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Dig dig a tunnel

When you're done, you dig a bigger tunnel

Dig a tunnel, dig dig a tunnel

Quick before the hyena come!


When tunnels need to be dug in fiction (particularly by the Tunnel King), they're usually dug very quickly. Ridiculously quickly. At rates that are flatly not possible, often in the range of several metres per hour second, without use of explosives or specialized boring machines. By way of reference, the fastest boring machine in history can only manage 4.5 metres per hour, with an experienced crew to run it, and to run all of the support systems, like removing waste rock and lining the tunnel behind the machine, which are very often ignored in fictional tunnelling.

Note that this trope only applies to characters digging far faster than their abilities and equipment should allow. Rock-shapers, earthbenders, Superman and similar characters do not generally fall under this trope. Expect a Worm Sign to show up near the surface.

Examples of Fast Tunnelling include:

Anime & Manga

  • One episode of Cat's Eye involved the girls, who are not expert miners by any means, drifting a tunnel a good fifty metres long in just a few hours. Granted, they're using proper machinery, and going through relatively soft rock, but that only brings it down to "ridiculously fast" rather than "ludicrously." To give credit where it's due, waste rock disposal and the shoring up of the tunnel are given consideration.
  • Diggers like Simon in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann use hand powered drills to bore through rock and soil at very high speed.
  • Pokémon: Diglett-dig, Diglett-dig, TRIO TRIO TRIO! (Meaning, considering the world, that he may have help.)
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, it took years and years for Sloth to dig the transmutation circle that surrounds Amestris, but the rocks he digs up still seem to be going to nowhere.

Comic Books

  • In Elf Quest, both humans and trolls dig hard rock at close to normal walking pace.
  • The Mole, one of Mandrake the Magician's recurring villains, regularly wore a suit with a head-mounted wide heat beam capable of burning through anything. It also had a jetpack. That's right, the beam burned away rock and earth with no residue fast enough that he could fly along the tunnel as it was being made. He used it to rob banks.



  • Averted in The Shawshank Redemption, in which it takes Andy Dufrene 20 years to dig an escape tunnel.
    • It takes him 20 years just to get through the wall of his cell and set up his escape plan. The sewer tunnel he crawls through was already there.
  • In Starship Troopers, the Bugs' ability to do this is a minor plot point.
  • The Graboids in the Tremors franchise travel underground at incredible speed using this method, pushing themselves along with the spines covering their bodies and ramming earth aside with bulletproof heads. In more localized projects, they are also able to bury a car, eat the foundation from under a house, and dig a pit trap for an earthmover in relatively short order. A nod to realism is given in that though they can move easily through sand and soil, any kind of stone remains a barrier. One kills itself by attempting to ram through the concrete wall of a drainage gully.
  • The Core features a giant tunneling drill train thing to quickly tunnel to the center of the Earth. These are called subterrenes in Real Life.
  • Deep Core uses combinations of drills and Frickin' Laser Beams to quickly go through rock. In Deep Core, the test of the prototype subterrene (intended by the military as yet another method of nuclear delivery) results in the massive shift of the tectonic plate.
  • Averted and played straight in Short Circuit 2; the bad guys' plan involves tunneling under the bank vault a set of valuable jewels are being held before they're taken to a museum for display. It's implied they had started the tunnel quite a while before our heroes unwittingly shack up in the building above their operation, and with their presence interrupting their digging, they'll never be able to make it to the vault in time. Once they trick Number 5 into doing their job for them, he blazes the rest of the trail to the vault in a few hours. Justified, though, as it's been established that Number 5 is both super-strong and can do such manual labor in record speed.
  • Parodied in Top Secret! when Nick returns to the lab to free the professor, who is behind a tarp dropping a small spoonful of dirt into a small pile.

 Professor: But had almost finished my tunnel!

Nick peers behind the tarp to find a modern road tunnel complete with paving, concrete wall and electric lighting.

Nick [surprised]: Nice work.

  • The Great Escape at least shows a bit of the logistics: Where do you put the dirt you dig out from the ground, how do you make sure the tunnel won't collapse, and where do you get the materials to stabilize it? Especially if you're watched by nazi soldiers.


