Follow TV Tropes


Bungling Inventor

Go To
"Heh...well, back to the drawing board."

"Music, landscape gardening, architecture — there was no start to his talents."
Hogfather (on Bungling Inventor "Bloody Stupid Johnson")

A trope that started out as a subversion of the Gadgeteer Genius, but is now a trope in its own right, the Bungling Inventor is a scientist (often a Mad Scientist) whose inventions never seem to work properly. In fact, they're prone to truly spectacular cases of Phlebotinum Breakdown. The inventions might do something entirely different than what they were supposed to (like explode, or play "Yankee Doodle Dandy"), or they might seem to do their primary function but have some subtle flaw, or they might work a little too well (like a security robot that throws everyone out of a house, including the people it was designed to protect).

Perhaps the strangest thing about the Bungling Inventor is that he is so bad at inventing that he occasionally accomplishes by accident what the world's most competent inventor could not do on purpose: he may be trying to fix a television and inadvertently create a device which brings fictional characters to life. Strangely, it never occurs to anyone that he's anything other than a failure: the fact that he's created a working time machine does not make up for the fact that he has totally failed to make a machine that produces toast.

Needless to say, this trope is typically found in comedy works, though there are exceptions. Some characters who are usually Gadgeteer Genius, Mr. Fixit or The Professor dip occasionally into this trope.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Black Jack: The eponymous Jack created an artificial life form while and possibly because he was drunk.
  • Case Closed: Professor Agasa is introduced to us as he blows a hole in his house and his neighbor goes to help him out. Over the course of the series, he does manage to make many useful devices, but is also shown to bungle lots of inventions.
  • D.Gray-Man: Komui Lee, whose defective inventions are the show's Running Gag.
  • Doctor Slump: Senbei Norimaki is a classic example. Arale, the Robot Girl he invented, was designed with flawed eyesight and literally Earth-shattering super-strength, and she's such an extreme Cloud Cuckoolander that the one time a literal bug ended up causing her to malfunction, she started acting perfectly normal (by human standards). Other inventions of his are also prone to flaws in design, or simply falling into the wrong hands.
  • Kokoro: Kocha, who, in a quest to cure a fatal genetic disorder, has created flying plants, temporarily cured insanity, aged up a co-worker, and turned herself pink. No one knows exactly how her mind works, not even her creator, or the connection between these would become clear.
  • Hephaestus from Little Pollon, whose inventions often tend to malfunction.
  • To Love Ru: A female example is Lala, this on top of her Magical Girlfriend and Innocent Fanservice Girl qualities. Lala's inventions were originally made for pranks, and have a tendency to either backfire or succeed in the wrong way. For example, her Warp-kun device can teleport the user(s) - but not their clothes.
  • Clemont in Pokémon the Series: XY builds inventions that tend to malfunction and/or explode. That said, nine times out of ten they do work exactly as they're supposed to, right before they explode since he tends to make the inventions on the spot and typically doesn't test them first.

    Comic Books 
  • Superboy and Superman: Professor Phineas Potter — Lana Lang's uncle.
  • Léonard le Génie will every so often invent something that either fails spectacularly to do what it was intended to do, or is just plain useless.
  • Gaston Lagaffe is an amateur inventor whose designs frequently malfunction. Especially when chemical experimentation is involved.
    • When they do work, they are usually incredibly impractical, either because they require too much power (like a moving suitcase that uses so much batteries that it only has space left for a small toilet purse), or because they have a very limited application to begin with (like a machine that stretches your cheeks while you eat, to keep you from accidentally biting them).
  • Tintin. When the protagonists first meet Professor Calculus he fits this trope; for instance his shark submarine breaks in half when he sits in it. He gets better though.
  • Cubitus: Sémaphore (Professor Dingy) from the Franco-Belgian comic (which was adapted into an anime as Wowser), who epitomizes this trope to the extreme. Most of the stories revolve around one of his inventions going wrong.
  • Gilbert Ratchet in Viz. Played with in that his inventions often work perfectly, after a fashion, but there was no sane reason for Gilbert to design it with a harmful mode in the first place.
  • Wonder Woman: While Greta von Gunther does grow up to become a Mad Scientist in the same vein as her mother in her teenage years her inventions and experiments prove unpredictable, volatile and dangerous.

    Comic Strips 
  • Dilbert, especially in the earlier strips before the comic became almost entirely office humor. Though a fair number of times his inventions worked perfectly, it was just that outside forces conspired against him.

    Fan Works 
  • Aaron in the Avantasia Protag AU series. He's often working on mysterious inventions to help him understand time and dimensional travel, but something almost always goes wrong. A telltale sign in the stories is a sudden ringing sound and bright flashing light or even the home electricity flickering and shouting from the basement.
  • Dr. Brainstorm, from Calvin & Hobbes: The Series, seldom invents anything that doesn't explode or simply not work. Sherman is an interesting take on this trope: his experiments usually work pretty well, but their purposes (making yellow ketchup, investigating the supernatural powers of the song Stayin' Alive) are so banal that there's functionally no difference.
  • Tilly in the Meg's Family Series is almost as much of a genius as her uncle Stewie (minus the 'evil' part), but her inventions tend to either a) fail, or b) cause some sort of destruction.
  • Facing the Future Series: Jack, just as in canon, creates inventions that harm everything except enemy ghosts. Most notably, he unleashes a Brown Note, and later causes a Big Blackout with a weapon that was supposed to drain ghost energy. Unusually, it is reconstructed when he is able to use these weapons against the Guys in White when they kidnap Danielle.
  • A running gag in Anderson Quest: Killing Vampires and Werewolves and Leprechauns is people bemoaning the incompetence of the guy who designed most of Yharnam. Nobody actually knows why Yharnam has levers everywhere, a pressure plate elevator, and stairs to nowhere, but nobody can figure out how to undo it either. At Byrgenwerth, questers found out that said architect was none other than Bergholt Stuttley "Bloody Stupid" Johnson himself.

    Films — Animation 
  • Beauty and the Beast: Subversion of sorts: Belle's father Maurice appears to be one of these, as implied by the fact that all of their neighbors think he's crazy. Yet the only invention shown in the movie, while being more than a little peculiar in design and execution, does in fact work.
  • A Bug's Life: Flik invents a grain-harvesting device — "No more picking individual kernels, you just cut down the entire stalk." Problem is, the mechanism that tosses away the stalk once the grain has been harvested doesn't seem to have a safety lock, and it ends up toppling the Offering Stone, thus causing the food meant for the grasshoppers to disappear into the river, setting the plot of the movie into motion. When Flik's being tried for it, they discuss what to do with him, but they can't decide because he's made mistakes elsewhere too. Flik's inventions actually do work, he's just a klutz, and the rest of the colony are too set in their ways and think he's the Bungling Inventor. None of the inventions that we see break (the telescope, the bird, and his harvester), they are brilliantly successful, and the telescope and harvester are widely used by the end of the movie after they realize how resourceful Flik is.
  • Hiccup is portrayed as this at the beginning of How to Train Your Dragon. Though everything we see him invent through the first two movies tends to be quite brilliant and work (most being adopted by the entire village). It's unclear if prior to the movie his inventions blew up causing the destruction he's "famous" for or if he was just a klutz. Either way, he got better.
  • Flint Lockwood in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs struggled since childhood to make a successful invention, with such gems as "spray-on shoes" which he could never figure out how to remove, a "remote-control television" that quickly went rogue, and a formula for "hair un-balder" that worked far too well. Flint finally seems to hit pay-dirt with the Flint Lockwood Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator, a device that can make it rain food, but then people start abusing it... At the end of the movie, he eventually starts marketing the "spray-on shoes" as a powerful sealant.
  • Lewis in Meet the Robinsons is one of these. He gets better, and goes on to become the brilliant inventor Cornelius Robinson, whose inventions practically create an Utopian world.
  • Jumba Jookiba of Lilo & Stitch. His most notable creations are living creatures ranging from "dangerous" to "apocalyptically powerful," but they frequently don't turn out as intended. Notable examples include 010 (Felix), who was intended to be a cleaning experiment but turned out to consider all other life forms dirt, and after being "fixed" spread garbage everywhere instead; 177 (Clip), who was supposed to eat Uburnium, but instead eats hair; 625 (Reuben) was a failed prototype of Stitch with the same powers, but who is a Lazy Bum more interested in making sandwiches. And of course, 626 (Stitch), the titular Nigh-Invulnerable city-destroying monster, lasted about two days in the real world before learning empathy, having an existential crisis, and abandoning his original purpose in favor of staying with his adopted family.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Back to the Future: the 1955 Emmett "Doc" Brown. No doubt he gets better at inventing as time progresses, until he finally invents the time machine.
    Doc: It works. It works! [grabs Marty] I finally invent something that works!
    Marty: You bet your ass it works.
  • Gremlins (1984): Rand Peltzer, whose inventions are often faulty. He tries to "improve" things at home by creating kitchen appliances such as an automatic egg cracker that are also faulty and do nothing but inconvenience his family.
  • Played for horror in The Fly (1986) when Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) makes a working transporter and tries it on himself after some adjustments. However, the computer operating the machine was only programmed to recognize one life-form per transport. When a housefly got inside the chamber, the computer counted it as a separate element and didn't know what to do except fuse it with Seth at the genetic level resulting in his Slow Transformation. Thus the transporter inadvertently functioned as a gene splicer.
  • Primer: Abe and Aaron. They were trying to make an anti gravity machine, and made a time traveling device instead.
  • Pvt. Cullen is treated as this by his squad mates in The Charge at Feather River, as he is always coming up with plans for the next big thing that is going to make him rich once he gets out of army. How successful any of his inventions are, the audience does not really know, as the only one seen in the movie—a Bulletproof Vest—is never actually tested. However, most of them—such as the pinch-proof bustle—do sound fairly impractical.
  • Those Fantastic Flying Fools (aka Jules Verne's Rocket to the Moon) opens with a montage of Disastrous Demonstrations by these types, several of whom are recruited construct a rocket to their Moon. Hilarity Ensues and their efforts are a complete failure.

  • Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator: The President of the United States considers himself a dab hand at inventions. When he sucks in his breath sharply, and accidentally sucks in a fly which happens to be passing, on the spot he invents a fly trap, consisting of a raised plank, with a ladder leading up to it at each end. From the plank is dangled a lump of sugar, above a bowl of water. His explanation of how it works is thus:
    The fly climbs up the ladder on the left. He stops, he sniffs, he smells something good. He peers over the edge and sees the sugar lump. He is just about to climb down the string to reach it, when he sees the basin of water below. "Ho, ho!" he says. "It's a trap! They want me to fall in!" So he walks on, thinking what a clever fly he is. But as you see, I have left out one of the rungs on the ladder he comes down by, so he falls and breaks his neck.
  • Dr. Peter P. Prechtwinkle from Stephen Manes' Chicken Trek. A gizmo designed to locate the nearest Chicken in the Bag franchise plays music by Millard Fillmore and the Dead Presidents. His Prechtwinkle Monster Sub sank to the bottom of Loch Ness during a remote-control test and never came back up again. His Transmogrifier, which was designed to turn food into other food, blew up Madame Gulbenkian's house when she tried turning liver into steak because it was incapable of handling animal flesh.
  • Discworld:
    • Bergholt Stuttley Johnson, from Terry Pratchett's novels. Johnson earned his nickname "Bloody Stupid" by constructing such things as misproportioned landscaping projects (like a trout pond 150 feet long and only an inch wide), monuments (like the inch-high "Colossus" of Ankh) and household items (like a cruet set where the pepper-pot was eventually used as a grain silo). His most spectacular failures are so badly-designed that they damage the fabric of time and space (like the Sorting Engine from Going Postal, note  and the houses at Empirical Crescent in Thud!). He did a good, if slightly insane, line in pipe organs.note  And a rather good bathroom once. Linking the bathroom to the nearest pipe organ, however, was not such a good idea... And there's a tap you don't want to touch while taking a shower. The one marked "Old Faithful."
      Archchancellor Ridcully: Ye gods, I've never felt so clean.
    • Leonard da Quirm has a similar record, albeit due to understandable faults, such as lack of proper materials. He's had a few humdingers, but they've mostly been weapons, or one-shot devices. One of the main causes of his one-shot devices is his tendency to start making one thing, and have it turn into something completely different by the time he's finished because he got distracted. He's easily distracted. And on a minor note, absolutely terrible at coming up with names for his inventions.
  • This is the gnome species hat in Dragonlance.
  • In Good Omens, which Terry Pratchett co-wrote with Neil Gaiman, Walking Techbane Newton Pulsifer is so incompetent at electronics that when he tries to put together a circuit especially designed for people like him - it's not supposed to do anything - it picks up Radio Moscow. In the climax, Anathema exploits this very trait when they're faced with a seemingly unstoppable nuclear launch device, simply by having Newton "fix" it.
  • Professor Branestawm: Branestawm from the novels by Norman Hunter. Some of the professor's problems stem from his inventions working too well and his failure to include features such as an off switch. For example, in "The Screaming Clocks", he invents a clock that doesn't need winding up, but the omission of an important component ("I forgot to put a little wiggly thing in") means the clock doesn't stop at twelve but continues striking thirteen, fourteen and so forth until it can't keep up with itself. Many of the other troubles that the professor experiences are the result of his inventions rebelling, showing anthropomorphic personalities. For instance, the phrase "No Branestawm invention was going to stand for that" occurs several times in the series. Branestawm inventions frequently object to anyone using them in ways that they were not designed for.
    • He did manage to design a successful underground car park. Then it flooded, which he was the first to point out wasn't his fault.
  • In the stories of the humorist Patrick McManus, his childhood friend Crazy Eddie Muldoon is a pint-sized version of this, building among other things a "submarine" and a "glider".

