During the twentieth century, the majority of orphanages in most industrialized countries were shut down, and while a few private orphanages and similar institutions still exist here and there, nowadays most orphaned children in Western society simply end up in foster care or group homes.
But in fiction, traditional orphanages are often abundant in settings where they logically shouldn't be. Most developed countries no longer have orphanages, but a few (like Japan) still do. Either way, orphanages still appear in fiction for the same reason asylums do: they invoke a certain image to people. Orphanages full of sad kids just have more of an appeal, apparently, than "this kid got put in foster care". This trope also often results in the foster care system being depicted more negatively than an Orphanage of Love.
Some possible aspects that might play into this trope include (1) portraying a binary choice of orphanage or adoption (no foster care or any other possibility besides full adoption, even if options like foster care are emphasized in the real-world setting the story supposedly takes place in), (2) portray adoption as if it's just a matter of adoptive parents walking in and picking out a kid with minimal (if any) vetting or systems to protect the children's interest (i.e. as if it's as simple as adopting a pet from a shelternote ), and/or (3) have the resident kids used for child labor.
- In Despicable Me, the three girls, Margo, Edith, and Agnes, grew up in an orphanage that appears to be staffed entirely by one person. When Gru adopts them, it doesn't seem to take more than an afternoon, including the background check.
- Mostly Played For Laughs in The LEGO Batman Movie, Robin originally lived at an orphanage before being adopted by Batman. In the original comics, Batman took Robin in shortly after the death of his parents.
- Lewis in Meet the Robinsons grows up in an orphanage after being abandoned on the doorstep as a newborn by his birth mother.
- Marvel Cinematic Universe:
- In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., part of Daisy's initial motivation for joining the team was to uncover information about why a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent left her at an orphanage as an infant. The foster system also plays a role in her backstory—she went through multiple foster homes, but she was never allowed to stay in any of them for long. Eventually she discovers that this was intentional—she was never placed long-term with any one family so she wouldn't be tracked down by whatever entity had killed her entire home town and most of the team that had rescued her.
- In Daredevil (2015), flashbacks show that Matt grew up in a church-run orphanage after the death of his father.
- Milla from Psychonauts worked at an orphanage before she came to teach at Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp — (though the orphanage burned down while she was out getting groceries, and Milla's psychic powers caused her to hear the dying thoughts of her charges as they burned to death. She keeps those memories locked away in her mind). It's never mentioned what country the orphanage was located in (though in Milla's memories they speak American English), which leaves room to suggest they're from an area that still has orphanages. It also fits the Retro Universe feel of Psychonauts.
- The 2019 remake of Resident Evil 2 adds in a subplot involving one, even though the story takes place in 1998, well after orphanages were supplanted in the United States by the foster care system. Umbrella built the orphanage in Raccoon City as a deliberate P.R. move, and they eventually started using the children there as guinea pigs for their bioweapons research.
- Bede's League Card in Pokémon Sword and Shield says he grew up in an orphanage. The game takes place in a contemporary 2010s Fantasy Counterpart Culture version of Britain.
- Alvin and the Chipmunks: It's shown in "The Chipette Story" that the Chipettes spent their early days in an orphanage in Australia.
- In American Dad!, Francine used to live in an orphanage as a child.
- In the Animaniacs cartoon "The Big Candy Store," a nun who runs an Orphanage of Love asks mean candy store owner Mr. Flaxseed to donate some candy to their Easter celebration, but in vain. In the end, however, the Warner siblings give the orphans a giant chocolate bunny (actually Mr. Flaxseed encased in chocolate).
- In the season two finale of BoJack Horseman, BoJack establishes the "BoJack Horseman Orphanage" due to the promise he made at Herb's funeral.
- Futurama: Orphanages, now called "orphanariums", make a comeback by the 30th century. Leela grew up in one after her parents left her on the doorstep with a bracelet and a note written in an alien language.
- In the 1990s-tinged My Little Pony Tales, Patch spent several years in an orphanage.
- The Replacements: The Expository Theme Tune reveals that Todd and Riley were living in an orphanage until they came across a Fleemco comic book, mail-ordered a Fleemco phone, and ordered themselves new parents.
- In Time Squad, Otto lived in an Orphanage of Fear until he was adopted.
- Voltron: Legendary Defender implies that Keith lived in an orphanage for several years after his father's death.