In a situation where a character not unlike the Technicolor Ninja is trying to sneak around unnoticed, their attempt at stealth will suddenly be threatened by them stepping on a dry twig, sneezing, knocking something over, setting off an alarm, blowing their cover, or otherwise alerting others to their presence. In the most extreme cases, such as in an action comedy, it might be Played for Laughs by having a minor bump lead to a chain reaction and a huge, noisy clatter. If no one notices, they might be okay — in the worst case, they might be captured, or have to face the enemy in a full-blown battle. Either way, heads will turn suddenly.
Note that this trope often applies in situations where it would make no sense in real life for guards to be so super-sensitive, given the likelihood of the most startling noises being a Cat Scare. When considering what the hero is doing there in the first place, this falls Right Under Their Noses.
As a result, savvy sneaker-uppers will toss a stonenote so that it lands with a "plunk" in the direction opposite their position to make the guards go investigate — see Throwing the Distraction. The guards, even seasoned Border Patrol, will always go for this old chestnut. If nobody notices when they really should have, see It's Probably Nothing and The Guards Must Be Crazy.
This trope can be done by the player in any Stealth-Based Game when you blow your cover. Say, for instance, you trip an alarm, forget to hide a body, or just walk into a room full of guards. From there you either go guns blazing or reload a save. It's a good thing Optional Stealth is becoming more commonplace nowadays.
If the attempt at stealth is laughably inept, see With Catlike Tread. If their attempt is good but they're still caught, they're dealing with The Anticipator. For moments where the infiltration itself goes unnoticed but the escaping part is when you're discovered, see Starts Stealthily, Ends Loudly.
- Anime & Manga
- Fan Works
- Films - Animated
- Films - Live-Action
- Live-Action TV
- Video Games
- Western Animation
- In All Roads, the graphic novel prequel to Fallout: New Vegas, Vegas mobster Benny and his tribal mercenaries from the Great Khans find the aftermath of a Fiend warband's attack on a tribal village. The group debates how best to proceed, determining that fighting or negotiating is unlikely to work, and they decide to sneak through the area after nightfall... only to notice that Chance is missing. Cue their drug-addled muscle charging the warband in a rage while in the midst of a traumatic flashback, forcing the rest of the group to come to his aid.
- Both subverted and played straight in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. In the first issue, as Batman is sneaking up on some armed thugs in an old building, they hear the floorboards creaking and note that Batman never used to make sounds, but they still don't figure out where he is and he gets the drop on them. In the third issue, as he's tracking the Joker down in a house of mirrors in an amusement park, he leans on a mirror behind the Joker just enough to make the glass creak. The Joker hears the creak and shoots Batman as he breaks through, although not fatally.
- In Dinocorps, Jarek orders his troops to be stealthy as they look for a triggering device that'll activate a weapon capable of exterminating humanity. Then police officers show up in a squad car and spot them. Jarek wastes no time blowing up their car with a rocket.
- Exiles: The team is face to face with a hyper-irradiated Bannerless Hulk. Blink cautions them not to make any sudden moves, and the Hulk seems to stay relatively calm. Then Morph, in the form of a chicken, steps on a twig.
- In Judge Colt #3, an assassin sneaking up on Judge Colt to kill him gives himself away when he steps on a dry branch and it snaps.
- In Power Man and Iron Fist #66, Luke Cage tries to get the drop on Constrictor by imitating Iron Fist and slinking through the darkness of the room they're in. Unfortunately, due to his size and superpower and not having Iron Fist's martial arts training, the floor creaks under him, letting Constrictor know where he is.
- In Red Robin, Tim breaks into a museum to "borrow" some evidence and learns he's tripped the silent alarm. Before he has a chance to salvage the situation and sneak away, he realizes that Ra's al Ghul has sent some assassins to "help" him and gives up on stealth entirely to save the lives of the super-powered security forces hunting him from his unwanted new help.
- In the Tintin book The Secret of the Unicorn, Tintin is trying to escape the Bird brothers in their antique-filled basement. When he knocks over a big vase, he manages to stop it from falling, but the lid falls on a drum.
- The Ultimates (2002): Hawkeye arrives to a building filled with aliens, and tries to get past the man in the lobby by claiming he had an appointment. He doesn't. Time for plan B: kill everyone in sight.
- Parodied in a The Far Side strip, in which some Indians are waiting in ambush, only for one of them to step on a bike horn which someone left lying around.
"And you call yourself an Indian."
- In many roleplaying groups, the standard answer to "Do we try and sneak in or start shooting?" is "Try and sneak, then start shooting once we trip an alarm."
- The latest Orcs and Goblins army book for Warhammer includes a tale of a particularly cunnin' boss that got his warband to paint themselves and their equipment black so they could launch surprise night raids. It worked out great until his Orcs decided to start hollering "You's can't see us!" at the enemy.
- Warhammer 40,000's Ork Kommandos operate on similar logic, going around invisibly setting explosives and backstabbing sentries so they can enjoy the looks of terror on their victims... at least until the first one can't take it anymore and charges yelling WAAAAAAAGGGGGHHHHHH! Back when Madboys were still in the fluff, there was mention of how they were a liability in the best of cases, like deciding the best time to have a shouting match is in the middle of a night raid.
- In The Marriage of Figaro: While hidden in the Countess's dressing room, Cherubino knocks something over noisily, alerting the Count to his presence.
- This Awkward Zombie strip, where its used in a Double Subversion: Much like in the game itself, the guards ignore the loud noise of a barrel falling off a shelf, but the sound of Adam walking immediately sets them off.
- In Charby the Vampirate, Daray fails to actually knock out his initial attacker when he returns to a village with a kill on sight bounty on his head and she loudly declares his presence to the whole village as he tries to sneak away after punching her.
- Invoked and Played for Laughs in Darths & Droids, where the group's plans for what to do when the stealth mission fails are more detailed than their plans for the stealth mission itself. After all, which set of plans is more likely to be used?
- Happens to Rory in Demon Fist when he's trying to infiltrate Duprant's mansion. Giving a Big "SHUT UP!" to the arguing demons in your arm will do that.
- In El Goonish Shive, Susan attempts to rescue "Jack" stealthily but the stealth part fails when they drop a potion bottle.
- In Goblin Hollow, one character botches a Move Silently roll, and his character trips. The guard turns out to be deaf as a post.
- The Order of the Stick:
- Spoofed in an early installment, where one of the heroes fails his Move Silently roll while the group is trying to sneak invisibly past a room full of guards. Each of them states the roll they made, and the noise that attracts the guards' attention is the sound of Elan yelling "I GOT A FOUR! DID YOU HEAR ME? I GOT-!"
- In a later strip, the group is trying to sneak into a bandit camp to save Elan, Belkar gets bored while Haley is trying to devise an effect stealth plan and just starts a fire instead, drawing the attention of every guard in the camp and getting the group caught.
- Elan does it again in Breaking In Is Hard To Do as a Call-Back to the first example, only this time he got a 9. "YOU KNOW, BECAUSE THE BOOTSnote ADD FIVE."
- Inverted in one of the first strips, when the entire group fails both spot and listen checks and ends up surrounded by goblin ninjas.
- In The Specialists, what gives Hartmann away. Then again, he did want to make contact with them.
- In Strays, how Meela notices Feral again.
- Evil Overlord List #139: If I'm sitting in my camp, hear a twig snap, start to investigate, then encounter a small woodland creature, I will send out some scouts anyway just to be on the safe side. (If they disappear into the foliage, I will not send out another patrol; I will break out the napalm.)
- This video clip about an astronaut who avoids confrontation with a monster... NOT!.
- In RWBY, when Yang enters Raven's camp and distracts everybody, Weiss takes the opportunity to quietly work on her escape while no one is watching. After her cover gets blown by Yang punching a guy through a tent that's hiding her cell, Weiss decides subtlety is out and summons her Knight clone to shatter the cell into matchsticks.
- Not really Truth in Television. Most people acting as guard or something similar won't react to the odd sound unless it's something that indicates human presence, such as vocal sound or the constant rhythm of footsteps. The sound of a snapping twig won't give you away unless you're trying to avoid someone who's very alert, or already knows that you're there.
- More than that, people tend not to really care much for alarms as a whole, due to how frequently false alarms happen vs how often real alarms are tripped. For instance, when was the last time you reacted to a car alarm under the assumption that it was actually being broken into instead of annoyance that it was it going off because of nothing?