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.
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.
- 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: Professor laboratories, daycares, and the Pokemon Centers are supposed to serve as safe storage centers where trainers can safely leave their Pokemon 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.
- 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.
- 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. Of course, this also turns everyone in town against Frollo.
- 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 Serenity, Shepherd Book stays in a place called Haven. During the movie it's attacked by the Alliance and its population killed.
- 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 raised an army bigger than had ever attacked it before and innovatively used an explosive to weaken the wall.
- Nanking in The City Of Life And Death. The Safety Zone is repeatedly violated by the Japanese soldiers.
- 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.
- 28 Weeks Later has the military lock all the civilians in a large-ish room "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.
- Mary, Queen of Scots: In both versions of the film, which are based on true events, Mary escapes to England and seeks refuge with her cousin Elizabeth, who turns out to the be the big bad.
- 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 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.
- In The Terminator, Lt. Traxler assures Sarah Connor she'll be safe in the police station since more then 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.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- 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 decidely 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- In 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
- 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.
- 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.
- New players in EVE Online occasionally start with the impression that high security space is safe. They learn very fast that it isn't.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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'.
- 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 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.