Sherif Ali: There is the railway. And that is the desert. From here until we reach the other side, no water but what we carry with us. For the camels, no water at all. If the camels die, we die. And in twenty days they will start to die.Cue the Sun but not in a good way. You're in the desert, a parched barren wasteland stretching for miles in every direction. If the maddening heat doesn't drive you into a Mushroom Samba or just kill you, the lack of water or one of the desert's many hostile inhabitants probably will. Expect Circling Vultures lurking ominously overhead. Although the sky can be as barren as the land, with not a single cloud in sight. The sun appears to fill the sky on its own and the camera will point at it just to make sure you know. A shot of the characters marching (or crawling) forward moaning "Water, water..." is a common element, especially in more humorous takes. Analogously, this trope is to Shifting Sand Land as Hungry Jungle is to Jungle Japes or Lovecraft Country is to Hollywood New England - a nastier, more serious portrayal of the same region. See also Crossing the Desert.
T.E. Lawrence: There's no time to waste, then, is there?
T.E. Lawrence: There's no time to waste, then, is there?
open/close all folders
- Tintin: The Crab With the Golden Claws: As befitting Captain Haddock's first appearance as an alcoholic washout, he and Tintin wander through the Sahara. On learning where they are, the captain gets stuck on "the desert of thirst! the desert of thirst!" for a while.
- Dungeon Twilight: The Always Day area is a desert where, as the name suggest, it's always day. The Great Khan punishes failure by dropping disgraced soldiers there to die of exhaustion, and they are crippled beforehand.
- Lady Mechanika and Winifred find themselves stranded in the middle of the Sahara Desert after their zepplin crashes in Lady Mechanika: The Tablet of Destinies.
- The Dayside of the planet Taldain in White Sand is a single continent, most of which is a giant desert. When Khriss and her company attempt to cross it, their guide bails on them with most of their water, leaving them stranded and with little to drink until they find a native, Kenton, who reveals to them that water is actually easy to come by on Dayside - splashing even a little bit of it on the sand brings out water vines, which store a lot of the precious liquid.
- The setting of The Longest Joke In The World.
- The former Trope Namer is the Mojave Desert as portrayed in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
- Played with in Road to Morocco.
- The Arabian and Sinai deserts in Lawrence of Arabia.
- A thirsty Micky Dolenz beats up an empty Coke machine in the middle of the desert during a memorable scene from The Monkees' movie Head.
- íThree Amigos! was filmed in the Sonoran Desert near Tucson, Arizona and contains a thirsty desert crossing scene where each Amigo stops to drink from his canteen. Lucky turns over his canteen to one remaining drop of water. Ned's canteen fills his mouth full on with sand. Dusty drinks from his canteen, splashes some water on his face, and throws the rest aside, while the others watch delirious. Dusty offers them lip balm.
- In The Way Back, the protagonists are crossing the Gobi desert. Two of them die of heat stroke and dehydration.
- Death Valley serves as this in the silent classic Greed.
- Lust In The Dust. Rosie's canteen falls and spills out its contents, causing her to exclaim, "My gin!"
- Hidalgo's plot revolves around a race across the desert. At least a few of the racers are forced to put down their horses, and Hopkins and Hildalgo themselves must live off of locusts from time to time.
- In Walkabout a teenaged girl and her little brother are stranded in the Australian outback. They are on the verge of death by dehydration when an Aborigine boy saves them.
- In the Australian horror film Razorback (1984) the protagonist suffers hallucinations while staggering through the desert.
- Exploited by Blondie in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly when he abandoned Tuco in the desert. He managed to survive the ordeal and then found Blondie to give him A Taste of Their Own Medicine.
- In another Clint Eastwood movie The Eiger Sanction, his character gets revenge on an old enemy by driving him out into the desert and abandoning him to die of thirst.
"Jonathan, you're not going to leave me out here? Oh, Jonathan, for chrissakes, kill me but don't leave me here!"
- Crossed by Moses in The Ten Commandments after being exiled from Egypt. He's given a little bag of food and a little bag of water. He's half-dead by the time he reaches a well, but fortunately not too far gone to fight off a band of marauders.
- Tattooine in Star Wars is a whole planet of this.
- Most of the plot of 1929 silent film Desert Nights. Steve and Diana, a pair of jewel thieves, rob a diamond mine, kidnap Hugh the mine foreman, and escape into the desert. But it's a thirsty desert and the thieves run out of water and start getting desperate, with Diana in particular offering to give Hugh all the diamonds if he'll lead them to water, then offering herself up as a Sex Slave if only he'll lead them to water.
- In Robert E. Howard's "The Slithering Sands", Conan the Barbarian knows that the desert will kill him within a day, and strongly considers a Mercy Kill for the girl with him.
- Claims the life of Arvid in The Emigrants tetralogy.
- Arrakis of the Dune universe is one of the driest deserts in fiction and is home to Sand Worms that can eat large vehicles in one bite.
- The Aiel Wastes in Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series is one of the most hostile environments on the main continent. The only ones that are worse have been heavily tainted by the Dark One.
- Star Wars Legends:
- The heroes visit Tatooine twice in Galaxy of Fear... though both times the major danger is less in the desert, more in the cooler, damper respite from the suns where they spend their time: the palace of Jabba the Hutt.
- Han and Leia visit Tattooine in Tattooine Ghost. Han gets lost twice and has to have IV fluids so he doesn't die of dehydration after. The Tusken Raiders are a constant menace, as are the imperials who are still fighting the rebels.
- The protagonists end up stuck in the middle of one in Five Weeks in a Balloon. They end up borderline insane or catatonic and nearly dying, until they're saved at the last minute by a sandstorm which allows them to fly their balloon to greener pastures.
- Crops up from time to time in the works of Karl May. The most iconic 'Western' example here is probably the (really existing) Llano Estacado, described as this in the stories and usually coming complete with at least some miscreants planning to lead travelers astray explicitly so they can die of thirst and never be heard from again.
- The mesas of New Mexico in Tyrannosaur Canyon fit this quite nicely. The environment challenges several characters who hike through it with potential dehydration and heatstroke.
- In Desert And Wilderness has one as the final obstacle for the protagonists to overcome.
Live Action TV
- The Twilight Zone TOS:
- The Libyan desert in episode "King Nine Will Not Return".
- An (unnamed) American desert in "The Rip Van Winkle Caper".
- Despite having started by marooning an expedition on a desert planet, the Stargate franchise manages to avoid this trope all the way to its third live-action series, Stargate Universe, in the episode "Air, Part 3."
- Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Final Mission."
- The Prisoner (2009) had the desert surrounding the Village, filmed in Namibia.
- In The Aquabats! Super Show! episode "Cowboy Android!" the Aquabats trudge through one after the Battletram runs out of gas.
- The Return of Sherlock Holmes, a made-for-TV movie in 1987, features a cryogenically frozen Holmes who reawakens in the modern day. While driving through the Arizona desert on a case, his car breaks down, so he is forced to cross the desert on foot. Believing himself to be hallucinating or dead, he comes across London Bridge with a British telephone booth and calls his assistant. "No, that's not heaven," she tells him. "That's Lake Havasu."
- On The 100, the desert area where parts of New England used to be is bad enough about this that it's actually called "The Dead Zone".
- Cool Water, the song written by Bob Nolan, and covered by Hank Williams and a host of others.
All day I've faced / a barren waste / Without the taste / of waterCool waterOld Dan and I / with throats burned dry / And souls that cry / for waterCool, clear, water
- Numerous The Far Side strips use this setting for gags. A typical example has a guy crawling through the desert and coming across an enormous billboard advertising a brand of canteen: "Lost in the desert? Dying of thirst? Next time bring along a Jones Bros canteen!"
- Attempts to employ this trope in Dungeons & Dragons are difficult, since the healing-oriented classes tend to get a create water spell at 1st level and employ it whenever there seems to be a hazard of thirst.
- However, the Desert of Desolation series (I3-I5) focused on this trope.
- The interior of Vrita, the Titan of Drought, is this in Scion taken to the extent it's basically an entire world comprised of this. And there genuinely is no water of any sort to be found. Indeed, it's so thirsty that those unfortunate enough to enter it have the very real feeling that their blood is being sucked out through their skin. Which is probably because it is.
- The desert world of Tallarn in Warhammer 40K. Strangely enough, it isn't a Death World: its entire surface is desert but there are great underground cities, with their armies all Lawrence of Arabia clones.
- In Werewolf: The Apocalypse, the Malfean abode of the Nameless Angel of Despair is a barren desert with a huge black sun overhead.
- Appears in King's Quest III and King's Quest V. In the first game, it's essentially a barrier to prevent you from going too far the wrong way. It's an insidious maze in the latter.
- Lamakan Desert in Golden Sun. It's so hot there's a thermometer that appears during the entire trip with the PCs complaining about the heat at regular intervals, and letting it max out causes damage to everyone. Fortunately, there are oases hidden by mirages that reset the thermometer to zero, unfortunately most of them contain an Antlion Monster. Strangely enough, it's located in Weyard's equivalent of Asia, while the Suhalla desert in Weyard-Africa has no such issues.
- Very much a part of Quest for Glory II, where the player will literally die of thirst if you don't have enough water, and multiple foes ranging from vicious brigands to giant scorpions to rampaging mini T. rexes to ghouls will try to kill you.
- Breath of Fire III features a trackless desert towards the end of the game. Travel is only feasible at night, as you're navigating by the stars, but you can travel during the day if you don't mind expending more water and getting disoriented (i.e. don't travel during the day). You start with enough water to just barely reach your destination, but you can escape back to the entrance without any problems, even if you've been traveling for days.
- The Mojave Desert becomes this with the Survival mode active in Fallout: New Vegas. The fact that the water you need to survive also irradiates you is just insult to injury.
- The Arid Extra-Dry Desert in Kingdom of Loathing inflicts severe penalties on any player who tries to adventure there without getting the 'Ultrahydrated' effect from the oasis.
- The first Space Quest game (and its VGA Remake) has this when you crashland on Kerona after escaping the Arcada. Fortunately, you have an infinite supply of "dehydrated" water (don't ask) and the game gives you ample warning when you need to take a drink of it.
- In RuneScape, the desert south of Al Kharid will drain your health if you don't stay hydrated (using waterskins, an enchanted water tiara, etc). The rate at which you go through water/health depends on your equipment - melee armour makes you thirsty more often, whereas desert robes (and similar things) let you stay hydrated more easily.
- Tales of Vesperia has a desert area where you have to find cacti that contain water for your party to fill their canteens with. When they run out of water, they start to take damage.
- The Jak and Daxter games have the Wasteland. In Jak 3: Wastelander Jak, Daxter and Pecker nearly die of thirst and heat when they are banished there.
- Spec Ops: The Line reminds us that Dubai, despite being a paradise of opulence, is set in a desert. A massive sandstorm causes the total collapse of infrastructure, water distribution more than anything, and it only goes From Bad to Worse from there.
- The Gerudo Desert in Hyrule Warriors, when the heroes play through it towards the end of the main campaign. The overheating can be combated by entering special keeps marked as an Oasis. The villains earlier, had no ill effects from the desert heat.
- In The Gamer's Alliance, the Tronin Desert in Southern Libaterra which also doubles as The Savage South. It's the home of the Sarquil and the Sirithai, and recently the Northern Horde has conquered it.
- SCP-622 can create these.
- Roy and Valerie ride a camel across a cartoon desert at one point in Journey of the Cartoon Man.
- Steven Universe has fun with this trope in "Steven's Lion". Steven crawls along pitifully as the Crystal Gems travel a desert, despite them not being there that long, explaining to the other Gems "This is how you're supposed to act in the desert."
- Generally averted in Real Life, since desert biomes are often teeming with life despite the harsh climate.
- Death Valley has its name for a reason, though. It is officially one of the hottest places on Earth, with summer highs of up to 134 F/57 C, and next to no rainfall.
- Hundreds of bodies of people who died from thirst or "exposure" are found every year in the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona. Most are from Mexico traveling illegally to the United States. Many are from other parts of South and Central America, notably Guatemala and El Salvador.
- Parts of the Atacama Desert in South America haven't received rainfall in hundreds, possibly thousands, of years. Some areas receive moisture from coastal fog, other areas are as dead and barren as Mars.
- In its most desolate regions the Atacama is allegedly sterile, as not even bacteria can survive there. When the Top Gear boys crossed the Atacama on a road trip, Jeremy Clarkson mentioned this - primarily to illustrate that co-host Richard Hammond was currently the smallest organism within a hundred miles.
- The Rub' Al Khalinote desert on the southern Arabian peninsula is one of the largest sand deserts in the world, taking up about 250,000 square miles of area. While it's not completely inhospitable (there is some life), it's close: water sources are extremely few and far between. On the flip side, though, it's geologically rich, with mineral and oil deposits estimated to be worth billionsnote .
- The Taklamakan Desert in Central Asia is often considered the world's worst desert to attempt to cross. Antarctica is actually far bleaker to cross, but it's not a Thirsty Desert (after all, lack of water is definitely not a problem in Antarctica).