Essentially, you have a ship of some sort, be it an oceangoing vessel or a Cool Starship. At some point the ship suffers some catastrophe that makes it a very good idea not to remain there, because it is about to explode, fall to the planet below, go careening uncontrollably into the nearest star, or, you know, sink. What are the passengers and crew to do? Why, they must Abandon Ship! Bonus points if the trope's actual name, which is a Stock Phrase nearly omnipresent in all movies dealing with naval action, wet or otherwise, is used.
If much of the story has taken place on the ship, then her death (and it will often be played as a death rather than a destruction, complete with strangely mournful sounding metallic groans and dramatic music) will be rather dramatic and played out. If our hero gets to the lifeboat only to realize that a friend or loved one has not similarly done so for some reason, a miniature quest may ensue as they make their way through the chaotic process of the ship breaking up and sinking. Some reference might be made to the Captain Going Down with the Ship.
On a military airplane, the crew might be expected to make use of Ejection Seats to escape the plane. Otherwise, they'll probably have to get out the old fashioned way: Strapping on a parachute and getting to an exit before the plane crashes. Starships typically have Escape Pods for the same purpose.
Not to Be Confused withAbandon Shipping, which occurs when a Shipping community suddenly abandons a given pairing (and was formerly known as Abandon Ship).
In Gundam SEED, where the crew of the Dominion (along with Flay), who abandon ship when Natarle turns on her commander and the Archangel sinks the ship. Too bad the pod drifts straight into Rau le Creuset, who's more than happy to finish the job.
The crews of several damaged vessels try to escape in Banner of the Stars, but survival in unarmed escape pods is rather dicey in the middle of a battle. The Basroil crew, including Lafiel and Jinto, are also forced to abandon their ship at the end.
In Tintin The Red Sea Sharks, Tintin and Haddock's kidnappers abandon ship after the engine breaks down, only for Haddock to fix it later and take over the now-repaired ship.
In Jonah (a comic strip in The Beano) whenever the sailors on a ship realise Jonah is aboard they would often shout 'Aaagh it's im' and attempt to leave the ship before it's inevitable sinking (Jonah would manage to sink the ship everytime).
Star Trek: First Contact features a scene where the crew of the Enterprise-E evacuates the ship so as to self-destruct and kill the Borg on board. Subverted when the Borg Queen deactivates the selfdestruct sequence and gets killed shortly afterward, so the ship is saved.
In Star Trek Into Darkness, Spock orders the Enterprise abandoned when she is crippled and falling from orbit over Earth. The ship's tumbling badly hinders the evacuation, as crewmembers are sent falling to their deaths via Gravity Screw and a brief view of the shuttle bay shows the escape shuttles are similarly being tossed around. The ship is saved and the evacuation averted in the end.
The Filipino film Temptation Island forces its characters to do this, after a fire sinks their yacht.
Red Tails depicts an aviation variation on this trope:
In the prologue, a formation of American bombers is being attacked by German fighters. The pilot of a badly damaged bomber orders his crew to prepare to bail out. Immediately afterwards, a German fighter attacks the bomber head-on, killing both pilots. Some men can briefly be seen tumbling out and opening chutes.
Later on, a fighter pilot's plane is shot up, and he bails out in the most expeditious manner available: He jettisons the canopy, unbuckles his seatbelt, and rolls the plane over so he falls out before opening his chute.
Another pilot, badly injured, and his cockpit filling with gasoline from a ruptured fuel tank, tries to bail out, but is too weak to pull the emergency release for his canopy. He crashes on landing, but is pulled from the burning plane and survives.
The movie "Abandon Ship!" (1957 starring Tyrone Power) has the survivors from a torpedoed ship in an overloaded lifeboat. The captain tries to keep it afloat by ruthlessly throwing out those who can't survive and keeping those he feels can, making no moral judgements on who is worth saving. Supposedly based on a true story.
In the film Battleship, the destruction of the John Paul Jones via a pair of alien "Shredder" droids sees a good portion of the crew bailing out of the ship as it's taken apart beneath them. Earlier in the film, the Myouko has several bail-outs after getting blown in half by alien det-charges. However, this trope is sadly averted with the loss of the Sampson, the destruction of which is so sudden and cataclysmic that there are no survivors.
In Pirates of Tortuga, the crew of a pirate ship is ordered to abandon ship. Hilariously, they all dive overboard and swim for it, instead of using lifeboats.
The Hunt for Red October: A key part of the plot involves Captain Ramius having to find a way to get his crew to abandon the ship without figuring out what he's trying to do. This is exactly what happens during the film's climax, with an American frigate taking the Soviet crew aboard while unbeknown to them, Hot Sub-on-Sub Action takes place beneath them.
Happens reasonably frequently in the Honor Harrington universe, with crew abandoning ships that have taken damage in combat. These run the range from small numbers of survivors evacuating in escape pods right before the ship explodes to an orderly evacuation of a ship that is still intact but has taken sufficient damage to its alpha nodes or hyper-generator that it cannot leave the system and has to be scuttled. For a specific example, in Shadow of FreedomSolarian Vice Admiral Dubroskaya surrenders to a Manticoran task force after witnessing the enemy's first salvo pounding her own ships. However, her surrender comes only moments before the second Manty salvo arrives, so she quickly gives orders to abandon ship. Only a few hundred of her thousands of crewmembers make it out in time. Dubroskaya and her staff don't.
It's not the whole ship that's abandoned, but when an enemy attack breaches the section that Ciaphas Cainnote HERO OF THE IMPERIUM and Jurgen are in, they are forced to abandon the ship in order to save their own lives. This being a Ciaphas Cain note HERO OF THE IMPERIUM book, this just drops them into even greater danger.
In the novel "When the Ship Sank" a ship is torpedoed and sinks slowly but people cannot escape because the entire engine crew has been killed and no one can turn off the engines. It eventually sinks and the survivors spend a horrific night in the water until they are picked up by another ship. The second ship is taking them back to England, where the first ship came from, but is intercepted by another submarine (or maybe even the first one) which opens fire with its deck guns sinking it in minutes. Most of the people on board, including almost all the survivors from the first ship are killed almost instantly.
In the Horatio Hornblower novel Ship of the Line, the Sutherland sinks in the final chapter after beating three larger ships single-handed.
Live Action Television
An example from the final season of LOST. Many of the remaining characters are on board a submarine, and soon find that the Big Bad has smuggled a bomb on board. It detonates (taking out a major character in a heroic sacrifice), and proceeds to cause the sub to sink. The survivors rush to flee the sinking vessel, with the exception of Sun (who is trapped behind debris) and Jin (who chooses to remain on-board to die with his wife).
Babylon 5: The first season episode Babylon Squared takes place aboard the space station Babylon Four, which had been lost (as in, physically misplaced, as in, a five mile long space station just disappeared in a instant for no known explanation) years previously. The station reappears, just long enough for the crew of Babylon Five to effect an evacuation. As the station is about to disappear again, the remaining crew members (and the personnel from Babylon Five who came to retrieve them) make a hasty retreat to cram onto the remaining shuttles.note Incidentally, the Going Down with the Ship trope is discussed and dismissed: Commander Sinclair is most definitely not Babylon Four's commander, and the officer who was in charge of the station had every intention of leaving as soon as the personnel under his command had been evacuated.
The same episode includes a Flash Forward where Babylon Five, in flames, is being evacuated as the security personnel frantically attempt to hold off the unseen attackers to give the civilians time to escape. As a matter of fact, the visual of a lone shuttle escaping the station just before it explodes gets used for a long string of Prophecy Twists That visual does finally come true. But not the way anyone expects.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine actually begins this way. The first scene of the series is a prologue, showing the starship Saratoga serving as part of a Starfleet task force assembled to stop the Borg at Wolf 359. After the Saratoga is knocked out of the fight by a single hit from the Borg Cube, the rest of the scene is the panicked crew (and passengers) abandoning the crippled and burning ship.
Happens in the finale of Power Rangers Lost Galaxy. Unlike most other examples, a sizable amount of the ship remains, even after the Final Battle takes place in it. Unfortunately, the Big Bad had already set it for a Colony Drop - it's possible there was enough left after impact to be turned into a galactic settlers' colony as intended, but we never get a good look.
In the episode 'Marooned' the crew are forced to abandon ship because 5 black holes are approaching, it turns out to be grit on the scanner scope.
In the episode 'Polymorph' they decide to abandon ship when a chameleonic life form attempts to suck out their emotions.
In 'Demons and Angels' the ship has a major overload after a problem with a matter replicator, once they've escaped the ship it blows up only to leave two copies in its place, a high version and a low version. Once they work out a way to replicate the original they must then get out of the new "low" Red Dwarf before it disappears.
In 'Only the Good...' the entire resurrected crew of Red Dwarf abandon ship when a genetically engineered virus begins eating the ship from the inside out.
In the Stargate SG-1 episode "Ethon", the Prometheus, Earth's first starship and primary spacecraft for the preceding three seasons, is badly crippled in battle against an Ori satellite superweapon. Lacking the necessary time to repair the ship, Col. Pendergast orders a full evacuation minutes before the ship is destroyed in the next attack.
In a Stargate Atlantis episode, Sheppard ends up in the future and is told by a hologram of McKay about the fate of the other main characters. Carter and McKay end up taking a new Daedalus-class battlecruiser and attack Michael's hive ships. However, when Michael sets a trap for Carter, she transports the entire crew to the nearby planet's surface and then rams the battlecruiser into the nearest hive ship, with the resulting explosion taking out the other two hive ships. Naturally, since Sheppard ends up going back in time, this never happens.
JAG: The Russian destroyer in "Cowboys and Cossacks".
Less Than Jake has it as the title for one of their songs. The phrase is used to represent how life (the ship) spirals out of control and one must either find something to keep going or leave it because "it's sinking way too quick".
Traveller adventure Action Aboard - Adventures on the King Richard. If there's a problem aboard the title passenger starship, all of the passengers are put onto lifeboats. The lifeboats are cast off and the passengers wait until either (a) the problem is resolved and they can be retrieved or (b) the problem can't be resolved and they're on their own.
The level "Crew Expendable" in Modern Warfare 1 takes place on a cargo ship. Naturally, by the end of the level you're frantically running for your chopper before the ship sinks.
Mass Effect 2 begins with the heroes being forced to abandon The Normandy before her destruction. Joker insists that he can avoid total destruction, but is convinced to leave by Shepard at the last minute. He makes it out, but Shepard dies.
To add insult to injury, the very next mission has Shepard having to abandon ship again, this time from a space station that is under attack. Worth noting, Mass Effect is produced by BioWare, the same company that produced Knights of the Old Republic, and this mission feels a bit like an homage to that game's first mission.
In Mass Effect 3: Omega, Aria's plan to attack the eponymous station involves sneaking very close to it in a captured Cerberus warship and then wreaking havoc on the defenders. When the stations' defense grid proves too powerful, her backup plan is to evacuate the ship, re-using the escape pods as boarding pods to continue the attack.
When the carrier Kestrel is hit by an anti-ship missile in Ace Combat 5, the crew abandons ship after launching the player's squadron on one last mission. Captain Andersen evacuates last.
StarCraft II the Terran Battlecruiser utters this when he gets attacked.
Bender attempts to get everyone to do this in "Parasites Lost", uttering the phrase a few times and having to be restrained. Also, the miniature ship does wind up abandoned after the end of the journey.