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Rube Goldberg Hates Your Guts

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This one will not only kill your nemesis but snap a photograph at the moment of his demise. Sadly for Ratigan, this one fails miserably!

What happens when you mix a Death Trap with a Rube Goldberg Device?

Every once in a while there's a serial killer, villain, or Big Bad who decides that it's not enough to just kill somebody off. They insist on going the extra mile, to make the manner of their victim's death so complicated and elaborate that it's almost an art form in and of itself — so that anyone who gazes upon the scene will stand in awe of their mental superiority in devising cruel and unusual ways to kill people. Needless to say, this can be the result of a peculiar type of Complexity Addiction.

Delayed deathtraps also have the advantage of giving the culprit an alibi, allowing them to slip away after activating it, and provide verifiable proof that they were somewhere else at the "time of death". However, this is only if the trap works. If it fails, then the culprit has no one to blame but themselves for not ensuring the deaths of their adversary.

This is a Death Trope so expect spoilers. If it fails, you can expect someone to ask, "Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?" (and they often do).

Often attempted by any variety of Evil Genius but it can vary whether or not they are successful. After all, if it's The Hero who is the victim, they'll no doubt find some way to escape the trap...

See also Disaster Dominoes (the accidental version of this trope), There Is No Kill Like Overkill, Rasputinian Death, and Necro Non Sequitur.

As this is a Death Trope, unmarked spoilers abound. Beware.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Death Note. The note(book) lets the user write how someone dies, as long as it makes sense and the user knows the victim's name and face. The owner, Light Yagami, loves complicated gambits, so there's a whole lot of this. One of his crowning achievements happens relatively early in the manga, where he sets up a man to die in such a way that his real target has no choice but to reveal his name to him (giving Light everything he needs to kill him when the time comes).
  • Also considered in Haruhi Suzumiya when Kyon and Haruhi are pondering about the supposed murder in the island house.
  • Shows up frequently in Majin Tantei Nougami Neuro.
  • A few of Battler's theories to solve the murders of Umineko: When They Cry come down to this. Small bombs, anybody?

    Comic Books 
  • Batman:
    • His villains are partial to these, which makes sense since a lot of them do things For the Evulz rather than a practical motive.
    • The Riddler used to set up insurance fires that were set off by such an elaborate series of events using items already in the buildings that they would look like accidents.
  • The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones: The mechanism for opening the sealed treasure vault in #24, as Klexx explains to the captive Indy during his Evil Gloating:
    "Pay close attention, Jones. When the sun strikes the pyramid of the vault, a beam passes through it and on to the eye of the cyclops. From there it deflects to the thong from which our Human Sacrifice is suspended. It burns through, she drops onto the slab, and her weight tips it... sending it down the ramp, smashing through the wall. This causes the vertical panel to come crashing down and... Behold! The vault is open."
  • Nodwick once was caught in a trap that didn't merely kill a victim, but... see for yourself. It even produces a copy of the manufacturer's business card when it gets triggered with the suggestion:
  • Mickey Mouse Comic Universe:
    • In his first appearance, the Phantom Blot tries to kill Mickey Mouse with exceptionally complicated homemade Death Traps. When finally caught and unmasked, the Blot reveals that he does this because, despite his criminal endeavours, he doesn't have the guts to kill someone with his own hands.
    • In more recent appearances he started using guns, but sometimes he still uses complicated death traps for old times' sake (so he said when he tied Mickey to a wood trunk that was about to be cut by a laser and Mickey pointed out it had been a while since he used complicated traps).

