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Because life just isn't as fun when you can see everything coming, there are several instances in fiction where the writers have chosen, for one reason or another, to give The Hero or the Big Bad an incredibly powerful, life-altering, plot-resolving super weapon (or super power), but not reveal what it is to the audience. They may only casually allude to it as "my secret weapon", they may pretend to "show" it but have it largely obscured by shadows or other objects in the way, or they may not even mention it at all until the pivotal moment. Regardless, this trope serves to create dramatic tension and keep the audience glued to their seats until The Reveal.

Something of a Discredited Trope, simply because it was overused to the point of nausea in the past, so it is more often Parodied or Played for Laughs in modern fiction. Also, while Secret Weapon used to be almost exclusive to super villains, more and more works are giving heroes a chance to to invoke this trope as well.

This can occasionally overlap with Chekhov's Gun. For example, if it turns out that ballpoint pen the Big Bad is constantly twirling in his fingers is actually a world-ending nuclear device, both tropes would apply. If constructed poorly, this trope can also lead to Deus Ex Machina.

See also It May Help You on Your Quest, for obscure items that come into play later, Forbidden Chekhov's Gun, where the characters must do something that they have been explicitly forbidden from doing, and Forgotten Superweapon, where the characters have a super powerful weapon, they just forgot about it.


Examples:


Comics

  • All-Star Superman: Parodied when Bizarro Flash has a "secret weapon". It's a match.
    • Furthermore, it gets rendered totally useless quite soon after he reveals it. Zibarro blew it out by mistake.
  • Blake and Mortimer: The Swordfish plane in the first adventure "The Secret of the Swordfish". This trope is played completely straight; the weapon is referenced over and over in the story but never shown until the final pages.


Film


Literature

  • Harry Potter: Voldemort actually has more than one, including The Horcruxes and the prophecy he had been searching for.
  • Dune: The Honored Matres have The Weapon, which kills hundreds of troops instantly without blood
  • HMS Polychrest, an Alleged Ship in the Aubrey-Maturin series, was originally designed to fire a giant rocket. The new weapon system failed, and Polychrest was converted into a conventional (albeit poorly-performing) sloop.


Live Action TV

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: In the episode "Innocence", Xander comes up with a plan on how to deal with the episode's bad guy, who is nigh indestructible. He and the Scoobies go on a minor adventure to break into a military base, and return with a crate, which Xander opens to show Buffy. The lid of the crate blocks our view of what's inside until the climax of the episode. It's an anti-tank rocket launcher.


Stand Up Comedy

  • One of Bill Cosby's stand-up routines is "Buck Buck", describing a game by that name where groups of kids jump on each other and try not to fall down. Bill's team is good on defense, but the kids from the "rough part of town" claim to be even better, laughing off their offense from start to finish. Until:

 Rough kid: Bring out your last man, you turkeys, c'mon, bring him out!

Kid on Bill's team: (dramatic pause) Come on out... Fat Albert!


Video Games

  • Command and Conquer: Kane and the NOD love their secret weapons. Each game usually contains several, including invisible tanks, mole-machine APCs, cyborgs, and Tiberium-based WMDs. GDI usually isn't that big on the Secret Weapon front, but they develop one or two (the Ion Cannon from the first game being the most obvious).
    • The Allies and Soviets try their hand at it, especially in the first Red Alert and expansions, though of course, just as with the Tiberian branch, the "not reveal what it is to the audience" aspect tends to be spoiled by it being literally All There in the Manual (just as the Ion Cannon and Nod's nuke were listed in the manual for Tiberian Dawn, so was the Chronosphere and the Iron Curtain device). Hilariously, if one ignores the manual, the clearest example in Red Alert is the Trope Maker cited on the page image. The Soviet have developed nuclear weapons, which is treated with more pre-reveal foreshadowing in the Allied campaign than both the Iron Curtain in the same campaign and the Chronosphere in the Soviet.


Web Comics


Western Animation

 "Wewease the secwet weapon!!! It's the Giant Mouse of Minsk!"


Real Life

  • Hitler: Along with his propaganda ministry, he would tell the people not to worry about the Allies advancing because the Nazi secret "wonder" weapons would save them.
    • Nazi Germany actually had quite a few technological breakthroughs, though very few of them would see major use before the end of the war. The first jet fighter aircraft, for one thing. The London Gun (massive artillery gun capable of reaching London all the way across the English Channel) for another. The only reason they didn't pan out was because of Crippling Overspecialization, with such narrow purposes that such gadgets became infeasible to mass produce.
      • When British intelligence first uncovered references to V-1 and V-2 weapons, they could only guess at their nature - and "death rays" and "engine-stopping rays" were higher on the list of suspects than "rocket missiles".
  • World War 2: As pictured, the atom bomb (Fat Man model shown) was a closely guarded secret weapon of the United States military during World War 2.
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