Here we have a typical Hollywood bomb, which is featured with relatively minor variations in hundreds (if not thousands) of titles: Hollywood bomb

However, just looking at it, I’m confused. Why are these bombs supposedly so difficult to defuse? It seems like the hero could just pull the blasting cap out of the explosive, or cut the wire to the blasting cap. Instead, they always seem to struggle with cutting the correct wire to stop or disable the timer. But who cares about the timer if it’s no longer connected to the explosive?

I know without naming a specific title it’s hard to give an in-universe answer, but is there some out-of-universe answer, such as directors (or at least prop designers) universally not caring whether their bomb scenes are remotely realistic? Or is there some sort of agreement to show only stupidly-built bombs so that amateur terrorists will include this obvious flaw and make real bomb squads’ job easier?

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    This type of dumb, "dilemma, because plot" scenario quickly added some dialogue "we can't do xyz because it will blow". These days they've dropped all that due to the audience being wise to the plot. Anything that still contains 'pick a wire to cut' is now risible, & tends to be replaced with 'how do we find the phone that will trigger it' – Tetsujin Nov 28 '20 at 19:00
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    I like how the bombs all have clocks on them. – Tyler Durden Nov 28 '20 at 21:43
  • -1 “However, just looking at it, I’m confuse.” I get the idea here. But I think this question would be better served without an illustration unless it is an actual screenshot or pic from a movie with a bomb in. And my tact would be to word the question as “It’s a common trope in films and TV shows to show someone having a hard time defusing a bomb.” I’m not trying to be a hard-case here, but one common situation in bomb defusing scenes is the protagonist not knowing which wire to cut. This pic is cartoonishly not like “real” prop bombs used in films and TV shows. – Giacomo1968 Nov 29 '20 at 3:02
  • @Giacomo1968 I’m looking for a better pic, but I know I’ve seen plenty of movie/TV bombs with a blasting cap stuffed in explosive as shown. Hopefully I’ll find one before the FBI comes to chat about my search history... – StephenS Nov 29 '20 at 4:27
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    My favourite (ridiculously unrealistic) example of this trope is the episode of NCIS where the guy just shoots the TV monitor that was displaying the countdown without doing anything to the actual bomb which was on a separate shelf down below. And yet, destorying this LCD screen - without even removing any wires! - somehow stopped the bomb from exploding. – Steve-O Nov 30 '20 at 15:39

Generally, because of anti-handling devices, which have at least an 80 year history in real life:


Whether it’s a time-delayed or remote detonated device, a bomber has incentive to prevent the bomb from being moved or rendered safe before it is detonated. Both military forces and terrorists have used anti-handling systems in real life.

One real life render safe technique that doesn’t make it into the media very often is controlled detonation. If a device or suspected device can be moved, it is often placed inside a container in a safe area and exploded by another device.

Since revealing techniques for defeating anti-handling devices would make doing so more difficult, it’s not easy for a writer, director, or producer to conduct authentic research on the topic. So they are left to their imaginations, which often are less technical and more focused on compelling dialog and dramatic narrative.

So just like with imagined future scientific advances and cyber security threats and defenses, bomb defusing in movies and TV usually ends up with a lot of hand-waving, impressive sounding dialog, and sweaty brows, but not always a lot of believability.

  • There we go. Anti handling. – Tyler Durden Nov 28 '20 at 21:43
  • But what stops the hero from just cutting the exposed wire going to the blasting cap(s)? No “handling” required. – StephenS Nov 28 '20 at 22:08
  • Because anti-handling also includes detection of circuit interruption? – Paulie_D Nov 28 '20 at 23:03
  • @Paulie_D So it tries to detonate itself by sending current down the wire that ... is no longer connected to the blasting cap? Hero lives. – StephenS Nov 28 '20 at 23:40
  • @StephenS “But what stops the hero from just cutting the exposed wire going to the blasting cap(s)?” I have literally not ever seen a “bomb” as simple as the one you are choosing to illustrate this piece with in any film. They might look similar but have much more wires and such in them that make knowing which wire to cut more difficult. – Giacomo1968 Nov 29 '20 at 3:04

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