The good guys have set up a bomb
that they plan to use to destroy the Evil Overlord
's whole fortress. They get safely outside the blast radius, evading a wave of Mooks
, and The Hero
holds the detonator high so the Big Bad
can see, ready to take out the entire pursuing Legion of Doom
Nothing. The detonator has failed at the worst possible time
, leading someone to have to go back and activate the explosive/device manually.
Or worse, the enemy simply dismantled the bombs or jammed the detonator before they could be set off, and gets to rub the heroes' faces in it. Usually Played for Drama
rather than comedy
. One exception is in cartoons, where the bomber will inevitably go back to check, and have it explode (harmlessly
) in his face.
This is the trope you really
want to invoke when a Land Mine Goes Click
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Anime and Manga
- Mobile Suit Gundam Wing: Duo Maxwell fails to self-detonate when he's surrounded by enemies because the button doesn't work. The circumstances surrounding Quatre's self-detonation earlier suggest this was because Duo's Gundam refused to let him die with it.
- End of Evangelion, with Ritsuko, Gendo, and the MAGI supercomputers. Not so much a technical issue as it is a Love Triangle, though. Yeah, Eva is weird.
- Played with in FAKE: during a hostage crisis, Dee bluffs the bad guys by telling them a retractable ballpoint pen is the detonator for a bomb hidden in the character's base. When he clicks the pen, his bluff seems to have been called - but then the bomb, which Ryo had previously set for 10 pm, goes off as scheduled.
- Used in a particularly epic scene in the 2003 Astro Boy anime. Rainbow Parakeet has planted bombs all over the robot revolutionary Blue Knight's sanctuary and is about to press the button on the detonator, taunting Astro that the only way to stop him is to kill him and prove he's just as ruthless as Blue Knight. Astro opens fire on him and apparently misses. Cue maniacal laughter as the villain presses the button. Click, click, click. Turns out Astro decided to Take a Third Option and was actually firing at the communications antenna that would relay the remote detonator's signal.
- Saiyuki. Fortunately for the heroes, Hakkai had removed the explosives Yaone set to blow them all up, because 'I'm sorry, I found them earlier and thought they were dangerous'.
- The Ah My Goddess Movie. Toward the end, a giant bullet FIRED FROM HEAVEN impacts the earth, creating a massive bubble/magic explosion effect. The soundtrack? Empty.
- Demonstrated in Dance in the Vampire Bund. When Histerica tried to blackmail Mina scattering minions with implanted cell-phone-activated bombs throughout Tokyo's subway system, Mina maneuvered her inside a building she had effectively converted one big Faraday Cage, blocking the cellphone signal. The muscle Histerica had with her being able to set themselves off with thier own phones was a complication though.
- Played for tragedy in Heroman. Joey's father died when he tried to blast a passage clear for his fellow trapped miners. When the dynamite failed to detonate, he went to check what was wrong, and found out that faulty wiring caused a delay of a few secon- BOOM!
- A sad version happens in Zeta Gundam. Jerrid's given instructions to detonate a capsule that is said to contain a bomb in it if anyone gets near it while Emma attempts negotiations with the AEUG (re: unknowingly giving them a note telling them to surrender the captured Gundam Mk. II or said capsule would explode). When Kamille races out with the Mk.II to get the capsule, Jerrid takes aim and fires, destroying the capsule and promptly freaks out as to why it didn't explode and take out the fragile Mk.II. There was no bomb. In the capsule was Kamille's mother.
- Haruhi Suzumiya has a humorous one of these in the island episode; a firework fails to go off and Kyon sticks his head over it, trying see what's wrong. He nearly gets his face toasted when it finally launches its payload.
- Played for drama in Dragon Ball Z. Android 16 attempts a Taking You with Me Heroic Sacrifice against Cell by setting off the bomb inside himself (which in theory would have been powerful enough to destroy Cell). Only to realize moments later that he doesn't have a bomb anymore — Bulma and her father had removed it while they were repairing him since they didn't trust him with it. Cell promptly destroys the defenseless 16.
- A particualarly sadistic version appears in Fallout Equestria: Project Horizons. When triggered, a booby-trapped jack-in-the-box springs open and drops three grenades. The grenades are duds; the real bomb is the jack-in-the-box itself, which explodes several seconds after the expected grenade blast.
- An inadvertent example: the Joker's famous hospital-demolition scene from The Dark Knight in which he attempts to do an Unflinching Walk to the getaway bus while the hospital implodes behind him, which turns into black comedy when midway through, the explosions suddenly stop. The scene was synchronized around the actual demolition of an old Brach's candy factory in that part of Chicago. It's heavily debated whether this was a Real Life case of "Where's the Kaboom" or if Christopher Nolan just decided not to tell Heath Ledger that there would be a pause in the explosions. Without once breaking character, Ledger flung up his arms and fiddled around with the detonator for a few seconds until the explosions re-started... and then he started running.
- In both Armageddon and Deep Impact, destroying asteroids by remote control proves problematic.
- Used for comedic/suspenseful effect in the 2001 remake of Ocean's Eleven: Danny and Rusty are reduced to doing this when they try to blow the charges inside the vault door - which is actually a good thing, as Yen is currently stuck near the door and struggling to get free...
- Hudson Hawk. A paralyzed Hawk and Five-Tone manage to regain control of their limbs, and trip Snickers as he is firing sticky bombs around the apartment. The golf bag he is using to hold the launcher slips away from him, hits a wall, and fires a bomb directly onto his forehead. As the countdown reaches zero, the bomb does nothing, and Snickers remarks hopefully, "Maybe it was a dud." Hawk and Five-Tone perform a delayed Oh, Crap out the window as seconds later, Snickers' head is blown apart.
- Blazing Saddles. The heroes plan to blow up the fake town of Rock Ridge with explosives, but the detonator fails. The Waco Kid has to set off the dynamite by shooting it with a revolver, at a range that would be a challenge to a sniper with a scope mounted rifle.
- A half-example in Schindlers List. Goeth is trying to shoot the Rabi, but each time he tries to fire the gun, it fails. In fact, all of the officers' guns jam.
- A similar situation involving walking the plank happens in the Disney Adaptation of Peter Pan. Out of sight of the pirates, Pan rescues Wendy before she hits the water, and a Captain Obvious crewman remarks that there was no splash. Captain Hook seems annoyed at the insistence that there must be a splash when someone walks the plank, so he throws said crewman overboard to create one.
- Happens in Blade II, with the bomb/leash that Blade put on the head of his vampire ally.
- In the World War II movie The Bridge At Remagen, the Germans all set to blow up the bridge the Allies are just crossing. Unfortunately for the Nazis, they used cheap explosives that weren't capable of bringing the thing down. In Real Life, as told below, they were sabotaged by the Polish engineers who were forced to place them.
- Subverted in the film The Bridge on the River Kwai, where the detonator works just fine, the problem is that Colonel Nicholson betrays the Allied troops trying to blow up the bridge, causing them to be killed before they can activate it. After he finally realizes his treason he sets it off as he dies...although it's deliberately ambiguous as to whether Nicholson is trying to reach the detonator or just falls on it accidentally.
- Also subverted in the film Force Ten From Navarone where the explosives go off but it seems like they have failed to do anything. Mallory and Barnsby curse Miller (the explosives expert) as they walk away but then the dam starts to shake and the cracks grow larger until it finally collapses.
- A Bridge Too Far. The Germans hit the plunger to blow up a bridge just as the allied tanks are crossing it, only for them not to go off due to a malfunction or the lines being cut. (An eariler bridge however blows up right in the face of the US paratroopers advancing towards it. Their commander can only respond, "Ah Shit!")
- The Fifth Element subverts this nicely. After planting a bomb to evacuate the cruise ship, Zorg stops the countdown himself with only five seconds to spare - only to have his former underlings arm their bomb, right next to him, on a five second timer.
- Uncommon Valor: The team's strategy to attack the prison camp requires that a bridge be blown up to cut off reinforcements. The detonation caps fail, forcing Blaster to make a Heroic Sacrifice to manually explode the bombs.
- In Tremors 2: Aftershocks, Burt's explosive-laden truck is set to explode and take out the Shriekers, but the heroes don't have a very good handle on how long it was set for. Eventually one of them complains about the delay... and the bomb obliges.
- The Quiller Memorandum (film and novel). Quiller finds a bomb tucked under his car, rigged to detonate as it hits the ground when Quiller drives off. Because he's under surveillance and wants to fake his death, Quiller places the bomb on the hood and starts the engine, hoping the vibrations will make it slide down the hood and fall off. However nothing happens after a while and Quiller worries that the bomb has become stuck; he's going to check when the garage blows up in his face.
- In the Alan Dean Foster novel, Quozl, a group of an alien settler dissident on Earth and some sympathetic humans face this situation when their expedition comrade, whom the ruling council insisted on accompanying them, reveals her bomb and her orders to blow herself up to kill the dissident and his human friends. With a maximum of drama, the agent hits the detonation button, but nothing happens. The dissident then reveals he discovered the bomb and disarmed it some time ago.
- It's pointed out though that had he sided with the agent, they'd all have been atomized.
- In Terry Brooks' Gypsy Morph, this occurs when the heroes try to destroy a bridge and slow the advancing army. One of the characters raced down into the ravine and fixed the problem in a Heroic Sacrifice.
- In World War Z, the Indian government is evacuating all surviving citizens into the Himalayas to escape the Zombie Apocalypse. Unfortunately, the last bridge to blow before the safe zone is closed off has defective explosives. Between two problems - the possibility of the Indian Air Force nuking the area (and making the situation worse) and allowing zombies into the safe zone - General Raj-Singh detonates the charges by hand in a Heroic Sacrifice that probably saved everyone left in India.
- In Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, Pablo throws the detonators into a river, forcing one of the other guerillas to die while manually setting them off (Heroic Sacrifice).
- In Cain's Last Stand the heroes attempt to collapse a shrine containing an immensely powerful Artefact of Doom rather than let it fall into the hands of Necrons. Alas, Necrons have advanced enough means to simply jam their signal and take the artifact.
Live Action TV
- In Dino Attack RPG, loosely inspired by the above example from The Dark Knight, the explosives that the Brickster set up throughout the Dino Island Laboratory did not explode right away after he pushed the button on his detonator, causing him to panic and start mashing the detonator until they did explode.
- At the end of one of the included scenarios in the Promethean: The Created sourcebooks, a Promethean terrorist interrupts an auction by shouting a threat and activating a suitcase nuke. One of the options for the aftermath: the bomb - which is an old Russian model from before the end of the Cold War - fails to do a damn thing. Before its user can do much more than stare at it in horror, the rest of the assembled Prometheans surge in and rip him to shreds.
- There was a gag with this in Freefall.
- Sluggy Freelance: Happens to Torg in this strip.
- When he faced Evil Aylee, Torg didn't actually know what the remote detonator would do, but both of them were expecting a Kaboom.
Aylee: So if you don't hit that button right now, I will!
: Dude! I've been hitting this button non-stop since you said you took out Bun-bun
! But nothing's happening!
: Then what, exactly, is that?
- Happens in this strip of Schlock Mercenary. Hob, the demolitions guy, has to rig a quick bomb for a bunch of Amorphs to escape a dome being filled with Amorph nerve gas. It fails due to a bad primer.
Kevyn: Maybe you've set my expectations too high, Hob. I was anticipating rather more noise.
- In another instance the current crazy demolitions guy Pi sets up a few armour piercing proximity charges as trap for tanks. When the explosion doesn't occur as expected, he quotes Marvin the Martian.
- Dubious Company's Marty wonders this after imitating the Death Star run and firing a missile barrage up the marines' exhaust pipe. After he autopilots his jet into the pipe the fireworks fly.
- In Spider And Web, a piece of interactive fiction written by Andrew Plotkin that won five Xyzzy Awards and was a finalist for four more, you play as an unnamed spy on an unknown mission against an unnamed country. The equipment with which you have been provided includes explosives, but like the rest the equipment, your detonator is not always reliable.
- in Kickassia The Critic tries to blow up Kickassia with the explosives he wired in Part 6, even though Cinema Snob informed him that after he was banished, he defused the bombs. He pushes it anyway...
- At the end of Red vs. Blue, Andy the Smart-Ass Bomb finally blows up as a space ship carrying Tucker's "son" and Chruch's girlfriend zooms off. There isn't an explosion at first, and Grif is horribly disappointed. Just as soon as he looks down, there's a huge boom in the sky, leaving the Reds impressed and Grif demanding it again. Of course, this is a serious insult to the Blues.
- The Trope Namer is an episode of Looney Tunes, when Marvin the Martian's explosives fail. "Where's the kaboom? There was supposed to be an Earth-shattering kaboom!"
- A common occurrence in the Roadrunner cartoons whenever Wile E. Coyote tried using explosives. The detonator (Acme brand, of course), would jam up or refuse to set off the explosives. Naturally, they'd always blow up when he tried to cross the booby-trapped area himself.
- It happens in an episode of The Clone Wars, when Heavy is forced to stay behind ad blow up the outpost to warn the Republic of Grievous's approach.
- In The Simpsons episode ''Sideshow Bob's Last Gleaming", Bob attempts to detonate a nuclear bomb, only for it to go off with a disappointing fizzle and fall apart, revealing a family of mice and a 'best before' date of 1959.
Bob: There were plenty of brand-new bombs, but you had to go for that retro 50s charm!
- From the Buzz Lightyear of Star Command episode "The Lightyear Factor", in which Zurg sets off a universe-altering bomb, but no explosion occurs:
Zurg: That's it?!? Where's my big universe-altering explosion!?
- In the episode of Spongebob Squarepants, Dying for Pie, Squidward is rather disappointed when Spongebob doesn't explode.
Squidward: THE PIE YOU ATE...WAS A BOOOOOOOOOMB!!!!!!
Squidward: I spent the entire day doing stuff you wanted because you were supposed to explode!!
- It's soon revealed that Spongebob didn't explode because he never ate the pie, but rather he was saving it to share it with Squidward later. Then he tripped and accidently dropped the pie on Squidward's face. THEN the explosion happened.
- Subverted in the Ben 10: Omniverse episode "So Long, and Thanks For All The Smoothies"; In it, all sides are fighting over the Anihilargh, a weapon capable of destroying the entire universe if set off. Of course, it goes off, and Ben is forced to use Alien X to recreate the universe (barring some slight changes). Because the universe was recreated to before the Anihilargh went off, everyone minus Ben is confused when the weapon apparently doesn't work, and write the device off as a fake.
- Happens in the debut episode of Wacky Races. Dick Dastardly has Muttley plant explosives at a rock face in order to create a road-blocking avalanche, but when Muttley pushes the plunger, it doesn't go off. Dastardly splutters "Now what went wrong??" Muttley finds the problem: a wire was disconnected. He reattaches the wire and the explosives go off in Dastardly's face.
- In the King of the Hill episode when the Souphanousinphones and the Hills travel to Mexico. Bobby and Connie bought a giant "Labomba!" firework and set it off on a business display, but was a dud after both are waiting for a while hoping it will explode. It remained there through the credits.
- The real life version of this trope is a large part of the the reason for the existence of Explosive Ordinance Disposal technicians in the American military (note that many other countries have a similar job in their militaries). Civilian Bomb Squads also sometimes serve this role in planned situations (see the Mythbusters example above) or as first response until the military can arrive. Although when any of these teams get involved in real life, the primary goal is the protection of others (which usually means a safe detonation that harms no one).
- Happened many times during World War II.
- In the final months of WWII the German army was withdrawing across the Rhine. The Ludendorff Bridge, aka The Bridge At Remagen (film of the same name), was the last major bridge left standing. Polish engineers forced to work for the Germans (using prisoners to do important work which is subsequently sabotaged has to be some sort of trope) cut the fuses allowing the Americans to take the bridge (mostly) intact.
- At the start of the war, German torpedoes were very unreliable. U-56 fired two torpedoes at HMS Nelson which was hosting a conference and had both Churchill and Pound aboard. Both torpedoes hit but failed to explode.
- American submariners on the Pacific front complained a lot about their torpedoes too. Early U.S. Navy torpedoes were equipped with magnetic detonators that were supposed to detect the change in the magnetic field from being close to the hull of an enemy warship and detonate while underneath it. Since water is not compressible, this would create a massive air bubble underneath the ship, robbing it of structural support and causing the keel to split in half, instead of punching a small hole in the side that could be plugged as would happen in contact detonations. Problem was, instead of detonating under the boat, the torps would blithely continue on their way, without ever detecting the target ship. Many American subs asked the eponymous question, only to be answered with depth charges. The Navy had been worried about operational security and cost (as the detonators were quite expensive, given the technology of the time) and as a result, they were not adequately tested before the war and there were, consequently, a LOT of problems. Eventually, magnetic detonators on torpedoes were made both feasible and reliable, and now most torpedoes in the world are equipped with these devices.
- Aside from torpedoes, the Germans also had an unusually high occurrence of total or partial failure to detonate problems with ordinance in WWII. Many historians think this might have something to do with using somewhat less than enthusiastic workers (i.e. slave labor) in munitions factories.
- German bomb disposal teams are still digging up and detonating allied ordinance dropped in WW2. Hundreds of tons of bombs simply didn't explode, but the "fail-safe" acid primers build into them make them hard to dispose of. Allegedly, these timed detonators where meant to detonate the bomb hours after the air raid, when civilians where moving the rubble, causing further casualties. They simply didn't go off.
- Even a failure rate of only a percent adds up to a lot of duds when tens of thousands if not millions of rounds are being fired. There's still unexploded WWI ordinance being dug up, let alone WWII.
- An attempt to assassinate Hitler in early 1943 failed when the bomb on Hitler's plane didn't go off. The cold and unpressurized conditions in the cargo hold apparently caused the detonator to fail.
- In the Battle of the Crater in the U.S. civil war, the first attempt to blow up the explosives under a Confederate fort failed. Two soldiers volunteered to crawl through the tunnel and see what happened and found that the fuse had gone out at the closest splice to the explosives. They relit the fuse and ran like a bat out of hell.
- As bad as the Columbine high school massacre was, it could have been much worse; the shooters had set up some bombs in the cafeteria that were supposed to detonate at lunchtime, killing hundreds.
- Nuclear bombs are exceptionally delicate; the detonation relies on detonating several hexagonal blocks of C-4 at exactly the same time. If one fails to detonate, the fission material is merely pulverized, rather than forced to undergo fission. Although more modern designs only use 2 explosive lenses rather than than the original 32 (the number of faces of a truncated icosahedron).
- A terrorist car bomb attack in London in 2007 failed because the bombs were poorly manufactured and didn't detonate. The men involved also tried to launch a suicide attack on Glasgow Airport the following day; the only person killed in the attack was one of the terrorists.
- From the Darwin Awards An unlicensed pyrotechnician was killed when an apparently faulty firework blew up in his face when he tried to see what was wrong.
- During the attack on the Messines Ridge in WWI, the British set up 21 vast mines underneath the German positions. Detonating them simultaneously, they destroyed the German positions atop the ridge and successfully captured it. It was then that they realized only 18 of the bombs had detonated. And then that they realized that the topography of the ridge had been so altered by the blasts that the remaining 3 couldn't be found. If they still had the map. Which they didn't. One of the bombs blew up in the 1950s after being exposed by a storm and hit by a lightning strike, killing a singularly hapless cow. Another has been found under an old man's farm. The other is still unaccounted for...
- The British historian Richard J. Evans once told a story of a bomb that landed in his grandmother-in-law's bedroom cabinet. It did not explode. When the bomb disposal unit finally cracked it, they found a note inside reading: "Don't worry English, we're with you. Polish workers." Turns out getting enslaved and angry people to build your weapons of war is a silly idea.
- While much less lethal than a traditional gunpower-based explosive, an airsoft grenade that fails to detonate as planned is still a rather nerve-wracking experience, because it's essentially the noisy half of a flashbang (at ~130 decibels) that has yet to go off, and which occasionally flings bits of itself every which way when it does finally fail dramatically, just often enough to make walking near one a touchy proposition.