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Idea Bulb

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Tyler!: Harley? What the [caw] is that?!
Harley: ...what is what?
Tyler!: [points] That!
Harley: [looks up at the bulb that appeared] Oh, it's back again...?

A character thinks and thinks... then, suddenly, has a bright idea! A light bulb turns itself on directly above the character's head. Often with character pointing one index fingers upwards. Sometimes accompanied by an Idea Ding.

This trope has been subverted for decades — it became a cliche almost as soon as it was invented (in the 1920s, for the black and white Felix the Cat cartoons).

Often parodied. Most common subversions are the appearances of a broken light bulb to signify someone is thinking of a bad idea; candles, torches, or other sources of light appearing over the heads of characters who pre-date the lightbulb; and a character getting the bulb, but turning it off, indicating they had second thoughts and decided it wasn't a good idea after all. In shows with a weak fourth wall, characters may even grab the lightbulb off of their head and utilize it in their plan, or may happen to be standing under an actual lightbulb that is turned on by another character. Characters Genre Savvy enough will sometimes put an actual lightbulb above their head or someone else's in an effort to give them an idea. A Dead Horse Trope, definitely. Nearly every example here is a parody or subversion. Often used as part of a Rebus Bubble.

Also, this trope may have been invented in reference to a Mr. Thomas Edison having a great idea about something... what was it again?note  (Or it could just be the concept of enlightenment. Or having a bright idea.)


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  • Current affairs magazine The Economist produced a billboard in 2005 featuring a giant light bulb with a sensor that would light the bulb up if a person walked beneath it.
  • A promotional spot for the animated version of My Friend Rabbit showed the author of the original book, Eric Rohmann, with an idea bulb over his head.
  • A commercial for Red Bull energy drink has Thomas Edison attempting to invent the light bulb. One of his employees brings him a Red Bull, which he drinks; this trope results... and he takes the bulb and screws it into the socket.

  • In Happy Heroes, it is fairly common for a light bulb to appear above characters' heads when they get an idea.
  • In the Lamput episode "Houdini", a light bulb appears next to Slim Doc when he comes up with an idea on how to capture Lamput.
  • In Motu Patlu, Patlu's catchphrase of "Idea!", which he says whenever he gets an idea, is usually accompanied by a light bulb appearing somewhere near his head.
  • In Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf, sometimes a light bulb will show up above Wolffy when he comes up with a plan on how to catch the goats.
  • Pomysłowy Dobromir uses a characteristic variant—Dobromir's idea is always depicted as a marble which bounces on his head until it finally settles down and pops with a bright flash.

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Ben-To Zero: The Road to the Witch they uses idea LCD light in order to conserve electricity.
  • Dr. STONE presents a variation where the form of the light bulb evolves with the protagonists' progress in rediscovering lost technology of the pre-petrification modern human civilization. Initially, upon witnessing old-worlder Teen Genius Senku recreate electric lighting with a carbonized Japanese bamboo filament and a crude electric generator, local sorcerer-turned-scientist-understudy Chrome's idea bulbs for new technological advances are depicted as a pair of hands passing electric current through filament; later, once the Kingdom of Science achieves precision glassmaking and tungsten refining, leading to the manufacturing of actual incandescent light bulbs, Chrome immediately upgrades his idea bulbs to the classic design the moment he realizes that the new bulbs and primitive batteries would allow him and his fellow villagers to safely conduct mining expeditions deeper into nearby caves.
  • Haruhichan:
    • In one episode, Tsuruya gets this when she gets an idea about the leftover chocolate.
    • This was used yet again in the Halloween episode, in which Haruhi gets this.
  • Chapter 170 of My Hero Academia features a variation, in that while Izuku gets the idea to bring Eri to the culture festival to make her smile, it's Mirio who gets the idea bulb; it's notably broken, probably to acknowledge that while Mirio himself didn't come up with the idea, he still finds it excellent. Also happens later on, after the large battle against Re-Destro, Shigaraki of all people gets one after realising he can blow money on sushi, for Mr Compress at least.
  • Negima! Magister Negi Magi: A little lightblub appears over Asuna's head when she realizes that her anti magic fan (which is useless against all the non magic stuff in this arc) is the perfect weapon for enemies like Takane, who clothes herself with shadow magic and has numerous shadow constructs as her fighting style.
  • Nichijou:
    • In the episode "Button", while Yukko and Mio were talking about the fire alarm button, Yukko gets a lightbulb over her head, then evily laughs and tricks Mio into pushing the button.
    • In the anime, the Professor also gets one when she comes up with the idea of giving Sakamoto the scarf that allows him to speak.
  • Not quite the same thing, but the first episode of Ouran High School Host Club uses a set of light bulbs turning on to indicate the members of the Host Club realizing Haruhi is really a girl. The first bulb to turn on is Kyouya, and the last is Tamaki. When Tamaki's bulb turns on, it then zooms out to show a whole wall of bulbs lighting up to form the kanji for "female".
  • Pokémon:
  • In one episode of Rozen Maiden: Traumend, a cell phone signal icon with three bars appears over Suiseiseki's head.
  • Parodied in The World God Only Knows: when Elsee gets an idea, a different image pops up each time - firefly!Elsee, traveller!Elsee sighting a star, Elsee powering a lightbulb with a bicycle, etc.