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Professional Killers in Accident specialise in engineering deaths like this so they look like improbable accidents; although the team are always on site to ensure that each step goes off without a hitch. The murder the Brain engineers solo at the end of the film is even more like this, as he is acting on his own and several of the steps are things that could not have occurred by accident.
  • Parodied in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, where Dr. Evil leaves Austin and the current chick to die in an over-elaborate device, and Dr Evil's son suggests just shooting them.
  • In Conan the Barbarian (1982), Conan kills Thorgrim with a spring-loaded spike trap.
  • The climax of Blown Away has Mad Bomber Ryan Gaerity and ex-IRA bomber turned bomb disposal officer Jimmy Dove fighting each other while the fuse to a vast amount of explosives in the hull of the derelict ship they're on goes into action around them as a literal Rube Goldberg Device, started by Gaerity pouring a cup of mercury down the drain. It's made clear that Gaerity is more interested in revenge and his intricate bombs than the IRA cause he's supposed to be fighting for, hence the Complexity Addiction.
  • Cube: Each film takes place in a huge prison with several cube-filled rooms. Quite a few of them have deadly traps that activate as soon as they enter.
  • The Final Destination movies, insofar as the deaths (which appear to be Necro Non Sequiturs) can be considered orchestrated by a sinister force — and Death is one sadistic Cosmic Entity. The first movie had one death (the teacher) so hilariously contrived that it's a wonder the scene wasn't scored with "Yakety Sax". Yet it pales in comparison to what the series had in store later. Needless to say, check the disbelief at the door.
  • James Bond. For a while, especially during the Roger Moore era, the Bond films were this trope.
  • Law Abiding Citizen: This entire movie is a love note to this trope. The way Clyde kills people makes MacGyver look like he was creating science projects for the elementary school science fair.
  • Mindhunters had a serial killer killing everyone in incredibly bizarre ways tailored specially to each character's personality. One death was a literal Rube Goldberg machine.
  • It's not lethal, but a significant chunk of Mousehunt is spent with the brothers arranging increasingly ridiculous mouse-killing schemes and falling for them in the most painful fashion available.
  • The Omen films, and here there's no chance of the elaborate schemes failing because they're planned by, you know, the Devil.
  • The Saw movies. One could argue that the plot exists only to allow the use of this trope. The traps started out has simple and brutal with the obvious solution being something you just don't want to do. Later installments however made larger and more convoluted traps often involving multiple people. Justified that the real Jigsaw wishes to use the death traps as a therapy to correct someone, while Detective Hoffman, who took Jigsaw's place after his death, is a merciless person who never intends to spare anyone caught by his death traps.
  • In Thir13en Ghosts (the 2001 remake), the entire house would be considered this.

