"The magician sealed him in her mystical chamber, waved her hands around and opened the box... the trick was great! Ken was gone."
— Becky, Detective Barbie: The Mystery of the Carnival Caper
A magician asks for a volunteer in the audience or uses his assistant to place him or her in a regular cabinet. He then closes the cabinet, waves his wand to tap the box, opens it to reveal that the person is gone! It is believed that there is a trap door or a hidden exit in the box to make it all an illusion.
A Running Gag
in this trope is that the person either escapes or doesn't know how to get back in, leaving the magician flabbergasted and the audience booing. For a more dramatic twist, instead of the volunteer reappearing alive and well, the magician opens the box and a corpse falls out. Sometimes, a curtain will be used instead if the subject is bigger.
Since it is a Discredited Trope
and easy to perform, the ones that often do this magic trick in media are children. A magician will have to really
make it presentable and impossible in order to wow the audience.
Compare Smoke Out
, a more combat-oriented variant.
Anime & Manga
- Done in St. Luminous Mission High School, after several students have mysteriously vanished.
- In Pokemon Jirachi Wish Maker, the stage magician Butler plays this straight...except for the part where he has his Dusclops destroy the box instead of simply opening it.
- An old Little Lulu story had Tubby watching a magician's show. When the magician makes Annie apparently turn into a bird by such a box, he volunteers to be the next person inside— and finds that it uses a trapdoor to drop him under the stage. He decides to sneak back into the theatre to see what the magician "turned him into"— and is motified to find that it's a big fat jack o' lantern.
- In Get Smart, Siegfried kidnaps the chief in this way.
- Young Indiana Jones used one of these to slip past his pursuers in The Last Crusade.
- The Prestige revolves around a variation of this trick in which the magician steps into one box, closes the door, and immediately steps out of another across the stage.
- Played with in the segment directed by Woody Allen for New York Stories: The protagonist's (overbearing) mother is invited onstage and enters the box, but doesn't reappear. But later on, she magically materializes in giant form over New York and proceeds to embarrass his son.
- There's an interesting version in the Neil Gaiman short story "The Queen of Knives". The magician makes the child's grandmother disappear (after stabbing knives and swords through the box), but she never comes back.
- Done in Kitty Norville, the box seems to take her to another world/dimension.
- Played with in The Tommyknockers. Hilly Brown's disappearing trick was actually a machine that teleported people to Altair IV, a forbidden planet.
- The Woody Allen story "The Kugelmass Episode" has the eponymous character use such a device to be put in the book Madame Bovary so he can have an affair with her. Hilarity Ensues.
- In Columbo, episode "Now You See Him," the water tank escape act that the Great Santini uses to establish his alibi when he shoots Jesse Jerome has got some traces of this. What the audience sees: He scrunches himself up into a water crate that is then sealed shut and tightly secured with chains and padlocks. The crate is hoisted up into the air, and dumped into a water tank at the rear of the stage. After a few minutes go by, the crate is returned to the front of the stage, and is opened, to reveal Santini's daughter, while Santini reveals himself to be one of the black-suited and masked assistants on stage performing during the intermission. What really happens: the wooden crate has a false bottom, and is positioned over a trapdoor when it is on the stage floor. Santini hides in a break room underneath and changes outfits while the crate is in the tank, then sneaks back up to the stage. It is a 15 minute waiting period, so he uses the crate as an opportunity to pose as a waiter to get to Jerome's office and shoot him.
- In Doctor Who serial The Talons of Weng-Chiang, stage magician Li H'sen Chang uses this in his act, and tries to murder the Doctor with it. It backfires on him badly.
- It gets better. The Doctor walks out of the back of the cabinet, prompting Chang to utter the immortal line, "The bird has flown. One of us is yellow!"
- In Leverage, they perform this trick in order to get the CEO up to unlock a door requiring a retinal scan. Their way of doing it: they switch his box with an empty one when it passes behind a sheet.
- Arrested Development has the "Aztec Tomb".
- This appears in the Monk series episode 108, "Mr. Monk and the Magician".
- In one episode of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, Zack performed this magic act for some local children. During the act a monster attacked, so Zack had to use the box as cover to teleport out - and made it part of the show.
- Power Rangers S.P.D. once went after a magician who was caught up in the bad guys' plans, and the Omega Ranger made his grand entrance by hijacking the trick and appearing in the should-be-empty box.
- Played with in an episode of Matlock. The lovely assistant goes in and disappears...only to replaced by the corpse of the magician's scumbag manager.
- Kamen Rider Double had an arc centering around a magician who used a Gaia Memory to turn invisible and pull off this trick; the main conflict came because she didn't want to give it up, and Isaka wanted it to kill her in order to "mature" so he could add its power to his own.
- Featured in the magician's act in Return To Cranford, with a heartwarming twist.
- Earth Wind and Fire used to use a lot of magic in their concerts in the 1970's (Doug Henning and David Copperfield designed much of their stage shows). Their main set once closed with band members getting into a pyramid-shaped box, which would then rise off the stage. While the pyramid is in mid-air, the bottom would come apart, showing the band members had disappeared.
- Penn & Teller did a version of the box trick, where Teller is apparently dissembled into his head, legs, and hand. First, they do the trick normally. Then, they use completely transparent boxes to show how it's done. (And, because this is Penn and Teller, the second run through manages to be even more awesome. Mainly because it shows how much skill it takes to actually pull it off.)
- Cirque du Soleil's had quite a bit of fun spoofing this trope over the years.
- Mystere: Brian Le Petit chooses a man from the audience to step into a crate for this. Or so Brian leads us to expect. It's a trap — he locks the guy in it so he can head into the audience to woo his date! Oh, and then he loses the key...
- Varekai: A man from the audience is put through the "curtain" version via the male clown. Trouble is, the female clown comes back with him, and from there several odd combinations ensue.
- Banana Shpeel: Two boxes, one on each side of the stage. The idea is to "teleport" one performer to the other, but by the time the act is done, it seems half the cast has been through the ringer.
- Zarkana: Pocus the clown is put into a box for this trick, but with the protagonist Zark having lost his actual magical abilities, it takes a while to pull off. Once Pocus is vanished, he reappears in a nearby cannon...
- In the 90s PC game Detective Barbie, Ken volunteered for the act and left through the trapdoor as usual, but unknown to the magician or the audience, was kidnapped on the other side because he was carrying money the carnival had raised for charity with him onstage.
- This is Harvey's instant kill move in No More Heroes.