Stupid Crooks

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
N00BS can't ever get anything right!

"I did not rob a bank; if I had robbed a bank, everything would have been great... I tried to rob a bank is what happened, and they got me... I misspelled a note."

When it comes to committing crime, unfortunately, not everyone is an expert... or even a professional. A good caper usually takes the talent and skill of the likes of a Classy Cat Burglar or even a Phantom Thief to pull off, and you either have a good knack for it or you don't. Those that don't have a knack for anything on that scale may think smaller, plan a less rewarding crime with fewer risks involved, and some people fail even at that.

This trope is for those who fail even at that.

People in general are never really the brightest of folks in the first place, but there's something about Stupid Crooks that always distinguishes them from the rest of the pack. Naturally, the very fact that they seek to commit acts of crime doesn't win them any favors or admiration from anyone, but the fact that they can't even succeed at it doesn't do them any good, either. Knowing that, the escapades involving this type of criminal usually amount to one of the greatest forms of Comedic Sociopathy one can find anywhere.

When a Jerkass fails at something, it's funny. When a Jerkass is also an idiot, it's still funny... but only more so.

Most commonly, Stupid Crooks are low-level burglars and petty thieves; other times, they may be people who don't even have criminal records or have never committed a crime before but are suddenly tempted to commit one for fast cash or some other small reward. No matter what though, these guys always get everything wrong. They use Paper Thin Disguises (that don't work), they rob a store that they visit daily where all the employees know them, they use their real names to communicate with each other, they do all three of those things at once and more! Stupidity has no limits, and that has never been truer than in instances involving Stupid Crooks.

On most occasions, Failure Is the Only Option with the crook(s) either bungling a job that has low-risk and is extremely petty (like taking candy from a baby) or one that comes with greater risk in a criminal field that they have no experience with. Stupid Crooks always get caught by the cops (even when Police Are Useless for anything else) or otherwise end up having a price to pay for their idiocy. In either conclusion, Amusing Injuries are very likely to occur.

The few times when a crook manages to get away with anything, the matter usually comes down to a Contrived Coincidence or two and a hefty dose of subversion that allows the crook to slip by when everyone else is preoccupied with a much larger mess that was made, especially true if the character isn't actually after any plot-crucial MacGuffins and the character only serves to advance other circumstances of a story; in the very rare event that a Stupid Crook does get away with a plot-crucial MacGuffin by the end of the story, expect this to feel like a Shocking Swerve.

Often leads to Mugging the Monster and Bullying a Dragon. Weapon for Intimidation can show up in a subverted fashion, where brandishing an unusable weapon (i.e. an unloaded gun) draws aggro from people who can fight back with greater force. For one reason or another, such characters are usually Too Dumb to Live.

See Also: Cut Lex Luthor a Check, when someone with a habit for committing crime could actually achieve fortune and success through more sincere and legal means. The supporting characters in a Terrible Trio can commonly evoke this trope.

Is not related to Stupid Evil.

No real life examples, please; a list like that would be way too long and wouldn't be fair to the places on the web that do list these (some of which can be found listed here, under "New Media" below).

Examples of Stupid Crooks include:

