Imagine you are watching or reading a work in which a certain amount of suspension of disbelief is required (such a work is typically science fiction or fantasy). And then, out of nowhere, comes this other plot device which cannot be a plot hole just by the sheer amount of thought that had to be put into it, but, nonetheless, actively counteracts the suspension of disbelief thus far achieved. Is there a term or adjective that describes such a device? These devices are distinctive in that they are frustrating because even granted the often remarkable postulates of the plot, they are still ridiculous or ask too much of the reader/viewer.

I'm sure many people have experienced this phenomenon and have been frustrated by it. Whenever I've experienced it among friends or family, we often quip at the person who points it out by saying "This is what you have a problem with?", or something of the like, and go on to point out the equally ridiculous or more ludicrous events that have happened or things that exist. Of course, this quip is in jest and everyone agrees that it's ridiculous, but we are unwilling to pause to discuss it, and it is easier to accept it and move on.

I have many examples of this type of device. Of the ones I have in mind that would be well-known are of the 'cop-out' flavor, or in highbrow terms deus ex machina. For example, the eagles in the Lord of the Rings. J.R.R. Tolkien requires us to suspend a lot of disbelief such as disbelief in elves, hobbits, dragons, etc. But then he invokes the use of the eagles to save the heroes on more than one occasion; and yet, they are not used to end the main conflict in the story.

There are many more examples of that flavor, but I'm asking for a more general term. At the risk of losing some readers but for the sake of another example, I was particularly confused by Karl Ruprecht Kroenen from Hellboy. First of all, Hellboy required the audience to accept the existence of demons, mutants, and Nazis that created a portal to hell. All that is fine and good, but then Karl shows up, who somehow achieved immortality for himself through genius, but nonetheless needs to 'wind himself up' like a common pocket-clock. As though a person with that amount of genius couldn't figure out how to automate that required function.

Any suggestions to describe this type of plot device are appreciated.

  • 60-foot eagles that can talk 'actively counteract the suspension of disbelief'??? May 31, 2014 at 13:55
  • They counteract the suspension of disbelief because they are not used to solve the main problem in the series, even though they appear perfectly capable of doing so and because no one had brought up the possibility.
    – user70564
    May 31, 2014 at 14:00
  • I'm confused why someone thought this was a bad question.
    – user70564
    May 31, 2014 at 14:04
  • This is actually a good question in my book, and I've read enough TVtropes in my life to know that there are half a dozen terms for this kind of thing. Nuking the fridge is certainly one, and gets an upvote from me, but I think there were more, that may or may not have been a better fit. Of course I can't recall a single one right now, and of course I know better than to fire up TVtropes again because you'd never hear back from me.
    – RegDwigнt
    May 31, 2014 at 21:48

2 Answers 2


Nuking the Fridge is an expression used to cover highly improbable and incomprehensible/undesirable events in a plot (movie/book/other).

The TV/Movie trope, Nuke the fridge means when something so ridiculously unbelievable happens in a plot that the whole thing is marred by it; it's downhill from there. Know Your Meme explains that “Nuking the Fridge” is an idiomatic phrase used by movie fans to describe the declining point of a film franchise as a result of its heavy reliance on special effects.

According to Newsweek, the phrase was first used on the IMDB message board for Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull on May 24th, two days after the film’s release. Fans were disappointed by a highly unrealistic scene wherein Jones escapes a nuclear explosion unharmed by hiding inside a refrigerator.

Examples of use:

Star Wars didn't really nuke the fridge until Jar Jar Binks was introduced. Peter Parker dancing around the bar in Spider-Man 3? Kinda nukes the fridge!

On May 25th, 2008, the website Nukethefridge.com (featuring video game and action film news) was created. On June 4th, SlashFilm.com published an article titled “Is 'Nuke the Fridge' the New 'Jump the Shark'?” referencing the common phrase to describe the point in a TV show’s run when it started to go downhill.


The only truly general term that covers all of that is bad or various synonyms like sucky.

Even that isn't necessarily the case because it's not clear whether you would consider deliberate verfrumdungseffekt or alienation in the Brechtian sense under this category, and such breaks of suspension of disbelief are the whole point.

Of your examples, I'm not convinced that they "cannot be a plot hole just by the sheer amount of thought that had to be put into it". Some pretty bad plot holes coincide with some clearly significant degrees of thought. We also have the "voodoo shark" phenomenon where an attempt to patch up a plot-hole causes and even greater plot hole (so named for the novelisation of Jaws: The Revenge, in which the bizarre plot hole of why or how a shark would seek revenge was explained by having a Voodoo[sic] curse on the Brody family, without any explanation as to why anyone would put a Voodoo[sic] curse on the Brody family, or why the audience is expected to suddenly accept Hollywood-style "Voodoo" as having an effect on sharks).

Indeed, the amount of effort (and time and money) that has been spent on a scenario is precisely a reason for it to contain a plot-hole; it's a lot harder to file a flawed storyline in the circular filing cabinet once you've spent a year at it, a Studio has pumped millions into it and Tom Cruise is already talking about how important the rôle is to him, than when you're just bashing out the details. Even it a writer realises the hole is there (they may not), they might not see how to salvage it. And that's a good writer. Also, while some plot-holes can damage many people's enjoyment, there are many that don't really matter, so the writer may not care, as in Hideaki Anno's famous response to a question on an unexplained point in Neon Genesis Evangelion, "I don't know. Fan-wank something".

About the best I can suggest, is "unintended alienation", since it is akin to the alienation that Brecht and many following him deliberately invoke, but wasn't (or is assumed to not be) deliberate.

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