One day, the world is threatened with a meteor the size of Sicily. The next day, some Mad Scientist's "ultimate weapon" will destroy the entire planet. The day after that, the entire universe will implode because the Cosmic Keystone slipped off its pedestal...
Some series use a threat to bring about The End of the World as We Know It as a common plot device. The problem is, the drama or shock value wears off pretty quickly once it's been done more than once.
While it may be true that bigger threats can make for more exciting stories, there's only so many times we can hear "All of Earth is doomed!" before the Shocking Swerve ceases to shock anymore. This trope is pretty much endemic to Monster of the Week series. Storyboarding the Apocalypse might help restore some of the impact by reminding the viewer what will happen if the heroes don'tpull off this week's victory.
Or maybe they aren't going for a Shocking Swerve at all and it's merely a matter of fact that the world of the setting really is always doomed. Maybe thesettingisjustinherently dangerous and world destroying threats are going to pop up constantly without the heroes to stop them. In which case the threat of the world being destroyed isn't played for drama but as the possible consequences of the heroes failure.
One way that something like this is really believable is if the world really is always doomed, as in a Cosmic Horror Story setting where rather than defeating one menace after another that seems to randomly choose this very moment to come out of nowhere, it's all the heroes can do to merely provide an impediment against the progress of the same catastrophes that are continually attempting to worm their way past and wreak havoc. In a LovecraftLite setting the cosmic horrors may be very much defeatable but there are an endless number of them.
Common for any long running Action series.
When threats of impending doom are always being predicted but mysteriously fail to happen, then you may wish to refer to the Apocalypse Day Planner. If the series dwells to heavily on the fact that the characters won't get a "Happily Ever After" in the fairy-tale sense, then Darkness-Induced Audience Apathymight result but really for them just living another day might be all the reward they need. Evil Only Has to Win Once is usually involved, since the destruction of the world is usually the end of the line for the protagonists.
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Anime and Manga
In Dragon Ball, almost every villain at least tries to take over the world, which probably counts as doomed. Oh, and it really IS destroyed once, though it got better. In fact one of the reasons Goku decides to stay dead midway through Dragon Ball Z is that he's noticed this, and furthermore, that he's usually what the villains are seeking. Later, he tries to get Gohan, Goten and Trunks, and later Uub to be the heroes because the villains still come. Ironically, the one who Jumped at the Call, his granddaughter Pan, didn't have the muscle necessary to take over the hero job.
Between the original, Dragon Ball Z, and Dragon Ball GT, the world was doomed multiple times, the universe was doomed at least once, and at some point reality itself was in peril...
Haruhi Suzumiya has the continued existence of the world, or at least this version of it, relying upon the temperament of the eponymous teenage Genki Girl, and many of the plots revolve around preventing her from essentially erasing the universe and putting a new one in its place. In her defense, she doesn't know about it.
The anime has Chise offering to kill the human race out of mercy. Between her, the war, and damage to the planet, there's literally no chance for survival left. In the end, she opts to futilely fight one of the foreign invaders' out-of-control super weapon, retaining what little humanity she has left by making the otherwise empty gesture of protecting her hometown instead of putting it out of its misery. The world is reduced to ash and snow by the battle, leaving nobody alive but Shuuji and the now energy-being Chise.
The manga is worse. Chise is the apocalypse, and is completely unstoppable long before people realize how devastating she's become. She's not futilely protecting people from some foreign and out-of-control weapon, she IS the out-of-control weapon. She kills everyone. Personally. Except Shuuji.
Sailor Moon, the Earth is threatened by Eldritch Abominations that threaten to destroy all life, five times, 6 counting the side story. Justified, since the foes are actually fragments of the same abomination, Chaos.
Shakugan no Shana, it is implicitly said that existence itself is constantly under threat, and most people aren't even aware of this.
Magic: The Gathering gives us Dominaria, a planet that had so many magical near-apocalyptic experiences (five at last count) that it had a near-apocalypse caused by having had too many near-apocalypses. Seriously, the place was starting to fall apart.
The Innistrad block is primarily about humans trying to survive in a world full of vampires, werewolves, and zombies. One character in particular, the Planeswalker Sorin Markov, is vampire lord trying to keep humanity from dying out. Because if the humans go, the vampires will have nothing left to eat. Even so, the other vampires aren't too happy with him.