    Comic Books 
  • Asterix uses a burning torch or an oil lamp, since the series plays nearly two thousand years before the invention of the light bulb.
  • In Larry Gonick's The Cartoon History of the Universe, a caveman having a brilliant idea has a light bulb appear above his head. When he reveals the flint knife he's created, another caveman says "Oh, I thought it was going to be a light bulb."
  • The Donald Duck comics "Archimede e la spedizione all'eurekannone" has the characters head to a land inhabited by a tribe that is responsible for creating brilliant ideas and spreading them all over the globe. These ideas, it turns out, all look like light bulbs when in physical form.
  • De Kiekeboes: In Album 26 the family is locked inside a darkened room and wonders how to get out of this situation. Then Fanny says: I have an idea! And when comic book characters have an idea a light bulb appears. And indeed, soon enough a light starts burning, making them able to see what is happening around them.
  • When Léonard le Génie has a particularly bright idea, or a series of ideas, he lights up and makes sounds like a Pinball machine or Video Game.
  • The short: "How Much Is That Pony in the Window?" from Issue 1 of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (IDW) features an Idea Candle.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In one issue Homer gets an idea and a bulb appears above his head, but it actually belongs to a lamp Marge is cleaning.
    • In another issue Krusty has one above his head, it turns out a stage technician dropped it and lands on his head.
    • Another has Ralph get an idea. And because it's Ralph, it's a candle. But for Ralph, it's a smart idea.
  • The Supergirl story arc Bizarrogirl has a light bulb appear above Bizarro's head when he figures out an easy way to explain his predicament to Supergirl. Bizarro being Bizarro, the light bulb is broken.
  • Issue 26 of The Superman Adventures has a light bulb appear over Mr. Mxyzptlk's head when he gets the idea to succeed in besting Superman by fighting him during his adolescence, way before he'd have any experience dealing with Mxy. Gsptlsnz catches the bulb in a trash can full of other idea bulbs labeled "bright ideas".
  • In The Wuzzles section of a Walt Disney Comics comic book, Croc had one appear in a thought balloon, but Flizzard swiped it out of curiosity. (Croc still had the idea.) Later in the same story, Flizzard got out the bulb and held it up, hoping it would turn on and trigger an idea. It did.

    Comic Strips 
  • Implied to happen in one strip of B.C. were the Fat Broad is trying to sleep but is woken up by a sudden bright light. Said light turns out to have come from the cave next door that houses a lot of thinkers.
    "Okay you boneheads. Whose bright idea was that?"
  • In Drabble, Ralph gets an idea, complete with bulb. His wife glares at him, and in the next panel, the bulb is a more energy efficient compact fluorescent one. He looks annoyed, and his wife is now smiling.
  • Dykes to Watch Out For: Sydney has an idea depicted (and labelled) as a "PC compact fluorescent bulb."
  • FoxTrot:
    • Parodied when, with Paige alternately struggling with her report on Thomas Edison and her father's attempts to help her, a lightbulb appears just over her head - held by her dad, who begins to reel off Edison's inventions. (The look on her face sells it.)
    • Or another where Jason makes a mobile out of lightbulbs.
    • In yet another Paige tries to invoke this trope by taking the bulb out of her lamp and holding it over her head; Peter says that he only does that with 100-watt bulbs.
  • Garfield:
    • The candle variation with Odie, the explanation being that he wasn't too bright.
    • Garfield himself had an idea once. Sadly, he "must have blown a fuse."
  • A Don Martin cartoon in MAD had a brain surgeon cut open a patient's skull and find a lightbulb (in a socket attached to a cord) inside the head. When the surgeon turns the light on, the patient makes the Aha! reaction.
  • My Cage also parodied it; when Jeff has an idea about making the office more green, he conjures up a compact-fluorescent bulb.
  • Off the Mark
    • Some strips use this to show how artists get inspired, except the bulb is made to represent their famous works and styles.
    • Another shows what happens when a cockroach gets one, causing it to panic and all the others to scatter.
    • Yet another has a spider wanting prey to arrive. It gets an idea bulb... and uses its light to attract moths.
  • Parodied in Pearls Before Swine, when Pig comments that they don't have an extra lightbulb to replace a dead one, Rat says that he has an idea. He then uses the bulb that appears above his head as a replacement. His idea was to have an idea?
  • U.S. Acres:
  • In The Wizard of Id, the title character is, in the first panel, straining hard to come up with an idea. Panel two, his face brightens, and a light bulb appears over his head. Panel three, the scene is drawn at a wider angle to show a huge pile of light bulbs next to him. Wizard grumbles, "I need ideas. I get light bulbs."

