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"You may find the keys useful. They open 90% of the world's locks."

A skeleton key (also known as a pass key) is a master key often used by locksmiths, that will open any lock in the set of locks for which it is made. In fiction, a skeleton key will open any lock or Locked Door, period, and will often be shaped like a skeleton, skull or bone (partly a Visual Pun and partly a visual clue as to the key's purpose).note  More realistic examples have a full ring of them, one for each type of lock.

Subtrope of Cool Key. Compare Interchangeable Antimatter Keys (which this is one step up from). Not the same as a Skeleton Key Card (which is just jimmying the lock with a piece of plastic). For the supernatural power to open any lock, see Open and Shut.

Not to be confused with The Skeleton Key.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In The Big O, Roger Smith has a device that looks like a key blank. When inserted into a lock, it will emerge as a perfect copy of that lock's key, which can then be used to open the lock. It is unclear whether it is reusable or if he has several.

    Comic Books 
  • Depictions of Batman's Utility Belt that listed its contents used to include a set of skeleton keys that could unlock 90% of known locks.
  • Tintin: Thomson and Thompson use a ring of skeleton keys in several books.
  • Aquaman and his Super Team in the New 52, the Others, have Joshua Cole, a.k.a. Operative, who has an Atlantean key that has the magic property of being able to unlock any lock.
  • In Mortadelo y Filemón, Mortadelo occasionally uses a skeleton key to open a lock. However, in some cases his "skeleton key" is comically oversized and used as a Battering Ram instead.
  • This trope is literalized in Zita the Spacegirl where a skeleton's fingers and toes can open any lock.

    Fan Works 
  • Rupert Chill orders one from the Alien Shopping Network in Calvin and Hobbes II: Lost at Sea.
  • In Always the Quiet Ones, Pinkie Pie reveals she has one which she uses to open Fluttershy's door. For obvious reasons, the Rainbooms find this concept disturbing.
  • Triptych Continuum: The Tarsus Key is essentially a magical version of this trope. One of the more common devices is a secured lock, a lock which has been magically attuned to its owner's unique field signature, so that only that specific magical signature will unlock the lock. A Tarsus Key resets such a lock so it can be attuned to a new signature. They're not technically illegal, since there are legitimate reasons why you might need to reset a lock (the most common being that the previous owner has died), but they're very heavily regulated.
  • Harry Crow: One of the major goblin antagonists is revealed to possess a Loki Talisman, an extremely rare (and hugely illegal) artifact that allows its bearer to pass freely through any and all wards. They'd apparently been using it for generations to quietly plunder abandoned Gringotts vaults, which is part of why they were so adamantly against improved wizard/goblin relations: If there was any investigation into the status of such locked vaults, their whole scheme could have blown up in their faces.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Beetlejuice had Lydia get a skeleton key from the real estate agent who was a friend of the deceased couple.
  • The Matrix Reloaded doesn't have a master key, it has the Key Maker, a living embodiment of this trope: a humanoid sentient program with the ability to produce a key that unlocks any door or lock that he comes across in the virtual world, including system backdoors.
  • In Harold and Maude, Maude carries a skeleton key that she uses to drive off in whatever vehicle she chooses. (At one point they ride off on a cop's motorcycle.)
  • The Skeleton Key naturally involves a skeleton key that will open any door in the mansion where the protagonist has taken a job.
  • The Living Daylights has a set of these helpfully provided by Q to Bond early in the film. He uses it to escape out of a pair of handcuffs.
  • In The Stone Killer (1973) a police officer sees a car thief opening a trunk with a huge bunch of keys, and detains him when he tries to flee.
  • Le Samouraď. The Villain Protagonist is a Professional Killer who carries a huge ring of keys that enables him to steal any Citroën DS. Tension is created in one scene as he tests one key after another in an ignition as two patrolling police officers walk down the sidewalk towards him; the car starts before they get close enough to realise he's stealing it.
  • Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai: Ghost Dog has an electronic key that will start any vehicle; one of a number of homages to Le Samouraď.
  • In Raining In The Mountain, Hsu Feng plays a professional thief sent to steal a sacred scroll from a Buddhist monastery. She uses several keys to try and open the padlock on the room where it's kept, but is interrupted by a monk walking in on her. To her surprise, he produces his own key and opens the lock, then walks off, as he's in league with the man who hired her. Shortly after this a corrupt official (who is also planning to steal the scroll) sees her with the skeleton keys and realises he has a rival conspirator.

  • In City of Thieves (1983), one of the first items you can purchase in the book is a skeleton key (it's even called by such in-game!) from a dwarven blacksmith. This key can unlock every single door, closet and grate, up to and including the front entrance of Evil Overlord Zanbar Bone's fortress.

  • Sirius Black gives Harry Potter a Swiss army knife that includes this. Although Harry runs into a door locked with such powerful magic it melts the knife.
  • The Artemis Fowl series features a piece of fairy tech called an Omnitool, which can open virtually any lock. It was originally owned by Holly Short as a gift from her dying mother, before it was stolen by Mulch Diggums. Many years later (from Holly's perspective) she was reunited with it by retrieving it from Mulch, when it had only been a few hours (from Mulch's perspective) after he had stolen it.
  • In Samhain Island Tremaine and Hannah use a skeleton key to get into the tower.
  • In The Wind Through the Keyhole, the Covenant Man gives Tim a key which can be used to open any lock, but it only works once then becomes a useless chunk of metal.
  • DFZ: Cleaners receive a key from the DFZ herself that will open any lock in the city so long as they have a right to be there. Normally that means buying the apartment for their jobs, but occasionally they will accidentally buy an apartment that isn't actually legal (such as if the resident paid their rent through a magical contract with the city, which doesn't show up on paperwork), and they won't be able to get in. They don't get a refund if that happens.
  • Wolven features a magic key like this. It was previously owned by Cleopatra.

    Live-Action TV 
  • On Doctor Who, the Doctor's sonic screwdriver often acts as one of these. In the episode Carnival of Monsters, the Doctor complains that he can't open a non-electronic lock with the sonic screwdriver (also, the screwdriver doesn't do wood.). Jo Grant responds by producing an impressive collection of skeleton keys (she was trained in espionage techniques, including escapology).
  • In the Scrubs episode "My Jerks," the Janitor is revealed to have made a key that works on everything. Said key is confiscated by Dr. Maddox.
  • In the "Master Key" pricing game on The Price Is Right the contestant tries to win prizes by picking keys to open a set of giant locks. One of the keys is the Master Key, which will open every lock and award every prize. One of the other keys inverts the trope by being a dud which won't open any lock.
  • Arrow features a Skeleton Key in Season 2. It was first sought by the Clock King before Team Arrow defeats him and gets ahold of it. Later, Slade Wilson breaks into their HQ and takes the skeleton key for himself.
  • Used as a Visual Pun in The Monkees, when Mickey finds one in the pocket of a skeleton's coat.
  • In the Batman1966 episode, "The Impractical Joker", the Joker is on a key-themed crime spree. He leaves a skeleton-shaped key behind as a clue, and later tries to turn Batman into a literal skeleton key in a " human key duplicator".

    Myths & Religion 
  • One of the powers that are sometimes ascribed to a Hand of Glory is the ability to magically open any lock. No wonder it is generally associated with thieves.

  • This is one of the "Junk" awards in Elvira's House of Horrors. Its stated ability to open any door translates into gameplay as unlocking various bonus modes (relating to the titular house).

    Puppet Shows 
  • On The Furchester Hotel, Phoebe has a key on a chain around her neck. Several episodes establish that it's a passkey for all the doors in the hotel.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure has a purchasable Magic key that would open any door of the dungeon its found in. However, the player has to spend Gold for it, and the key itself wouldn't be worth as much, so it would be a net loss in points.
  • Dungeons & Dragons has had several magical keys that could open any lock, such as the Key of Opening, the Silver Key of Portals and Skeleton Keys (I and II). Also worth noting is the spell Knock, which, when cast, immediately opens (or closes) most objects that can be opened (or closed): doors, chests, boxes, and so on. Amusingly, Knock can be keyed to a Wand for repeated casting, creating a limited-use "skeleton wand".
  • Shadowrun has several devices that can bypass electronic locks:
    • A maglock passkey can be used to open any maglock (magnetic lock) door. The higher the passkey's rating, the more likely it can open the lock.
    • The Neo-Anarchists' Guide to Real Life has devices that can do the same thing with keypads and card readers. The keypad sequencer feeds a keypad system a series of passcodes, and a passcard (AKA skeleton card) does the same with the card reader into which it's inserted.
  • The "Skeleton Key" is a character template in BESM Third Edition; they have the power to open the portals between worlds, and have the Dynamic Power (low-level, though) to open locks both physical and metaphysical, making them quite sought after by those who know of them. There's also a BESM artifact called the Janitor's Key Ring which can open any lock if the user simply tries enough keys from the key ring.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, the clavises used by Deathwatch Watch Masters are explicitly compared to skeleton keys. A repository of ancient machine-spirits, a clavis is capable of opening any door in the Imperium and can take control of any Imperial machinery.

  • In the song, "With Cat-like Tread" from The Pirates of Penzance, one of the pirates' tools are their "skeletonic keys."

    Video Games 
  • Asheron's Call had a Shimmering Skeleton Key as a rare item, which could unlock any lock in the game but only had one use before it broke. The best bet was the use it on the Colosseum Vault (which normally required you to win the Colosseum to get a key for, and, in addition to some really good random loot, always had two random Empyrean Rings.) Once the Gauntlet (basically the Colosseum on steroids) was added near the end, it became better to use the key on the Gauntlet Vault instead.
  • The Binding of Isaac:
    • The original has a Skeleton Key item that grants 99 standard Interchangeable Antimatter Keys. Good luck running out of those!
    • Rebirth adds golden keys, a rare pickup that grants unlimited keys for the rest of the floor. It also has Dad's Key, an activated item that opens all doors in the current room, and a lockpick trinket that allows locked chests to be opened for free.
    • Afterbirth adds Store Key, a trinket that makes stores free to open.
    • Repentance adds a unique skeleton key with the Blue Key, a trinket that lets you open any locked door for free but requires you to fight through a room with a few tough monsters each time you do. It also adds Sharp Key, which lets you throw keys to unlock doors, including doors that keys wouldn't normally be able to open.
  • Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance features a Lure Key that opens almost all the doors in the castle, to ease backtracking in the later parts of the game. There are only two doors on which it doesn't work - MK's Bracelet opens one, and the Skull Key opens the other.
  • The Master Key, one of the starting gifts in Dark Souls, can open several non-progression related doors that would otherwise require other keys to open. The Thief class starts with one for free, allowing them to take a different starting gift in addition to it.
  • In the main adventure of Dark Tales: The Mystery of Marie Roget, the player character notes that with as many locks as they pick in their work, they really ought to invest in a skeleton key. Come the bonus chapter, and they acquire exactly that. It's a Brick Joke and also a Visual Pun, since the key in question looks like a skeleton. Unfortunately, it's not a true skeleton key - it can only be used on one specific lock.
  • In Deadly Premonition, York is given a master key for every police car in Greenvale.
  • In Dicey Dungeons, one of the items you can find is a Skeleton Key, which requires doubles but sets all your dice to the value you input.
  • Dokapon Kingdom has an item called the Skeleton Key, which allows you to choose the item you get out of Item Spaces, including red ones.
  • Doom has skull keys that are literally just skulls. Like keycards, they come in three colors: yellow, red and blue. In the official games, they're interchangeable with keycards of the same color; the Boom source port allows users to make doors that require specifically a skull key or a keycard.
  • Dragon Quest III has three different skeleton keys, with the final incarnation being able to open any door. Or you could just use that spell.
  • In EarthBound (1994), after Jeff is given a bent key for the lockers by his friend Maxwell Labs which doesn't work, Maxwell replaces it with the "Bad Key Machine", which is short for "Machine that Opens Doors, Especially When You Have a Slightly Bad Key". This allows Jeff to unlock all of the lockers to gather supplies for his journey to find Ness and Paula. Said machine comes in handy to unlocking their cell door in Threed.
  • The Elder Scrolls has the Skeleton Key artifact, which is associated with Nocturnal, the Daedric Prince of Darkness and the Night who is also associated with Thieves and Luck. While the exact details of its function vary with each appearance (as noted below), it typically serves as a lockpick which will never fail.
    • In Arena, it opens any non-magical lock once per day.
    • In Daggerfall, it is similar to the Arena version but can now open weak magic locks and also be worn as amulet for a stat boost. It is obtained directly from Nocturnal by summoning her and completing her quest.
    • In Morrowind, the Skeleton Key is a regular lockpick with a 100% success rate. You get it for completing the Thieves' Guild quest line, however, by that time, you're likely a skilled enough lockpicker to not even need it. Thus, it often ends up in the player's Trophy Room.
    • In Oblivion, you get the Skeleton Key as a reward for completing Nocturnal's Daedric quest. In this case, the Skeleton Key is an unbreakable lockpick that greatly increases your lockpick skill; this allows players to simply press the button to automatically make an attempt over and over until the lock opens, allowing for any pickable locks to be bypassed entirely.
    • The Skeleton Key takes a level in badass (at least in-story) in Skyrim. It can unlock anything, including the limits of human potential. Mercer Frey uses it precisely for this purpose in the Thieves' Guild quest line. Unfortunately, in the hands of the player, it once again serves as just an unbreakable lockpick. And in order to complete the Thieves' Guild questline, you have to return it to Nocturnal, though you do get some good armor and a once-per-day superpower out of the deal. Granted, a Lockpicking perk gives you an unbreakable lockpick anyway and the minigame isn't hard.
  • In Excelsior Phase One Lysandia, these are used to pick locks, instead of normal lockpicks.
  • Final Fantasy Mystic Quest gives us the Multi Key, which is stated to be able to open any lock. It's only used once in the game, to open a house door locked from inside because the resident is a coward who fled when he saw the Volcano was full of monsters. It's the only way to get in there and obtain the Mega Grenade ability.
  • Alyx Vance appears to have an electronic one about half-way through Half-Life 2, which opens all doors in Nova Prospekt and can also hack Combine computer consoles.
  • In the Hitman World of Assassination Trilogy, this comes up in two ways. The more literal version is a key or keycard that opens every locked door in the level (the most blatant version being the Master Key in Paris or the Master Keycard in Bangkok), although not every level has one of these. The more figurative version is that many levels have a master disguise, one that isn't considered out-of-place in any area of the level (Helmut Kruger or Sheikh Salman Al Ghazali in Paris, who have access to almost all parts of the level), so that Agent 47 can freely walk around in any area without alerting anyone that wouldn't be an enforcer for that disguise.
  • The Keyblades of Kingdom Hearts fame can open or close any lock as one of their many abilities. It doesn't end with mundane locks, either: metaphysical locks like "unlocking a person's heart" or opening doorways between worlds are also possible. A quick-time event in Dream Drop Distance taking place within a computer suggests they may be capable of opening electronic or coded locks as well.
  • Kingdom of Loathing has skeleton keys that can be used to bypass doors in the Daily Dungeon, which is the only guaranteed way to open them safely. They are made by gluing a skeleton's teeth onto a bone. One is required (and consumed) to reach the Naughty Sorceress. It also has the same Skeleton Key Card from NetHack as a Shout-Out. This one doesn't break, because it's an incredibly rare and valuable item.
  • One shows up in King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow — it not only opens any lock (which is useful in case Alex gets imprisoned), it's also shaped like a skeleton, and Alex has to steal it from a real skeleton - in an area with no locks, which you can't go back to once you find places with locks, which you steal by playing a xylophone, with no evidence that anyone present likes music.
  • In the adventure game The Last Express you can obtain a key that opens all the locks on the train, belonging to the conductor, and you can use it to sneak into other people's compartments and snoop around for information.
  • In Legacy of the Wizard, the Keystick, which can only be used by Meyna, can unlock any door or chest without consuming any of your keys.
  • The Legend of Zelda: The first two games -The Legend of Zelda and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link- both have the Magical Key item that basically serves as infinite keys for the remainder of the game. The sixth palace in Zelda II can't be beaten without it unless the player knows the trick regarding the Fairy Spell to bypass the doors in a different way.
  • In Mailstrom on the ZX Spectrum, the least violent way for the postman protagonist to open pillar boxes is to use a skeleton key.
  • Mario Party 2 and Mario Party 3 have Skeleton Keys to unlock door passages on the board, of which Luigi is particularly fond - even if he isn't interested in actually using them properly. After a very long absence, the item makes a return in Mario Party Superstars.
  • One level in The Matrix: Path of Neo has Neo saving a girl who was given a skeleton key by the Key Maker. In the end she uses it to help herself and Neo escape, then destroys it.
    Neo: You should keep that, it could come in handy.
    Girl: [snapping the key] No way, man, I've had enough of magic keys.
  • NetHack has both a Skeleton Key and a Skeleton Key Card.
  • Pandora's Tower: The Crimson Key, which can open each and every red door in the towers without a waste. The only downside is that it's only obtainable during the New Game Plus, so the locked rooms will remain that way during the first playthrough.
  • Persona 5: While it's not called a key, the Eternal Lockpick ignores the one use limit of other chest opening items, allowing you to unlock every chest with it alone.
  • Pokémon has several of these. In Pokémon Red and Blue and Yellow, there is a key card that, once obtained, unlocks all the doors in the Rocket Hideout. A similar key must be obtained in Pokémon Diamond and Pearl and Platinum to unlock all the doors at the Team Galactic building in Veilstone City. Red and Blue also has Silph Company's Card Key, which unlocks all the doors in their building.
  • The Lab Key/Master Key in Resident Evil can unlock the cell door and the door leading to the helipad. It's also speculated that the key is how the Big Bad manages to move around in the mansion grounds without having to solve the same puzzles you have to do.
  • Risk of Rain: One of the usable artifacts is a Skeleton Key, that will open every chest visible onscreen when used. The item log specifies it may operate through Nanomachines, the sender attempted to sell it to the Merchant's Guild (expecting a hefty sum, because otherwise the entire guild would get robbed blind), and that testing showed it opened lock and bolt, card readers, eye scanners, dead bolts, chains, zippers and phone passwords.
  • SCP: Secret Laboratory has the O5 Keycard, which can open any door or locker in the facility, go through both checkpoints and gates, and gives access to the Intercom. It is also one of only two keycardsnote  that can trigger the Alpha Warhead. O5 Keycards do not spawn naturally - they must be created using SCP-914.
  • Sweet Home (1989): Emi's special item is the key which is required to open any locks found within the mansion. Should she somehow become unavailable, other party members will be able to find extra keys around the house.
  • TaskMaker has Skeleton Keys that open any locked door. Its sequel, The Tomb of the TaskMaker, also has lock picks which can be used if the player is a Thief.
  • In Ultima V, the player can acquire Skull Keys which effortlessly open magically locked doors. Oddly, since they can all be unlocked by the "Unlock Magic" spell anyway, magical doors are notably *less* secure than normally locked doors.
  • Subversion: In World of Warcraft, the key to open the Scholomance door is called the Skeleton Key and has a skull-shaped bow, but otherwise is apparently just a normal key that opens one particular door. Played straight, however, with the Skeleton Keys made by Blacksmiths which will open any lock up to a particular difficulty.

    Visual Novels 
  • It Lives Beneath has this as a premium choice item for Imogen to find in Chapter 3. It first gets used in Chapter 7 unlocking the door to the meeting room of the cult that runs the town. By Chapter 15 as all hell breaks loose once Josephine starts wreaking havoc, the key can be used to unlock the police station doors to Parker's surprise as you lead survivors and your party to safety.
  • The Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog: As a special privilege for her birthday, the Train Conductor gives Amy Rose a universal key to access any part of the train she wants. This comes in handy when Shadow the Hedgehog is discovered locking all the car doors to hide the fact he forgot to get Amy a birthday present before going on the train. He tried to compensate by buying concert tickets online, but needed to lock all the doors to prevent anyone from spoiling the surprise. Not that it helped thanks to Amy's key and Tails' investigation leading her to find out anyway.

  • In Homestuck there is the Skeleton Key Badge that god tiers can earn. While it is just a badge it basically means those who have earned it are living skeleton keys who can unlock most everything just by trying.
  • The Key to the Arg in Weenie Licked. Too bad it got thrown out a window.
  • In Namesake, Emma Crewe is a living one, and also a Vorpalsmith.

    Web Original 
  • In Crossing Kevin's Crossing, the narrator gets mesmerized looking at one in an antique store.
  • SCP Foundation: SCP-005 is an ornate key of the type produced in the 1920s, but which seems to have the unique ability to open any and all forms of locks, be they mechanical or digital, with relative ease.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons, "This Little Wiggy": Chief Wiggum has a police master key that opens any door in Springfield. Bart and Ralph steal it and get up to mayhem.
  • The Fairly OddParents!: Cosmo mentions in one episode that he once had a terrible job as a magic key, implied to be one of a skeleton nature.
  • In Danny Phantom, The Skeleton Key is a ghostly artifact that Vlad seeks out in "The Million Dollar Ghost", and eventually leads to the events in "Reign Storm" when he uses it to release Pariah Dark.
  • In Gravity Falls, the President's Key can (allegedly) open any lock in America.
  • In The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Grim reveals he has one and is then hit for the pun.
  • Heckle and Jeckle invade King Tut's Tomb (cartoon of the same name) and encounter its treasure chest. Heckle asks for a skeleton key; a skeleton shows up and hands him one.
  • During the season 8 finale of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic the main six are given an artifact that can open any door, but breaks after usage in order to open the gates of Tartarus. Normally they would use magic to open the gates, but the magic in Equestria is mysteriously failing and they are there to investigate a possible suspect. It turns out the person who gave them the key was the real culprit behind the disappearing magic and knew it would break and gave it to them to make sure they would be able to get in but not out.

    Real Life 
  • Real skeleton keys refer to a key for a series of warded locks that has been filed down, allowing it to get past all the wards in the series and thus act as a master key. The skeleton aspect refers to the key being stripped down to the essential components needed to unlock the series of locks.
  • Security guards will often have either a giant key ring or a single key designed to operate every door in a specific area, as will janitors, maintenance people, housekeeping, etc. With keycard systems of the sort found in offices and hotels now, it's slightly more involved - the lock system is told to accept certain cards as being able to open any lock, but as soon as one is reported missing, it will be disabled on the system and no longer open anything - at least if the place is competently run.
  • While jailed, Shane Baker made a copy of the master key using its images from a booklet that were handed out to all prisoners. The copy allowed him and his inmate Daniel Heiss to escape from the prison, only to be recaptured some days later.
  • The KAC Masterkey is named for this trope. It's an underbarrel-mounted shotgun.

Alternative Title(s): Pass Key, Master Key