on however, more and more Angels attempt new strategies (usually ones that would let them counter or bypass the Evangelion units), with some even seemingly being capable of communication with humans. This culminates with Kaworu, an angel who's essentially identical to a human.
  • Akakabuto, the Big Bad of Ginga: Nagareboshi Gin, is shown to be a very intelligent bear. He knows how to ambush hunters without giving them a chance to fire at him, or stands at a distance that negates clear shots, uses other bears as territory guards, builds himself a fortress of rocks and can predict certain attacks the dogs attempt towards him. In the manga, he can even talk, though in a language different from the dogs'.
  • Tae in Zombieland Saga starts out as a typical Romero-style zombie, but over time she learns through imitating her bandmates. By the end of Season One, she's capable of learning synchronized dancing, can follow simple instructions, has tried lying (badly), and is capable of basic problem solving. She's still prone to chewing whatever she can get her hands on, though.
  • The title beasts of Goblin Slayer. Though far from tactical geniuses, Goblins have a surprising deviousness and evil cunning that not many experienced adventures believe, and not many new adventures (Who often take killing them as an easy early quest) are aware of. Complete with traps, poisoned weapons, large Hobgoblins when things get hairy and so on. Their cunning nature frequently spells doom for new adventures who see them as an easy starting foe. Goblins can also develop into more specialized and intelligent breeds whether through natural development or through being empowered by other beings:
    • Goblin Shamans are capable of using magic after being temporarily possessed by a minor demon.
    • Goblin Lords are heralded as the kings of the Goblin race. These Goblins are capable of long-term planning and strategy and can organize goblins into an army. They tend not to be slouches in physical combat either.
    • Volume 5 introduces the Goblin Paladin, a goblin blessed by the God of Wisdom. Not only is he a powerful warrior, he's even smarter than a Goblin Lord.
    • Volume 8 introduces a Goblin Priest who has been similarly divinely empowered.
  • Jojos Bizarre Adventure,
    • Stands typically don't demonstrate their own will since they're visual manifestations of their user's Psychic Powers. However some of them like Echoes ACT 3, Sex Pistols, Spice Girl and Gold Experience Requiem demonstrate their own will, although in many cases they are still completely obedient to their user. If they demonstrate any personality, it typically reflects their user in some way, such as Purple Haze's viciousness and animalistic behavior being reflective of Fugo's pent up anger.
    • Anubis,Cheap Trick, and Milagro Man go one step further, and are parasitic, causing negative effects to the User.
    • In Part 4: Diamond is Unbreakable, there are a pair of stand-using rats, one of which Jotaro names "Bug-Eaten". Over the course of the battle, Bug-Eaten learns to hide its tracks, lures Josuke and Jotaro into a valley so it can take advantage of the high ground, repurposes rat traps to startle Josuke out of cover, and even ricochet shots so that they can hit Jotaro even after he dodges in stopped time.

    Comic Books 
  • In Astro City the Living Nightmare has long been a being fueled by rage and fear, a mindless creature who goes on rampages. In one storyline, the Nightmare is controlled by Dr. Dominax into attacking the Honor Guard. In the middle of the battle, however, the Nightmare suddenly screams out No More! and stalks off.
    Hummingbird: talks now?
    • It seems after all these years of living among minds and absorbing fear, the Nightmare has finally achieved a level of self-awareness. It ends up capturing Dominax and accepts Honor Guard's offer to work with them to understand more of this new found intelligence.
  • Avengers: No Surrender: Initially, with the just-revived Hulk, the characters (and audience) are led to assume this one's stuck in a permanent state of Unstoppable Rage. Which, in fairness, he is. But then, during a fight with Vision, he powers through his attacks and crushes Vision's head.
    Immortal Hulk: Hh. "Mindless."
  • Doomsday, the only one to ever canonically kill Superman, is a deconstruction whenever it comes to pass. Normally, he's barely an animal, just striking at all life it can see and aiming to murder everything that isn't himself, because of a deep-seated primal fear that everything out there is trying to kill him; utterly impossible to reason with and Too Dumb to Fool. Whenever he gets actual intellect, he quickly becomes easy to trick, and even easier to drive away because he actually develops doubt and a crippling fear of death, when he doesn't just stop to think about why he's killing everything in sight; he's come to much less dangerous conclusions that way.
  • Inverted in Robert Kirkman's Destroyer miniseries, where Keane battles a giant monster and brutally rends it limb from limb with his inhuman strength. Later he reveals that only after he'd torn its tongue out did he realize it was only about as intelligent as a dolphin (as opposed to the terrorists and supervillains he's much more sanguine about killing) and meant no actual harm, guiltily likening the experience to beating a dog.
  • Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash: The Nightmare Warriors: After Jason is healed of his injuries, the heroes attempt to lure him into a trap. Jason almost falls for it... but then wags his finger at the heroes, as if to say "not this time".
  • Atomic Robo: Not only can The Shadow From Beyond Time call Robo by name, but every time it appears, it comes up with smarter and smarter tactics. The first time, it shows up over a secluded stretch of land and gets blasted out of the sky. The second time, it hides in H.P. Lovecraft and reveals itself in a populated area, but gets blown up by Robo driving a car into it with overclocked lightning guns. The third time, it goes airborne so Robo can't drive a car into it, and possesses an entire town while leaving them just enough sentience that Robo can't fight them in good conscience. The fourth time, Robo predicts where it's going to be through a mathematical formula and traps it in a cage, but it escapes by possessing the insects in the surrounding area. The fifth and (possibly) final time, it shows up six years ahead of the formula's projections by manifesting itself in Louis and Martin's quantum decomputer.

    Fan Works 
  • In Stars Above, the Nine are revealed as Demons that can think, plan, and work together, making them far more human than the animalistic Demons that Homura has faced before.
  • Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness: Ghouls are stated to be nothing but mindless animals who can only think of what to kill next. When Tsukune manifests a ghoul as a Superpowered Evil Side in Acts II and III, the others are shocked to discover that Tsukune's ghoul form, though completely Ax-Crazy, has its own personality and conscious mind, and not only can it think and plan, but it can talk.
  • The Shroud of Sonic X: Dark Chaos are a Non-Malicious Monster Necromorph-esque parasite race. That changes in Episode 60 which reveals that the Shroud are led by hyper-intelligent Shroud Primes. And then in Episode 69, Dark Tails evolves them to the point that they start using military tactics and language and religion; they begin worshiping Dark Tails as their god.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: Genocide: In chapter 10, the main characters fight a shape-shifting Eldritch Abomination. When Misato realizes that it baited them, Ritsuko tries to argue that it's impossible because Angels don't think like humans do. Of course the creature is not really an Angel.:
    Misato: The bastard knew we would try to intercept it. It baited us.
    Ritsuko: Impossible. It doesn't think like that. It is not a predator. It doesn't--
  • During the Kyuubi "attack" on Konoha in The Empty Cage, Sarutobi gets his first inkling that the bijuu aren't mindless animals when Kyuubi fires a Bijudama, not at the village he was allegedly attacking, but at the ninja who were gathering their chakra to attack him.
  • Black As Night makes this clear for Toothless, who not only seems to understand the implications of Hiccup’s blindfold, but later learns to make specific sounds when in flight so that Hiccup can adjust the fin and avoid crashing into anything, to the point that he even seems to repeat Astrid's name at least once.
  • In "Upon the North", not only have the dragons apparently been reincarnated along with their human partners, but Toothless is able to telepathically communicate with Hiccup- referring to his returned rider as ‘Half of Me’- and Hiccup notes that Toothless is now Alpha through the choice of the other dragons rather than his old ability to command them.
  • In This Bites!, Perona freaks out when she realizes it wasn't Baron Omatsuri's crew inviting everyone to the island, but Lily Carnation.
  • Guardians, Wizards, and Kung-Fu Fighters: The Samurai Khan, unlike their cousins, are intelligent enough to adapt to the pace and fighting style of the enemies that they fight. And when Ikazuki takes full control of his host Aldarn, they hoist their katana up in the air and appear to cheer, freaking Cornelia out with how human their behavior is.
  • A Possible Encounter for a Phantom: Vlad Plasmius resurrected an ancient dragon beast called a Terakon that both Danny Phantom and Kim Possible both have to contend with. However, despite all evidence to the contrary, only Danny seems to recognize the Terakon appears smarter than it leads on, with its expressions, behavior and the implication it can talk.
  • White Sheep (RWBY): Discussed. While the Creatures of Grimm are described as "mindless," even the youngest Grimm demonstrate basic instincts such as pack behavior; as Professor Oobleck notes, if they were truly mindless they would operate completely randomly. Not to mention that Grimm get smarter with age, and eventually even become intelligent enough to understand human speech. Oobleck says that this started out as propaganda, a myth spread to convince young Huntsmen that they could easily best the Grimm with their superior intelligence and training. At some point, even the people in charge forgot that the Grimm were anything more than mindless beasts.

    Film — Animated 
  • Ice Age:
    • Cretaceous and Maelstrom of Ice Age 2: The Meltdown are prehistoric monsters who, despite not being able to talk, show they are capable of thinking and express either joy or anger at the heroes when trying to eat them.
    • Rudy the albino baryonyx in Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is smart enough to hold a grudge against an individual weasel, named Buck. While the characters in the movie are all animals, the dinosaurs are depicted with more or less animalistic intelligence, unlike the more anthropomorphized protagonists.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The unnamed xenomorphs in the Alien series.
    • Alien: In the novelisation, Ash says they could try communicating with the creature as it may be intelligent. When Ripley asks if Ash was able to do so, Ash replies ambiguously, "Let my grave hold some secrets."
    • The most notable example of this trope in the Alien franchise is the scene in Aliens where the power is cut off moments before the aliens attack. In a later scene, the Queen Alien clearly comprehends the danger Ripley presents to her eggs, indicating for her warriors to back off when Ripley threatens them with a flamethrower. She's also able to operate the lift to pursue Ripley. The only thing they didn't understand was that overloading atmospheric processor...
    • In Alien: Resurrection, the captive xenomorph immediately realises the connection between the blasts of cold-gas that hit it and the Big Red Button, backing off the instant the scientist moves to hit it a second time. This later serves to bite the ass of a security mook. Likewise the aliens wait till communications are cut off (during security's fight with the mercenaries) before implementing their escape. They also notice that the Big Red Button was locked up at the time. They later lay a trap by herding the humans towards their egg room.
    • The Alan Dean Foster novelisations bring up this trope several times. Ash suggests they try communicating with the creature as it might be intelligent. The second book has Bishop bringing up the ant analogy and pointing out that the aliens have nested themselves in the one place the humans can't destroy them without destroying themselves (next to the cooling units of the fusion-powered atmosphere processor). And Alien³ had the xenomorphs reading the signs outside their cells, which kind of spoils the whole mystery.
    • AVP: Alien vs. Predator shows the Xenomorphs can work around predator setups just as well as human rigs. When the queen realized she couldn't get out of the shackles, she called back all of her offspring and ordered them to attack her so that her blood would corrode the shackles and free her.
