Delayed Explosion

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Even explosions obey Rule of Cool in Gurren Lagann

Stuff Blowing Up in Real Life tends to be sudden and brief. But "sudden and brief" makes for poor television and film, particularly when setting the scene up is something of a money sink. Thus, explosions are inexplicably delayed, slowed down or otherwise manipulated to get the desired effect. The defining characteristic is a delay between the cause of the explosion and the explosion itself. Hovering a finger over the detonator button doesn't qualify. This delay may be a fraction of a second or several minutes. Outrun the Fireball is one incarnation of this trope.

There are several flavours of delayed explosion that the connoisseur can enjoy:

  • Deja vu Delay, where the same explosion is seen several times. This may be from different angles, each segment slightly overlapping, to make it less obvious.
  • Expository Delay, where the explosion is delayed just long enough for the audience to be shown the trigger that causes the explosion.
  • Gag Delay, where the victim or victims have time to think the explosion has been averted before it actually goes off. See also the Rule of Funny.
  • Polite Delay, where the explosion has the good manners to not erupt out of the top of the lift shaft/burst through the door/steam out of the tunnel until after the characters in the vicinity have leapt to safety.
  • Realistic Delay, where the difference in speed between sound and light is observed and used for dramatic impact. Rare, unless it's a nuke.
  • Shoe-Drop Delay, where the delay is purely so a character can react to the imminent explosion and be noticed doing so, generally while lit by the fires of that same explosion.
  • Staggered Delay, where what should clearly be a number of explosions occurring simultaneously is broken down into stages, in order to give the hero a fighting chance of making to the end of the corridor before the last one goes off. Note that this is specific to situations where the explosives are set off by a single detonator, and not when one explosion triggers another. Contrast the Polite Delay, which is a single, slow-moving explosion, although both can be a form of Outrunning the Fireball.

And of course:

Examples of Delayed Explosion include:


  • Pretty much any modern Anime, Sci-Fi or not, that involves projectile weapons with bullets, missiles, lasers, etc of a fantastical or highly-technological nature.
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, as mentioned, is replete with Egregious Delays but also has plenty of Expository Delays and Shoe-Drop Delays. There's also a couple of deja vu delays in episode 8. Bring your own Kleenex.
  • The Fleija device in Code Geass.
  • Kiddy Grade has a number of Expository Delays, particularly in the spaceship combat scenes.
  • Uchuu Senkan Yamato (Star Blazers), esp. the second season: the Argo/Yamato's main armament beams enter (or sometimes go completely through) the enemy ship at one or more points, then there is a brief interval before the entire ship is ripped apart by explosions.
    • Since the space battles are essentially a metaphor for naval combat, this phenomenon reflects the destruction of the British battlecruisers at Jutland: a flurry of hits, followed by an annihilating explosion an instant later as the flash of the detonation reached the main-armament propellant magazines.
  • Gundam. The entire franchise. Mobile suits are Made of Explodium, so you just know they're going to blow up when they're critically damaged, but very often there's a Shoe-Drop Delay so the victim can display an Oh Crap face before his mobile suit explodes. Of course, if the fatally damaged mecha contains a major character, there may well be a full on Egregious Delay to let the character give his dying speech.


  • Jackie Chan's New Police Story has an extreme example of a Staggered Delay
  • Final Destination includes a single Realistic Delay amongst the generally unbelievable escapades.
  • The Death Star in Star Wars.
    • Could be that the Death Star is so large that the explosion from it must (to be seen in whole) be seen from such a distance that it appears "slower" (as a fast-moving car would, seen from a distance)
  • Independence Day has several of these.
  • In Pearl Harbor, we see at one point a bomb crash on a building. It doesn't immediately go off, and the guy who was in the building thinks it's a dud. In fact it does detonate a couple of seconds later. Gag Delay or Shoe-Drop Delay? You decide.
    • Could even be a half-hearted attempt at Realistic Delay; detonators of that period could be somewhat persnickety.
    • The Arizona bomb and another it's a dud bomb fixated on the distinct whine of the spinning fuze, which set the precedent for how the bombs were activated.
    • A real life tactic is for bombs to have delayed fuses. This either allows them to penetrate before exploding (most notably used to penetrate armor protection before detonating inside, or to create a bigger hole underground if you are destroying roads or runways.)
      • Additionally, it was actually accurate - the reason the Arizona went up as huge as it did was because the bomb hit the forward magazines. The explosion of the bomb would have caused the shells to explode after a very short delay.
  • Parodied in Monsters vs. Aliens. The alien spacecraft's self-destruct countdown reaches zero, but waits until 5 seconds later to actually explode.
  • The Dark Knight has a particularly macabre example of a Gag Delay. When the Joker pushes the button, a few minor explosions happen, but not nearly enough to take down the whole building. The Joker has time to abuse his detonator before the real blast occurs. This is because in real life the explosions were set in separate parts of the building intentionally so that it'd have a domino effect, but Heath Ledger didn't know that was supposed to happen.
  • One of the Tremors movies mixed the Polite Delay and the Gag Delay. A time bomb gets thrown into Burt's truck full of explosives but no one knows what the time delay is. Cue everyone taking cover as Burt runs past yelling that they have to get farther away.

Live Action TV

  • NCIS has an episode where there's a bomb in a cabin. Everybody dashes out the door, jumps over the car and hunkers down behind it... and they wait there for what would seem to have been about half an hour or more before it finally blows. It was hilarious.
    • They saw the bomb, but not a counter. It could have been set for a certain time. And given the usual cliche, extremely funny.
  • A first season episode of Chuck has Chuck and Casey scrambling out of Casey's SUV when Chuck recognizes the ringing cellphone in the back seat as an NSA bomb. They have enough time to get clear and for Casey to glare at Chuck for making a mistake before the fireball engulfs the car.
  • Averted in the Made for TV film Special Bulletin when a news crew accidentally catches a nuclear explosion. The audience sees the mushroom cloud and immediate blast wave following it.
  • Zone Fighter often has the monsters suffer this after the titled hero shoots them with his Meteor Missile Might.
  • Pick an Ultra Series or Super Sentai show. This trope is in full force.


Neddie: Can't anyone hear it go off?
Bluebottle: Only idiots.
Neddie: Perhaps it's gone off already. I'll go back and check.
(Kaboom! followed by running feet)
Eccles: 'Ere, what was that big explosion?

Tabletop Games

  • The Delayed Blast Fireball spell in Dungeons and Dragons. Although technically a time bomb, Delayed Blast Fireball can equally well be used to generate a Shoe-Drop Delay. Its implementation in Baldur's Gate was such that it is most often used just as a regular fireball, but the 'delayed' part turns it into an Expository Delay.
    • I seem to remember that aside from having the ability to delay it, DBF is also more powerful than regular Fireball, as it has a higher level Cap.

Video Games

  • Time Crisis 3 has enemy guards raiding the boat of the two protagonists, only to see a bomb tick down to zero followed with "Bye!" displayed on the timer.
  • In Disgaea 2, there's Adell's final technique, Vulcan Blaze. After beating the crap out of his target at ridiculous speed, he takes the time to strike a dramatic pose before the person in question inexplicably explodes.
  • In The Legend of Zelda the Wind Waker, putting the last jewel in its statue causes it to glow. Link prepares for the inevitable explosion...and after several seconds of nothing he lets down his guard. THEN it explodes, blasting Link right into the rising Tower Of The Gods.
  • Attacking red frogs in Spelunky will trigger this in them. As such, due to both this and their unpredictable jumping patterns, they're among the more dangerous beasts to encounter in the game.

Western Animation

  • Family Guy had a grueling Lampshade Hanging that seemed to last minutes where they showed a house exploding from several angles, repeating each shot several times (including one with Stewie and Brian diving out of the way over and over).
  • Invader Zim had extremely egregious decay in an instance where the explosion was very atypical of most explosions by being really, really slow. It was also glowing green. When it goes off after Dib, who is under a similar time-slowing effect, is hurled into it, it's fairly normal though.

Real Life

  • The explosives-laden destroyer in the St. Nazarre raid didn't explode until several hours after it was supposed to, serving as a Gag Delay (apparently it went off right as the German commander was mocking the British attempt to ram the docks with a destroyer, doing almost no damage) and a very Impolite Delay (it held off long enough to catch a lot of German souvenir-hunters on deck).