• Before making a single edit, Tropedia EXPECTS our site policy and manual of style to be followed. Failure to do so may result in deletion of contributions and blocks of users who refuse to learn to do so. Our policies can be reviewed here.
  • All images MUST now have proper attribution, those who neglect to assign at least the "fair use" licensing to an image may have it deleted. All new pages should use the preloadable templates feature on the edit page to add the appropriate basic page markup. Pages that don't do this will be subject to deletion, with or without explanation.
  • All new trope pages will be made with the "Trope Workshop" found on the "Troper Tools" menu and worked on until they have at least three examples. The Trope workshop specific templates can then be removed and it will be regarded as a regular trope page after being moved to the Main namespace. THIS SHOULD BE WORKING NOW, REPORT ANY ISSUES TO Janna2000, SelfCloak or RRabbit42. DON'T MAKE PAGES MANUALLY UNLESS A TEMPLATE IS BROKEN, AND REPORT IT THAT IS THE CASE. PAGES WILL BE DELETED OTHERWISE IF THEY ARE MISSING BASIC MARKUP.


WikEd fancyquotes.pngQuotesBug-silk.pngHeadscratchersIcons-mini-icon extension.gifPlaying WithUseful NotesMagnifier.pngAnalysisPhoto link.pngImage LinksHaiku-wide-icon.pngHaikuLaconic
"I've come up with another escape. I want you to tie me up and lock me in the trunk of your car, under the pier at low tide. All I need are these everyday objects: a toothpick, some liquor, a gun with no bullets, bullets, and three of my MacGyver writers."
Richard Dean Anderson, The Simpsons

"How stupid is that Fire Nation? They surrounded earth-benders...with rocks. That' locking Popeye in a cage of spinach!"

It seems that whenever the good guys get locked in a cell, all of the equipment that they need to escape is in there with them. Bedsheets are a favorite for this MacGyvering technique.

When the improvised equipment is awesome enough to deserve screen time of its own, a Forging Scene will inevitably precede its unveiling. When applied to a group working together, you're looking at an A-Team Montage.

This entry was inspired by the MacGyver episode "Road Not Taken", where MacGyver and his Girl of the Week (actually one of his many ex-girlfriends) were locked in a building somewhere in SE Asia. This room included:

  • Rope
  • Fertilizer
  • Two wooden boards
  • Bags to hide behind
  • Wire
  • Bamboo shelving

In other words, everything they could possibly ask for to make an escape and beat the bad guys.

See also Evil Overlord List entries 36, 97, 131, 140, 145 and 185. Genre Blindness comes into play often. Compare Bruce Wayne Held Hostage, Shooting Superman. Also compare Boss Arena Idiocy, when an enemy fights in an environment that makes it easy to exploit their weakness.

Examples of Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard include:

Anime & Manga

  • Taken to a whole new level in Pokémon 2000. The villain, who has just captured Zapdos, has managed to accidentally catch Ash & Co as well and put them in a cage. Then, breaking all laws of common sense, lets them go as he monologues, free to wander around his makeshift museum with the captured Zapdos and Moltres, seemingly convinced they they would not do something inconvenient, like go and break out the imprisoned birds...
    • He didn't see them as opponents, just bystanders. He's just very obsessed with his collection, and probably wanted to show it off. Maybe he should have paid more attention to Misty's outburst...
  • In Gundam SEED Astray, the heroes are locked in a weapons testing dome by a Corrupt Corporate Executive trying to force them to sell their Gundam. Fortunately, they had said Gundam and a pile of salvaged Humongous Mecha with them at the time. So they cobble together a power converter out of the parts, and hook up a Beam Sword to the facility's own power supply so they'd have the power to cut their way out.
  • This happens in Yu-Gi-Oh! at the beginning of the Grand Championship, where Yugi is forced into a duel with a hodgepodge of a deck from an amateur duelist, and somehow finds a strategy within the mishmash of cards to beat the better-equipped opponent. His Expy Yusei in 5D's dabbles in this, himself, while stuck in prison.
    • Similarly, whenever he goes up against Mokuba in the manga, Mokuba plays him in a game of Capsule Monsters. Mokuba insists on both sides playing with a set of random monsters drawn from the machine at the last minute, but both times he rigs the machine so that he only gets level 4 and 5 monsters while Yugi gets level 1 and 2. Both times, Yugi happens to have monsters with special rules that let him beat Mokuba with a bit of clever thinking and planning.
    • Yusei does exactly the same thing as the first example: When he's thrown into a jail, each of the inmates gives him one of their most prized smuggled cards to make a deck and battle the warden, which is every bit as ridiculous as it sounds. The warden cheats anyway, Yusei still wins, and their agreement isn't even honored.
  • Professor Layton and The Eternal Diva has an astounding example. The Professor and his companions end up trapped in a toolshed, surrounded by wolves. They end up building a makeshift helicopter to escape!

