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When you need rock-solid evidence that something happened or that someone committed a certain act, having it all caught on video tape is just about the most convincing piece of proof there is. Even a Villain with Good Publicity won't be able to just wave criticism away when footage of them kicking dogs to death reaches the public.
In fact, the absolute certainty that video evidence provides is such a common trope that subverting it has become a very popular plot twist, usually by revealing that the footage has been doctored, or that the camera angle involved resulted in Not What It Looks Like.
And, yes, the video doesn't have to be recorded on actual tape; DVDs or computer files will work just as well, but old idioms die hard.
Anime and Manga
- Brutally subverted in Ghost in The Shell Stand Alone Complex, where the Tachikomas discuss the fact that video footage is practically useless as evidence due to how easily it can be tampered with. Indeed, the Laughing Man's MO relies entirely on this, as he hacks into any recording devices around him (including other people's cyberbrains) and edits himself out of the footage, effectively letting him become invisible.
- The villains of Machete are completely Too Dumb to Live in regards to this trope. Booth is pretty dumb for crucifying a priest while explaining his villainous plan and not bothering to remove the clearly visible security cameras, but the Senator takes the cake for actually asking that someone videotape him while he's committing murder, and actually requesting that he get a copy of the DVD afterwards.
- In Ruthless People, there's a Not What It Looks Like, where the judge they're blackmailing was videotaped having sex in a car, but the Too Dumb to Live cameraman thinks he was killing the girl. The blackmail still works, though.
- Robot Jox. Before he kills another character, The Mole's confession is videotaped, which eventually leads to his unmasking.
- Spies Like Us. Emmett Fitzhume and Austin Millbarge are videotaped while cheating on a State Department advancement test, which leads to them being chosen as expendable decoys.
- The Avengers 1998. Emma Peel is the prime suspect for the destruction of the Prospero Project after the security tape shows her entering and killing people. It was actually her Evil Twin clone who did it.
- Subverted in Judge Dredd. A security cam captures the murder of a crusading newsman by what appears to be Judge Dredd. Instead of the tape proving his guilt, it's pointed out that anyone could obtain a Judge's uniform and appear to be Dredd, so more conclusive evidence is needed - a DNA match.
- The plot of Heist starts when Joe Moore's face is captured on a security camera he wasn't expecting to be there.
- The Omega Code 2 has the "doctored" variant.
- The entire plot of Strange Days revolves around a murder caught on tape, with the added problem that the murderers are cops.
- The same applies to the forgettable French movie Skate or Die.
- In Monsters, Inc., Sullivan tricks Mr. Waternoose into the simulation chamber, where he unwittingly confesses to planning to kidnap human children. Mike then reviews the incriminating footage for the CDA agents in the control room.
- In No Way to Treat a First Lady by Christopher Buckley, a secret recording of the President and his mistress the night before he died exonerates his wife of murder.
- In the series finale of Seinfeld the Main Characters are arrested because they watched an armed robbery take place and didn't call the police or do anything else to help. In court, footage that one of them shot themselves is used as evidence against them, showing them watching the robbery and, not only doing nothing to help, but actually mocking the victim as the robbery's going on.
- On Friends Ross and Rachel argue about which of them initiated the sex that resulted in Rachel getting pregnant. Ross insists that it was Rachel who hit on him, and shouts out that he can prove it because he videotaped the whole thing. This does not make the situation better.
- Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Court Martial". Captain Kirk is brought up on charges of causing the death of a crewman. The main evidence against him is the Enterprise computer log. It's later determined that the log was altered to frame Kirk for the crewman's death.
- Mathnet: The Karamasov brothers frame George for armed robbery by one of them wearing a George mask and robbing a bank. He stops to make sure the security camera has a clear view of him, even posing straight on and in profile like those pictures they take when the cops book someone.
- In Better Off Ted Veronica turns out to have a tape of the time Ted and her had sex, confiscated off a security guard who apparently had dozens of similar tapes. Ted ends up showing the tape to Linda, not because of the sex (which she already knew about), but because it revealed that the e-mail Linda swore she had sent Ted had been accidentally deleted during the act, explaining why Ted never received it.
- In NCIS episode "Dead Reflection", a suspect is framed by the perpetrator being seen on a security camera while wearing a mask. the victim was killed because she recognized the voice wasn't right
- One episode of The Mentalist featured a suspected murderer that got off because the tape proving that he lied about his alibi hasn't been introduced on time to become admissable as evidence. It was later revealed he was really innocent and the real murderer had doctored the tape.
- Eli Stone: One episode featured a baseballer that was charged with murder because a ball he hit had killed a person he hated and the prosecutor claimed the baseballer aimed for the victim. The prosecutor tried to introduce a DVD suggesting he defendant did have the skills to aim but, since the DVD was anonymous, it became unadmissable as evidence for being more prejudicial than reliable. (The prosecutor couldn't prove it wasn't doctored)
- Ghost Trick: In Chapter 5, Lynne is shown to have shot Sissel on a security camera. Chapter 17 reveals that Yomiel intentionally framed Lynne with his manipulation powers.
- In the original Command and Conquer, a camera in a studio filming Nod propaganda catches Kane in the middle of discussing copying and distributing his faked news reports. He then notices.
Kane: Is that camera still running?! (gunshot)
- On American Dad a traffic camera records Roger running someone over and leaving them to die. However, he's wearing a paper thin Kevin Bacon disguise at the time, so it's the Hollywood actor who gets arrested. Even Bacon himself, who was thousands of miles away when the hit-and-run happened, believes he must have committed the crime and repressed the memory, because "it's clearly me on the tape!"
- The Simpsons did it when Homer was accused of groping a woman. Apparently Groundskeeper Willy, like all Scottish people, secretly videotapes random people in cars, and he uses his tape to prove that Homer was just trying to grab a piece of candy off the woman's butt.
- The Dinosaucers tried it with the Tyrannos once ,but it failed because they put Bonehead in charge of taping the confession. Instead of doing so, he covered the villain with adhesive tape.
- DuckTales had an episode where Flintheart Glomgold framed Scrooge with art theft by showing a tape of 'Scrooge' stealing the painting. It worked at first but Huey, Dewey and Louie eventually found out the tape caught a reflection of 'Scrooge' taking off his disguise, revealing himself as Flintheart Glomgold.
- Hey Arnold had an animated movie where a Corrupt Corporate Executive tried to demolish several homes and businesses to erect a shopping center and avenge an ancestor. The villain gloated to Arnold and burned a document that established the area as a historical site, thus making it illegal to demolish it. It was caught on the villain's own security tape.
- Wheel Squad: Akim and Johnny were once arrested for robbery and a security tape from World Mart had been introduced as evidence against them. It turned out that Enzo, the manager of World Mart, doctored the tape becaise his boss wasn't satisfied that the extra cameras had yet to diminish the place's theft rate.
- The plot of The Player Of Games is triggered by a pseudo-aversion. Thousands of years into the future, video manipulation is so advanced and commonplace that no one would dream of considering videos as proof of anything, because it is trivially easy to produce pixel-perfect representations of anything you want. The eponymous grandmaster is very surprised when he is blackmailed by an unexpectedly advanced drone, and has to learn that there are indeed levels of event-recording that will be accepted as genuine when a sufficiently sophisticated AI vouches for them.
- A very, very nasty example in Dean Koontz's False Memory: a woman, who knows someone keeps breaking into her house and raping her in the night, suspects her ex-husband but has no idea how the hell he's doing it, since she locks her house up tight every night, and it's still locked in the morning. She sets up a video camera in a potted plant and discovers it's her psychiatrist, who's pretty much mind-raped her into granting him complete control over her psyche with a series of code words. Ick.
- In Andre Norton's Plague Ship, representatives of one of the big trading corporations tried to push the Free Traders into giving up a lucrative trade arrangement. They made a not-especially veiled threat of armed attack, mentioning that they were far away from any authorities who might defend the Free Traders. And then J. Van Rycke pulled a small disc out of a belt pouch and commented, "Very interesting. I shall treasure this recording--"
- In Homestuck, there is a scene where One of the many Araidabot's Soulbot Video Logs shows the battle against the Black King. This technically counts as caught on tape as proof for Andrew Hussie to prevent the readers bugging him about what happened during the battle.
- Hillary Adams, daughter of Judge William Adams released a very disturbing video of her father beating her with a belt when she was a teen. It recieved national attention and Judge Adams will most likely Never Live It Down.