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Whenever someone is tied up, the bad guys often leave something sharp in the room that the victim can use to cut herself free. Even if tied to a chair, she can move the chair to the object to cut the ropes. This is as unrealistically common in serious drama as it is in adventure, action and other genres that don't take themselves seriously.
A rarer and more Badass way of escaping from bonds that doesn't require an Idiot Ball is to somehow break the bones of one hand and pull the crushed hand through the loop before the swelling sets in. (Ouch!)
One step further, and it becomes a Life or Limb Decision.
- In an episode of Spice and Wolf, some thugs beat up Lawrence, tie him up, then leave him in the woods to die. Lawrence uses the embers of his camp fire to escape, but he does burn his arms in the process.
- Batman. All the damn time.
- Except in The Dark Knight, where it's rather subverted. Harvey Dent attempts to do the chair-hop, but ends up simply falling over, knocking over an steel drum and landing in a gushing pool of gasoline. This doesn't end well.
- Likewise the Joker uses broken glass to escape, but his handcuffs were taken off during his interrogation and the glass was broken when Batman was bouncing him off the windows.
- A memorable example in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, Batman starts to cut himself free with a switchblade. But when he sees that Joker has brainwashed Robin into "Little J.J.", he finishes freeing himself through sheer force, and then throws the knife at Joker's face. He ducked, but jeez.
- In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the conveniently-paced burning object (the lucky charm shamrock lighter) fails to be properly used, leading instead to a Disaster Dominoes sequence.
- In the Lucasarts adventure game based on the movie, you instead use a convenient polearm held by a set of armor.
- Kingdom of the Crystal Skull plays it straight, with Mutt throwing his knife so Indy can cut the ropes that tie him (the knife opens while he tries, but what happens isn't addressed).
- Subversion in the 1967 film Doctor Doolittle starring Rex Harrison: He just asks mice to chew through the ropes.
- A conveniently placed dog appears in the Canadian kids' film Bailey's Billion$. Two kids are tied up in a cage, and a dog is in another cage. He bites through the ropes on the kids' hands.
- Not quite a Sharp Thing, but in Frog and Wombat, "Frog" [Allison] is tied up and gagged in the office of her school principal, who murdered his wife. However, he inexplicably left her walkie-talkie on the desk in front of her, which Allison manages to activate with her big toe after slipping out of her shoe, to get her friend's attention.
- In Blades of Glory, Chazz is tied up in a room full of ice skates.
- In Halloween III: Season of the Witch, (the one without Michael Myers) the main character is bound to a chair so a laser powered by Stonehenge can shoot out of the microchip in the Halloween mask he is being forced to wear and will cause snakes and bugs to crawl out of his mouth. Anyway, he manages to take out the television from across the room by flinging something at it. The camera cuts away and cuts back to him with a glass shard in his hands, covering the fact that there's no logical way he could have grabbed it.
- In the movie Pan's Labyrinth we are shown several times how the maid Mercedes hides her knife in her belt after using it for her work. So when Captain Vidal captures her for a spy and ties her hand in front, it is logical that she can get loose.
- Both versions are simulated by Riddick in Pitch Black. He dislocates both shoulders (eat your heart out, Riggs!), and slips his cuffs through some Conveniently Placed Starship Damage before cutting them off with a Conveniently Placed Plasma Cutter.
- The American president (played by Harrison Ford, no less) from Air Force One. The film's rating permits showing that using a glass shard cuts you while you're cutting the rope.
- The Matrix Revolutions: Trinity, in the real world, gets tied up by Smith in Bane's body. She's thrown down into a hatch where some conveniently placed sharp things were broken earlier.
- In The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the Orcs and Uruk-hai carrying Merry and Pippin are attacked by the Riders of Rohan, allowing the hobbits to crawl to a nearby sharp rock to cut the ropes binding their hands.
- In the sci-fi movie Xchange, the conveniently placed sharp thing is a spool of monofilament line capable of cutting through basically anything. And it shows that when a nervous person is working with monofilament behind their back, someone's apt to lose a thumb.
- Older Than Feudalism example: One of Aesop's Fables, "The Lion and the Mouse".
- Frequently averted, subverted, and lampshaded in Discworld. Particularly noteworthy is in Feet of Clay: "Sometimes, and against all common sense, people inconsiderately throw their bound enemies into rooms totally devoid of nails, handy bits of sharp stone, or even, in extreme cases, enough pieces of old junk and tools to make a fully functional armored car."
- Played straight in Jingo: the cabin Angua is imprisoned in a ship just happens to be the one that The Boat drills through to latch onto the ship, making a sharp pointed metal drill available.
- In the second The Lord of the Rings novel, Merry and Pippin are captured and tied up by Orcs. There are two Orc factions present, and they start fighting over where to take the prisoners... one dead Orc falls on Pippin with his sword in convenient reach of the hobbit's bonds.
- In Edmond Hamilton's Star Kings, the main hero, while prisoner on the enemy ship, manages to escape and draw his own side ship's attention. The bad guys are victorious in the battle, and they tie him up in a chair. However, the battle forces a crash landing, which cracks the chair just enough for the hero to saw through his bindings after half a day or so.
- In a short story by Larry Niven, an extremely limber character has his arms very securely tied to the coolant line of the big bad's superweapon. It just so happens that he has a piece of monomolecular wire sewn into his clothing, but its not like his hands are free to reach it... so he uses his feet instead. Instead of trying to cut his bonds directly, he cuts the coolant line right through. Hilarity Ensues.
- Extreme hilarity. It doesn't cut off the superweapon, it keeps the Big Bad from being able to control it. And then it's in the room with them. One of the Beowulf Shaeffer stories.
- Gets used in Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn when Simon and Miriamele are tied up by cultists serving the Storm King, with the variation that the Sharp Thing is the Magic Mirror that Jiriki gave to Simon. They are forced to smash it and then maneuver the incredibly sharp pieces with their bodies, something that (realistically) leaves their skin cut to ribbons. It's worthwhile, though, considering what they are about to be sacrificed to.
- Invoked in Animorphs: after kidnapping Chapman in one novel, the heroes arrange his escape because they can't kill him. They leave broken glass near the tied-up Chapman, which reinforces the idea that the Animorphs are "Andalite bandits" - Andalites don't use glass, and don't understand its sharpness.
- Used in The Lost Scrolls After Harry, Garth and Gid fail in their attempt to save Meagen and Jesse. As the evil cult people start to ready the poison, Harry starts frantically looking around for anything he can use to free them. It takes him a bit to remember that he has a knife blade he sewed into his tunic at the beginning of the book...
- Played with in The Dresden Files novel Proven Guilty, where Harry is held captive by a pair of villains in an old garage, who are selling him on eBay. There's a tool chest a few meters away, but out of reach, and he can't use any magic because the restraints are designed to trap wizards. However, with a bit of help from Lasciel, he uses a technique that lets him dislocate his thumb and slip one hand free of the restraints. Then he gets to the tool chest and manages to find a hacksaw. Fortunately, the restraints are made by fae troll-smiths, and iron is the fae's bane, so the hacksaw goes right through the restraints.
- Lampshaded in The Goblin Tower by L Sprague De Camp. Fugitive king Jorian, the wizard Karadur, and the woman Vanora have been tied up in Jorian's bedroom by a couple of other wizards. Jorian's sword is hanging by its baldrick on his hatrack, and though Jorian has his ankles and wrists bound, he manages to worm himself to his feet, knock the hatrack over, and (with the help of Vanora's feet) cut through his bonds. Prompting this exchange after he releases the others:
Jorian: These knaves were tyros after all, or they'd never have left aught sharp where we could come upon it.
Karadur: Remember, my son, that they are accustomed to coping with foes, not by such crude devices as swords and cords, but by spirits, spells, and the transcendental wisdom of magic.
Jorian: So much the worse for them.
Live Action TV
- Parodied in Police Squad!!, where a kidnapped woman begins sawing away at her bonds on the requisite sharp object, wipes her forehead with her hand from the strain of it all, and then puts her hand back into the ropes to continue sawing away.
- Subverted on NCIS. Jenny, while tied to a chair, spends considerable effort edging a flat shard of metal towards her with her foot. Then the guy kicks her out of range. (Yes, kicks her out of range, not the convenient sharp object. Ouch)
- Used on Leverage when a mook has to escape.
- Firefly. In the pilot episode Dobson is seen sawing at his bonds with a sharp object.
- The possibility is raised that Jayne left it with him for exactly that purpose. It would not be out of character for him...
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: In the episode The Dark Age, bad guy Ethan Rayne has Buffy tied up, with her arms wrapped around the edges of a table and tied together beneath it. There is a conveniently located screw sticking out the bottom of the table that she uses to saw through the ropes.
- Michael has to do this in Burn Notice when a former friend sells him out. He escapes but bloodies his wrists.
- In The Adventures of Brisco County Jr episode "Crystal Hawks", Brisco manages to get himself loose from the ropes he's tied up in by using a partially exposed screw in Crystal's cart.
- In Warehouse 13, Claudia is handcuffed with no way out. Looking around, she picks up a plastic spatula and tosses it down disgustedly. After the action falls, Artie shows up and tells her he sees 7 ways out of the situation. He picks up the spatula and corrects himself: "Sorry, 8."
- In Hawaii Five-O, a serial killer who has Max tied up creates his means of escape by smashing several objects with a golf club, then leaving the room for a minute. Max tips his chair over and uses a glass shard to cut the rope. He's not done yet; he gets back in the chair and pretends he's still bound, and when the killer raises the club to cave in his skull, he runs him through with the shard.
- King's Quest V there is a mouse you save really early on in the game. If you don't, you lose about 300 turns later on when you are tied up and nothing rescues you.
- This is an option in the video game Darklands when you are tied up by devil worshipers in a hamlet. The game features an illogical subversion; it can be easier to break the ropes with brute force if strong enough than it is to cut them.
- Parodied in The Secret of Monkey Island. When Guybrush is thrown underwater tied to a heavy idol, the ground around him is littered with swords, scissors, and other miscellaneous sharp objects, all of which are just out of reach. If you wait a while, you'll hear two people on the dock discuss whether they should throw a knife into the water, and then decide not to. The solution, of course, is to pick up the idol and climb out.
- Parodied again in The Curse of Monkey Island. After Guybrush is swallowed whole by a very large snake, you can see that all around you are: a Snake-Slicing machete, a can of Snake-Away, the Jaws of Life, a good-size Snake-Beating plank, some high-fiber cereal, and a Nine Iron golf club. All of these things would easily allow him to escape if they weren't outside the snake.
- In Broken Sword II this is the very second thing you do in the game - after knocking over a Conveniently Unstable Bookshelf to get rid of a poisonous spider, you find a sharp bracket on the wall behind it.
- In Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood, the three McCall brothers are tied up in a shed where there was a saw. Only William uses the saw, however, and just goes to untie his brothers.
- Played with in Rule of Rose the sharp thing is very deliberately placed, as well as controlled by the villain: a pair of scissors that is automatically lowered by rope to cut the protagonist's ties, and then lifted up again beyond her reach.
- In the into to F.E.A.R. 3, the Point Man is being interrogated by a pair of Armacham troops, up until the point that that Paxton Fettel waltzes into the room and possesses one of them. As soon as he does so and attacks the other guard, the Point Man produces a small knife he'd hidden up his sleeve and cuts the zip-tie around his wrist, then kills the guard Fettel is possessing.
- Nightshade on the NES has this or a variant in a couple points. Right at the start of the game, you use a Conveniently Placed Candle (The game even notes it's there "For no explainable reason" when you examine it) to free yourself from a chair. Later, one of the continue scenarios has you use some sharp metal protruding from the wall as part of your escape.
- The first Max Payne has an unusual variant; the protagonist is tied to a particularly flimsy and battered chair, and simply pulls steadily on his bonds until it breaks.
Othar: I escaped using naught but my wits!
Gil: And something my father left within your reach, right?
- Johnny Rocketfingers
- This also occurs in the "Big Top Trap" episode of The Perils of Penelope Pitstop.
- An episode of Captain Planet had Gi tied to a chair in a room used to gather coral from a reef. One sharp piece falls conveniently nearby and we all know what happens after that...
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Aang uses the ludicrously spiky helmet of his own guard.
- Inspector Gadget: Given Penny's propensity for getting Bound and Gagged, inevitably she stumbled across more than her fair share of conveniently placed sharp things.
Crushed hand variant examples:
Anime and Manga
- Lupin III's titular protagonist does this quite often, through wrist dislocation rather than crushing his hand.
- In the manga he also escaped his bonds by means of a razor blade hidden under his fingernail.
- In Suki: A Like Story Asou intentionally breaks his thumb so he can wriggle free from his restraints. This is just one of many signs that he's far more than a simple school teacher.
- In the seventh Kara no Kyoukai Shiki manages to one up most of the examples on this page by chewing her own thumb off to get out of handcuffs. Of course, the thumb in question is on her artificial left arm but it just shows how hardcore the character is.
- In Saw III, Detective Eric Matthews escapes the infamous bathroom by breaking his foot to get it through the manacle.
- Similarly, in Lethal Weapon 2 Mel Gibson's character is chained up and thrown into the sea. He dislocates his arm at the shoulder to get out. This is actually a Chekhov's Gun, as he does this to escape a straitjacket earlier in the film, on a bet.
- In Boondock Saints, the brothers are handcuffed to chairs, so they move to allow one brother to stomp the other's thumb until he can pull it out of the handcuffs. It hurts to watch.
- In a certain Riddick movie, the titular character dislocates both shoulders to escape from being attached to a pole by having his hands put around the pole and handcuffed together.
- It was revealed in the extra features reel on the DVD that Vin Diesel very nearly can do that move in real life. Not quite, but close.
- Miles Vorkosigan used to be able to do this easily when his bones were still brittle enough that he could crush them with his own muscles. The bones were replaced with unbreakable synthetics by the time of Komarr, so that he was unable to escape no matter how hard he tried.
- In Issola, Vlad considers how to get friends out of ceramic wrist bindings. He rejects the break-the-hand approach primarily because he doesn't have the oil he'd need to slide the hands out afterward.
- In The Dresden Files, this is how Harry manages to escape from the anti-magic handcuffs one villain locks him in before he's auctioned off on eBay to his highest bidding enemy.
- Variant: In Geralds Game, the heroine escapes from being handcuffed to a bed in a cabin somewhere in BFE (the only other person who could have let her out is her husband, recently deceased of a heart attack) by using a broken drinking glass to cut the skin around her wrist, partially degloving her hand to slip out of one cuff.
- Mindstar Rising, a sci-fi novel by Peter F. Hamilton, has the protagonist and his fellow captive stomping their hands to crush the bones so they can pull them through the handcuffs. Even though he can create neurohormones to dull the pain, it still severely squicks them both.
Live Action TV
- How Dexter escapes the Skinner in season 3 - rocking the table over to land on his hand.
- Sarah Connor manages to be even more Badass: after breaking her hand bones, she bites her wrist open, giving her the necessary slipperiness.
- Casey tells Chuck about this trick (breaking one's own thumb), but Chuck's far too pain-averse. Casey himself pulls it later on. Still later Morgan does it, only to discover he didn't need to.
- In Get Medieval, Torquel escapes by dislodging his thumb rather than break it.
- In Errant Story, Sara dislocates one of her thumbs to slip that hand out of a pair of Anti-Magic manacles and gets bonus badass points for using her injured hand to grab Meji and run off.