Somebody is building a large and complicated house of cards, and there's stuff going on around them that threatens to cause the structure to collapse.
The collapse often happens just as the last two cards are being placed, leaving the builder holding them in place over the empty air where the house used to be.
Like Endangered Soufflé, only not with souffle, and comes with the same two standard variations: In one, the rambunctious behavior around the house of cards is quieted down with no ill effects, only to have a relatively-distant disturbance (slamming door, car backfire) collapse the structure after it is "safe". The other works much the same, except that it is the builder themselves who triggers the collapse.
Dish Dash is a related trope.
The trope name is a play on Edgar Allan Poe's Fall of the House of Usher.
- Near's tarot card house in Death Note. He specifically warns his coworkers about how pissed he'll be if they knock it over. They don't. However, in a variant on the trope, he builds a huge structure of dice which collapses in slow motion when most of his team gets Death Noted.
- Yugi made one and eventually fell in the Toei Yu Gi Oh series.
- Hunter × Hunter: Hisoka did it, too.
- In Nichijou, Yuuko and Mio are about to finish a card house, but Mai (as usual) messes with them, by sticking a cat toy through the house and dropping her glasses on it. Somehow it stays up. They get her to stop, but then Yuuko gets up to go to the bathroom, and the door closing somehow knocks the lamp off the ceiling, crushing the card house. Yuuko comes back in and puts the last two cards on top of the lamp.
- In the final season of Durarara!!, while preparing for his final fight with Shizuo, Izaya takes a bunch of tarot cards to make a card house. It actually goes really well and he finishes it in around a minute. Unsurprisingly, Izaya himself is the one to destroy the structure by purposely flicking a pawn into it. He then lights all the cards on fire for good measure.
- Done with a bit of symbolism in Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth.
- Inside Out: The "Anger" segment on the Mind Candy featurette in the film's Blu-ray release features Riley constructing a large, impressive card house, only for it to fall apart once she puts the final card in place. Reacting accordingly, Anger causes Riley to sweep away the remains of her card house in frustration.
- The 1993 film House of Cards.
- Ron does this with Exploding Snap cards in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and singes his eyebrows in the process.
- The Dark Tower: The Drawing of the Three has crime boss Enrico Balazar build a house of cards while he waits for Eddie to cough up the drugs. When things begin go pear-shaped, the cards collapse without him noticing. It's also mentioned that Balazar once killed a man for deliberately knocking over a house that Balazar was constructing.
- The Brady Bunch, episode "54-40 and Fight": The boys and the girls face off in a house-of-cards building contest to settle an argument. Bad luck for the boys that Tiger runs through the living room when they're putting the finishing touches on.
- In a fade-out mistake, you can see Robert Reed pushing down on a pre-made section of the house and it bounces back into shape.
- Father Ted, episode "New Jack City", as one instance of a Running Gag where Ted rings Father Larry Duff and interrupts him in the middle of doing something that requires unbroken concentration.
- Each episode of The Millionaire begins with the title character in his office, engaging in one of his many hobbies and describing how the hobby can be related to human nature and the ways people deal or fail to deal with unexpected changes. In one episode, he builds a house of cards then causes it to collapse by breathing on it, presenting it as a metaphor for how a life can be drastically altered by a small interruption.
- Seen twice in Poirot:
- In the episode based on the first novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Poirot builds a house of cards to calm himself. He knocks it down by slamming his fists on the table, and starts building it anew before Hastings triggers his "Eureka!" Moment.
- A later episode subverts this, with Poirot building an intricate house of cards while on the phone to Inspector Japp, eventually the whole thing collapses. Later on Japp picks up the top card, revealing that it has been glued together.
- Pixelface: In "Bored to Undeath", the characters are sitting around bored because no one has played the console for 48 hours. Alexia is building a house of cards, which gets demolished by Sgt. Riley as he attempts to squeeze past her.
- Banacek: In "Fly Me — If You Can Find Me", Felix is attempting to break the world record for the tallest house of cards. The whole thing comes tumbling down when Banacek calls him, and Felix realises that he has built the house of cards over the top of the phone.
- Hey You! What If...: In "You Could Live On The Moon?", Zigi is building a house of cards to wile away the tedious 14 days of night when you can't go outside when it is demolished by a moonquake.
- One Hägar the Horrible strip.
- Peanuts sees Snoopy watching Linus building such a house. As he gears up for a sneeze, Linus calls out, "Turn your head! Turn your head!!" Snoopy obliges, after which he lets out a big sneeze. The final panel shows the aftermath: Charlie Brown's house of cards destroyed.
- Seen in Ghost Trick. A prison security guard is building a house of cards, but just as he finishes, he thumps the table with outrage at the prospect of escorting a great police detective, who was convicted of murdering his wife with little evidence other than his (slightly dubious) confession, to be executed. This naturally causes his house of cards to collapse.
- Fallout 3: exploring Olney Powerworks, the Lone Wanderer will likely come across a stack of metro tickets on someone's desk, with a couple of pool balls on top - and considering that the Lone Wanderer is probably the first person to enter the building since the Great War, that means this stack has stood for a good 200 years. But pick up any of the other items on the desk and the venerable structure will surely crumble.
- Mirror's Edge: In a cutscene near the beginning of the game, Faith is passing time in Merc's lair building a house of cards. When she hears that her sister is in trouble she springs to her feet, knocking the whole thing over.
- In an RWBY Chibi skit, Ruby is building a house of cards, but it falls apart before she finished it because Weiss slams their dorm's door.
- Arcane. Marcus is shocked to come home and find Silco—the undercity boss he's taking bribes from—in his house, helping his daughter built a house of cards. At the end of their subsequent conversation, Silco knocks over the cards, pointing out that accidents happen.
- Wallace & Gromit in A Grand Day Out provides the page image as Gromit builds an impressive house to pass the time on their trip to the moon, and is just about to put the last two cards on when Wallace pulls the handbrake as they arrive, causing it to collapse.
- The Simpsons: In one of the Tracey Ullman shorts, Bart tries to build a house of cards, and Lisa and Maggie keep unintentionally causing it to collapse.
- The Imp cartoon, episode "Bison" (where it is, perhaps unsurprisingly, knocked down by a rampaging bison).
- The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) episode "Scion of the Shredder". The Turtles and Splinter are chilling in their lair, and Michelangelo is building a house of cards. Right after he places the last two cards, the perimeter alarm goes off. After Donatello hurries to check his computer systems, something starts beating on the front door. The Turtles go for their weapons, and the house of cards gets its very own falling-down shot before it cuts back to the door finally breaking in.
- Sponge Bob Squarepants.
- In one episode SpongeBob is making a snail-shaped house of cards modeled after Gary, when Patrick comes barreling in and knocks it down.
- In another episode Sandy builds the world's tallest house of cards, so big it has its own elevator. Then along comes Patrick...
- At the end of one episode of Adventures in Care-a-Lot, it's revealed that Grizzle didn't appear because he spent the day building a house of cards, complete with Evil Laughter when it's finished. He promptly sneezes, and the whole thing falls over.
- Miss Bitters of Invader Zim uses this as an object lesson:
Miss Bitters: Now, add all the dead weight of students like you...
[student adds haphazard pile of cards to the top of a very large tower, which quickly collapses]
Miss Bitters: So as you can see, children, our whole society is nothing more than a perilous house of cards, doomed to collapse under its own weight.
- Jimmy Two-Shoes: Lucius uses his Cool Plane to destroy a giant house of cards. He's disappointed it wasn't a real house.
- The Phineas and Ferb episode, "Cheer Up Candace", began with the two boys putting on the finishing touches of their Temple of Angkor Wat house of card replica. Naturally, thanks to Candace's scream of anguish that triggered the plot of the episode, it collapses before Isabella could take a photo.
- An episode of Sofia the First opens with Cedric using a spell to build one of these, only to have it collapse when his concentration is broken.
- In Totally Spies! this happens to Alex in the season 2 intro.
- In the The Loud House episode "The Crying Dame", Lincoln's card house suffers this fate.
- The Angry Beavers episode "Chariots of Fur" has Daggett and Norbert at one point visit a water show featuring "Jupi the well organized Seal", Daggett and Norbert getting caught in a jet ski pulled water skier human pyramid that crashes into the house of cards Jupi was working on.
Non-card examples (included here until somebody thinks of a good name for the super-trope)
- During the recap episode of Excel♡Saga, Il Palazzo is setting up an extremely long domino chain. The Excel Girls kick a few of them down, though Il Palazzo stops the chain reaction in time, and responds by strangling them. The camera cuts away, and cuts back to plushies of them (a reference to how Japanese TV shows will sometimes sub in a cardboard cutout of a host if they're unavailable).
- The Klegdixal Ambassador's dust sculpture in Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire.
- In Aladdin, the sultan is stacking some tiny statuettes when Jafar slams open the door and they fall down.
- Mickey's Christmas Carol has Scrooge counting his money, piling the coins into tall thin stacks as he basically dumps Belle. She storms out, toppling the piles in mid-count.
- Bigweld's domino layout in Robots.
- Subverted in an episode of M*A*S*H: After receiving a disturbingly large number of tongue depressors for their unit, Hawkeye uses the excess depressors to build a memorial tower to all the patients who have passed through the 4077th. When Stars and Stripes gets wind of this, they decide to do a story in the project, only for Army Recruitment to decide to use the tower as a shot in the arm for enlistment efforts. Hawkeye is less than thrilled at this prospect and opts to instead blow the tower up on camera.
Hawkeye: Senseless destruction. That's what it's all about babe.
- In Malcolm in the Middle, with Dewey's set of dominoes. They averted the collapse many times, and Hal was really looking forward to the eventual release (trying to keep himself from giving in to the temptation to set them off)... and then he comes home and Dewey has already done it. At the end of the episode Hal has fully reconstructed the whole set and decides that he better captures it on video this time, only to slam the door when leaving setting them off again.
- On an episode of Mama's Family, Vint starts stacking up sugar cubes on his plate, claiming to be going for the "world sugar-stacking record". Mama slams the refrigerator door, and they fall down. He starts doing it again, and this time Mama purposely knocks them down with her tongs.
- Happens on an "Over Our Heads" episode of The Facts of Life, when Natalie is trying to stack up some boxes in the store. Everyone keeps slamming the store door and knocking them down.
- In an episode of The Fairly OddParents!, Timmy is building a scale model of the Eiffel tower when his dad or mom bursts in and it collapses. Happens as a Running Gag throughout the episode.
- In The Simpsons episode "Sideshow Bob's Last Gleaming", Sideshow Bob builds a miniature model of Westminster Abbey, which collapses from the sound of people laughing at the Krusty the Klown Show.
- In The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius episode "Who's Your Mommy", when the power of the whole town starts shutting off, we see Butch making a very tall tower of rounded sticks.
Butch: My counselor was right. All I needed to curb my anger was a hobby.
[reaches up to place a stick on the very top only to have the lights turn off, followed by a crashing sound]
Butch: Okay, NOW I'M MAD!
- Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales: In the episode "Lamplighters", Mr. Livingstone is seen putting the finishing touches on a model of the Empire State Building made entirely out of toothpicks. As he stands back to admire it, remarking that it's taken an entire year to build, Flunkey barges into the room and bumps into him, pushing him into the model, which is destroyed.
- In The Angry Beavers episode, "The Bing That Wouldn't Leave", Daggett and Bing's playing knocks down Norbert's toothpick sculpture of a redwood tree, but Bing managed to rebuild it in seconds.