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • In 101 Dalmatians II: Patch's London Adventure, when Thunderbolt gets an idea, he's conveniently under a sign shaped like a lightbulb.
  • Darla Dimple in Cats Don't Dance actually has her butler hold a lightbulb over her head and say "Ding!" when she has an idea.
  • Gru from Despicable Me also says "Lightbulb!" when getting an idea.
  • In Inside Out, the emotions insert lightbulbs into the Console to give Riley ideas.
  • In The LEGO Batman Movie, the Joker comes up with his plan just as a giant lightbulb (made of Lego) is being carried behind him. It lights up with a "ting!"
  • In The Mitchells vs. the Machines, upon her father Rick's stubbornness on "playing it safe" in regards to saving the world from the machine apocalypse, Katie gets a hand-drawn bulb that looks like her face when having the idea to remind him about times on which the Mitchell family didn't "play it safe", that being done in order to convince him to stop the apocalypse together and thus (originally) finally be able to get to college and leave her family once everything gets solved.
  • Parodied in Over the Hedge, with ideas appearing as lightning bugs (or fireflies, as some o' you may call 'em) slowing in flight and lighting up over the head of the character getting the idea.
  • Parodied in Sausage Party, once Douche gets the idea to make himself stronger.
    Douche: Oh, lightbulb!
    Lightbulb: Yes?
    Douche: No, not fucking you dummy!
  • In the Novelization of Turning Red, Mei describes a light bulb going on in her head when she gets the idea to hustle her panda form.
  • Wallace And Gromit: In The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, when Wallace gets the idea to use his brainwashing machine to make the rabbits he has captured hate vegetables, the light on his van turns on, though that was Gromit's doing.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Parodied in Adele Hasn't Had Her Dinner Yet. Nick Carter is the Greatest American Detective and he's friends with Thomas A. Edison. There is a signed photo with Edison with a picture of a bulb. The message in the photo reads:
    My dear Nick, thank you for your advice. It was a million-dollar idea. Gratefully yours, Thomas A. Edison
  • In Bedtime Stories, Skeeter is fixing a lamp as his nephew talks about the bedtime story they told last night. When he notices that it was only the story elements contributed by the children that come to pass in the real world, the lightbulb comes on.
  • It even shows up in The Big Sleep, as Bogart is sitting on a couch with a lamp behind him, and someone turns it on just after making an off-hand comment that brings half the plot into focus (for Marlowe, anyway, if not the viewer).
  • In Bio-Dome, one character simply shouts "Lightbulb!" when he gets an idea.
  • In Birds of Prey, Harley Quinn gets three pink animated idea bulbs when she gets the idea to destroy the Ace Chemicals Factory in a fiery scene of fireworks to announce her breakup from Joker.
  • Less of an idea than it is a revelation, but when Cher in Clueless finally realises that she's in love with Josh, an entire fountain lights up behind her. Granted, it's not a lightbulb, but it's still the same basic idea of external light = inner illumination. (It's also a fountain, which has its own innuendo.)
  • Edgar Wright used this trope literally saying "Idea!" in A Fistful of Fingers with lightbulbs on sticks.
  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005) The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy]], the bureaucratic planet of the Vogons can detect when someone has an idea and... whacks them in the face with a spade. Originality is frowned upon.
  • Played with in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. The concierge (played by Tim Curry) of the hotel where Kevin is staying gets suspicious and runs a check on Kevin's father's credit card; when he finds the card was reported stolen, a light in an alcove over his head suddenly turns on. Although given the devilish smile on Curry's face at this point, the modern, oval-shaped bulb could also (ironically) symbolise a halo, given that the concierge is planning something dastardly.
  • In Hot Fuzz, when Nicholas Angel gets an idea towards the end of the movie, he says "Idea!" in a dramatic voice.
  • In Inspector Gadget, when Gadget tries to think hard, a lightbulb rises out of his hat. When he gets an idea ("Go go gadget oil slick!"), it turns on. Subverted in that it was a bad idea to actually say this out loud, thereby spraying his love interest with, inexplicably, not oil, but toothpaste.
  • In Mel Brooks's Silent Movie, Mel Brooks plays a movie producer who's down on his luck. He's produced only flops in recent years, and the evil corporation "Engulf and Devour" is about to shut his little studio down. He sits down dejectedly in a chair against the wall, trying to think of some way to save his studio. Suddenly, he gets an "AHA!" look on his face ... and the light fixture on the wall directly over his head spontaneously lights up.
  • Visualized in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Peter and Liz are in a car driven by Liz's father Adrian and are currently stopped at a red traffic light. Liz talks about how Peter always disappears just as Spider-Man shows up, cluing Adrian in on Peter's Secret Identity. Adrian tries talking to Peter about what happened at D.C., and when he becomes certain that Peter and Spidey are the same, the light turns green and he grins.

  • Literal example in Robert Rankin's The Book Of Ultimate Truths. We all have cartoon style thought bubbles (or sleep Zzzzs) all the time. One certain monk has a terrible affliction whereby he can see them, and we can see his. We know that a character has an idea when the monk observes the flashing light bulb.
  • Doctor Who: In the Eighth Doctor Adventures novel The Crooked World, set in an Alternate Tooniverse, the main role of the Crooked World Electric Company is producing idea bulbs. When our heroes bring free will to the world, the resultant "Plague of Questions" results in the company being unable to keep up with demand.
  • In the Elephant & Piggie book Can I Play Too?, Piggie gets one when she and Gerald are trying to figure out how their new friend, a snake, wants to play catch. Naturally, since this is a hip, modern series, it's a CFL.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Arrow. In the episode "Broken Arrow", Ray Palmer shouts "Lightbulb!" as he has a "Eureka!" Moment.
  • On Big Bad Beetleborgs, Flabber has Thinking Cap with a lightbulb on top. When he gets an idea it lights up.
  • A variation of this occurs in Engine Sentai Go-onger. Villain Hiramechimedes has three lightbulbs on his head that light up in quick succession whenever he gets an idea.
  • Frasier: When the two brothers are writing a book, Frasier is struck by inspiration (nothing appears):
    Frasier: Niles, do you see a light bulb over my head?
    Niles: You have an idea?
    Frasier: [heavy sarcasm] ... No, Niles. I'm asking if there's actually a light bulb over my head.
  • In the Good Eats episode "Use Your Noodle 2", host Alton Brown prepares ravioli. At one point, Alton struggles with being able to secure a hand-operated pasta machine onto his kitchen counter. Unable to do so, a light bulb turns on over his head, prompting him to use a run-of-the-mill ironing board for his pasta prep procedure.
  • Hannah Montana plays with the trope when Mamaw buys her a goofy hat with lightbulbs in it for an awards show. When she hatches up a Zany Scheme in mid-conversation in the wardrobe closet to convince Mamaw and Aunt Dolly to get along, the hat lights up, spooking out Lilly.
  • Parodied on Jane the Virgin when Michael has an idea just as Nadine turns the fluorescent overhead light on. Lampshaded (heh).
    Narrator: You know that feeling when a great idea comes to you? [ding, ding] OK, that was just a happy coincidence.
  • Played with in an episode of Just Shoot Me!: Dennis is changing a light bulb on a lamp behind Jack's desk, and it turns on just as Jack gets an idea.
  • Kamen Rider Fourze parodies this. The eponymous hero, Gentaro, has a "Eureka!" Moment during a special test, and as a visual, an Astro Switch was shown when the realization hits. Instead of the Flash Switch as an appropriate Visual Pun, we instead see the Hand Switch. Probably has something to do with Gentaro being an Idiot Hero...
  • The Season 1 Kids Incorporated episode "No Jockos"has a clip where the gang gets an idea for something to get the word out about their band's carnival after a famous clown scheduled to appear broke his leg. However Stacy, being the youngest at just 9, doesn't get her light to come on immediately...but eventually it does come on with even Riley (the soda jerk and the token adult regular) getting one, resulting in the band performing as the clowns for the carnival themselves.
  • One fairly unique live-action example involved no post-production effects at all: the set of the short-lived UK TV series Mr Don and Mr George had several unobtrusive lights on various points on the walls. Through careful positioning of the cameras and actors, whenever a character had an idea, a light would light up behind them, appearing to be just above their heads. This was done so smoothly and effectively that even though the gag was done several times, the audience never saw it coming.
  • Ms. Marvel (2022) Ms. Marvel]]: During a short power outage, Kamala realizes that she can use Bruno to sneak out of the house without her parents knowing, right as the lamp above her head light up (with added comic-book effect).
  • Abby from NCIS might not be able to summon a lightbulb over her head, but when she comes up with an idea, she still says, "Lightbulb, over the head!"
  • In an episode of Parks and Recreation in which Ben gets a job at a new office, after a particularly clever idea a colleague gets up, stands by the desk lamp behind Ben, and gets him to re-enact the moment he thought of it so his colleague can switch on the light at the right moment.
  • In Red Dwarf: "Confidence and Paranoia", Lister's Confidence shows how great he thinks Lister's plan is by literally holding a bulb above Lister's head.
    Confidence: Ding dong! Another great idea from the people who brought you "beer milkshakes"!
  • Saved by the Bell: Zack hears that tomorrow is a Jewish holiday; a menorah appears over his head, and he decides to get excused so he can see a baseball game. (It Makes Sense in Context)
  • Parodied by Dr. Cox in Scrubs: "Either this kid's got a light bulb up his butt or his colon has a great idea." Just to mention, this does happen in Real Life. It is extremely dangerous and often deadly, because if the bulb breaks you can die. So don't do it.
  • In the Supernatural episode "What Is And What Should Never Be", Dean sees the light bulb above his head in the warehouse, and he has a revelation. There is an electrical whine, and the light flickers before Dean sees himself bound and being drained of blood and realizes he is a victim of the djinn.
  • Used repeatedly in one episode of That '70s Show. First during a school assembly regarding the President's visit to town, where the various teenagers have actual lightbulbs turn on when one aspect of the speech caught their interest (for instance, Hyde when the principal mentions that they shouldn't cause trouble to make a statement against the government), culminating when the principal says that they don't like it, they can just leave (at which point the "Exit" sign above Fez's head lights up and he walks out the door). It comes back later that same episode when Red got an idea and the porch light behind him turned on. Played with when he turns around and tells Eric to turn the light off.

  • Inverted in "Song of the Caged Bird" by Lindsey Stirling; the initial lightbulb she finds in a crate by accident gives her the idea of opening the others.
  • Starflyer 59's "Lose My Mind":
    Is there a lightbulb between my ears?
    Could it be 'cause I had an idea?

  • Foo Fighters (2023): After finishing the Wizard Mode, a lightbulb appears right when Dave comes up with an idea for how to deal with the Overlord, who's gone from the Big Bad to an object of pity.

    Puppet Shows 
  • In Dinosaurs, when Charlene comes up with the idea that the world is round, a light bulb appears above her head, which is actually just Earl fixing the lamp in the background.

