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Imported Alien Phlebotinum

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"I discovered recently that the Nobel Prize panel does not disqualify submissions if the scientific advances in question have been stolen from extraterrestrials rather than humans. I estimate that I am now owed at least six of them and would greatly appreciate if you would use these new plasma weapons to keep Stockholm safe until the end of the war."
Chief Research Officer, Xenonauts

A nifty trick to get some of the traditional Science Fiction capabilities in a show that's set in the present. Rather than growing your own Phlebotinum, just have a passing Sufficiently Advanced Alien dump some on you.

The biggest advantage of using imported phlebotinum is that it allows you to do a Science Fiction story with characters who are more like contemporary humans without begging for too much credulity from the audience. We don't need an enclave of scientists who are way smarter than anyone ought to be, we don't need to have a super-powered masquerade operating in total secrecy, and we don't need to set the show in The Future, speculating what society will look like and probably date ourselves when we get it wrong. John Q. Ordinary guy just gets some uber-technology from another world dropped in his lap.

Allows for even more Phlebotinum Breakdown than usual, since our heroes often have only a passing understanding of how it works.

You can also fuse your Imported Alien Phlebotinum with the home-grown variety to produce hybrid devices which do wacky things. The process of contriving such devices leads to a good MacGyver-style plot.

Additionally, we get a reasonable explanation for No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup and Disposable Superhero Maker if the phlebotinum is something that can't be reproduced with Earth technology.

Sometimes the aliens do this on purpose, to lend us humans a helping hand. Sometimes, it's an accident. In the latter case, they might show up later and want it back. Violently.

Does not cover natural resources which are extra-terrestrial in origin, such as super-alloys from meteors; those are Green Rocks.

If the technology is not fully understood then it's an example of the Black Box.

On the other hand, if we manage to reverse-engineer it to the point of making it part of everyday technology, then E.T. Gave Us Wi-Fi is in effect.

See also Lost Technology, which is inherited from advanced beings of the same planet, but a different time.

See Spice of Life when it is an edible resource with some use in space.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • With the exception of the magic-based Golden Age version, the Green Lantern Rings are an explicit example, having been given to the various worthies by the nigh-omnipotent Guardians of Oa.
  • Marvel's X-Men got a lot from the Shi'ar thanks to Professor Xavier being Lilandra's consort.
  • The 1990s comics sequel to Lost in Space used this as a Retcon to explain how Earth could have interstellar technology in 1997. The Jupiter 2 had been reverse engineered from a crashed alien ship from Alpha Centauri. The "foreign agents" who employed Dr. Smith were revealed to be Alpha Centaurians working to prevent humanity from reaching their world.
  • Iron Man's archenemy the Mandarin has ten rings of power. These rings were found on a crashed spaceship of Makluan origin.
  • DC's third Blue Beetle, Jaime Reyes, gets his powers from an advanced piece of technology that's presumed in-universe to be magic related, but the series slowly reveals that it was deliberately sent to Earth by an unknown alien species. Unfortunately, the Beetle was designed to infiltrate and slowly conquer Earth.
  • Scarlet Traces, a trilogy beginning with The War of the Worlds and expanding into an Alternate History in which Britain is an alien-fuelled superpower, is chock full of reverse-engineered alien technology.
  • A major recurring plot point in IDW Publishing's Transformers series. The Tyrest Accords explicitly prohibit any alien races from using Cybertronian tech, and prohibit Cybertronians from attempting to export such tech to other races. This was agreed to very early on in the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons, and is one of the few points of agreement between the factions, because the consequences of widespread Cybertronian weaponry are too ugly to contemplate. Optimus Prime recently declared Earth a colony of Cybertron, partially because Earth's governments had been scavenging Cybertronian tech and the Galactic Council would come down on them with extreme prejudice.
    • Speaking of, scavenged Cybertronian tech is how IDW revived M.A.S.K..
  • The technology that makes the titular room of Clean Room work was salvaged from disabled demon vessels.
  • Ultimate Galactus Trilogy: Tony and Reed would like to reverse-engineer Marvel's armor so badly...
  • Wonder Woman (1987): Wondy ends up far from home in the Sangtee Empire when she's sent on a rescue mission with modified New Genesis tech, that has been sabotaged in an attempt to kill her or at least get her out of the way.
  • The alien Horde in Strikeforce: Morituri live by this trope, as they are Planet Looters who stole everything from other species.
  • Judge Dredd: Mega-City One has a functioning Interdimensional Travel Device, but it was reverse-engineered from technology brought over by the Dark Judges from their Mirror Universe. A double whammy, as it's not even native to their own dimension either—they just stole it from four aliens who happened to visit Deadworld by mistake.
  • In Double Duck, the Agency's advanced technology is eventually revealed to be derived from an Extransformer shield created with Coronan technology and lost by Paperinik in the past.

