Criminal Doppelganger

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Oh man, I can't tell which one is which!

A wanted criminal or escaped convict who just so happens to bear a striking resemblance to a main character and, through a number of Contrived Coincidences, invariably ends up getting confused with his counterpart.

In general, someone on the run from the police who has absolutely no ties to any of the main characters but looks like one of them is always bound to cross paths with his unwitting double, at which point the main character is often mistaken by the police for the criminal when they finally enter the picture. Occasionally, this leads to the completely innocent main character being thrown in jail in the criminal's place, even without police ever looking at the main character's identification or even giving him a trial to prove his innocence.

This regularly leads to Acting for Two, Emergency Impersonation, Swapped Roles and either Clear My Name or Clear Their Name. A Beard of Evil, irregular scar, or similar facial characteristic may be employed to more easily differentiate between the look-alikes, especially in comics and animation.

This is a subtrope of Identical Stranger; is a Sister Trope to Evil Twin (evil identical twin), Evil Counterpart (evil Alternate Universe persona), and Evil Knockoff (intentionally created evil duplicate); and is also an Undead Horse Trope.

Compare: Costume Copycat for a variation found with costumed superheroes.

Examples of Criminal Doppelganger include:

Anime and Manga

  • One Piece inverts this. The crew is wanted by the authorities, and therefore all have wanted posters. Their pictures are all from photographs except for Sanji's, whose photo they could not take. They decide to draw his picture in instead, and the drawing is so bad that it ends up barely resembling Sanji. At one point, the crew get attacked by a guy who looks exactly like Sanji's terribly-drawn wanted poster, because he's fed up of being mistaken for Sanji.
    • Played with again later in the series when a bunch of impostor pirates dress up as the Straw Hats and try to use their infamy to their own advantage. The irony being that even though they look nothing like the originals in the first place, by this point in the story, two years have passed and the Straw Hats now look different to varying degrees.
      • This turns into a Casting Gag in the anime, as the Straw Hats' voice actors are mixed around to voice the "Fake Hats", such as Sanji's actor voicing the fake Luffy.
  • In Faye's first appearance in Cowboy Bebop she mistakes Spike for the guy who was supposed to help her smuggle a computer chip hidden in a gambling chip during a game of blackjack. The screen was fuzzy so she couldn't see the details but he had the same fluffy hair and snazzy blue suit and, by sheer power of coincidence, even performed half the code phrase before walking off with the completely normal chip.

Comic Books

  • In the Crossover Archie Meets The Punisher, a criminal the Punisher has tracked to Riverdale looks very similar to Archie.
    • And the series ends with Wolverine getting word of a dangerous mutant that looks like Jughead.
  • One Disney comic, where Mickey and Goofy are Texas Rangers. The criminal they are chasing turns out to be an exact look-alike of Goofy. Both at some comment on how disappointed they are that "someone that handsome is acting so stupid."
  • It was not uncommon for superheroes in the Silver Age to run across a criminal who was a dead ringer for their Secret Identity. I know that it happened to Superman and Batman and I am sure there were other examples.
  • Bruce Wayne's childhood friend Thomas Elliot (a.k.a. Hush) got facial reconstruction surgery to look more like Bruce so that he can impersonate him and more easily get away with sapping from Bruce's wealth.
    • Black Mask dressed up as Batman after War Games and committed multiple murders in a bid to discredit Batman and remove him as a threat.
  • In Ultimate Spider-Man, some random crook dressed up as Spidey and committed a bunch of crimes culminating in murdering Captain Stacey (Gwen's father) during a robbery. Spidey was so enraged that he nearly killed the guy.


  • Jim Varney's signature character Ernest P. Worrell inadvertently switched places with a crime boss in Ernest Goes To Jail. Getting Ernest in jail is justified, seeing that a corrupt attorney working with the crime boss is the one who got him there.
  • Played With in Wrongfully Accused when Leslie Nielsen's character spots a Wanted Poster for himself and doodles over his mugshot. After adding things like glasses, a funny hat, bushy eyebrows, and a long beard and mustache, a sheriff immediately arrests someone else who just so happens to reflect Nielsen's changes.
  • The movie Bullseye! features Michael Caine and Roger Moore playing a pair of Con Men who attempt to exploit their resemblance to a pair of nuclear physicists (also played by Caine and Moore) who believe they have invented a limitless supply of energy.
  • Inverted the classic Russian comedy Gentlemen of Fortune about kindergarten teacher who is recruited by the police to impersonate a big-shot criminal, stage a break-out in a prison with the criminal's buddies, and lead the police straight to the criminals' cache of stolen goods. Hilarity ensues.
  • The twist ending of Following is The Reveal that Cobb was deliberately grooming "Bill" to be his fall guy for the police to arrest—aside from deliberately planting evidence to falsely implicate him, he even surreptitiously convinced Bill to start dressing like him.
  • The Roberto Benigni movie Johnny Stecchino is about a bus driver (Benigni) who gets mistaken for a look-alike gangster, the titular Johnny Stecchino (Benigni again). In this case, though, Dante (the bus driver) is deliberately lured to Johnny's hometown to take the fall for him.
  • The Alfred Hitchcock film The Wrong Man is about a guy who just happens to look exactly like a robber who was robbing various stores. And it was Based on a True Story.
  • This is the plot of the John Ford comedy The Whole Town's Talking, starring Edward G. Robinson as a meek man who looks like a vicious gangster.


  • In Around the World in Eighty Days, Phileas Fogg is wrongly pursued around the globe by Inspector Fix because, in addition to the suspicious circumstances surrounding his sudden departure, he answers to the description of the gentleman who robbed the Bank of England.
  • Les Misérables has Champmathieu gets arrested in Jean Valjean's place because he just happens to look exactly like him.
  • James Thurber's short story "The Remarkable Case of Mr. Bruhl" centers around this.
  • The Great Impersonation by E. Phillips Oppenheim features an identical English gentleman and German spy.

Live Action TV

  • An episode of Kenan and Kel once had Kenan's father Roger mistaken by the title characters for a jewel thief nicknamed "The Diamond Bandit" that they heard about on an America's Most Wanted-type program.
    • There was also a clown that tied the duo up and robbed Chris's store who just happened to be exactly like the clown who was later hired to perform at Kyra's birthday party.
  • There is an episode of The Monkees in which Micky gets in a bit of trouble because he looks absolutely identical to a dangerous gangster wanted by the police.
  • The self-explanatory It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode "Dennis Looks Like a Registered Sex Offender."
  • An episode of The Brady Bunch had Peter being mistaken for a lookalike kissing bandit at his school.
  • Happened not once, not twice, but three times on Gilligan's Island. Gilligan had a Russian Spy double, Mr. Howell had a freeloader double, and Ginger had a... well, OK, she wasn't a criminal, until she went back and started using Ginger's fame.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "The Massacre of St Bartholemew's Eve", one of the villains just happens to look like the First Doctor (William Hartnell).
    • In "The Enemy of the World" there's a dictator named The Salamander who just happens to look like the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton).
    • In "Meglos", the villain deliberately invokes this trope by using alien technology to make himself look like the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker).
  • Monk used this in an episode, in which Adrian happened to be a dead ringer for a mob hit-man. However it was inverted, in that the police didn't mix him up, but instead recruited him to make the other criminals think he was the hit-man.
  • Green Acres of all things had an episode revolving around this, with a criminal who looked just like Oliver.
  • Invoked in an episode of Supernatural with a shapeshifter that impersonates people close to the victims while committing his crimes so that they'll take the fall instead of him.
    • And again in season 7, when Leviathans carry out a series of high profile robberies/mass murders while impersonating Sam & Dean.
  • In Even Stevens Louis gets Wrongfully Accused for the acts of another student from another school who looks exactly like him and even has the same name as he does.
  • An episode of Drake and Josh had Josh be repeatedly mistaken for a wanted criminal after playing one in a dramatization on TV, whose name was the "Theater Thug". This results in him getting beaten up and arrested repeatedly, to the point where he's in the same theater AS THE ACTUAL THEATER THUG and is beaten up and arrested while the real guy makes off with the theater's money.
  • The Adventures of Superman had an episode (s4e6: "Jimmy the Kid") featuring a criminal doppelganger for Jimmy Olsen, of all people.
  • An episode of The Incredible Hulk had David Banner cross paths with a criminal who looked exactly like him (Bill Bixby with a mustache). Despite trying to frame Banner, the criminal was caught by police and attempted to weasel out of it by saying there's a guy who looks exactly like me. The police, who apparently didn't watch tv, dismissed the idea as inane.
  • Happens in Dads Army when Jones's photo gets mixed up at the printing shop with a photo of an escaped Italian POW, causing Jones to be on the Wanted posters instead of the POW.
  • Only Fools and Horses had a two-part special where Del and Rodney go to Miami and find that a Mafia boss who looks identical to Del just happens to be staying at the same hotel.
  • The Tracker episode "Double Down" involves Zin using the man Cole had taken his human morph from to get Cole arrested for murder. A subversion, since he wasn't actually the murderer either-Zin used some fancy video manipulation and footage from the suspected killer having been tricked into a fake movie shoot.
  • In the Highlander the Series episode "The Counterfeit", Rogue watcher Horton hired a female con to take down Duncan, having her get plastic surgery to look just like Duncan's late girlfriend Tessa.
  • In Get Smart, Max and 99 just so happen to be exact doubles of the criminal couple Connie and Floyd in the episode "The Secret of San Vittorio." Oddly, though, it's Max and 99 who impersonate the couple to get information. This goes awry when the actual couple shows up and, mistaken for impersonators, are killed. No one feels the least bit guilty about this.
  • A Diagnosis: Murder two-parter called "Gangland" centered on a recently-paroled mob boss who bore a striking resemblance to Dr. Mark Sloan (both roles played by Dick Van Dyke).


  • Momus' song "Pervert Doppelganger" concerns a supposed look-alike of the narrator who goes around committing "sexual crimes" and pinning the blame on the (according to him) innocent narrator.

Video Games

  • Pretty much the reason why Sonic the Hedgehog is captured by G.U.N. twice and why him and his friends are constantly chased throughout Sonic Adventure 2. Justified in that the only times that Shadow is seen by the police is during the night and that there only happen to be two well-known anthropomorphic hedgehogs in the world.
  • Mario suffers from this during his vacation to Delfino Island. Bowser Jr. posing as Shadow Mario has polluted the island, and the player is charged with cleaning it up.
  • One Dual Boss of the arcade Beat'Em Up game for The Simpsons is a pair of criminals that look like Homer and Bart.

Western Animation

  • Mr. Bean (pictured) was mistaken for an escaped convict in the Animated Adaptation. The two ended up switching places for a short time, and the convict decided to break back into his jail cell after he couldn't stand Bean's landlady.
  • Timmy Turner's real parents on The Fairly OddParents were once arrested during a trip to Niagara Falls by cops who confused them with an Outlaw Couple known as "The Souvenir Bandits."
  • One early Looney Tunes short had a criminal who looked just like Porky Pig, an outstanding citizen working as a bank clerk. So he takes Porky's place in order to rob the bank.
    • A Tiny Toon Adventures episode dealt with a criminal who looked just like Hampton except for facial hair, a scar, and a missing tooth, naturally Plucky can't tell the difference and in the end the real Hamton ends up in prison.
  • In the Animated Adaptation of Around the World In 80 Days (See Literature above), Around the World with Willy Fog, the real bank robber is shown after the mix-up is resolved. He's also a lion, and generally looks like a thinner, more scraggly version of Fog.
  • Played With in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker where Jordan Price is introduced as a Red Herring in determining The Joker's real identity. Price physically resembles The Joker in every way, except for possessing normal-colored hair and actual skin tone, and is voiced by Mark Hamill. However, while not actually the Joker, Price did work in connection with him and is turned in to Gotham PD by Terry.
  • One of Underdog's enemies was his exact double, Tap-Tap the Chiseler; while the differences seemed obvious to the viewer - Tap-Tap had a lower voice, didn't rhyme his words, and smoked cigars - the ruse fooled almost everyone. In his first appearance he was able to frame Underdog while even fooling Sweet Polly, and in his second, he was able to use Underdog's image to convince a policeman to lend him his handcuffs and convince an arms dealer to lend him a bomb, both times with no suspicion.
  • In one The Pink Panther short, this happens to the Inspector. He gets imprisoned, tries to break out (unsuccessfully) repeatedly, and has to smash rocks to bits.
  • Pac-Man was once mistaken for a bank robber who escaped from prison. The fugitive even managed to fool Ms. Pac-Man... until she read the newspaper a day late, and mistook her husband for the crook.
  • Similar to the Wrongfully Accused example, The Simpsons Movie sees Bart draw over a wanted poster so that it looks like a different family, who get caught instead of The Simpsons.
  • An episode of The Little Lulu Show also had Tubby come in contact with his villainous lookalike, the aptly named Marty The Midget. The two then switch places, with Marty having to deal with Tubby's parents, friends, and the Westside Gang, while Tubby wound up in prison with a bunch of other escaped convicts. In the end, Marty gets arrested and everything is back to normal once more.
  • One episode of Goof Troop had Goofy being an exact lookalike for a member of a counterfeiting gang.

Real Life

  • Although there are few people who look almost identical, merely looking close to a criminal has put a number of people in prison whom DNA or other evidence has exonerated. Witness identification is incredibly unreliable in Real Life, as numerous scientific studies on memory and recall have proved.
  • Joseph Lesurques was famously executed in 18th century France for a crime he didn't commit, but the real culprit, who bore a striking resemblance to Lesurques, was discovered afterward.
  • Another notable example is the case of Adolph Beck. He was mistaken for a serial con artist named John Smith and convicted after a bungled investigation concluded that Beck was said con artist living under a false name. He was then cleared partially (of being John Smith) and released after the sentence was over, but was accused again. Luckily, this time the judge had some doubts and postponed sentencing. Ten days later they caught the real John Smith, who resembled Adolph but had a scar which proved that he was the actual criminal.
  • Actors who portray criminals in televized recreations of real crimes in various police reality shows are often mistaken for actual criminals by viewers who can't tell the difference between a dramatization and actual security footage.
  • A Malaysian man inverted this trope to escape execution for trafficking drugs. The courts couldn't distinguish between him and an innocent doppelgänger, his identical twin brother, and so released both.
  • Confucius looked like Yang Hu, which led to Confucius getting imprisoned for several days. It didn't help that one of Confucius's disciples was a known associate of Yang Hu.