Follow TV Tropes


California Collapse

Go To

"But, assuming we don't blow ourselves up, us Californians just have to worry about California breaking off from the United go hang with Hawaii. Alaska can come too."
"The End of the World" cartoon short

The San Andreas Fault Line runs across much of California, as do other smaller fault lines, and consequently, earthquakes are common in the region.

Scientists have warned for some time that a superquake on the West Coast ("The Big One") is inevitable. All research points that there's enough pressure for it to happen any day it likes now, and there's a 70% chance that it won't wait more than 30 years. Many people have gotten the impression that California is one earthquake/nuclear explosion/meteor impact away from snapping off (neatly at the state line) and falling into the Pacific Ocean. In speculative fiction, don't be surprised if part or all of California has suffered this calamity, whether it's the focus of the work, part of a cavalcade of worldwide natural disasters, or just a throwaway reference. To writers who have Horrible Hollywood in mind, it's good riddance if Los Angeles were to fall off the face of the earth. Or religious apocalypticists who see it as a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah.

In Real Life, this is not going to happen, at least not as portrayed in fiction. An earthquake on a "thrust" type fault can cause the land on one side to rise or sink by several meters (although thankfully, such gigantic movements are extremely rare). However, the San Andreas Fault is a "strike-slip" fault, which moves the land sideways at a very gradual rate, with the west side of California drifting northwest and the east side moving southeast. In fact, there are places where it's getting closer together. A San Andreas Fault quake won't cause the land to sink, although several land portions that run on top of the fault line are below the sea level, so it's conceivable that very long periods of time could see it break off from the mainland and become an island.note 

Some writers propose that though the California coast would not crumble into the Pacific Ocean from an earthquake, it might be washed away by a following tsunami. While the Japanese Earthquake-Tsunami has shown this is possible even with strike-slip faults, it's not very likely.

A subtrope of Artistic License – Geology. If portrayed onscreen, it will usually use Earthquakes Cause Fissures, but may be more justified depending on the circumstances. A regional-scale Apocalypse How.

Warning: May contain spoilers


    open/close all folders 


    Anime & Manga 
  • Not in California, but otherwise fitting the trope is Japan Sinks, which has the entire Japanese archipelago start falling into the Pacific Ocean after a massive earthquake.

  • The Bill Hicks routine "Arizona Bay" talks about Los Angeles falling into the ocean after an earthquake. This would make Arizona the new coastline, hence the name.
  • Robin Williams talks about "The Big One" in Weapons of Self Destruction. One of the effects? "Nevada would become Wine Country."

    Comic Books 
  • The Infinity Gauntlet shows the West Coast Avengers watching on in horror after Thanos's angry outburst of energy hits the Earth and sends not just California, but the entire West Coast collapsing into the Pacific Ocean. Japan suffers a similar fate.
  • Transformers: Shattered Glass: In the backstory, after Earth suffers through a nuclear exchange during World War III, this is the fate of California alongside a good chunk of the surrounding states as well.

  • Lex Luthor's Evil Plan in Superman: The Movie is to hit California with a nuclear missile, which will fracture the fault line and sink California into the ocean. He plans to make a fortune by buying worthless property in the Nevada desert and then sell it as beachfront resorts once California is gone.
    Luthor: We all have our little faults. Mine's in California.
  • In Escape from L.A., a portion of the California coast has become separated from the mainland by a quake that flooded San Fernando Valley, and turning Los Angeles into an island. While it was already a Wretched Hive by that point, the theocratic President Evil who rules the U.S as a dictator by this point, and rose to power using fundamentalist rethoric, took the opportunity to turn L.A into a Hellhole Prison, similar to New York from the first movie. While it houses plenty of actual criminals, it also serves as a dumping ground for political dissenters, non-Christians, and people guilty of "immorality".
  • In 2012, the San Andreas fault line goes absolutely berserk. In this movie, southern California is apparently suspended over a gigantic cavern of magma, and a sufficiently strong quake will cause pieces of the surface to fall into the cavern.
  • Semi-averted in Demolition Man, where Lieutenant Lenina Huxley references "THE earthquake", the proverbial super-quake that California is "due for". Rather than explain how it tore a chunk off the coastline, it's implied that it merely destroyed most of the entire San Diego/Santa Barbara/Los Angeles area, leading to the creation of the new San Angeles metropolis.
  • The Evil Plan in A View to a Kill involves the destruction of Silicon Valley by water, caused by flooding the San Andreas fault. The villain was hoping to give himself a monopoly on microchips.
  • San Andreas is an earthquake disaster movie about "The Big One". Ultimately, it avoids the idea that California would completely sink in such a catastrophe, although the fissure created fills with water, and a good half of the state is flooded by the tsunami and the shattering Hoover Dam.

