The ground begins to shake. People start to panic, and someone inevitably shouts that it must be an earthquake. Which would be bad enough, except...
Cut outside. It's actually being caused by an incoming fleet of Battle Mech. Or a descending alien mothership. Or the villain's Death Ray rising out of the ground. Or an Animal Stampede. Or a Sand Worm. Or a catfish. But most definitely not an earthquake.
In short, this trope covers any time a character explicitly wonders or exclaims that there is an earthquake, but in reality the shaking has a non-seismic cause.
Compare Bad Vibrations, however this trope is only in effect if a character explicitly mistakes the vibrations for an earthquake. It can sometimes manifest as a case of It's Probably Nothing, however characters will often still panic in response to it, just not quite enough.
Note that this trope does NOT apply if the tremors really are caused by an earthquake. The exception would be the Inversion: A character mistakes the tremors as having an outside cause, but it's actually a normal earthquake.
- Dragon Ball Z:
- During the Namek Saga, Bulma tries to rationalize the ruckus being created by Vegeta and Frieza as "only an earthquake."
- In the Saiyaman Saga, Gohan tries to get out of class to go superhero-ing, but his teachers have caught on to his habit of "going to the toilet" and then not returning, so they make him stay. In irritation, he begins tapping his foot... which causes enough shaking that the class panics and hides under their desks due to the "earthquake". Smiling, Gohan leaves in the confusion.
- In the InuYasha episode "Battle Against the Dried-Up Demons at the Cultural Festival", Kagome wonders if the ground shaking is an earthquake, but it's actually a demon catfish flopping around on top of the school. (Note that in Japanese Mythology, a giant catfish is the cause of earthquakes.)
- In Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-, when Sakura triggers the trap in Clow's ruins, the characters think an earthquake has begun. Yukito, the high priest, knows better.
- It is announced that the preliminary round of the Dark Tournament in YuYu Hakusho will take place on the ferry to the island. When the ship's deck opens to reveal the fighting ring:
Kuwabara: Aaaah! Earthquake!
Hiei: Fool, there can't be earthquakes on the water!
- In Marvel Premiere, #28 Los Angeles is disrupted by what people think is an earthquake that causes the pavement to split, buildings to fall down and freeways to topple. When it's subsided it turns out it was caused by an alien making a mountain erupt at Sunset Boulevard.
- My Little Pony Micro Series: Twilight asks if an earthquake was scheduled for today. It turns out to be Pinkie Pie, who's just had 315 bottles of soda.
- Abraxas (Hrodvitnon): There are a couple times where Thor or the Many respectively moving underground through Russia or Asia causes seismic disturbances which are initially reported as sudden earthquakes, although in the post-Mass Awakening world it doesn't take people long to twig what the true cause is.
- My Little Pony: Equestria Girls Legend of Everfree: While Rarity is on the climbing wall, a tremor shakes the earth and everybody wonder if it's a quake. It is later revealed it was in fact Gloriosa Daisy using the magic of the crystal to demolish a natural dam and free a torrent for fishing, the resulting avalanche of boulders causing the tremor.
- In 300, the approach of the Persian army makes the earth tremble, and the captain thinks for a moment an earthquake is happening.
- Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. The introduction of Fat Bastard is played this way for Rule of Funny.
- Parodied in the Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis version of Freaky Friday, where their senile grandfather mistakes his grandson shaking the table for an earthquake.
- In Groundhog Day, the old ladies with the flat tire scream that it's an earthquake, when it's actually Phil jacking up their car.
- The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: When Bilbo has awoken Smaug, the dragon causes a tremor to ripple through the entire Lonely Mountain by toppling a giant column in his way, leading to the following exchange amongst the dwarves outside the Mountain:
Dori: Was that an earthquake?
Balin: That, my lad, was a dragon.
- The movie Honey, I Shrunk the Kids has what Ron mistakes for an earthquake actually turn out to be a remote-controlled lawn mower. As the kids are a quarter of an inch tall, this means things have gone From Bad to Worse.
- At the beginning of Howard the Duck, Howard's room shakes violently before he's whisked away out of his dimension. As it happens, Howard shouts "Oh no, it's a quake"!.
- In Independence Day when the alien ships arrive at Earth:
Steven: Is it an earthquake?
Jasmine: Not even a four-pointer, go back to sleep.
- Inverted in L.A. Story's café scene, which has the ground begin to shake about halfway into the meal. Sara, just in from the UK, worriedly asks what's going on, and the others tell her it's just an earthquake.
- At the beginning of Short Cuts, seven-year-old Casey Finnigan enters his parents' bedroom in fear that the loud noises and vibrations that woke him up are signs of an earthquake; they're actually caused by helicopters spraying pesticide to combat an infestation of medflies that is plaguing Los Angeles.
- When the aliens attack in Skyline some of the characters assume it's a minor earthquake.
- Transformers: When Ratchet walks into power lines and crashes to the ground hard enough to incite a tremor, Ron Witwicky runs under the table screaming that it's an earthquake. And later when the Autobots hiding in Ron's own backyard cause another tremor, Ron assumes it's an aftershock.
- When the ground shakes in a Cthulhu Mythos tale, you can bet it's either a Chthonian hive nearby or something worse.
- In the Goosebumps books:
- Referenced in The Last Unicorn: Schmendrick remarks that people who mistake a unicorn for a horse would also mistake the Midgard Serpent for an earthquake.
- In the Soviet novel Plutonia, a man climbs a small hill in order to take samples. Then he shouts down to his friends "A terrible earthquake!" They are confused at first, since they feel nothing... then it turns out that wasn't a hill, but rather a giant turtle.
- In Septimus Heap: Queste, the loud shaking of the Toll-Man's hut that Jenna first thinks is an earthquake turns out to be a pack of Foryx running past the hut.
- Doctor Who:
- "Battlefield": Warmsly and Shou Yuing both ask if the time/space distortion caused by Morgaine's arrival is an earthquake.
- In both "Smith and Jones" and "The Stolen Earth", Martha Jones wonders if shaking caused by a mass teleportation (the Royal Hope Hospital in the former, the entire Earth in the latter) is an earthquake.
- "The Angels Take Manhattan": Grayle wonders "Is it an earthquake?", but it's actually the TARDIS breaking through a temporal barrier to land in his foyer.
- Dragnet had one. Friday and Gannon stay in a hotel posing as orange growers to infiltrate a high-stakes gambling game and the room is right next to the elevator shaft. Friday mistakes the rumbling and shaking for an earthquake the first time it happens.
- The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air:
- Will gets a car with a sound system loud enough to shake the Banks' kitchen.
Phillip: Oh lord, this must be the big one.
Geoffrey: Not unless it's down with OPP.
- In another episode, Phil is playing with baby Nicky and starts dancing with a rattle, pretending it's a maraca. Will runs down the stairs screaming "EARTHQUAAAAAAAAAAKE!" and Phil is not amused.
- Will gets a car with a sound system loud enough to shake the Banks' kitchen.
- On Married... with Children Peggy's unseen mother is so fat...(how fat is she?)...She's so fat that the earth quakes when she walks, making others think an earthquake is happening.
- Mimpi Metropolitan: In the first episode, a sleepy Alan mistakes Bambang's box that Bambang accidentally drops for an earthquake.
- Call of Cthulhu
- Fragments of Fear adventure "The Underground Menace". The inhabitants of Winnemuck, Michigan were terrified by a series of earthquakes. Little did they know that the earth tremors were actually caused by a ghoul priest trying to release a Cthulhu Mythos monster related to the Great Old One Shudde M'ell!
- Terror from the Stars adventure "The Temple of the Moon". The earthquakes at the archeological dig site are not natural: they're caused when the bottom of the pool inside the Temple slides back to reveal a long shaft downward.
- The Fungi from Yuggoth adventure "Mountains of the Moon". The earthquakes near the NWI facility in Peru are actually caused by the nearby mining activity of the Mi-go.
- Dungeons & Dragons module series "Desert of Desolation". While in the desert the PCs can experience an earthquake as a random encounter. In fact it's caused by the passage of a large number of Sand Worm-type creatures called "thunderherders".
- Girl Genius:
- When one of the Baron's Deep 6 Model Worm Chasers is tunneling its way into the courtyard at the hospital, two Wulfenbach officers briefly mistake it for an earthquake.
- When Agatha finally manages to reboot Castle Heterodyne, the invading forces think they're experiencing an earthquake until they discover that it's actually the castle fighting back, seen here.
- Adventures from the Book of Virtues: Bobcat Socrates mistaking Aristotle's digging for an earthquake twice.
- In "Courage":
Zach: [to Plato] Yeah, well, it sure found you scared!
Sock: [comes up while Zach and Plato are laughing] Did somebody say scared? I don't know the meaning of the word. Nothing, I repeat, nothing scares me.
[the ground beneath him rumbles and he jumps as the earth shoots up spiarling toward him]
Sock: AAAHHHHHH!! EARTHQUAAAAAKE!!
Ari: [Sock finally falls over, he emerges] What's going on?
Zach: [laughing with Plato] Sure, nothing scares you!
- In the second episode about moderation:
Sock: It's a miracle he gets in or out without starting an earthquake. [yelps in startlement as a crack shows up in the ground then Ari airs, dislodging several things with him]
Sock: See what I mean?
Plato: Not at the moment.
[Sock and Annie laugh at the handkerchief that landed on his face]
- In "Courage":
- BIONICLE 2: Legends of Metru Nui has Toa Vakama mistaking a rampaging herd of Kikanalo (big rhinoceros-like Rahi) for a "bio-quake."
- On The Flintstones, Fred thinks there's an earthquake. Turns out it was Bamm-Bamm inexplicably destroying an addition to Fred's house.
- In the first episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) Splinter is giving the turtles a lecture when their sewer home begin to shake. Michelangelo wonder if it is an earthquake, but Donatello answers that since they are in New York it's possible but not likely. Then the cause become clear when Mad Scientist Baxter Stockman's mouser robots breaks through the wall and attack Splinter and the turtles.
- "I thought we were having an earthquake", but it was actually a car hitting the house.
- People visiting locations near stone quarries are prone to this when a blast takes place. The residents get used to it and know right away what it is. Of course, this could lead to this trope being inverted...
- A rule of thumb among geologists is that a magnitude-four earthquake feels like a truck backing into the building. A story was told (at a freshman orientation) about a geology convention. The participants felt something that resembled a truck backing into the building and all unanimously pronounced it a magnitude-four earthquake. After the meeting, when they went outside, they found that a truck had backed into the building.