Follow TV Tropes


Misapplied Phlebotinum

Go To

"Computers make it easier to do a lot of things, but most of the things they make it easier to do don't need to be done."
Andy Rooney

The case of a writer not quite getting their own head around their invention. An invention which is capable of great and astounding things (and often, of literally anything) is used exclusively for much lesser tasks. If you find that after a trip to the fridge you see that the Phlebotinum in question could be used to make entire industries obsolete if not render the entire plot trivial then you're dealing with this trope.

Common victims of Misapplication include:

  • Faster-Than-Light Travel:
    • It's actually harder to conceive of an FTL system that can't also double as a Weapon of Mass Destruction than it is to conceive of one that can. And that's not even getting into the fact that, because of the way relativity works, FTL travel is logically equivalent to Time Travel...
    • The ability to translate almost any physical object across the universe at comparatively instantaneousnote  speeds can also raise questions as to how exactly this technology is being applied, namely why every spaceship battle is not won by the first ship to fly behind the enemy and Attack Its Weak Point, or even why does sublight propulsion need to exist in the first place.
  • Teleportation:
    • The technology that allows your crew to travel from the Cool Starship to the planet and back without using a shuttle is the same technology that can park a live warhead in the enemy captain's lap without using a missile. It also makes a nifty Disintegrator Ray if you skip the "rematerialization" end of the process or, if it doesn't work by dematerializing, send the receiving end into the sun. Or only teleporting part of the target. And unless it's ludicrously expensive/has major side-effects, it can be used to greatly reduce shipping costs and delays, and could remove the need for any other planet-based vehicle (if it's cheap and practical enough, you wouldn't even need to walk). This could also be used to dispose of hazardous waste, removing the need for massive landfills or toxic waste dumps. If it converts matter into energy, and you have a way of storing that energy, you could use it as an alternative source of power: converting otherwise useless garbage into a viable power source for other things. This would change the face of society.
    • If the technology works by destroying and reconstructing, there are a number of possible uses that are rarely used, like bodily restoration after injury or death, copying/mass-production of reconstructible objects, copying/mass-production of people, etc. It also raises the question of whether the person who comes out is the same person as the one who went in, or just a clone with the now-dead original's memories.
  • Artificial Gravity (as distinct from Centrifugal Gravity):
    • Gravity is, simply put, a distortion of spacetime manifesting as an apparent force of attraction between two or more massive particles. While many different theories exist as to what exactly makes gravity tick the way it does, there is actually still very little we know for certain about it. This makes any technology capable of replicating this force of attraction particularly susceptible to this trope, as until we can figure out what exactly it is, gravity will have to be assumed to be such a fundamental feature of the universe that being able to generate or manipulate it without a planetary mass will doubtlessly present a technological singularity that could easily propel humanity far past any conventional metrics of civilizational advancement.
    • Even if its limitations are properly established, there can still be a wide array of different applications for artificial gravity:
    • Artificial gravity has a very wide range of tactical applications, such as accelerating the exhaust from a chemical thruster for extra speed or maneuverability, operating ridiculously powerful gravitic railguns, or literally crushing boarding actions by simply dialing up the gravity carpeting of the room they're in by 10000%.
    • If your Cool Starship has a device that can generate and manipulate gravity irrespective of mass, then mounting Tractor Beams, Deflector Shields, Weapons, Inertial Dampeners and even engines may be redundant.
      • Note that it takes a really strong and accurately-placed gravity field to significantly change the trajectory of a laser beam or anything else moving at relativistic speeds — a field which, apart from theoretically consuming an extremely large amount of energy to maintain (depending on your flavour of Phlebotinum), might have unintended consequences.
    • Instead, AG is (almost) exclusively used only to ensure the main characters have a comfortable sense of up and down, no matter how pressing other matters might be.note  This extends even to active combat situations, where the AG will remain running at full capacity even while the rest of the spacecraft is currently in flames or even completely depressurized. As we all know, militaries are always keen to put personnel comfort over combat capability, and would never even think of requiring its soldiers to regularly exercise in order to be able to overcome the physical stresses of deployment abroad.
  • Nanomachines: While they may have more limits in real life, it'd be easier to list the things you couldn't do with nanomachines capable of the kinds of tasks they do in fiction, yet they're frequently introduced as a plot-device for one specific thing and never used for anything else.
  • Reality Warping:
    • In settings where magic exists, it's not uncommon to see it depicted as a force capable of causing seemingly anything imaginable to happen, sometimes at little to no cost. With the right knowledge and/or artifact, it's often possible to direct this power to whatever end the user pleases. But unless it's already commonplace, whenever this is used for anything wide-scale that isn't trivial, it'll almost always be something bad. In these cases, if the heroes ever get the chance to use it—and usually, it's rarer that they don't have it at their disposal—don't expect them to use it to solve any problems outside of whatever specific issue the villain caused.

It is, of course, possible to create Obvious Rule Patches and Required Secondary Powers for all these Phlebotina that prevent the above forms of use (and the really good writers even keep it from looking like a form of Fake Difficulty), but many writers merely take them as-is without thinking about the potential consequences.

Compare Forgotten Phlebotinum (when the Phlebotinum is ignored outright), No Transhumanism Allowed (a specific instance), Plot Induced Stupidity (when the plot specifically forbids some application/s), and Coconut Superpowers (when the budget specifically forbids some application/s). See also Mundane Utility (using fantastic abilities/technology for less fantastic things), Cut Lex Luthor a Check/Reed Richards Is Useless (when a character invokes this trope), and Wasteful Wishing and/or Mundane Wish (when played for laughs).

When they do use magical abilities for these kinds of things, it's Magitek. Just Think of the Potential! is sometimes used to justify why you should not use things for anything big- or the phlebotinum is given some horrible side effect to make using it clearly evil. Frequently, the cast themselves fail to even ask what the phlebotinum is capable of. When a person thinks it's misapplied for obscene reasons, it's Power Perversion Potential.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In several seasons, the digital world from Digimon was created from computer programming and could subvert any laws of reality. In particular, humans who go there do not have to eat, breathe, excrete waste, or age if they don't want to. Said programmers primarily use their digi-Reality Warper abilities to... create inter-world portals and mess around with Mons.
  • Averted in Dr. STONE, where as the heroes try to solve the mystery of the Petrification technology that kept humanity in stone for over 3000 years, they discover various ways it can be used in everyday life, especially in conjunction with a revival fluid. By specifying which species get affected, it can be used to petrify living fish so that they'll be fresh for eating no matter how long. It's also shown that anyone petrified is perfectly healed when revived, whether it be a fatal neck snap, arthritis, a serious brain injury, a punctured lung, or a fatal torso stab. And it is later revealed the petrification can also reverse death and can even provide immortality through its rejuvenation effects.
  • Played straight then averted with the kagebunshin (shadow clones) of Naruto. Perfect duplicates of the jutsu's user whose memories are re-integrated back into the user when the clone is dispelled/destroyed. Up until Kakashi pointed out that they could be used for espionage and training, Naruto only used them to attack opponents mundanely. Fortunately, he now has used them to accomplish the world's fastest creation and mastering of a brand-new technique, the Rasen shuriken, which is also the first ever technique to combine perfected shape manipulation with nature manipulation. Funnily enough, fanfiction has been taking advantage of the huge potential for years before that showed up, although the approach is frequently avoided for the reason that intelligent application of it can derail most of the challenges Naruto faces in the early part of the series.
  • Acknowledged in The Five Star Stories. The Humongous Mecha are shown to be quite impractical and temperamental, and its recognized that the whiz-bang technology that goes into creating them could be put to better use. What stops them is a combination of aristocratic tradition and the fact that if that technology were used for more efficient weapons it could result in the destruction of entire planets. Not a wise thing to do, considering there are only five or six habitable planets in their known universe.
  • Somewhat averted in Cannon God Exaxxion. They go into a considerable amount of detail about all the interesting things you can do with Artificial Gravity tech and how it dramatically changes the face of modern industry and combat. The limited way Nano Machines are used in the series smacks of this trope, but they at least bother to handwave it by citing the technology's astronomical cost.
  • Averted by Martian Successor Nadesico. The villains get their hands on easy teleportation and quickly use it to warp warheads straight through the Nadesico's Deflector Shield.
  • Averted in Code Geass with Sakuradite, a naturally-occurring substance that is an exceptionally good conductor. It's used in Humongous Mecha and consumer electronics, and is the reason why Magnetic Weapons have completely replaced gunpowder, even when it comes to personal firearms, and it's implied that the world runs on clean energy because of it.
  • Ranma ˝:
    • Jusenkyō — cursed springs that, when submerged inside them or splashed with water from them, give you the shape of whatever drowned there first until you turn yourself back with hot water (and then turn again with cold). Any living thing can be transformed into a multitude of other things: men, women, children, a huge variety of animals, twins, or even godlike lightning- and fire-spewing entities. Yet no-one in the series ever thinks of [ab]using it to, for example, dump a handful of ants in the Spring of Drowned Ox and feed impoverished villages with the resulting hundreds of oxen. Worse, there's even powdered packets of "instant," single-use springs, but they're even more obscure than the springs themselves. About the only people who profit from the springs are the Musk Dynasty (who, in antiquity, would dump strong animals into the Spring of Drowned Girl in order to procure wives to yield stronger children) and the people of Mt. Phoenix, who use their bird-cursed water for everything water is typically used for (bathing, drinking, cooking, washing) and, from time to time, turning themselves human to spy on others.
    • And on the subject of Mt. Phoenix: their lord, the Phoenix King, breaks every last law of thermodynamics with his ability to generate limitless heat and light, regenerate from any injury, and bring himself back from the dead. How many countries has he conquered? None, because his primary task is to sit pretty and prim on his hanging perch and provide light for the comfort of his subjects.
    • This world also has the technology to create powerful suits of armor — strong, quick, and durable enough to give Ranma serious trouble — at such low cost it's readily available to the public via mail-order. Nobody thinks of removing the armor's Power Limiter and equipping the local police force with these.
    • Seemingly played straight, but averted at the last second with in the case of the Yamasenken and Umisenken. These are exceptionally devastating martial arts schools which emphasize, respectively, outwards force and absolute stealth. Warrior-minded fighters will seek them out to add to their repertoire... but in their creator's words, they're actually meant for burglary and thievery.
    • Gosunkugi gets ten paper dolls which let him give people commands that they must obey. He suffers from a pretty severe lack of imagination. He tries to command Ranma to argue with Akane — he didn't succeed, but nobody would have noticed anyway. The other nine are similarly squandered.
    • The cursed springs were actually exploited exactly twice: second by Rakkyōsai, who jumped into the Spring of Drowned Child. He did so for infiltration, but will presumably realize at some point that getting his youth back is a pretty sweet deal (there are faint hints that, powerful as Happōsai and Cologne are, their old age does inconvenience them). And the number one goes to Pantyhose Taro, who fell into the Spring of Drowned Yeti holding an Eel and Crane while riding an Ox and is the only one in the series actually LIKE his transformation. By his second appearance, he has upgraded by journeying to Jusenkyō and jumping into the Spring of Drowned Octopus (no, really), which for some reason adds up to his form rather than overriding the old one. Presumably because he was already a mashup.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders has a villain whose Stand can reverse a person's age down to a child, or even a fetus. There's no limit to people willing to pay him astronomical amounts of money for eternal youth (and assuming he needs to use the power continuously, they'd have to keep paying him). He uses it to weaken his targets before murdering them. However, he is a psychopathic axe killer, so fame and fortune might not actually rate higher than a satisfying murder.
  • A plot point in Gundam Build Fighters. Plavsky Particles are harmless radiation that can cause specific types of plastic to move around as though they were motorized vehicles and create energy beams, shields, and all sorts of other neat stuff. They're also cheap enough that buying a small particle-emitting table for one's household, while a bit of a luxury item, isn't out of the price range of a middle-class family. This technology is used exclusively for simulating Gundam battles with model kits. Nils Nielson's entire motivation is that he has asked the question "Wait, what? Can't this tech do a hell of a lot more?" and is trying to find ways of expanding the uses for the technology. Meanwhile, the fact that he hasn't thought of a better application for such extraordinary technology is an important piece of characterisation for the Big Bad, who's a small-time street hustler who lucked into immense wealth in ways that even he doesn't fully understand.
  • Played for Laughs in Mega Man Megamix. The 5th generation Wilybots end up getting a job at an amusement park and most of their powers make them perfectly suited to the job (Wave Man uses his waterguns to help clean, Stone Man's strength helps repair rides, etc.). However Napalm Man, as his name suggests, was built as a specialist in weapons and is built like a walking tank, something completely useless to an amusement park. So what job is he given? Working the cash register and taking tickets. Note that Napalm Man has missile launchers in place of hands, making him doing a task that requires such dexterity not only impractical but actively dangerous.
  • Patlabor famously averts this in regard to Mecha. While you do see some mechs built for military purposes like most anime depicts, the majority of them are used for more practical, menial purposes. They're common sights at any workplace that requires heavy lifting and transport, police often use them in operations and have departments trained in their use, and security firms and crime families pay top dollar to have mechs for use as enforcers.
  • Averted in Sword Art Online. The revolutionary "Seed" program developed by Akihiko Kayaba is initially used just for entertainment purposes in the form of VRMMO games. Nobuyuki Sugou, the Big Bad of the second arc, even lampshades it, by stating he has better uses for Kayaba's inventions than the man himself. But as time goes on, VR technology starts spreading to other purposes. The first major breakthrough comes in the form of the Medicuboid, a specialized VR interface meant for medical research and to help terminally ill patients.note  Sword Art Online: Alternative Gun Gale Online shows that several countries' armed forces are testing VR environments for use in combat training, while school sports teams also use VR for practice sessions building team cohesion. The biggest application comes in the Alicization story arc, in which a next-generation, hyper-realistic VR world completely indistinguishable from reality is initiated by the Soul Translator, the Superior Successor to the above-mentioned Medicuboid, is being secretly used by the Japanese Self-Defense Force to construct fully sentient artificial intelligences to pilot autonomous combat vessels.
  • Dragon Ball Z:
    • Goku and all of his friends have far surpassed the martial artists of Earth in every conceivable way. The occasional lip service is paid to how Goku's family has financial issues, and yet Goku doesn't simply use his god-like power to steam roll over the World Martial Arts Tournament as many times as his family needs to become financially secure. Also worth noting is that Piccolo has the power to materialize objects out of thin air using his ki, an ability that would make their need for money moot if he simply taught it to Goku and Gohan. At least with Goku, it is justified that Goku actually wants to be challenged when he fights people, so beating up weak fighters who can't use ki would be boring to him. Gohan notably was going to win the tournament at his mother's request, but Majin Buu's rampages put a quick end to that plan. Android 18 actually successfully pulled that plan off by forcing Hercule to pay her the prize money for the tournament if she threw the fight, otherwise she would humilate him in front of his fans. At least someone got their pay day for having powers.
    • A common problem in the DBZ series is important techniques are not taught to others. The Kaio-Ken allows the user to multiply their speed and strength up to a factor of 20 note  and yet only Goku is ever seen using it. The Instant Transmission allows someone to teleport to anywhere in the universe so long as you can sense the energy signal of someone at that location — yet again only Goku is seen using this technique. The Spirit Bomb allows the user to collect energy from a planet, a collection of planets, or even an entire galaxy if the user focuses hard enough, creating a powerful ki blast that could one shot any bad guy if charged properly. Only Goku uses the spirit bomb despite its utility. Fusion allows two compatiable fighters to greatly increase their power levels for 30 minutes. Only Trunks and Goten, and Vegeta and Goku are seen making any use out of this.
    • Significant lip service is paid to how indispensable the Z Fighters are to saving the Earth from disaster, and this lip service is not an unfair observation. All the same it's rather odd that Goku and his friends don't teach the citizens of Earth about how to use ki so they can apply supernatural martial arts themselves. Maybe you can't train every citizen on Earth to the level of a Z fighter, but perhaps having some basic understanding of ki manipulation would prevent the Earth from being a total push over. In the non-canon game Dragon Ball Online, Gohan actually takes this to and creates a martial art school to teach ordinary people how to use ki, and he even creates a series of text books to help people learn the science of ki. Long after Gohan is dead, citizens all around the world have some fighting ability thanks to his efforts.

