Chekhov, master of the short story, gave this advice: If it's not essential, don't include it in the story.
The term has come to mean "an insignificant object that later turns out to be important." For example, a character may find a mysterious necklace that turns out to be the power source to the Doomsday Device, but at the time of finding the object it does not seem important. The necklace was essential to the story, but its introduction downplayed its importance. Chekhov's advice was not necessarily to conceal importance, but to just not spend time on things that are not important.
A lot of people consider the phrase "Chekhov's gun" synonymous with foreshadowing. They are related; a gun that goes off in the third act that hasn't been in the play at all before then is going to feel like a real Ass Pull, but that's not key to the meaning of the phrase.
As a result of the success of franchises like Lost or Harry Potter, viewers and fans of Myth Arc-laden and/or carefully written shows and books have become accustomed to obsessing over minuscule details and looking out for Chekhov's Guns everywhere and anywhere... whether they actually exist or not. We call these Epileptic Trees and Wild Mass Guessing.
Part A: General cases
- Androcles' Lion: Basically Chekhov's good deed.
- Chekhov's Armoury: A whole stash of Chekhov's Guns.
- Chekhov's Army: A whole stash of Chekhov's Gunmen.
- Chekhov's Boomerang: Chekhov's Gun has already been used once, then unexpectedly turns up again.
- Chekhov's Classroom: Remember what you heard, when you weren't even listening?
- Chekhov's Exhibit: Chekhov's Gun will be put on display for the general public to gawk at. Before it's stolen, of course.
- Chekhov's Gag: You thought Chekhov's Gun was only introduced for the Rule of Funny, but later it goes off dramatically.
- Chekhov's Gift: Happy birthday! Here, have a Chekhov's Gun.
- Chekhov's Gunman: When a character seems to be there for no reason, they must be important. In other words, the Chekhov's Gun is a character rather than an object.
- Chekhov's Hobby: Like Chekhov's Skill, but it is merely established that the character has the skill rather than showing them using or learning it beforehand.
- Chekhov's News: When a news report mentions something that will be important later.
- Chekhov's Skill: What you learn along the way can be a Chekhov's Gun.
- Workplace-Acquired Abilities: When the abilities obtained in one's professional career come in handy.
- Chekhov's Volcano: If it wasn't going to erupt, it would have just been a mountain.
- Conspicuously Light Patch: The Chekhov's Gun of old, traditional animation, where anything obviously not part of the static (and often painted) background layer will be put to use by a character.
- Conspicuous CG: The analogue for CGI, newer cartoons, and more video games.
- Empty Room Psych: In a video game, all places must have a purpose.
- Forbidden Chekhov's Gun: Never do this. Ever. (Unless you've crossed the Godzilla Threshold or something...)
- Incurable Cough of Death: The medical Chekhov's Gun. If you coughed in the first act, you can bet that you'll be dead by the third. Same for unexplained itches, unless they lead to something more... interesting.
- Infallible Babble: If prophecies are always right, then nonsense, hearsay and barely comprehensible rumours are even moreso.
- Ironic Echo: A line of dialogue early on is repeated in an ironic context, showing a change in meaning or of heart.
- It May Help You on Your Quest: Take this dull, seemingly-useless (or even mostly-useless) item. Go on, take it! You will be most definitely needing it.
- The Legend of Chekhov: If someone tells a fairy tale or legend, it'll turn out to be true. And, outright disbelieving it only ups the uncomfortable nature of the truth when it hits.
- Meaningful Echo: A line of idle dialogue is later repeated in a context that gives it additional significance.
- Meaningful Name: If the character's name has a special meaning but no immediate relevance, then the relevance will come later.
- Not-So-Small Role: Character #23 is played by whom? They'd never have signed on for so small a role!
- Notice This: It must be important to the plot — look where it's positioned and lighted.
- Plot Device All Along: Something mundane that the character uses regularly and constantly turns out to have been a highly important artifact.
- The Promise: A verbal, visual or conceptual Chekhov's Gun where a promise is made and later comes up. Whereupon the promiser will be required to act; or, in unlucky cases, the promisee.
- Rule of Pool: Someone will fall or be pushed into that pool.
- Someday This Will Come in Handy: Useless knowledge is always important. Compare Classroom, Skill.
- You Will Know What to Do: You are told it will be important, but you aren't told when, where, how, or why. And, you'll be lucky if you know exactly what it does before the consequences hit, too.
Part B: You know what will invariably happen when you see any of these in a scene....
- Funeral Ashes
- Someone Carrying a Cake
- A sign warning of thin ice ahead
- Someone wearing new clothes
- Doomed Supermarket Display
- Fish Tank
- Someone checking a Fatal Family Photo before a fight
- Fruit Cart
- The Precious, Precious Car
- Priceless Ming Vase
- Someone wearing a pearl necklace
- Rope Bridge
- Sheet of Glass
Compare Schrödinger's Gun for a competing dramatic weapons dealer. Contrast to a Red Herring, where something shown early appears to be significant but was planted there just to throw you off. If there are a whole bunch of Red Herrings you might be looking at The Walrus Was Paul, where a writer wants to mock fans of Chekhov's Guns by repeatedly messing with them. If there is a very long delay between the introduction of the element and its use in the story, to the point where most of the audience has long forgotten about it, you're looking at a Brick Joke. The MacGuffin is significant for some (possibly even plot-relevant) reason, but we never find out just what it is. If the Chekhov's Gun was hiding on the other side of the Fourth Wall, you have a Ninja Prop. If a Chekhov's gun is set up but dropped (but was neither intended to distract as a Red Herring nor to be brought up later, as a Brick Joke), you have either an Aborted Arc or What Happened to the Mouse?, depending on the importance of the gun to the overall plot. If something looks like a Chekhov's Gun but is really just a piece of Narrative Filigree then that's a Cow Tool.
The Magnetic Plot Device can be a standing Chekhov's Gun to blame the plot on. The Impossible Task may require one. Also see Ass Pull, which is what the viewer can sometimes confuse this with if they miss the gun the first time (or if the gun was edited out in an adaptation).
A reverse Chekhov's Gun is also common. Explicitly showing a normally armed character forgetting his gun when leaving the house for example. The experienced troper knows that this will become the day he needs it the most.
Also referred to as "the Indiana Jones principle" in Thomas C. Foster's How to Read Literature Like a Professor, named after Indy's early encounter with a snake at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark and how it set up his much larger encounter with them later on. Another term for this is "setup and payoff", a technique used by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale for the Back to the Future trilogy and regularly taught to scriptwriters nowadays.
This trope contains spoilers by necessity. Read at your own risk.
- Anime & Manga
- Comic Books
- Fan Works
- Films Animation
- Films Live-Action
- Live-Action TV
- Video Games
- Visual Novels
- Web Animation
- Web Original
- Western Animation
- The Transmogrifier Gun in Calvin and Hobbes. It was first used for a story arc where Calvin introduces it and wants Hobbes to turn him into a Pterodactyl. He turns him into a tiny one, and a massive transmogrifying fight ensues. In a later arc, Calvin is falling down to earth because a balloon that lifted him in the sky popped. He roots for some chewing gum in his pocket, in the hopes he can blow a big bubble and use it as a parachute, when he finds the gun, transforms himself into a light particle, and zips back home.
- Many of the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks published in the United Kingdom have the reader collect all sorts of strange odds and ends, most of which seem to have no possible justification for the adventurer taking them along. Naturally, those seemingly useless items end up being just what the reader needs to get him- or herself out of trouble, or otherwise make an enemy easier to defeat.
- Lone Wolf:
- As a staple of Gamebooks, any item found by the protagonist (even seemingly useless trinkets) can prove surprisingly useful later in the book — or sometimes, one or two books further in the series. However, there are also plenty of random items that serve no purpose but to take up space in the backpack, and thus you must choose wisely what you keep. Also, it is quite possible to miss the specific path were any item happens to be used.
- For the evil side, the Orb of Death that Zakhan Kimah demands in exchange for his allegiance to the Darklords, and receives in Shadow on the Sand. A savvy enough player could guess it'd show up again, since major villains are rarely left unpunished in the series; sure enough, Zakhan Kimah, armed with the artifact, is the Final Boss of The Cauldron of Fear.
- Classical Mythology:
- Older Than Feudalism: Perseus, prior to his fight against Medusa, gets a number of gifts from the Gods. Every one of them turns out to be critically useful.
- And that note, Medusa's head. While he was meant to simply retrieve it, Perseus ended up using it to kill Cetus and save Andromeda.
- The Firefly game of Cool Kids Table has this, or rather, Chekhovs missiles. Kimmi outfitted the shuttle with them just in case. Subverted in that they don't advance the plot, Kimmi just fires them to destroy the ships at the end and because she really wanted to fire them.
- This trope was featured in Episode 3 of the TV Tropes podcast On the Tropes.
- Welcome to Night Vale:
- Taking pictures of the floating cats is deadly. Established over a year before firing in episode 48.
- Also the list of seemingly random items that was given out by the Secret Police for summary memorization to grant protection from something. Fired over 2 years later in Episode 57, aptly titled "The List". It was just a drill, fortunately for everyone that forgot it.
- Cecil's being auctioned off in Episode 37. The gun doesn't fire until over a year later in Episode 63 when Cecil, after having saved Dana's life several times without his remembering doing so, wonders if Dana was the one who bought him.
- This trope is the entire idea behind WWE's "Money in the Bank" matches, which give their winner the opportunity to exercise the right to a world title match anytime they like within the coming year—usually at a theoretically unexpected and dramatically opportune moment, like right after the current champion has just been thoroughly beaten up by someone else or at an event where they have better moral support, like Rob Van Dam at One Night Stand 2006, who is the only person to successfully cash in his shot after announcing it beforehand.
- In their classic WrestleMania 13 submission match, Bret Hart grabbed the timekeeper's bell from ringside midway through the match and set it on the apron without ever getting a chance to use it. Later, as "Stone Cold" Steve Austin attempted to strangle him with an extension cord by hanging him off the apron, Hart grabbed the bell and smashed Austin in the face with it, allowing him to escape, recompose himself, and lock Austin in the Sharpshooter to win the match.
- Mick Foley brought a chair with him to the ring for his confrontation with Ryback on the April 22, 2013 Raw. Mick left before the chair could be used. Then The Shield showed up and looked to be targeting Ryback. WWE Champion John Cena walked out and it looked like he was going to simply stand back and let the Shield beat up on Ryback, in retaliation for Ryback having done the same thing the week before. Instead, Cena grabbed the chair and used it on the Shield.
- Averted during Jerry Lawler's first-ever WWE Championship Match against The Miz on the November 29, 2010 Raw. The Miz had set up a table outside the ring for him to slam Jerry Lawler through. During the last minutes of the match, after having already disposed of Alex Riley, Lawler managed to push The Miz off the top turnbuckle and through that exact table The Miz set up for him earlier. Averted as Lawler still lost the match due to Michael Cole interfering on The Miz's behalf.
- Subverted during the Dean AmbroseBrock Lesnar match at WrestleMania 32 in 2016. According to this review by an ESPN writer, "It was the match that finally put the lie to the Chekhov's Gun principle they introduced a sea of weapons and managed to use approximately two."
- The counter to Mike Quackenbush's Finishing Move The CHIKARA Special, since the only reason anyone would insist on coming up with a counter to his own finisher is because it would be important to the story later, which is exactly what happened.note
- Averted at ROH Fight of the Century, August 5, 2006. Claudio Castagnoli brought a briefcase with him to the four-corner survival match against winner Nigel McGuinness, Christopher Daniels and Jay Lethal that never came into play.
- In an episode of Gunsmoke titled "Last Fling", specific mention is made of a woman's big, fancy hatpin. Later in the story, her estranged husband attacks her and she stabs him to death with it.
- Destroy the Godmodder:
- Slightly more notable that these are often times accidental examples, as their use as a Chekhov's Gun wasn't intended up until becoming such.
- The Anti-Chuck Norris Turret in both games. It originally popped up a few times in the beginning of the first game, just as a counter to all Chuck Norris attacks, and was forgotten for a while. However, it reappeared later on, in an upgraded form, as the Final Boss of the game. It was so powerful that only the intervention of the Secret of the Void were the players able to defeat it. It later reappeared in DTG2, resuming its original role of the Godmodder's counter to Chuck Norris-based attacks, until Trial 6, when the Godmodder used it to break through the Bedrock underneath the Nether and freeing the Red Dragon.
- Dino Attack RPG:
- The T-1 Typhoon that was left in the desert after Zenna and George were attacked by TumTum Tribesmen ended up having a brief but important role in driving an invading army of Mutant Dinosaurs out of the Dino Attack Team's camp on Adventurers' Island.
- Shortly before the Goo Caverns mission, it was established that Dino Attack Team began developing a weapon powerful enough to destroy an entire army without leveling a city. Think this is going to be important sometime in the future?
- Hotwire's PDA malfunctioned after Kat's death. Turns out that's what happens when a human consciousness stores itself in a pocket-sized communication device.
- Subverted in Nan Quest. After Nan's memories start to fade, the paycheck she receives at the start of the story allows her to remember she was an electrician... but the paper is an ominous note rather than a paycheck, which just throws Nan's state of mind even more into question.
- In a game module in the Star Wars RPG, a couple of Squib merchants arguing with another group of merchants near the entrance to a ruined Jedi Academy have a burned out lightsaber for sale. This lightsaber allows you to interact with an important NPC later on, finding out some key info.
- It mentions in the first edition that one of the daughters of the Scarlet Empress had followed her into the Imperial Manse one night and simply disappeared. It would only be deep into Second Edition when Lillun returned. Unfortunately.
- Also worth mentioning was the AI "Eyem," named for the first thing it said to those who discovered it, a throwaway mention of a wonder of the First Age, or at least the Shogunate. Again, fast forward to the second edition, where the First Age version of the internet is a sentient network known as I AM.
- The web series commodoreHustle (by the guys at LoadingReadyRun) introduced Mr. Ballsmatron in episode 7, and other than a few cameos, it never played a role until the season finale, with an ultimate ball kick and its destruction. Making it possibly the first appearance of a Chekhov's Ball-kicking robot.
- Mocked in The Nostalgia Chick's review of Showgirls. During Nella's song at the end, she mentions the Chekhov's Stairs (that the lead pushed someone down at the climax of the film) that have been there since Act One.
- Atop the Fourth Wall:
- Linkara's Magic Gun, which he's been wielding since the beginning, turns out to be rather important in the Silent Hill: Dead/Alive review, going from prop to plot point and character.
- In his review of a World of Warcraft comic, Linkara finds a working pokeball. He later uses it to capture a pyramid head
- In this episode of CollegeHumor's Hardly Working, David casually references a book that Sam borrowed, and never returned. This is largely ignored until the end of the episode, when David realizes that Sam was trying to kill him so he wouldn't have to return the book. He even goes so far as to Break The Fourth Wall by looking at the camera and saying "Remember? From the beginning?"
- In I'm a Marvel... and I'm a DC, Spider-Man telling Batman that he thinks he might have been married once would help Batman realize how Spiderman was immune to the Joker's brainwashing.
- Both subverted and parodied in one episode of Ashen's Tech Dump when, after showing off a highly toxic action figure sealed in a glass case with a biohazard sticker on it, he blatantly sticks it so that it's balancing precariously on the front of the desk and continues with the episode. When the case spends the whole episode without falling off, he finally just reaches out and pushes it off the desk himself.
- TV Trash: The Mighty Ducks review begins with Hewy Toonmore (from Hewy's Animated Movie Reviews) breaking into Chris's show by using a remote, mentioning that all online reviewers have this. This is used as a chekov's gun twice. Chris would later obtain a remote, and used it to team up with The Cartoon Hero to review the animated adaptation of Ctrl+Alt+Del. On a much more serious note, Malicia was able to track down the remote's frequency to find Chris and attack him after his review of Masked Rider.
- In The Cartoon Man, Roy and Karen find a number of random objects in a hollowed-out tree, including a pen, a feather, and a glove. The pen turns out to be a "transponder" that opens a portal to an Alternate Tooniverse, and in the sequel, the feather magically turns a man into a talking piece of paper.
- Inverted and played for laughs in the 15th 5 Second Films} Kickstarter sketch.
- During the 2012 campaign of D 20 Live, Spoony makes sure to have his character, Tandem, put a piece of glassware in a small sack and crush it to chunks. Later on in the game, when the party encounters a mutated man-giant, Tandem's first action is to throw the crushed glass in his face.
- Boat Comedy did a sketch where people at an antiques show grossly mishandle a fancy loaded flintlock pistol "owned by Anton Chekhov" with various gunshot-like noises happening over and over again as incidental events. It plays on the trope by deliberately averting it again and again. The gun never fires.
- Petscop: In Petscop 1, Paul follows some introductions telling him to "walk downstairs and, in the bottom, turn right instead of proceeding to become a shadow monster man" (actually, access the menu and press Down several times, then Right). This allows him to enter the Newmaker Plane. Much later, in Petscop 9, Paul follows the same instructions, this time more literally, and becomes temporarily a Living Shadow, something that gives him access to the windmill.
- Mahu, in this case uses a "Chekhov's Game Bug". During his narrative let's play of "The Crownless Eagle", for some odd reason Istanbul makes the game turns go at a snail's pace. In his next series, "Second Chance", it is discovered the reason for this: The hidden portal which will allow humanity to flee their doomed planet.