Follow TV Tropes


Powder Trail

Go To
Apply match and stand well back!

"Ahah! Zis is an example of smartness. I have said zat zis is ze kvick fuse, und zis is ze kvick fuse! ...Ze kvick fuse!?!"
Franz Liebkind, The Producersnote 

Similar to Vapor Trail but generally with a different intent.

A trail of gunpowder is laid as a makeshift fuse, leading to a pile of explosives (usually barrels of gunpowder). Once lit, the trail smokes and sparks impressively and the hero will have to race the burning powder to scuff out the line before it reaches the explosives. In a comedic variation, a character will unknowingly leave a trail of powder behind him as he is stockpiling explosives, allowing another character to casually light it, blowing the first character to kingdom come.

Tested and confirmed by the MythBusters. This is one of the few explosive myths they've tested that worked in real life pretty much exactly the way it is portrayed in movies. And, just like the movies, it was also possible for a person to outrun it or just scatter the trail. And if you're carrying a leaky barrel of powder that is producing a trail in your wake, it is entirely possible that, should that trail be ignited, the fire will catch up to the barrel and light it off if you're traveling at a slow walk.

If the powder is too wet, the trail may prove to be a Hard-to-Light Fire.

May lead to a case of Explosive Stupidity.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Pokémon: The Original Series did this in "Attack of the Prehistoric Pokémon", but with a really long fuse line leading to a stack of dynamite (one could argue that it was smart of Team Rocket, but they ended up following Ash anyway to stop the defusing). One pile-up later and it all goes to naught, however, as Pikachu zaps the entire load. "Chaaaaa..." indeed.

    Comic Books 

    Film - Animated 
  • The Adventures of Tintin (2011) has fun with this. Sir Francis Haddock sets it off, Red Rackham snuffs it out, repeat, repeat...
  • In Free Birds, Jake accidentally leaves one that leads the pilgrims to the turkeys' hideout.

    Film - Live Action 
  • In one of the first color movies of all time, The Black Pirate, the villainous pirates use this technique to blow up ships after they have left to leave no witnesses.
  • In The Bunker (2001), the paranoid Schenke empties the powder from an artillery shell to create a powder trail that he uses as a fuse to ignite a fire to set off the rest of the ammo and collapse the tunnel.
  • In Carry On Henry, Fawkes lays a trail of gunpowder to the keg of gunpowder to blow up open the door to the Tower of London. The fuse goes out inches from the keg, until, of course, Fawkes goes over and drops a lit match on the keg.
    Lord Hampton: Oh, Fawkes! You and your bloody gunpowder!
  • B-Movie Ator The Invincible (Cave Dwellers on MST3K) had a character do this with rock dust. Cue the guys: "She's making flash powder out of her own filth!"
  • In Cutthroat Island, the Mexican Standoff in the tavern between Dawg's men and Morgan's men is broken when Shaw removes the cork from an enemy pirate's powder-horn. Bowen sees him do this and tosses him a lit candle. The other pirate takes a few steps away, and Shaw drops the candle, literally starting off the ensuing fight scene with a bang.
  • In Day of the Evil Gun, Dangerous Deserter Addis uses a powder trail to blow up one of the two wagons of ammunition.
  • Used by Sir Rodney and his allies in Don't Lose Your Head to set off a couple of powder kegs and blow a door open. Impressively, the trail leads up a flight of steps at one point, and this apparently offers no obstacle to the spark.
  • Rambo lays one in First Blood, to blow up the sporting goods store with a pile of ammo and lighter fluid from the store's camping and hunting merchandise.
  • Leon (Anthony Quinn) uses a powder trail to blow the dam and drown the attacking Indians in Guns For San Sebastian.
  • Used to blow up the bridge at the end of The Horse Soldiers.
  • The Island (1980): While the pirates are out of their settlement, Maynard breaks open a barrel of gunpowder and lays a trail out of the powder store. He then ignites the powder trail with a Molotov Cocktail and blows up the magazine.
  • In It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, this is one of the many methods by which the Crumps attempt to escape from the hardware-store basement in which they have been accidentally locked.
  • Used in film The Mask of Zorro by Montero and Love in an attempt to destroy the gold mine with the slave workers still inside. When Zorro sabotages the lift transporting the gold this becomes a bad idea, so Love cuts the trail. Later, the fight starts a fire which then reignites the trail.
  • Muppet Treasure Island: Rizzo and Gonzo are scared witless trying to load a gun to fend off pirates, and accidentally create a powder trail because Gonzo's spilling the gunpowder. Then the pirates startle them and Rizzo drops his candle... Cue pirates and defenders both trying to outrun the spark (but not moving away from the powder trail) until the pirates suddenly realise they're running towards the gunpowder barrel.
  • In Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, the Black Pearl crew does this in a ship. Though it was rather elaborate, running along a board over open water, on an already sinking ship, which makes one wonder how the hell did it not get wet or lose a critical few inches halfway through...
  • As indicated by the page quote, in The Producers, the protagonists come to regret using one of these. Although that is an actual fuse rather than a powder trail. The end result is the same.
  • Also done with a fuse in The Professionals. After kidnapping Maria, the lover of Mexican revolutionary Raza, the eponymous professionals escape through a narrow pass which they've mined with dynamite so he can't follow. Maria jumps on a horse and tries to flee back to Raza, so the Demolitions Expert lights the fuze which is shown burning along the cliff face beside her as she races through the pass until it blows up in her face.
  • In the movie The Return of the Musketeers, the powder fuse is used to blow up a ship.
  • Film Serial S.O.S. Coast Guard had an initial fuse hanging blow a trap door. When it was lit, it ignited a gunpowder trail, which in turn lead to explosives that would blow up the warehouse the bad guys were escaping from. The plan was to kill the members of the coast guard as they were raiding the warehouse, and caused the classic end-of-episode cliffhanger with the main characters in the building (who simply survived without explanation.)
  • Five'll get you ten that any time The Three Stooges have access to anything even remotely explosive and capable of leaving a trail, this will be the result.
  • In the prologue to Vampire Circus, the villagers plant barrels of gunpowder throughout the Count's castle and use a powder trail to set them off simultaneously.
  • In the comedy western The Villain, Cactus Jack accidentally creates one of these, and has to be saved from being blown up by his horse Whiskey.
  • Viva Zapata!: Diaz's solders, manning a fort, take little notice of the old ladies that are hauling bags of produce to market. They do not realize that the old ladies aren't hauling bags of produce, they're hauling bags of gunpowder, and they're leaving trails on the ground via holes cut in the bags. The soldiers start shooting when the old ladies get too close to the gates but it's too late, as the trails are lit, the gates are blown, and Zapata's men take the fort.

  • Happens in the Animorphs book Elfangor's Secret. The villain plans to destroy HMS Victory during the battle at Trafalgar, and uses the powder trail to give him extra time to make his escape via Time Travel. Ax managed to cut the Powder Trail in the nick of time, using his tail blade — only to accidentally strike a spark that ignites the rest of the trail.
  • In "Black Colossus", Natohk lays a trail of glittering powder across the path of the charging cavalry, and when their steel shod hooves strike it, the powder erupts in a wall of flame, causing a huge pile-up. Whether it's actually gunpowder or a magical version is not revealed.
  • In the fourth Gotrek & Felix novel, the dwarfs lay a powder trail (and a couple kegs of powder) to collapse the tunnel leading into a dragon's lair in case they're overrun by orcs or bandits. Their engineer's rocket launcher accidentally sets it off, leading to much swearing since the dragon had quite a large hoard.
  • In John Dies at the End, John lights a giant self-wrapped cigarette that acts as a powder trail to the bomb that destroys part of the building in Shit Narnia.
  • Used by Richard Sharpe to destroy a friendly fortress in Sharpe's Gold.
  • Solomon Kane uses one to kill the majority of Le Loup's gang in Red Shadows.