    Comic Books 
  • Green Lanterns: You have the ultimate weapon. Its power is limited only by your imagination. Big-ass hammer is NOT a good application of your powers. Finally subverted with Kyle Rayner, who was more likely to create Humongous Mechs and Anime characters than giant hammers and boxing gloves. Once when asked to make a simple bubble he said that it was the "other guy" who did mundane things like that. On the other hand, until the 1970s the rings were really able to do anything, including wiping minds, acting on time-delayed and pre-programmed commands, transmuting matter, and mutating living beings at will. Really, neither Kyle nor Hal Jordan ever really noticed all the implications of the rings.
  • Basically, every superhero. Name one superhero who couldn't somehow make a fortune using their abilities for something other than beating up another superhuman.
    • DC Comics has (had?) the Kapitalist Kouriers, a set of Russian super-speedsters who indeed used their powers for a courier business. All over the world. However: characters who do that instead of beating up on The Bad Guy of the Week don't get played in RPGs and don't get their own comic titles. So it's sorta self-defeating.
    • An issue of Heroes for Hire (which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin, so at least these guys are getting paid for their work) has one of the "heroes" in a government warehouse where various captured supervillain equipment is stored. Upon seeing one piece of equipment, he notes the idiocy of inventing a gun that turns stuff into gold, then using it to rob banks. It takes him very little time to realize that he ought to steal the gun himself and use it in more intelligent ways. Unfortunately, it's broken shortly afterward in a super-brawl. He presumably was unaware of the fact that any object transmuted by the alchemy gun turns into dust after exposure to heat or after a certain amount of time. (However, mining and construction companies would pay a fortune for a device that could easily reduce solid material into dust regardless of what it became in the interim!)
    • The Flash:
      • Chunk, a supporting character of The Flash, was a "human singularity" who had the ability to transport anything to an alternate dimension contained within his body. He starts out as a supervillain, but Flash advises him that he could make a fortune by going straight. Now he is very well paid to make nuclear waste disappear, and drain the water from flooded cities.
      • One issue had him do just this. He was hired by an antique film and memorabilia collector. He hired the Flash to watch all of his movies and examine all of his antiques and catalog them. Obviously made for the plot, but ingenious nonetheless.
      • Another issue of Flash has Mirror Master being introspective about how he and many of his fellow villains are perceived as examples of this trope. He is perfectly aware of the fact that he and most of his compatriots could make more money selling their various technology (Freeze Rays, Teleportation, Weather Control, etc.) legitimately than they could ever hope to make robbing banks even if there were no super heroes. He does the supervillainy instead because he's an immensely disturbed individual, but is aware of the fact.
      • Flash also agreed to transport a heart across the country for transplant. He was able to get the doctors to provide him with health insurance in return for this service. Of course as a hero he would be perfectly willing to do it for free to save a life, but as he pointed out, everyone else involved in the transplant would be well paid so why should he be expected to help for free?
    • Pre-Crisis Mad Scientist Lex Luthor from Superman could become every bit as wealthy as Reed Richards if he marketed his tech legally, but he has too much of an Übermensch complex to even want to make a living within society's infrastructure, viewing mundane Last Man civilization itself with contempt. John Byrne's Post-Crisis Luthor is rich, but he only sporadically does scientific jobs himself, preferring to supervise or steal the work of specialists; while he has a superior intellect and his empire is based on earlier inventions, he is mostly rich by being a mundane ruthless SOB. Modern Luthor combines the two versions elevating his intellect to finally Cut Lex Luthor a Check and establish his scientific genius as the source of his colossal wealth.
    • Lampshaded in the first issue of the Mark Shaw incarnation of Manhunter. Over a series of panels of Dr. Alchemy using his powers to perform a robbery, Manhunter points out that he could probably make more money a dozen different ways using a stone that would allow him to transform an object into something else, even if it was temporary.
    • Almost subverted in the critically acclaimed Starman (DC Comics) comic of the mid-to-late-1990s. Our Hero, Jack Knight, agrees to take on his father's mantle as Starman, if his father will in turn take the amazing Cosmic Rod technology that he's used for self-indulgent heroics for half a century, and adapt it to civilian use: clean power, antigravity, force fields, and more. In the final issue, Ted makes good on the promise, and hands Jack a thick sheaf of documents detailing exactly that. It's almost subverted because, years after the end of the series, no trace of the "spin-off" technology has been seen.
    • Seriously averted in Watchmen. Dr. Manhattan's unique physiology and abilities are used to derive a massive amount of technologies, including electric cars. Ozymandias is running a mega-conglomerate, selling, among many other items, perfume and action figures based on himself and his colleagues. The original Silk Spectre also made a living as a model. She went on to marry her agent.
    • Deadpool (at various times, Cable and the Six Pack also qualify) use their abilities for mercenary work, drawing a paycheck for using their powers and skills to hurt and kill people. It may not be particularly nice money, but hey, it's a living.
    • The Hobgoblin invoked this when he discovered the Green Goblin's lair, reasoning that Gobby would have made far more money selling his equipment than he ever would have done through crime.
    • Ultimate X-Men mentions the theory that Charles Xavier used his telepathy to make money in stocks. He never actually confirmed this, but he didn't specifically deny it so much as pull a "I won't validate that with an answer."
      • It's established in the "main" Marvel universe that a young Emma Frost, long before she became a supervillain turned superhero, did exactly that. Reading minds allows access to all sorts of insider information that nobody can ever prove you had access to, and thus not leaving you subject to insider trading laws. Among other things she invested heavily in Reed Richards' company before he unveiled his invention of unstable molecules (see below), because she read the mind of an employee who knew about it in advance.
    • Lampshaded in Spider-Man and the X-Men when Spider-Man confronts the villain Sauron, who can rewrite DNA and used his power to make people into dinosaurs. Spider-Man points out that with his power, he could do amazing things like cure cancer, to which Sauron retorts that he doesn't want to cure cancer. He just wants to turn people into dinosaurs.
  • Phil Seleski (a.k.a. Solar) from Valiant Comics universe has the power to manipulate matter and energy any way he wants. Most of the time, he uses them to stop criminals that, even if powerful, were much weaker than him. Justified because first time he tried to use his powers to the fullest, the entire universe collapsed into a black hole, forcing him to re-create it as the Valiant Universe (a combination of the real world and stories from his favorite comic books).
  • Averted in the Marvel Universe in that it's implied that most of the big brains (Reed Richards, Hank Pym, Tony Stark) do make money patenting and licensing their creations. (It's canon that most of the Fantastic Four's funding comes from Reed's various patents, most notably unstable molecules.) A large chunk of their income actually comes from several companies that pay Reed NOT to release certain of his inventions, which might drive them out of business or make their entire industry obsolete.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (IDW): Issue 81 has Scootaloo and Rumble hear the story of an earth pony who experimented with heavier-than-air flight, used his invention to rescue a trapped Wonderbolt, and was welcomed into their ranks. The comic ends with Rumble using a replica of his glider (which Scootaloo helped to build) to fly in an air parade despite a sprained wing. At no point is it even briefly acknowledged that such technology could be useful to Scootaloo (who, as far as has been presented, will probably NEVER be able to fly naturally).note 
  • Spider-Man: Not entirely averted, as people like the Trapster and Spider-Man demonstrate. In the case of the latter, the alternate-future series The Last Avengers Story showed Peter Parker as a multi-millionaire, having patented his web formula after retiring as Spider-Man. One continuity had Peter try to patent the formula, and get rejected on the grounds that it wasn't permanent. Never mind that even an impermanent adhesive like that would have countless uses. If not especially an impermanent adhesive like that— take the formulation on Post-It notes, which has made Eleventy Zillion dollars for 3M.
  • One What If? story asks the question "What if Tony Stark shared his power suit designs with the world?" It turns nasty very quickly, as it allows considerable power into the hands of some very ruthless people and causes several very unpleasant wars. (The Fantastic Four are also slaughtered by a power-suited Dr. Doom.)
  • Simon "Wonder Man" Williams, a Nigh Invulnerable Flying Brick (usually) earned a living as an actor, especially in action movies, performing the kinds of stunts most crash test dummies wouldn't survive.
  • Alan Moore's Tom Strong. His recurring enemy has "liquid sun" as his main weapon (being an evil genius also helps). Much misery results. An alternate universe Tom convinces said bad guy to sell his Phlebotinum as an energy source. Much happiness results. Until it all goes to pot.
  • PS238:
    • The (current) Rainmaker program is all about averting this, but it's been played straight (and lampshaded) since the days of Mr. Extraordinary that the best thing many living perpetual energy devices, Technopaths, and Swiss-Army Weapon users do is punch bad guys, build robots to punch bad guys, and punch bad guys with force-field hammers.
    • At least Herschel Clay, the school's handyman, is shown to use his powers for commercial purposes: He owns an industrial conglomerate that, amongst other things supplies the school with most of its high-tech gadgets, and in a side-story is shown to be a contractor for NASA who makes starship designs — unfortunately, the people who are supposed to implement his designs can't keep up with his constant drive to improve them.
  • Golden Age Superman villain Funnyface was a disgruntled cartoonist who invented a machine to bring Newspaper Comics characters to life. He used it to rob banks. When he reappears in an issue of All-Star Squadron, many years later, the heroes point out to him what a preposterous waste of the technology this is, and he reacts with astonishment, clearly not having thought about it.
  • Double subverted in Invincible: the superheroine Atom Eve's power is that she can create, transform and manipulate almost any form of matter. After having used this power for superheroing for a few years, she realizes she could better use it to help hungry and poor people in the Third World, which is what she proceeds to do. However, after doing this for some time she finds out she can only offer temporary help and not facilitate any long-term changes on her own, so she returns to being a superhero.
  • In the aftermath of Civil War (2006), Norman Osborn invents an actual Cure for Cancer. What does he use it for? To try and kill Deadpool. OK, he had good reasons to want Deadpool dead, but still, you'd think that making it readily available would bring him a ridiculous amount of money and good publicity. He himself gives it to us straight:
    Spider-Man: What's wrong with you, Osborn? You're a genius! You could've cured cancer by now! Why do you keep doing this?!
    Green Goblin: That's the difference between you and me, Parker — I don't give a damn!
  • In The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye it's suggested that this trope was partly why the Decepticons lost the Great War. They would invent really big and scary weapons and tech, only to either misuse them or be so focused on the concept that they didn't make sure it would actually work in practice. Take the Phase Sixers; incredibly powerful and expensive Super Soldiers capable of fighting whole battalions and fleets by themselves. But Megatron used them as clean-up crews, sending them to finish off already crippled neutral worlds the Decepticons planned to terraform. As Starscream points out, you could get the same result from just shelling the planet with cheap, conventional weaponry from orbit. Skullcruncher really says it best while describing his time in the Decepticon military:
    "We used to say to him, 'Megatron, mate, why not get all the Phase Sixers and throw 'em at the Autobots?' Like, forget the planets! You can cyberform as many planets as you like once you've killed all your enemies! You're not making the best use of your assets."
    • Mad Scientist extraordinaire Brainstorm has invented weaponry so ridiculously dangerous that the Autobots' ethics committee has outlawed their use in all but the most dire (as in universe-threatening) circumstances. Brainstorm actually seems to take pride in his "Unmentionables" never seeing any use, which starts to make sense in later stories when we learn that A) he's actually something of a pacifist and abhors violence despite being a weapons expert, and B) he has a hidden agenda and his entire career (including a stint as an intentionally incompetent double agent) has mostly been an excuse to gather the materials needed to complete his time machine.
    • Killmaster seems to be just as much this as Brainstorm. Originally a joke character who got mentioned on occasion, with no one able to remember anything about him except that he had a "magic wand" of sorts. Turns out said wand is something he invented himself and which is capable of transporting things across dimensions. There's no sign that Megatron (who had joined the Autobots by the time this was discovered) had any idea there was a soldier in his ranks that had created such incredible technology. Though if his bizarre rivalry with Whirl is any indication, Killmaster may have been a bit cracked and not understood what he had.
  • A Planetary has an in-universe version: a supercomputer that can open portals to alternate universes is being used for calculations.
  • The Wallace & Gromit comics' first story had Wallace invent a time machine in order to find his missing slipper.

    Fan Works 
  • Averted in To the Stars - but only for the aliens. Their technology is advanced enough that they really can use FTL missiles (whose warheads, powerful in their own right, are almost irrelevant due to the velocity they impact human ships at), and teleport warheads straight into human capital ships. Justified for the humans, on the other hand; FTL is still hard enough to do (it requires difficult-to-produce 'exotic matter', for one thing) that humans can't afford to waste it on a disposable missile, and they haven't cracked the secret to technology-based teleportation although Ryoko might be able to help with that now she's realized the mechanism behind her power. So it's a good thing they have all those magical girls to even the playing field...
  • In A Caged Bird (which the author admits was partially inspired by Jessica Jones), Count Vertigo invents and distributes a drug that allows total mind control. It is used almost solely as a date rape drug, and Vertigo himself eventually uses it to abduct Laurel and turn her into his Sex Slave. The fact that it robs people of their free will probably prevents it from ever being used legally or ethically, rape is no where near as much as could be done with it. Interestingly, Tommy later comments the government panicked upon learning about the drug, well aware of what a terrorist group could do with it. So apparently, its full potential occurred to some people, just not the ones using or selling it.
  • Justified with the Triptych Continuum 's Twilight Sparkle. She is one of the most powerful unicorns in history, with magic that might let her reshape the world to her will... and discovered those powers in a surge of uncontrolled magic that inflicted Body Horror on her own parents. From that day on, Twilight has been defined more than anything else by her fear of her own power and potential. As a result, she deliberately seeks out the most pointless, frivolous, and above all harmless possible uses for her magic, because she cannot let herself even think about what she could actually do.

