Slow Electricity

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"The electrician pulled the lever, and the current, slowly at first but growing faster and faster, started crawling down the wires."
Russian joke, popular among physics students

In real life, the effects of electricity travel very fast - relatively close to the speed of light. As such, most power outages always strike near instantaneously and always strike an area.

In fiction, outages - or repowered structures - often come on light by light, system by system, dramatically, with a strange thumping noise. Truth in Television: this is known as a cascading failure when it is an outage, and systems often power up slowly if turned on via breaker. The thumping noise does happen with some big lamps, such as those at a stadium.

Subtrope of You Fail Physics Forever. Step-sister to Slow Doors. A product of Rule of Cool.

Examples of Slow Electricity include:


  • In a Buffalo Wild Wings Grill and Bar commercial, a power plant is sabotaged and lights go out across a city in blocks.

Anime and Manga

  • The Pokémon anime has Electric attacks being dodged very easily. Few Electric attacks miss as easily in the games, and the ones that do involve an electrified body part making contact. Shock Wave notably cannot miss.
    • Though Thunder also has poor accuracy - except in rain. When, realistically, it should become a multi-hitting move in rain instead.
  • Misaka Mikoto of A Certain Magical Index and A Certain Scientific Railgun fights Touma a lot, and each time he is able to swing his right arm in the direction of the attack and block it entirely.


  • At the end of the first Back to The Future film, the lightning crawls down the wire at roughly a walking pace.
    • And no, no amount of Theory of Relativity at 88MPH will justify it. (Though being in a time machine, you do have some wiggle room)
  • Constantine: When the title character and Angela Dodson are talking on the street, demonic influence causes the streetlights to turn off (with clunking sounds) - first far away, then approaching them.
    • Justified. It is not like the electricity is falling out. The demonic creatures are 'destroying' the lamps.
  • The Descent: While a woman is in a hospital corridor, the lights go out at one end of the corridor and continue going out toward her, causing her to flee. This appears to be a hallucination sequence.
  • Jurassic Park (first film): When the main switch is turned back on, the hall lights do this.
  • The Matrix series
    • The Matrix Reloaded: After the power station is destroyed (and later when Trinity turns off the power again), the blackout spreads slowly through the affected area.
    • The Matrix Revolutions. Inside the Oracle's apartment building, the overhead lights go off (with clunking sounds) as a warning of Agent Smith's approach. Watch it here.
  • The lights turning on one row at a time in the Men in Black post-credits music video.
  • The Bollywood movie Mohabbatein features a scene where a student is caught coming back to his room after curfew. He's walking in a dark hall when the light right over his head comes on, then the next one in the hall, then the next one... when the last light comes on, it reveals the headmaster starring at him disapprovingly.
  • Ocean's Eleven: When they use the EMP, there is the obligatory shot of the lights going out city block by city block.
    • Averted in the original version, when Josh Howard blows up the powerline, the Sahara, Riviera, Desert Inn, Sands, and Flamingo all go dark at once.
  • Even in the future, power is slow: In WALL-E, the Hard Light barriers in the holding cells fail sequentially instead of all at once.
  • In the movie My Science Project, the protagonists' car can and does go faster than the electricity running through power lines. This is a plot point, allowing them to cut off power that would have run to an alien spacecraft.
  • At the end of Addams Family Values, the electricity moving in the mass of wires flows so slowly that Pubert is able to crawl into the room and short-circuit the wiring, saving his family from the electric chairs and electrocuting Debbie, who has thrown the switch.
  • The first Resident Evil film. When the Red Queen (and the power) are shut down and restarted in the first film, some areas and devices turn off (and light up again) at different times.
  • In the new Sherlock Holmes movie starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law, there is a scene where Holmes is fighting a giant man in an abandoned warehouse with the aid of an electric cattle prod. At one point his opponent is hanging on to a pipe on the wall for support, and Holmes touches the far end of the pipe with the cattle prod. Although it moves quickly the movement of the electricity (well, the magic blue sparks showing where the electricity is) as it races down the pipe is clearly visible.
  • In 8th Wonderland a special ops team has tracked down the server farm hosting the "unwanted" virtual nation. After blowing it to smithereens, the video feeds of the users slowly fade away over the course of a minute.
  • Invoked by Syndrome in The Incredibles, since he has a weakness for designing his buildings with dramatic flair.


Live Action TV

  • Heroes: In "Dual", when the lights go off in the Primatech medical facility's hallway. Possibly justifiable in that maybe Sylar did it that way on purpose.
  • We get the city power failure sequence in Jericho at The End of the World as We Know It.
  • Star Trek: The console displays always came on/off this way. If there's a shipwide outage, expect an outside shot of windows lighting up this way. Usually, the last thing to come back is the engines. Also, the Techno Babble-laden Star Trek: The Next Generation was always having something about to undergo a 'cascade failure,' but it was pretty much never like this.
    • Possibly justified in that the starships in Star Trek use a plasma distribution system as their power grid, rather than modern-day electrical cabling.
  • In the New Adventures of Superman, explosives under a light-beam cage were deactivated by having Lois setting off the explosives and Superman destroy the wall panel circuit before electricity reached the destination. This is Post-Crisis, so Superman is fast, but not "here to Alpha Centauri in three seconds" fast.
  • In one episode of Numb3rs the case involves several reactors being taken down in an attempt to create a cascading failure. The shot of the shutdown when it occurs is basically the same thing as most shows/movies show though, but it's a bit more valid then a full electrical failure causing the skyline shutdown sequence.
  • Smallville episode "Idol". The Wonder Twins' attack on a criminal causes a blackout during which the lights of Metropolis turn off in segments.
  • Doctor Who, Series 6, The Rebel Flesh, opening scene

Video Games

  • Quite a few Minecraft contraptions end up working this way, but that's justified because it's difficult not to use a lot of repeaters in the circuits as the power gets further away from the input.
  • Perhaps justified given the genre, but dodging lightning by jumping out of the way seems Egregious enough to be listed here.
  • A puzzle in Myst begins this way when you flip on the lights in a certain underground chamber for the first time (understanding that it's electricity, and involves power-ups, overloads, and breaker switches, is crucial to solving the puzzle).
  • Happens in Dark Fall: Lost Souls when you restore power to Dowerton Station. Could perhaps be justified, if one assumes the wiring is defunct and supernatural forces are actually operating the lights as well as the television sets.
  • Unreal has you fighting slow monters known as "brutes" for the first two levels, which are only really dangerous if you don't move. Later on you're merrily coming back from a hit-the-button mission, walking in a corridor, and suddenly the lights start to go out one by one. When the final one dies, the game presents you with the real enemy - fast, hard to kill and quite dangerous - while you can't see a thing. Lots of crazed shooting at shadows usually ensues.

Web Comics

  • In Problem Sleuth electricity takes several hundred years to get across the fan cord in order to turn on the fan. However, this is Justified Trope, as, thanks to GPI, the fan cord now stretches across the entire length of the imaginary universe. Twice. As the comic points out, electric current can only travel at the speed of light.

Real Life

  • What we think of as electricity is produced by, or at least related to, the motion of electrons. The electrons themselves have mass—very little, but some—so they cannot move at the speed of light. In fact, they move very slowly in wires, often on the order of several centimeters per hour. Current in a wire doesn't work by moving a single electron from point A to point B, however; it's more accurate to think of the electrons in the wire as many tightly-packed balls. If you push on one end, electrons at the other end will move almost immediately. How quickly? At the speed of the propagation of electric fields, which is at the speed of light.
    • Essentially, electricity could be considered to "move" at the speed of light or slower than a slug. Neither one is much like the speed shown in movies.
      • Alternating current has zero average movement, as the electrons still move at the speed of molasses, but going back and forth 50 or 60 times per second (for house current). This is why AC ammeters first need to transform the power into DC.
    • Electrical signals in a living nervous system are even slower, as they're created by moving ions rather than electrons, and may have to cross synapses where the signal temporarily becomes chemical rather than electrical.
  • One engineer working on the electronics of the then new B2 bomber invoked this trope for a demonstration by having the power indication lights of the various electronics turn on in sequence rather then simultaneously to make a more impressive visual presentation, from a single master switch no less.
  • Lights in a big warehouse flickering on one at a time has reasons: first, if they use fluorescent lamps, they might take many seconds to warm up, and the warm-up time might differ between them. Second: said fluorescent lamps need vastly more current when turning on, so if you have a lot of them, it is wise to not turn them on all the same time: maybe you have current to supply all of them when they operate continuously, but your system would not survive if you turned them all on at the same time.