Follow TV Tropes


Disappearing Box

Go To
I'm gonna make this OCD-ridden detective disappear. [a few minutes later] TADA! He's... ah, he's gone.

"The magician sealed him in her mystical chamber, waved her hands around and opened the box... the trick was great! Ken was gone."
Becky, Detective Barbie: The Mystery of the Carnival Caper

A magician asks for a volunteer in the audience or uses his assistant to place him or her in a regular cabinet. He then closes the cabinet, waves his wand to tap the box, opens it to reveal that the person is gone! A variant has the person then emerge from some other location in the room. It is believed that there is a trap door or a hidden exit in the box (and in the variant, a hidden entrance to the exit location) to make it all an illusion.

A Running Gag in this trope is that the person either escapes or doesn't know how to get back in, leaving the magician flabbergasted and the audience booing. For a more dramatic twist, instead of the volunteer reappearing alive and well, the magician opens the box and a corpse falls out. Sometimes a curtain will be used instead if the subject is bigger.

Since it is a Discredited Trope and easy to perform, the ones that often do this magic trick in media are children. A magician will have to really make it presentable and impossible in order to wow the audience.

Compare Smoke Out, a more combat-oriented variant.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Done in St. Luminous Mission High School, after several students have mysteriously vanished.
  • In Pokemon Jirachi Wish Maker, the stage magician Butler plays this straight... except for the part where he has his Dusclops destroy the box instead of simply opening it.
  • Tohru teleports herself in the place of the girl in one of these boxes while watching a live magic show on TV in Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid, much to everyone else's shock. Exactly what happened to the girl is never made clear.

    Comic Books 
  • An old Little Lulu story had Tubby watching a magician's show. When the magician makes Annie apparently turn into a bird by such a box, he volunteers to be the next person inside—and finds that it uses a trapdoor to drop him under the stage. He decides to sneak back into the theatre to see what the magician "turned him into"—and is mortified to find that it's a big fat jack o' lantern.
  • One of these, operated by a magician’s incompetent assistant, sent Perky to the Land of Lug, and continues to send him to a new magical realm every time the assistant pulls the box’s lever.
  • Wonder Woman
    • Wonder Woman (1942): Hypnota and Serva's signature act involves Serva seeming to disappear from a standing cabinet and then in a quick poof of smoke Hypnota appearing to turn into Serva.
    • Wonder Woman (1987): Natasha uses her new pet "lizard" Yuri to recreate a handheld version of the trick to entertain the other revolutionaries. It's not explained just how Yuri disappears and then reappears in the box.

    Film — Animated 
  • A variation is used in A Bug's Life to help the unsuspecting Queen escape. Hopper catches on to it before it works as planned.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Get Smart, Siegfried kidnaps the chief in this way.
  • Young Indy used one of these to slip past his pursuers in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
  • The Prestige revolves around a variation of this trick in which the magician steps into one box, closes the door, and immediately steps out of another across the stage.
  • Played with in the segment directed by Woody Allen for New York Stories: The protagonist's (overbearing) mother is invited onstage and enters the box, but doesn't reappear. But later on, she magically materializes in giant form over New York and proceeds to embarrass her son.
  • In Circus of Fear, Eddie uses one as part of his ongoing campaign to become a clown. No one is very impressed, but he does use it to play an elaborate practical joke on Mr. Big.
  • In Scoop, Sondra Pransky is put inside a box as part of this trick. To her surprise, however, she's then faced with the ghost of investigative reporter Joe Strombel while in there.

  • There's an interesting version in the Neil Gaiman short story "The Queen of Knives". The magician makes the child's grandmother disappear (after stabbing knives and swords through the box), but she never comes back.
  • Done in Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand, the box is owned by a sorcerer who works as a stage magician and takes whatever gets put into it to another dimension that appears to be ruled by Eldritch Abominations. Kitty gets briefly held inside it and at the end of the story it's used to banish the villain in order to stop him from summoning an ancient, evil goddess.
  • Played with in The Tommyknockers. Hilly Brown's disappearing trick was actually a machine that teleported objects to another planet. After disappearing his best friend, Hilly has no idea how to get him back again.
  • The Woody Allen story "The Kugelmass Episode" has the eponymous character use such a device to be put in the book Madame Bovary so he can have an affair with her. Hilarity Ensues.
  • In Magic: Top Secret, magician Jasper Maskelyne has to search the Egyptian royal palace for a hidden radio transmitter being used to send information to German forces. He gets the Magic Gang invited for a royal performance during which he's locked in a box for the duration of the act, while actually he slips out to do the search. To further delay things, the King is invited to open the box only to find it empty. A knocking comes from another box, which also turns out to be empty. Just when the King is getting rather annoyed, he opens the final box to find Jasper inside.
  • Harry Potter features a variant that uses actual magic to actually make people disappear: a vanishing cabinet. It then reveals that two such cabinets can create a portal between two locations.

    Live Action TV 
  • In the Columbo episode "Now You See Him," the water tank escape act that the Great Santini uses to establish his alibi when he shoots Jesse Jerome has got some traces of this. What the audience sees: He scrunches himself up into a water crate that is then sealed shut and tightly secured with chains and padlocks. The crate is hoisted up into the air, and dumped into a water tank at the rear of the stage. After a few minutes go by, the crate is returned to the front of the stage, and is opened, to reveal Santini's daughter, while Santini reveals himself to be one of the black-suited and masked assistants on stage performing during the intermission. What really happens: the wooden crate has a false bottom, and is positioned over a trapdoor when it is on the stage floor. Santini hides in a break room underneath and changes outfits while the crate is in the tank, then sneaks back up to the stage. It is a 15-minute waiting period, so he uses the crate as an opportunity to pose as a waiter to get to Jerome's office and shoot him.
  • In Doctor Who serial The Talons of Weng-Chiang, stage magician Li H'sen Chang uses this in his act, and tries to murder the Doctor with it. The Doctor walks out of the back of the cabinet, prompting Chang to utter the immortal line, "The bird has flown. One of us is yellow!"
  • In Leverage, they perform this trick in order to get the CEO up to unlock a door requiring a retinal scan. Their way of doing it: they switch his box with an empty one when it passes behind a sheet.
  • Arrested Development has the "Aztec Tomb".
    • In the first episode during George Sr.'s retirement party, GOB hid his father in the tomb to hide him from the Securities and Exchange Commission. George Sr. hid behind the revolving door in the tomb, which kept him out of sight until the police dogs found him. This was broadcast in-universe on the FOX 6 news, and GOB was subsequently kicked out of The Alliance of Magicians.
    • The tomb continued to be part of GOB's blacklisted magic career and was used in "Public Relations" for his retirement home charity show. GOB hid Earl Milford in the tomb, and Earl used the chance to escape the nursing home.
    • The Aztec Tomb was stored in the model home's attic, where George successfully hid on multiple occasions while on the lam.
  • Done in the Mission: Impossible episode "The Falcon" to do a kidnap and replace on a member of the audience. The "randomly" selected member of the audience enters the box, and the IM Force member in disguise exits the box at the end of the trick.
  • This appears in the Monk series episode 108, "Mr. Monk and the Magician".
  • In one episode of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, Zack performed this magic act for some local children. During the act a monster attacked, so Zack had to use the box as cover to teleport out - and made it part of the show.
    • Power Rangers S.P.D. once went after a magician who was caught up in the bad guys' plans, and the Omega Ranger made his grand entrance by hijacking the trick and appearing in the should-be-empty box.
  • Played with in an episode of Matlock. The lovely assistant goes in and disappears...only to replaced by the corpse of the magician's scumbag manager.
  • Kamen Rider Double had an arc centering around a magician who used a Gaia Memory to turn invisible and pull off this trick; the main conflict came because she didn't want to give it up, and Isaka wanted it to kill her in order to "mature" so he could add its power to his own.
  • Featured in the magician's act in Return To Cranford, with a heartwarming twist.
  • One Midsomer Murders episode has a magician's assistant die in the box (which has also been pincushioned with blades). The blades were meant to retract, but one had been blocked, and had been coated with poison dart frog mucus for good measure.
  • This was inverted in an episode of Jonathan Creek when a dead body mysteriously appeared inside a wardrobe two characters had just carried up several flights of stairs, and the intrepid magician protagonist had to figure out how it had happened.
  • CSI: "Abra Cadaver". During a magic show, a female participant really disappears during a disappearing act.
  • On The Brady Bunch episode "Lights Out", Cindy becomes afraid of the dark after she watched a lady disappear in this manner at a friend's birthday party. (Cindy was so frightened she ran off before she reappeared.) Then, when Peter took up magic for the school's talent show and included this trick, Cindy agreed to be his assistant, thus mitigating her fear of the disappearing lady. Until Peter practiced it on Bobby, and Bobby refused to reappear as a joke, scaring Cindy once again.
  • The Magician: In "Illusion in Terror", Tony uses a disappearing box to 'vanish' his girlfriend when the two of them are being chased through Tony's workshop by a pair of hitmen.
  • Colonel March of Scotland Yard: In "The Case of the Misguided Missal", March brings in a Stage Magician who uses a miniature version of the disappearing box to demonstrate how the eponymous could have been stolen from the safe. However, even this demonstration turns out to be a piece of misdirection on March's part to allow him to catch the thief off-guard.

  • Earth, Wind & Fire used to use a lot of magic in their concerts in the 1970s (Doug Henning and David Copperfield designed much of their stage shows). Their main set regularly closed with band members getting into a pyramid-shaped box, which would then rise off the stage. While the pyramid is in mid-air, the bottom would come apart, showing the band members had disappeared.

  • Penn & Teller did a version of the box trick, where Teller is apparently dissembled into his head, legs, and hand. First, they do the trick normally. Then, they use completely transparent boxes to show how it's done. (And, because this is Penn and Teller, the second run through manages to be even more awesome. Mainly because it shows how much skill it takes to actually pull it off.)

    Tabletop Games 
  • The 1975 It's Magic! Magic! Magic! Game by Remco have the players as stage magicians, who must perform with their Lovely Assistant, this illusion, as well as the Saw a Woman in Half and Levitating Assistant illusions.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! has the card Mystic Box, which destroys one of your opponent's monsters in exchange for giving them control of one of your monsters. The effect was slightly different in the card's first appearance in the anime, where it was used to destroy one monster while teleporting another into the destroyed monster's position, when the card was used in a variant of the game where monsters had to navigate through a maze. Its effect is depicted by having one monster enclosed in a box which is then pierced with swords, then the second monster being enclosed in another box, then the two boxes opening to reveal they have switched positions so the second monster was pierced with the swords instead while the first monster is unharmed.
  • A Dragon article about various forms of "magic" in Alternity (sleight-of-hand, Sufficiently Advanced Technology, Psychic Powers and actual Supernatural FX) used this as a scenario for the first one: on a luxury starship cruise, a magician entertaining the passengers falls dead out of his own magic cabinet.

  • Cirque du Soleil's had quite a bit of fun spoofing this trope over the years.
    • Mystere: Brian Le Petit chooses a man from the audience to step into a crate for this. Or so Brian leads us to expect. It's a trap — he locks the guy in it so he can head into the audience to woo his date! Oh, and then he loses the key...
    • Varekai: A man from the audience is put through the "curtain" version via the male clown. Trouble is, the female clown comes back with him, and from there several odd combinations ensue.
    • Banana Shpeel: Two boxes, one on each side of the stage. The idea is to "teleport" one performer to the other, but by the time the act is done, it seems half the cast has been through the ringer.
    • Zarkana: Pocus the clown is put into a box for this trick, but with the protagonist Zark having lost his actual magical abilities, it takes a while to pull off. Once Pocus is vanished, he reappears in a nearby cannon...
  • Disney on Parade:
    • In the first edition of the show, Mickey Mouse, dressed as the Sorcerer's Apprentice, performs this trick by drawing down curtains inside five giant birdcages, spreading some pixie dust, and lowing them to reveal pretty girls inside. Well, four of them at least; the last cage contained Pluto instead.
    • During the opening of the fourth edition, a group of characters stack four giant toy blocks on top of each other and, after a few moments, the blocks open up to reveal Mickey inside.

    Video Games 
  • In the '90s PC game Detective Barbie, Ken volunteered for the act and left through the trapdoor as usual, but unknown to the magician or the audience, was kidnapped on the other side because he was carrying money the carnival had raised for charity with him onstage.
  • This is Harvey's instant kill move in No More Heroes.

    Western Animation 
  • Batman: The Animated Series: Zatanna does this as part of her magic act in the episode where she makes a guest appearance. Though she actually uses real magic to get the person in the box out of the box.
  • Hey Arnold! had Helga participating in a magic act, but decided to ditch Arnold after "disappearing" in his box, imagining what life will be like without her.
  • Done in Max and Ruby with Max as the volunteer and Ruby as the magician.
  • In The Flintstones, Fred and Barney try the trick out on the wives, who find the trap door and decide to play a trick of their own on the guys and make them think they have really disappeared.
  • The King of the Hill episode "Sleight of Hank" Peggy being pulled on stage to help with this trick. The episode mostly involves Hank trying to figure out how the trick is done; at the very end, Bobby explains it how to the viewer.
    Dale: I'm telling you Hank, it's done with twins!
  • In the episode "Decepto the Great" on The Thing, this trick is Decepto's big finish for his act at a high school carnival. The box is blatantly pressed up against the curtains at the back of the stage. He slips out and steals the show's money-box and robs all the kids' lockers.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic features this with The Great and Powerful Trixie! In "No Second Prances", she wants to perform the "Manticore Moonshot Mouthdive", which is the magician firing themselves from a cannon into the mouth of a manticore and then appearing in a box several feet away. She requires the aid of her "Great and Powerful Assistant", Starlight Glimmer, to make it work because it apparently requires teleportation.
  • In the Rugrats episode, "Angelica the Magnificent", Angelica attempts a disappearing act by putting Lil in a cardboard box and having her go out the other end as she says the magic words. Because Lil chases a butterfly, and another one flies into the box as Angelica says the magic words, the babies and Angelica believe that Angelica turned Lil into a butterfly.
  • In the Dennis the Menace episode, "It's Magic Time", Dennis, Joey, and Margaret go to a magic show hosted by Max the Magnificent. When Max needs a volunteer for his disappearing act, Dennis volunteers himself. Dennis knows all of Max's tricks due to him having read the same magic book Max read, so he decides to play a trick on Max by clinging onto the rungs inside the disappearing box instead of standing on the trap door. When Max tries to grab Dennis, he falls down the trap door.


Video Example(s):


Colin's Magic Cupboard

Colin uses a cupboard repurposed as a disappearing box for his magic act, unaware that there is a hole in the wall behind it which a volunteer could genuinely vanish into...

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

Main / DisappearingBox

Media sources: