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Steal the Surroundings

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"I'm taking this thing to Mexico!"

Fast Five, where Dominic Toretto does exactly that

Important stuff is usually protected, making it pretty hard for a thief to just waltz into a place and steal what they want: Safecracking will take too long, the Password Slot Machine is too slow, the structure is too strong to Shoot Out the Lock and they'll be detected as soon as they try to hack into the terminal. But wait, why even bother trying to steal just what they want? They can grab everything surrounding their target, and figure things out once they get the hell out of there. Frequently, an entire building will be stolen, in one way or another.

This tactic can be necessary if the objective is protected by a Self-Destructing Security system. Trying to open the device at the scene without the necessary precautions could destroy what's being stolen, while taking the whole thing means someone could work on it later, at their leisure.

One of the oldest examples is stealing a safe and breaking into it later. This variant was popular in early radio dramas, and has become a Dead Horse Trope, as a safe not bolted down is rather silly. The modern variant usually involves blowing up whatever the safe is bolted to, and then stealing the safe.

See also Safecracking, "Open!" Says Me, Cutting the Knot, Dungeon Bypass, Myopic Architecture and Take a Third Option. Overlaps with Sky Heist when an aircraft is used to steal the surroundings. Can extend to Monumental Theft when a character's theft involve small buildings dragged by even smaller cars. Not to be confused with Sticky Fingers where someone may steal various items, both big and small, simply because they can.


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  • An advertisement from Wal-Mart has a kid going in to try to decide what he wants, and he can't decide. He decides he wants all of it, and connects a rope to the side of the building, and tries to drag it away. Without paying, of course.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Baccano!:
    • Doesn't happen onscreen, but Graham Spector's first reaction to hearing that some other gang of thieves might beat his own to looting Millionaire Row is to order his gang to start dismantling entire houses to find the safes and carry them back to their lair.
    • Inverted when the endearingly air-headed pair of thieves Isaac and Miria attempt to steal "history itself" by actually targeting an entire museum. Failing that, they simply filch the door to the building, thinking that nobody would be able to enter the museum if there isn't any door to enter. Since the museum ends up being closed while the police investigate, they technically succeed.
  • GTO: The Early Years: In Chapter 166, Ryuji goes to buy condoms, and is later seen returning carrying the condom vending machine.
  • If Lupin the Third of Lupin III can't get the treasure itself, his elaborate scheme frequently becomes stealing what contains the treasure instead. In some variations, he will pretend to steal the container, and when the distracted target goes after him to get it back, it gives him time to double-back and break into the real thing.
  • Mouse has the main character steal an entire museum to obtain the golden skull it contains.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL: The Numeron Code is hidden somewhere inside Earth and you need all the Numbers to be able to find it. Don Thousand simply fuses Earth and the Barian World to get around that problem.

    Comic Books 
  • In Astro City, Manny Monkton is abducted along with the entire building he was in, leaving a neat hole where the basement was, and never seen again. He really should not have made up stories about cosmic entities.
  • The driving question of Atomic Robo: The Ghost of Station X's B-plot; how and why would someone steal a small house from Bletchley Park, and leave absolutely no paper trail? The culprit turns out to be ALAN, who relocated the house (which contained his central CPU) to an uninhabited island off the coast of Japan, where he would set the next stage of his plan into motion.
    Dr. Martin: You rob a bank with a note and a candy bar in your coat pocket. You don't drag the whole vault down the street.
  • Once in a while, Diabolik finds easier to do this. Usually it's just some large safe (even if the owner of the safe had bolted to the floor or encased in the wall. Diabolik doesn't steal the floor or the wall, but considers penetrating them as an entertaining game, and in at least one occasion stole a bolted-down safe by making it fly), but in one occasion he saw that the only way to steal a large cargo of gold was to steal the train it was on and did just that (this was reproduced in the movie Danger: Diabolik, see below for details).
  • The Gobelins comic has a bodybuilder goblin try to pull the Sword in the Stone out. At first it look like he succeeded, hoisting the sword above his head, but then it's shown he ripped the entire rock it was attached to out of the ground, which then crushes him.
  • A staple of Mortadelo y Filemón, used to establish the competence of a thieving Big Bad. In one album, a particularly crafty gang of car hijackers routinely make their hits on manned vehicles, stealing everything except the seat and the steering wheel, without the driver noticing.
  • In one Uncle Scrooge story, after another unsuccessful attempt by the Beagle Boys to break into his Money Bin, Scrooge decides to move his fortune to somewhere easy to defend. He converts all of his coins into high denomination notes and stores them in a spherical water tank atop a hill completely surrounded by open ground. In one of their better plans, the Beagle Boys trick their way on to the grounds, cut the tank loose and roll it away, with Scrooge still inside.

    Fan Works 
  • The Star Wars/Star Trek crossover fic Conquest has the Rebels rescuing people from a prison complex. They tow the entire complex into transports, flee, and storm it once safe.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • German comedy Bang Boom Bang: The crooks wreck a wall to get a safe out. Hilarity Ensues.
  • In the 1974 movie Bank Shot (see "Literature"), a bank has its office in a temporary mobile home, so the crooks decide to steal the whole trailer.
  • A subplot in Barbershop involves an pair of inept crooks who stole an entire ATM and spent the whole movie trying to break it open in their hideout. Unbeknownst to them, the ATM hadn't had any money put into it yet.
  • Batman Forever has a Cold Open with Two-Face using a helicopter to pull a bank vault out of a building.
  • Authorities in the film Danger: Diabolik try to prevent Diabolik from stealing 15 tons of gold from a train by melting it into a single lingot and sealing it into a thick welded steel container, itself welded to the train. Diabolik blows up a bridge that sends the train into the water, where the super villain steals the entire container with the aid of balloons and a mini sub. Once back at his lair Diabolik drills a hole at the top of the steel container to insert a super heated rod to melt the gold inside. He then attaches a hose to a hole drilled at the bottom of the container in order to pour the melted gold into molds so that it can be converted to regular sized gold bars. This was taken step for step from the original comic book (story "Desperate Fight"), except for the means used to move the wagon (in the comic it was a barge with a crane).
  • In Fast Five, Dom and Brian decide to rob a corrupt senator in Rio de Janeiro by using Hobbs' armored vehicle to crash through a wall, hooking the safe up to their cars with a pair of tow cables and literally yanking it out before driving away. Dom then proceeds to use it as a battering ram to destroy the cars the corrupt police are using before the crew escapes.
  • In For a Few Dollars More, El Indio and his gang bomb the cabinet with the safe inside out of the El Paso bank and move it to their hideout where they can crack the safe without being disturbed.
  • The Italian Job (2003) does this twice: once with a standard safe and once with an entire armored truck.
  • In The Losers, the eponymous group steal an entire armoured car to obtain the hard drive it was carrying.
  • National Treasure does this with the American Declaration of Independence! Ben breaks into the National Archives Building (during a gala). Ben becomes pressed for time due to the bolts securing the display case taking longer than anticipated, So he forgoes the original plan and takes the document with the frame and the bulletproof glass note  to the elevator, where he finally removes the Declaration from its display case.
  • In the Ocean's Eleven sequels, this is done once straight and once as a variant.
    • In Thirteen, a secure case full of diamond necklaces is hauled out of a casino's roof via helicopter.
    • In Twelve, the team need line-of-sight to a specific window for a heist at a house built on pylons; the window's too low, so they raise the house until it lines up. (Granted, they only moved the surroundings, they didn't keep them, but it's certainly related.)
  • Similar to Fast Five, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales introduces Jack Sparrow and his crew robbing a bank by having a bunch of horses dragging a giant safe, but end up taking the whole building along with it.
  • Used in Revolver (2005) when Avi, Zeke and Jake steal Macha's safe where the MacGuffin (drugs) is being kept. The safe is stated to be nigh-impenetrable, so they just rip it right out of the wall and take their sweet time breaking into it later.
  • Zoolander - Hansel is tasked to get a vital piece of information out of a computer. Unfortunately, he can't figure out how to do so, as he is too stupid to turn one on, let alone perform Hollywood Hacking. Instead, he just takes the entire computer(an IMac G3)... and smashes it to pieces on the floor in front of a crowd, thinking that the data is literally IN the computer and will spill out like a pinata. (Fortunately for our heroes, the original owner of the computer has a backup.)

  • In the Discworld series, Sgt. Fred Colon of the City Watch tends to give himself assignments guarding things like the Brass Bridge and the city gates in order to make sure they're not stolen. His policy has been successful—almost none of the city's landmarks have been stolen on his watch, except the Unseen University, but that was just a student prank.
  • In the Doctor Who Missing Adventures book State of Change, it's revealed that the parallel Earth the Doctor and Peri have spent the book exploring was created when, during a visit to Ptolemaic Egypt, the Rani bullied a cosmic entity into copying the TARDIS console. Due to her terrible wording, the entity didn't stop with the console, but a large portion of its surroundings — i.e., Earth.
  • Donald E. Westlake's Dortmunder: Bank Shot does this one better. In it, a gang steals an entire bank in order to crack the safe! The bank had temporarily relocated to a trailer while the bank building was being renovated.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: A characteristically absurd example in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, where a Frogstar fleet shows up and flies off with the Guide's headquarters building to get their hands on Zaphod, who was inside at the time.
  • Mistborn: In the first Wax and Wayne book, The Alloy of Law, it turns out that this is how the mysterious train robberies are being carried out. Miles and his gang are using cranes to lift the full railway cars off the tracks and replacing them with identical, empty duplicates.
  • In the Modesty Blaise novel The Impossible Virgin, Modesty and Willie have to steal some sensitive documents from a safe in the villain's house. With the villain on the alert, it's considered impossible to get into the house, let alone get enough uninterrupted time to crack the safe (it was originally installed when the house belonged to a jewel merchant, and is a heavy-duty model built directly into a wall) — so they use a crane and demolition ball to smash through the wall, and steal the entire safe.

    Live-Action TV 
  • An episode of Black Books had Manny install a needlessly obtuse security door after the shop was robbed. Later in the episode, the thieves had come back overnight and stolen the security door.
  • In Breaking Bad, two crooks steal an ATM. They are shown having difficulty actually breaking into the machine. And then it gets worse, as usual for the show.
  • Burn Notice:
    • Fiona is given the task of stealing a safe. She accomplishes it through this trope and lots of explosives.
    • Michael posed as an IT guy so he could steal a computer with security footage he needed, though in this case he at least hooked up a replacement for them.
    • A third episode had a more short-term version, with Michael and Sam ripping a safe from its concealed spot inside of a bank's floor panels and smashing it around (via tossing it off a second floor) in order to force it open.
  • Doctor Who: "Smith and Jones" features an entire building being transported to the Moon so the Monster of the Week can locate a single person.
  • Eureka: In "Up in the Air", Sheriff Carter gets a call about a bank robbery, and is overjoyed to have a nice, normal crime to investigate for a change — until he gets to the scene and discovers that the entire bank has gone missing.
  • The Firm:
    • In an episode, Ray has to steal data off a security system by "Going to the C drive and getting root access". He can't do it and just grabs the whole computer.
    • Done again in another episode, where a few thugs are looking for a hard drive at a hacker's house, but as "the place is like a friggin' Radio Shack", they think it is Hidden in Plain Sight, so they start stealing everything to sort it out when they get back.
  • On Glee, Puck ends up in juvie when he drives his mom's Volvo through the front of a convenience store and drives off with the ATM.
  • On The Lost Room, Joe needs an Object stored in a safe. He sticks the safe in the Room and resets it, causing the safe to vanish and leaving the Object inside behind.
  • Psych: Subverted. A group of safecrackers stole a safe, but it wasn't to steal what was in it, but so the lead cracker could figure out how to open that kind of safe.
  • There was a Sesame Street routine in which Ernie, fed up with Cookie Monster stealing his cookies all the time, acquires a safe in which to put the cookies. When Cookie Monster comes by, he realizes that he cannot open the safe, so he just eats the safe.
  • Square One TV Mathnet: In the first story arc, "The Problem of the Missing Baseball", a woman's house is stolen in order to find some gold bricks which had been hidden in the house.
  • The White Collar episode "Neighbourhood Watch" involved the crooks stealing a vault from a hotel.
  • In Warehouse 13, Leena's entire bed and breakfast had to be moved into the warehouse and rebuilt outside because of an artifact painting that couldn't be removed from the house. The bedrooms of dead agents are also put into storage in case their personal belongings are needed again.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Ramayana is possibly the Ur-Example. There, Hanuman flies to a distant mountain in order to obtain a herb necessary to cure Lakshmana . Having some difficulty identifying the proper herb, he lifts the entire mountain and carries it back to those who can.

  • In The Goon Show episode "The Great Bank Robbery", the robbers steal the entire bank, airlifting it away with a zeppelin.
  • CBS Radio Mystery Theater did almost the same thing with King Bankrobber. In that one, the bank was relocated to the top floor of the robber's mansion.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • In Crash Nitro Kart, when Velo wants Crash's and Cortex's groups to race for his amusement, he steals their entire homes with tractor beams and dumps them in his racing arena.
  • Present in PAYDAY: The Heist (and its remake in PAYDAY2). In "Panic Room", Bain comes up with a plan to steal a very large cache of money and contraband locked inside the titular panic room, located in Chavez's hideout. The safe room is too high-tech to be breached on-site; so instead of cracking the saferoom mid-heist, the robbers use circular saws to cut the structural beams to which the room is bolted, plant explosives to blow a hole through the roof and floors of the building and lift the entire room out of the complex with a Skycrane.
  • In the game Evil Genius, a lot of the evil plans you can do involve this, up to and including stealing the Sword in the Stone by just grabbing the stone and stealing the Eiffel Tower by shrinking it.
  • Saints Row: The Third starts out with the Saints stealing an entire bank vault using a cargo helicopter.
  • Far Cry 5: One of the things you can find during free-roam is either a box-truck or semi trailer that can be looted for a powerful weapon or unique car, and a small amount of RP. While the latter, being a trailer, will require the corresponding vehicle, both versions can be taken wholesale if you don't want to risk getting shot at, at which point they can be looted at any time thereafter once the player gets where they're going. You don't even need to abandon them after looting them, you can just re-raise the ramp and keep going.
  • Carmen Sandiego, being the original Impossible Thief, regularly steals locations such as Ancient Rome's Forum and the Mason-Dixon line. Why? Because she can!
  • In Super Mario Galaxy, Bowser kidnaps Princess Peach by using a UFO to steal her castle while she is still in it.
    • Earlier than that, the original Paper Mario had Bowser use his castle to lift up Peach's from underneath and into what appears to be space. With Mario and Peach both in it.
  • In Warcraft III, one mission involves rescuing the captured Illidan from Maiev Shadowsong, who's locked him up in a magical cage and is dragging him away to her base at the very moment you discover her. Even when you defeat the guard and secure the cage, however, there's still a battle raging on. Rather than try to undo the lock and free Illidan in the midst of a war, why not just drag the entire cage back to safety and figure out how to unlock it later?

  • Schlock Mercenary has one storyline where the plot is a variation on this trope. Tagon's Toughs are hired by a feminist group to get an offensive and mean-spirited make-over show off the air. A little research reveals they can't just get rid of the hosts because the network will just replace them next season and keep making the show. And they can't just blow up the network's studios and offices because (besides the moral implications of all the innocent people who would be hurt or killed) the insurance would get them back in business in no time. So, in typical "no such thing as overkill" fashion, they invoke this trope and concoct a plan to completely destroy the entire corporation's finances AND safely damage their building beyond repair (so they'd have to waste even more cash demolishing it) with no casualties in order to fulfill their contract to get one show off the air. While they are at it, they also shortchange the stock on the network and make even more money for doing their job.

    Western Animation 
  • In one episode of DuckTales (1987), Magica de Spell comes to steal a magic harp Scrooge recently found at an archaeological dig. Scrooge locks the harp in a drawer, then throws the key in his vault, which has a combination lock. Magica simply tells him, "You won't give key? Then I take desk!" She does, and a Chase Scene ensues.
  • In an episode of King of the Hill, Peggy gets her money back from a con artist by stealing the safe with his ill gotten gains from his motel room. It turns out the safe was planted in the room by Peggy through a hole in the wall.
  • In The Perils of Penelope Pitstop episode "Hair-Raising Harness Race", Penelope takes refuge in a shack filled with explosives. The Hooded Claw lassos the shack, with Penelope still inside, and has the Bully Brothers drag it onto a railroad track.
  • In the Ricochet Rabbit short "Cactus Ruckus" a Jack and the Beanstalk-type giant outlaw robs the bank by picking it up and taking it to his hideout at the top of a giant cactus.
  • The Simpsons:
  • In one episode of SpongeBob SquarePants, an Alaskan Bull Worm (a polychaete worm) has been menacing Bikini Bottom and been eating away parts of the town. The town has a meeting at the Krusty Krab on how to deal with the situation, where Patrick suggests that they "just take Bikini Bottom and push it somewhere else!", which Squidward and the others consider "crazy enough... TO GET US ALL KILLED!". However, after Sandy and SpongeBob decide to go off and fight the worm, the Bikini Bottomites consider the duo's attempt futile and decide to go with Patrick's plan. The last scene shows them successfully moving the town a considerable distance away in a ravine... only to be crushed by the worm falling on them from above after it was defeated by Sandy and SpongeBob.
  • Star Wars Resistance: In "No Escape, Part I" and "Part II", Kaz and his allies are trying to drive the First Order off the Colossus platform, but know that it's not that simple since they'll just bring reinforcements. And then Neeku, Eila and Kel discover the Colossus' long-disused hyperdrive and thrusters... So they instead escape the First Order by absconding with the entire platform into space.
  • In one episode of TaleSpin, Baloo, Wild Kat, and an archaeologist discover a lost pyramid, but end up leading the Sky Pirates to it. When the archaeologist voices her concern about the pirates, Baloo dismissively says "What are they going to do? Take the whole pyramid?". Just as they find their way out, they see the Iron Vulture above using strong cables to tote the entire pyramid out of the ground.
  • From the Transformers: Prime episode "Legacy": Megatron's solution to the Excalibur Expy that is the Star Saber being wedged in a cliff face and impossible to pull out? Cut a chunk of the cliff face off and take the whole thing with him using his warship.
  • Family Guy: In "Space Cadet", Consuela takes the "thieving maid" stereotype to its logical conclusion by dragging the entire Griffin house away with ease.
  • The Pink Panther: The short Pink Campaign involves the Panther stealing a lumberjack's home piece by piece (and driving him insane in the process) as revenge for cutting down his tree.
  • Thunderbirds Are Go: In "Up from the Depths - Part 2", the Mechanic uses the stolen TV-21 to to steal a GDF vault containing the world's supply of iridium, with Ned Tedford inside, and then sends his ship into space.

    Real Life 
  • Preventing this is why Gun Safes need to weigh at least 100 kg when empty.
  • Because this is a very real threat for small safes, manufacturers will tout their safes by focusing on the fact that they can be bolted down.
  • There exist security camera recordings of thieves trying to make off with an ATM using either a pickup truck or a front end loader, and occasionally succeeding.
    • This is also why ATMs are now pretty much all brick-backed, rather than the old bank schtick of including them in the front window glass - it was a bit too easy to simply forklift them out.
    • Another technique is to have the cash storage embedded in the (usually concrete) floor, and separately secure from the ATM. Even when in a brick wall, an ATM could still be ripped out fairly easily with something like a front-end loader.
    • Irish gangs have been known to use JCB diggers to simply rip the ATM out of the wall.
  • The above fictional examples of taking data off of a computer by stealing the whole system and working on it later have a great deal of Truth in Television in them. There are several ways of defeating system security on most systems, mostly be booting off of a system cracking disk (usually using Linux) or by plugging the hard drive into another system for analysis. Both are common methods used by forensic computer technicians. Both can be made extremely awkward to use, but once you have the physical system in hand, it is almost inevitable that anything not protected by physical booby traps is going to be compromised. For this reason, any competent penetration tester will attempt to gain access using "social engineering" tactics as well as electronically.
    • On a related point, any encryption can be broken by brute force (trying out each and every possible key) given enough time. Although "enough time" may be "greater than the current age of the universe" if the key is big enough (and P != NP).


Video Example(s):


Flying Mansion

Using his electronic carpets, Professor Nimnul attempted to rob a mansion party. Unfortunately, the Rescue Rangers had nailed the carpets to the floor, so Nimnul decided to increase the power. This inadvertently caused the carpets to raise the entire mansion, which then began chasing Nimnul's van.

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Main / StealTheSurroundings

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