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Plethora of Mistakes

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"Sometimes a plan is just a list of things that don't happen."
Tiger, Spinnerette

Similar to A Simple Plan, but applied to crime dramas, thrillers, and the like, this is either a very simple plan or a very complicated plan where everything goes wrong for the sake of going wrong. Usually an unsubtle way of saying crime doesn't pay, or just making the characters dance for your amusement.

For example, a criminal (or a group of criminals) has an elaborate masterful plan to rob a bank, or perhaps murder someone, or whatever. But that's a lot easier said than done, isn't it? Soon cracks start to show after the plan goes through, or during the execution of said plans, likely in the form of loose ends. Everything starts to unravel when the Plethora of Mistakes are shown. Maybe someone went ahead in such a way it made the planning fall pathetically apart. Somebody forgot to disable the security camera, or someone left behind a crucial piece of damning evidence for Inspector Javert. Or maybe one of the group members was a loose cannon who lost his/her cool and killed someone, when the rules of the plan were "not to kill", as it would make things more complicated. Or maybe, during the bank heist, somebody got greedy and started to take more than what they could carry, thus going over the pre-established time limit. Or someone Failed a Spot Check for the guards, police, or people who would notify them. Or someone is starting to crack under pressure. Either way, the person or party involved has to fix the mistakes, which usually causes even more mistakes.

The bane of Stupid Crooks everywhere. Compare Crime After Crime. Sometimes overlaps with Diabolus ex Machina.

Tropes that lead to this one

  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Likely plays a HUGE part in this trope as well. Very rarely do criminals get away with their plans in mainstream media.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: As the suffering of the involved is funny.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Those who are oblivious to their surroundings (alarms, law enforcement patrols, witnesses) or to the evidence they leave behind (using traceable cellphones and/or unencrypted, compulsively saved e-mails, leaving fingerprints or DNA or being caught on surveillance cameras, etc, etc).
  • Gambit Pile Up: Multiple conflicting plans crash into each other.
  • Guilt-Ridden Accomplice: Exactly What It Says on the Tin, someone who feels guilty over their crime. Expect these people to undermine and sabotage the heist out of guilt or remorse.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: Has no patience for complicated plans and no concept of the word "wait" or "stop."
  • Motive Decay: When the motive goes from "get money in this intricate way we have planned" or "smuggle/sell these drugs in discreet amounts and ways" or similar into "get as much money as we can even if it exposes how we did it," "let's get high off our own product and bring and fling as much as we can," or the like.
  • Psycho Party Member: An accomplice whose desire for violence or chaos overwhelms any sort of planning or reservation. Or alternatively someone who was otherwise normal, but lost their marbles due to the pressure.
  • Spanner in the Works: Unaccounted for individual(s) comes out of nowhere sending things spiraling out of control.
  • Stupid Crooks: Sometimes the criminal(s) just aren't very smart. Although they can be very smart and calculating and still have this trope happen to them.
  • Tragic Mistake: If it's from the criminal's POV, expect to see a bunch of tragic mistakes.


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    Comic Books 

    Fan Fiction 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In 68 Kill, the original plan was for Liza and Chip to sneak into Ken's house, steal the $68,000 in the safe, and flee. If they'd stuck to that plan, things probably would have gone off without a hitch. But Liza decides to murder Ken and his wife, and then they discover they are not alone, which leads to an unplanned abduction, and things continue to spiral out of control from there, eventually ending in torture and mass murder.
  • The Big Lebowski by contrast, has a number of complicated plots gone horribly wrong, mainly by crashing into each other.
  • The 2013 Bonnie and Clyde TV movie portrays the infamous Outlaw Couple as going through this trope at the start of their criminal career. Clyde wants to rob a payroll to get enough money so he and Bonnie can leave Texas, but the plan is faulty and he gets caught and sent to jail. When he gets out, he and Bonnie rob a bank, but their getaway car runs out of gas and Bonnie is captured. When they rob a store, a panicky accomplice accidentally shoots and kills the store owner. Over time, they become addicted to the outlaw lifestyle and stop caring about who they are hurting. They still make plenty of mistakes, but now they 'correct' them by killing the police officers who come after them.
  • Burn After Reading: The list of stupid things that happen is mind-boggling to the Nth degree. Suffice to say that it's a plot played for (dark) laughs, populated with people too self-absorbed to actually figure out what the hell is going on, and pointed out as such by the CIA at the epilogue... in a "what the hell just happened?" kind of way.
  • The armored truck heist in the film Dead Presidents. It is Played for Drama — most of the (quite sympathetic) criminals end up killed and the survivors don't get to enjoy freedom (let alone the little money they could get) for long.
  • Fargo: The very first mistake was getting Stupid Crooks to pull off a kidnapping and giving them a car that didn't had proper plates. The second one was not knowing that one of them was a Trigger-Happy sociopath. From that point on, it gets worse.
  • In The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery, George Fowler is recruited to be the getaway driver for the titular bank robbery. John Egan (the gang's leader) has planned everything meticulously and timed things down to a second. However, Ann, (George's ex-girlfriend) finds out about the robbery and tries to inform the authorities. John kills her for knowing too much and changes the plan so now Willie is the driver and George has to come into the bank with the other robbers. The day before the robbery the bank makes a small change that causes the entire plan to unravel. The police show up and Willie panics and drives off without the others. The robbery ends with John shot by the police while taking a woman hostage, Gino committing suicide in the vaults and George captured.
  • The Ladykillers (2004) (and the British original): The heist itself goes off without a hitch, it's dealing with the sweet old lady who witnessed it that's problematic.
  • The Next Three Days plays with this a little. The protagonist is a teacher, not a criminal mastermind, and thus he is constantly racing to try to pull off a Xanatos Speed Chess in his quest to get his wife off prison.
  • No Country for Old Men. Boy howdy! The very first mistake isn't even Llewelyn Moss' fault — for some damn reason two drug-dealing groups decide to blow each other away. His first mistake, though, was deciding to go back to the scene of that crime and try to do something humane for a man that was probably long dead by the time he made that decision. And it only gets worse from there.
  • Somewhat subverted in the Denzel Washington film Out of Time, as the protagonist was able to narrowly intercept and fix the mistakes before they got worse.
  • Raising Arizona: The first mistake, arguably, was not sitting down and thinking that when a man says he has too many children that he knows what to do with, he was just joking. And then there's the avalanche of obvious lies made to the neighbors. And the Biker from the Apocalypse. And there's the two Stupid Crooks that are friends of the protagonist that try to pull a heist at the finale but can't even make the hostages follow instructions right.
  • Reservoir Dogs. The heist goes to hell due to one of the crew going psycho and shooting up the joint upon the alarm being sounded, and the cops showing up much earlier than they were supposed to due to one of their own (Mr. Orange) actually being an undercover cop. And then things get worse.
  • Snatch.. Let's just say getting a diamond onto an aeroplane is not nearly so simple as it seems. Neither is understanding Brad Pitt as a pikey.
  • The Bank Robbery in Two Hands starts off smoothly. Things start to unravel when one of the customers gets lippy and Jimmy has to beat him down. Then Wozza knocks himself out attempting to hurdle the counter, and Jimmy has to fetch the Getaway Driver Craig from the car to help him carry out Wozza. This means that Craig is not keeping watch outside the bank and two cops arrive without being spotted. The cops open fire and Craig is killed in the fusillade of shots. Jimmy is forced to dump Wozza in the car, where he groggily comes round and returns fire. Jimmy tries to start the car and get away, but the cops Pop the Tires, forcing Jimmy and Wozza to carjack another vehicle before they can escape.
  • Valkyrie in which a group of German officers resisting Hitler attempt to assassinate him in 1944. They fail.
  • Very Bad Things starts with a bachelor party that's dirtier than their wives/fiances want. Then, while high on cocaine, the hooker they hired is killed when her head is impaled during sex. Hiding the body ends up making things worse and that's when Murder Is the Best Solution comes up... again and again...

  • This is a recurring theme in the John Dortmunder novels by Donald Westlake (of which The Hot Rock is the first). Dortmunder is a spectacularly unlucky criminal. The other novels (some of which have been filmed) are: Bank Shot, Jimmy the Kid, Nobody's Perfect, Why Me?, Good Behaviour, Drowned Hopes, Don't Ask, What's the Worst That Could Happen?, Bad News, The Road to Ruin, Thieves' Dozen, Watch Your Back, What's So Funny?, and the novella Walking Around Money.
  • In the Parker novels by Richard Stark, Parker's carefully planned heists seldom go according to plan; usually due to either the greed of one of his partners or interference of other criminals. Basically, they're the serious, pulp-fiction version if the Dortmunder novels, mentioned above, which makes sense when you realize that Richard Stark is a pseudonym for Donald Westlake.

    Live Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Robb Stark is a great battle tactician, but when it comes to politics he made two MAJOR political mistakes that would eventually cost him dearly, all because he refused to play Realpolitik.
    • Cersei runs head first into this as well around season 5, when she decides to give power back to the High Sparrow by reinstating the Faith Militant. And things just snowballs out of control from then on out.
  • In Season 3 of Justified Quarles has a rather inspired plan on how to turn Harlan County into a major new source of illegal Oxycontin. He quickly has most of the operation up and running but needs someone local to Harlan County to run it for him. Instead of making a deal with Boyd Crowder, he instead backs Devil in his coup against Boyd. This fails and Boyd refuses to work with Quarles. Quarles then makes the mistake of assuming that US Marshal Raylan Givens is being paid off by Boyd and tries to bribe Raylan. Raylan reacts very badly and starts looking for a way to take down Quarles. The increasingly desperate Quarles tries to make deals with the other powerful Harlan criminals but it just ends up making the situation worse. By the end of the season Quarles is abandoned by everyone and ends up getting his arm chopped off when he tries to rob Limehouse.
  • Episode Good Night of Homeland had a relatively simple plan of getting Brody through to the Iranian boarder through Iraq. Instead they had problems with their drone, their planned route was cut off, nosey Iraqi cops show up at an inopportune moment, a land mine blows up the truck carrying Brody and cripples one of Brody's escorts, and then there is a shoot out with Iraqi soldiers. Their was nothing "simple" about it.
  • On Luther, this happened to DCI Ian Reed in the fifth episode of series 1. His plan to get hold of some diamonds goes horribly wrong, leading to several unnecessary deaths, and his attempts to fix the mistakes leads to John Luther discovering he's a Dirty Cop. And trying to fix this ends with the death of Zoe (Luther's wife) in a Gun Struggle, which causes Luther to swear revenge on him and kills any hope he had of a peaceful resolution.
  • One episode in Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries snowballed into this. Aunt Prudence had called a seance to speak with her godson Roland who had died in the Great War to help a Shell-Shocked Veteran recover his memories. This would lead to two people dying in the present time and the discovery that Roland was actually murdered. Roland's ex-wife Maude wanted to protect the murderer and broke into Roland's grave to retrieve evidence but accidentally killed the grave keeper in their panic. Then, Mrs Bolkonsky would kill Freddy upon discovering in the seance that her aide Hamilton's brother was also in Roland's regiment but had died painfully due to a traumatized Freddy not doing anything to save them.
  • Ozark likes to cynically wallow in this trope. Basically Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) is a Chicago financial advisor who, along with his business partner, launders money for a Mexican drug cartel. When his partner tries to cheat the cartel and ends up dead, Marty relocates his unfaithful wife Wendy (Laura Linney) and two kids to a modest resort at the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, where he hopes to work off his debt to the cartel while avoiding the attention of the FBI. Unfortunately for them, the Ozark is a Wretched Hive of corruption, making the territory anything but a easy mark. So naturally there's an absurd amount of disasters after disasters, deaths after deaths. To the point of contrived coincidences.
  • The entirety of The Shield involves Vic Mackey and his Strike Team committing a lot of police corruption in order to enrich themselves and to cover up their own crimes. Their eventual downfall can be traced back to two particular crimes that is the cause of their excess of mistakes; the murder of Terry Crowley in Season 1 and the Armenian Money Train Heist in Season 2.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Fiasco ("A game of powerful ambition and poor impulse control") is specifically described as "like making your own Coen Brothers movie", and cites several of their films listed above as inspiration.
  • Paranoia is loaded to the brim with incompetent and uninformed characters, armed with shoddy equipment and conflicting goals, blundering their way through a city already well on its way toward falling apart at the seams.

    Video Games 
  • Happens a lot in the Grand Theft Auto series. Niko Bellic Lampshades this in GTA IV, sarcastically saying he hopes attack helicopters and submarines don't show up during a mission.

    Web Original 
  • Named the "Cockup Cascade" by Yahtzee in Zero Punctuation, specifically in Hitman where he comments you'd try to make a clean and easy kill only to have someone walk into the room, which then starts a whole domino of "cockups" that, in his video, led him to be comically married to the man's corpse for years. This has since cropped up in other reviews involving finicky stealth mechanics.