A character, usually female (ironic as the Trope Namer is male), suspects a male character, often a neighbor, of committing a crime. Perhaps she is even a witness of the crime. Nobody believes her, or she isn't sure herself, so she decides to wait until he leaves his house, and then sneak in to look for clues or to obtain incriminating evidence. Of course, the potential suspect will invariably come home early, and the investigating character will have to find a way out of the house without being discovered. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't.
This can be an Idiot Plot, because the character in question often fails to be certain that the probable bad guy will actually be gone for a while and is not just getting his mail or something. In some versions, another character will be placed as a lookout, but they will either become distracted and fail to notice the bad guy as he arrives home, or their signal to get out will go unnoticed by the infiltrating character.
There's also a less common but still prevalent comedy version of this trope, where the investigating character is trying to retrieve something, often an embarrassing item they've left behind.
- Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, of course. Indeed, many of the following examples are in fact Shout Outs and can also be found on the "Rear Window" Homage page.
- Brian De Palma's Sisters is in part an homage to Rear Window. The variation is that the suspect is female rather than male, and the character snooping in her apartment is male. Interestingly, each character has an opposite-gender accomplice.
- Another gender-inverted example is Blue Velvet, where a (male) college student snoops around the apartment of a local woman who he believes is connected to a string of murders.
- Rear Window's Spiritual Successor, Disturbia, has Kale's male friend Ronnie look through the potential murderer's house, though unusually Ronnie makes it out of the house unscathed.
- Lindsey goes into her sister's murderer's house in The Lovely Bones.
- In Apartment Zero the neighbors are leery of Adrian, but when they hear about a series of murders plaguing Buenos Aries, they become outright suspicious of him. They try to subtly test the waters, just to see if they really need to be worried. It doesn't go well.
- In Summer of '84, teenager Davey is convinced his neighbor is a serial killer and convinces his friends to go investigate with him, which includes digging up the garden and breaking in the house.
- This is a crucial part of the English folktale, Mr Fox. Lady Mary, Mr Fox's intended bride, is suspicious of him and follows him home to see his castle for herself - and gets more than she bargains for when she finds the literal skeletons in his cupboards. A ballad version by the folk group Mr Fox has the girl bring home evidence of her encounter with Fox's latest conquest and confront him with it:
Foxy took his knifeAnd with a blow both sharp and sweetThe hand was severed from the wristAnd dropped down at my feet...Foxy turned his back on meHe turned as if to leaveBut I took him by the arm and pluckedThe hand from out my sleeve
- Older Than Radio: Occurs in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey where after reading too many Gothic novels, the heroine begins to mistrust her host General Tilney and suspect him of murdering his wife years before. This novel actually predates Rear Window by almost two centuries.
- In Bruce Coville's My Teacher Is an Alien, the narrator breaks into her new teacher's house to look for evidence that he truly is otherworldly. Unfortunately, her lookout had a short attention span. Hilarity Ensues.
- In The Lovely Bones a girl breaks into her neighbor's house to look for incriminating evidence in the death of her older sister.
- In Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, one of the main characters breaks into his girlfriend's house to delete a message from her answering machine (Note: the book being written and set quite a while ago, this means listening to all of her messages, off a series of cassettes, until he finds the one he made). It turns out he's actually possessed by an ancient alien ghost.
- Point Horror novel The Window clearly and deliberately rips off the plot of Rear Window: When a young woman accompanies her friends on a ski trip and ends up spraining her ankle. Stranded in her room and bored, she begins spying on the other cabins with a pair of binoculars. Sure enough, she witnesses a murder and the killer him/herself, though she can't tell who it is—it quickly doubles as a Locked Room Mystery when she realizes it has to be one of the friends she's traveling with—and ends up playing a nail-biting cat-and-mouse game trying to figure out exactly who it is without tipping them off.
- The Seinfeld episode "The Phone Message" revolves around an angry message George left on his date's phone while she was out of town, and his attempts, using Jerry as a decoy, to sneak into her living room and change the cassette before she hears it. She reveals later that she had had her friend play her the messages and took George's tirade as a dry joke, their successful effort to switch tapes a waste of time.
- In the Are You Afraid of the Dark? episode, "The Tale of the Nightly Neighbors", the protagonists believe their new neighbors might be vampires and decide to sneak into their house to look for evidence. Despite their planning, there are a couple of close calls of them being found.
- The Monk episode "Mr. Monk, Private Eye" contains a unique version of this trope, in which Monk sneaks on to Jay Bennett's yacht and is promptly stowed away.
- Done ad nauseum in Psych, wherein Shawn has ended up stowed on a boat, caught sneaking around various facilities (including a Seaworld-like park after-hours), and too many others to count. The sheer number of times he has snuck into someone's property means that, statistically, he should still be paying fines/jailtime for breaking and entering in 2099.
