Your car needs a service at least every 3 years, but a temple built from stone with primitive tools over one thousand years ago can have a mechanism that runs smoother than a hot curry through a digestive system. Because of magic.
Both lampshaded and subverted in an issue of Catwoman. She notes that the deadly traps still functional after centuries would be normal in a movie, but in real life would need maintenance. She soon discovers the owner of the deathtraps is still alive.
In An Entry With A Bang!, the GDI team sent to New Dallas encounter a laser turret dating back to the Star League still guarding one of the places they try to explore. Then it stops with a shareware-esque notification.
In the Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, when Indy and his party enter the pyramid, they stumble across the remains of the dead conquistadors who entered before. Considering the fact that, in order to enter the pyramid (and arm the trap), you have to open the top of the entire pyramid, you really wonder who "closed" the pyramid after the conquistadors. Although it is possible that the natives somehow closed the pyramid, it really stretches the imagination as to how they go about it when the whole thing is dependent on a few bricks slotted in the right places.
Though many of these were shown to be falling apart; pieces falling off as the trap activated, and several parts of the caves collapsed completely.
Fridge Brilliance says that they were built for instant death, but the time that passed have left the traps barely able to do the killing, giving the Goonies time to get out alive. Plus Prof. Copperpot was killed by just ONE boulder from a trap of Rock Falls Everyone Dies and before reaching the trigger mechanism, so maybe the decaying ropes just snapped and killed the Prof. Now for that wooden ship sitting in salt water for the last 300 years....
In National Treasure, when they discover the lost city of gold it is opened through a complex series of counter weights and then the door immediately shuts behind them using equally complex mechanics. Also The traps and actual city of gold are complicated to the point that even setting them up would be nearly impossible without killing yourself in the process, this also happens in the first one. Partially subverted though in that they slowly fall apart after the first use indicating that they weren't durable enough for daily operation but durable enough to be in the single state and then perform a single transition for centuries. Only partially due to the complexity involved in the set up.
The first film inverted this. The long stairway containing the titled treasure wasn't dangerous because of death traps, it is dangerous because it was made out of wood that has been rotting for over 200 years.
Particularly egregious in The Rundown, where the collapsing ceiling trap is entirely dependent on the fact that the wooden logs are weak and rotten. So it's a trap that would gradually grow more dangerous with time, until it just completely collapses and becomes useless. The heroes just happened to arrive in time for it to reach maximum potential lethality?
Subverted in the Discworld novel Sourcery, where the characters discover all the traps in the Death Course protecting King Creosote's treasure are broken down and worn out. Turns out to be a Double Subversion, when the only one that was actually dangerous (the rest are just practical jokes) works just fine.
In this case, the trap is 'only' about fifty years old; the lethal trap in question is one that might plausibly last that long.
Played for laughs in the Discworld novel Reaper Man where a pair of priests are guarding a huge diamond inside a temple filled with death traps. Although the death traps work fine, they can't stop, well, Death himself from stealing the diamond.
In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the main characters arrive at Magrathea—a planet thought to be uninhabited for millions of years—to find that an automated atomic missile system has been directed to fire straight at any incoming ships. Zaphod arrogantly believes that, since the message informing of this is so old, it "doesn't apply to us". That is—until the missiles actually come at them.
Used in both Thieves Like Us and the sequel Thieves Until We Die, both times involving the group breaking into ancient tombs. The first was pretty mild ignoring a poison-tipped arrow fired while they were opening a door and a bizarre hypnosis/drug trip they were all put on later. The second was much more elaborate with the temple rigged to completely collapse should fake treasure be stolen or a human sacrifice be made. The thing was built on a clever paper foundation that broke apart after the blood of the sacrifice spilled onto it, but then the real treasure chamber is only revealed as it collapses.
Matthew Reilly's 'Jack West Junior' series frequently utilizes this trope. The most egregious example is a trap in 'Seven Ancient Wonders' that when you trip the sensor will shoot a live alligator out of a wall at you. This is a trap that is at least a couple thousand years old.
Lampshaded in Andy McDermott's Hunt for Atlantis, where a lead character notes that the deathtraps in an Amazon-concealed temple couldn't still be working — until someone else notes that the local Indian tribe has had plenty of time, motivation and ability to reset the devices. Averted in the sequel, The Tomb of Hercules, where at least half the deathtraps representing the Labors of Hercules have already been set off by earlier explorers and are now harmless.
Semi-justified though as a lot of the stuff the Ancients and other civilizations built are very durable, functional magic, and made out of Unobtainium.
In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Booby Trap", the Enterprise discovers an ancient ship of archaeological significance, however during the investigation they're caught in a thousand-year-old trap that drains the ship's power and converts it into lethal radiation.
Picard: Is it possible... that we've fallen into the same snare that killed them? A 1,000 year old booby-trap?
Relic Hunter was basically Tomb Raider except with the protagonist split into a sexy heroine and a British sidekick that together recovered artifacts from various ruins. Said ruins were of course chock-full of these.
Considering the number of dungeons that take place in ancient ruins, Dungeons & Dragons has quite a few of these. Though most dungeons are inhabited, kobolds in particular are good at setting traps, but if the only monsters are non-sentient or dormant then the deathtraps must be very durable indeed.
For instance, the ruins of the Ancient Giant civilization of Xen'drik in the Eberron campaign setting usually have deathtraps that have stood for thousands of years.
Tomb Raider Legend featured a few subversions — one level had bamboo spike traps that had long broken down and could be used for climbing; in another level, Lara had to reactivate a stopped swinging-blade trap just so she could get past it, and at one point, Lara dispensed with the usual timed jumping and plowed through a spike trap with a forklift.
In Tomb Raider: Anniversary, there's one level in which a few of the locked doors don't open all the way, but you can still get through them via a passageway above them.
Subverted in Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, where both a past and present version of the fortress are visited: the past has many working traps, while in the present most traps have decayed or collapsed. At various times, the only way to get past some traps is to use a time portal to go the present, walk through the nonoperative traps, and then go back to the past in a new portal (note that all other games in the series used this trope to a T).
Justified since the locales of the other games were still inhabited until at least shortly before the games' events. In Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, the Prince even activates the traps himself before noticing that pits, spikes and whirling blades might not be that effective against regenerating, teleporting sand monstrosities...
The ruined castle levels in Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame have fully functional scythe traps.
Both the Rakatan ruins on Dantooine and the Temple of the Ancients fit this trope in Knights of the Old Republic. A particularly egregious example, as the backstory says that both places were visited by adventurers just a few years ago, who presumably had to pass through the ancient traps and 30,000-year-old sentry droids as well, yet they're all intact.
Can be hand waved using the Speculative Fiction option above: the building could plausibly contain automation designed to repair its own death traps. Harder to explain the survival of the Star Maps, but those were definitely designed to last a very long time.
The game does explain that the Star Maps (and thus possibly other Rakatan tech) are designed to repair themselves. This is why the Star Maps are incomplete; they haven't finished repairing themselves yet.
They haven't finished repairing themselves... after being deliberately damaged by their creators on the way out. They didn't want anyone unfriendly stumbling upon them while they were dying, after all. That IS actually the explicitly given explanation. It might be added that much of it shows obvious signs of deterioration anyway(Only three Functional droids on Dantooine, and about that many or more broken down, for starters?)
The Angkor Thom temple from the video game Eternal Darkness fits this trope perfectly, featuring hallways equipped with slamming wall sections, humongous blades capable of slicing a man in a single blow, and holes that fire poisonous darts. Of course, since all the characters are Made of Iron, Ellia will only die after being hit 3 or 4 times by these traps... even though she's the weakest character in the game.
Can be chalked up to a great big the giant rotting bulk of slowly-dying Mantorok in the heart of the temple did it. Given that we KNOW just how powerful Anchients are and Mantorok has been repeatedly shown to be capable of manipulating events thousands of miles and in separate timelines even as he slowly kicks the bucket, it's safe to say keeping the traps running would be entirely within his power. Alternatively, Pious and his patron could have done so with equal ease for the exact same reason in order to prevent anybody from getting into the temple.
The Temple of Pandora in God of War is a major offender, although it circumvents the issue of why to put traps in a place that was in regular use, as it was built expressly to keep the "unworthy" out, and served no other purpose except gruesomely killing people. Despite supposedly being a thousand years old, almost all of the traps and machinery are in perfect working order. Worse, at various points, you see people who attempted to infiltrate the temple as well, living and dead, yet all the traps are reset behind them. The manual briefly appears to offer an explanation by sharing legends that the architect is actually still alive in the temple somewhere... but in the game, it's eventually revealed that he's been dead for a long time, going back to the problem of no-one to maintain or reset the traps. Possibly it's serviced by the gods.
Goombario: It's amazing that these ruins still have moving parts. Haven't they been buried here for ages and ages? And yet, when we push switches, stuff moves... Amazing craftsmanship. You've gotta applaud the designers.
One might wonder why a ruin lying around full of treasure in the middle of a country that practically breeds grave robberslootersadventurers that the traps would have been either disabled or at least clogged up with bodies hundreds and hundreds of years ago.
Not that unbelievable when you realize the Ayleids were slavemasters who ran a very tight ship for centuries at the least and who thus built to last and that decay and the miscellaneous ways mother nature can get rid of organic debris would take care of the "full of corpses" problem.
The strangely impractical designs of these traps makes their continued functioning seem even that much more amazing. Though it's probably for gameplay rather than logical reasons, the fact that the spike traps don't fall on players, or players fall into the spike traps, BUT THE FLOOR RISES TO THE SPIKED CEILING just screams out that it should not still be functional.
It helps to explain a lot about the designs when you realize that the Ayleids: A. built to last, and B. were probably sadists.
This is very true in Skyrim as well. Both the ubiquitous Nord ruins and the slightly less ubiquitous Dwemer ruins are packed with fully functional ancient traps. Spikes come out of the floor, inexplicable darts shoot out of the walls, spiked doors swing around at you if you step on the wrong button... and in the case of Dwemer ruins, perfectly functional steampunk automata get up and start attacking you. This last one at least gets some justification; Dwemer metal is famed for being corrosion-proof, the Dwemer themselves were masters of Magitek (the robots seem to be powered by some combination of steam power and soul gems), and there are plenty of little spider robots running around with oil-cans and maintaining the rest of them. And attacking interlopers.
Ancient ruins in Drakan feature fully functional traps. It seems that whirling blades are much more durable than stationary stone walls.
The Wild Arms games are full of these, though they are usually of the "blocks the way" rather than the "kills you" variety. Wild ARMs 2 was particularly bad in the way the devices seemed to have been tailored exactly so that the specific combination of abilities of the heroes who explored them thousands of years later are needed to bypass them.
As one example, there is a switch in Wild ARMs 2 that's at just the right height that the only way to hit it is by knocking down a series of crumbling pillars like dominoes. The trap relied on the dungeon being an ancient ruin to be bypassed. Inverted Trope?
In Painkiller, the medieval-style shields used by the Templar enemies can block all of Daniel's weapons - even the rockets that should have taken both shield and user simultaneously.
Justified in that they were (strangely themed) demons in Purgatory and that they and their equipment were most likely made from Hellish materials and souls.
Both subverted and played straight in the Wario Land series. Played straight with the Golden Pyramid in the fourth game (complete with portals, music room/karaoke and shop), and Rollanratl in Shake Dimension (despite being a few thousand year old robot guardian of an ancient civilization, it can still hold up the roof, fire missiles and shoot laser beams at intruders an infinite amount of times.
This remote allows you to summon a giant robot hidden deep within the bowels of the earth and unleash him on your unsuspecting enemies. But it's out of batteries.
A modern equivalent is the excess of unexploded cars in Fallout 3. Because Every Car Is a Pinto, shooting a car anywhere, with any kind of gun, will cause it to violently explode. But even those parts of the Capital Wasteland that have seen decades of urban warfare still feature cars that have not yet been shot. The town of Minefield is inhabited by a sniper who will shoot at the cars around you before he can even see you, yet inexplicably has never done this to anyone else before.
Freedom Fighters also has explodey (and otherwise useless) cars seasoning its levels. It's a good safety tip to pop a car before using it for cover. The computer controlled opponents conveniently never think of this. Possibly justified by the fact that the enemy troops have no reason to leave burned-our wrecks lying around in areas they're operating in; some of the materials used in building a modern car create some really nasty chemical byproducts when they're burned.
The penultimate dungeon in Final Fantasy XII is a giant dilapidated lighthouse that crumbles with your every step, but all of its poison trap, slow-gas machines, and Deadly Spikes work as if they were just installed.
Justified, because the traps are definitely magical in nature.
Assassin's Creed plays it straight with the Assassin Tombs and Templar Lairs in the second game and Brotherhood. The Auditore Family Crypt from AC 2, which is around two hundred years old and yet still has an elaborate network of lever-activated, timed gateways; some of the Assassin Tombs are even older and have even more elaborate technology. Brotherhood subverts the trope a bit with the introductory segment where the modern protagonists go through the Auditore Crypt, and in the intervening 500 years the mechanisms have all decayed (though functional pulley-operated bridges still exist).
The Assassin Tombs may at least be somewhat justified, depending on whether or not the Assassins used reverse-engineered Those Who Came Before technology.
Averted with the Mayan temple in III, where the primary hazard comes from the fact that the whole place is falling apart.
Diablo doesn't have many traps of the classic variety, but a common baffling feature of dungeons is skeletons inside barrels. Who put the skeleton in there? Why hasn't the skeleton broken out? If the skeleton put himself in there so he could ambush you, why does he always wait to show himself until you've broken open the barrel and the skeleton is directly in the path of your weapon?
Diablo III continues this, plus coffins that pop up out of the ground in a field for no apparent reason and open to release a skeleton.
The Uncharted series plays with this - while the adventuring segments rarely actively try to kill the player, any slippery handhold or misjudged jump can spell a quick, flat death. The puzzles often involve navigating rooms with huge clockwork systems and complex hydraulics which are always visibly decayed but, as a rule, will never be quite so decayed that Drake can't get past them. There are countless occasions where the loss of one more tiny architectural detail would render the game unwinnable, and just as many occasions where that same brick or pole will fall off the wall as soon as Drake is done with it - meaning if anyone had tried before him, or if it had rained particularly hard the day before, Drake would have had to turn around and go home. While not exactly "Death traps", this trope is also invoked with the old guns that Drake and crew pick up in the first and second games that have been laying around for a half century at least in conditions that would utterly destroy the functionality of any firearm within a few months, and having them operate perfectly without jamming, specifically the MP-40s and P08 Lugers he picked up left over from Those Wacky Nazis, as well as the AK-47s he finds left over from an old expedition into Shambhala.
And then it gets played straight in the second game, where Nate and Chloe fall into a room with a descending spiked ceiling.
The Enrichment Center in Portal 2 both subverts and plays this straight, depending on which part of the game you're in. While you're in the upper levels of the Enrichment Center that you got familiar with in the original, the place is dilapidated, overgrown, and bits of it aren't functioning right. When you go down into the bowels of the Enrichment Center to the original iteration deep underground, everything is in perfect working order, right down to the pre-recorded, automated messages from Cave Johnson, who was long-dead by the time the original game rolled around.
The electronics and equipment you need to use are in working order, but the environment itself is definitely not. Collapsed walkways everywhere, many of the spheres once containing test chambers are in ruins and flooded. And all of the elevators leading to the surface are out of order.
In Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Starkiller visits the ruins of the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, and the security system is still operational, forcing Starkiller to contend with droids and Hard Light simulations.
In Serious Sam III: BFE: You go inside a pyramid where everything is crumbling and yet there are still levers that activate falling ceilings. Could be justified in that there might be some Sirian technology behind the scenes holding everything together.
Sometimes averted, sometimes played straight in Dwarf Fortress. Traps can get jammed if triggered enough times in quick succession and projectile weapon-based ones require reloading, but they don't require any maintenance and can stay functional indefinitely. Whether this stays true after the promised mechanical engineering overhaul remains to be seen.
Pi'illodium in Mario & Luigi: Dream Team. Keep in mind the entire Pi'illo Kingdom which it was supposed to guard the temple of had literally collapsed about two thousand years before the game starts. That still didn't stop this thing firing an infinite barrage of heat seeking missiles at Mario and Luigi, flying, making comments in Robo Speak about how their deaths were imminent and setting off a thirty second self destruct timer when its health got low. Probable same deal with Earthwake in Dreamy Wakeport, assuming it was given the nightmare chunk to hold back when the Big Bad was defeated the first time round. Two thousand years of no kingdom or civilisation didn't stop that Humongous Mecha either.
Lampshaded and hand waved in Dungeon Damage. Most traps were built by hired Dwarves (who had much more advanced tech and durable materials than most in the Medieval European Fantasy setting) and the traps are reset by a waterwheel connected to an underground river, which turns gears to ratchet the doors etc., back to their starting position after each trap goes off. Ironically, many of the treasures protected are much more perishable than the traps themselves; papyrus scrolls or valuable spices, for example.
Inverted very nicely in Ben 10 episode "The Ultimate Weapon", with a Mayan temple that's dangerous mainly because it wasn't built to last. Well, that and the Mayan God Of Death hangs out there; but aside from that, there's a grand total of one trap. In fact the "ultimate weapon" is just a brittle old sword that crumbles into dust the moment someone lifts it.
Subverted in an episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender , in which Aang and Zuko explore the ruins of a long extinct culture. When they run into a series of booby traps, Zuko wonders how the traps are still operational after all this time. It is soon revealed that the race wasn't so extinct after all.
Played straight in the original ThunderCats animated series episode "The Tower of Traps". The several traps through the whole tower were still active much after the one who created them died.
In the first scene of Jackie Chan Adventures, Jackie is leading people through the castle of "Mad King Ludwig", said to hold dozens of deadly traps. He spots a hidden wire on the floor and cautions his group to stay back.
Tourist: Aw, c'mon, what are the odds of these traps still -
(Jackie takes the tourist's cap and drops it on the wire. Stone slabs slide out of the walls, slamming together inches in front of the guy's face. When they slide back, Jackie puts the cap back on his head - and closes his mouth)
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Despite being the site of a violent battle prior to a thousand years of neglect, all the traps and secret passages of Celestia and Luna’s old castle still work in "Castle Mane-ia”. Subverted with the deathtrap part though; they're not meant to hurt anyone. They're there in the first place because of Luna's and Celestia's proclivity for pranks (Twilight even found an old journal, talking about how one of the traps were always Luna's "favorite"). Fluttershy actually is more worried about the dangers of actual old ruins, such as floors giving out and falling debris.
There are a few traps built into the great pyramids to deter robbers, that, thanks to low-tech design, continued to catch stupider people, mostly by trapping them in tight spaces or building huge pits in the middle of the passage. Needless to say, the robbers got around them. But the skeletons of past robbers were still present when modern archeologists found them (this is a problem with durable deathtraps, the dusty skeletons with punji sticks through the eyes tend to be a tip-off).
The primary purpose of those pits was to catch rainwater to prevent it from ruining the tombs, by the way. Catching graverobbers was just a side benefit.
Truth in Television: Land mines can last for a very long time. Live ones are a serious problem in Third World countries with decades-old fields lost in the records.
The situation in Laos deserves a particular mention; it was a real-life Acceptable Target during the Vietnam war, where bombers would offload any excess munitions. There are still numerous non-profits dedicated exclusively to combing farms and safely detonating the explosives.
European countries including Germany and Britain still discover unexploded bombs from World War II. There are also artefacts from the first world war being unearthed in France and Belgium to this day, called an Iron Harvest.
They still cause deaths to this day, often from being turned up by ploughing, or set of by fires burned over them. They're also a LOT less stable after nearly 100 years, and tend to be easier to set off than when they were made. It makes it very tough to make them safe - there is work for the Belgian and French bomb disposal squads for many years yet...
Six of the 25 giant mines (tens of tons of explosives each) set under the Messines ridge were not detonated in the battle. One of them was dug up after the war. Five were not. Four remain - one of them went off of its own accord in 1955.
One particularly impressive example of how true this trope can be was the case of the unexploded Luftwaffe 2,200-pound bomb that was uncovered in 2008 under the then-in-construction British Olympic Stadium. Apparently at some point during defusal efforts the bomb began ticking, with the internal clockwork fuse being apparently jarred into action. A clockwork mechanism, buried underground and under the water table for 60 years after slamming into the ground after being dropped by a plane, began ticking. Wrap your mind around that for a moment.
This perpetual danger of unexploded ordinance remains the drive for contemporary landmine bans. The US response has been to create landmines that deactivate after a set time, or when batteries fail.
It's not just explosives: after the war, the allies simply dumped much of Germany's chemical weapons stockpile into the sea. Fishermen in the Baltic Sea still occasionally dredge up corroded, leaking shells full of still potent gas.
Ironically, in Real Life you don't need to put traps in most caves or any decayed ruins- they're plenty dangerous to explore on their own.
According to some accounts, the Anasazi cliff dwellers had one in which you needed to climb down a set of hand- and footholds to get to their living areas. But if you started with the wrong foot (either left instead of right, or vice versa), you'd come to a point where you couldn't reach the next foothold down — and, so the accounts say, this was usually after you'd climbed far enough down that you were too tired to climb back up, or something along those lines. Meaning you'd just hang on there for a while, arms hurting more and more, until you fell to your death.
High-order maritime salvage operations behave very much like these even through the the traps are not intentionally engineered, whether a wreck is five days old or five centuries. The combination of deep water, foul weather, rusty engineering, hungry fauna and old explosives makes for a lot of hazards. Some wrecks (typically felled ammunition freighters) have been deemed too dangerous to approach, despite their accessibility.
One such is in the Thames estuary. It contains enough explosives and is close enough to built-up areas that if it went off it would cause nuclear levels of destruction, albeit without the radiation. Despite being in shallow enough water that the tops of its masts are still visible, it is considered safer to enforce an exclusion zone of several miles around it than to try to clear it up. This may however turn out to be a self-defeating strategy - decades of decay have made it ever more likely to go off by itself, while decades of property development have increased the potential for destruction if it does.
It was thought it was just a myth that Qui Shi Huangs tomb was filled with mercury rivers so small ships could sail for eternity, by killing anyone who tries to disturb it. When his tomb was finally found, it was discovered that the tomb is filled with extremely deadly levels of mercury, meaning the legends may be true, and that Huangs may get his wish. Even though the tomb hasn't been opened yet, ancient accounts of its construction mention it having bronze cross bows rigged to fire when disturbed. In the past several bronze cross bows from this time period have been found needing little to no maintenance to fire. Fear of these death traps is cited as the number two reason the Chinese government won't allow any expeditions to open the tomb.