Where's the Kaboom?

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The good guys have set up a bomb that they plan to use to destroy the Evil Overlord's whole fortress. They get safely outside the blast radius, evading a wave of Mooks, and The Hero holds the detonator high so the Big Bad can see, ready to take out the entire pursuing Legion of Doom, and...

Click...Click...Click-Click-Click ...

Nothing. Detonators always seem to fail at the worst times, leading someone to have to go back and activate the explosive/device manually. Or worse, the enemy simply dismantled the bombs or jammed the detonator before they could be set off, and gets to rub the heroes' faces in it. Usually Played for Drama rather than comedy. One exception is in cartoons, where the bomber will inevitably go back to check, and have it explode (harmlessly) in his face.

Examples of Where's the Kaboom? include:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Duo Maxwell fails to self-detonate when he's surrounded by enemies because the button doesn't work.
  • End of Evangelion, with Ritsuko, Gendo, and the MAGI supercomputers. Not so much a technical issue as it is a Love Triangle, though. Yeah, Eva is weird.
  • Played with in FAKE: during a hostage crisis, Dee bluffs the bad guys by telling them a retractable ballpoint pen is the detonator for a bomb hidden in the character's base. When he clicks the pen, his bluff seems to have been called - but then the bomb, which Ryo had previously set for 10 pm, goes off as scheduled.
  • Used in a particularly epic scene in the 2003 Astro Boy anime. Rainbow Parakeet has planted bombs all over the robot revolutionary Blue Knight's sanctuary and is about to press the button on the detonator, taunting Astro that the only way to stop him is to kill him and prove he's just as ruthless as Blue Knight. Astro opens fire on him and apparently misses. Cue maniacal laughter as the villain presses the button. Click, click, click. Turns out Astro decided to Take a Third Option and was actually firing at the communications antenna that would relay the remote detonator's signal.
  • Saiyuki. Fortunately for the heroes, Hakkai had removed the explosives Yaone set to blow them all up, because 'I'm sorry, I found them earlier and thought they were dangerous'.
  • The Ah My Goddess Movie. Toward the end, a giant bullet FIRED FROM HEAVEN impacts the earth, creating a massive bubble/magic explosion effect. The soundtrack? Empty.
  • Demonstrated in Dance in the Vampire Bund. When Histerica tried to blackmail Mina scattering minions with implanted cell-phone-activated bombs throughout Tokyo's subway system, Mina manuvered her inside a building she had effectively converted one big Faraday Cage, blocking the cellphone signal. The muscle Histerica had with her being able to set themselves off with thier own phones was a complication though.
  • Played for tragedy in Heroman. Joey's father died when he tried to blast a passage clear for his fellow trapped miners. When the dynamite failed to detonate, he went to check what was wrong, and found out that faulty wiring caused a delay of a few secon- BOOM!
  • A sad version happens in Zeta Gundam. Jerrid's given instructions to detonate a capsule that is said to contain a bomb in it if anyone gets near it while Emma attempts negotiations with the AEUG (re: unknowingly giving them a note telling them to surrender the captured Gundam Mk. II or said capsule would explode). When Kamille races out with the Mk.II to get the capsule, Jerrid takes aim and fires, destroying the capsule and promptly freaks out as to why it didn't explode and take out the fragile Mk.II. There was no bomb. In the capsule was Kamille's mother.
  • Haruhi Suzumiya has a humorous one of these in the island episode; a firework fails to go off and Kyon sticks his head over it, trying see what's wrong. He nearly gets his face toasted when it finally launches its payload.

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • In the Tintin book Cigars Of The Pharaoh, Thompson and Thomson hastily abandon the ship they are on when Snowy accidentally drops a grenade from a crate full of them. We then learn the grenade was not actually armed...and we see T&T a safe distance away, wondering what's taking the grenade so long. A few panels later, we see that they spent the whole night waiting for it to go off.

Thom(p)son: Must be on a timer.

Film[edit | hide]

  • An inadvertent example: the Joker's famous hospital-demolition scene from The Dark Knight trilogy. The scene was synchronized around an actual building demolition, but the bombs detonated slightly later than planned, so Mr. J just fiddled around with his detonator a few seconds until the explosions came...and then he started running.
  • In both Armageddon and Deep Impact, destroying asteroids by remote control proves problematic.
  • Used for comedic/suspenseful effect in the 2001 remake of Ocean's Eleven: Danny and Rusty are reduced to doing this when they try to blow the charges inside the vault door - which is actually a good thing, as Yen is currently stuck near the door and struggling to get free...
  • Blazing Saddles. The Heroes plan to blow up the fake town of Rock Ridge with explosives, but the detonator fails. The Waco Kid has to set off the dynamite by shooting it with a revolver, at a range that would be a challenge to a sniper with a scope mounted rifle.
  • A half-example in Schindler's List. Goeth is trying to shoot the Rabi, but each time he tries to fire the gun, it fails. In fact, all of the officers' guns jam.
  • A similar situation involving walking the plank happens in the Disney Adaptation of Peter Pan. Captain Hook asks "Where's the splash?" and insists that there must be a splash when someone walks the plank, so he throws one of his crewmen overboard to create one.
  • Happens in Blade II, with the bomb/leash that Blade put on the head of his vampire ally.
  • In the World War II movie The Bridge at Remagen, the Germans all set to blow up the bridge the Allies are just crossing. Unfortunately for the Nazis, they used cheap explosives that weren't capable of bringing the thing down. In Real Life, as told below, they were sabotaged by the Polish engineers who were forced to place them.
  • Subverted in the film The Bridge on the River Kwai, where the detonator works just fine, the problem is that Colonel Nicholson betrays the Allied troops trying to blow up the bridge, causing them to be killed before they can activate it. After he finally realizes his treason he sets it off as he dies...although it's deliberately ambiguous as to whether Nicholson is trying to reach the detonator or just falls on it accidentally.
  • Also subverted in the film Force 10 From Navarone where the explosives go off but it seems like they have failed to do anything. Mallory and Barnsby curse Miller (the explosives expert) as they walk away but then the dam starts to shake and the cracks grow larger until it finally collapses.
  • A Bridge Too Far. The Germans hit the plunger to blow up a bridge just as the allied tanks are crossing it, only for them not to go off due to a malfunction or the lines being cut. (An eariler bridge however blows up right in the face of the US paratroopers advancing towards it. Their commander can only respond, "Ah Shit!")
  • The Fifth Element subverts this nicely. After planting a bomb to evacuate the cruise ship, Zorg stops the countdown himself with a few seconds to spare - only to have his former underlings detonate their bomb right next to him.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • In the Alan Dean Foster novel, Quozl, a group of a alien settler dissident on Earth and some sympathetic humans face this situation when their expedition comrade, whom the ruling council insisted on accompanying them, reveals her bomb and her orders to blow herself up to kill the dissident and his human friends. With a maximum of drama, the agent hits the detonation button, but nothing happens. The dissident then reveals he discovered the bomb and disarmed it some time ago.
    • It's pointed out though that had he sided with the agent, they'd all have been atomized.
  • In Terry Brooks' Gypsy Morph, this occurs when the heroes try to destroy a bridge and slow the advancing army. One of the characters raced down into the ravine and fixed the problem in a Heroic Sacrifice.
  • In World War Z, the Indian government is evacuating all surviving citizens into the Himalayas to escape the Zombie Apocalypse. Unfortunately, the last bridge to blow before the safe zone is closed off has defective explosives. Between two problems - the possibility of the Indian Air Force nuking the area (and making the situation worse) and allowing zombies into the safe zone - General Raj-Singh denotates the charges by hand in a Heroic Sacrifice that probably saved everyone left in India.
