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"A stupid person can make only certain, limited types of errors; the mistakes open to a clever fellow are far broader. But to the one who knows how smart he is compared to everyone else, the possibilities for true idiocy are boundless."
Vlad Taltos, Iorich

You can't tell a man who knows.

This is a character archetype. These characters:

  • Are extremely smart and/or good at whatever it is they do.
  • Know it, and are probably pretty arrogant (in fact, they tend to think they're even better than they are).
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  • As a result, are continually driven to go farther. Usually they succeed (remember, they're really good), but their failures are spectacular.
  • Often suffer some impediment, or endure some prejudice, to the point where being dramatically and demonstrably more awesome than everyone else in their field is a necessity if they're going to be seen as a success at all.

Usually these characters are protagonists (though generally not The Hero); they're often the Foil to Too Dumb to Fool. If they have Blue Blood, they could be Gentleman Snarkers. The Smug Super, Insufferable Genius, or Mad Scientist frequently acts like this. When they are antagonists, their cleverness serves them well at the beginning of the story, but their belief in their own intellectual superiority over the protagonists will always trip them up at the end. If the character isn't even that good, but acts like this trope applies to them, you might have a Miles Gloriosus or Know-Nothing Know-It-All on your hands.


An unwillingness to heed the advice of others is a big part of this. After all, if you're convinced everyone else is dumber than you, then how could they understand things that you don't?

These characters are especially susceptible to the Kansas City Shuffle, a deception that relies on the targets' overestimation of their own cleverness.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Sousuke Aizen from Bleach is considered the biggest mastermind in the series, capable of playing the entirety of Soul Society in his palm. He enjoys using his cunning to manipulate everyone, but he despises Kisuke Urahara, who is perhaps the only person who can match him in intelligence. His arrogance comes from his drive to break his limits, causing him to antagonize most of Soul Society because their lack of exponential growth pisses him off, as opposed to working with the Mad Scientist division and their secure protocols. Eventually, his minions and experiments break free of his control and one of them defeats him in combat - Ichigo, whose mother was genetically augmented by one of Aizen's infectious Hollow test subjects, something Aizen was too haughty to deal with.
  • Tarkus names this as Bruford’s mentality in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure after crushing his armor underfoot. Quoted verbatim in the English dub of the anime.
    Tarkus: “He died like a spineless dog! He was too clever by half. Liked winning his fights with thinking. I just hit ‘em until they fall to pieces!”
  • Naruto:
    • Sasuke Uchiha is a child prodigy and one of the few survivors of the all-powerful Uchiha clan. Even amongst his kin, he was pretty talented, if though Always Second Best to his The Paragon of the clan, his older brother Itachi (though the two brothers adored the other.) Unsurprisingly both were the children of the clan leader (and he was quite capable himself.) However, after his brother exterminated their clan, he was left with a deep trauma which led to an Inferiority Superiority Complex. Sasuke is very talented, but his need to be the strongest from this trauma and only beginning to recover from it leads him to make a lot of really bad decisions. When he meets up against with his older brother (chasing after him when he learns he's going after his rival/teammate/ best friend, Naruto, he ends up getting defeated easily before undergoing the same psychological horror he went through as a child, being forced to relive his clan's extermination in his mind for 72 hours. When Naruto, who had always been inferior to him, manages to almost defeat him, it reinforces the severe doubts he has on himself, and coupled with his greater troubled mind, he defects and begins the long road of being an antagonist.
    • Kakashi's childhood self also ticks all the boxes. Another child prodigy (Chuunin at 6 and Jounin at 13), he was driven by the ambition of the mission above all else after his father committed seppuku for failing his mission due to saving his teammates. He had a relatively rocky relationship with his teammates, namely Obito Uchiha, and though he was genuinely brilliant, this arrogance got him badly hurt when he tested an unfinished technique on an enemy. This led to a series of events that led to the death of Obito, whose final gift to him was his Sharingan. As an adult, Kakashi remains haunted by Obito's death and we later discovered what happened to Rin, his other teammate: she was captured by Mist village and implanted the Three Tailed Beast in the hopes of using her on the village when she got far enough. Kakashi was forced to kill her. Obito, who was secretly alive, witnessed and it finally caused him to snap.
    • Kabuto Yakushi takes the cake as the series' most extreme example. He's very smart and cunning, also very arrogant. He defeats a Sannin in battle after negating several of her medical jutsu and taking advantage of her fear of blood, only to be neutralized by Naruto Uzumaki's first Rasengan. Later, he becomes a Sage, averting the typical Villain Forgot to Level Grind, surpasses Orochimaru in power, summons a Undead Army of many powerful ninja and blackmails Tobi into an alliance -all very impressive- but his arrogance also turns Up to Eleven to become truly massive and gets him to waste and mismanage a good portion of this powerful army rather quick. He becomes convinced in his technique's perfection, though Itachi and Madara gain independence from it. The former fights him alongside Sasuke and eventually defeats him with Izanami, and the war he helped start goes on without him a good while longer.
  • Death Note:
    • Villain Protagonist Light Yagami is impossibly clever, charming, and manipulative. But for all his great plans, he ends up falling victim to his own pride too often. By the end of the series, Light can't even consider the possibility he might fail anymore.
    • L also has traits of this. He's confident enough in his abilities that he's willing to get very close to a serial killer that can kill supernaturally.
    • So does Matt. He's the third-smartest of the Wammy's Kids, and very much falls into the category of Brilliant, but Lazy. He additionally gets a little too confident that he won't miss anything important going on at Misa's and completely misses Misa and Mogi escaping with the help of a "delivery man" until it's too late, and attempts to talk himself out of a confrontation with Takada's bodyguards which ends up getting him shot a million times over and killed as a result.
  • Lelouch in Code Geass is a brilliant strategist and turns out to be a gifted leader, but the higher he aims, the more he is prone to his goals going horribly wrong. By the end of the series, his paranoia and strategic cornering has led to the destruction of Tokyo, nearly killed his sister, and turned his army into the praetorian guard of a city-razing sociopath. Luckily, he gets Genre Savvy about this trope and intentionally sabotages his ultimate victory to ensure that he doesn't screw things up after taking over the world.
  • Seto Kaiba in Yu-Gi-Oh! has great confidence in his skills and is a genius who can create impossibly advanced gadgets while he's still a high-school student. He starts the series as the undefeated champion of Duel Monsters, but his arrogance earns him a beating by The Power of Friendship. He never quite abandons his pride through the series.
    • Apparently, this is the result of his childhood. After being left in an orphanage with Mokuba by their relatives (who spent their parents' inheritance), Seto set out to get the both of them adopted. To where he even challenged Gozaburo Kaiba, a brilliant but ruthless businessman and master chess player to a game and beat him. The whole thing impressed him to where he did indeed adopt the two brothers... and made Seto his heir, giving him ruthless training. Seto would eventually strike back at Gozaburo and claim Kaiba Corp for his own, but not before becoming a seriously messed-up young man who is haunted by the past and has a need to prove himself. To him, he can only move beyond his past by beating everyone in his way, with his final obstacle being the King of Games himself, Yami Yugi.
  • Sora from .hack// is at the maximum level possible in The World, has the maximum possible stats, and goes around killing people for fun. Much of his arrogance is probably due to his age. Apart from that, he also openly manipulates everyone and is essentially the most obvious sufferer of Chronic Backstabbing Disorder ever. He has information sources no one else has and is basically invincible in any of the fights he gets in, constantly killing BT. He gets called on it, but it never hampers him until finally motivated into doing something somewhat heroic (he didn't realize he couldn't get away) and taunting the Big Bad, at which point she turned him into a Sequel Hook, and the show ended.
  • Taikobo from Houshin Engi. He's a brilliant strategist who once managed to save an entire village by getting them drunk so they couldn't fight an army that came to capture them and then killed the leader, causing the army to scatter. He's famous for manipulating most of the cast with ease...but the first time he met Dakki, he ended up being enslaved and forced to watch members of his clan get thrown in a pit filled with crocs and snakes, one of them calling him pathetic. His ego went down in size after surviving that.
  • This is the reason why many former beta testers die in Sword Art Online- they're unshakably confident in what they know about their game from their time playing the beta, to the point at which they don't realize that their knowledge is out of date until it kills them. Some specific examples follow:
    • In the first volume of Progressive and the second episode of the anime, Diavel becomes leader of the raid to defeat the boss of the level, and acts based on what he knows, intending to claim the last attack bonus so that he'll be at an advantage when it comes to deciding a leader. To that end, he plans on charging in when the boss is almost dead, puts his fellow beta tester Kirito in the back where he's less likely to get it, and, in Progressive, attempted to buy Kirito's Anneal Blade through an intermediary for another advantage. Too late, Diavel learned that the boss's new weapon in its second phase was different from in the beta, and paid for his mistake with his life.
    • In a side story in Volume 8 of the main series, Kirito teams up with a beta tester named Kopel, who intends to trick Kirito into going into an area full of plant-like monsters, cause more to come, hide while the monsters kill Kirito and steal Kirito's gear once he's dead. Unfortunately for Kopel, he didn't realize that the plant monsters don't use sight to track their prey, which means that his Hiding skill is useless, and he's the only player who dies.
  • Dragon Ball Super: Goku Black's plan to kill mortals and take over the multiverse as the supreme god was nearly flawless outside of two major errors. He didn't seem to notice that Goku's body was corrupting him since he didn't have the desire for immortality, only the desire for gaining more power. This error gimped Fusion Zamasu's immortality and made it possible for the heroes to destroy his physical body. His second major error was not coming up with a counter to deal with Zen'o outside of probably hoping that Fusion Zamasu could beat him.
  • One Piece: Caesar Clown. While not quite on Vegapunk's level, he is still a brilliant scientist who managed to develop several scientific advances, including (inefficiently) replicating Vegapunk's process of creating artificial Devil Fruits via his SAD gas. This earned him the patronage of one of the Seven Warlords of the Sea, Donquixote Doflamingo, who used his research to sell artificial Devil Fruits to one of the Four Emperors, the reputedly unbeatable Kaido. By doing this, Caesar was placed in Doflamingo's direct protection, shielding him from the World Government, and Kaido's indirect protection, shielding him from everyone else. Finally, he hid himself at the barren island of Punk Hazard, which was off-limits from everyone due to being a massive Hail Fire Peaks wasteland, keeping himself hidden and allowing him to do his research in peace. Thanks to all this, Caesar had it made and could effectively do whatever he wanted. It was during this time that he would do several stupid things, the stupidest being swindling money from Big Mom, another Emperor, confident that he would remain untouchable to even her. The problem? He didn't have Kaido's direct protection. Caesar's contract was with Doflamingo, who developed the artificial Devil Fruits himself using his factory in Dressrosa. All Caesar had to do was produce the SAD gas and ship it to him, freeing up his time to pursue his own research projects. This backfired on him. Doflamingo is defeated and exposed by the Straw Hats then jailed, and the factory at Dressrosa is destroyed, meaning Caesar loses the protection of both and all the stupid things he's done immediately come back to bite him in the ass.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman:
    • The Riddler, one of Batman's most famous enemies. He's a genius by any standards, far less psychotic than most of Gotham's criminal elite, and has even shown himself to be an excellent detective in his own right. So why can't he just put his intellect to good use and live a life of comfort and fame? Because he would have to accept that he is Gotham's second most intelligent inhabitant. He NEEDS to prove that he is smarter than Batman, so he keeps needlessly challenging him and losing.
    • Bruce himself is not above this, either, usually when his paranoia gets the best of him. Two arcs (Batman: War Games and JLA: Tower of Babel) come to happen because he made "perfect" plans (to take over the Gotham underworld in War Games and take out League members in case they went rogue in Tower of Babel), but was not as Crazy-Prepared when it came to taking measures to prevent them from being stolen and implemented by other people.
    • To say nothing of his Brother Eye project. That went... poorly. A.I. Is a Crapshoot, indeed.
  • Lex Luthor is also prone to this. Being a multibillionaire who innovated, conquered, and murdered his way to the top of a multibillionaire empire wasn't enough. His motivation for ANYTHING comes solely from his ambition to prove that he can do what others can't — so in almost any continuity when he can't beat Superman, but Superman can beat the brains out of him, he goes into a steady Villain Decay as a result of his obsession with this humiliating reversal of his motives.
  • In James Robinson's arc of Fantastic Four, the team is expertly brought down by a genius calling himself the Quiet Man. He sets the Thing up for murder, has the Human Torch depowered, causes the FF to lose both their homes and patents, Reed and Sue lose custody of their children, and the team torn apart. He's been helped by the Psycho Man using the power of an alternate universe to manipulate everyone. The Quiet Man plans to have Earth invaded by this other world, all so he can shut down the portals and "save it" and blame it all on Reed. Reed dares him to go ahead, the Quiet Man giving the shut-off signal...and nothing happens, the attack continuing. As the Quiet Man gapes in shock, Reed dryly points out to this supposed genius mastermind that it may not have been the smartest move to give ultimate power over two worlds to THE PSYCHO MAN.
  • In the Mickey Mouse Comic Universe, this is the flaw of the character Clarabelle Cow. She's a genuinely smart woman — certainly more so than her friend/rival/love interest, Horace Horsecollar. Unfortunately, Horace comes off especially bad against Clarabelle because he's a Know-Nothing Know-It-All, so Clarabelle has an overinflated sense of her own intelligence, which leads her to do foolish things.
  • Happens all too often to Donald Duck, of all people: he'll start a new job, quickly become a master and then go beyond it, and then his magnum opus will ruin him due to him not listening to the obvious suggestion that someone with less expertise (usually his nephews) will give him.
  • Mystique falls victim to this in issue 16 of Wolverines: She's been manipulating the team almost from the beginning, and eventually gives up on pretense and outright seizes control of them from Shogun. However, even though she's firmly in command, she still can't dispense with manipulating them rather than being upfront about what her plans are and how they will solve everyone's problems (in issue 15 outright telling Sabretooth that the rest of the team isn't smart enough to understand). When she tries to prevent X-23 from helping Shogun and Skel rescue the rest of the Paradise experiments because she needs her (the other two are expendable), Laura balks at being controlled and triggers a mass walk-out by the entire team, who all agree to help just to spite Mystique (except for Laura, who genuinely wants to help). It turns out the rescue mission is a trap by Sinister. Had Mystique been honest about her intentions and not been so determined to manipulate the rest of the team — who she had control over, anyway — the entire situation likely could have been prevented.
  • This was the original characterization of Marvel's Doctor Doom. Although a legitimately brilliant scientist, his god-complex-driven ego outstripped even his prodigious intellect. His entire backstory revolved around the fact he disfigured his face because he made a flaw in an experiment's calculations, and couldn't hold back his ego enough to double-check it. Instead, he clings to his false accusation that Reed Richards sabotaged it because he can't bear to admit that Richards was smart enough to spot that mistake before he made the experiment. Technically, this is still supposed to be his major failing, but after decades of Memetic Badassery, writers tend to present him as legitimately being as good as he thinks he is.
    • In Ultimate Marvel, Doom having a case of this directly led into Ultimatum. As revealed during these events, he arranged for the death of the Scarlet Witch, knowing it would provoke Magneto into going Papa Wolf and declare war on mankind, leaving it up to him to "pick up the pieces." However, instead of just overthrowing humanity as Doom expected, Magneto decides to wipe it out entirely and bring about The End of the World as We Know It; Doom later reflects that he never imagined Magneto would be willing or able to go that far.
      Doom: I had Magneto's daughter - the Scarlet Witch - murdered. I knew Magneto would then declare war on mankind and when it was over... I would be there to pick up the pieces. I... never imagined that Magneto either had the power or the will — to destroy the human race... What good is a king if there is no kingdom...?
  • Mark Millar:
    • In Jupiter's Legacy, Walter assumes that his super-intelligence alone makes him best-suited to turn the economy around, but Sheldon tells him that he doesn't really have the expertise to do so. Sheldon is proven right after Walter and Brandon seize control of America, as their policies quickly tank the economy.
    • In Prodigy, super-genius Edison Crane is approached by CIA operative Rachel Straks who needs his help. Claiming to have been sent by General Bear Thriftbank, Rachel says a vast conspiracy is afoot. Crane is able to figure out this is a sinister organization that's spent years trying to open a gateway to allow Earth to be invaded by another dimension. Crane is able to figure out the calculations for the gateway at which point, Rachel shoots him. She's the half-sister of villain Tinker and they gloat on how they've been using Crane all along. They note how her name is an anagram for "Charles Trask", the traitor from East of Eden and that the general is an anagram of Frank the Rabbit, the Imaginary Friend from Donnie Darko. They use Crane's calculations...only to realize too late that it's giving Crane full access to their systems which he uses to thwart the invasion. Crane informs them that he actually figured out the fake names early on. More importantly, the duo had gone to massive lengths to craft an elaborate fake background for Rachel...but missed the fact she couldn't speak Bedouin, which was a prerequisite for any CIA operative in that area. Crane lampshades how the duo's attempts to be so clever just tipped him onto their scheme.
  • East of West: Ultimately leads to Archibald Chamberlain's death. He's clever enough to rig a Mexican Standoff in his favor by emptying Solomon's gun beforehand... but he's also shortsightedly spiteful enough to shoot Solomon first anyways, giving the Ranger the opening he needs to shoot Chamberlain dead.

    Comic Strips 
  • Knights of the Dinner Table: Brian Vanhoose has a streak of this. He's able to pull off a lot of brilliance, but he always pushes it too far and eventually his plans come tumbling down.
    • Bob got his own turn at this in a Cattlepunk game. Bob somehow got his hands on a copy of the rulebook with lots of loopholes written in. Unfortunately, he not only badly overplayed his hand, he had the bad luck of the GM at the time being Brian, the book's original owner.
  • Linus seems to have this trait in Peanuts. He often explains things using scientific facts and theories (most of which are true), quotes philosophers and the Bible, and often compares simple things to famous works of art. On the other hand, there are times when he acts naive or downright foolish; his well-known belief in the Great Pumpkin is mocked by most of the other characters except for Sally (because she likes him, though even she kinda finds the idea silly herself), Charlie Brown (who tries his best to be supportive, though even he voices his doubts), Peppermint Patty (who admits herself that she is kinda dumb) and on occasions, Snoopy.
  • Jason from FoxTrot is incredibly intelligent, excels in school, and is an overall technical wizard. But he frequently does incredibly stupid things, potentially getting himself hurt or in trouble in the process due to being a ten-year-old boy with little life experience.
  • Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes can be very thoughtful, imaginative, and philosophical. Unfortunately, he's also a Small Name, Big Ego whose plans frequently go haywire. His creations like his duplicates and snow goons have a nasty habit of turning on him, he's regularly outsmarted by Hobbes and Susie in his efforts to prank them, and his schemes constantly backfire (e.g. by getting himself completely stuck when he has Hobbes tie him to a chair so he can be an escape artist). Like Jason Fox, he's a little kid without much life experience.

    Fan Works 
  • A large portion of the plot of the Alexandra Quick series is driven by the title character's tendency to do incredibly stupid things in incredibly clever and badass ways.
  • Child of the Storm:
    • Harry combines this with Chronic Hero Syndrome, having a tendency to overestimate his ability to Indy Ploy his way out of trouble, and consequently takes a number of increasingly big gambles. This comes back to bite him, hard, in Forever Red, the first major arc of the sequel. His plan for escaping and leaning on the psychology of Maddie Pryor and the Power of Trust doesn't quite work as intended - he gets out, just as planned, but Maddie doesn't quite turn as he intended, so he promptly goes after her. While this does get through to her, he still ends up getting tortured for two days, and their cunning plan to trick the Red Room and Sinister with a Bait-and-Switch goes down in flames. One horrific Trauma Conga Line and brush with insanity later, and he's a good deal more cautious with his plans.
    • Doctor Strange is a complicated version. On the one hand, he's more or less exactly as good as he thinks he is, being the premier Magnificent Bastard in a setting so full of scheming that it has its own Gambit Pile-Up page, smoothly manipulating everyone else, and he's aware that he isn't as omniscient as everyone assumes he is. On the other hand, he purposefully lets everyone assume his omniscience and rely on the Unspoken Plan Guarantee, meaning that when he encounters a genuine blind spot in his vision, also during Forever Red, everything falls apart.
  • Soul Chess: Much like canon, Aizen, though in this case, instead of Urahara, the one he despises most is Lelouch. Aizen knew of Lelouch's intellect, having lost to him several times in Chess, and thought he would make a decent rival/adversary (enough to make Ichigo the "back-up hero"). Unfortunately for him, he never realized how much of a threat Lelouch was to him — not until he enters hell after Lelouch uses his Geass on him and commands him to commit suicide. Even then, Aizen didn't learn about what happened until his apprentice enters hell with his lover and tells him. After that, Aizen takes Lelouch far more seriously in every subsequent confrontation.
  • Robb Returns: Petyr Baelish is quite smart, and he knows it. However, used as he is to deal with nobles, he gets captured by Street Smart sellsword Bronn, who not only knows nobles even better, he also knows where Baelish would hide his secret books.
  • In Harry Potter fanfic Dear Tom, the Order of the Phoenix is intercepting Harry's outgoing mail to ensure he's OK, only for them to suddenly see one letter Harry writes to Voldemort. The Order continues to intercept those letters but they become increasingly horrified as Harry appears to continue carrying on with the mail conversation, even though they are stopping his incoming and outgoing mail. Of course, Harry was just faking the entire conversation, taking advantage of their paranoia, so he could manipulate the Order into doing what he wanted.
    • Harry also slips a bit with this when he uses one letter to tell "Voldemort" that Snape is a spy, and Snape stops answering Voldemort's calls because he fears he will be killed as soon as he does. When Harry finally reveals his gambit and demonstrates that they were duped, Snape realizes he really cannot continue to spy for Dumbledore.
  • In Code Geass: The Prepared Rebellion, this is the reason that Lelouch can be a Clueless Chick Magnet sometimes. He understands, on an intellectual level, that women find him attractive because of his looks (like the many fangirls he has at Ashford), interesting because of his mind, or consider him someone they can ally themselves with because of what they stand to gain from it thanks to his manipulation skills. However, he has a hard time wrapping his head around the concept that some of them may simply like like him. A half-amused, half-exasperated C.C., in particular, had to go into a sarcasm-saturated You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me! rant just so he could start to see why she might want to blur the line between business and pleasure in their partnership.
  • Three More Things: This is the reason that Daolong Wong always fails. He's a sharp planner able to outwit Valmont when needed and will always massively stack the deck in his favor during any upfront confrontation, nullifying any opposition he may encounter. The problem is that he always insists on a head-on fight to further his goals and his plans are based on what he knows he will be facing rather than on what he could be facing down the line. He's always shortsighted about how he does things, meaning he'll get tripped up the second something outside of his plans gets introduced.
  • In Hunters of Justice, one of Lex Luthor’s flaws is that he's not just intelligent, he knows it, and his history of managing to keep the Justice League from proving what they know about his criminal activities hasn't hurt his ego. As a result, he thinks that he can control the Grimm, selling them to villains and terrorists and selling anti-Grimm weapons to governments to fight those same Grimm, despite Remnantiant history proving that trying to control them NEVER ends well, thinking that RWBYJNPR are simply biased due to their planet's history and that he can handle things because the Grimm aren't established like they were on Remnant. Even disregarding the fact that older Grimm develop greater intelligence, he's noticed that someone or something (Salem) is influencing things with them, but is convinced that he can still handle it. Weiss even lampshades that, for such a smart man, he's still perfectly capable of making some boneheaded decisions.
    • He also greatly underestimates Superboy's intelligence, forgetting that he's got as much of Luthor in him as Superman, telling the clone that the world is a dangerous place full of people who want to use him, oblivious to the fact that Superboy can tell that Luthor doesn't have his best interests at heart either.
    • He simply can't see through Superman's Clark Kenting because he sees Superman as a "god among men", unable to fathom that someone with all of Superman's power would even have a secret identity at all.
    • A version of him from the Dark Multiverse tries to manipulate that world's Ruby, who is desperate to save the fallen Penny when everyone else realizes that it likely can't be done, in order to use the rebuilt "Penny" as an agent in the Justice League. Unfortunately for him, the combination of what's left of Penny's code and Brainiac's technology ends up hijacking things and combining with Ruby into "The Wretched Weapon", and by the time the rest of Team RWBY arrives, Luthor has just enough regained control to beg for a Mercy Kill, and while he gets it, the world isn't so lucky as they get forcibly "uploaded" into a digital scape to "preserve" them, all because he thought that he could control Brainiac's technology.
  • Willow in Xendra knows full well that she's both a certified genius and an extremely powerful witch, which results in her implementing many of her ideas without consulting anyone first. The results range from making Wesley and Tara go from friendly colleagues to extremely uncomfortable around each other due to Willow's matchmakingnote  to almost killing off most of Europe and North America by deliberately breaking a magical contract between the Watcher's Council and Wolfram & Hart.
  • A sidestory of Pokémon Reset Bloodlines starring Character of the Day Katie shows her in this light. She is a legitimately smart and skilled strategist in battle, but her victories made her overconfident to the point she actually thought she couldn't lose to any opponent. Her loss to future Elite Four member Phoebe is largely due to the fact that Katie did not anticipate that her opponent would also make her own plans to battle her, outwitting her preparations by throwing her off.
  • Truth And Consequences: As several characters point out, this is Marinette's Fatal Flaw; part of the reason she was such a successful Ladybug is that she really is remarkably creative, clever, and quick thinking, and her strategies always saved the day. Somewhere along the way she got used to the idea that she's always right because so far, she always has been. Unfortunately, that leaves her blind to how much Hawk Moth manipulates her throughout the story because she can't fathom that he's outsmarting her for the first time.

    Films — Animation 
  • A Bug's Life: Hopper is cognizant of the fact that the if the ants ever realized they have superior numbers they could easily fight off the grasshoppers. Unfortunately for Hopper, he greatly overestimates the ability of his stick-before-the-carrot approach to keeping them in line. Flik's Rousing Speech combined with the knowledge that Hopper planned on killing the Queen results in the ants finally standing up to the grasshoppers.
  • Megamind. Megamind's intelligence is hyper-advanced compared to Earth standards, he's a genius inventor, and his hobby is creating grandiose revenge schemes against the kid who bullied him in elementary school. Worth mentioning that these schemes don't just fail, they fail completely... Until one day one didn't, setting the plot in motion. Metro Man made it seem like Megamind succeeded in killing him, so he could retire. His absence leads Megamind to create Titan, who uses his powers for his own personal gain.
  • In Superman: Doomsday, Lex Luthor's plan to create and control a clone of Superman is sound in theory but fails in practice because of how badly he overestimates the intelligence gap in his own favor. Ignoring his practice of locking the two of them in a red sun-lamp room and beating the crap out of the clone with a pair of Kryptonite-lined gauntlets, he does at least go to the extent of putting a lead capsule full of Kryptonite in the clone's brain as a lethal take-down. Except the clone gets suspicious of Luthor, and promptly uses a combination of a mirror, his X-Ray Vision to check his brain, and then heat vision to perform some impromptu brain surgery on himself. Likewise, when cornered by the angry clone, Luthor's best plan is to try and lure him into the room where he used to torture the clone... which fails because the clone doesn't take the bait; instead he locks Luthor in the chamber, and then rips the whole vault out of the building before dropping it onto the street. Luthor survives the fall through sheer luck.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Mark Whitacre, the title character of The Informant!, is an accomplished scientist who speaks several languages and sorely overestimates his own prowess when he gets between his company's corrupt leadership and an FBI probe. Not only that, but it turns out he's been embezzling millions from the company and spinning outrageous lies to make himself look good, both in the company and in his personal life. Not that he isn't brilliant (he earns two PhDs while in prison), but he's determined to succeed big and when that fails, he fails big.
  • Katharine Parker in Working Girl, a high-ranking businesswoman that speaks fluent German and views herself as a trailblazer for women in the business world, with a giant head to match. When it's discovered that she stole a brilliant idea from her equally intelligent secretary, she's promptly (and satisfyingly) fired and disgraced.
  • Detective Kujan from The Usual Suspects condescendingly tells Verbal Kint, the prisoner he is interrogating, that Kujan is smarter than him, that Verbal is stupid, a cripple, weaker than the criminals he associated with, and that Verbal will not be free until he will tell Kujan exactly wants he wants to know. And then The Ending Changes Everything.
  • Mister Miyagi in The Karate Kid is less arrogant than most examples of this trope. However, he still seems unable to resist opportunities to be clever, even when it goes counter to his goals. His Wax On, Wax Off teaching regimen in the first movie (or rather, his refusal to explain it) almost drove his student away. His impromptu bet at the bar in the second movie may have paid for Daniel's college, but also humiliated the man he was trying to talk out of a duel to the death with him. His "sweep" joke in the third movie drove Daniel straight into the arms of the Evil Mentor when he needed support.
  • This is the basic accusation leveled at the showrunners and scientists of Jurassic Park: they were so eager to actually clone and revive the extinct dinosaurs that they didn't stop to consider if this was in any way a good idea. It wasn't.
  • Loki tends to follow a pattern in Thor and The Avengers: he'll devise a clever plan, successfully manipulate everybody, have them where he wants them...and then he'll Kick the Dog, giving the heroes the motivation they need to bring him down. He seems to have gotten smarter in Thor: The Dark World.
  • Ex Machina:
    • Nathan's undoing is his pride. He needed to construct a scenario in which Ava would deceive and use Caleb to facilitate her escape, thus proving her sapience. His failing is that someone clever enough to be capable of assisting her, would also be clever enough to outwit him, and thus all his machinations fall apart because Caleb caught on to the game and played into it, which Nathan didn't figure out until it was too late.
    • This also applies to Caleb, when he rightly guessed that Nathan was still able to observe him and Ava when the power outrages occurred, and put his plan to free Ava into motion before Nathan realized it was too late. What he didn't count on was Ava betraying him and leaving him locked up in the monitoring room. Meaning, while he saw through Nathan's gambit, he still fell for the Damsel in Distress act that Ava was doing after all, though his feelings for her could be blamed for him trusting her, as love is known to cloud sound judgement.
  • The Hunger Games: Foxface dies because, lacking the know-how to forage food from the forest for herself, she relies on stealth to observe and steal from other Tributes - meaning that she doesn't recognize nightlock berries and, assuming them to be safe because Peeta collected them, inadvertently poisons herself with them.
    • While this is true for the book, an early shot during the training sequence indicates that Foxface actually had a higher knowledge of the flora in the area than the other tributes. In fact, the addition of this shot carries the implication that she committed suicide rather than dying at the hands of, or killing, the other tributes. The fact that the Nightlock berries were out in the open had to have set off some warning bells as well, if she were clever enough to avoid the other tributes without being detected after all this time.
  • The Godfather has an interesting discussion concerning this between recently ascended Don Michael and one of his few genuinely trusted supporters about who of his Caporegimes is most likely to betray him to the older, more experienced, and apparently more powerful Dons. They agree that betraying him is the smart thing to do and therefore they single out Capo Salvatore Tessio as the most likely turn-coat as he is smarter than Capo Peter Clemenza. What remains unspoken, however, is that he is still not smart enough to realise that Michael anticipates this, is planning the demise of his enemies as well, and will immediately recognise his treachery.

  • Monsieur d'Avrigny of The Count of Monte Cristo is an intelligent doctor, who correctly deduces that the deaths occurring in the Villefort family household are no accident and there is a skilled poisoner at work. He further surmises that the most simple, obvious way to determine who is behind the killings is who profits from them... in this case, the young heiress Valentine, who stands to inherit tremendous wealth when some of the poisoning targets die. He has an Oh, Crap! moment when Valentine herself winds up being the next victim.
  • The Vorkosigan Saga: Miles Vorkosigan, as illustrated by the following quote from Mirror Dance. Incidentally, he succeeds. Mostly.
    Miles: My game plan all my life has been to demand acceptance of this, [a vague wave down the length, or shortness, of his body] because I was a smart-ass little bastard who could think rings around the opposition and prove it time after time.
  • Discworld:
    • Moist von Lipwig of Going Postal and Making Money is a con man turned government official, who runs his government offices as though they were successively more complex con games. Which of course, in a very real sense, they sort of are.
    • There's a phrase that appears in Discworld novels fairly often (though it's considerably older) that actually describes this: "So sharp he kept cutting himself, as my grandmother used to say."
    • Ponder Stibbons as well; his impediments are the rest of the staff.
    • The Klatchian mastermind behind the international incident in Jingo may qualify as this; he is certainly clever, and his plan would have worked very well, apart from one small problem: his opponent is Vetinari. As a result of this little oversight, his failure is truly monumental and extremely humiliating.
    • The cleverness of these characters actually provides a good contrast with Vetinari, who is indisputably Discworld's premiere Magnificent Bastard. On the very rare occasions when he does make a mistake, Vetinari always recovers and learns from them. Also, he knows better than to push his luck, (his family motto is translated as "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"), and has thus so far avoided any spectacular cock-ups. He did, however, have a Reverse Psychology Backfire happen in Men at Arms: by trying to manipulate Vimes into investigating a case which Vimes already wanted to investigate, he just ended up discouraging him from investigating it. Also, he has occasional moments of Wrong Genre Savvy: he's clever enough to know the usual conventions of the plot, so he sometimes gets caught flatfooted by things going differently.
    • There's also mention of a dwarf who asked his king for an impossibly vast reward similar to the wheat and chessboard problem. The Dwarf King, upon realizing how vast such a reward would be, threatens to execute the dwarf who is "too [dwarven expletive] clever by half." The dwarf hastily amends his reward to "all the gold he can carry". The king agrees to this, after breaking one of the dwarf's arms.
  • High Elves (Noldor) in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion have a racial tendency towards this; Fëanor is probably the Poster Elf for the trope, but many of the others come to a bad end at least partially due to being clever enough to get themselves into trouble and not quite clever enough to get themselves back out again. Also, there's the Men of Nûmenor.
  • Artemis Fowl:
    • Before encountering the Teen Genius Artemis Fowl, the fairies had basically assumed that humans were too primitive and stupid to see through The Masquerade, in which they use ancient magic and advanced technology to hide themselves from humans while mostly living in underground cities. They had gone into hiding in the first place because humans would be too bloodthirsty and numerous to hold back if they all attacked at once, but since the humans no longer believe in fairies and lack the means to detect them, the Lower Elements Police recon force (LEP recon) only has to deal with occasional incidents where humans are exposed to fairy folk by accident, which can be safely contained with cover-ups and mind-wipes. As a result, they are blindsided in the first book when Artemis manages to deduce their real existence from world mythology and unexplained phenomena, extort a copy of the fairies' book of magical secrets from a fairy exile living in Vietnam, decode the ancient language it's written in, and use the knowledge it contains to kidnap LEP recon member Holly Short and demand a ransom of one metric ton of gold while defending the Fowl manor against the forces sent to rescue her. Even though it's just Artemis and his Battle Butler holding Holly captive, the fairies's best forces are initially unable to deal with their foes being able to do things like resist being mesmerized, see through the "shielding" ability which normally makes them invisible to humans, and exploit their magically-enforced inability to enter a human dwelling without permission. They have to resort to more outside-the-box tactics in order to wrest the upper hand back from Artemis, and while they do manage to get Holly back, in the end Artemis manages to survive the Bio-Bomb and keep half of the gold.
    • Artemis is introduced as a criminal genius even from the age of 12, and at thirteen he's already done enough to earn an active file from Interpol. He's hopelessly bored in school because all the subjects are too easy for him, and he has no friends his age because he's an Insufferable Genius with No Social Skills. His genius is more than demonstrated in the first book as described above. Unfortunately, he has a tendency to underestimate his opponents and press his advantage too hard when he thinks he's got them in a vice, to the point of Bullying a Dragon. A big example is at the start of the third book, when he meets Corrupt Corporate Executive Jon Spiro at a restaurant and shows him the Cube, a Magical Computer made from reverse-engineered fairy tech which could put Spiro's telecom company out of business. Artemis doesn't even offer to sell the Cube to Spiro; instead, he's asking Spiro to pay him just to delay the release by two years and have enough time to get his money out. Even though Spiro is a powerful man alleged to have connections with the Mafia, it doesn't occur to Artemis that Spiro might just take the Cube by force since he's got Butler guarding him, they're in a public venue full of witnesses, and the Cube is encrypted with the titular Eternity Code which only Artemis has the key for. It turns out that all of the customers at the restaurant are actually Hired Guns on Spiro's payroll, and given his company's vast resources he figures he could break the encryption given enough time. Butler gets shot and left for dead, while Spiro makes off with the Cube.
    • Recurring villain Opal Koboi is a genius to rival Foaly, having invented the Double-Dex wing design and become a powerful tech CEO despite the prevalence of sexism in fairy society. In the fourth book, she has her ears surgically rounded and a human pituitary gland implanted in her head so she can pass for human, hoping to make herself the humans' ruler by leading them in war against the fairies. The pituitary gland also happens to drain her fairy magic, but she arrogantly proclaims that magic is of no use to her and that she will rely on science instead. After being thwarted by the protagonists, she inadvertently uses up the last of her magic on a mesmer to convince an old Italian widow that she is her daughter and that she works with her on the farm. When Opal realizes her mistake in volunteering for manual labor and tries to backtrack, it fails so miserably that she's actually happy to get arrested by the LEP a week later.
  • Locke from The Lies of Locke Lamora and its sequel by Scott Lynch. He spends his life running elaborate (and usually successful) cons on nobles while posing as a petty thief. The end of the second book covers a massive failure; he's spent the entire book on a plot to rob a casino, and it goes off flawlessly — except that the paintings he steals are fakes, put out for the express purpose of being stolen.
  • Kvothe from The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. A child prodigy, he talks his way into his world's premier university at the age of fifteen, after having spent three years as a beggar, and promptly antagonizes both one of the masters and the wealthiest and most politically connected student in the university. Between that and his perpetual poverty, he spends most of his time doing absurd things (learning an entire language in a day and a half, getting certified as a musician on a lute with a broken string) just to keep his head above water.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire has this come up a few times:
    • Tyrion Lannister. Oh, boy. As a dwarf with a full-sized, functioning intellect, it's quite literally the case for him... and unlike some on this list, he's fully aware that he's pushing his luck in most of the stunts he pulls. Yet pull (and pay) for them he still does.
    • Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish is described using this exact phrase by Ned Stark. He is, however, an unusual example of this trope because (so far) he has gone from strength to strength without anything more serious than some minor setbacks, to which he quickly adapts. It helps that nobody has any idea what his actual goals are.
    • Give Ramsay Bolton some due: when he has to pull a fast one, he's really, really good at engineering out-of-the-box and horrifically clever solutions involving such things as impersonations, surprise backstabbing and completely outplaying people who don't think as psychopathically as he does. Which snowballs on both his father and him in terrible ways, since most of the North would quite cheerfully see them both dead for how they have betrayed the Starks, among other things.
  • Grand Admiral Thrawn of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, especially The Thrawn Trilogy. He'd probably claim that he's not arrogant, and it's true that he has no qualms about accepting a good idea just because it's not his, but he definitely has an ego underneath his self-control. He's an alien in a xenophobic Empire whose talents caused him to get that rank. His main problems are not leaving wiggle room for unknown unknowns and putting entirely too much trust in people he's manipulated both staying manipulated and making good decisions. To a lesser extent, Talon Karrde.
  • In the Star Wars Wraith Squadron trilogy both of the computer hacker characters fall to this somewhat.
    • Grinder falls to this in that Face catches him pulling pranks as he was the only one who could have defeated the security on Face's X-wing. However when in the field, he is quite cautious, unlike his replacement.
    • Castin falls to this in a much worse fashion when he opens an access panel without scanning it first, triggering a hidden layer—which ultimately led to his death. Grinder had previously dealt with a similar system, so he had the foresight to scan it before opening it.
  • Harry Potter
    • Hermione is the smartest person in her classes and perhaps the smartest witch of her generation. However, she is discriminated against for being a muggle-born. Furthermore, it's implied that the reason she tends to look down on her peers' intelligence and be somewhat of a showoff with her own is because of her own insecurities (which makes for an interesting comparison to her close friend and later husband Ron Weasley, who's also insecure, but due to not being good (or rather, exceptionally good) at anything.
    • Dumbledore is also qualified for this trope. He is one of the smartest and most powerful wizards in the setting, and he knows it. However, Dumbledore is a reformed version of this trope. He used to be arrogant and controlling, until an unfortunate accident led him to realize what he was becoming. At that point, he decided to settle down and become a teacher, because he felt he could not be trusted with any real power. During the story, of course, we do get to see him affording himself more power to bring down Voldemort, but no more than necessary.
      Dumbledore: Being, forgive me, rather cleverer than most men, my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger.
    • Voldemort is a half-example—he's a magical genius, yes, but he tends to generalize this and assume it means he's smarter than everyone at everything. Given that he is in actuality not even remotely competent at long-term planning, he manages to get all the downsides of this trope with scant few of the benefits. His main flaw as a strategist is that he'll get so carried away with a clever plan that he forgets his opponents are also clever, and so follows predictable patterns. The most glaring example, as pointed out by Dumbledore, is that he decided to make every Soul Jar he built out of significant magical artifacts that can be traced to him which he guarded in varying ways (held by his chief lieutenant, bank vault, abandoned home of his mother's side of family, in a seaside cave he visited as a child). If he'd gone the simple route and used a random rock he then threw in a lake there would have been no way to stop him. As Harry, and therefore, the readers, learn more about Voldemort, it becomes increasingly obvious that the main reason his reign of terror lasted so long wasn’t due to any real cunning on his end so much as the cunning of his followers and people being too scared of his immense magical power to really try stopping him.
  • Douglas Adams' Dirk Gently. In a scene where he tries to outwit the local Inspector Lestrade and fails miserably, the inspector sensibly points out that Dirk may be really smart, but the weakness of really smart people is that they assume everyone else is stupid.
  • Foxface in The Hunger Games manages to survive without killing a single soul, simply stealing food and hiding. It bites her in the ass when she steals some berries Peeta had picked without either of them realizing that they were poisonous.
    • Or DID it bite her in the ass? In the movie especially, there are hints she committed suicide on purpose and covered it up so that her family back home didn't get in trouble with the Capitol. Foxface: cunning to the end.
    • Katniss actually wonders if Foxface is the most intelligent out of all the tributes. As the Games go on and she realizes that Foxface has lasted so long without a direct confrontation against anyone, Katniss wonders if Foxface, not the intimidating Thresh or the totally batshit Cato, is the real danger.
  • Kendra in Beastly. She has a history of using her magic to punish rotten people like Kyle, but it bites her in the ass when it attracts too much attention and gets her in trouble with other witches. While her grand plan to improve Kyle via the curse she puts on him does work perfectly (it's designed so that improving himself is the only effective way he could break the curse by himself), it's also what convinces the other witches to banish her from ever going home. Leastwise, until Kyle accidentally puts a loophole into the spell that lets her go home after he breaks the curse. In the book Bewitched, Kendra apparently had a knack for this even before she had a lot of experience as a witch.
  • Themistocles Papadapoulos in the Bridge book series Bridge in the Menagerie. He delights in deception plays, which frequently confuse opponents into making the one play that can defeat his contracts or ensure theirs when he's defending. One chapter of the second book has an entire section on him called "Too Clever By Half."
  • Steerpike in the Gormenghast books. He's extremely clever and a master Manipulative Bastard, but his first real failure comes from arrogance, overplanning, and underestimating his opponent.
  • A key trait of Dr. Impossible in Soon I Will Be Invincible, who starts the book by narrating about it.
    "Has the world's smartest man done the smartest thing with his life?"
  • Reaper's Gale, the seventh book of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, discusses the downsides of this. When Fear Sengar points out that former slave Udinaas, by the measure of his intelligence and vision, should have been a king and not a slave, Udinaas acidly counters that he's too smart and driven and would be unable to stop once he'd started to openly question the system. Too many people like him on the loose and any governmental system would eventually collapse in bloody rebellion. Thus he deems it safer for society at large and himself in particular to spend his days scraping fish.
  • Both Rabbit and Owl from Winnie-the-Pooh. Rabbit once noted they're smarter than say Pooh or Piglet as they have brains rather than being stuffed with fluff. That being said, they aren't as smart as they think, especially Owl who acts like he can read and write, when in reality, he can only spell his own name (which he does incorrectly).
    • Lampshaded heavily in the philosophical book, "The Tao of Pooh." The author how Rabbit, Owl, and Eeyore fall under this for differing reasons: Rabbit being a busybody who always tries to take command and sees himself as the authority figure, and Owl in acting like an Absent-Minded Professor. Eeyore is this to a lesser extent, albeit in the "cynicism = intelligence" sort of way and the implications of self-sabotage.
  • Jim McCarthy, the protagonist of David Gerrold's The War Against the Chtorr, is one of the smartest men in the world. However, that just means he gets into trouble that no one — including him — has any idea how to get out of. He's been doing it his whole life, too; when he was fourteen, his mother caught him making nitroglycerine in the bathtub. Ouch.
    It isn't that hard to make nitroglycerin. The hard part is getting rid of it quietly.
  • In Worm, many Thinkers, most prominently Tattletale, can fall into this, getting faulty conclusions due to their own biases and/or a lack (or even overabundance) of data.
  • The Dresden Files short story "AAAA Wizardry" discusses this trope when Harry Dresden is assigned to help train young Wardens, wizard cops. He recounts a past case where he made a mistake. All the facts were present, but he misinterpreted things. He assumed it was this typical path and it nearly cost a loving mother her life and would have left three children orphans. While no one died, one child is still left with extreme mental scars from the event and the mother suffered from a year's worth of nightmares. After explaining what each of the four "A"s are in Wizardry, he notes the fifth "A" is for arrogance.
    "Arrogance," [Harry] said quietly, and wrote it on the board beneath the rest. "That's the fifth A. We carry it around with us. It's natural. We know a lot more than most people. We can do a lot more than most people. There's a natural and understandable pride in that. But when we let that pride get in the way and take the place of truly what is around us, there can be horrible consequences. Watch out for the fifth A, children. The Yardlys turned out all right mostly out of pure luck. They deserve better from me. And from you."
  • Lampshaded in "The Singing Bell" by Isaac Asimov. Dr. Wendell Urth, upon hearing that Peyton had killed his accomplice on the Moon, with a blaster (the flash of which was spotted by a patrol), and then blew up their ship, points out that, if he were in the murderer's place, he would have murdered his accomplice aboard the ship and blown it up with the body. Inspector Davenport states that Peyton loves challenging the police. However, since this was the first murder on the Moon ever, Peyton failed to take a few things into account this time...
  • The Professor in the Callahan's Crosstime Saloon series hits this hard, driving a few plots. Not only does his unbridled ego cause Maureen to leave him in the first place, but in the con against Tony Donuts, he's foiled by his own brilliance: Tony's not only Too Dumb to Fool but an absolute moron who printed all his funny money with the same serial number.
  • People like this are easily Exploited by Wayne in The Bands of Mourning. As he notes, smart people tend to have egos about how smart they are. So rather than admit there's something they don't understand, they'll pretend they know what you're talking about to save face. Wayne, disguised as an engineer, is able to trick one such intellectual in a Bavarian Fire Drill by spouting some fake Technobabble. Rather than question what any of it meant and blowing Wayne's cover, the intellectual buys the flimsy excuse hook, line, and sinker.
  • In Rob Roy, Sir Hildebrand cautions his son Rashleigh that being too cunning can come back to bite him. Rashleigh fails to heed his warnings, and during the Jacobite rebellion, he switches sides so many times he ends up pissing everyone off and gets killed off by one of his ex-allies.
    "Rashleigh," said his father, looking fixedly at him, "thou art a sly loon—thou hast ever been too cunning for me, and too cunning for most folks. Have a care thou provena too cunning for thysell—two faces under one hood is no true heraldry."

    Live-Action TV 
  • On an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Jake and Holt are interrogating an arrogant dentist on murdering his partner, the man having an excuse for everything and a real penchant for toying with them. But just before he is to be released, Jake points out to him how one of the awards in the dental office was missingnote , then posits to the dentist that he killed his partner with it in the heat of the moment during an argument and somehow miraculously got lucky at every point where he should have been found out. The doctor snaps that it wasn't luck at all, he planned the entire thing out perfectly, alibi and all, and even tells them what the real murder weapon was (a dental rod he then melted back down). He realizes too late he just confessed. Jake confides to Holt that he knew someone so sure of his intelligence would lose it if they thought he was just a random "dummy" who lucked into this and the idea of his perfect crime being written off as blind luck would goad him into confessing.
  • This happens constantly on Columbo. So many of the killers come up with really great plans that would have allowed them to literally get away with murder. However, too many of them try to add in a flourish or touch which ends up containing the clues Columbo needs to figure out the truth.
    • More than once, a killer goes to massive lengths for the "perfect" alibi only to have that be the very thing that trips them up. How often has Columbo done the math to realize how far you'd have to go out of your way to ensure you're seen at a specific time and place?
    • Often, the killer will steer Columbo to a suspect they've managed to expertly frame. But in almost every case, Columbo sees through it simply because there's no way someone could be smart enough to commit such a complex murder but then be dumb enough to leave so many obvious clues behind.
    • A Senator tries to make himself look the victim of the same "killer" of a man he murdered. He puts a bullet from that gun into a wall and fakes it being fired at him during a party. With several people present, the man openly says that if Columbo finds the bullet, he can figure out it's from the same gun. Columbo agrees...and says he's already run the tests as he found that bullet in the wall three hours ago. The man's face falls as he realizes he just implicated himself in front of witnesses.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Cersei Lannister is indeed well-versed in the games of subterfuge and underhanded politics amongst the Westeros' nobles, but she fancies herself to be better than she actually is, causing her to often severely underestimate her opponents. Ironically, this also works in her favor, since her opponents often assume she's too rational to do something stupid, only to be blindsided when she does it anyway.
    • Gifted, influential, casually manipulative, and smart-mouthed, Jaime Lannister loves to contemptuously upstage chivalric foes but eventually goes too far and overplays his hand. Then he loses it.
    • Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish is a master Manipulative Bastard, with a firm understanding of Realpolitik and a true knack for turning people against each other. However, being a man who always relies on others to do the dirty work, he occasionally comes to find that he has much less "real" power than he'd like. When he antagonizes Cersei Lannister, she and her guards demonstrate quite clearly that, being the queen, she could have his throat cut on a whim. Much later, in the seventh season, he's so engrossed in his scheme to turn Sansa and Arya Stark against each other that he fails to realize that Sansa, his protege, has seen through his plans and is lulling him into a sense of false security. He also fails to realize he has almost no allies in the North and even those of the Vale see Sansa, not him, as their true leader. This time, his Karma Houdini Warranty expires for good, and Arya executes him.
    • How Olenna regards Renly after his death, a man who counted far too much on his likability and statesmanship in a time of all-out war for the Iron Throne, and who possessed the flimsiest claim of all the contestants. Joffrey has the support of his mother's family and actually sits on the throne, Stannis is Robert's next-oldest brother and therefore can contest his "nephew's" succession. Robb Stark and Balon Greyjoy for vastly different reasons claim secession, citing long-time abuses at the hands of the crown, and merely want their own portion. The idealistic Renly wants to be king because he believes his compassion for the smallfolk would make Westeros a more prosperous and harmonious realm. However, it's worth noting that he is one of the very few players who were not defeated because of their own mistakes, as nobody in his position would really count being murdered by black magic among possibilities. However many fans have felt Renly's actions would be disastrous in the long term, as it would lead to factional fratricidal wars among the nobility, asking what happens if Renly has a son people don't like or an ambitious younger son.
  • Rodney McKay from Stargate Atlantis is one of the smartest humans from earth. Despite everyone in the Stargate program being top in their fields, he's the only one to make such a huge deal out of his intelligence. And on number three... while he regularly makes astounding accomplishments while under threat of imminent death, his biggest failure? Blew up a solar system (well, five-sixths of a solar system), and almost destroyed two universes. His pride is so great that he often refuses to work with other scientists on the team because he's convinced they'd just slow him down. This gets pointed out magnificently in an episode where he's working with Real Life celebrity scientists Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse Tyson, or rather, refusing to work with them. This gets taken to a literal level when an Ascension machine rewrites his genome. He creates a new form of math just to keep up with his new discoveries. After being forced to choose between ascending or dying, he invents a cure for himself, returning himself back to "normal" genius levels, not realizing he was in spitting distance of ascending. For a kicker, all his notes and his new mathematics are so complex that even he can't figure out what they meant, making virtually everything that happened completely moot. Did get a nice Deus ex Machina out of it for the next season opener, though.
  • Samantha Carter from Stargate SG-1 isn't arrogant, but she knows how smart she is, is constantly being expected to do more and more impressive things to save humanity's collective asses, usually succeeds at saving the day but occasionally has some pretty spectacular screw-ups, and gets discriminated against for being female and human by Ba'al and the free Jaffa.
    • Anubis developed technology that is far more advanced than anyone else at the time, including a device that allows him to directly download information from the brains of captured enemies. When he uses this device, the victim is able to interface with the computer and access plot-critical systems in his spaceship.
  • This seems to be a recurring theme for advanced alien races throughout the Stargate-verse. Once they reach a point in their technological development where they could be mistaken for gods, on some level they start to actually believe it, and as a consequence, they develop blind spots in their thought processes you could steer a Goa'uld Mothership through:
    • The Asgard have become so dependent on their technology that they are literally incapable of thinking outside the box. They were very nearly destroyed by the Replicators because they kept throwing more advanced weapons technology at an enemy that eats technology; they simply couldn't conceive of any other way to deal with the problem. It took the assistance of humans - less advanced technologically, but with more flexible thought processes - to help them gain an advantage. To their credit, they realized and repeatedly come to humans for help.
    • The Ancients are For Science! to such a degree that they never consider the long-term consequences of their actions. They tend to create massive, ambitious scientific projects which fail just as often as they succeed. And because these projects are so huge and ambitious, dealing with things like genetic engineering, time travel, and quantum mechanics, the consequences of those failures are catastrophic. If they're lucky, their inventions merely explode spectacularly. If they're not so lucky, they can rip a hole in the universe. Sometimes, projects that initially seem to be successful develop long-term side-effects that are even worse than the problems they were designed to solve. The Wraith, a hostile mutant race inadvertently created in a world-seeding project, are only the most glaring example.
  • Doctor Gregory House. Hell, his choice of role model and reason for becoming a doctor (a burakumin medical genius working as a janitor in a Japanese hospital) was almost explicitly one of these, although without the implied arrogance.
    This guy, he knew that he wasn't accepted by the staff, he didn't even try. He didn't dress well. He didn't pretend to be one of them. The people that ran that place, they didn't think that he had anything they wanted. Except when they needed him. Because he was right. Which meant that nothing else mattered. And they had to listen to him.
    • For all his genius, he tends to get wrapped up in his own logic. The main reason he has a team is to prevent this from happening. This is most apparent in the Season 4 premier, where it takes him the entire episode to realize that the reason for his patient's unusual symptoms is that she was misidentified after a building collapse. As such, they had a false medical history. Learning who she really was explained everything, allowing them to easily treat her. While he tries to claim that he still solved the case, Cuddy counters by listing reasons each of his former team members would have figured it out; or at least spotted a problem that would have allowed him to figure it out sooner.
  • Doctor Who: The Doctor has a tendency to drift in and out of this trope, possibly more so in his third incarnation. The Tenth Doctor is especially given to telling people how clever he is.
    • The Tenth Doctor really gets bit by it in "Midnight". He tries to do his usual Bavarian Fire Drill routine when something odd happens. When that just makes the rest of the people on the trip suspicious, he tries to Talking the Monster to Death, which is apparently what it wanted. His insisting that's he clever just aggravates everyone around him, making it easier for them to turn on him. He gets possessed and nearly gets killed and is only saved by a Heroic Sacrifice after the Midnight Entity started using words only The Doctor used.
    • The Fourth Doctor did a lot of this and even gets a line naming this trope in the unaired Development Hell episode "Shada", after one of his signature Logic Bombs works too well and leads to him cutting off the oxygen on the spaceship he was hijacking:
      Doctor: I was being too clever by three quarters.
      Chris: You never do anything by halves.
  • Gul Dukat in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine managed an extremely elaborate set of nasty surprises for anyone hijacking Terok Nor, then managed to get himself caught up in them because he beamed over to gloat at the crew for tripping them. When he tried to leave, it turned out there was another set of security precautions he didn't know about set in place in case he tried to abandon his post after the first set was triggered. Garak takes great delight in mocking him over this.
    • DS9 also gives us the "Jack Pack", four genetically-enhanced misfits who are allowed to analyze top-secret Starfleet data regarding the Dominion War — and determine that The Federation should bloodlessly surrender to the Dominion, predicting that within a few generations, an Earth-based rebellion will overthrow the Dominion and create a new Federation. What they don't consider is that the Dominion strategists might run their own analyses and predict such an occurrence; Weyoun had, in fact, figured on a rebellion starting on Earth and made plans to sterilize the planet as a preemptive measure.
    • Star Trek: Voyager gives us Magnus and Erin Hansen, two exobiologists who go off to study the Borg. On the one hand, they're technologically brilliant enough to develop bio-dampeners, narrow-beam transporters, and other Techno Babble goodies to let them go about their observations undetected; on the other hand, they not only carry out their research without any backup or support, they also decide to bring their little girl along for the ride. All it takes is one slip-up in their defenses and their expedition ends with them getting assimilated, both depriving little Annika of her childhood while condemning her to life as a Borg drone and giving the Borg access to the aforementioned technology.
  • Sikozu of Farscape definitely fits this trope, especially given her arrogance over her high intelligence. Doubly so given her knowledge comes almost exclusively from book-learning, leaving her woefully underprepared for the actual realities of the universe. Trying to tell a Pilot how best to pilot his Leviathan, because you read about Leviathans in books? Good luck with that.
  • Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear is a Badass Driver version. He can do astonishing things with a car (or a hammer) but his devotion to Tim Taylor Technology means his failures are spectacular too.
    • Likewise, James May. He's extremely intelligent with an impressive understanding of engineering, physics, and other disciplines that aid him whenever a construction challenge is made. However, his too-cautious approach, a tendency towards technically complex creations, and at times a lack of common sense (not to mention a lack of direction) tend to have him either win decidedly or fail spectacularly.
  • Sherlock Holmes from the BBC's modern-day adaptation, Sherlock, is a perfect example. Yes, he's very, very clever; but it does have its disadvantages in that he can't "turn it off" and stop being an Insufferable Genius, even when doing so would be much more prudent. (Not a million miles from The Doctor — which, given that the show is scripted by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, is...not that surprising, really). note 
    • This is lampshaded in "The Reichenbach Fall" when Sherlock believes Moriarty has created a super-hacking bug that can open bank vaults, prison cells, and the Tower of London. He confronts Moriarty on how he'll figure out how to use the bug himself. Moriarty then laughs that there is no bug, he just bribed people to open up doors at the right moment and is amazed Sherlock fell for his ruse.
    Moriarty: That's your problem, you always want everything to be so clever.
  • Shows up often on Survivor.
    • Russell Hantz, for example, has some savviness as to the mechanics of the game, finding Immunity Idols before receiving any clues to their location for example - but lost, three times, for being completely insufferable, not grasping that you have to avoid getting on the other players' bad sides. (The third time he played, his tribe was aware of his previous two times and made a point to throw him out fast so they wouldn't have to deal with him.)
    • "Boston" Rob, on both this show and The Amazing Race is another great example. He definitely has a talent for this stuff, but... well, on Race he decided to screw with other players by making them think there was an earlier flight. While he gloated about sending them into a panicked search for a nonexistent flight, they found one.
  • In the "Out of the Fire" episode of Burn Notice, Tyler Brennan gloats on how he's got Mike wrapped around his finger only to get stabbed in the back (well, the front) by Dead Larry.
    Larry: You know what your problem is, Brennan? Well, other than this knife in your chest. You spend so much time thinking 10 moves ahead, you don't see the move that's right in front of you.
  • Jimmy McNulty from The Wire had to drop out of college due to his girlfriend becoming pregnant. He became a detective who has no respect for his commanders and that'll do anything to get a case solved.
  • Leverage
    • Starter Villain Victor Dubenich is this in the pilot. The entire plan depends on his ability to realize that they are coming after him.
    • It is a frequent failing of Hardison's as well; on multiple occasions, the other characters point out his tendency to get himself and them into trouble by being a little too convinced of his own cleverness. In "The Iceman Job" he goes so overboard playing the part of a diamond thief that it gets him kidnapped by Russian mobsters who want him to steal some diamonds for them. In "The Gold Job" he demands to be allowed to run what should have been a simple con and makes it so needlessly complicated that the marks start questioning all the hoops they're having to jump through, nearly ruining the entire job. Nate explains to him that he always avoids this by having a relatively simple backup plan, and advises Hardison to take his failure as an object lesson to apply to future jobs.
    • Season 3 Big Bad Damien Moreau is proven to be this once the team finally gets around to dealing with him directly, but it definitely shows in the second half of the season finale, "The San Lorenzo Job". After the team royally screwed him over in the first half, Moreau retreated to the titular San Lorenzo to lay low until the heat on him dies down, relying on the fact that the entire country is in his pocket and the president is corrupt enough to let this happen. When the Leverage team arrives and starts fielding their own candidate in the upcoming election, Moreau lets them do what they want, both because the U.N. is keeping an eye on the election and because he knows that no matter what the actual results are, he can just have the media report rigged results and then have everyone killed off later. The fact that the new candidate proves to be popular thanks to the team's efforts doesn't worry him since it adds "legitimacy" to his rigged results. What he didn't foresee was the team reporting their own rigged results first, right around the same time they had staged an attempted assassination on the presidential candidate that "kills" his "fiancé" (Sophie pretending to be one to increase his popularity). Afraid of all the people out for his blood, the president is convinced to turn on Moreau and concede the election in exchange for a comfy retirement. Furthermore, Moreau hiding out in a country lacking an extradition treaty with the US means that he ends up imprisoned in a country whose laws don’t forbid cruel treatment of prisoners.
    • Lampshaded in "The Rundown Job". The episode opens with Colonel Michael Vance being Hauled Before A Senate Subcommittee over his use of unorthodox and illegal methods in fighting against terrorism. Vance defends his actions by arguing that the US's agencies are too big and slow to deal with modern terrorist operations which are often carried out by smaller and faster teams. When a member of Congress states that these agencies were designed by very smart people, Vance snidely responds, "So was the Titanic".
  • Dr Ty Wilson from Monday Mornings has nearly all traits of this archetype. Only thing which doesn't quite fit is that he's not insufferable in the least. He has sweet bedside manners and he's also very nice to his colleagues, which makes him popular. He's an extremely smart and brilliant neurosurgeon with magical hands. He knows it, and doctor Hooten often calls him on his medical arrogance, especially his reluctance to consult with his colleagues who are as brilliant as himself. note  The series kicks off with a patient dying on his table. It's rare for him and he feels badly, but even more so when he learns that he didn't check all relevant medical history of the patient's father. He screwed up, big time, and has to deal with his Heroic BSoD.
  • Sometimes, these are the chefs that Gordon Ramsay runs into in Kitchen Nightmares. One example from the U.K Series was Nick Anderson of Rococo's. He was a renowned chef in the mid-nineties in England, but a decidedly nasty partnership break-up with the owners of a high-class hotel put him in a deep depression, a creative slump, and financial trouble. When Gordon comes to his restaurant, his inflated ego, inability to update his style, and his obsession with his past successes meant that he had alienated his customers with a business surviving on the charity of friends.
  • In Kamen Rider Gaim, this is ultimately one of Mitsuzane/Kamen Rider Ryugen's biggest weaknesses. He's a genuinely intelligent teenager, but as he undergoes both a Face–Heel Turn and massive amounts of Sanity Slippage, he comes to see himself as a brilliant mastermind who has everything under control and who's "using" the other villains for his own ends. In reality, he's not very good at manipulation, his plans frequently fail, and he's ultimately just an Unwitting Pawn to the villains he thinks he's using.
  • In Przygody Psa Cywila Cywil himself is a Rare Dog Example - he's too clever to just follow orders.
  • Dominic from Person of Interest. He's an ingenious criminal and skilled coordinator but also too certain of his own abilities, meaning he bites off more than he can chew and reacts badly to things going Off the Rails. As Reese notes, he's smart enough to be a threat but also stupid enough to get himself killed. Sure enough this ends up leading to his defeat and death; he underestimates the abilities of Team Machine and Elias while simultaneously making such a big name for himself that he gets targeted and murdered by Samaritan immediately after arrest.
  • On Bull, a rich wife shoots her husband, then stabs herself a few times to claim he attacked her and she acted in self-defense. She then actually sues the family for his billion-dollar estate. But Bull is able to see through her ruse and at the trial, makes sure the opposing attorney gets the info to destroy the woman on the stand. After bringing up how she took anatomy in college, the lawyer dryly states how amazing it is that her "enraged" husband managed to stab her in exactly the right places that would be non-fatal. He then brings up how the knife only has her husband's prints despite her testimony on how she grabbed it during the struggle. He also adds the gun only had her prints on it despite it being owned by her husband. In other words, her wiping both weapons down only ended up proving her guilt.
  • In The Mandalorian:
    • Toro Calican is so desperate to be seen as a cool bounty hunter that he attempts to betray and collect the bounty on the Mandalorian by taking the child hostage. Needless to say, it doesn't end well for him.
    • The droid Zero is quick to brag that he is smarter and faster than organics but his cleverness backfires on him when he decodes the old Guild message about the bounty on the child. Wanting to collect that bounty, he wastes precious time attempting to kill the child who manages to evade him inside the Razor Crest and is eventually killed by the Mandalorian.
  • Better Call Saul:
  • On Riverdale, the Stonewall Prep authors are pushed to kill Jughead and frame Betty for doing it while in a hypnotic trance. They go to huge lengths to drug Betty and set her up, ensuring she goes down and Archie and Veronica for helping her cover it up. The Stonies are stunned when a very much alive Jughead saunters into a meeting and jokes on how, in all their brilliant planning, "none of you Einsteins" considered checking his pulse to make sure he was really dead.
  • Next (2020): Next's attempts to indoctrinate Ethan were based on Ty and Shea's fretting about how sensitive he is. Because they were worried about his supposedly fragile nature, Next assumed that it just needed to push him and bully him around to bend him to its influence. Of course, Shea and Ty were wrong - Ethan's real problem is that he has a boatload of anger issues, so when Next pushes too hard, Ethan instead flies into a rage and smashes the Iliza unit.
  • Criminal Minds has a few examples.
    • In season seven, there's an unsub who won't stop flaunting to the investigators that his IQ is in the top percentile, meaning one in a hundred people are as intelligent as him. Combined with the other information the BAU has on him, they narrow it down pretty quickly.
    • In season fifteen, a recurring unsub's MO of creating elaborate distractions catches up to her, as the BAU now know better than to focus on the crime she's not even trying to hide.

  • Pete Carroll, NFL coach of the Seattle Seahawks. Since he'd taken over as coach, he built himself a reputation of being a clever coach known to call unexpected plays that resulted in epic wins. This popular coaching style made him popular within the NFL and among football fans. His credibility was cemented when he led the Seahawks to their first Super Bowl win in franchise history in the 2013-2014 season against the Denver Broncos and their record-breaking offense. He was able to lead his team back to the Super Bowl for the 2014-2015 season. Until the final twenty seconds of the fourth quarter, Pete Carroll called an excellent game, and even though their opponent, the New England Patriots, took the lead by 4 points, the Seahawks were able to drive down to the Patriots one-yard line. Instead of making the logical choice of giving the ball to Marshawn "Beast Mode" Lynch, one of the NFL's top running backs, who, during the game, ran over 100 yards and got a touchdown, he calls for his quarterback, Russell Wilson, to throw the ball into the end zone. The ball gets intercepted and the Patriots win their fourth Super Bowl during the Bill Belichick and Tom Brady era, and thus instead of being the coach that won back-to-back Super Bowls for his team (and that would've been pulled off against a coach who has done this before), Pete Carroll is now seen as the coach who made the dumbest call in NFL history.
  • The Seahawks had three downs available once they got the ball to the one-yard line, but arguably not enough time to call three running plays (incomplete passes take less time off the clock than runs stopped in the field of play) and so, it is argued, it was necessary for Seattle to call a pass rather than a run. The Seahawks could have stopped the clock with a minute remaining by using their final timeout; instead, they let the clock run, apparently believing they could force the Patriots to burn one of their own timeouts, to keep time on the clock for a potential comeback after a Seattle score. Instead Belichick let the clock run, seeing that if he did not call timeout the Seahawks would fail to call one themselves, would fail to substitute in a power running package, and might instead call be induced to call a passing play. The play that Carroll settled on called for one Seahawks receiver to rub off his teammate's defender, leaving his teammate open, but the Patriot defenders were able to anticipate the trick the Seahawks would pull from pregame prep and set themselves up for an improbable interception. A dumb strategy of immediately calling timeout, subbing in a power running package, and then just running the ball up the middle repeatedly until time expired (or until scoring a touchdown) would likely have won the day.

  • The eponymous character in Marlowe's Doctor Faustus is one of the best examples of this trope. His own brilliance in all things academic (and belief that he can do even more than he has) lead him to explore Things Man Was Not Meant to Know. The results are predictable.
  • The Mrs. Hawking play series: Young Victoria, as can be seen in the flashbacks of part four, Gilded Cages.

    Video Games 
  • The Onion Knight in Dissidia Final Fantasy. He's quite clever, and knows it (and will remind Terra bout his intelligence at every turn). You want a spectacular failure? How about causing Terra to go out of control, let her get brainwashed, beat her up when you can't think of any other way out of it, and let her get kidnapped? His Destiny Odyssey is all bout him being knocked down a serious peg, and learning to listen to his heart, not just his head.
  • Fallout: New Vegas has Mr. Robert Edwin House, President, CEO, and Sole Proprietor of New Vegas. He's a Properly Paranoid genius owner of a Mega-Corp who firmly believes Democracy Is Bad (not entirely untrue, considering the circumstances) and defended Las Vegas from nuclear attack to rebuild it to a point of glory, but is incredibly arrogant and refuses to believe that he could be wrong. He also thinks there's no question that he should be the sole autocrat of New Vegas. As a result, the very start of the game is a result of him getting blindsided by an underling, and he can and will get blindsided again by you if you decide to betray him. Nations can be predictable, but a single person with a really big stake in a matter even bigger than them, not so much.
  • Mass Effect 2 introduces Miranda Lawson: as she and her sister were Designer Babies engineered by their megalomaniacal Truly Single Parent to be Born Winners, Instant Expert TV Genius barely begins to describe her capabilities. Lawson drops in on Shepard's resurrection without any knowledge of the process and becomes the project's leader through sheer ability in less than a week. Of course, being unfamiliar with failure, she never sees her mistakes coming: her statement that "any Biotic could be a Barrier Warrior" turns out to be completely in error - it takes a Psycho Prototype or a Cool Old Lady to do it - she gets an ally killed if her advice is followed. She is actually cursed with being aware of this trope, resulting in an inferiority complex - she attributes all her successes to her father's design, and only takes credit for her failures.
  • Gale of Waterdeep in Baldur's Gate III is an extremely intelligent and prodigious wizard (although currently missing most of his abilities, as the Mindflayer tadpole inside every member of the player's party has sapped everyone down to Level 1 at the beginning of the game). In fact, he is so good at magic that he was able to access the part of the goddess of magic's power that was stolen in Karsus's Folly, in an attempt to return it to her...but not good enough to actually handle it. It essentially parasitized him, becoming a Fantastic Nuke that lives in his chest and requires him to feed it magical artifacts, lest it explode. However, while Gale does still think pretty highly of what magic skill he can still use, he's also bitterly aware of what a stupid and selfish move he made.
  • In Puyo Puyo, Klug is so confident in his intelligence, he never really considers he's not infallible. Being caught with holes in his logic never fails to catch him off-guard, despite how much he denies it.
    • In the original Puyo Pop Fever, he spends a little too long gloating and looking down on Amitie and Raffina instead of actually getting the missing Flying Cane and claiming the reward.
    • Additionally, have we mentioned he's still carrying around a book that could, apparently, possess him at any moment? Which it does in Puyo Puyo 7 if we infer that from his Mega transformation? Let's take this small part from The Record of the Sealing, an in-game book, just to show you what went wrong in Fever 2:
      You should not open this book near the 3 items I have written in the page before. The seal will be broken and there the "evil soul" will... (too smudged to read)
    • On top of that, his wish in 15th Anniversary got denied by being specific with his wording: He wished for his success to be published in a 15-page spread. He'll get it... if he achieves success.

    Visual Novels 
  • Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star has signs of this in the young aristocrat Shirogane Sakuya. He's very smart, always arrogant, blind to any flaws he might have... his more aware brother once considers getting into a room Sakuya's renovated and equipped with security, which Sakuya'd proudly boasted was impenetrable. It turns out Sakuya rigged the door extensively, but completely neglected the windows. This despite him being a flight-capable bird, in a school full of other flight-capable birds!
    "But this is him I'm dealing with. It'll look like sneaking in is going to be hard, but knowing him he'll have overlooked something obvious..."
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney has Manfred von Karma. He has a perfect trial record and manages to direct court, even pushing around the judge when he wants to. He anticipates everything that Phoenix can think of, including the idea that Phoenix might call a parrot to the witness stand, so he retrains the parrot in just one night to not say something that might be bad for von Karma's case. But, his obsession with perfection led him to kill Gregory Edgeworth in a literally perfect crime: no one knew or could have found out that he did it. But his obsession with revenge demanded that he frame Miles Edgeworth for the death of his father, 15 years after the fact, which then ultimately culminated in von Karma getting caught for his otherwise perfect crime. And the kicker is that he would have gotten away with it if Maya hadn't managed to grab a single piece of evidence that von Karma was about to destroy.
    • In the same game, Damon Gant, Chief of Police, blackmailer and murderer. If he wasn't so obsessed with controlling people, he might never have been caught, but he just had to let Phoenix "discover" the "perfect" evidence of Ema's supposed murder of Neil Marshall in order to make Lana confess to everything, never thinking that Phoenix would be able to use that same evidence to prove that Gant actually did it all.

    Web Comics 
  • Suspiria, Insufferable Genius mage prodigy from Flipside. She really is a phenomenally powerful mage, but given her youth, she lacks both the experience and stamina of other mages of her rank, making her a much less formidable opponent than she should be. This has bitten her in the ass twice, in-story (the first with tragic consequences, the second costing her the other main characters' good will and respect and any sympathy the former granted her).
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Vaarsuvius is the resident Squishy Wizard and needs to be smart. Also, V's an elf, so there's the arrogance. The demonic contract plotline manages to skate on the very edge of the "spectacular failure" point without quite falling in. Later on, we find that their "Familicide" spell killed even people who merely had black dragon blood in them, or anyone related to them, such as their parents. People whose only crime, as V puts it, was "falling in love with a mysterious scarlet-tressed stranger". Cue Heroic BSoD.
    • Roy as well, at times; the below line is from when he crafted a very specific question that an Oracle would not be able to weasel away from, got an exact answer to that question, and therefore missed something very important that he'd honestly wanted to let him know:
      Oracle: Yes, you've certainly managed to cunningly outsmart yourself at the very least. note 
    • Also Nale. He may be smarter than Elan, but he's definitely not as smart as he thinks he is. For example, Nale had his succubus Femme Fatale girlfriend disguise herself and send the party on a dangerous quest to recover star metal. He assumed that the star metal would have been recovered as "everyone" has known about its existence for a great deal of time. However, it hasn't been recovered, since it was an extraordinary valuable prize under the guard of an extremely powerful black dragon who just so happened to be on vacation at the time. After it is found, the only result is Roy, an enemy of Nale's, having the star metal used to forge an Infinity +1 Sword. His intelligence has also led to a crippling case of Complexity Addiction. Most of his plans are characterized by initial success, followed by everything falling apart when one of the far-too-many moving parts hits a snag. This ultimately leads to his death sometime later. Having killed Minister Malack, right-hand man to General Tarquin, Nale's dad, he boasts about it straight to his father's face — in an exceptionally mean-spirited way to boot. He then rejects Tarquin's subsequent offer to reconcile and states outright that he doesn't want Tarquin's nepotism or pity. Tarquin, finally having had enough of his son's crap, proceeds to kill him, explaining that his (Tarquin's) nepotism and pity were the only things keeping Nale alive.
  • Many, many characters on Homestuck. Rose is one of the worst, admittedly very intelligent and knowledgeable but constantly getting outplayed and biting off more than she can chew. Vriska is slightly more self-aware about her overly complicated plans and double-crosses, but still cheerfully forges ahead, admitting she'd be bored if she wasn't either succeeding awesomely or crashing and burning in Shakespearean fashion.
  • Girl Genius: Describes almost every Spark; they gain supernatural intelligence and insight, but also severe cases of megalomania.
    • Many untrained Sparks quickly build half-baked doomsday devices and are just as quickly lynched for witchcraft, while most of the trained ones love to charge into the front lines with their "unstoppable" death machines and are quickly obliterated in the chaos of war while their rampant creations add force multipliers to collateral damage.
    • The reason why Baron Wulfenbach runs Europa itself despite his damaged Spark powers is because his brain is damaged just enough to ground his megalomania, and even then he has occasional flights of fancy (his obsession with ending Agatha despite all evidence of her cooperation is his undoing). The aristocrats stay in power because they know how to pull the strings of Sparks/channel their megalomania into backstabbing their enemies, but they also suffer from sheerly stupid levels of hubris. Everyone else is hard-pressed to survive this mad world.
    • In a flash-forward side-story, Vanamonde von Mekkhan is the current Mechanicsburg seneschal and formerly ran a shadow government in Mechanicsburg. He ends up targeted by Hadrian Greenclaw's plan to kill those conspiring to assassinate Agatha. Since Vanamonde likes to portray himself as knowing everything that goes on within the town, Greenclaw assumed that Vanamonde knew about the plot and only didn't act because he was in on it.
  • Galatea in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! is made of this. She's a genius, knows it, makes flipping well sure that everyone else knows it... and keeps concocting schemes that whirl utterly out of her control.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • The title character of Invader Zim is an Evil Genius armed with advanced technology, but his massive ego and faulty programming prevent him from taking over Earth. For that matter, Dib is a Child Prodigy who is much better at investigating paranormal phenomena than the so-called experts... and absolutely terrible at convincing anyone with the resources to do anything about it of what he's found.
  • In Iron Man: Armored Adventures, Teenage Tony Stark has many of the problems of his other incarnations (keeping secrets from his friends, arrogantly fiddling with technology he really shouldn't be, and some outright hypocrisy) with the problems of a super genius who's been home-schooled all his life and suffering from the loss of his only parent. For example, he creates a really good computer virus that devours data like a swarm of digital locusts but unfortunately merges with a swarm of nano-machines to become the very hungry Technovore monster. When Tony screws up he screws up phenomenally.
  • In The Simpsons' first "Treehouse of Horror", Kang and Kodos abduct them in their flying saucer to live in luxury. Lisa snoops around the ship and finds a book titled "How to Cook Humans". Offended at the notion, the aliens blow some space-dust off the book's cover revealing the title to be "How to Cook for Humans". To which Lisa points out that there is still dust on the book, with the title now "How to Cook Forty Humans". Kang (or Kodos) then demonstrates that there is yet still more dust on the book's cover, finally revealing the book's full title "How to Cook for Forty Humans" (the Simpsons are gluttons).
    Marge: Now you know what we mean when we say you're too smart for your own good?
  • Young Justice: Nobody could say Amanda Waller is an incompetent warden... but at the end of "Terrors", The Alcatraz falls under the control of the Light, there was an almost successful Great Escape, and she is replaced with Dr. Hugo Strange, one of their agents.
  • During a flashback on Hey Arnold!, Grampa Phil recounts how while serving in WWII, he was captured by a Nazi panzer brigade. The Nazi captain (Major!) decided that the bad meat Phil was carrying to a dumping ground was good because Phil warned the Nazis not to eat it in an absurdly long and one-sided I Know You Know I Know. As Phil's narration puts it;
    Grampa Phil: That's when it hit me! I realized that if I let him think he was smarter than me, I could make him do anything I wanted.
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Twilight Sparkle can fall into this trap. She has an innate desire to be perfect, falling into Super OCD quite often. She was acknowledged by Princess Celestia as having the most potential of any unicorn Celestia had ever met; even when outclassed, Twilight outsmarted Nightmare Moon and defeated Discord with The Power of Friendship. Twilight has studied magic her whole life and is one of the most knowledgeable magic users in the world. However, Twilight is so terrified of failure that her perfectionism causes Sanity Slippage whenever things start going pear-shaped, especially if she thinks it will cause Celestia to be disappointed with her.
    • In "Lesson Zero", Twilight's perfectionism caused every bit as much chaos as one of the Big Bads. She basically became the episode's Villain Protagonist, reaching the point where she accidentally caused a city-wide riot so as not to potentially fail before realizing how far she'd gone.
    • Twilight also tripped herself up in "It's About Time", when she used a time travel spell to go back in time and warn herself not to worry, thus causing herself to worry to begin with.
  • Looney Tunes:
    • Bugs Bunny says "Sometimes I'm so smart it frightens me" after he tricks the giant in "Jack Wabbit and the Beanstalk" into a twenty-paces duel that makes the giant disappear into the horizon. Then the giant reappears on the other side. The twenty paces were enough for him to circumnavigate all the way back.
    • Wile E. Coyote as well when he's pitted against Bugs. Part of his problem is he overestimates his own intelligence while gravely underestimating Bugs', allowing Bugs to get the upper hand before he ever realizes it, combined with his problem in the Road Runner cartoons of falling for his own traps.
      Wile E. Coyote: [at the start of Operation: Rabbit] Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Wile E. Coyote, "genius".
      Wile E. Coyote: [at the end of the same cartoon] Allow me to introduce myself. My name is "mud".
      Bugs Bunny: [to the audience] And remember, "mud" spelled backwards is "dum".
  • Gravity Falls: This is The Author/Stanford Pine’s Fatal Flaw summed up. He’s very intelligent, but his insecurities, arrogance, and stubbornness cause a lot of problems, including letting his twin brother be disowned over an accident, trusting someone who turned out to be the Big Bad, pushing away his friend (which indirectly caused his insanity, disappearing for thirty years and later withholding critical information about Bill Cipher and The Rift from everyone except for Dipper. He gets better in the end, after realizing the damage he unintentionally caused.

    Real Life 
  • Humans, as a species, are prone to this. Humans are amazingly capable of adapting the environment, including their own behavioral programming, to suit them, which sometimes means overwriting a basic survival instinct. Food? Sex? Sleep? Avoiding violence or dangerous situations? Basic desire to continue existing? People almost routinely violate these basic needs, sometimes to achieve better results at a later date, sometimes out of a sense of moral duty or obligation, sometimes for fun, sometimes to the point of self-destruction.
  • This trope is the reason why a startlingly huge proportion of people who get roped into scams, cults, and buy into other patently bogus things are actually very intelligent. They think of themselves as being too smart to possibly ever be tricked into handing over their money to a crook or be manipulated by someone who heads a Scam Religion, or even come to very invalid conclusions because they believe they're simply so smart that nobody could fool them, so therefore anything which registers in their mind as checking out has to be correct, even if there's good evidence that they're wrong. More than a few cons are based on letting the victim think they've spotted the con and can find a loophole to profit from it when that supposed loophole is itself actually the bait for the real con. This is also the reason why scammers and the like can end up on the other end of this themselves because they assume that since they're so good at fooling others and know the tricks of the trade they would never fall into the trap themselves.
  • Galileo appears to have been one of these (see his entry under Instructional Dialogue), assuming Simplicio really was a caricature of the Pope. Even before he earned the attention of the Inquisition, he alienated the University of Pisa (which prompted his relocation from Venice to Florence — he needed new patronage) and pushed matters so hard that even the powerful Medici family began to find him a liability. The man just didn't know when to keep his mouth shut.
  • You might find this in education, when the instructor uses the Socratic Method — feigning ignorance of the subject and asking questions of the students to draw out the correct answer. The intelligent or well-read students will often try to bring out information which, while interesting, either doesn't get to the heart of the matter or assumes that the central question has been answered when it hasn't. This typically leads the instructor to shut the student down — or try to, as such students tend to be stubborn. This is particularly common in American law schools, where the Socratic method is standard. Free advice: There's a reason that Socrates' most famous statement is "I know that I know nothing."
  • The Nazis. Most of the senior politicians and generals were brilliant (when the IQ test had been performed on the Nuremberg defendants, most were high above average in the 120-138 range, while the most stupid and clearly insane of them, Julius Streicher, still scored a bit above average) and their military-industrial complex had been staffed with tens of thousands of equally brilliant officers, engineers, and bureaucrats who used the most advanced technology of their time. They managed to convince themselves so surely of their own superiority that they willingly walked into an unwinnable war. Not to mention that the Allied intelligence services were running circles around them, having subverted essentially every German agent while their own agents were placed in very high positions in the German war effort. Much like the scam/con example above, they'd so thoroughly convinced themselves that they couldn't be fooled that they never even bothered to look.
    • This mainly had to do with their early success and their racist ideology. Their early successes in the war made them extremely cocky which also gave credence to the idea they were the perfect race. After defeating most of Europe they thought the USSR would be easy because it was full of Slavs. Never mind the fact that the USSR had more troops, massive area to cover, the weather being against them, and having no plan for what to do if the invasion stalled. It was Germans vs Slavs so to them, it was an easy win. Suffice to say they were wrong.
  • Cocky medical residents should be reminded of "July Syndrome," a catch-all term for the sudden spike in iatrogenic (caused by medical treatment or examination) problems in teaching hospitals around the United States. July, because that's when after 4 years of medical school and accolades, all the brand-new residents start their residencies at once.
    • There's a reason that many high-end private jets are referred to as "Doctor Killers". A lot of these guys buy a plane that they can't handle, assume it will be simple (because they're very smart, and they bought the model with all the bells and whistles), and end up crashing it and killing themselves.
  • Obsessive fandoms in general are often guilty of overthinking matters when it comes to various theories and Fan Wank-y explanations (e.g. A 50-page treatise, complete with diagrams and charts, on how both Luke Skywalker and TRON are, in fact, secretly clones of one another in a Shared Universe because both are played by Mark Hamill), and simultaneously underthinking them by not checking to see if the premise was sound to begin with (i.e. They were confusing Mark Hamill with Bruce Boxleitner the whole time).
  • There is a quote by Gamal Abdul Nasser:
    "The genius of you Americans is that you never make clear-cut stupid moves, only complicated stupid moves which make the rest of us wonder at the possibility that we might be missing something."
  • In 1970s Quebec, the Parti Quebecois passed Bill 101, a law that restricted the use of English and promoted French as the primary language in Quebec. The Parti Quebecois' intent was to use Bill 101 as part of their efforts to separate Quebec from Canada, but Bill 101 addressed many Franco-Quebecois's concerns about language issues. As a result, support for separatism actually decreased. In the end, Quebec's language laws actually strengthened Canadian unity, something even the original architect of Bill 101 lamented.
  • Lawrence H. Summers — a former Treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton, a top economic adviser in President Obama’s first term and one of the youngest people to earn tenure on the Harvard faculty - reminisced about his undergraduate days at M.I.T. in the 1970s, when the debate over the idea of technological unemployment pitted “smart people,” exemplified by the great economist Robert Solow, and “stupid people,” “exemplified by a bunch of sociologists.” It was stupid to think technological progress would reduce employment. If technology increased productivity — allowing companies and their workers to make more stuff in less time — people would have more money to spend on more things that would have to be made, creating jobs for other people. But at some point, Mr. Summers experienced an epiphany. “It sort of occurred to me,” he said. “Suppose the stupid people were right. What would it look like?” And what it looked like fits pretty well with what the world looks like today. For large categories of workers, wages are inadequate. Many are withdrawing from the labor force altogether. In the 1960s, one in 20 men between 25 and 54 were not working. Today it’s three in 20. The population is generally healthier than it was in the 1960s; work is almost uniformly less demanding. Still, more workers are on disability. Essentially, he thought companies would use technology in conjunction with their workers to make ridiculous amounts of money, and dismissed the likelihood that they might use technology to replace their workers and make the same money while paying fewer people. (You can see the complete article here).
    "Maybe the stupid people weren’t quite as stupid as I thought they were".


Video Example(s):


K. Rool "outsmarts" DK

Upon learning that DK gave the Coconut willingly, K.Rool concludes it's part of a plot and gives it back. When DK shows up demanding the Coconut back, K.Rool realizes there was no plot and he just threw away the Crystal Coconut when it was handed to him on a silver-platter. By then, Klump and Krusha had already given it back and they are all back where they started.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / TooCleverByHalf

Media sources:

Main / TooCleverByHalf