  • In the horror film Animal, the monster pursues the cast to a cabin in the woods. At first it seems that it's simply a bloodthirsty beast, but it gradually becomes clear that the creature purposely herded them into the cabin to trap them and pick them off one by one.
  • The Blob (1988): The blob itself, unlike the original, instead of mindlessly oozing everywhere uses ambush tactics like a predator instead. The Jerk Jock was killed when the blob consumes his passed-out date from the inside out and waits until he moves in before it reveals itself and kills him. Another example is when it attacks a flamethrower-wielding soldier and blocks the end of his flamethrower, causing the fuel tank to explode and kill him.
  • The Killer Gorillas of Congo. Even more apparent in the original Michael Crichton novel where the apes use stone clubs, cross an electric fence by dropping a tree on it, and were able to guard the mines they guard for hundreds of years because they taught their descendants how to do it.
    Munro: "I think they're smart — they're too damn smart."
    • They still have enough animal in them, however, for the protagonist's normal gorilla pet/companion/ally to fool them into not attacking her teacher/owner by acting like he's her baby.
  • Creature from the Black Lagoon: The titular creature leaves no doubt about his planning abilities when he builds a dam out of branches to keep the team from leaving the titular lagoon.
  • In Cube, this is applied to a structure instead of a monster, but it still fits the purposes of the trope. The protagonists openly wonder if the Cube is watching them and calculating. According to the sequels, there are human operators.
  • Dance of the Dead: Two zombies carjack Jimmy's pizza van while he is arguing with Kyle. Also, one of the zombies at the prom still manages to spike the punch.
  • Deep Blue Sea: There's an underwater facility housing intelligent sharks. The sharks pulled a Batman Gambit on the humans, herding them around so they'd flood the complex and sink it low enough for the sharks to escape! They even (possibly) learned how to turn an oven on while one of the humans was in it.
  • At one point late in Deep Rising, the monsters start herding the remaining humans towards their feeding area. This is because the monsters aren't giant worms but the tentacles of an intelligent octopoid. At several points, it sure is taking its sweet time creeping out its prey before actually eating them. Later, when Finnegan comes face to face with the creature, it grabs him with one of its tentacles, then inquisitively brings him up to its face to inspect him.
  • Godzilla has shown a surprising amount of intelligence in several films.
    • In Godzilla (2014), he gives the distinct impression of regarding the protagonist at one point when it eyeballs him close up. The MUTOs hint at it as well, such as when the female figures out that Brody is what killed her eggs.
      • Another notable moment is the female MUTO seems to actively wait for the train carrying the nuclear weapons and ambush them, making use of her natural camouflage. Also, it appears by the point of the San Francisco fight, the Mutos have learned to weaponize their EMP abilities (before primarily using the shockwave accompanying it to throw shoulders).
      • At the end of the fight with the male MUTO, Big G is clearly watching, waiting and planning. It doesn't turn to face the threat, as you'd expect an animal under attack to do, but keeps its back toward the approaching MUTO and thus lures into into position to slam it into a skyscraper with an unexpected tail attack. Similarly, it's clearly learned that the female MUTO is resistant to its atomic breath and so forces her mouth open to direct the blast straight down her throat.
  • Gremlins: A lot of the problems arise from the human characters fatally underestimating the Gremlins' intelligence. After the evil Mogwai are spawned, they trick Billy into feeding them after midnight by sabotaging his digital clock, and on several other occasions they damage equipment to cause accidents, like cutting the brakes of a police car. Stripe knows full well that water creates more Gremlins, so he jumps into a pool when Billy pursues him, and also knows how to operate tools (he attacks Billy with a pistol and a mini-chainsaw).
  • Harbinger Down: The crew wonder if the monster is intelligent, and at that exact moment the power goes out. It's also bent the drive shaft, immobilizing their ship in the ice. The creature was originally a cosmonaut involved in an experiment Gone Horribly Wrong, so it's likely the creature has simply maintained it's intelligence.
  • In the 2007 film remake of I Am Legend, Robert Neville ends up caught in a trap similar to the one he used, with his mannequin friend as bait, watching an infected man hold back a team of infected attack dogs until the sun sets...
    • The alternate ending also shows that It Can Feel. The creatures are only attacking to get back their friend.
  • In The Tall Grass: When he first enters the grass maze, Travis tries to leave a trail of breadcrumbs to find his way back by tying pieces of long grass into knots. As soon as he's out of sight, the grass undoes the knot.
  • It Follows: Hugh warns Jay that "It" is "slow, but not dumb". While "It" seems to just mindlessly chase victims, in the climax, the heroes try to trick "It" into following Jay into a swimming pool so they can electrocute "It". "It" notices the trap and instead starts throwing things at them.
  • Jaws. The shark hunters finally realize that the shark is hunting them.
  • Jumanji. The ominous drumbeat that draws people to uncovering the board game heavily implies that it wants to be found. It's stated outright when the young Alan and Sarah first play.
    Young Alan: Uh, oh. The game thinks I rolled...
    Young Sarah: What do you mean "the game thinks"?
    • The monkeys are smart enough to learn how to drive a car and to fire guns.
  • In Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, it even changes its form to a retro videogame console to better catch the attention of its next players. It does this explicitly after the young gamer rejects it's board game form to play video games, showing that this isn't a natural evolution of Jumanji, it made a decision.
  • Jurassic Park:
    • Muldoon in the first film demands that the Velociraptors be killed as they're far too intelligent; testing the electric fence for weaknesses (but never the same spot twice, "They remember," he warns) before they were moved to their high-walled prison. They seem to realise when the power is cut and claw their way through the electrified wire at the top. Even Muldoon underestimates their intelligence — as he's stalking one Velociraptor, another ambushes him from the side. His Famous Last Words are a genuinely admiring, "Clever girl...."
    • "You sure the third one is contained?" "Unless it can open doors." Cue raptor learning how to open a door in the very next scene...
    • Done even more explicitly in Jurassic Park III, where it's implied the raptors' intelligence is improving. At one point, two characters are pinned behind a mesh door by a raptor. After trying in vain to get at them, it looks up at the gap between door and ceiling and begins climbing the door. There's another scene where the raptors leave one injured man alive and hide nearby, waiting for the other humans to come out of hiding to help him. That's not even mentioning the revelation that the raptors have their own language.
    They set a trap. They actually set a trap.
    • The Lost World: Jurassic Park: It's not so much that they are outwitted but rather that they were distracted. Like any animal, they have an instinct to investigate any strange noise they hear. That doesn't excuse them from not learning, which any intelligent animal would do from its mistakes.
    • Jurassic World continues the tradition: the I. rex demonstrates much more intelligence than anyone realized when it tricks the humans into opening a door so it can break out by clawing up the walls like it climbed them and cooling itself so the thermal cameras can't find it. Once it breaks out, it's able to not only remember a surgery that it had years ago, but somehow deduce that the surgery was to implant a tracking device into it (despite never having been tracked via the transmitter before), and clawed out the tracking device in order to use it as bait for an ambush. Owen's four imprinted raptors are also shown to be incredibly intelligent, such as following complex training routines on a daily basis, outwitting a team of heavily armed InGen mercenaries, and strategically Tag Teaming the I. rex to take her down. Rexy the T. rex recognizes Blue as an ally in her fight against the I. rex, and defeats it by shoving the I. rex toward the Mosasaurus' pool. Rexy immediately backs away to avoid being eaten herself.
    • Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom: As a creature made with DNA from the I. rex, the Indoraptor inherited the smarts. When Wheatley shoots him with tranquilizer darts, he pretends to be knocked out to get Wheatley to come too close. He also figures out how to open a window, something his raptor siblings couldn't figure out in the previous film.
  • Discussed in Komodo.
    Oates: I think these things are getting smarter.
    Denby: Either that, or we're getting dumber.
  • Romero's Living Dead Series gradually hints that zombies were slowly gaining more intelligence or could even learn things:
    • Night of the Living Dead (1968): The very first zombie that appears in the film uses a brick to break the window of Barbra's car when she locks herself in. Then later on, when Karen is discovered by her mother, Karen is eating her father as she has become a zombie. Creepily, Zombie-Karen had enough intelligence to grab a spade and stab her horrified mother repeatedly before presumably eating her.
    • In Dawn of the Dead (1978), as Peter fights the zombies off to get in the helicopter with Francine, one of the zombies had the smarts to wrestle the weapon away from Peter. After the two remaining survivors take off, the mall plays its closing time theme. Every zombie in the mall shambles toward the exits as if they remember the purpose of the theme.
    • Day of the Dead (1985): Captain Rhodes is seriously freaked out when the Mad Scientist demonstrates that zombies can remember certain behaviors, even how to use objects from their previous lives as humans. Such as a veteran-turned zombie recognizing the bars on his collar and remembering to salute an officer... or how to use an M1911 .45 pistol.
    • In Land of the Dead, the zombies' intelligence has reached an all-time high. The leader of the zombies, Big Daddy, learns how to use an automatic rifle (and teaches a female zombie how to use it), the zombie horde learns to ignore the "sky flowers" (fireworks) that the humans use to distract them, and one of the undead prove mentally competent enough to chop the hand off of a soldier who has just pulled the pin on his grenade. The ending is a remarkably hopeful example of this trope, since the zombies look at people who are still alive... and keep on shambling forward, taking no interest in attacking them. Apparently, they became smart enough to get over their bloodlust.
    • Unofficial spin-off The Return of the Living Dead runs with this as well. Turns out that zombies keep a lot of their brainpower; it's just overwhelmed by the constant agony of decomposition (that's why they eat the brains). Tar Man uses a chain winch to rip open a closet door when a victim hides behind it, demonstrating puzzle-solving abilities, and they're capable of enough speech to fake distress calls to lure additional victims (the famous "Send more paramedics" line).
  • In Pacific Rim, Kaijus get a few scenes demonstrating their intelligence. A list of what they have been shown to do: Use tools to their advantage, play dead, attack the heads of the Jaegers to specifically kill their pilots, use teamwork to take down multiple enemies and also try to kill an individual human that is a threat to their mission. Justified in that they turn out to be bioengineered weapons rather than merely rampaging beasts as previously thought, and the aliens who built them have been gradually improving the kaiju just as the humans have been improving the Jaegers.
  • Comes up in the Planet of the Apes reboot films:
    Dreyfus: They're just a bunch of apes!
    Malcolm: (regarding the huge army of apes standing outside the settlement gates) Do they look like "just a bunch of apes" to you?
  • The unfortunate campers in The Ruins realize the plant-like entity they're trapped with is mimicking their voices to lure them into a trap. It also mimics a cell phone ringtone further inside the ruin because it knows humans will go to that noise. When it learns of one girl's strong desire to cut herself (to get rid of vines she thinks are inside of her), it proceeds to repeat her own Madness Mantra back to her until she snaps.
  • Believe it or not, this comes up in Shaun of the Dead. The zombies still retain shadows of their former personalities. Zombie Phillip turned off the music he hated (right after Shaun told his mother that the Phillip she loved was gone forever). Shaun keeps Zombie Ed chained up in the shed to play video games with. Zombie Pete somehow got all the way to the Winchester like Shaun told him to (except he wasn't feeling any better).
  • In the film version of Starship Troopers, the humans just quickly assume that the Bugs are dumb, mindless animals ("I find the idea of a Bug that thinks offensive"). However, the humans learn their lesson once the Bugs spring a massive trap and repel the initial human invasion force. It's later revealed that they are being led by extremely intelligent "Brain Bugs", a leadership caste. Keep in mind the war began when the bugs hit Earth with an asteroid from the other side of the galaxy and hit a population center to boot (although this is heavily implied to be a lie for propaganda purposes).
  • In The Thing from Another World the scientists find that their reanimated alien is a plant, not an animal. A reporter finds the idea of an "intellectual carrot" mind boggling but is told there are plants on Earth (like the Telegraph Vine and the Century Plant) that have a "kind of thinking". He's also told that intelligence in plants is older than "... the animal arrogance that ignores it." Of course, the chief scientist keeps saying the alien is wiser than us, confusing intelligence with wisdom.
  • In The Thing (1982), a remake of the above, the American crew of Outpost 31 pretty much collectively shits their pants when they realize how smart the eponymous Thing is. Everything from destroying blood samples to leaving false evidence as who has been impersonated to picking off the smartest members of the camp who could come up with ways of identifying it, culminates in trying to shut off the power so it can freeze again for a rescue team to discover it, while at the same time killing its human enemies in the brutal Antarctic winter.
  • Tremors movies:
    • In the original Tremors movie, the Graboids can not only think, but learn very quickly, to the dismay of the citizens of Perfection. Though they start out just grabbing at whatever's walking around, and smashing through things, later on they dig a trap, and the last one even figures out both the dynamite-on-a-string trick and the loud-noises-as-a-distraction trick. Val still manages to outsmart "Stumpy" with some very fast thinking.
    This thing ain't smarter 'n us.
    • Zigzagged in Tremors 2: Aftershocks, where the Graboids metamorphose into the next stage of their life cycle, three-foot-tall raptor things called Shriekers. Earl, who's dealt with the Graboids before, keeps mentioning their learning abilities as explanation for why the power and communications are suddenly cut off, and their escape vehicle's engine is destroyed. Later on, however, it turns out they were just attacking whatever was displaying heat. As Grady puts it, "You mean they're acting so smart because they're so stupid?" Later though, the Shriekers show intelligence, forming a ladder out of themselves to get up onto the roof the heroes were hiding on.
    • In Tremors 3: Back to Perfection, El Blanco, an albino Graboid that can't transform into a Shrieker, has gotten smart enough to understand that Burt can't kill until it comes onto his property. Though, on the positive side the ending and the following series shows that because he's so smart but can also get full due to being sterile, it's ultimately possible to 'train' him in a sense so it's possible to co-exist with him.
  • In Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, the first generation Werewolves, unlike the second generation Lycans, are unable to return to human form. Most consider them mindless, feral beasts, but they begin to bide their time, set up ambushes, and even set up crude booby traps like digging pits in the road to trap carriages. After Lucian makes contact with them, he finds they are able to understand orders and work with the Lycans whether or not they are in human form.
  • In Resident Evil: Extinction, to assuage worries of possibly never being able to go out into the open world ever again, Dr. Isaacs injects several zombies with a serum made from Alice's blood to enable them to think and remember. It sorta works; the zombies are now capable of using items such as cell phones and a camera, but also become more dangerous because not only did the serum not remove the zombie's cannibalistic instincts, but it also made them faster and angrier.
  • In the movie Wyvern, the title monster proves itself far more intelligent than a simple animal. It destroys cars and intentionally uses them to block the interstate to keep its prey from escaping. It opens its attack on the town proper by knocking out the town's power and communications. And later in the movie it uses one seriously wounded but alive victim as bait to try and lure the others out.

  • The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. The exact level of intelligence of the genetically-engineered Man-Eating Plants is a subject for debate, with the first-person protagonist (who worked on a Triffid farm) rubbishing the idea that Triffids are intelligent — after all, dissections haven't found anything remotely like a brain. Others are not so sure. One man points out that the Triffids escaped from their farms within hours of everyone going blind. In another scene, a Triffid is waiting outside the very door which a person would run out of if they heard someone driving down the road.
    • One of the protagonist's former friends (he's presumably blinded and then killed like most other people), who also happens to be a worker at the same Triffid farm knows that they're intelligent, and has been trying to decipher their language (rattling stick-like limbs against their hollow stems). He also notes that they always go for the eyes, having figured out that this is humanity's greatest strength, that is intelligence.
    • Later on, once the Cozy Catastrophe (which isn't as cozy as its detractors made out) is in full swing, it rapidly becomes obvious that Triffids are at least as intelligent as some animals: At the very least, they can learn to associate the sound of a generator with an electric fence being turned on and are seen to use some basic pack-hunting tactics.
  • In Peter F. Hamilton's short story "Deathday" (found in the A Second Chance at Eden collection), there's a guy who had just buried his wife on an abandoned colony world. He starts having dreams of her turning into a local shapeshifting critter called a "slitherskin", which scientists had speculated was also mildly psychic as a defense mechanism. Scandalized by this invasion of his mind, the guy goes on a crusade to kill the animal snooping around his house, even remarking at the end that "like every cornered animal, it charged". He later goes back to deposit his rifle at his wife's grave. The next day, he finds that the creature had laid eggs (also a bit psychic) disguised as rocks at the gravesite. The last thing he sees is one of the slitherskin hatchlings taking the rifle, and pulling the trigger.
  • At the Mountains of Madness by H. P. Lovecraft. The expedition to Antarctica uncovers some fossils of what they assume are prehistoric plants and begins dissecting them. The narrator later discovers the camp wrecked, and the dogs and scientists all killed except for one missing man, who they assume went insane. It's only when they find his dissected body that they realize the horrible truth — the so-called fossils are actually sentient aliens capable of hibernating for millennia, and once had a civilization superior to man's.
  • In The Return of the King, there were the Two Watchers, gargoyles who guarded the entrance to the Tower of Cirith Ungol. While they seemed to be immobile statues, they also seemed at least partially sentient, and could keep trespassers out with an invisible barrier created through force of will alone. Samwise (who felt an evil presence in them, like "some web like Shelob's, only invisible") got into the Tower the first time using the Phial of Galadriel, but the two Watchers were expecting him when he came back after rescuing Frodo, requiring both of them to use the Phial with the power of Elvish words to escape.
  • Variation in the Sword of Truth books. We're told early on that short tailed gars are more intelligent than the long tailed variety, and Zedd even has a brief conversation with one (consisting of threatening it, asking its name, and sending it to kill their pursuers), but even then they're mostly treated like animals. In later books, however, it turns out they're quite intelligent, and a whole herd of the buggers pulls a Heel–Face Turn (or at least agrees to stop eating humans). It took them how long to realize the ''talking'' monsters were smart?
  • In Jeff VanderMeer's Ambergris-stories many characters express scepticism about the sentience or abilities of the Graycaps, but it's quite clear to the reader that they are quite possibly superhumanly intelligent and extremely dangerous when they want to be. The dual narrators of Shriek: An Afterword make a pretty good case of this being pure denial that the sceptics pursue to protect their own peace of mind.
  • Inverted in The War Against the Chtorr, where all the evidence of the Alien Invasion is that there must be some intelligence behind it, yet there's no sign of spaceships or any other means of crossing interstellar distances. The Chtorran gastropedes are assumed to be behind things, yet their intelligence is that of the idiot savant — they're very good at opening locks and can somehow communicate over distances, yet little else. The series appears to be implying that the entire Chtorran ecology is some form of Hive Mind.
  • The Museum Beast/Mbwun from the novel and movie The Relic is able to recognize traps, hide bodies, and do what it can to stay out of sight from humans, justified by the fact that it used to be human itself.
  • When the heroes in Codex Alera first come up against the Vord after Tavi awakened them, it seems like it's going to be a case of "send in the army to exterminate the nest of mindless monsters". Unfortunately for them, it turns out that the Vord aren't just intelligent, but brilliant. Heck, the Queen set up all the circumstances for the Alerans' attack herself. And so a Malignant Plot Tumor was born...
    • In fact, the only reason the Aleran villagers survived the second book was because the Queen didn't expect self-sacrifice from humans. She was observing their tactics, recruiting their best fighters, upgrading her troops by researching their magic, etc. She was stunned at a bad moment upon realizing that their smartest tactician was Ax-Crazy (in her eyes).
  • In The Gnome's Engine, the townsfolk of Hob's Church have been trying to wipe out the local burrowing hobgoblins, considering them unintelligent, destructive pests. When a device under construction is sabotaged, one resident speculates that the hobgoblins did it, thinking it to be another hobgoblin-killing booby trap. One of the heroines calls him out on this ("They thought it was?"), and the accuser is horrified to realize that he, himself, isn't as convinced that hobgoblins are dumb animals as he'd believed. In fact, the hobgoblins are intelligent, but it's a human who sabotaged the device.
  • Subverted in World War Z, where the mercenary at the Long Island celebrities' fortress hears that their attackers can move quickly, and is frightened by the possibility that the zombies might think, too. It's a subversion because the attackers aren't zombies at all, but desperate civilians who'd seen the fortress's TV broadcasts, and are determined to seize this refuge for their families.
  • Non-monster variant: In Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, we see this trope take effect upon Nicodemus in the laboratory as his intellect improves. Later, the sapient rats go to considerable lengths to avert this trope from their human pursuers' perspective, destroying all evidence of their more civilized lifestyle and even leaving a suicide-squad of naked fighters behind, at least some of whom are gassed to death, all to "prove" they're just ordinary rats.
  • In the Myth Adventures novels, the main character's pet dragon Gleep seems from his perspective to be roughly on the same intellectual level as a puppy. Later novels show things from the dragon's perspective, and reveal both that it is quite intelligent and that it considers the main character to be its pet.
  • Subverted in Stephen Baxter's Evolution, in the first flashback. There's mention of a dinosaur that's smarter than the others, but all this means is that it's "smart enough to go insane" - it submerges its survival instincts in order to hold a grudge against one of humanity's ancestors for eating its eggs.
  • In Brains: A Zombie Memoir, some of the human antagonists react this way to the protagonists, who are among the few zombies capable of intelligent thought.
  • Non-monster example: the ending of Jingo suggests that the Curious Squid are somewhat civilized and either built for themselves or adapted to living in the buildings on Leshp. They can't figure out why their city disappears above the sea every once in a while, though.
  • In Phantoms, there's a very nasty Oh, Crap! moment when the characters figure out the Eldritch Abomination has human-level intelligence and awareness, and is terrorizing them For the Evulz.
  • In The Long Dark Teatime Of The Soul, Dirk Gently has a crazed eagle trapped in his house, and is squinting through the keyhole trying to see where it is. He gets a nasty shock when he realises it's on the other side of the door, looking back through the keyhole at him. This is because it's actually a jet fighter transformed into an eagle with the mind of the pilot, for getting in Thor's way.
  • Three-quarters through Blindsight, the crew of the Theseus suddenly make the startling discovery that the "scramblers" they have been fighting, capturing, torturing and experimenting on are intelligent beings: They're intelligent without being sentient, a concept that was entirely alien to the crew up to that point and makes the "scramblers" so alien that trying to communicate with them meaningfully is impossible. At this point they also realise their "captives" let themselves get captured intentionally and have been spying on them. Things rapidly take a turn for the worse.
  • Basically the entire plot of the book Warm Bodies, where an encounter with a human survivor causes a zombie to not only start coming back to life, but also to fall in love with her.
  • Nemesis Saga
    • Nemesis' human DNA gives her a conscience that constantly clashes with her Kaiju side's urge to kill. She can focus her vengeance on specific targets and responds to her human name, Maigo.
    • Typhon not only looks mostly human, he thinks like one too.
  • The Terror. After the monster first attacks a scouting party, the Franklin Expedition sets up a camouflaged hunting blind to ambush what they assume is a large and aggressive species of polar bear. Instead the monster sneaks up on them via a hole they'd cut in the ice for a Burial at Sea, attacks the blind from the side and kills the expedition commander.
  • Death of Integrity goes to great length to establish that Genestealers aren't just a random packs of feral beasts. They can study, ambush, use adaptive tactics, find practical uses for their own corpses, identify and destroy your communication lines...
  • Prey by Michael Crichton features a swarm of nanites that has artificial intelligence and algorithms programmed into its features so effectively that these things eventually enable it to think. It learns how to hunt like a predator, kill to eat, and even reproduce way out in the desert where it escaped to, close to the facility it was created in. The scientists who created it eventually decide science went too far and know they need to destroy the nanites, but not before it learns to mimic its prey in form and features. Eventually, the scientists struggling to survive learn that the swarm was intentionally released so that it may learn to do all this and more.
  • In Worm the Endbringers are treated as monsters or natural disasters. Underestimating their intelligence based on this is a mistake. Armsmaster learned this the hard way, thinking he could perfectly predict Leviathan in a combat situation only for it to play along before using a previously unseen move.
  • The "Phoners" in Stephen King's Cell start out as mindless and vicious zombies, attacking each other and unaffected people alike, but gradually begin to form flocks, then a Hive Mind, and eventually a collective with an elaborate plan to turn all the unaffected humans into Phoners.
  • In The Expanse novels the Protomolecule pulls this surprise and then more, not only can it think, but it can move an asteroid out of the way of an oncoming starship, and communicate across the solar system. Most notably the "failsafe" bombs in the Protomolecule-super soldiers of Caliban's War only work the first time, later ones rip them out before they detonate.
  • Animorphs: During the David trilogy, the team are investigating a problem at sea near some boats when a killer whale moves in on them. They move closer to the boats, thinking the noise of the propellers will drive it off, before it reveals itself to be David in morph. Fortunately, Cassie gets away and morphs a humpback whale before looming up behind him (because he doesn't know enough about whales to know she wouldn't be able to eat him, he backs off).
  • In the Fighting Fantasy gamebook Creature of Havoc, the protagonist is a hulking, scaly, spiny, clawed, man-eating monster. When it wanders into the town of Coven, people take one look and run for cover. It can then go shopping, to the utter bewilderment of the storekeeper who accepts its coin.
  • Said sarcastically by Sherlock Holmes when he first meets Mary Russell, who literally trips over him in a field and works out very quickly that he is trying to track bees to find a new hive. She understandably takes offense and quickly becomes his apprentice.
  • In the Tuf Voyaging story "Guardians" it's not the monsters emerging from Namor's oceans to attack the colonists that are intelligent, but rather a small mollusc that the colonists thought was nothing but good with butter, with no idea of their psionic abilities.
  • Temeraire is set in an Alternate History where sapient dragons exist across the globe. Britain's are either paired with Dragon Riders in the Aerial Corps or kept in isolated breeding grounds, so few Britons know that they're intelligent, and many are quite surprised when a dragon starts talking to them — or, in Temeraire's case, quizzing them on their mathematical and literary knowledge.
  • In Solar Defenders: The Role of a Shield, after a Monster of the Week displays signs of intelligence, Jenny expresses remorse afterwards for killing it. Kawena counters that if it was sentient, then the damage it caused was a result of choosing to cause harm rather than simply acting on instinct.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The Waters of Mars": When various crewmembers of Bowie Base One become infected by waterborne parasites that turn them into liquid-spewing bloated zombies, the hive mind controlling them proves to not be stupid. They even manage to short out the systems of an airlock to bust it open.
    • "The Time of Angels"/"Flesh and Stone": In their first appearance, the Weeping Angels were merely predators who sneak up on you when you're not looking and displace you in time. Here, they work together to break necks, lay traps and steal voices as bait. And that's just the beginning...
    • "Oxygen": The personnel of mining station Chasm Forge wear "smartsuits", spacesuits with a basic problem-solving AI. When the suits turn against the crew, the AI turns out to be quite up to the task of solving the problems presented by jury-rigged locked doors and missing maps.
    • The Dregs in "Orphan 55" initially appear to be animalistic predators, but when the Doctor manages to trap one of them in a Mexican Standoff, it's smart enough to figure out the nature of the stand-off, and recognise that temporarily co-operating with the Doctor gives it the best chance of survival.
    • "Praxeus": Suki warns that Praxeus is capable of sensing efforts to cure it, and she's proven right when the infected crows attack the lab moments later.
  • Dollhouse: This is Topher's non-verbal reaction to Echo when she (in her blank, wiped state) outright requests that he give her a "treatment" so she can help him better.
  • Firefly: The Reavers might be utterly insane and indiscriminately violent, but that doesn't mean that the're stupid. What little is seen of their methods hints at them having excellent hunting skills, with them typically relying on stealth, patience, and subtlety. Furthermore, when they aren't relying on traps or surprise, they can use high-tech (and non-lethal) methods for disabling and capturing fleeing ships. And in the end, they can always fall back to strength in numbers.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • If his reaction to Jaime calling him an idiot even before is any indication, there is still a somewhat of sentience in Gregor Clegane after Qyburn turns him into an Undead Abomination. He can also be seen smiling when he is about to torture/rape Unella. And ultimately, he stops obeying Cersei's orders — killing Qyburn when he tries to put him back in line — when given an opportunity to finally face off with his brother.
    • Tyrion suggests that the dragons are more intelligent than simple beasts, and goes down to talk to them. It's not clear if they understand what Tyrion says but they don't hurt him, and Rhaegal calmly offers his neck to Tyrion after he removes Viserion's collar. They also don't hurt Missandei, as she's a friend of their mother. Drogon also proves Tyrion right. After witnessing his brother Viserion being shot down by the Night's King via a well-aimed ice spear, when Drogon takes off and the Night's King throws a spear at him, Drogon quickly jerks to the left to avoid being hit and the lance sails harmlessly past his shoulder. Note, he did this after the Night's King already threw the spear at him, showing Drogon was intelligent enough to guess where the projectile would go and moving quickly enough to avoid it.
  • In the Star Trek episode "The Devil in the Dark", Spock deduces that not only is the monster intelligent, it has a valid reason for killing the miners. It turns out that the "crystals" the miners are collecting are actually the monster's eggs. Fortunately, the creature, called a Horta, is able to bargain with the humans to arrive at a mutually agreeable compromise.
  • Star Trek: Voyager ("Bliss"). Voyager encounters a huge space-dwelling alien that can create illusions in the minds of starship crews so they fly right into its maw.
    Emh: Judging by these bio-scans the organism's been devouring life forms for a bit longer than thirty-nine years. I'd estimate it's at least 200,000 years old.
    Qatai: The intelligent always survive.
    Emh: I wouldn't go that far. It appears to operate on highly-evolved instinct. I haven't detected any signs of sentience.
    Qatai: Oh, he's intelligent, all right. Smart enough to fool your crew into taking you offline.
  • Supernatural: In the episode “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid”, Dean and Bobby, having locked themselves in a room, learn that the zombies pursuing them have not lost all of their mental faculties as one might assume.
    [Zombies pound at the door]
    Dean: (confident) It’s all right. They’re idiots. They can’t pick a lock.
    [The pounding immediately stops and the zombies are heard fiddling with the lock]
    Bobby: Don’t you ever get tired of being wrong?
    Dean: I’m making this stuff up as I go. Sue me!
    [The door bursts open]
  • The Walking Dead: Although most walkers are pretty much your average run-of-the-mill zombie when it comes to intelligence, several walkers stand out when it comes to this. Morgan Jones' wife, who tries to open a door by twisting the doorknob and even gazes into the peephole, certain members of the walker horde can manage to climb ladders and one particular walker that showed tool use, namely grabbing a big rock and using it to smash in the windows holding them back from potential prey.
    • Milton tries an experiment with an elderly cancer patient to test whether this trope comes into effect, but when said elderly patient simply attacks him upon reanimation instead, he calls it off.

    Tabletop Games 
  • GURPS: This is quoted in GURPS: Magic 4th Edition, where it's played for horror. The funny thing is that it's mentioned again in Chapter 17 (Meta-Spells) on page 121, where the actual enchantments are explained as well as how they work, and again in Chapter 24 (Technological spells), where the reaction in Chapter 14 is played for laughs.
    Chapter 14: "This abomination thinks, somehow. It perceives, it decides, and it acts. Yet it does not live..."
    Chapter 24: "My cell phone does that." "Well, yeah, but this doesn't have any mana chips in it or anything. It's all spells and analog enchantments." "Oh. So?" "I dunno. I guess that used to be a big deal..."
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • This Pops up a lot when the Tyranids are involved. Individually Tyranids are hyper-evolved killing animals, but the Hive Mind directing them has proven to be frighteningly intelligent, staging ambushes and feigning attacks to probe enemy defences. The Hive Mind has fooled Imperial Guard generals, Space Marine captains, Chaos warlords, even Eldar farseers have been confounded by its tactical prowess. The Swarmlord is the most advanced, most intelligent Hive Tyrant to ever exist. It's tactical and strategic genius is such that, during the Tyranid's assault on the Ultramarines homeworld, the monster consistently outfoxed the Ultramarines, who are known to be the best Space Marines in terms of adaptability, tactics, and strategy. The Swarmlord is functionally immortal, for each time it's body dies, it's mind is reabsorbed into the Hive Mind so it can be respawned into a new body wherever it is needed anywhere in the galaxy. In this way, it has accumulated eons of combat experience, quite possibly making it the most experienced military leader in the galaxy.
    • Most followers of Khrone are mindless Axe-Crazy Brutes, but many of his top champions (like Kharn the Betrayer) are full-on Genius Bruisers.
    • During the Great Crusade, to the few that he told anything about Warp entities, the Emperor denied this trope, leading several characters in the Horus Heresy series to realize it on their own.
    • The is frequently cited as the greatest danger of fighting the Orks: while the average Ork boy will be a Dumb Muscle Blood Knight and Ork Warboss is the strongest among them, he is also the smartest Ork in the Waaagh!, and sometimes can be pretty intelligent. Many human campaigns have failed due to underestimating the Orks' intelligence. Even dumb regular Orks still possess bestial cunning that often surprises their overconfident foes.
      • Many reports of Ork Kommandos tend to elicit disbelief from most combatants, as they assume that Orks are just too impetuous, bumbling and stupid to care about stealth or subterfuge, nevermind employ it with any degree of effectiveness (to be fair, this is true of most of them, the Blood Axes clan being the exception). However, Snikrot, leader of the Red Skull Kommandos of Armageddon, is an utter genius at sneaky warfare, even by human standards.
      • This gets topped by the Beast's Orks in The Beast Arises, who possess Eldar-tier technology, professionally manufactured weaponry and a solid grasp of strategy and tactics at all levels of military operation as well as formal military organisation. One of the Orks gives a Wham Line when he walks into the Imperial Palace to offer formal terms of surrender in fluent Gothic:
        "Don't need an interpreter. We tell you how to surrender, you surrender. Easy."
  • Promethean: The Created has Pandorans, mindless miscarriages of the process of creating a new Promethean who hunger endlessly for the vitriol of Prometheans. However, in rare occasions, a number of Pandorans can pull themselves together and form a Sublimatus, a fully-intelligent, nearly-human monstrosity that uses its new wits and cunning in an attempt to feast on Prometheans.
  • Many creatures in Rocket Age are scarily intelligent, often to the surprise and despair of the Earthlings that first encountered them. The trip line spider of Venus sets up complicated booby traps, the Yetis of Callisto are intelligent, able to slip out of captivity and evade pursuit in the mountains of Germany and then there are creatures that may well be sentient.
  • The vast majority of zombies in All Flesh Must Be Eaten are mindless; the default Intelligence is "Dumb as Dead Wood", a -2 on a scale of 1 to 6. But the Zombie Master is given a full palette of intelligence options, from Tool Use (at 1, they can break windows with rocks; at 3, they can drive cars) to Long-Term Memory (they know you went behind that wall, and they know you have to come out sometime) to Problem-Solving (sure, you locked the door, but they can figure out how to move boxes and get into the window). A clever Zombie Master can shock the players with just how much the zombies can learn.

  • The witch in Into the Woods acknowledges this trope upon realizing a giant has entered the kingdom.
    "With a giant, we'll all have to battle. A giant's the worst. A giant has a brain. Hard to outwit a giant."

    Video Games 
  • The UAVs that Erusea deploys against Osea in Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown avert this trope, but Hugin and Munin play this straight. When they go online, they fly towards the Lighthouse to use its radio transmission capabilities to upload their data to automated drone factories to start a Robot War. When they’re shot down and fly in their base forms, one of them proceeds to record and analyze Trigger to further improve themselves, while the other one flies into the underground tunnel towards the lighthouse, hacks into the tunnel’s shutters to slow down Trigger and Count when they chase after them, and even stages an ambush near the end of the tunnel.
  • As in the movies that inspired it, Alien: Isolation shows the xenomorph to be very adaptive, as it learns your patterns, such as what flares and noise makers are and ignore them if used too much, recognizes the flamethrower and stay back if you aim it, and will even search in a room longer if you are hiding in a locker.
  • Bendy and the Ink Machine:
    • Although it's been revealed that the Projectionist used to be Norman Polk, he seemed to be one of the many mindless monsters in Joey Drew Studios. He never spoke to Henry, only screeching instead when he saw him. Prior to Chapter 4, he also had No Object Permanence, which allowed Henry to get away easily by hiding in a Little Miracle Station. However, at one point in Chapter 4, he chases Henry up the stairs. There, the door has been sealed shut ahead of Henry, and when Henry tries to hide, he keeps looking at the Little Miracle Station where Henry is, even coming closer. Luckily, Bendy shows up.
    • Although Bendy falls for Henry hiding in the Little Miracle Stations too, there are some points in the game where it's clear that he's got some level of intelligence. Perhaps the most obvious example is in Chapter 5 - he hid the one thing that could harm him, a reel labeled "The End," in the one place all the studio's other inhabitants are too scared to go: his lair.
  • Grace Holloway in BioShock 2 has this realization about Subject Delta, the Big Daddy that you play as, should you choose to spare her.
    Grace: You had me under a gun... and yet you just walk away? No monster alive turns the other cheek... No monster does that. A thinking man does that.
  • Capella's Promise has the Mother, who was originally thought to be a monster creating weapon before being revealed as having intelligence. This might be a subversion due to the fact that Zanara fused with her, meaning he might be the reason that she gained intelligence.
  • As per the Warhammer 40000 example, while playing the Dawn of War II: Retribution Tyranid campaign you can hear Imperial Guardsmen realizing "They're using cover! They're supposed to be just animals!" In their defense, their training manuals do insist that Tyranids are simple-minded beasts.
  • The Hillbilly in Dead by Daylight seems like any other mindless Hillbilly Horrors stereotype, but the fact that his default perk is Tinkerer implies that there is more to him than just brute strength.
    The Hillbilly makes impressive tools out of scraps. Tools aimed at maiming us in creative ways... It's horrifying to think it's actually intelligent.
  • Dead Rising 4: Doctor Barnaby invented a hybridization machine that would prevent the recently infected from going insane, effectively making them sentient zombies. Unfortunately, the guy who tests this is driven insane from existing injuries interfering with the process, and he acts as the final boss railing against humanity.
  • Zombiemen of various types in Doom. In the first few games, they aren't much of an example; just intelligent enough to walk around and fire their guns. In Doom 3 and Doom (2016), they receive a massive step up; in 3, Z-SEC zombies can tactically sprint around, firing pistols, shotguns, and submachine guns, compared to the slow, mindless shambling civilian zombies. In the 2016 version, the Possessed Soldiers are tactically cognizant and will make great use of their arm-mounted plasma guns; the Security will even tactically utilize their giant energy riot shields, firing in defilade and dropping the shield at range to adopt a more accurate firing stance. The regular Possessed, on the other hand, are just mindless zombies that shamble at you in a slow gait.
  • Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening shows this trope early on with a talking darkspawn. It turns out that these all originate from one darkspawn, called the Architect, who was born free-willed and sapient and found a way to make other darkspawn free-willed and sapient just as he is.
  • The Elder Scrolls
    • In his "opus", series' recurring character St. Jiub the Eradicator recounts his quest to eradicate the much reviled Cliff Racers from Vvardenfell. As he was hunting a lone Cliff Racer, it led him into a trap where hundreds of Cliff Racers suddenly descended upon him. Two days of fighting and hundreds of dead Cliff Racers later, Jiub finally collapsed, exhausted and wounded. He would have died if not for the timely rescue of the Dunmeri Physical God Vivec, who was so impressed with Jiub's actions that Vivec declared him to be a saint.
    • In Skyrim, though they give the impression of mindless Morlock-like monsters, the Falmer clearly have some semblance of intelligence. They corral and breed chaurus, craft weapons and armor, brew crude poisons from fungi, and in Dawnguard they've built impressive networks of bridges and ledges throughout the Forgotten Vale to host their settlements on. According to some scholars and Knight-Paladin Gelebor the last surviving uncorrupted Falmer, they're beginning to venture above ground, and demonstrate cunning and deductive reasoning in their battle tactics.
  • The monsters of Evolve fall under this. Story-wise, they're at least as intelligent as humans, identifying specific threats and adapting their tactics in response. One can only imagine the horror as the colonists realized that not only were these things massive and deadly, but intelligent as well. In-game, their intelligence depends on the player controlling them. This could range from simply being able to recognize a few strategies to openly toying with the hunters by dissecting and countering their advantages and tactics.
  • Many Fallout 3 players learn the hard way that Deathclaws, the twelve-foot-tall bipedal reptilian killing machines, can open doors. Thankfully not represented in the game is the fact that Deathclaws can mimic voices and lure humans into ambushes with cries for help.
    • A side mission in Fallout 4 involves retrieving a stolen Deathclaw egg and returning that egg to the mother who laid it. The Deathclaw mother in question simply stands around and waits to see what you do with the egg instead of attacking, when the egg is returned, she covers it up and lets the player character walk away unharmed. It should also be noted that the original thieves were relentlessly tracked over a great distance and slaughtered by an Alpha male Deathclaw because he was trying to get the egg back.
    • The player character gets put on the receiving end of this trope in the Old World Blues DLC of Fallout: New Vegas. The Courier's brain and various organs have been removed and replaced with Tesla coils and cybernetic organs by the Sink's Auto-Doc, a process that normally destroys the patient's brain and leaves the rest to wander Big MT as a mindless, aggressive zombie. It takes the Think Tank quite a while to realize that their newest "lobotomite" has been tracking their conversation and can, in fact, understand and respond to every word they've been saying.
  • The Aragomi in God Eater are an interesting example. Though they behave like constantly-evolving mindless beasts, they aren't actually "evolving" at all. Instead, they learn new configurations for themselves from the environment. For instance, the Chi-You type Aragami use the "bring it" gesture and martial arts moves. Another Aragami takes it cues from a tank, complete with biological missile launchers, but the treads are crudle turned into misshapen forelegs. This is an enigma in-universe since it clearly implies higher learning ability, yet the only behaviour they display beyond violence and consumption is pack scavenging. And then there are humanoid Aragami, who can very quickly learn how social structures work, and eventually internal concepts like empathy.
  • Half-Life
  • The Flood in Halo. When first encountered in Halo: Combat Evolved, they seem like dumb zombies, just running toward you and whipping you with their Combat Tentacles. The first Oh, Crap! moment comes when they suddenly start using weapons. Then 343 Guilty Spark warns you that they're going to repair the Pillar of Autumn to escape from Halo. It turns out that they gain intelligence from the sentient beings they assimilate; they almost used Keyes' brain as a Borrowed Biometric Bypass to get to Earth. Then in Halo 2, they not only start attacking you with vehicles, but it's revealed that they're being coordinated by an ancient and highly intelligent Hive Mind; by the start of Halo 3, they've successfully taken over High Charity and several of its escort ships, and are poised to begin a galaxy-scale infestation.
    • The Forerunner Saga reveals the true extent of their intelligence; the Flood are the direct descendants of the Precursors (not to be confused with the Forerunners), who were the most technologically advanced species to ever live in the Milky Way, and have inherited all of their knowledge. This means that a sufficiently large infestation is capable of technological feats far more advanced than what any other species in the galaxy is capable of; the Forerunners had a huge Oh, Crap! moment when the Flood started reactivating Precursor relics.
  • The Beast from Homeworld Cataclysm starts "merely" as a ship-consuming techno-organic virus, but having absorbed enough data from the assimilated ships it becomes self-concious, learns to synthesize itself a Voice of the Legion from their communication records and becomes smart enough to strike deals with other villains (and even to screw them over).
  • In the first Hunter: The Reckoning video game, when the Hunters first meet Carpenter and he speaks to them, they promptly react by pointing their guns at him. Carpenter responds with this speech:
    Carpenter: Do you think I can't see you shaking at the other end of that barrel? Do you think I don't know your brain is trying to process the horrible fact that 'Oh my god it talks!' and if it talks, it thinks, and you can't stand that, can you?
  • In The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, using objects found around the battlefield as bludgeons and projectiles will result in hearing the horrified voices of your assailants as they realize the Hulk is no mere mindless brute.
    "It's constructing a rudimentary weapon!"
    "It's learning as it goes, sir!"
  • Kingdom Hearts:
    • As Yen Sid explains in Kingdom Hearts II, this is what separates the Heartless from the Nobodies; while the Heartless are little more than mindless animals who function on instinct, the Nobodies are fully capable of thinking things through and planning ahead.
    • Ansem, Seeker of Darkness, aka Xehanort's Heartless, is in fact a Heartless himself, but retains all of his human intelligence and selfhood; the real Ansem the Wise theorizes that this is because Ansem/ Terra-Xehanort willingly became a Heartless.
    • Kairi is able to realize that the Shadow following them is Sora because it shows signs of intelligence most Shadows don't. (Presumably for the same reason as Ansem, Sora willingly chose to become a heartless)
  • The Legend of Zelda:
  • In Mass Effect, you come to a space station which was overrun by rachni, and you can read a log where a scientist states "we treated them like beasts, should have treated them like POW's". Mind you, the race is well known to be sentient - although their appearance can certainly deceive. The theory was that without the connection to the Queen that all the warriors would become mindless beasts, and in the eyes of the Queen that is what they have become, but it turns out they're insane due to a warped childhood; no parental figures, and their lullabies are "Silence of the Void" and "Eldritch Death Knells".
    • In Mass Effect 2, the yahg are revealed to be this. Originally abducted for study, a yahg specimen showed increasing intelligence and was chosen by the Shadow Broker to join a strike team tasked with eliminating threats. The yahg had other plans and decided instead to kill the Shadow Broker and take his place. This yahg remained the Shadow Broker for years until Liara and Commander Shepard show up.
    • It comes up again in the third game, in which it's possible to recruit the rachni against the Reapers. Many characters express a little too much surprise at the technical prowess the rachni display. Hackett Lampshades it, saying that in hindsight, these guys once waged war on the entire galaxy: you can't do that without being very smart and technologically advanced.
  • The X in Metroid Fusion:
  • In the G-rank missions of Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate, you receive reports that a number of fortifications have come under attack and their damaged parts are missing without a trace. At the end, you fight a Neopteron known as the Ahtal-ka, who doesn't appear to put up much of a fight... ...and then it hops into a web-spliced Humongous Mecha built from those very same missing parts.
    • This gets topped by a Pukei-Pukei in Monster Hunter: World during the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt crossover quest - if you have Geralt free it from being trapped in roots produced by Leshen, not only will it help you fight the Leshen, but if it survives the battles, it will outright try to thank Geralt by giving him an attack gem.
    • And then that gets topped by a lone Ruiner Nergigante in the Iceborne expansion. It was trying to eat Shara Ishvalda, another Elder Dragon that was causing mass destruction across the New World, but knew it couldn't drag it out of hiding alone. So it waited where Shara Ishvalda was likely to be, made a show of fighting the Sapphire Star, played dead even whilst being carved, and then dealt the killing blow to Shara Ishvalda after it was weakened by the hunters. And then, since it likely knew it couldn't take on 12 Hunters at once, it opted to just fly away after the kill rather than sticking around to eat its meal. In short, this thing appears to be capable of what seem to be rudimentary plans.
  • The Shades from NieR. At the beginning, they seem like mindless monsters. By the end, they're using weapons and armor, and they can sucker the title character into a deadly ambush with one of the Plot Coupons.
    • Also a big part of The Reveal: Shades are human souls stripped from their bodies.
  • Nihilumbra: The Void is not just some mindless force of nature, it's learning how to hunt you down better.
  • One of the more terrifying aspects of Penumbra: Black Plague is this trope. The dog/wolf monsters in Overture seemed to just be aggressive beasts. Your first encounter with one of the infected in Black Plague? It's looking for you with a flashlight in its hand.
  • In Project X Zone, after defeating Nemesis for the first time, it utters its Catchphrase as usual, prompting both Chris and Jill to comment that they now work for BSAA. And then...
  • Redlight in [PROTOTYPE] seems like your typical zombie plague. In the backstory, however, is the way the first outbreak occurred: after the test subjects - a few citizens of a small town - were infected, nothing happened at all for four years until the scientists who'd expected a spectacular response packed up and let their guard down. At that point every single subject - by then the entire town - suddenly mutated and attacked all at once. The Virus had waited patiently, spreading quietly, for just such an opportunity. It only acts that way when it has a Runner to direct it, though; the rest of the time, it really is your typical zombie plague.
    • And of course the next iteration, Blacklight, is a fully sapient individual, obviously capable of complex independent thought, speech, planning, and emotions - Alex Mercer, the player character. This is taken Up to Eleven when you find out what the real Alex had done: namely, in a gesture of revenge against his former employers, he released the Blacklight Virus upon the city of Manhattan before being gunned down. Upon finding this out, the virus itself is disgusted and appalled.
  • In Raiden V, after exploring the cave full of crystals in Stage 2, Max comes up with a hypothesis that the Crystals are actually an intelligent lifeform that can communicate with one another mutually. Max's suspicions are confirmed when he made an SOS call to a French port, where the Crystals were for sure staging an attack, as that is where Max sent a shipment of the crystals he retrieved from the cave. Upon meeting Kraken, Max's concerns grow even more as it showed the Crystals can upgrade the machinery they contaminate. Later on, Max orders a mission to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) facility, where the shipment of crystals from the cave ended up. As Max expected, there was a massive amount of contaminated machinery invading the LHC. Max then hypothesized that the Crystals had a sort of commander giving orders, as the LHC invasion was organized as if it was a precision military operation. Again, Max was proven right. With the help of Valbarossa Hawkeye after her flagship was contaminated and the information from the SHIFT facility they destroyed, Max and Eshiria were able to determine that all of Max's hypotheses were unfortunately true, with Helga confirming that the information stored on one crystal is shared collectively with all the others. This necessitates Helga relaying the order from the council for the Bellwether and Fighting Thunder to launch a counter-offensive towards the Crystal's homeworld in order to put an end to their threat once and for all.
    Helga (regarding the Crystals' intelligence): I've heard that even among terrestrial lifeforms, if an individual learns a new way to hunt, the same method of hunting was suddenly acquired by other individuals all around the world. This may be like the collective unconscious that Jung talked about.
    Max: It's hard for me to understand difficult things, so can you explain it in more layman's terms?
    Max: I see. So they are making it as unclear as possible as to where they're heading.
    Helga: That's correct.
  • Many of the monsters from the Resident Evil series have varying displays of intelligence.
    • The Nintendo GameCube remake of the first game uses this as a Tear Jerker when battling Lisa Trevor. You can fight her by knocking her off the ledge, but if you push the four boulders off the edge to crack open the grave where her mother's body is, she'll sadly take the skull and jump from the ledge herself.
      Lisa: Moth...ther...
    • Similarly, when she appears in the Wesker levels of Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles, she displays a decent degree of planning and understanding. She appears to recognize Wesker as one of the people responsible for turning her into a monster and hunts him relentlessly, unlike the other survivors who she really only attacked when they entered her living spaces and wouldn't bother to chase them once they left. She also lies in wait to ambush him, and even seems to understand that the mansion is minutes away from blowing up as she does everything in her power to block Wesker from escaping out the front door.
    • The Nemesis from Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. Unlike all the other monsters up to this point, it is smart enough to follow orders, track the main character, open doors, use weapons, set ambushes, and speak (albeit only one word: "S.T.A.R.S.", his mission target). Even when Jill tries to make her escape via helicopter, Nemesis is smart enough to shoot the helicopter with a rocket launcher to cut off her escape.note 
    • Those infected with Las Plagas, as seen in both Resident Evil 4 and 5, are practically human in intelligence. They are capable of using weaponry, setting traps, cooperating with each other, and (depending on the actual host) can even speak properly. A good example would be the Verdugo. If you blast it with a rocket launcher, it shrugs off the explosion and tauntingly wags its "finger" at you before resuming its attack.
    • Resident Evil 6 features several monsters that are quite intelligent than the standard RE enemies:
      • First off, the game features an evil(er) knockoff of The Nemesis with Ustanak. It's smart enough to predict where you're going and set a trap rather than just smash through the wall to keep chasing you, select and equip weapons, and even deploy small flying creatures in a search pattern to cut off your escape and track you down. And if you think you outsmarted it by hiding in the dumpster, try it three times.
      • Secondly, The C-Virus zombies are considerably smarter than the T-Virus ones. They can use tools such as melee weapons and guns (though not very well), and even climb over obstacles such as fences.
      • Lastly there's the J'Avo, who have retained almost at the very least enough intelligence to behave like normal soldiers.
    • Rachael from Resident Evil: Revelations seems to exhibit this trope when it starts jumping out or air vents to attack you.
  • The Scurge in Scurge: Hive.
    • Interestingly enough, it's initially averted, then the aversion subverted, because a mid-game conversation points out that the Scurge originally didn't have any sort of sentient thought. It only began to develop such after absorbing enough sentient life that it began to form its own collective mindset and began planning its escape.
  • Several mutants in STALKER will use this:
    • One notable example has you wandering through an abandoned building and hearing the sound of a crying baby, coming from inside a closet. There's a Burer waiting inside for you to open the door.
    • Another example of this has a Controller growling to you a chilling warning ("LEAVE HERE, MAN!") should you approach the entrance of the cave it's dwelling inside.
    • As for Bloodsuckers, well, they will use dangerously efficient stalking and hunting tactics when facing you, and you will feel like prey if you're attacked by more than one of them at once. There's also a bit where one leaves a dying man on the floor crying out for help as bait to lure you into the open so it can pounce.
  • StarCraft:
    • Arcturus Mengsk (and the Confederate scientists he stole the idea from) thought the Zerg were just a sort of eusocial animal that swarmed to whatever planet he placed a Psi-Emitter on. Oh, how wrong he was...
    • Even the Protoss thought this at first, until a Zerg probe they captured revealed that it was, in fact, looking for them.
    • And invoked in Hearts of the Swarm. Kerrigan's broodmothers are capable of autonomy and building up a force, but lack the strategic vision to be truly dangerous, so she has them intentionally made smarter. When pointed out this makes them a danger to her, too, she says she wants them as dangerous as possible.
    • The Primal Zerg that remain on Zerus, unlike the Zerg that were integrated into a Hive Mind by the Xel'Naga, are sapient intelligent predators that have spent generations hunting, killing, and adapting. They consider the other Zerg to be corrupted.
  • Like most Vaults, the Vault of the Traveller in Tales from the Borderlands contains an obligatory giant monster, the largest one seen in the series, in fact. It comes as a horrifying realization to the characters that this one is actually intelligent. It's smart enough to leave Gortys alive because it knows that it will disappear if she is killed, and when hit with an ineffective attack, it laughs. To make matters worse, it's main ability is one you really don't want a smart opponent to have: Teleport Spam.
  • This results in a Mass "Oh, Crap!" from the whole party in Tales of Vesperia when it turns out a monster that has been harassing them as they traverse a dungeon (on the way to the Disc-One Final Dungeon) has actually been herding them into a trap. It takes the resident party Cowardly Lion stepping up and deciding to Hold the Line despite the risks for them to survive.
