So you have this princess/person/item/whatever of great importance that you totally need to keep hidden or protected from the bad guys (or maybe even the good guys). Or maybe you need to go into hiding for a while and bide your time before you kick your enemy's big, flabby tushy. No problem!
There's supposed to be this place down the street, the other side of the mountains or deep in the forest that's said to be very safe from outsiders. It's either well hidden, well-protected, or otherwise impregnable. So you put your trust into this haven, relieved to know that there isn't a snowball's chance in hell that anything bad's gonna happen to you, the important person or thing while you're in there.
The reasons for the failure of this "safe" place may or may not come up or be addressed but nevertheless it can be an effective device to move the plot along. It's likely to be of greater effect in lulling the audience into a false sense of security if the work in question is electronic or live-action — perhaps the heroes really have made it to safety — but there's no accounting for the savvy fans who look at their watch or the inventory screen, or the 500 pages left to go!
This is a common trope in any Police Procedural involving a witness, to the point of enforcing No Good Deed Goes Unpunished throughout TV-land and implying that no witness in police protective custody is safe. And God help the victim if they happen to be placed under any form of witness protection.
An Outcast Refuge is likely to become one of these if visted as part of the plot, usually because the heroes lead the bad guys right to it.
Contrast Cardboard Prison, where instead of the place of detention being laughably easy to storm or find, it's laughably easy to escape. Compare Neon Sign Hideout, when this trope is played for laughs and fails even more as a "hiding" place. See also Hidden in Plain Sight and Right Under Their Noses for when the heroes attempt to secrete themselves as close to the bad guys as possible, Swiss-Cheese Security for when it's laughably easy to enter the villain's lair, Ditch the Bodyguards for when the haven is safe, yet the protectee refuses to stay hidden, and Trespassing to Talk when the bad guys break in and negotiate. Tangentially related to Camp Unsafe Isn't Safe Anymore.
- In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure the Speedwagon Foundation averts this. What makes it especially notable is that in the field, Speedwagon Foundation agents tend to be Red Shirts. Regardless, whenever the Speedwagon Foundation manages to secure an object from the villains or, in one case, even the actual body of a villain who can regenerate if not kept under the proper conditions, it is secured permanently, and even when an agent is killed, it will usually be after they have accomplished what they were there to do.
- One Piece: During the Enies Lobby arc, we're shown Nico Robin's Dark and Troubled Past where the government set out the order to raze her hometown Ohara into a pile of ashes because of the native scholars learning too much about the world's past for the government's comfort. At the time, she befriended a giant who is revealed to have abandoned the navy due to harsh and cruel methods. When the Buster Call is given to wipe Ohara out, he tries to get her to an evacuation boat with all the citizens on it thinking that she'll be able to escape undetected with the innocents. But the townspeople don't allow her on out of fear that the government will come after them. It thus becomes a shock when the government blasts the boat anyway to avoid risking Robin being on the boat. If Robin had been on it, she would have died there and then. It's a sick subversion of Convenient Escape Boat.
- Pokémon: The Series: Professor laboratories, daycares, and the Pokémon Centers are supposed to serve as safe storage centers where trainers can safely leave their Pokémon that can't keep on hand at the time. And yet they've been the unfortunate targets of countless Team Rocket heists.
- Wicked City. The hotel/safe house where Taki Renzaburou takes Giuseppe has triple strength psychic resistance walls to keep out Black World assassins. Naturally one such assassin breaks in without any particular trouble.
- Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Flint's lab looks secure, but the big electronic door is actually just a Concealing Canvas with fake biometrics that Flint pretends is real. There is also a computer voice that seems to identify whoever enters, but really just says "Welcome, Flint" no matter who walks in. Midway through the movie the mayor gets in uninvited (despite being morbidly obese and confined to a motorized scooter) and Flint asks how he did it.
- In the Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, one can claim sanctuary in the church and not be harassed by the soldiers. The Archdeacon successfully forces Frollo to withdraw at the film's midpoint. Later on in the film, it's only a paper-thin barrier, as Frollo no longer pretends to care and orders his soldiers to attack the cathedral after Quasimodo shelters Esmeralda inside. Of course, this also turns everyone in town against Frollo.
- 28 Weeks Later has the military pack all the civilians like sardines into a large-ish room that they then lock and turn the lights off in "for their own safety". They leave a door unguarded. A single infected simply uses himself as a club to break open the door, run in, and... hilarity ensues.
- In Batman Forever, Dick Grayson accidentally stumbles into the Batcave, resulting in the Batcave's security alarm going off... while simultaneously turning on all of the gadgets and vehicles out on display, and not actually doing anything to remove the intruder.
- In Children of Men, Theo and company arrive at a refugee house only to discover that the people there are planning to kill Theo and kidnap Kee so that they can use her baby for their own political ends. They manage to escape, and the trope is lampshaded with this exchange:
Miriam: We need to find a safe house.
Theo: Yeah, 'cause the last one was really fucking safe.
- Nanking in The City Of Life And Death. The Safety Zone is repeatedly violated by the Japanese soldiers.
- The Mall in Dawn of the Dead (1978) seems safe enough at first, as the main characters fortify the large front doors with a pair of trucks (though Roger gets bitten in the process) and the zombies aren't smart enough to try and get in any other way. Unfortunately, it's ONLY safe against the zombies, not the biker gang that shows up a few months later and easily smash their way through so they can loot the place.
- In Hook, the Lost Boys' hideout is this, which The Nostalgia Critic noted, complete with a large arrow.
Critic: So he [Peter] goes back to the hideout... which really isn't a hideout; it's a tree with lights.
- Film version of The Lord of the Rings:
- Invoked in The Fellowship of the Ring as a shortcut to explain why the One Ring cannot just stay in Rivendell. Throughout the first part of the film the hobbits — and us — are led to believe that "the Ring will be safe in Rivendell" — until Elrond tells Gandalf otherwise. This is only in the film as a drama-preserving handicap for the sake of maintaining tension. In the books, and for the attentive viewer, Rivendell is obviously not the final destination...
- Played with in The Two Towers in the case of Helm's Deep; it's hard to defeat but it's attacked despite being thought of as a safe place. Saruman raises an army bigger than had ever attacked it before and innovatively uses an explosive to weaken the wall. On top of that, it's very unsafe from the standpoint that there's only one way in or out of it, which means that once the orcs arrive there's no means for those inside to escape.
- Mary, Queen of Scots (1971): Mary escapes to England thinking her cousin Elizabeth will keep her safe. Elizabeth instead executes her.
- Mary, Queen of Scots (2018): Mary escapes to England and seeks refuge with her cousin Elizabeth, who turns out to be the big bad.
- The source of conflict between the survivors in Night of the Living Dead (1968) basically boils down to Ben and Harry arguing over whether the attic or the basement is the unsafe place to hide. It's inevitably revealed the entire house was the unsafe haven, and that they really should have listened to Barbara who pointed out they could have just walked past the slowly shambling undead and is the only one to survive since she did just that in the end.
- In Serenity, Shepherd Book stays in a place called Haven. During the movie, it's attacked by the Alliance and its population killed.
- Shaun of the Dead has the pub The Winchester, which really provides no protection from zombies other than a big door. Surrounded by glass windows. One of which is broken by the good guys trying to get in. Not to mention the zombie INSIDE THE PUB.
- In The Terminator, Lt. Traxler assures Sarah Connor she'll be safe in the police station since more than 30 officers are on duty inside. Unfortunately, he doesn't know the assailant pursuing Sarah is an armored cyborg from the future that is virtually immune to small arms fire, and it's able to blast its way through the police quite easily.
- In Harry Potter,
- Hogwarts is supposed to be the safest place in the world, despite the fact that it's infiltrated every single year by the bad guys. The first book recurses the trope — the Philosopher's Stone is protected by a Death Course within Hogwarts, but Voldemort had already made his way into Hogwarts and has no difficulty getting past the obstacles... except the last one. You could only get the Stone if you had no intention of using it. He had to wait for three eleven-year-olds to also complete the supposedly impossible course so that Harry could accidentally solve the last puzzle for him.
- Gringotts. It may be harder to break into than Hogwarts, but it's certainly not as infallible as the goblins would have you believe.
- The Death Eaters' meeting in chapter 1 of Deathly Hallows basically consists of Voldemort saying, "I think I'd like to infiltrate and take over the headquarters of the magical government." He succeeds almost immediately after, on his first attempt.
- Bernard Cornwell's The Pagan Lord sees a Danish warlord with ambitions gather an army and march south out of Mercia to attempt to defeat Wessex, in the aftermath of the death of Alfred the Great and the accession of a decidedly unready King Ethelred.note He marches four thousand men south into England and leaves his wife and heirs in his fortress at Chester, guarded by only fifty or so elderly and wounded Danes, reasoning the Sazons will be too distracted by events in their heartlands to think of mounting a hostage-taking raid. Then Uhtred of Babbenburg rides in with thirty men, claiming to be late-arriving Danes wanting to join the fight and grab plunder. They get the plunder — Cnut's wife and children.
- In Prince Caspian this is lampshaded when the main characters (the Pevensie kids and Trumpkin the dwarf) waltz right into their safe haven without being challenged, and Trumpkin comments that their side sure doesn't keep good watch. They do eventually get stopped by a pair of guards but the main characters could have done quite a lot of damage had they been hostile.
- Our Miss Brooks: A few radio and television episodes sees Miss Brooks hide in the boiler or supply room to attend a secret meeting:
- In "Non-Fraternization Policy", a radio episode, Walter Denton opens a "talk-easy" after Mr. Conklin bans non-essential communication between male and female faculty and students. Mr. Conklin discovers it easily.
- In "Mr. Lathrop Returns to School", also a radio episode, the meeting is held to rid the school of Mr. Lathrop (an elderly millionaire who causes havoc when he wants to run the school like a business corporation). Mr. Lathrop easily finds the secret society but doesn't realize it's been formed against him.
- In "Red River Valley", a radio episode and Sound-to-Screen Adaptation, Miss Brooks, Mr. Boynton and Walter Denton secretly rehearse in order to get summer jobs with Deacon Jones' hillbilly square dance troupe. Mr. Conklin eavesdrops outside the supply room door.
- "Project X" (on the radio) and "Mad Man Munsey" (on television) see Miss Brooks hiding in the boiler room when Mr. Conklin bugs the school with his "Project X" listening device.
- Averted in The Movie Grand Finale where Miss Brooks meets with a large contingent of the students to enlist them to support Mr. Conklin's campaign for "Coordinator of Education" (the new head of the school board). For once, the secret meeting goes off without a hitch.
- Bones. A villain who took great please in needling Booth set up his sanctuary on land he'd purchased in Booth's name, taunting him that he can't come onto private land without a search warrant. The idiot forgot that Booth wouldn't need a warrant to enter his own property.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Xander tells the Potentials they're as safe as houses. Everyone promptly looks at the boarded-up window from the last time a demon broke into Buffy's house.
- Hogan's Heroes. Laughably, Stalag 13 is both easy to break out of and easy to break into and the series deals with Hogan and co. dealing with escapees from other prison camps and various important agents sneaking into the camp without any notice from the Germans.
- Lost has the Temple. It's a mysterious location alluded to throughout the early seasons; Ben Linus tells his daughter to go there because it will act as a safe place, in S4. But when the time comes for the Smoke Monster to get in, he manages this feat in less than an episode.
- Subverted and often exploited in NCIS. Witnesses placed in safehouse NCIS cases not only are frequently NOT found and killed before they can testify, Gibbs and the team have leaked supposed safehouses numerous times in order to lure the bad guys into trying to attack it just to get surrounded and arrested by a swarm of federal agents. If this trope does happen it's almost always because the witness did something very stupid to reveal themselves and/or Ditch the Bodyguards.
- Sadly, the New Orleans team in NCIS: New Orleans is less Genre Savvy about this. In one particularly egregious case Sebastian, one of the main characters and a trained NCIS agent himself, is sent to a safehouse outside the city instead of simply staying at the small but perfectly livable New Orleans headquarters with the rest of the agents. Cue the bad guys finding the safehouse and then another main character agent Gregorio having to rush to save him.
- Dungeons & Dragons adventure I12 Egg of the Phoenix. After the Forces of Evil steal the Egg from Doc's Island, the PCs manage to retrieve it. The Council of Northending has them take the Egg back to Doc's Island, where it is put in exactly the same place and with the same security as it had before. Not surprisingly, the Forces of Evil manage to steal it again almost immediately.
- The safe havens in Alan Wake are generally, well, safe, being cones of light that drive off the Taken. Except that the havens are powered, and if the power goes out while you're standing there...
- In Batman: Arkham Origins, Roman Sionis/Black Mask sends his girlfriend Tiffany to a safe house after someone spooked her, which as Batman lampshades, was anything BUT safe since that someone, The Joker, knew she would be there.
- City of Heroes. The vault of the Modern Arcane Guild of Investigation (MAGI) is so prone to having supposedly safe macguffins recaptured after being locked in it that it has become a Running Gag among players.
- In Darkest Dungeon, you have the (basically mandatory) option of setting up camp in the middle of a dungeon to regain health and sanity. However, there's always the possibility of an ambush that will force your party to fight in absolute darkness.
- In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, you have the Dark Brotherhood's Sanctuary. It seems extremely secure, with the Black Door requiring a password to enter. When you reach it, the leader says "You won't find a safer place in all of Skyrim." That is true until Astrid betrays you and the Penitus Oculatus kills nearly everyone in the Sanctuary
- New players in EVE Online occasionally start with the impression that high-security space is safe. They learn very fast that it isn't.
- Fable: After the Hero undertakes an arduous quest to rescue his mother from the villain, he leaves her in the Guild of Heroes, surrounded by the greatest warriors in Albion. Naturally, teleporting Minions kidnap her before his eyes in the very next quest. Justified by The Reveal that the Guild has a Mole in Charge.
- Guild Wars. In the Nightfall campaign, two of the three Vabbian princes try to retreat to such a sanctuary. The players break in to get them involved in the war again before the bad guys have a chance to reach it.
- The Half-Life games are a series of treks to supposed sanctuaries. The surface, Lambda Complex, Kleiner's Lab, Black Mesa East, and White Forest are all places you are striving to reach for their relative safety... until you get there. Unlike everywhere else, White Forest is still in-tact when you're leaving it at the end of the Half-Life 2: Episode Two.
- Princess Ariana's Castle in HarmoKnight. There are literally OPENED WINDOWS EVERYWHERE, so it wouldn't be hard for Gargan to break in and scoop up the princess.
- Left 4 Dead is based on the group moving from one temporary safe haven to another in the hope that one location will be a permanent safe haven. And yes, the infected WILL break in if you stay in these temporary havens for too long.
- The Legend of Zelda:
- The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past: We have the aptly-called Sanctuary, where Princess Zelda takes refuge after Link saves her from confinement in Hyrule Castle. It's supposed to be a safe place, even though it's kind of in the open and that enemy knights are kind of on patrol outside. Why Ganon didn't find it and capture Zelda sooner, like before Link got the Master Sword, is anybody's guess.
- Hyrule Castle itself is also this in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. After the truth of Tetra being the successor to the Hyrulian Royal Family's bloodline is revealed, Zelda is kept in the same chamber that the Master Sword was kept. Of course, considering that Link cleansed the place of Ganon's forces only a few hours or so before, it was no surprise that Ganon found her.
- In Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, the bros hide Peach in the Dream World as a way to keep her safe from Bowser and Antasma. Turns out the place isn't so safe from Bowser's forces, with Piranha Plants, Lakitus and other Koopa Troop monsters having invaded somehow and her being in danger after all. Because Peach isn't the real deal. She's actually Kamek in disguise and he's deliberately let Bowser's troops and the Elite Trio in to sabotage the 'mission'.
- Any time a game forces you, the hero, to give up a Macguffin or Princess you've rescued, they're as good as re-kidnapped. Such is the case of the Divine Rods in Ōkami. In this case you gave them to The Dragon while she was in disguise.
- A villainous example in Pokémon Black and White. One of the Seven Sages thought it would be a laugh riot to put a Team Plasma hideout right across the street from the Castelia City Pokemon Gym, and was surprised when Trainers led by the Gym Leader started storming the place looking for their friends' "liberated" Pokemon. Unlike other examples though, this doesn't derail Team Plasma's plans in the long run. But it is a taste of what they, or rather Ghetsis's, true plans are should they succeed in "freeing" everyone's Pokemon.
- In Resident Evil 2, the owner of Kendo's Guns assures your character that he/she will be safe in his store, given that he's keeping a close eye on things. Unfortunately, the huge glass windows of his shop weren't part of those aforementioned things, and so zombies quickly crash through them while he's not looking (Fridge Logic: wouldn't a gun store have security shutters or bars to keep that sort of thing from happening?) and munch him down like a baked chicken, at which point you can either haul ass from your now-compromised shelter or fight off the horde and claim poor Mr. Kendo's weapon for your own.
- The headquarters of The Kreisau Circle (or what little is left of it) in Wolfenstein: The New Order is located right in the middle of Berlin, and only went undetected for as long as it did because the Nazi Regime thought the Resistance was already wiped out, and the few actions the Circle still had the resources for were chalked up to lone radicals operating on their own. Once Blaskowitz joins up and helps them become an effective force again, All Your Base Are Belong to Us quickly follows, leading to the surviving members hijacking a massive Nazi submarine to use as a mobile HQ instead.
- In World of Warcraft Mists of Pandaria, the Golden Lotus find the three treasures of Lei Shen before the Mogu can, then they lock them up in the same place the last one was found and add a few guards. Considering it was the Mogu who hid them there in the first place, putting all three in a Mogu tomb was not the brightest idea.
- The Shen Gong Wu "Vault" in Xiaolin Showdown really ought to be called the Shen Gong Wu Grab n Go. The vault does such a lousy job of keeping the warriors' Wu safe that even Jack Spicer can swoop on in and leave with a sack full of the powerful weapons with the warriors none the wiser. It gets so bad, that in one episode Dojo actually screams in frustration about why they don't get a proper lock for the vault.