Standard spy trope. After a spy receives a message, the last words state that whatever device the spy received the message on will self-destruct. Cue the agent stepping back as the device goes up in smoke and a shower of sparks. Can be Played for Laughs when the message is a simple letter. Upon reading the last line, the spy drops the paper, which bursts into flames or blows up.
This is true to some degree, as secret messages are often designed to be destroyed without a trace, though none of them use elaborate self-destruction for such purpose—usually, they depend on the message-receiver to destroy them. Stuff Blowing Up tends to attract attention, something good spies despise (and more importantly, they might need to look or listen more than once; being a spy doesn't automatically give you a Photographic Memory).
See also: Booby Trap
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to read these examples.
- In Go Nagai's manga version of Cutey Honey, the recording that informs the title character of her true nature also tells her that the house will soon self-destruct. Honey is about this close to leaving the other witness there to die in order to keep her secret.
- In Sekirei, the CEO uses a robotic dummy to give a message at the end of the third match. The message ends with the dummy saying that it will self-destruct in ten seconds... But Homura, who hates the CEO, blows it up before the countdown even starts.
- The anime Sonic X parodies this trope. Every time Eggman sends a video message to Sonic and company, he claims that something completely random and weird will happen after it's finished, which the robot messenger Bokkun then has to fulfill, such as "after this message, there will be karate". The one time he did the traditional "This message will self-destruct" thing, the message was accidentally delivered to him instead of Sonic.
Eggman: This message is brought to you by the Eggman Empire, even though we are not responsible for the content- except this part. (Boom!)
- Knuckles once did this to Sonic in episode 5. The message actually explodes in Sonic's face.
Well, that was a very impolite welcome.
- Bokkun is also obsessed with bombs, which is why Sonic and Chris once jumped behind a couch when he came to deliver a message.
- In A Certain Magical Index, Touma saves Index's life but is hospitalized with amnesia in the process. Stiyl asks the doctor to pass Touma a letter, but Index takes it. The letter is Stiyl grudgingly thanking Touma for saving Index, then the final line says the letter destroys itself shortly after being opened, and it crumbles to dust in Index's hands.
- Later, when Stiyl conscripts Touma for the "Deep Blood" mission, he gives Touma the blueprints for the building and other info, but the papers crumble to dust before he can finish reading them.
- In Yatterman the Big Bad Dokurobee always sent to his henchmen some little robots, shaped accordingly to that episode's theme, which carried his messages and then self-destructed. This was only the first of many Non-Fatal Explosions happened to the villains throughout every episode.
- Hanaukyo Maid Tai: The message Taro got from his grandfather in the manga's first chapter.
- In Outlaw Star, Gene and two perverted men watch a videotape where a woman strips while there is a countdown on the screen. As the countdown reaches zero, the woman says, "You must be the dumbest people alive." and the tape explodes in their faces. Trio declare it was Worth It.
- In the comparatively less-known manga story Wasted Minds by Rumiko Takahashi, the villains at one point get their instructions from their boss on a malfunctioning TV (because they dug it out of a garbage dump, being too cheap to buy one). At the end, they're told that "This TV will now self-destruct." One of the villains remarks, "Like it hasn't already?!"
- In an anime episode of Ranma ½ loosely inspired by Mission: Impossible, Sasuke discusses his missions with Kuno on a payphone under a bridge. Everytime he ends the call the phone soon blows up but he never learns to get away from it.
- Urusei Yatsura: After her less-than-pleasant new encounter with her childhood friend, Ran, Lum is approached by a small Ran doll who tells her that Ran is sorry for everything and wants to meet and make up so they can be friends again. It then ends the message with "I will now self-destruct." and explodes. In Lum's face. To absolutely nobody's surprise, Ran isn't really interested in being friends after all.
- Hatoful Boyfriend's tie-in manga subverts this. When Yuuya gets a tape with his next assignment he's told that the tape won't self destruct so please dispose of it properly. "It looks like the explosives budget's been cut, huh..." he says.
