Everyone needs a good Doomsday Device or Self-Destruct Mechanism. You never know when you're gonna need them. But, where is this button going to be placed? It has to be somewhere that is easily accessible. So, it's placed just right on the side of the keyboard, where nothing could possibly go wrong.
That is, until, it just gets accidentally pushed while someone's typing.
Therein lies this trope. A button or switch of massive power is placed so carelessly that it almost begs to be accidentally hit. Often, this is done on a keyboard, but it can be done in other locations as needed for the storyline. This can be done, most likely for laughs, intentionally or unintentionally.
Closely related is Forbidden Chekhov's Gun; sometimes the device itself has a function so dangerous that if you actually need to use it, you won't have time for a Two-Keyed Lock; when Godzilla shows up, having to wait for the other guy to get through traffic to help you activate the mega-death ray means the monster vaporizes the city. Still, it's probably a good idea to put a molly-guard over the Big Red Button.
Compare and contrast Big Red Button. Not to be confused with Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick, which is when the joke is the strangeness itself of one really weird thing being casually listed next to a bunch of normal things.
- In a Cartoon Network promotional short, Birdman has his companion eagle, Avenger, get him coffee by pressing the coffee button on his keyboard... which is only one button away from the Doomsday Button. Closer inspection shows that it's the coffee button that's the most misplaced, as it's surrounded by buttons for lasers and missiles. Avenger manages to hit the right button... and the wrong one.
- A Dutch insurance ad showed a small town preparing for a visit of the queen, practicing a stunt where a parachute diver lands on a Big Red Button that sets off a celebratory light show. This is intercut with preparation at the queen's palace, where a servant gives the queen a large red hat that looks exactly like the button when seen from above. The conclusion is left up to the imagination.
- In the episode "If Angels Wore Swimsuits" in Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, Scanty furiously slams her fist down on a button in the middle of their humvee. Kneesocks shouts out that she just pressed the self destruct button, and the car blows up. An Ash Faced Kneesocks lampshaded it afterward.
Kneesocks: What is the point of that button? Who would choose to use it?
- Atomic Robo:
- Zig-Zagged: when he and Charles Fort go hunting an Eldritch Abomination, Robo brings appropriate hardware.
Robo: These are Lightning Guns. They collect electric charges from the air and boost them to obscenely dangerous levels through an even more dangerous process. Nothing unusual.
Fort: I say, a portable Wardenclyffe!
Robo: Yeah, just whatever you do, don't move that dial past five. Or to five. Or near five, actually. In fact, set the dial to one and then forget it's there.
Fort: Is this entirely safe?
Robo: No. Not even a little.
- The zag is that sometimes you want a big damned explosion, and rarely will you have much time to prep it. Case in point, Robo turns the dials on both guns up to nine when decided:
Robo: ...My years with Mr. Tesla have taught me that there's one underlying scientific principle common to all existence.
Fort: And that would be?
Robo: Everything explodes.
- Zig-Zagged: when he and Charles Fort go hunting an Eldritch Abomination, Robo brings appropriate hardware.
- In Watchmen, Laurie notices a flame-marked button on the control panel of the owlship. Thinking it's a cigarette lighter, she presses it to light up a smoke, and nearly burns down Night Owl's hidden base by setting off the vehicle's flamethrower. Shortly afterwards, Nite Owl casually mentions that the owlship is also equipped with missiles. Laurie immediately breaks her cigarette in half.
- Nite Owl also commented that the Comedian had once made exactly the same mistake.
- Brewster Rockit: Space Guy! features the location of the R. U. Sirius's self destruct button... on an elevator panel, right between the up and down buttons. Immediately after pressing it, Brewster points out that that may not have been the best place for it.
- The Dutch comic Dirk Jan had a run of comics where one character became prime minister. He immediately confused the button to launch all cruise missiles with the button to order coffee. It turned into a Running Gag, with variations such as the prime minister pushing the button to launch missiles at the tinpot dictator spouting threats over the phone, which delivered coffee to him instead.
- The Far Side:
- There's a cartoon where a man on a plane is about to flip a switch from "Wings Stay On" to "Wings Fall Off" :
"Fumbling for his recline button, Ted unwittingly instigates a disaster."
- Another has a technician in front of a console marked "YELLOW ALERT" become annoyed that the technician next to him keeps leaning over and pressing his buttons - so he retaliates by leaning over and pressing the coworker's buttons. Unfortunately, the latter buttons are marked "RED ALERT."
- There's a cartoon where a man on a plane is about to flip a switch from "Wings Stay On" to "Wings Fall Off" :
- In The Emperor's New Groove, Yzma's lair has two identical levers, one which triggers a trap and another which activates a mechanism for getting around the lair. This later became a running gag in The Emperor's New School.
Yzma: Wrong leveeeeeerrrrrr!Yzma then re-enters, soaking wet with an alligator latched onto her dress. She wrings her dress out and slaps the alligator, which runs back out whimpering like a dog.
- In Monsters vs. Aliens, there are two Big Red Buttons: One to launch the nuclear warheads and one to make latte. They're placed right next to each other and are otherwise unlabeled. In the movie's Stinger, the President accidentally presses the wrong button when he wants to make some coffee.
- In Twice Upon a Time, the villain has a Big Red Button to detonate his nightmare bombs. In the climax, the hero, Ralph the All-Purpose Animal, shapeshifts into a fly and baits the villain into trying to swat him, resulting in the flyswatter hitting the button and detonating the bombs prematurely.
- In Apollo 13, Swigert places a note reading "NO" over the lunar module jettison switch, which looks exactly like the hundreds of other switches found throughout the command module, specifically so this doesn't happen. Lovell's autobiography Lost Moon clarifies this: the LM JETT switch was directly to the left of the service module jettison switch, and in this case the latter maneuver was supposed to happen first. In most cases, it wouldn't be a problem because the LM would be jettisoned in lunar orbit, but Apollo 13 was a special case... and Swigert (as well as the rest of the crew) were short on sleep. The more critical switches (including, presumably, these) had guards over them to prevent accidental activation, but in this case the extra insurance (in the form of the NOte) was a wise precaution. If nothing else, it gave Swigert some much-needed peace of mind.
- Forbidden Planet has an example that makes sense upon further thought. The Krell lab that Dr. Morbius repurposed comes with a means to destroy the Krell machine, and with it, the entire planet Altair IV. The only security measure is the fact the self-destruct is a two-step sequence (a button on one console, then a lever several feet away) to prevent it from being triggered accidentally. But it's also established that the Krell were intellectually and morally advanced — thus implying that they had no reason to fear someone trying to activate the self-destruct without a darn good reason.
- A brief case played for laughs in Independence Day, when Russell Casse hops in an F-18 fighter jet. He flew military jets in Vietnam, and has been flying a crop duster ever since, and has been given a crash-course in modern military jets, but the first button he presses activates the "Missile Launch". Fortunately, he manages to find the off switch before any missiles actually launch.
Russell: I picked a helluva day to quit drinkin'...
- Subverted with the capital Pi icon in The Net, in that simply clicking on the icon redirects to the software's home page. However, Ctrl+Shift+click on the icon gives the user absolute unfettered access to every computer that runs the Corrupt Corporate Executive's operating system.
- Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre: After firing a missile in completely the wrong direction, Orson works out the 'R' on the helicopter's missile launcher controls stands for 'REAR', and not 'RIGHT' as he originally assumed.
- Hilariously inverted in Spaceballs. The Spaceball One's self destruct is a Big Red Button — one situated by itself, behind a glass panel, in an out of the way part of the ship, protected by both guards and a laser security gate... (and with a reassuring label◊) and it's still triggered accidentally when Dark Helmet staggers backwards and slams his head into it.
- Dr. Who and the Daleks: The movie's Tardis is activated by a big red lever that Ian and Barbara stumble into while making out. Dr Who puts the blame solely on Ian, presumably because Barbara is his granddaughter and Ian isn't.
- In the Doctor Who episode "Genesis of the Daleks", there are two instances of this trope:
- Davros' chair is equipped with a button that will turn off his life support and kill him in 30 seconds. This button is placed right next to all of his other controls, which can easily be accidentally hit, considering he barely has any control over his only functioning hand. Turning off the life support instantly sends Davros into uncontrollable spasms, so he can't even turn it back on himself.
- Also, the rocket which the Thals plan to use to destroy the Kaleds has two buttons right next to one another on its main control. Fire and Destruct.
- The premise of Far Out Space Nuts was based on this trope. Two NASA employees were responsible for loading meals onto spacecraft. There was a Breakfast button, a Lunch button, and a Dinner button on the console. But one of these employees was not the sharpest tool in the shed, and when he was instructed to press "Lunch", he hit the adjacent Launch button by mistake, sending the duo into outer space.
- In one episode of Father Ted, Tom gets a job driving a sewage transport lorry. The lorry's controls include two buttons that are next to each other, one which opens the door to the cab and one which releases the lorry's contents. This is of course heavily lampshaded. When he drives past Ted and Dougal walking along a road, he offers them a lift and goes to press the "open the cab door" button... cut to Ted and Dougal covered in sewage and Tom apologizing meekly.
- Get Smart inverts this on more than one occasion. Smart will be shown a car, with buttons for grenade launchers, missiles, machine guns... He'll ask, "What's this button do, Chief?" to be answered with, "That's the window washer, Max."
- Have I Got News for You has an animated opening which is updated to reflect current events. One of the parts of it that remains the same in most versions is showing the President of the United States at his desk in the oval office. There have been several openings (particularly in the George W. Bush era) that involved them accidentally pressing a large red button.
- Discussed in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, where a kid who was rescued by the Enterprise thinks this trope is in effect and feels guilty because he believes he accidentally pushed a button that destroyed the ship he was on. Data assures him that he didn't have admin access to the controls and that there are other safeguards in place so that it would take more than one mistaken button press to cause the accident.
- AC/DC: In the music video for "Heatseeker", Angus throws his hat at a bank of switches after getting on the stage. The left and right switches are marked as stage lights. The one in the middle (which his hat lands on) is marked "Never touch this switch!" and causes a nuclear missile to launch.
- In the video for Genesis's "Land of Confusion", President Reagan has a panel at his bedside with two buttons: "Nurse" and "Nuke". He accidentally starts World War III trying to get a glass of water. This was taken from Spitting Image, see the example in Puppet Shows.
- Toward the end of the music video for "It's a Mistake" by the Australian group Men at Work, some military officer has an ashtray sitting on the control console right next to a Big Red Button, which he unwittingly presses while trying to snuff out his cigar.
- Spitting Image was fond of showing Reagan in bed, with two buttons, one labelled "Nurse" and the other "Nuke", on a bedside control panel, and being obliviously careless about which one he pressed.
- Dwarf Fortress:
- It's quite easy to create one of these, and there is a real risk of it being triggered accidentally, because insane dwarves and some species of mischievous wild animals may pull levers at random. The Bay 12 forums once ran a "Big Red Lever of Doom" contest based on this.
- In the case of succession fortresses, one player takes control for an in-game year and then hands the fort to another player to run. Notes or labels on what things are is a luxury that you are not always given, and any given activation mechanism might water a farm or flood half the fort with lava, for reasons that made perfect sense at the time for the previous player.
- When the game released to Steam in 2022 with an entirely redone interface and proper graphics, it turned out that the button to cancel a military squad's current order and make them return to their regular schedule, was just right to, and looked extremely similar to, the button to outright disband a military squad entirely.
- In Oolite (just as in the original Elite) it is eminently possible to fly your spaceship by keyboard, and it is then equally possible to hit the Fire Laser button (A) when you meant to Reduce Speed (S). If you were docking with a space station at the time then you will not harm the station, but you will have to deal with hordes of police ships, who are uninterested in excuses, explanations or apologies.
- In World of Warcraft, in the Ulduar raid, the Mad Scientist boss Mimiron (who "tests" his inventions by attacking you with them) has a Big Red Button outside his lab that activates an optional time limit for Hard Mode Perks.
Mimiron: Now why would you go and do something like that? Didn't you see the sign that said "DO NOT PUSH THIS BUTTON!"? How will we finish testing with the self-destruct mechanism active?
- A Homestar Runner cartoon called "The King of Town's Very Own Quite Popular Cartoon Show!!" has the King of Town's knight throw a spear at a "Multi-Function Dragon", who has various squares drawn on his chest, presumably for various tasks the dragon can apparently perform. He misses the one he's aiming for and hits "instant death", causing the dragon to collapse, dead, on top of the knight and the Poopsmith.
- Red vs. Blue: In season 14 episode "The "Mission"", it's said that Terrill once accidentally blew up a base trying to use a microwave because it was placed right next to the button for firing all the missiles.
- In Space Tree, Space Tree is on death row, yet gets pardoned. The door of the cell he's in has two identical buttons labeled "Door Release" and "Fiery Execution!". The person sent to release him can't read. Do the math.
- Darths & Droids: The Imperial Walkers have the Chamomile Tea button right next to the "Trample Puny Humans" button. A few comics later we discover more buttons: "emit trumpeting bellow", "acidic phlegm" and "rise triumphant". The latter opens the sunroof.
- Grrl Power: Deus, trying to open the hidden weapons cache in his office, accidentally presses the button to drop the meeting table into a pit. Musing that he should probably label his buttons, he ends up activating an art display and a collection of BDSM toys before finding the button he's looking for.
- In Two Guys and Guy, Frank's car has the self-destruct right next to the A-C options. In contrast, the Big Red Button with the molly-guard just factory-resets the traction control.
- In one episode of Codename: Kids Next Door, a KND prison ship has a Big Red Button that destroys the engines, made out of a muffin. One character stumbles and falls on this button, lampshading this.
"Who else but a bunch of stupid kids would put a 'Blow Up The Engines' button on a spaceship?"
- An episode of Freakazoid! had ex-Corrupt Corporate Executive Gutierrez sitting at a desk. On this desk were only two buttons, "Summon Jocko" and "Vaporize World".
- Megas XLR: The cockpit of Coop's Humongous Mecha (which also happens to be a car) is littered with absurdly labeled buttons powered by the Rule of Funny that trigger deadly weaponry right next to mundane functions like controlling the convertible top.
- Dr. Doofenshmritz on Phineas and Ferb frequently invokes this due to his Running Gag obsession with placing a self destruct button on everything he creates. The ultimate example would have to be when he built an army of giant robots and placed the buttons on the bottom of their feet. The army took one step and was instantly wiped out.
- One episode of The Simpsons shows that Homer's workstation at the nuclear plant includes a Big Red Button labelled "Plant Destruct Please Do Not Push". He accidentally presses it while napping on the job, though disaster is averted thanks to a dog napping beside him, who wakes up and pulls a lever on the console.
- The Transformers: In the notorious episode "B.O.T.", the Decepticons built a cannon designed to knock the moon out of orbit... yet it features an "OVER LOAD" button on a human-height control panel.
- Keyboards with multimedia keys. Who would need a "power off" key and why would anyone put it next to something innocuous like "email"? Or for that matter, who would want "volume up" to be next to "close page"? Or "calculator" next to "delete"? Your only hope is that the keyboard comes with software to repurpose those buttons (e.g. setting the "power off" button to open Notepad instead).
- "Canary" is a combination of a home-security camera you can put in your home, and a mobile app to view it in. The camera is also equipped with a loud siren, which you can let go off from within the app for when you see your house is being broken into. The problem is that the "Sound Siren" button, even though being something that very rarely would be used, is featured prominently in the app and very easy to accidentally hit. Especially for Android users, who frequently use the "Back" button located in the lower left corner, and that's where the Siren button is placed. Oh, and next to it is also a prominent "Emergency Call" button, which directly calls 911 (or your country's equivalent) - you really don't want to unintentionally call that either...
- In the days of Windows 9x, exclusive fullscreen mode (where the renderer exclusively configured to render the whole app/game, as opposed to the modern borderless fullscreen which has windowed app taking the whole screen), and buggy SVGA drivers, the soon-to-become-standard Windows menu keys could crash many heavy-performing games, even including full-screen DOS programs running under Windows. In some games it was like grouping "strafe", "shoot", "crash" and "crouch" keys together. Game manuals described how to disable them. Alt-Tab and Ctr-Esc had the same problem, but were not as likely to be pressed by accident. Some high-end keyboards have a toggle to disable the Windows key, since accidentally hitting it probably won't crash your game these days but could well minimise it at an inopportune time.
- The Windows filer context menu has 'Delete' just a mouse slip above the 'Rename' option. Keeping the delete confirmation dialog option on is a good habit to avoid accidentally sending something to the recycle bin (or worse, since files on external storage are simply deleted). Woe to anyone who first finds out the hard way that Windows 10 and 11 have that feature off by default. Windows 11, with its new right-click menu, moved it so it's sandwiched between "copy" and "share", but it turned into icons instead (the default context menu still appear under "Show More Options".
- Similarly, multi-key shortcuts make the keyboard into a minefield, especially as a) shortcuts change from program to program, b) most people only know a few of the basic shortcuts, c) some programs create global shortcuts that work from every program. And may the gods help you if your Control or Option keys become jammed...
- Web animator Monty Oum was known to pop off keys on his keyboard such as the F1 and Caps Lock just to avoid this problem.
- A PC case with headphone sockets right next to the power button, and two user-USB sockets for pen drives etc., similarly situated either side of the power button. Example.
- Ford had to recall its MKC SUVs because the designer had placed the "Engine Start/Stop" button in a group with the gear shift buttons, immediately below "Sport Mode".
- The original Apple II keyboard had "Reset", a single key which would immediately reboot the computer, no matter what you were in the middle of, immediately above "Return", which of course you need to hit all the time.
- The programmers who came up with CTRL-ALT-DEL chose that specific set of keys specifically to avoid this issue.
- The alarm button on your car's radio key. You've probably set it off by accident at least once.
- Keyboards that have a wi-Fi toggle or touchpad disable switch right in the same area as the row of number keys. It can get frustrating when you’re suddenly offline or can’t move your cursor because of it.
- Apparently one of the reasons the MQ-8B Fire Scout drone project was abandoned is that you could initiate the self destruct sequence just by hitting the spacebar. You know, the biggest and most used button on any keyboard.
- A typical car lock/alarm remote will have the "Panic" key, which flashes the light and honks the horn, right near the "Lock" button, usually with no guard of any type. The button can even be accidentally pressed while carrying them in one's pocket by simply bending over or standing up.