Comic Books

  • "Rocket Scientist" in Detective Comics #704. The story details the career of one of Gotham City's most incompetent crooks. His actions included once disguising himself by painting his face red (following an earlier mishap due to his choice of masks) only to collapse because the paint was toxic.
  • Judge Dredd
    • "The Forever Crimes", wherein a crook tries to escape from Dredd by making his way down a laundry chute, but it's actually a garbage disposal.
    • One group of criminals once tried to break into a room at Rowdy Yates Block that was marked off as a RESTRICTED AREA, reasoning that something really important and valuable had to be inside. The reason why it's a restricted area: It's Judge Dredd's apartment.
  • Another example similar to the one in Dredd (immediately above) can be found in a Future Shock from 2000 AD which featured two would-be art thieves with the "experienced" one teaching the novice that whatever paintings are the most heavily guarded are, logically, the most valuable ones. They get really greedy when they see one that's immensely guarded and it turns out that that painting is a living entity that eats whatever comes near it; the security measures were supposed to keep the painting away from people -- not the other way around.
  • Sin City rarely has comic relief but when it does, it usually comes in the form of Shlubb and Klump who are bumbling criminals who do "dirty jobs" for the mob. A lot of their humor comes from their dialogue which inspired the trope Delusions of Eloquence.
  • The year-long Batman: No Man's Land story arc had a series of interludes focusing on a character named "The Punk", who tried to steal supplies with an empty gun when EVERYONE knew that nobody had any ammo and his gun had to be empty. The last interlude was titled "The Punk and The Stranger", where The Punk tried to rob The Joker with his empty gun after failing many robberies because everyone knew he had an empty gun. Three guesses on why this was the last "The Punk" story.


  • Guy Ritchie was a fan of this trope in his two earliest movies:
    • Just about every character in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels qualifies one way or another. The film's tagline is even "A Disgrace to Criminals Everywhere." However, special note has got to be given to Dean and Gary, who are instructed by John the Baptist to retrieve antique shotguns from an estate home and keep anything else they can carry for themselves. Even in a mansion decorated with numerous expensive antiques, they rationalize that "old" must mean "worthless". And that's not to say nothing about how they sold the guns John the Baptist wanted them to get for quick cash, thinking they were too old for him to want anything to do with. The rest of their adventure follows them attempting to get the guns back, which do end up in the hands of the man who wants them without their help, but Dean and Gary don't know that...
      • Even the way they are introduced lets you know they are stupid. Harry claims he doesn't care who John hires to steal the guns, "as long as they're not complete fucking moppets." Cue Gilligan Cut.
    • Sol, Vinny, and Tyrone from Snatch. Apparently, everything they do was inspired by stories shared on late night talk show monologues.
      • While Avi isn't a criminal by profession, he qualifies as well, since he's trying to get his hands on the diamond, and he ends up mucking everything he gets involved with up as well.
  • Of the two burglars in Home Alone, Marv is much more dense than his partner Harry. It was his idea to flood every house they rob as his way of leaving a Calling Card, and when Marv wants to make it clear to cops that he and his partner are the "Wet Bandits", one of his arresting officers makes an observation:

Police Officer: Hey, you know we've been looking for you two guys for a long time. Thanks for leaving the water running; now we know each and every house you guys have hit.

  • Woody Allen's character Virgil Starkwell from his Mockumentary film Take the Money and Run is shown to be pretty incompetent. His idea of sneaking a hidden camera into a bank to scout out a potential place to rob involved hiding the camera in a loaf of bread that he has to hold up to his face to take pictures with.
  • His later film Small Time Crooks explores this again with a horribly botched bank robbery, and the bakery he and his wife opened as a front for their criminal activities becoming legitimately successful. Even after the characters decide to pursue the more legal activity instead, Allen's character still looks to commit thefts, and he's still totally unsuccessful. His wife Frenchy, however, is a bit more successful.
  • The Coward, the Goon and the Seasoned Man, a popular Soviet comedic trio, are cast as these crooks in Operation Y.
  • The Coen Brothers tend to include criminal characters in a lot of their stories, including a few bumbling crooks who usually, but not always, appear in their comedies.
    • In Raising Arizona, H.I.'s attempt to steal baby diapers with an unloaded gun becomes a lot more complicated when all the store clerks and police officers he runs into are packing heat and aren't afraid to use it. Lucky for his sake, they all seem to be graduates from The Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy.
      • Evelle and Gale are even worse. They leave Nathan, Jr. behind at not one but two of their own crime scenes, among other stupid mistakes.
    • Fargo sees Jerry's scheme to stage his wife's kidnapping in order to swindle money from his wealthy father-in-law go horribly awry once the two criminals he hired for the job are pulled over by a state trooper shortly after the kidnapping, who ends up getting killed along with two witnesses, which only complicates things and calls more attention to their actions. Then more things happen that don't go according to plan, and more people die as a consequence to this, including Jerry's wife.
    • The Big Lebowski begins with two thugs breaking into The Dude's apartment and pissing on his rug after they manage to mistake him for a multi-millionaire.
      • The nihilists also try to get ransom money without actually having the person they're trying to get the ransom for.
    • The Ladykillers were certainly not the best of crooks, either. Even in the original, for that matter.
  • The Producers. In the original, after Max and Leo pull their Springtime for Hitler, they decide to blow up the theater with a little help from Franz. However, they're not sure if they used the short fuse or the long fuse for their bomb detonator, and their way of testing to find out which one they used is to light the fuse they already primed for the bomb. And then they discuss how the fuse they lit is behaving like the short fuse, which wouldn't have given them enough time to leave the building...
  • Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction has a large number of personal What an Idiot! moments, two of which are directly in relation to his job as a hitman and enforcer for Marcellus Wallace's criminal empire. Not only is he the Trope Namer for I Just Shot Marvin in the Face, but Vincent also leaves his sub-machine gun away from him while he goes to the bathroom at Butch's apartment when he's supposed to be waiting for Butch to show up and kill him. Butch does show up, and, upon noticing the gun, picks it up and shoots Vincent dead after he steps out of the bathroom.
  • The three bumbling idiots in Baby's Day Out who try to kidnap a baby and hold him for ransom just can't seem to keep the baby from wandering off and getting into situations that get themselves hurt.
  • Four Lions centers around a group of five moronic Islamic Terrorists with less than five brain cells to share between themselves.
  • In the Italian movie Fantozzi in Paradiso, the eponymous protagonist and his friend Filini try to rob the internal bank of the 'Mega-Company' they used to work for before retiring. Not only they need the help of the bank's director to pull it off in spite of their own imbecility, but they're later robbed of the loot by the Mega-Director of the Mega-Company, who noticed them prepare and ordered to let them pull it off to take the money himself (with the bank being refunded by the insurance).
  • In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, it becomes clear that Space Pirate Yondu has more brains than his entire crew combined. Their initial attempts to catch Rocket result in the slapstick equivalent of a Mook Horror Show until Yondu manages to nab him. Then they argue about whether to turn him in for a million credits or sell the batteries he has (worth a quarter of a million), and prove to be pretty poor at mathematics, one of them claiming that a quarter is "only" a third of a whole while another thinking a quarter of a million is the equivalent of 25 units. This turns into Too Dumb to Live later, when their reaction to him getting his weapon back (the one he used to defeat an army by himself in the first film) is to charge at him en masse. They fare no better than the army did.


  • The two robbers in The Apple Dumpling Gang who are after the gold the children found certainly count, later turned into a movie, starring Don Knotts and Tim Conway as the robbers.
  • The kidnappers in O. Henry's short story "The Ransom of Red Chief". They're dumb enough to kidnap an obviously evil child, and he's such a terror that they end up having to pay his father to take him back.
  • Discworld has a number of examples, like Done-It-Duncan from Men at Arms, an incompetent cut-purse who will confess to anything (including stealing fire from the gods) if it means he can spend a night in the cells instead of out on the streets.
    • The unlicensed crooks from Feet of Clay are an even better example; at one point they try to rob a bar full of watchmen, and then they try to take one of the officers (Sergeant Angua) hostage.
    • Played with in Interesting Times, when Rincewind becomes the object of a Thieves' Guild instructor's lecture on mugging techniques. The bumbling students can't even bop Rincewind on the head to their teacher's satisfaction, despite several tries and repeated demonstrations of the proper technique.
  • An old nursey rhyme:

"Taffy was a Welshman; Taffy was a thief;
"Taffy went to my house, and stole a piece of beef.

  • And even though I quickly figured out he was the one who stole it and knew where he lived, he came back to rob my house again at least twice, the idiot.

Live-Action TV

  • As the Snatch example would suggest, Stupid Crooks are very popular topic among late night talk show hosts, especially Jay Leno. Whenever Jay does his "Headlines" segment, you can always expect at least one story about a dumb criminal to crop up.
  • The "Non-Illegal Robbery" sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus is about a group of criminals who aren't even plotting anything that's criminal.

Michael Palin: We don't seem to be doing anyfink illegal.
Jerry Jones: What do you mean?
Michael Palin: Well, we're paying for the watch.
Terry Jones: They wouldn't give it to us if we didn't pay for it!

  • The whole gimmick of Chespirito's characters El Chompiras Y El Peterete.
  • World's Dumbest Criminals, later The Smoking Gun Presents World's Dumbest, is a TruTV documentary show about... well, Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • In the pilot episode of Dead Like Me, one of George's first experiences with the reapers is with Mason at a bank, where we meet Bret, the hapless bank robber. Bret stumbles through a prepared announcement he wrote up before entering the bank and gets upstaged by one jealous wife of the bankers. However, he miraculously manages to get away with the bank's money.
    • Meanwhile, Mason is oftentimes the dumbest of the team of reapers and is the only one who looks to earn his money through theft and criminal misdeeds, while the others hold down jobs on the side. Usually, his stupidity and crimes are unrelated to the other, but one occasion stands out where, after previously giving away all of his possessions when he incorrectly assumed he was finally going to the afterlife, he was caught stealing tips left on tables at Der Waffle House, where the gang always meets and hangs out, and is immediately kicked out and barred from coming back to the diner by the group's usual waitress Kiffany.
    • Mason actually has a fairly high success rate with his stupid crimes because of the fact that he is undead. So while a normal stupid crook would end up dead or massively hurt, Mason merely ends up in a lot of pain until his undead body recovers. When his schemes get the other reapers angry at him they treat him to a lot of pain so he learns his lesson.
  • The Whitest Kids U' Know once did a skit about a group of would-be bank robbers who repeatedly fail the same criminal plot over and over for many different reasons, ranging from not being able to read the bank's blueprints, bringing friends from out of town along to the robbery, and posting plans to rob the bank on a blog (along with a hyperlink to the bank's website wherever the word "bank" is used).
  • This sketch from Jam features a man holding up a convenience store in order to buy a pack of cigarettes. Apparently, the gun he points at the store clerk was to make sure that he got back change. The clerk tells the man with the gun that he doesn't need to pay for the cigarettes, and the man thinks of this as some sort of unexpected thrill.
    • Not to mention the guy who tries to hold up an off license with a gun hidden in his stomach which he fires... out through his own spine, killing himself and the man behind him in the queue.
    • Or another bungled convenience store hold up where the would-be robber forgets to bring the axe he was meant to be threatening people with.
  • An episode of Knight Rider dealing with car theft has a "false alarm" as two crooks attempt to steal the pimped-out K.I.T.T., and quickly prove not to be the professionals Michael is looking for: They're trying to break in using a Philips-head screwdriver instead of a flat one, and this kind of coat hanger.
    • In many other episodes as well, KITT confused and scared the crap out of random bumbling petty criminals who tried to steal/sabotage/damage him, more for the entertainment value than for anything related to the plot.
  • 'Liability' Finch from the Hustle episode "The Thieving Mistake".
  • The pilot episode of Turks opened with two crooks attempting to rob a cop bar. Leads to a Crowning Moment of Funny when, as they are about to leave, someone calls out to them. They turn around and discover everyone in the bar, except for the bartender and the waitress, is holding a badge and a gun.
  • Similar to the Monty Python example above, a scene on The Sketch Show has a group of counterfeiters who realize it's costing them more than 12 pounds to produce a usable 10 pound note. After a few suggestions for rectifying this, they decide to just start circulating actual 10 pound notes.
  • Given the setting, Barney Miller had lots of them, way too many to list. Among those that stand out:
    • A flasher who is arrested in the middle of December when it's below zero; he cleans up his act and becomes a councilor in a later season.
    • A man in a wheelchair who shoplifts and twice tries to flee the station in "Wojo's Problem".
    • Mr. Clark, a blind man who tries to shoplift, becomes a recurring character later.
    • A convict who is given unsupervised prison furloughs for work release uses them to commit armed robberies.
  • While one of the main draws of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul is the intricate mind games played by Magnificent Bastard Chessmasters, make no mistake: stupid criminals are not in short supply.
    • Ted Beneke is probably the dumbest white collar criminal ever portrayed in fiction. When the IRS catches on to him fudging his taxes, his secretary/mistress Skyler tries to bail his dumb ass out of trouble by giving him exactly the amount of money he needs to get them off his tail. So what does he do? Naturally, he blows it all on stupidly expensive things that he doesn't even need, and blackmails her into silence when she yells at him for his stupidity. This man seems genuinely unable to comprehend that he's going to get himself, Skyler, and quite possibly Walt (by association) arrested due to his borderline suicidal refusal to pay his taxes, so Skyler's forced to send some hired thugs to his house to force him to do it. When he signs the check he immediately tries to rush off to the bank and cancel it, only to trip, fall, and hit his head so hard that he's crippled for life.
    • Craig and Betsy Kettleman from Better Call Saul are cut from the same moronic cloth as Ted Beneke, with Craig leaving a hilariously obvious paper trail behind in the wake of embezzling county funds while Betsy fires every single lawyer she approaches for being unable to get him off the hook for his crimes. While Craig seems to be hopelessly naive more than anything, Betsy's a delusional nutjob whose poorly hidden sociopathy keeps her from seeing the bigger picture. When Craig is released from prison, he and Betsy are immediately back to their old tricks, and Kim Wexler barely has to try to find enough damning evidence of fraud to get Craig thrown into prison for life. Lucky for him and Betsy, she'd rather blackmail them into compliance than get him thrown back in the hole.
    • Daniel Wormald, aka "Pryce" is a schlubby baseball-obsessed geek who fancies himself a drug kingpin, but he's so out of his depth that it's hilarious. He drives around in a massive, garish, overpriced hummer that very clearly couldn't have been bought by a law-abiding citizen of his income, and he's so bad at hiding sensitive info from his rivals that all it takes for Nacho Varga to find his home address is to simply see the registration papers he left laying around inside his car. When Nacho breaks into his house and steals his baseball card collection, he calls the police and to everyone's surprise, they have suspicions about him almost immediately. Mike Ehrmantraut and Jimmy McGill manage to keep him out of jail, but it takes a lot of arguing and an improvised fetish video to save him from rotting behind bars.
      • Amusingly, Word of God has confirmed that he's the owner of the laser tag business Saul talks about in Breaking Bad. Since he not only becomes a successful money launderer, but manages to avoid getting caught up in the downfall of Walter White and Saul Goodman, it seems that he actually learned his lesson from all the way back then.

New Media

Video Games

  • Fallout 3 has Mel, an ineffective would-be mugger that the player character can find in a random encounter. He demands that the player give all his/her money to him in a very unassertive tone, stammers, and otherwise shows himself to be nothing short of pathetic. If the player has a high enough Perception skill, he can notice that Mel's gun isn't even loaded. If engaged in combat, Mel is a totally unarmed pushover.
  • Fallout: New Vegas gives us the Freeside Thugs, they seemingly do not understand the stupidity of luring someone in Power Armor and carrying a Machine Gun into a "trap" they set, when all they have are pool cues and meat cleavers.
    • There are also Vicky and Vance, a pre-war petty-crime duo styling themselves as Bonny and Clyde-like duo, except not nearly as competent or famous (at least before their deaths, when they drove through a completely unrelated shootout). And then there are Pauline and Sammy, two extremely small-time crooks styling themselves after Vicky and Vance (thus copying two copies) who want to gain infamy by robbing all the casinos on The Strip. With Vance's never-fired gun. Against all of The Strip's combined security.

Web Comics

  • The Good Crook: Jackie always had aspirations of being a gangster. His first (and only) attempted robbery involves him threatening a diner with a gun, then changing his mind mere seconds later. He proceeds to apologize and try to explain himself, at which point an over-eager police officer tackles and arrests him.

Western Animation

  • Observed in, of all places, a Rugrats cartoon where two bumbling criminals kidnap Tommy and hold him for ransom after they get their real target's house address wrong. Even then, the one-year-old baby becomes too much for the two idiots to handle so fast that they end up returning Tommy back to his parents before they even realized Tommy had been missing.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Dumbbell Indemnity", Moe spends so much money on things for his new girlfriend that he decides to come up with a plan with Homer to steal his car, have it destroyed, and collect the insurance money. Homer steals Moe's car and is supposed to leave it on the train tracks, but he gets sidetracked by a showing at a drive-in theater for a movie about a monkey who is president. Having missed the train, Homer decides to drive the car off a cliff in plain view of everyone, including the police, which gets himself arrested.

Moe: Homer, you moron.
Homer: Homer, you genius!

    • It's even better than that. When Homer first goes to steal the car, he finds that Snake is already on the job. So Homer pulls Snake from the car, throws him to the ground, and steals the car himself.
  • The Powerpuff Girls has the Amoeba Boys. You can tell that these single-celled organisms aren't neurons.
    • The Gangrene Gang too, especially in the episode "Telephonies". They break into the mayor's office and use the hotline to make false alarms, sending the Girls to fight Mojo, Fuzzy, and Him, all of whom are just minding their business at home. THEN they decide to order pizza and take a nap in the same office. Worst of all, when Him calls the office to complain about the unprovoked attack, Billy pretty much gives the three angry villains a full confession, and well, it kind of gets nasty from there...
  • The Mooninites from Aqua Teen Hunger Force once stole their uncle's "check from the government for being crazy" so they can cash it on Earth and go on a shopping spree... except the "check" was actually a payment bill for home care which emits radiation when it's overdue, and it's two months overdue. When this is revealed, Err claims that kept telling Ignignokt that the check was actually a bill on the way down to Earth, Err thought Ignignokt knew something about the bill he didn't.
    • That same episode begins with Igignokt spray-painting graffiti on a school, which Err quickly points out is just a rock.
    • Their first appearance saw them stealing whole assortments of electronics equipment. They also encouraged Meatwad to swallow an entire rack of DVDs, believing he could then walk out of the store with it; Meatwad couldn't do this and tried to carry it instead, which sees him immediately trip the store's alarms while the Mooninites take the opportunity to escape.
  • In a SpongeBob SquarePants cartoon, SpongeBob and Patrick deliberately attempt to rob a bank in order to try and break Mrs. Puff out of jail from the inside. For masks, both characters wore socks over their heads, which covered their eyes and didn't allow them to see where they were going, and the bank teller treats the entire ordeal as a normal exchange, asking SpongeBob for his name and ID (which he gladly hands over), pulling up his checking and savings accounts, and bluntly informing SpongeBob that he has no money in either account.
  • In Family Guy, Peter is stupid when he does anything, so when he's a crook, doing things like sell Meth or con his neighbors, he fits this Trope. Stewie and Brian, not so much. In fact, when they turn their bed and breakfast into a brothel, the rather stupid prostitutes decide they could steal it and kick him out; being pragmatic, Stewie simply reports the brothel to the police and watch the raid as they eat slightly-mangled raisin bread.