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Trap-Door Fail

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It can be difficult to get out of a tax audit.

Mr. Burns: Is that so? Well, I have the feeling you'll be... dropping the charges!
[he hits a button on his desk, causing a trapdoor to open several feet behind the inspectors]
Smithers: The painters moved your desk, sir.
Mr. Burns: Ah, yes...
The Simpsons, "Homer Goes To College"

The villain sits in his lair, waiting eagerly to hear how his most recent plan was a success. Suddenly, a Mook comes running in. He looks frightened, and upset: He has bad news. The Mook delivers the news and winces.

The Big Bad sits a moment to comprehend this recent update, before bursting into rage. He angrily berates the Mook who has "failed me for the last time!" Convenient Trap Door time! The Big Bad pushes the button, the trap door opens... and it just happens to be right next to the Mook who was supposed to fall in. This is usually followed by a moment of awkward silence before the villain asks, "Do you mind?" The Mook will promptly jump into the trap door after this.

Of course, there are alternate varieties. Sometimes the trap door fails to kill its victims, and they continue to complain. Other times, the victim is too fat to slip through. Perhaps the intended victim can fly or otherwise easily escape from the trap. Or in true Looney Tunes style, it refuses to open until the villain decides to jump up and down on it. Regardless of how it plays out, if the trap door doesn't work the way it should, you've just met a Trap Door Fail. Note that the joke need not show where the trap door goes. Can lead to Fridge Logic if the villain's lair is underground.

Usually found in comedy.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Excel♡Saga has Lord Il Palazzo dropping Excel down a trapdoor on numerous occasions (the first half of the anime in particular has this happen almost Once per Episode). The trap itself works fine, it's just not as... permanent as one would expect, with Excel typically clambering back up no worse for wear.
    • There is one point early in the manga where Il Palazzo opens the trapdoor to drop Excel into the oubliette, but she wasn't standing on it. After staring at each other for a few moments, Excel apologetically jumps into the pit.

    Film – Animated 
  • Robin Hood: While the Sheriff is at the gallows rigging a noose to hang Friar Tuck with, Nutsy decides to test the trapdoor while he's still on top of it. The Sheriff only gets down half way due to his girth.
    Sheriff: Criminently, now I know why your mama called you "Nutsy".

    Film – Live-Action 
  • Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery: In this case the trap door dumps the mook into it correctly, what comes afterwards however:
    Mustafa: But Dr. Evil, we were unable to anticipate feline complications due to the reanimation process-
    Dr. Evil: Silence! ta
    [he presses a button and Mustafa's chair tilts back, dropping him into a pit of fire]
    Dr. Evil: Let this be a reminder to you all that this organization will not tolerate failure.
    [Mustafa can be heard moaning from an air vent]
    Dr. Evil: Gentlemen, let's get down to business.
    [Mustafa's moans continue]
    Dr. Evil: We've got a lot of work to do.
    Mustafa: Someone help me. I'm still alive, only I'm very badly burned.
    [Dr. Evil ignores him and tries to keep talking, but Mustafa's complaints continue to interrupt for a while until Dr. Evil picks up the phone and chats with someone on the other end for a minute]
    Mustafa: If somebody can open the retrieval hatch, down here I can get out. See, I designed this device myself— [a hatch is heard opening] - Oh, hi. Good. I'm glad you found me. Listen. I'm very badly burned, so if you could just— [a gunshot fires] You shot me!
    Dr. Evil: Okay, moving on.
    Mustafa: You shot me right in the arm! Why did— [another gunshot fires; all is silent for a moment, then the hatch is heard closing]
    Dr. Evil: Right.
  • James Bond:
    • In Diamonds Are Forever, Bond is in a elevator and suddenly straddles the sides of the floor, expecting it to be a trap door. He's gassed unconscious instead.
    • In The Spy Who Loved Me, the elevator really does have a trap door; the Big Bad's Establishing Character Moment involves him using it to drop his treacherous secretary into a Shark Pool. When Bond turns up in the climax he sends the elevator down for Bond and presses the button to activate the trap door...only when the elevator door opens, Bond is straddling the sides to stop himself from falling in.
      Bond: You did want me to drop in.
  • The King and the Mockingbird: This is the King Charles favorite method of dispatching people. Bizarrely, anyone who tries to dodge the trapdoor quickly learns that the trapdoor can actively follow them! It's that kind of thing. When the evil king attempts to pull the trapdoor on his inept chief of police, he escapes the first time by using his umbrella and another time the trapdoor ends up chasing the chief all over the room!

  • A variation appears in the Star Wars novel Darksaber. One of the henchmen fails his boss for the first last time, and the master pushes a button to electrocute him in his seat. The master pushes the wrong button and someone else gets electrocuted instead. It was the right button, but it was wired incorrectly, an early symptom of how shoddily put together the entire place later proves to be.
    • The next time someone fails, everybody jumps out of his chair before any buttons can be pushed. Eventually, all the people are restrained in their chairs so they can't get up at all.
  • In "The Tachypomp" by Edward Page Mitchell, Rivarol has a trap door over a tunnel right through the centre of the earth, so that anyone falling in will reach the center, and in the process acquire enough momentum to fall up the other half of the tunnel, until they run out of momentum and fall back down, ad infinitum. He uses it to get rid of unwanted creditors.
  • A pit opens under Walking Man in ''Judgement Day''. He simply ignores it and continues walking on air.
  • Likewise in Swellhead thanks to the hero's Levitating Lotus Position. He deliberately sat on the trapdoor to shake the villain's confidence.

    Live Action TV 
  • Bottom: When Eddie and Richie are on the roof, Richie plans to make a trap door fall closed on Eddie's head. However, he slams the trap door after Eddie has already climbed through it, causing the pair to be stuck on the roof.
    Richie: You were supposed to stop it with your head.
  • Porridge: Although not involving an actual trap door, in one of the Christmas specials, Fletcher tries to make Mr McKay fall through the ground into a tunnel which had been dug to escape the prison. After several attempts to get McKay stand in the right place, he ends up falling into the tunnel himself.
  • Saturday Night Live had a fake-commercial skit where a Corrupt Corporate Executive's trap door malfunctions in various ways: (1) opening too late, (2) opening too gradually, (3) not holding someone's weight above the door, and (4) opening upward. Stupid trap door company.
  • This That Mitchell and Webb Look sketch has this trope comes into play due to the contractor defying No OSHA Compliance.
  • In the Comic Relief skit Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death, the Master pulls a lever to open up a trapdoor under the Doctor — and the trapdoor opens under his own feet, due to sabotage by the Doctor. The Master eventually manages to escape the trap, only to almost immediately fall through the still-open trapdoor again. Twice.

    Video Games 
  • A Running Gag in Chrono Trigger with Ozzie (boss encounters specifically). During the boss encounter with Ozzie in Magus's castle, you have to trigger the various switches behind him. Each one opens a trap door that just misses opening under a main character. Then, you trigger the last switch...which opens a trap door right under Ozzie. (Why does he even HAVE that lever?)
    • Then, later on, you encounter him again, in his own tower. The encounter is much the same. You again target the switches... and the first one doesn't seem to do anything at first. Then it opens a trap door under all your characters... which just sends you back to the previous room. You then face him again, but before the boss encounter really gets going, a cat wanders into the room and presses the last switch—which, again, opens a trap door right under Ozzie. One would think he'd have learned from before....
  • In Overlord II there is a Running Gag where Les Collaborateurs turn up at the Netherworld Tower and give you info that kicks off story-related quests, then start making obnoxious requests of you and get dropped down a trap door for their trouble. After a while a mysterious hooded figure appears to deliver a quest of her own and simply levitates above trapdoor when the Overlord opens it. ( This is actually the mistress of the previous game's Overlord, i.e. your mother.)
  • In a cutscene in de Blob, Comrade Black opens a trapdoor which dumps several of his minions into a furnace, but misses one. Who is then ordered to jump in, and reluctantly does so.
  • Resident Evil 4 has Leon fall through a trap door, where a Quick-Time Event allows him to save himself with a grappling hook, before sending a bullet into the old speaker The Dragon is listening in.
  • The endings for Kuma and Panda in Tekken 5 do this. Both have separate endings, where they are visited by someone. Two large buttons are on the CEO desk. The first drops the visitor. The second drops the CEO.
  • Wallace & Gromit: Project Zoo has Feather McGraw activate one beneath Wallace and Gromit while trying to escape. However it jams before it can open more than an inch.
    Wallace: He he! You should leave the inventing to us professionals. *starts stamping on the door* Your trapdoor is stuck ti*trapdoor opens completely*iiiiiight!


    Web Original 
  • In the Homestar Runner cartoon "Pay Plus," Strong Bad and The Cheat drop Homestar through a trap door, but Homestar does not plunge into a bottomless pit.
  • In the fifth episode of Mastermind, the Mastermind's engineers tell him that there isn't actually a shark tank underneath the trap door in his office. Instead, people who fall through the trap door are harmlessly dropped into the Mastermind's cafeteria.

    Western Animation 
  • American Dad!:
    • In "Bush Comes to Dinner", it's revealed that Stan had a trap door set up for just in case Hayley starts being liberal to a guest (in this case, George W. Bush). When she attempts to call Bush out on the whole "Iraq" thing, Stan opens the trap door, only for Hayley to move her legs so she's standing on the sides. However, Stan thought ahead and hits a button that widens the hole, sending her down.
    • In the non-canon (for what little there is) James Bond parody, "Tearjerker", the titular villain (played by Roger) opens a trap door below a scientist who failed him. The door works fine, but the scientist gets stuck on the slide it leads to, forcing Tearjerker to call someone to push him into the water tank trap, setting up the Running Gag that Tearjerker hired a slipshod contractor who did a terrible job constructing his Supervillain Lair.
    • In "Morning Mimosa", after Trish and Suze find out that Steve lied about being an orphan and actually has a mom, they decide to put Francine and Steve in the pit as a punishment. However, when they pull the wire that opens it, they realize Francine and Steve were no where near the trapdoor.
  • Batman: The Animated Series: In the episode "Pretty Poison" after sneaking into Pamela Isley's privately owned greenhouse Batman almost falls into a pit of huge, razor sharp cacti after accidentally running onto the trapdoor which concealed it. Grabbing onto a nearby vine he swings himself to safety. Unfortunately, said vine comes to life and constricts itself around his wrist, leading into Isley's far deadlier pet Man-Eating Plant trying to devour him.
  • Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies: A frequently seen trope, where trap doors are disguised by the likes of Yosemite Sam, Wile E. Coyote, etc., only for their adversaries to completely ignore it or go over the trap doors as though they weren't there… and then it works when Yosemite, Wile E., and others try it.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In "Homer Goes to College", when the safety inspectors turn down Burns' bribes, Mr. Burns tells them, "I have the feeling you'll be... dropping the charges," and he presses a button to open the trap door, except the trap door's on the other side of the room. Smithers reminds Mr. Burns that, "The painters moved your desk, sir" (sharp-eyed viewers will notice that sure enough his desk isn't in the usual place in front of the window).
    • In "Grift of the Magi", Burns dumps the victims through the floor, only for them to fall back into the room from the ceiling. His reaction: "Oh, it's doing that thing again!"
    • In "Homer vs. Dignity", when Smithers approached Burns for a vacation, Burns tried to dump him into the trap door, but Smithers had the foresight to disable it.
  • Family Guy:
    • In "E. Peterbus Unum", Mayor West dumps people who complain to him out of his office with a trap door, but Peter got stuck in it because he was so fat. He said he hadn't planned on being menaced by an especially portly malcontent, but would have a "fat malcontent trap door" installed sometime soon. He then pushes Peter through the trap door until he falls through.
    • In "Peterotica", Carter Peuterschmidt successfully dropped a lawyer through a trap door, only to lead to him defeating the Rancor in a Return of the Jedi parody.
  • In League of Super Evil, when Skullossus loses his suit of armor (due to his soldiers misplacing it at the drycleaners), he angrily yells at his minions for "FAILING ME FOR THE LAST TIME!". It even goes so far as to show a flashback of him yelling this numerous times, and the results, one of which was a classic Trap Door Fail. Ironically enough, since he's just a skull in a jar without his suit, the minions toss him into a chute that leads out to space.
  • In I Love to Singa, auditioners for a talent show are sent down a trap door when they fail the audition. One of them is a fat pigeon, who has to be hit on the head with a mallet for her to make it all the way through.
  • In The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Wallace has a device in his bedroom that causes the bed to dump him through a trap door into the dining room. He gets stuck due to his pudgy gut, and requests "assistance", which is provided in the form of a large mallet.
  • Since WordGirl can fly, trap doors are useless against her.
  • In one episode of Pelswick, the titular character goes to a radio station to complain about the change in programming (and the building's doors not being wheelchair-accessible). The manager tries to drop him down a standard trap door, but Pelswick's wheelchair is too wide to even get caught in it. The manager then makes a note to self to make the trap doors wheelchair-accessible.
  • In an episode of Superfriends, Lex Luthor drops Superman down a trap door, but he simply flies out.
    • Averted in another episode in which a trap door worked when it really shouldn't have, trapping Black Vulcan (who can fly) the Flash (who has super-fast reflexes) and Batman and Robin (who carry grapple lines).
  • A non-funny example is used in an episode of Belphegor at one point. An old general Belphegor is after tries to use a trap door on him as the man confronts him in his own office. However, the minute he presses the button, Belphegor proceeds to inform him that the trap door is disabled, much to the general's surprise and horror.
  • Camp Lakebottom: In "Stage Fright", Gretchen attempts to sabotage Susie's audition by opening a trap door on the stage. When this misses, she opens additional trap doors (by continually yanking the same lever) until most of the stage has dropped away. This still fails to get Susie, who eventually falls though a trap door in the back wall.
  • Happens in the episode "Loo-Kee Lends A Hand" in She-Ra: Princess of Power. A running gag for the series has Hordak regularly dropping Mantenna down a trapdoor and into a water tank (sometimes for annoying him, sometimes for kicks). For this episode, Hordak gets his hands on a device called the Time Stopper. Eager to test this out, he summons Mantenna and promptly zaps him freezing him in time. Imp then asks to activate his boss's trap door, only to be come absolutely crestfallen when Mantenna remains frozen in mid air... at least until Hordak undoes the time stop.
  • Kim Possible: In "The Ron Factor", Gemini's mooks have gotten wise to his habit of dropping them down trap doors when they disappoint him, and avoid sitting down in the rigged chairs he provides. However, he has backup trap doors in place to get them anyway.
  • The Oh Yeah! Cartoons short "Zoo Mates" has the owner of the zoo trying to get rid of an annoying environmentalist by opening a trap door, which then unleashes a bear trap, followed by a raging fire. Too bad the environmentalist was standing few feet away from it.


Video Example(s):


"The Painters Moved Your Desk"

When Mr. Burns is told he'll be in big trouble if Homer doesn't get a college diploma, he insists that the inspectors will be "dropping" the charges, only to find the trap door is several feet away.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (16 votes)

Example of:

Main / TrapDoorFail

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