A situation where a character doing something minor seemingly causes some major effect, although it's obvious that's actually not the case. If the character is an animal, young, or just plain stupid, they might think that they actually (say) caused a explosion by pointing their finger. Otherwise, they'll simply be shocked and confused. Take, for example:
Alice and Bob are playing around in the woods, Flynning with some sticks. But when their sticks clash, they hear a massive explosion! Did the clashing of two seemingly normal sticks sound off such a massive bang?
Of course it didn't, but the gag is that it seemed like it did. What actually happened was dynamite detonating about half a mile away to open a mine, or a warship firing its guns in the distance, or something similar; they just heard the explosion at the same time their sticks hit.
The name comes from the logical fallacy of Correlation vs. Causation (two things happening in succession or together does not imply that one caused the other). This is where the humor or irony in this trope comes from.
Often Played for Laughs (or at least irony). Framed for Heroism is a specific subtrope. It can, however, be Played for Drama, as it can be used to reveal something ominous (like an invasion or gunfire). If a minor act truly does have a catastrophic effect, that is Unwitting Instigator of Doom.
Compare Retroactive Wish, where it's assumed something happened because a character wished for it, but it's just a coincidence. Compare and contrast False Cause, where the lack of causation isn't immediately obvious.
- In the "Darth Vader Kid" Super Bowl commercial, a boy tries to use The Force to manipulate everyday objects around the home, but is continually disappointed. He then tries to use it on his dad's Volkswagen, and his dad starts the engine remotely, making him think he has succeeded.
- There is an entire set of Bud Light commercials centered around guys who draw conclusions of this type between random actions on their part (Going to the basement for more beer, inviting an annoying coworker over to see the game, eating a veggie burger...) and good fortune happening to their favorite football team.
- In one Farmers Insurance commercial, a boy playing in his yard places his toy car on the roof of his toy house. A few seconds later, an out of control car ends up crashing and landing on the roof of a neighbor's house, causing the boy to believe he caused it to happen with his toys.
- Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos: Near the beginning, Alphonse sets off a party popper, and at the same time there is an explosion outside causing all the glass in the windows behind him to shatter. He cries out "That wasn't me!"
- Naruto: A trio from the Cloud Village are headed to Konoha. On the way, Karui throws a rock at Omoi, which misses and falls into a valley. Omoi immediately freaks out, imagining the rock somehow causing a massive rock slide which would level Konoha. Upon arrival at Konoha, they see a massive crater, causing a beautiful Oh, Crap! reaction from the two. (The third member of the team is the Only Sane Man who quickly dispels the notion, the crater was caused in the previous, entirely unrelated arc.)
- In episode 12 of Carnival Phantasm, Emiya Shirou and Tohno Shiki are caught by the lead girls of their Unwanted Harems trying to pull a Two-Timer Date. Saber and Arcruid vent their fury via their more powerful attacks when the scene cuts to Hisui repairing the Tohna Mansion roof. Just as she hammers a nail, the Fantastic Nuke goes off in the distance, and Hisui looks at her hammer quizzically.
- In one of Jeff Dunham's routines, Walter tells a story about how he told his grandson to pull Grandpa's finger... less than two seconds before an earthquake hit.
Walter: He pulled, I farted, and half the neighborhood fell down. He hasn't come near me since! [...] Little snot will clean his room when told.
- The Lion King (1994):
- Simba roars, trying to scare off the hyenas attacking him and Nala, but as a small cub he can only manage a small growl-ish thing. The hyenas taunt him about it, goading him to try again, but this time Mufasa roars at the exact same time Simba does.
- Invoked darkly again in the stampede scene; Simba is practicing his roar (nudged on by Scar), and when he manages a particularly loud one, the wildebeest begin the stampede...which the hyenas had started on a cliff above by attacking them. Scar uses this to his advantage in making Simba think he killed his father.
- The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad: Brom Bones has a dog howl just as Ichabod is giving a singing lesson, causing him to think he produced the sound himself.
- In The Road to El Dorado, our heroes have just arrived in the City Of Gold, and are mistaken for gods. After being asked for a show of godly power, they get into an argument. As their fighting builds to a peak, a nearby volcano starts to erupt, only to abruptly stop just as Tulio yells "STOP!" at Miguel.
- In Batman: Assault on Arkham, the Joker has a gun to the head of Batman (actually Black Spider wearing Batman's outfit). Just as he's about to pull the trigger, Black Spider's head explodes.
Joker: (beat) Best gun ever!
- In Tarzan, our heroes are caged inside Clayton's ship while he and his cronies go to trap the gorillas. Upset about this, Professor Porter slams his fist against a wall, and suddenly the ship tilts, caused by Tantor the elephant climbing aboard to rescue them.
Porter: Oh, by jove. Heh. Don't know my own strength.
- In the climax of A Bug's Life, during Manny's magic act for the grasshoppers, which is a cover to get the Queen away from Hopper, dark clouds begin forming in the sky. The circus bugs think that Manny's act has improved, but the ants know that the rains are coming.
- The Dark Knight: Two boys are mime-shooting imaginary guns at cars on the street. Suddenly, there's an explosion where they were aiming, making it seem as though they caused it.
- In the opening sequence of The Goonies, Clark "Mouth" Devereaux is watching a loud police chase on television while his father tries to unblock a sink. Mr. Devereaux tells Mouth to turn off the television, and he does so - just as the police drive past the house in pursuit of the Fratellis, the local gangsters. Mouth assumes the sounds of sirens and gunfire are still coming from the television, and tries Percussive Maintenance to get the noise to stop. As the cars drive away, the sounds fade away too, and Mouth just shrugs it off.
- In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, there's a scene where Indy is trying to break into a secret passage in a library, causing loud thumps to echo through the library — coincidentally in time with the librarian stamping a pile of books. At one point, the librarian stops and looks at the stamp with a puzzled expression.
- In Iron Man 2 as the hacked Hammer drones start attacking the area, one little kid in an Iron Man masknote stands up to one with his toy repulsor to fire at the drone. As drone mistakes the kid for Tony and takes aim as well, Tony drops in behind the boy, shoots the Hammer drone, then tells the little boy "Nice work, kid" before taking off.
- Mallrats: Silent Bob tries to use the force to retrieve a fallen VHS. Someone bumps the support it had fallen on, knocking it up into Bob's hand. This later triggers his only line in the movie, where he quotes Yoda.
- In Space Jam, Wayne Knight's character takes a photograph of Michael Jordan just as the latter is sucked down a golf hole. After a second, Bill Murray demands to know what kind of camera that is, and that it not be pointed at him.
- In Saving Private Ryan, Captain Miller fires his pistol at an approaching tank, which then explodes. He looks at his gun in wonderment before he notices the plane that has just bombed the tank.
- At the climax of Godzilla (2014), Ford, with absolutely nothing else he can do, points his sidearm at the female MUTO as she's approaching him, clearly about to kill him. She suddenly stops and Ford looks puzzled for a second until the next shot shows that Big G has appeared out of nowhere and clamped down on the back of her neck.
- In The Expendables 2, Barney and Lee are surrounded by hostile combatants and forced to drop their weapons. Suddenly Barney breaks out his Finger Gun and shoots the enemies dead, only it turns out that a friendly sniper synched up with Barney's movements and killed the hostiles.
- In the film adaptation of The Stupids, Stanley takes off his shoe and uses the heel to smash a wasp on the hood of his car, just as a bomb inside the vehicle goes off and blows the body of the car to scrap (oddly leaving both the entire front of the car and Stanley completely untouched). Unsurprisingly (considering who Stanley and his family are, see the title of the film) he thinks he did it.
Stanley: That's a well-made shoe!
- In Warcraft, Anduin Lothar, who is locked in a cell, is trying to convince a guard to release him. When the guard refuses, Lothar snaps and hurls a tankard at the guard, who abruptly turns into a sheep. Lothar looks at his hand in confusion, wondering if he actually did that, but then Khadgar walks in.
- Subverted in a Russian Humour story about a warship. A torpedo is fired in the ship's direction, and the captain wants the bosun to prevent crew panic. The bosun comes to the deck and yells: "Let's bet that I can sink our ship with a fart!" and promptly farts. An explosion, fire, everybody jumps into the water. The captain angrily yells: "You're an idiot, bosun, and your jokes are stupid! The torpedo missed!"
- Invoked in another joke. A very old man goes to the doctor for a check-up and proudly mentions that his attractive young wife is pregnant. The doctor tells him a story about a hunter who picks up an umbrella instead of his gun when he goes out one day. A bear attacks the hunter, who raises his umbrella. There's a loud bang and the bear drops dead. "What do you think of that?" asks the doctor. "Impossible!" says the old man. "Someone else must have been doing the shooting." "Exactly," says the doctor.
- Good Omens: The witch-finder Shadwell mistakes Aziraphale for a demon and points an accusing finger at him at the exact moment Aziraphale's mortal body is destroyed from the backlash of scuffing a pentagram. Shadwell spends the rest of the novel believing he has the power to banish demons with his finger.
- In the fourth Codex Alera book, Tavi's reveal of his true name is accompanied by the earth shaking and a fiery glow on the horizon. We the readers know that it's because a volcano was erupting in the distance, but pretty much everyone else assumed that Tavi had caused it somehow.
- In Starfighters Of Adumar, Wes Janson (extravehicular after his fighter is shot down) fires his blaster pistol at an attacking TIE Fighter, which then explodes. Wedge Antilles makes a mental note to find out what kind of pistol Janson has, only to see the fighter that actually shot down the TIE Fighter fly through the fireball.
- In the Season 4 M*A*S*H episode "The Gun", Radar is blamed for the loss of a colonel's personal revolver (actually stolen by Frank Burns). Radar eventually gets drunk and confronts the colonel with a teddy bear; at the same time Frank tries to return the gun...and shoots himself in the foot.
Radar: (in John Wayne voice) You'd better believe it or I'm dead where I stand! (points his teddy at the colonel) (BANG!) (shocked) MY BEAR WENT OFF!
- In one episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Uncle Phil runs for a judge position against a former mentor of his, who is rather nasty in his campaign. When the former mentor wins, Phil insists that they go to his party anyway. At the party, Will derides his uncle's opponent, culminating in a, "If you don't like it, you can drop dead!" He does. Even though the man's doctor confirmed that he had been in poor health and drinking heavily just before his death, Will still feels some guilt over it.
Will: Come on, man! If I told you to jump off a bridge, would you do it?
- In the episode of Jeeves and Wooster where Bertie goes to stay in Devon, there's a scene where somebody blows a car horn several times to attract his attention, each time just as he's blowing a note in the trombone he's learning to play, with the result that the trombone apparently makes a noise even Bertie can tell trombones shouldn't make.
- In Alice, Charlie gets in one last shot from his crossbow, and then the Hearts Casino explodes. He triumphantly whispers, "Bullseye!" before passing out. Cut to the arrow landing uselessly in the middle of a field.
Jeff: I know it's sad, but death is a natural part of life and by the time I finish this sentence, a hundred people will have died in China.
Troy: [wild-eyed] WHY DID YOU STOP TALKING?! I have to call my penpal!
- in That '70s Show Eric calls out his paternal grandmother for being openly mean and nasty to his mom Kitty. He then flat out says it wouldn't kill her to be nice. She then slumps dead onto his shoulder.
- Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: The Mole Women are in a dark, mysterious tube and are searching for a light switch. Someone accidentally pulls out Cyndee's earring just before the lights come on, prompting Cyndee to declare, "My ear is the light switch!"
- Malcolm in the Middle: One episode starts with a gag where Reese is poking a doll while Hal is screaming of pain for unrelated reasons. Reese assumes he's harming Hal through voodoo.
- Used in one episode of Hogan's Heroes as part of a brilliant Faking the Dead. When a field marshal defects and is chased by Major Hochstetter and the Gestapo, the POWs plant a dummy in the marshal's car along with a time bomb. When they make it look like the field marshal is getting away, Hochstetter tries to stop the car by shooting the tires. The time bomb goes off the exact moment Hochstetter fires, making him think he hit the gas tank instead.
- Arrow: In "This Is Your Sword", Felicity throws her tablet at a member of the League of Assassins in desperation. She watches amazed as the assassin starts to fall to the ground. However, as he finishes falling, she sees he has an arrow in his back and Malcolm Merlyn is standing behind him with a bow. "Oh. That makes more sense," she says to herself.
- Played for Drama as one of the main Red Herrings in the the Agatha Christie play Spider's Web: teenaged Pippa finds a book about "black magic" and casts a spell to kill her mother's hated boyfriend. When she finds his body, she's convinced she's responsible, but is too hysterical to explain why she thinks that, leading her stepmother to believe she actually killed him.
- In the World of Warcraft expansion Cataclysm, there's a game going on Goblin starting zone, of a sport similar to soccer but played by woodcutting robots of death with a bomb for a ball. In an early beta, the player character takes part in such a game, but kicks the bombball through the goalposts so hard it flies into a nearby volcano, which is destabilized by the explosion. In the released version, the bombball flies in the general direction of the volcano (possibly entering it), but it's actually Deathwing that causes the volcano to erupt.
- Surprisingly Played for Drama in Red vs. Blue Season 11. Almost each of the Reds and Blues individually thinks they're responsible for their ship crashing on Chorus, revealed in snippets throughout most of the season. In actuality, the villains had hit the ship with a powerful tractor beam at the same moment as all of those incidents.
- Shamus Young links the failure of MMORPG game Tabula Rasa and its eccentric creator's space tourism in this Stolen Pixels strip:
The publishers are apparently so enraged at designer Richard Garriott that they've decided to launch his ass into space, which seems excessive to me. But this MMO stuff is apparently a cutthroat business.
- Inverted in 8-Bit Theater, where Fighter wonders why every city they arrive at seems to get destroyed, which Red Mage chalks up to coincidence.
Fighter: Y'know, I assumed this hero of destiny thing would involve a lot less devastation in our wake.
Red Mage: In our defense, those cities might have burned down on their own. That we were there every time it happened is possibly a coincidence.
- The Order of the Stick:
- Invoked when Belkar gets an injunction to prevent Miko from using her "Detect Evil" ability on him, reinforced with a class-action suit alleging that the ability is harmful to the targets:
Miko: This is preposterous! My Detect Evil power is granted by the gods, it is not harmful.
Mr. Jones: Oh really? Are you aware that an alarmingly high percentage of the creatures you have exposed to this radiation are now deceased?
Miko: Yes! Because they were Evil, so I killed them!
Mr. Jones: The plaintiff rests.
- Played straight with a dragon who decided that, since dragons become both larger and Stronger with Age, growing larger should make her stronger, and force-fed herself until she became as wide as she is long.
- Invoked when Belkar gets an injunction to prevent Miko from using her "Detect Evil" ability on him, reinforced with a class-action suit alleging that the ability is harmful to the targets:
- The Adventures of Dr. McNinja has a page where two nerds are LARPing in a real graveyard at night. The one who's RP-ing as a necromancer casts a spell to create his own army of the dead—and then a horde of the recently deceased actually rise from their graves as zombies. The zombies were actually an unexpected side effect of Ben Franklin II's immortality serum, but they don't know any of that. As they flee, the necromancer shouts "Jack Chick was right!"
- 6teen: In "Silent Butt Deadly", Nikki is in the bathroom at Jonesy's house, having a bad case of indigestion. While Jonesy is in his room, he playacts being a sheriff drawing a gun with his remote control. Nikki ends up letting loose a very loud fart the moment Jonesy presses a button on the remote, leading to him inspecting it closely in confusion.
- The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius: In "Who's Your Mommy", an energy-sucking alien arrives on Earth at the same time Hugh storms into the utility company to complain about his latest bill.
Hugh: This electricity bill is outrageous, and I won't pay it! (all the power in town goes out) Ooh, I didn't know you were so strapped for cash. Will you take a check?
- Atomic Puppet: In the first episode, Joey comes down with a cold. While powered up with AP, he has a particularly nasty sneeze which produces a large green cloud...out of which appear a hoard of black creatures, making Joey believe he had created them by accident. It's eventually revealed that they were created by Moogie as part of an Engineered Heroics plan.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Momo is playing with some pebbles. He drops one on a rock, but at the exact moment the pebble hits the rock, a nearby Earthbender chucks a rock at a wall, making it seem as if Momo's pebble caused the bang. Made hilarious when it happens twice.
- Bugs Bunny:
- In the cartoon "Oily Hare", a Texas oilman lowers dynamite down Bugs' burrow to blast for oil. Bugs sees the "present" and throws a party. The oilman is then confounded when he detonates the dynamite and hears noisemakers instead of explosions.
- Another cartoon, "Long-Haired Hare", opens with three instances of Bugs playing a musical instrument and interrupting an opera singer, who is practicing in his nearby home. The third instance has Bugs playing a tuba exactly as the singer starts to practice, causing him to clap his hand over his mouth and look briefly shocked.
- In the Count Duckula episode "The Vampire Strikes Back", the title character and his retainers, Igor and Nanny, are at the top of a tower in Castle Duckula, at the bottom of which vampire hunter Dr. Von Goosewing has placed a large quantity of explosives. Nanny finds a case of her homemade sarsaparilla, which Duckula begs her not to open, as "It's lethal!" Just as Nanny uncorks the bottle, Von Goosewing detonates the explosives, and the tower takes off like a rocket. Unaware of the vampire hunter's presence, Duckula assumes the sarsaparilla launched them into orbit, and tries using the bottles of soft drink later in the episode to make a return journey to Earth.
- In Hey Arnold! episode "On the Lam", Harold, Sid and Stinky wanted to replicate Mr. Simmons' Soda and Vinegar Experiment. They tied up 7 rockets together and added a whole jug of vinegar and a whole box of baking soda (and tabasco sauce). The rockets went out of control and landed on the old dilapidated Police Dept. At the same time, Ernie dynamites the old police station, causing the boys to believe they blew up the Police Dept and attempt to escape and become hobos.
- Rugrats: At the end of "Angelica the Magnificent", Tommy points a toy magic wand at a shed that his father Stu was building throughout the episode. The shed, which Stu put together with increasing carelessness, collapses at the exact moment that Tommy points the wand at it. Tommy immediately throws the wand away, vowing to never pick it up again.
- SpongeBob SquarePants:
- In the episode "Hall Monitor", Patrick is eating ice-cream when SpongeBob calls him. Patrick thinks his ice-cream is the one who spoke and has a freak-out.
- In another episode, "Valentines Day", Patrick makes a valentine for SpongeBob out of stone when SpongeBob calls him. Patrick thinks SpongeBob is trapped inside the rock and smashes it in an attempt to rescue him.
- In The Simpsons, Bart visits a defunct spirograph factory looking for Millhouse. Its sole occupant, the spirograph obsessed Mr. S, tells Bart that there's a direct correlation between the decline of spirographs and the rise of gang activity.
- Star vs. the Forces of Evil: In "Demonicism", Star is punching a tree in frustration when Tom insists on going through with getting his (literal) inner demons removed. When the demonicism goes haywire, causing the forest to burst into blue flames, it happens just as one of Star's punches land.
Ponyhead: Harder! HARDER! (forest catches fire) Dang, not that hard.