  • Warframe:
    • During the Second Dream quest, it's revealed that your Warframe is exactly that, just a mindless bio-mechanical frame piloted by the actual Tenno, the player character. However, after the Stalker stabs his new sword right through its chest and starts strangling the Operator, it springs back to life and rips the sword in half, forcing the Stalker to retreat.
    • This is taken further in the "Sacrifice" quest with Excalibur Umbra. When you first try to pilot him, he throws you out, almost kills you, and then starts running around the system slaughtering everything in his path. When you finally get control of him for good, his passive ability is that he can act independently when you are outside in Operator mode (normally warframes just stand still like statues without an Operator piloting them).
    • Warframe also has the Infested, the results of a techno-organic virus infecting and mutating various people and machines in the setting. Typically, Infested will mindlessly swarm the Tenno or whatever else they're attacking... until you encounter bosses. Which will talk to you and use fairly good tactics to try to kill the squad.

    Web Animation 
  • Parodied and taken to extremes in the How It Should Have Ended video "How Jurassic Park Should Have Ended". The Velociraptor figures out how to speak, finds a weapons closet, sends an email to the protagonists, and tries to attack them with guns.
  • In RWBY, the Grimm are mostly thought of as mindless monsters, but as they grow older, they also grow larger, stronger, and smarter. Some centuries-old specimens have gained vast experience and know that humans are more powerful than they look. They do not attack humans on sight because they know that killing one human will just bring more, enough that the Grimm will be overwhelmed. The eldest Grimm are opportunists, remaining patient and attacking only when they sense weakness in humanity. They're even seen directing younger Grimm and coordinating their attacks, showing an understanding of battlefield tactics. One Grimm in particular, the Hound, is tactical enough to use Oscar Pine as a human shield, and it can even speak. It's then revealed it can do this because it Was Once a Man.

  • Showed up with the Diamondshell Beetles in Schlock Mercenary — we, and the mercenaries, perceive them as just big, ugly monsters, but they're actually fairly intelligent, communicate amongst themselves, figure out how to use human weaponry in a surprisingly short amount of time, and see the humans (and, in particular, Sergeant Schlock) as frightening monsters…
    • To be fair, even Schlock's friends think of him as some sort of monster.
    • Another example with some rather chilling implications are the planet sized Dark Matter Entities. Just one of them could manhandle a battleplatenote  and they're not just fully sapient but completely xenophobic; they are convinced that the only way to survive a universe full of civilizations that run on teleportation which is inadvertently killing them off is to kill them all first. They conquered the entire Andromeda galaxy, wiped it clean of non-dark matter life forms, and turned their galactic core into a thermonuclear sniper rifle that can pinpoint anything in the Milky Way.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: This seems to be the case with the Plague Zombie monsters and their spirits, especially their Body of Bodies variants that are likely combining the mental power of their components. The bodies composing one giant are seen going for the weapons of humans defending against it, while the Merger of Souls that is shaping up to be the prime antagonist is able to lead coordinated attack with a large number of trolls and ghosts.

    Web Original 
  • In Twig, the increasingly desperate rebellion makes use of forbidden experimentation with primordial life to create a Living Weapon to use against the Crown. When Reverend Mauer visits the experiments, however, he realizes that the Adaptive Ability of primordial life has allowed them to rapidly develop sapience and learn human language based on overheard conversations by reading their body language and noting how they react to his words.

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied in The Critic. In a clip from a fictional Jurassic Park 2 (this episode was made before the actual release of The Lost World: Jurassic Park obviously), characters in the film trap a velociraptor in a closet. After one of them remarks that raptors are too intelligent to be held in a closet, the raptor slips a newspaper under the door, rattles the door until the key falls out, retrieves the key, and unlocks the door before continuing to attack. Taking it one step further, the raptor then produces a calabash pipe and then proceeds to explain in a posh accent the raptors' plan to "build a crude suspension bridge to Venezuela, where I shall lie low and assume odd jobs under the name 'Mr. Pilkington.' But perhaps I've said too much."
  • The Draags from Fantastic Planet hypothesize that the humans they oppress may be intelligent, but regularly exterminate them anyway.
  • The fifth episode of Generator Rex deals with a Hidden Elf Village of engineers and scientists trying to build a transmitter/receiver to communicate with the nanites. Then in the next episode, Rex tries to shut down a really, really big EVO created using nanites siphoned from his body, and the nanites try to talk to him.
  • The Beetle Drones of Samurai Jack generally seem like mindless robots who enforce Aku's rule without hesitation. However, in the 3-part series premiere, after Jack destroys almost an entire army of them, one of the remaining robots seems to have recognized that defeating Jack is impossible and takes a step back. Jack quickly tells the drone there is no escape and destroys the rest of them. In another episode, a group of Beetle Drones are attempting to stop Jack from reaching a time portal; Jack predictably cuts them all down, but the last one seems to realize that it can't beat Jack and instead destroys the portal before Jack can stop it.
  • Transformers:
    • Tankor from Beast Machines, after god only knows how long of mindlessly following orders and roaring Tankor... SMASH, suddenly reveals he's a lot smarter than his allies thought. He used to be Rhinox, after all. This isn't the first time Megatron has turned Rhinox into one of his own... with the same result.
    • Predaking from Transformers: Prime displays surprising intelligence for a supposed beast in all of its appearances. At one point, we even see him reading a screen when everyone leaves the room, playing the role of a mindless smasher until he's ready to reveal his true intelligence. The episode "Plus One" ends with Starscream ranting about having to deal with such a stupid beast, while the beast in question is logging into one of the warship's data terminals with Starscream's password. This culminates in "Evolution" when he responds to Starscream's latest abuse by transforming and threatening to kill Starscream. Megatron for one is very unhappy with this turn of events. He wanted a mindless beast he could control. Instead, he got a powerful, intelligent, and ambitious warrior who is a potential threat.
      Predaking: I only recently became aware of my abilities. All I remember of my beginning is hunting, and battle, and the wounding of my pride. Thus I'd begun to burn with questions. "Who am I?" "Where did I come from?" The warship's data banks provided historical fact, but still I possessed no memory of my own past, so I began to reconsider my place in the present and wondered, "Could I be like the others?" And now I know.
  • A gag in Over the Garden Wall has Wirt, Gregory, and Beatrice dining in the manor of an eccentric man, sharing the table with the horse they stole last episode. When Beatrice and Gregory discuss robbing the man, it's suddenly revealed that the horse is sapient and sentient.
    Beatrice: I was thinking more like flat-out stealing from [their host].
    Wirt: What? No way.
    Beatrice: Why not? We already stole a horse.
    Wirt: No, we didn't. Fred's a talking horse. He can do whatever he wants.
    Fred the Horse: I want to steal.
  • The New Adventures of Jonny Quest features the plant monster in "Creeping Unknown." Initially it seems as if it's just a mindless walking mass of living squicky plant matter... but then it's revealed it has genius-level intellect, making it one of the Quests' most dangerous enemies in any incarnation of the show. Or at least it would be if it didn't have such a Weaksauce Weakness.

    Real Life 
  • It is now believed that most complex life forms that aren't plants have some form of decision-making mechanism and the ability to adapt to their surroundings. Current research focuses on figuring out how and to what extent each species does these things.
  • Jumping spiders of the Portia genus. They hunt other spiders, and will observe other spiders in their webs until they can gauge how fast they are and how they react to disturbances so that they can determine the optimal strategy to take them down. They will even observe a spider's mating display so they can imitate it and attract another spider to its doom. Since the web vibrations they need to imitate vary from species to species, a Portia memorizes different chords, and experiments when it encounters a species it hasn't before.
    • Pirate spiders also do the "imitate the mating display" trick to catch other spiders.
  • In reality, watch any well-made nature show and you will more than likely view 8 to 10 animals that fall well within this trope. And if they are predators, or especially scavengers, they definitely fall within this trope.
    • A great example would be elephants. The one way most scientists gauge self-awareness is whether or not the subject can recognize their reflection as themselves as opposed to another animal. With animals, it can be a bit tricky to determine as they can't talk. However, one test is to put a mark on the animal which the animal cannot see but will be reflected in a mirror. Elephants have demonstrated recognition of their reflection by exploring the mark on their own head, not the elephant in the mirror, using the mirror to find it. So, elephants are self-aware.
      • A modified version of this test has been used on dogs, using smells in place of visual marks, as dogs are not visually-oriented, and the dogs proved self-aware according to the test.
    • Chimpanzees in particular may be even more intelligent than we generally give them credit for. Scientists studying chimps in parts of Africa which are still densely forested have observed them not only using tools, but fashioning some of their own.
      • Chimps have also joined elephants in being self-aware. They also used the mirrors to check out their own genitals, but the point was still proven!
      • Heck, great apes are actually legally recognized as people in some countries!
      • And dolphins, when introduced to mirrors, exhibit behavior that they never do any other time such as flapping their fins, watching themselves do it. One scientist suggests it's similar to the way a person will make funny faces or pose in front of a mirror.
    • Some pigs have been taught to play video games.
    • Add ravens, crows and magpies (corvids) to the mix - the first non-mammals confirmed to have this ability, along with rudimentary skills at using tools and cooperating to solve puzzles. A group of crows in Tokyo have figured out how to use cars to crack open nuts that they cannot open on their own. They drop the nuts into the crosswalks, wait for the cars to drive over them, then fly down and eat the interior when the traffic stops. Now, add to this that they are using the traffic lights to time this operation...
      • Another group of crows in Kagoshima, Japan, have become frighteningly good at outsmarting the Crow Patrol put together specifically to get rid of them.
      • They're also capable of vividly remembering a person or location that's caused trouble. If a member of the murder is killed, they're not coming back any time soon, and in fact reroute their migratory pattern to avoid landing in that area. If they've been harassed by someone, they may start fighting back, often singling that person out when given the chance. They can even teach other crows what that person looks like.
      • New Caledonian crows are so smart that one actually figured out from a failed attempt by another crow how to make a functional tool, without the scientists being aware that New Caledonian crows even knew how to make tools, much less adapt them.
      • Tests on crows and other corvids have confirmed they understand water displacement, and even more recently can determine which object is the heavier of a pair by how they move in a wind tunnel, a test most primates fail (after all, most primates don't spend a lot of their time flying).
      • There's even footage of a crow in a puzzle room who clearly understands the concept of puzzles. He works hard to obtain a stick, merely because it was behind a barrier, and then once he obtains the stick, he looks around for a place to use it.
    • Keas are pretty bloody bright as well, being parrots. In fact as a whole, parrots and corvids are the brightest bird groups.
    • And swallows! Birds nesting near the entry of a Home Depot have figured out how to work the motion detectors to open the doors. They've even figured out that a person is responsible for the doors not working (being locked) and will harass that person until he unlocks the doors. Just. That. Person.
  • Lions are not large enough to take down giraffes on their own. But, lions in some parts of Africa have figured out that if you scare the giraffes so that they run into a road with heavy traffic, the cars will kill the giraffe for you and you can get a lot of tasty dinner rather easily. This is causing serious traffic problems in some areas.
    • Hyenas have a complex, simian-like social structure. They may even be better at cooperating and teaching than many primate species - given a task where two animals must tug at separate ropes simultaneously to get a food reward, but only one knows the trick, the hyenas were faster than primates at teaching their buddy how to do it. This is likely because hyenas hunt together and so need a "language" for cooperating and coordinating an attack, while most primate food is fairly lazy fruit, and the most you need to be able to say to share with a friend is "Here is food".
    • There were a pair of tigers raised in captivity and being prepared for a release into the wild. On their first day out hunting, one went straight for a herd of deer, completely failing to be stealthy. The other wandered off to who knows where. The conservationists thought they had wasted all that effort until the noisy one drove the entire herd into the ambush set up by the one they thought had gotten lost. Tigers cooperating like that had never been seen before.
  • Housepets, especially dogs, have been known to seek help when their owners are in trouble.
  • Some pet owners have built sound boards for their dogs and cats using buttons to represent words and simple phrases. Turns out, dogs and cats understand human language quite well, enough to compose sentences and hold conversations with their owners using the buttons. This becomes especially apparent if a button for a key word fails; the pet will use working buttons to construct a phrase of similar meaning in place of the missing word, or to call out to its owner demanding that they fix the broken button.
  • As noted in this Cracked article, dogs that live in the Moscow Subway system can use the trains to get around and have learned the Rule of Cute to get food for the pack.
  • Octopuses. If not given puzzles and toys to keep itself occupied (octopied?), an aquarium octopus will invariably occupy itself by trying to escape. Sometimes they end up in other exhibits. Sometimes they end up eating the other exhibits. In one case, a very bored octopus took to using tankmates as toys, when he wasn't turning off the lights with carefully aimed jets of water or rearranging his tank.
  • Crocodiles show a surprising amount of intelligence. They are known to be able to memorize where the best places to ambush prey are, some species have learned to steal fish from the nets of fishing boats, and it's estimated that they may be about as smart as some rodents (Which, considering how clever mice and rats can be, is pretty impressive).
    • It was found that Nile Crocodiles hunt in packs, or more accurately they are perfectly willing to use teamwork. Sometimes, one crocodile will hold a large prey animal and let the others (who take turns and equal portions) tear at it. They also herd prey or surround them, and at times, large groups will gather to block off rivers and feast on the trapped fish.
    • Crocodiles can learn tricks like "stay" or "roll over" meaning they're at the same level (or little below) of intelligence as dogs. The difference comes from the fact an average croc would gladly kill and eat his trainer.
    • At least two species (The Mugger Crocodile of India and the American Alligator) have some grasp of tool usage. Scientists have observed them consistently gathering sticks during nesting season, and carefully balancing them across their snouts as they lay in wait beneath the nests of Herons and Egrets. This allows them to bait unsuspecting birds straight onto their snouts, for an easy kill.
    • On a similar note, Komodo Dragons are intelligent, having a natural tendency to play, know how to take advantage of tourists and can recognize names given to them and different voices, as well. In captivity, they seem to display individual personalities. This trope applies to all monitor lizards, in fact, and they are considered the smartest among lizard groups and similar to wolves in intelligence. They are more than capable of strategizing when hunting and often do so.
  • Studies show that constrictors (IE: Pythons, boas, and anacondas) may be more intelligent than previously thought. Research shows that these snakes check to make sure their prey is dead when they're constricting. Long story short, an experiment was held where the snakes would constrict a meal with a simulated heartbeat. The snakes would only stop if they were sure their prey's heart had stopped beating.
    • Considering that spitting cobras are able to aim their venom with remarkable accuracy, that should indicate that there is some level of comprehension of precision in them.
    • Black mambas, king cobras and taipans are considered the snakes with the greatest potential for killing people, and this isn't just due to their size, toxicity, amount of venom, speed, and aggression. These are extremely alert and aware snakes that are highly curious and quick to react. This makes them extremely hard to handle and they are some of the most likely snakes to escape in zoos. The only reason they cause relatively few fatalities is the lack of human contact.
    • Large pythons, boas, and even king cobras have been documented as being capable of recognizing their owners. Studies have shown that a snake is less likely to bite someone it's familiar with than someone they don't know.
  • Why are orcas so popular at aquariums? It's not only since they're big and agile. They're also arguably some of the smartest things in the ocean, often just following a fishing boat and looting the net, not to mention beaching themselves to get a snack.
    • Transient orca pods hunting Dolphins are known to stop using their active echolocation, and indeed any noise altogether while on the hunt, as their prey are capable of echolocation, and attempting active echolocation would give the orcas away before they got a clear "look" at the dolphins anyway. Instead, they stay silent, sweeping the ocean for the dolphin's own echolocation, then following it to their prey. Yes, orcas hunting dolphins is basically Mother Nature's Hot Sub-on-Sub Action.
    • Orcas have also learned how to snatch the bait fish off of longlines without getting caught in the hooks, and teach others how to do it.
    • One pod in Australia set up a cooperative hunting partnerships with (human) whalers in a small town. When whales migrated through the area, the orcas would begin herding them into the town's bay, while one or more orcas would head to the dock to get the attention of the humans and let them know whales were coming in, and the orcas and the humans would work together to kill the whales. At the end of the hunt, the humans allowed the orcas to eat the lips and tongues of their catch, which the humans had no use for, with the orcas leaving the blubber and baleen, which the humans wanted.
    • There's an old joke that there's no known cases of orcas killing humans in the wild. Orcas don't leave witnesses.
    • Pods of orcas have been observed pushing baby seals back to shore, rather than eating them. It is believed the orcas are engaging in what is essentially livestock management, ensuring a future generation and a better meal when the seal matures.
    • Orcas off the coast of California have learned that if they turn any kind of shark upside-down, it experiences "tonic immobility" and stops moving completely. After being held for a few minutes, the shark will die from lack of oxygen, and the orcas can snack on tasty shark liver at their leisure. Thankfully, the orcas that practice this aren't big enough to try this on adult great whites, but they have killed juveniles.
    • And in this video, when their prey is apparently safely on an ice floe, they work together to make a wave to knock it off and into the water. They have essentially made a real life version of Making a Splash.
  • Sharks and rays are also highly intelligent, on the level of most mammals. Stingrays have been known to use tools and sharks will often join forces to hunt. Some species will hunt in highly coordinated packs: in one incident in New Zealand, a dive team was studying broadnose sevengill sharks when one made a very obvious threatening movement toward one of the divers. When the dive team focused on it, another shark tried to attack them from behind. Fortunately, no one was injured, but they had to review their safety precautions after that.
    • And where there's intelligence, there's personality. When the Monterey Bay Aquarium was keeping (juvenile) great white sharks, it was notable how some were intensely interested in the human visitors on the other side of the glass, while others were just interested in doing a Jaws impression waiting for food.
  • Moray eels are capable of inter-species communication to hunt in a coordinated manner. No, really.
  • Babies and toddlers can understand complex language well before they can reproduce it. If you underestimate them just because they aren't talking yet, they will outsmart you. And you will feel stupid.
    • In general, humans have a tendency to misconstrue lack of verbal responses for lack of intelligence, and tend to be surprised when it turns out that, despite it seeming obvious to those who read it on paper, the mute/nonverbal person actually does fully understand what you're saying, and will feel deeply insulted if you're talking shit about them within earshot. This dilemma is a particularly big problem for nonverbal autistic people, many of whom, especially in adulthood, feel like they have to "prove" that they are indeed intelligent.
  • While it is debated as to how intelligent they were, dinosaurs are now believed to be much smarter than we once thought they were. For years, dinosaurs were believed to be slow-witted lumbering beasts who did little more than eat, fight, and have babies. However, over the years, we've discovered that some species (particularly small meat-eating dinosaurs) were at least intelligent enough to form complex social behaviors.
    • Tyrannosaurus rex was not only one of the largest predators ever to walk the earth, it was also pretty smart. Studies indicate that it might've been at least as intelligent as modern-day alligators or even some breeds of dog.
  • Not only is the honey badger famous for its sheer ferocity, it's also remarkably smart. It's one of the few animals that's been documented using tools.
    • At least one captive honey badger named "Stoffel" has become notorious for being something of a "badger Houdini". He's managed to escape his pen several times using tree branches, rocks, mud, and even a rake as a means to get him over the wall of his enclosure. At one point, he even figured out how to pick the locks of his cage with the help of his mate "Hammy". It's gotten to the point where his owner had to put an electric fence around his enclosure to keep him contained. And, even then, it seems Stoffel is already trying to figure out a way to get past that.
  • Bees (especially honeybees and bumblebees) are also incredibly intelligent. They can navigate mazes using things like color recognition, landmarks, and lighting. When collecting nectar, they can memorize the locations of several different flowers, remember the time of day each of them produce nectar, and find their way home from two miles away. Once home, they relay these facts to the rest of the hive by dancing.
  • Pigeons, while common and overlooked, are as smart as corvids and parrots, if not smarter. A pigeon can be placed anywhere on the planet and will find its way home each time, even if it's never been to that area before. Recently, it's also been discovered that they recognize human faces, and will quickly determine which humans are trustworthy and which ones to avoid. They're also shown to learn things (like math, for example) in a similar way to human children, right down to making the same kinds of beginners' mistakes.
    • Seagulls are similar to pigeons, but much more ferocious in their tactics. They've also wised up to the fact that women are more likely to drop their things and flee than men when attacked by a flock, and started acting accordingly by targeting women who seem to be carrying something delicious to eat. This article compares them to the classic Alfred Hitchcock movie The Birds.
  • The false cleanerfish resembles the more friendly cleaner fish. It tricks other fish into letting it approach, then bites a chunk out of it and retreats instead of cleaning it of parasites. This trick best works on juveniles, as adult fish who have been attacked before will actively avoid the false cleanerfish or even attack it on sight, indicating the adults have memory. Even more impressive, the adult fish learn to tell the difference between false and true cleaner fish.
  • Pufferfish are quite intelligent. They are capable of recognizing the faces (and possibly voices) of their owners, and can be taught basic tricks (For example, going to a certain part of their tank to get food).
    • Not only are they smart, but they can be rather artistic too. The male of one species native to Japan is known to build elaborate circular nests. These nests take days (if not weeks) for the puffers to build and are used to attract mates to be used as nurseries for their fry. Not only that, but they are considered some of the most complex forms of nest building in the animal kingdom. And, to think, all the puffer uses to build theses nests are his fins and his incredible knowledge of geometric shapes.
  • Even arthropods get involved in the action! One researcher studying cockroach reproductive habits noted that her research subjects eventually learned to recognize their handlers, and act differently around them than other humans.
  • A popular video on Youtube shows the startled reactions of various cats to their owners using a 'cat-face' filter on their smartphones. The surprising thing about this is that the cats seem to recognize themselves in the phone screen and look up at their owners to double-check that they haven't turned into big cats.
  • One afternoon, a woman named Benita Rogers was sitting with her visiting parents in the living room when her cat Midnight was trying to get her attention. She shooed him away...then heard some bloodcurdling moaning and screeching noises coming from her baby monitor. Benita rushed upstairs to find her six-week-old daughter Stacey suffering from respiratory failure and Midnight howling into the other monitor. Fortunately, she arrived just in time to save her daughter, thanks to Midnight understanding how the baby monitor worked and realizing that Benita would respond to noises coming from it.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: