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The Guards Must Be Crazy

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"You gotta love an elite killing force you can fool by putting on a hat."
Marn Hierogryph, on the Mandalorians, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

Being a guard for an Evil Overlord is a low-status, low-pay, high-risk job in an unsafe workplace, with very little long term job security (but they normally have a brilliant pension plan). So it's hardly surprising that most applicants aren't exactly the sharpest knives in the drawer, and could be fooled by tricks that wouldn't faze an average six-year old.

Common issues are:

One of the Acceptable Breaks from Reality, as competent guards would cause characters to end up stuck in prison forever, and Stealth-Based Games would be unwinnable.

The facility the guards are employed at may have Swiss Cheese Security, in which case they never had a chance at keeping intruders out anyway, despite their best efforts.

The trope name is a pun on the film The Gods Must Be Crazy. See also Conspicuously Selective Perception for the stealth game variant.

Example Subpages:

Other Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Those two guards on the top floor of the hotel in the Island arc of Assassination Classroom are trained agents, yet both of them immediately left their spot to chase after a kid just because he insulted them. Not to mention they got outrun by a kid (a kid trained in assassination and the fastest runner, but still...).
  • In the Captain Harlock manga, Earth's prime minister has Daiba arrested with plans to have the guards follow him to Harlock or otherwise use him as bait... Then Yuki, from Harlock's crew, walks in the prison, presents herself as one of Harlock's pirates and asks for confirmation if that's where they keep Daiba for the trap, at which point they just let her pass. Harlock's vice-commander Yattaran, who had got himself thrown in the same cell as Daiba to help him in a "proper" escape attempt, can barely believe it, the guards belately realize they look like fools... And the plan to follow Harlock's ship falls through because the radar operator was playing golf with the prime minister.
  • Code Geass:
    • The Britannian guards frequently wait until Lelouch has geassed them before actually doing their job. Twice they have waited for Lelouch to give a long pretentious speech before he geassed them into killing themselves. Reaches its peak when Lelouch just walks up and waits more than a minute while the guards attack him with spears before geassing the entire room. Although he was still a Prince, and thus it's doubtful assault against royalty goes over great in Britannia.
    • The Chinese Federation are even worse. While they do have guns, they just stare dumbfounded as Xingke fights them off with a sword since the only Chinese soldiers to fight are the ones with spears, and then they watch as Lelouch gives a speech before he finally has the sense to take his gun and hold Tianzi hostage with it. Granted, they were in the middle of a wedding chapel surrounded with VIPs from two superpowers, so it's possible that they may have simply wanted to avoid accidentally shooting someone else, but the guards outside have no excuse.
    • In one episode, an unarmed Lelouch and Kallen find some Britannians on a remote island and effortlessly steal their ridiculously powerful prototype mech. The mech itself was unguarded, and the "guards" left the keys in the ignition. Kallen has to beat up a few guys, but they don't make use of their firepower advantage. Euphemia was fairly close, though, so it may have been to avoid regicide.
  • One episode of Digimon Adventure has Piyomon and Gomamon knock out and steel some food from a particularly dumb Bakemon guard by goading him into taunting them with it.
  • In The Mysterious Cities of Gold, the Mayan sentries are supposed to guard the house where the gang is staying. Instead, they sleep on the job, giving Pedro and Sancho a chance to sneak out.
  • In One Piece, Impel Down is the World Government's high-security super-max mostly due to its architecture and resources, such as demon guardians and Seastone restraints. Unfortunately, it seems very little attention was given to selecting and training human guards, who are woefully unprepared for handling prisoners with Devil Fruit powers should said prisoners be able to use them. (It doesn't apply to named characters like Magellan and Sadi-Chan, however.)
  • The Rose of Versailles: Being based on the period before The French Revolution, it's featured with some regularity in one of the show's many examples of Truth in Television.
    • One character actually states you only need a hat and a sword to reach the queen. She and her husband then proceed to do just that, and only fail because they stumble on Oscar, who could have recognized they were out of place.
    • Also subverted on one occasion, where Fersen is leaving Versailles after a secret meeting with Marie Antoinette and is stopped by some soldiers of the French Guards. Bonus points for the French Guards being particularly infamous for laziness during guard duty and Oscar, who had recently become their commander, showing up in time to save Fersen because she planned to catch them shirking guard duty. Then Double Subverted when Oscar tells Fersen which gate was guarded by the laziest guards (who weren't in Oscar's regiment, so it wasn't her problem).
  • In Windaria the key to Lunara's floodgates are guarded by an old man that sleeps most of the day in a guardhouse without a door. At the start of the film, a spy walks in there, takes the keys, and no one realizes anything until he opens the flood gates. Considering this could have flooded the entire city it merges with Too Dumb to Live.

  • Some of Karl Spitzweg's most famous paintings (Der strickende Wachposten and variations) depict a sentry standing or sitting on the battlements among the cannons and knitting.
  • And there also is Der schlafene Wachposten, in which a soldier on guard duty has made a scarecrow out of his uniform and rifle and gone to sleep. And even if he had not been asleep, there is still a book lying on the howitzer.

    Board Games 
  • In Chess, it's a rare game where the King's pawns are not somehow involved in blocking his retreat and forming a checkmate.
  • Older Than Print: In Xiangqi, the checkmated General/King's own Advisors/Guards are often part of the reason it's checkmate; there would be escape if they weren't there, and sometimes the one the enemy Cannon is using as a gun mount cannot move because it's in a corner of the Palace and the other Advisor/Guard is in its way.

    Comic Books 
  • In Asterix the Gladiator, Asterix and Obelix find a guard who works at the prison where they are holding Cacofonix prisoner. Asterix tells Obelix that they have to ask him some "clever questions" to find out his exact location. Obelix, to Asterix's astonishment, simply asks "Hey you! Where is Cacofonix imprisoned?" The (overly tired) guard replies in detail adding "but it's a secret" while Asterix sits there befuddled.
  • The guards at the Batman-verse Arkham Asylum. Whether it's letting the Joker substitute all their real guns for popguns, allowing him access to janitorial chemicals that let him mix together some Joker Venom, or constructing a hot air balloon that allows him to fly over the walls, the increasingly ridiculous, contrived and unbelievable ways that the Joker and the other Bat-villains escape from Arkham would be construed as painfully bad in any other franchise. For the Batman comics, on the other hand, it's par for the course. Fridge Brilliance kicks in when you realize that it's probably safer for the guards to not try and stop people like the Joker, Killer Croc, Two Face, and Poison Ivy. The guards survive longer if they stay out of the way of escaping inmates, and it's safer for the guards if Joker is on the streets instead of at their daily work place.
  • Marvel had a version of Arkham called Ravencroft that would have been far more secure if not for incompetent staff and even more incompetent government officials funding the place. It was originally run by Dr. Ashley Kafka with Colonel John Jameson heading the security, but her insistence that some inmates could be cured (when they obviously couldn't) led to problems. After the government decided that the Chameleon could stand trial, she made a serious breech of protocol by taking him out of his cell and into the facility's basement, which of course, let him escape. After the crisis this caused, both Kafka and Jameson were fired, which only made things worse. The first replacement actually thought that the extensive security devoted to one inmate — who happened to be Carnage — was too much of a drain on the budget, and turned part of it off, completely ignoring the screaming protests of the veteran guards. It took Carnage all of ten seconds to escape (and worst of all, his symbiote nearly possessed the Silver Surfer this time).
  • Diabolik:
    • In the very first story, it's mentioned that Diabolik had broken out of the supposedly unescapable prison of Asen. More recently a flasback shows how he did it: he killed two guards who gave him a small opening, stole the uniform of one of them and ruined his face to slow identification, then took off his perfect mask and walked out dressed as a guard. Granted, that was before the police knew of his masks or his true face, but the guards still failed to notice a man in uniform who was not one of them...
    • The second time Diabolik was arrested. They caught him with his true face and by now knew his masks, so they managed to keep him in jail long enough to sentence him to death, but Eva Kant, at the time not a wanted criminal yet, broke him out the very day before the execution. How? Easy: she bribed two guards to bring him to her so she could give him a proper goodbye (she had also confessed being in love with him), and when they brought him to her she brought him in a shack where the two drugged Eva's Stalker with a Crush AKA George Caron, secretary of the Minister of Justice, put on him a mask with Diabolik's face, and when the guards told them it was time to bring Diabolik back him gave them Caron. The guards, not suspecting anything in spite of the masks being now known to the public, brought Caron back in the death row, and then, at the appointed time, on the guillotine, where he was executed, and had Ginko not noticed 'Diabolik' was moving like he was drugged nobody would have ever realized what had happened.
    • Averted in the rest of the series: knowing who they're dealing with, whenever Diabolik or Eva are arrested the guards keep them under heavy guard, ready to shoot to kill on sight and adopting such things as putting them in a jail surrounded by swamps (Eva's first arrest). Sure, Diabolik and Eva always break out in the end, but that's because they're just that good, and have to resort to increasingly complex plans. One example is how Diabolik broke Eva out of that jail in the swamps: first he got seen kidnapping a top model to convince the world he had dumped Eva to get them to lower their guard or at least get enough pity for her so she wouldn't be executed, then, when Ginko kept the surveillance tigh to be safe and Eva was sentenced to jail time, he caused a typhoid fever outbreak in the jail (Eva was vaccinated, so she wasn't in danger) to get it evacuated, caused a distraction so Ginko wouldn't be around, and then derailed the train that was the only way in or out, and even this was was a close thing (Ginko realized what was happening and went to the phone to warn the jail mere moments before the train got derailed). Following breakouts need different formulas because the guards are prepared to foil previously used methods and whatever they can think of (and it's a lot of things) and do their best to keep the prisoner isolated until Diabolik is executed.
  • Fantastic Four:
    • An old story saw the government imprisoning them in specially designed cells. Reed Richards and Johnny managed to find tiny flaws in the prison design. The Thing found that the door was strong enough to take one punch from him, but not multiple blows, which makes the prison designer crazy. Sue Storm turned herself invisible. And yes, guards set to guard The Invisible Woman opened the door because they couldn't see her.
    • A not-so-old issue of Ultimate Fantastic Four uses the same idea, only it was evil zombie versions of the entire team in one cell together, and the Reed Richards counterparts prepared the trick by claiming he had built a teleporter from a ballpoint pen and a string of hair. Zombie Susan even lampshades how amazed she is that the guards were tricked by the Invisible Woman... turning invisible. This one is especially pathetic, given that even if the teleporter claim had been true, there would still have been no earthly reason to open the doors.
    • A case of "The Security Designers Must Be Crazy" happened after Reed and Doom were apparently killed. The rest of the team and Llyja was captured by the Skulls who thought they had designed a cell and shackles that could nullify their powers. Well, the stuff worked... For about an hour. After that, escaping was pretty easy. (Not to mention that the four of them were very angry at the Skrulls for humiliating them with their version of a "perp walk" beforehand, so to speak.)
  • One of the main sources of frustration for Iznogoud is that everyone but him in the palace he lives in, especially the guards, is completely nuts.
  • In an early Johan and Peewit story, a bunch of guards abandon all common sense for a barrel of mead, leaving the guard room empty (and allowing Johan to sabotage the drawbridge).
  • Pretty much the reason behind the Daltons' Joker Immunity in Lucky Luke; the jail's wardens put little to no effort into ensuring the Daltons stay in their cell, to the point they sometimes escape as soon as they reached jail. Lucky Luke actually gets sick of it in later albums and outright calls them idiots for it.
  • In Tintin: The Seven Crystal Balls, Thompson and Thomson are assigned to guard Dr. Midge. They are suspicious of a package addressed to him which turns out to be a harmless present, but neglect the windows, which were the point of entry for previous attacks and the one that claims Dr. Midge.
  • After leaving the lost light in The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye, Drift strikes out on his own in his own series, Drift: Empire of Stone. He, Ratchet and a Decepticon named Grit all end up prisoners of Gigatron. When a guard, Knockout, passes by, Ratchet orders Drift to play dead and begins struggling with Grit, claiming the Con's a murderer. Knockout just looks confused at the whole ordeal. He lets them out anyway, being friends with Grit, and gives them back their weapons.
    Ratchet: Well?
    Knockout: Well what? I'm supposed to be shocked, open the cell and run in there so you can hit me on the head and escape? That guy's not even dying. Look at him, he's fine.
    Drift: You don't know!
    Knockout: Hopeless.

    Fan Works 
  • Ace Savvy: A New Hope: The guards in charge of guarding Tetherby's stuff are insanely bad at their jobs to the point where Lincoln comments on it. This is later explained by Tetherby being a terrible boss to them.
  • When Feliciano rescues Ludwig from the American base in the Hetalia: Axis Powers fanfiction, "Auf Wiedersen, Sweetheart." The plan involved getting all but two American guards to leave by telling them that their counterparts had gotten into a Bar Brawl in town and then convincing the remaining guards to drink the drugged flask of bourbon.
  • The Dilgar War:
    • Played straight when a Dilgar infiltrator on Earth successfully kidnaps the deputy director of the PsiCorps in spite of her and her guards being telepaths, and then defeats said guards by using their telepathy against them. To the guards' defence, they were usually employed to hunt down rogue unarmed telepaths and their opponent was a professional extremely good at fighting and hiding his thoughts and equipped with a suit making him invisible...
    • Later Subverted: when the infiltrator penetrates EarthDome (the city near Geneva built specifically to house the Earth Alliance government), he successfully enters thanks to the codes he extracted from the deputy director, his invisible suit, and the fact he's believed to have drowned right after the scuffle with the telepaths, but fails to leave when a dog sniffs him, fails to see him, and attacks, wrecking his suit and causing half the guards to come to kill him (he's killed by the ones who found him about one minute before a hundred guards tracks him down). After that incident, guard dogs are dispatched to the entrance of all military bases, with one Dilgar with an identical suit failing to secretly follow one of his leaders to a diplomatic meeting specifically because of a guard dog alerting the guards.
  • In The Fifth Act, Genesis gets reports of a lone unaffliated man outside the camp, believed to be a Wutai spy. Genesis thinks the scouts who reported Cloud's presence are morons since Cloud is not hiding in the least, is too blond to be from Wutai and is openly camping.
  • The Good Hunter:
    • In Chapter 1, Cyril lampshades how Lescatie's guards are worse than useless, failing to sense the intruder within their walls who successfully intrudes upon his home. Sure, said intruder turns out to be a Kunoichi good at infiltration work, but still.
    • Also lampshaded by Fina as she makes her way to Lescatie in Chapter 5, sneaking past the guards all the while. This is later justified as she does so by blending in with the stream of travellers and refugees who sought entry and safety in the city. The guards are simply overtaxed with keeping the area secure against monsters.
  • Wholly averted in the Heroes of the Storm fanfic Heroes of the Desk. When an alarm goes off in the medical wing, a sympathetic doctor disables it, then blames a system malfunction. A short while later, several guards arrive, and one of them specifically points out that the aforementioned behavior made security more suspicious that something was amiss, since This Is Reality and not one of the video games the Heroes characters originated in.
  • legolas by laura features a scene described thus by a sporker, caused by sheer incoherence:
    "Looks like Legolas has just asked the guards — sorry, the gards to keep an eye on Laura's room while the orcs are kidnapping her, and... it all gets a bit confused."
    "So the gard walks into the room and sees the orcs, and does nothing. Legolas runs off down the hall, then runs back and asks the gards where Laura is. They say that the orcs took her, neglecting to mention that they stood by and watched..."
    "And by that time, the orcs have apparently already returned to Mordor. I think we can safely assume that all the characters have gone insane."
  • In The New Millenium fanfic, this trope is subverted. Celeste's Yami, Aclina, who is supposed to be somewhat of a guardian for Yami (At least according to Word of God), is implied to be crazy by the way she punishes Ran's kidnappers: with an imersion into insanity. When she turns on the kidnappers, she has 'A smile stained with pure insanity' on her face. But when she turns back to Yami, she has 'Her usual look of indifference' on. This implies that Selective Insanity is present.
  • In The Night Unfurls, this trope is lampshaded by Kyril in Chapter 3, remastered version. As he is walking down the hall to attend a meeting with the Seven Shields, he internally notes that he often takes walks like this during nighttime. He is able to do so without being noticed because, in his words, "sneaking past the guards was a joke".
  • In Star Trek: The Original Series fanfic The Tresine Troubles, a captured Kirk is able to lure the guard into his prison cell merely by singing (i.e, caterwauling) loudly enough that the guy can't help but go in and shut him up. Of course, the idiot is swiftly disarmed and the other guard stunned with the 'borrowed' weapon. Justified in that the guards in question belong to a rather disorganized terrorist group and have no real training or discipine.
  • Parodied in Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series when Tristan is sneaking up on a guard in a suit of armor. "CLUNK CLUNK CLUNK." "Must be the wind." "CLUNK CLUNK CLUNK." "Yeah, that's definitely the sound that wind makes."
  • In That Epic Plan, L sends Aizawa along to supervise the prisoner transfer of Beyond Birthday to taskforce HQ, but with the ease Light has with communicating with Beyond, Aizawa might as well not be there at all.
  • The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfiction Jericho (MLP) has some amusing amounts of this.
    • Lampshaded when a guard just lets the main character, Jericho (a foreigner), walk into a guarded compound when all Jericho offers in the flimsy excuse that he's a "plumber". (Jericho is dressed like a cowboy, by the way.)
      You are a very trusting stallion and should be fired from your job. You didn't even check to see if I had any identification... if Equestria even uses identification like that. Huh. I should look into that.
    • And then b-e-a-utifully subverted! Jericho walks up to the Baron's plantation house, tricks the guard into letting him in, then, as Jericho is walking past, the guard bashes Jericho upside the head with his nightstick.
  • The Pieces Lie Where They Fell: In the sequel Picking Up the Pieces, the new security guard at Night's gym is ostensibly there to keep further pranksters out after somepony dumped purple dye in their swimming pool, but he's too busy reading his newspaper to look up at any visitors, like Night, when he says the pool’s closed and explains why it’s closed.
  • Pokémon Reset Bloodlines:
    • In Chapter 23 of the main story, during their infiltration of the Gringy City power plant, Ash and company manage to sneak past some mind-controlled Koffing on the back of Misty's Gyarados. Justified, because Koffing have terrible hearing and being mind-controlled is implied to impair a Pokémon's mental abilities.
    • In the Steven Interlude sidestory, a Team Zenith grunt managed to sneak past security into a restricted area of the Devon HQ to steal a device inside a vault. Had he not been casually spotted by Sawyer, who relayed it to Steven, he might have gotten away unnoticed.
  • In the 12 chapter of the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fic Loved and Lost, one of the guards under King Jewelius is patrolling to make sure the Changelings are locked up in their cells. Queen Chrysalis tries to fool him by turning herself into Jewelius, and then into a crying filly. To make her stop, the irritated guard walks close to her cell, and Chrysalis seizes her chance to slam his head against the bars and steal the keys he's carrying as he falls unconscious. After his takeover, Jewelius murdered all the Royal Guards who were injured during the Changeling invasion yet remained loyal to the usurper princesses, filling the greatly decreased ranks with convicts he bribed to be loyal to himself. If this guard is one of those replacements, his carelessness would be explained by his lack of proper drilling in a guard's duties.
    • In the tenth chapter, when Applejack and Rarity disguise themselves as maids while sneaking in the castle (with Cadance hiding in the housekeeping cart they're pushing), they nervously claim to the first guard who stops them that they're doing some late night cleaning. He eyes them suspiciously for a moment before letting them carry on.
  • In episode 8 of Code MENT, Lelouch/One spends about a minute and half firing roughly 70 bullets from a pistol without reloading. The two guards outside the room casually converse over and throughout the clearly audible gunfire. They then kick the door in and rush in guns blazing when they are alarmed by Lelouch's cough.
  • A bit of a running gag in Mirai Nikki The Abridged Series is to explain any instance of a character making it past the security by simply saying "Their security sucks". Said characters included an injured and dehydrated terrorist, a blind man, and Yukiteru.
  • RainbowDoubleDash's Lunaverse:
    • An early fic has two guards actually invoking this when a panicked Trixie comes up to Canterlot Castle's front gate, demanding entrance, but not having any ID to prove she is who she says she is. The two guards know Trixie, but unfortunately they also hate Trixie, and state that if somepony like Trixie showed up, acting very un-Trixie like and demanding entrance, well, they'd have to be stupid to let her in, right? They're also not very concerned by Trixie's concern that their delaying might get her killed by BonBon, who is having a very stressful day. Then the angry naked human appears out of nowhere.
    • Another story, set several years before, shows a young Shining Armor having a near-miss with this, when Princess Luna shows up to say her apprentice Trixie can go into the city without any guards. Shining and his captain notice Princess Luna slip up on the pronunciation of one word - it's Trixie in disguise as Luna.
    • The Zaldian Secret Police are easily outwitted by Trixie and Lyra pretending to teleport away. Actually, Trixie's just turned invisible - the Zaldians despite being mind-bogglingly paranoid and arrogant don't think invisibility is real magic worth investing energy in countermeasures against. The fact they've been heavily infiltrated by Changelings muddies these waters, since the Changelings are trying to make the Secret Police look bad, so whether that's part of the plot or not is fuzzy.

    Films — Animation 
  • The guards in The Incredibles fall prey to a few of these. They're decent enough at their jobs when they're in action, but it's the boring surveillance part of the day that always slips them up. At one point in the movie, they all leave their posts to check on a colleague who's just collapsed. Later, they don't notice Helen when she's right behind them. She even talks. Later still, nobody is paying attention to the security cameras and are all partying in the background. Only Mirage notices the escapees that don't even bother to avoid the security cameras. Most notably, though, is later in the same scene where it gets absurd enough that Bob lampshades it. They enter a large room with no-one in it and he absently wonders, "Where are all the guards?"
  • Double subversion in Monsters vs. Aliens. The heroes (who consist of an amorphous blob, a fish-man, and a human/cockroach hybrid) adopt Paper Thin Disguises to bluff their way past an alien clone. He recognizes one of them as a clone that's "defective beyond repair"... and immediately orders the other two to dispose of him. And gives them a key card. And a gun.
  • In The Steam Engines of Oz, the guards on the gates of the Emerald City are completely unconcerned when their kalidah—a beast specifically trained to sniff out munchkins—starts sniffing with interest at a box on Candace's wagon, and allow her to beat it off with her umbrella and drive out of the city.
  • Strange Magic: The Bog King's mooks outside his palace, while not competent enough to capture one fairy princess, are at least awake. His personal guards fall asleep on the job in front of him, causing him to send them to bed.
  • The Guards in Tangled. They cannot find an old lady who has kidnapped the baby princess for almost two decades, when she happened to be in a tower within riding distance. Then said princess's crown gets stolen right under their noses. Then one of the thieves comes back to Corona later with a girl with 70 feet long of hair and they don't notice it, even though he is dancing around. The only competent member is Maximus, and he's the only one to make crime virtually disappear. The same thief was able to walk up to the palace and meet the King and Queen face-to-face. Their incompetence is proven even more later on when a 14-year old kid is able to distract all the guards around Corona by putting up a smoke-screen and knocking them out with a giant monster while the kid himself somehow managed to infiltrate all the way to the castle and kidnap the Queen without any resistance whatsoever, demonstrating that the guards didn't even try to guard parts of the castle nor do they even bother to bodyguard a very important figure in the country.
  • A truly memorable subversion in Titan A.E.: Preed, Stith, and Korso are trying to free Akima from a slave prison. They see a large, brutish guard around a corner, and Stith offers to take him out. Preed refuses, saying, "This requires cunning and deception." They then walk up to the guard, and Preed spins a tale that he and Stith are traders, and that Korso is the slave they're looking to sell. After delivering his story, we have this exchange.
    Guard: You're lying. He's not a slave and you're not traders. Look at the way he stands. He doesn't carry himself like a slave! Probably ex-military.note  Akrennians always threaten before asking a favor, it's tradition. And your robes are made out of bedspreads!
    Preed: Er, do we have a "Plan B"? [Stith knocks the guard out with a powerful kick] An intelligent guard! Didn't see that one coming. [tasers the guard]
The commentary reveals this is one of the very few complete relics of Joss Whedon's pass at the script.
  • In Yellow Submarine, the Meanie guard leading the team of four Apple Bonkers doesn't realize that the fifth Apple Bonker is the Beatles, each sitting on one another's shoulders. When he finally catches on, he aims his gun at them but it jams, giving the boys time to escape and drop the giant apple they were holding on him.
  • Zootopia has one scene where Judy and Nick manage to sneak past a group of wolves by imitating a howl, causing the entire wolf squad to howl in response and completely miss out on the two sneaking in.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Subverted (sort of) in Ant-Man. A heist involves Luis impersonating a security guard. When another guard asks him what he's doing, he claims that the "boss man" told him to check the room. The guard he's trying to con? The boss man. No word whether it would have worked on any other guard, though.
    • Hilariously averted when Lang attempts to break into an old Stark warehouse (now the Avengers headquarters). He doesn't see anyone around and thinks he's scot-free, only for the intrusion to be investigated and spotted immediately.
  • Consistent in all the Austin Powers movies.
    • One even manages to fall into the lava flow when he's outwitted by Felicity Shagwell's boobs.
    • Special note to Michael McDonald in the first one, who emits a drawn out Big "NO!" at the oncoming steamroller... that lasts for a good 15 seconds and he needs to inhale to continue screaming before getting run over.
    • Crosses over with Why Don't You Just Shoot Him? on multiple occasions. In each case, Dr. Evil is about to leave the heroes in an easily escapable death trap, and rather than supervise their deaths himself, he relies on "one inept guard."
  • In Charlotte Gray, which takes place in Nazi-occupied France, the eponymous heroine and a member of the French resistance are being held in a house by Nazis, and manage to distract the guard who's supposed to be watching them by making out, then jump him and run for it when he comes over to separate them.
  • The plot in Condor pretty much is built on this: the villain had stolen the code to control the MacGuffin, and was captured and put in jail. The movie starts with the villain's breakout. The big worry? Nobody thought to change the code to the MacGuffin.
  • The Emperor And His Brother: The Manchurian guards in the dungeon are so incompetent at their jobs, they are tricked into leaving their posts by the heroine's meowing.
  • Fittingly enough, The Gods Must Be Crazy has a few examples. When the heroes mount their rescue, the guards fail to notice that they're being drugged, or the guy getting highly irritating sap dripped all over him, or the guy they've never seen before going around shooting them with a tiny bow and arrow...
  • The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). Wallace lets Tuco go relieve himself. BIG mistake.
  • Played with again in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, when the racist white prison guards attack a peaceful African-American prisoner, thus allowing Kumar to escape with an enormous bag of marijuana.
  • James Bond:
    • Goldfinger. Played straight with the foolish guard who enters the cell alone while James Bond is performing a Ceiling Cling and subverted by later multiple guards who are more watchful, staying in the same cell with one having a pistol trained on Bond at all times.
    • Towards the end of Octopussy, the Big Bad doesn't mind that his guards are Distracted by the Sexy because it gives him and The Dragon a chance to sneak away without being noticed. Unfortunately the dancing girls are part of Octopussy's Amazon Brigade, currently sneaking into his palace. Another guard is drinking on duty, and has a No More for Me moment as he looks over the wall and sees a female circus acrobat standing on the head of an elephant.
  • In Jurassic World the I. rex's escape is, in spite of it being smart enough to fake an escape by making it look as though it climbed over the wall and hiding, and having enough control over its bodily functions to fool a thermal scanner, still reliant on people being dumb enough to enter its enclosure before checking if its implanted tracker is still in there, even though this information is a phone call away.
  • The hapless security guards in Lifeforce are this trope. The first one falls head and heels for the naked Space Girl and gets his Life Energy sucked for this, allowing her to escape from the autopsy room. The other three guards that are supposed to stop her Full-Frontal Assault on the research facility don't fare any better, with one of them trying to lure her with a half-eaten biscuit only to get zapped for his trouble and another one suffering a similar fate. The last, older guard is scared out of his wits and does nothing as the Space Girl calmly makes an exit.
  • In Mom and Dad Save the World, a guard, despite being from a planet of idiots, doesn't assume Dad is a guard just because he's wearing a uniform... however, she unquestioningly accepts the laughable answers he provides in response to her questioning and lets him go on his way.
  • The guards of Swamp Castle in Monty Python and the Holy Grail have a hard time comprehending simple orders. Even if they did, they wouldn't have stood a chance against Lancelot's Unstoppable Rage. The guards were expecting guests for the wedding, but even still, calmly watching a screaming knight charging towards you over a field with a sword brandished makes you wonder…
    "Now, you're not supposed to enter the roo— ARRGH!"
    • None of them make even a token effort to fight Lancelot while he massacres the wedding party, or even try to avoid him.
    • Prior to this, the Swamp King has a very hard time trying to keep the guards he'd assigned to his son from following him out of the room through a Sustained Misunderstanding. And even when they do finally get the picture, they smilingly watch on as the Prince writes out a letter, ties it to an arrow and hurriedly fires it out the window in order to summon help, because the king didn't specifically tell them to stop him.
  • The Mystery of the Hooded Horsemen: The deputy at the jail gets distracted by Stubby's pointless story and fails to notice White Flash yanking the bars out of the cell window.
  • In Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Larry's escapades in the various branches of the Smithsonian along the National Mall go completely unnoticed, as if the entire area is devoid of any human presence save Larry himself. Ironically, Larry is a guard. Would YOU stick around once the dinosaur skeletons and such started moving?
    • In both "Night at the Museum" movies, it's more like "the museum administrators must be crazy." Larry's initiation involves being given a rule book, a uniform, a brief tour by his predecessor, and a small note of rather unusual instructions and then being left to his own devices, with no backup. If it weren't for the army of animate inanimate objects, he would have been completely helpless when the inevitable robbery occurs. His British counterpart in the second movie has it even worse. While she is quite competent, and did go entirely by the rule book, the closest thing she has to a weapon, is a hammer she brings from home while Larry at least has a night-stick, a flashlight, and pepper spray. Like Larry, she also has no backup, except a long, complicated phone number to call, and then only when she's absolutely certain things have escalated to a point that she can't possibly handle it by herself. As graphically shown, this puts her completely at the mercy of any determined or marginally competent group of thieves, criminals, or malcontents intending to do her or the museum harm. She lampshades that she's starved for conversation because she doesn't have co-workers at the job.
  • The Phantom (1943): At one point the Phantom is on the loose in a fortified compound, but has no way of getting past the impregnable front gate — until the guard leading the search for the Phantom orders the gate opened so he can go and see if the Phantom has already got out.
  • The Phantom of Paris: A prison guard sees that Cheri-Bibi has hanged himself in his cell. The guard frantically rushes into the cell. Turns out that Cheri-Bibi, a professional magician, has staged a fake hanging. He overpowers the guard and escapes.
  • The Predator has one of the title aliens entering the back of a truck filled with guards and slaughtering everyone. The driver asks if something is wrong, the Predator uses a cut arm to give him a thumbs up, and the guard just accepts that, ultimately driving the Predator away from the facility where he was being kept captive.
  • Race for the Yankee Zephyr (1981). A mook standing on the edge of a cliff catches the hero sneaking up, intent on braining him with a lump of wood. Instead of grabbing his rifle the mook begins waving his arms about and howling in a highly exaggerated martial arts style. The hero gapes in astonishment then, as the mook turns to deliver a spinning kick, boots him down the mountainside.
  • Discussed in Shanghai Noon, when Wang and Roy are trying to figure out how to get out of prison. Wang suggests faking an illness, and Roy responds by asking if "the sick prisoner routine" still works in China and explaining that it's "sorta been done to death" in America.
  • In Star Trek VI, the Enterprise manages to fly deep into Klingon territory to rescue Kirk and McCoy despite a listening post picking them up and demanding to know their identity and destination. They manage to fool the completely incompetent guards despite having to resort to using an English-Klingon dictionary to look up their answers and making several grammatical errors during the conversation.
    • Actually explained in the novelization, which states that the operators of the listening post assumed the Enterprise crew were just harmless smugglers, not a Federation cruiser, and so let them through (the Klingon officer's parting shot "Don't catch any bugs" is an old smuggler's in-joke.)
    • Star Trek VI also has what must be one of the most idiotic examples in the history of cinema. Kirk and McCoy are in an inescapable prison, but conspirators want them dead to be sure they're really out of the way. They have another prisoner tell Kirk and McCoy, "I can get outside the beaming shield, but I have nobody to beam me up when I get there. If you have a way to get off the surface, we can escape together." When Kirk verifies that they can beam up once outside the shield, the prisoner, with the help of the conspirators, leads them to a position outside the shield where the conspirators will shoot them with the excuse that they were trying to escape. The conspirators are then surprised to see Kirk and McCoy beam up right in front of their eyes, despite having gone out of their way to verify that they were prepared to do so.
  • Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope: this is mostly averted, despite their memetic reputation for incompetence, the Stormtrooper corps actually act pretty sensibly in most situations.
    • The security guards on the Death Star. Ben uses a Jedi Mind Trick version of this after turning the tractor beam off. This is actually an inversion of It's Probably Nothing. Presumably, Ben made the guards think they heard something off in the distance, and like intelligent guards, they go to investigate. Unfortunately for them, it really was nothing.
    • Averted with the guards in the Death Star's prison block. Luke and Han, dressed as Stormtroopers, come with Chewbacca as the Trojan Prisoner and say to the guards that they're transferring Chewie to their prison block. The commander doesn't fall for it, since such a transfer should have been documented and communicated beforehand. As the guard is about to check for confirmation, Han and Chewbacca lose their shit and start shooting around. Central command notices and calls in to investigate. Han again tries to bluff his way through, but they demand his serial number as verification, which he can't provide, so central command immediately sends Stormtroopers to take care of them.
    • The Legends novel Death Star turns this on its head. One of the normal human Stormtrooper commanders was sensitive to the Force and really hated his bosses. He misled his own troops and thus allowed Han and the others an easier path to freedom.
    • Additionally inverted in that a rather large number of competent major and minor characters all at some point had Imperial guard training or at least Imperial pilot training (which does include some guard training) as the explanation.
  • Street Fighter makes you wonder: If you were the radio guy and you heard "Security, this is CLANG!!!" followed by dead silence, would you send a team to investigate or would you just shrug and continue eating your Snickers like M. Bison's radio guy obviously did after Bison's lab guard tried to call for help before being wanged on the head with a fire extinguisher?
  • This Trope can be applied to all of El Guapo's thugs who act as guards in ¡Three Amigos!. In one scene, Lucky is chained up in the dungeon, but the guard tosses the keys to his chains on the floor to taunt him, figuring he can't reach them (it takes a few tries, but he does), while Dusty is able to rescue Carmen because the guard in charge of watching her is asleep on duty. (It's the middle of the day.) In fact, El Guapo's men seem only slightly more competent than the would-be heroes are, at most.
  • Justified in THX 1138, in that, though the guards are glaringly incompetent, the general population (with the sole exceptions of the hero and his girlfriend) are too stupid/strung out to notice. For example, the guards routinely leave the doors to a high security prison unlocked, but none of the prisoners had ever bothered to check.
  • TRON: Legacy acts like it is about to set this trope up, with a fat guard propping his feet on his desk while watching TV. Then the server room door alarm goes off, and he immediately goes to investigate, even though he's clearly afraid that the intruder is armed. When Sam escapes to the crane on the roof, the same fat guard is the only one willing to follow him up there, confront the "thief", and try to talk Sam down. Very brave for Some Guy.
  • Wonder Woman: Steve and Sameer infiltrate that gala by pretending to be a German officer and his chauffeur. When they cannot produce an invitation, they pretend to have lost it, and the guard lets them in because they are holding up the line, but doesn't even bother to ask their names.

  • Lone Wolf: Although even smart guards would have a hard time against a psychic hero specialized in infiltration and camouflage, some over the series display the typical incompetence associated with this trope.
    • For example, in Shadow on the Sand, two Vassagonian gaolers believe their prisoner has escaped when they can't see him through the peephole, just because Lone Wolf is sitting against the door. And he isn't even doing it on purpose, but still gets the opportunity to ambush them when they open the cell.
    • In Dawn of the Dragons, the Eldenorian guards capturing Lone Wolf and bringing him before Prince Lutha take his gold, backpack, and weapons... but not the weapon-like special items. Including the Sommerswerd!note  The collector re-edition explains this by having the soldiers being quite superstitious of touching magical artifacts or weapons.
  • The Warlock of Firetop Mountain: The Warlock's orc guards are probably the most incompetent guards so far. The first two orcs you can encounter are sleeping on their jobs, and later you find two drunk orcs guarding a room... containing a powerful spell book that can repel dragons. You can also find an orc chieftain too busy flogging servant to pay attention to you, an intruder, or enter a mess hall full of orcs too busy eating to notice you.

  • Subverted by the Alex Rider book Scorpia Rising: When Jack is escaping from her cell (by means of a convenient loose bar in the window), she marvels at how none of the guards overhear the huge amount of noise she makes, there's only one guard left watching the cars, and they've left the keys in the ignition. She even wonders if this might not all be too good to be true... and she's right, as her entire "escape" has been stage-managed in order to lead her into a deathtrap.
  • Both fiercely subverted and then played straight in An Oblique Approach, the first book of the Belisarius Series by David Drake and Eric Flint. The Kushans guarding Princess Shakuntala were so highly disciplined, effective, and intelligently led that Raghunath Rao, greatest assassin in India, knew he could never rescue her from them. So Belisarius tricked Venandakatra into replacing the Kushans with "guards" so inept that Rao had no problem wiping them out — except for two killed by the princess herself.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian novel The Hour of the Dragon, Zenobia gets the keys, to the Tailor-Made Prison no less, by getting them drunk.
  • The Discworld books have a lot of fun with this.
    • In The Last Hero, Evil Harry Dread (the archetypical Evil Overlord) hires his henchmen on the above criteria. "Butcher" is the archetype of the trope.
    • Guards! Guards! opens with a dedication to those people "whose job it is, round about chapter three, to rush at the hero one at a time and be slaughtered."
    • In Thud!, the text mentions how when Sergeant Colon is on guard duty, he "kept the cell keys in a tin box in the bottom drawer of his desk, a long way out of reach of any stick, hand, dog, cunningly thrown belt, or trained Klatchian monkey spider (making Fred Colon possibly unique in the annals of jail history)."
    • Seemingly averted in The Last Continent, where the guards at Bugrup Prison are wise to every escape trope, but haven't worked out how Tinhead Ned (and later Rincewind) did escape (the jail door can be lifted off its hinges). Possibly because they reckon it makes a better ballad if the prisoner escapes and then gets killed in a last stand at the Post Office.
    • In Pyramids, it's noted the guards of Djelyibabi are intentionally hired for being stupid and unimaginative, in case they start getting ideas, especially ones along the lines of "why aren't we in charge?"
    • Night Watch: Snouty, prison guard of the old Treacle Mine Road watch house at the time of the Glorious Revolution of the 25th of May. Vimes notes he's stupid enough to walk up to the bars of the cell, when he's on his own and has the keys on a belt, which means Vimes could easily lay him out and escape if he wanted. After a few seconds, Snouty actually steps into the cells, and Vimes' monologue notes if he did it with the other prisoner he's got, Snouty would be dead a few days early.
  • In Doom: Hell on Earth, a pair of bored Clydes are frisking zombies boarding a plane. They fail to notice the heroes Pretending We're Dead or catch that one is being carried upright between them.
  • In one of the Get Smart novels, one guard is particularly immune to this. Instead of entering the cell when Max sets fire to the bed as a diversion, the guard merely opens up on him with the firehose. However, just a few pages, later the rest of the guards in the prison are fooled by Max writing "out of order" with a piece of chalk on a death ray!
  • Subverted in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Ford attempts to save himself and Arthur from being chucked out an airlock by talking a Vogon guard into questioning the purpose of his life, but the guard is too dumb for Ford to get through to him. In fact, the guard really enjoys his job. Including the whole throw people out of the airlock part. And the shouting.
  • In The Hobbit, the Mirkwood elves demonstrate the Drinking on Duty variation of this, allowing the dwarves to escape. They don't seem to learn from the experience, since Gollum also escapes from Mirkwood in The Fellowship of the Ring.
    • Speaking of The Lord of the Rings, averted by Háma, doorward of Meduseld in Edoras. He's smart enough to know that "the staff of a wizard may be more than a prop for age", but lets Gandalf through with said staff because he deems he's a friend here to help (a judgment that is soon vindicated). It's a bit more vague in the movie, but it's certainly a plausible interpretation of his actions there.
  • John Carter of Mars. Dear GOD, if a strange man climbs up to the roof you're guarding, tells you what a difficult and dangerous climb he had, and invites you to take a look at how precariously his rope is dangling off the edge, DON'T DO IT!
  • Journey to Chaos:
    • Generally averted, as it is not easy to sneak past the guards in Roalt castle. During A Mage's Power this is played for laughs when Kasile sheepishly notes that her King Incognito disguise fooled her bodyguards. Mia replies that they must be "stupidheads".
    • Looming Shadow example; The guards in Mr.15's lair are smart enough to check for invisible people when they're looking for a mage, but they remain easy to fool because of that fact. They don't look for anything else.
  • The Stuart Gibbs ‘’Funjungle’’ novels get a lot of humor from the incompetence of the parks security guards. After an animal is stolen the guards fail to realize the correct time the theft occurred (if they had the. Security footage would have easily solved the case), a guard assigned to prevent the poisoning of giraffes fails to realize that it’s his own actions of feeding then dangerous plants that’s making them sick and one of the few times they actually catch a criminal it’s because the officer pursuing the man tripped over a little kid, and accidentally tapered an old lady who the fleeing criminal then tripped over. By the third book, park owner JJ McCracken has tried to get around this by hiring he more professional Chief Honneker to run things smoother (which despite some initial arrogance, he arguably does) but the rank and file guards still screw up a lot.
  • The secret police force known as DERSO in The Leonard Regime is supposed to be an elite organization of specially trained agents. In reality, they are often stupid, incompetent, or simply indifferent.
  • In Noob, this is actually exploited by a Non-Player Character. The Player Characters are stuck in jail in which magic can't be used and the Non-Player Character is an alchemist so good that he can literally make invisibility powder out of thin air. When one of the players points out that being invisible will be useless if they can't get out, the alchemist's reply comes down to "Nah, the guards are going to panic when we all vanish, open the gates to let reinforcements in, and we'll take advantage of this to escape.". The plan actually works.
  • In Syren, the fifth book of the Septimus Heap series, Septimus gets past a guard in the Trading Post by claiming that he is someone important. Now, Septimus did not in fact lie to him. He was the Senior Apprentice(with the nifty Magykal cuffs to prove it), and he was on official business ( getting Jenna, the Princess). Trope still applies in that the guard did nothing to verify this.
  • In Warrior Cats:
    • Cats guarding the camp often don't notice when their Clanmates sneak out.
    • In The Darkest Hour, Jaggedtooth is guarding Tigerstar's prisoners. Ravenpaw pretends to be a RiverClan cat and tells him that he'll take over as guard for a bit since Tigerstar wants Jaggedtooth to report to him. Despite Jaggedtooth not recognizing Ravenpaw, and he himself pointing out that Tigerstar declared that only ShadowClan cats are allowed to guard them, he still leaves the prisoners alone with the stranger, enabling them to escape.
  • Wet Desert: Tracking Down a Terrorist on the Colorado River: The chief of security at Glen Canyon Dam has an outburst when he is told that a security guard let the bomber in without confirming that the supposed elevator maintenance guy was in fact an elevator maintenance guy.
  • Subverted in the novel Where Eagles Dare. The German soldiers searching for the commandos don't check the ladies toilet where they're hiding. When one commando mentions how stupid that is, his superior points out the soldiers were eager to think up excuses to avoid searching places where desperate men might empty a submachine gun into them.
  • The guards at the "best guarded keep of the stoutest castle" in The Wind in the Willows apparently can't tell the difference between a washerwoman they see every day and is the sister or sister-in-law of the chief warden, and their main prisoner, who is an anthropomorphic toad.

  • Reader's Digest once had a story in "Humor in Uniform" where a group of army brass talked about the guards on duty at their base and mentioned that some of them are on duty for so long, they don't bother to verify presented identification. So, they came up with a challenge to see who could get past security with the weakest form of identification. They each successfully passed security with driver's licenses, library cards, credit cards, and so forth. The winner's identification: a piece of toast.


    Puppet Shows 
  • Kingdom Adventure: Played with: Magistrate Pitts' guards aren't actually bad at fighting or weak, and when they're on alert, they present a genuine threat to the protagonists. That said, one of them is very dimwitted, and the other regularly falls asleep at his post.
  • The guards at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the Sesame Street special "Don't Eat the Pictures" never notice a group of nine people and four muppets who were locked in the museum overnight TRYING to find a way out until one of the people who was trapped inside mentions it to them as the museum reopens the next morning.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Danger International, Investigation Script example. If the PCs are captured they can use the "sick captive" trick to lure the guards into their cell, ambush them and take their clothing and weapons so they can pass for them.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • 3rd Edition
      • Most PC classes that would traditionally be used as guards don't have Spot, Listen or Sense Motive as class skills. This essentially makes them partially blind, hearing-impaired, and incredibly gullible. Exactly how this plays out depends on the DM. Most play the trope straight because guards tend not to be treated as more than minor enemies. Those skills are mainly intended to counteract Hide, Move Silently, and Bluff. In addition, those skills are not infallible unless the DM hands NPCs the Idiot Ball. For example, no matter what your Hide skill is, if you walk in front of a guard without some form of cover, he sees you, no matter what.
      • Scouts used as guards can avert this trope. They possess Spot, Listen and Sense Motive as class skills. They get 8 base skill points per level. In addition, they have Hide and Move Silently as class skills, so they can stand guard without being readily visible. Their Skirmish feat also gives them a significant advantage in straight combat against most stealthy classes if there is some room to move around.
      • Ironically, the NPC class of Warrior does have Spot and Listen on its skill list, making them potentially better guards than trained Fighters. Even Commoners have those as class skills.
    • Module B9 Castle Caldwell and Beyond. The gnoll guarding the PC prisoners is not very bright and will fall for any reasonable trick, such as one of them pretending to be ill. However, if the first attempt fails it will be very alert thereafter.
    • Speaking of early adventure modules, the above example is all the more unusual because the gnoll in question isn't already distracted from its duty by gambling with fellow guards. Betting on dice, brawls, and/or Beastly Bloodsports is ubiquitous among humanoids in old-school D&D modules; it's amazing any of them actually have any treasure left.
  • Time Lord RPG (based on Doctor Who):
    • "Curse of the Cyclops" adventure. If the entire Player Character party is captured and there is no-one to rescue them, the guards will demonstrate their usual stupidity and allow the prisoners to fool them and escape.
    • In the Journies supplement, a captured Player Character could use "The Daft Guard Effect" to distract any guards present so the prisoner(s) can escape.

  • Played for laughs in William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.
    Dogberry: You are to bid any man stand, in the Prince's name.
    Verges: How if a' will not stand?
    Dogberry: Why, take no note of him, but let him go.

    Theme Parks 
  • Justified in Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! The staff are secretly in on Rocket's plan out of spite for their Bad Boss.
  • Stitch's Great Escape!: All the security systems in the high security teleportation chamber can be disabled simply by spitting on them. And the guards thought it was safe to raise the glass tube that Stitch was in. All the recruits stationed in that room were on their first day on the job, were unarmed, and were being restrained by DNA scanners that had already finished serving their purpose.

    Web Animation 
  • In Clear Skies 2, the team are able to spring an informant from a prison outpost (admittedly, a very backwater one) by posing as guards for a prisoner transfer. It works, despite their credentials being stolen and very, very out of date, because the local guard was expecting a prisoner transfer at around that time. He gets chewed out later.
  • An incredibly rare example in Dusk's Dawn when the guard in question, Donut, is a main character! He doesn't notice anything about the Big Bad who's "obviously cured" and as he's walking down a corridor monologing about how bored he is, a highly suspicious dark shadow flies by. Rather than do his job and check it out, he just brushes off a potential intruder as "a cat or something" (despite seeing it fly) and continues walking forward.
  • Red vs. Blue: In Season 4 of The Blood Gulch Chronicles, Tex attempts to knock out one of the Zealots guarding a temple... but is unsuccessful and repeatedly hits him in hopes that it does knock him out. The only thing more absurd than the Zealot not becoming incapacitated from the multiple strikes his that his fellow Zealots appear unaware that he's being attacked, despite the cries for help he's making.
    Tucker: What the fuck, are they deaf? (someone shoots near him) Oh right, that you heard?

    Web Comics 
  • The Order of the Stick pulls this several times:
    • In the prequel book On the Origin of PCs, Haley breaks in to a building to steal a large diamond. She accidentally wakes the guard up, but he buys her story that she is just a rather Freudian dream.
      Guard: You look hot in leather, Mom...
    • Averted, then played straight in Elan's prison escape. His attempts at tricking the guards to let him out don't work. But after he gets Thog to smash their cells open, he tells the guards (while magically disguised as one) that the mess is due to "renovations" and that one of the prisoners (himself) died of "vaporizing flu," which supposedly disintegrated the body and is highly contagious to anyone who stands around asking questions. The guards immediately leave to avoid catching this transparently made-up disease, and Elan and Thog apparently just walk right out of the prison.
    • Hilariously spoofed in the Empire of Blood arc. Haley and Elan attempt to bluff their way past guards working for a Genre Savvy villain. The plan they're trying is specifically listed in their training manual, since Tarquin knows the sort of people usually hired as guards in his Evil Empire. That's why he gave them detailed instructions. Followed by a Double Subversion when Haley returns to the same guards after having consumed a Potion of Glibness and proceeds to Bluff their pants off.
  • Played with in The Silver Eye. Enel is not a professional guard, but when he is tasked with guarding someone, they easily convince him to let them go with the promise of revealing the secrets of Levant to him, despite the fact that he was told this person was a notorious criminal.
  • Averted in Spinnerette when the title heroine tries to break into her workplace to steal the security tape showing proof of her superpowers. When a sexy busty girl tries to seduce the security guard out of the blue, he automatically assumes that she's only there to distract him so someone else can sneak in.
    Buzz: I only fell for that the first time.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: Averted by the security detail aboard the Dalahästen. They get to save the heroes, and are shown to be disciplined, dedicated and highly competent.
  • Terra offers a useful tip to any aspiring Mooks out there: When you capture a dangerous badass like Agrippa Varus, before putting him in a holding cell make sure to search him thoroughly so you know he isn't concealing something like, oh, a hand grenade.

    Web Original 
  • The Evil Overlord List has all sorts of tips on how to turn the guards from this sort of behavior and turn them into a ruthless fighting force prepared to guard anything anytime.
  • This Cracked article has some pretty spectacular examples:
    • Ted Bundy's escape from a Colorado courthouse when he was supposed to be using the law library.
    • A Greek robber escaping via helicopter. Twice.
    • A convicted murderer who changed his clothes while waiting for his lawyer — then walked right out.
  • This Onion article describes multiple instances of kids breaking into military bases to rescue their alien friend, using techniques that play this trope incredibly straight, including nearly every common example of this trope such as, easily distracting guards with attractive women (really just a mannequin and a tape recorder), sneaking past guards who are napping, and covering cameras with silly string.

    Web Videos 
  • Door Monster:
    • "The Guards Themselves": One guard has earphones in and is listening to music while he's supposed to guarding the prisoners. Needless to say, he does not last long.
    • Their sketch "Diplomancy" has a guard who starts off sane, but after a series of Bluff rolls is convinced that his name is now Greg and that he killed the King using a chicken.
  • The LifesBlood Labs goons in LG15: the resistance are pretty incompetent. The "Mace in Yo Face!" and "Done Dirt Cheap" incidents are particularly shameful. Although the "Mace in Yo Face" incident is justified because those weren't real LBL henchmen.
  • Rich and Larry from Troopers.
    • The princess escapes in almost every episodes she appears when Rich and Larry are tasked of guarding her.
    • Rich removes the handcuffs of an alien lizardman (who's been imprisoned for rape) thinking he's friendly. It goes as well as you imagine.
    • A prisoner escaped under Larry's watch and placed a dummy in his place. It takes three months before Lord Sinister gets wind of this.
    • Rich opens the door for Insurgency troops to storm-in, thinking it was the pizza delivery guy knocking.

    Western Animation 
  • Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers had several examples of Queenie's Mooks being either thoroughly incompetent... or very competent, Depending on the Writer. With the first examples, Doc could hijack their communicator signals and pull lines of BS on them ("New Frontier," "Badge of Power"), sending them on a wild goose chase... or right into Goose's blasters. The more competent ones, like in "Tortuna", could be bribed or needed to be fought.
  • Subverted in the Adventures of the Gummi Bears episode when trolls are holding the Gummi hostage in Gummi Glen, to force the colony to recover a treasure hidden in a tree they uprooted and put in Castle Dunwin. Unfortunately, when Gummis get to the tree they find it empty, because the castle guards were apparently smart enough to discover the treasure and moved it to the castle treasury.
  • Adventure Time: The Banana Guards who are supposed to protect the Candy Kingdom are not particularly bright. In "Root Beer Guy" they completely ignored a resident (the eponymous Root Beer Guy) who claimed Princess Bubblegum had been kidnapped, preferred to watch reality TV shows over the surveillance tapes that clearly showed her being kidnapped, and only responded to Root Beer Guy when he claimed he was taking a boat out after 8:00. Fortunately, it was all just a test to determine the efficiency of the Banana Guards; Root Beer Guy, who was the only one following the clues, became the new captain of the guard.
  • The guards of the "high security" prison in the Avatar: The Last Airbender episodes "The Boiling Rock". Sokka and Zuko somehow obtain uniforms and pass themselves off as newbies. The Alone-with-Prisoner Ploy occurs in the first of the two episodes. Strangely enough, Zuko slips up and is caught — but Sokka, who was the one alone with Suki, isn't suspected at all. Later on, Sokka pulls up his mask and goes to the side to talk to two prisoners. They're obviously not hiding particularly well because they are caught... by another prisoner. Somewhat justified in that without having a miniature zeppelin they would never have gotten in. Identity would only have to be checked at the entrance and exit. Even if someone did get a guard's uniform, there is only one exit and presumably, they DO check guards leaving.
  • DuckTales (1987):
    • Used and slightly lampshaded in an episode where Huey, Dewey, and Louie are imprisoned in a room with a guard looking in at them once every hour or so. While two of the identical triplets work on the means of their escape, the third one sits in front of a trifold mirror, giving the impression — sort of — that there are three boys sitting there. Lampshaded in that one of the boys asks whether the guard won't notice that they're all wearing the same clothes, only to be told by the one devising the plan that "he's so tired, he's not going to care WHAT we're wearing, just so long as there's three of us." Improbably, this turns out to be true.
    • They mess with the guards again in a Disney Adventures comic when the Beagle Boys are trying to break in to Scrooge's new voice-identification safe (one member of the gang can imitate Scrooge's voice) and leave Burger Beagle behind to guard the tied-up nephews. Correctly reasoning that Burger's gluttony far outweighs his intelligence, the kids begin to "casually" discuss how great it would be to have a cheeseburger, which they discuss in mouthwatering detail. Since this is, of course, Burger's Trademark Favorite Food, he just has to leave the room to go get a cheeseburger, telling his captives to "stay right there." Then the kids, being Junior Woodchucks, easily untie the knotted ropes around them, which the Beagle Boys were too sloppy in tying anyway.
  • In the Earthworm Jim episode "Conqueror Worm", Jim, Peter, and Snot have to get Jim's supersuit back from the labs where it was put after Jim was arrested, (It Makes Sense in Context) but first have to get past the security guards!... Which they stroll right past. The sight of a giant worm, talking dog, and living booger spurs only one reaction from the guards.
    Guard: [on phone] Hello, DNA lab? Whatever you guys are doing in there— Cut it out!
  • Parodied in Family Guy, where a Cutaway Gag has the ease of a situation being compared to escape from Canadian Alcatraz. Cue the scene where an inmate simply walks up to a guard and asks if he can leave through this door. The guard simply says sure, just be back before bedtime, and letting the inmate leave.
  • Played with in the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero episode "Grey Hairs and Growing Pains". When the Joes pretend to be civilian customers for Cobra's health spa, they are recognized immediately, and the Cobra agents play along and then trap them. Later, after the Joes get turned into old people and children, they pretend to be a family on a road trip and get into a Cobra base by asking the guard for directions and then for a bathroom. Once inside, they are immediately recognized again. Serpentor orders Dr. Mindbender to arrest the front guard for his incompetence.
  • One early episode of Hey Arnold! featured a night-guard at an aquarium who was too busy feeding the animals cookies to notice Arnold and his grandmother coming in and leaving with a homesick sea turtle.
  • The DC Animated Universe had at least a couple examples of these, both of which became a Double Subversion:
    • Part one of the Justice League episode "Injustice for All" involves Lex Luthor breaking himself and the Ultra-Humanite out of prison. The latter is stated to be a model prisoner, having accrued quite a few privileges and "necessities" during his stint there, but the guards still don't take chances with him or the other prisoners. A retina scanner is the only way into the cells, and when Humanite asks the guards to bring over his dinner, claiming to be unwell, they immediately draw their truncheons on the off chance it's a ruse. This being the Ultra-Humanite, however, they don't take into account that part of the floor has been electrified enough to render them unconscious right as they wheel the food over it, giving Humanite and Luthor the chance they need to escape.
    • Then, in the Batman Beyond episode "Betrayal", two Red Shirt guards come across a prison transport lying in the road, and have the following exchange:
      Guard 1: I've seen month old fish that smelled better than this.
      Guard 2: Could be for real. Somebody might be hurt.
      Guard 1: All right. Go check. [tosses large gun to other guard] Here. In case it's a fish.
      Guard 2: [humoring him] Right. [deciding to be a little savvy himself] Lock up after me.
      Guard 1: You don't have to remind me. [locks cab]note 
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • Played with in "It's About Time". Twilight sneaks into the private library of the palace and does a VERY poor job of staying hidden, yet the guards are completely oblivious to her. She finally gets caught trying to open the door to the library, and the guard greets her politely and unlocks the door. Since Twilight is the protégé of Princess Celestia, she's always welcome in the palace and library — the guards were just ignoring her.
    • During "A Bird in the Hoof", a pet phoenix, dying of old age (therefore incredibly obvious because featherless) manages to trick Celestia's own Praetorian Guard while they are putting up Wanted posters with that bird's face on. Twilight and Fluttershy aren't any better.
    • The Season 2 Finale has the entire Royal Guard up and underarms because they were tipped off that something bad is going to happen. But when it does happen, they are apparently still surprised enough to be overrun without putting up as much as a fight. Let's just face it: these guys do not do good at their job.
    • In "Rarity Investigates!", a stranger offering them a cake is enough to get three guards to desert their post to eat it. As a result, Rainbow Dash gets framed for a crime.
    • In "Sparkle's Seven", despite Shining Armor's efforts to ramp up the security of the castle, the royal guards still aren't sterling examples of vigilance. Even discounting Zephyr Breeze (whom Luna assigned with the expectation he'd fail anyway), the other guards are easily falling for distractions — twice, by "Apple Chord"'s singing and then by Pinkie Pie's party. Also, one guard getting his medal stolen — which is the key to the doors of the castle — isn't noticed nor immediately reported. And another guard is easily fooled by Rarity's Paper-Thin Disguise when she pretends being here to relieve him.
    • Season 9 has a very glaring example in "Frenemies" where Grogar sends three ex-big bads, Chrysalis, Tirek, and Cozy Glow, to retrieve his bell so the former can restore his full power. On the mountain the bell is being held, a lone guard, Rusty Bucket, encounters Cozy and completely fails to note her seemingly being on her own without any guardians. Even after she throws a huge temper tantrum, Rusty at most just feels bummed when Cozy leaves and tells him that she never wanted to be friends in the first place. Even later, when Cozy brings back Tirek and Chrysalis in tow, Rusty seemingly doesn't think to inform the princesses about three highly dangerous criminals being on the loose.
  • Nina Needs to Go! has a scene where Nina and her grandmother set off an alarm by going into a not-allowed area on the way to the bathroom. One guard asks if they should stop them, and another replied: "Nah when you gotta go, you gotta go". In addition to this being dumb, how was he supposed to know they were on their way to the bathroom?
  • The Owl House:
    • In ''Agony of a Witch", two teenagers and a preteen manage to sneak through the Emperor's Castle using nothing but low level magic and disguises without anyone being aware of their presence until Luz accidentally sets off the security in the relic room.
    • Justified in "O Titan, Where Art Thou". The Day of Unity is such a big event that the Emperor's Coven members are running themselves ragged to prepare for it. Thus, despite the poor quality of Eda and Luz's costumes, no one really raises any alarms until their argument about Luz going with Raine gets loud enough for someone to notice. And it's completely averted when Eda and Luz are caught; they are chained and their cell is guarded by lots of guards and Abomatons.
  • With incompetent guards like Yippee, Yappee and Yahooey (a.k.a. the Goofy Guards from the Peter Potamus show), who needs villains? What did the king ever do to deserve them?
  • In the second episode of Star Wars: The Bad Batch Cut Lawquaine and his family are boarding a heavily guarded shuttle off-planet using fake chain codes. Cut manages to make it to the boarding ramp before one of the clone troopers recognizes his face, only managing to escape after Force 99's nearby firefight attracts more attention.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars:
    • In "Heroes on Both Sides", Clone Commander Fox ends up letting a squad of Separatist sabotage droids in, allowing them destroy a power plant on Coruscant. He could be forgiven as they were disguised as sweeper droids, but they still didn't know which way the power plant they were assigned to was and we later learn that the workers at said plant didn't even order any sweeper droids at all.
    • The Separatist battle droids are even worse in this regard. Padmé notably escapes in "Bombad Jedi" by doing the old fake-out escape trick, which would have failed had any the droids been facing her or bound her legs to the wall as well (granted, the droids were not the ones who built the prison). Even worse, since there are five droids there.
    • "Secret Weapons" has a Pit Droid, of all things, convince two Super Battle Droids that he was sent by General Grievous and get them to lock themselves up claiming to it to be part of a drill.
  • Star Wars Rebels has several examples of this trope in play by the Empire but, two examples stand out in particular.
  • Steven Universe: Lampshaded in "The Trial" by Defense Zircon. At the time that she allegedly shattered Pink Diamond, Rose Quartz had been a recognized public enemy for centuries, and there were no other Rose Quartz gems in Pink Diamond's court or entourage. So how did Rose Quartz get close enough to Pink Diamond to shatter her? Why didn't her Sapphires see Rose coming? Why didn't her Agates try to fight Rose Quartz off? Shouldn't her Pearl at least have been able to sound the alarm? It is later revealed there's a very good reason for this.
  • The Trope was played with in Stroker and Hoop, when Stroker has to knock a guard out to get deeper into a complex. After dressing as the guard, he gets into the next room where the guard is seemingly fooled by Stroker holding a clipboard over his face and using a bad falsetto. The guard isn't fooled for a second, asking Stroker if he thinks he's some kind of idiot. Stroker complains that the guard should have been reading a skin mag or watching a sports game instead of monitoring the camera feeds, causing the guard to retort "Hey, I happen to like my job."
  • Subverted in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012). When April feigns a stomachache, the Kraang guard immediately spots (and stops) her father from sneaking away, and isn't affected when April attacks him (being a robot and all).
  • The Transformers episode "The Quintesson Journal" has Blaster and Outback convincing a Sharkticon guard to deactivate the bars on their cell by bribing him with an energon cube. Once the bars are gone, the guard is promptly shot, because someone forgot to take the Autobots' weapons before locking them up.
    Blaster: Was that as easy as I thought it was?
  • Used, played with, subverted and lampshaded frequently in The Venture Bros., most often through the misadventures of Number 21 and Number 24, two guards who somehow manage to survive the carnage of the series, and give plausible voice to the wit and social skills necessary for career henchmen.

    Real Life 
  • Alcatraz's guards were fooled by one oldest trick in the book after another: dummy heads in the bed, digging a hole with spoons, and climbing up the ventilator shaft, making this trope not only Genre Blindness but Truth in Television. Since the Alcatraz escape was done some years ago, it might be "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny too.
    • The two inmates who escaped from New York's Clinton Correctional Facility in 2015 made dummies and, per The Shawshank Redemption, eventually cut a passage to the sewers to the outside. They were able to count on the corrections officers on the night shift not really doing their actual counts, just saying that they had.
  • There has been at least one case where an accomplice faxed realistic-looking release papers from a nearby McDonald's fax machine, resulting in a convict walking out scot-free, without anyone thinking about double-checking even the clearly visible fax-number.
    • An inmate once escaped by smuggling in a suit of civilian clothes, calling a meeting with his lawyer, and, when his lawyer left the room, simply changed and walked out of the (unlocked) cell they were meeting in. He made it as far as the front door when a guard stopped him. The inmate claimed to be an Assistant US Attorney and flashed his "badge". The guard let him go and walk out the door, reasoning the "badge" must be genuine since he had never seen anything like it. The "badge" was in fact the inmate's prisoner ID, issued by the prison that the guard worked at.
    • A convict in a US prison was able to escape by dressing up as a guard, because the guards were more familiar with the prisoners than each other.
  • During the Cold War a couple of East Germans made their own uniforms mimicking those of the East German Guards and simply saluted the guards on duty, then walked through the checkpoint to West Berlin.
  • There is a Ninja technique, the name of which translates as "throwing the toothpick", to distract guards. If it's done properly, the guards never see anything, they just hear a sound.
  • World War II:
    • There were plenty of stories of people hiding in attics and basements from the Nazis and not being captured. Though often it may be hard to distinguish between proper incompetence and unwillingness on part of the guards (especially soldiers), who were sometimes keen to turn a blind eye (or at least claimed having done that to avoid being hung or jailed for war crimes).
    • A French POW convinced his guards to let him walk out of the camp several times, every time a couple of weeks in a row to visit his family back in occupied France, if he promised to return, bring along some wine and good food, and keep quiet about about the whole affair. So he did.
    • Max Manus in Real Life escaped from hospital (after his famous window jump) because of this. His hospital room was actually guarded by two men (Norwegian collaborators). He would never have made it out if the two guards hadn't fallen asleep on duty. Only then did he proceed to slap the nurse and bolt.
    • In Germany, an inmate managed to get out of prison by climbing into a cardboard box and getting shipped out. Apparently no-one checked to see all the prisoners working that detail came back or why the package was unusually heavy. Hideo Kojima would be so proud.
    • A Britisher named David James who escaped from a World War II German POW camp, analyzed the challenge in a 1947 account published in Blackwood's Magazine as follows, "To sum it up, I came to the conclusion that escaping was essentially a psychological problem, depending on the inobservance of mankind, coupled with a ready acceptance of the everyday at its face value."
  • In 1982, an unhinged man climbed the wall of Buckingham palace. Someone saw him and reported it, but by the time guards came to look, he was gone and they decided he must have left already; they raised no alarm. When he went through a window, the security system alerted a policeman on duty, who assumed it was a malfunction and silenced the alarm twice in a row. Wandering through the halls, he passed a housekeeper, who greeted him. He eventually made it to the Queen's chamber, where she was sleeping unguarded, woke her up, and chatted to her as she tried to get help by two different methods (a button and the phone); nobody came for ten minutes (the person who did eventually show up was a housemaid). As Hollywood writer William Goldman said it, if you would put this in a movie, people probably would throw rotten eggs at the screen for breaking their Suspension of Disbelief. He also got cigarettes upon request. Even better, they only crime he was charged with was stealing a bottle of cheap wine, because, at the time, trespassing was a civil offense rather than a criminal one (this has been changed). The charge was dropped when he was committed to a mental hospital.
  • Gilbert Galvan escaped an American prison by waiting in a rec area until the guards left for coffee, then using a pool cue to open the drawer of their desk and fish out the keys. He later went on to be known as Canada's "Phantom Bandit".
  • The Obama White House was crashed three times by uninvited guests. The first and third cases took advantage of a Bavarian Fire Drill, while the second gatecrash was a result of some misguided tour organizers sending the tourists to a White House luncheon instead of on the tour.
  • Mas Selamat bin Kastari, one of the most influential terrorists in Southeast Asia escaped Singapore's most well-guarded prison by going to the toilet, changing quickly, and climbing out the window. When he was recaptured more than a year later, it was revealed that he climbed into the storm drains, went 20+ kilometers north in 3 days, created improvised flotation devices from trash, and swam across from Singapore to Malaysia and met up with other operatives. Apparently, it was so unexpected, that theories ranged from his escape a cover for the fact that he had died in detention, he used black magic to get out, or he was allowed to escape so that he could lead authorities to other terrorists.
  • In 1987, a 18-year-old West-German aviator named Mathias Rust managed to fly straight through several supposedly impregnable layers of Soviet air-defense systems and land his Cessna near the center of Red Square. What made this worse was that he was spotted on several occasions by air defense crews and interceptors, but most of them either assumed he was friendly, thought he had crashed shortly afterwards, or otherwise failed to gain permission to shoot him down. The event ended up irreparably damaging the credibitly of the Soviet military and led to the firing of many senior officers.
  • Czechoslovakian hairdresser-turned-soldier-turned-Nazi-POW Horace Greasley repeatedly broke out of the POW camp he was transferred to so he could have sex with his previous camp's quarry director's daughter. And then snuck back into his current POW camp as if nothing happened. He did this three times a week for five years. Then the war ended and he was set free.
  • October 2012: A BBC film crew working on a UFO documentary violated the security at Area 51. They didn't get far, mainly because the crew knocked on the guard shack on the back gate, after spending about half an hour trying to get attention by dancing for the security cameras on the entrance area. They were then arrested and fined.
    • Related to this, most military base fences (and border crossings) are not built on the property line but a few feet back. This allows the guards to charge violators with Trespassing since they are technically, already on the property. Area 51 is notorious as the signs warning you about Trespassing are so far away from the property line, that if you get close enough to read them, security is already aware of you because of the huge dust cloud you kicked up while driving down the access road.
  • The Gardner Museum heist, one of the biggest art heists in history, was pulled off partially thanks to this trope.
    • Two men got past the security guard at the front desk, Richard Abath, by pressing the buzzer by the door and claiming they were policemen who were coming to investigate a disturbance. Despite knowing he wasn't supposed to let unauthorized guests inside, he did, since he figured the rule didn't apply to the police. The "policemen" then ordered him to get out from behind the desk, and handcuffed him. Abath has also admitted he frequently came to work intoxicated, and that he went along with what the men wanted because he was worried that if he was arrested, he wouldn't be able to attend a Grateful Dead concert he had tickets to. Unsurprisingly, his sheer incompetence has made many wonder if he was in on it... and perhaps even more unsurprisingly, law enforcement (although not completely ruling out the idea) has decided that Abath probably wasn't smart enough to pull it off.
    • There was also another guard, who was presumably more competent than Abath, but by the time he showed up, Abath was already handcuffed, and he quickly was as well. Unlike Abath, he had the sense to ask why they were supposedly being arrested, at which point the thieves admitted that they weren't, they were just being robbed. Upon being told that if he didn't cause any trouble, no-one had to get hurt, the second guard dryly responded, "Don't worry. They don't pay me enough to get hurt."
  • When infamous wealthy pedophile and trafficker Jeffrey Epstein was imprisoned, he was supposed to get checked on twice an hour. His guards, however, were alarmingly inattentive, despite Epstein having been on suicide watch after a supposed attempt a few weeks ago. It turned out they had falsified at least seventy-five checks on the guy, and didn't discover that Epstein had died until they delivered his breakfast in the morning. This was despite his cell being only about fifteen feet away from their workstation. Pretty much the only thing everyone can agree on is that these guards were either phenomenally stupid or being paid off.
  • The Transport Security Administration of America is fairly infamous for their shoddy work, with undercover investigators discovering that TSA agents failed to find hidden weapons or contraband roughly 96% of the time. They're often considered the most famous modern example of "security theater": that is, security measures that reassure civilians that the government is doing something and therefore they must be safe, but don't actually work all that well for taking down criminals.
  • The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln was only possibly due to Lincoln's one guard's (yes, the President only had a single guard during the immediate aftermath of a civil war) utter incompetence. John Parker left the theater at some point to go drinking with Lincoln's Valet and Coachman, leaving Lincoln's box completely unguarded. Somehow he managed to keep his job as a police officer for three more years until he was fired for sleeping on duty.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Guards Must Be Crazy


Where... are... THE GUARDS?!

Due to his background as a U.S. Marine, Josh Scorcher takes great offense to how the My Little Pony: The Movie has no Royal Guards present in the film, despite having all of the reason to actually be involved in protecting the Festival of Friendship and in the defense of Canterlot during The Storm Kings' invasion.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / TheGuardsMustBeCrazy

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