  • In Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, Pablo throws the detonators into a river, forcing one of the other guerillas to die while manually setting them off (Heroic Sacrifice).
  • In Cain's Last Stand the heroes attempt to collapse a shrine containig an immensely powerful Artefact of Doom rather than let it fall into the hands of Necrons. Alas, Necrons have advanced enough means to simply jam their signal and take the artifact.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Played with a few times in Stargate SG-1. One of the more bizarre examples was when Teal'c's brainwashed son tried to set off a hyper-toxic chemical bomb hidden in a pair of fake teeth by clacking his jaws together. Nothing happens, because the heroes had already noticed his deadly teeth and replaced them with harmless ones.
  • In MythBusters they were testing a very small amount of explosive and nothing happened. Subversion of the trope similar to The Bridge at Remagen when it was discovered that the explosion had occurred, but out of concern they had put too many sandbags on top of it to detect the event visually.
    • Another Mythbusters case happened when Kari, Grant and Tori were setting off explosives in a quarry to create a wave...and silence. The bomb squad then spends several tense minutes carefully fishing the tons of live explosives out of the lake to find the problem. A similar situation has happened to Jamie and Adam at least once. This is one of the most dangerous malfunctions a bomb squad can encounter because of the chance of a delayed explosion while someone is investigating the problem.
      • Heck, this trope seems to be invoked in at least half of the myths where an explosion is called for. Most of the time it's played straight (as with the surfing myth above), to the point that the phrase "Ah, Houston, we have a problem" became something of a Running Gag. However, at least two times this trope has been subverted. In one case, an underwater detonation was not energetic enough to be noticed on the surface at all. ("Sorry, Houston, we don't have a problem.") In that particular episode, it's later played straight, with a callback to the earlier subversion. ("Ah, Houston...me again. This time we really do have a problem.")
      • Not to mention the bit with the Hindenburg skin with Thermite paste, where it seemed to not ignite until their backs were turned, only to suddenly BURST into flames.
    • In some other myths, they use a backup explosion in case the myth-related one still has a chance of going off unexpectedly.
    • Yet another example: when they tested a myth involving a liquid-nitrogen-cooled bomb taking longer to go off, the frozen bomb didn't go off at all, and they had to wait for it to melt before trying to set it off again.
  • In It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Mac and Charlie try to fake their deaths by exploding a car. First they run it into a wall, but it doesn't explode. Then they go to a pawn shop and buy a gun and a grenade. They toss the grenade into the car expecting a mammoth explosion, but it releases little more than a puff of smoke. Thoroughly disappointed, Mac does some poppers and tries shooting the gas tank, but even that does nothing. They ultimately give up, reasoning that the damage is enough to convince everyone that they were vaporized.
  • In the Season 2 finale of Star Trek: Voyager, Voyager faces repeated, seemingly inconsequential attacks from the Kazon that, despite the fact that they're being led by former crewmate Seska, only damage the non-essential "secondary command processors". Eventually a full-fledged Kazon ambush, combined with a suicide bombing, cripples the ship and Janeway grimly gives the self-destruct code to prevent their capture. The computer replies that it cannot comply since the secondary command processors are offline, and Janeway realizes exactly why the Kazon kept targeting it over and over again.
  • In the Doctor Who episode The Sontaran Stratagem The Doctor and a UNIT soldier are trapped in a car with an autopilot ready to dump them into a river. The Doctor damages the autopilot and both leap out of the car waiting for the whole thing to blow up...and the device simply shuts down with a fizzle.

Doctor: [Disappointed] Oh, is that it?

  • In Red Dwarf, the self-destruct is accidentally triggered by Lister ordering a chocolate bar. They do everything possible to deactivate it, even transferring the mind of one of the crew into Lister so she can give the abort code. Nothing doing. It reaches zero...and it dispenses the bar. Turns out Holly removed it.
  • In the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers, two soldiers had a mortar round land in their foxhole and...smoke a little bit. The two are, understandably, quite shaken up. Then they use it to lite a cigarette.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • In Guilty Gear, Faust's alternate Instant Kill has his bomb failing to go off, inducing this trope. He then wanders over, and the bomb detonates, giving Faust and his victim Funny Afros.
  • Makai Kingdom uses this for one of the Special Attacks of the Bomb weapon: The user throws the time bomb on the victim, which stops halfway through, and as the user comes up to investigate, the countdown starts up again, forcing them to hurriedly dive for cover.
  • There's a detonator in Final Fantasy VIII with two buttons. Pressing one of them leads to this trope. Pressing the other forces you to run like hell.
  • Boss from Star Wars: Republic Commando goes apeshit when this happens. "Misfire? MISFIRE! WHO PACKED THAT CHARGE?!"
  • In The Legend of Zelda the Wind Waker, this is played for laughs, when Link sets the third pearl into its slot, the statue starts to glow. Link runs for cover, but nothing happens. Confused, he goes back to the statue to check...only for it to blow up in his face, causing him to fly hundreds of yards away, flying right into the wall of the tower that is rising from the ocean.
    • Only to fall back into the water hundreds of feet below, and have his boat collect him.
  • Before Wind Waker was Super Mario World, which featured small cutscenes showing Mario reducing each castle to rubble after beating their respective bosses. The Forest of Illusion castle starts the same way as the basic cutscene, but then has the bomb fizzle out. When Mario (or Luigi) steps closer to inspect what went wrong, it explodes, leaving them frizzled and covered in soot.
  • Occasionally in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, bomb items (and Electrode) will fail to explode. In all cases of Electrode doing this, and many cases with the bombs, the explosion will occur unexpectedly a few seconds later.
  • Toward the end of Epic Mickey, Gremlin Gus attempts to launch the fireworks Mickey primed, only to realize that the detonator's batteries are dead. He replaces them in a jiffy, but before launching them, he is grabbed by the Blot.

Webcomics[edit | hide]

  • There was a gag with this in Freefall.
  • Sluggy Freelance: Happens to Torg in this strip.
    • When he faced Evil Aylee, Torg didn't actually know what the remote detonator would do, but both of them were expecting a Kaboom.

Aylee: So if you don't hit that button right now, I will!
Torg: Dude! I've been hitting this button non-stop since you said you took out Bun-bun! But nothing's happening!
Aylee: Then what, exactly, is that?

  • Happens in this strip of Schlock Mercenary. Hob, the demolitions guy, has to rig a quick bomb for a bunch of Amorphs to escape a dome being filled with Amorph nerve gas. It fails due to a bad primer.

Kevyn: Maybe you've set my expectations too high, Hob. I was anticipating rather more noise.

    • And later with Pibald, their next demolition specialist (with shout out to Marvin the Martian).

Web Original[edit | hide]

  • In Spider and Web, a piece of interactive fiction written by Andrew Plotkin that won five Xyzzy Awards and was a finalist for four more, you play as an unnamed spy on an unknown mission against an unnamed country. The equipment with which you have been provided includes explosives, but like the rest the equipment, your detonator is not always reliable.
  • in Kickassia The Critic tries to blow up Kickassia with the explosives he wired in Part 6, even though Cinema Snob informed him that after he was banished, he defused the bombs. He pushes it anyway...

Critic: * Long Beat, stuttering* Ka-boooom!!

  • At the end of Red vs. Blue, Andy the Smart-Ass Bomb finally blows up as a space ship carrying Tucker's "son" and Chruch's girlfriend zooms off. There isn't an explosion at first, and Grif is horribly disappointed. Just as soon as he looks down, there's a huge boom in the sky, leaving the Reds impressed and Grif demanding it again. Of course, this is a serious insult to the Blues.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • The Trope Namer is an episode of Looney Tunes, when Marvin the Martian's explosives fail. "Where's the kaboom? There was supposed to be an Earth-shattering kaboom!"
    • A common occurrence in the Roadrunner cartoons. Wile E. Coyote's detonator (Acme brand, of course), would often jam, then go off just as he's crossing the bridge. Or the dynamite would roll back to him just as he detonates it. Or the detonator itself would explode. Or a random boulder would fall on him.
  • It happens in an episode of The Clone Wars, when Heavy is forced to stay behind ad blow up the outpost to warn the Republic of Grievous's approach.
  • In The Simpsons episode Sideshow Bob's Last Gleaming", Bob attempts to detonate a nuclear bomb, only for it to go off with a disappointing fizzle and fall apart, revealing a family of mice and a 'best before' date of 1959.

Bob: There were plenty of brand-new bombs, but you had to go for that retro 50s charm!

Zurg: That's it?!? Where's my big universe-altering explosion!?

  • In the episode of SpongeBob SquarePants, Dying for Pie, Squidward is rather disappointed when Spongebob doesn't explode.


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • The real life version of this trope is a large part of the the reason for the existence of Explosive Ordinance Disposal technicians in the American military (note that many other countries have a similar job in their militaries). Civilian Bomb Squads also sometimes serve this role in planned situations (see the Mythbusters example above) or as first response until the military can arrive. Although when any of these teams get involved in real life, the primary goal is the protection of others (which usually means a safe detonation that harms no one).
  • In the final months of WWII the German army was withdrawing across the Rhine. The Ludendorff Bridge, aka The Bridge At Remagen (film of the same name), was the last major bridge left standing. Polish engineers forced to work for the Germans (using prisoners to do important work which is subsequently sabotaged has to be some sort of trope) cut the fuses allowing the Americans to take the bridge (mostly) intact.
  • At the start of the war German torpedoes were very unreliable. U-56 fired two torpedoes at HMS Nelson which was hosting a conference and had both Churchill and Pound aboard. Both torpedoes hit but failed to explode.
  • American submariners complained a lot about their torpedoes too.
    • To expand on this: American submariners saw great success in the Pacific front - or at least, they would have had their bosses not become obsessed with magnetic detonators for their torpedoes. In theory: 1) Torp swims under enemy boat. 2) Magnetic trigger finds the target's magnetic field. 3) ??? 4) Profit! Victory! Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell the admirals that a ship's magnetic field is...different, at the Earth's equator. Instead of detonating under the boat, the torps would blithely continue on their way, swimming under the more pancake-like magnetic field forever searching for a hemisphere of juicy target. Many American subs asked the titular question to be answered with depth charges.
      • One should note however that eventually, magnetic detonators on torpedoes were made feasable, and now most torpedoes in the world are equipped with these (very reliable) devices. The reason for having the torpedo detonate under the enemy hull rather than in it is that the air pocket created by the explosion will remove support from the ship's keel and cause it to break in half. A regular old contact detonated torpedo will just leave a hole. The idea was just more ahead of its time than it was harebrained.
      • Just for comparison, this is your (CG) traditional torpedo damage. This is your magnetic detonator.
  • Aside from torpedoes, the Germans also had an unusually high occurrence of total or partial failure to detonate problems in WWII. Many historians think this might have something to do with using somewhat less than enthusiastic workers (i.e. slaves) in munitions factories.
  • In the battle of the crater in the U.S. civil war, the first attempt to blow up the explosives under a confederate fort failed. In this case, though, the fuse was just lit again, and the explosion occurred a bit later.
  • As bad as the Columbine high school massacre was, it could have been much worse; the shooters had set up some bombs in the cafeteria that were supposed to detonate at lunchtime, killing hundreds.
  • Nuclear bombs are exceptionally delicate; the detonation relies on detonating several hexagonal blocks of C-4 at exactly the same time. If one fails to detonate, the fission material is merely pulverized, rather than forced to undergo fission.
  • An attempt to assassinate Hitler in early 1943 failed when the bomb on Hitler's plane didn't go off. The cold, unpressurized cargo hold caused the detonator to fail.
  • A terrorist car bomb attack in London in 2007 failed because the bombs were poorly manufactured and didn't detonate. The men involved also tried to launch a suicide attack on Glasgow Airport the following day; the only person killed in the attack was one of the terrorists.
  • From Darwin Awards: An unlicensed pyrotechnician was killed when an apparently faulty firework blew up in his face when he tried to see what was wrong.
  • A rapture that was supposed to happen on May 21, 2011 at 6:00 PM didn't.
    • And then didn't happen again on October 21.
    • Just like all the other times such dates were set. Doomsday cults are everywhere and set too many days to count as it is.
      • Most of them will quickly learn their lesson and simply say "the world is coming to an end soon."