Nicol Bolas, who incidentally is responsible for at least one of the near-apocalypses, boasts to Ajani that he's "survived more apocalypses than you have chest colds."
Various superhero books do this, of course, but writer Grant Morrison's era of JLA is particularly well-known for ramping up the world/universe-shattering threat level every storyline.
He still managed to make his real big bad have more impact, foreshadowing his arrival extensively and having beings that defeat world conquering aliens regularly be shaken to the core by Maggeddon.
As Linkara puts it: "It's the DC Universe, the end of the world isn't even an excuse for getting off work any more."
In one Astro City story, most residents of an apartment building gather on the roof to watch a potentially cataclysmic battle - except for one kid who stays inside to finish his homework. As his mother explains, "if the world doesn't end, he's still got school tomorrow." .
Films — Animated
The Incredibles: Mr. Incredible describes it perfectly in the opening sequence.
Mr. Incredible: No matter how many times you save the world, it always manages to get back in jeopardy again. Sometimes I just want it to stay saved! You know, for a little bit? I feel like the maid; 'I just cleaned up this mess! Can we keep it clean for... for ten minutes!?"
In the beginning of Disneys's Fun and Fancy Free, Jiminy Cricket remarks how the newspapers are always reporting one disaster or another.
Many arcs and individual stories in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, especially those set after the Hand of Thrawn duology, are all about the new Rebellion/Republic/Jedi-destroying Threat, even bigger and badder than the last ones! Vong, Joiners, Jacen going evil and causing a civil war, the Jedi going mad... Look! It's not like earlier media, now everyone dies pointlessly! It's difficult to find anything big that doesn't hype itself as The Biggest Threat Luke/Leia/Han Has Ever Faced.
Lampshaded by Wedge Antilles in an X-Wing Series comic set not long after Endor.
Wedge: After every major victory, I hope the fighting is over, but it'll never be over. Even after we defeat the Imperials, there will be someone... another threat to peace...
Yet there's still Starfighters of Adumar, which is "only" about civil war on a single world with the only thing at stake being whether its torpedo production goes towards the Empire or the New Republic. It's one of the lowest scale EU novels there is, and also one of the most entertaining.
Nearly every second story set during the Clone Wars features The New And Improved Super Duper Completely Guaranteed Separatist Plan To Crush The Republic Forever, which is impressive considering that the war lasted for a mere three years. And again, Shatterpoint, about an ultimately minor war on a single planet (and Mace Windu being Badass), manages to be one of the best pieces from that time period.
Diane Duane's Young Wizards series. Considering that the ultimate antagonist is the Lone Power, which invented death, loves suffering, and threatens to destroy the protagonists' home worlds when they piss it off, this isn't too surprising.
It actually gets lampshaded by Ronan in A Wizard Abroad: he comments to Nita not to take Johnny too seriously because the seniors all sound like the world is ending half the time. Nita thinks something to the effect of "probably because it is."
Very much present in Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series, where one book's solution tends to lead directly or indirectly to the next book's problem. Many of these dooms make a return for the Grand Finale trilogy, making the world doomed by at least four different methods simultaneously.
Neil Gaiman's short story Only The End of the World Again, in which a werewolf goes to Innsmouth and somewhat-deliberately thwarts a ritual to destroy the world.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. In the first book, Earth is destroyed; in the second, the universe ends (billions of years in the future— the main characters time-travel there and back); in the third, the Universe is threatened but saved; in the fifth, all Earths in all Alternate Universes are destroyed forever; and in the sixth, the only human space settlement is threatened. That leaves one book out of six without some sort of apocalyptic threat—in fact, the Earth comes back in the fourth, so...inverted?
The Alex Rider series seems to have a villain bent on destroying the world every few weeks (in-world time).
In The Sharing Knife, malices can be destroyed while young, but new ones will never stop appearing, and if one ever gathers too much power it will devour all life.
Par for the course in the Secret Histories series, as defending humanity from epic-scale threats is the Droods' job.
In the fiction chapters of The Science of Discworld II, Roundworld keeps getting smacked by cometary impacts just as yet another native life form is starting up its own civilization.
