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Mistaken for Apocalypse

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Fry: So you're saying these aren't the decaying ruins of New York in the year 4000?
Farnsworth: You wish! You're in Los Angeles!

Usually a comedy trope. A character (or a group of characters) wakes to a series of unusual circumstances, such as an absence of people/empty streets, destruction of property, phones/Internet being down, etc. He then interprets all these signs as meaning an apocalypse occurred while he was sleeping/distracted, and that he is the last man left alive.


He then acts on this usually in one of two ways:

  1. Start trying to survive, gathering food, building a fort, etc.
  2. Act with a complete and total lack of inhibition, doing everything he's always wanted to do without consequences.

As it turns out, however, he isn't the last man alive. In fact, no apocalypse has happened at all. Everything that's convinced him that humanity has been wiped out were merely coincidences which he misinterpreted.

If his misinterpretations weren't due to his own stupidity, it will then turn out that someone tricked him into believing this.

If this isn't being Played for Laughs, then the other person might have been trying to trick them as a means to get information from them.

Related to, and can overlap with, Faked Rip Van Winkle. Contrast While Rome Burns.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • Played for Drama in Attack on Titan. We're lead to believe that the coming of the Titans a century ago lead to the near-extinction of mankind, with the last survivors being those inside the walls. However, as the series progressed, we learned that at least some of humanity seemed to have survived outside the walls and were hell-bent on getting back at the people there for abandoning them. Come the Return to Shingashina arc and we learned the full truth: not only is humanity is alive and well outside of the walls, but those inside the walls- which are located on an island- are the remnant of an ancient empire called Eldia, whose people are the ones who can transform into titans and who spent the last 1,700 years subjugating the other races of the world. The current global power, the Kingdom of Marley, is an expansionist military state with 20th century-level technology and a serious hatred for the Eldians for what they did to their ancestors, and who are fond of now using their Titan abilities for their own expansionist campaigns. Both sides are now set to clash, and it's feared by many that it'll only end with full-on genocide of one side.
  • Happen in a rather long story in Doraemon that become the last publicized story for the original manga series. In short, Nobita found that in the near future there is no one in the neighborhood and several ant-like aliens roam it. Thriller adventure ensued, but after everything is done (by sheer dumb luck!), it turns out that everyone is just watching a movie shooting session featuring a famous actress somewhere else.
    • Another story long before that has Nobita picking up what appears to be an apocalyptic manuscript as first, it concerns about a sleeping driver and hijacking that was actually happened, and the final page concerning "the sad end of a circle", until it was revealed that it's Doraemon's diary written in metaphors, with the "sleeping driver" refers to Nobita, the "hijacking" refers to Gian, and "the sad end of a circle" refers to one too many Nobita's zero-grades.

    Comic Books 
  • In the Italian comic Cattivik in one episode the main character thinks that a nuclear war or a similar disaster happened and forced everyone in the sewers. After two seconds of apparent Angst, he decides to go out there and steal everything left.
  • Once during his run on Superman, Karl Kesel wrote a story involving the Challengers of the Unknown (adventurers from the 60s) traveling into the 1990s to retrieve a time-traveling villain. At the point where they arrive in the future, they encounter a band of punk-dressed kids in one of the less-affluent sections of Metropolis and assume that they're in a post-apocalyptic world.
    Ace: Excuse me,
  • One of the stories in Xxxenophile used the "trick for others" version.

    Eastern European Animation 

  • Blast from the Past - A plane crashes into the Webbers' house while they're weathering the Cuban Missile Crisis in their new fallout shelter underground. Believing World War III has broken out, they spend the next 35 years in their shelter waiting for the radiation to clear. When they're forced to leave the shelter to get supplies, the world has changed so much from how they remember it that they chalk it up to society collapsing from a nuclear war, including mistaking a transsexual hooker for some kind of mutant.
  • Gamera Vs. Zigra has a loony bum telling the children it's a post-apocalyptic 1985 (the film was set in 1971) and that the Great Lord Miyamuto has come back.
  • Played with in 10 Cloverfield Lane. After a car accident the protagonist wakes up in an underground bunker with a Crazy Survivalist who insists the country outside has been destroyed by Deadly Gas. The handyman who helped build the bunker is more rational, but she clearly thinks he's been influenced by the survivialist's paranoid fantasies and overreacted to a Big Blackout.
  • A short film spoof of 28 Days Later involved the protagonist waking up to find the streets deserted except for one man shambling along with a Zombie Gait... who points out with irritation that it's 5am and he's hungover after a night on the booze.
  • Zombieland: Minor example, played for laughs. Columbus starts the film in Garland, Texas, having survived weeks of the Zombie Apocalypse. He quickly explains to viewers that the place doesn't look like an abandoned ruin due to the zombies—that's just Garland.