    Films — Animation 
  • Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs has an inventor who typifies this trope. One could think up a thousand uses for a bulletproof, waterproof, fireproof, spray on coating other than "spray on shoes". And consider that his "food creation machine" converts ordinary H2O into complex organic food molecules (which means it could convert them into darn near any other material, organic or inorganic) — and apparently runs off the residual energy left over from the process. A combination replicator and fusion generator... Even at the end of the movie, the coating's potential is only partially realized.
  • Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase features an invention that is able to not only send people into a virtual world, but also bring things created in the virtual world into the real world. It is shown that food can be created this way, but instead of considering whether this invention could be used to solve world hunger, the gang and the scientists are focused on the video game.
  • The Twelve Works Of Asterix has Iris, an Egyptian hypnotist. He can hypnotize people into being anything. The thing is, when he has hypnotized someone into believing he is a bird, he really starts to fly. Just imagine the potential if he hypnotized the Roman army into "believing" they're as strong as the Gauls, for instance. But no, Cesar only has him try to hypnotize Asterix into being a wild boar.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Prestige's matter duplicator. You can duplicate anything, even living beings. Best use in story: a magic trick. Better idea: Have anything you want. This is somewhat justified by the fact that the main character is too crazy and vengeance-focused to use it for anything but his convoluted magic trick plot. Tesla, the inventor, could have used it to solve his funding problems and his feud with Edison.
  • In The Projected Man, the protagonist is trying to perfect a transporter, a device that converts objects into energy and then converts the object back. However, he keeps running into problems whenever he tries to do it, for example animals end up dead, wristwatches end up going in reverse. Eventually when he tries it on himself, he ends up horribly burned, and with manic electricity powers. Everyone in the movie acts like a device that can convert matter into energy wouldn't still be a tremendous breakthrough by itself, even if it didn't have the capacity to reform it. Even he couldn't use it as a transporter, the ability to convert useless matter into stored energy would be a solid alternative power source. Even if the process took more energy to produce than it made, you could still use it to get rid of hazardous waste, making toxic waste dumps a thing of the past.
  • Surrogates features the technology to control machines with your mind, and yet its applications in the film are painfully limited. For example, we see people fighting wars by controlling human-looking infantry robots that are even wearing fatigues and helmets. Why not just control a tank? We even see surrogates using handheld cell phones!
  • In the Blade Trilogy, Blade is the only (Half) vampire with the ability to go about in the daylight. Best use in movie: None, he just moves around and talks to humans during the day. Better use: Use it to attack other vampires in their homes or offices during the day when they can't run away. However, it's more cool to kung-fu fight vampires than stake them in their sleep. Other vampires pretty effortlessly get around the restriction with motorcycle helmets or even just sunblock anyway.
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the 2005 adaptation) is full of this, but it's lampshaded by Mike Teevee being outraged that Willy Wonka only wants to use his shrinking/teleportation ray for something as "pointless" as candy, when he could be using it on more interesting things, like breakfast cereal and people. Shortly thereafter, he learns the teleporter's limitations the hard way.
  • Star Wars: The battle droids' artificial intelligence. We've been trying for decades to create artificial intelligence so that robots can adapt quickly to changing situations. In Star Wars, artificial intelligence is used to give robots human-like reaction times and indecisiveness, turning a killer robot army into comic relief.
    • The Rifftrax notes this, marveling at the droids' "artificial lack of intelligence."
    • Later, more advanced models are actually worse for this. In Episode One they had verbal orders and could be confused, by Three they had little chats while they worked.
    • Lampshaded in the novelization: A clone trooper, pretending to be dead for the benefit of a few battle droids, is able to communicate with his squad and recieve orders, since his helmet is designed to work on voice commands and chin switches, so it can be used even when immobilized. He muses that while clones are becoming more like droids, droids are being made more human (such as being required to speak aloud when using their communicators).
    • The droids' lack of intelligence may be explained by the various Corrupt Corporate Executives, especially the Neimodians, being extremely paranoid cowards that only used droid armies in the first place because they wanted soldiers that were one hundred percent loyal, constantly concerned about their subordinates turning on them, so could have intentionally had them programmed to be less than optimal. Also, it is well established that without constant memory wipes droids develop individual personalities, so this could have happened as well, though far less probable considering the aforementioned paranoia.
    • The "FTL as a weapon" idea is averted in Star Wars — if a hyperdrive approaches a gravity well, it automatically shuts down and reverts the starship to realspace. Or, failing that, melts. Which pulls the starship back into realspace. The time someone gets stranded in hyperspace, we find out why there are so many safeguards. Also, if a ship hits a gravity well while in hyperspace, it's rather strongly implied that it will somehow be annihilated, killing all on board. The gravity wells produce "mass shadows" which essentially create invisible walls inside hyperspace, walls that are just as hard as if you were smacking into the original object itself. The larger the object (such as planets and black holes) the larger these gravity wells become, and the harder it is to navitgate hyperspace in that section of space.
      • Also, it's shown that Deflector Shields in the Star Wars universe are probably just strong enough to completely negate "FTL as a weapon" as long as you have a large enough power plant. At one point in an older Star Wars comic, The Rebels set up the Executor, a nineteen-kilometer supership, on a collision course with three smaller-but-still-huge Star Destroyers exiting hyperspace, which promptly ram into the Executor at near light speed. The fully-shielded Executor shrugs off the attack and casually proceeds with its original mission.
      • The problem of gravity wells are actually used by the Empire with their Interdictor-class Star Destroyer in several Legends novels. The whole point of them is to pull Rebel, pirate, smuggler, and other criminals out of hyperspace and directly into an Imperial ambush. As such, they are largely used as a support role to police hyperspace lanes rather than directly combat opponents.
      • The new canon reverses this completely. While the Interdictor vessels still work, in The Last Jedi a Resistance cruiser ramming them while accelerating to hyperspace cuts a ship bigger than the Executor in half, and completely destroys a dozen smaller Star Destroyers with the backwash.
    • Cloning is totally neglected as a source of healing severe injuries inside the Star Wars universe. It is hand waved that cloning is an expensive technology, but for people with deep enough pocket books it shouldn't be that difficult to graft cloned tissue onto scarred body parts. Vader in particular should view this solution with immense interest. His burned lungs could be replaced with cloned lungs. His 4 severed limbs could be replaced with cloned limbs. His burnt skin could be gradually replaced with skin grafts from cloned skin. If the cloning technology doesn't work on individual organs, and a whole person has to be born, then the only thing that limits the user is their own morality. Someone like Vader should have no deep guilt over making clone Anakins and then murdering them so he can graft their parts onto himself, this would be a necessary evil to attain ultimate power (since his burns are what hold him back).
      • It actually goes beyond healing scarred tissue and restoring a body to normal. Life spans could be expanded to twice the normal limit. As people grow old they can swap out their failing organs (in particular the heart) with lab clone body parts. People that have diseased body parts can have them removed and replaced with cloned body parts. This is to say nothing of the stem cells that could be extracted from cloned flesh, which would allow for rejuvantion of the body. A lot of what stem cells can do is currently theoretical, but a space setting like Star Wars would probably have those turned from theory to science fact.
    • In the real world we have basic lung implants that simulate the expansion of lungs, and allows a person with damaged lungs to walk around without much fuss. It's odd that Vader who lives in a science fiction universe would have to wear such a bulky cybernetic implant in order to live, when there should be a cybernetic lung that is far more advanced than anything we have on Earth. The EU has pointed out that advanced suits that potentially would be far more sleek and elegant do exist, but Vader would have to have his iron lung removed in order to get placed in such a suit. One would think if he survived the first surgery, the second one shouldn't be any more or less lethal than the first one. It seems more like an excuse not to break canon than anything else.
    • Luke's robot hand is covered in advanced synthetic skin, that looks indistinguishable from human flesh at a glance. This would indicate that cybernetics should be capable of making other body parts look realistically organic. Whether it's Vader, Grevious, or the non-canon robotic Starkiller, cybernetics that cover the whole body seem to be a crude mish-mash of machinery and flesh. Vader is covered in bulky armor. Grevious is basically a skeletal metal frame with some organs inside his chest and head cavity. Starkiller's DLC costume is a robot with some decaying flesh exposed. Even the dark side ending Starkiller repeats the trend of Vader esque armor. You would think something akin to the realistic skin tone cybernetics of Cyberpunk 2077, or the synthetics from Fallout 4 should be possible if you gave someone a full body conversion, but instead it looks bulky and clunky. One could hand wave that these cybernetics were focused more on power/function over beauty, but it does seem odd that they're not capable of achieving that result.
    • A complaint some fans have made of the Death Star is that the energy used to produce such a fantastical weapon could be used to simply fuel the energy needs of countless planets. Fueling the energy needs of planets achieves 2 meaningful results: 1) You garner good will with the common man, because they will turn to you as a safe haven for their needs. 2) The Empire's military needs would be provided by the Death Star's fuel reserves (Kyber Crystals produce what is more or less infinite energy, by most practical measuring systems), and thus the Imperial military will maintain supremacy just from the fuel alone. Rogue One actually addresses this, because Galen Erso only joined the Death Star project because he was lied to by Director Krennic that the Death Star was going to be used for exactly that pragmatic purpose. When Galen found out the Death Star was going to be a super weapon capable of destroying planets, and was going to be used as a symbol of fear he fled the project. Palpatine's hubris comes from the fact that he could have ruled with compassion, or at least pragmatic villainy (give the people what they want for a price and they tolerate your rule), and still maintained his rule over the galaxy.
    • The Jedi are known as guardians of peace in the galaxy, but their application of the Force for combat against the forces of evil seems like a limited use of the Force's overall utility. Stock speculators would kill for the ability to read the future and would pay Jedi a fortune for an accurate prediction. Construction companies would love Jedi since they could lift heavy materials without the need for heavy machinery. A Jedi's lightsaber would be like a gift from God to a welder, given its ability to cut through basically anything. Companies would likely pay the Jedi a fortune for the use of their lightsabers for civilian purposes. Jedi would even be useful for doctors, because they would know ahead of time if patients are going to get sick and would be able to get them preventive care. Jedi would be of help to surgeons since they could sense where the injury is located, or perhaps even telekinetically remove it with the Force rather than needing to cut them open. Insofar as you want to acknowledge healing abilities, which are either mild or extremely esoteric (what Rey did to Kylo Ren, Darth Plagueis' ability to stop death) then Force users would be sought after for their miracle power to save lives. The Jedi using lightsabers and Force powers to stop Sith seems like only one small part of what they could be doing to help people. Except of course, in a galaxy with dozens of millions of inhabited star systems with even the relatively backwater ones having a population in the billions, there's about... a thousand Jedi-level force sensitives (many of them undiscovered), give or take, at any given time. "Spread thin" doesn't begin to cover it.
  • Star Trek in general has many instances of this trope; the 2009 movie adds a new one: with the help of future knowledge from Old Spock, Scotty quickly modifies a transporter to beam himself and Kirk onto the Enterprise — which has been traveling away from them for hours, at the kind of speed that let it get from Earth to Vulcan in minutes. Now, if you can build a transporter that sends you across vast interstellar distances in an instant... why do you need starships? (Of course, the answer is — to prevent the Star Trek franchise from turning into a funky version of the Stargate-verse...) Interestingly this was actually a concept early on in the pre-production development of Star Trek: The Next Generation. People would just beam from planet to planet without bothering with warp drive and starships. Fortunately for the franchise this was considered a few steps too far.
  • In Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, we learn that Tom Servo has an interocitor from This Island Earth in his room, which is capable of interstellar communication, blasting stuff with heat rays, and just about anything else imaginable. He uses his to make hot chocolate. But we should really just relax.
  • In Flubber, the lead character's research is to help fund the university. He's assisted by a flying computer equipped with Artificial Intelligence, which would probably be worth millions, if not billions. Actually justified with the AI...he has NO idea how he did it. A plot point is actually him trying to get Flubber to market. The AI itself however does know how he did it, and hands him plans for a new version of itself. So maybe that last scene takes place in a world full of intelligent machines?
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Iron Man demonstrates JARVIS, an artificial-intelligence-like entity that Tony Stark created, but the applications of this technology aren't explored much in the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe until Avengers: Age of Ultron. That movie clarifies that JARVIS is merely a very sophisticated program, which is why the Vision and Ultron himself are such a big deal. Also, the fact that Ultron went feral and tried to destroy the world caused the UN to outlaw A.I. research later on in the MCU continuity, though this doesn't stop Tony Stark from building other A.I. such as Friday and Karen.
    • Tony actually discusses the misapplication of Ivan Vanko's Arc Reactor model in Iron Man 2, saying that he could have sold it for billions to another country and is wasting it going after him. Vanko retorts that he doesn't care about money, he just wants to get revenge on Tony and by extension his father for what Howard Stark did to his family.
    • In Captain America: The First Avenger, Howard Stark, one of the brightest allied minds and the US Army's primary weapons contractor, has access to a completely vibration-absorbent metal called Vibranium. He fashions it into a circle, supposedly a prototype, though for what or how he planned on making more of it with no more of the stuff isn't explained as Captain America decides to use it as a shield. Seven years later, this is averted by Wakanda, who have built an advanced civilization around diverse use of the mineral, including hologram projections covering the entire country, forcefields, and clean energy. In fact, this trope is a significant theme in that movie, with T'Challa realizing that Wakanda's secretive nature and hoarding their advanced technology is a grave misuse of something that could better the entire world.
    • The Avengers: Played for Laughs when Tony Stark calls out a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent on the Helicarrier for using some of the most advanced computers in the world, surpassed only by Stark's own, to play Galaga.
  • Ghostbusters had compact reactors long before the Iron Man movie. The ray guns were dangerous (if the rays collide, they divide the entire universe by zero) but the power supplies themselves were quite safe. They could have beat Stark to the clean affordable energy business, even more so since they went out of the ghost business after the first movie. Though Egon, the smartest member of the team, suddenly looks nervous after turning Ray's pack on, and flattens himself against the elevator wall to be as far from it as possible. Maybe not as safe as everyone thinks.
  • One of the biggest problems of the main character in Click was that his job took too much time, leaving him too little to spend with his family. His magic remote has a Pause button he can use to freeze time, during which he can manipulate objects and people. He could have solved his biggest problem by doing his overtime work outside time entirely, but doesn't try that on screen. That doesn't even get into the remote's unexpected behavior.
  • In Sherlock Holmes, Lord Blackwood's pet scientist has invented radio control seven years before Nikola Tesla actually developed it. Instead of patenting it and making enough money to just buy control of the British government, he uses it to remote detonate a chemical weapon, while pretending to be killing the victims by magic. This is pointed out in the end, by the villain who takes the device and notes how much more valuable it is than anything Blackwood envisioned.
  • The Bourne Legacy, we learn that all of the assassins gain their enhanced intelligence and physical prowess from little blue and green pills which we later discover are not even necessary if the drug is properly applied and seems to have no real drawbacks. Only once are the medical and scientific benefits of such a drug or even thinks that they might personally benefit from such enhancements themselves.
  • Spider-Man 2: Doc Ock is attempting to perfect fusion power. In the process, he invents a direct-neural-interfaced, super-strong, super-precise exoskeleton bodysuit. Wow. The military contracts, not to mention industrial, would have made him a billionaire easily. Oh, he also invented A.I. along the way, that's barely worth mentioning either. Though considering what it ends up doing to his head...
  • This is actually lampshaded in the Nicolas Cage film Next. Also justified since the psychic in question knows he's being hunted down by the government and thus keeps his gambling wins small to avoid attracting attention.
  • Batman Forever: The Box, a 3D peripheral for television and a way to steal secrets via brainwaves. Nygma might have had more success if he'd sold it as a passive interrogation tool rather than a mass-market toy: No more of this messy enhanced interrogation; simply set your captive in front of a Box-enhanced television and let it do its thing.

  • In Dragon Bones, the protagonist, Ward, learns early on that he has a slave (A Wizard Did It. It Makes Sense In Context) who is a powerful mage, and could do, well, lots of things. Oreg (said slave) does some things of his own accord, like providing nice clothes for Ward and Ciarra, re-heating Ward's bath water, and such. He can see what is going on everywhere in castle Hurog. What does Ward ask him to do? Continue protecting Ciarra (which Oreg has been doing anyway). Some time later, Ward is told that Oreg is trained as an assassin. Ward does have political enemies, but he never once thinks of sending Oreg (who can make himself invisible and teleport) to take care of them. True, Oreg cannot be too far away from Ward, but far enough so no one would suspect Ward. Justified in that Ward is very different from the ancestors who had Oreg trained as an assassin, and while Ward is a good fighter, killing people just is not his favourite way of solving problems — he suffered years and years under his abusive father, who he suspected would kill him one day, and still never got the idea to kill his father first. Even though his father told him that he murdered Ward's grandfather for a Klingon Promotion. The idea of killing people in something other than self-defense is something Ward just doesn't seem able to wrap his mind around.
  • In the Hyperion Cantos's last two books, the protagonist and narrator, Raul Endymion, is trapped in a deathtrap modelled after Schrödinger's Cat because nobody wants to kill him. So, with his connection to the Void Which Binds, he starts writing, and uses the connection to look back in time to ensure his story is accurate. He actually peers into minds all over the known universe. He also knows that the Void Which Binds, which he's connected to, was used in the past as a teleporter, and Aenea, his girlfriend/the messiah can use it. Never mind. It doesn't occur to him throughout the books that he can break out and continue writing without the threat of death by cyanide poisoning. Later, he realizes this and teleports off. Turns out he was kinda slow (and also was at the time greatly affected by the horrific martyrdom of Aenea). Practically the whole universe had learnt to do that, and has dubbed it "freecasting", a homage to the older term "farcasting". Starships are still used by the people still loyal to the Pax, who refuse to take Communion and learn freecasting. In fact, the whole point of him writing the two books is to come to this realization.
  • None of the characters in the series Animorphs ever considered that the morphing technology handed to them in the very first book, if given to the series Big Bad, might solve the species-wide problem that drove them to Alien Invasion in the first place? Even after they offered it to the Horror Hunger Taxxons in a bid to get them to switch sides? When you consider that they're constantly up against Visser Three, though, no wonder it took them ages to think of it.
    • A couple of other factors in play there, though: first, it took them forever to get their hands on a morphing cube, and once they had one, the one and only time they used it was a complete disaster, and second, it's Andalite technology, and they're desperate for Andalite help, and Andalites aren't exactly enthusiastic about letting the Yeerks use their technology, especially considering what happened the last time they tried it.
    • The imperialist Yeerks would have just used it as a weapon, and they were forced to permanently morph into animals at the end.
    • The Andalites are very guilty of this, however. Despite the fact that all their soldiers can morph, most of them never use it. It's been heavily implied that Andalite society is hamstrung by tradition, however, which might explain that.
      • More to the point, Andalites saw morphing tech as espionage technology only and that most people who would use it would only morph one or two creatures that they would specialize in. Another factor is that Earth has an insanely high bio-diversity compared to the rest of the verse. Finally, the Andalites were quite hardy fighters in their natural forms (Ax... a teen cadet... once killed a T-Rex without morphing) so weaponizing other creatures wasn't a thought for them. Visser Three's various monstrous morphs conversely were only vicious monsters that could up the stakes... he was never shown using anything for the purposes of sneaking. Only humans diversified and used morphs that would blend into various different environments.
    • After the war ended, it has become popular for rich Andalites to acquire morphing technology and visit Earth... to eat at Cinnabon.
    • The Animorphs were fond of this as well. In one book, Cassie and Rachel morphed mice to get into a teacher's house and get an assignment that Cassie had doodled love letters to Jake on. In another, the gang morphed parrots to bad-mouth the food at the local Rainforest Cafe. During another outing, Ax morphed human... to go to a Star Trek Movie.
  • The Alfred Bester short story Star Light, Star Bright is about the pursuit of a cabal of supergenius children who have developed fantastic technology in order to deal with kid-type issues (e.g. producing sprouts that are strawberry-flavor on the inside).
    • The point being that, in a way reminiscent of idiot-savants, while they are capable of advanced theoretical, mathematical and biological leaps, they're still kids and think like kids. Ask a kid what they would do if given some random power/technology. Most of the time it will be precisely something of that order. Mathematics only require a knowledge of the basic rules and their extrapolation. Sociopolitical thinking (which includes the application of theoretical research) is based less on intellect and more on experience.
  • Robots Have No Tails by Henry Kuttner collects a series of stories about a down on his luck (mostly due to constant drinking) man named Gallegher who becomes a Bunny-Ears Lawyer genius inventor when drunk but can't remember when he sobers up. Since it is generally played for laughs and his drunk self is a Cloud Cuckoo Lander, that kind of explains it.
    • In the short story "The Proud Robot", Gallegher invented an unbelievably sophisticated singing robot with a highly intelligent (and vain) AI. Gallegher couldn't get the robot to do anything he wanted because he forgot why he built it in the first place (he was drunk). In the climax, he remembers that he built it because he had trouble opening a can of beer. He swore to build a bigger and better can opener; said robot is able to open beer cans with absolutely no fizz or a single drop of spilled beer. The ending has the inventor becoming depressed because beer cans are being phased out in favor of plastic bulbs, meaning his "can opener" robot will be "useless".
  • In The Twilight Saga, the Cullens are blessed with eternal life and a seemingly infinite amount of money. You'd think they'd devote their lives to something interesting, if not something charitable since they are described as basically Jesus. The best thing they could come up with is going to high school for decades and not even making good friends every once in a while.
  • In Michael Crichton's Timeline there is an immensely powerful quantum computer capable of recording the exact quantum state of every particle in human body, and then sending the data to another universe where it can somehow be recreated into a perfect copy of the person (though the original is technically speaking destroyed — the protagonists are much less disturbed by this than you'd think). It is used to study history by sending people and recorders to universes identical to our own except their position in time, when they could use it among other things for consulting dead people with important opinions, for duplicating rare and useful materials, for immortality, or for bringing just about any technology that's ever going to be invented in any possible future to the present you morons! It was revealed in the end that stealing future technology really was the plan; the historical research just was a proof-of-concept to impress the investors and a testing ground for the technology.
  • James P. Hogan's novel The Genesis Machine takes the Faster-Than-Light Travel/Weapon of Mass Destruction misapplication mentioned above and flips it on its head. The protagonists figure out a way to transmit energy through "hi-space" to a location of their choosing, no receiver required; they weaponize it and sell it to the military. Only at the very end of the novel does it occur to one of them that with slight modifications, matter could be transmitted as well.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
    • "Here I am, brain the size of a planet and they ask me if I can pick up that piece of paper..." Marvin's not joking, either. At one point a military fully capable of operating on a galactic scale moved its control program for trillions of normal robots to his head, and it still used so little of his processing power that he resorted to writing little poems just to keep himself occupied. He was designed as a menial robot.
    • Time travel was used to see if a certain set of brilliant poems could be made better if the author had some corrective ink to work with.
  • On another Douglas Adams project, in his book Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, Urban Chronotis, the Regius Professor of Chronology, is immortal and has a functioning time machine. He uses it to watch TV, since he doesn't understand VCR recorders. And on one occasion, for a magic trick to entertain a small child. This is lampshaded with the following quote.
    [Dirk reacted to this revelation with horror]
    Dirk: You have a time machine and you use it for... watching television?
  • Valkyrie's guilty of it in the Skulduggery Pleasant series. She has training in Elemental powers — the ability to control air, water, earth and fire. At one point Skulduggery calls her out on the fact that she's not good at manipulating water because she never practises with it, instead focusing her energy on air and fire because they're the more obvious elements to use in a fight. Skulduggery never mentions it and Valkyrie fails to add two and two, but seriously, how could she have overlooked the destructive powers of being able to control water? For crying out loud, most of the human body is water! Imagine if every bit of that water were to suddenly vanish. Or, on a more simple and brutal level, imagine filling someone's lungs with water...
  • Averted in Larry Niven's Known Space setting.
    • Thanks to ubiquitous and cheap teleporters, Earth's population becomes almost entirely homogeneous (both physically and culturally), the internal combustion engine is practically extinct, and the parts of the interstate highway system that weren't demolished and rebuilt have become parks. On the down side they deal with flash mobs and the ability of a criminal to be literally anywhere else in the world seconds after committing a crime.
    • Also averted with reaction drives. At the time the Kzinti invaded, humanity had become Actual Pacifists and had no weapons. That is, until they realized that thrusters can double as energy weapons.
    • Stasis field appears in the very first novel. Later Niven confessed that the technology would be so useful, he has to go to great lengths NOT to use it as a solution in every story.
  • Happens a lot in Harry Potter, where they use time machines so that children can take more classes than they otherwise could, the Bag of Holding exists but is strangely underutilized, and so on. Deconstructed in Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.
    • Even one How It Should Have Ended video stated that the heroes could go back to the past and kill Voldemort as an infant, but there's a problem with doing that. This one, at least, has an explanation — Word of God is that the Time Turners can only bring you five hours into the past, and they do not allow the user to change the past, because there is only one timeline.
    • The Room of Requirement is even guiltier since you can't even give the "it's too dangerous" excuse. A room that can respond to your request by changing itself, providing all the necessary equipment and information. Even if it cannot create things that don't already exist (like a map that marks all of Voldy's Horcruxes), the possibilities are still staggering. You could probably request a room full of gold, or lost artifacts, or weapons, or hell, maybe the cures to cancer and AIDS, while you're at it (one could argue that it does exist, we just haven't been able to put it together)! The characters spend most of the series using it as a gym, a supply closet or a storeroom, only even beginning to explore its true potential in Deathly Hallows, when La Résistance in Hogwarts is using it as their base.
    • Justified in that even Dumbledore was unaware of the Room of Requirement and only encountered it in the middle of a Potty Emergency... when it became a room filled with chamber pots. Between the portraits that would go off and visit each other to the architecture rearranging itself on a whim, randomly stumbling upon the Room of Requirement and never seeing it again was quite possibly the only encounter people had with it for years.
  • Aversion: in the Teleporter section of the main article, there's a mention of the potential use of this for backing yourself up/making multiple copies of yourself. The Charles Stross book Glasshouse did both; they massively affect society, and form major plot points. For example, changing genders is common thanks to the "reconstruct" part (making gender nouns rather confusing); "orthohuman" (standard H sapiens shape) and "xenohuman" (with massive bodily alterations) are normal descriptions; lethal duels are equally common so long as the participants 'saved' recently; the combination of disintegration/reconstruction transport 'gates' with memory-wipe technology resulted in memory censor viruses which affect anyone who uses the gate, one of which managed to pretty much wipe the reason for a whole war from history; and a major plotpoint involves the main character being knocked out by a copy of himself (well, he's physically female at the time, but he seems to identify as male for the most part), thanks to the 'original' being brainwashed with one of those memory worms.
    • In a Nightmare Fuel moment, there's a short section pointing out that the really important part of a person is their mind, so when a group of soldiers are sending people through the gate to be be mentally tweaked, they realize that sending through prisoners one at a time is taking too long since it takes a while to process the entire body. So they start beheading prisoners and tossing the heads into the gate, as the smaller physical size allows for faster processing and hey, they're getting a new body anyway.
  • Charles Stross's The Merchant Princes Series plays with this trope. Members of the Clan have the ability to teleport between alternate timelines, along with whatever they can carry. They use it to get rich in modern America by smuggling drugs through a world with a feudal culture that lacks a DEA, and in that feudal culture they use their ability to get rich by bringing in modern innovations like penicillin and automatic guns. That's a very practical application of the phlebotinum, compared to many examples on this page, like robbing banks, using Swiss Army Superpowers just for fighting, or using dinosaurs as the main attraction in an amusement park. However, after a modern business journalist learns about the system she quickly points out that mercantilism is a very old-fashioned, zero-sum economic theory and there are much better things the Clan could be doing with their time, like Giving Radio to the Romans.
  • In the toplined short story of Roald Dahl's The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More, the titular Henry Sugar finds a book that gives a first-hand account of how a doctor met a man who mastered an ancient technique that allowed him to see without eyes and to also see through various thin objects — like playing cards. Subverted by the doctor, who wanted to find a way to use the technique to help people with disabilities like blindness be able to live normal lives, but played straight by Henry, who picks up the technique to win in casinos. He later subverts it himself, when he is bored and rich and decides to dedicate his life to winning money and donating it to various orphanages and charities.
  • Averted in the Great Ship series with hyperfiber, an incredibly strong material that gains its strength from dispersing energy through several different universes. Almost everything that can utilize hyperfiber is made out of the stuff; armor, weapons, hulls, furniture, et cetera. The Great Ship is so durable because it has a hull several kilometers thick made entirely out of ultra high-grade hyperfiber.
  • A Star Trek Expanded Universe TNG novel focused on a planet which was being massively polluted from seemingly nowhere because its alternate universe counterpart had stumbled upon a device that made things vanish. It wasn't until much later that they realized they'd created an interdimensional transporter. This novel also showed why using such a device as a planetary-scale garbage disposal might not be a good idea: they eventually discovered that the "garbage" and pollution they were getting rid of included important trace elements of their atmosphere. And since they'd also unknowingly destroyed all of their planet's dilithium crystals long ago, before realizing their importance, they didn't have the means to evacuate more than a small fraction of their population.
  • Tower and the Hive: Pretty much the moment the human-Mrdini alliance realized they could use human psychics to teleport nukes into Hiver ships, the war was effectively over and the previously dangerous Hivers ceased to be a serious threat. The conflict of the story moves from "How can we defend ourselves?" to "How can we pacify the Hivers without committing genocide on them?"
  • The one novel in John Ringo's Into the Looking Glass series had an Energy Being be frustrated to its version of tears by a neural implant being used as a universal remote, which uses an infinitesimal amount of processing power. It's likened to seeing an Intelligent Gerbil use a computer cooling fan to run an airboat; with the computer still attached.
  • Snapshot: The Snapshot creates a perfect recreation of the city on a single day, with every single molecule and twenty million people accounted for. No one has any idea what to actually do with it; after the Mayor's "entertainment" was outlawed, it was eventually decided to only allow it to be used for government work with a warrant, meaning it's typically used to investigate murders, with some petty crimes as side missions if they happen to fall on the same day. Davis and Chaz repeatedly discuss the idea of finding something more useful to do with it, but they can't think of anything much better than just letting the Snapshot run for years to see what happens. The government is using it for spying and more important murder investigations.
    • Sanderson mentioned in the afterword that this trope was why he made the Snapshot run on a Captured Super-Entity rather than advanced tech: He wanted this one specific application, but none of the other things that could logically be done with the kind of tech that would allow the duplication of the past.
  • Will Save the Galaxy for Food averts this, depicting the end of manned space flight because someone invented Anywhere-In-The-Universe teleportation, which put all the space pilots out of business. They're understandably bitter about being reduced to hi-tech beggars, although it is mentioned that some rich folk still have pilots, because one teleporter booth is exactly the same as another so there's no First Class accommodations to waste money on. Much of the book is dedicated to just how much teleportation changes the world—for instance, people now store personal items by teleporting them miles underground.
    • Part of the plot is that they abandoned starships a bit too soon. All of those threats Star Pilot heroes saved worlds from still exist; the teleport booths just let travelers bypass the pirates and assorted alien monsters that still control the black.
  • Discussed in Diary of a Wimpy Kid, where Greg's mother says his grandmother has ESP. Greg remarks that if it's true, she's not using her powers to their full potential.
    Greg: So, Gramma, what do you think the lottery numbers will be tonight?
    Grandma: I'm not sure, but I "predict" you're going to enjoy these cookies!
  • Jack and the Beanstalk: Forget the golden goose, the beanstalk alone has properties that any real farmer would kill for in a crop. It grows from seed to full height overnight without watering or other tending to (since Jack's mom threw the beans out the window instead of planting them properly), and is taller (and usually depicted as thicker) than any tree without any kind of supports (unlike real bean plants which need poles). To do that the stalk would have to be one of the strongest natural materials known to man, so Jack could've led a One-Man Industrial Revolution turning it into a wood substitute for construction, or even just a biofuel source. And if it produces anything edible, then there's the solution to Jack's hunger problem, if not world hunger, right there.
  • Wearing the Cape: Seven is often described as having supernaturally good luck; guns pointed at him jam, bombs fail to go off if he's within range, and so on. Hope immediately asks why he doesn't just go out and win the lottery. Seven clarifies that it's more like he has a Guardian Entity looking out for him that manifests as suspicious coincidences. His luck works almost exclusively for his own defense (and the defense of his teammates to a lesser extent), while also allowing him to indulge in some minor whims. For example, at a convention dedicated to superheroes he isn't recognized despite being a famous hero, and pretty girls literally fall into his arms on a regular basis.
  • The Stormlight Archive:
    • Szeth-son-son-Vallano is a One-Man Army with a Soul-Cutting Blade and supernatural powers that haven't been seen in centuries, along with the skills to use both to their fullest extent. He is also a pacifist and an Extreme Doormat bound by his honor to obey whoever holds his Oathstone; the series starts when he is forced to assassinate a king. He is therefore at his happiest when he is not being used as an assassin and a killer. Then someone who disagrees with that sentiment gets a hold of his Oathstone, and starts one of the most horrific slaughters in recent history.
    Master: You are squandered. You are not meant for petty extortions and murders. Using you like this, it's like hitching a Ryshadium stallion to a run-down market wagon. It's like using a Shardblade to slice vegetables, or like using the finest parchment as kindling for a washwater fire. It is a crime.
    • Speaking of Shardblades, in the same book most officers and many of the common soldiers think it's a serious example of this when Dalinar Kholin, a royal and a general, uses said magical blade and the enhanced speed and strength from his Power Armor to assist his men digging ditches. That he's using basically sacred relics for such a mundane purpose is taken as another sign of his going insane.
  • Ascendance of a Bookworm: Myne's Past-Life Memories from modern-day Japan are subject to this after some of the most powerful people in her duchy become aware of them. Several factors play into this:
    • If it doesn't contribute to increasing the number of books produced in her new world or recreate something she misses from modern-day Japan, Myne has no interest in introducing it.
    • If she had no interest in a subject at any point in her previous life, chances are that she didn't bother memorizing much about it if she ever read a book on the subject. For instance, she's at a relative loss when her mother becomes pregnant because her previous life was an only child with a Disappeared Dad and no interest in finding a romantic partner of her own, which resulted in her not giving much attention to pregnancy and childbirth.
    • Many of the things with which she could help are completely foreign concepts to the powerful people in the know.
    • Several major disruptions are being caused even by underutilization of her Past-Life Memories (for instance, introducing cheaper paper and ink alternatives tends to be bad news for the people producing the stuff that's currently used), so the powerful people in the know may not be able to handle the consequences of using their full potential.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Sabrina the Teenage Witch: Sabrina is allowed access to a crystal ball that can answer any question. Her first question was, oddly enough, "What if Kenan and Kel won the lottery?". We then see a short segment of the two losing the ticket and coming to the conclusion that it was inside a sandwich that Kel just took a bite out of.
  • Star Trek actually did do the research on this one (albeit with some glaring exceptions):
    • Averted in the case of replicators; The Federation as depicted is an example of a moneyless socialist society, sometimes regarded as a Post-Scarcity Economy. Federation citizens do still work, but they do so to "better themselves", follow personal interests, and contribute to society. From Star Trek: The Next Generation onwards, replicators make everything you need — for an energy input. In a normal space opera you might need some suspension of disbelief, Obvious Rule Patches or handwaving to explain why replicators don't cause the economy to collapse, but, in a post-capitalist utopian society, the problem doesn't exist. The replicators also get more and more limited as the franchise goes on. For instance, you can replicate food, but a homecooked meal or restaurant will taste better. It's also inefficient enough that in early seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Bajor is struggling with famines, even though they have both replicators and Federation foreign aid. Torpedoes are manufactured traditionally and stored on ships until use, not replicated as needed. Even the Federation is crisscrossed by trade lanes as goods are moved from one side of the galaxy to the other, and a few races build their whole culture around the fact that trade is still important. (As one Star Trek producer put it, a society that can replicate a starship is a society that doesn't need starships.)
    • Another case is the holodeck. One may assume there are people who have taken to just living permanent lives of leisure in a holodeck, but, again, they aren't shown on-screen because that would be boring. The recurring character Reginald Barclay's ongoing struggle with "holo-addiction" points out why you don't want that sort of thing going on when you're supposed to be busy exploring the galaxy and making friends with aliens. Deep Space 9 also pointed out that they're actually fairly expensive to operate long term as Quark's Holosuites barely break even and he's amazed when one of his clients boasts he has his own personal holosuite.
  • Star Trek: Voyager:
    • The Vidiians have some of the most ridiculously advanced medical technology ever. They are also afflicted with a disease that devours their organs one by one, and which adapts too quickly for them to cure. They use their hyper-advanced medicine to murder people and steal their organs. In "Faces", it's definitively established that they can create clones through transporter technology. The obvious use of this is to mass-produce organ-harvest clones, which may be something of an ethical minefield but has to be miles ahead of murdering people and stealing their organs.
    • In "Prime Factors", the Sikarians are a culture of hedonists who have a teleporter that can reach planets forty thousand light years distant, which they use exactly once in the episode — to allow one of them to go on a romantic walk with Harry Kim. They presumably use it for other things too, but apparently not for trade or diplomacy.note 
  • Subverted in Supernatural. When a character is discovered to have mind control abilities, he is asked why he is only using it to live a lower-middle-class life and to obtain some weed, get laid (by getting girls into impressive venues, not brainwashing them), and a couple cool things like a rare car, as opposed to something grander like world conquest. He replies by claiming that he has everything he would ever want.
  • Buffy Summers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer acquires the ability to read minds in "Earshot". Giles suggests using it for gathering intelligence against her enemies... but Buffy's response is "Way better than that", and she uses it to give the right answers in class and investigate the petty personal questions of how people think about her. Of course, like most magic in Sunnydale, it goes horribly wrong. It ends up being a moot point anyway, since she can't control it and vampires are immune.
  • Heroes:
  • In New Amsterdam (2008), in the 1600s, a Native American tribe has a spell that makes people immortal. In-story use: reward some random white guy who saved the life of one of the tribe's women. Better use: make all of the tribe's warriors immortal, then easily defeat the white guys that are taking their land.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • In earlier episodes, it was implied that the Asgard did use their teleporters as weapons: The first time we meet them, they "beam" an entire Goa'uld army into oblivion before using the same device to harmlessly transport a human bystander to their ship to meet them.
    • In the episode "Tin Man", a lonely alien android makes Robot Me versions of the team, almost indistinguishable from the originals except for needing to recharge their batteries every few hours. In-verse application: none, they bury the gate, and we never hear of it again. (At least they don't murder the doubles!) Better application: Me's a Crowd. The SG teams have dangerous jobs; sending disposable duplicates on them would greatly help. Even better, it would probably be fairly easy to make it true Brain Uploading. There would be huge lines of the terminally ill and quadriplegics willing to be transferred into properly functioning, indistinguishable-from-the-original bodies (absent the problems they had in the first place). Sure, the whole "can't leave the planet" caveat's a bummer, but a minor one; they could receive visitors and news/entertainment/whatever through the gate. Given the alternative, a lot of people would probably take the offer.
      • Used and abused for this purpose in the spin-off novel Hydra; the NID acquire the templates for the robo-SG-1 and create various subtly reprogrammed versions of the team to try and do the job that the NID feels the SGC should be doing, such as taking technology from other societies regardless of the cost. This plan backfires as the various duplicates come to resent feeling like slaves, culminating in the creation of the psychopathic 'theta team'.
    • There is an episode where Anubis has souped up his flagship so that it has a nigh-impenetrable energy shield. Meanwhile, the Tau'ri have developed a kick-ass space fighter with a hyperdrive that, sadly, only works for very short hops (as in, miles, rather than light years). Colonel O'Neil uses the hyperdrive to make a hyperjump just inside the forcefield and make an Spacestrike Impossible on the flagship to disable its main weapon.
  • Stargate Atlantis:
    • Averted in the case of "teleporting warheads": as soon as the Atlantis Expedition gained access to Asgard beaming technology, they just started teleporting atomic bombs onto Wraith vessels. The Wraith rather quickly figured out a way to "jam" the teleportation, but they lost a big number of their otherwise extremely powerful Hive ships before that happened. It's eventually revealed that the likely reason they had a fix available so quickly is because they've encountered this tactic before - with the Vanir, a less ethical Asgard offshoot hiding out in the Pegasus Galaxy.
    • An episode had the team discover an abandoned experiment by the Ancients to replace the Zero-Point Modules (which create enormous power by extracting vacuum-energy from a tiny pocket of subspace) with a reactor that extracts vacuum-energy from our own universe. The problem is that in the process, it creates exotic particles that completely ignore our universe's laws of physics. Turning the experiment back on eventually results in an explosion that wipes out most of a (fortunately uninhabited) solar system. The Atlantis Expedition later tries to create a scaled-down reactor that solves the exotic particle problem by shunting the particles to another universe (which they figure is probably uninhabited anyway). But, it turns out the other universe IS inhabited, and they take exception to being our universe's dumping grounds, so it gets shut down again.
  • Dollhouse: Despite possessing an incredibly versatile technology that could be used for any number of things, the series deliberately explores both the use and misuse of technology that allows one to imprint memories, personalities and skills into human bodies and modify the workings of neural pathways. At first glance, the eponymous Dollhouse appears to be flagrantly misusing their tech to run what essentially amounts to a high-tech brothel/thieves' guild/assassination broker that manufactures tailored agents. However, as the series progresses, we see the other uses of the tech, such as mass-producing hive-minded supersoldiers, and the weaponized use of imprinting/wiping signals across radios and telephones as weapons of mass destruction, turning everyone who picks up the phone into either a childlike Doll or a rabidly homicidal Butcher. Averted by Topher during the second season when he reinvents his designs for Rossum specifically so that they can't be used for any other purpose than they are designed for.
  • Weird Science: Of course, considering how their wishes usually turn out, even if they did wish for that it would end badly anyways.
    Student: So how come you're not the richest man in the world living on an island with Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell?
    Wyatt Donnelly: Uh... we never really wished for that.
    Student: Oh, so what did you wish for?
    Wyatt Donnelly: I wished to be president of the chess club once. It didn't work out.
  • Notably averted in Farscape: The bad guys aren't after Crichton's wormhole tech just so they can use it for transportation. In fact, that use of the technology only seems to interest Crichton himself. What happens when you open a wormhole inside the enemy ship? Inside a planet? A star? In the concluding miniseries John unleashes a wormhole weapon, which is designed to grow in size at a massive rate. Within a few minutes it destroys a planet, and if not stopped would have swallowed up the entire galaxy.
  • Just about any technology from The Outer Limits (1963) and The Outer Limits (1995) gets used in the most wrong, awkward and fucked-up way possible in-world.
  • Most of the time this occurs in The Time Tunnel it can be forgiven since the titular device is an experimental prototype that they haven't figured out fully yet, and all of their travels must result in a Stable Time Loop. However, there is an episode where the time travelers encounter alien invaders that embodies this trope. The aliens have working teleporters that do not appear to need a transmitter or a receiver. They have orders to raid the Earth for protein. They do this by attacking a town and forcing them to give them meat. They could have just stolen the food with a teleporter, or stolen a herd of cows, or abducted a school of fish!
  • The basic premise of Mystery Science Theater 3000 requires that Dr Forrester was able to build and orbit a satellite cheaply enough that he could bury the expenses in the Gizmonic Institute's budget—a satellite with artificial gravity and sufficient storage space to hold enough supplies to keep its one man crew healthy for over five years before swapping crews without lots of really obvious resupply shuttles. This would revolutionize the space program, and what does he do with it? Screen crappy movies. Similarly, Joel was able to build three robots with true, if not overly sophisticated, artificial intelligences. What does he do with them? Provide companionship so that he doesn't have to sit through those movies alone. There's a reason why the MST3K Mantra is named for this show. Aside from that, the trope pops up in some individual episodes:
    • The Dead Talk Back has an entire sketch parodying this trope. The film features a scientist who claims to be working on a radio that can talk to the dead. Crow and Servo manage to get a working version together, and immediately use it for a sports talk radio show. Mike spends the entire sketch flabbergasted as Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill call in from beyond the grave; despite his attempts to ask them more important questions, even they aren't interested in anything besides who'll win the Super Bowl that year.
    • In Space Mutiny, Tom Servo and Crow find a pair of escape pods hidden deep within the Satellite of Love, and promptly take them on a joyride, which they end by crashing back into the satellite. Mike angrily asks why they didn't consider using those pods to, you know, escape the satellite they're trapped on. Servo and Crow are confused by the question.
      Servo: What's he on about... oh! You mean... to escape from here!
  • In Fringe, Walter once invented a matter transmitter, which he thought could replace the can opener.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003) fans have endlessly debated about why, given the lack of No Warping Zone on their FTL drives, the Cylons never bother to simply jump in nuke-armed Raiders and feed Galactica instant sunshine until she's destroyed.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In the story "The Ambassadors of Death", a race of friendly alien beings are discovered that possess highly advanced technology, are Immune to Bullets, consume radiation and can blow things up (including people) just by touching them. They could end the nuclear waste problem, defend the Earth from asteroids, uplift humans further into outer space... but the people who've kidnapped them just want to use them to rob banks.
    • In the episode "Planet of the Dead", there is a psychic woman who repeatedly wins small amounts on the lottery, because she's happy enough with her life as it is and doesn't want the changes a big win would create.
  • Person of Interest: Harold Finch created a surveillance supercomputer that predicts crimes, which the protagonists use to help the helpless. However, the true implication of the Machine isn't as a surveillance device, but the fact that it is true artificial intelligence. This trope is subverted as the series shifts to examine the ramifications of human-equivalent AI in a near-future setting, eventually culminating in a company bringing a rival AI online to Take Over the World.
  • Jessica Jones (2015) has Jessica herself (super-strong and able to jump extremely high) using her abilities just as a means to make her job as a private detective less dangerous and difficult. It's only somewhat effective, as she's still not particularly successful until the end of the season, when her reputation grows and she starts getting more calls. Kilgrave has the power to mind control anybody who comes within a certain distance, and all he does is lead a life of amoral hedonism rather than attempt anything grander. Justified in both cases, as Kilgrave is a psychopath who cares about nothing beyond his immediate pleasure until he develops a psychotic obsession with Jessica, at which point he devotes all his energy towards dominating her. Jessica herself once considered being a superhero, but was so traumatised by her captivity by Kilgrave that she prefers to just get by with enough money to buy alcohol.
  • Dark Matter (2015): Played with. The "Transfer Transit" system allows you to transfer your mind into an Expendable Clone light years away with a limited lifespan; the only downside is that if you in clone form don't return to the pod to upload your memories and have your clone body recycled (say, because you get shot before you can return), you in your original body won't remember what happened. It was originally created and marketed for entertainment purposes like long-distance vacations and nothing more. However, it quickly becomes clear that some people are putting it to more creative use. Six uses it to perform a suicidal assassination, a terrorist leader uses it to make perfect body doubles, and a detective uses it to be on the scene of any crime in minutes even from halfway across the galaxy.
  • Altered Carbon:
    • Bordering on Zeerust. Every human has their mind stored on a cortical stack which can be removed and placed in a new body (called a sleeve). However, sleeves are exclusively natural-aged human bodies, either donated by the poor and desperate or taken from criminals. This is despite the presence of 3D bioprinters capable of printing sleeves on demand, robotic "synths" that are at least as good as normal humans, and a VR internet which sleeveless stacks could populate. In-Universe, this is justified by heavy regulations on bioprinting to prevent "identity theft" and the Array being full of stack-annihilating malware. Cloned sleeves are considered extremely expensive, so much so that only the elite can afford them while everyone else has to make do with what's available, with healthy and young bodies being bought up by relatively wealthy individuals. Of course, the whole system also serves to keep society both stable and the elite in power while true immortality for the masses might lead to upheavals and resource shortages. Basically the Meths help keep the status quo so that only they get to live forever comfortably and the rest of society does not implode ending that. Eternal life for the few, struggle for the rest. A situation Quell saw coming and tried to prevent.
    • The entire cortical stack system was only invented as a method of travel. A human mind can be needle-cast to a new sleeve light years away far faster than any existing forms of FTL travel. While the immortality was acknowledged, the inventor thought it would just be something to let humans explore the universe for more than one lifetime. Then the Protectorate started using it for conquest (they keep blank sleeves on a planet, then cast into them when needed), and the wealthy manipulated things so that they were the only ones who could live forever.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Santa Claus has, amongst other things, access to a vast manufacturing complex run by magical elves, a sack that can hold near limitless contents and still be carried, the power to make reindeer fly and some kind of time dilation ability (given that he's able to visit every house in the world over the course of a single night, which would come to over 80,000 houses a second). Best use in story: making illegal copies of copyrighted/trademarked/patented goods and giving them to children. For free. Better idea: Making copies of his Magitek to share with the world, enabling a post-scarcity society. (Or world domination, though he'd hardly like to put himself on the Naughty list.)
    • Partly Deconstructed by the action/comedy film Fatman, where Santa is funded by the various governments of the world to function as an conomic stimulus, an the U.S. Government at one point contracts him to also help build weapon parts.
  • People who believe in God tend to see him as The Omnipotent. This means that if He wanted to, their God would have no problem doing something like, for example, curing all diseases instantly. He's also commonly seen as infinitely benevolent with nothing but unconditional love for all of humanity. Considering diseases are still very much a problem that hasn't been wiped out by divine intervention, atheists often point this out as evidence against the existence of such a benevolent being; after all, it's reasonable to think an omnipotent being who loves us that much would waste no time in eliminating diseases for us. Believers will generally say it's more nuanced than that; whether they're right or they're just Moving the Goalposts depends on your own beliefs.

    Tabletop Games 
  • First off, it should be noted that the nature of tabletop gaming as a medium makes any individual example here a potential subversion once the players get involved; individual games have entire internet threads devoted to creative and unorthodox ways players have used their abilities, so you can bet that any example on the list below or that you can think of has not only been thought of by someone out there at some point, but also has been mercilessly exploited by another to the point of taking things Off the Rails.
  • GURPS:
    • The supplement SuperTemps was filled with supers who used their powers for things like sanitation and garbage disposal, medicine, being a courier, or being a security expert.
    • GURPS International Super Teams incorporated SuperTemps into its setting, and expanded upon it. And the I.S.T. chapter of GURPS Y2K had detailed passages on supers using their powers for construction and other mundane occupations. And not-so-mundane UN-sponsored occupations, like weather control (to divert destructive hurricanes, alleviate drought, and so forth) and famine relief ("You can make plants grow? Come with me!").
    • Several of the items in GURPS Magical Items, especially in the section on criminal tools. There are all sorts of uses to which one could put a pair of spectacles that shows the back of what you're seeing, but the intended use is cheating at cards.
  • Most magicians in Unknown Armies behave this way, one major reason why some of the most powerful canon NPCs are almost completely mundane. The rulebooks frequently mention adepts using their earth-shattering powers and ancient mystic rituals to beat up ex-boyfriends or acquire Star Trek paraphernalia. Since step one to being an adept is to become cripplingly obsessed and insane...
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • Various spellcasters (which ones, exactly, depends on edition) can make water materialize out of thin air and purify huge amounts of existing water. Rather than, you know, revolutionizing agriculture and sea travel, they primarily use this ability to reduce the amount of canteens adventurers have to lug around.
      • Given how frequently those spells can be cast (and require a rather powerful priest to begin with), they mostly end up Awesome, but Impractical. Magic items (Decanter of Endless Water, Urn of Water Purification) are better, but expensive. In the same way, magic-rich settings like Netheril may have full sets of plane-gating plumbing.
      • Due to the nature of Dark Sun, Create Water was reduced to a fraction of its normal efficiency in the setting from the start. It was better than nothing, but it wouldn't save anyone unless you were both high level and devoted a lot of spell slots to it. The game designers wanted an apocalyptic setting where the players actually had to struggle.
    • Generally, D&D magic easily lends itself to Magitek - a permanent area of reverse gravity with a flywheel half inside is a perpetual motion machine, conjuring water and fire (or ready steam) allows compact steam machines never running out of fuel, etc. It's used more frequently than purposefully averted, but still not all that much.
    • The Tippyverse is a hypothetical setting where every piece of phlebotinum is pushed to its ultimate limit. In a world ruled by wizards, spells are "trapped" in push-button Magitek machines that act as food dispensers, showers, training dummy makers for grinding experience, emergency rooms, transport, and more.
    • Some D&D settings have quite a number of standing, stable, permanent teleportation circles for fast travel across a continent. While adventurers may use them as an excuse for a quick adventure in Exotic Location XYZ and then return to normal afterward, you'd think that there'd be a whole lineup of traders using them as well... not to mention diplomats, spies, and wealthy tourists...
    • "Speak with Dead" is a 2nd level cleric spell, "Raise Dead" is only 5th level, and various magic items such as a Ring of Truth exist that either grant the user the ability to detect lies and/or force a suspect to tell the truth. Unless it's a setting where mages/clerics are very rare, it has pretty big repercussions on a lot of crime, at least the kind major enough to be noticed by the authorities... better hide your tracks REALLY well, or else be out of the city!
      • Somewhat justified, "Speak With Dead" and "Raise Dead" both require a mostly intact corpse, so mutilating the body can severely hamper investigations.
    • Eberron actually uses magic spells reasonably effectively: almost every settlement above a certain size has at least some areas lit by continual flame, people with Use Magic Device are formed up into squads on the battlefield to fire off wands, and there's an entire mercenary regiment based on providing summon monster spells in tactically useful situations. Then there are the Dragonmarked Houses, who use their marks' innate gifts and the access to specialist magic items they provide, to make staggering amounts of money, to the point where some of the Houses are the most powerful forces on Khorvaire now that the united Galifar government no longer exists.
    • In the Forgotten Realms, the city of Ravens Bluff is home to a pair of of brothers who found themselves receiving as their inheritance not a fortune in gold coins, but a Major Helm, a magitek artifact that can turn any sailing vessel it's attached to into a Cool Airship capable of interstellar flight. Major helms are the most powerful kind, and literally worth a king's ransom. The brothers have put this tremendous power that could conceivably make them wealthier than emperors to use... for running a traveling circus that flies around what is barely a portion of a single continent on their world. Oh, and sometimes taking ladies on moonlight cruises.
  • In Genius: The Transgression, using Wonders for mundane tasks is a minor Transgression. In most New World of Darkness gamelines, using your magic powers for mundane tasks is a Karma Meter violation. But it's usually one so small that only a living saint would even need to roll for degeneration for doing it.
  • Played for laughs in Chuubo's Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine. Chuubo (or Shokyou, if you prefer the female version) uses his, well, marvelous wish-granting try and get ice cream, which never works, and occasionally do other things like make seagulls cooler. Of course, Chuubo is in his early teens; Fortitude is already pretty idyllic; and anything Chuubo does that doesn't show up on the Wishing Map tends to backfire, so no wonder he doesn't try to use it for anything more spectacular.
  • Traveller has a reactionless drive that most spaceships in the setting use. Some fans figured out long ago that this means any player group with a ship could grab a convenient asteroid and sling it any planet that annoyed them at near-relativistic speeds. The third edition of the game tried to get rid of reactionless drives entirely, in part because of this. Later editions brought them back but limited them by saying they only worked well within a relatively short distance from a gravity well. So players can't get a rock going quite as fast now.

    Video Games 
  • Bioshock Infinite: In each universe, R. Lutece discovers the power of alternate dimensions, which allows them to siphon and transfer anything from one universe to another, including the physics of an alternate universe, and in ways that defy conservation of energy. Unfortunately, in almost every universe they are derided as a complete lunatic for pursuing ridiculous quack science that is *gasp* potentially blasphemous in the late 1800s. Which means the only way they can get the funding to research and collect the Phlebotinum is to sell the project to a complete nutcase; this being Zachariah Comstock, the Big Bad and an insane narcissistic cult leader. At no point does his addled mind realize that he could simply steal all the resources he wants from doomed alternate dimensions and expand his floating city to distribute unlimited resources to the entire world and be hailed as a god. Instead, he hoards the technology, believing that the world must die before it can be rebuilt right and leaving him blissfully unaware of the true power he wields (partly because it contradicts his faith).
  • Steambot Chronicles: The Killer Elephants have a large organization with extensive industrial production, able to mass-produce the mecha they use, and even a giant mecha. What do they do with all these resources? They rob passing travelers. True, they're just trying to get funding for their true project, flying to the moon, but with a setup like theirs, they really should be doing something more profitable.
  • Portal's Aperture Science, the company behind the insanity at the heart of the plot, is almost entirely built on this trope.
    • Originally contracted to create shower curtains for the Army, Aperture patented their portal gun technology, a Teleport Gun that doesn't teleport directly, but allows Thinking Up Portals, as a "man-sized ad-hoc quantum tunnel through physical space with possible applications as a shower curtain." This is a device that breaks the laws of thermodynamics, implicitly allows Faster-Than-Light Travel, and would revolutionize the world, and it gets used to run hapless test subjects through mazes like lab rats.
    • GLaDOS, a fully sentient AI, was originally designed as a fuel line de-icer. She was also designed in apparent ignorance of the Three Laws, as shortly after she was turned on, she found a way to murder nearly every scientist in the facility.
    • The irony here is that Aperture was passed over by the US Government, in favor of Black Mesa. Black Mesa was a black site that did all sorts of secret experiments, but their primary goal was to open up a dimensional portal between Earth and alien worlds. Cave Johnson's portal technology would make this goal trivial, and yet the government relied on Black Mesa's research instead. Sure certain spots in the universe — let alone our own galaxy — would require hundreds of years of waiting for the portal gun to connect with, but once you've made contact all you have to do is keep the portal open and you have instant travel between there and Earth. In fact, an obvious innovation from there would simply be to find ways to make the portal projectile travel immensely faster than light. Again, either the US government simply didn't like Johnson, or Johnson was too crazy to see the potential his technology held.
  • Portal 2 reveals that most of Aperture Science's products fall into this trope:
    • Aerial Faith Plates - Compact and quite powerful catapults capable of launching adult humans dozens of feet into the air. Marketed as truck cargo loading devices, despite being WAY too powerful for that, causing the cargo to be damaged and/or bounced right back out of the truck.
    • Thermal Discouragement Beams - Semi-lethal laser beams. Marketed as means to keep office workers from leaving their desks.
    • Repulsion and Propulsion Gels - Gels literally capable of breaking the laws of physics by making any surface in which they are spread suddenly gain elasticity or make any object in contact with that surface gain momentum respectively. Marketed as dietary aids: the former intended to bounce any food the dieter ate right back out their mouth, the latter to propel food through the digestive tract before it can be converted into calories. Both did to the human body exactly the kind of damage you’d expect on top of being made from liquefied fiberglass insulation.
    • The Long Fall Boot — a "foot-based suit of armor for the Portal Device." Something that lets human beings fall up to 500 ft and land without a scratch? It was only used to prevent a reproducible human error problem when the test subjects fell too far, broke their legs (at best), which made them drop the gun and break expensive equipment.
    • And then there's the stuff that was apparently never released at all: solar powered Hard Light bridges, tractor beams capable of sending things forward or backward, Brain Uploading, enough technology to create a facility literally capable of surviving the Apocalypse, repair and literally rearrange itself at will, sentient A.I.s capable of running with voltage sources as low as 1.1 volts, selective disintegration... all this used for no other purpose than testing.
    • And now, the Perpetual Testing Initiative demonstrates that Aperture developed interdimensional travel (apparently reliable, at least as much as any of their other products), and decided to use it to get other Apertures in parallel universes to build test chambers for them. This is like having a key that can open any lock and using it to steal office supplies.
      • At least "Cave Prime" manages to find a universe literally made of money with it, so it wasn't a total waste.
  • Averted to an incredible degree in Mass Effect: almost everything in the universe runs on eezo-based technology, from artificial gravity and FTL travel to miniature railguns and telekinesis. Hell, one of your crew members in the third game has an eezo toothbrush. The writers even remembered to Obvious Rule Patch away FTL ramming; apparently mass relays have a safeguard in place to prevent any use as superweapons. Because when somebody did manage to weaponize the relays, they used it to kill a Reaper. The Reapers then patched the Relays so it wouldn't happen again.
  • The Weavers Guild in Loom can manipulate the fabric of time and space. They mostly use this power for... spinning and dying clothing. Or so it seems to a casual outside observer.
    • Actually they can become immortal and turn the insides of small tents into roomy houses and one cathedral-sized temple. And then they used it to observe the nature of the universe and trace a discord that threatened to destroy everything. Weaving cloth is just how they got started.
    • More specifically, each of the guilds in Loom derives its supernatural abilities from a sort of Charles Atlas Superpower related to their original mundane role. The glassmakers make infinitely sharp glass edges and crystal balls that see the future; the Weavers went from weaving cloth to weaving reality. But they still stick to their roots.
    • According to the manual, the use of some drafts is strictly regulated, because they may put other Guilds out of work or collapse the economy with cheap gold.
  • In Power Quest there exist little remote controlled robots capable of firing ki blasts out of their palms. And yet no one thinks to scale these up for military use; no, they're much better as children's toys.
  • Naoya from Devil Survivor creates both a demon summoning program and a harmonizer that lessens blows to the user and increases those from the user, especially against demons. While the demon summoning program is rightfully considered a big deal in universe, the harmonizer gets less press, despite seemingly allowing its user to shrug off gun wounds.
    • Considering the circumstances, however, people may simply be assuming the two functions are connected, and with the problems the former is causing... On a related note, Atsuro comes to think that the demons themselves are Misapplied Phlebotinum, and wants to take the summoner's control over them even further.
    • There is an ending path where Our Heroes attempt to just massacre the JSDF and walk out of the city, braving the bullets, implying that such a feat might be doable for lategame characters, but not new users of the app? Who knows.
  • The Black Spider ninjas' motivation for trying to steal the Dark Dragon Blade in Ninja Gaiden? Their leader wanted to grind it up to make tea. Granted, he believed drinking tea made from dragon bones (which the Dark Dragon Blade was forged from) would empower him...but still, tea?
  • PR0XY, the cheerfully homicidal (to Galen at least) Robot Buddy in The Force Unleashed. Vader created a droid that could, with the proper modules, copy the techniques and appearance of any Jedi, somehow produces lightsabers from nowhere, and can even replicate Force abilities with repulsor technology. And Vader uses it as a communications device and as a Training from Hell tool. As opposed to mass producing a droid Jedi Super-Soldier army.
    • Droids can be sliced and reprogrammed. And Jedi/Sith can't sense them, so they'd be more of a threat than thousand of disposable soldier who can't even aim properly.
  • Pokémon both follows and averts this trope. The 'Verse is filled with these insanely powerful creatures, who mostly serve as combatants between children with voice commands. They have also, however, been show to do more practical things.
    • For example, right at the beginning of one game, some superhumanly strong Machokes are moving boxes into your house with ease. They are also used in construction. Miltank are used for dairy production, grass types in perfume manufacturing, and electric types are used in power plants for organic, completely ecologically-friendly energy production.
    • A better example would be the online storage systems. These store and teleport hundreds of living creatures (and in some games furniture and dolls as well). These could surely be used as houses, storing populations of whole countries.
    • With Pokémon Sword and Shield they've finally caught on, as starting with that generation there is now an entire mechanic revolving around renting the services of your mons out to various businesses based on their typing, such as renting fire Pokémon to chefs.
    • In the first generation alone, scientists have created sapient digital life (Porygon), which they give out as prizes at a casino. They've also implemented sapient being cloning, but give up after only trying to duplicate a godlike legendary Pokémon. Oh, and Silph Co. has created a device that can make the afterlife visible to the naked eye, but you only use it as a minor solution to an obstacle in a quest involving Team Rocket.
  • In the setting of Borderlands the technology exists to digitally decode DNA and to deconstruct solid matter into a format for digital storage and reverse the process without limit. Use in-game? Justifying the game's respawn mechanic and why players can carry 20 rifle-sized weapons and none of them show. Later games show more restrictions on digistruct technology, including the fact that you need to have a copy of what you're making plus raw materials to build it out of to recreate it, and even then, the technology is so expensive that very few people have the equipment to digistruct something bigger than a car. Large things such as buildings, spacecraft, or space stations require more conventional construction techniques. In Borderlands 3, we also start seeing more complex and extensive use of digistructing technology, especially by the Maliwan corporation, who use it extensively to essentially teleport troops and weapons via pylons that can be dropped from ships in orbit, and Rhys even uses it to digistruct a mustache onto his face.
    • The Quick Change machines. In-Universe we've seen that given enough data to work with, they can be used to totally alter a person's appearance, even letting them imitate someone else flawlessly. We've seen them used in this way exactly once; otherwise they are for swapping your cosmetics and re-speccing your skill trees. Though a recording found in 3 suggests that they may be useful to someone wishing to transition gender.
  • A particularly hilarious and acknowledged version of this occurs in a codex entry in Dragon Age: Origins: before the creation of the Circle of Magi, the Chantry employed mages exclusively for lighting sacred candles and lamps in their churches. And occasionally sweeping up. Eventually, the mages of Val Royeux's cathedral snuffed out their lamps in protest and demanded that their services be put to better use; the Divine responded by ordering an Exalted March (i.e.: a crusade) on her own cathedral, which was only prevented by her Templars pointing out what a patently insane idea this was. Then again, the Chantry has historical reasons to avoid magic users, not the least of which being their penchant for Demonic Possession, so limiting their work is justified from the Divine's point of view.
  • Touhou. The vast and varied potential applications for some of the characters' powers are mind-boggling, yet due to laziness, selfishness, or sheer stupidity none of them even consider what they could accomplish.
    • The most obvious example is also the most explainable: Yakumo Yukari can do basically anything, but is usually too lazy to bother.
    • Izayoi Sakuya, the time (and space) manipulating maid of the Scarlet Devil Mansion, uses her abilities to...clean. Granted, with a bunch of fairy maids as co-workers, it'd be quite a big hassle otherwise...
    • Cirno can basically invent air conditioning by herself and seems like she should be able to freeze any opponent solid in an instant, but that's no fun.
    • Kanako builds a fancy new nuclear fusion plant to produce free electricity (sure!), and... create hot gas for her Hisoutensoku balloon?
  • In Halo: Reach, a Slipspace drive is used to destroy a Covenant supercarrier when no nukes are available. About a third of the ship is pulled into slipspace, leaving the front and back portions disabled. However, this is pointed out as being an impractical option born more out of desperate circumstances than a good use of the technology. Nukes are generally cheaper and easier to deliver to a target than a functional slipspace drive is.
  • The first 10 Robot Masters in Mega Man were created for such purposes as forestry, lubrication, lab assistance, and housekeeping. Do you know how much trouble creating humanoid robots has been in Real Life? To be fair, they were first made for the sake of being made and only then their creators started thinking of more practical uses like replacing man in dangerous work (don't mind housekeeping, that was the first two robots and the lab was really a mess, ok?) and Take Over the World. They still fit this trope to a 'T'. Oh, and lampshaded in Bob and George.
  • The Valkyria in Valkyria Chronicles have the power to channel the energies of Ragnite, which can and does almost anything, from lighting the streets to healing the wounded to powering the vehicles. The ability to control that energy could be a huge boon to the world if anyone had a lick of common sense.
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution has an upgrade to the basic pistol that lets it pierce armor. The item's description says that it uses quantum tunneling to phase through armor. Quantum physics 20 Minutes into the Future is advanced enough to be miniaturized, weaponized, and put in user-installable gun modifications, yet does not seem to be used anywhere else in the game's world.
  • The animatronics from Five Nights at Freddy's and its sequel can walk and talk, are ludicrously durable, strong and intelligent, have been fitted with facial recognition technology, can crawl through vents, are heavily implied to be sentient.. and they're used for absolutely nothing other than entertaining children. The first game most likely takes place in 1993, and the second takes place in 1987. They're decades ahead of what we have now in 2014, at a bare minimum, and they're being used for entertaining children.
  • Fracture: As pointed out in this Penny Arcade strip, being able to control terrain has a lot more potential than just allowing your soldiers to hop over a wall.
  • Weaponized teleportation is given a nod in FTL: Faster Than Light. "Bomb" weapons use a self-contained teleporter to beam over a missile warhead, plus whatever nasty surprise it's programmed to put inside of it. However, since it appears inside the room you target instead of bashing into the hull, it only causes subsystem or crewman damage.
  • Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty has Raynor assembling an alien artifact that can release an energy wave which obliterates Zerg in a huge area and, when fully changed, even manages to de-infest Kerrigan and more importantly, break Amon's mind-control of her. When examined by a Protoss engineer in Legacy of the Void, it turns out the artifact's main use is being a starmap.
    Karax: "I doubt [the Terrans'] use was its primary purpose, or even an intended one."
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links, the titular Duel Links was created by Seto Kaiba as a means of getting a rematch with Atem after he left for the afterlife. It's shown in the III Unlock Event that Duel Links simply inserts itself into parallel universes, and no one in those universes has any clue what it is or where it came from. It also allows people from different universes to communicate with one another as shown in the Reiji Unlock Event. Not to mention its quality of being a virtual world created from the memories of the people inside it which is shown more than once to be able to bring back the dead. Imagine if Kaiba used this technology as more than a card game simulator.
  • The Fallout series has a plethora of technology that would revolutionize mankind if it was applied properly. Part of this is by design, since the story has a running commentary on how war never changes, and humanity's greed, arrogance, and violence holds them back from true greatness.
    • America created working, portable nuclear fusion in the lead up to the nuclear war with China. Nuclear fusion was so common that they were able to put nuclear power cells inside robots, cars, laser guns, mechanized power armor, etc. and yet America was still clamoring over the utility of oil. Part of this does come down to a series of global resource wars crashing the economy, and the nuclear fusion was the only thing that kept America breaking even when everyone else had either collapsed or was on the verge of collapsing. America's hubris held them back from sharing this technology with the rest of the world, even though it would have helped ease tensions and potentially bring the world economy back online. Pre-war America would rather destroy China and create a one world order, than share any of their technology and actually benefit people.
    • Laser guns across the series are every bit as powerful as you would expect such weapons to be. Lasers hit instantly (moving realistically at the speed of light), are generally light weight, have low recoil, and the ammo catridges for them are small, portable nuclear fusion cells that power the laser beams. Laser guns however are rarely seen in common parlance with major settlements, on account of the factions with the know how and capital to supply and maintain them being secretive and isolationist.
    • Professional snipers in the Fallout verse use high powered rifles as you'd expect, but laser weapons are never seen in these units. Cost of laser weapons aside, they would be the perfect sniping weapons. Lasers travel at the speed of light, and would not be affected by gravity and wind speed. Where you aim on a scope is where the laser will hit. Gauss rifles to a lesser extent also apply, because the magnetic acceleration of these rounds would have greater resistance to gravity (bullet drop) and wind speed (drives bullets off to the side). Snipers using these weapons would be engaging targets from so far away that it would be next to impossible to track them down.
    • Power armor is expensive, but if you can get your hands on one it turns you into a walking tank. Power armor increases speed and strength immensely, gives you immunity to radiation, biological and chemical agents, and is resistant to lasers, plasma, explosives, and even high caliber ammo. Any settlement with access to power armor would be able to make defense of their home trivial and would be able to survive any environment. The Brotherhood of Steel and the Enclave are reclusive and do not share this technology with the Wasteland.
    • The US military created realistic Virtual Reality technology prior to the nuclear war. The VR pod can realistically simulate all of the body's senses. Pain is so accurately simulated that if the user dies inside the simulation the pain of dying in the simulation causes a heart attack in the real world. A VR pod like this would be able to teach people a variety of subjects, like being a plumber, lawyer, electrician, etc. without needing the use of real life tools that a student would normally need. Sadly, the US government only cared about using the VR technology to simulate war scenarios to train their troops, rather than apply it to civilian causes. Even the potential for a something like the Star Trek holodeck, where people can just live in the VR pod for fun is vast. Sadly the one guy who used the VR pod for fun, used it to enslave his fellow Vault dwellers.
    • The Institute created thinking androids so intelligent that they're basically human. These androids are so realistic that they use the bathroom, bleed, eat, and even sleep. Rather than marvel at their new sub-species of humanity, the Institute puts them to work like common robots. The android research even produced fruit on cybernetics, which increase speed, strength, reflexes, provides immunity to disease, and slows down aging so much life expectancy can exceed 200 years. Only a handful of Institute members use these cybernetics. They also created teleportation. Even if the teleportation can only work in the range of Massachusetts, the Institute would be able to make roads meaningless if they put these teleportation arrays at key checkpoints across the country. The Institute foolishly uses their technology to abuse the Commonwealth citizens, even though simply giving this technology to them would change life so radically they would obey the Institute just out of good will. Some of these uses are justified; their leader is opposed to cybernetics because a cyborg killed his parent and abducted him, and most members are in denial of what Synths can do because if they did acknowledge that Synths were equal to humans they'd have to face the fact that they'd been using slave labor, but a lot of what they do has to be attributed to the Institute just being dumb or elitist.
    • The FEV (Forced Evolutionary Virus) was created by the US military in the expectation of biological, chemical, and nuclear attacks. The FEV would be cool enough if it just gave people super human strength, but Super Mutants are immune to radiation, disease, biological and chemical warfare, and have eternal youth. note  The downside of Super Mutants is that they look like the Hulk (and that's the lucky ones, some are uglier), and a good majority of them are insane and violent. If the US military had ironed out the kinks of the FEV, they could have created a superior humanity that would thrive in any environment. Sadly the FEV was not experimented with through ethical standards, and was hastily put together as a desperation battlefield tool.
    • The scientists at Big Mountain created a matter replication device which can theoretically create any object. This technology if distributed in the Wasteland would eliminate the concept of scarcity, and potentially the post-war America could become even more prosperous than the pre-war America ever was. The matter replication devices were distributed to a pre-war casino as a gift, but were sadly never given to pre-war American society as a whole. The player uses the device to create mundane objects like clothing, food, stimpacks, and ammo. Shame they can't tell other factions about its existence...
    • The GECK (Garden of Eden Creation Kit) is a matter reconstruction device, which has the power to terraform any terrain into a lush, green forest. The GECK deconstructs all the available matter (buildings, dirt, rock, etc.) in a bright flash of light, and when that light subsides the matter that was deconstructed is then reconstructed into fertile land with healthy soil, grass and trees. The only limitation of this technology is that the GECK has a limited radius, but this could be worked around if an upgraded model had a wider radius or you deployed thousands of them across the Wasteland. What is the GECK actually used for in Fallout 3? Purifying water. Not that water purification isn't useful, but maybe the lush green paradise part would be nice too. The Brotherhood of Steel never comments on reverse engineering the GECK, despite how useful it would be.
  • Most of the Singularities in Library of Ruina are used for completely trivial things relative to their vast power.
    • W Corp's Singularity is used for teleporting subways that arrive anywhere in ten seconds (which would already be its own subtrope of misapplied phlebotinum all on its own), but it gets far worse when you find out that the actual Singularity works by sending the entire train to another dimensional axis where thousands of years pass for everyone onboard without any of them aging or being able to die; then, on arrival, rewinding time for all of them to restore them to their state when they entered the train. This is also used to somehow harvest time for T Corp's singularity.
    • T Corp's singularity is the ability to somehow collect and then distribute time. This is used primarily to age and cook food in compressed time.
    • L Corp's singularity was a zig-zagged example. They used the ability to materialize emotions into reality as a form of power generation for the rest of the city. However, it is zig-zagged because their power generation was just to keep the proverbial lights on and to hide their true purpose; their actual goal was to use this power to completely change humanity on a fundimental level.
  • The Metal Gear series has a lot of fantastical technology that would greatly improve mankind if they weren't misused for endless warfare by a collective cabal of scientists, spies, and extra-legal cabals that aim to rule the world.
    • Advanced cybernetic limbs with full range of motion and articulation exist. These limbs also realistically simulate touch and pain. These cybernetics even allow for full body conversion that can save the lives of victims of traumatic injury. Gray Fox was put in a bulky power armor suit and it's heavily implied if he were removed from it he would die. In the era of Metal Gear Rising cybernetics are so advanced that all you need is a human brain in order to sustain their life, and their full body conversion can give them a quality life with cybernetic organs. Thankfully the exterior flesh is no longer limited to bulky power armors, but can be converted to realistic synthethic flesh that can copy the texture of human skin. This skin even flexes realistically like human muscle. Sounds great right? Too bad these cybernetics are monopolized by the military industrial complex for combat purposes, and the civilian application is fringe.
    • Nanomachines (son) allow for stuff that borders on magic. Nanomachines can stimulate the muscles and relieve pain, and can in fact nullify pain completely if necessary. They can regulate temperature to the point you can walk around in freezing temperatures without a shirt on. They can inject any kind of necessary nutrients or drugs that your body needs. They allow for wireless communication that borders on telepathy. As seen with Vamp and Armstrong they allow for extreme regeneration and armor that makes a user basically immortal. Sadly these innovations are only ever seen for military purposes.
    • In Metal Gear Solid V, Big Boss and his Outer Heaven outfit come across a ton of useful technology that would have changed the world.
      • The parasites are essentially a zombie virus, but a select few parasites are capable of giving people supernatural powers with no loss of personality. The parasites allow for super strength, note  superior reflexes, note , super speed, able to jump to incredible heights, can turn you invisible, provides a type of rock hard armor that is resistant to bullets, and provides superior regeneration from severe injury. Super soldiers of this type would provide Outer Heaven a cutting edge on the battlefield, let alone the utility involved for assassinations of high profile enemies (of which Big Boss has many).
      • A command Big Boss can use in gameplay is the ability to summon rain. Presumably this is cloud seeding technology, but regardless of the method rain comes every time without fail when this command is given. Outer Heaven doesn't even need to be a military outfit anymore at that point. They've essentially unlocked unlimited water that they can sell to anyone in the world, solving the problem of drouts and crop shortages forever. Even if they wanted to go the mundane route, they would bottle their rain water and sell it.
      • A device Big Boss can use in gameplay is a teleportation device. Latch the device onto an item or an NPC in the game, and they get teleported back to Outer Heaven in an instant. Teleportation would allow Outer Heaven to corner the market on any logistics or transport related service on Earth. Big Boss could easily become a trillionaire in no time at all. The Patriots (who are Big Boss's long time enemy/rival) would cease to even be a threat to Outer Heaven anymore.
      • The parasites also possess the ability to instantly decay or refine any ore in existence. This includes radioactive ore. In combat the parasites refine metal by pulling it straight out of ground with magnetic kinesis, and then shape it into projectiles or into metal walls for defense. With radioactive ore they're able to turn off nuclear bombs, or refine depleted uranium into active uranium making it suitable again to weaponize into a bomb. The villain Skull Face wants to use this power to rule through fear, but its utility for corporate control of the masses is enormous. If you can reshape metal into any shape instantly you've made smelting plants pointless. If you can deactivate radioactive ore, then you render radioactive waste from nuclear power plants inert — getting rid of the environmental concerns forever. You could make money hand over fist selling your refined metal and risk free nuclear power to the masses. You wouldn't even need to rule through fear at that point.

    Web Comics 
  • Sidekick Girl, a superhero parody comic, toys with the idea by having a mind-switch between the powerful ditz Illuma and her sidekick here. Once switched she practices and applies Illuma's powers in a much more intelligent way. Developing flight, stun blasts, and other useful applications that Illuma could never figure out herself.
  • All the technology Tony invents in Real Life Comics is used by Greg for disturbingly mundane purposes. This pretty much tells you all you need to know. This is deliberate, and played for comedy, though.
  • Mad inventor Riff (well, he's more of a "Meh" inventor) in Sluggy Freelance has ended up playing this trope for laughs by using such things as his dimensional portal for cheap magic tricks, and generally using his prodigious intellect on ray guns and toaster cannons. Is it any wonder his catchphrase is "Let me check my notes"?
    • In 4U City Alt-Riff's nanomachines fairly avert this trope allowing the citizens nearly magical abilities in healing and allowing the near instantaneous conversion of matter such as converting tranquilizer darts into live fire ammunition.
    • Subverted by the fact that his inventions are being applied to better effect (well, slightly better at least) by the evil corporation that employs him.
  • Doc of The Whiteboard uses a teleporter to get pizzas delivered instantly. He also once invented a device that could launch paintballs backwards through time (presumably by breaking the light barrier).
    • The Pizza Teleporter can only be used to teleport objects to his desk (plus Majel Roddenberry would sue him if he tried patenting it), and he made the time traveling marker while intoxicated (and destroyed all reality when he used it).
  • Happens often in The Adventures of Dr. McNinja and Played for Laughs. The comic is set in a world where the utterly bizarre coexists comfortably with the mundane and reasonable, so weird stuff gets used for even weirder purposes:
    • The main character is, essentially, a powerful ninja superhero who has chosen to go into a medical career instead of becoming an assassin like his parents explicitly trained him to.
    • A group of Mexican criminals have found a pack of surviving velociraptors. They use this monumental discovery worth millions to rob people like stereotypical banditos from an old western movie.
    • This gem: "James! The leader of our group. He invented jet boots, and he used them to kick people."
    • Martin is basically the Hulk and uses his great powers to...advertise his chain of super-markets. Oh, and do work for the mafia.
    • Easily topping all the other examples is King Radical's use of a Time Portal for garbage disposal. And a septic tank, somehow.
  • Heroically averted in Schlock Mercenary with the One to Million to One style Destructive Teleportation, called the "Teraport". Originally designed to make money by allowing rich bastards to take their space-yachts between stars without queuing-up to the Wormgate with the rest of the plebs it didn't take long for people to figure-out it made a dandy Superweapon.
    • The Wormgates themselves can be considered an evil aversion of this trope as well: after all as long as people are seen going in one place and coming out the other, there's nothing to worry about what goes on in between... right?
    • And even before the introduction of the Teraport there was the ubiquitous gravitic technology; if you have gravity manipulationnote  on your ship then you already have forcefields, tractor-beams and a reactionless drive as well.
      • ...not to mention the ability to rip other ships apart with a careful application of gravitics.
      • They're also nicknamed "gravy guns" because it's possible to liquefy the crew while leaving the hull intact.
    • "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a big gun."
    • An old weapon becomes a significant plot element when it combines FTL communications with high-powered energy weapons to create a hyperspace Death Ray. A weapon that can teleport tremendous firepower to any known location regardless of defenses without revealing the location of the weapon. The local Mad Scientist craps himself in sympathy for defense planners.
      • Eventually it becomes possible to track the location of the weapon - after it was fired.
  • El Goonish Shive:
    • Tedd uses his ultrapowerful transformation gun to throw a party for his girlfriend and switch genders so that he can cook. Though, considering that Tedd's dad is the head of the local MIB, he can't really sell or distribute the technology without getting grounded for, say, ten thousand years or so. The origin story for the gun reveals Tedd only has it because one of his Dad's alien buddies needed some simple work done on it, and their culture has religious objections to object-oriented programming. For the setting it's such basic tech to anyone not limited to human-made stuff that it isn't even worth being careful with; magic can do the same thing (if less reliably) and several races have it as an in-built ability. The main characters were not aware of this part until quite a ways into the story, though. Tedd and his friends occasionally do break out the transformation equipment for more practical purposes, like to turn Elliot into a werecat for getting places faster.
    • This is also a universe where every major government has a dedicated (albeit secret) magic agency. Just because Tedd's not applying the phlebotinum doesn't mean somebody isn't.
    • Later Justified in the case of magic: magic itself is a self-aware force and doesn't like more than a fraction of society knowing about it. Should someone reveal the existence and accessibility of magic to the world, magic would rewrite its own rules so that nobody knew how it worked anymore. It can't be used to solve widespread world problems because it would stop working if someone tried to do that.
  • Averted viciously in Drive (Dave Kellett). If the space being pinched by a ring drive is occupied by a planet, then that planet will suffer massive tremors. The bigger the ship, the more severe the quakes. This has been taken to the logical conclusion.
  • The Alt Text of this xkcd comic posits that some of the greatest problems in computer science today may have already been solved by some nameless programmer somewhere, who will never receive recognition for their achievement because their solution was lost in some mundane piece of tech they were hired to work on.
    "Some engineer out there has solved P=NP and it's locked up in an electric eggbeater calibration routine. For every 0x5f375a86note  we learn about, there are thousands we never see."
  • Dragon Ball Multiverse: So, you're the only race that found the key to inter-dimensional travel. Well, do something with it! Save the Namek race in places where it went extinct? Save alternate universes from Frieza, marauding Saiyans or other grand threats? Nah, let's make an inter-dimensional tournament! Subverted by the fact that these tournaments will gain its winners the prize of three wishes, but if designated villains win...
  • Kill Six Billion Demons: The Demiurges, the God Emperors who rule Creation, each bear a piece of the Voice of God. This awesome power can be used to do nearly anything, from Teleportation to Creating Life and more. They mostly use it to kill each other and steal more power for themselves.
    Meti: Behold! The awesome fires of god. The limitless power of pure creation itself. Look carefully! Observe how it is used for the same purpose a man might use an especially sharp rock.
  • Early in Gunnerkrigg Court, Kat is trying to grow protein crystals for a science experiment. However, protein crystals are difficult to grow under Earth's gravity, so she invents an anti-gravity engine to help her. She gets very upset that people are more impressed with the anti-grav engine than her crystals.

    Web Original 
  • Sailor Nothing author Stephan Gagne's Unreal Estate is set In a World… where technology that allows pocket universes to be created to order is ubiquitous. It's mostly used to create a few Worlds of Hats — the most unusual world is the First-Person Shooter world that automatically respawns "players" after lethal wounds. The Big Bad reveals that he has a Vision about using the technology to its full potential, and You Can't Make an Omelette...
  • Averted in The Salvation War. When The Legions of Hell invade Earth, they start out with Bronze Age tactics and technology, but that proves inadequate. They quickly adapt by using their portal-making abilities for Fantastic Nukes. After the war, they use their portal creating abilities to put FedEx out of business.
  • Taylor i.e. Skitter in Worm is exceptionally good at coming up with ways to use superpowers effectively. Which makes it highly frustrating when she has to deal with capes like Panacea and Genesis who aren't. In-universe, this is also justified in various ways. Superpowers come with mental changes that subtly encourage you to use them in combat. Tinker tech is nearly impossible to mass produce or maintain and repair by anyone who isn't the inventor, and the last time someone tried to use his inventions to cure world hunger and pollution anyway, he got attacked by the Endbringers. And there are some capes known as Rogues who do just use their powers to make money.
  • The eponymous object in Erika's New Perfume never really does more but take up space in Erika's bedroom after Sarah uses it, despite having at least two of its three demonstrated functions with a definite audience for them and having even more All There in the Manual. This might partially be because the characters themselves don't have the manual, though.
  • Cracked's 6 Magical Movie Items They Wasted on Bullshit.
  • Phase is single-handedly wrecking this trope in the Whateley Universe. Only a freshman at Whateley Academy, he's already going around getting inventors to sign up with his financial service and marketing their inventions to fix this problem. Bugs had a weird gadget that faked painting on stuff: Phase saw how to turn it into the best toy ever. Jericho had some stuff that Phase is trying to patent and turn into the best medikit in the world. Loophole had a gadget that helped her get awesome performance out of her self-built car: Phase wants to market it as a way of cranking up automotive fuel efficiency world-wide.
  • Many Spacebattles posters like to accuse various factions of being guilty of this trope with regards to using their abilities or technology. They go on to suggest better alternatives and ways of averting this rope. In turn, some other posters go to lengths to try to argue otherwise and demonstrate why the Phlebotinum isn't being Misapplied. A quote follows. It's gotten to the point that "competence" has become something of a slur due to inciting violent arguments.
    Nattuo: Obviously, we should use bad analogies to imply whenever we see the technology not doing the thing we want it to it's just that they've dialed it down because they're all just incompetents. Being so dumb they probably don't even know the dial goes up that high, you know, because they're dumb. Not at all like us.
    This is obviously because we have such stupendously vast mental faculties we can instantly see all the hidden factors to a technology's operation when we're shown a single — or extremely limited — instance of its usage, and can predict exactly how it completely changes the nature of the setting (in spite of it not doing so) and use that to deduce the residents of the setting are just dumb (because of the aforementioned failure to completely understand all the hidden factors in their technology that allows us to foresee such usage methodologies with our incredible intellect).
    Hence, even with them working with said technology every single day, and having built said technology, and having a functioning understanding of all the engineering aspects of said technology, we understand it better than them, despite lacking all these things. We're just that fucking clever.
  • While many of the artifacts contained by the SCP Foundation are dangerous, a number of them are quite useful. The Foundation is aware of this, and those objects safe enough to be used without harm they do put to use in various capacities. They haven't released these things to the public largely because they want to be sure they understand the underlying mechanisms of how exactly they work first.
    • SCP-914. A large clockwork device covering 18 square meters. Items put into a slot are altered according to one of five parameters set: Rough, Coarse, 1:1, Fine and Very Fine. The Rough and Coarse settings tend to destroy items or reduce them to their base material components, the 1:1 returns a different object of equivalent worth and purpose, but the Fine and Very Fine return significantly better items of greater quality or complexity. A gun put into the machine, with the Fine or Very Fine setting, would return an even better gun, possibly even stuff beyond the world's current tech level. The main problem with the above is that SCP-914 itself is sentient and tends to troll people on a regular basis, producing actively harmful end results, and even if it's feeling co-operative that day and because it was apparently created as something that could produce novel new things instead of something that's primarily intended to disassemble or improve items placed in it, you never know if the weapon you feed into it on Fine or Very Fine setting will produce a better weapon of the same type, a technically better but ludicrously difficult-to-operate variant of the weapon or an aggressive Killer Robot roughly based on the weapon's design that then proceeds to kill everyone in the room. However, even the 1:1 setting is fairly useful, as it could potentially provide translations of writings in an unknown language, which they have done some experiments on in the past.
    • SCP-294. A vending machine capable of producing any liquid that exists in this universe, as well as a few that don't. The Foundation uses it as... well, a vending machine for the facility it's stored in (albeit with some armed guards who make sure nobody tries anything stupid and/or dangerous with it, like ordering liquid antimatter or something).
    • SCP-458 is a Little Caesar's pizza box that produces unlimited quantities of pizza (of the preferred flavor of whomever touches it). The Foundation has put it in the staff room of that facility to save on catering costs.
    • It can be argued that the Foundation itself is actually an example of this trope; Its capabilities and achievements include billions of dollars in yearly budget and millions of highly skilled personnel, full, unquestioning cooperation from almost every national government on Earth, access to Lovecraftian secrets about the fundamental nature of the universe, permanent human settlements on Luna and Mars if not beyond, faster-than-light travel, applied reality manipulation and straight-up magic, however baring a few particularly malevolent entities all of this wealth and power is instead spent on preserving a fragile and quite vaguely defined notion of consensus reality. This often leads the Foundation to supress the scientific advancements it itself had made (there is even evidence that it had attempted to crack down on atomic fission or 3D printing before deciding to mark them as non-anomalous) in spite of the mountains of empirical research and experimentation that should by any reasonable measure be more than enough to make them acceptable to the mainstream.
  • Atomic Rockets has an entire chapter on Unintended Consequences (and links directly to this page).
    • Sufficiently powerful sub-light engines work out to, basically, riding around on the recoil of a Wave-Motion Gun. A beam of superhot "Fuck everything and everyone behind me" comes out the ass-end of the ship and the ship goes the other way at a gravity or two. This has two outcomes: The government sticks a kill switch on every ship with such an engine, or a disgruntled employee realizes that he's got, basically, a nuclear weapon in his back pocket (and then the government installs the kill-switches once everything's calmed down)
    • The Matter Replicator would absolutely destroy the economy, since you can just make whatever you want at the touch of a button (or verbal order; in fact that's exactly what happened in Star Trek and why Federation citizens work to better society rather than accumulate wealth). Likewise, quantum computing, since the stock market's computer network needs processor delays to work right (and QC would also ruin all security measures for the same reason).
    • The Subspace Ansible would remove the need for manned spaceflight by making it a better idea to just send robots. Steady advances in the reliability of long-range communications for remote control are half the reason most of our probes and satellites are unmanned now.

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender averts this constantly. We frequently see new and creative applications of bending that improve people's lives.
    • We see the extent to which bending has improved society in The Legend of Korra, where in just 70 years of relative unity we've gone from basically colonial societies to cars, radio, and more.
  • The premise behind Chaotic is that it can create an identical duplicate you to live out a real world version of a Trading Card Game. You can 'port out' and the duplicate's memories are reabsorbed into you. While the show managed to show a wheelchair bound player walking inside the simulation, they ignored a more obvious application of their technology: Immortality.
    • What about halving the time you need to spend studying, by having each half study, well, half. Not to mention if, say, you ported out in the middle of a test.
  • Invader Zim:
    • The title character once created an orbital satellite station that sucked out all the water from the city, gathered it into a giant balloon, and dropped it for no other reason than to win a water balloon fight.
    • A massive robot obviously capable of obliterating everything in its path is used by Zim to get revenge on Dib for a few off-hand comments made earlier in the episode.
    • Zim tries to get revenge on Dib for throwing a muffin at him. Zim gets Dib trapped—there's no escape, Dib's got a massive laser cannon aimed straight at his head—and what does Zim do? He has the cannon fire another muffin—not even a massive muffin, just a normal muffin roughly equivalent to the one Dib threw at him. And then lets Dib go on his merry way.
    • Zim has a device that can take out human organs and substitute them with...stuff...and what does he do with it? He uses it to stuff himself full of human organs in case the school skool nurse decides to do an x-ray. Never mind sucking the brains out of the entire human populace—what if Zim needs to see a doctor?
    • Perhaps the most bizarre by far—Zim has a device that can submit humans to the most painful mental torture possible, and uses it to hypnotize the town's populace into helping him win a school fundraiser.
  • Lampshaded in the episode "Jail Bird" of Darkwing Duck; Negaduck is continually frustrated that Megavolt, Bushroot and the Liquidator are too stupid to make full use of their superpowers. (Although, thanks to a power-stealing emerald, Negaduck ultimately doesn't fare much better.)
  • So many gadgets in Danny Phantom could probably qualify, seeing as some of them have been shown to shrink things, tear holes between dimensions, or simulate ghost powers for a human (intangibility and flight included), and there is at least one vehicle made by the Fenton parents that can float in the air even when it is not running. All of this stuff is used for is hunting and catching ghosts nothing more.
    • Forget simulating ghost powers for a human; it was through their technology that Danny acquired the real deal. Granted, it was by accident, and there's no guarantee it would have positive results on anyone else, but they did manage to intentionally do it again on Danny at least.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In one Halloween episode, Homer buys a teleporter from Prof. Frink and uses it to get food from the fridge without leaving the couch. Marge draws the line at using the teleporter as a shortcut to the toilet.
    • Another Halloween episode has Lisa and Bart develop superpowers. Bart vows to uses his powers (stretching) "only to annoy", and proceeds to pull a prank on Skinner.
    • Yet another Halloween episode shows what each Simpson (aside from Marge) would do with The Monkey's Paw. Homer wishes for...a sandwich. This was not without reason; he'd just seen the Paw mess things up twice before hand, so he tried to make a "safe" wish, specifying it as much as he could to make sure it wouldn't go wrong. It didn't work; the turkey was a little dry.
  • Pretty much every invention ever made by Doctor Doofensmirtz on Phineas and Ferb. In one particular incident, he created a machine that could remove zinc from water as the first stage of a circuitous plot that even he couldn't remember all the details of. Considering that zinc is fairly useful metal, he could have just cornered the world zinc market, made a lot of money, and done so legally at that.
    • Another plan that stands out was inventing a machine that could translate between English and Whale. His evil plan was to insult a specific whale. Perry didn't even bother to foil him that time, he just shook his head and went home.
  • On the PBS cartoon WordGirl the villainous Dr. Two-Brains builds a ray which can turn gold into potato salad and a second one which can turn potato salad into cheese. He steals gold to turn into potato salad and then into cheese. Not only WordGirl but even the announcer think this is the stupidest plan ever — why not just steal potato salad, or buy more cheese with the gold.
  • Many of the devices Shredder and Krang use in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had more potential than they were using them for, including Krang's molecular manipulation circuit for his suit.
  • Batman Beyond:
    • One example is that cash money has become obsolete, but the writers apparently didn't understand how digital currency transfers work, so you get things like people stealing shipments of little green 'cash cards,' or running a 'cash card' through one of those little handheld beeper thingies and getting the correct amount in the read-out, but the card gets stolen back and apparently the money's still on it.
    • The various incarnations of G-Rated Drug in the franchise are often subject to this as well, but the Venom 'slappers' are kind of an aversion—the stuff Bane used to dope up on to make him the man who broke Batman has now been commercialized as a street drug. Bad, yes, but kind of realistic.
    • The future has hovercars, but they work about the same as regular cars, and pretty much all that's different is that youthful self-destructive behavior is more colorful.
  • The Magic School Bus has the titular bus,which can reach distant planets and the bottom of oceans in barely anytime at all. Instead of using this to colonise or exploit resources, it's used to give a few kids an educational joyride.
  • Lampshaded in Schoolhouse Rock!'s "Electricity" "Now if only we had a Super Hero who could turn the generator real fast we wouldn't have to burn so much fuel to make electricity"
  • The Transformers:
    • In "Attack of the Autobots", the Decepticons have Invisibility spray. They only use it once, at night, to creep up on the resting Autobots... but not to kill them, only to mess around with their recharging chambers and make them evil. Later it also turns out that while the invisibility — somehow — renders them undetectable to the "evil presence" scanners of the Autobot ship, security cameras can still see their outlines. Had they killed the Autobots, they wouldn't have had a chance to watch the footage and undo their plan.
    • The episode "A Prime Problem" has Megatron build a machine that creates a perfect clone of Optimus Prime which he can control remotely. The clone is explicitly just as fast, strong, and durable as the real thing, and Optimus is consistently shown to be the strongest of the regular Autobots at that time. Naturally, rather than create an army of Optimuses and stomping the Autobots, he creates a single clone as part of a gambit to lure the Autobots into a trap.
  • Captain Planet and the Planeteers:
    • What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway? wouldn't be an issue if Ma-Ti used it to its fullest potential (which would basically make him Professor X). Mainly not used thusly because you get into disturbing territory if you're always poking around in people's heads. It was eventually revealed that he was made the bearer of the Heart ring specifically because he wasn't willing to do much with it; one episode showed a Bad Future where he started playing hardball and conquered the planet with it.
    • Not that the others were much better. Each carried a ring capable of using the classical elements to impressive degrees, but the never bothered to use them to their full potential.
    • Hell, they had technology like a solar-powered plane, but no one ever thought to showcase it to the world to help reduce the dependency on fossil fuels.
    • Also invoked by basically every single one of the Eco Villains. Nearly every other episode featured Doctor Blight or Sly Sludge carting out some sort of new super-technology which exists only to cause more pollution (with several having been explicitly stated to be modified to do so, in other words they were CLEAN ENERGY first), Verminous Skumm has seemingly perfected chemical and genetic engineering or at least gotten REALLY GOOD AT IT, Duke Nukem (no not that one) could have just walked up to any nuclear disposal plant and went "Hey, mind if I hang out here and eat all the radiation this crap is giving off?" then taken an armored truck back to a nuclear plant and said "So I'm gonna sit in the core for a day or two and power the entire East Coast, sound good?" and been phenomenally wealthy, powerful and loved forever. Then again, as Anvilicious as the show was, pretty much every misuse of technology was lampshaded for how it COULD have been used. Usually.
  • Magical Girl Friendship Squad: In the second episode, the girls use their powers to summon a bunch of fake celebrity paraphernalia to sell online, as opposed to gold, jewels, or anything else of actual value they could sell for far more.
  • The world of Mother Up has jet boots and invisibility cloth, used exclusively for faddish children's toys. The same episode has regular technology being misapplied by the third trendy toy in that episode, "personal money destroyers."
  • In the background material of Gargoyles, we find out that the eponymous Gargoyles don't shred their clothing because of a spell some wizard cast back in Ancient Rome. Think about it, this dude had magic capable of warping an entire species across the planet, and he used it to keep a rare species that often has limited contact with humans from showing off their junk.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic episode "Magic Duel", it is revealed that "Age spells" exist in this universe. So why doesn't everypony have Eternal Youth? Possibly because, since even Twilight Sparkle, stated to be one of the most powerful unicorns in Equestria, can't actually perform them, they're currently too impractical, or even completely theoretical. The only reason Trixie was able to cast it in the first place was because she was using an Amplifier Artifact that had the nasty side-effect of making her Drunk with Power.
  • Averted in the first episode of Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. when it's revealed that She-Hulk is making a living as a stuntwoman. She's not happy with it, but the director comments it's easy to digitally replace her with an actress as she's a walking green screen.
  • WC Moore in Little Elvis Jones and the Truckstoppers is obsessed with the mysterious mineral Berkonium. He has a tiny sample, remote-controlled, which seems to be able to move under its own power at considerable speed. He uses said sample to cheat at games of marbles with small children.
  • Rick and Morty: Rick is immensely intelligent, who can make any gadget he desires which can help better his world, but he uses most of them for shits and giggles. Here are some examples.
    • Rick powers his ship using a time-dilated miniature universe to generate power by posing as an alien delivering artifacts that generate electricity from manual labor. He has an entire civilization generating electricity from which he channels a percentage away for power. It's a convoluted process that relies on covert, then later overt enslavement with an entire civilization at risk of destruction, which causes that episode's conflict. Rick could easily mitigate them by just harnessing the Big Bang in a battery, or by creating just a miniature star.
    • Rick has a sentient AI whose sole purpose is to pass butter to him and his family. The AI even laments its use.
    • While mostly played for Rule of Funny they do attempt to justify this as a result of Rick being spoiled by access to infinite realities and the options of Resurrective Immortality and time control to ensure that he's in no rush to experience any of it. For most seasons of the show they aren't even with their original family, so even loved ones are easily replaceable to Rick in a very literal way. New Morties in particular appear to be a booming industry in the citadel. Couple that with his past trauma and extreme substance abuse to get a broken wreck of a hedonist that is truly All Take and No Give, he doesn't use his intellect or technology to improve the world because he can't see anything in reality as being important other than his own immediate comfort.
    • Taken even further in the season 5 finale where it's revealed that so far the show has taken place in a subset of multiversal realities where Rick is the most intelligent man, enforced by a machine of his own design. He apparently has created technology so advanced that it can affect the multiverse of the setting and he's been using it... to prop up his fragile ego. Given the "anything that can happen must happen somewhere" approach to infinity the show seems to use then it's pretty much a given that there are countless universes in which people as bright as Rick but without all the hate and cynicism have turned everything into an ideal utopia, yet he's been keeping everyone trapped in a portion of the multiverse where their lives are ruined on a weekly basis just so he can feel superior.
  • Subverted/parodied in Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Frylock has a device called “the Cloner”, which can create endless duplicates of any object it scans. He mainly just uses it to replace broken things around the house (usually the TV), until Master Shake points out the far more obvious and sensible usage: putting some money in and duplicating a massive fortune. Unfortunately, using the Cloner too many times, especially if it's for just one thing (like the aforementioned TV) can cause Clone Degeneration.
  • This gets parodied in SpongeBob SquarePants during the episode where Mr. Krabs' first dollar is covered in paint. Spongebob and Patrick are desperate to clean the paint off of Mr. Krabs first earned dollar, and try multiple methods with no meaningful results. Methods include putting the dollar in a washer, using a power scrubber, a water jet (that punches a hole through Patrick's gut...) — all to no avail. Patrick gets frustrated with their lack of progress and yells at Spongebob to stop, pointing to a computer saying "Wait Spongebob, we're not cavemen we have technology." Do they look up an answer on the Internet on how to remove the paint? Nope. Patrick slams the computer on the dollar bill repeatedly, as if that would have any greater result than the previous failures. What makes the situation even more ridiculous is that when Mr. Krabs returns he reveals an easy method to remove the paint... just spit on it and rub it off.
  • DuckTales (2017): In "The 87 Cent Solution", Glomgold Flintheart gets his hands on a stopwatch that can stop time. He uses it to gaslight Scrooge when it could be used to earn fortunes in a million different ways. This is entirely in character for Glomgold.

    Real Life 
  • The Computer, a machine capable of performing incredibly complex arithmetic and decision logic, primarily sees use doing a workless infinite loop and managing resources that may one day be used. Even in the case of people who actually use computers for things, most of the time it's the same old boring stuff over and over again. They want to do their accounts, or write a letter, when the machine may be capable of creating sapient or sentient thought, or just comparing your personal data to millions of other people and trying to figure out what kind of beer you'd want (though that and similar applications have various privacy concerns that might prevent widespread use of it). Right now you have access to the largest computer network in existence, containing over 200 TB of information, and you're using it to read TV Tropes. And that's not counting such things as listening to music or running an Idle Game as well.
  • Diamonds. They can be used to make cutting tools more effective, as well as for focusing laser beams, but most people would rather use them as decorations.
  • Helium (a nonrenewable resource, by the way) is necessary for important things like MRI machines, but we waste a whole lot of it in order to make balloons that float.


Video Example(s):


Magical Girl Friendship Squad

Gee, couldn't you just use your magic to create, I dunno, enough money to pay off rent for the rest of the year or something?!

How well does it match the trope?

2.8 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / MisappliedPhlebotinum

Media sources: