The safest way to avoid detection in stories is always, well, right under the enemy's nose — the last place they'll ever think to look.
This is true even if the antagonist or whoever the hero is avoiding has all his forces concentrated in an easily avoidable heavily armed complex. Despite the fact that the Sword of Plot Advancement is not to be found there, the hero must encounter the Damsel in Distress somehow.
Even when it would make more sense to avoid the enemy stronghold altogether, the seasoned marksmen who swarm the wilderness are always much more likely to capture our heroes if they attempt to sensibly bushwhack away from the enemy camp, whereas the soft green recruits at the main gate would never imagine someone walking up to the Front Door.
This may extend to...:
- Literally walking up to the Front Door, usually disguised as filthy peasants or a janitor. ("These aren't the droids you are looking for.")
- Charging the fortress (One-Man Army, It's Up to You) on trumped up reasons (Damsel in Distress) when observing from a safe distance might make more sense.
- Navigating through the enemy's moat/sewer system/air vent and discovering something fascinating to move the plot along when the heroes could have avoided the place entirely.
- Geographic or logistical hurdles require the Hero to sneak past a checkpoint. The Mooks come perilously close to detecting the hero (It's Probably Nothing).
- Accidentally encountering the Big Bad while disguised as someone else (Hey, Wait!!)
- Actively seeking out the most heavily guarded facility on the grounds that "it's the last place they'll expect to find us!!"
- Harry Ashworth in Delenda Est figures out a way to steal someone's wand, while they're holding it, without them even noticing it's gone. This skill comes in handy when Harry steals Voldemort's wand in the middle of their duel.
- Star Wars:
- Done on several occasions, most notably when Han hides by sticking the Falcon on the back of a Star Destroyer.
- Although the biggest one, in light of the prequel trilogy, still has to be the decision to hide Luke on his father's home planet under his own name with his only known relatives. Obi-Wan was banking a lot on the idea that Vader would never want to go to Tatooine ever againnote .
- In the movie version of The Two Towers, Pippin suggests this as reason for Treebeard to take him and Merry back towards Isengard; of course, he had other reasons for wanting Treebeard to see Isengard close-up.
Pippin: If we go south, we can slip past Saruman unnoticed. The closer we are to danger, the farther we are from harm!
Treebeard: That... doesn't make any sense to me! Then again... you are very small. South it is, then!
- While attempting to avoid pursuit by Nazis in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana Jones and his father go through Berlin to get the journal back. They manage to run into Hitler - who proceeds to write his autograph in it. And this is after Hitler has "declared war on the Jones boys" (as the Big Bad of the film put it).
- In any Robin Hood film, the titular hero will sneak his entire band into Nottingham dressed as peasants.
- Zorro. Swashbucklers in general seem to be fond of this.
- Conquest of the Planet of the Apes has the main villain making this remark about having owned Caesar, the chimp everyone was searching for, all along.
- In The Gumball Rally, one of the teams evades a roadblock by driving into a truck.
- Even funnier, in The Cannonball Run, they sneak a known race participant (Burt and Dom's ambulance van) through a road block on the back of a "low-boy" carrier, covered only with a tarp and looking exactly like a van covered with a tarp.
- Carry On Spying. The headquarters of the evil S.T.E.N.C.H organisation is right under the headquarters of the British Secret Service where the spies started their mission. After the Elaborate Underground Base blows up, the heroes take the elevator to the surface and emerge from a closet in Da Chief's office.
- In Castaway on the Moon, Seong-geun gets marooned on a Deserted Island—under a bridge, in the middle of the Han River, in the middle of Seoul. No one driving the bridge or sailing the river ever sees him, because no one's supposed to be there.
- The 1979 spy film Charlie Muffin (aka A Deadly Game) ends with Charlie (having betrayed British Intelligence in revenge for them setting him up to be killed) relaxing with his wife in a hotel in Brighton, England. "They'll look all over the world, but they won't look here." In the novels the movie is based on however, Charlie does eventually get caught.
- The Lord of the Rings: This is explicitly how Sam and Frodo succeed (helped by Aragorn's army besieging the Black Gate at the same time, getting all the orcs out of the way). After all, who in their right mind would take the one artifact Sauron needs to rule the world right to his doorstep? Tolkien at one point tried to make up an excuse for them to sneak into Minas Morgul, but thought better of it.
- In The Sherwood Ring, British soldier Peaceable Sherwood takes his hidden militia to crash for the winter at...the shut-up-for-the-war house of the soldier assigned to capturing him, Richard Grahame. Richard is unpleasantly surprised when he makes the mistake of coming over to the house to rummage around for a Christmas gift for his girlfriend.
- The title character of Captain Caution, an American privateer, insists he doesn't believe in taking chances. His French friend is incredulous: sailing right into a British-held port and anchoring where the fort's guns will have a perfect shot at him isn't taking chances? Of course not; since he made himself so totally vulnerable to them, the British knew he couldn't be an American coming in to capture one of the ships already in port. And that night, he sneaked a crew aboard....
- In Harry Turtledove's Great War trilogy, a Confederate submarine commander is able to sail, unsubmerged, within sight of a Union fleet at New York City, protected only by audacity and the fact that the Confederate national flag (as opposed to the well-known battle flag) looks a lot like the Stars and Stripes from a distance.
- Turtledove has also featured Jewish characters in other series escaping persecution in Nazi Germany by joining the Wehrmacht or even the SS under a false identity.
- In the first Enola Holmes book, Enola, a runaway, is discovered by her brother. When she shakes him again, he spends all night out scouring the city for her, but she successfully escapes by hiding in his house. (And, when she departs, she's able to use some of his disguise supplies to ensure she won't be spotted.)
- In Something Wicked This Way Comes, Jim and Will hide in a sewer grate not more than ten feet away from where the Circus of Fear is parading with the reasoning that the carnival folks won't think to look in so obvious a place. They still have a couple of very close calls, though, and would in fact have been discovered by the Dust Witch's Super Senses if Will's father Charles hadn't intervened.
- In Star Trek: Vulcan's Heart, during the early stages of the revolution on Romulus, Spock proposes a plan along these lines:
Ruanek: Audacious, hells, yes! But how in the name of all those hells are you going to get in? Just walk right up and order the gates to open?
- Sultan Mehmed, Vlad Tepes' Islamic enemy in Count and Countess, easily evades all of Vlad's military plans just by hiding out in a church town in the middle of Romania. Vlad does catch up with him in the end.
- In the Mistborn trilogy, the protagonists choose to stage their revolution right in The Empire's capital city. The argument is that it's the last place anyone would expect them to do it, and also that it has the most resources for their use.
- Snakehead (the seventh Alex Rider book), Alex is trapped on a boat filled with guards searching for him, and it'll be hours before they reach shore and he has a chance to escape. He goes for Refuge in Audacity and spends hours hiding under the villain's bed.
- A Song of Ice and Fire:
- The legend of Bael the Bard says that when he stole away Lord Stark's daughter, they hide in the Winterfell crypts. No one found them for years.
- Bran and his company had the same idea and hide from Theon Greyjoy by doubling back and hiding in the crypts under Winterfell.
- In The Princess and the Queen, when Rhaenyra storms King's Landing, Aegon II hides in the last place she would ever think to look: in Dragonstone, her own home.
- In one book of The Borrible Trilogy, one of the recruits for a new adventure is noted for the clever place he's made his hideout, to avoid the Borrible-hunting police: he lives in a disused basement underneath the police station.
- Ciaphas Cain always manages to foil the enemy's application of this trope, usually by heading to the sector least likely to see action (to the confusion of the underlings, who all believe in his gung-ho HERO OF THE IMPERIUM persona). This results in him stumbling on a tunnel leading to the enemy, an infiltration unit, or daemonic summoning ritual in progress, and therefore putting his life even further at risk than if he'd gone to the front line. One of his Mauve Shirts has a similar ability, her bad luck leading to discover previously-unseen enemies or traps.
- In The Last Unicorn, King Haggard is the one responsible for the disappearance of all but one of the unicorns of the world. Schmendrick hides the eponymous last unicorn right in front of Haggard by disguising her as a human woman. It drives Haggard crazy because he knows something isn't right about "Lady Amalthea," but he can't quite figure out what.
- In his introductory story, The Stainless Steel Rat escapes a planetwide dragnet by hiding in a building just a few blocks away from where he escaped. Unfortunately the authorities quickly track him down there, because he's being pursued by the Special Corps whose agents consist of former criminals who think just like he does.
- Cassy and Emmeline escape from Simon Legree in Uncle Tom's Cabin by running into the swamps while leaving an obvious trail, then sneaking back to the house and letting the searchers run themselves ragged looking for them. They make their true escape a couple of days later.
- Inverted in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: It is revealed that the Hellmouth is in fact located directly underneath the library where Buffy and the Scoobie Gang hang out and make their plans to stop the bad guys' plans. Given that The Master was trapped in the Hellmouth for all of the first season, it is thus implied that the Big Bad had been hiding under the heroes' noses the whole time, though it never seems like he's aware of the fact.
- Comes up again in the last season in the final episodes. Buffy has a verbal sparring match with Caleb at the rebuilt high-school (the site of the Hellmouth once again) and realizes that the villains SHOULD be fortifying the position in preparation for opening it up and letting out the army of super-vamps. But they aren't. Why? Because they have fortified an old winery where they had already sprung a trap on Buffy and the potentials. Again, why? Because there really is something even more important to the coming battle buried right under the winery.
- Game of Thrones: Where has Gendry being staying all this time after his departure on Season 3? In King's Landing, of course, back at the forge in Flea Bottom making weapons for the Lannister army.
- In the Supernatural episode "What Is And What Should Never Be", Dean takes Wishverse!Sam to the djinn's lair to confront the djinn, and at one point they are literally hiding under the djinn's nose as they hide under an open metal frame staircase as the djinn walks up the steps.
- In Hogan's Heroes, this trope is the only half-way plausible explanation of how Hogan's headquarters could stay hidden beyond manipulating Col. Klink and Sgt. Schultz. This depends heavily on the episode; in the first season especially Schultz is openly aiding them, and Klink has been heavily implied to be an Allied agent a few times.
- In Season 18 of the Dutch version of The Mole, one challenge had the host ask each contestant a series of questions starting with "Do you want to know who the Mole is?" While the contestants were answering these questions, the Mole casually strolled past them in plain sight with their face completely uncovered. All the contestants had to do to find out the Mole's identity was to turn their heads slightly to the left, but they were all so busy focusing on the board with the questions that not a single one of them did.
- In Series 2 of Series/Marcella, the Serial Killer has managed to hide the body of one of their victims inside the very police station the main character works at, by dumping in the maintenance compartment of an elevator shaft.
- In one strip of Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin is hiding from his mother, who is trying to get him to take a bath. Calvin avoids being caught by hiding in the bathtub.
Calvin: She'll never look here.
- Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag: In the modern day portions of the game, you (as the point of view character) interact with a cell of Assassins who are hiding from the international Templar manhunt targeting them. How do they hide? By working openly in the lobby of Abstergo Entertainment, a subsidiary of the very company that is the front for the Templars.
- In Captain Morgane and the Golden Turtle, it turns out that Anita's missing outlaw husband and the mysterious, scarred stranger sitting in her bar are one and the same. He didn't want to reveal himself because firstly, he's still wanted by the law; and secondly, he thought Anita would reject him because of his disfigurement.
- In Final Fantasy XII, the hero party discusses this trope before infiltrating their enemies' capital city.
Penelo: But what about once we're inside? Won't the city watch find us?
Ashe: We'll do what we can to blend into the crowd. Our names may be notorious, but our faces are not far-known.
Vaan: True, true. You're our princess, and we didn't even recognize you.
Ashe: (flatly) I noticed.
- In Team Fortress 2, if the Spy uses the Box Trot taunt, he can potentially blend in with the surroundings - the last place "normal" players think to look. What makes this tactic truly broken is that, unlike while Cloaking or Disguises, the Spy can still capture objectives in this manner or block the enemy from capturing while Boxtrotting.
- One Dungeon Keeper II level pits the Keeper against an enemy with a vastly superior subterranean fortress and army. The Keeper levels the field by stealing them piece by piece, sealing rooms away from the enemy using magically hidden doors and ambushing soldiers to torture into switching sides.
- Used in both of the first two Enigmatis games. In the first game, Detective Hamilton spends thirty years in the town of Maple Creek, disguised as a secretive hermit, in order to gather intel on the Big Bad. In this case, it's unclear whether his target is really unaware of his presence or if he's just being very studiously ignored. In the second game's bonus chapter, a young woman skulks around the area where her companions are imprisoned, and even tells herself that "The closer to danger, the farther from harm," reasoning that she won't be noticed because no one expects her to be there. Unlike the first example, she is horribly wrong.
- In Ashen, the entire game is spent searching for the titular being. When at last you discover its location, it turns out that it's in the Wrinkled Grotto, one of the first places in the game you gain access to, and one many players might have even stumbled into by accident.
- A Corollary Two example in Bob Defendi's podcast audiobook Death By Cliche. It's even Lampshaded somewhat by the main character. Given that the entire thing is a deconstruction of bad GM-ing and poor storytelling, this isn't particularly surprising.
- Inverted in Vaguely Recalling JoJo, the villain DIO is constantly following Jotaro's group, but they don't seem to spot him until the plot calls for it.
- RWBY antagonist Cinder Fall's way of destroying Beacon Academy? Having her and her associates (minus Torchwick) literally be contestants in the Vytal Festival as foreign academy students, this helps her plan everything else up to the end of Volume 3.
- During a video of Muselk playing Prop Hunt in Team Fortress 2, Muselk encounters a teammate named Publo who should have been turned into an object to hide from the enemy team, but instead has been turned into a Pyro. Muselk concludes that this is the single worst disguise in all of Prop Hunt, and assumes that Publo is standing in the open because he has accepted his doom. A few minutes later, Muselk notices that every enemy has failed to notice Publo, because they're too focused on looking for players disguised as objects and hiding, and thus Publo is the only player who doesn't get found.
- Subverted in Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Gaang tries to infiltrate a royal party in order to get close to the Earth King and inform him that the Fire Nation is getting increasingly close tovictory over the Earth Kingdom. Unfortunately, the very nice man who lets them into the party is the head of the Da Li, the Secret Police intent on making everyone in Ba Sing Se unaware that there's a war in the first place.
- A man who was seriously wanted by the FBI was working as a dishwasher in a cafeteria. In Washington, DC. In the basement of FBI headquarters.
- Fugitive LAPD officer Chris Dorner holed up in a Big Bear cabin less than 200 yards from the police outpost coordinating the manhunt for him.
- General Antoine Lavallette was arrested in 1815 for having supported Napoleon Bonaparte and managed to escape the Conciergerie with the help of his wife, trading clothes with her. Some of his friends hid him in an attic of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a few hundred metres away from the palace of the King who wanted him dead.
- Osama bin Laden was quite possibly the most wanted man on earth for ten years. It was widely assumed that he was living in a cave in the most remote parts of Afghanistan to avoid capture. As it turns out, he was living in a very nice Pakistani suburb, about a mile from Pakistan's most prominent military academy. There's debate as to whether it was this trope, or whether the Pakistani government simply had no interest in knowing that he was there.