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Desolation Shot

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"Absolute ruin. A fallen city is like a dried and decayed corpse; it's a husk that suggests a shape without fleshing out the details. The outline of the victim is there, and the empty holes where it used to look out upon the world... but glass or eye, the critical things that make it alive and breathing are long gone."

In an apocalyptic movie, the camera will sweep over once-populated areas, showing what was once a flourishing place.

Doesn't even have to be in movies, either. Books can do this with a description of "now abandoned structures" or whatever.

This shot can often be the setup for a Bittersweet Ending or "Ray of Hope" Ending, as after lingering on the scene for a while, living things - be they animals, plants, or human survivors, may suddenly be seen among the wreckage.

See also Ghost City, Ghost Town, Earth All Along, Ruins of the Modern Age, and Scenery Gorn. May feature in Mordor, the Polluted Wasteland, or the Doomed Hometown after its demise.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Macross:
  • Fist of the North Star: In the 1984 anime adaptation, the first version of the opening sequence features multiple pans across ruined cities when the narrator describes the aftermath of the nuclear apocalypse that set the series' events in motion.
  • Shelter: There are a couple times during the short film where the camera focuses on a barren and/or ruined landscape: the first is when Rin is in the bath and there's a desolate landscape outside her room; the second, during the flashback section where the news displays Tokyo in ruins; and the third when there is a brief shot of Shigeru and a young Rin looking over the oncoming destruction.

    Comic Books 
  • The scene in ElfQuest where Cutter and Skywise return to the burnt out remains of the forest that used to be their home. Incidentally, the scene is drawn in charcoal, appropriately enough — that is, burnt wood.
  • The Walking Dead, a post-Zombie Apocalypse comic book.
  • Y: The Last Man has a couple: one just after the Gendercide strikes, sweeping over several unrelated places around the world (Tokyo Stock Exchange, a farm in Idaho, a football ground in Sao Paulo, and so on); and another when 355 and the new President abandon their car, showing the Interstate highway filled with crashed cars.
    • We get a third much later, seeing West Hollywood's Santa Monica strip (a large center for Gays) reduced to an abandoned and reputedly haunted "Boy's Town" plagued by nihilistic street gangs.
  • Jacques Tardi's It Was the War of the Trenches opens with a large image of an apparently deserted battlefield, all churned mud, wreckage, barbed wire, and shattered trees, looking like nothing living could possibly be there; and then you turn the page and see that there are men huddled in trenches.

    Fan Fiction 

    Films — Animated 
  • WALL•E. In the beginning, the only true life on Earth appears to be a cockroach and our hero. And since our hero is a robot.... A unique Desolation Shot due to the fact that it's done to the tune of the song "Put On Your Sunday Clothes".
  • In Horton Hears a Who! (2008), a very chilling one occurs of Whoville after Vlad drops it. A very sad contrast to the lively, carefree world it was not half an hour earlier.
  • In Pinocchio, we get a shot of Pleasure Island wrecked and littered, with all the boys gone due to them being turned into donkeys and rounded up.
    Jiminy: Where is everybody? This place looks like a graveyard.
  • The Lion King (1994): This occurs when Simba returns to the Pridelands and sees the barren, lifeless wasteland it has become under Scar's reign.
    Nala: It's awful, isn't it.
    Simba: I didn't want to believe you.
  • In The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, a few shots of Bricksburg, which was abandoned because of the DUPLO aliens destroying it, are shown before revealing that the citizens now live in Apocalypseburg.
  • Magnetic Rose and Stink Bomb, the first two parts of Memories. In Magnetic Rose, it's when the mansion's holograms fail and its ruin is revealed. In Stink Bomb, it's when the protagonist sees all the dead animals. What really gets him, though, is how sunflowers and cherry blossoms are in bloom at the same time.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 28 Days Later sweeps over London, still and silent, when the protagonist leaves the hospital.
  • Aliens. The colony on LV-426 as the Marines land.
  • The Film of the Book The Andromeda Strain shows the town of Piedmont, New Mexico after the title disease wipes out the population, especially while the two scientists are walking around in their protective suits.
  • The alternate ending to Army of Darkness had a shot like this, as the main character has just awakened in the post-apocalyptic future.
  • The Day After: in the very end. The only thing even remotely still standing is Kansas City's Liberty Memorial tower, which has been reduced to a stump.
  • The original Gojira (edited to get Godzilla: King of the Monsters!) featured a Desolation Shot of the city after Gojira's attack, complete with destroyed buildings, ambulances, and a choir lamenting the deaths.
  • The Happening. Or st least some trailers of it.
  • I Am Legend and The Ωmega Man, which are both adapted from the same novel. The Omega Man's shot wasn't entirely desolate, though.
  • Done in the Resident Evil movies Resident Evil: Apocalypse and Resident Evil: Extinction.
  • Night of the Comet, a comedy about how almost all life on Earth was reduced to red dust by residue from a comet tail. Had a number of shots of buildings and neighborhoods, with the red dust blowing along the ground.
  • The Postman had a few of these, judging from the trailers.
  • Terminator
  • An Italian film dubbed in English despite being filmed in English called Warriors of the Wasteland had probably the most unintentionally goofy Desolation Shot ever, with burned mannequins in plastic silver armor holding ray guns strewn around the rubble of long-dead cities.
  • The Road has many shots of an absolutely devastated American landscape, to show just how utterly gutted the world is after the mysterious catastrophe.
  • Many establishing shots of Mordor in The Lord of the Rings.
    • Also used for the vision in the Mirror of Galadriel of the corruption of the Shire, which happens in reality in the book but is only used as a warning of the consequences of failure in the film.
  • Water World had this underwater.
  • The opening scene in Patton right after the flag speech shows a desert battlefield.
  • Serenity: Haven. Also, Miranda, which isn't "desolate" so much as "completely gorram empty".
  • Part two of The Hobbit is called The Desolation of Smaug for a reason. It refers to Smaug's initial destruction of the two kingdoms in the backstory, the scene of which the company reaches late in the film, and of the impending destruction of Laketown.
  • Bait 3D: The movie ends with a wide shot looking over the tsunami-devastated beach town after the survivors escape the shark-infested shopping centre that they were trapped in.

  • The novel version of I Am Legend has one of these somewhat later than the usual placement.
  • The novel The Postman has one of these for the University of Oregon.
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy is all about this trope.
  • S. M. Stirling's "Emberverse" novels feature quite a few depictions of devastated towns and villages after the technology-destroying "Change."
  • The description of Dead London in The War of the Worlds (1898).
  • The Fall of Coruscant in the New Jedi Order provided ample opportunity for these, including sequences throughout the Enemy Lines duology about a recon team returning to the ruins.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: Near the end of "Spyfall", the Doctor returns to Gallifrey to discover that the Master was not lying when he said it had been destroyed, beholding the ravaged ruins of the Citadel.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • On their way to Dragonstone in "The Bear and the Maiden Fair", Gendry and Melisandre pass through the sunken ships from the Battle of Blackwater.
    • "Two Swords" ends with Arya and the Hound riding out into the war-ravaged countryside of the Riverlands.
  • Katla: A major tool in the camera crew’s box of tricks is a long shot reminder that, well Iceland can be a bit bleak at the best of times, and when you add a layer of volcanic ash, it gets much worse.
  • Pretty much all of the documentary and spinoff series Life After People is composed of shots like this, since it's showing the decay and eventual collapse that major cities will undergo if humans disappeared from the face of the Earth.
  • Season 1 of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power ends up with a shot of the newly formed Mordor, the once beautiful and picturesque Southlands.
  • Heavily done in Stargate Atlantis, since the Wraith obliterates any world that resists them.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • The episode "Silicon Avatar" began in a thriving small town on a pastoral planet. Then the Crystalline Entity showed up and destroyed everything. There's a shot panning right across the desolate, smoking landscape, with Riker in front of it, looking at it. Cut to opening credits.
    • Also done in Part 1 of "The Best of Both Worlds", showing the remains of a colony after a Borg attack. The remains are a mile-wide crater.
    • In "The Survivors", there is a disturbing shot of a devastated planet, a former Federation colony, with exactly one undamaged house surrounded by a square of perfectly manicured grass. The plot is our heroes' attempts to remove the residents of that house from that planet. Interestingly, that view came from above: there are no desolation shots from the house.

    Music and Music Videos 
  • The video for 'Sing for Absolution' by Muse features a dusty, barren planet that's revealed as Earth when the camera angle changes to show the Houses of Parliament in ruins.
  • "Dead London/The Red Weed" from Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds doesn't even need visuals to convey the Journalist's trek through a devastated, Red Weed-choked London.

    Video Games 
  • ANNO: Mutationem: The first visit to Freeway 42 starts with a panning camera across the area showing it in ruins after it was decimated by the Mechanika Virus.
  • The whole of Cannon Fodder is one long Desolation Shot.
  • Fallout's intro movie has this, as does the intro for Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel. The trailers and intro for Fallout 3 do it as well. Averted in Fallout: New Vegas's intro, as the New Vegas area is much more populated than the Capital Wasteland, and in Fallout 4, as the game begins in the past (future?) of the day the bombs fell, and everything there-on is first-person, allowing no time for any such shot.
  • Final Fantasy X has a memorable one when the group finally makes it to Zanarkand.
  • The intro to FreeSpace 2, after the battle flashback, is a series of incredibly depressing Desolation Shots followed by a Moment of Awesome featuring a huge Terran-Vasudan fleet led by the GTVA Colossus.
  • G-Darius does this twice. The first is the route Zeta opening; your craft passes a doomed space colony crushed by debris. The insides look very pretty until it's torn up bit by bit. The real one comes in route Omikron opening (final stage, G.T.'s route). Your craft fights in a darkened area with rain effects. However, every once in a while, lightning lights up the area. The spectacle is filled with sunken buildings, roads, infrastructures, etc., culminating finally in a shot of G.T. itself. To further drive the point home, the stage name is Grave of Cultures.
  • Halo:
    • In the intro Cut Scene to Halo: Combat Evolved's last level, you see how Halo has been turned into a desert wasteland by the Flood. In Halo 2, you see a Flood-infested High Charity.
    • In the final cutscene of Halo 4, you see a shot of Marines investigating an empty New Phoenix after its entire population has been Composed by the Didact.
  • Resident Evil: Outbreak has a shot of a street visited earlier by the survivors; despite the zombies eating people, all there is are burning buildings and wrecked cars.
  • R-Type Final does this, starting with a pan over a crashed space colony. Indeed, the title screen does it too, showing the control rods of a Force Device jutting out from underwater, implying that the player's ship won't survive the game.
  • Happens in the end of Sonic Adventure, right before the final boss battle with Chaos.
  • Super Smash Bros. Brawl: "The Ruined Zoo" opens with this, following Lucas as he wanders alone through a long-abandoned, dilapidated zoo.
  • S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl.
    "Dancing on the ashes of the world, I beheld the stars..."
  • Half-Life 2: Episode One is deliberately set up with these types of shots to highlight the devastation of City 17 in the wake of the Combine Citadel's destruction. Similar shots are used again in Episode Two, to highlight the second and much more destructive explosion.
  • Any time the PC of Dragon Age: Origins is in the Deep Roads you get this, not necessarily a sweeping shot but you're still standing in the ruins of a once great empire.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, there is a panning shot of what used to be Hyrule Castle but has been destroyed by Ganondorf and made into a desolate wasteland.
  • The Earth portions of Mass Effect 3, most prominently including an exploding human dreadnought. Also, the view from Menae (a moon of Palaven, the turian homeworld) of Palaven visibly burning — Garrus even mentions that one particularly large firestorm was his home city.
    • The Extended Cut can show, in addition to one of Earth depending on decisions made, Desolation Shots of Rannoch and Tuchanka.
  • In The Walking Dead (Telltale) Season 1 Episode 4 when Kenny looks at the beached boats the camera zooms out to show the hopelessness of the situation.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 


Video Example(s):


Warsaw's Remains

A crane shot captured the devastated Warsaw ghetto towards the end of WW2.

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Main / DesolationShot

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