Locks & Pop

The relationship between Locks and Popular Culture mightn’t be something you’ve given much consideration to. Yet when you think about it, the amount of lockpicking – and, looking more widely, safecracking – that we’ve seen on screen makes them natural bedfellows.

Lockpicking has perhaps had its most interesting fictional history in video games. One of its earliest appearances was in the 1989 Dungeons and Dragons video game called Hillsfar. It didn’t require you to pick a lock but to choose the right key in a limited time, basing your choice on the cross-section of the lock.

A screenshot from Hillsfar. (Hillsfar / Via http://uk.ign.com/articles/2015/02/10/9-examples-of-awesome-lock-picking-in-video-games)
A screenshot from Hillsfar.
(Hillsfar / Via http://uk.ign.com/articles/2015/02/10/9-examples-of-awesome-lock-picking-in-video-games)

What is likely to be the most memorable moment for many gamers, particularly those who love memes and cheesy dialogue, will be the infamous reference to lock-picking in Resident Evil (1996). Everyone’s favourite unsubtle turncoat, Barry Burton, utters this unforgettable line of dialogue to Jill Valentine:

“Jill, here’s a lockpick. It might be handy if you, the master of unlocking, take it with you.”

(Resident Evil / Capcom / Via wackywikivideos)

Valentine’s unofficial title was, of course, awarded to explain the fact that she couldn’t enter areas the other player-character couldn’t. This makes Valentine a typical ‘master of unlocking‘ as, according to TV Tropes, a character is normally only an expert in locksmithing as a plot contrivance.

Resident Evil has actually only featured one lock-picking mini-game, in recent spin off Resident Evil: Revelations 2. Lock-picking is perhaps most commonly found in Western (geographically Western, not Wild West Western) Roleplaying Games. Dungeons and Dragons might be partially responsible for this, as lock-picking plays an important part in that genre-defining game.

One of the most common forms of lock-picking mini-game is a cross section of the mechanism, where players need to push the pins of a pin tumbler into position. This has been seen in the likes of popular titles such as The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006) and most of the Splinter Cell games.

(The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion / Bethesda / Via http://elderscrolls.wikia.com/wiki/Lockpick_(Oblivion)?file=Lockpicking.jpg)
Oblivion’s lockpicking.                                                                           (The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion / Bethesda / Via http://elderscrolls.wikia.com/wiki/Lockpick_(Oblivion)?file=Lockpicking.jpg)

Recently, different portrayals have appeared on our screens. In the likes of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011) and Thief (2014) you pick the lock from the outside, and visual or audio cues let you know how you’re doing. Thief’s portrayal is particularly immersive as you actually see your character’s hands at work.

Locksmithing has had more curious representation outside of video games. One of the most original has to be a film called Lock Charmer (2014), about a locksmith who sees visions of the lives of his customers when he picks their locks.

Lockpicking has appeared in numerous films and television programs. Safecracking, though, is perhaps more memorable in its appearances on the screen, as its often been central to some of the tensest moments (think The Italian Job remake (2003) or Batman Forever (1995) ).

Plenty of video games have had safe-cracking, generally in the form of mini-games. Grand Theft Auto V (2013) is notable in having safe-cracking and lock-drilling: not only are you able to crack safes, but the recent Heists update has introduced the opportunity to drill through the mechanism of the locks of safety deposit boxes.

So, there it is – a sample of where locks and popular culture have come together. Do you have any other examples of the meeting of the two? Let us know in the comments section below!