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Sometimes, saving an Innocent Bystander from Doctor Demonica just won't cut it: you need more impact to showcase just how dire the threat is and make the scene exciting. Enter the Bus Full Of Innocents.
Despite the name, it doesn't have to be a bus. Any vehicle or enclosure full of Innocent Bystanders will do, and likewise any kind of person can be put at risk, though usually it will be people who are stunningly innocent, defenseless, and respectable to most viewers.
Common set ups are for the bus to be teetering perilously on a broken bridge or cliff, and a villain to use it in a Sadistic Choice along with the Love Interest.
Major hero points for the super dude who saves it. It's the hero publicity equivalent of a politician kissing babies.
Not to be confused with "Bus Full Of Nuns", the old name for Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking. Buses full of nuns are popular for this trope, though. Also has nothing to do with Passing Judgment.
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Anime and Manga
In one of the funnier Filler episodes of Dragon Ball Z, Goku and Piccolo save a schoolbus of children from falling off a cliff during their driving tests. Of course, they still fail the test.
Another when Videl saves bus of senior citizens from a hijacking before "Great Saiyaman" arrives.
Digimon Adventure 02: During the first scuffle with the Daemon Corps, SkullSatamon lifts a bus full of schoolchildren and threatens to throw it. At this point he's pretty much already routed the heroes, so he's doing it for no reason other than shits and giggles.
Miracleman throws one at Johnny Bates during the infamous destruction of London. His narration notes that some apologists of his have said that the bus was empty when he threw it, but he himself admits it isn't true.
In an early issue of Young Justice, Robin found himself riding an out of control superbike towards "Nuns driving a station wagon full of high explosives!" Next to the Great Wall of China.
In Shadowpact Doctor Gotham's introduction has him levitating a bus full of school children as insurance against the heroes doing anything stupid.
The Strangers from Malibu Comics. A tram car full of every day people gets zapped by alien energy and crashes into a sports car. Everyone gets super-powers, even the sports car driver (Night Man). Cue start to various series.
One issue of Marvel's G.I. Joe had Major Bludd take one of these hostage. The timely intervention of Stalker and Grand Slam resolved the situation.
Films — Animated
In The Incredibles, several items on Bob's wall of memorabilia are notes from innocents he personally saved. A bus is involved. (Earlier in the film, we see him save a train full of commuters about to speed off a broken elevated track destroyed indirectly by Bomb Voyage.)
Parodied in the opening sequence of Toy Story 3, in which Mr Potato Head gives Woody a choice between catching him and saving a trainful of 'orphans' (Troll dolls with their heads sticking out the train windows).
In Superman: Doomsday, the Toyman hijacks a school bus full of children and holds it over the edge of a building with his mechanical spider, threatening to dump it if the police don't back off. Lois Lane manages to sneak on board and get most of the children out, but ends up falling with the last child on the bus when the Toyman drops it, only to soon be rescued by Superman (who turns out to be a clone under Lex Luthor's control).
Films — Live-Action
The Dark Knight has this trope and its inverse as part of a Sadistic Choice: A ferry full of civilians and a ferry full of felons. The Joker gives each ferry the ability to destroy the other, and tells them unless one is destroyed both will explode at midnight.
Superman (1978). After Lex Luthor triggers a major earthquake in California, Superman saves a bus full of schoolchildren from falling off a bridge.
Superman II (1980). Ursa and Non throw a bus full of people at Superman during the fight in Metropolis. He's slammed into a wall while stopping it.
The Siege plays this trope twice, where the terrorists have taken a Bus Full of Innocents and packed explosives into it to prove their point. The first time, it's a paint bomb, and no one gets hurt. The second time, there are children and old folks (and regular people I suppose) on the bus, but Denzel Washington's character persuades the terrorists to release the children. Then he tries to persuade them to release the old folks, and as they are getting off, the bomb detonates and there's a massive incinerating explosion.
Dr. Marner: What if (Number 5) decides to melt down a bus full of nuns? How would you write the headline on that? Ben Jabituya: Nun soup? Newton Crosby:horrified, covers Ben's mouth Ben!
Played straight in Mighty Joe Young to perfect effect and the added bonus of the title character saving himself from Death Row. Who would want to shoot him after he saves more than a dozen orphans from a burning building?
During the first live-action Transformers movie, Bonecrusher actually rams into a bus, breaking it in half in a fireball of death, and emerges uncathed, Terminator-style.
A popular joke is that he actually ran through a literal bus full of nuns.
The opening scene of the movie Meltdown (also known as High Risk) has the hero trying to disarm a bomb that's been attached to a bus not only filled with schoolkids, but also has his wife on board. However, he cuts the wrong wire and the bus blows up, killing everyone inside. Yeah, it's a not a very cheerful start.
Dirty Harry used a school bus full of children as the setting for the film's climax, in which Scorpio held them all hostage as our hero chose to disobey orders to pay him his ransom and simply leaps on the school bus himself.
This trope nearly happens in My Life In Ruins, but the bus is not yet hanging from the cliff, the driver manages to stop it just in time.
The climax of The Oxford Murders involves a threat to an actual bus full of innocents.
In Swordfish, the Villain Protagonist has loaded all of his hostages, himself and his henchmen on a transit bus that the police have provided. The absurdity of this is lampshaded by one of the police officers, who point out there's no where the bus can drive that the cops can't follow. At least, until a helicopter shows up and picks up the bus, carrying it off into the air.
The plot of Demolition Man is kicked-off when the hero fails to save a bus full of innocents. He regains his confidence when he learns saving the bus was impossible no matter what he did.
In Man of Steel, young Clark is aboard such a bus when he saves his classmates from drowning.
In the Apocalypse film series movie Revelation, Thorold Stone investigates a bomb explosion that killed a bus full of school children, believing it to be the work of the Haters (the One Nation Earth's name for the group of underground Christians that emerged during the Tribulation), but it turns out to be an inside job by One Nation Earth agents.
One of Graham Masterton's Manitou series books has a yellow school bus being taken over by a Native American spirit of evil. The hostage situation does not end well either for the kids, the police trying to rescue them, and certainly not for the grade-school teacher who meets a particularly horrible death trying to defend her pupils.
Possible Trope Namer — an episode of All in the Family had Archie injured in a minor accident, which was as much his fault as the other person's. Thinking that the only person who would really be out would be a "giant insurance company," Archie rejects a settlement offer and instead contacts a lawyer, pushing a very skewed version of the incident. The lawyer later comes by the house to tell him the bad news: they're gonna have to drop the suit and take a much-reduced settlement. When asked why, the attorney notes that there were witnesses that dispute Archie's story. Archie still wants to try, but:
Lawyer: Mr. Bunker, let me give you some free legal advice: In a court of law, you can't beat — The rest of the cast in unison: A STATION WAGON FULL OF NUNS.
Angel encounters a vampire Serial Killer who's planning this. It turns out he's taking advantage of this trope to send Angel off on a false trail while he attacks Angel's Friend on the Force. Angel realises this however.
The second season of Veronica Mars revolves around the Bus Full of Innocents crashing.
Used as backstory to 24, where Jack Bauer capturing and torturing a terrorist who had hijacked a bus carrying innocents becomes a plot point in season seven, where the Department of Justice is filing charges against him for it.
Subverted in an episode of Smallville. Metallo explains the reason that he hates Clark: Clark saved a bus from crashing, but later, one of its passengers murdered Metallo's sister.
An episode of Kamen Rider Fourze had the titular Rider try to save a bus full of cute high school girls from a Zodiart who was jealous that they all ignored him in his human form. Though Fourze stopped the monster, it was Shun with the Powerdizer who stopped the bus.
Horrifyingly subverted in the Doctor Who episode "Midnight". The Doctor is trapped in a Bus Full of Innocents when an unseen alien thing invades. Since he's the only one with enough knowledge to deal with the alien, the passengers suspect him of being the cause of their trouble, and eventually nearly manage to murder him simply to save their own lives. They're all normal, good, innocent people, and none of them were prepared for What You Are in the Dark.
Played With in the later episode "Planet Of The Dead", in which the Doctor is (once again) trapped on a bus with innocent passengers while trying to get rid of dangerous aliens. He remembers "Midnight" and shudders for a bit, but quickly manages to convince everyone that he can be trusted and saves the day without too much effort.
In Season 2 of Luther, a Serial Killer who plans to set himself up as a modern-day Bogeyman is found to have got hold of a bus via his underworld contacts. He uses it to kidnap some schoolchildren whom he plans to have disappear so no-one will ever know what happened to them.
An episode of Walker, Texas Ranger finds a bus full of schoolchildren buried in a muddy pit dug out of a field where not only will the kids die but clues to the bus's location will be erased.
In the pilot of The Equalizer, Robert McCall's estranged son Scott is complaining about how his father was gone for most of his life on missions for his No Such Agency. But once he heard a news report about someone who got a busload of kids to the airport as a country collapsed into civil war, and likes to think that his dad did that. It's implied that his father was in fact the Mysterious Protector concerned.
Country singer/storyteller Red Sovine likes this trope. 'Phantom 309' had a hitchhiker picked up by a trucker who turned out to be a ghost-he'd given his life by swerving off the road to save a camper full of kids in a snowstorm. Another one, 'Little Joe', had the driver swerve to miss the bus full of kids and end up blinded after falling down the mountain.
One of the random street crimes in True Crime: New York City involves rescuing a hijacked bus. Interestingly, the bus is one of the few vehicles in the game you can't drive.
Played quite literally in the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, during a fight between the Supreme Six (a team of heroes generally considered second-tier) and the Fatal Four (a team of villains generally considered not second-tier at all), when Urania of the Fatal Four used her gravity control powers to hold a literal bus full of innocent bystanders hostage.
In Warp Zone Project, a Card-Carrying Villain that is being held up by a super-hero that supposed to let him go sooner or later asks if the emprisonment will last any longer because he's late to take a school bus hostage.
Justice League: In the episode "Legends," a literal bus full of nuns is on a collision course with a truck full of dynamite. Rescuing the nuns distracts the Flash enough to get him captured by IcicleDr. Blizzard.
Danny Phantom saved one of these in the episode "Forever Phantom."
In "The Giant Bacteria", the titular monster actually eats the subway car full of passengers.
In "The Deadly Pyramid", a giant mummy threatens a bus full of tourists.
On one episode of Clone High, Abe is so sleep-deprived that he almost crashes his car into a bus full of pandas.
In a Ben 10 episode, Kevin (as Upgrade) cuts the brakes of a cable car with people and sends it to fall into the ocean. Ben saves them.
In X-Men: Evolution episode "Growing Pains", a car hanging over the side of a bridge is about to fall on a school bus full of kids. Scott, Kitty and Kurt start arguing over whether or not to help, because they're afraid of revealing themselves. In the end they decide to help after seeing the car beginning to go over the edge. They end up saving the kids and the man in the car.
In The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror IX, one of Snake's three strikes is for blowing up a bus full of nuns (but he insists it was self-defense).
Family Guy parodied this. Peter has to take over as Death while he recovered from an injury, and does such a bad job of it, Death decides he has to do something big to be taken seriously. He decides Peter needs to kill the cast of Dawson's Creek. He gets on the plane, but when he sees the other passengers, he has second thoughts, and finally says he can't do it when he sees a group of Girl Scouts singing "We like being alive. Oh, we like being alive..."