  • Done occasionally in the Serge Storms novel series:
    • The earliest example in the first novel, Florida Roadkill: The victim is tied to an armchair, with the TV on showing the space shuttle being prepped for launch at Cape Canaveral (which was fairly close to the motel where the victim was tied up in). When the shuttle launched, the shock waves of the launch would cause the model space shuttle hanging from the ceiling to swing, striking the metal ring cut from a beer can. The contact between the metal ring and the metal toy would complete a circuit, which would start a small electric motor, which would wind in a cord, which would pull the trigger of a shotgun that was pointed at the victim. Averted in that the victim dies of a massive heart attack a few moments before the trigger is pulled.
    • In Gator A Go-Go, he refashions a garage door as a guillotine with an electric motor, meant to be triggered by solar panels.
  • Dirk Gently faked a report of this when handling a Locked Room Mystery in The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. The police didn't accept the real supernatural answer, so Dirk needed some other explanation of how the victim could commit suicide and leave his head perched on a spinning turntable.
  • The Lord Peter Wimsey novel Busman's Honeymoon hinges on such a device, with the advantage of it looking quite unremarkable once it had been triggered, resulting in a Locked Room Mystery.
  • Some of Georgette Heyer's murder mysteries use methods like this, whereas others are simple and elegant. The most elaborate device is probably the one in No Wind of Blame.
  • Andy Mc Dermott's Wilde/Chase series features a lot of these. Frequently lampshaded, and called out by name in the fifth book.
  • Accord, an Evil Genius supervillain in Worm, is compelled to build these as a result of his power, which forces his mind to constantly trend towards greater complexity in plans, with a corresponding increase in brainpower as the problem gets more complicated. It also gives him a maniacal obsession with order which generally results in him killing people for such grievous offenses as interrupting him in the middle of a meeting.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Alphas has a single-episode antagonist named Marcus Ayers, whose superpower is hyper-awareness of his surroundings and prediction of improbable events. This translates into the ability to create examples of this trope in any complex environment.
    • As it happens, Marcus is under the impression everyone can do what he does and thus assumes things that happen to him are part of a calculated plot rather than simply random occcurances.
  • In The Cape, the villain Dice is a savant who is able to calculate probability so quickly that she can effectively predict the future. At one point she rolls a coin down a hallway, which a janitor pauses to pick up, thus knocking over a mop, which turns on a sink and causes it to overflow, then the water shorts out a wire that goes directly to a chandelier that's hanging above the head of the man she wants to kill.
  • CSI:
    • An episode has the "miniature killer" set up a trap in their victims' apartment and send their calling card (a miniature of the scene) early. It turns out to be a device which pours charcoal on the fire and fills the room with carbon monoxide, it silently kills the undercover officer they posted in the room while they were watching unaware the entire time.
    • The episode "Lab Rats" has one of these as one of Hodge's causes of death in his "thought experiments" as a scenario for his board game. The first one (a booby-trapped evidence box) is even disparaged as the work of Wile E. Coyote.
    • One episode has the team ultimately deduce that a college girl's apparent murder was actually the result of an extremely unfortunate set of coincidences. This results in a Downer Ending when the girl's parents refuse to accept the lack of closure this gives them, and go off determined to pointlessly blow a bunch of money on another investigation.
  • Dead Like Me:
    • The use of this trope is actually lampshaded. All of the deaths in the show are of this variety and it is explained early on that the gravelings exist solely to make sure the circumstances leading to the deaths occur. Hell, their boss is even named Rube.
    • The movie of the series plays with this trope has a suicidal inventor create an ingenious Rube Goldberg device to kill himself. He straps himself in, starts it off, and then receives a phone call which makes him want to live. Rube Goldberg's hatred comes up when the device works perfectly, then subverts it when it becomes clear his afterlife will be even better than what he was going to receive in this world.
  • The original title of this trope, "Death by Rube Goldberg", is actually used word-for-word in a The Facts of Life episode revolving around a killer taking down the group. It can be seen here at approximately 06:30. The show even lampshades the fact that most of the audience will have no idea who Rube Goldberg was!
  • An episode of Family Matters has Carl on a treadmill that is booby-trapped to kill him if he slows down.
  • Fringe:
    • In the episode "The Plateau", a mental patient with an exponentially high IQ due to a medical treatment is able to calculate nearly every possible future. To this end, he indirectly kills three people that were to take him back to reverse the treatment using a long chain of improbable events that he was able to predict.
    • In season 5, Peter, having used the implant that all Observers have in their bodies, is able to foresee long chains of events, and uses this to arrange the death of other Observers through one such chain.
  • Glee plays with this trope a lot with resident Magnificent Bastard Sue Sylvester. A particularly memorable example:
    Sue: I will go to the animal shelter and get you a kitty cat. I will let you fall in love with that kitty cat. And then, on some dark, cold night I will steal away into your home and punch you in the face.
  • The Goodies. Mad Scientist Rat Fink Petal tries to kill the Goodies with a simultaneous pair of deathtraps: a bathtub slowly filling with water in which sits a man-eating alligator, and a candle burning a rope holding a tub of concentrated acid, so they'll be tormented over which horrible death they'll experience. After a comical Cliffhanger Copout in which they make an unseen escape thanks to Graham's fruit peeler, their escape is foiled by Rat Fink who's waiting outside the door. He then straps them to an enormous Cartoon Bomb, which if moved will open a canister of poison gas.
  • Several of the murder methods in Jonathan Creek, such as "Satan's Chimney" and "The Grinning Man".
  • MacGyver (1985): In "Strictly Business", Murdoc rigs a Death Trap in which metal clamps spring out of a chair to hold him in place, a statue of Cupid spins around automatically, and a candle burns through a string to launch a cyanide-coated dart from Cupid's bow at Mac's heart.
  • The TruTV series Man Vs Cartoon has two teams from New Mexico State University attempting to emulate the contraption Wile E. Coyote used at the end of the short Hook, Line and Stinker.
  • Several cases in Monk boil down to this. Usually, they involve serial killers.
    • In "Mr. Monk Meets the Playboy", in season 2, there is a case where a publisher is killed when his barbell crushes his trachea. The murder weapon: a magnet in the apartment underneath.
    • The scheme used in the murder in "Mr. Monk and the TV Star" involves staging a barfight so that the press could be used as an alibi.
  • Murdoch Mysteries: In "Invention Convention", an inventor accepting an award is shot in the head by a complicated device using parts that implicate several other inventors. Turns out the victim stole ideas and tech from the inventors and built the device to euthanize himself and prove himself superior to his rivals.
  • The serial killer Mr. Yin, on Psych, is particularly creative, including strapping Juliet to a chair that was attached to a clock tower by a rope in such a way that at 4:30 the rope would be severed and she would fall to her death.
  • Shakespeare & Hathaway - Private Investigators: In "The Chimes at Midnight", the murderer rigs a Rube Goldberg Device to drop his victim off the roof of the building to allow him to establish an alibi by being inside in full view of everyone else when the body hits the ground.
  • In Supernatural, Atropos kills people like this, moving between the seconds to arrange deaths. She's one of the few enemies the Winchesters have absolutely no way of fighting, and they need to be rescued by Castiel both times she takes a shot at them.
  • The Walker, Texas Ranger episode "6 Hours" has a special shotgun rigged up to a timer that will go off, well, within six hours, killing the intended victim, a billionaire's daughter kidnapped by her traitorous bodyguard and strapped into an old broken electric chair. It's also rigged up to a webcam covering the gruesome crime. Fortunately, Walker finds them Just in Time and uses the traitor as a Bulletproof Human Shield seconds before it goes off, protecting the girl and essentially killing him with his own murder weapon.
  • The 1960s TV series The Wild Wild West had Jim West strapped to these on several occasions.
  • The X-Files: The featured freak-of-the-week in the episode "The Goldberg Variation" has a luck-altering presence, resulting in this type of death for his enemies.

  • The death of Kenneth II of Scotland, as covered by Rex Factor. The mother of a man he killed rigged an isolated cottage with a statue that, when touched, triggered crossbows hidden behind curtains, then led him to it. It's unclear how she knew he'd immediately touch the statue.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Exalted, this is a trick available to the Sidereal Exalted. As explained by a developer, one way to kill someone is for a Sidereal to give someone bad luck when doing such things as chopping vegetables or crossing the street, ensuring that the rest of someone's short life is a parade of one accident to the next as anything that can go fatally wrong will.


    Video Games 
  • The large combination of Plasmids, tonics, weapons, and other tools mean that the BioShock series gives you many ways to kill an enemy. The second game's research camera gives you more research points the more imaginative your kill was.
  • In Carmageddon, if you kill a pedestrian by hitting them with an object (like a pole or parked civilian car) you get an extra bonus and the words "Nice shot, sir."
  • Levels in the online game Clowns in the Face are set up so that you need to exploit this to beat the level with a good score. Generally, you need to serve a tennis ball at exactly the right angle and it will set off some ludicrous chain of rebounds, explosions, and falls that kill all the Monster Clowns.
  • The first murder in Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony is revealed to be the result of one. Decoy Protagonist Kaede Akamatsu set it up to try and kill the mastermind, only to end up accidentally killing Rantaro Amami. And then it's eventually revealed towards the end of the game that the booby trap missed, and the mastermind simply whacked him over the head.
  • In Tecmo's Deception, You can set multiple traps to fire in sequence in order to take out your enemies.
  • In Disgaea 4, the Prinny's Trick Or Bomb magichange attack sets off one of these, which ends with a giant bomb being launched at the target(s).
  • Dwarf Fortress:
    • Some members of the community love to invoke this trope when it comes to nobles and certain other pests. Since you can't just order them to be killed, this is pretty much your only option. Well, or just locking their bedroom doors so they starve to death, but sending them to pull a lever to drop themselves into a magma sea is much more entertaining.
    • It's also been invoked on a much larger scale: building a Pointless Doomsday Device to destroy the entire fortress. Often used when monsters from the depths of hell are swarming in. Or when it's funny.
  • Evil Genius: You can create traps to foil agents of justice trying to crash the party. You get extra points for clever, sadistic traps. Clever players can even use this to create inescapable rooms with traps that constantly affect the trapped agents and/or tourists, earning money for trap chains. With proper set-up, you need not worry about money again. See here for the designs to "The Square of Insanity" and "The Tornado Trap".
  • This was a possible result of a Fallout 3 Wreaking Havok demonstration. Ideally the player would remain where they triggered a Rube Goldberg Device and the physics engine would complete the Disaster Dominoes as intended, leaving players unharmed while dropping a stash of goodies at their feet. Any user error or unpredictable physics could kill the Player Character in a fiery explosion.
  • Ghost Trick:
    • Lynne's third death (which happens after undoing her two previous deaths by going back in time) features a Rube Goldberg contraption in which turning on the room's lights initiates a chain reaction that ends in a gun firing at the person in the door threshold. Then it turns out that this contraption is a replica of the original one, which killed another woman 5 years earlier. The game deconstructs the idea a little, as the Rube Goldberg contraption permanently scarred the person who set it up (the killed woman's daughter), since it was supposed to be harmless. Later, it was found to have made an "impossible move", and nobody could ever figure out why it acted the way it did, leading all involved to despair.
    • Most of the gameplay consists of Sissel (and later, Missile) navigating through conveniently-placed objects and manipulating them in sequence so that they end up changing the circumstances around someone's death, inverting this trope ("Rube Goldberg Saves Your Guts"). In the case of Lynne's third death, you're basically using your own Rube Goldberg device to disarm the other one.
  • This trope is used by the Origami Killer in Heavy Rain. Killing boys by leaving them trapped in a ditch that fills with rainwater is certainly more elaborate than most. The same applies to the trials that the Origami Killer leaves for his victims' fathers, which, among others, include heading to a power plant, crawling through a vent with glass on the bottom, and then navigating through a maze of electrical condensers to get the next clue.
  • Hitman:
    • In Blood Money, you are rewarded for making your hits look like accidents. In all of the games in the series, you can come up with very indirect or ingenious ways of offing your targets.
    • Absolution takes it a step further by having at least one accident in nearly every level and referring to them as "signature kills" that grant bonus points and unlock achievements.
  • MadWorld awards higher points per kill the more elaborate the kill is.
  • In Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge LeChuck leaves Guybrush and Wally the Cartographer to die in a Rube Goldberg Contraption at the end of act II. You can die in it, but since Guybrush is, at this point, recounting how he came to be in a completely different (and much more straightforward) perilous situation, the person listening calls him out.

    Web Animation 
  • In the second episode of Camp Camp, as David holds Camp Campbell's mascot, Larry the Hamster, Max uses a marble to put a Rube Goldberg into effect, climaxing in a bowling ball setting off a catapult with a giant rock with the words "fuck the police" written on, hitting Larry and sending him across the lake into Spooky Island. After realizing he has hit Larry, Max says to David, "Aw man. That was supposed to kill you."
  • 50 Ways to Die in Minecraft: Subverted; death 15 in part 3 have Stu tries to do this, but the anvil is a block off from hitting the victim. Instead, he gets blown up by a Creeper seconds after.

    Web Comics 
  • The Bloody Nipple Saga (a Campaign Comic adaptation of the first Conan the Barbarian movie) parodies Thorgrim's death scene. The trap is described in detail (with a crude drawing of how it is supposed to work) and an explicit reference to the "Rube Goldberg device" is made in the notes below the page. The trope is subverted because the trap actually bounces off Thorgrim's armour, as the DM stated that the device designed by the player wouldn't have enough strength to work as intended.
  • A notable death trap appears in The Order of the Stick, on the strip titled "Building a Better PC Trap". The author/artist chose not to show the trap actually going off because he thought it was too complicated to do it justice.

    Western Animation 
  • Subverted in the Adventure Time episode "James II". The James clones build a complex-looking Rube Goldberg device in order to defeat the banana guards... but it turns out to be made from flimsy wood, and it breaks down around the banana guards while they just walk up to the Jameses.
  • Batman: The Brave and the Bold:
    • Music Meister uses a ludicrously overkill Death Trap, involving swinging blades, lasers, acid, bombs, crushers, and spikes to kill Batman and Black Canary.
    • And the Joker uses an elaborate Rube Goldberg device to kill Batman in "Emperor Joker!". For Joker, however, this is justified however as he has the powers of a god to ensure that it works. But he decides it's no fun to kill Batman once and does it over and over again.
  • Family Guy:
    • Peter gets tricked into buying and setting up a Rube Goldberg device that is supposed to "make breakfast" ala Pee Wee Herman. After starting up the device and watching it work its way through step by step, it ultimately culminates in pulling the trigger of a handgun, which shoots Peter in the arm. All Peter can do is state the obvious.
    • A more serious example involves almost all the major characters of the town of Quahog being invited to a dinner party being hosted by James Woods. Nearly every one present has a grudge against James himself, and therefore a possible motivation to want to kill him. The fat chick that Quagmire brings with him decides to sit in the wrong place at the wrong time, just as an egg timer pulls a string attached to a gun, which shoots her dead. It was intended for James, but he makes a last-minute decision to leave the room. Ultimately, it is anchorwoman Diane Simmons who ultimately kills Woods, along with a few other minor characters who get in her way. The episode served largely to just remove those barely recurring characters from the show, including Diane herself. James Woods himself later returns with a ridiculously implausible explanation for how he is returned to life, in typical Family Guy style.
  • In the Futurama episode "The Tip of the Zoidberg" has the protagonists use one on the Professor. Being a Rube Goldberg Device, it was not quick, allowing time for the execution to be interrupted.
  • The Perils of Penelope Pitstop: The Hooded Claw LOVES this trope. He pulls a Death Trap with this just about every 2 minutes.
  • In Rick and Morty, the female Gazorpians try to execute Rick and Summer, but since they're a Straw Feminist society unused to violence they try to come up with an over-complicated death trap involving a giant boulder, to which Rick points out that it'd be easier to just drop the boulder on them. Eventually their queen gets fed up with Rick's interruptions and decides to just use the boulder.
  • Fred Jones of Scooby-Doo lives and breathes this, most notably in episodes like "Hassle in the Castle". Unfortunately, he has a bad habit of accidentally capturing Scooby in his traps. His likelihood of capturing Scooby instead of the Monster of the Week is in direct proportion to how long it is till the end of the episode.
  • Tom of Tom and Jerry dreams of great wealth with his convoluted device in "Designs on Jerry". It fails after Jerry and the mouse drawing on the blueprint alter a numerical calculation.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Rube Goldberg Death Trap


Emilia's Experiments

Lewis and Clark wind up tying Jack and Emilia next to a series of experiments that would eventually explode.

How well does it match the trope?

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Main / RubeGoldbergHatesYourGuts

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