    Live-Action TV 
  • Baldrick, of all people, zigzags this in Blackadder: Back and Forth. He manages to build a working time machine from Leonardo DaVinci's schematics despite not being able to read, but he left out a few small things such as a year readout (a slot machine's reels!), which means that time travel is a trial-and-error process.
  • Professor Pepperwinkle from The Adventures of Superman is a prime example. Pretty much anytime he invented something, criminals would take advantage of his naivete to use his creations for evil.
  • Art Fortune from Big Bad Beetleborgs, he's not only good at artwork he's also good at designing weapons and transport and has resident phasm Flabber to help with making them a reality- mainly because of Flabber's magic.
  • In Help! I'm a Teenage Outlaw, Moses is a precocious ten-year-old who fancies himself as an inventor but whose creations rarely work.
  • Kids Incorporated: Riley the Soda Jerk in the first half-dozen seasons, who was often berated for his failed inventions. Even if that Robot Buddy he'd created was a bit of a jerk, let us not forget that Riley had licked the problem of artificial sentience. Worse yet, on at least one occasion Connie, one of the group members, actually managed to pull off at least one invention that actually worked!
  • The Muppet Show: Doctor Bunsen Honeydew. He frequently is coming up with inventions that are absolutely unnecessary, or downright dangerous. His assistant, Beaker, was introduced in the show's second season to further emphasize how dangerous some of his inventions were.
  • The 'Invention Exchange' sequences at the beginning of most early episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 often parodied this. Part of the premise of the series was that Dr Forrester, Dr Erhardt and TV's Frank were all incompetent mad scientists who were jealous of Joel Robinson's inventions, and so shot him into space (apparently they weren't that incompetent) to subject him to 'experiments', and would 'reward' him by exchanging ideas for new creations. Joels were usually benevolent and succeeded, Most of the Mads' inventions usually failed in violent and improbable ways.
  • Seymour Utterthwaite, the third man in Last of the Summer Wine between 1986 and 1990. His inventions invariably led to disaster — especially for Compo, who much like Beaker on The Muppet Show was always the unwilling test subject.
  • The Red Green Show: Red Green — duct tape, anyone?
  • Saturday Night Live once did a mockumentary sketch on history's insane inventors, covering the declining years of Thomas Edison, when he started "inventing" things by randomly sticking pieces of hardware together. Then he tried to collaborate with the Wolf Man...
  • Stargate SG-1: Jay Felger. His last spectacular failures were an energy gun that instead caused a blackout throughout the SGC and a computer virus that temporarily brought down the entire Stargate network, thanks to some meddling by Ba'al. The second one wasn't his fault though. Felger's virus worked fine, until computer genius Ba'al got his hands on it and altered its programming.
  • That Mitchell and Webb Look
    • It has a medieval inventor who creates things that aren't exactly useless so much as totally misplaced. Such as a trackball mouse, a windscreen wiper, and of course, the Sky digibox. Unfortunately he hasn't quite managed to come up with the things that would make these devices useful.
      Inventor: [Brandishing a scroll with 'Anti Virus Software' on it — in binary] It was all so clear to me this morning when I scribbled it down, but now I just think I've gone a bit mad.
    • There's also Cheesoid's creator.
  • Steve Urkel occasionally became this on Family Matters. He created all sorts of wacky inventions that often went crazy and damaged the property and/or person of family patriarch Carl Winslow. Steve was also one of the rare inventors to avert No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup, as some episodes featured Steve fixing the defects in some of his creations.
  • The Beatles: Get Back has a few moments where the band runs in with Alexis "Magic Alex" Madras, who had promised to design them a state-of-the-art 72-track computer assisted recording studio, pretty impressive in the days when the most advanced tape decks had 16 tracks. What they get however is a tangle of cables and tiny wall-mounted speakers that generates too much background noise to actually record anything on, and producer George Martin is forced to borrow a portable console from EMI for the sessions. Magic Alex also shows John Lennon his prototype of a new musical instrument that is a combination rhythm guitar and electric bass with a swiveling neck to switch between sets of strings; it has a few small design flaws such as being impossible to tune or play. note 

  • Bleak Expectations:
    • Harry Biscuit, Britain's keenest yet worst inventor. Every invention he makes tends to be rubbish. Harry's motivation is mainly to try and get some recognition, compared to his rich brother in-law. In staggering irony, when Harry deliberately tries to make a terrible invention, the result works too well. Likewise, when he's evil, his inventions are terrifyingly effective.
    • The Creator of Earth freely admits to being one. He may or may not be Harry Biscuit.
    Creator: Who else but a rubbish inventor could create the Earth?

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Dragonlance setting of Dungeons & Dragons has an entire race of bungling inventors: the tinker gnomes. In fact, being able to make something that works the way it was intended is the surest sign of insanity in gnomes. Some of their failed inventions are fairly spectacular, such as a failed water dowser that finds gems or a failed batch of pesticide that is actually invisibility spray.
    • This was referenced in Neverwinter Nights (despite being part of a different campaign setting) with a gnomic suit of armour that was supposed to repel metal and instead ended up repelling magic.
    • The tinker gnomes' ineptitude is so bad that it actually contributes to the setting's Fantasy Gun Control. In short, almost nobody from any other race wants to study or learn about science, since the tinker gnomes' bungling has caused every other race to assume science is inherently worthless compared to magic. The gnomes themselves can make guns, quite easily in fact, but tend to overcomplicate them and make them useless like they do everything else.
    • In fact, being a bungling inventor is the tinker gnomes' racial hat; they descend from humans who used to work with the god of arts and crafts, but who angered him by attempting to exploit his knowledge for his own ends, so he turned them into creatures "as small as their ambitions" and cursed them to be scatter-brained and manic, obsessed with "doing science" but incapable of doing it properly. To the point that at least one sourcebook states that no tinker gnome believes in the principle of cause and effect.
  • Forgotten Realms: The Harpells, introduced in R.A. Salvatore's novels, are a bunch of bungling inventor wizards, who apply the same sort of attitude to their magic as the typical bungling inventor applies to science. In an unusual variant, though highly eccentric and prone to bizarre ideas, they often make them work. One Harpell breeds a "puddlejumper" steed by crossing a horse with a frog. The family routinely stores livestock in specialized cages with mass shrinking spells. In one novel, a Harpell even avoids death at the tentacles of a brain-eating illithid by using a specially created polymorph spell that temporarily switches the positioning of his brain and his lower intestines — so it attempts to pluck out his brain, and instead gets... yeah.
  • Spelljammer is home to the same tinker gnomes that appear in Dragonlance. As a result, "gnomish made" is synonymous with "useless, overweight junk". In fact, one of the comic relief races, the Dohwar, are cemented as completely botching their desire to be a Proud Merchant Race by the fact that they think gnomish "technology" is awesome and buy it up all the time, only to then be stuck with cargo-holds full of the stuff because nobody who has access to spelljammers is stupid enough to buy it from them.
  • In Genius: The Transgression, any of the eponymous Geniuses will appear to be one of these, since their Wonders fail (at best they'll stop working, at worst they'll go insane or something) whenever a normal person comes in contact with them or circumstances in general conspire to screw things up. The reality is? Less definite.
  • In Paranoia, the scientists assigned to Research and Design constantly build stuff even more malfunction-prone than typical shoddy Alpha equipment. And this stuff shows up all the time; one of the classic ways to distract the PCs with multiple simultaneous duties is ordering them to field-test a few experimental devices in the course of carrying out their primary mission of the moment.

    Video Games 
  • Sonic the Hedgehog: Tails is quite a capable Gadgeteer Genius. However...
  • World of Warcraft: Gnomish Engineers as a whole work like this. Pretty much anything engineers can make with Gnomish in the name can have spectacular malfunctions. The Shrink Ray for example can either shrink its target as intended, or backfire on the entire party or make the entire party grow. Goblin inventions on the other hand are surprisingly reliable, but then again they also focus on blowing stuff up rather than gadgets. An Engineer who bought a camera to a picnic nearly started a riot among the party-goers with the flash, who thought they were under attack.
    • Goblin engineers actually do a fair bit of bungling, it's just that they adapt better to different results than expected. If a gnome creation belches a stream of fire, they'll try to fix it. If a goblin creation belches a stream of fire, they'll patent and sell it as a portable deicer.
  • In EarthBound (1994), the Orange Kid is an acclaimed and self-proclaimed Gadgeteer Genius, but all he does in the game is giving a useless machine to the party (which only spouts off some more Orange Kid promotion and explodes afterward) and researching on unboiling an egg. His neighbour, Apple Kid, who is called a loser among other things, gives the player many useful things if properly funded, many of them necessary for beating the game.
  • Quantum Conundrum: Professor Quadwrangle makes impressive super-science inventions that usually work well, but when they fail they fail spectacularly. In fact, the plot is kicked off because his latest experiment blows out the power grid in Quadwrangle Manor and traps him in a pocket dimension.
  • Kyle from Atelier Annie. Whenever his inventions don't work, it always ends up really annoying people.
  • Harvest Moon had a family line of these. The original is the original Ann (who appeared in the first two Game Boy game, the first game in the series, and Harvest Moon: Magical Melody). Next is her grandson, Rick in Harvest Moon 64, though not in other games as he is instead a chicken farmer outside of 64.
  • According to Clank in Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, Ratchet has a long history of lethally stupid inventions that includes such items as bathroom toys made of antimatter and a nuclear-powered rocket sled.
    Clank: And let us not forget about the electro-shock undergarments you invented last fall.
    Ratchet: Stunderwear! Huge seller on Umbris.
    Talwyn: <worried expression>
  • In Scrap Mechanic, it's fully expected of the player to become one of those every once in a while, since the game is all about building impractical, elaborate inventions and machines from scratch.
  • In Endless Space and Endless Space 2, the Sophons. They get science bonuses, but their curiosity doesn't always work out. Their planet used to have a moon, for instance, but the Sophons apparently changed that.

    Web Comics 
  • Ethan from Ctrl+Alt+Del has been known to accidentally invent a few things, like transforming his Xbox into a sentient robot, and creating a time machine powered by a stick of butter and paper clips.note  He also invented a chair that would prevent him from getting up or falling asleep during a week-long festival of gaming, but accidentally engaged it a week early.
  • Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures
    • Jyrras has created two artificial lifeforms, by accident.
    • Apart from this, though, Jyrras is actually a very competent scientist and inventor. In fact, his numerous patents have made him the richest member of the main cast.
    • Two of Jyrras' former assistants attempted to clone Mab using a sample of her hair and a Beanie Baby, only to be crushed under a tidal wave of the newly created Mows. His third assistant apparently turned herself into a fly.
  • Some sparks in Girl Genius seem to fit this pattern. Most prominently, most of Master Payne's Circus of Adventure consists of these. The explanation is that this is why they're all in a circus together- it's a kind of protective coloration for people who are Sparky enough to draw the attention of bigger, more powerful sparks, but not nearly Sparky enough to survive it.
    • Agatha was one herself, before her locket was removed.
  • The professor from A Modest Destiny fits this trope to a T. He even built his own house. Thrice. In his own words, Don't kick, pound, break, cuddle, lick, or threaten his inventions with pointy sticks. It's the only way to be safe.
  • Most likely a parody in RPG World, where Machine Guy builds a time machine, saying "It was supposed to be a toaster, but I got carried away." Interestingly enough, the machine is still able to make toast as well.
  • Occurs infrequently in Schlock Mercenary with local Mad Scientist Kevyn Andreyasn - less due to incompetence than having faulty materials. Ultimately, he's able to get the company fabber to build what he wants it to, but as an added bonus resulting from earlier experiments everything will also be able to make toast.
    • There was also that one time he made his new ship drive open-source and started a pan-galactic war.
  • Riff from Sluggy Freelance. He's actually got quite a few inventions that work (or at least work well enough), but just as many of them have a huge flaw or backfire completely. Happens so often that saying "Let me check my notes" after an invention goes wrong became Riff's catchphrase.
  • Umlaut House: Saundra. thought she made a high-speed toaster. Her future self corrected her. Also carelessness when repairing her gaydar can result in an explosion that has 0,03% (actually, since it's a webcomic, 100%) chance of blasting you into an alternate dimention.
  • Zap!: The Stickles. Any invention that actually works the way it was supposed to goes to the Stickle Hall of Fame, where it is put on display and never used again.

    Web Original 
  • Whateley Universe: Several of the gadgeteers and devisers fall into this trope at the Whateley Academy. Mega-death may be the best example. His inventions have a tendency to misbehave violently at any inopportune moment. It doesn't help that Mega-Death has Diedrick's syndrome, which means that every so often, he starts ranting like Doctor Doom on a bad day. In a subversion, he's a very nice guy when he takes his medication. Even more of a subversion, he takes his medication regularly!
    • Delta Spike, however, has no excuse. Her inventions blow up often, and she's infamous amongst the gadgeteers. Even using her IMAGE on an invention can produce problems. In fact, the person who tried to use her image in a 'make myself powerful and pretty' device ended up an insane Body Horror, as Karmic Transformation.
    • In both Mega-death's and Delta Spike's cases, it's been hinted that there are outside forces interfering with their work, so at least some of the accidents may not be their faults.
  • Worm has Leet, a tinker who can build practically anything, but if he ever tries to make the same invention more than once it backfires horribly. He's considered something a joke in the cape community as a consequence.
  • In 2009 when the Brazilian forum Forum UOL Jogos changed its software, the users faced many glitches and some glitches still come up to this date, at one point, there was even a night where the forum became really unstable, the programmer that developed the software was memetically turned into one of these, the users since then made many funny images and gifs about that programmer being responsible for failures and historical disasters.
  • Sniffles from Happy Tree Friends is a mixture of this and Gadgeteer Genius. He does come up with some amazing inventions, but they usually end up killing others, himself included, due to design flaws or him using them unwisely.
  • SCP Foundation: SCP-3885 is the seemingly-abandoned town of Vulture Gulch, AZ, which is home to SCP-3885-1, who refer to themselves as the Exploding Zombie Gearheads. The Gearheads are anomalous zombie-like humanoids who are enthusiastic but highly incompetent mechanical engineers (and fortunately highly durable as well). They're constantly building and testing vehicles that never seem to work properly and usually fall apart or explode violently.

    Western Animation 
  • Ludwig Von Drake started out as an Absent-Minded Professor on Walt Disney Presents, but eventually became a Bungling Inventor in his later appearances, such as on Bonkers, Mickey Mouse Works, and House of Mouse.
  • DuckTales (1987): Gyro Gearloose (created by Carl Barks in his comics), whose unreliable inventions included a variation of the aforementioned robot. Though he is actually a good inventor, and most problems come from his absent-mindedness. And of course, half the time his inventions do work as they're supposed to, but he's such a Wide-Eyed Idealist that he never thinks of the possibility of his inventions being used for nefarious purposes (the teleporting spray/ray gun combo and the "key ray gun" capable of opening every lock on Earth come to mind).
    • As a rule, in the comics, he lends his latest invention to Donald at a moment's notice, who then proceeds to misuse it in the worst way possible, either due to his laziness, temper, or combination of both. Even Gyro lampshades it in one of the comics, musing to himself just why he keeps doing it.
  • The Alvin Show: Clyde Crashcup is a Bungling Inventor who kept trying (and failing) to "invent" things that had already been invented.
  • Frylock from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Among the failures were a robotic babysitter that terrorized Meatwad and then abandoned him to go shopping, an experimental toilet that destroyed Carl's body from the neck down when he used it, and a cloning machine that produced unstable copies of the original that would explode/spew blood/gain sentience. Like the examples above, those that aren't outright failures usually end up causing problems because he doesn't seem to get that his immature/irresponsible roommates can't be trusted with them.
  • Fireman Sam: Sam was this whenever he wasn't on duty as a fireman for the first five series, then mechanic Joe Sparkes took over the role in Series 9.
  • The Venture Bros.: Dr. Thaddeus "Rusty" Venture is both a genius super-scientist and a miserable failure. While some of his inventions are pretty cool, many of them are behind the times at best or dangerously flawed at worst. His failures often result from cutting corners for quick cash to keep his late father's crumbling empire from collapsing completely. However, he also constantly grapples with the realization that he's just not as smart as his dad was.
  • The Simpsons:
    • During a Treehouse of Horror episode, the Simpsons used the above example of a failed toaster repair almost verbatim with Homer Simpson... he even starts his "repair" job by opening the toaster up by holding an electric drill against it, and hitting it on the end with a big rock.
    • Homer becomes an inventor in "Wizard of Evergreen Terrace". His first inventions are generally terrible, unless that is anyone out there feels the need for an everything's-OK-alarm, a make-up shotgun, or an armchair toilet.
    • Recurring Mad Scientist character Professor Frink also deals with this trope, although Depending on the Writer his inventions will either work properly or go completely nuts. The auto-dialing machine Homer used for his electronic panhandling scheme worked quite well. The automatic tap shoes he invented for Lisa and the radio-controlled airplane that was carrying his baby son... not so much.
  • Futurama: Prof. Farnsworth has had his share of bungled inventions, including a machine that made glow-in-the-dark noses while also producing an enormous amount of unusable toxic waste. Also, he nearly destroyed the fabric of space-time by creating and then artificially aging a team of genetically engineered basketball players.
  • Stu Pickles in Rugrats and All Grown Up!, a tireless inventor of kiddie toys that never quite worked the way they should have. Apparently, though, he was non-bungling enough to be the family's co-breadwinner off of this.
  • Olaf the Lofty, court inventor in The Saga of Noggin the Nog, whose inventions have mixed results; some work, some partly work and some do the opposite of what he wanted.
  • Timmy's dad in The Fairly Oddparents - whose already dangerously unstable creations would occasionally get made worse by Timmy wishing for "improvements".
  • Seanbaby says Bizarro from Super Friends can build impressive Death Rays, irradiates the world's gold supply and could single-handedly defeat those infernal heroes. But since any attempts to tell people what any of his machines would actually do would just end up confusing them, everyone ignores them as hunks of junk.
  • Grizzle from Care Bears: Adventures in Care-a-Lot. His inventions rarely work the way he wants them to (including the 'robot kicking him out of his own lair' variation), and even if they do, they are easily thwarted by the Care Bears. Grumpy occasionally falls into this, too, but his inventions work often enough to put him in Gadgeteer Genius territory.
  • In the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series, Donatello would fall into this category whenever the writers deemed it amusing. When it was important for the plot, he would inevitably pull together exactly the tech the team needed, but if he ever called the family together to unveil his latest invention, it always ended with something going haywire.
  • The Transformers: Zigzagged with Wheeljack, the resident Mad Scientist, who constantly creates devices that manage to explode or malfunction. However, when he succeeds, he manages to create truly amazing machines, such as the Dinobots.
  • Wallace & Gromit: Wallace. Most of Wallace's inventions actually do what they're supposed to. Usually too well. His Recyc-O-Matic, for example, was very good at recycling things...then he gave it arms so it could feed things into its own gizmos, and it proceeded to run amok in town recycling everything in its path...yeah, definitely qualifies.
  • Phineas and Ferb: Dr. Doofenshmirtz. Sure, most of his "-inators" actually do what he wants them to do, but his bungling nature frequently causes them to go haywire, break down, or self-destruct. (Or, in the case of one, he uses it as a planter but forgot to unplug it first.)
  • One episode of the Legend of Zelda cartoon featured a character named Doof, who was introduced as the castle handyman. He was also a Bungling Inventor in his spare time, and thus became part of the plot.
  • Typically, in Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers, Gadget's inventions work out okay, but when they do fail, it's usually quite spectacularly and often attributable to her absent-mindedness and cloudcuckoolander tendencies.
  • Holden Thong from The Flamin' Thongs. When his inventions work at all, they intend to be a case of Gone Horribly Right.
  • Blukic and Driba from Ben 10: Omniverse are complete idiots by the standards of their race. However, since they are Galvans, this still means they are tech-savvy enough to get by as Bungling Inventors on Earth.
  • Mia and Me: Phuddle's inventions rarely work the way he intended them to, but sometimes they have other unexpected effects that aid the heroes, the best example probably being the trumptus, a trumpet-like musical instrument that proves to be the most effective weapon against the villains of the first season.
  • Green Eggs and Ham: Guy has inventions that always explode no matter what he does.
  • Class of 3000: Philly Phil is the class's resident gadget expert and the go-to guy when the class needs some kind of machine. However, his inventions tend to malfunction in some capacity more often than not.
  • Professor Utonium from The Powerpuff Girls (1998) is this as he realizes most everything good he's created was by complete accident, starting with the girls. In one episode he goes about trying to make something good on purpose and only when something accidental that causes a massive explosion happens does he accidentally invent something offscreen that could 'revolutionize the world' as Blossom puts it. His response?
    Professor Utonium: Oops! I did it again!
  • Pet Alien: Many of Dinko's inventions are well-intentioned, but very poorly thought-out, such as an electric helmet that electrocutes Dinko every time the button is pushed or a Tommy defense system that can't be turned off. In "The Earth Boy who Needed Protection", he admits that his inventions are "pure instinct", explaining why most of them don't have any thought put into them.


Philly Phil

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / BunglingInventor

Media sources: