Learn how to pick a lock like Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2

Lock-picking instructor Schuyler Towne—who is teaching his craft at a cocktail party tomorrow—rates how genuine movie and TV depictions really are

Tomorrow night, expert lock picker Schuyler Towne will be teaching guests how to crack different kinds of locks at Atlas Obscura's vintage cocktail party. If that makes you think of sexy cat burglars stealing art masterpieces while the Mission Impossible theme plays in the background, you need a reality check—according to Towne, most movies have it totally wrong. "I’d say that maybe ten percent of the portrayals you see are accurate to any reasonable degree," he says. "It is infuriating to the point where I’m actually getting together with a couple of other niche experts to provide technical consultation for film and television." But not all onscreen picking is totally bogus. Here, Towne rates five movie and TV scenes for accuracy. The results range from the real McCoy to faker than a Louis Vuitton purse on Canal street.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

  • Rated as: 5/5

It doesn’t get more genuine than this: Linda Hamilton got training and actually opened her restraints on camera in what Towne calls “the most famous example of quality lock picking in a movie.”

Murder She Wrote

  • Rated as: 4/5

The show gets points for portraying a reality of picking: failure. In the pilot, Jessica Fletcher goes at a lock with a nail file. “To my great surprise, her attempt failed and she was caught in the act.”

The Closer

  • Rated as: 3/5

While the picking isn’t awful, Towne penalizes for a sloppy plot point: In the sixth season, Brenda remarks at a crime scene that the victim must have known the attacker since there were no signs of forced entry—even though she jimmied a lock earlier that episode.

Frank Langella and his pal, "Robot," in Robot and Frank

Robot & Frank

  • Rated as: 2/5

“An absolutely wonderful film that unfortunately contains some very unrealistic lock picking,” says Towne. In the very first scene, for instance, former jewel thief Frank uses the completely wrong tools for the lock he’s attacking.


  • Rated as: 1/5

In “Mr. Monk Goes to the Bank,” the characters are trapped for hours in a vault with a four-digit combo lock. But they could have cracked it in two hours or less by trying all the combinations. “For an episode that centers around a lock, it was handled horribly,” says Towne.

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Editor: Marley Lynch (@marleyasinbob)


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