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The villains have cornered one of the good guys in his private chamber; there is no escape, and he is promptly killed, preferably in the most anticlimactic way possible. Alternatively, the good guy is seen entering or exiting his preferred kind of transport, and then... boom! Turns out the bad guys planted a bomb, and he goes down, leaving no doubt that No One Could Survive That.
But not so fast! The entire thing is just a distraction, and the real good guy is Not Quite Dead.
Sometimes bad guys leave behind decoys or Body Doubles as well, but usually they don't bother, as they can nearly always pull a Villain Exit Stage Left. In a hurry, a character might give a distinctive piece of clothing to someone nearby, evading capture as the pursuers take on the lookalike.
A common variant is to have the princess of a kingdom escape during a coup, with her disguised lady-in-waiting (or some other hapless servant who's been dragooned into the job) remaining in her place to be brutally killed by the usurpers. This has occured in Murder Princess, The Heroic Legend of Arislan, Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress and the Web Comic Legendary.
Anime & Manga
- Mai-HiME is an example of the first variation.
- In the climax of Samurai 7, the emperor attempts to use his fellow clones to escape the samurai.
- Captain Kuro did this in One Piece, leaving one of his lackeys, hypnotised and in Kuros clothes to the sole survivor of a marine fleet. Said marine would become one of the first villains.
- Igaram would also serve as a decoy for Princess Vivi Nefertari from time to time, despite bearing no resemblance to her whatsoever.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist (manga only), Ed Elric makes a decoy getaway of Roy Mustang in the chase scene with Gluttony. Though it's not in a private place, Roy is quickly losing ground and doesn't seem able to hide, and he collapses, unable to keep running. The next we see of him, Gluttony has eaten his head and torso, though that's just a decoy, and of course all of the good guys are unscathed. Yay!
- Later, Scar fakes the murder of Dr. Marcoh, using his clothes with a horribly mutilated chimera corpse. The bad guys count the chimeras that are supposed to be there and realize one is missing, though, and are not fooled in the slightest.
- Likewise, predating both of these examples, Mustang faked the death of Maria Ross by creating a puppet, vaguely resembling her, and torching it.
- Lelouch uses this tactic on and off in Code Geass, usually with his accomplice C.C. dressed in the Zero costume (she actually started the practice in the first place without his knowledge). Turns tragic in the final episode when he uses it one last time with his friend Suzaku dressed as Zero... so he can murder Lelouch in front of the world.
- Done in the Mahou Sensei Negima manga, in grand style: several of the characters are hiding from the (misguided) authorities. Setsuna and Haruna, between them, summon enough decoys to replace the entire group in a matter of minutes. Would be less awesome if it weren't for the fact that Haruna's summoning powers rely on physically sketching an exact likeness of the person.
- Deliberately invoked by Batou in Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex: takes a wrong turn, gets blown to smithereens by a mech. Then, his severed head looks up, smiles, and says "Oh, right, it looks like I'm dead to you doesn't it? Yep. He hacks the dude's cyberbrain, sneaks up behind him, and shoots him to death.
- This is how Lucrezia Noin's older brother Dix-Neuf Noinheim died in the Gundam Wing novel Frozen Teardrop. The dude he was protecting? His brother-in-law/Noin's husband, Milliardo Peacecraft aka Zechs Merquise.
- One of the favorite tactics of Dr. Doom in the Marvel Universe. To the extent where the use of 'Doombots' to justify/retcon his defeats at the hands of unworthy characters has become something of a running gag...the thing with Squirrel Girl, though, that really happened.
- The LMD (Life Model Decoys) is a mechanical duplicate of a person. The LMD is a favorite of S.H.I.E.L.D., particularlly Nick Fury, who rivals Dr. Doom!
- Maria uses an LMD to distract an arrogant Skrull version of Jarvis. While the Skrull is ranting, Maria tells him to his face that she is using a LMD, knowing he isn't listening to her before sniping several Skrulls and blowing up the Helicarrier.
- The same thing happened with Thanos, whom we readers needed a Watcher to explain that it wasn't a clone, until the same author explained that it may have been a clone, but later stating in an Internet Forum that is wasn't a clone.
- Thanos uses a lot of clones. He also tends to modify them quite a bit one was designed to be more powerful than Galactus.
- In one Heroes graphic novel, Sylar gives his hat and coat to a tramp so that the FBI agents following him would go after the tramp, letting Sylar get away.
- This is the Retcon used to explain away the first death of Monsieur Mallah and the the Brain when they first (re)appeared in Teen Titans.
- WILDC.A.T.S. from Alan Moore's era. Don't imprison the brainwashing super-genius in the cell next to the shapeshifter. It's not going to end sanely.
- Naturally, the first two Star Wars prequels. Somewhat justified, as Amidala is a politician, and real-life politicians have verifiably employed decoys since at least World War II. In Star Wars: Legacy, a spin-off comic series, Emperor Roan Fel leaves behind a decoy on his throne while fleeing away from the Sith. Likewise, in the Legacy of the Force novels, Admiral Pellaeon brings a decoy to a peace conference. Which promptly gets raided. Pellaeon's opposite number? No decoys.
- Number Five eluded his captors by constructing a fully functioning decoy of himself in the first Short Circuit movie.
- Spoofed in Spaceballs where the main cast jump dramatically through a closing door only to be captured by Spaceball guards. But it's not them... it's their stunt doubles.
- John Travolta in Swordfish.
- The ending art theft scene in the newer version of The Thomas Crown Affair.
- In Mission Impossible 2, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) affixes a latex mask to The Dragon Hugh Stamp, and escapes as the Big Bad guns down Stamp, mistaking him as Hunt.
- In the 2008 film, Vantage Point, when the president hears rumors of an assassination attempt, he sends a decoy in his place. The decoy is shot. However, the president is still kidnapped in his hotel room and saved later by Joseph Barnes, his bodyguard.
- In the French Revolution segment of History of the World Part One, the King of France takes advantage of the piss boy's resemblance to him by leaving the piss boy in his place to face the wrath of the revolutionaries.
- In The Lorax, Ted's mom pulls this off to distract O'Hare's goons.
- In the film of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, while Ashoka delivers Rotta the Hutt to safety, Anakin distracts Count Dooku by filling his backpack with rocks and pretending Rotta is in there.
- In Shoot Em Up, Mr. Smith goes on the run with a fake baby while DQ escapes with Oliver.
- At the end of The Eagle Has Landed, the last member of the Nazi assassination team succeeds in killing Winston Churchill just before he is killed by the Prime Minister's security. Then it is revealed that the dead man is a Body Double, the real Winston Churchill was actually out of the country meeting with Stalin and FDR in a secret conference.
- Used by Sherlock Holmes where he used a dummy to fool the bad guys into shooting it instead of him.
- He did this twice, in two different stories. One was a wax bust, the other was a life-sized full wax model of himself.
- Also used elsewhere in the same universe by accident. In The Hound of the Baskervilles, the eponymous hound is set loose to hunt its intended victim. But the man who ends up dead is actually a completely different character, and the dog chased him because of his scent -- he's wearing clothes that used to belong to the man the dog was supposed to kill.
- In The Quiller Memorandum, Quiller discovers a bomb attached to his car. He sets it off to fool the enemy into thinking he is dead.
- At one point in The Bible, one of the prophets, being pursued by his enemies, anoints a stranger and gives him his mantle before fleeing for his life. Unlike most cases, the decoy prophet survives and becomes important in his own right.
- Villainous Quinn Dexter, from the Reality Dysfunction trilogy by Peter Hamilton, escapes a trap laid by the good guys by sending in a decoy instead.
Live Action TV
- In the third season of his self-titled series, Angel goes on the run with a destined baby, several groups who want it dead or sacrificed in hot pursuit. He gets himself cornered in a mineshaft, surrenders the child, then makes his getaway... and the "baby" is actually a doll with a bomb attached. Meanwhile, the rest of the good guys have used the distraction to get the real kid someplace safe.
- In another episode, Fred escapes pursuit by giving her jacket to a passerby.
- The Master used this technique to escape in several Doctor Who serials, notably in "Terror of the Autons", in which he hypnotized one of his lackeys, dressed the lackey up in his clothing, and sent him out to run away. While the others were distracted, the real Master slipped away.
- The Wedding of River Song - The Doctor has to be shot dead by an astronaut by the lakes of Utah on April 22, 2011, 5.02pm. Who says it can't be a shape-shifting robot disgused as the Doctor?
- In a sketch on The Fast Show, a king is told by an advisor that barbarians are at the gate, and they'll soon break into the palace to kill the king. The king then points out that his adviser looks rather kingly, gives him his throne and crown, and runs out very quickly.
- Invoked and Subverted in the first season of Legend of the Seeker. Darken Rahl is on his way to a specific castle. Richard And Kahlan camp along the route he's likely to take there, planning to snipe him with a crossbow as he passes. As Rahl approaches, Richard notes that his hands are tied to his mount, and immediately deduces it was a decoy. The real Darken Rahl was already at the castle. Interestingly, the decoy gets a Day in The Limelight in the season two episode Walter
- On Kamen Rider Double, the Ice Age dopant somehow created an "ice copy" of itself which the pursuing Kamen Rider Accel was following hotly, believing it to be the real deal. When he whipped out his Maximum Drive against the decoy, he was in for a disappointment.
- In an episode of Stargate SG-1 that establishes the Goa'uld's ability to brainwash people into sleeper agents, the President sends a decoy to meet with the Tok'ra. Good thing, since one of the Tok'ra is in fact, a sleeper agent (the decoy escapes unharmed).
- Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition had a class called Outlaw of the Crimson Road that gained the ability to pull a Decoy Getaway at the end of its normal progression. Since a player could reasonably pull the same thing with just the normal skills allotted to a Rogue-type character, this ends up looking slightly moot.
- Wizards (Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards as usual) are the king of this sort of thing though, with spells ranging from Mislead, which turns the caster invisible and creates an illusory decoy, to Stasis Clone, which creates a copy of the subject's body and places it in suspended animation only to wake up with the subject's soul when he dies.
- A major component to the plot of Chrono Trigger is the death of Crono, and then the rest of the party going back and time and swapping him with a clone. Assuming the player doesn't just leave him dead.
- In Suikoden II, it is revealed that Neclord is still alive despite being killed on screen in the first game. With the explanation that he survived as the one you killed was a just a clone he created with his rune powers. This is an obvious Retcon, as there are no clues to this before his return, but the characters involved in this subplot are cool enough to get away with it
- This tactic is necessary in at least the original Fire Emblem (and subsequently its recent rerelease). In a game where most players strive to keeps as many units alive as possible, you're forced to sacrifice some of them in a bid to progress the storyline.
- A Spy holding the Dead Ringer ready in Team Fortress 2 can, when struck with any attack, immediately drop a fake body and turn invisible. If the Spy were disguising as the enemy team at the time, a Spy body is dropped. If he was disguising as a member of his own team, a body of that class drops instead. The Dead Ringer fakes the body, death messages, statistics and even Steam achievements. Additionally, if the Spy gets hit while cloaked with the Dead Ringer, he takes a lot less damage. And we're talking 6-7 critical axe swings to the face here, while on fire. The downsides? It does not allow cloaking at any other time, uncloaks with a loud and distinctive noise that will immediately give you away, and it cannot be used again until it has fully recharged.
- In the Warcraft universe (especially World of Warcraft), it was recently revealed that both Witch Doctor Zalazane and Mad Scientist Sicco Thermaplugg, low-level villains controlling their respective race's former homeland, faked their own death using Hollywood Voodoo and mechanical doppelgangers, respectively. Worry not, though, the next time they are defeated they will be Killed Off for Real and their domains reclaimed. Probably.
- Happens in chapter 4 of Yggdra Union, where the Imperial Army leaves a Body Double of Gulcasa behind in Fort Karona to buy time for the real one to make it to Lost Aries with Yggdra and begin the Rite of Soul Unbinding. Gulcasa's decoy is significantly weaker than him, though, which serves as a tip-off to players who are actually paying attention. Once unhelmed, the decoy's portrait also happens to have shorter hair and softer facial features; his armor even fits better than Gulcasa's does.
- In Dragon Quest IV, aka Dragon Warrior IV, the Hero escapes an attack on his home village when a childhood friend uses the Morph spell to take his form and then get herself killed. The monsters, satisfied, depart.
- Echo in Thalias Musings. Pan creates a doppelganger to help her fake her death.
- A popular MO of Slade's in Teen Titans.
- In Code Lyoko, Aelita sometimes uses her Creativity power to make clones of herself as decoys; most notably in S2 episode "Franz Hopper" to trick the Scyphozoa (giving it an indigestion), and in S4 episode "Canine Conundrum" to distract William, who threw the clone in the Digital Sea.
- In Batman Beyond, Terry gives his jacket to a homeless man as he leaves the subway, in order to distract The Stalker.
- In Men in Black The Series, the very first episode. Kay gets kidnapped and cooked by aliens. He then re-appears and says that an old friend changed places with him (we then see his friend escaping from the aliens sound and safe). It was impossible for him to have changed places with his decoy, lampshaded by Jay asking WHEN did he get the time to use the decoy. The question was (of course) left unanswered.
- In the G.I. Joe episode "The Spy Who Rooked Me", some Joes and a James Bond-esque agent are assigned to deliver a vial of extremely deadly nerve gas to a special facility for proper disposal. Naturally, COBRA sends troops after them to steal the vial. At the end of the episode, Dr. Mindbender takes the vial, but it breaks. Just as Flint prepares to do a Heroic Sacrifice to give the others time to get away, the agent smugly explains that the vial contains soda, and they were a distraction to give another team time to deliver the real vial. As the Joes were not told about this, they were really angry that they went through all that fuss for nothing.
- During The French Revolution, the royal family dressed as servants, with the servants in noble clothing. Parodied in Mel Brooks's History of the World: Part I.
- It was not that efficient.
- Saddam Hussein was frequently alleged to have doubles.
- Which sparked a joke after Saddam went into hiding after the 2003 invasion, with one of his generals speaking to the doubles. "I have good news and bad news for you: The good news is that Saddam is still alive! That means all of your jobs are intact!" * Cheers from the doubles* "The bad news is: he lost an arm."
- In Monroe, WA in 2008, an armored car robber used Craigslist and an inner tube to make his getaway. The man pepper sprayed an armored car guard as he was making a drop at the Monroe Washington Bank of America. He took a “large sum of money”, according to police, and floated down the river on an inner tube. So where does Craigslist come into play here? At approximately 11 AM, the suspect showed up at the bank wearing a blue shirt, goggles and dust mask. It’s pretty obvious that he was trying to look like a bug sprayer and was carrying a pump spraying to complete the ruse. Apparently the disguise worked as none of the employees or patrons paid him any attention. He sprays the guard and then rides an inner tube down the Skykomish river where police say an accomplice picked him up afterwards. The suspect covered his tracks by hiring several people who looked exactly like him. A few days before, someone placed a Craigslist ad requesting day laborers for a road maintenance project. The workers were expected to meet in front of the Bank of America at, you guessed it, Sept 30 at 11 AM and were instructed to wear yellow safety vests, safety goggles, respirator masks and blue shirts. (quoted from http://www.tgdaily.com/trendwatch-features/39579-craigslist-decoys-help-armored-car-robber-make-his-getaway)