Sarah: Aha! This looks like it! (throws a box to the Doctor, who freezes in place) What's wrong; not enough?
Doctor: No sign of any detonators or fuses?
The sensitivity of C2N14 is beyond our capabilities of measurement. The smallest possible loadings in shock and friction tests led to explosive decomposition.
There are powerful explosives, and can blow up almost everything. But Hollywood gives it a nasty drawback: anything can make it explode.
And I do mean anything. You have to be super-careful or it will blow up. Or maybe it blows without any apparent reason.
Some Real Life
explosives really have a hair trigger, some...don't. Note that most explosives in fiction are not depicted this way. Usually in fiction, a plunger or a similar device (e.g. with a blasting cap, fuse, Plunger Detonator
, etc.) is used to safely blow up explosives. But also in fiction, they get the volatility of explosives wrong, especially TNT and dynamite.
Subtrope of Stuff Blowing Up
and The Last Straw
. Supertrope of Nitro Express
. Also see Explosive Stupidity
when someone doesn't know this. This applied to a car intentionally is Molotov Truck
, and unintentionally is Every Car Is a Pinto
. Compare/contrast Made of Explodium
, in which something that should not be explosive explodes anyway. If a nuclear weapon is treated like this, it's Artistic License – Nuclear Physics
- In The Legend of Zorro the villains' plan involves a train full of nitroglycerine. To demonstrate one tosses a small drop onto the floor causing a huge explosion.
- Played straight and later subverted in Die Hard with a Vengeance. The liquid/gelled binary explosive used in the movie, PLX, actually exists but neither looks like it does in the movie nor does it explode on impact (instead requiring at least a blasting cap). It's also certainly not energetic enough that the amount collected on the tip of a paper clip would be enough to flip a chair. Seen later on, the actual bombs made with it feature more realistic amounts of priming explosives.
- Subverted in The Guns of Navarone. While Corporal Miller is explaining how his gear has been sabotaged he holds up his time pencils and says "75 grains of fulminate of mercury in each of them, enough to blow my hand off. And very unstable, very delicate." He then ruthlessly crushes them. Instead of exploding, they do nothing - the traitor removed the fulminate of mercury.
- Briefly discussed in the children's novel Ghost Town Adventure. Abe Winters, mayor of the eponymous ghost town, tells the children about a time one of his burros had fallen down a cliff while packing a load of dynamite. Chuck (the youngest) asks if the burro blew up and Abe says no, all that happened was the burro got a bruise on its tailbone.
- In Horatio Hornblower, the narration occasionally throws in a reminder that black powder is incredibly dangerous to work with. The men in the powder room couldn't even wear nailed shoes for fear a spark would blow up the whole ship.
- In video games in general, Exploding Barrels can be usually detonated even by punching or striking them with any melee weapon.
- Crash Bandicoot has Nitro boxes that go off like this. They also bounce randomly.
- TNT is less sensitive than nitro, as in you can touch the side without dying. Hitting the top triggers the timer, but you can still kill yourself like it's nitro.
- The Incredible Machine has a vial of nitro as an item. Any impact even a fan blowing air against it can set it off, except one. That's important in one level.
- The two Castlevania games on the Nintendo 64 have the item "Magical Nitro" which is used in conjunction with "Mandragora" to make an explosive that destroys cracked walls. However, the game cautions that the Nitro is extremely volatile; the player must avoid jumping or being hit by enemy attacks or else the Nitro explodes and instantly kills the character.
- Powder Boxes in Spelunky HD will explode violently when hit by anything, even by flying blood drops and shrapnel that are generally harmless. About all that doesn't set them off is pushing them and walking on top of them; just be careful about your surroundings. note
"It's filled with black powder. Handle with care!"
- In Angry Birds, if a bird, rock, piece of wood (anything, really) hits a box of TNT, it will blow up (even if there's no source of fire).
- Deus Ex: Tossing a crate of TNT any significant distance will cause it to explode.
- In Cannon Fodder, shooting a box of grenades or a bundle of rockets with a single bullet will cause it to explode.
Truth in Television
- During the ending of the Spongebob Squarepants episode "Dying for Pie", Spongebob shows Squidward that he never ate the bomb pie, he was saving it in his pocket the whole time. He then trips, dropping the pie and causing an explosion (a live-action nuclear one to be specific), and then it cuts back to Spongebob and Squidward, completely covered in ash from the explosion.
- Before that, a bite of that pie is enough to blow up Mr. Krab's office when that hits the ground.
- The Simpsons: Zigzagged in "The PTA Disbands", a tour guide in Fort Springfield is giving a lecture on a "fully restored and in ready to fire condition" Civil War cannon aimed directly at the base of a manned lookout tower. She mentions that these cannons are "very sensitive and that the "slightest jolt" can set them off as the Springfield Elementary bus starts swerving towards the cannon. The bus hits it and... one of the cannon's wheels falls off.
- In Futurama, Fry is carrying sticks of dynamite, and each time one fell off it exploded. Fry makes it to the storage shed, there's a big explosion inside, and Fry emerges singed. Of course, the whole point of dynamite is that it doesn't explode unless detonated, so this was strictly Rule of Funny.
- A recurring Looney Tunes gag has a character drinking a bottle of nitroglycerin and then either exploding or acquiring explosive saliva.
- A website of Real Life stories, mostly from the 19th century: The Tallini Tales of Destruction. Many of them are of the form that truth is stranger than fiction.
- Pure nitroglycerin is extremely unstable and prone to exploding if roughly handled (the reason dynamite was invented was to make nitroglycerin safer to transport and use). However, by freezing nitro, it becomes very hard to blow up.
- While newly made dynamite is safe, old dynamite is unstable because it "sweats" the nitro out of itself, which can then act as the triggering explosive to set the rest off.
- Similarly, Medical nitroglycerin is, like blasting dynamite, made in a safe form factor (pills, patches, etc) and can't explode.
- Anyone who has seen the lab demonstration concerning how quickly and simply nitro can be made (if you have the correct chemicals) will remember the inevitable sequel for life. The test-tube, in which a very small quantity of nitro has been made, is held at arms-length by the demonstrator and then dropped. The impact imparted simply by dropping the damn thing causes a large bang and sends glass shards flying everywhere. (This was in the context of an Army lecture about improvised explosive devices and how simple explosives can be made from scratch. The instructors are usually experienced NCO's and officers who know how far they can go. I don't think this is taught in schools!)
- Another hair-trigger explosive is fulminate of mercury, which is used in blasting caps in order to set off other explosives and percussion caps for muskets in the mid 1800s.
- And if you think fulminate of mercury is bad, then look at fulminate of silver. It can explode under its own weight.
- There are "contact explosives" (see The Other Wiki) that are almost ridiculously sensitive. Nitrogen triiodide, when dry, is so sensitive that being exposed to alpha radiation is enough to detonate it.
- Averted with C4 (which is famous for its stability and inability to go off w/out a blasting cap) and TNT (which is safe and sane; you can burn the stuff in a stove, and it won't explode, you need a detonator to explode TNT).
- Some of the "Things I Won't Work With" category on this chemistry blog are included for this reason. One of the near-definite winners must be a yet unnamed compound synthesized from N-amino azidotetrazole (which on its own already qualifies), which exploded on every single attempt to move it elsewhere for testing, and whenever they tried to get an infrared spectrum on it. Shining an infrared light on it set it off. The guy in charge of these tests, Thomas M. Klapötke (who is practically the king of dealing with these kinds of sensitive compounds) had to give up on it, because he quite simply couldn't get any meaningful measurement out of it, other than the fact it exploded with ridiculous ease.
- In 2014, the British Army claimed that an entire group of insurgents in Afghanistan had been killed by a single bullet, when a British sniper unknowingly shot a suicide bomb vest that one of them was wearing.