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Oblivious Janitor Cut

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Nothing to see here, folks.

A recurring gag in action or speculative fiction works where something absolutely incredible is happening outside, but then we cut to the inside of an office building and we see that the janitor is completely oblivious to what is going on around him, either because he has his headphones on, because his back is turned or because the cleaning equipment he is operating is too loud. Or possibly two or all three of the above scenarios combined.

A Sister Trope to Funny Background Event, with the twist that the "background" is now the main plot, and the funny event is brought to the foreground.

Not to be confused with The Almighty Janitor, who sees and knows all.


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    Comic Books 
  • In the first issue of Inferno (1988), a family visiting the Empire State Building gets eaten by a demon-possessed Evil Elevator. Something that goes unnoticed by the headphone-wearing janitor.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The Amazing Spider-Man: Stan Lee in his obligatory cameo listening to music and nonchalantly whistling as Spider-Man and the Lizard duke it out behind him, knocking down shelves and smashing lights. A large table comes hurtling toward him, but Spider-Man manages to grab onto it with a web-shot and yank it away. Stan never notices.
  • Parodied in Amazon Women on the Moon, when Arsenio Hall's luckless character ends up falling to his death from his apartment in a shower of broken glass, a nearby street-sweeper reacts with a "feels like rain" gesture.
  • The Darwin Awards: When Emile is lying on the floor with his arm trapped in the vending machine, he screams at a passing janitor who is wearing headphones and does not hear him.
  • The Day After Tomorrow: A tornado suddenly and severely damages a building. The janitor doesn't notice until the lights go out. Justified in that he is in a windowless hallway. The janitor then opens the nearest door and sees that half of the building has been sheared off by the wind, taken two lovers with them (in which the janitor saw the man running to that room).
  • Devil: A man falls off the top of a building while the janitor's back is turned to the window.
  • Die Hard. While a police car is careening wildly to avoid machine gun fire, we cut to a scene of Argyle the chauffeur rocking out with his limousine's stereo cranked up high oblivious to what's happening behind him. He only realises that he's locked in the building with a gang of terrorists after he sees a news report on the limo's TV.
  • Ghost Rider (2007): The eponymous biker rides down the side of an office building, shattering glass windows all the way down, and the janitor, wearing headphones again, doesn't notice the broken glass until after GR is long gone.
  • Grosse Pointe Blank: The Ultimart clerk plays an arcade game while a gunfight rages all around him. He doesn't notice until the hero yanks him out of the shop before it explodes.
  • The custodian in Gutterballs doesn't realize a girl is gang raped nearby, due to his headphones and floor buffer.
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1: While the hero trio is attacked by Snatchers at the diner, the waiter/cook is in the kitchen, blithely listening to music on her headphones.
  • There is one buffing the floors in I Am Number Four, but he dies with the floor buffer polishing the school floor with his blood.
  • A victim's secretary in Jolly Roger: Massacre at Cutter's Cove is unable to hear her boss being murdered in the next room due to rocking out on her headphones.
  • Mission: Impossible Film Series:
    • Mission: Impossible III: While there's not an full cut of the janitor ahead of time the trope is given a nod when Ethan crashes through a window where a janitor is working and they stare at each other for a moment before the wind catches his parachute and drags him back out, all before the janitor really has a chance to process what he's seeing.
    • In Mission: Impossible – Fallout, we see an office worker at her desk with her headphones on while Ethan Hunt is shown through the window behind trying to ascent to the rooftop.
  • Scavenger Hunt (1979): A janitor wearing headphones fails to hear the servants screaming at the top of their lungs in the locked lab.
  • Super 8: Breen misses the sheriff being taken by the monster just behind him while listening to his Walkman.
  • The Terminator: Played with. The janitor at the run-down motel that the T-800s is hiding in is at least involved enough to ask about the foul smell coming from it's room (resulting from the T-800's bullet-riddled flesh slowly rotting), but is easily moved along by the T-800's rude response (specifically selected from several different dialogue options).
    Janitor: Hey buddy, you got a dead cat in there?
    [T-800 runs through response options before finally settling on the most efficient one]
  • In The Tournament, the service station attendant has his earbuds in and is looking away from the monitors, and so somehow fails to a notice a fight to death going on behind him between Lai Lai and Miles, despite them crashing through the glass door into the shop.
  • In Tower Heist, a maid wearing headphones while vacuuming an apartment fails to notice the Ferrari being lowered outside the window behind her.
  • In Tragedy Girls, the school janitor walks into the wood shop and empties the rubbish bin while failing to notice Sadie and McKayla dismembering a body on a bench about 10 ft. away from him.
  • True Lies: The janitor doesn't notice the jet flying around outside until it crashes into the window.
  • Exploited in The Vault. A Janitor Impersonation Infiltration goes awry and an alarm goes off in the bank, leading to security rounding everyone up. Thom has to stay in an executive's office to do work for the heist, but a guard approaches before he can leave. He "hides" by simply sticking his earbuds in and claiming he didn't hear the alarm, which convinces the guard.
  • Gets egregious in X2: X-Men United, when a janitor walks past Mystique disguised as him. In fairness, though, he was likely too stunned by this bizarre event to do much about it (and had he caught on, Mystique could well have killed him, so it's probably fortunate that the real janitor limited his response to a double take).

    Live-Action TV 
  • 100 Things to Do Before High School: In "Have the Best Halloween Ever Thing!", the garbage man is wearing headphones and so fails to hear Principal Hader screaming at him as she falls into the dumpster he is hoisting into his truck.
  • Chuck: In the episode "Chuck vs. the Push Mix", the camera shows a janitor buffing the floor in the foreground, and the long-awaited proposal from Chuck to Sarah in the background.
  • Coupling: In the last episode, Jane is so wrapped up in cleaning her flat (and setting the mood) for sex that she doesn't realize Oliver is trying oh so desperately to get in. It's only revealed toward the end of this scene that she's wearing headphones, which is why she hadn't noticed his clawing at the door, hanging outside her window, or trying to grab her from the mail slot.
  • Doctor Who: The TV Movie: The Doctor and Grace pull off a dramatic escape from the Institute while being chased by the Master and his minion. The janitor fails to notice.
  • On Gotham, Gerald Crane pushes an acrophobic victim off a building tethered with a very long rope, and a hotel maid he falls past is too busy to notice.
  • Law & Order: Criminal Intent: In "Major Case", the Victim of the Week screams and pounds desperately on the window when she sees a man walking his dog pass by outside. A cut to the outside shows the man has ear buds in and is oblivious to the desperate screams and poundings, as the killer drags the girl away from the window and back into the darkness of the house.
  • Pushing Daisies: Olive breaks into a musical number while closing up the pie shop. Toward the end, the janitor pulls off his headphones, interrupting her song, and asks if she said something.
  • In an episode of Supergirl (2015), the eponymous character stops a helicopter from crashing into a building. Inside the building is a janitor listening to music while vacuuming, who fails to notice the helicopter. Naturally, Supergirl stops it before it hits the room he's working in.
  • In the Lifetime Movie of the Week Without Her Consent, a young woman is acquaintance-raped by a man after going to his house to look at used furniture he's supposedly selling. Throughout the assault, we get quick cuts of his neighbor mowing his lawn, drowning out her screams for help. Even more sickening, it's possible that he specifically planned to attack her at this time knowing that this would happen.
  • Lampshaded in a clip on World's Dumbest... in which the police are chasing a criminal into a government building... and some guy is nonchalantly shoveling snow the whole time.
    Mike Trainor: [as snow-shoveler] This does not affect my day.

    Urban Legends 
  • There's an urban legend about a hospital in South Africa. Time and again, a patient died in the same bed once a week for no apparent reason. It's soon discovered that the deaths have been caused by a cleaning guy who would unplug the patient's life-support system to plug in his floor polisher. Snopes found a similar version of the myth in a 1960s tale of an English power station whose janitor was continually emptying a "special model" of the nearby watershed in order to fill her water bucket, scaring scientists into thinking they needed to replan the power station.

    Video Games 
  • In Episode 3 of Telltale's Back to the Future: The Game, Marty crashes the DeLorean into a billboard in A-1986. A young woman picking up trash on the highway (who later turns out to be none other than Marty's girlfriend Jennifer) has her back turned and her headphones on.
  • The theatrical trailer for Overwatch involves a massive teamfight with Tracer and Winston vs. Reaper and Widowmaker in the middle of a museum. Where's security? Obliviously playing Hearthstone on his tablet.
  • Implied one in the process of taking place during Act 5 of Quantum Break, as Jack is storming Monarch HQ. Due to the Fracture, a train is in the process of crashing into the building when a stutter hits. Jack can find a janitor behind the escalators, oblivious to both the train crash and the fighting Jack has been having with Monarch's stutterproof Mooks, and Jack will remark on the shock he'll have when time restarts.

  • Vampire Girl: Just as Vampire Hunter and Goofy Idiot Sidekick are about to penetrate the hospital to take Levana down, a janitor, seeing an exit door left open, closes it, effectively stopping the vampire hunters in their tracks in a very slapstick manner.

    Web Videos 
  • The janitor in The Mercury Men is oblivious to the alien invasion going on in the building - that is, until he gets zapped by them.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Big Hero 6: The Series episode "Portal Enemy", Hiro and Sirque brawl amidst teleporting to different areas via "Silent Sparrow" portals. One of those areas is Fred's room; Heathcliff is dusting the room, oblivious to the battle behind him leaving a big mess. But after they're gone, he turns around, and sees the mess.
  • Bob's Burgers:
    • In "The Deepening," there's a janitor listening to headphones who is completely unfazed by the fact that a giant mechanical shark just shattered the window he was vacuuming next to.
    • In "Yes Without My Zeke", the kids have to sneak into school on a Saturday while Mr. Branca, the custodian, is waxing the floors. Fortunately, he's got headphones on, and there's several shots of the kids sneaking past him in the background.
  • This is a running gag in the Robot Chicken Star Wars specials. In that case, it's combined with Unusually Uninteresting Sight.
  • The Spectacular Spider-Man: In the episode "Nature vs. Nuture", Spidey stops a helicopter from crashing into an office building, and the janitor doesn't even turn around.
  • In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode, "Doing Time," there is a janitor listening to headphones who is completely unfazed by the fact that a giant wave of cranberry juice just blasted through the hallway he was mopping.


Video Example(s):


Cloak-Bot Spotted

Coming into contact with some refrigerator magnets causes the Cloak-Bot's invisibility to malfunction, alerting Sprig to its presence so Anne and the Plantars can fight it.

How well does it match the trope?

4.25 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / AchillesHeel

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