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Had the Silly Thing in Reverse

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"Have you ever pulled just a little too far into an intersection, so you put the car in reverse and back up just a little bit, and you forget the car is in reverse? You are truly an accident waiting to happen."
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A device or technique is used... in reverse. Commonly, it is setting a car to reverse.

In comedies, or a comedic moment anyway, a new driver will pull forward, only it's in reverse. Conversely, they may put the car in gear as if it's in reverse, look behind themselves, and then drive forward.

Often a Sub-Trope of Driving Stick. Compare this to Backwards-Firing Gun for a more lethal way to do something wrong. See also Wiper Start, for more comedic driver incompetence, Reverse Polarity, Reverse Telescopic Vision, Read the Map Upside Down, and Aerosol Spray Backfire.


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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Azumanga Daioh: one of Yukari's trips starts out with the car careening all over the yard before returning to its initial position, at which point she notices she was in reverse. Poor Kaorin suffers a complete Color Failure upon this revelation.
  • Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt: In the penultimate scene of the climactic battle in episode 13, Panty and Stocking fire their Heaven-Ordered BFG from heaven THE WRONG WAY ROUND INTO HEAVEN. Corset can't believe how stupid they are... until a second later when it turns out that the right way because the thing summons a giant foot to stomp him to death.
  • Ranma ½: Happens once in a Filler episode when Akane attempts to drive a go-kart. In the English script, likely as a Shout-Out to the Trope Namer, Akane even says this nearly word-for-word.
  • Girls und Panzer
    • First-time driver Hana almost crashes her Panzer IV into the hangar's back door. She didn't even know how to start the thing a moment before, so not noticing it was in reverse is excusable.
    • During the championship match against Kururomine, Momoga tries to move her Chi Nu Type 3 away from an ambush, but engages reverse by mistake. Though it moves her closer to the opponents, and her squad takes a fatal hit, it saves the flag tank from the kill shot by Taking the Bullet instead.

    Comedy 
  • Jeff Foxworthy:
    • In one skit, he pointed out that rental cars are good for those moments that you've always wondered "what would happen if", but were afraid to try in your own car. Such as one of your buddies suggesting what would happen if you suddenly kicked it into reverse on the freeway. His answer? "a cure for constipation."
    • "If you've ever broken a speed limit in reverse… you might be a redneck."
  • The page quote is from one of George Carlin's skits where he talks about poor drivers.

    Comic Books 
  • In one Archie I story, Reggie invents a bow and arrow, or as he calls it, a vine and stick. ("A very catchy name!") However, he believes that the way to use it is to pull back on the bow part, which results in the arrow falling off and hitting his foot. Big Moose comes along and gives it a go, but holds in "backwards" (Y'know, properly) and shoots a buzzard out of the sky. Reggie storms off in a huff at Moose's Achievements in Ignorance and continues to shoot himself in the foot.
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    Comic Strips 
  • Zits: "N for neutral, R for reverse... and D for disaster."
  • One episode of the "Mayhem Garage" strip in Practical Classics magazine showed a customer collecting his car after repair and driving off enthusiastically... straight backwards into a wall. One of the mechanics then comments "I had a feeling that crown wheel and pinion were the wrong way up." note 
  • In one story from Wally Wood's Sally Forth, a new robot is being tested by having a bazooka fired at it. Unfortunately, the scientist firing the bazooka had it pointed backwards, blasting the President behind him instead.
  • Foxtrot:
    • One of Jason and Marcus' model rocket launches goes wrong when the rocket starts tunneling into the ground, prompting Jason to wonder if they put the engines in backwards, and Marcus if there wasn't a second stage. Cue death from below as rays of heat and flame erupt all over the yard.
    • Roger gets flames to shoot out of the underside of a grill because he put the charcoal in upside-down. Jason quips that if anyone else had done what his dad did, he would've deemed the feat impossible.

    Fan Works 
  • Spooky: One comic has Tombstones put on a pair of steampunk wings backwards. Despite claiming to have followed the instructions, he doesn't notice until he powers them up and they start smacking him in the face.

    Films — Animation 
  • In the movie version of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, this happens when a tank is commandeered by unskilled villagers during the castle battle scene.
  • Pixar Shorts:
    • The "forward when going in reverse" variation appears in the short Mike's New Car.
    • In the short Lifted, the alien novice who just failed his abduction test gets pity from his tester, who lets him fly the ship back. He crashes it downward first.
  • In The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, Captain Haddock takes aim at the villain with a bazooka... and promptly takes out the dam behind them.
  • In Yellow Submarine, the Sub is traveling perilously close to the Vacuum monster, so Old Fred instructs the Beatles to put it reverse only to come perilously close to another monster.
  • In Home (2015), when Oh repairs Tip's car, he accidentally wires the brakes and gas backwards.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The inverted variation (having it in drive while trying to reverse) occurs in The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle. After he and Rocky are gifted a car, Bullwinkle tries to back out of its parking space, but accidentally puts the car in drive instead and rams it straight into a brick wall. Unfortunately, this instance of bad driving is not a fluke.
  • Air Bud: Snively, the villain of the piece, gets into his truck and, fully intending to back out of his driveway, hits the gas. He proceeds to wreck the trash cans sitting in front of him.
  • American Graffiti: Toad, driving his friend's car, waits to drag race someone at a stoplight. He jumps the gun when the left-turn signal goes on and backs up - then when the light turns green he accelerates backwards into a car behind him.
    Angry motorist: Excuse me. I think we've had an accident.
    Toad: Damn it, I won't report you this time, but next time, just watch it! [drives off]
  • In Ask a Policeman, Sgt. Dudfoot attempts to move the Chief's Constable's car. However, when he presses the starter, he discovers Brown had left it in gear as it lurches forward and through the window of Harbottle's shop.
  • A running gag in Austin Powers; in the first movie, he gets a vehicle stuck in an impossible position while trying to back up. In the sequel, he knocks over every possible object around him just trying to go forward.
  • Big Trouble in Little China: Jack Burton and the other protagonists are in his truck ready to escape from Lo Pan's warehouse. Burton throws the truck into gear, they all lean forward...and the truck zips backward, bursting out through a wall.
    Jack Burton: Sorry.
    Gracie Law: Don't you know how to drive this thing?
  • Commando: Cindy tries to fire a missile launcher, but it's facing backwards and it blows up a structure behind her.
  • Justified in Critters, in which the alien bounty-hunters have no clue how a car works and only succeed in making it go in reverse. The driver naturally looks over his shoulder when he starts it a second time, only to have it move forward.
  • Invoked in D.C. Cab, when one of the cabbies covertly adjusts the hack inspector's shift lever and causes him to unintentionally back his car into a restaurant window.
  • Diamonds on Wheels: When Lady Truesdale starts the rally, she has her car in reverse and backs into the car behind her.
  • In Four Lions, one of the Jihads fires a missile launcher the wrong way, missing the American aircraft and demolishing the terror training camp he was staying at, killing many people. The video gets on the news as a comedy clip, much to the man's embarrassment.
  • Justified in The Gods Must Be Crazy, since the driver was a Bushman utterly new to any technology more advanced than a bow, and it was a shit car at that.
  • In Hunk, drunken TV presenter Garrison Gaylord accidentally gets his jeep stuck in reverse and rockets backwards along the pier until stopped by Hunk.
  • Independence Day: Will Smith's character at first, accidentally, when piloting the captured UFO. He then turns the control instructions upside down and retapes them to the dashboard.
  • I Was Montys Double: Has Jimmy do this when he is temporarily assigned to the motor pool where General Montgomery is serving in order to learn his mannerisms. Jimmy is used as a chauffeur, and has virtually no driving experience and puts the staff car straight into reverse and bashes into the car behind them.
  • Enforced in License to Drive: Due to the damage he's done to his parent's car, Les can only go in reverse as he drives his pregnant mother to the hospital.
  • In Moving Violations, the bad cop's squad car suffers a mechanical fault after a collision, forcing him to drive backward during the concluding car chase. As he's losing his temper, he proceeds to deliberately back up into someone's garden and through a brick wall.
  • In Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, Nick lets Norah drive his Yugo, and after showing off her "awesome" driving skills, she parks by the curb. When Nick comments on how far away from the curb she is, she goes to reverse closer to the curb and ends up driving forward ... into a fire hydrant.
  • Power Rangers (2017): When the Rangers pilot their Zords into battle for the first time, Billy's Triceratops is running backwards at top speed.
  • In Some Like It Hot, Josephine (Tony Curtis) is trying to impress Sugar (Marilyn Monroe) by showing her 'his' yacht (it actually belongs to someone else). They get in the motorboat used as the tender for the yacht, but he can only get it to work in reverse.
  • Son in Law: Crawl looks back to drive in reverse, but rides the tractor forward through the fence.
  • Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby: we see how far Ricky Bobby has fallen when he resorts to delivering pizzas, and accidentally takes off in reverse, smashing a woman's shopping cart.
  • The VHS movie There goes a train! has Dave attempting to drive a brand new GE Genesis locomotive under supervision. Since Dave has a reputation for daydreaming when given instructions and just being The Klutz, the locomotive moves backwards the first time he gets it moving.
  • Thoroughly Modern Millie had this when Millie is attempting to drive Grayson's car for an escape.
    Miss Dorothy: No, forward, dear, forward.
  • In Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, among a snippet of news reports being done by Kim Baker is one about the first licensed woman driver in Kabul, Afghanistan, during which said driver goes in reverse and smashes into a stack of goods at a market. Baker deadpans, "That sucks. That sucks for women."

    Literature 
  • John Varley's Rolling Thunder: Podykane tries to drive a golf cart: "Clue number one: R probably means 'Reverse', not 'Ride'(...) I looked for a gear named G, for 'Go', but there wasn't one. I tried D, for 'Dear me, this is harder than I thought,' and away I went." The hilarity only starts there.
  • In the Discworld novel Sourcery, the heroes are attempting to escape from a doomed city in Klatch but cannot get the magic carpet they have stolen to start. Despite repeated and more urgent repetitions of the operating word "Up!" it refuses to do anything. Finally the Wizzard Rincewind comes out of his sulk, assesses the situation, and intones the command "Down!" At which the carpet takes off. When the others ask how he did it, Rincewind replies that he paid attention to the spatial co-ordinate logic of the situation.
    Rincewind: You rolled it out upside-down.
  • A very non-humorous version is part of the backstory of The Pinballs; one of the protagonists, Harvey, was removed from his father's custody because his father had been drinking and put the car in drive instead of reverse while Harvey was walking in front of it, running over Harvey and breaking both his legs.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Top Gear did this in a season 15 episode with on of their Cheap Car segments. James May buys a Mercedes-Benz 190E Cosworth which has a dog-leg gearbox, meaning "left and forward" puts it into reverse while "left and back" is first gear. Once James actually starts driving it muscle memory means he keeps doing "left and forward" and going into reverse. This earns him the ire of Jeremy and Richard who are usually parked behind him when it happens.
  • In the Psych episode "You Can't Handle This Episode", Shawn picks up something and asks what it is. He's told that it's a rocket launcher, and he's pointing it at himself.
  • Similarly, in Stargate Atlantis episode "Condemned", the inmates have plundered the team's grounded ship and are testing out the weapons. They fire the gun correctly, but when the rocket launcher is attempted, they have the thing backwards and end up destroying the building behind them instead of shooting the explosive into the pool in front of them.
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: The Original Series: In "A Piece of the Action", this is just one of the mistakes that Kirk makes while trying to drive a 1920s-style car. It's no wonder Spock didn't care for Kirk's driving abilities.
    • Star Trek: Enterprise. In "Azati Prime", Travis Mayweather is trying to fly a Xindi-Insectoid shuttle. He hits a control that makes it go backwards into the wall of the launch bay.
      Travis: I think I found reverse.
      Trip: Great, but unless we plan to fly in ass-first, we'd better figure out how to make it go forward.
  • MythBusters: Inverted and thankfully averted, as Jamie reminds Adam that since his excavator is facing backwards on the dump truck, he doesn't have to set it to reverse.
  • Last of the Summer Wine: When Edie is learning to drive, she engages reverse instead of first and nearly backs into the protagonists. Her husband Wesley, who's used to her driving, merely comments "Sometimes she does that."
  • Doctor Who: In "The Time of the Doctor", a wooden Cyberman threatens the Doctor with an arm-mounted flamethrower. The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver on the Cyberman to no apparent effect, then explains that his device was set to make the Cyberman's own weapon fire backwards. The Cyberman promptly flips its weapon around to point in the opposite direction, only to incinerate itself instead of the Doctor when it tries to kill him. The Doctor then admits to the burning wreckage that his screwdriver doesn't affect wood.
  • Silver Spoons:
    • Inverted: Grandpa tries to teach Ricky to drive, and his attempt to reverse to car moves it forward, crashing it through a wall, leading to this gag:
      Ricky: I thought I was in reverse!
      Grandpa: Well let me put it this way. You weren't.
    • And the same joke is used in The Stinger when Grandpa tries to drive.
    • And to top it all off, a clip of The Stinger is played in reverse — with the damage being undone — during the closing credits! This time, the car really was in reverse.
  • In the TV movie version of How to Be a Perfect Person in Just Three Days, Milo, the main character who is too young to drive, tries to back his brother's car out of the garage to clean it. He puts the car in gear, looks carefully over his shoulder, hits the gas, and drives forward all the way through the garage wall.
  • Odd Squad: In "Flawed Squad", Shapeshifter grabs Father Time's staff and attempts to use it to freeze Odd Squad. Father Time points out that she is holding it the wrong way round just before she activates it and freezes all of the villains.
  • The Benny Hill Show. A spoof of The A-Team had Mr. T firing a LAWS rocket the wrong way round, and blowing up a public lavatory another member of the Team was using.
  • In an episode of Scrapheap Challenge where the challenge was a drag race, one team had no option but to turn their car 180 degrees and put the silly thing in reverse because that was the only gear that worked.
  • Ms. Marvel (2022) has Kamala Khan start and end her driving exam by accelerating full-speed in reverse into another car. The driving examiner's car, to be specific.

    Music 
  • Inverted in The Firm's novelty song "Star Trekkin", in which the crew asserts that they're only "boldly going forward" because they can't find reverse.

    Radio 

    Roleplay 
  • Dino Attack RPG:
    • As a Shout-Out to the aforementioned example from Independence Day, Rex's first attempt to drive an Iron Predator after several months of inactivity resulted in driving in reverse because the control instructions were accidentally placed upside-down.
    • This also happened to Elizabeth the first time she tried to drive an Iron Predator, demolishing a T-1 Typhoon in the process.

    Video Games 
  • World of Warcraft has a scene with a Dwarf test driving a new tank a Gnome just built. Due to being built on the spot with random parts, the gearbox was in backwards, and the tank takes off in reverse.
  • A variant in Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando: Fake Ultimate Hero turned Big Bad Captain Qwark attempts to use Angela's Helix-o-Morph to neutralize the monstrous tendencies of the original Protopet and take credit for saving the Bogon Galaxy from the disaster that he had orchestrated, but it instead mutates and grows giant, becoming the game's Final Boss. After the Protopet is subdued, the reason why it transformed the way it did turns out to be that the Helix-o-Morph's batteries were simply in backwards.
  • Often overlaps with Damn You, Muscle Memory! when dealing with franchise games that involve driving, yet have control schemes for that activity change between games (i.e. Grand Theft Auto).
  • A random gag in Space Quest that sometimes happens when Roger Wilco starts up his hover skimmer on Kerona. He accidentally backs it into a wall, then drives out properly.
  • In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, Luigi ends up smashing one of his karts in a kart race thanks to doing this. This actually helps him win since everyone else followed his lead, and by the end his kart was the only one that worked enough to finish the race.
  • Avencast: Rise of the Mage: Invoked; The dictatorial founder of the titular Wizarding School uses a Vampiric Draining machine to execute his political rivals and enhance his own power, so the Player Character sets the machine in reverse to get him Hoist by His Own Petard.
  • Summertime Saga: In the climax, MC commandeers an RPG launcher from the Russian gang's armory, but since he's holding it backwards, all it does is destroy the room behind him. Fortunately, Tony, Officer Harold, and Father Keeves come to his aid and dispatch all the mooks.

