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Escalating War

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"Of course, you realize this means war!"

In a sitcom, one character does something slightly bothersome to another. The other retaliates, but does the first character one better; which the first character tries to top; and so on for the remainder of the episode. At some points it will enlarge with scary speed, in which Disproportionate Retribution is in effect.

Specific variant: Truth-Telling Session. Compare to Zany Scheme Chicken. Cycle of Revenge is the noncomedic and often bloody version of this trope. Not to be confused with Lensman Arms Race, which is this in an actual war.


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  • One commercial for Kodak digital cameras, from the mid-2000s' and starring John Krasinski, has a guy taking a nap, and his roommate (Krasinski) shaving off an eyebrow, and taking a picture. We next see the first guy coming home with his date, embarrassed about the eyebrow, and when he opens the door, his roommate is throwing a party with the decorations being a picture of the first guy taking a nap with his eyebrow shaved off. When the roommate comes into frame, part of his hair was shaved off sometime before the commercial takes place. They shake hands and call a truce before things go any further.
  • There was a famous series of car ads between several car brands as to whose model won the most prestigious award.

    Anime & Manga 
  • An episode of Lost Universe has a war of rivalry between two groups of students in a nursery academy that starts out as nasty (but mostly harmless) pranks. It culminates with them using explosives during their final exam to sabotage each other, turning what was supposed to be a simulation into a real emergency.
  • In Maison Ikkoku, new tenant Nikaido says insulting things about the other tenants, leading to a prank war between him and Yotsuya.
  • In Patlabor, The Seven Days of Fire, a civil war between the labor mechanics at Special Vehicles section 2.

    Asian Animation 

    Comic Books 
  • Occasionally happens in Donald Duck comics, between Donald and his neighbor Jones, as pictured above.
  • In the comic book and various adaptations thereof, Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm of The Fantastic Four are involved in an ongoing escalating prank war with each other.
    • Ditto with the Human Torch and Spider-Man. Johnny usually ends up the worse of the pair in these confrontations, thanks to Pete's Spider-Sense.
  • The "Pwn Brian Express" story arc in Knights of the Dinner Table: What starts as Bob & Dave vs Brian & Sara escalates when Bob & Dave call in outside help, prompting Brian & Sara to do the same, leading to players from six states being involved in BA's game. Then Gary Jackson and co decide to crash the party...

    Comic Strips 
  • Subverted in Beetle Bailey, eventually. When going out for a three-day holiday, Beetle slaps Sarge on the back just before leaving. He runs after him and whacks him with a chair. After a trashcan thrown from a roof and dynamite, when Beetle is pointing at Sarge with an enormous artillery piece of some sort, Sarge tells him to wait and points out that while what they're doing is fun and all, Beetle should perhaps consider what kind of shape he wants to be in for his holiday.
  • Calvin and Hobbes featured one of these with water fights. Calvin's use of a water pistol merits Hobbes hitting him with a water balloon. Just as Calvin is getting out the hose, Hobbes walks around the corner with a wading pool...

    Fan Works 
  • Subverted in Beyond the Outer Gates Lies... A high school library?: When Harry and Kendra's prank war threatens to spiral out of control, Rias and Sona intervene, putting a hard stop to it. ...On the surface, anyway, as the pair respond by making their subsequent pranks much subtler.
  • Empire: According to Sirius and Remus, the Marauder's rivalry with Severus paled in comparison to the prank war between Severus his best friend Lucius. At one point, Lucius dosed Severus with a Love Potion that led to Severus serenading the school's resident giant squid for about a week. Severus retaliated by during Lucius into a girl... and when he seemed to enjoy that too much, followed up by turning him into a troll.
  • Equestria: Across the Multiverse: When Princess Apple Bloom and the Mechanicum tie for first for Best Invention at the Alliance's science fair, the pair engage in a "Tech-off" that escalates into a Humongous Mecha duel. Empress Twilight and Bright Future Amicitia have to break it up.
  • Half Past Adventure features a romantic version between the characters Robin and Penhaligon, culminating in a haunted stairwell.
  • The Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure fanfic Nothing Else Like It includes a chapter that starts with Jotaro pretend-pushing his twin sister, Yorokobi, off of a boat, but after a few back-and-forth antics from the two, he’s drenched in seawater.
  • In the Harry Potter fanfic Oh God, Not Again!, Sirius decides to prank Snape mercilessly once he actually gets hired as the history teacher. However, unlike in many of these fics, Snape gives just as good as he gets, and oftentimes moreso, at one point somehow turning Sirius into a male Veela. This goes on for a while.
  • A Rabbit Among Wolves: Jaune and Coco get into one during the Vytal Fashion show. When the White Fang's models aren't received well during the first half, Jaune decides to have them use their Faunus traits to enhance the outfits (with Ilia changing color and Yuma flying in from the ceiling). Coco responds by having Team RWBY use their semblances, with Weiss walking on air while Ruby makes a dynamic entrance with her Super-Speed. From there, it becomes a matter of both sides pulling out all the stops, culminating in Sun using his semblance to create an entire marching band for the White Fang's grand finale.
  • In the ongoing Discworld/sci-fi/crossover saga Slipping Between Worlds, lord Vetinari is greatly concerned about the Visitors to Discworld. If any of them were to reveal the secrets of their high-technology weaponry to one of the world's powers, whether for ideological or mercenary reasons, he can see the existing balance of power so badly skewed that simmering hostilities and an uneasy peace between finely balanced enemies could erupt into first local war, then into all-out world war as the Superpowers (Klatch and Ankh-Morpork) are forced to step in to support their allies/client states. As Vetinari's foreign policy relies on keeping the balance of power by ensuring both sides remain equally balanced (through a sort of Mutually Assured Inconvenience), the prospect disturbs him. Hell, he doesn't even want Ankh-Morpork to have gonne technology...
  • TD's feud with Blueblood in TD the Alicorn Princess quickly starts to get out of control after Blueblood sets up a machine that pies TD in the face.
  • The Twilight Child: The Seven Day Prank War of Righteousness, between Rainbow Dash and Midday, started when Dash presses one of Midday's Berserk Buttons (which is comparing her to Twilight Sparkle). It eventually ends with much of Ponyville covered in paint, and the two of them being dragged away by an extremely angry Rarity, when the fashion designer has had enough.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Bride Wars had the two friends sabotage each others weddings from sabotaging a dye job until it escalates into having a embarrassing slide show done on the wedding day.
  • Laurel and Hardy:
    • The short Big Business plays this for hilarious effect. Stan and Ollie are trying to sell Christmas trees door-to-door. They wind up irritating a homeowner so much that he cuts up their tree. Stan then cuts up the homeowner's doorjamb. This leads to an escalating war of destruction in which Stan and Ollie wreck the homeowner's bungalow, while he in turn annihilates their car.
    • Them Thar Hills: Stan and Ollie go on holidays at a place where booze traffickers threw their cargo into a well. Then a couple, the Halls, arrives there. Stan and Ollie share their water from the well with the lady while her husband goes away to search mechanical help for his car, not knowing there's alcohol in it. They get drunk, and seeing his wife being drunk with them angers Mr. Hall to the point of triggering a tit-for-tat war with Stan and Ollie.
    • In Tit for Tat (the sequel to Them Thar Hills), they wind up in a similar battle when Stan and Ollie, who have an electronics store, incur the wrath of the grocer across the street, who happens to be Mr. Hall, who they already had an escalating war with in the previous film. Both of their businesses wind up wrecked.
    • In The Battle of the Century, more and more people get pied and are drawn into the pie fight until over 2,500 people are engaging in a close to medium range mass pie fight.
    • In Two Tars, more and more people get mad and suffer from road rage until everyone starts wrecking cars and engaging in Car Fu.
  • Neighbours, Norman McLaren's Oscar-winning short film for the National Film Board of Canada, takes this to a disturbing (and not at all humorous) level, which combines with a bizarre type of Stop Motion using live actors. Watch it here.
  • This is the main plotline of the short film Nemesis. The film's protagonist actually specifically requested someone to be his rival.
  • The entire plot of Penn & Teller Get Killed revolves around Penn & Teller subjecting each other to a series of escalating practical jokes which eventually causes Teller to shoot Penn and himself.
  • Tales of Halloween: "This Means War" is about a war between neighbours over Halloween decorations that gets completely out of hand.
  • The plot of the movie Tin Men revolves around this after two aluminum siding salesman have a fender bender, and subsequently escalates to taking bats to each other's cars, seducing the other guy's wife, and breaking into his house.

  • The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss. The Yooks and the Zooks argue how toast should be eaten, if it's better butter side up or down, so both sides develop weapons to harass each other until they both develop the "Bitsy Big-Boy Bomberoo" and threaten the other by dropping it on the other's side. It ends with the narrator and his rival holding the bomb over the other's side, locked into a stalemate that threatens to kill both the Yooks and Zooks. Seeing how it was written as an analogy to the Cold War it makes sense that they both would come to this.
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The climax of The Meltdown ends up being about this, as the different factions of kids in Greg's neighborhood go to war over long-simmering tensions on a snow day— soon all sorts of other factions join and it devolves into a massive free-for-all, which is ended by the snowplow coming up the road and blindsiding everybody.
  • In Fleet of the Damned, Sten and the other cadets get into an escalating water war.
  • Not really done to each other, but in More Information Than You Require, the cities of Richmond, VA and Milwaukee, WI are consistently one-upping each other for the title of "Strange Rain Capital of the United States".
  • In Robert Asprin's Myth Adventures book series, an escalating prank war that began when Garkin (Skeeve's first master) left Aahz with the check at a restaurant resulted in Aahz losing his powers when Garkin used joke powder on him and was killed before he was able to provide an antidote.
  • The great Proxy Prank War of The Tatami Galaxy started with two guys who were interested in the same woman and has since been passed on through generations of Kyoto University students. By this point, the pranks are highly elaborate and cunningly planned.
  • The first several chapters of The Twits focus entirely on the Twits pulling cruel pranks on each other. Finally the narrator says this has gone on long enough and he wants to move on to other topics.
  • Happens in Aaron Allston's Wraith Squadron books. Wes Janson has the talent and inclination... Wedge Antilles has the resources.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A 3rd Rock from the Sun episode that starts with an annoyed Mary stabbing Dick's Mr. Potato Head doll with pencils. When her pranks result in Dick's head getting super-glued to his desk, Mary finally realizes how absurd the whole thing has gotten and which point Mary's car returns from the mechanic, having been thoroughly pimped out on Dick's orders. Despite being stuck to the desk, he literally gets the last laugh.
  • 30 Rock: The writers play a prank on new cast member Danny, he retaliates and Jack gets involved. A few tricks and the revalation of a college secret society later, Jack ends the war with a video of himself drinking wine in Frank's mother's bedroom.
    Jack: Now, I'm a gentleman. I'll say goodbye and leave right away. But if I have to do this again, you won't enjoy the next tape. Your Mom might...
    Frank: Pranksmen. Stand down.
  • Jim and his brother-in-law Andy from According to Jim do this... over a grill. In two separate episodes, to boot.
  • The Adventures of Pete & Pete had an episode entitled "Apocalypse Pete", which starts over a race...between Petes' dad and a neighbor using an R/C car. The height of the war sees both sides using technology that neither one of them could conceivably afford...or get a hold of.
    • Mr. Wrigley had all of Little Pete's resources at his disposal, not to mention Artie; it's only Mr. Hickle's side that's confusing.
  • Beef starts with a fairly mundane altercation in a store parking lot and escalates into a full blown road rage incident. Over the ensuing series, the two parties involved partake in increasingly elaborate ways of antagonising each other, which eventually results in Amy's divorce, Paul cutting off Danny, Isaac in prison likely for life, and Jordan and Michael dead.
  • The Big Bang Theory has Sheldon and Raj engaging in this in "The Hot Troll Deviation" episode of season 4, which culminated in an explosion in Sheldon's office.
    • Before that was Sheldon and Penny in the season 2 episode "The Panty Piñata Polorization". Sheldon gave Penny her second strike for touching his food (the first was sending a LOLCats email) and she retaliated by sitting in his spot. And then it was on.
      • And then Sheldon and Howard have one in the season 6 episode "The Parking Spot Escalation".
      • It looked like there was going to be another one of these in the season 10 episode "The Property Division Collision" but Sheldon went straight for the jugular by renting out his room to a stranger (Christopher Lloyd). After Leonard went over to tell Sheldon he went too far, the old guy came out and explained what the situation was and they made up, Sheldon even letting Leonard have the flag that the war was over.
  • Boy Meets World's final season had a two-parter in which a prank-off escalated into an all-out knock-down drag-out fight. Feelings were hurt, sides were taken, there was even a bear involved. It took the pure-hearted wisdom of childlike ditz Eric Matthews to put a stop to the madness.
  • Cheers had an ongoing prank war with Gary's Olde Towne Tavern that spanned six seasons.
    • Gary even went so far as to hire the whole city of Boston including everyone at Cheers to convince Sam that he had killed Gary.
  • Community has Abed embarks on one of these after being messed with by Troy, acting as an alien. Subverted in that Troy isn't fooled by Abed's pranks, but is increasingly concerned by Abed's ridiculously elaborate attempts.
  • Morgan and Reid have a prank war in the Criminal Minds episode "Painless". Can be seen here. Remember children, Beware the Nice Ones.
  • The Danger Force two part episode "The Thousand Pranks War" talked of a prank war between Swellville and Rivalton had been this for many years, but had slowly been waning over the years. This episode showed an attempt to restart this prank war.
  • Several Deadliest Catch captains (most notably the Hilstrand brothers) pull successively elaborate pranks using the boats' fishing lines. If I recall correctly, it went: tying bags of flour to the line to bomb the crew; tying a porta-potty to the line; the grand finale was tying a truck onto the line. Even the victim was impressed by that.
    • The sequel was Northwestern Jake stealing one of the Hilstrand's beloved USA jackets, then being dumb enough to brag about it on camera so the Time Bandit crew hung and later burned him in effigy (they claimed they burned it just to get rid of the effigy's Northwestern sweatshirt, which they felt was jinxing them).
    • Most recently the captain and crew of one of the newer boats on the show graffitied the crane on the Time Bandit. How did the Hilstrands retaliate? By buying over 1,000 eggs, calling in reinforcements from the Northwestern and another boat, and then egging the ever-loving hell out of the culprit's boat.
    • The same season as the graffiti/egging incident, the Hilstrands released over 20 Chinese lanterns upwind of the Northwestern, turning off their ship's lights and GPS so the Northwestern wouldn't see the Time Bandit. When Captain Sig saw the lights, he freaked out, because he couldn't figure out what was going on. It wasn't until the Hilstrands called the Northwestern up and turned their lights back on that Sig realized he'd been pranked. During the following opilio crab season, Sig plotted his revenge on the brothers by stocking a bunch of fireworks on board the ship. At the end of the season, he intercepted the Time Bandit, and the crew of the Northwestern unleashed a volley of rockets at the Hilstrands' ship. Of course, the Hilstrands (as always) had their own stock of fireworks aboard, and returned fire. The fireworks frenzy between the two ships continued, and much fun was had by all.
  • This is the relationship between Drew and Mimi on The Drew Carey Show, shown over the course of the series, escalating each season, with several episodes showing specific pranks. Unquestionably the high point is in "The High Road to China" where, after Drew gets Mimi to set off a Rube Goldberg Device which dumps paint on her desk just to get her to stand in one specific spot so she gets a Pie in the Face, Mimi retaliates by drugging Drew and mailing him to the Great Wall of China without any money or form of identification.
  • The Vegas episode of Friends, where Ross and Rachel try to humiliate one another.
    • Or the episode in which Rachel tries to get revenge on Chandler for accidentally seeing her naked after having stepped out of the shower...and accidentally walks in on Joey. Joey tries to pay her back but gets Monica instead. The whole thing comes to a screeching halt on Monica's turn when she goes to surprise Joey and sees his father naked instead.
    • "The One Where No-One's Ready" has a war that starts with Joey stealing Chandler's seat while the latter's in the bathroom and ends with Joey wearing every piece of clothing Chandler owns with no underwear.
      Joey: You hide my clothes, I'm wearing everything you own!
  • The modus operandi for any fight between Serena and Blair on Gossip Girl.
    • Could also apply for Blair and Chuck, and their half-a-season long fight over who should be the first to say "I love you". Continues even after they've decided to just let it be for now, since they then start to argue over who really knows the other best...
    • And the fight between Jenny and Blair. And the fight between Blair and the teacher who gave her a B. Let's face it, this is Blair's modus operandi - you'd think people would just figure out that pissing her off is a bad idea unless you want to take it that far.
  • One Halloween Episode of Home Improvement had all the characters try to out-prank each other.
  • On House, it's usually House and Wilson usually engage in a war of verbal one-upsmanship every episode.
    • In the S2 episode "Safe", however, they battle in an ongoing prank war like a couple of overgrown frat boys. House tricks Wilson into doing the dishes House had promised to do, locks him out of their apartment for hours, and puts Wilson's hand in warm water to make him pee himself. Wilson gets the last word by sawing halfway through House's cane, so that it dumps House on his ass in the middle of a crowded hallway - and even House can't help but laugh (in large part because he was mostly trying to get Wilson to snap out of his funk over a third divorce).
    • In "Resignation", House and Wilson dose each other with medication: Wilson slips anti-depressants into House's coffee to cheer him up; House (to test if Wilson's also on meds) slips amphetamine into Wilson's coffee. Honestly, this one is worth watching if only for Robert Sean Leonard's hysterical delivery of "I'm not on anti-depressants, I'm on SPEEED".
    • And in S4's "Alone", Wilson holds House's guitar hostage until he agrees to hire some new fellows. House shows his displeasure by erasing Wilson's TiVo and moving one of Wilson's cancer patients without telling him. While Wilson is terrible at keeping his identity as the guitar-napper secret (he sends House ransom notes, but leaves the cut-up newspaper on his desk, where he knows House will look..and tries to read it while House is in the room), House does eventually interview for a new team. Of course, Wilson wanted House to know he took the guitar. The faking it was only for his own amusement.
      • Made even funnier by the fact that throughout the entire episode, both House and Wilson refer to the guitar as being "guitar-napped" but the cancer patient as being "stolen."
    • In the episode Last Temptation, House and Wilson have a bet as to who can keep a live chicken in their office the longest without hospital security catching on. Throughout the episode, we see each's increasingly bizarre attempts to expose the other.
  • The episode of Just Shoot Me! where Jack, Finch and Eliot make bets about one another is a rare example of a three-way war.
  • One breaks out between Kentville and Pinewood in The Kicks episode "The Best Defense is a Good Offense." It culminates in The Kicks getting caught trying to steal a prized Alex Morgan jersey.
  • The Magnum, P.I. episode "Paper War" pushes the usual format of "Magnum solves a crime" into a B-plot to focus almost entirely on an increasingly petty prank war between Magnum and Higgins.
  • An episode of Malcolm in the Middle followed Malcolm and Reese caught in one. Displayed through flashbacks as well as the present events, the chain went like this: Malcolm steals a blueberry off Reese's plate, Reese gives Malcolm a wet willy, Malcolm fills Reese's hat with dirt, Reese puts something disgusting in Malcolm's toothpaste, Malcolm scares Reese with an air horn while he's in the shower, Reese puts a fire extinguisher down Malcolm's pants, Malcolm covers Reese's head in masking tape, Reese beats Malcolm up, Malcolm superglues Reese's arm to his forehead, Reese spreads posters of Malcolm potty training around school, Malcolm outs Reese as a hanger-on to a group of popular boys, Reese steals the money Malcolm was saving to buy a laptop, then finally, they crash into each other in go-karts and end up in full-body casts.
    • While it was only one scene, the incident where a woman hit Lois' car when opening her own car door went from Lois slamming her own door into the woman's car and apologizing (to show the woman how to react when caught doing something like that) to the two women destroying both cars in an impromptu demolition derby may serve as a sort of miniature version.
  • Married... with Children:
    • The episode "How Green Was My Apple?" starts with a dispute over an apple tree that is growing on their shared property line. It becomes an ever-increasing fight over the shared property line, which ends with both houses being destroyed.
    • The episode "The Joke's on Al" has Al and Jefferson get into an escalating prank war.
  • Several on M*A*S*H:
    • On one episode, Charles's French horn playing drove Hawkeye and BJ to retaliate by refusing to shower and eventually using garbage cans and other loud noises to drown him out.
    • Another episode features Margaret having a prank war with Hawkeye and BJ, with Charles secretly egging both sides on. It eventually escalates into Margaret telling BJ's wife she (falsely) had an affair with him, which so enrages BJ that Charles has to come clean about his part in the pranks—which Margaret and BJ had already realized and staged the scene to get him to confess.
    • Yet another instance featured Hawkeye playing a series of pranks on Charles, but as the opinion of the camp turned against him, he attempting to rig a prank to make it look like Charles was the one pranking him but it unfortunately backfired. However, Hawkeye later realized BJ was the one who sabotaged the last prank, and teamed up with Charles to get revenge on BJ.
  • The Mick: Sabrina and Mick constantly go back and forth pranking each other to get the other under control. In the second episode, Sabrina admits that it's preferable to her grandmother's brutal and malicious domination.
    Sabrina: At least Auntie Mick knew how to do a rivalry.
  • In an episode of NCIS, Ziva pulls the classic marker on the binoculars gag on Tony. He assures her that he won't be escalating anything. She spends the rest of the episode getting increasingly paranoid over what he might do, while he pays no attention to it. In the final scene, after she has accepted that nothing is going to happen, her chair collapses when she tries to sit down.
  • An episode of Night Court focused almost entirely on a prank war between Harry and a younger judge who was every bit the prankster he was. Some of the highlights included Dan Fielding being chased down the hall by a giant 8-ball, Harry's bench being unwittingly shattered by his gavel (after an entire night of cases had finished) and the rival prankster's robe being rigged with a giant inflatable balloon trapping him. The episode ended with Harry about to puncture said balloon.
  • In both versions of The Office, the annoying behavior of Gareth/Dwight leads to Tim/Jim playing pranks on them.
  • Bayside High of Saved by the Bell engaged in a prank war with Valley High.
  • An episode of Scrubs saw Dr. Cox and Turk both trying to get rid of an annoying hypochondriac with fake arm pain. There is a montage of each of them writing down increasingly rare diagnoses on the patient's chart as he is turfed from surgery to medical and back again, until Dr. Cox finally writes down a disease that can only be fixed by surgery. Dr. Cox believes he's won the war... until he's told that Turk actually gave the patient unnecessary surgery. Of course the surgery was faked as Turk's final strike in the war.
  • In Supernatural, Dean and Sam have a prank war as the B plot of the episode "Hell House." At the end, they both pull (rather vicious) independent pranks on a pair of arrogant teens that had been bugging them for the episode, and calling their truce with each other. For the next 100 miles, at least.
  • That '70s Show: In "Jackie Bags Hyde", Red gets upset when he finds out that the Pinciottis are having their own BBQ on Veterans Day, when the Formans hold their own Veterans Day BBQ every year. Red finds this even more offensive since he was a Korean War veteran while Bob was in the National Guard, and there's a montage where the two households try to outdo each other. But when Red finds out that the Pinciottis are throwing a BBQ as a last hurrah before Bob has to close his business, the Formans go to the Pinciottis and apologize about the feud.
  • Top Gear: A frequent occurrence, especially on the presenters overseas trips, where any act of smugness is frequently retaliated against.
    • In India, Clarkson and Hammond find that the air conditioning in May's car still works, so they decide out of "fairness" it needs to be broken. May retaliates by setting the heater in Clarkson's car onto full and pulling the knob out, and setting Hammond's seat all the way forward and breaking the adjuster. They get him back further by wiring the brakes of May's car to his horn, causing him to let out a blast every time he tries to slow down.
    • During their search for the Nile, May breaks the skid plate on his low-slung car. He fashions a new one from one of Clarkson's car doors without Clarkson's permission. When Clarkson finds out, he takes a patch for him door from May's bonnet. May responds by stealing a piece from Hammond's bonnet. Hammond responds by stealing the toilet seat (It Makes Sense in Context.) from Clarkson's car... By the time the trip is finished, each car almost has more bits from the other cars than their own original parts.
  • In an episode of The West Wing, Charlie informed C.J. that she would have to sign out a copy of the President's daily schedule as it had been leaked with increasing regularity. In response to his slightly pompous way of informing her, C.J. mischievously incorrectly filed the report away in the wrong cabinet. The resulting prank war ended with Charlie loosening all the bolts on C.J.'s desk.
  • Yeralash has an episode based on that. First, boys push each other. Then, one calls for his brother. Ends up with a nuclear war.
  • An episode of Zoey 101 had the boys and the girls engage in one. This came to a head when the girls place a pair of panties on a statue of the founder...while his son came to visit no less.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • The "feud" between CM Punk and Delirious in IWA Mid-South was as much about who could most consistently prank and embarrass the other as it was about who could win the most matches.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • Batman: Arkham City: Present in the All There in the Manual "City Stories" with the endpoint present through the game's main story. The "Holding Grudges" series details this kind of feud between the Penguin and the Joker. When the Penguin first started making a name for himself in Gotham City's underworld, he hosted a gala in his nightclub, the Iceberg Lounge, and invited many big names. Unfortunately, one of those names was the Joker, who proceeded to put a black mark on the event by killing a waitress who spilled his drink on him via spraying her in the face with his acid-shooting lapel flower. The Joker went back weeks later and was promptly invited inside, show a warm reception, and then kicked out the back door with the Penguin putting up a "No clowns" policy. Come to the events of City, years later, and both Penguin and Joker pit their massive street gangs against each other in the confines of Arkham City, with numerous neutral inmates and political prisoners caught in the crossfire and/or forced to pick sides to avoid getting killed themselves.
  • In Mass Effect 2 Joker and EDI, an artificial intelligence, end up in one of these. First Joker mutes her until his thumb breaks,note  so she makes his chair spin, so he puts grease on her camera lenses, and so forth. Fortunately, they call a truce after Joker unshackles EDI to escape from the Collectors which gives her full access to the Normandy's systems, including the high-powered armaments.
  • Team Fortress 2's Sniper and Spy were engaged in this (their updates were released at the same time, so most of the new gear is designed for fighting each other.) Brief synopsis: The Spy is always backstabbing the Sniper, so the Sniper taped a car battery to a tribal shield and electrocuted the Spy. Then, it turns out the Spy had a watch that caused him to cloak and feign death when he took damage. Then the Sniper's new weapon turned out to be... a jar of his own piss that shorts out cloaking devices.
  • One of Worms 2's introductory movies is an escalating war between two worms showing off ever deadlier weapons, starting with standard weaponry, then moving into missile tanks with more and more missiles on each one. Finally the second worm brings out a vehicle which casts a giant shadow and the first one screams. It turns out to be a tank-mounted hammer the size of the Eiffel Tower. Smoosh!

    Visual Novels 
  • In Kanon Makoto and Yuuichi have one of these going on... unfortunately, the term 'stealth' is apparently not part of her vocabulary, so whenever she tries something it always backfires. Makoto is essentially in an escalating war with herself.

  • Batman: Wayne Family Adventures: In the appropriately titled "Escalation", Damian takes offense to Tim borrowing his pen without permission and retaliates by ruining his favorite mug. By the time Bruce tells them to pull the plug, Damian is covered in glitter and Tim's hair is dyed "Joker Green".
  • Rose Lalonde in Homestuck is engaged in an escalating war of passive aggression with her Mother (or so she thinks, anyway).
    • This was the original intention (at least, before the kids broke the game beyond repair) of the war inside Skaia. They share genetic engineering facilities used specifically to raise the stakes and add more pieces to the Battlefield, so that the players have some impetus to beat the game quickly.
    • This also happened among the trolls. To summarize, Tavros became crippled because of Vriska, so as revenge Aradia tormented Vriska with the ghosts of the people she'd killed. Vriska in response arranged for Aradia to be killed by Sollux using her mind control, who, just to rub salt in the wound, she had a crush on. Terezi then set up Vriska to lose her arm and eye when her 8 ball exploded in her face, and in retaliation Vriska had Terezi blinded. Terezi and Vriska finally agreed to a truce to settle this, but then Aradia came back as a robot and kills Vriska, though Death Is Cheap so it doesn't really stick and Vriska ascends to God Tier and kills Tavros, and then Terezi and Vriska have their final confrontation, wherein Terezi kills Vriska and ends the war. Whew.
  • The Insecticomics routinely has one of these between the Insecticons and Vector Prime.
  • The campus whiteboard war in Mac Hall. Unfortunately, the only one we see involved someone picking a fight with Drew. The result wasn't pretty.
  • Tagger in Nip and Tuck tried to loosen up a new student. Hilarity Ensues.
  • In Pet Foolery, by the creator of Pixie and Brutus, a strip titled "History" shows two armies of elves and orcs being told by their commanders that their leaders have come to an agreement, and signed a cease fire to end their two thousand year war, which nobody remembers how it even started since both sides burned down each others libraries. However, they bring forth two historians who managed to piece together a history from surviving documents. According to the historians, the current situation arose from the elves burning down an orc city, which was taken from the elves after the orcs forcibly occupied it, before that the orcs invaded some elven territory after the elves built a dam to redirect a river away from orc territory, which was done because the orcs cut off the elven kingdom from the gold trade, which was done because the elven queen refused to attend the orc king's birthday party, because the orc king tricked the elven queen into sitting on an egg. The soldiers from both armies are dismayed to learn that two millennia of war arose from a childish prank.

    Web Original 
  • Cobra Kai gets a positively brutal one in the second season, as the Rival Dojos finally clash over a relatively minor misunderstanding. Consisting mostly of Samantha vs Tory and Robby vs Miguel, the school grounds turn into a madhouse. Oh, and someone goes down. HARD.
  • Hermitcraft's Civil War. It started with Iskall pranking False, with Cleo later swooping by and framing Ren for it. False then pranked Ren in retaliation with the help of Grian, Ren hit back at Cleo for making him a target in the first place, Grian got caught in the trap meant for Cleo, then he and Tango pranked Ren and Doc and framed False and Mumbo for it... This went on for a while, until the server split up into the G-Team (led by Grian) and Team STAR (led by Doc) and it all escalated into an all out war, with fortresses to defend, elaborate redstone traps, ConCorp selling weapons to both sides, and Mumbo acting as a (pretty unsuccessful) mole.
  • The SCP Foundation's Great Researcher Prank War of '09, caused by various personnel vying for possession of SCP-050, a statue which follows whomever demonstrates themselves to be "the cleverest".
  • Barats and Bereta use this trope quite a bit in their videos:
  • Whateley Universe example: as of the winter term at Superhero School Whateley Academy, Beltane and Thorn are having an Escalating War of pranks. Since both have the power of creating and manipulating ectoplasm, the pranks are getting out of hand.

    Western Animation 
  • Aqua Teen Hunger Force had the Spacecataz cold openings from Season 3, where the Mooninites (Ignignokt and Err) and the Plutonians (Oglethorpe and Emory) embark on a prank war with each other. The Mooninites manage to one-up the Plutonians with nearly every prank but they both ultimately lose since Oglethorpe activates the self-destruct mechanism on his ship which kills all four of them.
  • The Cat Came Back: As the short continues, Old Mr. Johnson's attempts to get rid of the cat get increasingly over-the-top, and every time the cat comes back, it causes more and more damage to Mr. Johnson's house in retaliation.
  • The Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers episode "One-upsman-Chip" features a prank war between the two chipmunk protagonists. It starts off with Dale telling Chip his shoe is untied, even though none of the Rescue Rangers wear shoes, then saying: "Got you last!" when Chip looks down at his feet. Chip responds by claiming that something is crawling up Dale's back. At this point, the pranking is interrupted by Fat Cat and his cronies (whom the Rangers trick into stealing a bowling ball disguised as the world's largest pearl) but resumes on the way back to Ranger Headquarters. After Dale pretends to have mystical powers, Chip enlists the help of the others to trick Dale into thinking his "powers" are real and that he has summoned an invisible spirit called Ramalama Dingdong, who is actually Chip talking to Dale over a radio hidden in the latter's turban. Turns into a Deadly Prank when Dale falls into Fat Cat's clutches and ends with Dale claiming victory by briefly making Chip think he has been killed.
  • Dan's feud with the Lemonade Stand Gang in Dan Vs., "Dan vs. The Lemonade Stand Gang". It starts with the Lemonade Stand Gang stealing Dan's parking space, strong-arming him and Chris into buying overpriced lemonade, and throwing a lemon with a threat written on it through Dan's window. Dan responds by making Chris dress up as a monster and break into the ringleader's house — it goes horribly wrong of course. The Gang goes on to outright mug Chris and Dan for their wallets. Dan and Chris wreck their bicycles with an axe. The Gang wrecks Chris' car. At this point Elise is prepared to ship the Gang to a Korean weapons factory where they would never be heard from again. Chris puts a stop to this insanity and they defeat the gang by showing their parents proof of their crimes.
  • The Danny Phantom episode "Eye For An Eye" does a rather sinister take on this trope with the rivarly between Danny and Evil Counterpart Vlad. It starts with Danny tricking the local equivalent of The Men in Black to raid Vlad's mansion, continues to Vlad electing himself mayor, and ends with a brutal fight between the two that Danny barely manages to make a tie, with the revelation that Vlad's motives have shifted from borderline-sympathetic to outright-megalomaniacal.
  • Darkwing Duck and Negaduck do this almost accidentally in the episode "Disguise the Limit," when Darkwing is momentarily transformed into a duplicate of Negaduck and the two of them keep pulling larger and larger weapons on each other.
  • A common feature of Donald Duck shorts, particularly those co-starring Chip 'n Dale.
    • One short, "The New Neighbor", featured him fighting against Pete like he does Jones from the comics. It culminates in the two of them building an enormous fence that collapses under its own weight, wrecking both their properties.
  • Artha and Moordyrd do this in the Dragon Booster episode "Pride Of The Hero." It starts with them getting into a fight at the racetrack, this soon escalates to Artha talking Moordyrd into riding Beau, then their little feud gets out of control when Moordyrd uses a bonemark on Beau. The episode ends with both Artha and Moordyrd realizing their mistakes or as Artha puts it, "Think about that, I will".
  • Family Guy: The Peter/Chicken fights were over an expired coupon.
    • In the Back to the Future parody episode "Meet the Quagmires", we see that it may have started even earlier, when Peter bumped into the Chicken at the dance.
  • The Flintstones features Fred playing countless practical jokes on Barney, who then comes back with a "counterfeiting scheme" (using money he won in a contest). This goes on until both get in trouble with the Mob, only to realize Wilma and Betty were behind the whole thing, in order to get their husbands to call off the endless pranking.
  • Bobby and Luanne get in an escalating prank war in an episode of King of the Hill, which eventually leads to Luanne convincing Bobby that he got her pregnant. Hank and his friends assist Luanne by arranging a fake Shotgun Wedding... then turn the prank back on Luanne by telling her the wedding was real.
  • Shows up in many of the Looney Tunes classics. For instance, Rabbit of Seville, where Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd continually pull out bigger guns to point at each other. Or Daffy as Duck Dodgers, claiming Planet X for its supply of the shaving cream atom, and getting into an escalating war over it with Marvin the Martian. Let's just say the results were not pretty, and widely considered something of a parody of the unwinnable nature of nuclear war, something of a worry at the time.
    • The Foghorn Leghorn cartoons often have him engaged in a prank war with the Barnyard Dawg. The cartoon "The High and the Flighty" has Daffy Duck as a novelty salesman Playing Both Sides, selling Foghorn and Dawg items to prank each other. It ends with both getting the same gag (The Pipe Full O' Fun kit #7), realizing they've been had, and using it to prank Daffy instead.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
  • In Pixar short One-Man Band, the musicians go to increasingly absurd lengths, playing louder, busting out puppets, and eventually scaring the girl enough that she drops her coin down a storm drain.
  • There's an old Pink Panther cartoon which escalates from a non-returned lawnmower to a full on shooting war, under the influence of an unseen voice that turns out to be the devil.
  • The Simpsons episode "Homer Loves Flanders" mentioned a feud with Shelbyville but only shows the final prank.
    Lisa: What's so special about this game anyway? It's just another chapter in the pointless rivalry between Springfield and Shelbyville. They built a mini-mall, so we built a bigger mini-mall. They made the world's largest pizza, so we burnt down their city hall.
    Homer: Heh heh heh. Yeah, they swore they'd get us back by spiking our water supply. But they didn't have the guts.
    Marge (drinks a glass of water and then sees the walls start to run): Ooooh. The walls are melting again. (giggles)
    • An episode of Itchy & Scratchy features this trope with each character pulling out bigger and bigger handguns at each other. In the end the guns are the size of the Earth.
  • This has been the basis of the relationship between Kyle and Cartman of South Park for over 15 years. As the seasons progress, what were verbal volley of insults has escalated to levels including Cartman infecting Kyle with his HIV virus to Kyle convincing Cartman to go to Somalia as certain death.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants and Patrick Star get into one of these at the beach, with weapons made of sand.
    • In the classic episode "Employee of the Month," SpongeBob and Squidward attempt to one-up each other in order to win the eponymous award. It starts when the former - paranoid over his 26-month winning streak being broken - breaks into the latter's house to break his alarm clock so he won't wake up. Squidward responds with a cabinet full of clocks as replacements. After exchanging trash talk, Squidward - who initially had no interest in actually winning the award at all - now declares he will do it just to spite SpongeBob. This launches an escalating series of traps to prevent one of them from getting to work first (Squidward putting SpongeBob to sleep with his clarinet, SpongeBob digging a hole in front of Squidward's front door, etc.), eventually culminating in SpongeBob pulling himself along while tied to an anchor and Squidward dragging a flaming pirate ship behind him! They then call - and immediately break - a truce, sprinting to the Krusty Krab. Once there, they attempt to win Mr. Krabs' favor by showing who can clean floors/tables/dishes more efficiently, tearing the place apart in the process. It finally culminates when they try to out-cook each other, producing so many Krabby Patties that the Krusty Krab explodes, with the Patties raining from the sky. The issue is ultimately unresolved, as Mr. Krabs is shown to be more concerned about customers picking up the "free" Krabby Patties without paying for them, while SpongeBob and Squidward each frantically ask to be named the winner as the episode fades out.
  • Taz-Mania: "War and Pieces" consists entirely of an escalating war between Taz and Molly that begins when Molly's loud music causes Taz to drop his sandwich, and he retaliates by eating her CDs.
  • In Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation, Buster Bunny starts a water fight with Babs. By the end, Babs opens a dam, then Buster triggers a massive tsunami, and Acme Acres ends up underwater.
  • Some Tom and Jerry cartoons have this dynamic: one character will do something minor (sometimes even inadvertently) to irritate the other at the beginning, and then it's battle on.
  • The Venture Brothers The guild of calamitous intent doesn't take kindly to murder. Dr. Girlfriend said it best: "Then the guild steps up their game. If you throw a rock, they throw a knife. You throw a knife, they come to your house when you're sleeping and murder your family."
  • In the Wander over Yonder episode "The Bad Neighbors", Lord Hater and Emperor Awesome try to get rid of each other because their temporary houses are right across from each other.

    Real Life 
  • There was a news story about a prank war between two brothers-in-law who kept exchanging the same old ratty pair of pants between them for Christmas. The methods they used for "wrapping" the pants became more and more outrageous over the years—to the point where the pants were being embedded within hundreds of kilograms of welded-together copper piping one year and then placed in a car that was filled with cement the next. Alas, the pants were destroyed when a packaging scheme went awry.
  • One more real-life example, though farcical: Firefly actors Nathan Fillion and Jewel Staite engaged in a "war of birds". Each came up with more and more creative ways to flip the other off. Some people believe Jewel won the contest at Comic-Con 2005, when she got the entire audience at the Serenity panel to flip Nathan off.
  • One could say the Cold War. At least in the first half. The fact that it (fortunately) remained "cold" for the most part kinda puts a crimp on the "escalating" part. This is why the policy of massive retaliation (nuking the shit out of the CCCP in the event of a US-CCCP war, no matter how limited or minor) was replaced by flexible response (doing things other than nuking the shit out them). The first part of this involved building up their conventional military to the point where it might be strong enough to take on the Soviet military without tossing nukes around like candy. The second involved not glassing the entire Soviet Union in response to just one Soviet nuclear strike, but instead declaring that they would respond tit-for-tat (St Petersburg for Detroit was a classic example). Through these policeis they hoped to avoid a nuclear "total war" in the event of some kind of confrontation or even a Soviet accident.
  • Two members of the crew on CollegeHumor have been having an escalating prank war going on for some time now. It started out innocently enough (innocent being a very relative term (not quite safe for work)), but at the time of writing, the latest prank involves guy A making guy B's girlfriend think that guy B was proposing to her. On the giant screen at a Yankees game. Said girlfriend was not pleased.
    • Streeter (Guy B) got back at Amir (Guy A) by making him think he'd won $500,000 by making a blindfolded half-court shot at a University of Maryland basketball game. He did this by having the crowd cheer as loudly as possible no matter how bad Amir's shot was. Amir's shot was wide left, the crowd screamed, he went crazy and then Streeter walked onto the court, in disguise, to give Amir his check. Then the disguise came off.
  • This rather amusing Church sign debate. Even though it's a prank made with the Church Sign Generator, it's still hilarious.
  • There was a story about four shops (or other kinds of service) located on the same street. One day, the first of them put up a sign declaring itself to have the best wares (or service) in the city. The second responded by declaring itself the best in the whole country. The third one soon followed by calling itself the best in the world. Then, the fourth one put up a sign saying it's the best on this street.
  • Ten men have been playing a game of "Tag" for the better part of 30 years. The rules of their game stipulate that it can only be played during the month of February and can involve wives acting as spies, employees acting as lookouts, days-long stakeouts, flying cross country and even internationally, and elaborate disguises.
  • The rivalry between Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh, a pair of Australian mobsters in the 1920s who were at each other's throats for years, trying to sabotage each other's criminal enterprises through increasingly violent means. They mellowed out in their later years, by which we mean they turned to slander and libel before finally burying the hatchet in 1948.
  • Actors Macaulay Culkin and Ryan Gosling had a light-hearted one in 2014, which started when paparazzi captured Gosling wearing a vintage Fun T-Shirt featuring Culkin. In appreciation, Culkin took a photo of himself wearing a shirt of Gosling wearing that shirt. Gosling was then photographed again wearing a shirt depicting Culkin wearing that shirt.
  • Bridge Kaldro Music in Christiansburg, Virginia, decided to start a sign war with their next door neighbor, Super Shoes. Soon, the streets of Christiansburg were covered in good-natured quippy signs. Then Christiansburg's friends across the border - Listowel, Ontario - decided to join the fun with their own war. Christiansburg jokingly called Listowel out, and the sign war has since spread around the world. There is a Facebook group dedicated to it.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Escalating Prank War


Get In a Fight

Brother and Sister's morning argument escalates into ruining each other's toys.

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