Disappearing Box

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to navigation Jump to search
"The magician sealed him in her mystical chamber, waved her hands around and opened the box... the trick was great! Ken was gone."
Becky, Detective Barbie: The Mystery of the Carnival Caper

A magician asks for a volunteer in the audience or uses his assistant to place him or her in a regular cabinet. He then closes the cabinet, waves his wand to tap the box, opens it to reveal that the person is gone! It is believed that there is a trap door or a hidden exit in the box to make it all an illusion.

A Running Gag in this trope is that the person either escapes or doesn't know how to get back in, leaving the magician flabbergasted and the audience booing. For a more dramatic twist, instead of the volunteer reappearing alive and well, the magician opens the box and a corpse falls out. Sometimes, a curtain will be used instead if the subject is bigger.

Since it is a Discredited Trope and easy to perform, children are usually doing this magic trick. A magician will have to really make it presentable or impossible in order to wow the audience.

Related: Smoke Out

Examples of Disappearing Box include:

Anime & Manga

  • Done in St. Luminous Mission High School, after several students have mysteriously vanished.
  • In Pokémon: Jirachi Wishmaker, the stage magician Butler plays this straight...except for the part where he has his Dusclops destroy the box instead of simply opening it.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh, Yugi's Spell Card Mystic Box was based on this trick. With Dark Magician in play, two cabinets would appear, encasing Dark Magician and an opposing monster. Then a dozen swords would pierce the Dark Magician's box, only for him to emerge unharmed from the other, having switch places. Of course, this is far more powerful than the true card, which also switches control of the two monsters.


  • In Get Smart, Siegfried kidnaps the chief in this way.
  • Young Indiana Jones used one of these to slip past his pursuers in The Last Crusade.
  • Subverted in The Prestige. One of the magicians creates a turn that appears to be a disappearing box, but is actually a simple trapdoor that drowns the original magician straight after cloning him to the back of the auditorium to finish the act.
  • Played with in the segment directed by Woody Allen for New York Stories: The protagonist's (overbearing) mother is invited onstage and enters the box, but doesn't reappear. But later on, she magically materializes in giant form over New York and proceeds to embarrass his son.


  • There's an interesting version in the Neil Gaiman short story "The Queen of Knives". The magician makes the child's grandmother disappear (after stabbing knives and swords through the box), but she never comes back.
  • Done in Kitty Norville, the box seems to take her to another world/dimension.
  • Played with in The Tommyknockers. Hilly Brown's disappearing trick was actually a machine that teleported people to Altair IV, a Forbidden Planet.
  • The Woody Allen story "The Kugelmass Episode" has the eponymous character use such a device to be put in the book Madame Bovary so he can have an affair with her. Hilarity Ensues.

Live Action TV

  • In Doctor Who serial The Talons of Weng-Chiang, stage magician Li H'sen Chang uses this in his act, and tries to murder the Doctor with it. It backfires on him badly.
  • In Leverage, they perform this trick in order to get the CEO up to unlock a door requiring a retinal scan. Their way of doing it: they switch his box with an empty one when it passes behind a sheet.
  • Arrested Development has the "Aztec Tomb".
  • This appears in the Monk series episode 108, "Mr. Monk and the Magician".
  • In one episode of Power Rangers, the original black ranger Zack performed this magic act for some local children. During the act a monster attacked, so Zack had to use the box as cover to teleport out - and made it part of the show.
  • Played with in an episode of Matlock. The lovely assistant goes in and disappears...only to replaced by the corpse of the magician's scumbag manager.
  • Kamen Rider Double had an arc centering around a magician who used a Gaia Memory to turn invisible and pull off this trick; the main conflict came because she didn't want to give it up, and Isaka wanted it to kill her in order to "mature" so he could add its power to his own.
  • Featured in the magician's act in Return to Cranford, with a heartwarming twist.


  • Penn & Teller do a version of the box trick, where Teller is apparently dissembled into his head, legs, and hand. First, they do the trick normally. Then, they use completely transparent boxes to show how it's done. (And, because this is Penn & Teller, the second run through manages to be even more awesome.)


  • Cirque Du Soleil's had quite a bit of fun spoofing this trope over the years.
    • Mystere: Brian Le Petit chooses a man from the audience to step into a crate for this. Or so Brian leads us to expect. It's a trap -- he locks the guy in it so he can head into the audience to woo his date! Oh, and then he loses the key...
    • Varekai: A man from the audience is put through the "curtain" version via the male clown. Trouble is, the female clown comes back with him, and from there several odd combinations ensue.
    • Banana Shpeel: Two boxes, one on each side of the stage. The idea is to "teleport" one performer to the other, but by the time the act is done, it seems half the cast has been through the ringer.
  • Variations are used in Damn Yankees for Joe Boyd's metamorphosis into Joe Hardy at the beginning, and back at the end, sometimes with quick-change costumes, other times with separate actors.

Video Games

  • In the 90s PC game Detective Barbie, Ken volunteered for the act and left through the trapdoor as usual, but unknown to the magician or the audience, was kidnapped on the other side because he was carrying money the carnival had raised for charity with him onstage.
  • This is Harvey's instant kill move in No More Heroes.

Western Animation

  • Hey Arnold! had Helga participating in a magic act, but decided to ditch Arnold after "disappearing" in his box, imagining what life will be like without her.
  • A variation is used in A Bugs Life to get the queen out. Hopper catches on to it before it works as planned.
  • Done in Max and Ruby with Max as the volunteer and Ruby as the magician.
  • In The Flintstones, Fred and Barney try the trick out on the wives, who find the trap door and decide to play a trick of their own on the guys and make them think they have really disappeared.
  • The King of the Hill episode "Sleight of Hank".