  • The Last Days Of The Late Great State Of California by Curt Gentry is written as a semi-fictional retrospective on California's history after the California coast west of the fault line sinks into the ocean due to a 9.0 earthquake.
  • Under The City Of Angels: In the Back Story, a series of earthquakes leaves Los Angeles underwater.
  • Dream Park: In the Back Story, a major earthquake in California knocks Los Angeles into the Pacific Ocean. One of the rides at Dream Park is a simulated exploration of the underwater remains of the city.
  • Marooned In Real Time: After the characters wake from their temporal stasis millions of years in the future, they find that California has rafted off into the Pacific.
  • The Survivalist: In the opening novel, World War 3 causes this to happen. A woman asks the protagonist if her husband might have survived because he lived on the landward side of the San Andreas fault; Rourke has to explain that the subsidiary effects of California sliding into the sea would have killed anyone there as well. In a later novel Rourke discovers that the detonation of all those nuclear weapons has created an artificial fault line in the Florida Panhandle, which is also about to slide into the sea, making this trope play out a second time on the opposite side of the US.
  • After Man: A Zoology of the Future: An elongated island of temperate woodlands is visible off the Pacific coast of North America. This is more justified than typical examples, since the book is set fifty million years in the future and this would be the result of thousands of incremental tectonic shifts gradually splitting it away from the mainland.
  • A Slight Miscalculation: A scientist predicts that the upcoming quake will cause most of California to sink. However, his computer insists that California would stay and the rest of North America will sink. In the end, the computer is right.
  • The Space Merchants: Atomic bomb tests seem to have kicked the San Andreas Fault into overdrive. Southern California has yet to slide into the ocean, but earthquakes happen there daily. Earthquake insurance policies don't cover the territory, but construction companies are always hard at work in replacing buildings that fell down.
  • Not quite a collapse, but a lot of today’s structures are visible under the water in Always Coming Home.
  • Isaac Asimov already discussed this trope on some of his non-fiction writings even back in the 70s, and why it was Artistic License – Geology at best and scaremongering at worst.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 10.5 ends with a superquake (with the titular Richter scale rating) that destroys the entire western seaboard of the United States, leaving a giant island where most of California used to be. The follow-up, 10.5: Apocalypse, uses of superfaults that split the whole of North America in half. After it aired, the Internet briefly filled with jokes about it being a prequel to Escape from L.A.
  • Sliders: In one episode, the characters slide into a world where California has broken up into islands.
  • Seaquest DSV: One episode has the crew traveled to the future featured this.
  • Star Trek: Voyager: One episode mentions an earthquake that caused the Los Angeles region to sink under 200 meters of water to become one of Earth's largest coral reefs.
  • Fringe: In the second season finale "Over There," a map of the country on Walternate's office wall shows California as mostly underwater. It's implied that this may be another Fringe-event disaster much like the blight and amberization of Boston.
    • This map indicates a San Andreas fault shift that brought San Francisco south to roughly where LA is in the Prime universe.
  • On Defiance, the massive amount of terraforming that Earth underwent at the end of the Pale Wars, among others things, apparently triggered this. In the present, the area where Los Angeles used to be is now an island chain called Angel Ark.

  • In the tool song "Ænema", the singer is praying for this to happen to Los Angeles, since the only way to fix it is to "flush it all away". It's inspired by the Bill Hicks "Arizona Bay" routine, which is directly referenced in the chorus. The artwork for the album "Ænema" is on, Ænima, features "before" and "after" maps that show most of California gone.
  • Discussed in the Warren Zevon song "Desperadoes Under the Eaves":
    And if California slides into the ocean
    Like the mystics and statistics say it will
    I predict this motel will be standing
    Until I pay my bill.
  • The Decemberists' "Calamity Song" mentions "California succumbed to the fault line."
  • The song "Ocean Front Property" by George Strait, although it's more of a "It will never happen!" than suggesting that it will.
    'Cause I don't love you, and now if you'll buy that
    I got some ocean front property in Arizona.
    From my front porch you can see the sea.
  • Mentioned in the Steely Dan song "My Old School", with the line "California tumbles into the sea," though it's more in the sense of "A thing that's almost certainly never going to happen."
  • The subject of the calypso-flavored 1969 novelty hit "Day After Day (It's Slippin' Away)" by Shango:
    Where can we go when there's no San Francisco?
    Better get ready to tie up your boat in Idaho!
  • "Antennas" by punk band Rancid contains the chorus that proclaims "So with no evacuation / Let California fall into the fuckin' ocean", the NOFX cover ends with the lines "Let's all sink with California / As it falls into the sea.", which are also the lyrics to the song "Sink with California" by Youth Brigade.
  • "California Jam" by Klaatu is a Beach Boys pastiche that contrasts the sun & surf lifestyle with the future, when "the San Andreas misfortune" will make California "a place in our memory".

  • The famed early 20th century psychic Edgar Cayce predicted that California would get destroyed by earthquakes and consumed by the Pacific, and many major cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco would disappear.
  • Some tongue-in-cheek financial advice runs along the lines of buying real estate on the eastern side of the San Andreas fault as future beachfront property.

  • This is a centerpiece of Williams Electronics's Earthshaker!, where the machine shakes, causing California to split from Nevada and form a fissure for the pinball to roll through.
    • Further exaggerated on the sides of the backbox, which shows the two states jiggling away from each other.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the Deadlands setting, California was shattered by an earthquake, causing much of the state to collapse into the ocean. The Pacific flooded into the resultant fissure, creating the Great Maze.
  • In the Shadowrun setting, southwestern Los Angeles falls into the ocean during a pair of major earthquakes known as The Twins (which measured 9.2 and 9.6 on the Richter Scale). However, it's noted that this was in total defiance of how plate tectonics works, and the sinking seems to have been something that occurred simultaneously with the quakes but was not caused by them. Some parts of the city are now tens of meters underwater, yet the buildings are completely intact and undamaged. There's also an extensive maze of previously unknown now-submerged caves running up and down the coast that don't make any sense for the region's geology. It's generally considered in-universe to have been caused by a magical phenomenon.

    Video Games 
  • In Alone in the Dark 3, the Big Bad has a plan pretty much like the one from the Superman: The Movie example, just replace "Arizona" with "Ghost Town Slaughter Gulch" and "increasing real estate" with "fulfilling an ancient native prophecy to become a god".
  • Arcade America has the earthquake triggered by a buttload of dynamite some monsters blew attempting to wake the Heavy Sleeper protagonist. ("But, c'mon, that was going to happen anyways.")
  • In Deus Ex, much of Southern California and the Baja California peninsula are missing from in-game maps; in the backstory, they collapsed into the ocean. The city of Pasadena is now on the coast, albeit a ghost of its former self, since Los Angeles and surrounding cities such as Glendale, Burbank, and Hollywood have been lost.
  • In Future Cop: L.A.P.D. Los Angeles is devastated and run by crime after a civil war, a huge storm and a massive earthquake, which has separated a part of the area into an island (used as a weapons test range. Said island also contains a joke level only accessible after all versus maps against the AI Sky Captain were won up to difficulty 10 each. It replaces all machines and towers with stuff like flowers and butterflies and has goofy music to boot.
  • Averted in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas: Despite taking place in a fictional version of California called San Andreas, the only mention made of earthquakes are the early-game instant wanted levels you get if you try to explore the other cities, caused by you supposedly interrupting geological surveys.
  • Motorstorm: Apocalypse, a cross between an off-road racing game and a Disaster Movie, takes place in an unnamed West Coast city that's clearly supposed to be San Francisco as it's being subjected to this. The final levels of each racer's campaign vividly depict the earth breaking apart and falling into the ocean, with massive fissures opening up in the track.
  • In Project Wingman, the Calamity, a massive volcanic event in the game's backstory, reset global civilization hundreds of years with large shifts in geography, namely that California and the Pacific Northwest are now a large island separated from the mainland. Mid-way through the game, the enemy faction decides it's a good idea to start a second Calamity to win the war.
  • Strike Commander's backstory explains that the Big One left both San Francisco and Los Angeles in ruins, and they are still struggling to recover. The lack of federal government assistance has led California to secede from the union, and then break into two new countries: South California and North California. Instead of cooperating, however, the two Californias have gone to war more than once, fighting over their limited water sources. The player participates in the defense of North California against South California at one point in the game.

  • In The Adventures of Sue and Kathryn!, this led to the formation of California Island (where the heroes live) and Arizona Bay. The author admits that the tool song listed above was an inspiration for putting such in the comic.

    Web Original 
  • In the Web video The End of the World, the narrator suggests at the end that California should split off "to go hang with Hawaii". Alaska can come too. (
  • The SCP Foundation plays with it in SCP-1238, a species of rock-eating fish that have created such a vast network of tunnels that much of northern California and the Pacific Northwest are just sinkholes waiting to happen. A big enough earthquake could cause a chain reaction where all of the tunnels collapse, resulting in the undermined area collapsing below sea level and inland areas being flooded, while leaving everything south of San Francisco alone.
  • In Scary News out of Tokyo-3, this happened in the wake of Second Impact as a result of violent earthquakes. The remains of Los Angeles and San Francisco are archipelagoes, and several communities in the Mojave Desert are now only a few miles inland; Lancaster is described as a "thriving seaside community" in a news report.

    Western Animation 
  • Dexter's Laboratory: This was the conclusion of Dexter's California vacation. California had a big earthquake as they were leaving, and it went out to sea (neatly along the state line) as California Island.
  • Possibly meant as a humorous variation on this: In the Futurama episode "Game of Tones", an alien ship's sonic blasts cause Florida (not California) and part of its neighboring states to split from North America.
  • While not as big as the trope usually calls for (as in, California didn't sink or detach) but still in its spirit, Animaniacs did a musical number with a pun about a real-life quake to hit the Los Angeles area.
    Whose fault? Whose fault? The San Andreas's fault!
    'Cause Mister Richter can't predict 'er kicking our as-phalt!
  • Invoked and played straight in an episode of 2 Stupid Dogs, "Day Dream": the possibility is mentioned several times, and then the earthquake hits and sinks the entire state of California, except for the two dogs who sleep throughout the whole disaster.
  • In Jackie Chan Adventures, Bai Tza the water demon attempts to magically sink San Francisco using the fault line, as her previous kingdom (Atlantis) is now an empty ruin.
  • Inverted in one episode of Eek! The Cat. Eek and the family are visiting California while an earthquake strikes it, with this trope being mentioned. A few instants later, it is revealed the rest of United States sank instead (and precisely around the borders, no less).