Only a Model

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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So this is what the building she's in looks like.

Number Two: Over the last thirty years, Virtucon has grown by leaps and bounds. About fifteen years ago, we changed from volatile chemicals to the communication industry. We own cable companies in thirty-eight states.
[the thirty-eight states illuminate on a map]
Number Two: In addition to our cable holdings, we own a steel mill in Cleveland.
[a steel mill miniature illuminates in Cleveland]
Number Two: Shipping in Texas.
[a model ship off the coast of Texas illuminates]
Number Two: Oil refineries in Seattle.
[a model oil refinery illuminates in Seattle]

Number Two: And a factory in Chicago that makes miniature models of factories.
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

Models of larger things are often used in fiction for a variety of reasons. Heck, if there isn't an immediate thing happening with the model in one scene, it's likely something will happen later.

One common use is models to describe plans (that will go wrong of course). Often overlaps with The Big Board, Exposition Diagram and Planning with Props.

Another is a Corrupt Corporate Executive showing the plans he makes for some place he is going to rebuild after tearing down some place (that the heroes have to save).

Sometimes a model can actually be one of the special effects props on a show, thrown in as a nod to attentive fans.

A Super-Trope to:

Name comes from a line in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Compare Fun Size.

Examples of Only a Model include:

Comic Books

  • In one Gaston Lagaffe strip, Prunelle manages to bring in De Masmaeker to look at the scale model of their planned office building, hoping to get him to sign the contracts later. While he's showing off the admittedly impressive model, Gaston comes in with a miniaturized Gaffophone a reader sent him, and proceeds to play it. The building model proceeds to collapse instantly.
  • In the Tintin album The Calculus Affair, the Bordurian military elite displays the effectiveness of a proposed new sound weapon through the destruction of a "large North American city" (an Expy of New York) on a TV screen to the delight of its audience, only to reveal that they had merely used a smaller scale version to destroy a model. Everyone is disappointed.


  • The climax of Hot Fuzz is in a model of the town (including an infamous weaponizing of it).
  • In the live-action Flintstones movie, Cliff Vandercave shows off a model of a new house-manufacturing machine to the company board. Everyone is impressed, except for Fred, who points out that the house the model made is much too small for anyone to live in.
  • Beetlejuice "NICE FUCKING MODEL!" * honk honk*
  • There's also the City of the Future in Iron Man 2 which turns out to be some important piece of plot-related phlebotinum.
  • Goldfinger had a very impressive scale model of Fort Knox and its surroundings.
  • Superman Returns has a train set used this way. Lex Luthor throws part of a Kryptonian crystal in the model lake to show its effect. Made extra creepy when the camera zooms on little plastic people and you hear screams.
  • The Director's Comments in Die Hard stated the bridge model was for a bridge Frank Lloyd Wright had designed but never built, and borrowed for the movie from the Wright estate as the director was a fan of the architect.
  • The spy film parody Top Secret has the protagonists sketch their plan to infiltrate an East German fortress by drawing a crude map in the dirt. As the description progresses, the props get increasingly elaborate until they end up with a highly-detailed scale model of the installation complete with working train set.
  • Derek Zoolander isn't impressed by the model for the School for Kids Who Can't Read Good. "What is this? A school for ants?"
  • In This Is Spinal Tap, Ian is very impressed with the model for the band's Stonehenge prop...until he finds out that it actually is the prop, thanks to Nigel's diagram featuring the shorthand for inches rather than feet.
  • In the Back to The Future series, Doc Brown explains a couple of his plans using a model of the city (apologizing that it's "not to scale").
  • On Austin Powers, Number Two says that one of Megacorp's enterprises is a factory that builds models of factories.


  • In The Fountainhead, people tampering with a model of a building Howard designed, to show that people aren't willing to take his work as it is.

Live-Action TV

  • In Blackadder Goes Forth Melchett and Darling show George a model of the stretch of ground that has been captured in the latest battle. It turns out that the model is on a scale of 1:1, so the actual gain is only a few square feet. Closer examination reveals that it's not even a model—it's the actual square of turf.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy Bot admires a model "City of the Future" at a science fair, but notes that she's never seen people that small.
  • In Battlestar Galactica, Bill Adama worked on a model of an Age of Sail ship over the course of the show, which he ends up destroying it in a fit of rage. The destruction was an ad lib by Edward James Olmos, who didn't know the model was very expensive (after all, in Real Life someone working full time can take a couple months to build one) and in fact on loan from a museum.
    • Whoops. Still, it was that very act that REALLY drove home how screwed up things were in that episode.
  • Doctor Who "Boom Town:" Margret Blaine (really an evil alien) is planning on blowing up the planet and escaping in a Tribophysical waveform macro-kinetic extrapolator, which is hidden in the model of the power plant she's planning to blow up.
  • In The Mighty Boosh episode "The Nightmare of Milky Joe" there appears to be a ship in the distance that may rescue our heroes from the island they're stranded on. It's only a model, as Vince proves when he reaches out and plucks it right off the horizon.
  • In The Architect Sketch from a Monty Python's Flying Circus episode, the model for a set of flats has collapsing floors and catches on fire. During a presentation to the clients, no less.

Western Animation

  • In Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, the climatic battle between Batman and the Joker takes place within a model of what Gotham City might look like in the future. The Joker disguises himself by wearing a skyscraper on his head. An episode of the tv series opens with the apparent explosion of an entire Gotham neighborhood, only for it to be revealed as a model, with the Big Bad of the episode detailing his plans to make it really happen.
  • In the Phineas and Ferb episode "Hail Doofania!", Doofenshmirtz makes a scale model (made of felt) of his floating city, Doofania. By the end of the episode, the city has sunk and only the model remains.
  • The Simpsons: Mr. Burns shows off a scale model of Springfield when he's demonstrating his plan to blot out the sun.
    • In the season eight episode "Homer's Enemy," Homer enters a "build a model nuclear power plant" contest for kids... and not only kicks their asses, but humiliates his antagonistic co-worker into a Villainous Breakdown and accidental suicide!
    • Another episode where Mr. Burns has a model airplane (the "Spruce Moose") and orders Smithers to get into it, tho it is clearly too small for a human to fit in.
    • In season six's "Bart's Comet," they used a model to show the different ways they can blow up the comet—all ending with Moe's tavern being set on fire.
  • In The Venture Brothers Christmas special, the Monarch displays a scale model of the Venture compound as he gleefully outlines his plan to destroy Dr. Venture on Christmas Eve. Dr. Girlfriend is visibly ticked off.

Monarch: ...What??
Dr. Girlfriend: That model was supposed to be a surprise!
Monarch [sheepishly]: ...I peeked?