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Exploding Fish Tanks

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Smooth, Ethan. Real smooth.

In action movies, it has become almost mandatory that if an aquarium is shown at any point, the aquarium will inevitably be destroyed, spilling the water and all the poor fish it contains out onto the floor. Sometimes this is the result of collateral damage, the fish tank was merely in the way, and sometimes the destruction of the tank is intentional, with the fish - always some deadly and often poisonous species - being used as weapons themselves.

Occasionally Played for Laughs in comedies, and may start with an Ominous Crack. Compare Opening the Flood Gates. For the outdoor version, see Big Dam Plot.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In an episode of Cardcaptor Sakura set at an aquarium, the Water card-spirit invades and causes just the sort of damage you'd expect.

    Comic Books 
  • In an issue of Fantastic Four, Sue Richards is visiting the self-exiled Prince Namor at his film studio when he's attacked by the android Retrievers of Atlantis. After the androids nearly kill Namor by drying him out, Sue remembers that one wall of the studio adjoins Namor's luxurious office... and just on the office side of that wall is a gigantic fish tank. As you might guess, the wall isn't long for this world, neither is the tank, and the water therein is put to good use reviving Namor so he can fight the androids.
  • The Punisher once had to deal with a druglord who kept a Shark Pool with a big glass wall behind his desk. You have all of three guesses as to how the druglord, the glass and the shark ended up at the end of the story.
  • When Richard Dragon, Bronze Tiger and Nightwing attack the Circle of Six at a Bludhaven restaurant the prominent fish tank seems like it's going to miraculously survive the fight, until some gangsters looking for retribution against the Circle arrive and shoot the place up, blowing the fish tank to bits and ensuring the rest of the fight takes place on a slippery wet floor covered with dead and dying fish.
  • Robin: In the tenth issue's Zero Hour: Crisis in Time! tie in Tim and a time displaced young Dick Grayson chase a jewel thief into the Gotham Aquarium where the crook proceeds to shoot the large shark tank when the boys are next to it causing the glass to groan and then give-way, filling the room with water and sharks.
  • She-Hulk: One issue had She-Hulk get attacked by the Absorbing Man by a large fishtank in the Mall of America. He deliberately shattered the aquarium so he could touch the shark in it to turn himself into a Shark Man. This proved to be a stupid move on his part since She-Hulk immediately pointed out that he was standing in ankle-deep water, and he promptly turned into water by reflex and flowed own a nearby drain.

    Film — Animated 
  • In Sing, Buster equips the Moon Theater with a hastily built glass stage and fills it with bioluminescent squids to create a living light display. This becomes his downfall, for when the glass breaks, it floods the theater and causes the already dilapidated building to collapse.

    Film — Live Action 
  • A Better Tomorrow: In the sequel, A Better Tomorrow 2, at the start of the final shootout a grenade flung by Ho kills several mooks... and blows up a tank full of goldfish.
  • Subverted in Aquaman (2018): On a field trip to an aquarium, two of Arthur's classmates start picking on him. The fish and other sea-animals in the giant tank behind Arthur react - including a great white shark that starts ramming the tank wall to frighten the bullies. The tank cracks, but Arthur uses his telepathy to stop the shark before it can deliver the final blow.
  • Black Rat: When the Black Rat initially attacks the students in Classroom 3B, a missed swing of her baseball bat shatters the class aquarium. This is followed by several close-ups of the goldfish dying on the floor.
  • The Blood Rules: The shootout halfway in the film takes place in the hideout of Mike and his gang, which is disguised as a shop selling aquarium supplies, complete with several glass tanks of goldfishes. Needless to say, a few of these gets shot to bits as Mike and his crew exchanges crossfire with the invading SWAT officers. In fact, during the film's opening credits, audiences get to see a CGI-goldfish getting ripped to shreds by a stray bullet.
  • Inverted in Doctor Strange (2016): while Strange's time-reversal spell is cleaning up the damage done by Kaecilius and his Zealots in Hong Kong, one of the Zealots gets caught in a flood of water that is going back where it came from. "Where it came from" is a huge fish tank in the window of an aquarium store. The water pours back into the tank as the tank itself reassembles, trapping the Zealot inside.
  • The destruction of a very large (and thus very expensive) aquarium is the driving force behind the plot of Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, a rare comedy example.
  • The 1944 noir Experiment Perilous was probably the Trope Codifier, as it has a climatic fistfight and gun battle that smashes several aquariums.
  • Le Gendarme et les extra-terrestres: When the gendarmes corner two of the aliens in a fish restaurant, Cruchot (Louis de Funès) grabs a hunting shotgun and one of the aliens uses his Eye Beams to bend the cannon upwards just as Cruchot fires it, which destroys one of the restaurant's fish tanks and completely soaks the other alien, who rusts as a result, exposing the aliens' Weaksauce Weakness.
  • Bizarrely averted in Gigli: a man is shot in the head with a large enough caliber gun to blow a chunk of brain out the back of his skull— and the chunk of brain lands in the undamaged fishtank behind him, leading to a lovely shot of fish nibbling at the thinkymeat.
  • James Bond:
    • Octopussy. Octopussy is shown feeding her poisonous blue-ring octopus early in the film. Later, the aquarium is destroyed when James Bond rams an Indian assassin's head into it (and said assassin ends up with the octopus wrapped around his face and dies as a result).
    • Done in Licence to Kill in a scene appropriated from the novel Live and Let Die which was too cool to not be filmed.
  • Lethal Weapon 2. Martin Riggs breaks into the office of Arjen Rudd, Minister of Diplomatic Affairs for the South African Consulate. While waving his gun at Rudd and his goons, Riggs pretends to be debating who to shoot, but shoots the fishtank instead and strolls off while Rudd's goons are struggling to pick up the slippery fish.
  • Ethan Hunt blows up the floor-to-ceiling aquariums in a restaurant as cover for his escape in Mission: Impossible.
  • Pokémon Detective Pikachu features an underground fighting ring with a Magikarp in a fish tank at one point. It gets shattered when a pair of Loudred end up inhaling some R and start spewing out incredibly loud dubstep.
  • In Push, the Pop Family's first encounter with Nick and Cassie. The Bleeders' screams first make the fish inside the tanks burst, and then the tanks themselves explode.
  • Happens in Rush Hour 2.
    • And earlier, in Police Story 4: First Strike.
  • In the 2008 Speed Racer movie, the mob boss's piranha tank gets a single bullet hole, forcing one of the mobster underlings to sacrifice a finger to plug the hole.
  • Several shots are enough to crack an aquarium at a zoo in Eraser, which then explodes, covering the bad guys with water...And alligators.
  • In the original Total Recall (1990), Diabolical Mastermind Vilos Cohaagen has an aquarium in his office. After he is forced to give the order to kill his brainwashed undercover best friend, he angrily kicks over the the aquarium. The shot of the fish gasping for air was a foreshadowing of the scene later in the movie where several characters are ejected onto the airless surface of Mars without pressure suits.
  • In X-Men: Apocalypse, when the X-Mansion blows up, inevitably a fish tank in the library gets shattered as well, but thanks to Quicksilver currently using his superspeed to evacuate the mansion, he even took the effort to save all the fishes by using a glass bowl to scoop them up and place them in a random student's hand.

  • Done twice in the same book in Animorphs. First when they sneak into an aquarium to acquire a hammerhead shark, and have Ax use his tail blade to cut open the tank so they can escape the Controller guards. The second time is technically an inversion, as it involves the Self-Destruct Sequence of the Yeerk Underwater Base, letting the ocean in.
  • What did you think was going to happen in The Heroes of Olympus when you put Percy in an aquarium exhibit?
  • Early on in The Illuminatus Trilogy an office building gets destroyed along with a whole shop full of rare fish.
  • Happens with some very large fish tanks when Harry Dresden gets into a fight with some Denarians at an aquarium in Small Favor.
  • Stormbreaker: One of the features of Herod Sayle's house is an enormous aquarium containing a Portuguese man-o'-war. One of Sayle's Co-Dragons later dumps Alex into the tank with the intention of him either drowning or being stung to death, but he blows the aquarium up from inside with some explosive gel, and the man-o'-war collides with and kills the Dragon in the chaos that follows.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Are You Afraid of the Dark?: In The Tale of the Curious Camera, this happens to a fish tank when photographed with the titular camera.
  • A killer on Criminal Minds was basically a Surprisingly Realistic Outcome version of a mad scientist, who’s trying to cure diseases with jellyfish DNA in procedures that end up killing people. His jellyfish tanks are shot in the showdown so that the agents are seen wading through water and dead jellyfish to catch him.
  • CSI: NY:
    • One episode has a guy who died when he fell into his aquarium, shattering it.
    • Averted in "Bad Beat," which uses one of the Red Herring flashbacks that police procedurals are so fond of. While Danny is questioning a suspect in her home, she is standing beside a fish tank. The "flashback" shows her holding the victim's head underwater in it. Not only is she not the killer, the tank survives the episode as well.
  • The Defenders (2017): During the fight in the Royal Dragon, automatic gunfire from one of the Hand's henchmen naturally destroys a fish tank.
  • Falling Skies has an alien version: Ben shoots out a tank of Puppeteer Parasite harnesses, causing the Exploding Fish Tanks effect.
  • A narcissistic killer on one of the Law & Order programs poisoned his tank full of exotic saltwater fish when he fled his apartment, presumably so nobody else could ever enjoy having them.
  • It was a very bad idea to even think of damaging Sipowicz's fish tank in the squad room of NYPD Blue. So you can imagine his reaction when it was summarily taken out by a stray bullet from a rampaging perp.
  • This happened to Catherine Weaver's aquarium in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. It also revealed that her pet eel was a liquid metal construct, presumably a part of herself detached and used to keep an eye on her office when she wasn't there.
  • In The X-Files, Agent Mulder's fish tank never took any damage. The fish inside the tank, on the other hand...
    • In another episode, a man who is drowned in his own fish tank reincarnates as a creepy, telekinetic little girl who, after taking revenge on her murderers, telekinetically shatters the same fish tank.

    Music Videos 
  • The music video for Stupify by Disturbed has a recurring fish globe explode for no reason. Guitarist Dan Donegan mentions that they had a stunt-fish for different scenes.
  • The music video for "21 Guns" by Green Day has one in it.

    Video Games 
  • In the Kowloon level of Call of Duty: Black Ops, there is a room (apparently a kitchen) in one of the buildings, with 3 fishtanks. Considering the area is swarming with Spetsnaz, it is extremely likely the at least 1 tank will be shattered in the fighting.
  • Occurs in Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, and is actually used as symbolism/foreshadowing.
  • Can be done at Lee Hong's restaurant in Hitman: Codename 47, although it will attract plenty of guards.
    • The first mission in Hitman 2 has a large aquarium inside the target's house. You can break it to drown any victims standing next to it.
  • The video game series, The Incredible Machine, includes aquarium objects. With few exceptions, if any moving object (such as a cat or a tennis ball) just touches one, the aquarium will explode spectacularly.
  • The intro of Jak X has Jak crashing through a fishtank with a car.
  • Happens during the shootout in the Chinese restaurant in Mafia II. The setup cutscene prominently features a large aquarium between the restaurant's entrance and main dining area. Before control has even been fully returned to the player, the Triad gangsters have already completely wrecked it.
  • In the Citadel DLC for Mass Effect 3, a firefight breaks out at an upscale sushi restaurant with an aquarium built into the floor. Predictably, the fish tank does not survive the encounter. Nobody lets Shepard forget this:
    Miranda "Oh, they shut down my favorite sushi place."
    Shepard: "That's... a shame."
    Miranda: "Shepard, you didn't..."
    Shepard: "I did. Fell right through the fish tank."
    Miranda: "And how did you manage that?"
    Shepard: "It... exploded."
  • In one of the chapters in Project Eden, there is a floor to ceiling aquarium containing a handful of fish, blocking the characters' way and there is no way around it other than shooting it down. The low-polygon fish flop around on the floor for a while and can explode with a greenish spatter (like mutant enemies in the game) when shot.
  • In Sleeping Dogs aquariums are one of the environmental hazards you can use to dispatch you enemies. After breaking one you can pick up a fish and use it as a weapon.
  • While it doesn't happen in Sonic Colors, one of Eggman's PA recordings has him strongly advise against this trope.
    "Please avoid breaking the glass, as it is the only thing between you and ten million gallons of freezing wet death."
  • Happens when you destroy the entire aquarium in Spellcasting 301.
  • The player can do that in the first Splinter Cell.
  • Zork II hides a transparent object in a fish tank holding a sea serpent. The game makes sure you feel bad about the serpent dying in the open air once you break the tank.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Batman: The Animated Series: In "Mad Love", Batman deflects the Joker's shot at him into a piranha tank, creating a flood that knocked Joker down and gave Batman the chance to free himself.
  • The comic version occurs in The Simpsons episode "Brother from the Same Planet" when Homer and Bart's 'bigger brother' Tom have a brawl in the aquarium. After the tank is shattered, they use the starfish as shuriken.


Video Example(s):


Harley Quinn vs Aquaman

Harley fends off Aquaman by tricking him into destroying the aquarium, causing him to react with horror as he tries to save his fish friends.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / ExplodingFishTanks

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