    Folk Tales 

  • In The Compound by S.A. Bodeen, Eli and his family live an underground bunker for 6 years, thinking that the world has been annihilated in a nuclear war. Eli then finds out that this actually never happened, and their father was using them for an experiment to see how far people would go to survive.
  • In Fredric Brown's short story "The Dome", a scientist seals himself under a force field after he hears that a city was wiped out by a nuclear bomb and assumes a war had started. He asks a girl he loves to join him, but she refuses, determined to help the people any way she can. Thirty years later, he deactivates the dome... turns out the explosion was merely a starship from another planet which crashed during the landing. Earth is now a part of an alien federation and the scientist is past the age where he can receive their life extension therapy. Therefore, he has no choice but to go back to his shelter and hope the civilization gives him enough energy to bring it back online to live the rest of his life there.
  • The Hank the Cowdog book "It's A Dog's Life" had Hank, through a false report from Drover, think that the world was going to end on Tuesday.
  • There's a short story in which a young man who spends too much time on the internet has it go out (and there's sunspots or something causing his other communication devices not to function) and immediately jumps to the conclusion that World War III is about to happen. Rather than warn anyone, (the character believes himself of superior intelligence and all his neighbors idiots) he heads for the hills, and dies because he doesn't know anything about wilderness survival.
  • Another short story has a time traveler seeking to alter history, then returning to his own time to hear two people discussing how New York has just been destroyed by poison gas. Convinced he's stuffed things up the time traveler commits suicide in remorse; the story then reveals that he's jumped forward into a mental hospital and the story is a fantasy made up by one of the inmates.
  • In The Miller's Tale, Nicholas uses this to get the old carpenter out of the way so that Nicholas could... spend some quality time... with Alison, the old carpenter's wife.
  • This is a major part of the plot in Survivor Dogs. The dogs believe that the earthquakes (or "Growls" as they call them) are a sign of the apocalypse.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode "The Night the World Ended" is about what happens when a newsman shows a homeless guy a phony paper declaring the world will end that night. For example, the homeless guy breaks into a sporting goods store, so the neighborhood kids can play with the equipment.
  • In the short lived Animal House TV series, the Omega house hides in their underground bomb shelter during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Delta House decides to mess with them and while Omega is looking through the shelter's periscope, Delta shoots a camera flash at it. Then they put smoke around it. When the smoke clears, Omega sees a fake diorama of the ruins of Faber College through the periscope.
  • Used in an interesting way on Law & Order. The episode opens with a man receiving an email from a relative confessing to the murder of his wife. The detectives investigate and discover this is true. It turns out the relative belonged to a group that sent out emails in the event of the apocalypse to those who weren't "saved". The emails are sent when two of three people from the group fail to respond to a daily update. One of the three was on vacation. A second was murdered and the rest of the episode deals with that investigation.
  • Mission: Impossible
    • TOS episode "Two Thousand". A nuclear physicist steals 50 kg of plutonium. The IMF team tries to convince him that the United States was devastated by a nuclear war and he has been in a coma for 28 years.
    • There's another episode where the IMF trick some spies into thinking their country has nuked the US, just so they can steal the spies' codebook.
  • My Name Is Earl - In a flashback episode taking place on New Years 2000, the gang learns of the Y2K bug, and - due to a series of coincidences and misunderstandings - believe that the machines rose up and wiped out humanity, except for them. They then go live at the local department store and form a new society based around making decisions with a "Take-A-Number" machine.
  • One episode of Quantum Leap took place during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Near the end of the episode, an air raid warning sends the family and a neighbor into their fallout shelter. Needless to say, it's a false alarm, but the situation almost turns tragic when the boy of the family, who got his father's loaded pistol, has a panicked delusion that a panicked neighbor is a Russian soldier is trying to break into the shelter. Sam is able to stop the boy and that turned out to be the historical tragedy he leapt in to avert.
  • In an episode of Six Feet Under, a wacky circumstance involving helium-filled blow-up sex dolls leads a woman to think the Rapture has come - she runs out into the street and gets hit by a car. Probably inspired by an obscure Urban Legend.
  • On 3rd Rock from the Sun, Sally thought the world was ending the first time she saw snow, especially as it was followed by a blackout. As she was alone with Dick's clueless student Leon at the time, she explained to him that the world was ending and they would have to copulate as much as possible. He decided to let her think that, but unfortunately for him, the lights came on just as they were about to go at it.
  • The Twilight Zone
    • The Twilight Zone (1959):
      • In "The Shelter", a man has built a fallout shelter for his family, but his neighbors think that he is just being paranoid. When a warning goes out over the radio that objects suspected to be nuclear missiles are falling from the sky, his neighbors all panic and demand to be let into the shelter despite his warnings that his shelter can only support three people and that if they break into the shelter they won't accomplish anything but dooming him and his family. Just after they break down the door to the shelter the radio reveals that it has been confirmed the falling objects were just failed satellites.
      • "One More Pallbearer" had an affluent man build a fallout bunker—and also faked footage to make people think that World War III had started. The reason for this is because he invited three people to his house that night: his schoolteacher from when he was a boy, a priest, and his commanding officer. All of them had disciplined him for being a terrible person; he wanted to see if they'd beg his forgiveness if they thought he was the only way they could survive the radiation. It turns out that he's still such a jerk that they all opt to not go into his bunker. He's so distraught that he later fantasizes that the apocalypse has happened for real, buying his own fake story.
    • The Twilight Zone (1985): In "Shelter Skelter", a guy who's paranoid about nuclear war builds himself an underground shelter. While he's showing a visiting friend around, there's what looks like a nuclear explosion, and he seals them both in for weeks. When he believes the radiation will have died down a bit he sends his friend out to take a look. The friend reports that it's pitch black, suggesting a nuclear winter, and everything's been reduced to rubble. The shelter guy leaves his friend outside to die rather than let him back in to contaminate the shelter, but he knows his own supplies of food and water won't last forever.note 

    Mythology & Religion 

    Video Games 
  • In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, a quest given by Sheogorath (the Daedric Prince of Madness who enjoys screwing with mortals for fun) involves convincing a local town the apocalypse is at hand by producing signs foretold by a prophecy, one of which is a rain of burning dogs. (Funnily enough, the apocalypse is actually at hand, although it has nothing to do with burning dogs or the town's prophecy.)

    Puppet Shows 
  • On The Muppet Show, Scooter gives Beauregard a tarot reading which foretells the end of the world. At the end, it is revealed that Scooter read the cards wrong; they actually said that your laundry will come back dingy. It’s worth noting that this was the last new episode released, however.

    Western Animation 
  • There was an episode of The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius where this happened to Jimmy's dad, although he wasn't completely wrong.
  • In The Amazing World of Gumball, Gumball and Darwin misread a series of coincidences as signs that the world will end during a solar eclipse in 24 hours. Gumball tries to do all the things he always wanted to do, while his father Richard - the only other person to believe them - goes in full survivalist mode.
  • American Dad!: Arriving late to a CIA nuclear attack drill, Stan is told that it is "100% real" by his boss and hurries home to take his family to safety in the woods. Stan eventually discovers that it was fake, but the drill coincided with a period of Stan feeling disrespected and unappreciated by his family, and him saving them from seemingly certain death has made them more respectful towards him. This leads to him deliberately leading them further into the woods to keep the truth from them.
  • Happens in an episode of Beavis and Butt-Head (during the show's brief Un-Cancelled season). A train carrying a cargo of radioactive waste crashes near Highland, leading to an evacuation order for most of the town. However, the duo are watching the news and misunderstands the news anchor describing the scene as "apocalyptic", thinking it's the actual apocalypse, as well as ignoring the emergency responder knocking on their door. When they leave the house and find the town deserted, they assume the world has ended and take the opportunity to loot the Maxi-Mart and trash Stewart's house. However, the evacuation is cancelled while the two are occupying the house belonging to the notoriously violent Harry Sachs, who promptly beats the living hell out of them when he arrives home.
  • In the CatDog episode "The End", all of Nearberg is sent into a panic thanks to an ominous-shaped cloud in the sky.
  • Drawn Together: Tired of Princess Clara's religious preaching, the housemates ditch her to go to the mall without telling her. Finding the house empty, Clara assumes the Rapture had come and she had been left behind. She then mistakes a mailman for Satan coming to trick her into signing away her soul.
  • Duckman: As the city prepares for a city-wide disaster drill in a large underground bunker, everyone Duckman comes in contact with tries to remind him of it. Unfortunately, in every case something drowns them out, interrupts them or Duckman outright ignores them (He also ignores several enormous billboards and posters advertising the drill). When the drill happens, Duckman misses it due to stumbling around in a bondage mask. Seeing the streets empty, Duckman assumes everyone is dead and immediately indulges in every destructive whim he's ever had. He meets a deaf-mute woman who was busy doing a gymnastics routine when the drill happened and also assumed the world ended. Together they rampage through the streets and ultimately destroy the town before the people return from the drill. Meanwhile, everyone else end up being trapped in the bunker due to Duckman's destruction topside, meaning it takes several hours for them to finally get out.
  • In an episode of Futurama, Fry and his girlfriend refreeze themselves in the year 3000 expecting to wake up in the year 4000. They find themselves in what appears to be a post-apocalyptic ruined New New York. Turns out it's still the year 3000, and they're in Los Angeles. There was no apocalypse; L.A. is just like that.
  • Gravity Falls plays with this. Several characters believe that the activation of the portal would lead to the destruction of the universe, which it ultimately didn't. However, the aftermath does result in the creation of a temporal rift which itself eventually leads to the actual apocalypse being triggered in the final episodes.
  • In the Johnny Bravo episode "The Day the Earth Didn't Move Around Too Much", a series of bizarre coincidences that make people decide to stand perfectly still lead to Johnny assuming that he's the only person unaffected by a time stop and goes on to do whatever he wants, which then leads to him being pursued by a bunch of pissed-off people.
  • In an episode of Rugrats Angelica convinces the babies the sky was falling but started to believe it herself.
  • In the South Park episode "Casa Bonita", Kyle can only invite three friends to the titular restaurant for his birthday and chooses Stan, Kenny, and Butters. Cartman, who loves Casa Bonita and is angry that he wasn't invited, tricks Butters into thinking a giant meteor has crashed into the Earth so he can steal his invite. Butters then hides out in the local waste dump while the town searches for him.
  • In the Steven Universe episode "When it Rains", Peridot, an alien with no knowledge of Earth's weather, mistakes thunder and rain for the Cluster (the Gem Homeworld geoweapon in the Earth's core) emerging.

    Real Life 
  • One really sad example can happen in some forms of Christianity. People believe they could be Caught Up in the Rapture at any moment, and anyone left behind will suffer through the Tribulation then be sent to Hell for being unsaved. Quite a few kids who have been taught this and suddenly couldn't find their family members or anyone around have spoken about the trauma of believing everyone they cared about was raptured and yet they weren't.
  • Cartoonist Scott Shaw found himself in such a situation when he found himself letting out a big sneeze in a library. At that exact moment, the building was cast into total darkness with a blackout and Shaw momentarily panicked thinking that he destroyed his vision with that sneeze. Fortunately, the power was restored and Shaw was whooping and jumping for joy that his vision is perfectly fine after all, while everyone around was wondering what he was so excited about.
  • On May 19, 1780, much of New England and southeastern Canada were plunged into darkness (apparently caused by thick fog and smoke from forest fires), leading some people to fear that the end of the world was at hand.
    • The Connecticut legislature considered adjourning. However, one member, Abraham Davenport, argued that if it was not Judgment Day there was no need to adjourn, and if it was Judgment Day it would be better for God to find them doing their duty to the end. They brought in candles and remained at work.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): The Sky Is Falling


Lumber Zombie Apocalypse

The Tobin children and their classmates think the school is being attacked by lumber zombies who are taking all the children. Actually, all the events they thought were zombie related had rational explanations.

How well does it match the trope?

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Main / MistakenForApocalypse

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