    Live Action TV 
  • The Borgias: Used in an assassination attempt on Cesare by Caterina Sforza; she knows he will want to investigate her (fake) relic inside a cave, and lays a powder trail to blow him up while he's doing so. He lives though.
  • Doctor Who: In "War of the Sontarans", General Logan uses a powder trail to blow up the Sontaran ships in the Crimea.
  • Frontier Circus: Used by Ben and Tony as part of their plan to break out of the mine in "Patriarch of Purgatory".
  • Done on Lost to open the hatch.
  • MacGyver (1985) improvises a powder trail—using black powder from an antique grenade—to blow up an arms shipment in "The Escape".
  • Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries: In "Framed for Murder", the murderer uses a long line of celluloid film like a powder trail to ignite a huge pile of unspooled film he is planning to use to burn his victim to death.
  • One of the few explosive myths examined by the MythBusters to work almost exactly like it does in the movies. A powder trail can be used as a fuse to detonate a barrel of black powder. However, the speed at which it burns changes dramatically depending on how wide the trail is, ranging from an almost instantaneous flash to slower than walking speed, which makes it difficult to measure how much time you will have to get away.
  • The Queen uses one to set off an explosion that collapses a mine (and allows her to escape the soldiers in the ensuing confusion) in the Queen of Swords episode "Death to the Queen".
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: In the episode "Civil Defense," Sisko, Jake, and O'Brien use this with a cart of unprocessed ore to blow open a door that was locked down due to the computer thinking a coup was taking place on the station (long story).
  • Done by the hero in The Swamp Fox to give him a chance to drag the villain he captured out the door of a Tory tavern.
  • Xena: Warrior Princess:
    • In "Purity", Pao Ssu sets a fire to two trails leading to a captured Gabrielle and Joxer on opposite sides.
    • In "Back in the Bottle", Khan lights up a powder trail with the intention of blowing up Gabrielle and Lin Chi.
  • A staple on the various Zorro TV series.

    Video Games 
  • In The Curse of Monkey Island, Guybrush knocks over a keg of rum, leaving a trail of the alcohol down the grassy knoll and to the keg, which happens to be sitting next to a rubber tree. He lights the trail with a match (would work since pure rum is flammable), and proceeds to be blown right off the cliff and into town by the blast. After coming to, he drowsily declares, "Woah, my head is spinning. I gotta lay off the rum!"
  • Sam in Desperados can set these in certain missions, typically to blow up fortified gates.
  • The Legend of Spyro, the first two games had an occasional case of powder trails leading to massive stashes of explosives set there by either the Apes or the Skavengers, depending on the game. Spyro can ignite the powder with his fire breath to cause a massive explosion.
  • In Ms. Pac-Man Maze Madness, in Pac Ping Harbor, the Ghosts carry barrels of gunpowder, dropping the gunpowder onto the floor below them. There are certain areas where you'll need to trick the Ghosts into making a powder trail towards One-Hit Kill crates, then trick a dragon into lighting the trail with his fire breath to destroy the crates. Be careful not to stand in the trail as it is lit, or you'll get hit.
  • Plundered Hearts: While Nicholas is keeping company with you aboard the Helena Louise, Crulley has connected the gunpowder to its explosive keg and used it as a fuse by lighting it up, and you have a limited amount of time to douse the fuse before the ship gets blown to smithereens.
  • One mission in Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves has General Tsao doing this to a captive Murray. Penelope uses one of her RC cars to save the day.
  • In TimeSplitters 2, the player character is required to do this to get an NPC out of a wild west jail. One must create a powder trail from underneath a lantern inside the jail to a wagon loaded with powder barrels pushed against the wall outside, then shoot the lantern off the ceiling. Yo can also just shoot the barrels, which will also light the trail when they explode.
  • Some levels of What the Golf? have the player play as a leaking barrel of gunpowder with an already-ignited trail. The player must direct the barrel to the flag while outrunning the trail so that the barrel doesn't blow up beforehand.
  • In World of Warcraft expansion Warlords of Draenor an introductory quest has the player steal a keg of powder from an armory which causes you to leave a trail wherever you walk. The idea is to take it to a detonator to blow up the armory but you can take your time and draw a massive trail which will burn impressively.

    Web Video 
  • HowToBasic: Mr. Basic tries to do this to a stuffed Pikachu he caught... with milk. He quickly gets fed up and just throws it into the trash.

    Western Animation 
  • Be Cool, Scooby-Doo!: How the Lutz mansion is destroyed in "When There's a Will, There's a Wraith".
  • DuckTales (2017): In "The Golden Lagoon of White Agony Plains!", Goldie leaves one as a distraction for Scrooge. Fortunately, it doesn't blow up the cave, but it does make a grizzly bear angry at them after it singes its tail.
  • Jonny Quest TOS episode "Riddle of the Gold". After a villain ties up the Quest team and lays a trail of gunpowder to a barrel full of the stuff, Bandit saves the day by putting out the flame with his...err, tail. Race hangs a lampshade on it even then: "Isn't that a bit of an old routine?"
  • The comedic variation happened frequently to Wile E. Coyote and Yosemite Sam in Looney Tunes shorts.
    • It's one of the many penalties in "Early to Bet," #36: Roll out the Barrel.
    • A memorable example occurs on "Bunker Hill Bunny". Sam carries a powder keg over to Bugs' fort, not realizing that it's leaking powder into the back flap of his pants and overflowing into a trail behind him. Bugs extinguishes the keg's fuse, then lights the trail on fire, which then follows Sam everywhere he goes. It eventually catches up to him on top of a tree he's hiding in.
    • "Dime to Retire", where Daffy plays an unscrupulous innkeeper and bilks Porky out of $779 for every animal he sent into his room to pester him. When Porky refuses to pay the 10 cents for the room, Daffy confiscates his baggage. Unfortunately for him, Porky is a gun powder salesman, and the suitcase with his wares is leaking. As Porky drives off, his car intentionally backfires and lights the trail left by the bag...
    • "Now Hear This": A surreal example for a surreal cartoon. The horn starts playing music, which unspools as written sheet music, a staff with notes. The ribbon of staff then wraps around the gentleman. The small man then holds a match to the end of the ribbon, and the notes start going off like firecrackers one at a time, until they reach the man and there's a "GIGANTIC EXPLOSION".
    • In the climax of "Bonanza Bunny," this occurs as Bugs takes an Army knife to the bottom of a small bag containing gunpowder. As Jacque runs off with what he thinks is his gold, Bugs lights it up. KABOOM!!!
  • The Hooded Claw uses one in an attempt to dispose of Penelope in The Perils of Penelope Pitstop episode "Jungle Jeopardy". This works about as well as any of the Hooded Claw's schemes do.
  • Billy Bob Scruggins blows himself up with the accidental variety in Scooby-Doo Meets the Boo Brothers. Because he has the leaking powder horn stuffed in his back pocket, the burning trail chases him around.
  • The comedic variation happened frequently to Tom of Tom and Jerry.
  • The Truth About Mother Goose: One is shown as Kirk o' Field is blown up in order to murder Lord Darnley. (The cartoon does not mention that Darnley escaped, only to be strangled to death outside.)

    Real Life 
  • Such powder trails are Truth in Television, as this was a common way of setting off early cannon on land (back when there was a real chance of explosion so you did not want to stand near it when you fired it; not believing that one was needed was what did for King James II of Scotland.)
    • Before the invention of percussion caps, this was essentially how all firearms worked to a very minor degree. After the weapon was loaded, powder was poured into a pan on top of the weapon and ignited, and an opening at the bottom of the pan allowed the flame to ignite the powder in the chamber. This method could be prone to malfunction, particularly in bad weather.
  • An accidental example of this trope is believed to have been the cause of the fall of the Fortress of Almeida, during the Peninsular War. A leaky powder keg left a trail between the powder storage and the courtyard; it was ignited by a stray shell, and in turn ignited over 70 tons of powder, causing one of the largest explosions of that era and forcing the defenders to capitulate.
  • Truth in Television: Guy Fawkes was caught making sure the gunpowder trail leading to the explosives he planted under the house of parliament were perfect before lighting it.


Video Example(s):


"Oh, Woof"

While trying to load a gun to fend off pirates, Gonzo and Rizzo end up spilling gunpowder all over the floor, which ends up getting lit by a dropped candle, with the flare chasing them and the pirates around the store room before it eventually reaches a barrel.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (11 votes)

Example of:

Main / PowderTrail

Media sources: