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File:Detonator 6550.jpg

This detonator is usually a plain square box with a plunger on top and wires attached. Although a Dead Horse Trope in Real Life, it is ubiquitous in classic Western Animation and frequently encountered in Video Games and action stories set between the late 19th and mid-20th centuries. In the real world these are actually called "blasting machines" because the plunger spins a little magneto similar to an old-fashioned hand-crank phone to generate the electricity used to detonate the explosives.

As often as not, a comedic character attempting to use it results in Where's The Kaboom. Alternatively, a comedic character may accidentally set it off early (or during the moment of relief after an explosive crisis has been averted) by absently sitting or leaning on the handle. Bonus points if the detonator actually explodes instead of the attached explosives.

Compare Cartoon Bomb and Incredibly Obvious Bomb. Possibly related to Big Electric Switch, insofar as the obsolete look of the device is a deliberate choice of Rule of Cool over realism.

Examples of Plunger Detonator include:


  • In at least one Federated Superstores commercial from the 1980's, Fred Rated (Shadoe Stevens) uses one.
  • In The Seventies Panasonic sold "Dynamite 8" 8-track tape machines shaped like these. You pressed the plunger to change tracks. Jimmy "JJ" Walker did the commercials, using his Catch Phrase "Dy-no-mite!"

Comic Books

  • In the Achille Talon album "La Traversée du Disert", a demolition worker uses one to set off charges in a stone quarry--where, unbeknownst to him, the protagonists have ended up. He is prevented in the nick of time from pressing the plunger, only to sit on it by accident the next minute.
  • The bass tuba in The Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra has a plunger detonator attached and a "go" light standing near.
  • In Destination Moon, a plunger detonator is used to remotely destroy the rocket X-FLR6 when its radio control is captured by spies.


  • Patton. During the Battle of the Bulge a German soldier uses one to detonate some explosives and start an avalanche onto an American column. Combines Hollywood History with Did Not Do the Research because no such incident ever happened and real German detonators used a clockwork mechanism using a handle that turned.
  • The Thing. The remaining crew members set up dynamite charges to blow up the base, with a detonator to set them off. Unfortunately the title monster grabs it before they can use it, but The Hero improvises.
  • Battle of the Bulge (1965). A group of German paratroopers disguised as US MPs pretend to rig a bridge behind American lines for demolition while actually holding for their own army. Part of their act includes two men ostentatiously hooking up a detonator while other men pretend to rig charges. Everyone is fooled until the leader of the squad of U.S. Army engineers actually assigned to blow the bridge arrives and immediately protests such a clear (and stupid) violation of basic safety procedures. He gets shot dead for his trouble.
  • Blazing Saddles. Sheriff Bart tries to use one to detonate the explosives in the fake Rock Ridge and blow up the villains, but it doesn't work. The Waco Kid has to set them off with a shot from his revolver.
  • Pretty sure it was used in The Villain. (But that's rather expected, since that movie was largely a live-action cartoon.)
  • Two bad guys attempt to use this on a bridge that the titular car is passing over in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Implausibly, the explosives don't explode, but the detonator itself does, resulting in Ash Face.
  • Ocean's Eleven: When Reuben's old building is blown up.
  • One is a big part of a major scene in The Bridge on the River Kwai. In fact, what happens at the end with it is actually another Dead Horse Trope. Going to use a spoiler tag: The dying guy falling on the Plunger Detonator is a Dead Horse Trope.
  • The Bridge At Remagen has the Germans use a plunger detonator to try to demolish the eponymous bridge to prevent it from being captured, only to have it fail because the wires were damaged in the fighting. Also counts as a Critical Research Failure since the German army didn't use this type of detonator as noted above.
  • I remember the protagonists using the modern ones in Tremors 2 - explosives strapped to remote-control cars which they got the land-sharks to eat before blowing them sky high.
  • In the opening scene of The Party Hrundi V. Bakshi rests his foot on the handle of one of these to tie his shoelace, causing the premature demolition of a film set.
  • The Dragon uses one of these to blow up a train in the Jonah Hex movie.
  • Pretty sure I recall Professor Fate using one of these in The Great Race, but I can't recall the specific instance.
  • A couple of these show up next to a rack of hand grenades in an early scene in The Ipcress File. Palmer pushes the handle of one down, presumably to see if it's connected to anything.
  • Batman (1966). The Riddler uses a small one to detonate explosives and blow open a door into the United World building.


  • In The Sheikh and the Dustbin, George Macdonald Fraser tells of a piece of outside-the-box thinking used by an eccentric brother officer to put down a riot in Egypt circa 1945: He wired up a plunger to an (empty) crate and parked the crate on a bridge in full view of an angry mob that was about to cross it. As soon as the plunger was raised ready for "blasting", the crowd dispersed with extreme alacrity.

Live Action Television

  • Crazy Harry loved these.
  • The Myth Busters use these occasionally, with an arming device for safety, but usually just go with a Big Red Button.
  • Young Indiana Jones: I seem to remember a scene where Indy had to put the plunger back into such a detonator just in time or something.
  • Often used by our saboteur heroes on Hogan's Heroes when time bombs were not sufficient. In one case they even got their Nazi 'captor' to press the plunger himself, under the impression that he had loaded the tunnel with fake dynamite while pretending to be one of the Allies.
  • On Richard Hammonds Blast Lab, the losing team has to press down a plunger to blow up their prizes.
  • Several episodes of the US version of Distraction featured the winning contestant having to push down a plunger that would randomly blow up one of his or her prizes for each question missed in the final round.
  • Nickelodeon's Wild and Crazy Kids used these on occasion, most memorably to blow up sandcastles.
  • The Monkees occasionally tried to use one, by clipping two alligator cables to whatever they were trying to blow up, then pushing the plunger on a hand-sized box, at which point something else would blow up.
  • And some people claim wrestling isn't real.
  • Used in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Graduation Day" to set off the explosives that destroyed Sunnydale High.
  • Farscape sees plenty of these in a few of the episodes which take place in John's mind. In this case, the landscape is transformed into a Looney Tunes style desert, with John as the Roadrunner and Harvey as Wiley E. Coyote. Hilarity and explosions ensue.
  • Batman episode "While Gotham City Burns". When the Dynamic Duo are trapped inside a giant steel book and about to be steamed to death, the Gotham City police use one to detonate some explosives and blow the book open.

Video Games

  • Used in Red Dead Redemption once or twice.
  • There's a used one in one of the Sub Machine games, surrounded by soot and bits of clothing.
  • Used in the Half Life demo, "Uplink", and in the Half Life: Blue Shift expansion in the "Power Struggle" level.
  • In the Xbox Live Arcade version of Settlers of Catan, one of the emote animations shows a player using one of these to blow up the dice. The AI sometimes uses it when it has a run of particularly bad rolls.
  • In Serious Sam series, it can be found in a few places. It's a trigger marker by default though.
  • Blood includes this on the "Thin Ice" secret level.
  • Three of the castle destruction cutscenes in Super Mario World featured Mario/Luigi jumping on a plunger detonator. One worked as expected. One caused the castle to launch like a rocket. The third seemed to fizzle until Mario/Luigi got close.
  • In the Glitter Gulch Mine level of Banjo-Tooie, Banjo and Kazooie could transform into a detonator. Its explosions were self-damaging but not necessarily fatal.
  • Faust uses one for his Instant Kill from X onward. The exact results vary from game to game (sometimes the explosion is delayed and gives both players a Funny Afro, sometimes it goes off like a nuke).
  • The cave level (and some others at times) in the SNES The Smurfs game.
  • The title characters from Worms remove themselves from the battlefield with one of these.
  • In one level of Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Nazis attempt to use one to blow up a bridge, and you must snipe them before they can reach it.
  • One cutscene in the original Wing Commander, if you do well in the campaign, shows a group of Terran soldiers demolishing a Kilrathi base using one.

Web Comic

Western Animation

  • A staple accessory of Looney Tunes characters, especially Wile E. Coyote.
  • Jonny Quest TOS episode "The Quetong Missile Mystery". The guards use these to detonate underwater mines to blow up intruding boats. At the end the Big Bad suffers a Karmic Death when he shoots one of the guards, who falls on the detonator and detonates a mine under the Big Bad's boat.
  • On The Simpsons Sideshow Bob's brother Cecil uses one of these to try to blow up Springfield Dam.
  • In the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Windblown Hare", Bugs blows up a house with explosives detonated by one of these.
  • The Animated Adaptation of Tintin in America switched Bobby Smiles's box with buttons for such a detonator.
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