    Web Animation 
  • Animator vs. Animation has an interesting example: the Skeleton from "Monster School" aims better when Red reverses it's bow.
  • Super Mario Bros. Z had a scene where Professor E. Gadd drove his Poltergust 3000 backwards, in a direct homage to the Duck Dodgers scene.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • Looney Tunes:
    • The Trope Namer is "Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century", when Duck Dodgers initially launches his rocket ship into the ground.
      Dodgers: Ooops! Heh... had the silly thing in reverse!
    • Witch Hazel had the same problem with her broom in "A Witch's Tangled Hare". (She tends to have mistakes with brooms a lot. In another cartoon, she grabs a broom, and it starts sweeping the floor — with her on it. "Silly me," she says, red-faced, "that was my sweeping broom!")
    • In "Mad as a Mars Hare", Marvin accidentally set his space-time gun in reverse, resulting in Bugs becoming a neanderthal rabbit.
  • In the DuckTales episode "Superdoo!", two inept alien criminals are scheming to recover their stolen power crystal. One of their plots involves destroying the summer camp with an alien bazooka; unfortunately, the one holding the bazooka is holding it backwards, and it ends up blasting the forest behind them instead.
  • In a Men in Black: The Animated Series episode, J finds an alien flamethrower and threatens the monster of the week with it. Then it turns out the weapon was really pointed at his own head, the thing he thought to be the scope really being where the flames came from. Leads you to wonder... why would a flamethrower have a scope? The monster even tells him that it's in reverse, and after J doesn't listen, shrugs "Just trying to be helpful."
  • Celebrity Deathmatch:
    • The Men in Black gag is re-used in an episode where Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones compete as their MIB characters against the stars of The X-Files
    • In one episode where a Humongous Mecha (piloted by the band 98 Degrees) goes out of control and starts wrecking the city, Steve Austin brings out an enlarging ray and tells Nick to use it on him so he can bring down the Mecha himself. Unfortunately, Nick points it backwards and hits Jessica Simpson instead. (Fortunately, she manages to do the job just as well.)
  • Lilo & Stitch: The Series: In "Yaarp", when Pleakly tried to capture Experiment 613 (Yaarp) with the vacuum attached container, instead of sucking in Yaarp, it blew him into a wall of the cave, causing Pleakly to say "Darn thing's still in reverse!"
  • Sym-Bionic Titan: in the flashback episode, Ilana and Hobbes, her bodyguard, are able to tank-jack, but since the bodyguard was too wounded, Ilana had to drive the tank. The first thing she does at the controls is drive the tank in reverse.
  • Taz-Mania: Happens at the end of "Bird-Brained Beast" when the Platypus Brothers back their truck over Taz as they are leaving.
  • The opening of Wacky Races has Dick Dastardly putting the Mean Machine in reverse accidentally, causing him to smash into and crack the steel beam on which the other racers have been chained to.
  • The Hair Bear Bunch: Square Bear's invisible motorcycle goes in reverse after he says "Geronimo!" backwards.
  • In the fourth episode of The Transformers, Spike and Bumblebee have just finished spying on the Decepticons and learned their Evil Plan. Bumblebee transforms into car mode and then drives himself backwards off the cliff onto the surprised Decepticons. Just how bad a driver are you when you forget that the car is in reverse when you're the car?
  • The Sheep in the Big City episode "Oh, the Ewemanity" involved Sheep becoming gigantic after getting hit with a growth ray. General Specific at one point accidentally makes himself taller with the same growth ray due to thinking he can shrink Sheep to normal size by aiming the ray backwards.
  • Star Wars: Droids: In "Race to the Finish", Tig Fromm declares that our heroes won't get away, and that his own damaged hyperdrive is working just fine. As soon as he activates it, though, his shuttle jumps into hyperspace backwards.

    Real Life 
  • There are countless Hilarious Outtakes taken from film and TV productions showing actors behind the wheel attempting to drive forward but going backwards instead. And at least one Darwin Award.
  • There's a reason why knitters should knit all stitches in their row. If they pick it up later, they could accidentally work the next row without realizing they had other stitches in the previous one.
  • Often done intentionally as insurance scams; by backing into the car behind them so it looks like the scammer was rear-ended, exploiting the fact that the rule of thumb is that the car behind is at fault. Less prominent now due to the increased prevalence of dash cams.
  • Among the countless mockeries heaped on the first President George Bush's Vice President, Dan Quayle, was the occasion when Quayle toured a military gunnery range and held and aimed an RPG launcher (a.k.a. a bazooka)... backwards. (Fortunately, he didn't fire it.)

 
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