An area (could be an abandoned harbor, a Lagrange point or the bottom of an ocean) which contains a number of craft (space, sea or otherwise) in varying states of disrepair. It might be just a few sunken ships lying near each other on the ocean floor, it might be a giant conglomeration of space derelicts rammed together in horrible ways over thousands of years. The crews of all these vessels long ago died or abandoned their ships... probably.
Of course, all sorts of important plot-related things could be hidden in such a place - pirategold, the lost plans to a Forgotten Superweapon, spare parts for the heroes' own badly damaged ship, an unexplainable Distress Call — and there is no end to the possibilities of having mutant enemies or ancient security systems that get between the heroes and their goal.
Between the idea of exploring tumbling derelicts crammed with ancient technology, apparently dead hulks suddenly coming to life, a hidden base made of ancient battleships linked together, the explorers running into weird indigenous creatures or the mutant cannibal descendants of the original crews, the kind of dread powers that can gather all these vessels together in the first place, and simply the whole idea of abandoned, empty derelicts, the Derelict Graveyard is insanelycool.
Compare: Ghost Ship. See Also: The Bermuda Triangle, Saharan Shipwreck. If the vehicles are awaiting disposal and not just left there, you're Down in the Dumps.
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Anime and Manga
Ape's Concert in the Rainbow Mist fillerarc of One Piece, which was contained within that world's version of the Bermuda Triangle.
The "shoal zones" in Mobile Suit Gundam and its sequels are debris fields of wrecked space colonies, spaceships, mobile suits, etc.
The episode "Magnetic Rose" of Memories takes place in one.
The debris belt from Gundam SEED qualifies. Arguably, the L4 colony cluster does too.
Tenchi Universe has episode 18 where Yagami breaks down at the Sargaso, an area in space that is supposed to be where broken and/or abandoned spaceships ends up in, and discovers a derelict gigantic spaceship that is seemingly empty to everyone except Sasami who befriends a girl her age that no one else seems to be able to see. When Sasami disappears and they go into the derelict ship, they find glimpses of Sasami playing with an outline of a girl in light.
In one issue of Ramba, the eponymous heroine goes scuba diving in a graveyard of sunken ships from a Worldwar Two battle. She encounters villains attempting to retrieve a huge shipment of morphine that was on one of the supply ships.
Alien contains a classic example of this trope. The ship is aptly referred to as a "derelict alien spacecraft" and the creatures they find on board are pretty much a perfect example of the sort of horror this trope anticipates.
The crew of the Serenity fly through one of these on their way to and from the planet Miranda, except that many of the ships are functional and inhabited by Reavers, who don't pay much attention to their ship after they disguised it to resemble one of theirs. All the while the Serenity is picking up communications from the Reaver ships, a lot of screaming from all of the people trapped on board. Or the Reavers. They're not exactly the sanest bunch.
In the Firefly comic adaptation "Those Left Behind," the crew searches one of these for a hidden stash of money, which turns out to be a trap by Dobson and the Hands of Blue to get their hands on River.
WALL•E features a line of abandoned cargo ships docked on a dried-up river.
In another Pixar film, Finding Nemo, the sharks all live in a sunken submarine surrounded by thousands of naval mines (whom according to Dory, are "balloons"). When Dory and Marlin escape, they trick one of the sharks into ramming into the ship's torpedo bay, sending a torpedo flying into one of the naval mines, causing them all to explode and therefore scaring away the sharks.
Pirates of the Caribbean: In the first film they have to pass over a ship graveyard to get to the island, and in the third the meeting of the Pirate Lords takes place in the town of Shipwreck, within Shipwreck Cove, on Shipwreck Isle... "You know, for all that pirates are clever clogs, we are a terribly unimaginative lot when it comes to naming things."
It's actually the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
At first, anyway. After getting knocked through the wall, they're somehow transported to AMARG at Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona for the airplane graveyard scene.
The film Real Steel features one. Charlie and Max break into a robot junkyard to find parts to build a new robot boxer. After a near-death experience, Max discovers the film's robot protagonist, Atom, buried in the mud.
In the opening scene of Deep Rising, before we switch to the main plot the creatures are seen travelling through a deep sea ship graveyard, some of them hundreds of years old, all of which they presumably attacked, ate all the people on it, and sank the ships afterwards. There are even the remains of whale skeletons besides the derelict ships.
"Bronco", in Clear and Present Danger, speculates that the Boneyard in Arizona is where the a captured druggie DC-7B will eventually be dumped, given that one more old aircraft in storage there won't be particularly noteworthy.
Uncharted Stars: the Thieves' Guild base at Waystar, mentioned in a number of other books, turns out to be a space station now surrounded by closely-packed derelicts apparently towed into place as a kind of camouflage.
Sabriel, in Sabriel, lands her Paperwing coincidentally in a ship's graveyard. But not any ship's graveyard: this one is not underwater, but underground, and enchanted heavily to protect it, because it is full of the burial ships of kings. As such, there's nothing harmful lurking in the ship grounds itself, but she does find a Human Popsicle that needs rescuing while she's there.
The Katana fleet in Timothy Zahn's novel Dark Force Rising is a lost fleet of warships that had blindly jumped into hyperspace years ago, after a hive virus drove the entire crew of each vessel insane. One of the main characters knew where it was and had been selling them off one at a time, and after the heroes saved him from Thrawn he decided to show them where the others were. But as it turned out, Thrawn already knew, and had taken all the remaining functional ships before setting a trap with the rest.
In the Dream Park South Seas Treasure Game, some important items are found amid a collection of abandoned ships and planes, which the villainous Fore sorcerors had summoned to New Guinea with their Cargo Cult magic.
Star Trek's Dominion War series placed one of these in the Badlands.
In the Star Trek: The Original Series novel The Final Nexus, dimension-traveling aliens created quarantine areas for any ships infected by a mysterious insanity, long long ago. No cure was ever found, and by Kirk's time the quarantine zones are filled with massive graveyards. (One ship vaguely resembles a Borg cube! Probably a coincidence.)
The previous novel, Chain of Attack, actually outclasses it, though—the derelicts there include lifeless planets throughout a huge sector of space.
In the Starfleet Corps of Engineers series, we've got the Sargasso Sector, named for the Sargasso Sea on Earth. It's a junkyard of abandoned ships floating around a collection of black holes and quasars. The protagonists are assigned to clear a path through it to allow a convoy access - one of the series' more notable cases of Space Is an Ocean.
Finally, to show how much Star Trek likes this one, there's the Rashanar battle site in Star Trek: A Time to..., a collection of wrecked ships destroyed during the Dominion War.
The Diving Universe novel Boneyards has the Boneyard, a massive derelict graveyard full of ancient spaceships.
Rail Sea Has several bone yards of wrecked trains and carriages through out the end of the story.
Live Action TV
in one episode of Space Cases, the Christa comes across a graveyard of ships that had all their energy sapped by an entity that inhabits the region. The ship picks up echoing transmissions that confirm the entity has been at work for more than 100 years. the Christa narrowly avoids joining them.
The Christa encounters several different starship graveyards in various episodes, including one which was the result of a battle between the Spung and another Living Ship like the Christa.
In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Wolf-359 (after the battle with the Borg) only looks like a derelict graveyard: it's really a bunch of very recently smashed ships, though Star Trek's Expanded Universe went on to have the site of the battle declared a memorial and maintained as a derelict graveyard. Ironically, the ship models from this scene were reused in the "Reunification" two-parter for another derelict graveyard which was being used as a source of Vulcan ship parts for the Romulan invasion.
Andromeda had a graveyard full of abandoned High Guard ships, captured by the Nietzscheans after the war and left to sit there for 3 centuries until they could figure out how to deal with the AIs defending them. Though given they were effectively crewed by their AI, it may be more accurate to call is a POW camp than a graveyard. There were also a couple of episodes where they came across single abandoned ships from the same time, generally presumed to be haunted wrecks (including the Andromeda itself in the pilot)
The Red Dwarf episode "Psirens" featured an asteroid belt full of wrecked spaceships; it was there because the titular creatures were causing the ships to crash.
The Babylon 5 spinoff Crusade has an episode that features an UNDERGROUND derelict graveyard of spaceships. The Alien race on that planet had been luring other alien ships there for centuries, so they could kidnap the crews and perform medical experiments on them in hopes of finding a cure for a bio-engineered disease.
In the Doctor Who episode "The Doctor's Wife" the asteroid on which the Doctor lands contains a massive graveyard of once-alive time machines known as TARDISes each of which has been devoured by the episode's Monster of the Week.
Happens quite a lot in Warhammer 40,000. The frequent space battles can end in stretches of spread-out wrecks, such as the one encountered in the Bloodquest graphic novel, or the example from Rogue Trader that's rumored to both move around and serve as the lair of a spacekraken.
Space Hulks are amalgamations of asteroids, spaceships, and other detritus that drift along Warp currents to pop in and out of realspace. Even though they're often full of hitchhiking Orks, Genestealers, or worse, the Imperium tries to search every Space Hulk it can for archeotech. It usually falls to the Space Marines to carry out these missions, which led to a whole spin-off boardgame.
Rogue Trader seems to love this trope, as aside from the above mentioned Space Kraken lair, there are at least 4 other derelict graveyards known in canon. One is the site of a massive naval battle between two rival Rogue Traders, one is created by a Yu'Vaht space station that interferes with the warpdrive of any ships passing the system, dragging them out from the Warp and preventing them from leaving, and one is located on the surface of a planet with powerful electromagnetic storms that extend to low orbit and disable any ship that comes too close, causing it to crash down on the planet. The last one is the Processional of the Damned, which is the biggest and creepiest by far. A system consisting of a single black star (which may actually be an Eldritch Abomination of some kind) surrounded by millions upon millions of wrecked vessels, some incredibly ancient and some recent (and according to legends, some from ships not even built yet), all drawn there from the Warp by some mysterious force. Though obviously a prime target for salvage operations, the Processional seems to slowly drain the sanity of those who enter it, to say nothing of countless pieces of space debris flying around, ships whose crews have been driven insane and corrupted by the dark force lurking at its heart, or the hollow men, seemingly empty armoured voidsuits that slowly dissassamble any ship they get their hands on down to its constituent parts. In short, it's not a nice place.
The Lintha Family stronghold of Bluehaven in Exalted.
Several locations in the Ravenloft setting qualify, including the ring of battered wrecks that encircle Monette's isle, and the kelp-mired vessels enmeshed in the domain of Saragoss.
A graveyard of derelict ships trapped in a "dead zone" in space shows up in a couple of scenarios in Star Fleet Battles.
There are a number of these along the Spinward Marches in Traveller left over from all the space battles that took place their.
Post-Jihad in BattleTech, the Republic of the Sphere keeps a graveyard of destroyed BattleMechs on Earth, known as the Bone Yard. This treasure trove of technology is comprised of the machines of Republic warriors and Knights who were defeated in battle, some surviving the destruction of their 'Mech, but most not, and so most are more memorials than backup parts. Earlier in the series, there are references to 'Mech graveyards on planets like Kawich or Sian, the results of failed invasions or failed defenses, and a mention of the hulks of lost starships and fighters in various places in the Inner Sphere and Clans.
It also has Malachor Five in the second game, which is surrounded by the wrecks of Republic and Mandalorian warships after the Exile activated Revan's ace in the hole.
The Ord Mantell Junkyard from Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire. You jump from rail platform to rail platform, through what looks like a warehouse, a junkyard filled with derelict structures, thousands of ships smashed together, some sort of brown toxic stuff in the ground that kills you as soon as you fall from the wagons, and end up in a smelter. If you pay attention, you'll see an X-Wing, TIE Fighter, Sandcrawler, AT-AT, AT-ST, Corellian YT-1300 freighter, even a mostly-intact Star Destroyer.
Total Annihilation has "Dump", a moon around the Core homeworld which has accumulated four thousand years of garbage. Said garbage is the remains of Core war units and is the only source of metal in that mission. Any battlefield will resemble this given enough time. Those wrecks really do pile up.
Supreme Commander is similar, though most wrecks don't last all that long due to ever-busy engineers reclaiming them for mass. Most missions in the game, starting near the end and in just about always in Forged Alliance, also start the player in the midst of a ruined base or city to provide ample resources to jump-start your economy/military.
Not to mention the Wrecked Ship section of Super Metroid.
Arguably the first three worlds of Donkey Kong Country 2. First there's a ship that's in mint condition except for a hole torn into the hull, then there's a ship that's been torn in half and is sitting in the middle of a swamp. And then there's the half-submerged ship in lava...
Gloomy Galleon from Donkey Kong 64 also had a large number of wrecked ships.
There is also an entire region you can explore named the Dark Rift, (Sargasso in the original Japanese release) which is probably a Shout-Out to the Bermuda Triangle and Sargasso Sea. The area is littered with scores of ruined ships, many you can loot, and one with a survivor you can recruit.
Endless Ocean features one of these for its final bonus area. You can pet baby great white sharks there!
One could easily make the claim that Fallout 3 has derelict graveyards of nuclear cars - a few stray shots can start a spectacular chain reaction. Meanwhile the town of Megaton is built from the hulls of planes salvaged from a nearby airbase, not to mention other assorted vehicles. Also, Rivet City is built on a beached aircraft carrier, which in turn houses many derelict planes. The Point Lookout DLC has numerous derelict boats, including a Chinese spy submarine that is part of one of the side quests.
Freelancer plays a variation of this, where some asteroid fields are actually junk fields. This one is played totally straight, however, with a debris field littered with the remains of a battle between Rheinland and the Kusari-backed Gas Miners Guild.
It also features a literal derelict graveyard in a nebula in the Omicron Alpha system, where Outcast ace pilots are buried along with their ships and their most prized possessions, those being some of the strongest weapons in the game, which the player can loot if they don't mind doing a bit of the old graverobbing.
Level 5 of R-Type Delta is an interdimensional derelict graveyard, containing random scrap and enemies from the first R-Type. While most of the derelict ships can't manouver anymore, they do have operational weapon systems.
There was a 'starship graveyard' in Lylat Wars on the N64.
The Black Hole in the original Star Fox definitely qualifies.
The 'main' quest of Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships involves traveling to the eponymous conglomeration of derelict ships fastened together, forming a floating town. Well not really.
Port Royal in Kingdom Hearts II featured Isla Del Muerte from the first movie and a second area filled with shipwrecks when Sora and co return to the world.
Far Cry 2 has the Train variety in multiple areas, and a multiplayer map. Also Saharan Shipwrecks of a sort if you follow the tracks into the desert.
Mass Effect 2 has Korlus and the far-side of the Omega-4 Relay. The former is a planet-sized landfill, the latter an Asteroid Thicket made up of derelict ships lacking the IFF transponder that tells the relay to send a ship through safely instead of shooting it. If you can get past the black hole flanking its exit point.
The Mass Effect 3 DLC mission "Leviathan" ends on an ocean planet dotted with spaceships knocked out of the air by Leviathan's last line of defense.
The Sirius star system in Sol-Feace has several ship components — including a large sheet of fuselage — that come careening towards the player's starship, all of which can be shot back and redirected with opposing fire.
Prehistoric Isle in 1930 features this in the second part of the underwater level, showing all the ships that have gone missing in the Bermuda Triangle.
Seventh story mission in Jaws Unleashed has you chasing some divers into a lagoon filled with partially and completely sunken ships.
In the X-Universe, the sector President's End has about a dozen burned out capital ships and space stations floating around, leftovers from a Kha'ak attack in X2: The Threat. Many other sectors have smaller graveyards.
In Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, Drake is kidnapped by pirates and has to fight through a graveyard that the pirates have made their base.
In Atlantis: The Lost Empire, the expedition finding one of these is the first sign of trouble: They were sunk by the Leviathan.
At the beginning of The Little Mermaid, Ariel and Flounder recover objects from a graveyard of sunken ships inhabited by a shark. Later,the now gigantic Ursula creates a whirlpool that exposes several of the damaged ships. Prince Eric boards one of them, and uses it to dispatch Ursula.
The "Other Railway" from Thomas the Tank Engine, which is for some reason full of rusted and decaying steam locomotive parts.
As well as numerous fictional depictions as a Derelict Graveyard, the Bermuda Triangle and in particular the Sargasso Sea have real-world reputations for being perilous areas littered with the wrecks of ages.
Although apparently the only reason the Bermuda Triangle accumulates shipwrecks is because so many shipping lanes pass through it. Statistically, it's actually safer than the rest of the ocean.
Subverted with quiet, methodical, bludgeoning research by Larry Kusche in ''The Bermuda Triangle Mystery: Solved'' where he discovers that while there are genuine mysteries most disappearances either happened well outside the Bermuda Triangle, occurred during a time of bad weather, the start of the search was delayed, had a number of plausible explanations, wreckage was found, the vessel never existed and/or it was reported missing but eventually got home safely!
Large concentrations of sunken ships can occur in Real Life. Naval battles are one reason (such as "Ironbottom Sound" off Guadalcanal, rumored to be lined with the hulks of so many sunken ships a magnetic compass is useless), mass scuttlings another, such as when the German High Seas Fleet was scuttled at Scapa Flow at the end of World War One.
The area off Cape Hatteras in North Carolina is referred to as "The Graveyard of the Atlantic" with good reason, having a remarkably high shipwreck density; partially because of the ever-shifting sandbank known as Diamond Shoals, and partially because of German U-boats during two World Wars.
Also the hurricanes and other storms which regularly sweep through the area.
Bikini Atoll was the site of several atomic bomb tests involving a "fleet" of derelict ships, many of which now lie in shallow waters on the bottom.
Collections of semi-functional machines are maintained for all sorts of reasons, such as the US Military's "Boneyard".
Or the Mothball Fleet at Suisun Bay, California.
Tooele Army Depot in Utah was the land-based version of this for the U.S. Army for many years, hosting derelict tanks and other combat equipment. It's since been realigned as an ammunition depot.
Some Russian naval ports are a bit like this, with rusting subs and ships waiting for disposal. Word of advice - some of the subs may be radioactive.
The river near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is littered with the half-sunken remains of ships contaminated by the 1986 disaster. One of these wrecks, the Skadovsk, is featured as a stalker base in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat.
The Zone of Alienation also has several land-based graveyards of highly contaminated vehicles.
Many areas in the former Soviet Union contain plenty of abandoned vessels. This is not because of any kind of contamination - the previous owners just found it easier/cheaper to get rid of old and/or damaged ships by simply going away, rather than paying for a proper decommissioning. Considering that law enforcement can be very lax in certain areas, and that nobody ever complains (the former Soviet Union is a big place - a few dumped ships are unlikely to mess anyone's backyard), it's hardly a wonder that many wreckages are still there today.
Paracas, a bay in Ica, Peru has sunken ships in what's now a national reserve, they are wooden and much joy for children...
Pearl Harbor has a small graveyard of sunken ships, the USS Arizona and Utah, that have remained there since the Japanese attack on the harbor during World War II. there is also an LST from the West Loch Disaster and a pair of Japanese midget submarines, though one was buried as fill during the construction of a landside pier.
The Arizona is something of an actual graveyard, considering 1,100 dead sailors still remain in the submerged wreck.
It is an actual graveyard. Survivors from the battle are being buried there to this day.
There are several derelict boats along the sloughs of the Snohomish River near Everett, WA, including some that are high and dry.
Dai Woodham's scrapyard, Barry Island, Wales. It was filled with hundreds of retired steam engines, several of which Dai Woodham and his family sold to the British steam preservation movement.
Some parts of the Aral Sea, in Kazakhstan, have come to resemble a strange variant of this. Due to various climate factors, the sea has been shrinking, leaving vast areas that were once submerged now resembling a desert. As a result there are rusted ships that have been left stranded on the now dry land. The towns that were once ports have no more use for them, obviously, so there is little bother to move them.
The Chittagong ship breaking yards in Bangladesh look the part, though most of the vessels there have been partially or largely dismantled, and new ones are added periodically. The ships are hauled up onto a broad shallow tidal mudflat and broken up by hand. The site is over two miles long, so there's plenty to see.
The Goodwin Sands, a sand bar off the south coast of the UK, boast one of the highest numbers of shipwrecks anywhere in the world; many of the wrecks have now broken up, but more than 2,000 ships have gone down there.