    Fan Works 
  • Code Prime: In this story, Sakuradite is actually another name for energon, which also explains how Britannia knows where to find most of it - Megatron gave them the locations, in exchange for a cut of the Sakuradite.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live Action 
  • District 9 uses a variation of this trope. The alien "Prawns" have super weapons that evil Mega-Corp MNU would love to figure out, but the weapons only work with alien DNA. When an accident causes Wikus, the film's protagonist, to begin transforming into a prawn, he becomes able to use the weapons — which results in both MNU and Nigerian gangsters chasing him so they can figure out how to access his power themselves.
  • This was the whole premise of Explorers.
  • Also the premise of My Science Project.
  • Parodied in Men in Black.
  • The Meteor Man: The title character survives a direct hit from a meteor, and gains superpowers.
  • Independence Day: Resurgence takes place 20 years after the end of Independence Day. Since then, humanity has rebuilt and has reverse-engineered some alien tech to create more powerful weapons and defenses, as well as allowing humans to establish bases on the Moon, Mars, and Rhea (one of Saturn's moons). Even then, though, it may not be enough to defeat an even greater force coming for Earth.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • A minor plot point in Avengers: Age of Ultron involves HYDRA using reverse-engineered Chitauri tech from the first Avengers movie to outfit its soldiers. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver end up getting their powers from the Chitauri scepter Loki once wielded, and The Vision is later brought to life by the Mind Stone within the scepter.
    • In Spider-Man: Homecoming, the entire modus operandi of the Vulture's gang is to steal technology left over from the Avengers' various fights, including the aforementioned Chitauri tech, which their Gadgeteer Genius Phineas "The Tinkerer" Mason uses to create various weapons and other gear to sell on the black market (as well as for the gang's own use, as seen with Vulture's exo-suit and Shocker's gauntlet). The incongruity of petty criminals armed with advanced alien superweapons is lampshaded by a prospective buyer, who accuses the gang of trying to upsell him while emphasizing that he's not trying to send someone back in time.
  • In Aquaman, Black Manta constructs his suit of Powered Armor by using Atlantean technology gifted to him by King Orm. He ends up reverse-engineering an Atlantean plasma cannon to serve as his helmet's Eye Beams.
  • Alita: Battle Angel: Alita's second body, the Berserker body, is an ancient nanotechnology and plasma-based battle body from Mars which is Lost Technology on Earth That Used to Be Better.
  • Captive State: Inverted. Most modern computing technology seems to have disappeared: people call each other on pay phones, take photos with Polaroid cameras, etc. Any remaining high tech is part of the police surveillance apparatus. This is a result of the Internet being largely shut down to stifle any opposition.