- In a Halloween episode of That '70s Show, Fez breaks his leg and stays in Eric's room, watching the Pinciotti's house and hoping to see Midge, their MILFy next door neighbor, naked. However, when she's nowhere to be seen and her husband Bob is seen by Fez carrying a large garbage bag, Fez immediately assumes that Bob killed Midge. It turns out that Bob had merely carved pumpkins for Halloween (the garbage bags had garbage in them) and Midge was away on vacation.
- The episode of Castle, "The Lives of Others". Castle is so bored while recovering from an accident, that he starts watching his neighbors through binoculars, and sees what is clearly a man murdering his girlfriend with a knife. When Beckett doesn't believe him (she even calls it a "rear window scenario"), he posts Alexis to be his watch while he breaks into the neighbor's house to retrieve some evidence - except he's still on crutches, falls over when he tries to leave, and has to hide under the bed. Turns out Beckett staged the whole thing as a birthday present to Castle, and everyone, including the "murderer" and "victim", were role-playing.
- In an episode of Mike & Molly, Molly, while trying to write a novel, peaked out her window and became suspicious about her neighbor's activities and convinced herself that he killed his wife. It turns out that his wife had died a year ago and he was finally moving on by throwing out her stuff. As extra offense, the neighbor pointed out that Molly didn't come to the funeral.
- Daredevil (2015): In "Penny and Dime", Karen breaks into Frank Castle's former house, retrieves a photograph of Frank and his family, and narrowly avoids being spotted by suspicious suited men in a work van. Foggy and Matt chew her out for this in the following episode, or, Foggy chews her out, while Matt just warns her to exercise more caution.
- Luke Cage (2016): While Scarfe is bleeding out in Pop's Barbershop from getting shot by Cottonmouth, he tells Luke he has a ledger under the floorboards in his apartment containing lots of incriminating evidence against Cottonmouth. Luke goes there, slipping unnoticed past Misty Knight and her lieutenant, who are sitting in their car staking out the place in case Scarfe returns. Luke manages to retrieve the notes, but is forced to jump out a window and run when Misty enters the apartment.
- Madison gets into this predicament in "The Taxidermist" DLC for Heavy Rain
- The Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends episode "Neighbor Pains", where Bloo has to go into Old Man Rivers' house to look for the adoption forms that Rivers took. The papers he brings back turn out not to be the forms, but love letters to Madame Foster, which Mac and Bloo use to blackmail Rivers into giving them the forms.
- Parodied in The Simpsons episode "Bart of Darkness". Bart, injured from an accident diving into their swimming pool, overhears a scream from the Flanders house, and witnesses him burying something in the backyard. Believing Ned had murdered his wife Maude, Bart orders Lisa to go investigate. When Ned returns home early, Lisa gets trapped in the attic with Flanders, who is attempting to put away an axe (though from Bart's view it appeared Ned was threatening Lisa with the axe). It later turns out that Maude is alive, and was away at Bible camp the whole time. The scream that Bart heard earlier? It was Flanders.
- An episode of Rocko's Modern Life dealt with Rocko thinking Bev Bighead killed her husband Ed so he goes into their house to investigate, as it turns out Ed went to the hospital to remove a wart, the stabbing was Bev making a sculpture of Ed, which she then buried because it fell apart on her.
- An episode of The Flintstones dealt with their new neighbor apparently killing his nagging wife and Fred and Barney go to investigate; at the end he tells them she went on vacation, but in a subversion he reveals to the audience that he indeed did kill her as he fed her to his wife-eating bird.
- In a parody of Rear Window and other Hitchcock films on Sylvester And Tweety Mysteries, a laid up Granny thinks a man killed his wife and sent Tweety, Slyvester and Hector to investigate his apartment. Turns out that she was gone because she went to her mother's after being fed up with his sculpting, but made up with him when he made a sculpture of her.
- Tiny Toon Adventures:
- In the short, "Rear Window Pain" from the episode, "Psychic Fun-omenon Day", Plucky Duck, while laid up in the hospital, thought that Elmer Fudd was growing clones of himself across the street, but was actually growing eggplants for a special soup he was making. In a subversion, however, even unbeknownst to Elmer, the eggplants did turn into clones.
- In the episode, "Grandma's Dead", Duncan Duff, Elmyra's younger brother, is sick and forced to stay home from school. To pass the time, he watches a parody of Rear Window on his TV. Around the same time, one of Elmyra's pet hamsters dies when her grandmother visits, leading everyone, including the Duffs' next-door neighbor, Mr. Bump to believe that it's Grandma who died. When Duncan sees Mr. Bump carrying something Grandma left behind, he believes it's him who killed her, and he sets off to rescue Elmyra when she invites him to her hamster's funeral. As it turns out, Grandma isn't even dead in the first place.
- The Day My Butt Went Psycho!: Done as part of the "Rear Window" Homage in "Cheer Window", where Zack and Duece finds themselves trapped in Paige's house between Paige and her cheerleaders and the Great White Butt.