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Cryonics Failure

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"Harry, your odds of catastrophic failure in this situation is... 120%? That, that can't be right. Oh, wait, I see. It's says 'Complete certainty Harry will die in the stasis unit, plus another one in five chance it'll decapitate him while he tries to climb inside.'"
SF Debris lampshades this trope, which the Voyager episode surprisingly averts.

For such an advanced technology, cryonics is subject to a surprisingly high failure rate. Whenever our far-future heroes discover some long-forgotten set of Human Popsicles, at least one of them is inevitably dead or otherwise can't be revived. (Mainly so they can give a good skeleton scare.)

In some cases, this is practically a "cherry popsicle" in that a great number of the unrecoverables are insignificant to the story.

This might be an example of Truth in Television, though, given the real-life uncertainty of the process. For the situation when someone is frozen and then deliberately smashed to pieces, see Literally Shattered Lives. See also Cryo Sickness, for those cryosleepers that wake up damaged or ill, but alive.

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Three members of the Winter Team in 7 Seeds were mummified alive during the thousands of years they were supposed to be in cold sleep.
  • In the far-future chapter of Osamu Tezuka's Phoenix epic, the main character who has survived a nuclear apocalypse and granted immortality by a god stumbles upon a stasis chamber that is slated to open 10,000 years hence, and waits for it to open so that he will have someone to talk to. When the chamber finally opens, he finds... dust.
  • In one Fairy Tail arc, the Big Bad, a former training partner of Gray, was trying to Unseal the Sealed Evil in a Can their master sacrificed herself to freeze, in order to surpass her by destroying it. He succeeds in thawing the monster, only to find that over a decade as a Human Popsicle isn't conducive to Demon health either.
  • In one of the many side-stories of Legend of the Galactic Heroes, a defecting Imperial nobleman and his family attempt to escape into Alliance territory through an escape stasis raft. Unfortunately, nearly everyone was found by Kircheis to have died mid-procedure, with only the nobleman's daughter left alive.
  • During a nightmare sequence inflicted on Ataru by the vindictive dream demon Mujaki at the climax of the second Urusei Yatsura film, Beautiful Dreamer, Ataru wakes up in a futuristic laboratory while a recording of his father recounts how he and Lum supposedly fell victim to an unknown sickness 500 years ago and had been put into cryogenic suspension until a cure could be discovered. However when Ataru goes over to Lum's cryo pod, he discovers that a terminal fault had occurred 100 years into her sleep and she's dead. Even though we know it's only a dream, it's possibly the single darkest moment of the entire series.

    Comic Books 
  • Orolin in ElfQuest, the Guider of the High Ones' Palace-ship, was in stasis inside Preserver webbing when it crash-landed on the World of Two Moons. When his sole surviving crewmate Timmain returns to the Palace 10,000 years later she discovers that the webbing was torn during the crash and Orolin never woke up.
  • Invoked in Supergirl Vol 1 #7. Supergirl finds Zatanna's frozen body and does her utmost to thaw her carefully because Zatanna can die if she is not careful.
  • In The Worlds of Aldebaran, all but two of the population of the Copernicus died while in cryo-stasis. This was because of a biological computer virus, however.
  • In the EC Comics story "50 Girls 50," people on a long space voyage are kept in Human Popsicle condition through a process nobody can survive twice.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The first Planet of the Apes (1968) movie. The astronauts awaken to find that their fourth companion and only female, Stewart (who wasn't in the book anyway), has died (Stuffed Out of the Fridge?). This one they can't blame on those "damn dirty apes".
  • The Alien series.
    • In Aliens, this was as an intentional part of Burke's plan to ensure that there'd be no Marines to tattle on him bringing Ripley back Alien-infected.
      Ripley: He figured he could get an alien back through quarantine if one of us was... impregnated, of whatever you call it... then frozen for the trip home. Nobody would know about the embryos we were carrying; me and Newt.
      Hicks: No, wait a minute, we'd all know.
      Ripley: Yes, the only way he'd be able to do it is if he sabotaged certain freezers on the way home, namely yours. Then he could jettison the bodies and make up any story he liked.
      Hudson: You're dead... you're dog meat, pal!
    • In the first few minutes of Alien≥, an alien egg hatches, and the facehugger that comes out of it attacks the cryonic pods that Ripley and the others are hybernating in. The ship transports the pods to an escape pod, which then crashes on the planet below.
    • In Alien: Covenant, Captain Branson is killed when his cryotube traps him inside and catches fire after the ship is hit by a neutrino blast, incinerating him.
  • Zigzagged in Batman & Robin, where Poison Ivy attempted to kill Nora Fries, Mr. Freeze's terminally ill wife, by unplugging her cryotube, but Batman managed to save her life.
  • Presumably, a lot of the occupants of the cryo-prison destroyed in the final battle of the movie Demolition Man had their sentences extended permanently, with no hope of parole. It's certainly what happened to Simon Phoenix, courtesy of John Spartan's boot.
  • In Don't Look Up, only half of the cryopods make it to the destination after evacuating Earth. And Isherwell happily notes that this outcome is better than he expected. It seems not to matter much, since the survivors are probably about to be eaten by native beasts anyway.
  • Brought up in The Empire Strikes Back. When Han Solo is forced into carbonite freezing so Boba Fett can deliver him to Jabba the Hutt, multiple characters bring up the potential dangers of the process, with Boba in particular complaining that "he's no use to me dead." Darth Vader assures Boba that he'll be compensated if something goes wrong. Fortunately for Han, he survives and eventually gets thawed out in Return of the Jedi.
  • In the first minutes of Pitch Black, a lot of people die in their universe's version of cryo-sleep because some small meteorites crash through the ship and puncture the devices.
  • Pandorum's plot features this plus numerous fates worse than splat, even those who survive come out with partial amnesia and in many cases psychosis. Horrifically averted in the case of the Eden disaster, where the hibernation capsules worked perfectly and awoke their occupants with no problems whatsoever... at least, until the occupants discovered that a psychotic crewmember had ejected them all into deep space.
  • Supernova does this to its captain. Note that they're not frozen during the jump — they are put into separate chambers and get naked in order to prevent their flesh from being fused with foreign objects. Unfortunately, it's not perfect, and the captain is fused with the glass from the chamber itself. At the end, due to the Big Bad smashing all but one of the chambers, the two protagonists end up jumping in the same chamber to escape the title event. Some genetic material ends up being exchanged, and they end up with mismatched eyes; oh, and the chick is pregnant.
  • In 2001: A Space Odyssey, the astronauts other than Poole and Bowman are intentionally killed by HAL forcing a malfunction in the coldsleep system, when trying to follow conflicting orders.

  • In the Deathlands novel "Ice and Fire", the protagonists find a cyro section in a Redoubt and try activating it. Several tubes have already failed, including one whose occupant was clearly clawing to get out of his confinement after he was revived. Some are unfrozen too fast and turn to goo. An elderly woman is in such pain that she gets a Mercy Kill, and a man suffering from head trauma tries to attack the protagonists, then kills himself. One man does revive properly but he has ALS; he finds himself waking in an After the End world where there no hope of a cure and his disability makes him makes him The Load.
  • Two-thirds of the Mayflower passengers died during the trip in Remnants. The technology was incredibly experimental; Jobs' immediate response to being told they would be going into hibernation was to point out that most of the subjects died during its most recent testing on monkeys. It explains how they died in graphic detail. Some of them were wiped out by micrometeorite punctures, some devoured from within by parasitic worms, some, the machinery just failed over the 500-year cryosleep, so they died of old age in their sleep. They refer to the micrometeor one as being "cheesed". And that's not even counting what happened to the woman who was pregnant, or the boy who remained conscious.
  • Used in an especially horrific example in the Red Dwarf book Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers, where every stasis tube on a ship has been broken, killing their inhabitants, except one. This half broken tube causes the bottom half of a man's body to decompose over thousands of years, while his top half remains alive. Upon being revived, he screams for two minutes straight then dies of shock.
  • Dan Abnett's Eisenhorn novel Xenos opens with a large-scale one. The inhabitants of a planet with an orbit that causes it to freeze solid for 11 months every 29-month year enter suspended animation during that time to survive. A villain massacres large portions of the upper-class of the planet by having them revive suddenly and without any medical assistance.
  • A magical version of this occurs in later The Black Company novels, when some of the characters are trapped in magical stasis. Disturbing the magic killed some of them, and the first efforts at revivification were fatal for a few of the Mauve Shirts.
  • In a Young Adult novel called The Starlight Crystal, the heroine's spacecraft comes across another satellite orbiting the Earth, filled with people in cold sleep. Only two of the frozen people are long dead, one of which is the heroine's boyfriend. The other is the heroine's future self, who deliberately caused both cold sleep chambers to malfunction.
  • In The Eyes of Light and Darkness, some frozen people remain conscious during the journeys (which can result in them being conscious but frozen for hundreds of years). Needless to say, many humans ended up losing their minds. The colonization project went awry because of that. Fortunately, the humans found some intelligent aliens at their destination, but those aliens were also nuts. Being frozen long enough also causes death.
  • In Harry Turtledove's Homeward Bound, one of the cryonic pods malfunctioned during humanity's roughly 10-lightyear journey to the aliens' home planet. One of the medical techs describes it as "dying in slow motion", a phrase which horrifies the rest of the crew. This makes things interesting for about 5 minutes since he was the head diplomat (also because he was Henry Kissinger, even though the text doesn't outright say it). Averted for the Race, since they have perfected the technology over tens of thousands of years (they tend to perfect existing tech instead of inventing new stuff).
  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy, Slartibartfast complains that the cleaning staff didn't freeze so well... leaving nobody to clean up the bodies.
  • Andre Norton uses "cold sleep" in The Stars Are Ours as a way for a remnant of fugitive scientists and their families to flee a dystopic Earth for what they hope will be a fresh start on another planet. Some of them don't make it.
  • A non-lethal but still devastating Cryonics Failure takes place in Philip K. Dick's short story "I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon". An off-world colonist is woken up from cryonic slumber, but is still immobile. The sentient ship tries to keep him sane by putting him back in happy memories. Trouble is, he carries so much guilt and anxiety, no memory will stay happy. By the time he gets there, his mind is still pretty much shot.
  • In Oryx and Crake, Snowman is living After the End. At one point, he walks by an old cryonics facility and comments that everyone who was frozen died when the power went out. Assuming they were alive to begin with; it's strongly implied earlier in the book that the entire company was a scam preying on desperate rich people.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga:
    • Cryonics is a pretty mature technology, but when people are frozen under emergency conditions in the field, there is a high risk of them suffering some brain damage, or memory loss. People frozen under controlled circumstances in hospitals have a much better chance of making a full recovery.
    • In the novel Cryoburn it turns out that a particular brand of cryo-fluid — used to replace the frozen person's blood — used several decades earlier was not stable for more than about 30 years, and anyone who was frozen using it is now Deader than Dead, leading to billions of dollars in liabilities for the cryonics companies who had been using it, so they're covering it up.
  • In Andrey Livadny's The Third Race, a female astronaut awakens from cryo-sleep on a deep space sublight ship to find the rest of the pods empty, which is strange since the ship has two crews, one of which is usually frozen while the other works until they change shifts. She soon finds that the entire crew has been replaced with droids by the ship's AI, whose negligence allowed a meteorite to hit the ship, killing all on-board but her. It can be assumed that the rest of the pods were damaged, but the bodies were cleaned up to maintain the ruse. Also, other novels in the series mention that a sizable chunk of the colony ships sent out during the initial Blind Leap after the discovery of hypersphere probably ended up like this (i.e. some malfunction has resulted in the crew and settlers never waking up and, eventually, dying when the power ran out).
  • In Across the Universe (Beth Revis), a murderer starts pulling the plug on cryonic pods aboard the spaceship Godspeed. Main character Amy survives, though she wakes up many decades before she was supposed to; several other human popsicles aren't so lucky.
  • In one of S. P. Somtow's Inquestor novels, there's mention of some human colonists who were travelling in time stasis. Unfortunately the device malfunctioned, causing some of them to become irreversibly frozen, so they're now used as ornaments.
  • Alastair Reynolds:
    • Beyond The Aquila Rift has the cryonic pods of the crew fail during a two hundred year long Blind Jump because they had decorated the interior of the pods with paint; the pods filtration system became clogged and jammed, killing the occupants.
    • In the Revelation Space Series, cryonics are a very safe technology because it's been the only way for humanity to cross space for 500 years, but they have issues beyond outright failure. Scorpio, a hyperpig, is outside of the cryopods operating parameters and is pretty old, leading to him being informed that he stands a good chance of dying from shock next time he is thawed out of cryo. When the Melding Plague hit Yellowstone and lighthuggers departing from it, Trans Human people in cryo were generally safe so long as they remained frozen, but if they were thawed out with the Plague still nearby, boom goes their Brain/Computer Interface.
    • In Slow Bullets, a sleeper starship transporting war criminals suffers a catastrophic failure during a jump, causing it to drift for thousands of years before it reactivates and starts thawing out the passengers. About a third of the passenger's pods failed during the millennia.