Comic Books

  • An extreme (and deliberate) example occurs in a Fantastic Four comic book. Doctor Doom captures the Fantastic Four, and imprisons them in various ways; in particular, he imprisons his rival Reed Richards behind a magical door locked with (according to Doom) a very basic enchantment that even a beginner magician could break. The room he trapped Reed in is a massive library of magical tomes, more than enough to learn how to break the enchantment (again, according to Doom). This is also a subversion, though; despite the fact that Reed Richards is a master of various forms of science, he is completely incompetent when it comes to magic, unable to understand even the basics of it, so the library really only serves to taunt him about this limitation.
    • However, when Reed admits his incompetence, this turns out to be the literal Magic Word that leads to his escape and triumph. Apparently, Doom never really expected his hated rival to do the thing that Doom himself, in his arrogance, would never do.
      • Having the tortured spirit of the world's master magician on hand to guide him did help Reed a lot.
  • A different Fantastic Four issue used, and subverted a similar situation to the Lex Luthor one in the Literature section. The confined Zombie Four stage an escape with a teleporter made from a ballpoint pen, hair, paper. Zombie Susan just turned them invisible, she lampshades how stupid the guards would be to fall for it. They do.
  • The origin of Iron Man is a classic example. Capture a brilliant engineer, tell him to create weapons for you, and then leave him alone (save for a scientist who also hates you) with everything he needs to do it? Gee, who could have guessed that was going to backfire on them? Incidentally, Obadiah Stane would like to remind you that Tony Stark built his suit IN A CAVE! WITH A BOX OF SCRAPS!
    • Well, you think he thinks you're the only people who can prevent his heart shrapnel from killing him. Still not a good idea, though.
      • Similar happens in the Secret Invasion maxi-plot in Marvel Comics. Invading Skrulls want to neutralize many heroes. The part for Iron Man involves stranding him in a jungle and frying all his technology remotely. Too bad they literally left him in an abandoned laboratory complex. Oops.
      • Not that it might have mattered too much. Tony was once abandoned on an island with nothing but the clothes on his back, tied to a tree, and tortured, as well as starved and dehydrated. However, when his captor left for a bit, he worked his way loose from the bindings, and escapes into the heart of the forest. Now, most people would have been totally screwed. Stuck on an island, no food, no fresh water on hand, wearing only a torn shirt and pants, no weapons whatsoever, and in pretty bad shape physically. But Tony is not having that shit, because he is an engineer, damnit! He will turn the forest into MacGyver's Store Cupboard! Rocks, wood, etc. are just more primitive tools. So he finds a source of fresh water, makes a spear and hunts down some food (roasted rat over a fire, yeah!). Then he starts planning death traps. Among other things, he creates a death pit (literally, it had wooden spikes planted in it), a trip wire, a rock knife, and some more spears. Then he hid himself to lie in wait for his kidnapper. It was awesome.
      • Why would anyone leave Tony alone anywhere? His superpower might as well be Escaping From The Clutches Of Villains, you'd think villains would know by now to just kill him. Especially the Skrulls. The last time they left Tony locked in an empty room, stripped naked, with his heart just about ready to give out on him, he beat the crap out of a bunch of Skrulls who'd taken the forms of the Avengers. Then he stole a pair of their pants and ran around releasing powerhouses like Doctor Strange, Black Bolt, Charles Xavier, Namor, and Reed Richard from their various custom-made prisons. Tony Stark is Badass Normal to the max. Leaving him alone is just a bad idea in general, but people seem to forget that Captain America spent a good seven years or more teaching Tony how to defend himself (and escape from bondage). At this point, just leaving Tony alone at all is the equivalent of Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard.
        • Wouldn't that mean the way to deal with Tony Stark is to leave him in a locked, fully stocked wine cellar? Or does that only work in the Ultimate-verse?
  • Subverted in the famous Silver Age "Imaginary" Superman story, "The Death of Superman" where Lex Luthor claims he has created a cure for cancer in prison and offers to develop it if he has access to a lab. The warden is not buying this and accuses Luthor of getting into a room where he can build yet another tool set to escape. When Superman convinces the warden to let Luthor do his thing, Lex actually does cure cancer. Of course it's all a scheme to make Superman trust him so he can kill him.
    • In the Silver Age, giving Lex Luthor pretty much anything in prison was like Locking Mac Gyver In A Store Cupboard. In All-Star Superman, a homage to the Silver Age, while on Death Row he creates a robot than reads classics to him... that can speak at a high enough frequecy to dig through solid rock. He later gets the chance to mix a cocktail for his last meal... he mixes a chemical formula that gives him Kryptonian powers for 24 hours.
      • At one point it got so ridiculous that the only thing that they would allow him in prison was pen and paper. He noted to himself that he could break out of prison with just a notepad and a pen, but if he did that, the next time he got locked up the guards wouldn't let him have pen and paper anymore.
  • Batman is a master of this kind of escape. One Silver Age example involves him escaping from a mill that is rigged to explode using millstones, sacks of rice and a fire hose.
  • It's also not too good of an idea to lock a scientist in a room with all his medical equipment and the very scientific invention you are trying to steal, one of them being a serum that gives super-strength. And if you really must do that, don't lock any suspicious lemon yellow men in there WITH him.
  • The Man In Room Five from V for Vendetta is given access to gardening chemicals at Larkhill. He seems to be building a Room Full of Crazy, it turns out he's made Napalm and Mustard Gas.
  • Parodied in the Norwegian daily comic Eon. MacGyver is seemingly locked inside the bathroom, and comes up with a brilliant escape plan involving a piece of soap, a razor, wire and some other articles, to which the main character responds: "Or we could just open the door." Turns out the door wasn't locked at all.
  • The Joker. Arkham Asylum keeps trying to give Joker a job or two to do. Letting him into the janitor's closet was a really bad idea.
  • An old Mad Magazine comic had a thief named Melvin Mole who kept digging his way out of his prison cell. The first time it was with a spoon. The second time he was locked in a smaller cell without his clothes or any spoon, so he dug out with his glasses. The third time he was locked in a tiny cell with no clothes at all and his hair shaved off...and he dug out using a single nose hair.


  • In Hollow Man, the heroine is trapped in a supply room, which is barred shut by the bad guy. She improvises an electromagnet from wire, metal, and an emergency defibrillator, then uses it to draw the steel bar aside from the other side of the door.
  • Hollow Man is parodied in Scary Movie 2. Two main characters find themselves locked in a freezer while running from an angry spirit. After a "heartwarming" monologue, the heroine takes a couple of screws, cups, strings, and other extraneous items and somehow manages to create an entire bulldozer, destroying the wall and allowing them to escape.
  • Spoofed in Shanghai Knights, where a detective is said to have "picked the lock using a deck of rather risqué playing cards. Then scaled the walls with a mop, a fork, and various pilfered undergarments."
  • Both versions of The Thing have this occur, except in those cases it's the villain who gets locked in by the heroes (it's locked in a greenhouse in the first version and in a tool shed in The Remake. Here Blair has not been infected however).
  • In War Games, the Air Force brings David (Matthew Broderick) to NORAD because he hacked into the missile control system computer. The first example happens when they leave him alone in Mc Kittrick's office where he has access to a computer terminal. Next, they lock him up in the infirmary where he (not surprisingly) finds enough supplies to facilitate a crafty escape using medical supplies and a tape recorder.
  • In The Great Escape, the Nazis put all of their extra-ingenious prisoners of war in one special prison camp, "putting all the eggs in one basket" and planning to "watch that basket carefully." All of these super escapers team up, of course, and carry out, well, the Great Escape. Unfortunately because of the Nazis persistence in catching the prisoners once they've escaped, most of them are caught (and most of those shot), with only about three of them actually getting out of the country. But they did escape the prison camp.
  • In the film Murder Party, the protagonist, Christopher, temporarily escapes from his captors only to find himself cornered in a storage closet. After carefully examining the contents: boxes, shelves, pipes, tubing, he emerges from the closet with several items in his arms and drops them at his captors' feet as a distraction. This proves futile and he is recaptured immediately afterwards.
  • In The World Is Not Enough, M is locked in a cage with a clock left on a stool so she'll know when a bomb will kill her (and the rest of the city). The cage is filled with artifacts being excavated from the site, most of which are useless. There is, however, a broom, which she uses to knock over the clock. When the villain comes back, they leave the clock on the cell door instead of setting it back up. M promptly uses the clock to power a tracking chip in her pocket, which they never bothered to search for.
  • In Diamonds are forever Blofeld, rather than to the sensible thing and order James Bond killed he simply has him locked up in a utility room that just happened to have an escape hatch in the floor.
  • The Fire Nation's stupidity is Turned Up to Eleven in M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender. In the show, they keep Earthbenders imprisoned on a large metal platform far out to sea, where no earth is available for the Earthbenders to use against their captors. In The Movie, they keep the Earthbenders imprisoned in a quarry. With only a handful of guards keeping the order. Their prison is literally made out of weaponry. The implication is that they Earthbenders are too psychologically broken to fight back in the first place.
  • In Iron Man, the terrorists lock Tony Stark in a workshop filled with parts and weaponry, telling him to build then a missle. Instead, he builds the first Iron Man suit and uses it to break out.


  • Subverted in every single Discworld novel that features the principal character getting locked in a cell of some sort; the characters, via narration, complain that their jailers hadn't supplied them with any of the necessary means of escape. It is also used in Monstrous Regiment, but the characters are almost immediately recaptured and placed in one of the "subversion" cells, and in any case the materials they were left with wouldn't have given an escape to anyone but Lofty. Of course, the characters weren't -quite- sure who was good and who was bad and had stopped to tend to the injuries they themselves caused while escaping. This screwed things up a lot.
    • Another Discworld subversion is in The Fifth Elephant, where Vimes is imprisoned by Dwarves and slipped some kind of particularly deadly assassin's weapon with which to take out his guards. It is a subversion, as he correctly reasons that the weapon was only provided so that he could be legitimately executed if he used it (Plus, it's a single-shot weapon, and there's more than one guard), and thus he only knocks the guards unconscious when escaping.
    • Inverted in The Last Continent. Rincewind is locked in a cell and told that its previous occupant escaped it many, many times and they checked the cell over and over. It's a solid cell, the bars are thick... and you can lift the door right off its hinges.
    • Lampshaded, subverted and parodied in Discworld in Guards! Guards!, when the usurper has Patrician Vetinari thrown into the single deepest, darkest, most impenetrable cell in the castle dungeon, the one that is never ever used. We then immediately find out that the reason it's never used is because the cell is actually quite comfortably furnished. The Patrician remarked to Captain Vimes that since usurpers always throw the prior incumbent into the single deepest, darkest, most impenetrable cell in the castle dungeon and leave them to rot, why not take advantage of that predictability?
      • Originally the cell had become rather unpleasant, being filled with rats, snakes and scorpions by Vetinari's mad advisor/usurper. The reason it's so comfortable by the time Vimes arrives is that Vetinari persuaded the rats (which had been granted intelligence by exposure to magic) to work for him by advising them on how to kill off the snakes and scorpions (by pitting them against each other). Yes, he's that good a Magnificent Bastard.
        • Also, this particular cell has all the bolts and bars on the inside. All that's on the outside is the lock. And Vetinari has a key for the lock anyway... He offered to help Vimes escape (not mentioning the key) but Vimes predictably wanted to do it the tough way.
    • Subverted, yet again, in the Discworld novel Going Postal, where the main character attempts to escape from his cell by digging out the weakest stone block with a spoon, only to find that he was expected to do so (or at least make the attempt). The guards generally admire him for at least making the attempt.
    • Another example, from Feet of Clay, has a specific Shout-Out to MacGyver and/or The A-Team - "some villains are obliging enough to lock you in a warehouse with enough equipment to build a fully functional armoured car".
      • In the same novels, a tied and locked up Fred laments that given the same situation, Captain Carror and Vimes would inevitably have found a loose pointy nail on the walls to cut the rope. The wall in his cell is pristine, unfortunately.
    • And again in The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, where Malicia complains that their captors are doing it wrong.
  • The Columbo example below was an adaptation of the 87th Precinct novel So Long as You Both Shall Live where the heroine escapes in the same manner (and with the same end result).
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events had its characters escape from prison with an improbable set of equipment that included the bread they were given to eat. This isn't the only example in the series.
  • Stephen King's fantasy novel The Eyes of the Dragon has an extremely long sequence of this as its main plot, with the only item used for escape being napkin threads, woven into a rope over three years to climb down a tower. Slightly subverted in that the escape plan has a flaw the budding MacGyver doesn't know about - a long rope made of napkin threads has to be able to hold its own weight as well.
  • Notably done in the book The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan, in which the hero blows his way out of a store cupboard using his powers of mining-engineering and a fictional explosive. The Thirty-Nine Steps was published in 1915, making this Older Than Radio.
  • In one Modesty Blaise novel, Modesty and Willie are captured by a villain who wants to see if their reputation for inventiveness is deserved before recruiting them. He locks them in a cell but deliberately leaves a means of escape to see if they will discover it. They do, then decide that is too obvious and must be a trap, and proceed to invent their own means of escape. The bad guy is very impressed.
  • In one of the ShatnerVerse Star Trek novels, Captain Kirk and his allies are separated into pairs and locked into prison cells/holodecks. The doors are not really locked, but the holodeck is programmed to 'keep' the entrance away with every step taken. You can run a mile but never get to it. Thankfully, each prison pair has a super-smarty Vulcan, who figures out that throwing his or her partner at the door will fool the computer. The stunned and bruised partner then opens the door and turns off the holodeck.
  • Happens in John W. Campbell's novella Who Goes There with a rare villainous example. In this case the heroes end up locking an alien monster in a shed where it has the equipment to build an escape craft. To their credit the alien was The Virus and they hadn't realized it had gotten the guy they locked in the toolshed.
  • This is the premise of the short story The Problem of Cell 13. A detective bets his friends that he can escape from a maximum security prison. He does, of course, using things he conveniently finds in his cell. When asked what he would have done if those items had not been there, he smugly states that there were two other ways out. (It is never stated what they were.)
  • Averted in Elliot S! Maggin's Superman novel Last Son of Krypton. The pre-Crisis Lex Luthor (the seriously intelligent one) is kept in a super-ultra-maximum-high-security cell, but he is allowed a ballpoint pen and a spiral-bound notepad to write in (he's a genius and his brain ticks over with genius ideas all the time). He's worked out how to extract chemicals from the pen and pad plus one or two other things in his cell and use them to escape, but he'll never do it... because then the Warden wouldn't let him have a pen and paper, and the need to be able to write down his ideas is far more important than mere freedom.
  • Averted on at least one occasion in the Aubrey-Maturin series of novels. Locked in a cell at the top of a tower, the heroes obtain the materials they need to escape thanks to a long-distance, wordless romance with the woman who washes their clothes. Then, having effected the first part of their escape plan... a branch of the many French Intelligence Services breaks them out, noting in passing that they've provided the perfect alibi for the Frenchman.
  • Matthew Hawkwood does it in Rapscallion. The cellar in which he and Lasseur are imprisoned in turns out to contain everything they need to effect an escape.
  • This trope is actually Older Than Feudalism. In the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur, Daedelus and Icarus escape from their Creatan prison by the use of hot wax and birds' feathers.
  • In The Diamond Age, the bad guys lock Nell in a closet with a working matter compiler.
  • In Larry Niven's Ringworld's Children, Tunesmith (a super-intelligent Night Person protector) is smart enough to lock Luis Wu out of the stepping disk system in order to keep Luis from escaping, but somehow didn't think it important to lock Luis out of the autokitchen menu. So naturally Luis orders sushi from the autokitchen, a meal that is dispensed alongside a pair of hardwood chopsticks... which Luis promptly uses to hack his way into the stepping disk system and escape.

Live Action TV

  • There are several other MacGyver examples.
  • Parodied in the Saturday Night Live skits called MacGruber, in which he can get out of the room (which is always the exact same room, just with a different location sign over the door each time), but personal issues, interpersonal issues, stupidity, and totally irrelevant events prevent him from doing anything until it's too late.
  • I Spy had this as a frequent scenario (and predated MacGyver by two decades).
  • Doctor Who: "The Dalek Invasion of Earth". The Daleks lock the Doctor in a cell with a bar magnet. Dalek doors all use magnetic locks. Subverted because their goal was to find out if their prisoners were smart enough to escape.
    • Also in Doctor Who: "Attack of the Cybermen". The Doctor is locked in a storeroom containing explosives. Explosives just powerful enough to blow a large hole in a thick futuristic metal door without harming a person crouching at the other end of the small room.
    • "The Doctor's Wife": House leaves possesses the TARDIS and leaves the Doctor behind on his planetoid former body. Which happens to be TARDIS graveyard.
  • The Sarah Jane Adventures: "Death of The Doctor". The Doctor gets stranded on a planet planet full of trash after his TARDIS is stolen. He then builds a teleportation device. Without his sonic screwdriver.
  • Knight Rider: "Goliath Returns". A group of Foundation employees are locked in a cell with exactly the parts they need to turn their collar tabs into a bomb.
  • The A-Team: Pretty much every episode involves the A-Team getting trapped somewhere like a barn where they could bust out via an armored car quickly thrown together using the materials at hand. This trope could just as easily have been called Locking The A Team In The Motor Pool Workshop.
    • One of the worst - in one episode they are on an Army base, and get locked in the armory.
  • Perfect Strangers: Larry and Balki, plus a bunch of other regulars, bust out of a flooded basement using a chemistry set's chemicals to make a bomb (with Larry's boss' necktie as its fuse).
  • Appeared in a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode where Willow got locked in a storage room. Which contained a pencil. And her guards were vampires. You do the math. Her escape from there wasn't entirely successful, though.
    • And to be fair to the vampires, they probably didn't expect that she could levitate the pencil with her mind.
  • Columbo, "No Time to Die" (1992) The bride of Columbo's nephew is kidnapped and trapped in a room. She uses vinegar left with her dinner to help remove the rust from the door hinges, while lubricating the pins. She scrapes away the rust with a fork and is able to push the pins out, freeing herself from the room. Sadly not from the rest of the house.
  • In season 2 of 24, Lynne Kresge is locked inside a store cupboard. She is able to set off the fire alarm and escape, but ends up being thrown down the stairs and suffering (apparently fatal) head injuries.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Unification Part II", a group of Romulans lock Captain Picard, Lt. Commander Data, and Ambassador Spock, the supreme examples of the Smart Guy, in a room with a computer terminal.
    • Another episode of the same series had a bunch of pissed off Klingons tossed in the brig. Turns out all that jangly bling they wear is -dangerous-.
  • In the Myth Busters MacGyver special, Adam and Jamie demonstrated that it was possible to escape a locked room by picking the door lock... with lightbulb filaments.
    • Subverted later that same episode, when as part of the MacGyver challenge, they were presented with a mock campsite which contained everything they needed to create a potato cannon (PVC tubes, gas under pressure, ignition source, potatoes) - something the show had in fact covered in a previous episode - and built a signal kite instead. Which may or may not count as a subversion, because the kite worked.
    • Subverted when they tried to stage a jailbreak using electricity, salsa, and dental floss to cut through the bars of a cell window. While Jamie did make some progress, he only did so by using a radio as an additional component, which he insisted the prison warden had given him for good behavior.
  • A variation on this appeared in CSI: NY; while investigating the death of a millionaire inside his mansion's panic room, one of the CSIs accidentally activates the protocol that seals him inside. While he doesn't use the items in there to escape (his friends call a locksmith to do that), he does use them to replace the forensics kit he left outside and complete the processing of the crime scene.
    • And in a variation on this theme, an Irish drug cartel once staged a crime scene to kidnap Danny and Adam, and held them prisoner while their teammates raided the central office (where they hoped to recover several tons of confiscated drugs.) Mistake #1: Danny had brought, and eventually regained access to, his forensics kit, which contained corrosive compounds. Mistake #2: the cartel leaders failed to lure Mac, Stella, and Hawkes from the CSI labs, where they had access to a whole plethora of tools and firearms with which to defend themselves and the evidence. (Mac was even able to rig up a claymore mine from ordinary lab materials.)
  • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode, "Arena", powerful aliens place Kirk and the Gorn captain in a rocky area and are told specifically there are the components of weapons they can assemble if they are smart enough. As it is, Kirk is better at this since the best the Gorn could think of is a net and a sharpened piece of rock for a knife, Kirk Macgyvers a crude cannon from the materials around him.
    • The episode was inspired by a marginally harder-science story of the same name by Fredric Brown (who got an on-screen writing credit), in which the trick is to get through a force field that allows nothing conscious to pass. The alien builds a passable catapult while the human comes up with some flaming missiles, then knocks himself out to fall through the barrier (which up until this point he thought only allowed nonliving things to pass) and stabs the alien to death with a stone knife.
      • A very similar incident appeared in a second-season episode of "Buck Rogers in The 25th Century" wherein the doctor hypnotizes Wilma Deering to escape a force field with the same properties.
      • The crude cannon was tested by the Myth Busters, who found that it would probably more likely have killed Kirk. Not only wasn't the bamboo strong enough to resist the blast, but they were unable to hand-mix an effective gunpowder from the materials available.
      • It's possible the captor aliens had invoked this trope on purpose as part of the intelligence test, and so made sure the apparent "bamboo" was tough enough to build crude firearms out of, if either combatant thought to do so, which could explain away that issue (but not the gunpowder issue).
    • Another episode, "Patterns of Force", features Spock and Kirk escaping from a prison after making a laser from a strip of metal, a light bulb, and the crystals from the radios implanted under their skins near the beginning of the episode.
  • Hilariously parodied in the Red Dwarf episode "Rimmerworld", in which Lister comes up with a lengthy and elaborate plan to escape from a prison cell, and Kryten replies "Or we could use the teleporter."
    • "Quarantine" had the main characters in a, yes, quarantined room with dwindling oxygen. It just so happened that the group was locked in along with a Luck Virus. With an injection of artificial luck, Lister was able to open the door by randomly pressing buttons on the keypad-lock.
    • Of course, it did take them five days to figure that out.
  • The entire first season of Prison Break is about how Michael Scofield breaks his brother out of prison using things from within the prison (well, and things he's prepared beforehand, with notes handily tattooed all over him in a form only he can decipher). Example: One of the first things he does is turn a screw from the prison bleachers into a wrench that can unscrew the cell sink. It's priceless MacGyvering.
  • In the original The Tomorrow People, one of the protagonists has begun to demonstrate a limited but effective form of telekinesis - he can open any lock. A gang of criminals kidnaps him and some of his family for leverage on the superhuman lockpick. At one point, the boss asks one of his mooks if the telekinetic and his family are safe. The mook's response - "Sure. Got 'em under lock and key."
  • Averted and lampshaded in Eleventh Hour: "Eternal". When Hood and Rachel are locked in a freezer by one of the villains. Hood pulls out a rack of shelves and boxes "for protection", Rachel asks if he's planning to fashion a bomb from things in the freezer. Hood's response? "I'm a scientist, I'm not MacGyver. Shoot the lock."
  • Famously subverted on Gilligan's Island, where the castaways (particularly the Professor) are able to build everything they need to survive on the island out of native materials (especially bamboo), but somehow are never able to make anything to get themselves off the island.
  • Stargate SG-1's episode "Prometheus" had a hijack attempt of the Earth's still-under-construction space battleship while Sam Carter was on it. At one point, evading pursuit, she ducks into a storage closet filled with supplies the construction crew was using to finish the ship, and closes the door. Because the external door controls haven't been installed yet, the hijackers decide that the best way to keep her out of trouble would be just to lock down the door entirely, trapping her in there. ...this turned out to be a pretty stupid idea.
  • Hodgins and Brennen on Bones may have outperformed even MacGyver in the first Gravedigger episode, when they were buried alive inside a car. They couldn't bust themselves out, but they did manage to prolong their own lives and communicate their location to rescuers using such items as a pocket knife, camera, car horn, depowered cell phone, lithium batteries, dirt, and an extremely expensive bottle of perfume.
  • Michael Westen and Fiona Glenanne of Burn Notice have been known to use everyday items to make high explosives.
  • If any Big Bad who had ever captured Dexter were aware of his resume of previous escapes, they would know that they're practically asking for Dexter to disarm them, kill them, manipulate the crime scene as necessary and arrive at a social appointment just in time. He knows advanced jujitsu and seems to be able to escape any bind - his hands and feet and occasional sharp object are all he's needed so far.

Video Games

  • Metal Gear Solid likes to use this one. In the first game, for example, you're locked up in a jail cell with nothing but the clothes on your back and a useless bottle of ketchup. Naturally, you lie down on the floor and pour the ketchup all over yourself. When the guard comes in to check on the suddenly bloodied prisoner, you snap his neck and haul tail out of there.
    • You don't even need the ketchup. You simply hide under the bed and when the guard makes his rounds, he notices you "aren't in the cell", unlocks the door, and rushes in. At which point the aforementioned neck snapping takes place.
      • Pro-tip: Don't snap his neck. The scene is much funnier if you just try to run away.
    • In Metal Gear Solid 3 Snake Eater they'll check if you hide under the bed, but using just the fork you can operate on your self to get to your fake death pill, handily hidden inside yourself. You can open the cell door with the correct radio frequency, or trick the guard into giving you a cig spray, or throw food to the guard so that he gets diarrhoea.
  • In Tomb Raider 2 Lara gets captured and thrown in a cell that just happened to have a hidden lever that opens the door.
  • In Tomb Raider III, Lara finds herself imprisoned at one point. To escape, the player simply has to climb onto the windowsill, prompting a guard to enter the room. Then you can just run out the door and set some other prisoners free to beat up the guard for you.
  • In GoldenEye 007, during the second Bunker level, James is locked in a cell next to Natalya. In order to escape, the player has to use their watch magnet to obtain the key from the guard. In addition to this, the player can also get a few throwing knives as well.
  • This happens in EVERY ADVENTURE GAME EVER, or at least all of those in which you're locked in a cell. Exception: occasionally you must manipulate the guard, rather than the items in the cell, to your advantage.
    • There is an entire subgenre of adventure games called Room Escape games. In most of them, you have no clue how you got there or why, and in most cases there are not NPCs to interact with.
    • Dragon Age: Origins gives numerous escape options, but locking up a Rogue is the purest form of this trope. By the time of the capture scene, a rogue has the skills to easily pick the lock and sneak right out.
  • There tends to be a lot of this in the Monkey Island video games. The prison on Phatt Island in the second game is a classic example.
    • Monkey Island also likes to subvert it, by surrounding you with items, any one of which could get you out of your predicament, but they're all out of reach so you have to escape in a much more convoluted way.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: When captured upon entering the Gerudo Fortress, Link gets tossed (literally) into a cell. Subverted in that the cell is completely empty. Played straight in that the Gerudo don't think to take away any of the equipment Link already has, not even his sword.
    • Heck, in every single dungeon ever in The Legend of Zelda series, there's at least one room that locks behind you. If killing the enemies in the room doesn't trigger the mechanism to open the doors, there's always just the perfect number of crates/ supplies of items in pots/ magically appearing chest with a new item to help you escape.
  • Final Fantasy VII: Cloud and his party are captured trying to free Aeris from Shinra HQ, and are all locked in adjoining cells. Subverted in that you don't escape on your own, but rather everyone goes to sleep and wakes to find the cell doors opened and the guards outside brutally slaughtered.
  • Tron 2.0: F-Con probably would have succeeded if they hadn't been fool enough to lock Alan Bradley in a closet full of computer parts.
  • Jolly Rover: James is locked in a ship's hold containing supplies anyone can use to escape, including a crate containing crowbars and skeleton keys, a cannon with gunpowder, and a box labeled "Escape Kit." Subverted in that he doesn't use any of those things because he either doesn't realize their potential or he can't open the crates.


  • Webcomic example: In Rip and Teri, a spy has been captured by a rival and locked inside a broom closet. Unfortunately for the spy, the rival has removed everything that could possibly be of use to him to make his escape... but has neglected to put tape on the sharp edges of the doorframe, thus allowing the spy to cut through his bonds and escape. Naturally, the spy considers his rival a 'Rookie' for overlooking this minor detail.
  • This Freefall strip.
  • Leaving a bard locked up with someone else to inspire to quasi-supernatural greatness has backfired twice for those attempting to keep Elan captive in Order of the Stick: once in the Azure City prison and once in Cliffport.
  • In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob, Fructose Riboflavin escapes from his prison ship by deliberately tripping and falling at the feet of his robot guard, so the guard's heavy feet snap his chains. He then disables the robot and removes its Arm Cannon to blast open the other prisoners' cells and enslave them, and to take out the other robot guards. He uses the ship's parts to cobble together a cloaking device to install on a small escape pod and uses the pod to hitch a ride in another ship's "grav wake" to get to Earth undetected. Continuing in this fashion for a couple of days, he winds up in command of a stolen space warship armed with the most powerful weapon known to science and is makes ready to conquer a planet.
  • In the Haven Hive arc of Schlock Mercenary with Lt. Ventura — Major Murtaugh tried to be Genre Savvy and not have the "helpless-with-the-big-eyes" looking girl guarded by a human that might be swayed by it. She didn't even ask the prisoner's name and couldn't have known that allowing the genius roboticist with widely known among robots time alone with a robot and AI controlling the spacecraft means the next phrase a human being will hear from her will be "get off my ship". The incredulous tone Ventura used at the suggestion of guarding her with a robot might have been a tip-off her captor apparently misinterpreted it as the tone of voice one might use to say "You're posting five guards to my cell?" as opposed to disbelief of a child over being locked in a cell made of caramel.
  • In the Housepets story arc "Show Business", King finds himself trapped in a tool shed when being chased by Duchess. This strip even mentions MacGyver by name. The ultimate solution to his dilemma is, however, somewhat more directly violent than most of MacGyver's solutions.

Web Original

  • Tech Infantry has Xinjao O'Reilly and his engineering crew captured and locked in a storage room for tools and spare parts when their space station is seized by rebels. They waste no time in grabbing tools, using them to open access panels, and escape into the maintenance spaces inside the bulkheads. Lampshaded when Xinjao incredulously remarks on how stupid it is to lock up a bunch of starship engineers in the tool closet on their own space station.
  • This Hitherby Dragons story has minions discussing where to lock MacGyver, before having to, reluctantly, lock him in a bare room.
  • Chakona Space: A pirate ship breaks down light years from any inhabited system. They need a replacement engineer to get the warp drive online. Who do they get? Neal Foster.

Western Animation

  • In a Gummi Bears episode when Sunni secretly participates on Dunwyn's Folly Day with an elaborate costume, she is humiliated. However, she finds that the various accessories on her outfit are all terrific tools she can use to save the day. In fact, the episode ends with the others praising Sunni for having a knack for costume design that might not be in line with currently fashions, but definitely earns points on practicality.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender it's pretty hard to lock someone in a cell without them having access to the objects they need to escape.
    • The Fire Nation locked waterbenders in cells where they dried the air, chained them up when feeding them, and even then one controlled the water in the guards.
    • They also tried imprisoning earthbenders in a smelting factory (or something) on a rig out in the middle of the ocean. They were able to escape once they discovered that the rig was powered by coal.
    • Toph was locked once in a steel cage with no handy coal. Being Toph, she discovered a way to bend it anyway.
    • Katara and Toph were once stuck in a wooden cage, with nothing for either of them to bend. Katara just started jogging in place and broke out using her sweat.
    • The prison in "The Boiling Rock" was obviously intended for Firebending prisoners — it had several rows of refrigerated "coolers" — which was exactly what Sokka needed for his first escape attempt.
      • In all fairness, they didn't realize they had Sokka there.
  • Played with in the second season episode of The Tick animated series, "Leonardo da Vinci and His Fightin' Genius Time Commandos!" Leonardo Da Vinci and other famous inventors throughout history are kidnapped by a Mad Scientist and locked in a cage. Leonardo escapes largely by using the mattresses and flatware to make a flying machine. When the rest discuss inventing their own escape method, Ben Franklin says bitterly, "How? Da Vinci used all the best stuff!"
    • And George Washington Carver is seen to lament, "If I could just reach those peanuts...!"
  • When Kim Possible and Ron Stoppable are captured and locked up, they are almost always rescued by Ron's naked mole rat Rufus, because god forbid the villains learn from their mistakes and actually capture him too...
  • In Aladdin: the Series, Abis Mal locks Aladdin in a dungeon with two skeletons. He uses a finger bone to pick the lock and escape.
  • The surreal reverse example in an episode of The Powerpuff Girls where three criminals get out of prison thanks to three conveniently placed Men sized Powerpuff Girl disguises within the jail cell. "This is going to be harder then I thought".
  • In The Venture Brothers, The Monarch uses things that he finds in prison not only to break out but to rebuild an ersatz version of his costume, with orange jumpsuits hanging rather conspicuously off the wings.
  • As mentioned above, Batman. In the Justice League series, he was captured by a group of criminals in restrained, without his utility belt, in a full-body restraint made of inch-thick metal cables. He doesn't go anywhere at first, preferring instead to screw with the dysfunctional bad guy team from the inside. When that stops being fun, he promptly escapes to beat the Joker up. Then again, Batman is wearing his own store cupboard.
  • In the Wallace and Gromit short, A Matter of Loaf and Death, the villain locks Gromit in the supply closet where the hot-air balloon was kept. Guess how he escaped.
  • In a Transformers episode while snooping out the latest Decepticon plot Spike, Skyfire and Hound get captured and locked up in a storage room full of scrap. In said scrap Spike finds an electromagnet which he uses to pin their guards to the wall and allowing the trio to escape.

Real Life

  • Prisons are made very spartan in part to avert this trope. Many common items are specifically redesigned for prisons so that they cannot be used to create weapons or means of escape. For example, toothbrushes are made with very small handles and brush fibers that will not melt into a glue-like substance so that they cannot be made into shivs.
  • Frank Morris and the Anglen brothers, Clarence and John, escaped from the "inescapable" Alcatraz off the coast of San Francisco by making a raft and life jackets out of raincoats, hiding the holes they dug from their cell with fake vents made of cardboard, and putting fake dummy heads in their beds, complete with real hair from the barber shop. Experts disagree on whether they could have made it to shore or not with the materials they had.
  • John Giles, the other escapee from Alcatraz. While working in Alcatraz's laundry room, he managed to assemble a complete army uniform by stealing one piece of clothing at a time. He simply put it on, stepped onto a departing military launch as if he had every right to be there, and would've been able to walk away a free man at its destination, had a random head-count not betrayed his absence.
  • The suicide of William Kogut in San Quentin Prison in 1930 when he fashioned a pipe bomb out of a pack of playing cards, a hollow wooden bed leg, and some water.
  • Legendary bank robber John Dillinger was held at a county jail, awaiting trial for shooting a police officer. Dillinger carved a piece of the chair in his cell to look like a gun and painted it black with shoe polish that his captors thoughtfully provided. He then held one of the guards at... ahem... "gunpoint." Even though Dillinger was still inside the jail cell, the guard opened the door and released him. Dillinger snagged a few non-wooden machine guns, locked up all the guards, stole a police car, and fled.
  • The case of John Hunt Morgan, a Confederate General captured during the Civil War. Morgan and several of his officers escaped from an Ohio prison by digging through the floor of their cells to reach an airspace underneath the prison and then dug out to the courtyard. In order to finalize their escape, the prisoners utilized tied up bed sheets to climb the outer wall. As an added bonus, a mocking note was left for their guards which included a summary of how many hours of work the escape had required and thanked the guards for their hospitality.
  • Castle Colditz. A supposedly inescapable Nazi prison where the Reich bunched up its more troublesome prisoners, i.e. those who had already attempted to or escaped from other prison camps. The fact that the castle itself was a very, very poor prison in and of itself was compounded by the ingenuity of its inmates. One of the last attempts before the war ended involved a full-blown glider built in one of the attics. Although the prisoners didn't get a chance to use it, it probably would have worked. The launch mechanism was a bathtub full of concrete to be pushed out a window.
  • It isn't quite an escape attempt, but during World War 2 these guys built a working radio set from scratch inside of a Japanese POW camp.
  • This is the reason car manufacturers include a lever inside the trunk in order to give anyone trapped inside, accidentally or otherwise, a means of escape.