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Crowd Panic

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"The human mass panicked", wrote Edek. "Mothers cried, terrified children screamed, the moans of the wounded, the dead, the road blocked by overturned carts and dead horses".
Full Circle: A Homecoming to Free Poland

Often seen in natural Disaster Movies and works with apocalyptic settings, it's when a group of people starts running and screaming in panic during a life-or-death situation, be it a giant monster, a terrorist attack, or a tsunami, whatever the threat may be, it will cause absolute pandemonium, no, not that one, the other one that means chaos.

It's a stock reaction usually Played for Drama, but it's also Truth in Television as it reflects human behavior during times of disasters and fear.

Expect to see someone in the crowd to trip or get stuck and delay the others, or a shot of a lost kid looking for their mother. "Hurry up!" and "Don't push!" are common phrases that get yelled out in these tense moments, and as people just want to escape unharmed as quickly as possible, they typically act on autopilot. In animated works, this is usually accompanied by a visual effect to indicate rapid movement (with still images for added drama).

When the Living Prop folks do it, and they end up dying amid the mayhem, then they are Red Shirts, but if others besides the living props do it, then it's a Mass "Oh, Crap!", and if they die, as well, it means that Anyone Can Die. May involve Deadline News.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Very common in Attack on Titan due to its apocalyptic Crapsack World setting. Whenever groups of civilians see titans coming their way, they immediately start running, screaming, and pushing each other out of fear.
  • Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu: Sousuke finds his bottle of biowarfare agent has been opened, so he puts on an NBC suit and puts the class into Lock Down. Naturally his classmates Freak Out, and when Sousuke tries to calm them down, he says it's all right for him as he's the only one wearing a Hazmat Suit. Sousuke then takes off his suit in a gesture of solidarity, which is immediately subverted when everyone beats him up for bringing a deadly virus into the classroom in the first place. They then panic again and try to break down the sealed door until Kaname succeeds in Shaming the Mob with a Rousing Speech. Unfortunately, Sousuke stuffs things up again by saying how there's only one antidote.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 
  • In Breaking Boundaries a Town of Salem fanfic, most people in the town panic over the tiniest things. Only a select few don't join in. Usually caused by Water who is a very anxious character herself.
  • Death Note Chaotic: The city of Tokyo is full of panicked people after a number of bombs are detonated.
  • Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness Act III: In chapter 41, the entire student body freaks out when they discover that Kuyou has returned.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Turning Red, the 4*Town concert crowd starts running for the exits after Ming shows up.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The Abyss. When the giant tidal wave threatens the city, the people at the beach flee in terror.
  • Attack on Titan (2015) is faithful to its adaptation of the manga and anime of the same name, where it depicts people panicking en masse the moment they see an incoming titan to show how frightening the situation is.
  • Batman
    Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb.
    • Batman (1989). When the Joker's balloons release the Smilex gas, the crowds panic and try to get away.
  • Battle of Britain: Berlin, when the lights go out and the air raid sirens start up, announcing that the Royal Air Force has decided to return the favor after the Luftwaffe (accidentally) bombed London. The Berliners understandably freak out and flee in search of shelter.
  • Blazing Saddles. When Mongo first arrives in Rock Ridge, a crowd in the street sees him, panics and runs away.
  • Invoked in Conspiracy Theory Mel Gibson's character is followed into a movie theater by bad guys and shouts that there's a bomb under his seat in order to escape in the resulting panic.
  • Damnatus: Complete with bell-ringing doom prophet.
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
    • When Klaatu's spaceship first lands at the park, the crowds of people there run away in terror.
    • Sometime later, a crowd of people (and Army personnel) surround the spaceship. When Gort first appears the crowd panics and take off.
  • D.E.B.S. When Lucy Diamond is spotted at the Endgame celebration, the crowd panics and flees.
  • When the reporter on the airplane manages to get the fact that terrorists have seized control of the air traffic control systems of the airport in Die Hard 2 on the evening news, everyone in the airport panics. This mainly serves to ensure that the cops can't get through the crowds to attempt to do anything about it.
  • Dogma: After Bartleby breaks Officer McGee's neck.
  • Numerous films in the Godzilla franchise feature mobs of Tokyo citizens stampeding away when the big green guy (or one of his opponents) appears on the scene.
  • Independence Day: People are temporarily in awe at seeing the alien ships arriving. Then once one of them starts to park itself over New York City, they break out into a panic to get out while they can.
    President Whitmore: If you feel compelled to leave these cities, please do so in an orderly fashion.
  • Iron Man 2: The result of the attack at the Expo. The matter of having to evacuate a huge, displaced crowd is followed up on later.
  • Jurassic Park:
    • The Lost World: Jurassic Park includes a homage to the Godzilla films; when the Tyrannosaur starts rampaging around San Diego, among the fleeing crowds are some Japanese guys who probably left Tokyo to get away from this sort of thing.
    • Jurassic World has one when the pterosaurs let loose by the Indominus Rex rampage head toward the Main Street area of the park, where lots of visitors panic and run for cover.
  • King Kong:
    • King Kong (1933): When Kong attacks the native village while searching for Fay Wray, the natives leave in a justifiable hurry.
    • And in the 1976 Kong remake, the crowd of New Yorkers has a similar reaction when Kong breaks out of his cage.
  • The Naked Gun 2 ½, where Frank Drebin tries to evacuate a crowd in orderly fashion.
  • Quantum of Solace when an escaping QUANTUM agent shoots a random girl.
  • Titanic: Once the final plunge of the ship begins, there is a massive wave as everyone still on board desperately tries to reach the stern.

  • In Artemis Fowl: the Lost Colony, after the first demon appears in the street, it disappears. The crowd "froze", but when it disappeared, the crowd "unfroze violently".
  • The ending of the Twelfth book of A Series of Unfortunate Events implies this. Almost all the major characters throughout the entire series are trapped in a burning building, and other than the Baudelaires and Count Olaf, whether or not they survive is ultimately left up to the reader.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Described in great detail when the Vogons show up in orbit and announce that they're going to blow up the planet.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Invoked in an episode of Chuck as FULCRUM agent Tommy marches Chuck at gunpoint out of the Buy More during Black Friday. Chuck tells Jeff the Covert Distress Code "pineapple," which initiates a no-questions-asked full-store evacuation. The result is that the shoppers stampede toward the exit, thinking there's a fire. In the chaos, Casey is able to rescue Chuck.
  • Get Smart: After Maxwell Smart reveals there's a bomb in Harvey, the delegates at a conference flee in panic. The Chief gets on the microphone and delivers a tongue-lashing, telling them to set an example by leaving in a calm, orderly manner. Everyone looks shamefaced...then flees the same way as before.
  • This is what dooms most of the players in the first event of Squid Game; everyone walks into "Red Light Green Light" thinking losing just means going home with no money and hurt pride. Once two people are shot and it sinks in that losing means death, most of the players panic and run for the doors, resulting in their own deaths since they moved during a Red Light. Only those lucky enough to have a Deer in the Headlights reaction (or just have the presence of mind to not freak out) survive and move on.

    Video Games 
  • ANNIE: Last Hope have this happening whenever mutant crabs, tiny critters that spreads the zombie virus, appears in crowded civilian areas. The game opens with the main characters, the titular Annie and her policeman fiancée Jack, invited to a crowded town for a Halloween party before a horde of zombies appears, and in the ensuing panic both Jack and Annie gets separated.
  • In The Godfather: The Game, whenever you get seen with a gun... or someone starts shooting... or you crash your car into something... or some other stuff, the passersby quickly start running helter-skelter.
  • In the entire Hitman series, the civilian NPCs panic and flee at anything vaguely violent or seeing someone with a gun in a non-military context. They'll also run if they find evidence of your handiwork, i.e. corpses or in some cases bloodstains.
  • The Assassin's Creed series have this, normally when you kill someone in full view of them. Oddly, people will cheer you on when you fight with the guards, but flee in terror when you kill one.
  • [PROTOTYPE] had this, though normally someone won't start panicking until you pick up cars, kill people, or use your offensive powers.
  • The Getaway: People would freak out and run during the first half of the game if you were seen with a gun in public, and just like they would in real life, at least some of them call the cops. Less of an issue in the second half, as you're playing a plainclothes police officer and usually accompanied by some uniformed colleagues.
  • In Thwaite, the villagers inside a house that's threatened by an incoming missile head for another house. Panic ensues in the faster levels where almost every house is threatened one after another.
  • In The Matrix: Path of Neo during the 'Get me an Exit' mission, when the Agents fire at Neo the crowd freaks and some people start running around.
  • In some of the urban areas in Justice League Heroes: The Flash you pass groups of pedestrians fleeing the scene of the battle.

    Web Comics 
  • Champions of Far'aus: The people in the coliseum for the champions tournament at the beginning of the story panic when Parthelax warns them about the building they are in being under attack.
  • Schlock Mercenary has it as part of a plot to blow up a building without any innocent casualties. They stand still on the initial command to evacuate and thus need a little nudge.
    Schlock: We have confirmed reports of a firefight in the building!
    Random crowd member: If there's a fire, then where's the smoke?
    (Schlock fires his plasma cannon into the ceiling)
  • In El Goonish Shive when the Omega Goo attacks a blond girl calls for a crowd panic.
    Ellen: Dammit, if the goo starts to eat people I hope whoever that was is the first to go...
  • Waterworks: Less of a panic and more of a mass jaw drop, in answer to the protagonist's sudden rage attack.


Video Example(s):


Death of Alex Kitner

The shark devours a child in the middle of a public beach.

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