  • The Depths of Time by Roger MacBride Allen - A small number of cryonically preserved passengers die when coming out of stasis; the longer the voyage, the more likely they die when coming out.
  • Greg Bear's Hull Zero Three - all but one of the Destination Guidance team were dead and decomposed in their cryonics pods. It is also heavily implied that the 'biogenerators' [Teacher/Sanjay invents this term to describe the birthing systems] are not supposed to be functioning—they are supposed to create Factors on arrival to prepare the target planet, or in the event that the sleeping crew were killed, birth a new one. Even if there was still part of the original crew in the Hulls, they are dead after Destination Guidance shut off fuel transfer to the Hulls' engines, and for Hull Zero Two it was practically guaranteed when it was gutted by meteorites.
  • Zig-zagged and discussed in the same scene in Richard Morgan's Black Man. The investigation of a spacecraft's crash-landing that apparently was indirectly caused by cryonic shenanigans brings the characters to discuss the current state of cryonics and the various malfunctions that could happen to people in suspension due to them. The playing straight? Someone did mess with the cryosleep pods on the ship. The aversion? They didn't do it to kill the inhabitants, just to use them as a refrigerator for snacks.
  • In The Worthing Saga, the title character Jason Worthing is a space pilot in a society that uses cryonics for colonization. He is attacked as he approaches his target, and not only are some of the colonists killed, but the remainder all have their personalities, which have to be stored on hard disk prior to cryo, wipedóleaving Jason the task of singlehandedly raising 99 adult-sized kids. (Oh, and the one guy whose personality did survive? Jason's Arch-Enemy.)
  • In William Barton and Michael Capobianco's Alpha Centauri one of the expedition, Sheba Zvi, died in stasis. When it turns out that Mies Cochrane is intentionally infecting the women on board with a sexually transmitted Sterility Plague and that he infected Sheba before they left the others suspect his autoviroids were responsible.
  • In S.I. the protagonist is revived succesfully, but the ethylene glycol used to preserve his cells destroys his kidneys and other internal organs. Fortunately a pink anthro bunny girl with a empty skull that fits his brain perfectly is found near his cryopod.
  • In the Larry Niven / Jerry Pournelle / Stephen Barnes collaboration The Legacy Of Heorot, the cryonics used to get the colony ship to the planet Avalon failed because while it had been tested, it hadn't been tested over durations as long as the voyage took. The colonists got brain damage, ranging from mild in some cases to severe in others, and a handful of the colonists couldn't be revived at all.
  • In the Jacob's Ladder Trilogy, Jacob's Ladder is a combination generation ship / sleeper ship, with both a living crew and stored human popsicles. During the journey, most of the human popsicles die and are recycled for raw materials. It was known when they launched that the cryonics technology was unreliable; the passengers were people desperate enough to risk it anyway.
  • Inverted in The Locked Tomb book Nona the Ninth: in flashbacks to the Emperor's human days, he was a scientist working on cryogenics technology for use evacuating Earth in sleeper starships, and his test subjects were already cadavers. When the project got shut down, the power to the cryogenics pods was cut, too... but some of the unfrozen corpses remained perfectly preserved, no matter how much time passed and no matter what other conditions they were subjected to. This miracle was the first sign that he'd come into divine power.
  • In Project Hail Mary, the protagonist Ryland Grace wakes up with Laser-Guided Amnesia with a feeding tube in his mouth. He has no idea who he is, but the other two people in their beds are dead. Later on, he remembers (through flashbacks) that there's no magical cryogenics procedure. Instead, they were in a medically-induced coma (with advanced medical machinery ensuring that most medical emergencies are taken care of) in order to conserve on supplies and to prevent the crew from killing one another due to the extended isolation. Only about one in seventy thousand people has a genetic mutation that gives them a higher probability of surviving an extended coma fairly intact, and the crew was put together only from those individuals. Still, two out of three didn't make it.
  • Present in The World at the End of Time. Cryonics technology is stated to have a probability of one between one hundred eighty of going wrong and killing the popsicle, and across the novel some characters are stated to have died that way, or at best having suffered frozen burns as the main (human) protagonist on his last freezing especially if frozen with no proper precautions.
  • Reaper (2016): When the server for Avalon is destroyed in the bombing, every player there is dumped back into their body, resulting in eleven thousand of them dying from shock.
  • The story Bones by Donald Wollheim has a gruesome variant. A group of archeologists uncover a perfectly preserved man in an Egyptian tomb who was an experiment in suspended animation, with the notes saying that the treatment will perfectly preserve living matter. They managed to revive him, and he immediately collapses in on himself in a heap of flesh since "living matter" doesn't include bones.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Blake's 7 episode "Time Squad": of four programmed guardians in a capsule carrying them and genetic stock, three survived stasis.
  • Star Trek adores this trope:
    • The Deep Space Nine episode "Empok Nor", where one of the popsicles would have survived, had part of the station not collapsed through his pod.
    • The Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Space Seed". The Enterprise finds a ship with a cargo of 84 humans, 72 of whom are still alive, in suspended animation.
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
      • "The Neutral Zone" had the Enterprise encounter a ship full of frozen passengers, complete with skeleton scare. (There were dozens on board... only three lived, and that was in the sense of being revivable by mid-24th century Federation medical science. It is noted they would have been regarded as dead by the medical science at the time of their freezing).
      • "Relics" had a variation, with Scotty doing one of his engineering miracles to preserve himself and the other survivor of a ship crash in long-term transporter suspension. Scotty was successfully re-materialized; the other person wasn't.
    • Star Trek: Voyager, never being one to let a good trope pass them by, had two:
      • "Dragon's Teeth". An ancient race of warriors went into suspended animation to avoid destruction when every nearby race showed up and carpetbombed their planet from orbit. The protagonist alien made it, but his wife wasn't so lucky.
      • "The Thaw". Some aliens went into suspended animation deep inside their planet to avoid the radiation created by solar flare. When Voyager showed up, two of them were splatted, despite all evidence showing that the pod they were in was in perfect order. It turns out that the occupants were being held hostage by a computer program that manifested from their subconscious fear of being frozen and was now preventing them from leaving, killing any dissenters by scaring them to death.
  • The Babylon 5 episode "The Long Dark". In this case the tech worked, but an alien showed up and ate one of the two.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): In "The Rip Van Winkle Caper", four thieves put themselves in suspended animation with a special gas. Three of them made it; one didn't due to a falling rock breaking his apparatus.
  • Parodied in the NewsRadio episode Space, where the entire station (save Matthew and Bill) have to go into cryonics to avoid a disaster. Then Matthew trips over the power cord...
  • The X-Files: In the episode "Roland", a man's brain is put on ice, and he dies anyway when an enemy of his sabotages his cryo-thing so that the temperature rises too high.
  • Davros turns Human Popsicles he deemed worthy into Daleks in the Doctor Who serial "Revelation of the Daleks". The rest he turns into Human Resources.
  • Parodied in a That Mitchell and Webb Look sketch: In the future, a popular edition of Big Brother or a similar Reality Show features only contestants who chose to be cryonically frozen after death and have been brought back... only because they were all dead, they're just gray-skinned reanimated corpses clumsily staggering around trying to perform simple tasks with their stiff limbs.
  • Stargate SG-1 has an example where the team finds a crashed sleeper ship where one of the crew had downloaded the consciousnesses of six others who didn't make it into his brain. He put six more in Daniel before the rest of the team caught him and offered him a naquahdah reactor to wake up the survivors in exchange for transferring Daniel's extra personalities to himself.
  • In the pilot of Better Off Ted Phil was cryonically frozen, initially planned for a year but while moving his tube to the basement he thawed out. He survived but started randomly shrieking in the same pose he was frozen in. As he was freezing his co-workers started betting on whether his eyeballs would explode.
  • In an episode of Eureka, they discover Fargo's long-lost grandfather in a cryopod. They defrost and revive him. He doesn't remember what happened (it's eventually revealed that a jealous friend pushed him in). However, after a while, his body starts to age rapidly, until he looks the way a man of his age ought to look (rather than the young man he was frozen as). The doctors figure out that it's a side effect of the imperfect freezing. They manage to stabilize him, but he still remains in the body of an old man. Strangely, he's fine about it. In the altered timeline, this event never happened, and he became an influential figure in Eureka, using his clout to put his grandson in charge of Global Dynamics.

  • The BBC's interstellar drama Earthsearch mainly takes place aboard a starship, with a depleted human crew of four versus two psychopathic computers. In one episode a scheming warlord tries to blackmail the computers into letting him join the crew: he hides a military robot on board that's programmed to activate if his life signs fail. He thinks this is perfect insurance against the computers killing him by sabotaging his cryosleep pod. He's wrong.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the Traveller RPG, cold-sleep tubes, common on most ships for "Low Passage", have a certain chance of failure. Passengers in low passage often place bets on how many of them will survive the trip. The captain gets the winnings if the winner was one of the deceased. The entire concept (including the chance of death, the lottery and the name) was lifted from E.C. Tubb's Dumarest of Terra series.

  • The human body that Bug uses in Starship was a victim of one that left him brain dead but the body intact for mind control.

    Video Games 
  • Chrono Trigger: A non-Human Popsicle variation: In the Bad Future, a group of survivors says one of their own left to try to find food in an area infested with mutant bugs and killer robots. When you find the man, he's not only dead, the food he was trying to get at has all rotted away due to the refrigeration failing. However, you do find a seed, which you bring back to the survivors.
  • Mega Man Zero: Almost happened to Zero, despite being a robot. Damaged nearly beyond repair by prolonged exposure to the elements after the lab he was being stored in caved in due to a century or so of neglect & only brought back to life with the power of a semi-mystical electrical fairy. In a later game in the series we see a similar facility with some others who weren't so lucky.
  • Fallout
    • In one area in Fallout 2 you can actually stumble upon, and unfreeze, a soldier put into hibernation shortly before the nukes fell. He thanks you, tells you his story and melts into a pile of goo. The game tells you he "suffers from post-cryonic syndrome".
    • In the Fallout 3 add-on "Mothership Zeta", you unfreeze a group of people from various eras because one of them has a space suit and someone needs to go outside the ship. Unfortunately, the astronaut died at some point and so you have to take his spacesuit for yourself.
    • There are also two soldiers who die shortly after being defrosted, possibly due to being experimented on.
    • Fallout 4 reveals that everyone in Vault 111 were put into cryonic sleep. The Player Character is the only who actually survives the sleep, as everyone else's cryo pods ended up malfunctioning and killing them; fittingly, that character's main nickname is "Sole Survivor". However, you later find out that the pods did not malfunction, but were sabotaged by the Institute. They deliberately only refroze the protagonist after killing your spouse and kidnapping Shaun, leaving the remaining vault dwellers to die in their pods from asphyxiation.
  • Mass Effect
    • Done deliberately: the Protheans on Ilos froze themselves until the Reapers disappeared. While waiting, as the power became insufficient to keep the entire team alive, the overseeing computer starting disabling life support, starting with the least essential personnel, and working its way up the ranks until all but the most critical scientists were dead. Even they were in danger of being splatted when it finally became safe for the computer to wake them up. Unfortunately, by that point there were too few of them to repopulate the species. They did, however, travel to the Citadel and sabotage the primary means for the Reapers to return from Dark Space.
    • A similar fate befell the Prothean division on Eden Prime, as shown in Mass Effect 3: From Ashes. In this case, there was only one survivor, who is eventually revived by Shepard.
  • In BlazBlue, Jin is said to have frozen Bang's master to death. In gameplay, his various ice powers culminate in his Astral Heat, where a successful use results in the enemy being frozen in a giant block of ice that shatters to let their corpse fall out.
  • Space Quest V: The Next Mutation features a two-part puzzle where you had to freeze a character in a cryonic chamber and later unfreeze her. Failure to read the instructions fully before doing so could result in under/over-freezing her in the first part and under/over-thawing her in the second. Any of these alternatives would lead to Game Over due to a Stable Time Loop (she is to become the mother of Roger's son who will go back in time to save Roger). Opening the chamber before thawing her makes the game unwinnable, as the game does not allow the chamber to be closed after that. Clicking on it results in Roger picking up the frozen Beatrice, at which point she breaks into ice cubes.
  • In Darkstar (the game with all the MST3K alumni), this happens to one of the crew members. Even worse, someone cut off his hand.
  • Portal 2:
    • The game opens with a scene in which the protagonist wakes up after an unusually long period of hibernation in the Aperture Science Extended Relaxation Vault. During the escape, your AI companion explains that you are the sole survivor of ten thousand test subjects, the rest of whom all died when the hibernation systems ran out of power, or became gibbering vegetables due to brain damage; he's not very clear on the subject.
      Wheatley: The reserve power ran out, so of course the whole Relaxation Center stops waking up the bloody test subjects. [...] And of course, nobody tells me anything. Nooooooo, why should they tell me anything? [...] And whose fault do you think it's going to be when the management comes down here and finds ten thousand flippin' vegetables. [...] We should get our stories straight. If anyone asks — and no-one's going to ask, don't worry — but if anyone asks, tell them as far as you know, the last time you checked, everyone looked pretty much alive. Alright? Not dead.
    • The finale of the co-op campaign sees Atlas and P-body discover tens of thousands of other subjects still in storage, so GLaDOS can continue her tests, who luckily for her, probably aren't as dangerous as that "mute lunatic".
    • Wheatley suggests that Chell may have suffered some form of brain damage, since she jumps instead of saying "apple", theorising this is the reason for her Heroic Mime behaviour. Word of God however states that the reason she refuses to speak and jumped in response, was simply because she enjoys screwing with the computers, since her lack of response really infuriates them!
  • The Vahnatai in Exile/Avernum periodically put their entire civilization to sleep with Alien Phlebotinum to conserve subterranean resources. They always expect a high attrition rate, which players get to witness themselves.
  • In the first Kreed, you're investigating an abandoned space station filled with monsters. One of the last logs you uncover is a survivor noting how everyone are about to put themselves into the cryochamber to escape, which didn't work as you found out.
  • In Rage (2011), the protagonist is the only one from his "Ark" to survive the cryostasis.
  • One chapter in Live A Live, which coincidentally plays out like a collage of various famous movies such as 2001 and Aliens.
  • A possibility in Alien Legacy if you're too slow in building habitats for the crew, who get awoken as space becomes available. A random event warns you of an impending power failure in the cryonic system.
  • In lead writer Michael Ely's novelization of Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, Pravin Lal's wife's pod is damaged by Santiago's people. In the second novel, a Spartan artillery barrage collapses the ceiling on the already-damaged pod.
  • It's mentioned in passing that the cryos tech in Homeworld has a non-zero failure rate, although they aren't terribly worried about it. Beats the alternative, at least. Far worse off from their perspective are the ones who survive and are revived only to discover that everyone they know back on Kharak is dead. On the more extreme end of the trope, the six "cryo-trays" holding the majority of the crew are simply hanging in space when the Mothership returns from its shakedown cruise to find Taiidani ships attacking said trays. Only four are strictly necessary to complete the mission, meaning that if the player is slow or especially heartless, up to two hundred thousand pods can be lost. (Possibly averted in actual play; most players report being strongly motivated to do everything they can, even reloading if they fail, to ensure that Everybody Lives.)
    • In the manual for Homeworld: Cataclysm, there is a mention of a man, who is awakened from cryo, only to learn that he is the last remaining member of his kiith. Only he and his wife were chosen to join the Mothership, and her pod was damaged when the Taiidani fired on it. Instead of Drowning His Sorrows, he goes before the Daiamid and demands to be given a ship. They give him a Vengeance-class assault frigate, and he gathers a crew of individuals, who voluntarily join his kiith. They become well known in the bounty hunter circles for bringing in plenty of Taiidani war criminals.
  • During the Kobali Front mission series in Star Trek Online: Delta Rising, the player discovers that the Kobali have been avoiding maintaining Vaadwaur stasis vaults (or pulling out the Vaadwaur in them before they die) found on Kobali Prime (leftovers from the ancient Vaadwaur empire) in order to use the bodies to reproduce. There is no evidence they actively sabotage the stasis pods, but it is pretty clear they only care about the living Vaadwaur in stasis insofar as needed to know when they cease to be living.
  • Exile players in WildStar start out in one of the few functioning cryo-pods in a section of The Gambler's Ruin where a reactor failure destroyed most of the pods.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles X: Preventing this trope from happening is the main reason why retrieving the Lifehold Core is absolutely imperative for the remaining humans. Their bodies are frozen inside of the Core, controlling artificial bodies called mimeosomes from a distance. If the humans don't find the Core before its emergency power generator runs out, or if the Ganglion finds the Core first, this trope will kick in full gear and the humans will die out. Or so we're told.
  • Overwatch : As of the Rise and Shine video, we now know exactly what happened to Mei and her team of climatologists. They were doing research at Ecopoint: Antartica, keeping track of the mysterious climate changes that were happening. Overwatch was unable to re-supply or rescue them due to a massive snowstorm, so they went into cryo-sleep to wait it out. However, Overwatch disbanded while they were asleep, and what should have been a brief few months instead became nine years. While Mei survived, her five co-workers did not. We never get to see what shape they're in, but the pods' display show no heartbeat or brain activity in the animated short. She leaves them each a cup of hot cocoa on her way out, as tribute.
  • Played with in The Outer Worlds. The sleeper ship Hope got knocked out of FTL on its way to the colony and as a result the 10 year voyage turned into 70 years. The cryonically stored people left on it are still okay, but they've been frozen so long that if they're thawed out they'll suffer from "explosive cell death" and liquify more or less instantly. Mad Scientist Phineas Wells has perfected a chemical formula that can safely wake them up, but unfortunately he used up his entire stock reviving The Unknown Variable.
  • In RimWorld, there's a chance that the occupant of an ancient sarcophagus will thaw out dead.
  • In World of Warcraft Dragonflight, the dracthyr were placed in a magical stasis in their vaults twenty thousand years ago. The area has been abandoned for at least ten thousand years, resulting in the vaults being compromised by various natural forces. Many dracthyr died when this disrupted the protective magics.


    Web Original 
  • Clade Stevens in Orion's Arm got started as a result of one of these. All but six people on an early colony ship perished in suspension. Concerned about inbreeding, the survivors and their children eventually decided to reproduce solely by cloning.
  • There is a Creepypasta with this topic, entitled ''Thaw''. Sometime in the distant future, a man wakes up from his cryonic suspension onboard a spaceship, only to find himself only partially dethawed and trapped in his capsule, which seems to have failed. Then, he notices that the ship is on emergency lighting, and even that seems to be failing. THEN he notices that the other capsules in the room have also failed and either contains decayed corpses or blood splatters like someone bashed their heads open from the inside. Realizing that some sort of disaster has befallen the ship, he suddenly notices that they are still in orbit around Earth, having never left... except this Earth has a giant glacier of a new ice age covering most of the northern hemisphere, and no signs of human cities anywhere...
  • The Lost Episode Creepypasta Not Long Enough describes an unaired episode of Futurama where Fry commits suicide by getting himself frozen again, with the process killing him and letting his body decay because of the cryonics chamber not working properly.

    Western Animation 
  • Gerry Anderson's New Captain Scarlet: In "Homecoming", an escape capsule from an ill-fated Jupiter mission lands in the Arctic. Two crew members in stasis are dead (one frozen mid-scream), only one has survived. It later turns out he died too — the "survivor" was a Mysteron replica.
  • In Superman: The Animated Series, Supergirl was the only one of her family to survive cryostasis.
  • Ugly Americans had one of these, where a scientist, expecting civilization to be destroyed in the "Dirigible Wars" which he predicted, froze himself in a capsule in his underground laboratory (underneath the UN building, apparently), leaving behind a robot tasked with impregnating surviving women with his semen. When the main characters find him, he seems very much well-preserved, but upon his capsule being opened, he ages and decomposes within seconds.
  • Referenced in Futurama with the Cryonics Lab having an X Days Since sign, but never actually occurs. While the staff is clearly incompetent, the closest thing to a "failure" was them dumping tubes containing the wrong people in the desert, where they woke up just fine.
  • Rick and Morty: One of Morty's erased memories is of him accidentally killing an entire room of cryogenically frozen humans because he hit the wrong lightswitch.
  • ThunderCats: This is generally accepted as the reason why Lion-O aged but the two Thunder Kittens did not in the original version. His chamber malfunctioned, so he grew into adulthood while in stasis.

    Real Life 
  • Tardigrades are famous for their ability to survive being frozen and thawed out, due to being nearly microscopically small and having extensive adaptations to drying out. However, even under laboratory conditions a large fraction of tardigrades do not survive (20-30% are lost per freeze-thaw cycle).
  • North American wood frogs are freeze-tolerant, but only when cooled slowly. Frogs that cool down too quickly get extensive damage to their skins and blood vessels and do not survive the winter. But those that do survive are able to lay more eggs earlier in the next year.
  • Current cryopreservation is based on freezing people who are already dead in the hope that future technology will some day advance to the stage that whatever killed them ... plus any damage from the freezing process itself ... can be reversed. Some people take this to an even greater extreme: medical knowledge sufficient to cure death should be able to deal with fiddly minor issues like decapitation as well (possibly by cloning a new body), so only the head, or sometimes just the brain, is preserved to bring costs down.
    • Even so, it should be noted that there have been a significant number of "suspension failures", as Alcor euphemistically calls them, where legal or technical failures, or good old incompetence has led to cryopreserved bodies thawing out prematurely, in some cases leaving extremely gory and unpleasant messes behind to clean up. One of the worst of these involved a body thawing and then being re-frozen, only to thaw again. The results were not nice to deal with. Of all the people cryopreserved prior to 1974, only one remains "viable" and in suspension as of 2014.

Alternative Title(s): Popsicle Splat