  • In Armada, all the technologies used by the EDA to fight back against the alien invasion are reverse engineered from crashed alien drones. This was intentional, though, as the whole thing is a Secret Test of Character that determines whether humanity will be allowed to join the galactic community or destroyed.
  • In the Into the Looking Glass series by John Ringo, Earth is attacked by an Organic Technology using Hive Mind through a series of "portals" opened up by a lab mishap. Humans also encounter a friendly alien species, the Adar, who give them a literal Black Box created by a (different) species of Sufficiently Advanced Aliens. After a brief period in which the device appears to have no function save as a "reusable nuclear hand grenade," they conclude that they were using it wrong and find a way to use it as a Faster-Than-Light Travel drive. This allows them to build a starship that can travel faster than light, but doesn't give them any other typical science fiction technology (although they manage to invent some of the nearer, harder-science applications themselves). Much of the drama of the second and third novels comes from the crew of the ship finding themselves in Star Trek situations without the advantage of things like phasers, tricorders, and transporters.
  • Arkady and Boris Strugatsky's novel Roadside Picnic features "stalkers" who search an area called the Zone for alien artifacts left behind on Earth. Arguably a deconstruction of the trope — the items found in the Zone are powerful, but so alien that most are completely incomprehensible to humans, and many pose equally incomprehensible, and potentially lethal, dangers... And it's entirely possible that they are all simply alien garbage, left behind by visitors who treated Earth as an insignificant roadside stop on their journey.
  • The Frederik Pohl novel Gateway relates the misadventures of a "prospector" seeking fame and fortune by traveling aboard abandoned but still-functional alien spacecraft, discovered by humans on Gateway, an ancient, hollowed-out asteroid inside Venus' orbit. The problem: no one knows how the spaceships work, only that they travel faster-than-light to preset destinations on missions of unpredictable durations. Also, ships don't always make it back, and there's no guarantee that the crew will be alive even if they do.
  • In Carl Sagan's novel Contact, the travel spheres which are the focus of the entire book are this. Unlike most examples, no materials are imported, and it's up to the earthlings to duplicate the metallurgical and chemical technologies required to actually create them. The plans are buried within a complex radio signal, and all nations on Earth start building them. To say the least, they are terrifically expensive.
  • The Escafil device from Animorphs. Or any other technology more remarkable than you might find in a high school. Also broccoli. In the Animorphs universe, Earth had actually been colonized millions of years ago by a pacifist race who brought with them the main staple crop of their society, yes broccoli. The reason there's no evidence of them is that the meteor that hit earth was aimed at earth by a race that hated the pacifistic one, they got a bull-eye strike right on the colony.
  • Half of the technology of Known Space. We got FTL from Outsiders, and everything else from starfish. Except the life-extending drug Boosterspice, which we got from our extraplanetary ancestors. Also variable-swords, which we got from even older Abusive Precursors. And we got indestructible GP hulls and teleportation booths from Puppeteers. And the unique Soft Weapon, left over from the Slaver empire.
  • Ender's Game has instantaneous communication from the Buggers, along with artificial gravity and other technologies that were reverse-engineered from the Bugger starships. This is Ret Conned in the prequels, and the gravity-related tech turns out to be purely human, including the Little Doctor (whose prototype "gravity lasers" are used back during the First Invasion).
  • "Cleaning Up", a short story by Iain M. Banks (published in State of the Art), is a humorous subversion of the trope. At the height of the Cold War, bits of Imported Alien Phlebotinum start materializing all around the world, seemingly at random. The U.S. Military scrambles to understand and find some use for the devices before the Soviets do, but before too long it turns out the whole thing was caused by a hilariously malfunctioning alien garbage disposal system. Features an Anti-Gravity Hover Tank built out of the equivalent of a stained water-bed from an alien No-Tell Motel.
  • Against a Dark Background, a non-Culture Sci Fi novel by Iain M. Banks, uses this trope as its main narrative driver. The heroine, Sharrow, is forced onto a quest to recover the last known 'Lazy Gun', one a group of bizarre artifacts from an apparently alien technology which were found floating amongst the space wreckage of a destroyed planet in the home system a very long time ago. Lazy Guns are described as having a number of physical anomalies, such as weighing twice as much upside down as right-side-up, plus a freakish sense of humour. They have both caused wars and been used as weapons in war, as well as worshipped as gods and as relics of gods. It is not quite clear whether they are really Imported Alien Phlebotinum, originating outside the home solar system, or simply Lost Technology of the Ancients. The search means that the Lazy Gun functions in the narrative as the MacGuffin.
  • In the Troy Rising series alien computer chips act as this at the beginning. Earth's computer industry is devastated due to a shortage of rare materials and the alien tech is so sophisticated that a single circuit board can replace a supercomputer. Later on the protagonist starts importing alien A.I.s and gravity manipulation technology to run his industrial empire. He is able to produce more on his own after a while but is still unable to make any from scratch. An existing AI is needed to make more A.I.s and any gravity manipulation technology manufacture requires existing gravity manipulation tools.
  • Partly played straight in Harry Turtledove's Worldwar series, where the Race is more advanced than humanity during World War II (and, in some cases, is more advanced than us 21st century humans). A small chunk of the series is spent on several characters attempting to reverse-engineer parts of the Race technology and incorporate it into its human counterparts. They, more or less, succeed with taking apart and figuring out how to improve human (mostly British) jet engines, and the Germans manage to get their hands on an intact alien tank (traded for a bag of ginger). Later on, a mutiny takes place on a lizard base in Siberia, and the mutineers surrender to the Soviets, believing they'll be treated well (not a very good assumption), providing them an entire military base to study. The British, notably, fail to figure out how the Race radar works, given that it uses integrated circuits instead of vacuum tubes (or valves, if you're British). At that point, it's very much a Black Box, which the Brits, nevertheless, attempt to integrate into their new jet fighters in order to try to match the enemy in performance. By the Colonization series, the war is over, and the humans and the lizards have to live side-by-side (more or less), resulting in much more technology being traded and studied. In Homeward Bound, the first human starship, the Admiral Peary, is based on the Race design. However, by the end of the novel, humanity has surpassed the Race by introducing Faster-Than-Light Travel, something the Race didn't even think was possible in tens of thousands of years of space travel. By their own estimates, it will take them about 75 years to build their own versions, and, by that point, what else will humans think of?
