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Sneaking Out at Night

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"There's only one time they won't be watching us, and that's tonight. We'll go tonight! My, what an adventure."
Julian, The Famous Five

There's something special and mysterious about the nighttime. Not only is it dark, spooky, and filled with all manner of unknown horrors, but it's also free, secretive, and alluring. Especially to child characters, who are expected to stay indoors at night, going out after dark can be a thrilling adventure, a harrowing journey, and something they'll be gushing to their friends about all day at school... If they're not Asleep in Class, anyway.

The reasons for this trope are numerous. For one thing, children have a much different perspective of night than adults do. Kids almost never get to go outside at night for long periods of time, so getting to do so can seem like an impossible quest, fraught with the danger of getting caught by their parents or getting lost in their suddenly-scary neighborhood. Even if the characters sneaking out are adults, young viewers can live vicariously through their adventures without leaving the safety of their bedrooms. The chance of them wanting to sneak out is increased if they aren't even expected to leave said bedrooms at night, let alone their house — it may even be an Inevitably Broken Rule.

Meanwhile, the night can be legitimately dangerous, and not just because it's when the monsters come out. All manner of crime might be committed in the dark, and depending on where you live, the very streets you walk on might not be so safe anymore. Seedier areas have more to worry about, and thus, more for the characters to avoid and experience on their late-night adventure. Of course, if they're experienced, then these things are only as scary as the costumes they wore for Halloween, and they'll be able to avoid getting into trouble.

Lastly, from a meta perspective, it can be a different setting and plot to experience. A lot of works are only told from the daytime, so watching the characters navigate the PM can be a fun break from the routine. From flashlights, to starry skies, to an inherent time limit before the cast has to get back home, it can be fun just to place the characters in a slightly-less-familiar version of their usual setting.

It can be a one-time episode trope, but also a recurring plot-point for the characters to keep testing their luck out with. The more often they do it, the more likely we are to see them get caught, which usually comes with a variety of punishments depending on the circumstances. Of course, if the characters do it often enough, the first adventure will seem a lot more harrowing than the rest, as they begin to get good at sneaking around and not getting caught.

This trope can lead to a character being Caught Coming Home Late, using a Sleeping Dummy, suffering from Sleep Deprivation, or being accused of some Nocturnal Crime, and they're likely to leave by Enter Stage Window. It might also coincide with an Insomnia Episode. Compare Sneaky Departure.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The 10-year-old protagonists of Nurse Angel Ririka SOS frequently sneak out of their homes at night to fight bad guys, and it always goes off without a hitch. Their parents never seem to catch on.
  • Transformers: Super-God Masterforce: The accompanying manga reveals that when the Decepticons get up to anything at night, Shuta has to go pick up Minerva since of the three Headmaster Juniors she's the only one who doesn't live in or around the Autobot base note . The problem is Minerva lives in the dorm of the international school they attend, meaning Shuta has to sneak in, get Minerva, sneak her out, and then somehow sneak her back in afterwards. One can only imagine what kind of trouble they'd get into if a teacher ever discovered a boy sneaking into the girls' dorm at night.

    Comic Books 
  • Figment 2: Capri sneaks out to help Figment save Dreamfinder and the students and staff of the Academy Scientifica Lucidus from the Doubtfinder (though it is downplayed as she leaves a note for her mother Jess explaining the situation).
  • Nova: Richard Rider was still in high school when he got his Nova powers, and would sneak out of his parent's house at night in order to look from criminals committing crimes. He often had to remind himself to be home no later than midnight because he was so tired that he was oversleeping and missing classes.
  • Spider-Man: Originally, Peter Parker would often sneak out of his house at night to fight crime without his Aunt May finding out. In the comics, this angle was dropped once he entered college and moved out. Many adaptations that use his younger iterations where he's still a teenager (e.g. Ultimate Spider-Man, or cartoons like The Spectacular Spider-Man and Ultimate Spider-Man (2012)) sometimes use this trope, partially to get some drama out of it. One common example is Spidey thinking that he needs to wrap up a fight quickly so he can be home before May discovers he's gone.

    Comic Strips 
  • One Foxtrot comic has Andy and Roger noticing that the neighbor's dog is barking again, Roger complaining that it's the third night in a row as he goes to take care of it, with the final panel showing that the dog is barking at their teenage son Peter as he's trying to sneak out.

    Fan Works 
  • The Dragon and the Butterfly: An inverted (and tragic) example. Hiccup, after exiling himself from Berk, has to sneak into his old house one more time to steal some supplies so he and Toothless can leave the archipelago. He sneaks in under cover of darkness, steals the supplies, is almost caught, and then flies away with Toothless.
  • If Wishes Were Ponies: Harry and the CMC pulled this trope a dozen times after Harry found the portal that brought him to Equestria. Due to the fillies' curiosity about his old world, the four sneak out at night roughly a dozen times over the next year to visit the portal. Harry admits as much when finally discovered by Twilight.
  • Vow of Nudity: After finding a suspicious crawlspace in her abjuration professor's office, Spectra breaks into the university at night to investigate further, leading to the climax of the story.

    Films — Animation 
  • Big Hero 6: A deleted scene showed Hiro and Baymax doing this to go on their mission to confront Yokai. Fred is there to meet them, and almost gets them caught due to his insistence that they use a grappling hook to sneak out.
  • Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius: Jimmy, Carl, Nick, and Sheen sneak out of their houses during a school night to attend the grand opening of the Retroland theme park.
  • Recess: School's Out: After TJ gets wind of a mysterious plot taking place at their school and can't get any adults to believe him, TJ busts his friends out of their respective sleepaway camps (with the help of their classmates) in order to stake out the school and get evidence.
    We'll be campers by day, spies by night!
  • In Turning Red, Mei sneaks out to go to Tyler's birthday party after dark having failed to do so in the evening.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • King Ralph: Ralph decides to sneak out one evening to explore London on his own. With assistance from his page he sneaks out of the castle, who promptly calls up Lord Graves to inform him that Ralph has left. Meeting up with Miranda he proceeds to a nearby Burger King in order to have a meal but is quickly recognized as the King. Knowing that the place was about to be flooded with reported Miranda led him away to a nearby park where she and Ralph are unknowingly photographed together by a photographer working for Graves.
  • In the first House Party, Kid, after being grounded by his dad for getting into a fight at school, sneaks out to the titular party while his dad is asleep watching Dolemite. Unfortunately for Kid, his dad hears him leave, and he's almost immediately hassled by both dirty cops, and the bullies from school on his way to the party, on top of his dad being on the warpath looking for him; leading to a long night of chases and close calls for Kid.
  • In The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, Princess Mia, who is engaged in an arranged marriage in order to secure her birthright to the throne of Genovia, sneaks out to spend one last night with her love interest, Nicholas. While she is an adult in her early 20s by the sequel film, this blows up in her face when, after spending a romantic evening and accidentally falling asleep, she wakes up to find tabloid reporters snapping her picture.
  • Smooth Talk: Connie and her friend Laura use the excuse that they’re going to the movies as a cover for hanging out at the burger stand after dark. Later, they’re caught by their parents in a lie.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022): The titular character does this to do some nocturnal crimefighting, foiling an armored car robbery in Seattle. But between a poorly-made Sleeping Dummy and his heroics being destructive and unsubtle, he's quickly found out by his father figure Tom Wachowski.
  • The League of Gentlemen. Hyde orders the Caper Crew to get some sleep the night before the bank robbery. Lexy however sneaks out to visit his girlfriend, only to get busted by the others sneaking back into the house, because due to nerves none of them were able to get to sleep.
  • The Shoes Of The Fisherman: Pope Kiril obtains a simple priest's cassock from his aide and heads out to explore Rome, a city that he was largely unfamiliar with.

  • The Belgariad: In Polgara the Sorceress, many of the adolescent heirs to the Rivan throne down through the centuries suddenly developed a habit of trying to sneak out at night once they met their future wives. In a few extreme cases either Polgara or the girl's parents had to resort to putting bars on the youngsters' windows until the wedding day, just so the adults could get some sleep.
  • In Both Can Be True, Daniel has to sneak out after his mom is asleep and before she wakes up so he can take care of Chewbarka. Sometimes he spends all night in the tent with her instead of going home. He suffers from Sleep Deprivation, which affects his grades.
  • The Famous Five: The Five often sneak out at night on secret adventures, often with the moonlight being mentioned. One of the most notable times is in Five on a Hike Together, when they decide that night time is the only time they will have a chance they will have of collecting loot from the bottom of a lake without the villains Maggie and Dirty Dick watching them.
    Julian: There's only one time they won't be watching us, and that's tonight. We'll go tonight! My, what an adventure.
  • Harry Potter: Students weren't allowed to leave their dormitories at night, a rule staunchly enforced by caretaker Filch. So, of course, Harry had to sneak out constantly in order to get things done. He wouldn't always bring his invisibility cloak, leading him to get caught by Filch on occasion, and in book one, the likelihood of getting caught and punished (or killed by monsters, or worse, expelled) made both Hermione and Neville try and protest against Harry's plans.
  • In the children's book The Park In The Dark, three sentient stuffed animals sneak out of their owner's bedroom at night and go for a walk around town to the park. They enjoy looking at everything, but are scared away by a train (known to them only as "the thing") so they run back home to their owner's bed.
  • The Silver Chair: This trope is inverted in that when Jill, Eustace and Puddleglum are planning to escape from the castle of Harfang, they decide that their best chance of doing so is by day, rather than night, when doors and windows are more likely to be open, and they would look less suspicious wandering outside in the daytime. The narrative mentions that this applies to many situations, and that it's hard to make adults believe you are not up to something if you are caught sneaking out at one o' clock in the morning.
  • In Small Persons with Wings, Timmo sneaks from his house to the inn next door so he can join the Turpins for the midnight ceremony in which the Magica Vera is returned to the Parvi Pennati.
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes: Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway often sneak out on summer nights to ramble around Green Town, Illinois. Surprisingly, they not only have hidden improvised ladders from their bedroom windows, but Will does it with the tacit approval of his own father, who thinks boys need to have a walk on the dangerous side to grow into good men.
  • The Vazula Chronicles: The mermaid Merletta used to regularly sneak out of the charity home where she grew up to explore the open ocean. When she becomes a trainee at the Center of Culture, she's delighted to learn that she'll get an entire day off once a week, removing the need to sneak out.
  • Warrior Cats: While the cats don't worry much if someone leaves at night, such as to go on a late hunt or spend time with their mate, Lionpaw and Heatherpaw's meetups in Dark River were played similarly to how a kid's show would use the trope — the characters consistently needed to sneak out of their dens, avoid getting caught both ways, and make their way to the secret tunnels in order to play together.
  • In Wet Magic, Francis and Mavis sneak out at night with a wheelbarrow to rescue the mermaid Freia, who is being held captive in a carnival. Following Bernard's advice, they tie wads of towels and stockings to the tire of its wheel to stop it from making noise.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy sneaks out at night because her mother doesn't know she slays vampires and demons for a living; in one episode she's shown sneaking when Joyce isn't even home, to Buffy's confusion when this is pointed out. Even when Buffy hooks up with Riley, a government demon hunter, she's shown sneaking out on him with the implication that she gets her kicks from hunting demons as much as she does having sex with her boyfriend.
  • Hogan's Heroes has the allied prisoners of Stalag 13 routinely escape from the camp through a series of tunnels during the night. Outside its walls, they conduct deviltry on the wehrmacht, then return to camp in time for the morning headcount.
  • Downplayed on House of Anubis. Because of their strict ten O'clock curfew, the students were expected to not only be inside at night, but inside their rooms, with plenty of potential punishments if they leave for long periods. In the premier, Nina's midnight Initiation Ceremony features most of the students sneaking out of bed but trying to be quick so Victor won't catch them, and then failing; by the finale movie, every senior-year student is so used to sneaking out that they have a picnic in the cellar to celebrate their upcoming graduation.
  • In an episode of Three's Company, Jack makes a bet with Janet that he can go without women for longer than Chrissy can go without food. He tries sneaking out one night to hook up with an old flame—only to find Janet in a sleeping bag on the apartment's doorstep.

    Video Games 
  • Persona 4: Unless the player obtains permission from Dojima to head out at night (usually by signing up for the Hospital Cleaning or Tutoring jobs), he will bar the player from heading out on nights he's home. During nights he's not home, however, the option to sneak out becomes available, giving access to night-time hangouts with the other party members and a number of optional sidequests.
  • The Sims 2: Teenage Sims can "sneak out" using a phone to be picked up by an unknown Sim at 1:00 AM and stay out until 4:00. It gives them a positive memory unless they are sent home due to being caught by their parents or the police.
  • Yo-kai Watch: The protagonist has to go to the hot springs at night to get Mr. Goodsight's favorite pair of lucky underwear while Baku shapeshifts into them in case their parents come in. Unfortunately, as soon as they sneak out, Terror Time begins and Gargaros is on the warpath.

    Web Animation 
  • Minilife TV: In "Snowball's Late Night Adventure", Snowball and Archie sneak out of Minilife Studios in the middle of night. Snowball's reason for sneaking out is to meet Rob at the Burton Night Club to learn more about vampires like himself, and Archie's reason is to rescue Zoey, who's being held captive by the X-Team at the World Martial Arts Tournament.

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • Bob's Burgers: In "The Belchies", the Belcher siblings, Zeke, Jimmy Jr., Andy, and Ollie sneak out of their houses while their parents are asleep so that they can find the gold in the abandoned taffy factory that is scheduled to be demolished the next day. Bob and Linda later discover that the kids have left when they've been too quiet and go in after them.
  • The Little Rascals:
    • In "Rascals' Revenge", Darla and the boys sneak into Mildew Manor after dark to retrieve their football.
    • In "Science Fair and Foul", after Buckwheat goes home for the night, Darla and the other boys sneak into the garage to inspect the TV Head Robot he built for the science fair.
  • The Octonauts:
    • In "The Slime Eels", Kwazii finds a spyglass that belonged to his grandfather Calico Jack in a sunken ship, but slime eels spit slime at him, preventing him from getting it. He becomes obsessed with taking it for himself and wakes up in the middle of the night. He then set off in the GUP-B to go to the ship.
    • In "Operation Cooperation", Kwazii and Shellington sneak out in the middle of the night so that Kwazii can teach Shellington to pilot GUPs better. However, the two of them crash their GUPs and they fall apart, forcing Kwazii and Shellington to start a search to find the parts before morning.
  • The Powerpuff Girls (1998): In "Mommy Fearest", Ima Goodlady (who is actually a disguised Sedusa) makes the girls go to bed. Shortly after she leaves the room, the phone rings, so the girls leave through the window to fight crime. Unfortunately for them when they come home, Sedusa is waiting for them, and she's not pleased.
  • Happens at least once a series in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Seeing as how Splinter is usually portrayed as overprotective, the Turtles will usually have to pull this trope in order to deal with the villain of the week.
    • Lampshaded at one point in the 2003 series when Splinter asks rhetorically how many times he has to tell his sons not to sneak out. Donnie admits that he keeps a list.