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. Compare Sabotage to Discredit and Flawed Prototype. If a competitor flagrantly stages one of these with an otherwise-safe product to make their own gadget look better in contrast, see Too Incompetent to Operate a Blanket. See also Testing Range Mishap.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Invoked in Neon Genesis Evangelion with the Jet Alone demonstration. Gendo is worried the competing mecha will be a problem for NERV so he has Ritsuko sabotage the demonstration. Having a combat vehicle go out of control and nearly suffer a nuclear meltdown in a populated city was enough to get it scrapped.

  • 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.
  • Played with in the Mega Man comic. Blues' power failure during the test fight convinces the military to simply scale back the nature of the combat robots they want to order from Dr. Light instead of cancelling it outright.

    Comic Strips 
  • A famous New Yorker magazine cartoon by Peter Arno, which shows the disastrous aftermath of a test plane flight, is actually what popularized the phrase "Back to the (old) drawing board." with its caption.
  • 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 

    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 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. (Maybe using live ammo in a demonstration was a bad idea here.) The ED design is sent back to the drawing board in favor of Robocop.
    • In 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. Also, Robocop Mk. 2 goes berserk in front of a large press corps 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 B.S.O.D. 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 like this trope:
  • 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.
    General: This is a great day for the Air Force, Senator!
    Senator (about ready to run for his life): Why is that, General?
  • 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.
  • In Joy, the man hired to demonstrate the mop Joy invented live on a shopping channel obviously didn't bother to touch the thing before stepping in front of the cameras and trying to sell it. Needless to say, the demonstration went poorly.
  • Those Fantastic Flying Fools (aka Jules Verne's Rocket to the Moon). Professor Von Bulow's wacky inventions include a Prussian Helmet Cannon that nearly kills the Kaiser, and a bridge that collapses during the Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony.

  • 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.
    • Zigzagged when Lando reveals that, of course, with the head of state and a half-dozen influential generals in the next hovercar over, the droid isn't carrying heavy ordnance and has a power regulator on its blasters (meaning it can't shoot much more than a laser pointer). When this reduced arsenal understandably fails to stop the infiltrators, YVH 1-1A demonstrates a further feature, its flexible heuristic combat routines. Translation: it bear-hugs them to death.
  • In the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, during the golden ticket hunt, a machine is showcased that is supposed to be able to grab at anything with gold inside of it, allowing the owner to find the golden ticket without unwrapping the chocolate bars. Instead, it immediately went for someone's gold filling and was promptly destroyed by the outraged crowd.

    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.
    • An even better example occurs in the "4th Season" special. Moss has developed his own personal Pepper Spray, and the IT Team decide to market it as a Pepper Spray for women. Que bad packaging/marketing causing it to be mistaken for perfume at their product unveiling.
  • 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. In another episode, they sabotaged a prototype noiseless aircraft engine so that it made a hellacious racket.
  • 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.
    • Nor was it the most cringeworthy demonstration in the entire series, as the team demonstrating a risotto recipe kit (Series 13) found out.
  • The Muppet Labs sketches from The Muppet Show run on this trope. Perhaps the most notable example is in the Gilda Radner episode, where Dr. Honeydew's new super glue is spilled all over the theater, causing problems throughout the remainder of the show.
    • When Don Knotts guest-starred, he appeared in a skit as a scientist unveiling a newly discovered creature. He talks about how the cage the creature is in is escape-proof, only for it to slip through the bars immediately afterwards. As it runs amok in the lab, Knotts assures the audience that the creature is harmless, which is the creature's cue to attack him. And then the creature's mother shows up...
  • Several such mishaps occur in Stargate SG-1. A prototype energy weapon was canned after firing it once shut down the entire primary power system for Stargate Command. Played with in another occasion: they're demonstrating a new kind of body armor that should be resistant to the staff weapon blasts used by the Goa'uld. They demonstrate this by shooting Syler with a staff weapon. The blast knocks him off his feet and sets him on fire, which seems very bad... but it's then pointed out (after he's hurriedly extinguished) that other than slightly winded and a bit singed, Syler is just fine, whereas a staff blast at that range would otherwise have been lethal.
  • Some of the ghosts from the second Sapphire and Steel story were civilian workers on a 1938 submarine prototype, who died of asphyxiation after the vessel they were running through sea trials got stuck on the sea floor in mid-demonstration.
  • Invoked in Dracula when Dracula's large-scale public demonstration of his wireless electricity device causes a deadly explosion, due to being sabotaged by Jonathan Harker on the Ancient Conspiracy's orders. It's intended to destroy Dracula's public persona and power base as a wealthy, visionary industrialist, but the series was Cut Short at that episode.

     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.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: The Book of Wondrous Inventions shows such a demonstration on the cover. This book is filled with various devices that are also hazardous in one way or another.

     Video Games 
  • One optional mission in Starcraft II Wings Of Liberty begins with a public demonstration of the Dominion's new super-high-tech Humongous Mecha, the Odin, which unbeknownst to the crowd has been hijacked by Raynor's Raiders. Emperor Mengsk's prerecorded speeches about how his scientists and engineers have created "the ultimate response to the zerg threat" play periodically as a counterpoint to the Odin stomping over parked cars and blowing apart military bases.
  • Professor Layton and the Unwound Future begins with Layton and Luke witnessing a public demonstration of a time machine. It explodes, with the prime minster as the test subject in it. All according to plan, it was staged to capture him. It is later revealed that this isn't the first time a time machine has exploded.

     Western Animation 
  • Superman: The Animated Series
    • In the 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 to get the military to buy even more powerful and expensive versions from him since there wasn't anything wrong with the machine itself. Also, the "theft" was a sham; in fact, Luthor had illegally sold the suit to the Kaznians.
    • In a later episode this is played somewhat more straight, with an anti-missile weapon called the Sky Sentry failing to activate during its unveiling. After Lex had ordered two actual missiles fired at the building it was unveiled at. Ultimately it's revealed that Brainiac had sabotaged the machine to lure Lex to him.
  • 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.
    • One joke goes like this, after the victim repeatedly telling the salesman he has no use for a vacuum: "If this vacuum can't clean up this pile of garbage, I'll eat it!" *click* *click* *click* "They cut the power a week ago... you want some salt and pepper?"

     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 a way, he was right, for it wasn't the glass that broke - the window popped out of its frame. This story won a Darwin Award.
  • 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 February 1982, a Real Life version of the ED 209 incident in RoboCop (1987) occured during a demonstration of the DIVAD automatic anti-aircraft gun. As soon as the computer was activated it aimed its guns at the VIPs attending. Thankfully, the only injuries were the ones the brass got while scrambling for cover.
  • Windows 98 infamously crashed during its 1998 COMDEX Unveiling, showing the consumers the first of many Blue Screens Of Death to come. Rather than being cancelled, however, this didn't even so much as slow its release.
  • A tool-assisted Speedrun of Gradius, running on an actual Nintendo Entertainment System, desynced at the 2014 Awesome Games Done Quick.
  • The Vasa, a huge warship built at great expense at the orders of King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. When tested during construction it turned out to be too top-heavy and unstable, but the king was impatient for the ship to be launched and no one had the courage to tell him it was too dangerous. On 10 August 1628 the ship embarked on its maiden voyage from Stockholm in full view of hundreds—if not thousands—of local residents as well as several foreign ambassadors. A few minutes after it encountered any wind stronger than a breeze it heeled so far to the side that water got in through the lower gun ports, ruining its ability to right itself and quickly causing the ship to sink. The King was furious and there was a huge Blame Game during the inquest into the cause of the sinking, but ultimately no one was punished for the fiasco.
  • In the late 1930s, Lockheed was developing a new interceptor, the twin-boomed XP-38 Lightning. The Army was so impressed with the secret project, that they made it public and arranged for Lockheed to perform a transcontinental speed run to demonstrate the new aircraft's performance. Unfortunately, the pilot undershot the runway and crash-landed, totaling the plane. In a subversion of the trope, the Army was still delighted with the aircraft, and ordered a development run of thirteen more YP-38s with various changes and improvements. The P-38 Lightning would go on to be one of the most successful American fighters of the war.
  • Similarly to the Lockheed XP-38 Lightning, Boeing had a crash with one of their prototypes, the Model 299, being developed to compete for a new Army requirement for a long-range heavy bomber. The prototype crashed on takeoff on 30 October, 1935, resulting in the deaths of two of the crew. A crash investigation revealed that a safety pin had not been removed from one of the control surfaces, resulting in the plane being uncontrollable. One long-term result of this is the modern aviation practice of using checklists to ensure no minor or major detail is overlooked. Like the Lockheed Lightning, the Boeing 299 was still able to enter service as the B-17 Flying Fortress, one of the most successful bombers of the war.