  • The Hyperspace Gates in The Lost Fleet were given to humanity by an enigmatic alien race. This proves to be a major plot point later because the aliens retain remote control as well as the ability to detonate them. In a spin-off series, The Alliance manages to get their hands on a Bear-Cow superbattleship, although that ends up getting destroyed by the Dark Fleet.
  • Inverted in the Destroyermen series, which has humans occasionally crossing over into an Alternate Universe, where evolution took a radically different turn. The Grik are a race of extremely-aggressive Lizard Folk whose tactics mainly involve Attack! Attack! Attack! and We Have Reserves. Their goal is the utter destruction of the Lemurians. The Grik aren't innovators, but they can improve on existing tech within limits (basically, they can upscale designs to a certain point but can't invent new things). They first obtained primitive ships by capturing and studying a Lemurian explorer vessel, arriving to Africa from Madagascar (it doesn't help that they slaughtered every crewmember instead of interrogating them). They proceeded to invade Madagascar and chased Lemurians to the sea. The next "upgrade" came in the form of a 17-century East Indiaman that was captured. The Grik copied the three-masted vessel but were unable to grasp the concept of gunpowder, so the only armaments are catapults throwing burning shells filled with oil. Eventually, as the series progresses, they get their hands on a World War II-era Japanese battlecruiser with the crew helping them improve their tactics. Of course, the Lemurians also got some help from humans, such as the knowledge of Latin, naval charts, and star-based navigation from the 17-century sailors. Later, they get help from the destroyer USS Walker.
  • Mikhail Akhmanov's Arrivals from the Dark series starts with an Alien Invasion that is thwarted by an alien observer from another race, deliberately leaving most of the alien ship intact, so that the humans could catch up in the technological game and learn to defend themselves. Mere 37 years later, humans send a fleet built using technology derived from studying the alien ship to take the fight to the enemy. Averted with the Lo'ona Aeo, who do sell some technology to other, less advanced races, but the devices are specifically designed not to reveal their inner workings and can always be disabled remotely.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's Between Planets The First Empire technology is reversed engineered from archaeological information and used to outfit and arm the Little David. It allows for 20 g continuous flight along with artificial gravity to prevent the crew from being squashed and impregnable force field spheres. Earth technology that The Federation has consists of rocket ships that do a burn and then coast at zero g and nuclear bombs whose blast the force field can contain.
  • In Andrey Livadny's The History of the Galaxy series, this happens in the later books (going by in-universe chronology, not publishing date), after humanity establishes contact with alien races and finds billion-year-old ruins full of still-functional equipment. Some of the novels deal with the societal impact of a certain piece of Logrian tech called "logrs". Each logr is a small Power Crystal-like computer capable of containing a person's consciousness after death. Several logrs attached together in specific configurations can act as anything from powerful computers to holo-projectors. One of the biggest impacts of the logr technology is the idea that death is no longer the end. Anyone can purchase a logr, have his consciousness recorded into it upon death, and have it shipped to be attached to the Logris, an enormous space-based supercomputer composed of billions of logrs. When connected to the Logris, the consciousness in each logr becomes active and can live out an eternity in his personal space that can manifest anything from his memory. Of course, it's not long before someone figures out that a consciousness saved in a logr can be downloaded back into a new cloned body, making humans effectively immortal. This practice is generally forbidden both to comply with the Logrian demands (who fear Immortality Immorality) and to avoid issues with inheritance and property. Exceptions are made for those willing to explore and settle distant star systems (i.e. start brand-new lives). Later on, a new type of Space Fighter is introduced that uses a powerful Artificial Gravity generator of Logrian design to generate a temporary Deflector Shield (by trapping light in a constant loop until the continuously-looping light becomes a barrier).
  • Averted in Sergey Lukyanenko's The Stars Are Cold Toys. It's against Conclave law to give technology to Weak races (of which humanity is part), which includes technology trade between Weak races. Additionally, if a Weak race manages to get their hands on a piece of alien tech, the Strong races can invoke a rule that restricts the tech's use to its original purpose (which can be utterly incompatible with what humans want to do with it). There are rare exceptions when Loophole Abuse ends up working in humanity's favor, such as using heat-resistant alien plates to cover a shuttle. The aliens consider the plates to be artwork and simply assume that humans are using them to decorate their spaceships. When an Alari commander has a human shuttle outfitted with advanced plasma drives, a human pilot grimly explains that there is no way Earth science can replicate the device for at least a century.
  • The setting of Lair For Rent has alien tech, future tech, and magical artifacts, all of which react unpredictably to upgrade technology or powers.
  • In Star Wars Legends, turns out that hyperdrives, blasters, lightsabers and many other commonplace technologies derive from those of the Rakatan, who in the distant past invaded and subjugated a large part of the galaxy with Force-controlled versions of said technologies before an epidemic stripped them of their ability to use the Force and, with it, most of their technology. As it's been over 25,000 years since then, Rakatan technology has since been well understood and even surpassed in most regards.
  • The researchers of The Fold depend on 19th-century scientist Aleksander Koturovic, whose equations describe "folding" three-dimensional space to make transit between any two points possible. Given that Koturovic doesn't include any of the underlying proofs of said equations, and most of the rest of his work was a series of wild guesses, and he also said telepathic monsters from other dimensions were coming to eat everyone, it's safe to say he imported this from said monsters.
  • The main problem in the Seetee novels by Jack Williamson is building a "bedplate" device that allows matter and antimatter to play nice together through paragravity effects, so they can build a refinery for antimatter ores, antimatter pickaxes with regular handles, etc (antimatter acts just like regular matter, forming planets, asteroids, and suchlike). While a "permanent paragravity magnet" is theoretically possible, nobody can figure out what metal will hold the charge forever. At least until the protagonist finds a Flying Saucer that's 50% terrene and contraterrene, that is...

