A picture is worth a thousand words, but sometimes, even a nice still image won't do. You want to really emphasize on your point, in this case, the fact that the place you're showing is a mess, so what do you do? Make something fall over in the background, obviously, so the audience knows just how much the place is in shambles. This trope will usually play out in two ways:
- The main characters have just had a big fight. It was brutal and half the building they are in just got trashed, but they emerge victorious. The characters then continue with their quest, and the following shot shows the place lying in ruins as something falls over or breaks.
- The main characters have, in one form or another, found themselves in a place that needs tidying up and/or fixing (badly). One of them might say something along the lines of "This place isn't a mess" or "We'll clean this up in no time!" which, as a form of the universe laughing at you, will have something falling over or breaking.
In both scenarios the trope is invoked for comedic effect, although the former one is usually to show how badass the characters are that they are nonchalant as if big fights trashing buildings are normal and expected (as per the Rule of Cool), while the latter is a form of Instantly Proven Wrong. Note that while the above are the two most likely scenarios there are also other situations where this trope is invoked, usually when whatever the characters are doing end up with everything trashed.
- The end of this commercial for cat food has a Christmas tree topples over.
- Frozen: Anna asks a shopkeeper if he has any winter gear after Arendelle suffers from a sudden flash winter caused by Elsa. The shopkeeper points to their "winter department", which contains only a few meagre items such as a pair of snowshoes which at that point falls over.
- Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas: In the Stuck on Christmas story, Donald's decorated living room is trashed after his nephews' prank involving a live turkey gets out of hand. While examining the wreckage, Donald sees that the Christmas tree is still standing and remarks "Well, we still have the tree", after which the tree falls down on him.
- In The Powerpuff Girls Movie, the girls play a game of tag that ends up destroying much of Townsville. After they stop playing and realize what they have done, the camera pulls back to show the skyline in ruins, with the top one Space Needle-like tower breaking off and falling over.
- The Princess and the Frog: After Tiana and her mother clean up the warehouse and leave, a small marble column falls over.
- The Incredibles: After Bob gets home after a frustrating day, he accidentally slams the car door so hard the window shatters, causing a mild freakout. He lifts the car over his head about to do something, but notices a neighborhood kid watching him. As the two stare at each other, a piece of glass falls out of the window, then Bob puts the car down and goes into the house.
- Shrek Forever After: After Shrek smashes the birthday cake and leaves the party, everyone stares in horror while Gingy's pastry chaps fall from his legs.
- Toy Story 2: Most of the main characters cross the road to try and rescue Woody. Mr. Potato Head says "Well, that went well" and the camera cuts to show the massive traffic accident they caused before a lamppost falls over.
- In Zootopia, when the train car explodes and Judy and Nick are watching the burning mess, eventually a metal part comes off the wreck and falls down with a loud noise.
- Ratchet & Clank: In both the movie and the video game adaptation, when Ratchet introduces Clank to his ship the front grill and left engine fall apart, leading Ratchet to claim that it disassembles to allow it to infiltrate enemy strongholds.
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit: After Eddie crashes his car while in Toontown, he looks at the wreckage and sees a bowling ball rolling over and crushing a wind-up doll.
- After the highway fight in the beginning of Deadpool (2016), he is trying to convince Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead that nobody got hurt... just as a corpse drops from the traffic sign.
- Happens near the end of the opening long take of Furious 7, as Deckard Shaw leaves the partially-destroyed hospital. A segment of the building's front facade collapse a few seconds as he walks out.
- In The Matrix, after Neo and Trinity have a big gunfight with the guards to rescue Morpheus, they casually enter the elevator. The camera then shows the extent of the damage to the lobby, ending with a piece of marble from one of the pillars collapsing onto the floor. (This happened by coincidence during the filming and was not planned, but was left since it seemed appropriate.)
- In Sherlock Holmes (2009), Holmes and Watson look upon the aftermath of their fight with a giant mook at the wharf. In a comedic moment Holmes blames Watson for the havoc while we see a structure topple in the background.
- Wild Wild West: After Jim West manages to dodge an assassin (who was concealing himself as a "living artwork" in the office of Loveless, and kills Miss East at the same time), he pulls out his gun and shoots every piece of artwork in the room that is man-sized. After he does so and walks away, we find out that said artwork included an assassin on the ceiling when he crashes down onto Loveless's desk.
- Marvel Cinematic Universe:
- In Doctor Strange, after Strange leaves the hospital via portal hole, a broom falls to the floor behind Christine's back, which scares her witless. (This actually happened by accident but they left the scene in.)
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: After a lengthy and violent crash through a forest, the Milano finally grinds to a halt. There is a brief moment of silence and a Title In giving the name of the planet. And then the wing of the Milano snaps and falls to the ground.
- Final Destination 2 takes this to a whole new level after a character gets blown up by an exploding barbecue grill, having his toasted, mutilated arm falling right on the plate of his horrified mother.
- Back to the Future: After Marty flies backward after destroying a large amp by turning it up too high, a small part of the amp breaks off and falls to the ground.
- The Last Jedi: In the aftermath of the battle against Supreme Leader Snoke's Praetorian Guards, said falling object happens to be a bisected Snoke's lower half as Hux surveys the carnage.
- The fifth season premiere of Person of Interest has Finch and Mr. Reese try to get into their secret base only to discover a janitor using the vending machine that serves as the secret entrance. The janitor's purchase gets stuck in the machine. Reese goes up and knocks him out, then Finch opens the secret entrance. After they enter and close the front of the vending machine, the janitor's purchase falls out of the machine.
- Doctor Who: In "The Doctor's Wife" the Doctor tries to build a TARDIS out of old ones.
The Doctor: Right, perfect. Look at that, what could possibly go wrong?
[camera cuts to a TARDIS that looks like someone mashed three of them together; something pops out of the central console]
The Doctor: That's fine, that always happens.
- The last scene of Community episode "For a Few Paintballs More" has the study group watch in silence after Pierce announces his resignation. Then a piece of furniture drops from the ceiling.
- Stargate SG-1: In "Reckoning Part 2", when Daniel Jackson manages to momentarily wrestles the control of the Replicators from Replicarter, all the replicators in the galaxy suddenly freeze, under the puzzled eyes of the protagonists. For the huge swarm on Dakara, it would look like a still picture... if not for one Replicator caught right on a precarious ledge atop a wall, which falls in the background.
- Star Wars: The Old Republic:
- The quest to reclaim HK-55 as a companion begins with a cutscene of HK gunning down every other droid in the testing chamber, as panicked technicians run to and fro, until the Outlander arrives and surveys the scene with HK and the lead tech standing amidst the devastation as one burning droid in the background slowly collapses.
- In the Republic story on Makeb after you defeat the corrupt foreman in charge of building the ark, he tries to sell it to you for a twenty percent discount. Right after a piece of it comes off and falls to the ground. "Thirty percent?"
- Conker's Bad Fur Day contains a parody of the gunfight mentioned in the entry for The Matrix above. Sure enough, at the end, the game faithfully reproduces the shot in which a piece of pillar crumbles to the floor. There's potentially an amusing catch, however. Unlike the original scene being parodied, in the game the pillars are only as destroyed as they became during that particular round of gameplay (when you used them for cover). It is possible to clear the scene with minimal to no damage to the pillars, and since the enemy corpses in this game fade away to save on memory, you can end up being presented with a shot of an empty, pristine lobby — at which point the scripted shard of pillar breaks off and crumbles to the floor... emerging from a completely intact pillar.
- At the end of the Futurama episode "When Aliens Attack", Fry remarks that the key to a good television show is having everything back to normal by the end. Then the camera zooms out to show New New York in ruins, the Statue of Liberty in the foreground as her torch falls over.
- In the last episode of Gravity Falls after they defeat the Big Bad Stan enters the Mystery Shack having lost his memory, causing him to remark "Hey, this is a real nice place you got there!" Part of the ceiling then collapses.
- Rocko's Modern Life "Who Gives a Buck": Heffer comments that Rocko could use some new stuff, which Rocko agrees with as behind him, the wallpaper peels away and the TV comes apart.
- Looney Tunes: "Going! Going! Gosh!" The Coyote tries to launch an arrow on which dynamite is attached, but it's the bow that leaves instead. He looks down, sees the arrow still in his paws, and KABOOM!!! When the explosion clears, the middle section of the arrow falls off.
- The Loud House, "Roughin' It": Lincoln and Clyde build a (crappy) shelter. Clyde comments, "What a beaut!" right before one of the sticks of the shelter fall over.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
- In "The Last Roundup", Derpy is accidentally shooting lighting out of a storm cloud, and Rainbow Dash tells her to be more careful: "Don't want to do any more damage than you've already done." The camera pulls out to show Town Hall's wrecked roof — just before the roof collapses entirely.
- In "The Cart Before the Ponies", after the derby ends with a big multi-cart crash, there's a pan over all the disgruntled concurrents. A wing of Rarity's swan cart coincidentally breaks and falls.
- In "Every Little Thing She Does", after the library is wrecked by Starlight's spell, just as Twilight comments "There's such a thing as too much studying...", a ladder behind her crashes to the floor.
- Star vs. the Forces of Evil: In "Wand to Wand", Marco's parents come back to their house and find it in complete shambles... just as the cupola above Star's room crashes to the ground.
- SpongeBob SquarePants: In "Home Sweet Pineapple", Patrick brags that he build his home himself. Cut to Patrick's house, which is just a rock with a crudely made TV antenna mounted on top, which then falls over.