Disastrous Demonstration

Uh, back to the drawing board.

In Real Life, a product's design may be rejected because it's not cost-effective to make, because it infringes on someone else's patents, because the expected market for it has diminished, or many other dull-but-practical reasons. In fiction, that's not good enough: for a product to be abandoned, something must go disastrously wrong at a meeting of investors or shareholders, or even at a press conference announcing the product's debut. This always results in the product being cancelled, even if the catastrophe has nothing to do with its quality or lack thereof.

May also apply to demonstrations intended to win a prize or a single sale, rather than to be produced en masse. In the former case, the contestant's entry will be disqualified for a disastrous failure, even if said failure was in no way its creator's fault.

A subtrope of Gone Horribly Wrong. The product, itself, is a mercantile equivalent of The Scapegoat.


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  • In the original Amazing Spider-Man, Dr. Octavius has problems during his new invention's demonstration, which sets him on the path to become supervillain Doctor Octopus. The movie Spider-Man 2 carried over this element of his origin-story.

    Comic Strips 
  • A common event in Dilbert. For example, when Dilbert demonstrates his team's 3-D holographic interface for the new VP, the Dark Angel of Product Demos shows up inside the monitor (alongside Wally who's pretending to be the interface), tells the VP the product is a fake, and shows her some dirty photos the male engineers have been storing on the server.

    Films — Animated 
  • In Cars 2, the Lemons exploit this trope, actively conspiring to discredit green fuels by engineering terrible wrecks during a worldwide racing demonstration by vehicles using the Allinol biofuel.
  • In Meet the Robinsons, Bowler Hat Guy tries to pass Lewis' invention as his own to a corporate board. As he doesn't know the first thing about how to operate it, the meeting is a complete debacle.
  • Many of Flint's demonstrated inventions in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, even the main plot is a case of one Gone Horribly Right.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Bright Eyes escapes and rampages through the biotech company's facility, until she's shot right in front of its board of directors. The serum that'd made her intelligent is immediately shelved, even though her escape was a result of handlers' errors and her own Mama Bear nature, not the serum.
  • RoboCop franchise:
    • In RoboCop (1987), the demonstration of a glitching ED-209 results in one of the company's lesser executives becoming Ludicrous Gibs. The ED design is sent back to the drawing board in favor of Robocop.
    • RoboCop 2:
      • The Robocop Mk. 2 prototypes end up committing suicide within seconds of being unveiled. The first one also shot several technicians, which is why they didn't give the second one a gun.
      • Robocop Mk. 2 goes berserk in front of a large press corp when OCP holds an event to promote its new police-cyborg.
    • Averted in RoboCop (2014). At first it looks like it'll be played straight — Murphy suffers a Heroic BSOD while downloading the police database, including CCTV footage of the car-bombing that maimed him. Ordered to get him on his feet immediately for Robocop's first press conference, Dr Norton tampers with Murphy's neurochemistry to completely repress his emotions. Murphy stomps past his family and ignores the Mayor's outstretched hand, scanning them and everyone else in the crowd for potential threats. Fortunately he sees one - a man wanted for murder - and leaps into the crowd and tasers him. The event is then spun as an example of Robocop's amazing abilities in comparison to regular law enforcement, who failed to notice a wanted man in their midst.
  • In Splice, the transgenic organisms Fred and Ginger tear each other apart during a live TV promotion for their creators' gene-splicing technology. The program that created them is cancelled because of the debacle.
  • Young Frankenstein: Freddy introduces his monster in a song-and-dance routine, which goes fine until a stage light bursts into flame, which scares the monster into going on a rampage.
  • Something always goes wrong when introducing Kong to the general public.
  • Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times has a gag in which a salesman pitches a mechanical feeding device (to save time on lunch breaks) by testing it on the Tramp.
  • In Honey We Shrunk Ourselves, Wayne's less-than-impressive presentation is implied to have lost a major deal, with the investors leaving looking dissatisfied.
  • In Young Einstein, Preston Preston steals Einstein's beer-bubble-maker and, in his ignorance, nearly nukes London in his attempt to demonstrate it.
  • In Deal Of The Century, when a UAV is launched at a military aircraft demonstration, it malfunctions and destroys the expo. The design is justifiably scrapped when these technical difficulties are found to have resulted from the drone not being water-resistant.
  • Invoked in Iron Man 2, when the villain deliberately waits until the new military drones are being displayed at a massive product-premiere event before usurping control of them and siccing them on Iron Man. Tony also plays footage at the Senate hearing of this trope afflicting North Korea's, Iran's, and Hammer's attempts to build power armor.
  • Hal's defeat of the drone planes in Green Lantern came close to this, but Carol's fast-talking subverted her company's loss of its contract.
  • Played for Laughs in J-Men Forever. Admiral Ballsy demonstrates the dangerous effects of rock & roll music to the FCC (Federal Culture Control). The sound waves destroy a flask of milk being used as the target, then the window behind it, then an entire skyscraper.
  • In Scanners, the famous exploding-head scene takes place at what was supposed to be ConSec's official debut of its scanner program before representatives of other intelligence agencies.
  • In X-Men: Days of Future Past, Magneto hijacks the Sentinel prototypes at their public debut to provide a high-profile platform for his attack and New Era Speech.

  • Subverted in the New Jedi Order series. Lando Calrissian founds a company to build high-quality battle droids to act as Elite Mooks against the Yuuzhan Vong invaders. They end the demonstration and the prototype promptly opens fire on the crowd ... revealing the Yuuzhan Vong infiltrators spying on the event. The droid did exactly what it was supposed to.

    Live-Action TV 
  • One episode of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids's TV spinoff featured an alternative-energy car (powered primarily by burping) that Szelinksi felt might revolutionize the industry ... however a traveler from the future warned them that something had gone wrong during its planned production, resulting in a Bad Future, and they had to find a way to stop it. It was ultimately the foul-smelling exhaust that turned investors off.
  • In a blackout sketch on The Benny Hill Show he plays a TV pitchman selling a new cleaning product; he tosses some liquid (juice?) on the wall and a man in a labcoat uses the product to clean up - except the product doesn't clean off the stain, it cleans the wall's decorative paint off while leaving the stain.
  • In The IT Crowd, Moss's prototype bra that he is trying to get investors for production has a bad habit of spontaneous combustion.
  • Used on Dark Matters: Twisted But True, to dramatize setbacks in Truth in Television research, e.g. dentist Horace Wells' pioneering use of nitrous oxide for anesthesia.
  • When investigators on CSI Crime Scene Investigation visit an industrial shredding operation, the foreman explains that the piece of equipment they're shredding at the moment was a prototype that broke down during a promotional demo.
  • On Hogan's Heroes, the prisoners invoked this trope when they arranged for a remote-control prototype tank to destroy an officer's car and then explode.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus - in the second half of the Architect Sketch, Eric's presentation model for a high-rise block of flats lists over, partially collapses, then actually explodes and catches fire...but thanks to his Freemason connections, the planning board approves it. (Note: this sketch was done soon after a newly-built state-of-the-art highrise in London actually did catastrophically fall apart - hence the flashing caption "SATIRE" over this sketch.)
  • In the shopping channel task of Series 3 of The Apprentice (UK), the cliché shown below under 'other' really happened — Kristina tried to sell a floor cleaner, but because it wasn't plugged in it only spread the dirt around. And that wasn't the most cringeworthy demonstration in that episode, either.

     Tabletop games 
  • BattleTech has many, most of which are in the Experimental Technical Readout: Boondoggles - a collection of Flawed Prototypes. The LIB-4T Liberator had a torso design that made it incapable of dealing with its hot engine, leading to the battlemech's torso violently exploding during a live-fire demonstration when the heat caused its ammo to cook-off; the design was then canned and the prototype was later used as target practice (ironically by a descendant of the tank that it was using as target practice). The Bright Star jumpship was built to explore systems autonomously with no crew. Come demonstration day, the ship goes along its assigned 10 planned jumps before going off the rails, jumping from system to system for decades or possibly even centuries.

     Western Animation 
  • In the Superman: The Animated Series pilot, the "Lexo-Skel Suit 5000" is stolen by Kaznian mercenaries during its demonstration. Turns out, however, that this disaster was planned by Lex Luthor.
  • In the episode "Critters" of Batman: The Animated Series (Well, technically The New Batman Adventures), Farmer Brown's demonstration of giant farm animals goes awry when the giant sheep he's presenting breaks out of its cage. The idea behind the giant animals was to create a means to end world hunger, but because of the incident Farmer Brown was ordered to stop his work. Which of course led to him becoming the villain of the episode.
  • Almost every Sumdac Systems prototype in Transformers Animated, from the pilot episode onwards.

  • The classic cliche is the door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman, who starts by dumping dirt (or worse) on someone's carpet to demonstrate the amazing cleaning power of his vacuum, only for something to go terribly wrong.

     Real Life 
  • A man fell to his death from his law firm's high-rise office building while attempting to show off the sturdiness of the glass windows by ramming into them. In an ultimate irony, it wasn't the glass that broke - the window popped out of it's frame.
  • The original launch of the Advanced Passenger Train in the winter of 1981 was a publicity disaster from which the project never recovered.
  • One of the reasons why "bat bombs" — real bats rigged with minute explosive charges — were never deployed in WWII was because the wrong ones were released during a demonstration, and carried their live explosives into the rafters of the building where their military potential was being studied. Ka-boom.
  • Australian politician Joh Bjelke-Petersen's farce with the so-called hydrogen car.
  • When the Columbia Mark IX, a prototype automobile with the Entz Magnetic Transmission, was taken out on its test run, the transmission threw out a spark which hit the gas tank. The resulting fire destroyed the car.
  • In a Real Life version of the ED 209 incident in RoboCop (1987), during a demonstration, the DIVAD automatic anti-aircraft gun aimed its guns at the VIP's attending. Thankfully, the only injuries were the ones the brass got while scrambling for cover.