A Ghost City
is the larger version of a Ghost Town
, and is used in visual media as shorthand for 'something terrible has happened'. A city typically contains millions of people, and the viewer knows that only the hugest
could completely clear it of its inhabitants.
Always characterized by newspapers lining the streets, shuffled about by the wind (usually with headlines alluding to the disaster), the urban counterpart to a Ghost Town
's tumbleweeds. Besides newspapers, other classic signs of abandonment may include blinking yellow light on a crossing, or an arc of sparks from a street light (though their electrification raises Fridge Logic
Usually there is one person
, or possibly a few people
, left to contrast the vast emptiness. Often the first indication that this is, in fact, After the End
. An Underground City
may also be this if it was sunken by an earthquake. May be the first sign of a Ghost Planet
If such a setting is peaceful and non-threatening, it may be a Beautiful Void
but more often than not will invoke Scenery Gorn
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Anime and Manga
- Kino comes across one of these in Kino's Journey, with only one inhabitant. It turns out that the country was destroyed by rabid democracy following the death of a tyrannical king, as only direct vote by the entire people was seen as accepted way to make decisions, and the losing side was always deemed as "dangerous elements", and executed.
- Krakow in The Sky Crawlers seems like this, presumably because it's very late at night, and for stylistic reasons. The only thing moving in the dark streets is the tram that brings the protagonists in, the bowling alley is near-deserted and the only person in the restaurant apart from the main characters is the silent and almost invisible waiter.
- The deadly game of Hide and Seek from Kakurenbo take place in one. It's for a good reason.
- These tend to come up a lot in Dragon Ball Z. Notably, there was Ginger Town, which we only saw after Cell had singlehandedly absorbed every resident. After that, Earth became a Ghost Planet when Buu slaughtered every living thing except for Goku and Hercule.
- In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Striker S, the area where Subaru and Teana had their B Rank Mage exam is mentioned in the side-materials to be a city sector in Central Mid-Childa that had been completely abandoned after the Relic-triggered airport fire several years ago.
- Eden: It's an Endless World! features quite a few cities populated only by crystaline human statues.
- Green Lantern has Coast City, which was rebuilt, but no one wanted to live there after the Henshaw incident.
- Sydney in Kingdom.
- The Smurf Village during the period of when most of the Smurfs were turned into vegetables in The Smurfs story "Salad Smurfs".
- 28 Days Later
- This was filmed in the early hours of the morning in Real Life London. Much of the centre of town, especially the City, empties out at weekends and during the night.
- This scene was a homage to the opening of Day of the Triffids (see Literature below).
- A very derivative use pops up at the end of Alone in the Dark (2005), just before the heroes get attacked by - even more derivatively - the camera.
- The Last Man on Earth (1964), The Omega Man (1971) and I Am Legend(2007), all based on the same book. The Omega Man, similar to 28 Days Later, achieved the look by filming on location in suburban L.A. early on Sunday mornings, when there was little traffic to speak of and most local businesses hadn't yet opened.
- Land of the Dead, a sequel to the more famous Night of the Living Dead, features the struggles of humanity, who have managed to fortify a city against the dead and are relatively safe. However, an early overhead shot shows the tiny number of humans in a city made for millions.
- In Abre los ojos/Vanilla Sky, the normally bustling Gran Vía and Times Square are used to illustrate a hauntingly empty Madrid and New York, but this is a case of it all being in his mind.
- Near the end of The Devils Advocate, when the main character goes to meet with Satan, the streets of New York are completely empty.
- The final scenes of Kairo/Pulse, in which the heroine drives across a deserted Tokyo.
- In Contagion, eventually the cities end up looking like this, with uncollected trash and only the occasional hazmat suited person as everyone is either staying in their homes or dead.
- In Godzilla (2014), the entire prefecture of Janjira is completely abandoned after 15 years allegedly because the area is affected by radiation, until Joe and Ford found out it isn't). Judging from the downtown skyscrapers, at least a million people lived there.
- Shadar Logoth in The Wheel of Time.
- Night Work (German: Die Arbeit der Nacht), a novel about an Austrian man named Jonas who woke up one morning to find the world empty of (non-plant) life.
- In J.G. Ballard's Chronopolis, the titular city used to have a population of over a billion, with everyone divided into shifts to prevent total chaos when they tried to go to work (or anything else). The fall of the city caused timekeeping to be forbidden, and the main character learning how it works starts the plot.
- John Christopher:
- London, following an epidemic, in Empty World.
- Paris in The Tripods trilogy.
- Stephen King's The Stand
- Dean Koontz's novella Strange Highways: Coal Valley, Pennsylvania was inspired by the Real Life example of Centralia, Pennsylvania.
- The War of the Worlds
- Samuel Delany utilizes this to create the setting for Dhalgren, but unlike most uses of this trope, the cause and nature of the disaster are not pursued and don't seem even to be known to the remaining inhabitants. The topic does not seem much to interest them.
- Brendan DuBois' novel Resurrection Day: In 1972, New York City, along with a good chunk of New Jersey and New York State, is completely deserted and cordoned off by the US Army as a result of 3 Soviet nukes that hit Queens, Idlewild (JFK) Airport and Orange New Jersey (bomber missed Newark Airport) in 1962 when the Cuban Missile Crisis escalated into World War III. However, later in the novel it is revealed that many residents never left, and some even came back, and now live underground in a 'free' society compared to the rationing, censorship and drafting still ongoing in the USA. The Army knows but seemingly doesn't care, but still keeps it secret.
- In the Old Kingdom series, Sabriel travels through two cities that have been mostly deserted because of the Dead. During the day, they're Ghost Cities and at night they're crawling with Dead. In both places the survivors found a part of the city they could fortify against the Dead (who don't like running water) and are living there.
- London again, in the opening of John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids. The protagonist wakes up in a hospital after 10 days in a coma, and finds the building and most of the nearby streets deserted.
- That would be the (poor) 1960s film - in the book, Bill Masen has his eyes bandaged because of a Triffid sting and misses the flashing lights that blind everyone else. The dead city part doesn't come until much later in the book when all of the blind have died off and he revisits London for supplies.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, Daenerys Targaryen and her few remaining people after Drogo dies cross the vast desert of Red Waste when they find an abandoned city, which is a good thing because they find water and food there. They don't stay for long though.
- Chicago was left a ghost city in the Left Behind book series, and was mostly ignored by the GC due to fake reports of it being full of nuclear radiation until The Remnant. While the Tribulation Force was headquartered in the Strong Building during this time, Chloe Williams found survivors of an underground church group called The Place and helped them to escape the city before it was nuked.
- There's quite a few ruined and abandoned cities in Spectral Shadows on the planet Cygnus, and we get to see an example when the Lost Ferals' home is seen. If the Cygnusians feel their town has failed they subvert this trope by burning the town to the ground as what's said happened to Ashbury.
Live Action TV
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 7 has Sunnydale become this so that they can have a No Endor Holocaust ending.
- Doctor Who several times.
- Red Dwarf "Tikka To Ride"
- Star Trek "Miri".
- Stargate SG-1 episodes "Bane", "Ascension", "2001" and "Menace".
- Season 1 and 2 of Battlestar Galactica featured plenty of these as Sharon and Helo made their way to Delphi. While major cities like Caprica City were nuked properly and thoroughly, other cities such as Delphi and several unnamed ones were surprisingly intact. It is later revealed that the Cylons left these cities intact deliberately so that they could settle.
- Life After People shows what would happen to all those ghost cities as they slowly revert back to the wild.
- British TV series Survivors depicts a world where 99% of humanity are wiped out by a rogue virus, leaving hundreds of pristine but abandoned cities. The cities are largely avoided however, due to the health risks of the millions of unburied bodies.
- Person of Interest. A flashback shows Reece and his CIA handler Stanton going into Ordos City, China. It turns out there's a reason why their mission takes place in a deserted city.
- Delirium does a musical example that combines this with Tear Jerker.
- Tower of Heaven's Divine Breath can also be cited as an example...
- Despite the title, the Specials' "Ghost Town" is not quite an example of this, being more a social commentary a bout a Dying Town full of urban deprivation and violence caused by the massive unemployment epidemic in 1980s Britain, but several of the lyrics do touch upon a sense of empty and deserted post-apocalyptic doom ("This town's becomin' like a ghost town/all the clubs are being closed down...")
- The ruined cities in GURPS Reign Of Steel that are too small for the AIs to bother with.
- Pretty much every major city in Deadlands: Hell On Earth, due to ghost-rock bombs that kill everything around them while leaving the infrastructure more or less intact. Does not apply to smaller cities, which were usually hit by conventional nukes and obliterated.
- Orpheus takes this to an extreme by showing abandoned cities in the post-maelstrom world of the dead. That's right...there are Ghost Cities in the world of the ghosts. Two highlights:
- The completely empty ruins of a nameless city, implied to be the once-bustling Stygia, the capital of the kingdom of the Western dead.
- Necropolis New York City, where the maelstrom was so powerful it actually fused all of the ghosts within with the ruins of the city itself.
- Along with the example of Prypiat mentioned in the Real Life section, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare also has a second one briefly when a nuke sets off in the capital city at the end of "Shock and Awe" - the last images that Sgt. Paul Jackson sees before succumbing to his injuries is of a ruined, eerily silent city that maybe ten minutes prior was awash in fierce gunfire.
- There's also Chernobyl.
- Even though nobody saw the russian invasion in Modern Warfare 2 coming until the first wave of planes was already in the skies over Virginia, by the time American forces arrive in Washington, the city has been completely evacuated with no signs of civilians anywhere.
- Stockholm becomes this in Cry of Fear, minus all the freakish abominations running throughout the city. It all actually takes place in Simon’s head, which is being messed with by the book that he’s writing.
- The end of Doom, and the middle part of Doom II.
- Some areas of Fallout 3. There are many depressing apartment buildings that the player cannot access, and there aren't any raiders or mutants anywhere to be found, just dirt and crumbling buildings. This is very prominent in the DLC where the Player goes to Pittsburgh.
- The city of Fairport is turned into one of these in the First Encounter Assault Recon series.
- The fate of most cities on Gran Pulse in Final Fantasy XIII. The sequel game implies that there may be more to the planet than the heroes originally discovered, however.
- Silverspring from Heretic and Heretic 2, first time because of a evil wizard and his army, second time because of a magical disease.
- The Kingdom of Sorrow in Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil.
- Somewhere between this trope and its neighbors is the colony of Freedom's Progress in Mass Effect 2. Once a bustling human colony with nine hundred thousand residents in towns and outlying farms, by the time your team arrives, absolutely no one is home. Worse, there isn't any obvious desolation, as if the colony had been bombarded or invaded; everything's peaceful, as though everyone just got up in the middle of dinner and walked out. It transpires that the alien Collectors were behind the raid, on Reaper orders. They use swarms of "seeker" insects that paralyze their victims with biotic fields, then abduct the entire population. They target Horizon for a similar strike, but this time Shepard arrives in time to save the majority of the population.
- The city backgrounds in Mortal Kombat 3.
- World of Warcraft features Gilneas City, emptied out like the rest of Gilneas following the Forsaken invasion.
- Player-wise, Shattrath City and Dalaran are examples of this. During their respective Expansion Pack (Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King,) they were bustling, central hubs of activity due to their proximity to the action and the convenience of portals to the other major cities. Now the action has moved on, the portals are shut down, and so there's very little reason to go there any more.
- Depending on the population of the server, even the main racial cities may be this on some days. Since only one city in each faction has direct access to the Pandaria portals (Orgrimmar and Stormwind respectively,) most people don't bother with any other cities unless they're looking for peace and quiet. The Exodar in particular has a very scant player population, due to its remote location and restrictions on player flight in that zone.
- In Shifters there are several examples of this trope. Many sections of The Undercity (beneath the Mega City where the comic is set. Whole towns were covered over by the growth of the MegaCities and were effectively abandoned. Further there are many cities and towns in the areas effected by the "Nuclear Incident" that gave rise to the MegaCities themselves which are now empty of all life.
- The titular Extranormal Institute of Gunnerkrigg Court resembles a city-sized industrial complex that has a population in four digits at best, making vast majority of it completely devoid of human life. Although there is a sizable robot population keeping it on the mend, one can walk hours in the Court without seeing another sentient being, and the train system that goes through it only emphasises how much uninhabited area it has. It's easy to believe that it wasn't built by human hand, as it has never possessed a large population; the legend says that the Court "grew from Seed Bismuth", but no-one knows what that means.
- In The Gamers Alliance, Dar'Cenrath, the capital of what became known as the Ruined Kingdom, ends up as a ghost city when its population is wiped out by a destructive spell. The heroes of the Grand Alliance visit it hundreds of years later, and it ends up playing an important part as the birthplace of the Godslayer as well as the prison of the mad god Shakkan.
- Hashima Island of Japan. It was once one of the most densely populated areas in the world, and its main industry was mining. Eventually, the industry died, causing it to suffer the same fate as many other real-world ghost towns.
- It gets extra horror points for the fact that it was the site of forced labor by Korean prisoners during World War II.
- The city of Prypiat, Ukraine. Once had a fairly large population, until Chernobyl had a meltdown and the whole city was evacuated.
- "Fifty thousand people used to live in this city. Now it's a ghost town."
- For what it's worth quite a few people do live there. A lot are elderly residents who refused to move or snuck back in. Others are refugees from the former USSR. There is also some real deal S.T.A.L.K.E.R. type looters and vagabonds.
- The town is practically bustling at the moment, as a new radiation shield is being built to replace the old one in the infamous power plant.
- A lot of big cities on the weekends or even weeknights, i.e. Dallas. These tend to be cities with downtowns that grew rapidly only in recent decades so their daytime workers are largely commuters from the suburbs and lack a rooted history of nightlife.
- Though Prypiat is the most dramatic and famous, this type of thing isn't rare across the former Soviet Union, though the cause is economics rather than radiation. These fall into two categories: cities that aren't economically viable under capitalism, and cities not economically viable due to Soviet Union not being one country any more. They aren't all quite abandoned, but usually only vagabonds live in these types of places. Several other cities have suffered from depopulation to the extreme but there are still plenty of people there in the deserted ruins.
- Or conversely, late on weekday nights.
- Areas of Detroit. Nature has so thoroughly reclaimed some of the abandoned lots that you can even find wild pheasants running around, and one TIME photographer sent to the city said parts of it felt like "a post-apocalyptic environment." The whole city, and even some of the suburbs, may be on its way - Detroit filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy in July 2013 and was granted its protection by a judge that December before leaving it in December 2014.
- Thankfully, the recent recovery of the auto industry may have stopped this, or at least postponed it.
- Varosha, the resort quarter of Famagusta, Cyprus. It was one of the world's most popular travel destinations until 1974, when the Turkish military seized control of the area and forced out the residents. Today it remains under military occupation, the crumbling beachfront motels cordoned off with barbed wire.
- New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. They got better!
- Greater Houston during Hurricane Rita, before the storm moved north, due to the largest mass movement of civilians during peacetime. Any hurricane will result in a portion of the population moving to higher ground, helping to fulfill this trope for localized areas, but after seeing what happened to New Orleans the Houstonians understandably wanted to avoid it. To this day local citizens are still divided on whether to refer to 'Texodus' as an understandable precaution, a dry run for the next Cat 4/5, a panic induced fiasco, or a combination of all of the above.
- The Ghost Cities of China are an unusual case in that they're not the result of any disaster: the Chinese government gives incentives to huge construction projects in order to achieve GDP growth targets and speculation causes property prices to be too great for the majority of the Chinese population to afford. The result is entire cities full of houses that have never been used.
- There are at least 35 of these in and around China. The government plans on building at least 20 cities a year for the next twenty years.
- A good part of Manhattan looked like this after people were told to evacuate when Hurricane Irene was passing through. For the first time in ages, there was a huge reduction in traffic jams due to everyone evacuating or staying home.
- The Financial District looks like this most weekends, unless they're taking advantage of that to use them as a film set.
- In elaboration to the above, Melbourne's central business district (CBD) on weeknights/weekends has this trope played straight, during the 1980s (where there were only offices). Nowadays, there are more people living and visiting the CBD at various times (as apartments and other attractions are being introduced), averting this trope. See here and here.
- Invoked by the Boston Police Department during the manhunt for the Marathon bomber with entire city of Boston devoid of all life until the suspect was captured in Watertown later that night just ten miles away.