  • Averted in The Wizardry Quested, part of the Wiz Biz series by Rick Cook, when a band of dwarves considers entering a castle by tunnelling into the cellars, but decide against it because they don't have the needed three years.
  • A couple of The Pendragon Adventure books include Drill Tanks called dygos which can dig nearly as fast as they can drive. In the territory they show up in, there's a whole civilization Beneath the Earth that was dug with these things.
  • Dwarves in Artemis Fowl eat their way through the ground, and do so at very high speeds - faster than they can run.
  • Averted in Animorphs when they use mole forms to dig a tunnel to the yeerk pool. In the two hour limit they barely get 6 feet dug, and at the angle of decent means they only got 1 foot below ground. Not only that but they miss the intended destination and end up in a bat cave that just happened to border the Yeerk Pool.

Live-Action TV

  • Unseen but implied to have happened in Hogan's Heroes, where Hogan's men have dug so many tunnels that one is surprised the camp doesn't fall in.
  • Star Trek the Original Series: The Horta ("Devil in the Dark") has a very strong acid that it uses to dissolve rock to form tunnels-problem is that this process is depicted as being virtually instantaneous, and there is virtually no detritus left over other than a few wafting vapors.
  • Used to get to the center of the Earth in Saul of the Mole Men.

Tabletop Games

  • Before there was Champions Online, Champions had the Tunneling power and characters for whom this was their primary movement ability.
  • Any creature with a burrow speed in Dungeons and Dragons 3.5. Typically you can burrow at half the speed you can run.
    • Although since you can't run while digging; in practice it ends up at a fairly realistic speed. The most common burrow speed is 15 feet per round, or 1.7 miles per hour.

Video Games

  • Seems to be the inspiration behind the "Tunneling" travel-power in Champions Online (the animation for which resembles Bugs Bunny's style below)
  • Dwarf Fortress has this trope, although the time dilation might make it more plausible... also they're dwarves.
    • It's also mentioned in the story Summoned to Darkness. A single dwarf dug an amazing escape tunnel in a few weeks with no tools.
    • Dwarf Fortress is not as egregious as it seems. You still have to figure out how to manage all the leftover stone.
    • Legendary miners are probably the epitome of this trope. They literally dig out tunnels as fast as they walk.
  • Drill Man from Mega Man 4 and Ground Man from Mega Man and Bass. The Mega Man X series has Grizzly Slash.
  • In the Pokémon Diamond and Pearl and Platinum, there is 'Ruin Maniac' that challenges you to collect a certain rare Pokémon (Unown) before he finishes digging a tunnel, aptly called 'Maniac Tunnel'. The more versions of Unown you collect, the longer the tunnel becomes. Closer to the end of your collection (i.e. after obtaining 26 out of 28 Unown), the man has singlehandedly dug the tunnel hundreds of feet long — even if you only take a few hours to collect the required variants of the Unown — with the tunnel itself leading to the two variants of Unown needed to finish one's collection. The townspeople outside lampshade this by talking about how crazy the guy is.
  • Dig Dug lives by this, as does any video game that involves mining.
  • The pneumatic drill and blowtorch "weapons" in Worms.
  • Knuckles the Echidna, from Sonic the Hedgehog.
    • The Yellow Drill Wisps in Sonic Colors also utilize this as a means to get to secret rooms and pathways. The tunnels made are filled back up just as fast, though.
  • Players in Minecraft easily dig a fifty meter long tunnel in a matter of minutes. Faster, if they can get themselves a diamond tool. And carrying 2240 cubic metres of cobbled/solid rock around with them doesn't slow the process down at all.
    • As of 1.0, tools can be enchanted to improve various aspects including the speed at which they break blocks. With the best efficiency enchantment, a diamond pick will break stone-based blocks INSTANTLY.
  • Mario in Super Mario Bros 2 and Super Mario Galaxy 2 can dig extremely quickly when it's necessary, in the former to the bottom of a pyramid's underground chamber in minutes, in the latter through whole planets in seconds when using the drill. Bowser I think also digs an extremely long tunnel as part of the main quest in Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, in probably hours at most.
  • In Donkey Kong Country Returns, this is true of the level where DK and Diddy are chasing the Drill Tank driven by various enemy moles. Indeed, the tank/train is drilling fast enough to be faster than the ROCKET DK and co are riding on at the time (to the point the player has to steer the rocket barrel through the tunnels the thing is carving out while they're still being carved).
  • If you find a pickaxe or a Dwarf Mattock in Nethack be prepared to be an expert digger just by putting it in your inventory (unless it's cursed). There's also the Wand of Digging. You can also polymorph into a creature that walks through the dungeon walls for no good justification other than it can.
  • Zerg units in Starcraft and its sequel can burrow, making them invisible. This is a valid strategy to take the heat off your front line units during combat, forcing the enemy to switch targets to healthy units instead. The can burrow into dirt, rock, asphalt with the same ease and even in bridges...somehow. This even works with the ultralisk, a mutated six-legged elephant so big it looms over tanks and tramples force walls but is nevertheless capable of burrowing completely underground in less time than it takes a missile to travel to it. Roaches and Infestors fit this trope perfectly, as they can actually tunnel underground.
    • Similarly in Warcraft 3 Crypt Fiends can burrow down fast enough to escape someone trying to kill them. They can still be killed by aiming siege weaponry at the ground though, so apparently they don't go that far.
  • Imps and Dwarves in Dungeon Keeper dig out tunnels big enough for a dragon to walk down at an incredible rate, especially once the imps get Super Speed.
  • The Mass Effect universe contains enormous Sand Worms called Thresher Maws who are able to tunnel faster than ground vehicles can move. They also only cause tremors and Wormsigns when they dig, rather than the massive ground collapses you'd think. In Mass Effect 3, a particularly enormous one is also able to drag other massive (as in 200 metres tall!) objects underground with it, again without explaining where all the soil disappears to as it digs.
  • One of the Star Wars Expanded Universe games has Sand Worms that move ridiculously quickly and with little disturbance of the surrounding sand.
  • Shadow of the Colossus has a Sand Worm as a boss that can keep up with a galloping horse.
  • Many monsters in Monster Hunter will dig underground in order to move though an area. Most notable are the Diablos/Monoblos and Agnaktor, because they usually try to come up from underneath you..

Web Original

  • According to Le Donjon De Naheulbeuk, it takes 48 dwarfs to dig in two days a 28-meter tunnel in granite. Of those, about only six to eight dwarfs actually dig.
  • The Mole, a supervillain from the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, can do this. The Subterranean can do this also, but he uses a Drill Tank.
  • Shows up with the character Boris from Trinton Chronicles who's main mode of transport is super-fast digging. It helps his power also restores the ground to pristine shape including repairing pipes, reconstructing cement floors, and undoing damage his huge claws create every time he burrows.

Western Animation

  • Bugs Bunny going pretty much anywhere. Very possibly the Trope Maker and Ur Example.
    • Also Buster and Babs on Tiny Toon Adventures.
    • Sometimes even Daffy Duck does this.
      • The Tasmanian Devil even does this on occasion, drilling through not just earth, but trees and even rocks. But unlike a duck, the Tasmanian devil is actually a burrowing creature.
  • Atlantis: The Lost Empire: Moliere's digging machine has these characteristics. SHE LIIIVES!!!
  • Played for Laughs in the film of Fantastic Mr. Fox.
  • Swat Kats had a digging machine that got underground in seconds.
  • The Simpsons did this when Bart fell down a well and the townspeople dug a parallel hole to get at him.
    • At the end of the episode "Homer the Vigilante", all of the townspeople dig a hole looking for buried treasure, but find an empty trunk. Not at all discouraged by this, they continue digging well into the night until they find themselves at the bottom of a very deep pit.

 Otto: How do we get out?

Homer: We'll dig our way out!

Chief Wiggum: No, no, dig up, stupid!

  • The eponymous drill from the second season episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender goes through the roughly 20-metre-thick compressed granite wall of Ba Sing Se in perhaps two hours.
    • That drill, at least, is a lot more realistic than most, largely resembling a real life drilling machine, and presenting the need to remove the debris (with the latter factor being a plot point). Its (relative) speed could be attributed to its tremendous scale.
  • Shows up on Jimmy Two-Shoes, where Jimmy and Beezy tunnel into both Heloise's and Lucius' homes in a matter of seconds.
  • Rather inverted by Kim Possible, who briefly had Superman-type powers in one episode. She could drill through dirt and rock by spinning at a high speed, but unlike Superman, or even a Tasmanian Devil, she looked visibly nauseous from the effort.
  • The Tick encountered this when the Mole Men came to visit the surface world so the Mole King could find a girlfriend (he does, in the Christie Brinkley Expy Mindy Moleford, who is one-quarter Mole Man, apparently).

Real Life

  • Subterrenes could theoretically drill tunnels and eliminate waste rock AND reinforce the resulting tunnels fast enough to act as Real Life Drill Tanks. However, only the Russians have ever been stupid enough to actually build a "Battle Mole", as the primary component was a nuclear reactor. Which broke down and killed the crew. Conspiracy Theories abound, however.
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