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Big Blackout
Dean: I thought you were supposed to be impressive. All you do is black out the room?
Archangel Raphael: And the Eastern Seaboard. (Cue Dramatic Thunder)

A sudden blackout cuts the electricity to an entire city, state, country, etc.

This is probably caused by a machine that sucks way too much energy. Sometimes the power is adequate and the machine works, other times it begins a quest for the heroes to find something that is powerful enough.

Alternately, it could be caused by a giant Electromagnetic Pulse.

Usually just caused by natural disasters or accidents in real life; the citizens of television must see the power company as extremely unreliable.

Often illustrated by a distance shot of an entire city at night (blackouts never start during the day), with large rectangular sections of the city going out one-by-one, about a second apart. If it's a really big one, there also tends to be a satellite view of a continent. And then maybe the other continents.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime 
  • Happens in The Big O when they try to jump-start Big Fau.
  • In Neon Genesis Evangelion, all the power in Japan is needed to power up the Positron Rifle, causing a (planned) nation-wide blackout.
    • Matariel also arrived conveniently in the middle of a daytime blackout. Since the power grid of NERV HQ had multiple backup systems, it HAD to be sabotage.
  • Happens in Highschool of the Dead when a submarine fired an nuclear missile as a collaborated attempt to deal with the zombie problems. All of the other nukes got shot down, but the ship that was supposed to take out the last one was already zombified itself. The nuke detonated in the atmosphere, causing a massive EMP that knocked out all of Japan's electricity. Thankfully it happens in daylight whereby the protagonists have time to react and prepare themselves for night.
  • In the OVA Giant Robo The Animation, a key part of the backstory is the "Tragedy of Bashtarlle", a test of an experimental Phlebotinum drive Goes Horribly Wrong causing an blackout of all power sources worldwide that lasted for seven days, killing two-thirds of the world's population. (The explosion at ground zero also annihilated the country where the test took place. Guess the country's name - we'll wait.) The Big Bad's plan revolves around three MacGuffins meant to power a Phlebotinum Bomb that would repeat the effect of the original disaster.
  • Aldnoah.Zero shows one happening across continental America after the Orbital Knights' landing pulverizes New Orleans and other places.

    Comicbooks 
  • In the Batman: Hush storyline, Batman follows a lead to Gotham City on Poison Ivy's whereabouts, only to find that she's used her poisons to control Superman's mind. After initially getting away, Batman gets the drop on Superman and electrocutes him with a main power line. All of the lights in Metropolis (which is generally shown to be a highly modern, borderline Crystal Spires kind of city) momentarily go off. Superman was only stunned for a short time, but Batman was only buying time until he could break Ivy's control anyway.
  • Ex Machina: Mitchell's initial Power Incontinence shuts off power in most of New York. Zeller's arrival triggers the 2003 Northeast Blackout, knocking out all the power in the state of New York, and a little beyond that. The name of the arc where this takes place? Power Down.
    • The Series also has flashbacks to the 1965 and 1977 blackouts.
  • Spider-Man foe the Shocker once initiated a series of blackouts, one block at a time, in a pattern to spell out his name when viewed from above.
  • Mega Man has Ra Moon do this to the entire planet.
  • In Forever Evil, the Crime Syndicate disrupts and destroys most electronic and wireless based systems upon arrival in order to gain control of global communication.

    Fanfiction 

    Film 
  • Superman Returns, when Lex Luthor throws a shard of the Fortress of Solitude into a small pool of water.
  • National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, when Clark Griswold finally gets his Christmas lights working. We cut to a shot of his house like a beacon in the midst of his suburb, as all the lights around his house dim from the power drain he's causing to the suburb. Then we cut to a shot of the "Auxiliary Reactor" switch in a nearby nuclear power plant, which is turned on (implicitly) because of the amount of electricity he's using.
  • Happened in Fantastic Four. Don't ask how Reed managed to hook in the Baxter Building to the entire city's power grid.
  • In Weird Science, creating the "Lisa" entity shorts out a lot of the power of the city they're in.
  • The end of Shortbus, when the lights go out across New York City when the therapist has an orgasm.
  • Real Genius has this happen when Chris Knight turns on his laser beam pathway for the "Tanning Invitational". It's not known how far spread the blackout is, maybe only the Pacific Tech campus.
    Chris Knight: "Relax. That's just the fuses at the substation, they'll have it back on in a minute. Maybe I shouldn't have shorted across the building transformer. But more important: did we get a charge?"
  • Interesting variation in the climax of Iron Man 1, which involves a power generator being overloaded and draining power from the surrounding area; however, unlike most of the 'plunge entire city into blackout' examples, it was clearly only a few blocks that were affected.
  • One of these accompanies the appearance of the UFO craft at the start of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The film's hero Roy Neary is a power company repairman.
  • The suspense film The Trigger Effect involves a massive (seemingly nationwide) power outage, the cause of which is never revealed.
  • In Oceans Eleven, the main characters use an electromagnetic pulse to knock out power all over Las Vegas.
  • A daytime example occurs in The Day After, due to the EMP from the airburst.
  • The 1968 Doris Day comedy Where Were You When the Lights Went Out? takes place during the real-life New York City blackout of '65.
  • The finale of Love at First Bite takes place during one of these, also in New York City.
  • One is caused by the bad guys in Live Free or Die Hard
  • Ghostbusters II has Ray accidentally knock out the power to seemingly the whole of Manhattan, if not the entirety of NYC.
  • A sudden blackout helps the lunatics escape in Alone in the Dark (1982), and go after their new doctor.
  • In City of Ember, these were happening more and more frequently because of problems with the Generator.
  • In Titanic, the power fails right when the ship splits in half, just like in real life.
  • The Blackout features monsters who drain power from electric lights in their vicinity. Since it's Christmas, there's a lot.
  • Happens to entire Haddonfield in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, due to Michael throwing a city worker into the electrical system.
  • Spike Lee's Summer Of Sam is set in the summer of 1977, and includes that year's notorious blackout in New York.
  • When the hillbillies invade the town in Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines, the first thing they do is take out the phone tower and sabotage the power plant.
  • Happens in Man of Steel apparently just to emphasize the televisions and other media that are still working and broadcasting General Zod's You Are Not Alone speech. When he's finished monologuing, all the power comes on again.
  • Combined with Astronomic Zoom at the start of Resident Evil: Afterlife showing how the Zombie Apocalypse is spreading from Patient Zero in Tokyo, with power to the cities going out in sections until it envelops the entire world.
  • Elephants wandering on airport runway in Wild Beasts causes a plane to crash on city's power supply, causing a blackout.

    Literature 
  • In The Dresden Files book Dead Beat, baddies do this to Chicago in order to create a panic, as it knocks out not only building power but all electronics in the area, although phones and cars still work sporadically for some reason.
    • It's a jamming effect, but phones and cars have their own power source, so they're easier to work. After all, anything powered from the mains need everything down the power transmission to be working, a cellphone only needs the phone and the tower to be clear.
  • The Phil Rickman novel, December, describes a large blackout in Liverpool that occurred on the day John Lennon was shot.
  • In the French Sci-Fi novel Malevil, a blackout is the first effect that World War III has on the characters. The lights fail alongside an obnoxious blaring radio going silent. They have enough time to realize that the radio didn't break, the dial light works, but it's no longer receiving radio signals when the blastwave hits them.
  • Atlas Shrugged ends with all the lights in New York City going out.
  • A supernatural version of this occurs in the Left Behind books, as one of God's Bowl Judgments causes New Babylon to be so dark that, even though they still have power, none of Nicolae Carpathia's loyalists can see any form of light save for Nicolae's faint aura. The believers in Christ, on the other hand, can still see with the illumination level of a low-powered chandelier. The blackout lasts for a whole year until an angel of the Lord illuminated the city long enough to warn God's people to get out of New Babylon before it is destroyed. Even worse for Carpathia's loyalists is that, during the blackout, they also suffer pains and sores for which there is no relief.
    • Also Biblical, as one of God's plagues upon Egypt was to plunge it into thick darkness.

    Live-Action TV 
  • All in the Family:
    • The episode "Archie and the KKK" begins during the 1977 NYC blackout, and includes discussion of the real-life looting and arson that took place.
    • Another episode, "Mike and Gloria's House Guests", has Archie and Edith staying at Mike and Gloria's house after their furnace goes on the blink. This naturally leads to tension between the family members, until a power outage brings them together.
  • American Dreams: One episode took place during the 1965 blackout.
  • Barney Miller: One episode involves one of these.
  • Bewitched: One episode has Aunt Clara inadvertently causing one of these. (The episode was inspired by, and first aired exactly one year after, the 1965 Northeast blackout mentioned in the Real Life section below.)
  • Bones: "The Blackout in the Blizzard" involved a blackout during a case. Booth and Brennan found themselves trapped in an elevator, where they ended up having a long-overdue discussion regarding their relationship.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • In "Dead Man's Party" Willow talks of blowing out the power for an entire city block when she first tried to communicate with the spirit world.
    • Dark Willow fuses out lights wherever she goes.
  • Chicago Hope: A Halloween Episode involves the hospital losing power during a storm.
  • Criminal Minds: The two-parter "Our Darkest Hour" and "The Longest Night".
  • CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: "CSI Unplugged" has all of Las Vegas go dark, forcing the CSIs to process their case old-school.
  • Frasier: One episode has Frasier trying to throw a happy birthday party for his father, only for the rest of the main cast to turn up angry with each other and arguing constantly. Just as everyone is ready to storm out, a city-wide blackout leaves them stranded together in Frasier's apartment.
  • Green Acres: The 1965 Northeast blackout is supposedly caused by Oliver attempting to get electricity into the house.
  • Hustle: Occasionally used, when they'll cut power to a single specific block or something.
  • iCarly: Spencer's sculpture in the world record broadcast episode.
  • Jekyll: The power sometimes starts to flicker when Dr. Jackman's personalities are fighting for control. At the beginning of his character arc, it's limited to whatever minor electronics are in the room; by the climax, the entire city of London is undergoing rolling blackouts.
  • Law & Order: The episode "Darkness" involves one of these.
  • Mad About You: One episode had Paul inadvertently causing a citywide blackout in New York; as part of a "Blackout Thursday" crossover gimmick on NBC that week, several other set-in-NYC sitcoms on that same night (most notably Friends) featured blackout stories.
  • M*A*S*H: Several blackouts plagued the 4077th, notably in Radar's final story-arc, when an aid-station stole the camp's generator.
  • Mr. Bean: He did this once in a Christmas skit, when he somehow unplugged the power to an entire department store while testing a string of Christmas lights.
  • NCIS: The seventh season episode "Power Down". Team Gibbs has to solve the case using old-school methods. Poor McGee was stuck with the duty of looking through the boxes of files.
    Tony: Well, the heat's out, the phone's out, Internet's down. No elevator, coffee or vending machines. Backup generators are feeding basic lights, communications, MTAC...
    Palmer: Oh, and autopsy freezers.
    Tony: Really? Yeah, that could get ugly, huh?
    • A first-season episode culminated in the team attempting to foil a terrorist plot to black out most of North America, by bombing pylons serving just three main power nodes. This would supposedly have placed so much strain on the rest of the grid that the entire network would have failed. Makes one wonder just how true-to-life the concept is.
  • Quantum Leap: The 1965 Northeast blackout is again referenced, supposedly caused by a hair dryer being plugged in at a house in Buffalo, New York.
  • Revolution: The J. J. Abrams series has a world-wide blackout as its premise.
  • Sesame Street: An old skit has Ernie and Bert engaging in Loud of War by turning on various appliances (TV, radio, blender, etc.), which results in a fuse blowing and the power going out in their apartment.
    • A later skit, perhaps inspired by the 1977 New York blackout, has Ernie noticing that the whole street has lost power one night. He annoys Bert by suggesting they watch TV or listen to the radio or record player, though none of them will work without electricity.
  • Stargate SG-1: One episode had a device that could render Earth intangible, at the cost of blacking out the entire United States.
  • Supervolcano: Happens in the BBC Speculative Documentary.
  • The pilot for an aborted Alien Invasion TV series back in the 1980's had "brownouts" happening whenever the aliens put on an appearance; it was implied their UFO's were somehow draining nearby power sources whenever they dropped off an alien.
  • The ER episode "Power" featured a blackout affecting the city of Chicago, with the doctors forced to rely on their skills and wits in order to treat patients, now that they couldn't use the equipment. Another episode, appropriately titled "Blackout", had a similar story, except that it featured one of the characters (Abby), having an alcohol-induced blackout, resulting in an drunken one-night stand with her supervisor.
  • Family Matters:
    • Played for Laughs. One Christmas special has Steve and Carl trying to mount ornate Christmas lights and decorations, but Carl blows a fuse. The power goes out first at the Winslow household, then the whole city, and then the entire world.
    Steve Urkel: Look what you did.

    Theatre 

    Video Games 
  • In the computer game Carmen Sandiego: Math Detective, Carmen does this to the whole world.
  • Final Fantasy VII does this to Midgar at the end of disc 2 to power up a super weapon.
  • Happens in the "New Dark Age" ending of Deus Ex, on a global scale.
  • In Pokémon Diamond and Pearl/Platinum, a blackout occurs in Sunnyshore City and the player is unable to venture to said city until they beat the main game at Spear Pillar.
  • In Homefront, the opening cutscene shows a KPR satellite flying above the planet, intending to broadcast "a message of peace to the entire world." It's really an EMP satellite, and what we get to see is an image of all the lights going out in the continental United States.
  • Happens a couple of times over the course of the Splinter Cell series. Once in Chaos Theory where a computer hacker takes control of power plants and knocks out the power to most of New England and all of Japan. In Conviction, EMP technology features heavily in the gameplay and plot. Washington DC is hit and goes dark.
  • Watch_Dogs allows the player character to do this.

    Web Animation 
  • A Strong Bad Email from Homestar Runner was about Strong Bad accidentally creating a power outage thanks to a pair of electric boots he apparently ordered from the mail.

    Western Animation 
  • Weird variation in Rocko's Modern Life: Rocko, Heffer and Filbert made a potato light bulb that blacked out the town, then shot out a beam of light powerful enough to be seen from space.
  • Happened more than once in Rugrats with Stu's inventions.
  • The first-season episode "There's No Disgrace Like Home" of The Simpsons where the family members apply so many electric shocks at each other at Dr. Marvin Monroe's therapy that they take the power from the city.
    • Blackouts have occurred several times in Springfield. In keeping with the show's exaggeratedly cynical take on human nature, citizens tend to riot the very second the power goes out.
      • Including once when the mob smashes into a musical instrument store and come out playing a university fight song.
  • At the end of Bebe's Kids, one of the kids unplugs a cord that turns off the entire Las Vegas Strip.
  • Beavis And Butthead
  • A power outage occurs in Rio de Janeiro as a result of a character hitting an electrical transformer in one scene in Rio.
  • An episode of House of Mouse was about Pete creating a power outage as an attempt to shut down the eponymous nightclub. He fails.
  • Happens quite a bit in the show Arthur, one time was in "Elwood City Turns 100" when Muffy had an elaborate electronic sign made to advertise the upcoming school musical, but shortly after turning it on, the power goes out all over the city. A similar experience occurred in the cold open for "Brain Gets Hooked," when Arthur flashes back to when his father and their neighbor got in a competition for the most elaborate Christmas lights display; both of them powered on caused a total blackout across Elwood City.
    • More realistic power failures also happened in two weather-related episodes: one about a blizzard, another about a heatwave (the latter appropriately titled "The Blackout.")
    • In an early episode, "Poor Muffy," a scene has Muffy using up so much electricity in Francine's apartment it causes the lights to flicker. She's got loads of extension cords plugged in as she's using tons of appliances and electronics; eventually everything darkens for a few seconds, and then the screen goes completely black as Muffy screams.
  • Happens in Monsters, Inc. as a result of Boo giggling too much.
  • Kim Possible first encounters Seńor Senior Senior and Junior after tracing a Europe-wide blackout to their mansion. It wasn't something they were doing on purpose (they hadn't yet taken up villainy) — they'd overloaded the power grid with extravagances such as Junior's blimp-sized sunlamp.
  • In the mid-season finale of Beware the Batman, Ra's al Ghul and the League of Assassins do this to Gotham City, a plan in the making since the fourth episode.

    Real Life 
  • The northeastern United States (including New York City) and Ontario saw massive blackouts in 1965 and 2003. New York City had another one in 1977.
    • "Does that sound particularly slow to you?"—WABC-AM disc jockey Dan Ingram in 1965, noting that the songs he was playing were slowing down (due to decreasing frequency as the electric grid slowly collapsed).
    • The 1977 NYC blackout had the interesting side-effect of contributing to the birth to the nascent Hip Hop music, as poor inner-city youth suddenly had access (via looting) to expensive turntables and other music equipment.
  • The southern California/Northern Mexico blackout in 2011 was an odd case, as it happened because a distribution hub in Arizona overloaded during routine maintenance.
  • North Korea is in pretty much a perpetual blackout, as this satellite image shows.
    • A little Fridge Logic makes that picture particularly horrifying. Notice the smaller pinpricks of light. Note their locations. Then compare them with a map of the Kwan-li-so prison camps. In North Korea, only the gulags are well lit.
  • Predicted by some to happen on a global scale as part of the Olduvai theory. Could also be caused by an electromagnetic pulse or a severe solar storm.
    • The latter once happened to Northeastern Canada in 1989, causing everyone living there to lose power for almost ten hours.
  • Earth Hour: For several years the World Wildlife Fund has staged this event on the last Saturday in March, which encourages cities to go dark deliberately for one hour as a way to raise climate change awareness.
    • Critics of the Earth Hour argue that it's just a dumb PR stunt, one that in the end wastes more energy than would be in normal usage. You see, generating power isn't really very flexible (that is, most types of power stations cannot be turned on and off immediately and have a wind-up and cooling-down times often measured in hours), and the chief task of the grid controller is to carefully manage and schedule the stations' output to match supply and demand. Abrupt loss of such a huge load as in Earth Hour forces controllers to take extreme measures, such as simply burning the energy in the ballast resistors, literally heating the atmospherenote , lest the lines themselves burn out. When everyone turns back on it's another problem: the surge in demand can also damage the grid and requires activating the most mobile but environmentally dangerous types of generators, such as certain types of hydroelectric plants.
    • Rolling blackouts are another intentional application of this, done by electric companies to reduce the strain on their systems during periods of heavier-than-normal usage and prevent larger outages.
      • During the fuel crisis of the early 1970s Britain was subjected to scheduled power cuts to save fuel.
  • The biggest blackouts in history were the massive power outages that hit India on July 30 and July 31, 2012. The failure of July 30 involved some 300 million people losing power. The next day's blackout was worse, interrupting 600 million people, half of India's population.


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