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Non-Fatal Explosions

"There's a certain breed of explosion that's in action movies and cutscenes: it's just a push; there's no actual damage behind it."

In the real world, explosions are lethal. Let's assume, for a start, that the blast doesn't vaporise you or blow you limb-from-limb. If the pressure-wave doesn't kill you (instantly) by turning your organs to mush or dashing you to pieces against something, all the things and bits of things - shrapnel - caught in the blast can kill you all the same. These aren't usually chunks of rubble big enough to punch your guts out through your chestnote  but rather little shards of (sharp) stuff travelling fast enough to bury themselves in your brains. Even if you survive the pressure-wave and the shrapnel, there's a real chance you'll just plain bleed to death from the internal and/or external wounds those two gave you. That's assuming the heat-wave isn't enough to (instantly) cook your internal organs either, or sear enough of your flesh from your bones that you'll die of blood loss. Never you mind the effect of all this on your hearing, i.e. perforating or just plain damaging your eardrums (perforation may well render you [totally] deaf for life). Merely seeing an explosion can be harmful, as some (e.g. thermonuclear) explosions are so bright they cause blindness - which is, moreover, permanent within certain ranges.

It should come as no surprise, then, that their lethality means that explosions are used in modern warfare. Numerous explosive weapons are used to kill infantry; there exist anti-personnel grenades, anti-personnel mines, mortars, and shrapnel/high-explosive artillery shells. These blow people apart and/or pulp them with shrapnel, which causes them to die of shock or blood-loss. Most countries don't bother stocking less-lethal or non-lethal explosive weapons, e.g. stun ('flash-bang') grenades - such weapons are only useful in very specific situations which involve Special Forces (such as in hostage situations).

In fiction, however, an explosion just gives you a bit of a push or shove and may cause a bit of singeing. Also, if you fall over, your clothes might get dirty.

Cartoons aimed at children are the most blatant offenders (with Looney Tunes characters able to survive dynamite going off in their hands) but this shows up in almost every medium and genre. This raises the question of why anyone even tries to use them (or, anything, for that matter) as weapons at all, if they're so harmless.

An interesting variation occurs in more serious but still censor-neutered cartoons where airplanes and helicopters explode. They'll have people in parachutes coming out of the explosion, completely unharmed. A piece of advice: in Real Life, you have to eject before it explodes.

Some movies will feature similarly neutered explosives; rather than killing people in the blast radius, they transform people into stuntmen who are then pulled into the air by cables while going "Aiiieee!" Often it's possible to survive such a device even if standing a few feet from the detonation point, as long as you're jumping through the air in the opposite direction.

A similar behaviour can be seen in many video games, where fragmentation grenades typically have an incredibly small blast radius after which the lethal wall of burning-hot shrapnel they create simply vanishes. Some games (mainly multiplayer ones) even allow players to survive grenades going off right in their faces or even direct hits from rockets — albeit just barely — as a way to prevent explosives from being Game Breakers. It goes even further in games where every enemy and object dies with an explosion and where Chain Reaction Destruction phenomenon is common as the explosions caused in that manner are outright harmless. Sometimes explosions are so harmless they can be actively invoked as a propulsion system.

Often a source of Amusing Injuries. Compare to the truly hideous example which lies in many Real-Time Strategy video games, known affectionately (or not-so-affectionately) as the Slap-on-the-Wrist Nuke.

A supertrope of Ash Face, where an explosion leaves a character with nothing worse than a blackened face, and Explosion Propulsion, where they're harmlessly Blown Across the Room.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Full Metal Panic! has two different types of episodes- in the school-based comedy ones, things explode in people's faces all the time and they just shake it off. Away from the school, in the plot-based stories, people get hurt.
  • Mahou Sensei Negima! does this on occasion, with a lot of explosions not damaging anything except clothes.
  • In Ranma ˝, Happosai regularly throws around homemade gunpowder hand grenades. It's usually Ranma himself that gets left charred, smoking and pissed off, but otherwise unharmed.
  • Justified with Minnie May's 'May Specials' in Gunsmith Cats, since she customizes grenades to remove the shrapnel and some of the explosives, ending up with a grenade that just makes a loud bang for distraction. Real explosives, however, do inflict realistic damage, which is why May makes her own in the first place.
  • One of the several Amusing Injuries that happen to Keroro and his platoon is explosions. Apparently, jamming a live grenade into Keroro's mouth will only make him faint. And grow a large afro.
  • Invoked in the final episode of Excel♥Saga when Excel and Hyatt are looking for a way to return to their own bodies. They meet Nabeshin and ask for his help, he replies that in anime you can solve everything with explosions. He then holds up a lit dynamite stick, there is a large explosion, and everything is fine thereafter.
  • Played infamously in One Piece, where A bomb with a 5-kilometer blast radius is carried into the sky by Pell in an apparent heroic sacrifice, but he managed to survive.
    • Additionally, Mr. 5 has the power of the Bomb Bomb Fruit, enabling him to make any part of his body (including his entire body) explosive. It seems like a deadly power, but several people, including Luffy, Usopp and as it turns out, even Mr. 9 and Ms. Monday, manage to survive direct hits from it.
    • One Piece is in general an offender. Explosions are rarely played for fun, and characters will usually be injured (sometimes seriously) and often taken out of the battle if they are hit by one at point-blank range, but they will not suffer any of the physically realistic effects. Instead, they will just be covered by dirt, bruises and wounds as if they had been beated up by a human's fists and thrown around in the soil.
  • In Ed's introduction episode of Cowboy Bebop, her hideout gets blown away by the shockwave of a meteor striking nearby, leaving behind a molten crater. She just goes flying and only suffers a couple bruises.

    Comic Books 
  • One of the worst comic-book offenders is "Operation Galactic Storm", by The Avengers. The Nega-bomb is like an atomic bomb of intergalactic scale, it blew the complete Kree Empire. But not even that is enough to destroy heroes with Plot Armour, who were caught in the explosion radius but survived without problems. The worst offenders were the Vision and Wonder Man, who were at the Ground Zero of the explosion, and not even them were harmed.
  • Of all places, Sin City had one in a short back-up story featuring Shlubb and Klump. Their task was to dispose of a dead body that was revealed to be a dummy filled with explosives. It was a message from the various mob bosses they continually disappoint. Despite the violent nature of the comic, that particular story ended with the two bad guys in Ash Face and Amusing Injuries as opposed to a more realistic result.
  • Jokey Smurf's "surprises" in all media representations of The Smurfs, leaving his victims with Ash Face. In the film series and The Smurfs: A Christmas Carol, Jokey's "surprises" don't go BOOM! but HONK! when they go off.
  • Astérix and the Big Fight features a whole series of these caused by the experiments of an amnesiac druid who finds being blown into the air fun!

    Films — Animated 
  • In Over the Hedge, the De-Pelter Turbo causes what looks like a huge explosion, but the result is merely removing the hair from the animal it has trapped (if that — Dwayne gets out of it with his comb-over intact).
  • In Despicable Me, after Vector shoots Gru with about hundreds of explosives, Gru come out of a ditch, only to be slightly burned.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Jango Fett hits Obi-Wan Kenobi with one of these using his jetpack missile.
  • In Cheech And Chong's Next Movie, while said duo are driving along in a car full of gas fumes (as well as covered in gas), Chong lights up a joint and causes a decent sized explosion to occur inside the car. When the smoke clears, both are fine, though they're covered in ash and have Clothing Damage.
  • Home Alone. In the second movie, Kevin lights Harry's head on fire, Harry puts it out in the toilet, not knowing it is filled with kerosene, and blows the entire first floor up. Luckily, Harry only has second-degree burns on his scalp (as well as soot on his face and teeth and a damaged hat) to worry about.
    • Not to mention the fact that kerosene doesn't really explode when exposed to an open flame.
  • Happened a lot in The Pink Panther movies.
    • This is basically a superpower for Clouseau, he is immune to explosions.
    • It gets rather ridiculous when two characters start repeatedly shooting each other in the face with shotguns, repeatedly, at point blank, only resulting in some soot covering their faces. You'd think they'd try something else after the second shot...
  • The ending of Hot Fuzz is this for all but one character, who had the misfortune of having the bomb sitting in his lap.
  • The Three Stooges are a rare live-action example used in a slapstick manner.
  • At the climax of Collateral Damage, the protagonist outruns an explosion, considering himself safe once he's behind a staircase that only blocks the larger shrapnel. Not only does this work, but the villains who were at the center of the explosion are somehow also unharmed.
  • 2009's Sherlock Holmes features three leading characters all caught smack in the middle of a cluster of fiery debris-scattering explosions. Some minor skin loss and smudges are suffered, but everyone keeps their pretty faces, hair, eyes, ears, and bones intact, and soon shake it off.
  • In Damnatus, Wodan has an RPG explode pretty much at his feet and is no more than temporarily stunned. Later in the same film, Corris survives a grenade explosion strong enough to collapse the staircase he was running down.
  • In the live-action Speed Racer movie, all race cars envelope drivers in a protective foam bubble that bounces them to safety just before all catastrophic explosions. Partially subverted when one driver races off a mountainside and ejects a parachute instead.
  • Averted and lampshaded in the trailer for the film The Other Guys.
    • But played straight with Samuel L. Jackson 's character in one of the earliest scenes.
  • Happens in Jingle All the Way. What makes this example even more egregious is that the characters milk the living hell out of how dangerous the bombs are before a camera cut simply shows everyone covered in soot, including the officer who directly ripped it open.
  • MouseHunt: Ernie and Lars are both blown up by the mouse twice (the first time, Ernie is blasted from a chimney and into a nearby lake) but luckily, they only have some soot on their faces and shredded clothes to worry about.
  • Parodied at the start of the spoof Carry On Spying, when a villain slips a bit of sabotage into a scientist's experiment, steps to one side, and put his fingers in his ears. The experiment blows up, the scientist is killed, the laboratory is reduced to a smoking wreck, and the villain is completely untouched.
  • The Starsky & Hutch film included a scene where Hutch's house is bombed and Willis is caught in the blast. Despite being quite close to the front door, he's merely slowly lifted into the air (almost as if he's on wires....) and breaks his leg on the impact.
  • In the Charlie's Angels films. The Angels have stood in front of massive explosions the should be enough to rip them to shreds, but they just sent hurling 5 feet in the air without any signs of wounds or bruises.
  • In Iron Man 3, when Tony Stark's house gets destroyed from the air, Tony and Pepper suffer numerous close-range explosions with no lasting ill effects.
  • In Captain America: The Winter Soldier this occurs when Falcon is going up against the hellicarriers in the finale. A trio of flak turrets fail to hit him during a serious of barrel rolls even though realistically those flak bursts would have filled him with shrapnel. note 

    Literature 

    Live Action TV 
  • This has happened on Angel. A demon gives Angel and Spike a bag, claiming it contains the episode's MacGuffin, but it actually contains a ticking bomb. Oddly enough, the fact that Angel and Spike survive being blown up is more justified than most examples of the trope, since their vampire toughness is the obvious explanation. Said toughness is usually played for drama, but in this case it's handled with exactly the same emphasis on humor and humiliation as any other Amusing Injuries.
  • The Dutch kids series Bassie & Adriaan often had the villains plotting to take out the titular heroes with a bomb, which more often than not ended up exploding in their faces instead.
  • These were a favorite stock gag on The Muppet Show.
  • In a case that was also Truth in Television, In Band of Brothers this happens on D-Day to Joe Toye in which he survives a pair(at different points) of thrown grenades exploding inside the trench of a German gun emplacement right next to him. In one case it was in enough of a dip and in the second his rifle takes the hit.
  • Averted on CSI NY, where Flack nearly died from having a huge hole blown in his torso by a bomb. He survived, but still had some severe damage. Mac had some as well, though it was only burns and cuts.
  • In the second episode of Seven Days, Donovan has a grenade explode just inches away from his face. It incapacitates him at the time, but he is later shown completely recovered, claiming that he had his vest on and that the grenade just knocked the wind out of him.
  • Top Gear: Both Clarkson and May survive explosions, complete with Ash Face, during the increasingly cartoon-y police chase challenge of their 80's hot hatchbacks. Clarkson is left in the wreckage of his hatchback following its destruction via explosive remote control car, while May is left in the center of a crater after Hammond applies a tank to his vehicle.

    Pinball 

    Radio 

    Tabletop Games 
  • GURPS has the Cinematic Explosives rule. Explosions do no damage except for some small damage from being knocked back; apart from that, all they do is blackening faces and messing up clothes.

    Video Games 
  • The ending of Portal 2.
  • Spycraft 2.0 has an optional rule where explosions cause even more chaos and random property damage but are less likely to kill characters.
  • Particularly egregious in Pokémon, in which it is the mons themselves that explode. Somehow, Trainers never have to pick up scattered bits of Electrode or Geodude afterwards, although they do faint.
  • This is pretty much the entire schtick of Bob-ombs in Super Mario Bros., one way or another. While Mario can often survive their explosions when they're his enemies, heroic Bob-omb allies in the Paper Mario series all have the ability to blow up without suffering any harm to themselves at all.
  • The blast mask from The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, which is essentially a reusable bomb that you strap to your face! Somehow, raising your shield protects you from harm.
    • In borderline Insane Troll Logic, the shield deflects damage from the front of the character, and the mask is on the front of the character making the damage come from the front, the shield deflects the damage from the exploding mask as it deflects damage from the front. QED?
    • The series in general. How many times have you accidentally gotten Link caught in the blast radius in one of his own bombs? How many times have you walked away with only, maybe, four hearts or so of damage? Subverted if you're low on health, then you do die. This doesn't even count all the other minor explosions and bombs in the series that still leave you standing (if a little damaged).
  • In Sakura Taisen, resident benevolent mad scientist Kohran's inventions are prone to comedically harmless Explosive Overclocking. She lampshades this in the second OAV (when asked what one of her inventions does, she says something along the lines of "That's Mr. Exploder! You press the button and smoke comes out and then it blows up, leaving us charred and sooty, but unhurt.")
  • Getting caught in an explosion in all three Mass Effect games just usually means you take a bit of damage to your shields, health too if on higher difficulties. Other than a bit of Shell-Shock Silence when an enemy rocket hits you and explodes in your face, Shepard is perfectly fine a few moments later.
    • Played completely, utterly straight in the best Destroy ending of the third game. Shepard is caught at the heart of a MASSIVE explosion in the center of the Citadel, and yet is still shown to have somehow survived - after apparently surviving reentry into Earth's atmosphere as well.
  • All of Snake's attacks in Super Smash Bros. Brawl are explosive based (assuming he's not just using close-quarters combat skills). Apparently, Nintendo thought guns would be too violent and would seem jarring compared to other characters, so now all of his smash attacks and most of his special moves become variations of grenades, rockets, and missiles. This actually makes him a very unique character with a strong field-control if used right.
    • Explosions in the rest of the series, however, are particularly deadly. Since the entire point of the game is to push your enemies off the screen, push-away explosions become very useful. AND they do tons of damage.
  • Averted in Deus Ex, where explosives are generally lethal unless you use an upgrade that remotely detonates them before they reach you.
  • Batman Arkham Series: Explosive gel will at worse knock someone out and often just stuns them.
    • Given Batman's "no killing" rule, they would be way less useful if they did kill people, because then the players either couldn't use them or would encounter Game Over screens when they did.
    • This particular explosive might have been specifically engineered to be non-lethal, like flashbang grenades. Complete lack of shell (and subsequent shrapnel) suggests that.
    • They can be used to knock enemies a significant distance, especially when placed at the top of a staircase, but it only results in a knock out. Somehow, Batman can blow up walls next to and even ceilings above enemies, but the explosion and debris only result in a knockout.
    • And if Batman gets hit by his own explosion he doesn't take any damage or get knocked down; he just flinches slightly.
  • In Final Fantasy XIV, during the appearance of the Imperial Legatus during the (currently) last storyline mission, he calls a powerful blast from a airship, supposedly engulfing everyone on its flames to end the fight. 10 seconds later the player character wakes up unharmed in a cave, everyone else present during the cutscene is fine as well.
  • Played with in Ghost Trick. Three people are in a room which blows up. One dies instantly. One gets several broken bones and possibly some other injuries. One just stands there, completely unfazed. Because he's already dead.
  • During a cut-scene in No More Heroes Travis falls into a trap laid by the assassin Holy Summers, who proceeds to throw three grenades in after him which EXPLODE IN HIS FACE. Naturally, Travis escapes the pit without so much as a scratch. Not only that but on the way to fight Holy, Travis steps on several landmines and yet, is barely slowed down.
  • In Final Fight, one of the bosses is Rolento, a character in a military uniform who constantly tosses grenades all over the screen, five or six at a time. In real life, of course, this kind of fighting style would be utterly suicidal, but this being a typical beat-em-up game, his grenades have all the explosive power of a bottle rocket, and if a character is caught in the miniscule blast radius, it just takes a small amount of health off his Life Meter and knocks him off his feet for a second.
  • The "Rocket Jumper" and "Sticky Jumper" weapons in Team Fortress 2. They're the completely harmless variations of the Soldier's and Demoman's primary weapons, respectively. They do absolutely no damage whatsoever, but still retain all the force behind their explosions for the user, allowing you to zoom around the map with impunity! You'll still take a LOT of fall-damage if you're not careful though! Not too mention that a good player can easily shoot you down...
  • The Sims 2, the rocket and firecracker string objects have a random chance of exploding in your sim's face when they use it. This trope results in Ash Face.
    • In The Sims 3, detonation can fulfill this trope or invert it. On one hand, you can have a sim caught in detonation have no other effects other than be singed, on the other hand, sometimes it sets the area or random ares on fire too, which can kill them quickly as the sim is already singed. (But it's still not quite the explosion killing them) It's played entirely straight if detonation is done at home lot and you have the lifetime reward that nullifies any fire occurring in your home.
  • Not-quite averted in Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas; hitting an unarmored person dead-on with a missile is probably going to kill them and anyone standing next to them, or at least very nearly so. Somehow, though, if you try it with the V.A.T.S. system and it misses, even if the missile hits the wall a foot to their left, the blast damage is less than if the exact same situation happened without using VATS. Grenades, however, tend to work as advertised.
  • Vendetta features sticks of dynamite that do damage, but if the damage is less-than fatal (i.e. if the character has plenty of life left). the victim merely stands blinking and wearing ash face for a moment before continuing as normal. A direct-to-hit-points damage if ever there was one.
  • The Commanders in Planetary Annihilation take this to the extreme (if only due to game-balancing) where they can shrug off nuclear explosions at full health. With a bit of damage (or two nukes) they'll, well, they'll make an explosion of their own.
  • In the Sonic the Hedgehog series, Dr. Robotnik/Eggman's machines almost always end up exploding with him still inside when they're defeated, but the worse he gets from it is an Ash Face.

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 
  • There are numerous non-fatal explosions during Roy and Simon's cartoon battles in The Cartoon Man and its sequel.

    Western Animation 
  • Subverted in an episode of Clone High where Professor Scudworth frequently gets blown up by dynamite sticks (reading TNT of course). While he does survive every explosion, he is seen screaming in agony with extreme facial injury after each explosion.
  • Seemed rather prevalent in G.I. Joe. You'd have situations where 2 characters were being held in a cell and the rescuers would blow the steel door to said cell open with explosives. None of this was a danger to the occupants.
  • Happened to Chief Quimby at the beginning of every episode of Inspector Gadget. This also happens whenever a MAD Agent gets caught in whatever explosive trap they had planned for Gadget.
  • Looney Tunes. All of them. They can be fatal, but very rarely are. When they are, the characters are seen as angels on clouds, floating spirits, or (when the explosion occurs offscreen) the character who did that to them remarks how gruesome it is and we never see that character again.
    • Similarly, many cartoons of the day were also very fond of leaving the victim with Ash Face.
  • In addition to the Video Game example above, Bob-ombs were played with quite frequently in all three Super Mario Bros. cartoons. Sometimes this was subverted when Bob-ombs were capable of causing disasters such as avalanches.
    • Double subverted in the "Crimes R Us" episode of The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3. When a giant Bob-omb explodes in Koopa's face, he seemed to be in a competent enough state to pilot his partially wrecked Doomship in a hasty retreat.
  • Very common on The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Gopher claims to be an expert in dynamite and even dabbles in stronger stuff, such as nitroglycerin or U235. When he uses the dynamite, stuff and characters almost get blown up and though the others sometimes think that they're dead, they naturally never turn out to be.
    • I seem to have been impaled by a piece of debris from that explosion. Oh bother.
  • Lampshaded in the Phineas and Ferb episode "Dude, We're Getting the Band Back Together!"
    Johnny: Hey Vanessa, is that your dad up on the rocket?
    Vanessa Doofenshmirtz: He'll be okay; he blows up all the time.
  • Done a few times in Heathcliff and the Catillac Cats
  • A running gag in the Tom and Jerry cartoons, although Tom has died at least twice from an explosion in the episodes "Yankee Doodle Mouse" and "Mouse Trouble".
  • Sponge Bob Square Pants has tons, to the point where it's almost a Running Gag.

    Real Life 
  • Sufficiently small explosives in general can be survivable. Soldiers have been known to survive thrown grenades exploding in what should have been the lethal radius. Grenade launchers and mortars have also been known to potentially allow survivors.
  • The Soviet GP-series of underslung grenade launchers, mounted on the Kalashnikov series, were the subject of many complaints - complaints to the effect that the blast was too small and the fragmentation effect likewise insufficient, to the point that all the grenade was good for was scaring people with the noise.
  • Similarly the XM-29's airburst grenade launcher was also criticized for its warhead being too small. While its small size was mitigated by its airburst properties, but it was still far too small at only 20x28 mm. It was improved in the far superior XM-25 which featured a much larger 25x39 mm grenade while keeping the airburst properties.
  • 60 mm Mortars have been known to allow survivors in extremely short distances. Despite larger warheads than in the above grenade launchers, they are still extremely ineffective due to the nature of indirect fire. A significant problem is that the rounds often penetrate soft ground and are thus mostly harmless. There have been survivors within feet of mortar shells.
  • 60 mm Mortars are deadly compared to the 50 mm ones that Russia, Britain, and Germany began World War II with as standard light mortars for their infantry platoons. Halfway through the war, Germans withdrew the 50 mm weapons completely and Brits used them only for flare and smoke shells, as it simply did not pack sufficient explosive power. Russians, however, kept using them for some reason.
    • Even though both sides started producing 60mm mortars instead and kept using their 50mm mortars because they were better than nothing, only the Germans lost enough of their mortars that they de facto 'switched' to 60mm.


Nitro ExpressThis Index Is On FireOut of the Inferno
Illogical SafeZany CartoonNon Sequitur Thud
No FEMA ResponseAction Adventure TropesNonviolent Initial Confrontation
Iron Butt MonkeyRule of FunnyAss Shove
Nitro ExpressTropes That Go BOOM!Nuke 'em
Matchlight Danger RevelationImageSource/Western AnimationNow What?
Nightmare FuelTelevision Is Trying to Kill UsNot the Fall That Kills You

alternative title(s): Non Fatal Explosion
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