  • At the Edinburgh Science Festival 2015 strand "The Idea Factory", the lecture theatres were decorated with large lightbulbs with unusually shaped filaments (a microphone, a tuba, a TV set, Vitruvian Man...)
  • In a case of What Could Have Been, Mel Brooks reveals in the annotated libretto that originally, in the stage version of The Producers, when Bloom says, "A producer could make more money with a flop than he could with a hit", a literal lamp was originally going to go on near Bialystock in a nod to Silent Movie. However, this didn't come to pass.

    Video Games 
  • In Animal Crossing, when a neighbour gets an idea, a cartoonish lightbulb appears over his/her head. By talking to psychologist Dr. Shrunk, you can learn to do this as well.
  • ANNO: Mutationem: The Idle Animation of Luper the bookshop owner in Skopp City has a miniature lightbulb appear besides him when he gets a major thought about something.
  • Back to the Future: The Game has a variation: Teenage Emmett Brown "invents"note  a device called the Mental Alignment Meter, which reads a person's mental responses to certain stimuli and is used to determine if they're an upstanding citizen or a hooligan. The test involves wearing a leather cap with red, yellow, and green lights which light up when the wearer has a negative, apathetic, or positive attitude respectively. The player (as Marty) has to run the M.A.M. test while Emmett isn't paying attention and use stimuli such as electric shocks, a song he likes, and smells both pleasant and foul in order to falsely portray Emmett as a bad person, using the lights on the helmet as a guide.
  • In Conker's Bad Fur Day, a lightbulb will appear above Conker's head whenever he's in a context-sensitive area.
  • Cute Bite: The "perfers to resolve conflict by wits" option for the vampire is represented by a light bulb, a.k.a that her Butler tells her she was feared for her cleverness, back when she was an adult.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • In Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, at the start of the Ice Pyramid dungeon, Benjamin and Phoebe encounter a door that won't open. Phoebe sees a switch inside a statue but can't reach it, and notices they'll need something they can use to push it. Benjamin gets an idea bulb over his head, and uses his sword to push the switch.
    • Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII: There is a side quest to find "adornments" for Candice the baton-twirler. When you give her some, a bulb lights up above her head as she has an idea about how to wear them.
  • Golden Sun has a lightbulb as an emotion bubble.
  • In The Legendary Starfy, at one point, just before she pulls off a trick, Snips gets one of these after being beaten up by Starly.
  • In Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, when Mario and Luigi come up with a new version of the Advanced Bros. Attacks.
  • Spoofed in Nintendogs; when a puppy gets an idea, you can drag the lightbulb over to her/him, and (s)he'll eat it.
  • In Palworld, pals display a light bulb over them when they have an idea to help the player.
  • One of these always presides the catchphrase of PaRappa the Rapper: "Yeah, I know! I gotta believe!"
  • Psychonauts 2 introduces Bad Ideas, monsters that appear in people's mindscapes which resemble blue quadraped critters with backs covered in bright red bulbs. They'll throw these bulbs at Raz, where they explode and deal massive damage (representing ideas that blow up in your face).
  • Puyo Puyo:
    • In a spinoff game called Seriri's Happy Birthday, Seriri has a lightbulb appear over her head.
    • In Puyo Puyo Fever 2, a light bulb appears above Amitie when she thinks of a way to get Arle back to her home.
  • This is an unlockable Emote in RuneScape.
  • In the SaGa series from the fifth game onward, this was used as a signal for whenever a new technique was learned in battle.
  • In Tales of Graces f, Pascal gets one in Lineage and Legacies in the Eleth Research Laboratory following the boss fight when the party realizes something is wrong with Fodra's core and she's asked if she has any ideas.
  • Trails Series: In The Legend of Heroes - Trails, an anime-style idea bulb will sometimes appear over a character's head when they get an idea, such as in Trails of Cold Steel Chapter 4 when Emma excuses her talking with her cat, Celine, as talking with a friend on her ARCUS unit. It also sometimes shows up when Rean answers a question in class.
  • This is one of Phoenix Wright's attacks in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3.
  • Played with twice in Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures: The Last Resort. As Wallace gets an idea in the first act, a few sparks in the plug behind him go off above his head. In the second act, it's a sun lamp.
  • The Witches' Tea Party: Pictorial Speech-Bubble animation of a lightbulb lighting up is used by Charlotte when she remembers something, like when remembering that Evangeline met Xaviera before.

    Web Animation 

    Web Comics 
  • Beeserker features a burning trash can for the Sciencemen's suitably bad ideas. The author even mentions that they stole the idea from Beavis and Butthead (see below).
  • Bob and George uses this when we are introduced to Bright Man (who has a huge light bulb built into the top of his head; it's his weapon) when it comes time to cover Mega Man 4. His first full sentence is a bad pun in a slew of already bad puns.
  • Brawl in the Family:
    • In the middle of this comic, Table Etiquette, Kirby and Jigglypuff were thinking of another way to finish their food more quicker, until Jigglypuff gets an idea, and she has an Idea Bulb appear above her head.
    • Meanwhile, in this part of Cocoon Academy, Mario gets an Idea Bulb.
    • This comic also had Wart getting an idea bulb.
    • In this comic, Sarah, creator of "Sarah Loves Matthew, gets this when she gets an idea after Matthew suggests that Sarah put Kirby in the comic eating something.
  • An energy-efficient example appears in Dandy and Company via a compact fluorescent light.
  • The same is done in this Dawn's Dictionary Drama strip.
  • In El Goonish Shive, Sarah gets one when she deduces George's extra grumpy mood is caused by him seeing that Justin has managed to find another gay guy to hook up with and therefore that George is gay and is attracted to Justin.
  • Everyday Heroes: In this strip Summer Mighty has trouble swinging a hammer straight without putting too much force behind it, until she gets the idea to use her Super-Strength to push the nails in like thumbtacks.
  • Played with in a strip from Friday 4 Koma, where the idea warranting a lightbulb is to use the lit bulb to see in the dark.
  • Guilded Age takes place in a medieval setting, so when Frigg gets an idea it appears in the form of her glowing mace.
  • Played straight in this page of Gunnerkrigg Court. (The weird shape of the filament turns out to be an Arc Symbol.)
  • Played with in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! Bob is trapped by villains in a small room, and thinks about how he desperately needs an idea. Then he glances up and sees there's an actual mounted lightbulb directly above his head. He smashes it and escapes in the darkness.
  • Near the end of the original run of Narbonic, Dave gets an idea on how to get back together with Helen. Since he's just gone mad, he gets a cracked light bulb.
  • Nodwick:
    • The lit candle is used in this strip.
    • And in, this one, Piffany, being a cleric, has a burning bush.
  • The Order of the Stick: In this comic, Elan gets an idea and a lit candle appears over his head, and in another it's a lantern.

    Web Original 
  • Whateley Universe: From "Christmas Elves: Fey and Jade's Holiday Havoc", when Jade gets the idea to talk about Teen Pregnancy as a way for Billie, who are both still in high school, to change the subject when talking to her parents:
    Jade scrunched her face up in concentration. Then she straightened. You could almost see the light bulb over her head. "You ask, 'Hey, is my baby going to be a mutant?'"
    "My...!" Billie appeared to be suddenly choking on something.
    "You tell them, 'Oh, don't worry. I'm not pregnant. Not yet.'"

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • 101 Dalmatians: The Series: Lucky gets one in "Barnboozled" when he figures out to drive Cruella out of the barn.
  • Hildy from The 7D will often have a candle appear over her head when she gets an idea.
  • The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius: In "Normal Boy", Jimmy gets an idea, and a lightbulb appears above his head, which is promptly seized by Gus the Janitor since a light went out in the teacher's lounge.
  • Animaniacs:
    • A light bulb appears over Yakko's head at least once. Wakko promptly ate it, which hilariously resulted in Yakko forgetting the idea he just had.
    • The "Good Idea, Bad Idea" segments.
  • It's a Running Gag on Apple & Onion that every time a character gets an idea bulb, they end up interacting with the bulb - getting popped by a bird, replaced by an energy efficient model, used to replace a real light bulb, etc.
  • Early on in the low-tech Avatar: The Last Airbender, when Sokka comes up with an idea (one his first instances of later becoming the The Smart Guy) for opening a sophisticated chamber door, he has his back to a wall and there is a lantern above his head.
  • Back to the Future The Animated Series: Doc gets an idea of how to test his new invention. A lightbulb is behind him - but then Doc walks away, revealing he is standing in front of a lamp, which Verne then switches off.
  • In The Beatles cartoon "You've Really Got a Hold on Me", the four are lost in a jungle with a jeep that stopped working. After applying thought Ringo gets an idea with the cliche bulb over the head image. Catch here is a huge snake appears (it was a worm but a witch doctor turned into a snake) and swallows the bulb! Then the reptile shines a beacon every time it opens its mouth!
  • Beavis and Butt-Head:
    • Sometimes appeared in with the bulb replaced by matches being struck or a hand trying to light a lighter; this was eventually dropped along with Beavis' pyromania to appease Media Watchdogs.
    • Whenever this appeared in later episodes, it was usually depicted as a small, noisy, flickering bulb (giving the viewers an idea of the soundness of the idea); it apparently had to shatter before the idea could be verbalized by the character who had come up with it. Another time a mushroom cloud was used as an equivalent.
  • Beetlejuice: Beetlejuice gets one, but has no idea why it's there. He looks up at it and wonders if it means he's gotten an idea.
  • Betty Boop: In 1935, Fleischer Studios introduced a new character, Grampy, in Betty Boop and Grampy (available for download at In this and subsequent episodes, when Grampy is called upon to solve a problem for Betty, he puts on his mortarboard Thinking Cap with light bulb mounted on top. The bulb lights up when he has the solution.
  • In the CatDog episode "Dogpower", the titular duo are unable to pay their electricity bill and thus are forced to go without power for awhile. When their housemate Winslow notes Dog being full of energy whenever he enthusiastically chases things, an inspirational light bulb springs up above Cat's head. However, it promptly goes out, forcing him to flick it with his finger to keep it on, suggesting that their present situation means even visual metaphors are low on power.
  • City Island: Parodied. Watt, a talking lightbulb, glows when he has an idea.
  • The Clarence episode "Goldfish Follies", which is a parody of early 1930s cartoons, uses this twice.
    • First, when Clarence gets the idea to keep his goldfish alive in his mouth, a CFL bulb appears over his head.
    • The second time, two Clarences get two bulbs, which when merge into one large bulb.
  • In Dan Vs. "The Salvation Armed Forces'', Dan demands Chris come up with an idea. As Chris gazes across the street, a truck for Idea, Inc. drives by, complete with a smiling lightbulb mascot painted on the side.
  • In Darkwing Duck, the villain Megavolt has a literal lightbulb attached to his head, as an indication of his thought processes.
  • On Dexter's Laboratory it was parodied with Dexter and Dee Dee getting simultaneous ideas. Dexter's was represented by two atoms undergoing fusion and producing light. Dee Dee's was represented by two rocks banging together and making fire. Of course, since the previous is a natural process, while the latter represents one of the first ideas from which all science descends...guess which plan turned out better?
  • In one Disney cartoon, Chip 'n Dale are trying to think of a way to get even with Donald Duck. Dale has and idea, a light bulb appears over his head, and he shows it to Chip, who rejects it. Trying again, Dale comes up with a bigger bulb, which Chip approves.
  • In an episode of Duck Dodgers, a lightbulb appears over Dodgers' head when he gets an idea. So he stops explaining his idea to complain to the Cadet that the hologram projector is acting up again.
  • Ed, Edd n Eddy:
    • "High-Heeled Eds": While trying to think up a way to scam Sarah, Nazz and Jimmy, Eddy gets an Idea Bulb, though it flickers out briefly until he adjusts it.
    • In the episode "It Came From Outer Ed," Ed gets an idea for a scam and holds up some turf over his head while saying, "Boing! It's a lightbulb!"
  • A student film called "Employee of the Month" entirely centers around this conceit. The Boss is looking for big ideas — there's even a chart for comparison, although most of the protagonist's ideas don't match up (not even the one he uses to steal his rival's idea, which is bigger than he is). The Stinger reveals that The Boss is a giant moth in a business suit, who wants big ideas because he likes the pretty glowy things.
  • In an episode of The Fairly OddParents!, things go back to Colonial Times, and candles are used in lieu of bulbs. So, Timmy gives people ideas by holding candles over their heads. Wax often falls on the characters' heads, after which they say something along the lines of "I have an idea! ...and wax burns!"
  • Family Guy: Peter gets an idea, a light bulb shows up over his head. He jumps up, breaks the light bulb, and gets his face cut on the broken glass. He screams in pain and forgets his idea. Then he remembers it. Rinse and repeat.
  • Fanboy and Chum Chum: In one episode, Fanboy gets an idea bulb, but it burns out. However, Chumchum fixes it by walking up invisible steps with a new lightbulb, and replaces the burned out one with the new lightbulb.
  • Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends:
    • "Cookie Dough": Bloo tries to come up with an idea... and dismisses Bulby, who had snuck up behind him.
    • "Seeing Red" also parodies this when Terrence is trying to think of a way to beat up Mac and Bloo:
      Terrence: That's it! I need... PIZZA!
      [a flying slice of talking pizza promptly appears next to him]
      Pizza: Howdedoo, I love you!
      [Terrence promptly devours it as it screams]
  • A broken light bulb appears frequently over Billy's head in The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, indicating he's thinking of a really bad idea.
  • Histeria! played with this in the sketch about the inventor of the lightbulb, Thomas Edison. Throughout the sketch, he tries to think of a good invention and a light bulb appears above his head with each thought. After quite a while, Loud Kiddington points it out to him, and he decides to call it "the thing that clicks on over my head when I get an idea." Toast tells him to "lighten up" and call it a light bulb.
  • Jimmy Two-Shoes
    • Heloise gets one in the Season 1 episode "Monster Mutt". It turns into a flame as she puts on a Slasher Smile.
    • Lucius does a variant in "The Product Tester", where instead they appear as Wingding Eyes.
  • Old, direct-to-video cartoon Mad Scientist had as the plot of one of its episodes the titular demented doctor developing a device intended to cause anything he thought about to materialize in the real world. Intended to solve the problem of misplaced tools, the device worked too well, manifesting pretty much anything the scatterbrained scientist happened to think of, from the mundane, to the absurd, to even the abstract. Into this last category fell "ideas" which would start out as light bulbs hovering over the professor's head before adopting anthropomorphic attributes suited to its type. A general idea would gain military fatigues before marching off, a big idea would grow to gigantic proportions, and a good idea would sprout wings and a halo while being very helpful. All would retain the lightbulb as a head though.
  • The Mighty B!: Bessie is surrendered one to save her relaxing hive from her popular top enemies.
  • In the Mike, Lu & Og episode "Sparks", Og gets the idea to invent the lightbulb. In this case, his "bulb" is represented by a thought bubble containing a candlestick.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • In the episode "Family Appreciation Day", Scootaloo excitedly jumps into the air when she gets an idea of how to get out of Apple Bloom bringing Granny Smith to Family Appreciation Day, and she just happens to jostle a lantern hanging over her and turn it on.
    • In "One Bad Apple", we find the spot under the lamp is often where the CMCs go to think.
  • O'Grady: Invoked by Kevin in "Magnets" after being hired as the "Idea Guy" for Eets-a-Pizza. One of his ideas is making a chair with a bulb overhead that he can manually turn on whenever he has a new idea. Harold, already flustered by the praise Kevin's been getting for doing almost no work, is far from impressed.
  • PB&J Otter! Whenever a character, usually Jelly, got an idea at the end of a Noodle Dance, a lightbulb would appear. Curiously, though, it would generally appear off to the left, rather than directly above the character's head.
  • The Patrick Star Show:
    • In "Late for Breakfast", Patrick gets an idea and a horizontal sconce light appears above his head.
    • In "Dr. Smart Science", a sputtering lightbulb appears above Patrick's head on the "How Does That Work?!" slide.
  • Piggy Tales: In Pigs at Work E3 "Screw Up", the pigs are trying to let go of as much weight as possible. One pig gets an idea, a lightbulb appears, and then he takes the lightbulb and throws it overboard.
  • In The Pink Panther short, "Psychedelic Pink", the Pink Panther (the cartoon character, not the gem) is trying to read "The Love Life of a Panther (uncensored)". He finds a room with a chair and a lamp. As with most light bulbs he encounters when he's trying to do something, however, it has a habit of turning off when it's least convenient to turn it on again. He sees a vending machine for lights, and having the wrong kind dispenses three times, he gets the idea to use the bulb resulting from the idea as a regular light bulb. It is unknown whether or not it would have worked, though, because it gets a quarter-second of operation before the lampshade falls down, causing the rest of the lamp to disappear.
  • In Rocko's Modern Life, Heffer gets an idea, but no bulb appears. He quickly asks Rocko what's the "idea symbol." When Rocko answers that it's a lightbulb appearing over your head, Heffer actually makes one pop out the top of his head.
  • Used in an episode of Ruby Gloom when Iris and Misery try to think of ways to get Skullboy's attention (Love spell, long story) a couple of idea candles appear above their heads.
  • Secret Squirrel: The supervillain turned off every single light in the world and covered it in absolute darkness. Then Squirrel thinks of an idea to get a bulb on his head so he can have some light.
  • The Simpsons:
    • This is often parodied to reveal Homer's idiotic thought processes. A variation often has his ideas represented by the antics of a pair of chimps in his skull.
    • The Itchy & Scratchy Show has had the psychotic mouse Itchy actually stab perennial victim cat Scratchy with a broken one.
    • When Homer realizes he could from a bowling team with Moe and Apu in "Team Homer", pin lights go off over his head.
    • In "Love is in the N₂-O₂-Ar-CO₂-Ne-He-CH₄", Professor Frink dismisses his idea bulb because it wasn't eco-friendly, with a fluorescent bulb appearing in its place afterwards.
  • Sonic Boom:
    • In Don't Judge Me, Knuckles distracts Eggman's Moth Bot with a lightbulb and pretends it is one.
    • In No Robots Allowed, when Eggman is wondering what to do with the remaining solar energy, a lightbulb on one of the lair screens lights up as Eggman gets the idea to power up his robots with the solar energy.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • In episode "SpongeGuard on Duty", SpongeBob gets a bright idea and momentarily assumes the shape of a light bulb.
    • In "Krabs vs. Plankton", the bulb pops out of one of SpongeBob's pores.
    • In "Plankton's Regular", Mr. Krabs' eyestalks turn into lightbulbs when he gets the idea to steal Plankton's chum recipe.
    • In "Patrick the Mailman", SpongeBob gets an idea and a candle appears over his head.
    • In "Say Awww!", Plankton gets an idea and turns into a lightbulb after he does.
    • In "Upturn Girls", a lightbulb appears out of Pearl's blowhole when she has an idea.
  • On Star vs. the Forces of Evil, the hearts on Star's cheeks turn into lightbulbs when she gets an idea on how to recharge her wand.
  • In the episode "Rock TV" of Super Mario World, Bowser had three lit candles that played the NBC chimes (the show aired there).
  • Played with in the 3-2-1 Penguins! episode "Runaway Pride at Lightstation Kilowatt". When Kevin gets an idea on how to save the Emperor's Pride, a light bulb alien lights up next to his head.
  • Tiny Planets: One appears above Bong's head when Bong has a moment of inspiration in "Spring Cleaning".
  • Ultimate Spider-Man has one appearing next to Spidey as he hatches an idea on how to stop Venom with a symbiote sample. He changes it from an incandescent bulb to a CFL bulb as it was "better for the environment".
  • In the VeggieTales episode, "The Star of Christmas," Bob the Tomato's character is wearing a lightbulb on his head that Pa Grape's character is trying to get working (It Makes Sense in Context). He then gets a Cheshire Cat Grin as he hits on a brilliant idea. The next instant, the bulb lights up.
    Pa Grape: Ha! Got it! [beat] What's going on?
  • In Villainous during an emergency situation, Dr. Flug is scolding his teammates for not following his plans, which promply gives him a new plan while he was just below some emergency lights.
  • In the Will and Dewitt story "You Bet," the frog Dewitt gets an idea, but an Idea Bulb appears over Will's head. Dewitt gripes, "Hey, I'm the one who got an idea," swipes the bulb and places it over his head. He then notes "Hey, we're trying to save energy" and the standard-style bulb changes into a CFL.

    Real Life 
  • Oddly enough, the human brain uses about 100 Watts — enough to light one of the largest standard lightbulbs (or several compact florescents). "Luminous beings are we" indeed.
    • Then again, if the brainpower was being used to power a lightbulb there wouldn't be enough left to power the brain...


Video Example(s):


How to get across the bridge?

When Pete gets away with the wishes, Mickey gets frustrated. Then, some birds land on him, and he realizes those birds are the only way he can fly across the bridge.

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