Said by the inherently Genre SavvyMorpheus the first time he summons the Kindly Ones. It is unknown whether this is an indication of how out of touch he was with stories due to his 80 year imprisonment or if he knew that this phrase was Tempting Fate (all three of them, actually) and it was the first step in his intricate plan to engineer his own death.
This trope is such a central part of the movie License to Drive, not only is the exact phrase used, not only is it used by the main character, not only is the moment he says it featured prominently in the movie's trailer... but he addresses the question directly to the audience!
Commander #1: We've analyzed their attack, sir, and there is a danger. Should I have your ship standing by?
Grand Moff Tarkin: Evacuate? In our moment of triumph? I think you overestimate their chances.
The Empire has to be sure not to let sensitive information leave the Death Star while rebels are running around on the ship. An unauthorized escape pod flies out, but no worries, there's no life forms aboard (in a galaxy filled with sentient robots), so WCPGW?
That was kind of the whole point. Tarkin was an overconfident idiot and the Death Star symbolized the Empire's biggest weaknesses, not, as he believed, it's biggest strength. Those weaknesses were, their belief that technology was superior to faith, and that they were bullies and cowards, not the competant rulers they believed themselves to be.
From The Mummy. They find the ancient Egyptian "Book of the Dead", and Evey decides to read from it. "No harm ever came from reading a book", she says. Cue the eponymous Mummy waking up and trying to kill everybody.
Played through again in the sequel and lampshaded.
Eve: It's only a chest. No harm ever came from opening a chest.
Rick: Yeah, and no harm ever came from reading a book. Remember how that one went?
The Incredibles has "We're superheroes. What could happen?" Cue a montage of the history of superheroes getting sued, and the eventual banishment of the superhero identity altogether.
And then the second time: "We're superheroes. What could happen?" Cue giant robot.
In Zack And Miri Make A Porno, Zack uses the fateful words "What Can Go Wrong?" the night before the crew was planning to shoot the real action for their movie. Since this happens only halfway in the movie, you don't need to be a genius to know what to expect after that phrase.
In Megamind, the titular character is bored after he defeats his nemisis, Metroman. So he decides to create a new nemesis by giving someone else Metroman's superpowers. What Could Possibly Go Wrong? (IIRC, Minion asks this ironically. Well, instead of giving an altruistic person superpowers, he accidentally gives them to an average joe (at best). He decides to go along with the plan anyway. Then, after said average joe decides he would rather be a supervillain, Megamind pushes all of Berserk Buttons at once. Great plan.
In How To Train Your Dragon, Stoick decides to put Gobber in charge of training the kids to fight dragons while he's away.
In Babes in Toyland (1986) one of the good guys explains that he's been collecting the evil of the world, distilling it to its essence, and sealing it into a bottle.
The Terminator: "There's over 30 cops in this building. You're perfectly safe here." Oh, how wrong you are, Detective Traxler.
The print ad for the 1973 movie Westworld reads "where nothing can possibly go worng [sic]".
Deep Blue Sea. A research base experimenting with genetically enhanced super-intelligent sharks is placed in the middle of the ocean.
Animorphs: Since improvising is a big part of their plans, this tends to happen often. Tobias even lampshades this in his own plan at one point.
Jurassic Park. Although in this one, the critical "thing" that could happen (the control system being hacked, among other things) isn't clearly foreshadowed. But c'mon, an island full of vicious dinosaurs run by an man who continuously insists everything is perfectly safe is just asking for trouble. (In the book, this is all but Ian Malcolm's sarcastic catchphrase.)
This is the plot of the book and film Fail Safe. An accidental nuclear attack on the USSR is impossible, Mr. President.
And Dr. Strangelove. In fact, they sued Fail Safe because it was so similar.
In the novel The Amorous Umbrella the hero is trapped in a world based on the more melodramatic 1950's soap operas. By that world's natural laws, the surest way of committing suicide is to say "I've never felt better in my life".
In the great Indian epic Ramayana, a Rakshasa general leads his 14,000 troops against one man: Rama. His last words; "He's only one man."
Ravanna the Demon-King was so hard to kill because of blessings he extorted from Brahma that prevented gods and demons and such-like from killing him. He disdained to get immunities from human or animals, because they were mere food. What could they possibly do?
One of Spike Milligan's silly poems for kids has the King of China declare "I've never felt finer!" and then promptly keel over and die.
W. D. Robert's children's mystery, entitled " what could go wrong?" the answer? Just about everything that could when you have three kids( one of whom is very accident prone) and send them off to visit their aunt- alone. oh, and don't forget the guys with guns.
In Septimus Heap, Marcia's comments about Septimus's Darke Week opening up channels for the Darke to come out and Septimus's reassurance against it already foreshadow the outbreak of the Darke Domaine in Darke.
Subverted in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when Ron asks "Have you ever heard of a plan where so many things could go wrong?" and while things don't go exactly according to plan, it does go mostly right.
Live Action TV
The premise of every episode of the 1984-86 US TV series Crazy Like A Fox. The series starred Jack Warden as Harry Fox, a free-spirited private detective who lived by his wits and John Rubinstein as his high-strung attorney son Harrison who unwillingly and frequently found himself dragged into his father's cases. The show's opening would always feature Harry and Harrison talking on the phone in their offices like this:
Harry: Harrison, I need your help.
Harrison: Dad, you keep forgetting. I'm a lawyer. You're the detective!
Harry: Aw, come on son. All I need is a ride. What could possibly happen?
Jeremy Clarkson saying,"How hard can it be?" on Top Gear, always uttered before they show a segment where the presenters have to work on cars.
Lampshaded once, after the series came off hiatus:
Richard: Oh, how I've missed the pang of dread every time you say the words "How hard can it be?"
And lampshaded pretty much every time he says it by Hamster and May ever since.
Ida: Weve come this far, there's no turning back. The Doctor: Oh, did you have to? 'No turning back'? That's almost as bad as "Nothing could possibly go wrong" or "This is gonna be the best ChristmasWalford's ever had."
The Doctor later lets loose with this at the start of the episode "Midnight"; his tone suggests he wants something to go wrong. And it does, and he's very sorry by the end of the episode.
In "The Doctor's Wife" he's knocked together an improvised TARDIS from spare parts.
"Right, perfect, look at that; what could possibly go wrong? (bit falls off the console with a crash) That's fine; that always happens."
ROMANA: Don't you think that's a bit dangerous? DOCTOR: No, I don't. What could possibly go (Lurch. The Doctor falls.) DOCTOR: Ow! Wrong. You know, I've simply got to stop saying that. Every single time I say what could possibly go wrong, something goes (Lurch.)
Jimmy Fallon used this in a joke while hosting the 2010 Primetime Emmys:
"NBC asking the host of Late Night to come to Los Angeles to host a different show, what could possibly go wrong?" Camera cuts to Conan O'Brien in the audience.
On Doogie Howser, M.D., Doogie's best friend is trying to convince him to go with him to check out an car after work. He warns Doogie not to try to get out of it with some gallbladder emergency. Doogie assures him it's an Wednesday and nothing ever happens on an Wednesday. Then he walks away from the TV where the news announcer says "The Verdict in the Rodney King Trial has just come in," and the Intro begins.
Being very Genre Savvy, Chuck and Morgan on Chuck are very quick to comment if someone says it. Hilariously, even Casey calls Sarah out when she invokes this trope.
Stargate SG-1: In "Arthur's Mantle", Carter is fiddling around with an Ancient device and discovers the device is emitting a fluctuating energy signature.
Carter: I'm gonna try to stabilize it.
Mitchell: Sure. What have you got to lose?
They're both immediately put "out of phase" and can't interact with the rest of the cast. And Mitchell is usually so Genre Savvy.
MythBusters: The Narrator often uses this phrase, as do the hosts on occasion. When the Narrator uses it, something usually (but not always) goes wrong; when the hosts use it, they're usually using it as ironic Lampshade Hanging of how dangerous the situation is, so it's a tossup as to whether something actually will go wrong.
Calvin And Hobbes, about Calvin's plan to push the car out of the garage so they can use it as a clubhouse:
Calvin: We'll move it 10 feet. What could possibly go wrong?!
Hobbes: Whenever you ask that, my tail gets all bushy.
And with good reason. The car winds up rolling out of the driveway, down the road, and into a ditch.
Dilbert has had its characters making any number of observations to this effect, but this is one of the most blatant examples:
RuneScape: "A creepy child in a dark clearing. What could go wrong here?" She turns out to be an immensely powerful vampyre, that's what.
Dead Space; breaking down entire planets for their mineral resources, hmm, not too bad, already pretty dangerous, but it's mundane dangerous, what are the odds of finding some VERY unwanted cargo when you start mining the place? Though you eventually discover it's closer to Gone Horribly Right. Given how much Hollywood Biology you need to justify a species surviving having its planet torn apart...About a Million to One Chance.
In Dr Muto, Dr. Muto says this before turning on his everlasting power source, which five seconds after being turned on blows up the entire planet, except for his house.
Half-Life. Black Mesa. "The possibility of a Resonance Cascade scenario is extremely unlikely". Of course, there wouldn't have been a game without it. (Freeman's Mind: "Yeah, well, that's why we have insurance.")
Lampshaded in Dragon Age II, in which Varric observes that 'I don't like this' is right up there with 'What could possibly go wrong?' when it comes to Tempting Fate. This is also one of Snarky! Hawke's lines during their last talk with Varric before the final battle, and he will call you on it again.
Homeworld: Cataclysm. Let's open a million years old alien pod after having tucked ourselves in the furthest corner of the galaxy, where no one can come to our aid in case something goes wrong!
Ginko: I've had just about enough! The scenery here never changes!! Enough, enough, enough!
Eikichi: Quit whining!! How about this idea? Would you be happier if there had been a waterfall or somethin'? Huh!?
Maya: Shh! Be quiet... That noise... Could it be!?
(Cue Waterfall up ahead.)
BioShock: Andrew Ryan wakes up one day and goes, "I know, I'll create a submerged city with 1940 technology where the law of the jungle is the only real rule, and everyone is free to do whatever they wish as long as it profits them. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?" When the player stumbles upon it, the question that comes to mind is "What didn't?"
In Seven Days A Sceptic practically everything on the ship is built on the assumption that nothing will go wrong (whereas in Real Life the opposite holds true). Examples include escape pods that need to be fueled up for hours before use and the captain's suite emergency unlock, which is installed on the inside. The ship's scanners can also track the number of living beings on board but not their locations, the power source is mounted in a huge shaft with no railings, there's a glass-domed observation deck with no apparent protections against micrometeorites (or radiation, for that matter) and the prison cell uses a force field instead of metal bars that won't vanish in case of power failure. No wonder the engineer spent most of his time hiding in the dining area and making the counselor fix things for him - he must've had a breakdown on the first day and been in denial since.
In Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy Jaden Korr is tasked by Kyle Katarn to destroy illegal weapon caches in the planet Ord Mantell. He says: "This should be easy. Just plant some charges, watch the fireworks and come home. What can go wrong?" Well, one notorious clone bounty hunter might just appear.
Fear Effect: Hana says this at the end of Retro Helix. It shows the King of Hell surrounded by fire and laughing hysterically. Those who have played the first game should know exactly what could go wrong.
The haiku that describes the Black Cat familiar in Kingdom of Loathing is "What a cute kitty!/What could possibly go wrong,/with her at your side?" It is one of the two most actively harmful familiars in the game, reducing experience gains, depleting MP, destroying randomly dropped items, and occasionally preventing the use of skills and items in combat.
In World Of Warcraft, an Alliance quest in Vashj'ir has you go kill some demonic octopi that are mind-controlling some of the gilblins and take their heads. The NPC who gives you the quest then suggests you put one of them on your own head, quoting this trope. It turns out the demonic octopus wasn't quite dead...
Also in Mt. Hyjal, a quest giver who wants you to save panicked bear cubs stuck in trees by throwing them onto a trampoline states "Nothing can go wrong with this plan.". Unless, of course, you miss the trampoline and throw the cubs to an untimely, squishy death.
In Saints Row The Third, after blowing up a S.T.A.G. aircraft carrier, Pierce will ask what more S.T.A.G. could possibly throw at them. One cutscene later, S.T.A.G. has imposed martial law, raised all of the bridges, and filled the streets with tank squads.
In Halo's Spartan Ops, there is one chapter titled "Nothing Can Go Wrong". The next chapter is, of course, titled "Everything Has Gone Wrong".
Whateley Universe: Phase said it in an early chapter of Ayla and the Birthday Brawl. Readers know what Phase doesn't: an internationally feared supervillains with a major grudge against Team Kimba was told about Ayla's planned party, and has a week to plot something really nasty.
Phase probably knows just what's going to go wrong, seeing as it's happened on both of his previous trips... and has had everyone else telling him exactly just that for a few episodes. In consideration of this, he's managed to invite - in a relatively roundabout way - enough students with oddball and incredible powers, alongside an ex-Admiral with a nanite swarm guiding her every move. Obviously, this means that he's prepared for nearly every eventuality.
Deceased Crab likes this trope a lot as he often says "What's the worst thing that could happen? Please don't answer that." Since he has played every game that he LPs before, things often do go wrong afterwards.
Most of the time it's played straight, however. That became his catch phrase because he actually does say the trope title often. It's almost a Once per Episode thing for Timmy. It's used so often that when things inevitably go bad when Timmy wishes to be in an old cartoon, Cosmo complains that no one had a chance to say what could possibly go wrong yet.
Said literally by Genie in Aladdin and the King of Thieves, just before the titular King of Thieves reveals his plan to crash and rob Aladdin's and Jasmine's wedding.
This is literally the title of the pilot (and only) episode of the cartoon based on Bubsy. It's also his catchphrase during said show.
In the South Park episode "Free Hat", the boys form a club to save movies from their directors. When they get an appearance on Nightline, Cartman says he will speak because he's the spokesman. When Kyle tells him not to screw up, he says the trope. Besides immediately relinquishing the job to Tweek when Ted Koppel asks why they advocate toddler murder (It Makes Sense in Context), the appearance also gives Steven Spielberg the idea to remake Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Regular Show has quite a few examples, especially Appreciation Day, which has a manager's book in which only the truth can be written. Rigby and Mordecai write tall tales in it.
In the Duckman Episode "Clear and Presidente Danger", Duckman begins wondering out-loud about becoming the new leader of the third-world country Porto Guano and ends with "What Could Possibly go Wrong?" Cornfed Breaksthe Fourth Wall to say to the audience "For a complete list, please send $12 to Journal Graphics, Washington, DC, 20300."
The Powerpuff Girls Movie: Jojo assures the girls that Townsville will love them after they help him with his plan. Suuuuuure, they will.
In the famous "Itchy & Scratchy Land" episode of The Simpsons, the family is taking a helicopter into the park when the pilot comes over the PA: "Welcome to Itchy & Scratchy Land, where nothing can possibligh go wrong. ...Possibly go wrong. That's...the first thing that's ever gone wrong." Most of the rest of the episode is an homage to Westworld, featuring murderous Itchy and Scratchy robots malfunctioning and trying to kill everyone.
Let's simulate a power blackout in our nuclear power plant to field-test the new emergency cooling system we installed. Oh, but wait, that's not enough - we also need to disable all the safety precautions, and then end the experiment with an emergency measure that was never meant to be used routinely. What could possibly go wrong?
This more recent article has this for #5 among others, where a life form grows instead of dying when subjected to extreme gravity:
At this point you should be hearing ominous music and people ignoring a lone researcher's desperate warnings.
A highly-contagious pathogen being tested in a lab in tornado alley. Slashdot link (note the tag).
We want the ship to look good on the papers, so punch it and never you mind the icebergs. After all we've got a fancy new doublebottom-hull, we're able to stay afloat with four compartments flooded instead of the usual two, and we have four more lifeboats than is legally required! What could possibly go wrong?
The "perfectly safe" Hindenburg. While it seemed safe enough at the time, in hindsight, flying around in a balloon filled with hydrogen is pretty dangerous. To quote Wikipedia, "nowadays helium is preferred because of its lack of flammability." No kidding. Also, while it wasn't precisely painted with rocket fuel, the metallic paint on the thing didn't help in the least.
Oddly enough, airships were actually incredibly safe for aircraft of the time - it seems counterintuitive, but the inherent risk of hydrogen gas and early 1900s technology had, until that point, been countered by the inherent safety and stability of the relatively slow ships. With loads of redundant engines and gas cells, they are naturally at home in the sky - they don't come crashing down to earth if a wing or rotor comes off, or an engine fails. The Graf Zeppelin in particular proved perfectly reliable during circumnavigations, polar expeditions and a million transatlantic miles. This is why people trusted the German Zeppelin brand in particular- the Zeppelin company had a perfect passenger safety record since the aircraft was invented nearly forty years prior to the disaster, making the Hindenburg the first and last passenger Zeppelin to come to a fatal end.
There was once an airship called the R-101. Devised as a part of the British "Imperial Airship Scheme," the contract pitted two competing designs against one another: the exemplary Vickers-built R-100, and the government-built R-101. The materials, design, and capabilities of the R-101 were woefully inadequate in comparison to the R-100, to the point where the airship had to be lengthened so that it would have enough lift to fly, making it the largest airship in the world. More consideration was given to the incredibly spacious, opulent (and heavy) interior than to airworthiness. Eager to get a lead on its rival, the government pulled strings to have flight and safety testing rushed through or neglected so that it could make a maiden voyage to India. Despite being warned of a vicious storm ahead, the captain decided to plunge straight into it. The R-101 never made it to India. She was damaged by the storm and crashed into the ground, where her hydrogen exploded in a massive fireball that took the lives of all but eight of the people aboard. Afterwards, the wreckage of the R-101 was collected. It was reforged into a new airship, one of unprecedented size and exquisite luxury... called the Hindenburg.
The guaranteed big seller Ford Edsel.
The New Coke. Let's radically change the recipe for our flagship soft drink, keep the same name, and take the old one off the shelves. Now, according to The Other Wiki, Coke did do their best to prepare for it, and it actually was well-liked. The real problem was a subtler one of a Vocal Minority gradually convincing people it was bad. If true, that speaks volumes.
This almost gets into Idiot Hero territory, since the crazed backlash against New Coke put Coke Classic back on top of the sales charts. Some people think that was their plan all along. Another, less rouletty theory is that they did this to switch from sugar to far cheaper high fructose corn syrup; a change they retained, and still do, with Coca Cola Classic. note No, most of the traditionalists that so loudly protested New Coke didn't notice this.
More recently, Coca-Cola's did it again: Let's release a holiday version of Coke Classic in white cans (the color of Diet Coke cans) and hope nobody gets confused. It didn't go over well, and Coca-Cola has since released the holiday version in red.
In a perhaps slightly more subdued example, Coke switched from an easy-to-grip ridged cap to one that is themed as a bottle cap, but completely smooth. Cute, but wrong. They have since adopted some sort of hybrid.
History Channel's Modern Marvels series does a sub series titled "Engineering Disasters" every now and again. Every one of them seems to invoke What Could Possibly Go Wrong? at least once per episode. They've produced 21 hour long episodes and still haven't covered everything. National Geographic Channel has Seconds From Disaster which is the same thing.
The "Big Dig" in Boston. "Let's replace the unsightly and congested Central Artery expressway with an underground tunnel! Then, let's reclaim the land where the old highway used to be, building parks, gentrifying the slums that developed around the highways, and de-congesting surface traffic! What Could Possibly Go Wrong??" Two decades, $15 billion, several lawsuits and four deaths later...
It's the dawn of the jumbo-jet era, and our rival has just released a massive four-engined marvel, the 747. What, it's too big for many airports? Ah, we have a slightly smaller tri-jet almost finished! Let's get it on the market, there's a niche for us. What? The cargo door blew open during the pressurization test? The locking mechanism is prone to failure? Ah, never mind. It's extremely unlikely to happen in flight, besides, it's not likely to do a serious harm to a big airliner, right? ...What? The cargo door did blow open in mid-flight, the severed floor damaged the flight controls and a crash was barely avoided due to piloting skills and some sheer luck? Oh. We can't redesign the door locking system, we'd have to pull all the planes off the market and admit there is a serious flaw. Think about the contracts we can lose! Let's add a small window to allow the ground crew to check if the doors are properly locked, and a small plate with instructions in English (all the ground crews all over the world speak English, right?) on how to check it. What could possibly go wrong?
Considering how crucial the proper maintenance and repairs of an airliner are, it's no surprise that the manufacturers give the operators a detailed repair manuals on how to do it properly. Still, many operators devise their own procedures, with predictable results.
The removal of an engine from the wing for maintenance requires removing the engine first and then the engine pylon? It's too time- and money-consuming. Let's get a simple forklift and remove it altogether.
The pilots landed with the nose raised too much and scraped the tail? The book says we have to cut the damaged section and put a doubler plate much bigger that the one we just removed? Aww, who cares. Let's simply polish the damaged part and use a plate big enough just to cover the damaged section. Or: let's do it by the book, but use two smaller doubler plates instead of one.
The jackscrew responsible for moving the elevators needs to be frequently lubricated? The lubrication must take four hours to complete? Let's do this less often, and for one hour instead of four.
The inertial navigation system goes berserk? It's too expensive to be replaced. Maybe it's failing because the connections got dirty? Just clean them. Does not work? Well, then swap it between different airliners. So simple, so clever, so time- and money-saving. Whatcouldpossiblygowrong?
Despite the relative rarity of accidents per passenger mile, the Airline Industry is justafiably hammered for its tendency to be laissez faire with safety regulations. Part of the reason? The de-regulation of the airline industry, which placed more load on the airlines with cheaper fares, more planes and overworked ground crews which are difficult to staff due to the extensive training needed to become a qualified aircraft mechanic.
When buying insurance, reading the fine print will often be a list of things that can possibly go wrong.
Vice-Admiral Vernon's attack on Cartagena de Indias in 1741. The British had 30,000 men and 186 ships. Cartagena's walls, while impressive, were manned by only 4,000 men and 6 ships, and reinforcements weren't expected. Vernon was so confident in his victory that he wrote back home claiming to have seized the city before fighting was over. What Could Possibly Go Wrong? For one, how about the enemy ships use chain balls to destroy your ships' sails and render them useless instead of engaging in normal naval combat? What if the enemy digs trenches on the base of the walls and the ladders you brought suddenly turn out to be too short to climb them, and your men only realize this when they are at the walls and can't cover themselves from enemy fire? After a while, the British fleet found itself sitting in the bay bellow until the tropical storms and diseases convinced it to go home, leaving nearly 12,000 dead and 50 ships lost behind. We can only imagine George II's face when he was told that the victory he had been celebrating for one month and for which he had forged a couple of commemorative medals was actually the biggest defeat in the Royal Navy's history up to that point.
Murphy's Law is an adage that explains why saying this sort of thing is a bad idea. Basically, it says that "If something can go wrong, it probably will."