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Bad Vibrations

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"Look out! Possible dinosaur approaching! Attack imminent!"
"Anybody hear that? It's a, umm... It's an impact tremor is what it is... I'm fairly alarmed here."
Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park (1993)

Whenever there's an earthquake, a particularly large Monster of the Week, or The Horde coming, this will often be demonstrated subtly (or not so subtly) by showing a small object (like a lamp or a small pile of coins) vibrating, then jumping around as the vibrations get stronger (or the monster gets closer). Alternatively, this can be done with ripples in a pool of water. Mostly, the camera starts shaking (and possibly the people, too), for added emphasis.

Made easier in console video games by the vibrating "rumble" motors built into most controllers.

See also Wormsign.


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  • A GE "ecoimagination" promo uses a non-monstrous variant, when a happy young elephant dances through a research facility and makes the growth-medium in a petri dish ripple.
  • A fast food outlet selling Jurassic Park merchandise had two cups of Coca Cola doing this.

  • One of Bill Cosby's stand-up routines is "Buck Buck", describing a game by that name where groups of kids jump on each other and try not to fall down. Bill's team is good on defense, but the kids from the "rough part of town" claim to be even better, laughing off their offense from start to finish. Until:
    "And the ground's tremblin'. *rumble* Trees fallin' over. *rumble* Buildings losing pieces of brick. *rumble* Parents taking kids off the street. *rumble* "Hey, hey, hey!" And these guys underneath us saying, "What's the ground doin' shakin', man? How come the ground's shakin'?" *rumble* "That's Fat Albert comin' for you." "Hey, hey, hey!" *rumble*
  • Referenced by Jimmy Fallon in one of his "Thank you" notes.
    "Thank of water on my table last night at P.F. Chang's, for rippling when an overweight man walked by. I know you weren't TRYING to compare him to a dinosaur, but you just couldn't help yourself, could you?"
     Comic Books 
  • In Bone, this is how Fone Bone is introduced to Gran'ma Ben; He and Thorn are talking when everything in the cabin starts shaking. Thorn realizes that her grandmother must be approaching, and racing one of her cows. On foot.
    Fone Bone: Your gran'ma?! It sounds like a stampede!

    Fan Works 
  • At the end of the Voyager slashfic "Attack of the Fifty-Foot Half-Klingon", B'Elanna Torres and Seven of Nine are relaxing in a suspension bed floating above a lake, which starts rippling as a giant Tom Paris returns to seek revenge as The Amazing Colossal Man.
  • Dungeon Keeper Ami: Surfacers and Ami both have what is effectively seismographic equipment, which picks up on bombings and imps mining, both signs of enemy action.
  • ''OSMU: Fanfiction Friction: The large rabbit that Omar, Opal and Oswald are greeted with as they land on the island of Hy-Brasil makes the ground shake, which is how they're alerted to its presence.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Avengers: Infinity War: The arrival of Ebony Maw's ship on Earth is heralded by heavy vibrations.
  • Jurassic Park (1993) has a much-parodied scene where ripples in a glass of water foretold the arrival of the Tyrannosaurus rex. It later recurs when Malcolm notices rippling in a puddle formed by the tyrannosaur's footsteps. Notably does not happen at the end; to be fair, the main characters were probably a bit distracted by the Velociraptors trying to eat them to notice that the ground is shaking a little.
  • Inception: Throughout the dreams, vibrating objects or ripples in fluids are indicating the arrival of kicks. A prime example is the close-up shot on the coffee cup in the Paris level with Cobb and Ariadne.
  • Tremors
    • The first movie runs on this all the way long, as vibrations signal the approaching subterranean monsters.
    • Subverted delightfully in Tremors 2: Aftershocks, with sheets of metal instead of water. As the movement gets more violent, and the heroes assume the monster just out of view has to be huge to be making it, so they point their guns higher and higher... until a little beast about half their size hops into view. What's even better is that the camera shot is set up so that the audience fully expects it as well, waiting for the giant inserted-by-special-effects monster to come lumbering around the corner of the building.
      • Also subverted when the approaching rumbles turned out to be Burt Gummer arriving in a heavy truck loaded with weaponry.
      "It's no Graboid... it's somethin' more dangerous!"
  • Godzilla:
    • In Godzilla (1998), GINO is making cars shake with each step during its first foray in New York... but no longer later in the movie.
    • In Godzilla (2014), Joe and Sandra Brody are rather worried about the earthquake that seems to have hit the Janjira nuclear plant. Then Joe realizes that it can't be an earthquake because A) none of the other plants in the region are reporting tremors, B) the vibrations are too concentrated and regular for an earthquake, and C) the vibrations are slowly but surely increasing in strength.
    • In Shin Godzilla, tiles are shown rattling and falling off a traditional Japanese home as Godzilla passes.
  • In Independence Day, the mother ship erases Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's footprints from the moon with this method, and the smaller city destroyers create vibrations strong enough to be mistaken as an earthquake by the characters.
  • Star Wars:
    • In Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Han realizes the 'cave' he and the others are hiding in is something much worse when firing his blaster around causes it to shake.
    • In Rogue One, the blind Chirrut is the first to notice the approaching AT-ACTs on Scarif thanks to their heavy footfalls.
  • At the beginning of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Captain Sulu's teacup rattles off the counter top in front of his captain's chair and shatters as his ship, the Excelsior, is buffeted by the fore-shockwave of the Praxis explosion. A mere moment after the cup shatters on the floor, alarms start sounding. Behind the scenes, the little countertop is actually to hide a gimbal mounting point for the bridge set that made the bad vibrations a practical effect instead of employing the old standby Screen Shake.
  • Done subtly (at first) in the second Ace Ventura movie. As the villain is indulging in a low-key Evil Gloating with a slight What Could Possibly Go Wrong?, everyone falls silent as they feel the house start to vibrate. At first, it's quiet, as if they could possibly be imagining the sound. But it gets louder, and louder, until a horde of animals bursts through the wall, followed by Ace on a flamingo in a Big Damn Heroes moment.
  • The opening scene of Richard III. The king is eating a meal when everything on his table starts to vibrate (including a glass of red wine) whereupon an enemy tank bursts through the wall.
  • Downfall: A vibrating water glass shows that the Russians are close enough to the centre of Berlin to start shelling it with artillery.
  • Near the end of The Mist, the whole Jeep bounces before the appearance of the sky-scraper sized monster.
  • The coach in Shaolin Soccer pauses to watch the water ripple in a cup on a trembling bench, to the sound of pounding in the distance. It's Mighty Steel Leg, repeatedly kicking a soccerball against a wall 50 meters away, hard enough to leave a deepening impact.
  • In Jumanji, the book shelves are shaking, making a bust and some books fall, just as Alan yells "IT'S A STAMPEDE!" And then a rhinoceros comes crashing through the shelves.
  • The Korean action epic Arrow: The Ultimate Weapon uses this trope, manifested first as a vibrating arrow and then as tremors in cups of tea, as the first sign of an approaching mounted Manchu invasion force.
  • Kimberly Wells in The China Syndrome notices this when the water cooler she's using shakes and ripples in the Ventana Nuclear Power Plant. Plant Supervisor Jack Godell also sees it when his coffee cup vibrates. It's actually the plant's faulty coolant pump, which is shaking from the incredible pressure being poured on it during a SCRAM procedure, and on the verge of tearing itself to pieces.
  • Outpost: Rise of the Spetsnaz. The SS guards see their chessboard vibrate. Is it artillery from the advancing Soviet army? A bombing raid? It's worse: a badass Russian commando trying to kick his way out of his cell!
  • A very short version in Act of Valor. Terrorist financier Christo sees his table with Newton's Cradle start to vibrate a second before an explosion on his yacht tells him the US Navy have turned up for an unwelcome visit.
  • 300 has this in the first battle, where the approaching Persian army is so massive that they shake the earth with their approach.
  • This is done twice in San Andreas — three times if the limo jolting is of any indication — with small objects vibrating (including a lamp and later some utensils) prior to massive earthquakes.
  • Reversed in Hulk when it's used to show the monster leaving instead of approaching. Ripples are seen in a pool of water next to an unconscious Glenn Talbot as the Hulk leaps away in huge bounds after going on a rampage.
  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005), the cup on Arthur's table shakes violently and fall off due to the drilling outside the house.
  • Parodied of course in Attack of the 60 Ft. Centerfold when our protagonist Angel Grace walks up to two guys in their truck. The beer bottle on the dashboard shakes with every "earthquake" until they stop.
  • Wayne's World 2 parodies the Jurassic Park instance in a brief homage to said film.
  • Subverted in Zack Snyder's Justice League. Alfred Pennyworth is seen working on a car, then a sonic boom causes ripples in his glass of water — it's Superman benevolently coming to him for information on where to find the Justice League.
  • An early example (1963) with Tystnaden when a teacup suddenly starts shaking before a tank appears on the street below.
  • Space Jam: A New Legacy: As the game is about to start, Al G. calls out "Let's get some butts in these seats!", which summons a massive crowd of Warner-owned spectators, big and small, that creates a rumble as they rush to the sidelines.
    Bugs: How big are these butts?
  • Red Dawn (2012). The attack on the town is heralded by distant explosions making the 'snow' in a snow globe jump. The protagonists don't notice because they're asleep, until much closer and louder explosions cause objects to start falling off the shelves.
  • Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country: In the opening scene, now-Captain Sulu is having some tea on the bridge of the USS Excelsior when it suddenly starts shaking and falls off the mini-table, heralding the shockwave from the exploding Klingon moon Praxis.
  • King Kong (2005): Denham is filming a herd of grazing Brontosaurus at the end of a corridor ruin when they're startled by a pack of Venatosaurus, and start to stampede. The rest of the crew is further down the corridor, unaware of what's happening, but they realize something's wrong when the ground starts rumbling hard enough for bricks to be shaken off the walls. Cue Denham running back in terror, followed by a thousand tons of panicking dinosaurs.
  • At the start of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider The Cradle of Life, the guests at a Greek wedding turn up the stereo so loud the champagne in the glasses starts vibrating...along with everything else as an earthquake occurs.

  • In A Day of Fallen Night, the second eruption of the volcano Dreadmount causes every hot spring, mudpot, and other type of thermal pool in the world to abruptly boil. This causes injuries or death to anyone unfortunate enough to be having a soak in a previously safe spring and spooks everyone else.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Blake's 7. In "Sarcophagus", a build-up of telekinetic energy is shown when a tray of drinks starts first to vibrate, then float in the air!
  • Parodied in Bunk'd. At the beginning of "Rise of the Machine", ripples in a cup of water herald the arrival of the Peewee-wakas, a day camp program for younger campers.
  • Children of Dune. A sudden wind that ripples a puddle of water presages the detonation of a stoneburner.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In the 1996 TV movie, when the TARDIS is sabotaged, the Doctor's tea not only vibrates but develops its own little whirlpool.
    • Played with in "The Beast Below", where it's a plot point that the liquid in a glass of water isn't vibrating.
    • Inverted in "The Big Bang", where the vibration signals the return of the TARDIS, which is always a good thing.
  • The Jurassic Park bit was parodied in the Rashomon episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, with Uncle Phil standing in for the T-Rex.
  • The Mandalorian
    • In "The Marshal", Din finds Marshal Cobb wearing Mandalorian armour, and the two are about to draw blasters over his right to wear it when suddenly everything starts shaking because a Krayt Dragon is tunnelling its way through the town.
    • In "The Rescue", Dark Trooper droids are remorselessly punching their way through a blast door behind which our heroes are barricaded, with everything on The Bridge shaking in tune with every pound on the door.
  • Parodied in an episode of Scrubs when a very pregnant Jordan is summoned to the hospital.
  • Parodied in Nicky, Ricky, Dicky, and Dawn in "I Want Candace". After the boys ruin Dawn's chance to meet her idol Candace Parker, Dawn comes stomping down the stairs with the boys looking at a cup of water that was vibrating to her stomps.
  • In Smallville, "Bride", a large bowl of soup starts to vibrate seconds before Doomsday crashes in.
  • In Stargate SG-1 when Carter and O'Neill activate a stargate in Antarctica, a vibration happens which is so strong that it could make ripples in Daniel's glass of water ≈8,000 miles away. The gate doesn't work properly but it's used by Daniel to find them so the bad bit may be debatable here. It is then pointed out that Stargate Command had come across the vibration problem years ago and installed dampers on their gate to stop it.
  • Star Trek: Voyager:
  • In season six finale of Supernatural, Dean and Bobby see seriously bad vibrations in a puddle. Dean even mentions Jurassic Park as a reaction to this.
  • Became a Running Gag on Tremors: The Series, in that everyone would freeze in mid-argument and grab hold of anything breakable whenever El Blanco passed through town, making the ground vibrate. Soon as he'd passed by, conversations would resume as if nothing odd had happened. This even happened in the midst of a scene where someone was being held at gunpoint.
  • In the pilot for V (2009), a vibrating glass of water — a la Jurassic Park (1993) — presages the arrival of a huge spaceship.

    Music Videos 
  • Pretty much the entirety of the Nine Inch Nails music video for "Only".
  • The later end of "Prayer" by Disturbed does this in light of the coming earthquake (timed particularly well with the bass-drum and power-chords).

    Tabletop Games 
  • Justified in Warhammer 40,000, as the Humongous Mecha put the emphasis on the humongous. If you don't feel the minor earthquakes these things cause with every footstep, you deserve what you get. Not to mention that in many Apocalypse games, when custom Titans are brought in, you're moving figures that are over 18" tall. Needless to say, things shake, even on the real tabletop.

    Theme Parks 

    Video Games 
  • In ANNO: Mutationem, during her venture through Freeway 42, Ann experiences a sudden rumbling as a result of The Consortium battling The Varanus in another area.
  • Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee opens with a sudden tremor shaking downtown Tokyo, causing manhole covers to rattle, car alarms to go off, and people to look around until someone screams "Godzilla!"
  • The Resident Evil series uses the controller vibration almost every time a boss approaches.
  • Super Mario Bros.
    • In the prologue of Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, Bowser's castle is hit by an earthquake upon Exor landing from the sky.
    • Paper Mario:
      • In Paper Mario 64, Peach's castle rumbles as Bowser makes his move to carry the castle into the sky.
      • Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door: In the final chapter, the moment when The Shadow Queen possesses Peach, the whole world is hit by a large rumbling.
      • Super Paper Mario: Each time The Void grows in size, an quick earthquake occurs. Likewise, in Chapter 6, prior to Sammer Kingdom being destroyed, the vibration grows larger as its time is almost up.
    • In Super Mario Odyssey, Mario and Cappy's trip to Bowser's Kingdom gets interrupted when their ship gets shaken, upon stepping outside they see Bowser... with an enormous dragon.
  • The PlayStation port of Quake II likely cleverly used rumble when particularly large enemies were walking. Better yet, it was in stereo.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • Majora's Mask: This comes into play on the final day, where the moon making its descent causes the land to rumble, more violently as it gets closer.
    • Breath of the Wild: In a flashback memory, while Link and Daruk are out on Death Mountain, the area vibrates heavily, which makes Daruk concerned. Later in another memory, the arrival of Calamity Ganon is signaled by a massive earthquake enveloping all of Hyrule.
  • No More Heroes: Before the start of the battle with DestroyMan, sudden rumbles occur just before he transforms.
  • In the Outland area of World of Warcraft, there are wandering demonic golems known as Fel Reavers. They are absolutely monstrous in scale, far larger than anything the player had encountered up to that point. Not only does your screen shake as they draw near, but you can hear their footsteps. Even more fearsome is their mechanical roar, which makes the screen shake violently, letting the player know that a massive death machine is very close. Luckily, their eyesight is terrible. Due to the way aggro works in the game, they'll only notice you if you're very close to them on the ground. You can fly a flying mount right through its face and it won't attack.
  • Mega Man ZX Advent: Bifrost is so huge and heavy that every time he takes a step, it's accompanied by a large stomp and a small shake of the screen to emphasize it.
  • Skull Girls: Robo-Fortune is so heavy that she's the only other character who causes the screen to lightly rumble and thud loudly when she's walking, the other being the even bigger, lumbering and benevolent Big Band.
  • StarCraft:
    • Starcraft I: Ghost's promo cinematic features an overconfident Marine captain leading a company to retake a Zerg-held refinery. Confident that the Zerg force is minimal to absent, he orders his troops forward en masse. He senses a deep rumble in the ground, pauses, and demands to know who had called for heavy armor support. When his lieutenant informs him that there are no tanks in the area, he realizes: that rumble is coming from the enemy.
    • And in StarCraft II, when Raynor and Tychus show up to save General Warfield, a massive swarm of incoming Zerglings is heralded by rattling shell casings on the ground.
    Tychus: "Uh, guys, I hate to interrupt but... the natives are getting restless!"
  • The Turok (2008) game would hint that Mama Scarface, the Tyrannosaurus of the game, was nearby with slight tremors indicating her footsteps, as well as environmental effects; like small rocks and pebbles crumbling from around the title character, and the sounds of tree branches breaking. Occasionally, there would be the slight echo of her roaring. Would end up being Paranoia Fuel for some of the time, as she didn't appear immediately afterwards for most of these instances, just leaving the player to wander the jungle, expecting for an encounter, but for nothing to happen.
  • Halo:
    • Bungie liked to add these to the Warthog run sequences. Usually because something is exploding in frighteningly-close proximity to you.
    • Slipspace Jumps cause these as well, such as Flood-controlled In Amber Clad into High Charity or Regret's carrier over New Mombasa.
  • Hitman: Absolution: As tacky as 47's motel room is, it ends up alerting him when The Saints' bus rolls up outside. This causes a bobble-head on the mantle to inexplicably stop moving.
  • Inverted In XCOM: Enemy Unknown; the arrival of the enormous "Temple Ship" sets off tremors around the globe.
    [XCOM HQ gets hit by a quake]
    Central Officer Bradford: "Tell me that was a coincidence."
    Tech: "Wish I could, Sir..."
  • In Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, The Mastermind realizes he's been double-crossed as the submarine he is currently on has been sabotaged by explosives to ensure he won't be able to escape.
  • In Noita, the screen shakes whenever explosions go off, but continuous shaking is a sure sign that a large and dangerous Worm is burrowing nearby.
  • Primal Carnage: As an obvious Jurassic Park (1993) reference, Tyrants will shake the ground as they walk, which causes the camera to tremble slightly if they're close and has a loud audio cue which can be heard anywhere on the map.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Double Homework, this is the harbinger of the avalanche meant to kill the protagonist and his friends.

    Web Animation 
  • AstroLOLogy: In "Roachzilla", Pisces notices water rippling in the fountain in the park, alerting her to the giant roach in the city.
  • Dinosaurs: The True Story: Parodied. President T. rex's arrival is first heralded by a lab tech's glass of water shaking ominously.
  • Homestar Runner: In the Strong Bad Email "unnatural", the settings at Strong Bad and The Cheat's tea party (as well as Strong Bad and The Cheat themselves) jump around as we hear ominous footsteps, and then the giant Bubs arrives.
  • Helluva Boss: Loopty's entrance is heralded by the I.M.P office shaking due to him climbing the walls and trying to smash into the room. Said tremors are first signified by a display of Loona's drink cup rippling before spilling over, and the crew panic over whether or not it's a hellquake before Loopty finally breaches the wall (crushing Moxxie in the process) to introduce himself.


    Web Original 
  • In the Whateley Universe story "Ayla and the Mad Scientist" the team is in a simulation, and they notice the ground tremors and the sound. The first response is a Jurassic Park comment. It's something worse than a Tyrannosaurus.
  • In the original Stars In Black, Bad Vibrations are the harbinger... of T-Rap, who's a good guy (if useless).

    Western Animation 
  • Amphibia: In "The Beginning of the End", King Andrias beginning the invasion of Earth causes the city to vibrate as his forces arrive.
  • In Steven Universe episode "Beach City Drift", Steven's water bucket ripples as Kevin's sports car drives up.
  • The VeggieTales video "Dave and the Giant Pickle" parodied Jurassic Park with Goliath's approach causing ripples in King Saul's glass of water.
  • In the last episodes of Code Lyoko, the Kolossus makes the Ice Replika and Ice Sector shake with each step... including the Skidbladnir, although this ship isn't even in contact with the ground. (Technically, it is tethered to the tower; physics are kind of messed up in Lyoko.)
  • The Batman: The Animated Series episode, "Mean Seasons" parodies Jurassic Park by having a glass of water vibrate to indicate a rampaging robot T. rex.
  • ReBoot: During his fight with Megabyte, Matrix gets hit hard and slides down the outside of the Principle Office. He stops at the very edge of a massive hole, his head just over the edge. He lays there, barely conscious for a time, as small tremors begin. The tremors quickly get louder, coinciding with a metallic clanking, until Matrix's body jolts with each impact. Then the tremors stop, and we see Megabyte over top Matrix, about to deliver a killing blow.
  • An episode of Mike, Lu & Og has the natives marching to where Mike is to make her the "nose" of their First Day of Spring Festival. The next scene has Mike experiencing an Oh, Crap! moment when she sees her coconut drink ripple Jurassic Park-style as the natives approach her.
  • The Jurassic Park bit was parodied in the Animaniacs segment "The Please, Please, Please, Get a Life Foundation", where Baloney approaches a nerd while his Wakko coffee mug shakes.
  • Parodied in the Steampunk comedy short film A Gentlemen's Duel. Two aristocrats Compete for the Maiden's Hand by dueling with steampunk mecha, whose approach is heralded by the buxom lady's breasts shaking to the appreciation of her butler.
  • The Mickey Mouse short Brave Little Tailor has the Giant's entrance being preceded by everything bouncing off the ground, Mickey included.
  • The Invader Zim episode "Megadoomer" parodies the Jurassic Park scene when Dib is in the bathroom brushing his teeth and suddenly sees the water in the toilet rippling as Zim approaches his house with the Megadoomer.
  • Total Drama (2023): The day after Julia's true personality is exposed on MySelfieGram, breakfast is interrupted when the mess hall starts shaking, complete with glasses of water rippling. Millie assumes the raptors from the previous episode are back, but no, it's an angry Julia, dead set on finding out who was recording her.
  • In the animated short Dinosaurs: The true story by Paul-Louis Aeberhardt, JASA (Jurassic Aeronautics and Space Administration) is awaiting their leaders to activate the nuclear missiles that will destroy the dinosaur-exterminating meteor. First an ankylosaur general's arrival is presaged by the ripples in a plastic cup of water, then the T-Rex who's the President turns up with the JASA technicians bouncing up and down with every stomp.

    Real Life 
  • Invoked as a means for defenders of medieval castles to check if sappers were trying to tunnel through. Pans and cups of water would be placed on the ground in various places, and checked for ripples and vibrations.
  • Some particularly large earthquakes are preceded by smaller earthquakes known as "foreshocks". These are the opposite of aftershocks, and can happen up to a year or so before the main event (as seen with the quakes that caused the devastating tsunamis in the Indian Ocean in 2004 and Japan in 2011).
  • Heavy construction and mining equipment can cause this trope- Pile Drivers in particular, as they basically work like a giant hammer.
  • An underground surveying technique known as Reflection Seismology both invokes and exploits this trope: by striking the ground with a series of heavy impacts near an array of seismic sensors, a detailed sonar image of the underlying material can be generated.


Video Example(s):


Rocky + Excavator + Explosives

During a fight between the rival employees of the Lacksadaisy Speakeasy Rum Runners & The Marigold Gang the energetic Rocky finds an Excavator and a Demolitions Shed. He uses it to turn the fight in his favor.

How well does it match the trope?

4.88 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / ThrowDownTheBomblet

Media sources: