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Spreading Disaster Map Graphic

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Pictures can be worth a thousand words, and graphics depicting the spread of a threat across the landscape can often convey its scope more effectively than Storyboarding the Apocalypse. Whether it's a Zombie Apocalypse, The Plague, an advancing natural or man-made catastrophe, a World-Wrecking Wave or something more conventional like a military invasion from The Empire, there's no quicker way to show one's audience that an entire region is being overwhelmed than to display a map with rapidly-growing colored blotches or arrows (nearly always red) spreading across it.

Sometimes this is used to illustrate what's actually happening in-Verse, while other times it's done to show what will happen if the heroes don't avert a disaster in time. Ominous contour lines or color-coding to indicate the severity of damage are optional. Often displayed on The Big Board or Ominous Multiple Screens in The War Room / Mission Control. See also Sensor Suspense and Bombers on the Screen.

Inversions might display the outward spread of a positive effect, such as a World-Healing Wave.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In the anime adaptation of High School Of The Dead, a map of the globe is shown with red being the zombie infection spreading from Asia to Europe and the Americas at a fast pace.

    Comic Books 
  • In Swamp Thing, the Monitor and Harbinger, on their satellite screens, see Arcane's psychic shockwave, which awakens latent homicidal impulses in people and animals, radiating out of Louisiana. In the second of these scenes, as the map graphic shows the shockwave overtaking all of North America and spreading southward, the Monitor fights his unprecedented urge to look away.
  • Watchmen: This is used to demonstrate the damages of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union, when Dr. Manhattan isn't there to prevent it.
    Man: I'm running a program now, which assumes that we've knocked out the eastern bloc but that a percentage of their warheads were already en route... Any moment now we'll be able to give you an overview. Ahh... there we are. Britain down, Germany down...
    Richard Nixon: Hmm. Well, I've seen worse scenarios.
    Henry Kissinger: Is that some heading for our east coast there? At this point in our contingency plans, where should we be?
    Richard Nixon: Somewhere else, Henry.

    Film — Animated 
  • In Kung Fu Panda 2, Lord Shen torches a strung-up map of China while talking about his plans to conquer it.
  • In Moana, in her Opening Monologue Gramma Tala holds up a map and pours black ink on it to demonstrate the spreading of the darkness across the islands.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Near the end of 2012, on-screen graphics in the ark control room depict the massive waves closing in Asia and other continents.
  • In After (2012), Freddy draws a map of the town with concentric rings of shading that depict how the supernatural fog will continue to close in as the night continues.
  • An early vector map of North America (like WarGames below) calculates the projected spread of the fatal contagion in The Andromeda Strain. A death bloom appears around the Wildfire facility, with speckles nearby and tickling population clusters. As the projection continues, most of the United States is engulfed, as is southern Canada and northern Mexico. The computer then displays "601", an error code signifying too many dead bodies to count.
  • Broken Arrow (1996) has one showing the casualties that would result from a nuclear explosion in a major city.
  • In Contagion (2011), a global map splotched with red shows the infection's predicted spread to major cities all over the world.
  • In a low-tech variant, the climatologist-hero in The Day After Tomorrow uses a map of the continental U.S. to convey the scope of the danger, drawing a horizontal line across it and proclaiming that everywhere below it must be evacuated south: there's no realistic hope of saving people north of that line. He also sends another climatologist a series of on-screen graphics of the three storms, building and building over Canada, Siberia and northern Europe until they cover half the globe.
  • The opening montage of Edge of Tomorrow is intercut with shots of a line map of Europe, in which areas turn red where the Mimics are fighting humans, then pitch black where they've exterminated them. The red battle-zone's rim spreads outward from Germany to engulf nearly all of the continent.
  • Enemy at the Gates opens with a graphic showing the Nazi conquest of Europe, ending as the wave of advance gets to Stalingrad. Curiously, they show Nazi Germany starting out with its mid-war borders and invading their Allies (Italy, Hungary, Romania, Bulgarianote ) and several neutral countries (Switzerland, Spain, Turkey) as well. Although one possibility is that they're simply showing the german spread of influence, whether by military conquest or by converting nations into sympathetic allies.
  • A map is used to show how the highly adaptive alien lifeforms of Evolution (2001) will own the United States in about a month from when they start to expand from the impact site in Glen Canyon.
  • Godzilla (2014): When Serizawa is discussing the Nuke 'em plan with Stenz and Hampton, a screen uses colorful graphics to depict the considerably large-looking blast zone. It's used to further effect in the novelization where, after the nuke is stolen by the MUTOs, a map indicates to Monarch and the military the blast zone shifting as the nuke is being moved by Ford (how the nuke can be tracked is never explained, given how it had to be fitted with clockwork to stop the MUTOs' EMP deactivating the mechanism).
  • Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019): The film makes frequent use of Monarch's digital global maps. After Ghidorah is freed in Antarctica and escapes, the hurricane he quickly forms around himself (which is shown on Monarch's maps to be roughly the size of Central America) is represented with bright red-and-yellow color and it stands out starkly against the map's blue colors. After Ghidorah awakens all the Titans and commands them to begin ravaging man and nature alike, Monarch's world maps are dotted with over a dozen red Titan-indicators, and most of the maps are also now indicating fast-moving orange swell lines coating the atmosphere (the official novelization confirms this is due to Ghidorah's Weather Manipulation spreading storms all over the planet).
  • Jurassic World: The park's Mission Control room has a large screen on one wall showing a map of Isla Nublar. Every scene in the control room includes a shot of the map as more and more areas go offline, containment methods fail, and dinosaurs are killed by the Indominus rex's rampage.
  • James Bond:
    • In Octopussy, General Orlov uses a computer display to show how quickly Soviet forces will be able to overwhelm western Europe if he is allowed to implement his invasion plans. Of course, from Orlov's perspective, this is not a disaster but a triumph, but the rest of the military council thinks he is insane.
    • No Time to Die: Bond and Nomi find one in the manufacturing facility on the Island Base, though in this case, it's a simulation run by the villain to see how far the biological weapon being produced there could potentially spread if it's released.
  • Long before computer graphics, the 1950 epidemic film The Killer That Stalked New York used a map of Manhattan marked with black flag pins to track the smallpox infections. An ominous fantasy sequence depicts the flags appearing in greater and greater densities on the map, then faded to shots of a vacant city.
  • Inverted in documentary film Moscow Strikes Back. The film shows a map of the positions at the end of November 1941, with the Germans knocking on the gates of Moscow. But as the documentary tells the story of the 1941-42 Soviet counteroffensive, the Spreading Disaster Graphic is shown actually moving back away from Moscow, as the Germans go into retreat.
  • The movie Outbreak has one scene that shows how quickly the United States would be utterly boned if the Motaba virus breaks quarantine and/or the CDC can't find a cure for it.
  • In Reign of Fire, the opening montage of how the dragons devastated Europe includes glimpses of maps with fiery lines spreading across them.
  • Resident Evil: Afterlife opens in the neon-lit surroundings of the Shibuya Scramble, where we witness the first attack of Patient Zero. As people flee, the camera does a reverse Astronomic Zoom to reveal lights going out, one district after the other across Tokyo, then Japan and the rest of the world.
  • During the Creative Closing Credits of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a global map is displayed with flight path lines reaching out from one city to another, illustrating how The Plague will overwhelm human civilization between Rise and its sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
    • Dawn opens with a similar visual, showing the spread of the virus in red, as the Earth rotates and a montage of sound bites play out the chaos caused by the virus and the subsequent collapse of civilization as a whole. By the time the rotation is complete and the American west coast comes back around, all the red representing the viral spread has receded because it ran its course and (almost) everybody is dead.
    • If you pay close enough attention to the globe, the vectors completely miss North Korea.
      • In real life, China always imports emergency food relief to North Korea, and given that all of China got infected with the Simian Flu, North Koreans should definitely have become diseased as well.
      • We don't see North Korea on the globe until humanity is nearly wiped out, so it's equally possible that it's dark because nobody there got infected, or because everybody there is already dead.
  • The Rocketeer. A Nazi propaganda film shows German troops equipped with Jet Packs flying to the attack, with maps showing arrows representing them reaching out to conquer Europe and invade the U.S. Watch it here.
  • A standard feature of Syfy Original Movies involving disasters or Explosive Breeder monsters.
  • The first shot of King Vidor's War and Peace (1956) shows a map of Europe and demonstrates the spreading blackness of Napoleon's France taking Western Europe over.
  • Lots of examples pop up on the screens at NORAD in WarGames, depicting the hundreds of strategies WOPR devises as it plans how to win a nuclear war. Swelling circles scattered across a global map indicate nuclear strikes to cities, military bases and missile silos. All of them show every side getting eliminated completely, which turns out to be a very good thing.
  • In the 1953 version of The War of the Worlds, a low-tech example is shown as military analysts add little black triangles to a large map of the world, showing areas that have been wiped out by the Martians.
  • The abundantly silly Y2K straight-to-TV movie about the Millennium Bug showed a "cascade" effect of power being lost across the world, either because the bug was spreading or because each time zone was crossing midnight.

  • In Ciaphas Cain, three characters are watching the advance of the Tyranid hive fleet towards the planet they're on via auspex screen. In this case, the Advancing Wall of Doom isn't the actual hive fleet, it's the "Shadow in the Warp" it casts, which disrupts FTL travel and communication in a huge radius around it.
  • In the New Jedi Order series of Star Wars Legends novels, each book has a map of the galaxy at the start. As the series goes on, each map shows how far the Yuuzhan Vong have gotten in their invasion of the galaxy, starting at the galaxy's edge and gradually making their way towards the Core, taking a large swath of territory in the process.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's The Puppet Masters. A map is used to show the extent of parasite infestation in the U.S., with areas controlled by the parasites glowing red, those under human control in green, and contested areas in amber. Several times the red areas of the map are described as expanding, showing a spread of the parasites.
  • Shattered Continent: An out-of-date one is found in the sub-levels of an abandoned military base, which was being used to track the spread of nuclear fallout from the bombing of Konigsberg.
  • The War Against the Chtorr. Jim McCarthy is shown an official government map of the alien infestation by his Colonel Badass girlfriend. She then uses her top secret classification to show him the real extent of the problem. There's hardly a place in Southern California that hasn't been infested.
  • In an early example, the British military uses maps while coordinating counterattacks and evacuation efforts in The War of the Worlds, indicating areas engulfed by the lethal Black Smoke with dark smudges.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Used to depict the spread of the Wifi virus infecting NYC bus hotspots on CSI: Cyber.
  • A rare comedic example in Dad's Army: the Animated Credits Opening shows three Union Jack arrows advancing into Belgium, before a group of Swastika-emblazoned arrows sweep over western Europe (including one that gets lost for a bit), forcing them back to their start point in Northern France, whereupon the now single arrow pulls back across the Channel. All set to a jaunty tune about how Britain's not beaten yet. For added Genius Bonus value, the arrows actually do offer a fairly accurate (if rather simplified) depiction of the real-life Nazi invasion of France and subsequent British withdrawal.note 
  • The Andromeda Strain: General Mancheck and the President are constantly overseeing a screen showing Andromeda's spread. It's how they discover Andromeda is specifically spreading in the direction of a river that will lead it to Lake Mead in New Vegas, where hundreds of international flights are made every day.
  • Doctor Who: In "The Bells of Saint John", there's one of the wi-fi network, made up of blue lines with red patches spreading to show the Great Intelligence's takeover.
  • Fringe has a Shout-Out to Pandemic (see Video Games below) where there is a map showing a deadly infectious disease having spread everywhere but Madagascar.
  • In the Masters of Horror episode "The Screwfly Solution", a mystery plague is causing men to become murderously violent towards women and inadvertently destroying humanity's ability to reproduce. The scientists analyzing the phenomenon graph the spread on a digital map and discover that it is progressing north and south along the world's latitudes from the equator.
  • On NCIS: Los Angeles, when the team tracks down stolen smallpox, the potential scale of the threat if they can't find it is conveyed with graphics of red blotches on a global map.
  • Primeval: The Anomaly Detection Device alerts the team whenever a new Anomaly is detected opening, but in the series' penultimate episode, its onscreen global map indicates to the team when one new Anomaly in Britain becomes dozens of simultaneous Anomalies all around the world.
  • In the third season of SeaQuest DSV, Captain Hudson shows a map of the aggressive Macronesian influence. He asks Lucas when his birthday is then asks the computer to predict its extent by that date. The map changes to show a much larger area.
    Hudson: Better celebrate that birthday now.
  • The Film of the Book miniseries of The Stand has one showing the spread of the superflu.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's James Bond spoof episode, "Our Man Bashir" has the villain (played by Sisko)'s plan to cause massive floods all over the world from the relative safety of the Himalayas. Bashir, having to save his comrades from the simulation, deliberately triggers the plan, and the whole world map turns blue minus a few isolated dots.
  • Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye: In "Dirty Bomb", while explaining the seriousness of the situation, Tara pulls up a map graphic. A spreading spot on the map shows how far the radiation will spread. She contextualizes the information by telling them which DC areas would become uninhabitable if the bomb detonated there.
  • In the Supernatural episode "All Hell Breaks Loose, Part One" (S02, Ep21), this trope is inverted when Bobby shows Dean an interstate map of the United States with no notes or marks and says this represents all demonic signs and omens in the last month. Dean and Bobby realize that the absence of any demonic activity, including low level activity like exorcisms, can not be a good sign and leaves them with no way to track Sam.
  • Documentary series The Vietnam War uses this to dramatize American fears of the spread of communism. One graphic shows the (imagined) Soviet spread of communism into Iran and Turkey and Greece, another shows Red China spreading communism into Burma and Malaya and North Korea, and a third illustrates the "domino theory" in which Americans feared all of southeast Asia would go communist if Vietnam did.


    Tabletop Games 
  • Pandemic (unrelated to the video game) basically is a Spreading Disaster Map Graphic, with the players in the roles of epidemiologists traveling the world trying to keep several different epidemics under control simultaneously, and ultimately to cure them. The "spreading" part is mostly semi-random, though there is a clever mechanic that causes infections to tend to grow in already-infected cities rather than scatter isolated cases across the globe. It is more literal, however, when the disease in one city goes unchecked long enough to cause an outbreak into its neighboring cities.
  • Warhammer 40,000 loves using these. Probably the most dramatic (which has been reprinted a few times) is the diagram of the Tyranid Hive Fleets' approaches on the galaxy, but there have also been maps depicting Ork Waaaaaghs, Chaos Incursions, Warp Anomaly spreads, or just good old fashioned campaign progress.

  • The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny uses an Advancing Disaster Map Graphic at the end of the first act and the beginning of the second, which project onto a map a moving arrow representing the track of the hurricane. Loudspeaker announcements report the destruction of each town in its path as it slowly advances directly towards Mahagonny. However, the arrow suddenly swerves in a semicircle around Mahagonny, miraculously sparing the city from certain doom.

    Video Games 
  • In Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War, the story tells how Belka's poor economy allowed the eastern portion of the country to secede and become independent nations, including Ustio. Belka's economic problems didn't end, and their borders continued to shrink, allowing those new nations to further expand, and allowing Osea to claim some of the country's western borders. Belka went to war started expanding outwards to reclaim their lost borders and acquire more resources. They even invaded the southern country of Sapin, who wasn't even involved.
    • Later, the map shows about 50% of Belka surrender and let allied forces move in. This left the original Principality of Belka with only about 35% of the territory the country had before their economic problems and the war.
  • In the geography edutainment game Agent USA, this is one of the functions of the info centers that can be found in state capitals. They will show where the Fuzzbomb is currently lurking, and a projection of how its fuzz plague is likely to spread. It's not just for drama, but can be an invaluable tool when planning your travels.
  • A teaser trailer for Battlefield 2142 showed a map of Europe in the background of an evacuation scene that showed where the glaciers had spread.
  • Battlefield: Bad Company 2 the intro and the ending show a world map detailing the Russian advance.
  • The Day of Lavos Ending in Chrono Trigger shows on a computer screen locations that were destroyed by Lavos emerging from the world. The last image of the screen is of the world covered with red dots.
  • In the original Civilization and in IV, at the end of a game you can watch an animation of the rival empires spreading across the world map. Though if the player won, they probably don't count that as a disaster.
  • Codename Eagle has one in the opening FMV depicting General Popov's army taking over Russia after slaughtering the royal family.
  • Command & Conquer: Red Alert: The opening cinematic of the game also ends with the camera slowly zooming out of a map of Europe when suddenly a sword with the Hammer and Sickle on the hilt flies out of nowhere, strikes in the center of Germany, and red splotches begins to grow at various points on the European landmass. All this while "Hell March" plays the sounds of marching soldiers. This sequence also appears in several Game Over cinematics for the Allies.
  • This is the nature of Tiberium in the Command & Conquer: Tiberium series, and is illustrated during a briefing in the first game which shows a map of the earth with spreading green patches representing Tiberium growth.
  • As you progress through the main quests of Dragon Age: Origins, the Point-and-Click Map you use to travel between individual locations is progressively shaded black, starting from the south, indicating the Darkspawn infestation. You can still travel into Darkspawn-controlled areas but doing so has a higher chance of Random Encounters.
  • In Dynasty Warriors, this is a standard depiction of the kingdoms' conquests and territorial expansion during the pre-battle narrations; with the occasional Tetris T-block to represent a particular officer or ruler moving from one province to another. Also Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Green for Shu, Indigo for Wei, Red for Wu, Cyan for Jin.
  • Etrian Odyssey Untold has an anime cutscene where M.I.K.E. shows a map of Etria being completely covered by a massive red area marked with "NO SURVIVORS", to show the effects of activating Gungnir. And the heroes are told that letting Yggdrasil live by not activating the weapon would cause even greater destruction.
  • Every time you jump in FTL: Faster Than Light, the Rebel Fleet draws closer to you, which is represented on your star map with a white line behind which every jump beacon gets occupied with elite forces supported by powerful artillery, indicated by warning signs. If you take your time exploring the sector, the Rebels might turn all of it into a red-stripes zone with numerous "!!" octagons.
  • Infectionator has a realtime display of the countries that you have managed to infect.
  • Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 uses these to simulate the potential spread of the nanite infection.
  • Mass Effect 3:
    • In the ending cutscene, depending on what ending you choose, there is an animation of control, destruction, or synthesis spreading from mass relay to mass relay.
    • The Normandy's Galaxy Map shows systems that the Reapers have invaded. At the beginning, there are only a few, but as the game progresses, more and more Reaper icons appear as they spread through the galaxy.
  • In Pandemic you see a map of the world, with the areas the deadly disease killing off all of humanity has affected. Madagascar will usually not be among them no matter how hard you try.
  • In the game Plague Inc., the parts of the map that are infected by a deadly plague become more and more covered in tiny red dots until the entire country is red. This is the infection phase. When these countries face fatalities, the more people that die, the more the countries turn a bloody dark red. Furthermore, ships and planes that carry the infection leave a red trail rather than a white trail.
  • StarCraft: Brood War has an In-Universe example, with an Earth Propaganda video showing the alien Zerg forces taking planet after planet, indicated by red arrows in space.
  • In UFO Aftermath, the world map thoughtfully shows the alien terraforming ick spreading from centres of infection to, if you can't stop it, wipe humanity off the face of the earth and complete the aliens' plan.
  • In U.N. Squadron, one of these serves as your stage select screen.
  • In Warlight, a free-to-play indie Risk-like, spreading can look like this.

    Western Animation 
  • Codename: Kids Next Door: In the TV movie, Operation: Z.E.R.O., Grandfather is flying as the earth is spinning on screen becoming covered in dark green smog thanks to the smoke caused by the coal burned in tapioca factories Grandfather forces his Senior Citizombie slaves to build.
  • Used on Futurama in "Cold Warriors", when Wernstrom shows Nixon how the common cold will spread outward from Manhattan if left unchecked. Spoofed when he describes the third slide displayed as a Verizon cell-service coverage map.
  • The Simpsons:
  • South Park:
    • Spoofed when Randy charts the spread of global warming on a map, and ends up drawing a penis.
    • Spoofed again in "It's A Jersey Thing" when Randy shows the "spread of New Jersey" across the United States and how South Park will soon be next to suffer being taken over by New Jersey guidos.

    Real Life 
  • Common practice for meteorologists' severe-weather reports.
  • Epidemiologists use these a lot when tracking and predicting the spread of infectious diseases.
  • Sometimes used by environmental researchers to track the spread of invasive species, or by agricultural experts and entomologists to monitor seasonal crop infestations.


Video Example(s):


Dad's Army

The iconic opening titles, depicting the advance of the German military and subsequent British retreat in May 1940. With a chipper defiant tune over the top.

How well does it match the trope?

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Main / SpreadingDisasterMapGraphic

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