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Anime & Manga
- Dai Mahou Touge Omake had this in the Fantasy Kingdom.
- In Bizenghast volume 3, the characters are forcibly chained to one of these.
- Electricity in Tentei's Capital in Fist of the North Star comes from such a contraption, run by slaves.
- Some enslaved Numemon are forced to operate one of these to power Machinedramon's city in Digimon Adventure.
- In Lucifer, Hell is seen to have one of these.
- Used in The Phantom in one storyline. The second Phantom is briefly held prisoner at one of these, which judging by the design of the wheel powers a mill, and is almost broken by the hard labor and torture, until a vision of his wife and his father, the original Phantom, spurs him into freeing himself by resuming the work by night when his torturer isnt present and using the wheel spokes to wear away on the chain. Eventually, he's worn it away enough for him to break it, and overpowers the torturer and locks him onto the wheel instead.
Films — Live-Action
- Named for the device from Conan the Barbarian (1982), which turned the titular character from a scrawny kid into the musclebound Badass that rampaged across two films. (Indeed, Arnold Schwarzenegger buffed up so much for the movie, when he was being filmed pushing it along, the director had to have half the crew on the other side of the wheel pushing the opposite direction so it'd look like Arnie was actually exerting himself.) According to Word of God, it's a grain wheel.
- Used on the sugar plantation the eponymous protagonist is chained to in Captain Blood.
- Zombie slaves provide the motive power for a similar sugar-mill capstan in White Zombie (1932, and not connected with Rob Zombie beyond a A Good Name for a Rock Band).
- There's a surprisingly grisly moment for the movie's era when one of the zombies falls into the mill and is mindlessly ground up by the rest.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest had the Kraken Hammer raised by a device of this sort.
- The Black Pearl has a similar device... to raise and lower the anchor. Most ships of that age had one. (This is what a capstan is; several sea-shanties are paced to the rhythm ideal for pushing it, to keep everyone walking at the same pace.)
- The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King had trolls turning huge wheels to open the gates of Mordor.
- The film adaptation of the musical Oliver! briefly shows a variation on the theme, as detailed in Real Life below, during the opening scene.
- The Louis de Funčs film Delusions of Grandeur ends with the protagonists chained to one of those. It pumps water for a tiny "pet" palm tree of a Bedouin chief.
- A Mammoth-pushed variant is shown in The Way Things Work to power of Merry Go round, the Mammoths have Carrots dangling infront of them and are basically tricked into turning one wheel, which in is propped up against another, which has seats dangling off it.
- The Great Wheel of Kharnabhar, in Brian W. Aldiss' Helliconia trilogy, is built inside a mountain, has only one door, and takes several years to make a turn. The locals believe the Wheel drives Helliconia's great year, so in the centuries-long winter when things are bad for humans, the Wheel is basically a monastery staffed by volunteers; in summer, it's a prison.
- Which opens another question: How the hell was this thing built? And after it was finished, how was it put into move, since it's harder to make something move than keeping it moving?
- Shows up a couple of times in Gor: the gate that one enters the Sardar Mountains at is powered by slaves, and in Guardsman of Gor the hero is captured and set to work one which opens and closes a water gate. Don't worry, he planned for that to happen.
- A variant in Ranger's Apprentice - Skandian slaves turn the rack, which is a pair of paddles that aggravate the surface of the water in the well to prevent it freezing over in winter. It's such gruelling work that even the slave owners, who drive their slaves hard, recognise they can only work on it for two hours at a time.
Myths & Religion
- Samson, after being captured by the Philistines and blinded, is set to work on one of these.
- In The Curse of Monkey Island, the player sees a horde of monkeys being enslaved this way.
- One of the first missions in Brütal Legend involves freeing a bunch of Headbangers from a mine that features one of these.
- In Dominions 3, Early Ulm has it as one of their national sites. Orphans are sent there, and those who survive are made into Steel Warriors, often called "Conans" by the fans.
- A non-slavery example can be found in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Tingle's brothers are responsible for keeping his lighthouse spinning. They aren't all that happy about it though.
- An unoccupied one is seen in Cimmeria in Age of Conan. It might even be the same in the Trope Picture.
- One can appear in Dungeons 2 in parts of the overworld once they are corrupted by evil.
- King Bumi's pet, Flopsy, was chained to one of these in Avatar: The Last Airbender.
- Samurai Jack found his father chained to this device by Aku.
- Spoofed on The Simpsons, where Homer, due to not returning Mr. Burns' teddy-bear, is forced to work one, which turns a display wheel at the canteen.
Lenny: Hmm, I wonder what makes it turn.
Carl: Who cares?
- One of these showed up in an episode of Futurama.
- Cobra from G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero in many of its earlier episodes inexplicably kept haggard looking slaves wearing rags, turning wheels and pushing mining carts, despite that fact that Cobra prided itself on using the sorts of advanced technology that would have made it easier to mine via automation.
- One episode of The Fairly Oddparents (the beauty pageant episode) had one of these in every character's fantasy of them becoming mayor for a day. In Vicky's fantasy, Timmy is the one turning the wheel. In Timmy's Mom's fantasy, it's a bunch of men turning the wheel. When Timmy's Dad actually wins the contest and becomes mayor for a day, he basically makes the fantasy come to life... only it's his hated neighbor, Mr. Dinkleberg turning the wheel.
- At one point in Wishology, the fairies are forced to do this by the Eliminators. Cupid asks "What happens if we stop pushing this thing?" They decide to find out...and discover that it plays the melancholy background music.
- In My Life as a Teenage Robot, when first informed about the Cluster, we see humans chained to this, apparently to power some kind of Ice Cream Parlor for robots.
- Seen in an episode of The Critic, when Alice is looking for a preschool for her daughter. One school she visits turns out to be a Dickensian workhouse, complete with a Wheel Of Pain being operated by the children. It turns out its actually a sweatshop that produces Simpsons-merchandise.
- Something similar in principle was actually seriously proposed for use in workhouses in Victorian Britain, not for slaves, but for petty criminals and/or the long-term unemployed. (The two groups were treated pretty much the same back then.) It used a treadmill arrangement that resembled nothing so much as a very large hamster-wheel rather than the traditional capstan, which really isn't very much better, and rarely if ever served any practical purpose because steam power did the same job more effectively.
- In the medieval period, there were pieces of construction machinery called treadle cranes, powered by people walking in, as in the example above, what amounted to a giant hamster wheel. They were basically the engines of the cranes used in castle and cathedral construction. They could also be powered by animals (a tiny version was found in kitchens, powered by a dog- so common that there was a specific breed of dog created for this)
- The World's Strongest Man competition has this. As it is inspired by the Conan movie, it's appropriately called Conan's Wheel. It is heavy to lift and going in circles gives you a higher score.
- Sugar plantations used to have presses that would work on the same principle. The Americas were notorious for these machines being pushed by slaves, and horrific accidents were commonplace.
- The device that raised the anchor aboard an old-fashioned sailing ship worked on this principle. Anchors were incredibly heavy and quite a few men had to work the capstan.
- On a more lighthearted note: Karol Borchard, who used to be an officer on a ship in the Mediterraenean (in XX century) mentions in his memories a passenger utterly convinced that the ship must be ran by sweaty, whip-driven rowers. Why? Because she's seen it in the movies.