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A group of characters is in some sort of fix or trouble. One character steps up and:

  • contrives a plan just Crazy Enough to Work
  • or manages a bit of out of character or unexpected Bad Assery
  • or pulls off a clever bit of dialogue that stops everyone in their tracks
  • pulls off some manner of complicated stunt like an old pro

The other people in the scenario, Mooks, Distressed Damsel, and even the villain are impressed by this display of incredible competence and showmanship.

The character who just amazed the crowd shrugs it off modestly, saying simply, "Saw it in a movie once."

Variations include:

  • Saw it on a TV show
  • Read it in a book
  • My dad/mentor/grandfather once told me a story about it
  • Dreamed I did it

Sister trope to both Taught by Television and I Know Mortal Kombat. See also Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass.

Examples of Saw It in a Movie Once include:



  • Demolition Man: Lenina (Sandra Bullock) explained away her martial arts prowess as being from watching Jackie Chan movies.
  • In The Red Green Show movie, Duct Tape Forever, Harold tries to stop the men after him and Red by dumping gasoline on the road to slip up the limo behind them. The reasoning? He saw it in a James Bond movie once. It works...kind of...just not the way you'd expect.
  • Subverted in Dumb and Dumber when Lloyd (Jim Carrey) tricks a group of tough guys they encountered in a restaurant to pay for a meal for himself and Harry (Jeff Daniels), claiming he saw it in a movie. However, it turns out the plan wasn't as foolproof as they thought.

 Harry Dunn: That was genius, Lloyd ... sheer genius. Where did you come up with a scam like that?

Lloyd Christmas: I saw it in a movie once.

Harry Dunn: Ha ha! That was incredible! So what happened? So the guy tricked some sucker into picking up his tab and gets away with it scot free?

Lloyd Christmas: No, in the movie they catch up to him a half a mile down the road and slit his throat. It was a good one.


 Mikey: I saw this on the Hardy Boys once. We lead a trail of jewels into one cave, and then hide out in another, and when the Fratelli's go into that cave, then we can make a run for it.


 Murdock: (While flying a helicopter) Hold on, guys, I'm gonna try something I saw in a cartoon once!

  • Hilariously played with in Tropic Thunder by one of the protagnoists, an actor, slowly going insane from withdrawal symptoms (due to being a junkie)

 "I know this is gonna sound crazy, but in this one film I starred in we had to infiltrate the girl's bathroom of a highschool. So we built a catapult out of women's underwear and launched ourselves over the fence!"

(Everyone stares at him for a moment before trying to find a more reasonable plan)


 Frank: It worked in the movie!

Burt:Well, it ain't working now, Frank!

Freddy: You mean the movie lied?



  • Parodied in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. When Tom shows up to help Huck break Jim out of captivity, Huck's pragmatic plans are always dismissed by Tom, because they 'ain't got enough style' and Tom likes to do things that he got out of books, like trying to dig a tunnel with case knives or giving Jim a bunch of pet snakes and rats.
  • The Golden Rendezvous by Alistair MacLean. The protagonist disarms the Big Bad, who has a concealed shoulder holster, simply by yanking his jacket down over his shoulders, immobilising his arms. When the Big Bad calmly asks if the protagonist is a professional like himself, he replies "American movies."
  • In Infinity Beach, Solly gets the idea of blowing the alien Shroud out of Hammersmith's airlock from a movie (implied to be Alien). Unlike in Alien, it doesn't work.
  • In the Hoka stories, by Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson, the Hokas--a race of teddy-bear-like aliens--operate entirely on this principle. They absorb fictive universes (essentially, the race is a sponge for tropes), and become them. Cowboys, spacemen, Sherlock Holmes, The Jungle Book--they cover a lot of ground.

Live Action TV

  • House parodies this in a third season episode "Lines in the Sand" when he conducts a differential in the lobby:

 Cuddy: Is this your master plan? Disrupt hospital business until I replace your carpet?

House: Devious. Saw it in a James Bond movie.

  • Abed, in Community, occasionally bursts out with this trope.
  • Psych episode "Romeo and Juliet and Juliet" has Shawn mention "I saw this in a Jackie Chan movie..."
  • The A-Team Season 3 episode "Breakout" has a couple of robbers coercing Murdock at gun point to drive the van to get away. Murdock, normally an Ace Pilot, breaks out some Badass Driver skills:

 Robber: Where'd you learn to drive like that?

Murdock (deadpan): I saw Cannonball Run five times.

  • Heroes: Used very literally with Monica, whose superpower is being able to copy anything she's seen in person or on TV - carve a tomato into a rose, play the piano, kick a robber's ass with a flashy wrestling move, Ceiling Cling...
  • Garak on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine often uses variations of this phrase to handwave his impressive abilities or intimate knowledge of things like classified military codes. Since almost everyone knows he used to be an actual spy (and a fairly important one at that), none of the main cast believe his explanations for a second.
  • Quoth Castle, as he's about to do something stupid while being held hostage at a bank robbery: "don't worry mother, I saw this work on Die Hard."
  • Tony in NCIS is an inveterate film buff. When he comes up with a scheme to override a video feed in order to end a hostage situation, his colleagues automatically assume he saw it in a movie, and in spite of his protests they ultimately pinpoint which movie (it was Speed).
  • Blossom: Blossom blinds an intruder (who turns out to actually be her brother) by blowing talcum powder in face. When Six asks her where she learned that trick, Blossom replies "MacGyver". (Also counts as an Actor Allusion as as Blossom's actress Mayim Bialik had played a recurring character on MacGyver.

Newspaper Comics

  • FoxTrot: After Jason and Paige spill cola into Andy's computer, Piage urges Jason to fix it. He says he remembers seeing MacGyver do something similar. They need to prise the computer open, clean it out... and then hook it up to bicycle. Or maybe it was a minivan.

Stand Up Comedy

  • Steven Wright, to a hitchhiker he'd picked up: "Put your seatbelt on, I want to try something. I saw it in a cartoon once, but I'm pretty sure I can do it."

Video Games

  • Subverted in CROSS†CHANNEL. In two different scenes, Taichi insists he can drive cars because he's seen how it works in manga. Naturally, this leads to hilarious results.
  • Played straight but justified in Umineko no Naku Koro ni. Trying to interpret the game board's story as a mystery rather than a fantasy story, various characters use knowledge gained from reading mystery novels.
  • Chuck Greene from Dead Rising can learn new combo weapons by, among other things, looking at movie posters. Namely movies by Clint Rockfoot.

Web Comics

Web Original

Western Animation

  • In the Tale Spin episode "Citizen Khan", Clementine Clevenger attempts to escape a locked room with a Bedsheet Ladder while saying "This always works in the movies." Unfortunately, the knots get undone and she falls with her noting, "So much for the movies!" Luckily, she has a soft landing in a horse trough.
  • One episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987 has Donatello attempt to save an alien in a crashed vessel thus:

 "Quick, boil some water!"

"We're not delivering a baby, dumbo!"

"...I heard it in a movie once..."

    • From the same series: Michelangelo and Donatello were tied up back to-back in chairs with a bomb next to them. Mikey revealed that he had seen a scene like this before on TV and, following his direction, the two rocked back and forth to tip over onto the floor. However, when Donatello asked what to do next, Mikey realized that he didn't know--at the time, he'd gone to get popcorn before the scene had finished.
  • A less modest version happens in Ben 10 Alien Force. Julie does the I Know You Are in There Somewhere Fight with her pet, Ship and when Ben is surprised she pulled it off, she says, "You're not the only one who's seen 'Brain Stealers from Outer Space'."
  • "It came to me in a dream. And I forgot it in another dream." - Professor Hubert Farnsworth
  • In an episode of Freakazoid, Cosgrove tells the audience to Clap Your Hands If You Believe (and throw in some Hugbees) to save Freakazoid's life after having seen it work in a movie once.
  • In the pilot episode of Storm Hawks, Aerrow briefly breaks the fourth wall when he tells a rightfully worried Radarr that "it's okay, I saw this before in a cartoon" right before jumping off his Skimmer to perform a Final Fantasy-esque stunt.
  • In Shrek:

 Shrek: The princess will be up the stairs in the highest room in the tallest tower.

Donkey: How do you know she's gonn be there?

Shrek: I read it in a book once.

    • Justified in that Shrek's world is literally a land of fairy tales, and that the book he mentioned was specifically the tale about the very princess they were trying to rescue. Not only that, but said book was the one he was reading (and used as toilet paper) at the very beginning of the movie.
  • On Jimmy Two-Shoes, Jimmy slaps Lucius with a glove in order to accept a challenge because he saw it in a movie.
  • Tom and Jerry cartoon "Fit to be Tied" featured Spike, while beating Tom, doing something he claimed to have seen on tv.
  • One episode of The Simpsons featured Homer trying to stop an animal stampede by yelling "Jumanji". After it failed, Homer wondered if there was anything from movies worth learning.
  • In an episode of Pinky and The Brain:

 Pinky: Zounds, your a good driver, Brain.

Brain: I've watch a lot of Dukes of Hazzard.