Because life just isn't as fun when you can see everything coming, there are several instances in fiction where the writers have chosen, for one reason or another, to give The Hero
or the Big Bad
an incredibly powerful, life-altering, plot-resolving super weapon (or super power), but not reveal what it is to the audience. They may only casually allude to it as "my secret weapon", they may pretend to "show" it but have it largely obscured by shadows or other objects in the way, or they may not even mention it at all until the pivotal moment
. Regardless, this trope serves to create dramatic tension and keep the audience glued to their seats until The Reveal
Something of a Discredited Trope
, simply because it was overused to the point of nausea in the past, so it is more often Parodied
or Played for Laughs
in modern fiction. Also, while Secret Weapon
used to be almost exclusive to super villains
, more and more works are giving heroes
a chance to to invoke this trope as well.
This can occasionally overlap with Chekhov's Gun
. For example, if it turns out that ballpoint pen the Big Bad
is constantly twirling in his fingers is actually a world-ending nuclear device, both tropes would apply. If constructed poorly, this trope can also lead to Deus ex Machina
See also It May Help You on Your Quest
, for obscure items that come into play later, Forbidden Chekhov's Gun
, where the characters must do something that they have been explicitly forbidden from doing, and Forgotten Superweapon
, where the characters have a super powerful weapon, they just forgot about it.
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- All-Star Superman: Parodied when Bizarro Flash has a "secret weapon". It's a match. Furthermore, it gets rendered totally useless quite soon after he reveals it. Zibarro blew it out by mistake.
- Blake and Mortimer: The Swordfish plane in the first adventure "The Secret of the Swordfish". This trope is played completely straight; the weapon is referenced over and over in the story but never shown until the final pages.
- James Bond: Secret weapons play a large role in several of the movies, including:
- Harry Potter: Voldemort actually has more than one, including The Horcruxes and the prophecy he had been searching for.
- Dune: The Honored Matres have The Weapon, which kills hundreds of troops instantly without blood
- HMS Polychrest, an Alleged Ship in the Aubrey-Maturin series, was originally designed to fire a giant rocket. The new weapon system failed, and Polychrest was converted into a conventional (albeit poorly-performing) sloop.
- Starworld by Harry Harrison has a Space Battle between two fleets: one belonging to Earth and one to La Résistance. Up until then, all space combat was done with missiles (conventional and nuclear) with missiles being used for both offensive and defensive purposes. Energy weapons might work well on planets but their range is too short for space warfare. So they end up building mass drivers the length of the ship, launching iron cannonballs, as well as a smaller, turreted version firing explosive bullets. The opening volley from the main drivers cripples the unsuspecting Earth fleet, which are finished off by the bullets. The Earth fleet doesn't even have a chance to shoot back.
Live Action TV
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: In the episode "Innocence", Xander comes up with a plan on how to deal with the episode's bad guy, who is nigh indestructible. He and the Scoobies go on a minor adventure to break into a military base, and return with a crate, which Xander opens to show Buffy. The lid of the crate blocks our view of what's inside until the climax of the episode. It's an anti-tank rocket launcher.
- Command & Conquer: Kane and the NOD love their secret weapons. Each game usually contains several, including invisible tanks, mole-machine APCs, cyborgs, and Tiberium-based WMDs. GDI usually isn't that big on the Secret Weapon front, but they develop one or two (the Ion Cannon from the first game being the most obvious).
- The Allies and Soviets try their hand at it, especially in the first Red Alert and expansions, though of course, just as with the Tiberian branch, the "not reveal what it is to the audience" aspect tends to be spoiled by it being literally All There in the Manual (just as the Ion Cannon and Nod's nuke were listed in the manual for Tiberian Dawn, so was the Chronosphere and the Iron Curtain device). Hilariously, if one ignores the manual, the clearest example in Red Alert is the Trope Maker cited on the page image. The Soviet have developed nuclear weapons, which is treated with more pre-reveal foreshadowing in the Allied campaign than both the Iron Curtain in the same campaign and the Chronosphere in the Soviet.
- Hitler: Along with his propaganda ministry, he would tell the people not to worry about the Allies advancing because the Nazi secret "wonder" weapons would save them.
- Nazi Germany actually had quite a few technological breakthroughs, though very few of them would see major use before the end of the war. The first jet fighter aircraft, for one thing. The London Gun (massive artillery gun capable of reaching London all the way across the English Channel) for another. The only reason they didn't pan out was because of Crippling Overspecialization, with such narrow purposes that such gadgets became infeasible to mass produce.
- When British intelligence first uncovered references to V-1 and V-2 weapons, they could only guess at their nature - and "death rays" and "engine-stopping rays" were higher on the list of suspects than cruise missiles or ballistic rockets.
- World War 2 allies:
- As pictured, the atom bomb (Fat Man model shown) was a closely guarded secret weapon of the United States military during World War 2.
- Great Britain developed what was, at the time, the most advanced computer ever built, for the purpose of code breaking. Called Colossus, its existence was classified for over half a century.
- Second only to the atomic bomb in secrecy level was the U.S. development of the proximity fuse. At the onset of the war, anti-aircraft artillery shells had to be set to go off at a predetermined altitude. If you guessed the altitude wrong, your shot was wasted. The proximity fuse allowed the shell to detect the presence of a nearby aircraft as it hurtled along, and detonate at the precise moment it needed to.
- The French regarded the Mitrailleuse (a primitive machine gun) as the secret weapon that would win the Franco-Prussian War for them. Emphasis on secret; security restrictions meant that no-one had a chance to train with the weapon and develop proper tactics. After the apparent failure of the weapon in the face of determined Prussian assults, the French believed that elan (fighting spirit) was more effective than machine guns. The Prussians (who'd been on the receiving end of the Mitrailleuse) decided to concentrate on firepower instead, with tragic results for the French in the beginning of World War One.
- Something similar happened with the Canal Defense Light — the secrecy surrounding it meant the generals had little idea of its effectiveness and preferred to use more familiar weapons.