"It's like Dante's hell: smoke, fire, oppressive heat, as Colombian and Jamaican drug fiends again transform LA into a slaughterhouse. Who the hell's in charge down here? The cops? Uh-uh. They're outmanned, outgunned and incompetent. Mr Mayor, on vacation in your home in Lake Tahoe, get off your butt, get down here and declare martial law!!"In the time span between The '60s and The '80s, the wealthy and middle-class moved out of urban areas into the suburbs. As a result, poverty, violent crime and gang activity were on the rise in inner cities, and panic hit a fever pitch with the introduction of crack cocaine, one of the most destructive and addictive substances ever created. These factors created a bleak outlook on the future of cities; once seen as shimmering beacons and examples of man's progress, they were now depicted as little more than concrete jungles, war zones and fiefs carved out by the various gangs who control the area. There are a few common traits to this trope:
— Tony Pope, Predator 2
- Cities are often depicted as decaying or falling into abuse and disrepair, if not destroyed outright. There's typically a lot of trash, boarded-up buildings, and graffiti on the walls. Expect to see a Trashcan Bonfire or two as well.
- The city is infested with criminals, especially gangs who embody the "Punk" style. While some gangs may be sympathetic, or even heroic compared to others, for the most part, they are depicted as ruthless, remorseless and animalistic with few redeeming qualities and little trace of any civility. The aforementioned introduction of crack cocaine is important here, because it gave an excuse for the persecution and demonization of the poor from the perception that they'd been turned "feral" by drug addiction.
- Police are either completely ineffectual at stopping the crime (and what crime it can stop, it literally tosses everything and the figurative kitchen sink at it), have militarized themselves into an army to fight back, or both. If the hero of the story is a cop, they are typically a Cowboy Cop who doesn't like red tape and uses lethal force to get the job done, often to the dismay of Da Chief or a token Obstructive Bureaucrat. Just as often, the protagonist is a Vigilante Man (sometimes an ex-cop and/or ex-soldier) who uses brutal methods.
- The only "pristine" sections of an urban metropolis are those controlled by the local MegaCorps, and even then, it's a Crapsaccharine World. The Mega Corp. is often depicted as the Greater-Scope Villain at least partly responsible for what the city has become, but defeating them is often seen as a secondary goal compared to the immediate threat of the Urban Hellscape.
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Anime & Manga
- Modern versions of Batman often portray Gotham in this light. Filled with incompetent or corrupt cops, gangs controlling the streets, with the neighboring city of Metropolis being the "pristine" Mega Corp.-run sister city. The ultimate example of this in the franchise is the (at the time) future-set Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.
- Judge Dredd was built on this trope, as the purpose of the eponymous "Judges" is to bring order to the chaotic urban Hellscape of Mega City One.
Films — Live-Action
- Dirty Harry is the Ur-Example and Trope Maker. The eponymous character is a Cowboy Cop who has become disillusioned with by-the-book policework, and seeing criminals frequently get Off on a Technicality. He thus frequently takes the law into his own hands, and the films either explore the sort of conditions that justify his actions, or what happens when other police go to even more brutal methods from his example.
- The original Mad Max took place in a collapsing civilization, where motorized gangs terrorized the highways. After the loss of his family, Max Rockatansky becomes a ruthless Vigilante Man bent on revenge. The later films in the Mad Max franchise moved the setting to After the End, and became the Trope Maker of The Apunkalypse. If nothing else, this film can be credited with melding the two genres.
- The Death Wish series falls into this trope, particularly the third film, which portrays the criminal gang as brutish and savage to the point that when protagonist Vigilante Man Paul Kersey kills them with military-grade weaponry, there is little discension.
- RoboCop is one of the most famous examples of the trope. In its world, the Mega Corp. OCP completely controls Detroit, and the city itself has fallen into a lawless mess where cops themselves are owned by OCP and die in the line of duty every single night. The gangs which run the city are barbaric, murderous sadists, and even more petty criminals run around the streets completely unopposed. The eponymous hero, RoboCop, is a nigh-unstoppable Cyborg that is created to fight these criminals and (since everything he sees and hears is recorded) has the authority to act with lethal force.
- Predator 2 portrays 1997 Los Angeles as a war zone between two rival gangs which are portrayed as foreign (particularly Jamaican) stereotypes, including constant drug use, barbaric forms of violence, and voodoo. The protagonist Mike Harrigan is, naturally a renegade cop who gets results but is constantly chewed-out by his superior officer.
- The backstory of Escape from New York was that a nerve gas attack on Manhattan had turned so many people violently psychotic that the authorities had little choice except to simply quarantine the island; and that later it was used as a convenient high-security dumping ground for convicts.
- Demolition Man starts in a Los Angeles which fell to this trope.
Live Action TV
- Final Fight is built on this premise, with crime running so rampant that even the mayor himself has to step out of office and take to the street to beat the thugs with his own two hands. Naturally, the criminals are all punk-styled and have little in the way of characterization (granted, the heroes don't either, but still).
- Double Dragon takes the same premise as Final Fight but also adds in The Apunkalypse. Civilization has collapsed, making martial arts dojos the only law left in the world. Thus the twin brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee fight to clean up the streets of New York. In some version, however, Jimmy is also secretly the Shadow Boss that controls the most powerful gang in the world.
- Streets of Rage is yet another example, and is almost completely a clone of Final Fight.
- LISA: The Pointless: While the rest of Olathe isn't exactly peachy keen either, downtown Olathe is a huge city whose inhabitants are in a constant turf war with each other.