    Live-Action TV 
  • This sets off the main plot of Blake's 7, when a group of escaped rebels and criminals gain control of an alien spacecraft abandoned after a battle that they name The Liberator. It's faster than any spacecraft in the Terran Federation, has insanely good firepower and shields, and technology as yet unavailable to humanity like a teleport and auto-repair systems that start repairing damage the moment it is made, making it the most fearsome ship in the galaxy.
  • The Ultra Series transformation items often have abilities attached to them, and they're alien.
  • Stargate-verse:
    • The Stargates from Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis are the whole motivators of the shows.
    • Staff weapons, naquadah generators, zats, and the hybrid technology used by the SGC's intergalactic space ships. Seriously, what could be cooler than the notion that by the year 2007, the US Air Force could build no less than five intergalactic space ships? (Ignoring the fact that one of them was destroyed, two if you count an alternate timeline.) Hell, they gave one to Russia and another to China for Pete's sake. Both of those were destroyed.
    • There was one nifty aversion as well, though. The Zero Point Modules (Ancient power sources) are usually treated as MacGuffins that are the only way of powering Ancient or other advanced technology. However in one Alternate Universe episode, Carter adapts a device to cloak and phase the entire planet, and lacking any ZPM or other phlebotinum power source, they run it off the ordinary power grid of the entire United States. It works (though it necessitates a blackout across 70% of the country because the device needed that much power).
    • The show is notable in that the alien technology is often adapted slowly, with Continuity Nods over several seasons showing its development. For example, Stargate Command's IAP-based Space Fighter took almost six seasons to develop fully. It was based on two damaged Goa'uld fighters that were stolen at the end of Season 1. We get to see them being worked on in a secret facility in Season 2, a failed early prototype is the focus of an episode in Season 4, and the first successful prototype is used in Season 6, followed by the final production model a season later.
    • Curiously, they never get around to trying to replicate staff weapons, despite understanding exactly how they work, though they did develop an extremely bulky energy weapon in the later seasons. As O'Neill at one point lampshaded, staff weapons are impractical terror weapons despite their reliability and longevity, while Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better in spite of reloading and maintenance, so the SGC never felt any pressing need to trade up. On the other hand, the SGC eventually collected so many Zatts that they just passed them out like sidearms, even though they made no attempt at reverse-engineering a more practical design.
    • And then Earth inherits a payload of Alien Phlebotinum when the Asgard give them their entire technological database before blowing up their own planet.
    • An interesting case with Tollan technology. The Tollan are a race of Transplanted Humans who have advanced centuries beyond Earth humanity and whose tech is stated to be so incomprehensible (e.g. no moving parts, wires, or circuits) it would take at least a century to be able to reverse-engineer and replicate it. At the same time, humans are able to understand and reverse-engineer devices made by truly alien beings.
  • The sphere from 7 Days (1998) is hybrid technology. Its fuel source is pure Imported Alien Phlebotinum.
  • In War of the Worlds (1988), the Blackwood Project occasionally steals some alien toy and contrives it into a one-off device.
  • Ralph's superhero suit in The Greatest American Hero is given to him by mysterious aliens who think he's a good person worthy of the power.
  • While Kryptonite doesn't count in Smallville, Clark's space ship does, as do the various Kryptonian artifacts featured over the course of the series.
  • Earth: Final Conflict had a seemingly benevolent alien race as its main plot point. Their technology was equitably given to all of mankind, as they saw fit. Notably, portal stations in almost all major cities allowed global travel in seconds.
  • Torchwood is built around the premise of a quasi-governmental agency not just fighting aliens, but metaphorically or literally scavenging the bodies for exploitable technology.
  • The holographic doctor on Star Trek: Voyager gains mobility by the acquisition of a mobile emitter from the future (granted, it's the Federation's future, but is there anything more alien than the future?)
  • Sarah Jane Smith has scads of this in The Sarah Jane Adventures. Central to the series, she has the Magical Computer (actually a silicon-based alien in a computer shell) Mr. Smith and her sonic lipstick, not to mention many different gadgets which just make one-off appearances.
    • Sarah-Jane was given her sonic lipstick and robot dog K-9 by the Doctornote , who seems to function as something of a phlebotinum delivery service for people he likes.
  • Quite a few Doctor Who plots have been sparked by something like this — a society or groups abuses or gets abused by alien technology they don't understand. For example, in "The Curse of the Black Spot", a pirate ship is plagued by a siren who takes any person who is ill or injured. The siren is actually a holographic computer program who functions as a doctor for a crashed alien ship.
  • Morphing technology in Power Rangers initially came from Eltarians, Karovians, and innumerable other unnamed alien species, but we figured out how to make our own without any help within a decade or so.
  • Earth-based human-created Morphing tech first shows up in Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue. It, Power Rangers Operation Overdrive, and Power Rangers RPM are pretty much the only series where the powers ostensibly come solely from modern, albeit fictional, technology. RPM is even an Alternate Universe where there's no known alien involvement at all.
  • The entire subject of the 1960s British sci-fi series A for Andromeda. A signal from the Andromeda galaxy tells Great Britain how to build a powerful computer which then plans to take over the world by making humanity dependent on it. It designs a missile to shoot down an orbital bomb, as well as synthetic life in the form of a beautiful woman, who then proceeds to develop emotions and eventually turns against her creator. In The Andromeda Breakthrough the computer's role is more ambiguous; it is meant to be a tool so that humans can avert their own destruction, though it isn't above manipulating events and killing a lot of people in the process.
  • The ending of the History Channel mockumentary The Great Martian War 1913-1917 ends with humans reverse-engineering the mysterious alien metal that powers the alien's technology and stating it's the basis of advanced human tech in 2013. The framing device of the show is a conspiracy theory that the "metal" is in fact an alien life-form that manipulated the "Martians" into basing their technology on it and invading another world to spread, and that humans will be manipulated the same way.
  • Happens often in Babylon 5
    • The biggest example is Earth Alliance, with an unspecified but large amount of their modern technology being reverse-engineered from various alien sources, either recovered by finding an abandoned piece of advanced technology (we actually see an attempt going wrong in the series; the Interceptors were a more successful one), bought or gifted to them by various aliens (the first jump drives and other technologies were bought from the Centauri, the advanced beam weapons of the Omegas were originally bought from the Narn, the Wave Motion Guns came from the Drazi, and understanding of Artificial Gravity was a gift from the Minbari to get them to join the Interstellar Alliance), or outright stolen (Earth's pulse weapons, for example, are based on Dilgar technology captured on the battlefield). There's even a company, IPX, specifically dedicated to look for advanced technology to reverse-engineer, with mixed success (both the Interceptors and the failed attempt seen during the series are the result of IPX explorers succeeding).
    • Large parts of Centauri technology originally came from alien sources that they reverse-engineered to full understanding and then improved (best shown by the Kutai-class gunship, originally a Garmak design they adopted after conquering them). Centauri being Centauri, they weaponized the trope: they sell ships and weapons to other species and use the stranglehold on the spare parts to slowly make them dependent (Earth getting the advanced technologies was a failed attempt at doing this).
    • The Narn and the other former Centauri subjects base their technology on whatever their former masters couldn't take with them as they left or was stolen by their resistance (most notably, the Deneth resistance managed to build their entire fleet in Centauri shipyards before striking), with their mastery of what they took varying between races (the Narn, for example, have an incomplete understanding of Centauri tech, while the Brakiri developed Artificial Gravity well beyond what the Centauri can do).
    • The Abbai took advantage of this to entice various lesser races to join the League of Non-Aligned Worlds, offering what was for them obsolete pieces of technology to anyone who would join. As the Abbai are one of the most advanced races in the setting (most notably they're the only Younger Race with Deflector Shields. That they don't share), what is obsolete for them is often more advanced than the state-of-the-art of other races.
    • In general, the Younger Races' hyperspace technology is directly or indirectly derived from study of the ancient jumpgates left around by the Vorlon, depending on wherever the various races found a Vorlon jumpgate in their system, received it by someone else who already had the technology, or, in at least one case, based it on a jumpgate built by a Younger Race (the Dilgar, who had an Abbai-built gate in their system).
  • Similar to HYDRA, Luke Cage (2016) reveals that Hammer Industries used Chitauri metals to create the Judas, a bullet capable of puncturing materials like Luke Cage's durable skin.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In "Think Like a Dinosaur", humanity has been granted access to interstellar teleportation technology, known as jump technology, by the Hanen.


    Tabletop Games 
  • The basis of ANIMA technology in the Tabletop RPG, Bliss Stage.
  • The City of Carse 2nd Edition. In the title city, Herman's Odds and Ends shop has several items of advanced technology well beyond the medieval tech level of the setting. They include a solar-powered water purifier, a handheld med evaluator (acts as an Auto Doc to cure poison and disease), a magnetic limpet mine, a mechamical parrot that can sing the song "Blow the Man Down" and 144 teflon zippers. All of these items are said to come from another continuum (Another Dimension).

    Video Games 
  • Most research options in X-COM: UFO Defense are opened up by acquiring artifacts from or interrogating aliens. If you want to build some of these artifacts yourself, you need to consume the phlebotinum.
    • To be specific, Elerium 115 is the fuel of the alien spaceships, it is used in pretty much ALL high-tech manufacture you can carry out at your base, and there is no way to acquire it except as salvage from downed enemy vessels.
    • Also, the UFO After Blank series and UFO: Alien Invasion have this. In UFOAI, the scientist says that he doesn't even try to understand how aliens got their plasma tech working, since according to them it should be impossible.
    • This trend continues in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, where XCOM's weakest technology is the pinnacle of small arms, aircraft, and missile tech, and everything else is reverse engineered from captured Alien technology and information gained from interrogating captured aliens. Head scientist Dr. Vahlen comments that they don't have time to fully understand how the technology works, her team just makes sure it does and will figure out the specifics once the war ends.
  • Predator: Concrete Jungle is set 20 Minutes into the Future on an Earth technologically advanced by the study of accidentally-leftover Predator equipment.
  • Mass Effect: The Mass relays, the Citadel itself and the Keepers having been created by the Protheans, since it was left there for the previous races so that they could better understand element zero. In truth, all were created by the Reapers in order to harvest the galactic civilization of organics for their own ideals by predetermining the path of evolution and exploration.
    • The molten-metal-shooting Thanix gun from ME 2 also counts. It's based on reverse-engineering Sovereign's weapons.
    • The Crucible in Mass Effect 3 is the product of the combined efforts of every civilization that was harvested in previous cycles, and is the only weapon that gives Shepard a chance-in-hell at defeating the Reapers.
  • The TCS Midway, from Wing Commander Prophecy, gets this later in the game, in the form of a plasma cannon that can obliterate entire fleets in one shot.
  • In science-fiction 4X strategy games, it's pretty much standard to get a bonus to your research if you find Precursor artifacts. It shows up in Galactic Civilizations, Sins of a Solar Empire, Master of Orion and probably many others.
    • Galciv also allows you to literally import alien phlebotinum by trading techs with other races. Hey, Arceans, this is the Terrans. You guys have a pretty tasty military; I'm glad we're allies - my military angles are a bit low since I pumped all my research into diplomacy and trade enhancements. Say, I've noticed that you guys have lasers and the Drengin have gone pretty heavily into armour to screw over my mass drivers when the inevitable war breaks out; I don't suppose you'd be willing to swap your high-grade energy weapon tech for this massive fistful of money, this trade enhancer and my now-obsolete singularity drivers? You would? Pleasure doing business with you. (And then there's espionage, in which you can steal the alien phlebotinum; if you've been focusing on techs other than weapon upgrades, it's possible your spies will hand you the blueprints to a missile weapon that's significantly more advanced than your lasers, leading to an unpleasant surprise when you kill them with their own guns.)
    • Even the non-sci-fi Civilization series has a minor example. Early in the game, Ancient Ruins can be found while exploring the world. Sending a unit into the ruins will grant one of several bonuses. One of these bonuses is your unit finding advanced weapons left behind by an older civilization and arming themselves, allowing you to get more advanced military units than would otherwise be possible at your tech level.
    • The Civilization spinoff Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri (which is sci-fi) has this in four main ways:
      • The most mundane is simply trading for tech (as in Galciv). This can be done for other techs, for cash, for diplomatic favors, or simply as a favor (or more commonly, a "favor").
      • There are "alien artifacts" spread across the map that factions can capture and use to advance various goals. Most particularly, they can be linked to Network Node to make an instant advance on the Tech Tree.
      • Probe Teams (i.e. spies) can steal technology from any faction. This includes both human factions and the alien Progenitor factions introduced in the expansion.
      • If you have the "Spoils of War" game rule turned on, you can steal technology when you conquer an enemy base. Again, this applies whether the conquered base belonged to a human or Progenitor faction.
  • Prey (2006) takes it to the next level. Aboard this massive bio-mechanical alien spaceship, you eventually find a gun that the aliens themselves cannot identify. Imported Alien Alien Phlebotinium!
    • Assuming you speak of the acid sprayer, it's built by La Résistance.
  • In the Command & Conquer series:
    • The majority of the Earth is being consumed by Tiberium, alien phlebotinum crystals that appeared in Rome and began growing outwards, rendering much of the world uninhabitable. If you get close to the crystals without protection, they start growing around you, on you, and in you, and you quickly hemorrhage to death. Ironically, the Tiberium is also an incredibly efficient energy source. Nod also develops several Tiberium-based weapons The aliens (known as the Scrin) that might have been responsible recently showed up and are annoyed that the human race hasn't died out yet- apparently, the Scrin wait for all life on a planet to die off before they come to harvest the "ichor" (their term for Tiberium). After a series of defeats at the hands of both Nod and the GDI, their leader has ordered a full invasion fleet to exterminate mankind.
    • In Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun, Nod also steals an orb-shaped computer from an alien ship dubbed the Tacitus. Kane uses its knowledge to build flying saucers and a world-altering missile that will terraform the entire planet into a Tiberium wasteland.
  • In Transcendence, much human technology is based on this, and there are plenty of devices that are completely alien in origin. These include the Stargates, the Gems of Despair, Sacrifice, and Contrition, and the Transpace Jumpdrive.
  • The "Medi-porter" used in City of Heroes to justify the use of Death Is Cheap is based off of recovered Rikti technology. In the parallel world of Praetoria, where the Rikti did not invade, there is no explanation given as to why the medi-porter still exists.
    • In Praetoria the Medi-Port was created by Praetor Keyes (Anti-Matter). This is public knowledge and given in the Praetorian Tutorial. Later you also discover that he in fact stole and reverse engineered the technology from the Rikti.
  • In Metroid: Other M the plasma gun Anthony Higgs wield is a reverse-engineered version of the Chozo plasma beam that Samus has in her Arm Cannon. It does the exact same damage too but it takes a longer time to charge up a plasma beam and fire it than the one Samus has inside her Arm Cannon.
  • In Freespace, the only reason the Terrans and Vasudans survived their first encounter with the Shivans was because they stole a bunch of Shivan tech and adapted it to their fighters. In the sequel, they've even managed to copy the Shivan capital ship beams and outfit their own destroyers and cruisers with them. Despite this, the Shivans consistently remain far more advanced technologically.
  • Playstation All Stars Battle Royale combines this with Victor Gains Loser's Powers. The character endings has the fighter who defeated Polygon Man go on to utilize AP (All-Star Power) in some way for their own convenience, with some endings leading into the beginning of certain sequels. The AP-factor serves as a decent explanation for all the roster being noticeably more powerful than usual. Jak even claims that he probably couldn't have pulled off his victory without "this new Eco."
  • Might and Magic VII does an odd variant. The imported stuff is pretty much the same as the Lost Technology already on the planet (ultimately it's from the source — the Ancients — just from different colonies of theirs), some aesthetic differences with the robots and blasters aside, so the technology itself is not exactly the most important thing (although it does play a part, since some of the imported technology's native counterparts had long since broken) — that is the people that imported the phlebotinum. VI established a more historic and vaguer take on this trope: one of the reasons why so much technology is Lost is that the machines that made the technology, the Heavenly Forges, were all imported from the Ancients proper, and couldn't be replicated or properly repaired or maintained locally.
  • "Dust" is present in all of the Endless games (Endless Space, Endless Legend, and Dungeonofthe Endless) and is generally used as a Practical Currency. A creation of the Endless, Dust is an almost magical Nano Technology substance that can create, modify, and destroy; it can be used for Ridiculously Fast Construction, enhancing intelligence, uplifting creatures and robots, and weaponized as Grey Goo. In Endless Legend, it's Magic from Technology; the Ardent Mages use Dust to power their pain magic.
  • In Mercs of Boom, you eventually encounter aliens who may be responsible for the arrival of advinite on Earth and get your hands on some of their tech, including Deflector Shields and Energy Weapons. Notably, it takes a number of technological breakthroughs by your scientists to get shields working the way they should. For example, the first shields you get are single-use items instead of reusable generators. Those come much later.
  • Super Robot Wars: Original Generation has a variation on this: The alien faction known as Inspectors gave humanity the Black Hole Engine to see if they were advanced enough to figure it out. If they could, it signaled that they likely had a good enough tech-base to justify invading and stealing it to hybridize with their own. Also, it is established that the technology to make Humongous Mecha feasible was acquired from a trio of meteors that fell to Earth some time ago. These meteors ALSO contained further Phlebotinum, called Extra-Over Technology that allowed the creation of tremendous power sources that would be impossible without the Unobtanium.

  • The titular perfume in Erika's New Perfume.
  • The interstellar transmitter which once sat in Bob's front yard in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!. It eventually got blown up by Space Pirates.
  • In El Goonish Shive, the Transformation Ray Gun was brought to a young Tedd by aliens who needed someone to upgrade its programming so they could use it to blend in better on Earth. He ended up using it recreationally to engage in temporary Gender Bending of himself and his friends. Through a chain of events, it ended up contributing to the creation of a bisexual female duplicate of Tedd's best friend and caused her to be endowed with the ability to emulate one of the its female transformation settings by shooting a beam from her hand.
  • Drive (Dave Kellett): The titular Ring Drive is this to the protagonists. The ruling family of the human empire established their economic, political, and military power by maintaining a strict monopoly on the devices and the secrets of their operation after their ancestral patriarch found and reverse-engineered a crashed alien ship. Unfortunately for them and the rest of humanity, the Sufficiently Advanced Aliens who invented it are still around and apperently consider it something like blasphemy for anyone to mess with their tech.

    Western Animation 
  • The Ben 10 franchise has the Omnitrix. The most powerful device in the universe, it fell into the hands of ten-year old Benjamin Tennyson after it was launched towards Earth during a space battle involving Vilgax. Unlike other versions of this trope, it's later revealed that the Omnitrix was intended to be sent to Earth for human use, but it was meant for Ben's grandfather rather than himself.
  • in Supernoobs the 4 main characters receive Battleballs granting them Powered Armor and superpowers from two aliens to fight an intergalactic virus that mutates anything it touches into monsters.
  • Subverted in most versions of Transformers, as the main characters are the aliens whose technology their human allies (or enemies, depending on the faction) retrofit into their own designs.
    • Oddly, despite them being a show about alien robots, Beast Wars plays this straight with Megatron using technology stolen and retrofitted by the even more alien Vok.
    • There have been some cases, such as in Transformers: Animated, where humans have reverse-engineered some Transformers parts (thus explaining today's rapid technology growth).
  • In Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers, two aliens share their hyperdrive with Earth in exchange for our help in defeating the evil Crown Empire.
  • Wander over Yonder Has this in the form of Wander's Hat. While this show takes place in outer space and the main characters are all aliens, "The Bad Hatter " reveals that Wander stole the hat from people who were misusing it. Ideally, it only gives you the things you need and if you don't take the time to understand why you get what you do out of it the results can be very funny. However, as an Animate Inanimate Object of sorts, it is susceptible to torture and being forced to give you what you want instead.This has a disastrous outcome. When the hat is inadvertently stolen by Lord Hater Wander is stranded on the planet without his banjo or anything else. He even sums it up by saying "No hat, No Wander!" Demonstrating how handy it really is.
  • In the Megas XLR episode "Viva Las Megas," Coop's opponent is a Humongous Mecha built by the U.S. government in the 1950s using technology reverse-engineered from the Roswell incident.
  • Droners: Maroro, Team Tikis' drone, is explicitly said to have been built out of Aqua scrap parts. It makes it very advanced, but also means that broken or malfunctioning parts are extremely hard to replace and impossible to build anew.

Alternative Title(s): Applied Alien Phlebotinum