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What happens when you mix a Death Trap with a Rube Goldberg Device?

Every once in a while there's a serial killer, villain, or Big Bad who decides that it's not enough to just kill somebody off. They insist on going the extra mile, to make the manner of their victim's death as complicated and elaborate as possible that it's almost an art form in and of itself — so that anyone who gazes upon the scene will stand in awe of their mental superiority in devising cruel and unusual ways to kill people.

Delayed deathtraps also have the advantage of giving the culprit an alibi, allowing them to slip away after activating it, and provide verifiable proof that they were somewhere else at the "time of death".

This is a Death Trope so expect spoilers. If it fails, you can expect someone to ask, "Why Don't Ya Just Shoot Him?" (and they often do).

Often attempted by any variety of Evil Genius but it can vary whether or not they are successful. After all, if it's The Hero who is the victim, they'll no doubt find some way to escape the trap....

Not to be confused with No Kill Like Overkill, Rasputinian Death or Necro Non Sequitur.

Examples of Rube Goldberg Hates Your Guts include:

Anime and Manga

  • Detective Conan uses this quite a bit.
  • Also considered in Haruhi Suzumiya when Kyon and Haruhi are pondering about the supposed murder in the island house.
  • A few of Battler's theories to solve the murders of Umineko no Naku Koro ni come down to this. Small bombs, anybody?
  • Shows up frequently in Majin Tantei Nougami Neuro.
  • Death Note. The note(book) lets the user write how someone dies, as long as it makes sense and the user knows the victim's name and face. The owner, Light Yagami, loves complicated gambits, so there's a whole lot of this.
    • One of his crowning achievements happens relatively early in the manga, where he sets up a man to die in such a way that his real target has no choice but to reveal his name to him (giving Light everything he needs to kill him when the time comes).

Comic Books

  • Nodwick once was caught in a trap that didn't merely kill a victim, but... see for yourself. It even produces a copy of the manufacturer's business card when it gets triggered with the suggestion:
  • In his first appearence, the Phantom Blot tries to kill Mickey Mouse with exceptionally complicated home-made Death Traps. When finally caught and unmasked, the Blot reveals that he does this because, dispite his criminal endevours, he doesn't have the guts to kill someone with his own hands.
    • In more recent appearances he started using guns, but sometimes he still uses complicated death traps for old times' sake (so he said when he tied Mickey to a wood trunk that was about to be cut by a laser and Mickey pointed out it was a while he didn't use complicated traps).
  • Batman villains are partial to these, which makes sense since a lot of them do things For the Evulz rather than a practical motive.
    • The Riddler used to set up insurance fires that were set off by such an elaborate series of events using items already in the buildings that they would look like accidents.

Fan Fic


  • Cube
  • Law Abiding Citizen: This entire movie is a love note to this trope. The way Clyde kills people makes MacGyver look like he was creating science projects for the elementary school science fair.
  • The Saw movies. One could argue that the plot exists only to allow the use of this trope.
  • The Final Destination movies, insofar as the deaths (which appear to be Necro Non Sequiturs) can be considered orchestrated by a sinister force.
    • The first movie had one death (the teacher) so hilariously contrived that it's a wonder the scene wasn't scored with "Yakety Sax."
    • Yet pales in comparison to what the series had in store later. Needless to say, check the disbelief at the door.
  • The Cell
  • The Omen films and here there's no chance of the elaborate schemes failing because they're planned by, you know, the Devil.
  • In 13 Ghosts (the 2001 remake), the entire house would be considered this.
  • Mind Hunters had a serial killer killing everyone in incredibly bizarre ways tailored specially to each character's personality. One death was a literal Rube Goldberg machine. Death by being frozen by a dropped bottle of Liquid Nitrogen, or death by smoking acid-filled cigarettes anyone?
  • James Bond. For a while, especially during the Roger Moore era, the Bond films were this trope.
  • Parodied in Austin Powers International Man of Mystery, where Dr Evil leaves Austin and the current chick to die in an over-elaborate device, and Dr Evil's son suggests just shooting them.
  • In Conan the Barbarian, Conan kills Thorgrim with a spring-loaded spike trap.
  • It's not lethal, but a significant chunk of Mousehunt is spent with the brothers arranging increasingly ridiculous mouse-killing schemes and falling for them in the most painful fashion available.


  • Done occasionally in the Florida Roadkill series by Tim Dorsey. The earliest example: The victim is tied to an armchair, with the TV on showing the space shuttle being prepped for launch at Cape Canaveral (which was fairly close to the motel where the victim was tied up in). When the shuttle launched, the shock waves of the launch would cause the model space shuttle hanging from the ceiling to swing, striking the metal ring cut from a beer can. The contact between the metal ring and the metal toy would complete a circuit, which would start a small electric motor, which would wind in a cord, which would pull the trigger of a shotgun that was pointed at the victim.
  • Dirk Gently faked a report of this when handling a Locked Room Mystery in The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul. The police didn't accept the real supernatural answer, so Dirk needed some other explanation of how the victim could commit suicide and leave his head perched on a spinning turntable.

Live Action TV

  • Dead Like Me: The use of this trope is actually lampshaded. All of the deaths in the show are of this variety and it is explained early on that the gravelings exist solely to make sure the circumstances leading to the deaths occur. Hell, their boss is even named Rube.
    • The movie of the series plays with this trope has a suicidal inventor create an ingenious Rube Goldberg device to kill himself. He straps himself in, starts it off, and then receives a phone call which makes him want to live. Rube Goldberg's hatred comes up when the device works perfectly, then subverts it when it becomes clear his afterlife will be even better than what he was going to receive in this world.
  • The featured freak-of-the-week on The X-Files episode "The Goldberg Variations" had a luck-altering presence, resulting in this type of death for his enemies.
  • The original title of this trope, "Death by Rube Goldberg," is actually used word for word in a The Facts of Life episode revolving around a killer taking down the group. It can be seen here at approximately 06:30. The show even lampshades the fact that most of the audience will have no idea who Rube Goldberg was!
  • The serial killer Mr. Yin, on Psych is particularly creative, including strapping Juliet to a chair that was attached to a clock tower by a rope in such a way that at 4:30 the rope would be severed and she would fall to her death.
  • Several of the murder methods in Jonathan Creek, such as "Satan's Chimney" and "The Grinning Man".
  • In The Cape, the villain Dice is a savant who is able to calculate probability so quickly that she can effectively predict the future. At one point she rolls a coin down a hallway, which a janitor pauses to pick up, thus knocking over a mop, which turns on a sink and causes it to overflow, then the water shorts out a wire that goes directly to a chandelier that's hanging above the head of the man she wants to kill.
  • An episode of CSI has the "minature killer" set up a trap in their victims' apartment and send their calling card (a minature of the scene) early. It turns out to be a device which pours charcoal on the fire and fills the room with carbon monoxide, it silently kills the undercover officer they posted in the room while they were watching unaware the entire time.
    • The episode Lab Rats has one of these as one of Hodge's causes of death in his "thought experiments" as a scenario for his board game. The first one ( a booby trapped evidence box) is even disparaged as the work of Wile E. Coyote.
    • One episode has the team ultimately deduce that a college girl's apparent murder was actually the result of an extremely unfortunate set of coincidences. This results in a Downer Ending when the girl's parents refuse to accept the lack of closure this gives them, and go off determined to pointlessly blow a bunch of money on another investigation.
  • Several cases in Monk boil down to this. Usually, they involve serial killers.
    • In "Mr. Monk Meets the Playboy," in season 2, there is a case where a publisher is killed when his barbell crushes his trachea. The murder weapon: a magnet in the apartment underneath.
    • The scheme used in the murder in "Mr. Monk and the TV Star" involved staging a barfight so that the press could be used as an alibi.
  • In Supernatural, Atropos kills people like this, moving between the seconds to arrange deaths. She's one of the few enemies the Winchesters had absolutely no way of fighting, and they needed to be rescued by Castiel both times she took a shot at them.
  • An episode of Columbo has a Mensa champion set up a murder like this.
    • Not sure if it's the same one, but there's one that involves a weapon resting on a block of melting ice.
  • In an episode of Fringe, a genius arranges deaths through convoluted chain reactions.
  • The 1960s TV series The Wild Wild West had Jim West strapped to these on several occassions.

Video Games

  • Evil Genius: You can create traps to foil agents of justice trying to crash the party. You get extra points for clever, sadistic traps.
    • Clever players can even use this to create inescapable rooms with traps that constantly affect the trapped agents and/or tourists, earning money for trap chains. With proper set-up, you need not worry about money again. See here for the designs to "The Square of Insanity" and "The Tornado Trap".
  • In Hitman Blood Money, you are rewarded for making your hits look like accidents. In all of the games in the series, you can come up with very indirect or ingenious ways of offing your targets.
  • MadWorld awards higher points per kill the more elaborate the kill is.
  • Some members of the Dwarf Fortress community love to invoke this trope when it comes to nobles and certain other pests. Since you can't just order them to be killed, this is pretty much your only option.[1]
    • It's also been invoked on a much larger scale: building a Pointless Doomsday Device to destroy the entire fortress. Often used when monsters from the depths of hell are swarming in. Or when it's funny.
  • The large combination of Plasmids, tonics, weapons and other tools mean that the Bioshock series gives you many ways to kill an enemy. The sequel's research camera gives you more research points the more imaginative your kill was.
  • In Carmageddon, if you kill a pedestrian by hitting them with an object (like a pole or parked civilian car) you get an extra bonus and the words "Nice shot, sir."
  • This trope is used by the Origami Killer in Heavy Rain. Killing boys by leaving them trapped in a ditch that fills with rainwater is certainly more elaborate than most. The same applies to the trials that the Origami Killer leaves for his victims' fathers, which, among others, include heading to a power plant, crawling through a vent with glass on the bottom, and then navigating through a maze of electrical condensers to get the next clue.
  • In Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge LeChuck leaves Guybrush and Wally the Cartographer to die in a Rube Goldberg Contraption at the end of act II.
    • You can die in it, but since he is, at this point, recounting how he came to be in a completely different (and much more straightforward) perilous situation, the person listening calls him out.
  • Ghost Trick, in spades. It, for example, features death by Rube Goldberg contraption (twice) and death by giant plastic chicken. You, of course, get to go and try avert all those ridculously complicated deaths.
    • In fact, the game deconstructs the idea a little; the Rube Goldberg contraption permanently scarred the person who set it up (since it was supposed to be harmless). Later, it was found to have made an "impossible move", and nobody could ever figure out why it acted the way it did, leading all involved to despair.
  • This was a possible result of a Fallout 3 Wreaking Havok demonstration. Ideally the player would remain where they triggered a Rube Goldberg Device and the physics engine would complete the Disaster Dominoes as intended, leaving players unharmed while dropping a stash of goodies at their feet. Any user error or unpredictable physics could kill the Player Character in a fiery explosion.

Western Animation

  • The Great Mouse Detective has an example of one of these in the form of a Death Trap. It doesn't actually work but points for trying.
  • The Perils of Penelope Pitstop: The Hooded Claw LOVES this trope. He pulls a Death Trap with this just about every 2 miniutes.
  • In Batman the Brave And The Bold, Music Meister uses a ludicrously overkill Death Trap, involving swinging blades, lasers, acid, bombs, crushers, spikes to kill batman
    • And the Joker uses and elaborate Rube Goldberg device to kill Bataman in "Emperor Joker!". Of course, at the time, the Joker has the powers of a god to ensure that it works. But decides it's no fun to kill him once, and does it over and over again.
  • In the Futurama "The Tip of the Zoidberg" has the protagonists use one on the professor. Being a Rube Goldberg Device, it was not quick, allowing time for the execution to be interrupted.
  1. Well, or just locking their bedroom doors so they starve to death, but sending them to pull a lever to drop themselves into a magma sea is much more entertaining.