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Skeleton Key Card

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"Any lock can be picked by a credit card or a paper clip in seconds."

In TV land, some 90% of locked doors can be opened in seconds by following three simple steps:

  1. Insert a credit card between the door and the frame just above the lock.
  2. Jiggle card a bit.
  3. Turn handle.

Up to a point, this used to be Truth in Television. Early spring-bolt locks could be circumvented with flexible strips in a similar way (though actual credit-cards are usually too stiff for the purpose), especially if carelessly installed. However lock manufacturers introduced features to prevent this kind of attack a long time ago, and dead-bolt locks were always immune to it. As such, it's a Discredited Trope.

Sub-Trope of Improvised Lockpick. Not to be confused with a Skeleton Key or a key card that acts like a Skeleton Key. Or The Skeleton Key.


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  • Given that Barclays Bank used the advertising slogan "a Barclaycard gets you anywhere" and had several ads featuring a James Bond parody,note  it's an odds-on bet this trope would come up at least once. This slogan is also responsible for the SAS nicknaming their door-breaching shotguns "the Barclaycard".
  • A 118 118 advert has somebody trying this and failing, only to be handed a fake moustache which opens the door no problem.

    Film — Animated 
  • Played straight in Fantastic Mr. Fox. Fox is more surprised that Kylie is eligible for a Titanium card.
    Fox: A Titanium card?! How the cuss are you eligible for this?!
    Kylie: I pay my bills on time! I've always had good credit.
  • In the teaser trailer for Monsters, Inc., Mike opens a child's locked closet door using a key card.

    Film — Live Action 
  • Ace Ventura did it with a door sign.
  • Used by Visser in Blood Simple to get into Ray's house.
  • Subverted in The 'Burbs when Ray's store credit card snaps in half as he attempts this.
    Ray: [to Art] You have a credit card I can borrow?
    [Art checks his wallet to find that all of his cards are fused together after his Harmless Electrocution moments prior]
    Ray: Never mind. [pulls out a store credit card of his own and sticks in into the door frame]
    Art: I didn't know you knew how to do that.
    Ray: I DON'T know how to do this. [card breaks]
    Art: That's a shit store anyway.
    [Ray picks up a rock, breaks the window on the door, reaches inside, and unlocks the deadbolt.]
  • Arriving at David's house in Death Spa, the two cops obligingly turn their backs while Michael jimmies the lock with a credit card.
  • Desperados (2020): Subverted, Wesley attempts to use a card to unlock Jared's hotel room, but she just ends up breaking it instead.
  • Fletch plays with this one when the titular character, trying to avoid his ex-wife's attorney, uses a credit card on a window to break into his own apartment.
  • The French Connection. Popeye Doyle's partner uses a credit card to get into Popeye's apartment.
  • In Frequency, Frank Sullivan uses this technique to get into Sissy Clark's apartment. Unfortunately he's too late.
  • Double Subverted in Get Smart. Agent 99 points out that the credit card won't open the deadbolt lock that 86 is using his card to open... until Max reveals that the secret heat laser built in will certainly do the trick.
  • Subverted in High Heels and Low Lifes with multiple credit cards of Frances', apparently since she figured it might work This Time.
  • In Insomnia, when Dormer first enters Finch's apartment, he picks the lock using a credit card.
  • James Bond:
    • Parodied in A View to a Kill, where Bond pulls out a credit card to unlock a window. But after flipping it over we see that it's an electronic lockpick from The Sharper Image.
    • The World Is Not Enough has a Visa credit card with a lockpick inside it. Sliding back the lower portion of the card causes the spring-loaded pick to pop out.
  • Leonard uses this tactic in Memento to break into a motel room.
  • Parodied in The Naked Gun where Frank tries this with Brand X card and it doesn't work. He tries it with an American Express card and the door opens.
  • Subverted in Roxanne. Charlie is called to Roxanne's house to unlock her door. He opens his tool chest to reveal nothing but a single credit card, however the door doesn't take Master Card. He then uses the Old Reliable method to gain access to her house (deftly scaling the 3 story home to crawl in through the unlocked attic window).
  • Superman IV: The Quest for Peace : Lois uses a credit card to get into Clark's apartment to return the cape he lost in his battle with the Nuclear Man.

  • 1-800-Where-R-U: In book 5, while breaking into the apartment where Rob's little sister Hannah had been staying, Jess initially asks Rob for a credit card she can use to slip the lock (he refuses, since he knows it'd be destroyed in doing so), but winds up using her Juilliard ID card instead.
  • A few characters do a similar trick with a knife at various points in the Catteni books; the protagonist explicitly compares it to the credit card trick.
  • Clue: Book 3, chapter 7 ("Sound the Alarm!") has Boddy installing a great deal of security equipment in the mansion, and asks Mr. Green (and all the other guests) to try to break in through the front door. Falling back on this trope, Green uses a credit card to slip the lock... and like everyone else who tried to break in that way, triggers a trap door under the welcome mat. And then his suitcase falls in after him, landing on his head.
  • In the Inspector Morse book "The Dead of Jericho", Morse (who has no official standing in the case) makes a surreptitious investigation of the crime scene, and is caught by Detective Constable Walters. Once Morse has satisfied him about his motives for being there, Walters asks him how he got in. Unwilling to reveal the real answer (which involves bribery) Morse attempts to use this trope as an explanation:
    "You see, the lock on the back door there's a Yale, and with a Yale the bevel's always facing you when you're on the outside. So if you take a credit card and slip it in, you'll find it's just strong enough and just flexible enough toŚ"
    "I know, sir. I've seen it done on the telly."
    "And the lock on the back door there isn't a Yale, is it? Goodnight, sir."
  • In Michael Crichton's The Lost World Arby used his credit card to escape the cabinet he stowed away in the RV.
  • Nancy Drew used this trick once.
  • Nick Velvet: After being locked in a closet in "The Theft of Cinderella's Slipper", Nick attempts to use a credit card to shim the lock, but the door is too well-fitted and he can't slide the card in. He is instead reduced to a laborious process of Hooking the Keys.
  • In On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Bond sneaks a strip of plastic from the Piz Gloria ski shop to defeat the room locks while spying at night. Part of why he gets caught and has to escape is the SPECTRE agent running the shop actually having good enough inventory records and paying enough attention to notice a strip is missing after "Sir Hilary Bray" leaves and calling it in.
  • In Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz, the title character jimmies the lock on a sliding glass door using an ID card. Although this was stated to have something to do with the general disrepair of the home... or, at least, a fairly valid explanation was provided.
  • It's mentioned in some of the Philip Marlowe stories by Raymond Chandler that Marlowe carries a strip of celluloid in his wallet precisely for this purpose (this was in the days before credit cards).
    • In The '70s, National Lampoon published a parody called "The Big Recall", starring Ralph Nader as a detective. The sole reason he kept a gasoline credit card was to break into buildings; he figured that the interest rates the corp. charged justified his using its card that way.
  • Jack does this in Sixty Eight Rooms with his library card, to hold open a door leading into the maintenance area behind the Thorne rooms.

    Live-Action TV 
  • On the Brooklyn Nine-Nine episode "Chasing Amy", Jake and Amy get locked out on a roof. Jake tries to open the door with a hotel key card he had forgotten to return.
  • Columbo: In "Double Exposure", the murderer (played by Robert Culp) uses a credit card to jimmy the lock when he breaks into the home of his first victim to steal a weapon to murder his second (It Makes Sense in Context).
  • Community: Alluded to in "Accounting for Lawyers", while trying to break into Alan', Jeff's old lawyer buddy, office to find evidence that he turned Jeff into the state Bar, Abed pulls out things people use for capers, including a credit. The ineffectiveness is possibly lampshaded in that he states "the credit card doesn't work".
  • Daredevil (2015): In "Penny and Dime," Karen uses this method to break into Frank Castle's house.
  • Kirk tried to use this method to break into a sperm bank on Dear John (American version). Subverted when the card (John's) breaks off in the lock. ("Oh. I guess it doesn't take American Express.") Like the Perfect Strangers example, the part with the John's name is stuck in the door. Ralph, on the other hand, manages to do this successfully.
  • Death in Paradise:
    • DI Mooney uses his credit card to slip the lock on an empty house rented by one of the suspects in "Written in Murder".
    • In "Murder Begins at Home", the Victim of the Week uses a playing card to unhook the latch on the police station shutters and climb inside, locking the shutter after him, before experiencing a Time-Delayed Death: thereby inadvertently creating a Locked Room Mystery.
  • Farscape. In "A Human Reaction", John Crichton steals the ID card of one of The Men in Black holding Aeryn Sun prisoner. It looks like he wants it to get into somewhere secret, but instead he uses it to break into a house so they can hide out.
  • FBI: Most Wanted: In "Inheritance", Remy and Ortiz arrive at the house of a woman they believe might be the killer's next target and find the door locked and no response when they knock. Ortiz offers to kick the door down, but Remy instead opens it with his platinum card.
  • Subverted in Friends, where Chandler tries this to open a locked cupboard, but loses his credit card through the gap.
  • The Nickelodeon series Hey Dude! had an episode where one character manages to snap his father's credit card in half trying this trick. He tried desperately to find some way to hide or replace the broken card, only for the ending to reveal that it was expired anyway and the bank had already sent him a replacement with instructions to destroy the original.
  • Home Improvement has an episode where Tim, attempting to show the efficacy of the anti-theft system he's installed, has a guest star thief try to break in. Moments after saying that he's engaged the system, the front door opens and the thief walks in. He explains that he used a credit card to slip the lock. Tim replies "Sure, if you don't mind destroying your credit card doing it" to which the thief says, "That's why I used yours" and hands Tim's wallet to him.
  • Subverted by House who brandishes his credit card while betting his team he can unlock a door in under 20 seconds, only to grab the spare key under a flowerpot once they're foolish enough to take the bet.
  • Subverted in I Dream, where a pair of characters destroy every (fake) credit card they have trying to open a door this way.
  • Just a Gigolo: Simon needs help with a dog in Episode 6, but the door is locked, so Nick uses Natalie's credit card to get in. Unfortunately for him, it ends up breaking in the door, so they just smash in through a window.
  • In Kyle XY, Stephen Trager uses this to get into a locked door. This is followed with an amazed "Teach me" from his teenage son.
  • When master improvisator MacGyver travelled (hallucinogenetically) into the past, he witnessed none other than Merlin himself pulling this stunt.
    MacGyver: Gee, I always wondered who invented that...
  • The Magician: In "The Magician - Pilot", a heavy uses his credit card to jimmy the lock on Tony's dressing room.
  • One episode of Midsomer Murders has Barnaby and Jones trying to get inside a closed building in a hurry (his daughter's wedding is coming up). Jones tries to open the lock with Barnaby's credit card, leading to a still-locked door, a broken credit card and a very annoyed Barnaby.
  • In the Monk episode "Mr. Monk and Sharona", Monk, Natalie and Sharona play this method straight in one scene to look for evidence.
  • Judge Harry T. Stone on Night Court once helped the guys break into a strip club this way.
    Harry: Let's just say I mastered the possibilities.
  • Subverted on Perfect Strangers when Larry tries to open a door with his credit card and it breaks. Worse, the part with his name on it is stuck inside.
  • Phoenix. In "Give a Dog a Bone", a member of the so-called Dogs (the Victorian State Police surveillance unit), does this while executing a covert warrant while the owner is absent.
    Grumpy: Police call credit card. Don't leave home without it.
  • Probe's "Metamorphic Anthropoidic Prototype Over You": Josephine becomes the prime suspect in a murder due to being able to pick the lock on her cage with a credit card that she stole from Austin.
  • The Professionals do this in their first episode, showing that CI5 aren't hampered by petty matters like search warrants.
    Bodie: Right credit card opens so many doors.
    • An odd one occurs in "A Hiding To Nothing" when Doyle appears to be picking a lock with a skeleton key, but when he opens the door he's shown holding a credit card. You'd think the skeleton key would be more effective so he wouldn't have to change methods.
  • In the Seven Days episode "Pinball Wizard", Parker uses his newly acquired "Platinum Card" first to rent a Porsche and then to break into a girl's apartment.
  • Supernatural: Dean uses a credit card to get into Angela's house in "Children shouldn't play with dead things". Of course, when Angela's roommate freaked out at his being there he calmed her down by showing her he had a key, so... maybe he was just using the credit card as a joke?
  • Three's Company: After Jack's girlfriend locks herself in the bathroom and refuses to come out, Mr. Furley attempts to use his credit card to open the door. She steals the card when he inserts it and the door remains locked.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the third edition GURPS Lite rules, the example given for using defaults for skills is a player who doesn't have the Lockpicking skill rolling against IQ-5, and their character running a credit card against the latch because they saw that in a movie once.

    Video Games 

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • The Ice King uses a credit card to unhook the latch on Bubblegum Princess' shutters in the Adventure Time episode "Mortal Folly".
  • Bob's Burgers:
    • Louise tries to use a credit card to open the "Room of Secrets" of a frat house in "My Big, Fat, Greek Bob". Unfortunately, she finds that modern doors are immune to such tactics.
    • In "Sheshank Redumption", Bob finds that his ATM card is unusable because it has been scratched. A flashback shows that Louise used it to show Tina and Gene how to open a door as part of a "life seminar".
  • Deedee does it in the very first episode of Dexter's Laboratory.
  • Fillmore!: In "Test of the Tested", Ingrid uses her library card to spring the lock on the equipment storeroom in the basement of the gym.
  • Green Lantern: The Animated Series: Hal tries to open the door to Scar's quarters with a credit card light construct in the "Scarred" episode. Kilowog just breaks the door down.
  • Viper invokes this trope in Jackie Chan Adventures when the entire gang is locked up in Section 13. However, Jade pulls out a macguffin "card" that renders this trope meaningless.
  • In the Looney Tunes short "Box Office Bunny", Daffy Duck, outraged at the prices of movie tickets, pulls out his library card - and uses it to open the back door of the theater.
  • When Goofy tries this in a Mickey Mouse Works short, he only gets a sales receipt for the door.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Marge Gets a Job", Marge's new office at the nuclear plant doesn't have a key to the door because it was lost. Instead of replacing the lock, Smithers just tells Marge she can get in with a credit card.