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Sleight of Handiness

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Magic tricks are always a crowd pleaser, whether you're asking someone to Pick a Card or showing off your Disappearing Box. But in the realm of fiction, these tricks have other uses, too.

Sleight of Handiness is when someone uses sleight of hand (or other magic tricks) to benefit themselves in ways they aren't often used in real life (where they're normally a tool for entertainment). Expect to see this used by a Magician Detective, or any sort of Stage Magician. Some may fall into the realm of Impossibly Awesome Magic Tricks. See Sticky Fingers for probably the single biggest use of sleight of hand tricks outside of entertainment.

Can be a Chekhov's Skill and/or Chekhov's Hobby.


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    Films — Animation 
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: Miles accidentally stuns Peter B. Parker and ties him up to question him about the multiverse. Peter manages to break free from his bonds while they're talking and sends Miles flying before leaving. Miles throws his line back at him near the climax after stealing the "goober" from Peter so that he can send the latter back to his own dimension.
    "Don't watch the mouth. Watch the hands."

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Downplayed in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Scott has taught himself some magic tricks during his house arrest. He doesn't use his newfound sleight-of-hand skills directly in the main conflict, but the underlying principle of misdirection comes in handy on a few occasions.
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service: Eggsy pulls a Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo under his Mole in Charge boss's nose, then Lampshades it as a perk of his Penny Among Diamonds background while the drug takes effect.
    Eggsy: The problem with us common types is, we're light-fingered. Kingsman's taught me a lot, but sleight of hand...
  • Mission: Impossible: When Krieger tries to take the stolen data disk for himself, Ethan Hunt shows off some sleight of hand, making an identical data disk disappear and reappear in his hands. The trick successfully convinces Krieger that Hunt could have already swapped the real disk with a decoy, leaving Krieger with a worthless blank disk.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl: Jack Sparrow is chatting up Barbossa while playing around with some gold coins, taking a handful before tossing them back into the pile one by one. Will Turner eyes his hand and realizes Jack palmed one of the coins during the display. Since these are the cursed Aztec coins, that means Jack just made himself an immortal undead like Barbosa, surprising him when the pirate runs him through in their climatic battle.
  • The Sting: Invoked when Henry Gondorff displays his dexterity with a deck of cards; actual magician John Scarne was An Insert in that scene performing the tricks. Gondorff later uses sleight-of-hand when he's dealt quad 3's, and recognizes that he's playing against a stacked deck. Despite a roomful of onlookers, Gondorff lays down quad Jacks, which outclass the villain Lonnegan's quad 9's.
  • Willow: Willow's stage magic act comes in handy at the end of the movie, when he uses his sleight of hand trick to make Bavmorda believe he's sent Elora to another realm.

    Comic Book 
  • Wonder Woman Vol 2: Natasha uses her stage magic tricks to act as a decoy, allowing herself to be captured by Sangtee soldiers then slipping her bonds and sliding a hidden weapon out of her sleeve to defend herself with the same way she would a fake bouquet of flowers.

  • Modern Faerie Tales: In Tithe, Kaye's shoplifting skills come in handy later when she has to discreetly slip something into a drink.
  • Needful Things: Sheriff Alan Pangborn is seen performing simple sleight-of-hand tricks and shadow puppets throughout the novel; when he finally confronts the sinister Leland Gaunt at the climax, he finds himself tapping into Gaunt's magic, and his tricks become real (attacking Gaunt with shadow-puppets of sparrows and a certain legendarily vicious St. Bernard).

    Live-Action TV 
  • Better Call Saul: In "Chicanery", Huell uses his sleight of hand skills, first seen in a Percussive Pickpocket stunt in Breaking Bad, to plant compromising evidence on a witness who's about to testify against Huell's boss.
  • Columbo: The episode "Now You See Him" has a magician be identified as a fugitive Nazi by a venue's owner. The owner tries to blackmail the magician, but is killed instead, and all the owner's paper's and proofs are destroyed. Nevertheless, Detective Columbo is able to reconstruct the evidence from IBM Selectric typewriter ribbon, and presents it to the suspect. The magician makes the paper disappear in a flash of flames, but Columbo and his officers have duplicate copies.
  • Criminal Minds: One episode has Reid use sleight of hand to trick an UnSub into thinking he's removed a tracking chip from his arm.
  • The Gates: Nick uses his sleight of hand trick to hide a flash drive containing info on the identities of about 10,000 vampires.
  • House of Anubis: Alfie reveals himself as an amateur magician in season 2. Sibuna decides to use his skills to trick Victor and get their amulet back during a performance. He goes a step further and tricks everyone into thinking both the fake amulet and real amulet had been smashed, by pocketing the real one and smashing two fake ones, making it seem like his trick failed.
  • The Magician is an Exotic Detective mystery drama where renowned illusionist Anthony Blake employs his trickery on mooks and the Villain of the Week to right wrongs.
  • Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: In "The Power Stealer", Zack uses slight-of-hand to switch the video from a camera (which happened to be recording during the Rangers' battle against a monster) with a video of a cartoon show, thereby foiling Bulk and Skull's attempt to expose the Rangers' identities.
  • Supernatural:
    • "Criss Angel Is A Douchebag" sees the brothers investigating the world of stage magic while trying to find a real magic user who's started killing people. They encounter Jay, an elderly magician and escape artist who has a particular knack for card tricks (at one point demonstrating a trick to a friend where he pulls three aces from a pack by seemingly randomly shuffling them, and when asked about the forth ace, reveals it's already in his friend's pocket). At the end of the episode, he uses his skills to swipe and plant one of the warlock's magic tarot cards, catching him in his own curse.
    • Earlier in the same episode, whilst trying to figure things out, the brothers tied Jay up. But, being a professional escape artist, the moment they took their eyes off him, he slipped out of the ropes and seemingly vanished from the room (really, he was hiding in a cupboard, but he fooled them into thinking he was gone).
  • WandaVision: Jimmy Woo's sleight of hand and escapism skills come in handy when he needs to escape from some handcuffs in the series finale.

    Tabletop Games 
  • "Sleight of Hand" is a Skill Score in Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 and Pathfinder, which can be used for entertainment, but also for drawing hidden weapons without being noticed, palming small objects under observation, picking pockets (though anything mechanical, like picking locks, falls under Disable Device instead), etc.
    • The Unchained supplement additionally lets characters specializing in this skill pickpocket enemies in combat as well as reducing penalties for using it (for any purpose) in time-critical situations.
    • D&D supplement Complete Warrior combines Sleight of Hand with the Quick Draw feat to pull a dagger mid-combat and catch an opponent off-guard. Similar uses of Sleight of Hand to feint in combat (which usually uses the Bluff skill) are allowed by the bladeshimmer magic substance or the Einhander feat.
  • The "Finesse" action rating in Blades in the Dark covers everything involving subtle and dexterous manipulation of physical objects, from performing "magical" tricks to picking pockets (as well as locks, though the "Tinker" action can also be use for lockpicking).


Video Example(s):


Ben tricks Charmcaster

Ben and Skurd use a sleight of hand to trick Charmcaster into activating a trap set by Gwen.

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