Misapplied Phlebotinum

"Computers make it easier to do a lot of things, but most of the things they make it easier to do don't need to be done."
Andy Rooney

The case of a writer not quite getting their own head around their invention. An invention which is capable of great and astounding things (and often, of literally anything) is used exclusively for much lesser tasks. If you find that after a trip to the fridge you see that the Phlebotinum in question could be used to obsolete entire industries if not render the entire plot trivial then you're dealing with this trope.

Common victims of Misapplication include:
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel:
    • It's actually harder to conceive of an FTL system that can't also double as a Weapon of Mass Destruction than it is to conceive of one that can. And that's not even getting into the fact that, because of the way relativity works, FTL travel is logically equivalent to Time Travel...
  • Teleporters and Transporters:
    • The technology that allows your crew to travel from the Cool Starship to the planet and back without using a shuttle is the same technology that can park a live warhead in the enemy captain's lap without using a missile. It also makes a nifty Disintegrator Ray if you skip the "rematerialization" end of the process or, if it doesn't work by dematerializing, send the receiving end into the sun. Or only teleporting part of the target. And unless it's ludicrously expensive/has major side-effects, it can be used to greatly reduce shipping costs and delays, and could remove the need for any other planet-based vehicle (if it's cheap and practical enough, you wouldn't even need to walk). This could also be used to dispose of hazardous waste, removing the need for massive landfills or toxic waste dumps. If it converts matter into energy, and you have a way of storing that energy, you could use it as an alternative source of power: converting otherwise useless garbage into a viable power source for other things. This would change the face of society.
    • If the technology works by destroying and reconstructing, there are a number of possible uses that are rarely used, like bodily restoration after injury or death, copying/mass-production of reconstructible objects, copying/mass-production of people, etc. It also raises the question of whether the person who comes out is the same person as the one who went in, or just a clone with the now-dead original's memories.
  • Artificial Gravity:
    • If your Cool Starship has a device that can generate and manipulate gravity irrespective of mass, then mounting Tractor Beams, Deflector Shields, Inertial Dampeners and even engines may be redundant.
    • Note that it takes a really strong and accurately-placed gravity field to significantly change the trajectory of a laser beam or anything else moving at relativistic speeds — a field which, apart from theoretically consuming an extremely large amount of energy to maintain (depending on your flavour of Phlebotinum), might have unintended consequences.
    • However, manipulation of a gravity field probably won't get you to trans-light, unless you're in a "gravity is warp" model like GRT and use it to form an Alcubierre Drive.
  • Nanomachines: While they may have more limits in real life, it'd be easier to list the things you couldn't do with nanomachines capable of the kinds of tasks they do in fiction than the things you can, yet they're frequently introduced as a plot-device for one specific thing and never used for anything else.

It is, of course, possible to create Obvious Rule Patches and Required Secondary Powers for all these Phlebotina that prevent the above forms of misuse (and the really good writers even keep it from looking like a form of Fake Difficulty), but many writers merely take them as-is without thinking about the potential consequences.

Compare Forgotten Phlebotinum (when the Phlebotinum is ignored outright), No Transhumanism Allowed (a specific instance), Plot-Induced Stupidity (when the plot specifically forbids some application/s), and Coconut Superpowers (when the budget specifically forbids some application/s). See also Mundane Utility (using fantastic abilities/technology for less fantastic things), Cut Lex Luthor a Check/Reed Richards Is Useless (when a character invokes this trope), and Mundane Wish (when played for laughs).

When they do use magical abilities for these kinds of things, it's Magitek. Just Think of the Potential is sometimes used to justify why you should not use things for anything big. Frequently, the cast themselves fail to even ask what the phlebotinum is capable of, resulting in a Fantastic Aesop. When a person thinks it's misapplied for obscene reasons, it's Power Perversion Potential.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The digital world from Digimon was created from computer programming and could subvert any laws of reality, a programmer could solve any problem plaguing humanity. In particular, humans who go there do not have to eat, breathe, excrete waste, or age if they don't want to. Said programmers primarily use their digi-Reality Warper abilities to... create inter-world portals and mess around with Mons.
  • The way Miaka from Fushigi Yuugi used up her three wishes. Seriously, for how long the series went on, you would think the writer could have thought of better requests...
  • Played straight then averted with the kagebunshin (shadow clones) of Naruto. Perfect duplicates of the jutsu's user whose memories are re-integrated back into the user when the clone is dispelled/destroyed. Up until Kakashi pointed out that they could be used for espionage and training, Naruto only used them to attack opponents mundanely. Fortunately, he now has used them to accomplish the world's fastest creation and mastering of a brand-new technique, the Rasen shuriken, which is also the first ever technique to combine perfected shape manipulation with nature manipulation.
    • Funnily enough, fanfiction has been taking advantage of the huge potential for years before that showed up, although the approach is frequently avoided for the reason that intelligent application of it can derail most of the challenges Naruto faces in the early part of the series.
  • Acknowledged in The Five Star Stories. The Humongous Mecha are shown to be quite impractical and temperamental, and its recognized that the whiz-bang technology that goes into creating them could be put to better use. What stops them is a combination of aristocratic tradition and the fact that if that technology were used for more efficient weapons it could result in the destruction of entire planets. Not a wise thing to do, considering there are only five or six habitable planets in their known universe.
  • Somewhat averted in Cannon God Exaxxion. They go into a considerable amount of detail about all the interesting things you can do with Artificial Gravity tech & how it dramatically changes the face of modern industry & combat. The limited way Nano Machines are used in the series smacks of this trope, but they at least bother to handwave it by citing the technology's astronomical cost.
  • Averted by Martian Successor Nadesico. The villains get their hands on easy teleportation and quickly use it to warp warheads straight through the Nadesico's Deflector Shield.
  • Averted in Code Geass with Sakuradite, a naturally-occurring substance that is an exceptionally good conductor. It's used in Humongous Mecha and consumer electronics, and is the reason the why Magnetic Weapons have completely replaced gunpowder, even when it comes to personal firearms.
  • Ranma ˝'s Jusenkyo —cursed springs that, when submerged inside them or splashed with water from them, give you the shape of whatever drowned there first until you turn yourself back with hot water (and then turn again with cold.) Any living thing can be transformed into a multitude of other things: men, women, children, a huge variety of animals, twins, or even godlike lightning- and fire-spewing entities. Yet no one in the series ever thinks of [ab]using it to, for example, dump a handful of ants in the Spring of Drowned Ox and feed impoverished villages with the resulting hundreds of oxen. Worse, there's even powdered packets of "instant," single-use springs, but they're even more obscure than the springs themselves. About the only people who profit from the springs are the Musk Dynasty (who, in antiquity, would dump strong animals into the Spring of Drowned Girl in order to procure wives to yield stronger children,) and the people of Mt. Phoenix, who use their bird-cursed water for everything water is typically used for (bathing, drinking, cooking, washing) and, from time to time, turning themselves human to spy on others.
    • And on the subject of Mt. Phoenix: their lord, the Phoenix King, breaks every last law of thermodynamics with his ability to generate limitless heat and light, regenerate from any injury, and bring himself back from the dead. How many countries has he conquered? None, because his primary task is to sit pretty and prim on his hanging perch and provide light for the comfort of his subjects.
    • This world also has the technology to create powerful suits of armor —strong, quick, and durable enough to give Ranma serious trouble— at such low cost it's readily available to the public via mail-order. Nobody thinks of removing the armor's Power Limiter and equipping the local police force with these.
    • Seemingly played straight, but averted at the last second with in the case of the Yamasenken and Umisenken. These are exceptionally devastating martial arts schools which emphasize, respectively, outwards force and absolute stealth. Warrior-minded fighters will seek them out to add to their repertoire... but in their creator's words, they're actually meant for burglary and thievery.
    • Gosunkugi gets ten paper dolls which let him give people commands that they must obey. He suffers from a pretty severe lack of imagination. He tries to command Ranma to argue with Akane — he didn't succeed, but nobody would have noticed anyway. The other nine are similarly squandered.
    • The cursed springs were actually exploited exactly twice: second by Rakkyosai, who jumped into the Spring of Drowned Child. He did so for infiltration, but will presumably realize at some point that getting his youth back is a pretty sweet deal (there are faint hints that, powerful as Happosai and Cologne are, their old age does inconvenience them). And the number one goes to Pantyhose Taro, who fell into the Spring of Drowned Yeti holding an Eel and Crane while riding an Ox and is the only one in the series actually LIKE his transformation. By his second appearance, he has upgraded by journeying to Jusenkyo and jumping into the Spring of Drowned Octopus (no, really), which for some reason adds up to his form rather than overriding the old one. Presumably because he was already a mashup.
  • In part six of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure a minor villain named Ungaro has the unbelievably overpowered stand Bohemian Rhapsody which allows him to turn drawings to life. Drawings of literally anything. So he animates such fearsome entities as... Pinocchio and Vincent Van Gogh? You know, instead of creating a superhero with the power "Ungaro is omnipotent, invincible, and cannot be harmed or defeated by any means. This power cannot be removed or altered by anyone except Ungaro." (Which we know is possible because Weather Report creates a character designed to unmake all the other characters and it actually works.) There's probably a loophole somewhere to a statement like that, but it shows how easy it would be to abuse that stand's unlimited power. A potentially invincible villain defeated by his own weak will and lack of imagination.
    • Part three has a villain whose Stand can reverse a person's age (down to a child, or even a fetus). There's no limit to people willing to pay him astronomical amounts of money for eternal youth (and assuming he needs to use the power continuously, they'd have to keep paying him). He uses it to weaken his targets before murdering them. However, he is a psychopathic axe killer, so fame and fortune might not actually rate higher than satisfying murder.
  • A plot point in Gundam Build Fighters. Plavsky Particles are harmless radiation that can cause specific types of plastic to move around as though they were motorized vehicles and create energy beams, shields, and all sorts of other neat stuff. They're also cheap enough that buying a small particle-emitting table for one's household, while a bit of a luxury item, isn't out of the price range of a middle-class family. This technology is used exclusively for simulating Gundam battles with model kits. Nils Nielson's entire motivation is that he has asked the question "Wait, what? Can't this tech do a hell of a lot more?" and is trying to find ways of expanding the uses for the technology.
  • Played for Laughs in Mega Man Megamix. The 5th generation Wilybots end up getting a job at an amusement park and most of their powers make them perfectly suited to the job (Wave Man uses his waterguns to help clean, Stone Man's strength helps repair rides, etc.). However Napalm Man, as his name suggests, was built as a specialist in weapons and is built like a walking tank, something completely useless to an amusement park. So what job is he given? Working the cash register and taking tickets. Note that Napalm Man has missile launchers in place of hands, making him doing a task that requires such dexterity not only impractical but actively dangerous.
  • Patlabor famously averted this in regards to Mecha. While you do see some mechs built for military purposes like most anime depicts, the majority of them are used for more practical, menial purposes. They're common sights at any workplace that requires heavy lifting and transport, police often use them in operations and have departments trained in their use, and security firms and crime families pay top dollar to have mechs for use as enforcers.

    Fan Fiction 
  • Averted in To the Stars - but only for the aliens. Their technology is advanced enough that they really can use FTL missiles (whose warheads, powerful in their own right, are almost irrelevant due to the velocity they impact human ships at), and teleport warheads straight into human capital ships. Justified for the humans, on the other hand; FTL is still hard enough to do (it requires difficult-to-produce 'exotic matter', for one thing) that humans can't afford to waste it on a disposable missile, and they haven't cracked the secret to technology-based teleportation although Ryoko might be able to help with that now she's realized the mechanism behind her power. So it's a good thing they have all those magical girls to even the playing field...

    Comic Books 
  • Green Lanterns - You have the ultimate weapon. Its power is limited only by your imagination. Big-ass hammer is NOT a good application of your powers.
    • Finally subverted with Kyle Rayner, who was more likely to create Humongous Mechs and Anime characters than giant hammers and boxing gloves. Once when asked to make a simple bubble he said that it was the "other guy" who did mundane things like that.
      • On the other hand, until the 1970s the rings were really able to do anything, including wiping minds, acting on time-delayed and preprogrammed commands, transmuting matter, and mutating living beings at will. Really, neither Kyle nor Hal Jordan ever really noticed all the implications of the rings.
  • Basically, every superhero. Name one superhero who couldn't somehow make a fortune using his or her abilities for something other than beating up another superhuman.
    • DC Comics has (had?) the Kapitalist Kouriers, a set of Russian superspeedsters who indeed used their powers for a courier business. All over the world. However: characters who do that instead of beating up on The Bad Guy of the Week don't get played in RPGs and don't get their own comic titles. So it's sorta self-defeating.
    • An issue of Heroes for Hire (which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin, so at least these guys are getting paid for their work) has one of the "heroes" in a government warehouse where various captured supervillain equipment is stored. Upon seeing one piece of equipment, he notes the idiocy of inventing a gun that turns stuff into gold, then using it to rob banks. It takes him very little time to realize that he ought to steal the gun himself and use it in more intelligent ways. Unfortunately, it's broken shortly afterward in a super-brawl. He presumably was unaware of the fact that any object transmuted by the alchemy gun turns into dust after exposure to heat or after a certain amount of time. (However, mining and construction companies would pay a fortune for a device that could easily reduce solid material into dust regardless of what it became in the interim!)
      • Chunk, a supporting character of The Flash, was a "human singularity" who had the ability to transport anything to an alternate dimension contained within his body. He starts out as a supervillain, but Flash advises him that he could make a fortune by going straight. Now he is very well paid to make nuclear waste disappear, and drain the water from flooded cities.
    • One issue of The Flash had him do just this. He was hired by an antique film and memorabilia collector. He hired the Flash to watch all of his movies and examine all of his antiques and catalog them. Obviously made for the plot, but ingenious none the less.
      • Another issue of Flash has Mirror Master being introspective about how he and many of his fellow villains are perceived as examples of this trope. He is perfectly aware of the fact that he and most of his compatriots could make more money selling their various technology (Freeze Rays, Teleportation, Weather Control, etc.) legitimately then they could ever hope to make robbing banks even if there were no super heroes. He does the supervillainy instead because he's an immensely disturbed individual, but is aware of the fact.
      • Flash also agreed to transport a heart across the country for transplant. He was able to get the doctors to provide him with health insurance in return for this service. Of course as a hero he would be perfectly willing to do it for free to save a life, but as he pointed out, everyone else involved in the transplant would be well paid so why should he be expected to help for free?
    • Pre-Crisis Mad Scientist Lex Luthor could become every bit as wealthy as Reed Richards if he marketed his tech legally, but he has too much of an Übermensch complex to even want to make a living within society's infrastructure, viewing mundane Last Man civilization itself with contempt. John Byrne's Post-Crisis Luthor is rich, but he only sporadically does scientific jobs himself, preferring to supervise or steal the work of specialists; while he has a superior intellect and his empire is based on earlier inventions, he is mostly rich by being a mundane ruthless SOB. Modern Luthor combines the two versions elevating his intellect Up to Eleven to finally Cut Lex Luthor a Check and establish his scientific genius as the source of his colossal wealth.
    • Lampshaded in the first issue of the Mark Shaw incarnation of Manhunter. Over a series of panels of Dr. Alchemy using his powers to perform a robbery, Manhunter points out that he could probably make more money a dozen different ways using a stone that would allow him to transform an object into something else, even if it was temporary.
    • The GURPS supplement SuperTemps was filled with supers who used their powers for things like sanitation and garbage disposal, medicine, being a courier, or being a security expert.
      • GURPS International Super Teams incorporated SuperTemps into its setting, and expanded upon it. And the I.S.T. chapter of GURPS Y2K had detailed passages on supers using their powers for construction and other mundane occupations. And not-so-mundane UN-sponsored occupations, like weather control (to divert destructive hurricanes, alleviate drought, and so forth) and famine relief ("You can make plants grow? Come with me!").
    • Captain Hammer in Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is mentioned by Dr. Horrible as being "corporate"; presumably he takes sponsorships. Given the character in question (an incredibly self-absorbed jackass who takes special pleasure in beating up geeks and seducing clueless women, getting away with it all because he's labeled a "hero"), it wouldn't exactly be surprising. Given his chest insignia, it wouldn't be terribly surprising if he was funded by Sears.
    • Almost subverted in DC's critically-acclaimed Starman comic of the mid-to-late-1990s. Our Hero, Jack Knight, agrees to take on his father's mantle as Starman, if his father will in turn take the amazing Cosmic Rod technology that he's used for self-indulgent heroics for half a century, and adapt it to civilian use: clean power, antigravity, force fields, and more. In the final issue, Ted makes good on the promise, and hands Jack a thick sheaf of documents detailing exactly that, just before his Crowning Moment of Awesome. It's almost subverted because, years after the end of the series, no trace of the "spin-off" technology has been seen.
    • Seriously averted in Watchmen. Dr. Manhattan's unique physiology and abilities are used to derive a massive amount of technologies, including electric cars. Ozymandias is running a mega-conglomerate, selling, among many other items, perfume and action figures based on himself and his colleagues. The original Silk Spectre also made a living as a model. She went on to marry her agent.
    • Deadpool (at various times, Cable and the Six Pack also qualify) use their abilities for mercenary work, drawing a paycheck for using their powers and skills to hurt and kill people. It may not be particularly nice money, but hey, it's a living.
    • The Hobgoblin invoked this when he discovered the Green Goblin's lair, reasoning that Gobby would have made far more money selling his equipment then he ever would have done through crime.
    • Ultimate X-Men mentioned the theory that Charles Xavier used his telepathy to make money in stocks. He never actually confirmed this, but he didn't specifically deny it so much as pull a "I won't validate that with an answer".
  • Phil Seleski (aka Solar) from Valiant Comics universe has the power to manipulate matter and energy any way he wants. Most of the time, he uses them to stop criminals that, even if powerful, were much weaker then him. Justified because first time he tried to use his powers to the fullest, the entire universe collapsed into a black hole, forcing him to re-create it as the Valiant Universe (a combination of the real world and stories from his favorite comic books).
  • Averted in the Marvel Universe in that it's implied that most of the big brains (Reed Richards, Hank Pym, Tony Stark) do make money patenting and licensing their creations. (It's canon that most of the Fantastic Four's funding comes from Reed's various patents, most notably unstable molecules.)
    • Not entirely averted, as people like the Trapster and Spider-Man demonstrate. In the case of the latter, the alternate-future series The Last Avengers Story showed Peter Parker as a multi-millionaire, having patented his web formula after retiring as Spider-Man.
      • One continuity had Peter try to patent the formula, and get rejected on the grounds that it wasn't permanent. Never mind that even an impermanent adhesive like that would have countless uses. If not especially an impermanent adhesive like that— take the formulation on Post-It notes, which has made Eleventy Zillion dollars for 3M.
    • A large chunk of their income actually comes from several companies that pay Reed NOT to release certain of his inventions which might drive them out of business or make their entire industry obsolete.
    • One "What If?" story asked the question "What if Tony Stark shared his power suit designs with the world?" It turned nasty very quickly, as it allowed considerable power into the hands of some very ruthless people and caused several very unpleasant wars. (The Fantastic Four were also slaughtered by a power-suited Dr Doom.)
  • Simon "Wonder Man" Williams, a Nigh Invulnerable Flying Brick (usually) earned a living as an actor, especially in action movies, performing the kinds of stunts most crash test dummies wouldn't survive.
  • Alan Moore's Tom Strong. His recurring enemy has 'liquid sun' as his main weapon (being an evil genius also helps). Much misery results. An alternate universe Tom convinces said bad guy to sell his Phlebotinum as an energy source. Much happiness results. Until it all goes to pot.
  • The (current) Rainmaker program in PS238 is all about averting this, but it's been played straight (and lampshaded) since the days of Mr. Extraordinary that the best thing many living perpetual energy devices, Technopaths, and Green Lantern Ring users do is punch bad guys, build robots to punch bad guys, and punch bad guys with force-field hammers.
    • At least Herschel Clay, the school's handyman, is shown to use his powers for commercial purposes: He owns an industrial conglomerate that, amongst other things supplies the school with most of its high-tech gadgets, and in a side-story is shown to be a contractor for NASA who makes starship designs — unfortunately, the people who are supposed to implement his designs can't keep up with his constant drive to improve them.
  • Golden Age Superman villain Funnyface was a disgruntled cartoonist who invented a machine to bring Newspaper Comics characters to life. He used it to rob banks. When he reappears in an issue of All-Star Squadron, many years later, the heroes point out to him what a preposterous waste of the technology this is, and he reacts with astonishment, clearly not having thought about it.
  • Double subverted in Invincible: the superheroine Atom Eve's power is that she can create, transform and manipulate almost any form of matter. After having used this power for superheroing for a few years, she realizes she could better use it to help hungry and poor people in the Third World, which is what she proceeds to do. However, after doing this for some time she finds out she can only offer temporary help and not facilitate any long-term changes on her own, so she returns to being a superhero.
  • In the aftermath of the Marvel Civil War, Norman Osborn invents an actual cure for cancer. What does he use it for? To try and kill Deadpool. OK, he had good reasons to want Deadpool dead, but still, you'd think that making it readily available would bring him a ridiculous amount of money and good publicity. He himself gives it to us straight:
    Spider-Man: "What's wrong with you, Osborn? You're a genius! You could've cured cancer by now! Why do you keep doing this?!"
    Green Goblin: "That's the difference between you and me, Parker - I don't give a damn!"
    • Another Spider-Man encounter has Spidey yelling that pterodactyl-man Sauron could have cured cancer with the technology he's using to turn people into dinosaurs.
      Sauron: But I don't want to cure cancer. I want to turn people into dinosaurs.
  • In Transformers: More than Meets the Eye it's suggested that this trope was partly why the Decepticons lost the Great War. They would invent really big and scary weapons and tech, only to either misuse them or be so focused on the concept that they didn't make sure it would actually work in practice. Take the Phase Sixers; incredibly powerful and expensive Super Soldiers capable of fighting whole battalions and fleets by themselves. But Megatron used them as clean-up crews, sending them to finish off already crippled neutral worlds the Decepticons planned to terraform. As Starscream points out, you could get the same result from just shelling the planet with cheap, conventional weaponry from orbit. Skullcruncher really says it best while describing his time in the Decepticon military:
    "We used to say to him, 'Megatron, mate, why not get all the Phase Sixers and throw 'em at the Autobots?' Like, forget the planets! You can cyberform as many planets as you like once you've killed all your enemies! You're not making the best use of your assets."
  • A Planetary has an in-universe version: a supercomputer that can open portals to alternate universes is being used for calculations.
  • The Wallace & Gromit comics' first story had Wallace invent a time machine in order to find his missing slipper.

    Films — Animated 
  • Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs has an inventor who typifies this trope. One could think up a thousand uses for a bulletproof, waterproof, fireproof, spray on coating other than "spray on shoes". And consider that his "food creation machine" converts ordinary H2O into complex organic food molecules (which means it could convert them into darn near any other material, organic or inorganic)—- and apparently runs off the residual energy left over from the process. A combination replicator and fusion generator... Even at the end of the movie, the coating's potential is only partially realized.
  • The Twelve Works Of Asterix has Iris, an Egyptina hypnotizer. He can hypnotize people into being anything. The thing is, when he has hypnotized someone into believing he is a bird, he really starts to fly. Just imagine the potential if he hypnotized the Roman army into "believing" they're as strong as the Gauls, for instance. But no, Cesar only has him try to hypnotize Asterix into being a wild boar.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Prestige's matter duplicator. You can duplicate anything, even living beings. Best use in story: a magic trick. Better idea: Have anything you want. This is somewhat justified by the fact that the main character is too crazy and vengeance-focused to use it for anything but his convoluted magic trick plot. Tesla, the inventor, could have used it to solve his funding problems and his feud with Edison, but it seems that he was too worried about the device falling into the wrong hands. Plus he had built it specifically for Angier, so he probably wouldn't want to break his word and keep it for himself. Instead, Tesla leaves the device for Angier with a note begging him to destroy it. Angier refuses. This is all assuming, of course, that you believe the machine ever actually worked...
  • In the Cronenberg remake The Fly (1986), Brundle messes himself up beyond repair because he risks his own hide in order to get his teleporter to transport living things successfully. A teleportation system that only transports inorganic or post-organic matter could still be worth trillions to global industry.
  • In The Projected Man, the protagonist is trying to perfect a transporter, a device that converts objects into energy and then converts the object back. However, he keeps running into problems whenever he tries to do it, for example animals end up dead, wristwatches end up going in reverse. Eventually when he tries it on himself, he ends up horribly burned, and with manic electricity powers. Everyone in the movie acts like a device that can convert matter into energy wouldn't still be a tremendous breakthrough by itself, even if it didn't have the capacity to reform it. Even he couldn't use it as a transporter, the ability to convert useless matter into stored energy would be a solid alternative power source. Even if the process took more energy to produce than it made, you could still use it to get rid of hazardous waste, making toxic waste dumps a thing of the past.
  • Surrogates features the technology to control machines with your mind, and yet its applications in the film are painfully limited. For example, we see people fighting wars by controlling human-looking infantry robots that are even wearing fatigues and helmets. Why not just control a tank? We even see surrogates using handheld cell phones!
  • In the Blade Trilogy, Blade is the only (Half) vampire with the ability to go about in the daylight. Best use in movie: None, he just moves around and talks to humans during the day. Better use: Use it to attack other vampires in their homes or offices during the day when they can't run away. However, it's more cool to kung-fu fight vampires than stake them in their sleep.
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the 2005 adaptation) is full of this, but it's lampshaded by Mike Teevee being outraged that Willy Wonka only wants to use his shrinking/teleportation ray for something as "pointless" as candy, when he could be using it on more interesting things, like breakfast cereal and people. Shortly thereafter, he learns the teleporter's limitations the hard way.
  • Star Wars: The battle droids' artificial intelligence. We've been trying for decades to create artificial intelligence so that robots can adapt quickly to changing situations. In Star Wars, artificial intelligence is used to give robots human-like reaction times and indecisiveness, turning a killer robot army into comic relief.
    • The Rifftrax notes this, marveling at the droids' "artificial lack of intelligence."
    • Later, more advanced models are actually worse for this. In Episode One they had verbal orders and could be confused, by Three they had little chats while they worked.
    • Lampshaded in the novelization: A clone trooper, pretending to be dead for the benefit of a few battle droids, is able to communicate with his squad and recieve orders, since his helmet is designed to work on voice commands and chin switches, so it can be used even when immobilized. He muses that while clones are becoming more like droids, droids are being made more human (such as being required to speak aloud when using their communicators).
    • The droids' lack of intelligence may be explained by the various Corrupt Corporate Executives, especially the Neimodians, being extremely paranoid cowards that only used droid armies in the first place because they wanted soldiers that were one hundred percent loyal, constantly concerned about their subordinates turning on them, so could have intentionally had them programmed to be less than optimal. Also, it is well established that without constant memory wipes droids develop individual personalities, so this could have happened as well, though far less probable considering the aforementioned paranoia.
    • The "FTL as a weapon" idea is averted in Star Wars — if a hyperdrive approaches a gravity well, it automatically shuts down and reverts the starship to realspace. Or, failing that, melts. Which pulls the starship back into realspace. The time someone gets stranded in hyperspace, we find out why there are so many safeguards. Also, if a ship hits a gravity well while in hyperspace, it's rather strongly implied that it will somehow be annihilated, killing all on board. The source of the gravity well in realspace would also be unharmed, because it's the "mass shadows" projected into hyperspace that cause this damage rather than a direct collision with realspace object.
      • Also, it's shown that Deflector Shields in the Star Wars universe are probably just strong enough to completely negate "FTL as a weapon" as long as you have a large enough power plant. At one point in an older Star Wars comic, The Rebels set up the Executor, a nineteen-kilometer supership, on a collision course with three smaller-but-still-huge Star Destroyers exiting hyperspace, which promptly ram into the Executor at near light speed. The fully-shielded Executor shrugs off the attack and casually proceeds with its original mission.
      • The problem of gravity wells are actually used by the Empire with their Interdictor-class Star Destroyer in several Legends novels. The whole point of them is to pull Rebel, pirate, smuggler, and other criminals out of hyperspace and directly into an Imperial ambush. As such, they are largely used as a support role to police hyperspace lanes rather than directly combat opponents.
  • Star Trek in general has many instances of this trope; the 2009 movie adds a new one: with the help of future knowledge from Old Spock, Scotty quickly modifies a transporter to beam himself and Kirk onto the Enterprise — which has been traveling away from them for hours, at the kind of speed that let it get from Earth to Vulcan in minutes. Now, if you can build a transporter that sends you across vast interstellar distances in an instant... why do you need starships? (Of course, the answer is — to prevent the Star Trek franchise from turning into a funky version of the Stargate-verse...)
    • Interestingly this was actually a concept early on in the pre-production development of Star Trek: The Next Generation. People would just beam from planet to planet without bothering with warp drive and starships. Fortunately for the franchise this was considered a few steps too far.
  • In Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, we learn that Tom Servo has an interocitor from This Island Earth in his room, which is capable of interstellar communication, blasting stuff with heat rays, and just about anything else imaginable. He uses his to make hot chocolate.
  • In Flubber, the lead character's research is to help fund the university. He's assisted by a flying computer equipped with Artificial Intelligence, which would probably be worth millions, if not billions.
    • Actually justified with the AI...he has NO idea how he did it. A plot point is actually him trying to get Flubber to market.
      • The AI itself however does know how he did it, and hands him plans for a new version of itself. So maybe that last scene takes place in a world full of intelligent machines?
  • Iron Man. Similar to Flubber, by far the most important scientific breakthrough is the development of AI, yet the implications of this are not mentioned once and it's never used for anything more than cheap laughs. This trope also appears for many other technologies including those that are central to the films, but at least they're usually excused in some way, even if those ways are rather flimsy. Avengers: Age of Ultron eventually clarifies that JARVIS is merely a very sophisticated programme, which is why the Vision is such a big deal.
  • The Avengers: Played for Laughs when Tony Stark calls out a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent on the Helicarrier for using some of the most advanced computers in the world, surpassed only by Stark's own, to play Galaga.
  • Ghostbusters had compact reactors long before the Iron Man movie. The ray guns were dangerous (if the rays collide, they divide the entire universe by zero) but the power supplies themselves were quite safe. They could have beat Stark to the clean affordable energy business, even more so since they went out of the ghost business after the first movie.
    • Though Egon, the smartest member of the team, suddenly looks nervous after turning Ray's pack on, and flattens himself against the elevator wall to be as far from it as possible. Maybe not as safe as everyone thinks.
  • One of the biggest problems of the main character in Click was that his job took too much time, leaving him too little to spend with his family. His magic remote has a Pause button he can use to freeze time, during which he can manipulate objects and people. He could have solved his biggest problem by doing his overtime work outside time entirely, but doesn't try that on screen. That doesn't even get into the remote's unexpected behavior.
  • In Sherlock Holmes, Lord Blackwood's pet scientist has invented radio control seven years before Nikola Tesla actually developed it. Instead of patenting it and making enough money to just buy control of the British government, he uses it to remote detonate a chemical weapon, while pretending to be killing the victims by magic. This is pointed out in the end, by the villain who takes the device and notes how much more valuable it is than anything Blackwood envisioned.
  • The Bourne Legacy, we learn that all of the assassins gain their enhanced intelligence and physical prowess from little blue and green pills which we later discover are not even necessary if the drug is properly applied and seems to have no real drawbacks. Only once are the medical and scientific benefits of such a drug or even thinks that they might personally benefit from such enhancements themselves.
  • Spider-Man 2: Doc Ock is attempting to perfect fusion power. In the process, he invents a direct-neural-interfaced, super-strong, super-precise exoskeleton bodysuit. Wow. The military contracts, not to mention industrial, would have made him a billionaire easily. Oh, he also invented AI along the way, that's barely worth mentioning either. Though considering what it ends up doing to his head...
  • This is actually lampshaded in the Nicolas Cage film Next. Also justified since the psychic in question knows he's being hunted down by the government and thus keeps his gambling wins small to avoid attracting attention.

  • In Dragon Bones, the protagonist, Ward, learns early on that he has a slave (A Wizard Did It. It Makes Sense In Context) who is a powerful mage, and could do, well, lots of things. Oreg (said slave) does some things of his own accord, like providing nice clothes for Ward and Ciarra, re-heating Ward's bath water, and such. He can see what is going on everywhere in castle Hurog. What does Ward ask him to do? Continue protecting Ciarra (which Oreg has been doing anyway). Some time later, Ward is told that Oreg is trained as an assassin. Ward does have political enemies, but he never once thinks of sending Oreg (who can make himself invisible and teleport) to take care of them. True, Oreg cannot be too far away from Ward, but far enough so no one would suspect Ward. Justified in that Ward is very different from the ancestors who had Oreg trained as an assassin, and while Ward is a good fighter, killing people just is not his favourite way of solving problems — he suffered years and years under his abusive father, who he suspected would kill him one day, and still never got the idea to kill his father first. Even though his father told him that he murdered Ward's grandfather for a Klingon Promotion. The idea of killing people in something other than self-defense is something Ward just doesn't seem able to wrap his mind around.
  • In the Hyperion Cantos's last 2 books, the protagonist and narrator, Raul Endymion, is trapped in a deathtrap modelled after Schrödinger's Cat because nobody wants to kill him. So, with his connection to the Void Which Binds, he starts writing, and uses the connection to look back in time to ensure his story is accurate. He actually peers into minds all over the known universe. He also knows that the Void Which Binds, which he's connected to, was used in the past as a teleporter, and Aenea, his girlfriend/the messiah can use it. Never mind. It doesn't occur to him throughout the books that he can break out and continue writing without the threat of death by cyanide poisoning.
    • Later, he realizes this and teleports off. Turns out he was kinda slow (and also was at the time greatly affected by the horrific martyrdom of Aenea). Practically the whole universe had learnt to do that, and has dubbed it "freecasting", a homage to the older term "farcasting". Starships are still used by the people still loyal to the Pax, who refuse to take Communion and learn freecasting. In fact, the whole point of him writing the two books is to come to this realization.
  • None of the characters in the series Animorphs ever considered that the morphing technology handed to them in the very first book, if given to the series Big Bad, might solve the species-wide problem that drove them to Alien Invasion in the first place? Even after they offered it to the Extreme Omnivore Taxxons in a bid to get them to switch sides? When you consider that they're constantly up against Visser Three, though, no wonder it took them ages to think of it.
    • A couple of other factors in play there, though: first, it took them forever to get their hands on a morphing cube, and once they had one, the one and only time they used it was a complete disaster, and second, it's Andalite technology, and they're desperate for Andalite help, and Andalites aren't exactly enthusiastic about letting the Yeerks use their technology, especially considering what happened the last time they tried it.
    • The imperialist Yeerks would have just used it as a weapon, and they were forced to permanently morph into animals at the end.
    • The Andalites are very guilty of this, however. Despite the fact that all their soldiers can morph, most of them never use it. It's been heavily implied that Andalite society is hamstrung by tradition, however, which might explain that.
    • After the war ended, it has become popular for rich Andalites to acquire morphing technology and visit Earth... to eat at Cinnabon.
  • The Alfred Bester short story Star Light, Star Bright is about the pursuit of a cabal of supergenius children who have developed fantastic technology in order to deal with kid-type issues (e.g. producing sprouts that are strawberry-flavor on the inside).
    • The point being that, in a way reminiscent of idiot-savants, while they are capable of advanced theoretical, mathematical and biological leaps, they're still kids and think like kids. Ask a kid what they would do if given some random power/technology. Most of the time it will be precisely something of that order. Mathematics only require a knowledge of the basic rules and their extrapolation. Sociopolitical thinking (which includes the application of theoretical research) is based less on intellect and more on experience.
  • A number of stories by Henry Kuttner about a down on his luck (mostly due to constant drinking) man who becomes a Bunny-Ears Lawyer genius inventor when drunk but can't remember when he sobers up. Since it is generally played for laughs and his drunk self is a Cloud Cuckoo Lander, that kind of explains it.
    • In the short story The Proud Robot he invented an unbelievably sophisticated singing robot with a highly intelligent (and vain) AI. The inventor couldn't get the robot to do anything he wanted because he forgot why he built it in the first place (he was drunk). In the climax, he remembers that he built it because he had trouble opening a can of beer. He swore to build a bigger and better can opener; said robot is able to open beer cans with absolutely no fizz or a single drop of spilled beer. The ending has the inventor becoming depressed because beer cans are being phased out in favor of plastic bulbs, meaning his "can opener" robot will be "useless".
  • In Twilight, the Cullens are blessed with eternal life and a seemingly infinite amount of money. You'd think they'd devote their lives to something interesting, if not something charitable since they are described as basically Jesus. The best thing they could come up with is going to high school for decades and not even making good friends every once in a while.
  • In Michael Crichton's Timeline there is an immensely powerful quantum computer capable of recording the exact quantum state of every particle in human body, and then sending the data to another universe where it can somehow be recreated into a perfect copy of the person (though the original is technically speaking destroyed — the protagonists are much less disturbed by this than you'd think). It is used to study history by sending people and recorders to universes identical to our own except their position in time, when they could use it among other things for consulting dead people with important opinions, for duplicating rare and useful materials, for immortality, or for bringing just about any technology that's ever going to be invented in any possible future to the present you morons!
    • It was revealed in the end that stealing future technology really was the plan; the historical research just was a proof-of-concept to impress the investors and a testing ground for the technology.
  • James P. Hogan's novel The Genesis Machine takes the Faster-Than-Light Travel/Weapon of Mass Destruction misapplication mentioned above and flips it on its head. The protagonists figure out a way to transmit energy through "hi-space" to a location of their choosing, no receiver required; they weaponize it and sell it to the military. Only at the very end of the novel does it occur to one of them that with slight modifications, matter could be transmitted as well.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
    • "Here I am, brain the size of a planet and they ask me if I can pick up that piece of paper..."
      • Marvin's not joking, either. At one point a military fully capable of operating on a galactic scale moved its control program for trillions of normal robots to his head, and it still used so little of his processing power that he resorted to writing little poems just to keep himself occupied. He was designed as a menial robot.
    • Time travel was used to see if a certain set of brilliant poems could be made better if the author had some corrective ink to work with.
  • On another Douglas Adams project, in his book Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, Urban Chronotis, the Regius Professor of Chronology, is immortal and has a functioning time machine. He uses it to watch TV, since he doesn't understand VCR recorders. This is lampshaded with the following quote.
    Dirk reacted to this revelation with horror.
    Dirk: You have a time machine and you use it for... watching television?
  • Valkyrie's guilty of it in the Skulduggery Pleasant series. She has training in Elemental powers - the ability to control air, water, earth and fire. At one point Skulduggery calls her out on the fact that she's not good at manipulating water because she never practises with it, instead focusing her energy on air and fire because they're the more obvious elements to use in a fight. Skulduggery never mentions it and Valkyrie fails to add two and two, but seriously, how could she have overlooked the destructive powers of being able to control water? For crying out loud, most of the human body is water! Imagine if every bit of that water were to suddenly vanish. Or, on a more simple and brutal level, imagine filling someone's lungs with water...
  • Averted in Larry Niven's Known Space setting. Thanks to ubiquitous and cheap teleporters, Earth's population becomes almost entirely homogeneous (both physically and culturally), the internal combustion engine is practically extinct, and the parts of the interstate highway system that weren't demolished and rebuilt have become parks. On the down side they deal with flash mobs and the ability of a criminal to be literally anywhere else in the world seconds after committing a crime.
    • Stasis field appears in the very first novel. Later Niven confessed that the technology would be so useful, he has to go to great lengths NOT to use it as a solution in every story.
  • Happens a lot in Harry Potter, where they use time machines so that children can take more classes than they otherwise could, the Bag of Holding exists but is strangely underutilized, and so on. Deconstructed in Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.
    • Even one How It Should Have Ended video stated that the heroes could go back to the past and kill Voldemort as an infant, but there's a problem with doing that. This one, at least, has an explanation — Word of God is that the Time Turners can only bring you five hours into the past, and they do not allow the user to change the past, because there is only one timeline.
    • The Room of Requirement is even guiltier since you can't even give the "it's too dangerous" excuse. A room that can respond to your request by changing itself, providing all the necessary equipment and information. Even if it cannot create things that don't already exist (like a map that marks all V's Horcruxes), the possibilities are still staggering. You could probably request a room full of gold, or lost artifacts, or weapons, or hell, maybe the cures to cancer and AIDS, while you're at it (one could argue that it does exist, we just haven't been able to put it together)! The characters spend most of the series using it as a gym, a supply closet or a storeroom, only even beginning to explore its true potential in Deathly Hallows, when La Résistance in Hogwarts is using it as their base.
  • Aversion: in the Teleporter section of the main article, there's a mention of the potential use of this for backing yourself up/making multiple copies of yourself. The Charles Stross book Glasshouse did both; they massively affect society, and form major plot points. For example, changing genders is common thanks to the 'reconstruct' part (making gender nouns rather confusing); 'orthohuman' (standard H sapiens shape) and 'xenohuman' (with massive bodily alterations) are normal descriptions; lethal duels are equally common so long as the participants 'saved' recently; the combination of disintegration/reconstruction transport 'gates' with memory-wipe technology resulted in memory censor viruses which affect anyone who uses the gate, one of which managed to pretty much wipe the reason for a whole war from history; and a major plotpoint involves the main character being knocked out by a copy of himself (well, he's physically female at the time, but he seems to identify as male for the most part), thanks to the 'original' being brainwashed with one of those memory worms.
  • Charles Stross's The Merchant Princes Series plays with this trope. Members of the Clan have the ability to teleport between alternate timelines, along with whatever they can carry. They use it to get rich in modern America by smuggling drugs through a world with a feudal culture that lacks a DEA, and in that feudal culture they use their ability to get rich by bringing in modern innovations like penicillin and automatic guns. That's a very practical application of the phlebotinum, compared to many examples on this page, like robbing banks, using Green Lantern Ring superpowers just for fighting, or using dinosaurs as the main attraction in an amusement park. However, after a modern business journalist learns about the system she quickly points out that mercantilism is a very old-fashioned, zero-sum economic theory and there are much better things the Clan could be doing with their time, like Giving Radio to the Romans.
  • In the toplined short story of Roald Dahl's The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More, the titular Henry Sugar finds a book that gives a first-hand account of how a doctor met a man who mastered an ancient technique that allowed him to see without eyes and to also see through various thin objects — like playing cards. Subverted by the doctor, who wanted to find a way to use the technique to help people with disabilities like blindness be able to live normal lives, but played straight by Henry, who picks up the technique to win in casinos. He later subverts it himself, when he is bored and rich and decides to dedicate his life to winning money and donating it to various orphanages and charities.
  • Averted in the Great Ship series with hyperfiber, an incredibly strong material that gains its strength from dispersing energy through several different universes. Almost everything that can utilize hyperfiber is made out of the stuff; armor, weapons, hulls, furniture, et cetera. The Great Ship is so durable because it has a hull several kilometers thick made entirely out of ultra high-grade hyperfiber.
  • A Star Trek Expanded Universe TNG novel focused on a planet which was being massively polluted from seemingly nowhere because its alternate universe counterpart had stumbled upon a device that made things vanish. It wasn't until much later that they realized they'd created an interdimensional transporter. This novel also showed why using such a device as a planetary-scale garbage disposal might not be a good idea: they eventually discovered that the "garbage" and pollution they were getting rid of included important trace elements of their atmosphere. And since they'd also unknowingly destroyed all of their planet's dilithium crystals long ago, before realizing their importance, they didn't have the means to evacuate more than a small fraction of their population.
  • Tower and the Hive: Pretty much the moment the human-Mrdini alliance realized they could use human psychics to teleport nukes into Hiver ships, the war was effectively over and the previously dangerous Hivers ceased to be a serious threat. The conflict of the story moves from "How can we defend ourselves?" to "How can we pacify the Hivers without committing genocide on them?"
  • The one novel in John Ringo's Into the Looking Glass series had an Energy Being be frustrated to its version of tears by a neural implant being used as a universal remote, which uses an infantessimal ammount of processing power. It's likened to seeing an Intelligent Gerbil use a computer cooling fan to run an airboat; with the computer still attached.
  • Snapshot: The Snapshot creates a perfect recreation of the city on a single day, with every single molecule and twenty million people accounted for. No one has any idea what to actually do with it; after the Mayor's "entertainment" was outlawed, it was eventually decided to only allow it to be used for government work with a warrant, meaning it's typically used to investigate murders, with some petty crimes as side missions if they happen to fall on the same day. Davis and Chaz repeatedly discuss the idea of finding something more useful to do with it, but they can't think of anything much better than just letting the Snapshot run for years to see what happens. The government is using it for spying and more important murder investigations.

    Live Action TV 
  • Sabrina the Teenage Witch: Sabrina is allowed access to a crystal ball that can answer any question. Her first question was, oddly enough, "What if Kenan and Kel won the lottery?". We then see a short segment of the two losing the ticket and coming to the conclusion that it was inside a sandwich that Kel just took a bite out of.
  • Star Trek actually did do the research on this one (albeit with some glaring exceptions):
    • Averted in the case of replicators; The Federation as depicted is an example of a moneyless socialist society, sometimes regarded as a post-scarcity economy. Federation citizens do still work, but they do so to 'better themselves' and contribute to society. From the Next Generation series onwards, replicators make everything you need - for an energy input. In a normal space opera you might need some suspension of disbelief, Obvious Rule Patch or handwaving to explain why replicators don't cause the economy to collapse, however, in a post-capitalist utopian society, the problem doesn't exist.
    • Another case is the holodeck. One may assume there are people who have taken to just living permanent lives of leisure in a holodeck, but again, they aren't shown on-screen because that would be boring. Recurring character Reginald Barclay's ongoing struggle with "holo-addiction" points out why you don't want that sort of thing going on when you're supposed to be busy exploring the galaxy and making friends with aliens.
  • The Vidiians in Star Trek: Voyager have some of the most ridiculously advanced medical technology ever. They are also afflicted with a disease that devours their organs one by one, and which for reasons that are never explained adapts too quickly for them to cure. They use their hyperadvanced medicine to murder people and steal their organs. In "Faces", it's definitively established that they can create clones through transporter technology. Given an IQ higher than seven, they could use this to produce organ-harvest clones, which may be something of an ethical minefield but has to be miles ahead of murdering people and stealing their organs. Mind you, Voyager is no stranger to this trope; in "Prime Factors", the Sikarians have a teleporter that can reach planets forty thousand light years distant, which they use exactly once in the episode - to allow one of them to go on a romantic walk with Harry Kim. note 
    • The Vidiians would need pure tissue to be able to clone to cure the Phage and their entire race is infected. One does wonder, though, what will happen now that the Think Tank has cured the Phage. As for the Sikarians, they also have a rule similar to the Prime Directive that forbids them from sharing their technology. And surely the Sikarians use it plenty.
  • Subverted in Supernatural. When a character is discovered to have mind control abilities, he is asked why he is only using it to live a lower middle class life and to obtain some weed, get laid, and a couple cool things like a rare car, as opposed to something more grand like world conquest. He replies by claiming that he has everything he would ever want.
  • Buffy Summers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer acquired the ability to read minds. Giles suggested using it for gathering intelligence against her enemies... but Buffy's response was "Way better than that," and she used it to investigate the petty personal questions of how people think about her. Of course, like most magic in Sunnydale, it goes horribly wrong. It ended up being a moot point anyway, since she couldn't control it and vampires were immune.
  • Heroes:
    • Sylar's power of "studying something and figuring out exactly how it works". In-story use: fixing watches, stealing supernatural powers. Better use: churning out Nobel Prizes. In anything. Studying just the human body opens up fields like medicine (cure diseases, extend lifespans), neurology/psychology (figure out how the non-superpower parts of the brain work—consciousness anyone?), and genetics (genotype interaction). However, this may result from the fact that Sylar is insane. In Season 3, Peter takes Sylar's power in order to understand the show's plot. Unfortunately, it also comes with an uncontrollable craving for brains.
    • Claire's blood. Could easily prevent and reverse any character death in the series. Could even end death as we know it. Her dad is fully aware of this and thus tries to keep her hidden so she won't be locked up and turned into a 24/7 immortality potion dispenser. Forever.
  • In New Amsterdam, in the 1600s, a Native American tribe has a spell that makes people immortal. In-story use: reward some random white guy who saved the life of one of the tribe's women. Better use: make all of the tribe's warriors immortal, then easily defeat the white guys that are taking their land.
  • Stargate SG-1
    • In earlier episodes, it was implied that the Asgard did use their teleporters as weapons: The first time we meet them, they "beam" an entire Goa'uld army into oblivion before using the same device to harmlessly transport a human bystander to their ship to meet them.
    • In the episode "Tin Man", a lonely alien android makes Robot Me versions of the team, almost indistinguishable from the originals except for needing to recharge their batteries every few hours. In-verse application: none, they bury the gate and we never hear of it again. (At least they don't murder the doubles!) Better application: Me's a Crowd. The SG teams have dangerous jobs; sending disposable duplicates on them would greatly help. Even better, it would probably be fairly easy to make it true Brain Uploading. There would be huge lines of the terminally ill and quadriplegics willing to be transferred into properly functioning, indistinguishable-from-the-original bodies (absent the problems they had in the first place). Sure, the whole "can't leave the planet" caveat's a bummer, but a minor one; they could receive visitors and news/entertainment/whatever through the gate. Given the alternative, a lot of people would probably take the offer.
    • There is an episode where Anubis has souped up his flagship so that it has a nigh-impenetrable energy shield. Meanwhile, the Tau'ri have developed a kick-ass space fighter with a hyperdrive that, sadly, only works for very short hops (as in, miles, rather than light years). Colonel O'Neil uses the hyperdrive to make a hyperjump just inside the forcefield and make an Spacestrike Impossible on the flagship to disable its main weapon.
  • Stargate Atlantis:
    • Averted in the case of "teleporting warheads": as soon as the Atlantis Expedition gained access to Asgard beaming technology, they just started teleporting atomic bombs onto Wraith vessels. The Wraith rather quickly figured out a way to "jam" the teleportation, but they lost a big number of their otherwise extremely powerful Hive ships before that happened.
    • An episode had an Ancient outpost that was attempting to get energy from another dimension or something, amounting to infinite energy. It turned out to be uncontrollable, and blew up most of a solar system. They later replicated this with a version that dumped the problematic particles into another universe. Now imagine if they had put that into a missile with the power going to extremely powerful shields (in the event anyone in the Stargate verse ever gets around to making point defense weapons) and engines. Buh-bye Wraith or Replicator fleet (and planet). Sure, the explosion could happen prematurely, but they also had cloaking technology and could just set it off while it's cloaked.
  • Dollhouse: Despite possessing an incredibly versatile technology that could be used for any number of things, the series deliberately explores both the use and misuse of technology that allows one to imprint minds and skills into human bodies. At first glance, the eponymous Dollhouse appears to be flagrantly misusing their tech to run what essentially amounts to a high-tech brothel/thieves' guild/assassination broker that manufactures tailored agents. However, as the series progresses, we see the other uses of the tech, such as mass-producing hive-minded supersoldiers, and weaponized use of imprinting/wiping signals across radios/telephones as weapons of mass destruction. Averted by Topher during the second season when he reinvents his designs for Rossum specifically so that they can't be used for any other purpose than they are designed for.
  • In Weird Science (series):
    Student: So how come you're not the richest man in the world living on an island with Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell?
    Wyatt Donnelly: Uh... we never really wished for that.
    Student: Oh, so what did you wish for?
    Wyatt Donnelly: I wished to be president of the chess club once. It didn't work out.
  • Notably averted in Farscape: The bad guys aren't after Crichton's wormhole tech just so they can use it for transportation. In fact, that use of the technology only seems to interest Crichton himself. What happens when you open a wormhole inside the enemy ship? Inside a planet? A star? In the concluding miniseries John unleashes a wormhole weapon, which is designed to grow in size at a massive rate. Within a few minutes it destroys a planet, and if not stopped would have swallowed up the entire galaxy.
  • Just about any technology from The Outer Limits gets used in the most wrong, awkward and fucked up way possible in-world.
  • Most of the time this occurs in The Time Tunnel it can be forgiven since the titular device is an experimental prototype that they haven't figured out fully yet, and all of their travels must result in a Stable Time Loop. However, there is an episode where the time travelers encounter alien invaders that embodies this trope. The aliens have working teleporters that do not appear to need a transmitter or a receiver. They have orders to raid the Earth for protein. They do this by attacking a town and forcing them to give them meat. They could have just stolen the food with a teleporter, or stolen a herd of cows, or abducted a school of fish!
  • The Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode featuring the movie The Dead Talk Back has an entire sketch parodying this trope. The film features a scientist who claims to be working on a radio that can talk to the dead. Crow and Servo manage to get a working version together, and immediately use it for a sports talk radio show. Mike spends the entire sketch flabbergasted as Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill call in from beyond the grave; despite his attempts to ask them more important questions, not even they're interested in anything besides who'll win the Super Bowl that year.
  • In Fringe, Walter once invented a matter transmitter, which he thought could replace the can opener.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003) fans have endlessly debated about why, given the lack of No Warping Zone on their FTL drives, the Cylons never bother to simply jump in nuke-armed Raiders and feed Galactica instant sunshine until she's destroyed.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In the story "The Ambassadors of Death", a race of friendly alien beings are discovered that possess highly advanced technology, are Immune to Bullets, consume radiation and can blow things up (including people) just by touching them. They could end the nuclear waste problem, defend the Earth from asteroids, uplift humans further into outer space... but the people who've kidnapped them just want to use them to rob banks.
    • In the episode "Planet of the Dead", with a psychic woman who repeatedly wins small amounts on the lottery, because she's happy enough with her life as it is and doesn't want the changes a big win would create.
  • Person of Interest: Harold Finch created a surveillance supercomputer that predicts crimes, which the protagonists use to help the helpless. However, the true implication of the Machine isn't as a surveillance device, but the fact that it is true artificial intelligence. This trope is subverted as the series shifts to examine the ramifications of human-equivalent AI in a near-future setting, eventually culminating in a company bringing a rival AI online to Take Over the World.
  • Jessica Jones has Jessica herself (super strong and able to jump extremely high,) using her abilities just as a means to make her job as a private detective less dangerous and difficult. It's only somewhat effective, as she's still not particularly successful until the end of the season, where her reputation grows and she starts getting more calls. Kilgrave has the power to mind control anybody who comes within a certain distance, and all he does is lead a life of amoral hedonism rather than attempt anything grander. Justified in both cases, as Kilgrave is a psychopath who cares about nothing beyond his immediate pleasure until he develops a psychotic obsession with Jessica, at which point he devotes all his energy towards dominating her. Jessica herself once considered being a superhero, but was so traumatised by her captivity by Kilgrave that she prefers to just get by with enough money to buy alcohol.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Most magicians in Unknown Armies behave this way, one major reason why some of the most powerful canon NPCs are almost completely mundane. The rulebooks frequently mention adepts using their earth-shattering powers and ancient mystic rituals to beat up ex-boyfriends or acquire Star Trek paraphernalia. Since step one to being an adept is to become cripplingly obsessed and insane...
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • Clerics can make water materialize out of thin air and purify huge amounts of existing water. Rather than, you know, revolutionizing agriculture and sea travel, they primarily use this ability to reduce the amount of canteens parties of adventurers have to lug around.
      • Given how frequently those spells can be cast (and require a rather powerful priest to begin with), they mostly end up Awesome, but Impractical. Magic items (Decanter of Endless Water, Urn of Water Purification) are better, but very expensive. In the same way, magic-rich settings like Netheril may have full sets of plane-gating plumbing.
      • Due to the nature of Dark Sun, Create Water was reduced to a fraction of its normal efficiency in the setting from the start. It was better than nothing, but it wouldn't save anyone unless you were both high level and devoted a lot of spell slots to it. The game designers wanted an apocalyptic setting where the players actually had to struggle.
    • Generally, D&D magic easily lends itself to Magitek - a permanent area of reverse gravity with a flywheel half inside is a perpetual motion machine, conjuring water and fire (or ready steam) allows compact steam machines never running out of fuel, etc. It's used more frequently than purposefully averted, but still not all that much.
    • The Tippyverse is a hypothetical setting where every piece of phlebotinum is pushed to its ultimate limit. In a world ruled by wizards, spells are "trapped" in push-button Magitek machines that act as food dispensers, showers, training dummy makers for grinding experience, emergency rooms, transport, and more.
  • In Genius: The Transgression, using Wonders for mundane tasks is a minor Transgression. In most New World of Darkness gamelines, using your magic powers for mundane tasks is a Karma Meter violation. But it's usually one so small that only a living saint would even need to roll for degeneration for doing it.
  • Played for laughs in Chuubo's Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine. Chuubo (or Shokyou, if you prefer the female version) uses his, well, marvelous wish-granting engine...to try and get ice cream, which never works, and occasionally do other things like make seagulls cooler. Of course, Chuubo is in his early teens; Fortitude is already pretty idyllic; and anything Chuubo does that doesn't show up on the Wishing Map tends to backfire, so no wonder he doesn't try to use it for anything more spectacular.

    Video Games 
  • Steambot Chronicles: The Killer Elephants have a large organization with extensive industrial production, able to mass-produce the mecha they use, and even a giant mecha. What do they do with all these resources? They rob passing travelers. True, they're just trying to get funding for their true project, flying to the moon, but with a setup like theirs, they really should be doing something more profitable.
  • Portal's Aperture Science, the company behind the insanity at the heart of the plot, is almost entirely built on this trope.
    • Originally contracted to create shower curtains for the Army, Aperture patented their portal gun technology as a "man-sized ad-hoc quantum tunnel through physical space with possible applications as a shower curtain." This is a device that breaks the laws of thermodynamics, implicitly allows Faster-Than-Light Travel, and would revolutionize the world, and it gets used to run hapless test subjects through mazes like lab rats.
    • GLaDOS, a fully sentient AI, was originally designed as a fuel line de-icer. She was also designed in apparent ignorance of the Three Laws, as shortly after she was turned on, she found a way to murder nearly every scientist in the facility.
  • Portal 2 reveals that most of Aperture Science's products fall into this trope:
    • Aerial Faith Plates - Compact and quite powerful catapults capable of launching adult humans dozens of feet into the air. Marketed as truck cargo loading devices, despite being WAY too powerful for that, causing the cargo to be damaged and/or bounced right back out of the truck.
    • Thermal Discouragement Beams - Semi-lethal laser beams. Marketed as means to keep office workers from leaving their desks.
    • Repulsion and Propulsion Gels - Gels literally capable of breaking the laws of physics by making any surface in which they are spread suddenly gain elasticity or make any object in contact with that surface gain momentum respectively. Marketed as dietary aids despite being horrifically toxic.
    • The Long Fall Boot — a "foot-based suit of armor for the Portal Device." Something that lets human beings fall up to 500 ft and land without a scratch? It was only used to prevent a reproducible human error problem when the test subjects fell too far, broke their legs (at best), which made them drop the gun and break expensive equipment.
    • And then there's the stuff that was apparently never released at all: solar powered Hard Light bridges, tractor beams capable of sending things forward or backward, Brain Uploading, enough technology to create a facility literally capable of surviving the Apocalypse, repair and literally rearrange itself at will, sentient AIs capable of running with voltage sources as low as 1.1 volts, selective disintegration... all this used for no other purpose than testing.
    • And now, the Perpetual Testing Initiative demonstrates that Aperture developed interdimensional travel (apparently reliable, at least as much as any of their other products), and decided to use it to get other Apertures in parallel universes to build test chambers for them. This is like having a key that can open any lock and using it to steal office supplies.
      • At least "Cave Prime" manages to find a universe literally made of money with it, so it wasn't a total waste.
  • Averted to an incredible degree in Mass Effect: almost everything in the universe runs on eezo-based technology, from artificial gravity and FTL travel to miniature railguns and telekinesis. Hell, one of your crew members in the third game has an eezo toothbrush. The writers even remembered to Obvious Rule Patch away FTL ramming.
    • And in Mass Effect 3, apparently no one in the whole galaxy realized that the Mass-Relays that the Reapers so kindly left free for humanity to use despite having the capability to shut the whole network down in the space of a day or two could basically double as massive (we're talking planet-killing level here) FTL cannons that could blow the Reapers apart to smithereens if they were weaponized by humanity and its allies.
      • They actually explain this by stating nobody knows how to manipulate them and if they did use them as weapons they might be damaged and unable to be used
      • Also, in the Arrival DLC for Mass Effect 2, we see what happens when Relays get damaged: they release enough energy to destroy a solar system. Rendering every known location in the Milky way a bunch of uninhabitable dust does not sound like a viable way to fight the Reapers.
  • The Weavers Guild in Loom can manipulate the fabric of time and space. They mostly use this power for... spinning and dying clothing. Or so it seems to a casual outside observer.
    • Actually they can become immortal and turn the insides of small tents into roomy houses and one cathedral-sized temple. And then they used it to observe the nature of the universe and trace a discord that threatened to destroy everything. Weaving cloth is just how they got started.
    • More specifically, each of the guilds in Loom derives its supernatural abilities from a sort of Charles Atlas Superpower related to their original mundane role. The glassmakers make infinitely sharp glass edges and crystal balls that see the future; the Weavers went from weaving cloth to weaving reality. But they still stick to their roots.
    • According to the manual, the use of some drafts is strictly regulated, because they may put other Guilds out of work or collapse the economy with cheap gold.
  • In Power Quest there exist little remote controlled robots capable of firing ki blasts out of their palms. And yet no one thinks to scale these up for military use; no, they're much better as children's toys.
  • Naoya from Devil Survivor creates both a demon summoning program and a harmonizer that lessens blows to the user and increases those from the user. While the demon summoning program is rightfully considered a big deal in universe, the harmonizer is not, despite allowing its user to shrug off gun wounds.
    • Considering the circumstances, however, people may simply be assuming the two functions are connected, and with the problems the former is causing... On a related note, Atsuro comes to think that the demons themselves are Misapplied Phlebotinum, and wants to take the summoner's control over them even further.
      • The harmonizer weakens blows from demons. A bullet will still have the same effect it always does, but a fireball will barely scratch you. This is the reason you can't just massacre the JSDF and walk out of the city.
  • The Black Spider ninjas' motivation for trying to steal the Dark Dragon Blade in Ninja Gaiden? Their leader wanted to grind it up to make tea. Granted, he believed drinking tea made from dragon bones (which the Dark Dragon Blade was forged from) would empower him...but still, tea?
  • PR0XY, the cheerfully homicidal (to Galen at least) Robot Buddy in The Force Unleashed. Vader created a droid that could, with the proper modules, copy the techniques and appearance of any Jedi, somehow produces lightsabers from nowhere, and can even replicate Force abilities with repulsor technology. And Vader uses it as a communications device and as a Training from Hell tool. As opposed to mass producing a droid Jedi Super Soldier army.
  • Pokémon both follows and averts this trope. The Verse is filled with these insanely powerful creatures, who mostly serve as combatants between children with voice commands. They have also, however, been show to do more practical things.
    • For example, right at the beginning of one game, some superhumanly strong Machokes are moving boxes into your house with ease. They are also used in construction. Miltank are used for dairy production, grass types in perfume manufacturing, and electric types are used in power plants for organic, completely ecologically-friendly energy production.
    • A better example would be the online storage systems. These store and teleport hundreds of living creatures (and in some games furniture and dolls as well). These could surely be used as houses, storing populations of whole countries.
  • In the setting of Borderlands the technology exists to digitally decode DNA and to deconstruct solid matter into a format for digital storage and reverse the process without limit. Use in-game? Justifying the game's respawn mechanic and why players can carry 20 rifle-sized weapons and none of them show. Better use? Clone Legions armed with Conversion-Bombs. Later games imply that digistruction is inherently flawed, however, good only for creating weak and temporary copies (and storage).
  • A particularly hilarious and acknowledged version of this occurs in a codex entry in Dragon Age: Origins: before the creation of the Circle of Magi, the Chantry employed mages exclusively for lighting sacred candles and lamps in their churches. And occasionally sweeping up. Eventually, the mages of Val Royeux's cathedral snuffed out their lamps in protest and demanded that their services be put to better use; the Divine responded by ordering an Exalted March (i.e.: a crusade) on her own cathedral, which was only prevented by her Templars pointing out what a patently insane idea this was.
  • Touhou. The vast and varied amount of potential applications for some of the characters' powers are mind-boggling (for example, Cirno can not only basically invent air conditioning by herself but could freeze any opponent solid in an instant), yet due to laziness, selfishness or sheer stupidity none of them even consider what they could accomplish. This has been massively averted with Kanako spending several games attempting to revolutionise Gensoukyou, including having a brand spanking new nuclear fusion plant built to produce free electricity. She only uses the nuclear fusion plant to create hot gas for her Hisoutensoku balloon though.
  • In Halo: Reach, a Slipspace drive is used to destroy a Covenant supercarrier when no nukes are available. About a third of the ship is pulled into slipspace, leaving the front and back portions disabled. However, this is pointed out as being an impractical option born more out of desperate circumstances than a good use of the technology. Nukes are generally cheaper and easier to deliver to a target than a functional slipspace drive is.
  • The first 10 Robot Masters in Mega Man were created for such purposes as forestry, lubrication, lab assistance, and housekeeping. Do you know how much trouble creating humanoid robots has been in Real Life? To be fair, they were first made for the sake of being made and only then their creators started thinking of more practical uses like replacing man in dangerous work (don't mind housekeeping, that was the first two robots and the lab was really a mess, ok?) and Take Over the World. They still fit this trope to a 'T'. Oh, and lampshaded in Bob and George.
  • The Valkyria in Valkyria Chronicles have the power to channel the energies of Ragnite., which can and does almost anything, from lighting the streets to healing the wounded to powering the vehicles. The ability to control that energy could be a huge boon to the world if anyone had a lick of common sense. Or if Valkyria Chronicles wasn't so dedicated to its message that racism is bad unless you're a Valkyria.
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution has an upgrade to the basic pistol that lets it pierce armor. The item's description says that it uses quantum tunneling to phase through armor. Quantum physics 20 Minutes into the Future is advanced enough to be miniaturized, weaponized, and put in user-installable gun modifications, yet does not seem to be used anywhere else in the game's world.
  • The animatronics from Five Nights at Freddy's and its sequel can walk and talk, are ludicrously durable, strong and intelligent, have been fitted with facial recognition technology, can crawl through vents, are heavily implied to be sentient.. and they're used for absolutely nothing other then entertaining children. The first game most likely takes place in 1993, and the second takes place in 1987. They're decades ahead of what we have now in 2014, at a bare minimum, and they're being used for entertaining children.
  • Fracture: As pointed out in this Penny Arcade strip, being able to control terrain has a lot more potential than just allowing your soldiers to hop over a wall.
  • Weaponized teleportation is given a nod in FTL: Faster Than Light. "Bomb" weapons use a self-contained teleporter to beam over a missile warhead, plus whatever nasty surprise it's programmed to put inside of it. However, since it appears inside the room you target instead of bashing into the hull, it only causes subsystem or crewman damage.

  • Sidekick Girl, a superhero parody comic, toys with the idea by having a mind-switch between the powerful ditz Illuma and her sidekick here. Once switched she practices and applies Illuma's powers in a much more intelligent way. Developing flight, stun blasts, and other useful applications that Illuma could never figure out herself.
  • All the technology Tony invents in Real Life Comics is used by Greg for disturbingly mundane purposes. This pretty much tells you all you need to know. This is deliberate, and played for comedy, though.
  • Mad inventor Riff (well, he's more of a "Meh" inventor) in Sluggy Freelance has ended up playing this trope for laughs by using such things as his dimensional portal for cheap magic tricks, and generally using his prodigious intellect on ray guns and toaster cannons. Is it any wonder his Catch Phrase is "Let me check my notes"?
    • In 4U City Alt-Riff's nanomachines fairly avert this trope allowing the citizens nearly magical abilities in healing and allowing the near instantaneous conversion of matter such as converting tranquilizer darts into live fire ammunition.
    • Subverted by the fact that his inventions are being applied to better effect (well, slightly better at least) by the evil corporation that employs him.
  • Doc of The Whiteboard uses a teleporter to get pizzas delivered instantly. He also once invented a device that could launch paintballs backwards through time (presumably by breaking the light barrier).
    • The Pizza Teleporter can only be used to teleport objects to his desk (plus Majel Roddenberry would sue him if he tried patenting it), and he made the time traveling marker while intoxicated (and destroyed all reality when he used it).
  • Happens often in The Adventures of Dr. McNinja and Played for Laughs. The comic is set in a world where the utterly bizarre coexists comfortably with the mundane and reasonable, so weird stuff gets used for even weirder purposes:
    • The main character is, essentially, a powerful ninja superhero who has chosen to go into a medical career instead of becoming an assassin like his parents explicitly trained him to.
    • A group of Mexican criminals have found a pack of surviving velociraptors. They use this monumental discovery worth millions to rob people like stereotypical banditos from an old western movie.
    • This gem: "James! The leader of our group. He invented jet boots, and he used them to kick people."
    • Martin is basically the Hulk and uses his great powers to...advertise his chain of super-markets. Oh, and do work for the mafia.
    • Easily topping all the other examples is King Radical's use of a Time Portal for garbage disposal. And a septic tank, somehow.
  • Heroically averted in Schlock Mercenary with the Teraport. Originally designed to make money by allowing rich bastards to take their space-yachts between stars without queuing-up to the Wormgate with the rest of the plebs it didn't take long for people to figure-out it made a dandy Superweapon.
    • The Wormgates themselves can be considered an evil aversion of this trope as well: after all as long as people are seen going in one place and coming out the other, there's nothing to worry about what goes on in between...right?
    • And even before the introduction of the Teraport there was the ubiquitous gravitic technology; if you have gravity manipulationnote  on your ship then you already have forcefields, tractor-beams and a reactionless drive as well.
      • ...not to mention the ability to rip other ships apart with a careful application of gravitics.
      • They're also nicknamed "gravy guns" because it's possible to liquefy the crew while leaving the hull intact.
    • "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a big gun."
    • An old weapon becomes a significant plot element when it combines FTL communications with high-powered energy weapons to create a hyperspace Death Ray. A weapon that can teleport tremendous firepower to any known location regardless of defenses without revealing the location of the weapon. The local Mad Scientist craps himself in sympathy for defense planners.
  • El Goonish Shive:
    • Tedd uses his ultrapowerful transformation gun to throw a party for his girlfriend and switch genders so that he can cook. Though, considering that Tedd's dad is the head of the local MIB, he can't really sell or distribute the technology without getting grounded for, say, ten thousand years or so. The origin story for the gun reveals Tedd only has it because one of his Dad's alien buddies needed some simple work done on it, and their culture has religious objections to object-oriented programming. For the setting it's such basic tech to anyone not limited to human-made stuff that it isn't even worth being careful with; magic can do the same thing (if less reliably) and several races have it as an in-built ability. The main characters were not aware of this part until quite a ways into the story, though. Tedd and his friends occasionally do break out the transformation equipment for more practical purposes, like to turn Elliot into a Were Cat for getting places faster.
    • This is also a universe where every major government has a dedicated (albeit secret) magic agency. Just because Tedd's not applying the phlebotinum doesn't mean somebody isn't.
    • Later Justified in the case of magic: magic itself is a self-aware force and doesn't like more than a fraction of society knowing about it. Should someone reveal the existence and accessibility of magic to the world, magic would rewrite its own rules so that nobody knew how it worked anymore. It can't be used to solve widespread world problems because it would stop working if someone tried to do that.
  • Averted viciously in Drive. If the space being pinched by a ring drive is occupied by a planet, then that planet will suffer massive tremors. The bigger the ship, the more severe the quakes. This has been taken to the logical conclusion.
  • The Alt Text of this xkcd comic posits that some of the greatest problems in computer science today may have already been solved by some nameless programmer somewhere, who will never receive recognition for their achievement because their solution was Lost Forever in some mundane piece of tech they were hired to work on.
    "Some engineer out there has solved P=NP and it's locked up in an electric eggbeater calibration routine. For every 0x5f375a86note  we learn about, there are thousands we never see."
  • Dragon Ball Multiverse: So, you're the only race that found the key to inter-dimensional travel. Well, do something with it! Save the Namek race in places where it went extinct? Save alternate universes from Frieza, marauding Saiyans or other grand threats? Nah, let's make an inter-dimensional tournament! Subverted by the fact that these tournaments will gain its winners the prize of three wishes, but if designated villains win...

    Web Original 
  • The eponymous object in Erika's New Perfume never really does more but take up space in Erika's bedroom after Sarah uses it, despite having at least two of its three demonstrated functions with a definite audience for them and having even more All There in the Manual. This might partially be because the characters themselves don't have the manual, though.
  • Cracked's 6 Magical Movie Items They Wasted on Bullshit.
  • Phase is single-handedly wrecking this trope in the Whateley Universe. Only a freshman at Whateley Academy, he's already going around getting inventors to sign up with his financial service and marketing their inventions to fix this problem. Bugs had a weird gadget that faked painting on stuff: Phase saw how to turn it into the best toy ever. Jericho had some stuff that Phase is trying to patent and turn into the best medikit in the world. Loophole had a gadget that helped her get awesome performance out of her self-built car: Phase wants to market it as a way of cranking up automotive fuel efficiency world-wide.
  • Sailor Nothing author Stephan Gagne's Unreal Estate is set In a World... where technology that allows pocket universes to be created to order is ubiquitous. It's mostly used to create a few Worlds of Hats — the most unusual world is the First-Person Shooter world that automatically respawns "players" after lethal wounds. The Big Bad reveals that he has a Vision about using the technology to its full potential, and You Can't Make an Omelette......
  • Averted in The Salvation War. When The Legions of Hell invade Earth, they start out with Bronze Age tactics and technology, but that proves inadequate. They quickly adapt by using their portal-making abilities for Fantastic Nukes. After the war, they use their portal creating abilities to put FedEx out of business.
  • Taylor i.e. Skitter in Worm is exceptionally good at coming up with ways to use superpowers effectively. Which makes it highly frustrating when she has to deal with capes like Panacea and Genesis who aren't.
    • In universe, this is also justified in various ways. Superpowers come with mental changes that subtly encourage you to use them in combat. Tinker tech is nearly impossible to mass produce or maintain and repair by anyone who isn't the inventor, and the last time someone tried to use his inventions to cure world hunger and pollution anyway, he got attacked by the Endbringers. And there are some capes known as Rogues who do just use their powers to make money.
  • Many Spacebattles posters like to accuse various factions of being guilty of this trope with regards to using their abilities or technology. They go on to suggest better alternatives and ways of averting this rope. In turn, some other posters go to lengths to try to argue otherwise and demonstrate why the Phlebotinum isn't being Misapplied. A quote follows. It's gotten to the point that "competence" has become something of a slur due to inciting violent arguments.
    Nattuo: Obviously, we should use bad analogies to imply whenever we see the technology not doing the thing we want it to it's just that they've dialed it down because they're all just incompetents. Being so dumb they probably don't even know the dial goes up that high, you know, because they're dumb. Not at all like us.
    This is obviously because we have such stupendously vast mental faculties we can instantly see all the hidden factors to a technology's operation when we're shown a single - or extremely limited - instance of it's usage, and can predict exactly how it completely changes the nature of the setting (in spite of it not doing so) and use that to deduce the residents of the setting are just dumb(because of the aforementioned failure to completely understand all the hidden factors in their technology that allows us to foresee such usage methodologies with our incredible intellect).
    Hence, even with them working with said technology every single day, and having built said technology, and having a functioning understanding of all the engineering aspects of said technology, we understand it better than them, despite lacking all these things. We're just that fucking clever.
  • While many of the artifacts contained by the SCP Foundation are dangerous, a number of them are quite useful. The Foundation is aware of this, and those objects safe enough to be used without harm they do put to use in various capacities. They haven't released these things to the public largely because they want to be sure they understand the underlying mechanisms of how exactly they work first.
    • SCP-914. A large clockwork device covering 18 square meters. Items put into a slot are altered according to one of five parameters set. Rough, Course, 1:1, Fine and Very Fine. The Rough and Course settings tend to destroy items, the 1:1 returns a different object of equivalent worth and purpose, but the Fine and Very Fine return significantly better items of greater quality or complexity. A gun put into the machine, with the fine or very fine setting, would return an even better gun, possibly even stuff beyond SCP's current tech level. Even the 1:1 setting is fairly useful, as it could potentially provide translations of writings in an unknown language.
    • SCP-294. A vending machine capable of producing any liquid that exists in this universe, as well as a few that don't. The Foundation uses it as... well, a vending machine for the facility it's stored in (albeit with some armed guards who make sure nobody tries anything stupid and/or dangerous with it).
  • The companies in the LoadingReadyRun sketches Suspiciously Good Movers and Staggeringly Fast Loans have a whole bunch of alien technology including teleporters, cloning machines, matter replicators and at least one stable wormhole but are using it to run a moving company and a payday loan shop (with the latter just being a method to give away gold bricks due to an accident with their matter replicator). The first video makes it clear that since their tech is dubiously legal, to the point they refuse to acknowledge it exists, they just didn't have any better ideas.

    Western Animation 
  • The premise behind Chaotic is that it can create an identical duplicate you to live out a real world version of a Trading Card Game. You can 'port out' and the duplicate's memories are reabsorbed into you. While the show managed to show a wheelchair bound player walking inside the simulation, they ignored a more obvious application of their technology: Immortality.
    • What about halving the time you need to spend studying, by having each half study, well, half. Not to mention if, say, you ported out -in the middle of a test-
  • Invader Zim:
    • The title character once created an orbital satellite station that sucked out all the water from the city, gathered it into a giant balloon, and dropped it for no other reason than to win a water balloon fight.
    • A massive robot obviously capable of obliterating everything in its path is used by Zim to get revenge on Dib for a few off-hand comments made earlier in the episode.
    • Zim tries to get revenge on Dib for throwing a muffin at him. Zim gets Dib trapped—there's no escape, Dib's got a massive laser cannon aimed straight at his head—and what does Zim do? He has the cannon fire another muffin—not even a massive muffin, just a normal muffin roughly equivalent to the one Dib threw at him. And then lets Dib go on his merry way.
    • Zim has a device that can take out human organs and substitute them with...stuff...and what does he do with it? He uses it to stuff himself full of human organs in case the school skool nurse decides to do an x-ray. Never mind sucking the brains out of the entire human populace—what if Zim needs to see a doctor?
    • Perhaps the most bizarre by far—Zim has a device that can submit humans to the most painful mental torture possible, and uses it to hypnotize the town's populace into helping him win a school fundraiser.
  • Lampshaded in the episode "Jail Bird" of Darkwing Duck; Negaduck is continually frustrated that Megavolt, Bushroot and the Liquidator are too stupid to make full use of their superpowers. (Although, thanks to a power-stealing emerald, Negaduck ultimately doesn't fare much better.)
  • The Simpsons:
    • In one Halloween episode, Homer buys a teleporter from Prof. Frink and uses it to get food from the fridge without leaving the couch. Marge draws the line at using the teleporter as a shortcut to the toilet.
    • Another Halloween episode has Lisa and Bart develop superpowers. Bart vows to uses his powers (stretching) "only to annoy", and proceeds to pull a prank on Skinner.
    • Yet another Halloween episode shows what each Simpson (aside from Marge) would do with The Monkey's Paw. Homer wishes for...a sandwich. This was not without reason; he'd just seen the Paw mess things up twice before hand, so he tried to make a "safe" wish, specifying it as much as he could to make sure it wouldn't go wrong. It didn't work; the turkey was a little dry.
  • Pretty much every invention ever made by Doctor Doofensmirtz on Phineas and Ferb. In one particular incident, he created a machine that could remove zinc from water as the first stage of a circuitous plot that even he couldn't remember all the details of. Considering that zinc is fairly useful metal, he could have just cornered the world zinc market, made a lot of money, and done so legally at that.
    • Another plan that stands out was inventing a machine that could translate between English and Whale. His evil plan was to insult a specific whale. Perry didn't even bother to foil him that time, he just shook his head and went home.
  • On the PBS cartoon WordGirl the villainous Dr. Two-Brains builds a ray which can make gold into cheese (he's obsessed with cheese) and then a second one which can turn potato salad into gold. He then steals potato salad to turn into gold and then into cheese. Not only WordGirl but even the announcer think this is the stupidest plan ever — why not just turn potato salad into gold and buy more potato salad?
  • Many of the devices Shredder and Krang use in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had more potential than they were using them for, including Krang's molecular manipulation circuit for his suit.
  • Batman Beyond:
    • One example is that cash money has become obsolete, but the writers apparently didn't understand how digital currency transfers work, so you get things like people stealing shipments of little green 'cash cards,' or running a 'cash card' through one of those little handheld beeper thingies and getting the correct amount in the read-out, but then the card gets stolen back and apparently the money's still on it.
    • The various incarnations of G-Rated Drug in the franchise are often subject to this as well, but the Venom 'slappers' are kind of an aversion—the stuff Bane used to dope up on to make him the man who broke Batman has now been commercialized as a street drug. Bad, yes, but kind of realistic.
    • The future has hovercars, but they work about the same as regular cars, and pretty much all that's different is that youthful self-destructive behavior is more colorful.
  • The Magic Schoolbus has the titular bus,which can reach distant planets and the bottom of oceans in barely anytime at all.Instead of using this to colonise or exploit resources,its used to give a few kids an educational joyride.
  • Lampshaded in Schoolhouse Rock's "Electricity" "Now if only we had a Super Hero who could turn the generator real fast we wouldn't have to burn so much fuel to make electricity"
  • In The Transformers, the Decepticons have Invisibility spray. They only use it once, at night, to creep up on the resting Autobots... but not to kill them, only to mess around with their recharging chambers and make them evil. Later it also turns out that while the invisibility — somehow — renders them undetectable to the "evil presence" scanners of the Autobot ship, security cameras can still see their outlines. Had they killed the Autobots, they wouldn't have had a chance to watch the footage and undo their plan.
  • Captain Planet and the Planeteers:
    • What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway? wouldn't be an issue if Ma-Ti used it to its fullest potential (which would basically make him Professor X). Mainly not used thusly because you get into Moral Dissonance if you're always poking around in people's heads. It was eventually revealed that he was made the bearer of the Heart ring specifically because he wasn't willing to do much with it; one episode showed a Bad Future where he started playing hardball and conquered the planet with it.
    • Not that the others were much better. Each carried a ring capable of using the classical elements to impressive degrees, but the never bothered to use them to their full potential.
    • Hell, they had technology like a solar-powered plane, but no one ever thought to showcase it to the world to help reduce the dependency on fossil fuels.
    • Also invoked by basically every single one of the Eco Villains. Nearly every other episode featured Doctor Blight or Sly Sludge carting out some sort of new super-technology which exists only to cause more pollution (with several having been explicitly stated to be modified to do so, in other words they were CLEAN ENERGY first), Verminous Skumm has seemingly perfected chemical and genetic engineering or at least gotten REALLY GOOD AT IT, Duke Nukem (no not that one) could have just walked up to any nuclear disposal plant and went "Hey, mind if I hang out here and eat all the radiation this crap is giving off?" then taken an armored truck back to a nuclear plant and said "So I'm gonna sit in the core for a day or two and power the entire East Coast, sound good?" and been phenomenally wealthy, powerful and loved forever. Then again, as Anvilicious as the show was, pretty much every misuse of technology was lampshaded for how it COULD have been used. Usually.
  • The world of Mother Up has jet boots and invisibility cloth, used exclusively for faddish children's toys. The same episode has regular technology being misapplied by the third trendy toy in that episode, "personal money destroyers."
  • In the background material of Gargoyles, we find out that the eponymous Gargoyles don't shred their clothing because of a spell some wizard cast back in Ancient Rome. Think about it, this dude had magic capable of warping an entire species across the planet, and he used it to keep a rare species that often has limited contact with humans from showing off their junk.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode Magic Duel, it is revealed that "Age spells" exist in this universe. So why doesn't everypony have Eternal Youth? Possibly because, since even Twilight Sparkle, stated to be one of the most powerful unicorns in Equestria, can't actually perform then, they're currently too impractical, or even completely theoretical.

  • Santa Claus has, amongst other things, access to a vast manufacturing complex run by magical elves, a sack that can hold near limitless contents and still be carried, the power to make reindeer fly and some kind of time dilation ability. Best use in story: making illegal copies of copyrighted/trademarked/patented toys and giving them to children. Better idea: world domination.
  • The Computer, a machine capable of performing incredibly complex arithmetic and decision logic, primarily sees use doing a workless infinite loop and managing resources that may one day be used. Even in the case of people who actually use computers for things, most of the time it's the same old boring stuff over and over again. They want to do their accounts, or write a letter, when the machine may be capable of creating sapient or sentient thought, or just comparing your personal data to millions of other people and trying to figure out what kind of beer you'd want. Right now you have access to the largest computer network in existence, containing over 200 TB of information, and you're using it to read TV Tropes. And that's not counting such things as listening to music or running an Idle Game as well.
  • Atomic Rockets has an entire chapter on Unintended Consequences ( and links directly to this page).
    • Sufficiently powerful sub-light engines work out to, basically, riding around on the recoil of a Wave Motion Gun. A beam of superhot "Fuck everything and everyone behind me" comes out the ass-end of the ship and the ship goes the other way at a gravity or two. This has two outcomes: The government sticks a kill switch on every ship with such an engine, or a disgruntled employee realizes that he's got, basically, a nuclear weapon in his back pocket (and then the government installs the kill-switches once everything's calmed down)
    • The Matter Replicator would absolutely destroy the economy, since you can just make whatever you want at the touch of a button (or verbal order; in fact that's exactly what happened in Star Trek and why Federation citizens work to better society rather than accumulate wealth). Likewise, quantum computing, since the stock market's computer network needs processor delays to work right (and QC would also ruin all security measures for the same reason).
    • The Subspace Ansible would remove the need for manned spaceflight by making it a better idea to just send robots.