- Referenced in Asterix and the Black Gold, where the parchment bursts into flames when the spy Doubleosix is done reading.
- Mortadelo y Filemón often plays with this trope, too, but the methods by which the message is destroyed are usually bizarre.
Super: (from a recording on a tape) This tape recorder will not self-destruct, because it's Japanese and costs a fortune. To make the tape useless, use the system X-28. Out! (cue Mortadelo eating the tape in the next panel)
- For example, one recorded message states, "This message will be destroyed within five seconds," then proceeds to play a song which one of the main characters apparently hates, causing him to destroy the record (and the player) in a fit of rage. In another, the tape player deploys a pair of legs and walks towards the edge of a table while playing the countdown. When it reaches to zero falls to the ground and it's broken.
- Other examples: having Mortadelo burn a dynamite stick attached to the note - directly referencing "Mission: Impossible" - or making them eat the note.
- Hilariously subverted in a short story:
- Used in Górsky & Butch during a Mission: Impossible spoof - a pair of glasses showed Butch the details of the mission, then self-destructed before he could take them off.
- This happened in one issue of the Comic-Book Adaptation of Woody Woodpecker when Woody was sent on a spy mission.
- In a Peanuts strip, when Linus' mother was putting notes in his school lunch, one such note ended, "This note will self-destruct in five seconds," and promptly vanished.
- Parodied in The Incredibles (by video). Mr. Incredible is in a rush to find a pencil to write down what it says about his next mission before it self-destructs, and then it explodes in his trophy room. He opens the door to escape the smoke, setting the fire sprinklers off.
- All six movies in the Mission: Impossible Film Series follow the TV show in using this. First movie has a regular film tapenote , second movie has self-destructing VR Ray-bans, the third has a camera with a player inside. The fourth movie uses a self-parodying Mythology Gag: the fancy touchscreen with the mission description is hidden in an obsolete Moscow payphone, and doesn't explode on the first try until Ethan thumps it. The fifth movie is a vinyl disk and record player, which is also a trap set up by the Big Bad. The "smoke" is sleeping gas that knocks out Ethan while he's locked in a soundproof booth. The sixth movie has a tape recorder which can only be played by a sample of Hunt's blood, and once it self-destructs, Hunt is lucky enough to turn the thing off as it harmlessly turns into smoke.
- In Spy Hard, the hero left the self-destructing tape recorder in the helicopter he was flying in without thinking, and the pilot has a big Oh, Crap! moment when he hears the self-destruct message. It blows up the helicopter, killing the pilot — Mr. T.
- Played around by Ernest in the beginning of Ernest in the Army.
- In Soviet police drama Cure Against Fear, at one point the detective receives an air-tight envelope with an anonymous tip where to search for the eponymous sedative used in several crimes. In a few minutes it takes him to bring the letter to his boss, the paper turns into a steaming pile of ashes. At that point it's already clear that some pharmaceutical researcher with superiority complex is framing his colleague.
- In one of the Alex Rider books, the practice is parodied: The item in question is a perfectly normal get-well-soon card.
- In the Tom Clancy novel The Cardinal of the Kremlin, the information from the titular spy would be typed up in the American Embassy on flash paper and inserted into a container which would ignite if anyone tried to mess with it. It was then transported by diplomatic pouch to the CIA headquarters where in the office of the Director it was disarmed. The Director would then photocopy it and get rid of the originals, since having flammable paper around is a hazard. It was mentioned that Directors felt this was overly dramatic... until the first time they saw how important the information was. Cardinal himself would pass his information to the courier chain on photographic film, with a bit at the end of the roll of film sticking out of the film canister. If any of the couriers in the chain suspected that they were being followed, they were supposed to grab that end of film, and pull, exposing the entire roll, and destroying what was on it.
- Notably, the second part fails badly, when one courier is suspected and has trouble pulling the film out, and the film itself is not exposed badly enough to obscure all of the information on it.
- In Jingo, Sam Vimes receives a self-destructing note. Including an apology from Leonard of Quirm for not having better chemicals to do the job.
- In Monstrous Regiment, the codebook is edible paper, allowing easy destruction in case of capture... laced with arsenic, so the spy can't be captured either.
- In Isaac Asimov's novel Foundation and Empire, the Foundation's secret messages are sent on a medium that oxidizes to gas within a minute after exposure to air.
- Variant in Murder on the Orient Express: Hercule Poirot recovers writing on a burnt letter—by burning it again. The burnt ink burns before the burnt paper, and so for a few brief moments, the fragments of words are written in fire. Obviously, this method has to be done right the first time...
- Phoenix Force. In "Tooth & Claw", Phoenix Force leave a taped message for the hit team chasing them, which concludes: "Have you guys ever watched a show called Mission: Impossible?" Five seconds later the tape player explodes killing several of the bad guys.
- Bob receives a mission briefing like this in The Jennifer Morgue. Complications ensue when the briefing ends up self-destructing before he's actually finished reading it. Boris is also annoyed, because his laptop is running the briefing, and when The Laundry say that something will self-destruct, they mean it.
- Myth Adventures.
Tananda: Don Bruce isn't taking chances on anyone reading this, is he?
Guido: That is the middle crux of the issue.
Chumley: What was sealing the scroll?
Tananda: Nasty Assassin's trick, Big Brother. You really wouldn't want to know the details. You'd call the results insalubrious or some other two-gold-piece word.
- "Howlers" in the Harry Potter universe are magical letters of (usually...) reprimand that scream at you loud enough to rattle cutlery and shake dust from a high-ceilinged room... and when they are done they burst into flames. If not opened, they also burst into flames, and the insults are mangled. Obviously they are very humiliating to get.
- In the first Gor novel, Tarl gets a message from his father which says it will burst into flame in a few minutes. For some reason Tarl puts it in his backpack; sure enough, a few minutes later his backpack bursts into flame.
- Of course, this was the way every Mission Briefing for Mission: Impossible was done. While in parodies the message often destroys itself with a large and lethally dangerous explosion, in the actual series the destruction was harmless and the most the audience sees is the tape suddenly start to smoke slightly; there weren't even any flames, and Phelps usually just dumps the ruined and still-smoking tape in a rubbish bin or something equivalent. Sometimes they tried to get creative on exactly how the item self destructed. This show is pretty much the Ur-Example of this trope. That being said, the early episodes didn't have this trope yet. The tape ended with "Please dispose of this message in the usual manner", upon which the addressee (usually Briggs or Phelps) threw all the documents into a conveniently placed incinerator or other means to destroy the tape.
- There's a Michael Bentine BBC sketch, which he performed on TV and radio, about a spy who is ordered to memorize his orders and then destroy them. When he tries to burn them his contact warns him not to use a flame in case the enemy sees them, so he has no choice but to eat the document. He is then shown the plan of the enemy's rocket, and has to eat the plan. Finally he is shown a model of the rocket, which he is then ordered to destroy... (In the TV version the rocket was actually a rocket-shaped cake.) Finally he is ordered to "Repeat!" and emits a huge belch.
- Played for Laughs in more than one episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway?. In addition, the "tapes" have been rewound or paused prior to detonation on some occasions.
"This tape will self-destruct NOW!"
"This message will turn into a bird and FLY AWAY!"
"This tape will self-destruct... in two or three days. So use British Mail and make sure it goes nowhere!"
- Also played half-straight, half for laughs, in the MythBusters Heist Special. The gang gets the tape that self-destructs, and watches it go off.
- On Alias, Sydney must meet up with her evil agent counterpart, as one has the parchment message and the other has the only liquid solution that will make it readable. They meet in a stadium flanked by snipers and both look at the message at the same time, but it starts to dissolve, so both have to read as much as they can and sprint back to their handlers to write it down before they forget.
- On Chuck, the mysterious Orion ends a message with this. The CD decomposes in Chuck's computer in a burst of steam.
Orion: I always wanted to say that.
- The season 2 finale of Castle, '"A Deadly Game", features a simulated spy game that involves a secret message delivered by self-destructing pen.
- In Monty Python's Flying Circus, after "The Death of Mary, Queen of Scots," the radio presenter says, "And now, Radio Four will explode." The radio music starts up once again, and then the receiver explodes.
- Used in The Suite Life on Deck ...with a text message!
- Get Smart. In "The Impossible Mission", Max goes to a coin locker where a taped message from the Chief is waiting, then opens two other lockers for the speakers. After getting his briefing, the Chief announces that the tape will destruct in five seconds. Maybe six... The explosion destroys everything except the tape, which refuses to stop playing after Max's repeated attempts to destroy it. In the end Max has to tuck the bulky tape player under his coat and walk off with it.
- Murder Rooms. In the pilot movie, the Diabolical Mastermind leaves a taunting message written in a pile of sand used to bury Doyle's Love Interest, ensuring that our heroes will destroy the evidence while retrieving the body.
- Parodied on The Ghost Bustersnote , where the title heroes got their secret messages from "Mr. Zero"note . The messages were hidden in improbable items (cream pies, a tuba, etc.) and would explode after the tape stopped, always on Tracy the Gorilla's face.
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- The old spell "Magic Mouth". It records a short message and replays it later when pre-set conditions are met. And then vanishes.
- Then there is "Explosive Runes", which creates a magical writing which explodes when read. You can set some condition for non-triggering it, making it both versions of this trope at once.
- In one of the official adventures for Paranoia, the team leader is given self-destructing (specifically, self-dissolving) mission orders. There are just two small problems. One, the mission orders will begin to self-destruct well before the character has time to finish reading. Two, if the character doesn't drop the orders the instant the GM hints at this, he will self-destruct right along with them. Three, the self-destruct isn't instant, and anyone the character touches before succumbing may, at the whim of the GM, join them in dissolving away.
- In Clue II: Murder in Disguise, during Chapter 3, Colonel Mustard and Miss Scarlet (the former spies) have gone back into business, and they get a mission via self-destructing tape that plays aloud. Thing is, in Chapter 3, Miss Peach has started writing in a diary, which gets read aloud in Peach's voice as exposition for the watching audience. But since Clue II indulges in meta-humor, everyone including the other characters can hear the diary being read aloud, and everyone except Peach finds it annoying. So when Mustard starts playing the tape with his instructions, almost immediate Madame Rose says, "Lay off the diary!" which Mustard protests that it's not a diary.
Tape: Await further instructions. This tape will self-destruct.Mustard: (sarcastically) Terrific.[Mustard rushes the tape that is now starting to smoke out of the room.]Plum: I invented that, you know - self-destructing tape.
- Parodied in Duke Nukem 3D's "It's Impossible" level, itself an extended parody of Mission: Impossible and other works of Spy Fiction. A tape recorder sitting on a desk in the building Duke's infiltrating can be activated by the player, proclaiming "This tape will self-destruct in one second!" Cue a comically large explosion one second later which destroys a sizable chunk of the desk the tape recorder was on, everything near it and Duke Nukem himself if the player didn't get the hint in time to make a run for it.
- A truly bizarre variant appears in The Short-Lived Adventures of Hobo Dan for MegaZeux: After the credits finish rolling, the game itself will self-destruct by way of overwriting itself with a dud file.
- EVA's message to Snake at the end of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater self-destructs when he's done listening to it. Probably a homage to Mission: Impossible.
- In Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, the mission pages for the Seven Treasures quest all self-destruct on being opened.
- CABAL's secret message to Slavik when the latter is imprisoned by GDI. Justifed though as the "message" contained enough C-4 to blow up Slavik's cell door.
- "The C-4 in this device will explode in 5 seconds"...3 seconds later...*boom*. Slavik should have noticed it then and there. Or maybe the countdown started at the beginning of the sentence.
- Spoofed in City of Heroes: In your first contact mission with Twinshot, she'll ask you to identify yourself through a security terminal. You can try to tell her that your name is Inigo Montoya, but then she'll berate you for using a decades-old joke and threaten to blow up the terminal. (She doesn't actually do it, of course.)
- In the introduction to the Super Nintendo Animaniacs game, the CEO of Warner Brothers, after giving Wakko, Yakko and Dot their mission to retrieve a movie script stolen by Pinky and the Brain, says "This message will self-destruct in one second," followed by an exploding videophone and Wakko mournfully saying, "There goes my lunch..."
- In War of the Human Tanks, you receive a message from an enemy Human Tank at the start of the third mission, and after it is finished delivering the message, it blows up.
- This was the original purpose of the Tesla guns in Goldeneye Rogue Agent: they're intended to wipe hard-drives with a powerful burst of electromagnetic energy. Within the game, you're supposed to use them to disrupt enemy force-fields, but they're not terribly effective.
- The Order of the Stick Explosive Runes: Once Read Kaboom. One tactic of Vaarsuvius in his/her "discussions" with Belkar.
- Parodied in Inspector Gadget, where Gadget's absentmindedness always leads to the message literally exploding in Chief Quimby's face (Non-Fatal Explosions, though), who can never quite remember why he keeps that guy on the payroll. ("Why do I put up with him?") The tradition even remains in the later series when Chief Quimby made a guest appearance. The Spiritual Successor series Gadget Boy does this in at least a couple of episodes.
- Stan of American Dad! once was given a message that he quickly destroyed himself by eating to impress his boss, but it turns out it destroys itself. He keeps his stride by joking that "at least it's better than my wife's cooking", but then laments that he'll be pooping blood for a while.
- Spoofed in The Simpsons episode "The Trouble with Trillions", where the FBI agent is informed "This film will self destruct... if improperly stored". The message was hidden in a photo booth where the password is "cheese", so spoofed again when Apu and Manjula walk in seconds later and we learn exactly why this trope exists in the first place.
- Animaniacs riffs on this once with a self-destructing tape recorder, which as well as the message plays the Mission Impossible theme-for a "Mission Implausible" for which such drama is not really necessary. Wakko then eats the tape recorder, and burps, breaking all windows in the place.
- One of the recurring sources of pain for The Chew Toy in Calling Cat 22, no matter how hard he tries to escape it.
- In an episode of The Fairly OddParents!, Timmy wishes his life were like an action movie. The next morning at breakfast, his dad slides a tape recorder across the table to tell his son to pass the butter before the obligatory "this message will self-destruct" line.
- Kim Possible: Parodied in "Job Unfair", where Ron is so excited about getting a spy briefing like this, he fails to realize that the message is about to explode, before Rufus snatches it and tosses it into a locker, where it explodes muffled.
- In the Israeli TV show MK22, an Arab messenger tells a character something, and then says "This messenger will self destruct in three. Two. One." The guy pushes a button, explodes.
- Used in an episode of Spongebob Squarepants when Mr. Krabs commissions Spongebob and Patrick to spy on Plankton, giving them their mission via Krabby Patty... that, of course, explodes after the message.
- Spoofed on The Penguins of Madagascar. "This recording will self-destruct... right now!", and then Rico appears out of nowhere and bashes the recorder with a baseball bat.
- Used on the Danger Mouse episodes "The World of Machines," "The Duel," and "The Odd Ball Runaround."
- In the Josie and the Pussycats episode "Never Mind a Master Mind", the gang finds a taped message inside a purple shoe. At the end, the message says it will self-destruct in one second. BOOM
- Each episode of The Houndcats begins with the Houndcats receiving their orders from their unseen "Chief", whose message is played on an old-fashioned gramophone, player-piano or other device, parodying the tape recorder scene at the start of most episodes of Mission: Impossible. However, the words "this message will self-destruct in five seconds", always takes the Houndcats by surprise, causing them to run away from the explosion.
- Played with in a fantasy-sequence on The Amazing World of Gumball, in which Richard receives a cell phone in the mail that orders him to save the President, then warns him it'll self-destruct in 10 seconds. He saves the President in nine seconds, then blows up the would-be assassin by throwing the phone at him.
- An episode of Alf Tales combines The Elves and the Cobbler with Mission: Impossible. The lead agent receives his assignment on videotape and is then told the message will self-destruct in a set amount of time. He goes to throw it out of the window, only for the tape to explode in his hand. He comments that the time allotted wasn't enough.
- During World War II, some codebooks would be printed on rice paper so they could be swallowed if necessary.
- Codebooks on naval vessels used to be (maybe they still are) bound with lead covers so they could be thrown overboard in case the ship was in danger of being captured.
- The German ENIGMA codebooks in World War II were printed in water soluble ink, so the operators could just pour their water bottles over them and destroy the data. This was particularly important when the Brits were trying to capture the U-boat settings.
- The KGB sometimes used flash paper (paper made of nitrocellulose) instead of normal paper to print their one-time-only codes; after using them, the recipient burned the paper, and the nitrocellulose would burn instantly and without smoke or ash.
- There is a material called "Dissolvo" paper which has been used for confidential documents (among other practical applications) for its quality that it completely dissolves in water.
- Several companies have produced DVDs designed to deteriorate between 8 and 48 hours after being removed from their packaging, which were basically intended as a way to rent movies without the company being worried that you'd steal the movie.
- In 1992, William Gibson contributed to an art project entitled Agrippa (a book of the dead), which consisted of a poem encoded on a floppy disk that would erase itself after one reading, and engravings that would fade when exposed to light.
- Many DRM systems are designed around destroying the document after the expiration date. Or at least making it inaccessible.
- There are devices that can instantly destroy a hard disk, either by stabbing it with a spring-mounted nail or by bathing it in microwaves. They are self-contained and will work even if police cut off electricity from your office before storming in.
- Then there was one of Galileo's books, which was once printed in parchment and highly soluble ink, so if you were caught reading it you could just throw it at some river and nobody could prove anything. Presumably other heretical books would've gotten the same distribution.
- As noted in the Self-Destruct Mechanism page, many arcade games between the 1980s and 2000s deployed suicide batteries. The data on the ROM are encrypted, and the suicide battery is wired up to protect the decryption key stored on volatile RAM. If the battery drains, the key is lost forever. However, arcade machines made after 2009 employed time-bombed dongles and expiry dates hardcoded into the game itself.
- At least one Darwin Award has played this trope straight — the 'paper', in this case, was an explosive briefcase, secured with a latch that prevented the case from opening too far (so the documents couldn't be photographed before they were destroyed) and an arming pin (so the agent can pull the pin and run if he needs to ditch the case). To open the case safely, you needed a small piece of thin metal to hold the latch down. The agent (and 'winner' of the award) was unable to find a small thin piece of metal — so she pulled the arming pin out and used that instead. As expected, the result was 'boom'.
- Not paper, but computer example, that probably qualifies. In January 2014, DARPA hired IBM to create "new class of electronics" — Vanishing Programmable Resources — that would be easy to physically destroy by a radio command. The plan is to manufacture chips on a strained glass substrate that would easily shatter into fine powder and to initiate shattering with a fuse or a reactive metal layer.
- Snapchat is an app that works like this. Texts, videos, and pictures sent by the app are deleted ten seconds after they are read, popularizing the trend of adding message self-destruct to messenger apps. Whether this is actually secure and really keeps messages safe is a very controversial issue, but at least it prevents others from seeing your old messages simply by looking over your shoulder.
- VINSON radio encryption equipment had an area marked where a signaler could fire a 9mm bullet to destroy the crucial circuits, if his position was being overrun by the enemy.
- In October 2018, one of Banksy's paintings was put up for auction at Sotheby's in London, and sold for £1.04 million. Of course, no one told anyone that there was an automatic paper shredder inside the frame, activating itself right after the sale...
- Flexplay DVDs were designed in such a way that, when taken out of their airtight package and exposed to the open air, a layer on the red reflective side of the disc would oxidize and become black and opaque, thus rendering the disc unreadable and completely useless within approximately 48 hours. These DVDs were made as an alternative to traditional video rentals: instead of paying to rent a movie and returning it later, Flexplay discs could be sold at discount and did not need to be returned.