Assuming that H.P. Lovecraft's various Cthulhu Mythos stories take place in the same continuity, the world dodged a dozen near-apocalypses in the 1930's alone.
In the Long RunnerRedwall series, the number of books in which the titular Abbey is not besieged by vermin as part of the B-plot can be tallied on one hand (not counting the ones set before the Abbey was built). This is sometimes Lamp Shaded in books set later in the chronology, with several vermin leaders speaking of the Abbey with dread because of all the hordes that have broken on their walls.
Myth And Legend
Teutonic mythology pushes it back to Older Than Dirt. Okay, Sigmund or Beowulf deals with the current monster but Ragnarok is still coming. And oh goody, you get to spend your afterlife training for it!
Live Action Television
Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel have at least one planet-ending apocalypse per year (the Hellmouth alone was almost opened on three separate occasions), as well as one reality-ending apocalypse, along with endless armies of vampires, demons and the forces of darkness maiming and slaughtering and generally being not very nice. Lampshaded in numerous episodes, to the point where characters were going "AGAIN?!" whenever anybody mentioned it. One episode of Angel even has Spike and Angel arguing over who saved the world more:
Angel: I helped save the world, you know. Spike: Like I haven't. Angel: Yeah, but I've done it a lot more. Spike: Oh, please. Angel: I closed the Hellmouth. Spike: I've done that. Angel: Yeah, you wore a necklace. You know, I helped kill the Mayor and, uh, and Jasmine... Spike: Do those really count as saving the world? Angel: I stopped Acathla. That saved the world. Spike: Buffy ran you through with a sword! Angel: Yeah, but I made her do it. (Spike gives him a disbelieving look) I signaled her with my eyes. Spike: She killed you. I helped her! That one counts as mine.
Further, the fifth season of Angel seems to indicate that all those big "end the world" scenarios are mere distractions while the real apocalypse goes on right under our noses. The world spins more and more into chaos and decay... and the heroes chase around monsters all day long.
In "The Zeppo", the entire gang except Xander saved the world in a huge epic battle... almost entirely offscreen, played as a joke. And Xander saved the world (on his own) by saving them from a different plot.
Lampshaded in Charmed, where after receiving a ticket, Piper states that the world is so unfair to her that she just might stop saving it every week.
Doctor Who could very well be the crown champion of this trope. The new series alone has several dozen instances of the entire planet Earth being on the brink of destruction from alien colonists/marauders/psychopaths whenever the Doctor arrives (not that other planets are spared), there is always a vast army or powerful being or cosmic force threatening to crush the universe under its heel, and there are numerous isolated instances of the entirety of reality about to be destroyed. It long ago reached the point where if it weren't for the Doctor the universe wouldn't have even existed in the first place.
The trope was particularly evident during the Third Doctor/UNIT era, where the Doctor was in exile on Earth, meaning that the invading aliens and villainous humans had to come to him every few weeks. It is a bit more plausible at other times in the series, when he can show up at any disaster in all of time and space (yet always manages to somehow land on Earth a disproportionate number of times).
Even the Master, the Doctor's own Arch-Enemy who is constantly trying to conquer the Universe, admits this, saying in The Five Doctors, "A Cosmos without the Doctor scarcely bears thinking about." Being the Master this comment can be interpreted as both Ho Yay and acknowledging that the Universe wouldn't be a pleasant place to live without the Doctor around.
The Doctor remarks about the population: "You lot, you're like rabbits. I'll never be done saving you." He's got a gleeful, joyous grin on his face while he says it.
In the Comic ReliefAffectionate Parody "The Curse of Fatal Death", the Doctor states "I recently calculated that I have saved every planet in the known universe a minimum of twenty-seven times." This is not much of an exaggeration.
Also parodied in a comedy sketch by Mark Gatiss, where a villain tries to come up with a sufficiently villainous plan to interest The Doctor — but fails to come up with anything that hasn't been done at least once already.
Played for horror in "The Name of the Doctor". Because the Great Intelligence erases his timeline all the Doctor's victories become defeats. Cue the scene where Vastra watches entire star systems erased from history, because the Doctor wasn't there to save them.
Of course the threats are seasonal, usually one per season, and are the only things that keep the rest of the plot going. For example, the first season kept talking about saving the world when there was never any real indication that the world was in danger on the large scale, not even at the end, just that there was going to be war and strife, still bad but hardly Apocalyptic.
Lampshaded in a third-season episode by one of the characters: "The world always needs saving."
In Power Rangers, the Earth (usually the West Coast in particular) has been attacked by monsters pretty much every year, usually about once per week, with each monster being a potential world ending disaster. The rest of the universe is seen only sporadically, but at least two seasons and several occasional episodes have hinted that Earth is not in any way unique in this regard.
Earth did get a few breaks though. Earth didn't get attacked in Lost Galaxy because the villains were attacking the heroes in space, and there was a one-year reprieve after Dino Thunder because the next season took place in the year 2025. It also got a break after Jungle Fury because RPM took place in an Alternate Continuity (and in the future of said Alternate Continuity, at that).
Stargate SG-1 spent about every second episode attempting to prevent some horrible calamity about to befall the planet, whether it was a another Goa'uld plot, an incredibly virulent Space Infection, or a group of Sufficiently Advanced Aliens they had managed to annoy. Eventually the series graduated to The Galaxy Is Always Doomed, with one thing after another attempting to conquer/exterminate/consume all life (Goa'uld, Replicators, Ori, Wraith...).
Maj. Carter: Sir, if there are still a small enough number of replicators on board, a properly equipped team could possibly...
Col. O'Neill: [sarcastically] Save the world?
Maj. Carter: Getting old for you, sir?
And another time:
General O'Neill: Now, see, that's one of the great things about being a general. You pretty much get to do whatever you want. Lt. Col Mitchell: I suppose after you've saved the world seven or eight times... General O'Neill:[amused] Who's counting, huh? Lt. Col Mitchell: Teal'c, actually. He mentions it quite often.
This trope was basically the entire premise of Seven Days. It's about the agent the NSA sends back in time to avert all the catastrophes that would befall us every week without his intervention—things like a weapons test wiping out all life on Earth, or China and Taiwan getting into a war, or the President's nuclear launch computer falling into the hands of an irate ape. This raises the question of how the world survived before the Backstep project went online.
To be fair, the actual world-endangering incidents are only two thirds or so (depending on where you draw the line) of the episodes — the first three episodes included stopping a religious nut from releasing a virus that would exterminate some 98% of humanity, but it also had stopping a terrorist attack on the White House (the situation was not escalating when the backstep was made) and keeping a scientist they think had made a breakthrough in cold fusion from getting salmonella and driving off a cliff. To be unfair, that's still some two thirds of the episodes.
Supernatural, starting around the five-season mark. After defying destiny and preventing an Apocalypse led by Satan himself, the Winchesters find there's still no shortage of world-class threats. An angelic Civil War leads to Castiel getting a literal god complex and rampaging across the world. This in turn leads to the release of the Leviathans, a whole new breed of primordial monster who organize the harvesting of all of humanity for food. After they are defeated, the Winchesters try to close the Gates of Hell until a manipulative angelic scribe banishes all Angels except himself out of Heaven, making Earth the new playing ground for all the remaining factions from the attic.
Warhammer 40,000 does this with an entire galaxy. The daemons of Chaos and their mad human servants, the implacable Necrons enacting the will of the ancientC'tan, and the endlessly ravenous Tyranid hordes are all closing in, completing intricate plans or simply steamrolling over everything in the path, and any minute now the galaxy will meet it's end... aaaaaany minute now... It's reached the point where a number of writers are starting to hint that all of the threats to the galaxy have collided into each other and effectively canceled out.
Exalted is a game where one of your main antagonists is Death, Creator of the Underworld. Except there's several of him, probably six or seven. Oh, and he's got 13 dread henchmen, one of whom was probably you at some point in time. Also, Hell has a personal grudge against you this time. Did I mention Magical America regularly trains and sends ninjas out for you personally? Ninjas specially trained in ass-kicking? Which, if they won't work, they keep giant robotic suits of armor on reserve for. Oh, and the Transformers have united under Omicron, and are invading. The Jedi have corrupted Heaven and usurped your rightful place as the Masters of Everything. Your ex-wife just dropped by, and she's a two thousand year old shape-changing man-eating monster now, interested in maybe going on a date next Thursday. Your best friend from your last life and while growing up now seeks to cover all the lands of Middle Earth in darkness, if he can just find this damn ring. And your God has the world's biggest crack habit, and needs some serious rehab.
In the Old World of Darkness gameline Werewolf: The Apocalypse, the player characters are strongly hinted to be on the losing side of a secret shadow-war between the Garou and the Wyrm, a spirit of hatred and corruption. The final sourcebook (titled Apocalypse), four scenarios are given for how the last battle plays out: the nicest version would ravage the spirit world and kill most of the Garou, the most extreme involves Lovecraftian entities destroying biospheres while a giant Wyrm eats the Moon.
Every game in Shin Megami Tensei has at least one plot involving some catastrophic global disaster. Apparently, plenty of gods hate humans, not just YHVH.
In any given Super Robot Wars game, the earth is usually dealing with world-wide threats of a dozen or so different series more or less all at the same time.
Wild ARMs falls into this heavily. Filgaia is so often hit with disasters that leave it a wasteland and so often menaced by demons or evil organizations that one's first inclination is to believe that they're a bunch of different planets that coincidentally share the same name... but it's All There in the Manual that they're really all the same unlucky place — although it's apparently All There in the Manual elsewhere that theyreally aren't.
Though, a small difference is that the catastrophe tends to have happened before each installment, and apparently the people before weren't able to prevent it (or caused it). The protagonists are generally trying to prevent another cataclysm from wiping out the last vestiges of civilisation that survived the previous one.
Almost every major patch of World of Warcraft introduces a new threat to the world. The Lich King expansion started with a zombie plague, set up 3 separate world-ending threats, and tossed in a world war on top of that. Slightly justified in that most, if not all, of the world-ending threats are caused, directly or indirectly, by one or the other of two Omnicidal ManiacEldritch Abominations: the Burning Legion and the Old Gods. It's not that there are dozens of threats, all of which want to try to destroy the world; there are only two, but they try one scheme after another and their abandoned projects continue with a momentum of their own.
Touhou. So very, very much. Seemingly every other week Gensoukyou has some problem occurring, varying from "annoying" to "seemingly dooming everyone to horrible death". Sometimes they aren't as bad as they first appear. Other times they're worse.
This is the plot of Hopeless Masquerade: Like MTG above, Gensokyo is in a state of near-collapse due to having had too many successive states of near-collapse. After so many disasters, most of which are beyond their control, humanity decided to forgo inhibitions and live for the moment: an anarchy. Enter the figureheads of religions —Shintoism, Taoism, Buddhism— to save the people... provided they don't tear Gensokyo apart with their fighting.
Lusternia. It'd be easier to mention the times that all of reality isn't in imminent danger of being devoured by a monster, and scarcely a week goes by without something breaking out of an ancient prison intent on ruling/corrupting/destroying the earth.
Ratched: Deadlocked, the fourth game in the Ratchet & Clank series, lampshades this in the manual: "Anyone can save the universe once, but three times?"
City of Heroes never seems to have any shortage of supervillains for any number of heroes to handle, but that's the least of it. Giant monsters roaming the streets, Zombie Apocalypses, Rikti invasions, and horrors penetrating the veil are COMMON OCCURRENCES (ie, zone events that can be triggered or just happen randomly).
In Gradius, no matter how many times the Vic Viper beats back the Bacterians, it never seems to stick. It's implied the Bacterian Empire is so immense within subspace there is no conceivable way for Gradius to secure a lasting victory.
The fact the Bacterian Empire also doubles as a form of The Virus helps.
"I am just a small part of what once was known as "Venom". Pieces of me are scattered throughout the cosmos. Eventually, another will become sentient and exact retribution. You will never escape the shadow of fear. My hatred for your kind...is eternal."
The Bydo of R-Type are a similar case. While they were apparently beaten for good in Final, it's hard to say for sure when your enemy aren't just The Virus, but also exist outside of time.
Completing a mission on Yoda Stories and talking to Yoda bought you the response 'Congratulations! Taken another step you have...along the road that never ends!'.
The Hero 30 portion of Half-Minute Hero contains at least 30 different Evil Overlord wannabes who were granted the power to destroy the world in a single breath by an even more powerful Evil Sorcerer. As said hero, it's your job to travel from kingdom to kingdom to beat the snot out of them as quickly as possible before they can do so.
Crisis City (and most likely the rest of the world) in Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) is always doomed due to Iblis running around destroying everything long after he was released and wrecked most of the world. Silver and Blaze fight Iblis every time he appears in order to prevent him from completely destroying the world, but it is only a temporary solution since Iblis gets revived after a while, therefore, the world is always on the brink of destruction. It isn't until Solaris is defeated and Princess Elise blows out the flame representing Solaris' earliest form to paradox him out of existence that the trope is finally broken.
This is the basic premise of the On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness series. It's so bad that an entire evil organization has been founded around making sure the world ends in the correct fashion.
healer: He is all worked up about some threat to the city, as if Stormreach isn't threatened three times before breakfast everyday.
The SCP Foundation and it's counterparts contain all kinds of objects of doom with varying degrees of success. We also see many alternate universes where the Foundation failed to stop the end of the world.
Ben 10 did this numerous times. A two-parter involved a ghostly alien that planned to mutate all of Earth. One episode titled "Ultimate Weapon" involved a weapon that could destroy all of Earth. The Ben 10 animated movie had Ben's Omnitrix in danger of self-destructing... and taking out the entire galaxyuniverse with it.
Almost every episode of Invader Zim's plot involves Earth being doomed. Justified in that nearly all of them are the result of the machinations of the bumbling incompetent title character.
The Animated Adaptation of Men In Black both uses and averts this trope, with world-ending disasters being not unusual but the most common situations involve a single alien (or group) or a threat to the MIB itself instead of the planet.
Mighty Max: (almost) every episode summoned Max to help save the world from aliens/magic/parasites whatever. The episodes that involved Big Bad Skullmaster's attempt to steal Max's hat are much better as a result.
Max: What's going on here?
Virgil: Oh merely the end of the world!
Max: Oh good. I was afraid it was something serious.
In Futurama, every year at Christmas Robot Santa goes to Earth and wrecks everything for jollies.
Professor Farnsworth: Oh we're doomed. Every year we're doomed.
It sometimes seems like every other episode of Peter Pan & the Pirates involves the threat of "the end of Neverland".
Xiaolin Showdown. Raimundo: "Is it me, or does the fate of the world rest on us a lot?"
In one episode of Superman: The Animated Series, Doctor Fate refuses to help Superman fight an Eldritch Abomination that Fate defeated in the past because he's grown weary of the neverending fight against evil. Superman being willing to fight against impossible odds (Supes is weak against magic) convinces Fate to help.
Superman: You came after all. What changed your mind?
Fate: It was because you went back. You reminded me that it's not just the forces of evil that never give up.
Subtly lampshaded in "It's About Time," with Twilight immediately assuming that Future Twilight contacted her to warn her of some terrible catastrophe, every other pony easily believing her (at least before she started yet another Sanity Slippage), and in the course of attempting to prevent the disaster that doesn't exist they encounter another potential disaster completely by accident. Said disaster casually reveals that Ponyville is located within walking distance of the gates ofHell, where a huge number of monsters are kept imprisoned solely due to Cerberus's keeping watch on the gate. And apparently he runs off every so often.
And yet, even with all of the above, the world isn't in danger anywhere near as often in Friendship is Magic as in the original 1980's My Little Pony show. Practically every second or third storyline in the show was about some monster or wizard trying to either enslave or kill off the entire pony population.
This may also apply to the hotter parts of the Cold War. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, it's been argued that over a dozen incidents came close to ending it all.
Any number of events could result in the complete extinction of a huge chunk of life on Earth. Some are predictable, others are not. Massive volcanic events, asteroid impact and cosmic rays are just three examples.
One such "cosmic ray" makes it seem like the universe hates us, mostly because of the ridiculous misfortune that it may result from.
Several economists predict that the real socioeconomic/financial Armageddon (2008 was just the beginning) will happen as early as 2012.
Since 2012 had passed, it's safe to say the predictions were wrong for now.
See Exit Mundi for many examples, some of which could happen any day now.
More generally: from the earliest surviving writings onward there is always some prophesied apocalypse coming in the near future, several of them a year these days. A good chunk of every generation in every culture has always seriously believed they were living in the last days of the world.