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So Much for Stealth

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"There's no saying 'I'm sorry' in the field. So if it feels like a gamble's about to come up short, you put on a smile — and try to get your hands on a weapon without anyone noticing."
Michael, Burn Notice

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. 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.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Stepping on a stick is how young Soujirou attracts the attention of Shishio in Rurouni Kenshin.
  • Case Closed: While in a supposedly haunted house, Conan accidentally knocks a broom over; he manages to keep it from making noise by catching it with his foot, but not the bucket that fell along with it.
  • One Piece:
    • This happens thanks to a rooster... Sort of. Usopp, the one doing the sneaking, fully expects the rooster to crow and wake up the enemy, a government assassin capable of killing a hundred men singlehandedly. Instead, the rooster quietly chirps, causing Usopp to scream in shock, "ROOSTERS DON'T MAKE THAT KIND OF SOUND!"
    • This is a minor Running Gag, considering Luffy's utter lack of stealth. When Nico Robin is convincing the Straw Hats to let her stay on their crew, she mentions that she has considerable experience with stealth missions, only to be informed that they're never stealthy.
    • One of the few times this trope isn't Luffy's fault is in Impel Down. Having sneaked into the prison so he can rescue Ace, Luffy stays out of sight and kept quiet. Unfortunately, by sheer coincidence, Buggy the Clown is already launching his own attempt at a jailbreak and ends up blowing Luffy's cover.
  • Happens to several characters in an episode of Hayate the Combat Butler, by stepping on game controllers of all things.
  • In Soul Eater, while Maka and Soul are trying to acquire the soul of Blair, they both hide behind a tree. Unfortunately, Soul's rear end is sticking out, and from there, Hilarity Ensues.
  • In A Certain Magical Index, Touma tries to sneak up on the Skill-Out gang that has kidnapped Misuzu. Right before he can reach them, Misuzu herself sees him and gives him away by calling out to him. Touma screams, "Is she stupid!?" before he is forced to fight off the Skill-Out thugs.
  • In episode 4 of Girls und Panzer, the Stug III team have decorated their tank destroyer in eyecatching red and yellow, complete with sashimono (war banners). They hide in an alley an ambush a Matilda tank, then back up and sneak away, gleefully congratulating themselves on how the Stug's low profile allows it to hide behind house fences... except that their war banners are taller than the fences, and give away their position. The Matilda's partner tank uses that to nail them.
  • A variant in Death Note. L at one point starts going on a lecture of how important stealth and discretion will be in the investigation, and under no circumstances must they reveal themselves. At the exact same time, Matsuda has sneaked into the suspects' headquarters and is caught just outside their meeting room, and manages to covertly send a distress signal to Watari. You can practically see this trope's name running through L's mind when he is informed.
    L: Forget everything I just said. We're going to need a new strategy. Matsuda, you idiot!
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Devo's attempt to ambush Polnareff goes awry when Polnareff succeeds on a very easy spot check.
    Devo: How did you know I was in the fridge?
    Polnareff: Are you stupid? You took everything out of the fridge and left it in plain sight!
  • Full Metal Panic!. Sōsuke and Kurz realize that enemy soldiers are moving in on them and dive for cover. Kaname notes that this is like a Bolivian Army Ending trope, and says movies should have a Happy Ending. Unfortunately she says the last bit too loud — Disturbed Doves give away their location, leading to an immediate shoot-out.
  • In Black Clover, during their search for the Witch Queen, Dominante provides Asta, Fanzell, Finral, Noelle, and Mariella with invisibility cloaks to enter the Forest of Witches undetected. Unfortunately, they lose their cloaks thanks to Fanzell's actions and catches the attention of the Security Golems and the other witches.

    Comic Books 
  • 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.
  • Exiles: The team is face to face with a hyper-irradiated Bannerless Incredible 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 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.
  • 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 Ra's al Ghul has sent some assassins to "help" him and he gives up on stealth entirely to save the lives of the super-powered security forces hunting him from his unwanted new help.
  • The Ultimates: 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Comic Strips 
  • Parodied in a The Far Side strip, in which some Indians are waiting in ambush, only for one of them to step on a bikehorn which someone left lying around.
    "And you call yourself an Indian."

    Fan Works 
  • A larger-scale example happens in the Mass Effect/Starcraft crossover Cycles Upon Cycles. Commander Shepard's ship, the Normandy, is an Alliance (The alliance in question is between the races of Starcraft) ship meant to operate covertly in Council space (there was a war and now neither side trusts the other). They proceed to quickly blow that out of the water before their first mission- they get warning of an attack on the planet of Eden Prime and then proceed to very publicly save the planet from said attack. Luckily, their act of heroism helps convince the Council to simply let them operate in their space.
  • Said word-for-word by Twilight in Shades Act 2 Part 4 of the Mass Effect/My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic Mass Effect The Equestrian Equation after the alarm is raised during their attempt to locate the kidnapper of ponies.
  • In the climax of the Lilo & Stitch/Star Trek fanfic Starlight, Jumba attempts to Hold The Floor with one of the Queen's allies, while Pleakley enters the code he signals behind his back into Jumba's communicator. However, he gets the code Jumba is signing to him incorrect, causing a loud beeping noise and alerting the bad guy to what Pleakley was doing.
  • Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Duo: In chapter 8, the other Mermaid Princesses (with the exception of Seira) use an Air-Vent Passageway to sneak into the aquarium where Hanon went missing... only to suffer a Prat Fall down a chute and land in a pile.
    Lucia: So much for sneaking in.
    Rina: But at least we are inside now.

    Films — Animation 
  • Batman: Assault on Arkham: Deadshot tries to get the team across the Arkham courtyard while keeping a "low profile". First, Captain Boomerang shows off by throwing a boomerang past one of the guards and hitting him on the return arc, which alerts him and gives him enough time to call for backup before he goes down. When the backup arrives, King Shark charges right into them.
    Deadshot: So much for "low profile".
  • Cats Don't Dance: Danny and Pudge are secretly preparing things for the big number at the end of Darla's movie premiere. They accidentally bump into a drum set, but luckly they don't make that much noise and no one appears to notice. Then Pudge snaps his bowtie... and that is what alerts Battle Butler Max.
  • Incredibles 2: Violet uses her invisibility on the Everjust to avoid being seen by the brainwashed superheroes. She accidentally knocks over a potted plant, alerting them, and while she initially escapes unseen the soil footprints give her away, prompting one of them to catch up with her.
  • Kung Fu Panda 2: Po and the Furious Five have to sneak past the wolf army patrolling Gongmen City. As a large clumsy panda, Po's "Stealth Mode" leaves much to be desired, so they steal a parade dragon costume. Hilarity Ensues.
  • In Monsters, Inc., Mike's foot accidentally slips into a toilet when they're hiding from Randall. Subverted, in that Mike, Sully, and Boo barely avoid being seen.
  • Puss in Boots. Puss and Kitty manage to infiltrate a moving carriage well enough, then realise there's a whole litter of sleeping piglets in there. All goes well until Puss steps on a tail. So much for them boots...
  • Recess: School's Out: TJ and his friends sneak into the school to are spying on the Dr. Benedict and his scientists from the air vent and have been successful in hiding their cover... until Mikey suddenly feels a burp coming on and unable to hold it in, he belches so loudly that not only does it shock everyone who hears it, it blows their cover, too.
    Fenwick: What was that?
    Benedict: Someone had better say "excuse me." (The air vent gives way and TJ and his friends fall to the floor) Fenwick, who let children into the school?
    Fenwick: Not me, sir.
    Benedict: WELL, GET THEM!
  • In Shrek 2, Shrek and Donkey (turned into a human and stallion, respectively) look in on a secret meeting between King Harold and Fairy Godmother, where the latter details her plan to make Fiona fall in love with her son Prince Charming. Of course, it's Donkey's big mouth that blows their cover.
    Fairy Godmother: Now, we have to go. I need to do Charming's hair before the ball. He's hopeless. You know, he's all high in the front, he can never get to the back. You always need someone to do the back of your hair.
    Charming: Oh, thank you, mother.
    Donkey: MOTHER?!
    Shrek: Um... Mary, a talking horse!
    Fairy Godmother: IT'S THE OGRE!
  • The Tigger Movie: When Pooh goes up a tree and sings the bees to sleep so he can sample their honey ungarded, Piglet is worried when he doesn't come down for a long time and goes up to check on him to see if he's stuck or anything. However, when Piglet lightly taps on Pooh's backside, it causes Pooh to lose his balance and come splashing right into the honey in the hive, which wakes up the bees and they chase them away.
  • Toy Story:
    • In the first movie, Woody and Buzz's attempt to sneak out of Sid's house is ruined when Woody's pull cord gets snagged and one of his recorded phrases wakes Angry Guard Dog Scud.
    • Toy Story 2: Woody tries to get his arm from Al, who is asleep on the couch. The first step he takes, he steps on a cheese puff, one of many strewn on the floor. Al doesn't wake up, so Woody goes ahead more carefully now, but then he hears another crunch, this time from Bullseye, who was following him. Again, Al doesn't wake up. Woody is about to get his arm when suddenly the TV turns on, waking up Al. Later we find out the TV was turned on on purpose by Stinky Pete, who places the remote in front of Jesse to frame her.
    • In Toy Story 3, during the Great Escape from Sunnyside Daycare, Woody and the three aliens try to sneak behind Big Baby in the yard. They almost passed it but then one of the aliens falls and makes a squeaky noise, which catches Big Baby's attention. Luckily, they still remain unspotted.
  • Yellow Submarine: The Beatles are trying to get through a minefield of sleeping Blue Meanies on tiptoe. They would have gotten away, too, had Ringo not accidentally stepped on a bagpipe.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Blood Debts: An attempted infiltration from protagonist Mark and his partner Liza into a mobster's hideout in a construction site is botched when Liza steps on a plank. They end up shooting their way out.
  • Return of the Jedi:
  • Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005):
    • Brad Pitt knocks over a stack of cans in the department store, almost immediately drawing fire from his enemies, and a dirty look from his wife.
    • Similarly, where both of them are trying to bomb each other out in their house, John accidentally knocks over a China pot, catching the pot but not on the end with the lid, which falls to the ground (cue John's Oh, Crap! face) and reveals where he is to his wife.
  • In Play Dirty, the British commandos are using a pulley to haul three jeeps up a cliff deep into German territory when the rope snaps and one of the jeeps crashes to the ground, alerting the Germans to their presence. Fortunately for them, they were supposed to be the decoys for a much larger strike force - who end up driving straight into the now-alert Germans while the irregulars go unnoticed.
    • Later the commandos are sneaking into a German base when one of them sets off a flare trap. This goes much, much worse for them.
  • Ace Ventura: Ace sneaks into the mental hospital's storage room and accidentally steps on bubble wrap (but doesn't get caught).
  • Mocked in the "Fistful Of Yen" sketch of The Kentucky Fried Movie when the protagonist is sneaking in a dark room around the guard while knocking over various shelves, glass objects, and so on. The guard barely notices, sometimes looking as if he might have heard a curious sound.
  • In The Terminator, Sarah and Kyle are trying to escape the Terminator in a factory as Sarah accidentally presses a button activating a hydraulic press, attracting the Terminator's attention. Subverted in that the button is also a Chekhov's Gun.
  • The Matrix series
    • In The Matrix, as the team is attempting to escape from the building by climbing down the wet-wall, one member accidentally kicks dust into Cypher's face, which causes him to sneeze, attracting the attention of a SWAT guy in the adjacent room. As Cypher is The Mole he then sneezes deliberately a second time, confirming the SWAT guys' suspicions.
    • The Matrix Revolutions. The Zion ship Hammer tries to sneak past the army of Sentinels by reducing its power output. Unfortunately this causes the ship to drop dangerously low in the tunnel and it scrapes against some wreckage, alerting the Sentinels and sending them in pursuit.
  • Played wonderfully straight in the opening scene of Sleepy Hollow (1999), where we see the Hessian who later becomes the Headless Horseman escaping through the woods from Revolutionary War soldiers. He encounters two children gathering firewood and cautions them to silence with a finger to his lips. Without changing expression one of the girls deliberately snaps the stick she's holding, drawing the soldiers in their direction.
  • The same trick is used in the Action Prologue of From Russia with Love. Professional Killer Red Grant picks up a stick and breaks it, to get the man he's stalking (who's also trying to kill him) moving in the right direction.
  • Mission: Impossible. The famous "Mission: Impossible" Cable Drop is completed successfully only for Franz Krieger to drop his knife — it miraculously misses the alarmed floor and jams in the desk, dumbfounding the computer clerk when he returns to the room.
  • The Mechanic (2011). The two Professional Killers infiltrate the penthouse of a cult leader and Make It Look Like an Accident. Unfortunately someone enters the room and finds the body before they've had time to resecure the mirror they unscrewed to crawl through – a nut drops to the floor, rolls along (they have their hands full holding up the mirror) and drops out a vent. A bodyguard goes to investigate and things get violent very quickly.
  • The titular character in Mitchell is attempting to break into the house of a suspect. Other than how completely conspicuous he looks trying to haul his large frame over the fence, the producers obviously didn't block the surrounding streets off, and car noises and headlights can be seen going by in the shot. The Mystery Science Theater 3000 version gleefully points this out.
  • Hot Shots! Part Deux.
    • Attempts to retrieve a key ring with a broom handle results in loud grinding of fan blades, knocking pepper into a sleeping guard's face, poking the broom handle up the guard's nose, and a radio switching on to loud music. The loud thump of the keys hitting the floor didn't wake the guard either. What did? A mouse, sneezing from the pepper, rouses him instantly.
    • American commandos in scuba gear are trying to covertly swim underneath an Iraqi guard boat when suddenly, "it happened!" (e.g. one of the swimmers gives off a huge fart). Fortunately when this bubble of fartillery reaches the surface and bursts, the Iraqi sailors pass out from this Deadly Gas attack!
  • We Were Soldiers: North Vietnamese troops are trying to find the American Platoon that they pinned down in the jungle, and don't realize they are standing in the middle of the American troops' hiding place. Then Sergeant Savage flips his fire selector from "Safe" to "Auto", which tips the NVA troops off just before the shooting starts.
  • Mrs. Doubtfire: Daniel tries to sneak through the hall behind the caseworker when he loses his face mask for his Mrs Doubtfire persona. One step made a floorboard noise and he immediately enters the kitchen and makes tea for her.
  • In [REC], when the reporter and her cameraman try to evade the creepy girl in the dark ... BANG ... they knock something over give and their location away.
  • In The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, as the team is sneaking into the Red Lectroid nest, one of the guys watch alarm starts chiming, alerting the Lectroids that they're there.
  • Several instances in World War Z, as the zombies are dormant until they hear a sound, then they swarm towards it. In South Korea, the protagonists use bicycles to ride onto the tarmac to their aircraft, but then a satellite phone goes off. Later they're trying to sneak into a ward with over 80 dormant zombies, but keep making inadvertent sounds (kicking a soda can, stepping on broken glass, and a very creaky door) before one of them finally bumps into a filing cabinet with a loud clang! That brings 'em.
  • In the 1930 film The Big House some convicts preparing for a Great Escape are passing guns and ammunition to each other while intoning the Lord's Prayer in the prison chapel. As the prayer comes to an end, one of them drops a bullet on the stone floor, causing them all to tense up.
  • In the film version of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, when the group stops at Balin's tomb, Pippin goes to investigate a dessicated, cobweb-covered corpse that happens to be perched on the rim of a well. This causes the corpse's head to break of, and go clattering and banging down the well. This is followed shortly thereafter by the entire rest of the body, making much more noise. Just to put the icing on the cake, the body gets hung in the chain for the well's bucket on the way down, dragging both chain and bucket down with it to add to the ruckus. Gandalf's reaction is lifted directly from the book (see below).
    Gandalf: "Fool of a Took! Throw yourself in next time and rid us of your stupidity!"
  • A Running Gag in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug — it's clear no-one quite gets the whole "burglar" business.
    • Bilbo has to tell the dwarves to shut up while he's busting them out of their cells.
    • When the dwarves are robbing Laketown's armory, Kíli insists on being fine about carrying a huge pile of clangy weapons despite being weakened by the poison arrow, causing him to end up falling down the stairs with an appropriate racket. This brings the guards down on them right quick.
    • Gandalf is sneaking across the bridge into the Necromancer's lair when Radagast the Brown shouts that it might be a trap.
    • Bilbo ends up starting a gold slide that exposes Smaug's eye. Then he tries sneaking away as quietly as possible, but given what he's walking through, the noise ends up waking Smaug anyway.
    • When Bilbo is searching for the Arkenstone, he finds a large stone and then tosses it aside into the gold, and then shushes it.
  • Red Heat. Ivan Danko is trying to sneak up behind Viktor Rosta when his watch alarm (set to tell him when to feed his pet bird back in Moscow) goes off.
  • In Django Unchained, Django reaches for his gun a couple times during his time at Candyland, but leaves it be as events unfold. When his cover is finally blown, Candie already has the upper-hand so he's not able to grab his gun. Then the trope is played straight when Schultz decides to kill Candie, and Django, out of options, starts rampaging.
  • Above Suspicion (1995) is about a police officer, played by Christopher Reeve, no less, who's paralysed in a shootout after his partner forgets to turn off his pager just before a raid.
  • In The Day After Tomorrow, when Sam tries to sneak behind the wolves on the Ghost Ship, he steps on a piece of glass. The noise makes his plan go out of the window.
  • The Dirty Dozen. During the mission, insane serial killer Maggot goes off mission and kills a prostitute with his knife. Fortunately her dying scream is mistaken for The Immodest Orgasm by the Nazi officers partying below. When Maggot starts shooting however...
  • A Walk Among the Tombstones. After the cemetery shootout, Scudder realises his Tagalong Kid is missing and calls his mobile, not realising he's hiding in the back of the serial killers' van. Fortunately they've arrived at their destination by the time the call is made; one hears the ringtone, but dismisses it as coming from a nearby house. The other man later sees the kid peering through a window at them, but it only serves as a fatal distraction as he's murdered by his partner.
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). Donald Sutherland's character grabs a fire axe to protect himself. This automatically sets off the fire alarm, bringing every pod-person in the building down on him. Also whenever a pod-person realizes a normal human is among them and gives their Nightmare Fuel screech to signal the others.
  • The X-Men are sneaking into the lobby of the Statue of Liberty when Wolverine walks through the Metal Detector Checkpoint, setting off the alarm. Wolverine responds by destroying it, then Flipping the Bird to Cyclops in response to his silent snarking.
  • Played for laughs in Freaked, where everything under the roof makes some sort of loud noise, but it all goes unnoticed... right until someone knocks over a plastic cup.
  • In Super Mario Bros., Mario tries to sneak into the room the Brooklyn girls are being held in to rescue them. Daniella spots him, but he puts a finger to his lips and she gets the hint. Then another girl spots him and calls out to him. He sighs in annoyance before jumping down and taking out the guard.
  • King of the Zombies: When Bill and Jeff are secretly observing the voodoo ritual in the cellar, Bill accidentally knocks some debris off the altar they are hiding behind. Momba hears the noise and immediately spots them.
  • In All Through the Night, Gloves and Sunshine sneak into a toy factory, which happens to be a front for the bad guys, when Sunshine, trying to walk quietly, steps on a roller skate, slips, and falls loudly into a bunch of boxes.
    Sunshine: (sheepish) Guess I must've slipped.
  • In Avengers: Infinity War, Peter Quill, Gamora, Drax, and Mantis are trying to sneak up on Thanos, but Drax wants to attack him right away. Right before he can charge and give away their position, Mantis makes him fall asleep. Just as the others are feeling relieved, Drax falls forward with a load thud, giving them away.
  • High Plains Invaders: When the heroes are stealthily planting the dynamite in the Bug holes, The Sheriff knocks a clod of dirt down one of the holes, alerting the Bug to their presence.
  • Predator 2. The government special forces team seeking to capture the Predator wear thermal Hazmat Suits to shield their bodies from his infra-red vision. Unfortunately there's nothing wrong with the Predator's hearing and a creaky staircase gives the game away. The Predator then cycles through several vision modes until he sees the ultraviolet searchlights used by the team, giving away their position.
  • In Frankenstein Created Woman, Anton, Johann and Karl break into the cafe to continue drinking. When Kleve returns for his keys, the trio hide. They might have escaped notice, except the one hiding behind the bar knocks over a bottle and alerts Kleve to their presence.
  • Parodied in The Mask. The Mask makes a big, big show of "sneaking" past Mrs. Peenman's apartment on tiptoe, but that pesky alarm clock jumps out of his pocket and starts ringing like mad. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Dick Tracy vs. Cueball: While keeping The Dripping Dagger under surveillance, Pat knocks over some garbage cans; making a loud clatter and alerting Cueball to the police presence.
  • The Naked Witch: While spying on the witch bathing, the student steps on a twig and it snaps, alerting the witch to his presence.
  • In Evil Breed: The Legend of Samhain, Steve attempts to sneak past the Shape while he's busy gutting Pandora, but knocks over a pile of cans, alerting the Shape to his presence.
  • Quicksand: When Dan sneaks into the penny arcade to steal Nick's cash, he bumps into a musical automaton that starts up and plays blaring band music.
  • In Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, the thieves manage to get past the various anti-theft devices protecting a priceless jewel... until one of them lets out a gut-busting fart and triggers a noise-alarm.
  • Happens three times in Dick Tracy's Dilemma:
    • Sightless is spying on the Claw, Ryan and Taylor through the window of the Blinking Skull when his sleeve snags on the the spike fence. As he tries to free it, he drops his peddler's trays and all of the wares spill out with a loud clatter, alerting the crooks inside to his presence.
    • Later Vitamin is hiding from the Claw in a broom closet, but accidentally kicks over a mop bucket.
    • When the Claw is attempting to sneak away from Tracy in the junkyard, he climbs into a derelict railway car, but the step gives way under his foot, revealing his location to Tracy.

  • Fenimore Cooper was uncommonly fond of having characters step on dry twigs in his books in his The Leatherstocking Tales, as pointed out by Mark Twain.
  • The Famous Five: In Five On A Treasure Island, the Five plot to trap the villainous men in a cave with a big wooden door, by bolting them in. Dick creeps up behind them, waiting for them to go in; and when they do, he slams the door, making a crash which echoes round the dungeon; and the men burst the door open.
  • The Lord of the Rings: Wandering around the Mines of Moria, Pippin drops a stone down a well, alerting the enemy that someone is there.
    Gandalf: "Fool of a Took! Throw yourself in next time and rid us of your stupidity!"
  • Subverted in Magicians of Gor: Tarl throws a stone and the guy he's trying to draw away from his position turns towards him.
  • In The Amity Incident this happens a few times to Shanice — she accidentally speaks while trying to sketch T'reka, and at one point forgets to tuck her bright red hair into the otherwise ridiculously effective gilly suit.
  • In Edgar Rice Burroughs's A Princess of Mars, John Carter is slipping stealthily through a room full of sleeping Tharks when his weapons harness makes a small noise. For a moment it seems like nothing will happen, until a green warrior jumps to his feet and mayhem ensues.
  • In The Mad King by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the hero sneaks into the villain's hotel room at night to steal some important papers. All goes without a hitch until he trips over a shoe on the way out, rousing the villain.
  • In Graham McNeill's Warhammer 40,000 Ultramarines novel Dead Sky, Black Sun, discussions of what to do in the Iron Warriors' fortress are rendered moot when the Nameless arrive and opt for immediate and noisy damage.
  • In L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero in Hell, Miranda realizes she is not alone when someone steps on a twig.
  • Happens in every other Honor Harrington battle. The usual line of dialogue is "That's torn it."
  • In the Dresden Files book Changes, Dresden's strike force was attempting to make a stealthy approach to Chichen Itza by way of the jungle. There's enough going on out there on a normal night that guards wouldn't automatically go ballistic at a twig, but then an escaped prisoner and a pursuing Red Court vampire run right into them. Things go downhill from there.
  • In Joe Abercrombie's The First Law trilogy, the northener Dogman is renowned for his gift at stealth and infiltration. Despite this, there's an almost-Running Gag made of his habit of tripping or stumbling over things when he needs quiet the most.
  • In volume one of the Outlander Leander series, Flute of the Wind Queen, the first chapter has the main character sneaking into a theater only to have a piece of wood break under him. He subsequently falls and makes a bunch of noise on the way down.
  • Despite weeks of practice, The Wise Man's Fear has one of Kvothe's companions bumble about and nearly reveal them to their target.
  • X-Wing Series: Wraith Squadron tend to go through this pretty often, but one of the more memorable occasions was when "Face" Loran is confronted by a suspicious Imperial officer while Dressing as the Enemy and has to desperately improvise his way out of the conversation. It nearly worked, but in the end the officer in question was a bit too clever for even him. And so:
    Face's inner monologue: "When no other options present themselves, shoot everything in sight."

    Live-Action TV 
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003). Helo and Sharon are hiding in a store while a Cylon patrol goes by. Unfortunately a few minutes before, they had decided to make toast, which pops up at just that moment. Also counts as a Visual Pun as the derogatory nickname for Cylons is "toasters".
  • In one episode of Benson, Benson discovers a crime in progress. He happens to have a camera with him, so he takes a photo through a window. Unfortunately, the flash is on.
    Benson: So much for the element of surprise.
  • In one of the season 3 episodes of Chuck, Chuck gets through a Laser Hallway, but then gets distracted and manages to bump into the system on the other side.
    • There's also an episode in the same season where the team are assigned to test a building's security by breaking in. Chuck gets through the Laser Hallway with ease, but later he and Sarah have to break into the same place for real. Chuck goes through the hallway just like before... only to Faceplant into the pane of security glass the Laser Hallway's been replaced with. They manage to bluff their way through by pretending to be conducting a surprise reinspection.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The Empty Child": Nancy is hiding under a table from the titular Creepy Child, when one of the apples in the bag of food she's carrying rolls out just as the Child was about to leave.
    • "The Lie of the Land": The Doctor returns to Britain after months on a prison ship. Bill notes that they could have just snuck back into the country, but the Doctor being the Doctor he's got to make a Dynamic Entry; in this case involving ramming the nearest harbour with the prison ship.
  • Father Brown: The 'stepping on a twig' version happen to Inspector Sullivan in "The Owl of Minerva" as he is sneaking up on a secret meeting being held by Father Brown. Fleeing, he runs straight into the murderer.
  • One episode of Flashpoint the team intended to approach a home where a family was being held at gunpoint silently. Then a patrol cop pulls up, siren blaring. Parker takes the officer aside for a few words about that.
  • In Grimms "Cry Havoc", Nick, Hank, Wu, Monroe and Trubel team up to sneak into a rented estate and take out the Verrat sentries before they can sneak into the premises. Once they split up, they were doing okay until Wu comes across a Verrat Hundjäger. He throws the three-bladed knife away since he's not proficient in close quarters and blasts him with his shotgun, making Rispoli alert to the sound of intruders.
  • On How I Met Your Mother, Marshall and Lily are in pause so they can have sex after being apart for a week, but will start the fight after. Marshall succeeds in putting Lily to sleep but as he tries sneaking back into the hotel room, he steps on the toy he brought from Ted's house which loudly says, "I wuv you, Mommy!". Unpause!!
  • MythBusters, in an episode concerning classic Air-Vent Passageway: they used out Jamie's magnetic clamps to try and scale a vertical vent. The result is nicely summed up by Adam.
    Adam: Thor, the god of thunder, is trying to enter my building!
  • The New Avengers: At the start of "The Lion and the Unicorn", Steed and Purdey are listening at the door of the hotel room of Professional Killer the Unicorn when Purdey knocks over an ashtray and they have to flee for their lives.
  • Cohen in the episode "The Family Ties" of The O.C.. Ryan and he are trying to quietly enter the Cohen house - and fail at the car. Pretty much because of the fact, that Cohen is wasted. Stealth fails.
  • Person of Interest:
    • Lampshaded when Finch, annoyed at Shaw's tendency to sneak up on him, asks if she can't step on a twig. A flashback episode later reveals that Finch witnessed Shaw carrying out her first assassination. When Finch tries to sneak off, he steps on a twig and freezes in place. Fortunately he's behind a tree so when Shaw turns to look, she doesn't see anyone.
    • At the start of Season 4, Team Machine are supposed to be laying low. While investigating this week's POI, Reese does a Dynamic Entry with a Grenade Launcher, followed by a Bar Brawl with Destination Defenestration and Perp Sweating, only to be knocked unconscious and dragged out of there by Shaw, as he's doing all his signature moves, which will only draw attention to them.
  • Power Rangers Wild Force, "Forever Red" - On Earth's moon, Andros is spying on the last of the Machine Empire, who are busy unearthing Serpentera. Seeing that they've almost finished digging it out, he turns to leave - and dislodges some rocks, sending them tumbling down the slope he was watching from. The robots give chase... on horses. Robots. Riding horses. On the moon.
  • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Balance of Terror" the Enterprise and the Romulan warbird are both attempting Stealth in Spacenote . Both fail. On the Romulan ship, one of the officers violates Radio Silence to send a report home; the commander chews him out and demotes him but the damage is done. On the Enterprise, Mr. Spock accidentally activates a control, giving their position away — and, making matters worse, the Romulans are now known to be an off-shoot of the Vulcan race, so a bridge officer is instantly suspicious of his motives.
  • In the Supernatural episode "What Is And What Should Never Be", Dean warns Wishverse-Sam to keep quiet, but Sam can't help gasping in horror when he sees the djinn drinking blood and almost reveals their hiding place.
  • On a Top Gear episode that focused on finding the best car for a 17-year-old, one challenge was to see whose car could approach a house late at night with the least amount of noise (to avoid waking the parents). James May's car had a remote for the stereo and horn. Jeremy somehow got hold of it...

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • A similar problem to the above example is Alpha Protocol. Brutally beat a guard into unconsciousness with your bare hands? No problem for the guys in the next room. Walk around at the same speed and path as the guard you just knocked out? They'll all come running.
  • In Code Name: S.T.E.A.M., if any agents get noticed by the aliens, they'll inform the others that they've been spotted. John Henry even says the trope name at times.
  • In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, guards are often overly sensitive to sounds you make, even when the situation doesn't call for it. If there are footstep sounds from the bathroom, somehow they immediately know it's you and not a civilian worker or another guard tending to their business. It seems even more glaring given that they don't notice many things which are highly suspicious, like huge crates mysteriously moving around while they're not looking and their colleagues not showing up on their patrol.
    • Even worse in the original Deus Ex, really. Make audible metallic clunks as you sneak through vents? Okay. Drop a cardboard pack of cigarettes from a crouching postion two rooms away? "What was that noise?"
  • Eternal Darkness has an enemy example. In one chapter you are being stalked by an invisible "vampire". While you can make it visible by casting a simple spell, if you don't have time you can tell where it is when it knocks some things over (particularly in the basement when you destroy its source of power and kill it for real).
  • EXTRAPOWER: Star Resistance: Maris-sama sent Nemuri to stealthily observe the Dark Force invasion of the Shakun Star and report back. Unfortunately for Maris-sama, shoot'em up mechanics don't lend well to stealth and Nemuri is eager to go on the attack, so permission to drop stealth is "officially" given as early as the Stage 1 boss.
  • In Final Fantasy X-2, the Gullwings dress like Leblanc goons and sneak into Chateau Leblanc to take back what was stolen from them. They get as far as having Yuna massage Leblanc disguised as a goon and even finding out the trick to get into the basement. They enter and then, over the comm... "This is Brother! How's it going?" Rikku shouts at him to shut up, that it's a covert operation. They are, of course, immediately discovered by one of Leblanc's two right-hand men, Ormi, forced into a battle, and then have to navigate a series of traps that are now activated.
  • In Granblue Fantasy, Anthuria runs away from a group of suitors with the help of the Captain, Lyria, and Vyrn. When the four of them decided to hide in a narrow space between two walls, the captain's hand accidentally tickles Anthuria. The Erune's sudden orgasms then gave away their presence to the suitors.
  • Said word-for-word by Barney Calhoun in Half-Life 2. He announces that your group will have to sneak through the Overwatch Nexus, a pre-war public service building to take down the Suppression Device (a Combine Dark Energy Mortar) - then, as soon as he opens a door, a camera spots you.
  • In Halo 2's mission "Uprising", after you have just taken out a few Brutes and met with some more Elites, several drop pods crash into the ground, giving the Arbiter reinforcements. One of your more Genre Savvy comrades remarks "So much for a stealthy advance".
  • The stealth part in Stage 5 of Hard Corps: Uprising is optional. You can choose to go through the stealth part of the stage guns blazing.
  • Can happen in Heavy Rain when Shelby's trying to sneak up on a robber. If you fail a Quick Time Event, Shelby will step on some potato chips and alert the robber.
  • In The Hobbit for the PS2, when Bilbo has to sneak past the trolls to save the dwarves, stepping on dry twigs alerts the trolls to his presence.
  • Kya: Dark Lineage is not as much about as "what breaks your stealth" but more as in "do I kick their ass if they spot me, run the f*ck away or get my ass hand to me". Of course at one point you have to stealth and platform through a tight room with Wolfen guards, spikes, insta-kill floor, and what-not. What breaks your cover? You open the gate to the next level, locking down any deadly traps.
  • In the Mass Effect 2 Kasumi DLC, you can accidentally set off the alarm clock while searching Hock's bedroom for DNA. The guards come running, but only if you snuck in instead of faking security clearance.
    • Mass Effect: Andromeda: Several times, Ryder and their team encounter some Remnant bots which they try to sneak past. It inevitably results in Ryder and team being spotted and having to shoot their way through anyhow. And again when trying to infiltrate the Archon's ship. They get spotted the very second they go through the door.
  • Can happen in the Metal Gear games, if you're not careful, from the singing sand in Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake to twigs on the ground in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater - notably, a lot of cases of this are deliberate traps on the part of the group you're infiltrating.
  • The No-Gear Level of Metroid: Zero Mission, where an armorless Samus is forced to infiltrate the Space Pirate Mothership, operates like this. You have one chance, and only one chance, to get through stealthily, and being spotted or tripping an alarm even once permanently puts the pirates on alert and sends them actively looking for you. It is extremely difficult to pull off a successful stealth run, as it requires lightning-fast reflexes, wall jumping, and planning ahead to pull off, but thankfully just charging through while being pursued by Pirates is fairly easy (albeit not nearly as satisfying).
  • Happens so often to Faith in Mirror's Edge that sneaking is more like waiting to be spotted.
  • This is pretty much every player's reaction in PAYDAY 2 if stealth fails since SWAT are now on their way.
  • In the Pokémon games, Zorua and Zoroark have the ability to take on the appearance of other Pokémon in your party. And it can really work when battling another person... Until you use an attack that the Pokémon they're disguised as can't learn. The illusion also fades the moment they're hit by an enemy.
  • Resident Evil 6 gives Ada exactly one chance to infiltrate the submarine without being seen: once the J'avo guards are alerted to your presence they sound an alert and reinforcements just keep coming. Again, like the Metroid example above, Ada has plenty of ammunition, cover, and resilience to just Leeroy Jenkins her way through but it is just so satisfying to slip through Back Stabbing guards without ever being detected.
  • Scorch of Star Wars: Republic Commando will occasionally say this after an explosive charge is detonated.
  • Team Fortress 2: Happens all the time playing Spy, unless you're really good, and even then you occasionally just bump into a pyro and get set aflame.
  • In the Thief series, you can be given away if you move across surfaces made of metal, stone or anything else which makes a noise when you walk on it. It isn't an instant giveaway though: one sound may make a guard suspicious, two will make him start looking around. Remain hidden and quiet and the guard will eventually conclude "Just rats." and return to patrol.
  • The Genesis game Toe Jam And Earl: when you tiptoe past a sleeping enemy you would occasionally sneeze and awaken it.
  • Uncharted forces you to do this at some point - you'll always be spotted when you enter an area with the enemies unaware.
  • Due to the procedurally-generated nature of maps in Warframe an unlucky Tenno might hack open a vault door only to find a guard on the other side who happened to be looking right your way when you entered and have to taken them out before they can run to a console and trigger the alarms.
    • Worse if it is a security drone as those can trigger an alarm instantly upon seeing you.
  • Winnie the Pooh's Rumbly Tumbly Adventure: Whenever Pooh enters an area with Heffalumps and Woozles, his stomach rumbles so loud that they all instantly become aware of his presence.
  • In World of Warcraft to prevent stealth runs (a party consisting entirely of druids and rogues using stealth to avoid all enemies but the bosses) certain enemies are fairly arbitrarily given the ability to see through stealth. Some bosses will also alert a huge portion of the dungeon when attacked, or at least call in back-up that is likely to also drawn in other mooks that were skipped.
  • Worms has an invisibility gadget that cloaks your entire team—but once a worm attacks, its position is revealed. Using Invisibility, then attacking, wastes the item.
  • XCOM 2: It's not uncommon for an ADVENT patrol to walk into a position where they flank the cover of one of your concealed soldiers, which is an automatic reveal.


    Web Original 
  • 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.

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time: In "Normal Man", Finn, Jake and Normal Man try to sneak past the many obstacles of Wild Trap Mountain. They only make it up to the Man-Eating Plants before their cover is blown when one of them tries to eat Jake, forcing them to run for it.
  • Harley and Ivy from Batman: The Animated Series meet at the Gotham Museum, each stealing some from it at the same time. Harley sneaked into the museum in a way that would impress Catwoman, and was part way through cutting open the display case of a large diamond when the alarms went off anyway. She turns around to see Ivy running past, so Harley says "to heck with it", smashes the case, grabs the diamond, and runs.
  • Big City Greens:
    • In "Photo Op" as Cricket and Gramma are hiding from Bill in a clothing store, they urge the cashier to keep their prescience a secret. Bill is convinced and starts to leave... but then Cricket and Gramma celebrate rather loudly, causing Bill to hear them and catch them off-guard.
    • In the climax of "Quiet Please", Cricket finally finds a book his genre but simultaneously forgets the restriction against noise, causing him to be obliviously tracked by the Scary Librarian. Bill notices and tries to stop him, but to no avail, leaving him to pull a Heroic Sacrifice and save him from being banned, leaving him to be banned instead. Note that the entire episode parodies A Quiet Place, and Bill did the exact same thing Lee did.
  • Family Guy parodies the above-mentioned Return of the Jedi example with Peter/Han stepping on a twig, a sheet of bubble wrap, a bike horn, a dog's tail and finally a radio. And the guard only notices because "Hey, I love this song!"
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Power Ponies", Twilight Sparkle starts telling her friends a plan for how they can sneak into the supervillain the Mane-iac's hideout. Rainbow Dash, who wasn't paying attention, suddenly charges up to the front entrance and starts yelling for the Mane-iac to come out and fight. Annoyed, Twilight says, "So much for the element of surprise."
  • Pibby: While hiding from corrupted versions of Finn and Jake, Pibby whispers to Melira and Alloy Boy to keep quiet, but the word "Quiet" pops up above them and a narrator loudly says "QUIET!". Cue Pibby, Melira and Alloy Boy screaming and running away.
  • In the third part of Sonic Boom's "Robots from the Sky" Story Arc, Sonic suggests he and Tails take a stealthy approach to get further into the robot-populated sky city of Morristown and find out what's going on... and then trips an invisible laser. With his first step. This forces the two to run from the ensuing guards, who they can't destroy because they're infected Morristown civilians.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: In "The Secret Box", SpongeBob is sneaking through Patrick's house, but every step he makes a very loud (and unrelated) noise. Fortunately even after he causes a ruckus Patrick is still asleep... until SpongeBob comments barely audibly on what a heavy sleeper he must be, causing Patrick to wake up for real.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars:
    • "The Gungan General": During the second escape attempt the trio is seen carefully sneaking through the halls avoiding being seen or making too much noise then, after a cutaway to Jar Jar's group, they're next seen sprinting down the hall knocking everything they can over behind them and kicking doors open so something evidently blew their stealthy approach.
    • "A Distant Echo": Anakin reminds the strike team that their incursion into Purkoll is supposed to be a stealth mission, so no blasting. Rex reacts with the trope name word-for-word when the turbolift door opens on to a room full of battle droids and the Bad Batch immediately moves to engage them.
  • Star Wars Rebels:
    • "Stealth Strike": Captain Rex's word-for-word reaction when Kanan starts shooting onboard the Interdictor, blowing their cover.
    • "Steps Into Shadow": Once the rebels (who intended to sneakily steal Y-Wings scheduled for destruction from Reklam Station) are discovered, their plan immediately morphs into shooting everything in sight and destroying Reklam Station in order to steal the ships.
  • In the Superman: The Animated Series episode "New Kids in Town", young Clark Kent is attempting to sneak around Brainiac, who's travelled back in time to kill him, however he knocks a rake over, attracting Brainiac's attention.
  • Totally Spies!: In "Wild Style", the girls sneak into the lair of an evil fashion designer who is turning people into animals so she can make them into coats. However, they're looking in while Clover is turning into a lioness, and Alex happens to be allergic to cats.
  • Dr. Venture of The Venture Bros. has a moment like this when he accidentally drops a lightbulb that his bodyguard Brock Sampson asked him to unscrew for total darkness, thus alerting the nearby guards. After saying the trope name, Brock replies with an alternative plan: Throwing the Doctor into the group of incoming guards. Surprisingly, it works.
  • X-Men: Evolution: The X-Men and Mystique in an Enemy Mine situation sneak into where X-Men and Brotherhood captives are being held. Iceman ice-bridges over the Laser Hallway's sensors, uses the key they'd stolen to open something... and then, as he's confidently spinning the key on his finger as he quips to Kitty, the key flies off, and to the floor, triggering the alarms.
  • Young Justice: A recurring theme in this series is The Team being given strict orders to perform recon only on missions, but things don't always go as planned.
    Beast Boy: Psh, they always say "recon only". It never works out that way.
    • In "Bloodlines", Red Arrow and Cheshire are infiltrating a mountain temple, and for some reason Cheshire has insisted on bringing their baby daughter with them in a backpack. Lian Nguyen-Harper seems to enjoy the sight of her parents taking out a couple of guards and starts giggling. It first shows the giggling echoing across the temple. Next scene? At least twenty to thirty guards with spears pointing at them, and both Cheshire and Red Arrow with their hands in the air.
      Red Arrow: Told you we should've left her with your sister.

    Real Life 
  • 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?

Okay, guys, I think we managed that all right, now let's just sneak our way out of here and...


... Dangit!


Video Example(s):



When the Eds are trying to get to Rolf's house unseen so that Rolf can cure Eddy's pimple problem, they end up getting ambushed by the Kids with cameras, forcing them to make a break for it, all shown in snapshots.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / PhotoMontage

Media sources: