Conveniently Empty Building
"The buildings are empty. Security, maintenance, [are] all our people."
—Tyler Durden, Fight Club (1999)
When a building in a modern action film or series is blown up or otherwise totaled, there will be no people nor plot-critical items inside when the destruction hits.
We've all seen a movie where a missile flies past the hero directly into a window and causes a building to explode. Or a timer ticking down to zero on the immovable bomb in the basement of an office building. And gosh! Let's not forget the many, many fun cartoons or animes where skyscraper after skyscraper after building is just freaking totaled. But is there ever anyone in the building?
Nope. it was a Conveniently Empty Building. No carnage.
Whenever a writer gets his hands on a special effects budget, it seems that several buildings suddenly become conveniently empty - inevitably leading to explosive goodness and giant fireballs. This is dictated by the Second Law of Metafictional Thermodynamics.
A probable reason is to keep villains (or heroes!) from crossing the Moral Event Horizon and to prevent viewers from getting a Downer Ending. Or else it's to maintain Willing Suspension of Disbelief: while action films are supposed to be for high stakes, one tends to think harder about what the characters have been doing when people are seen dying en masse.
After all, there was no holocaust on Endor.
Named for the signs frequently seen on subsequently-destroyed buildings in Megas XLR.
Anime and Manga
- This happens to an entire city in Pokémon Special.
- Then again, Lance does insinuate that there probably were a few people still in the city when he blew it up. Not that he cares.
- In one Dragonball Z dub Vegeta gives us this line after he and Nappa utterly destroy some real estate upon landing in the middle of a crowded city.
"Too bad it's Sunday, those buildings would have been filled up tomorrow!"
- How he knew it was Sunday, or why the buildings would be empty on a Sunday is never adressed. Of course the death toll was just a little bit higher in the original version.
- Minutes after landing Nappa decides to vaporize a large portion of the city they are in. We are later told by a reporter that the entire portion of the city had somehow been evacuated before it was destroyed. Despite the fact that hundreds of people were gathered around the impact crater seconds before the attack.
- Still later, when reporters are filming Nappa's fight with the heroes, he turns and blows up one of the news choppers. The dub helpfully adds in one of the reporters shouting, "He blew up the cargo robot!" Parodied by The Abridged Series.
"He blew up the cargo robot! (beat) And the cargo was people!
- One chapter of Karakuridouji Ultimo has Hana (A little girl about 5 or 6) and Eddie/Gluttony (A huge ass robot doll) try to get Yamato, the protagonist, to call out Ultimo (his robot doll) and fight them. They do so by destroying the school Gymnasium, which, sure enough, is empty. This is a bit odd considering that at any other given point in the series, there seems to be no problem with killing people off.
- Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Striker S has the first time the cast was forced into battle in a Mid-Childa city, which had Subaru Lampshade Hanging the amount of damage that they were doing:
Subaru: But is it okay for members of the Bureau to damage public facilities like this?
- This was extremely common in 1970's comic books. Typical scene: Superman lands next to an unknown evil-doer and tells him to stop doing whatever evil-thing he's evil-doing. Said bad guy then turns around and lands a killer punch on Superman, who flies backwards with such force that he crashes through three or four buildings, all to show how strong the bad guy is. Invariably, there will either be a "condemned" sign obviously visible in the frame in front of the buildings, or Superman will think to himself, "Thank goodness those buildings were abandoned/scheduled for demolition/new and not yet occupied, so no one was hurt!" Just how bad is the economy in Metropolis that there are condemned buildings everywhere?
- Strangely enough, this would be the case if Superman had remained in the city of his creators, Cleveland.
- It's still a common trope. In a recent JLA storyline, Plastic Man (who was giant-sized in order to battle a giant-sized opponent) remarks that he's grateful for the bad economy, otherwise there'd be no abandoned buildings to smash.
- Some writers take this to absurd lengths in The Incredible Hulk. He could be a speck in a full-page of city-wide devastation, yet someone will maintain that no one was killed in the conveniently empty 20 city block radius. Averted in Ultimate Marvel, where the Hulk's rampages really did kill people. This is of course because Ultimate Marvel is significantly more cynical, and because Ultimate Hulk goes out of his way to kill and eat people.
- In a one-shot parody comic called What The--?!, one panel thoroughly lampshades the use of this trope in the Marvel Universe. Ironically, this particular example would make perfect sense in the canon universe: no non-super-powered urban dweller with half a brain would want to risk living or working in buildings neighboring a publicly known superhero base where someone is always picking a fight. The buildings' owners would also have long since abandoned them as unprofitable, leaving the city to demolish them.
- Lampshaded in X-Factor vol. 2 #32, where Val Cooper makes an offer to X-Factor to work for the US government. They refuse, leave town, and to underscore the point, Madrox blows up their abandoned building when Val and her forces arrive, giving them just enough time to get out. Let's let Dr. Cooper sum up, after she catches up with Jamie a few months later in the epilogue:
Val Cooper: I did some checking, Madrox. You owned that building you blew up. Even got the demolition clearances. Technically you broke no laws. But you figured by making a big demonstration, you'd show your team how tough you are, and scare me off besides. Except I don't scare, Madrox. Let me put it in a way that your Film Noir mind will understand: this is going to be the start of a beautiful friendship.
- Played for laughs in an issue of Spider-Man. Spidey, who's sore about his recent trial seperation from Mary Jane, sneaks into a building and vents his anger by spending a good while just trashing the place. After realising how much damage he's done, he sneaks out again as a crew arrive to demolish the place, only to watch it collapse before they can even get cose to it.
- Averted in the Tamers Forever Series. Sakuyamon blasts a Diaboramon into a building which collapses on top of Rei Tanaka and kills her .
- In Fight Club, The Narrator is furious at Tyler Durden for the mass murder he's about to commit in Project Mayhem, by blowing up several office buildings. Tyler explains that the buildings that explode are all empty because of the time that they'll explode and that only his men are inside.
- Fast Five of the The Fast and the Furious series, full stop. One safe dragged behind two automobiles nearly leveled downtown Rio!
- In The Matrix, both hotels where they meet happen to be a Conveniently Empty Building. The room they go to to answer the rotary phone also appears to be yet another one.
- Averted elsewhere, when the characters actively gun down innocent security guards, to prevent them from becoming bodies for Agents.
- In Volcano, there is a finished but unoccupied condominium building conveniently located for being turned into a lava barricade. Furthermore, the building is conveniently owned by a Corrupt Corporate Executive.
- Averted HARD in 2012. As Jackson and his family are flying the plane through the crumbling Los Angeles, you can see people falling out of the buildings and into the giant cracks in the crust.
- In Blue Thunder, a Misguided Missile from an Air Force F-16 slams into a skyscraper during an aerial battle in the early evening hours. Aside from expressions of dismay by the various police and military personnel in charge, the incident appears completely forgotten about. So... was it Conveniently Empty or is this a blatant case of No Endor Holocaust? We may never know.
- In Monsters Versus Aliens, San Fransisco has been emptied out by the government so the buildings damaged were empty - however during the Golden Gate Bridge scene the alien robot crunches up several conveniently empty cars. When B.O.B. moves the barriers to let the cars through, every other car on the bridge was occupied because they all drive away.
- In Megamind, Titan and Megamind crash through one, though the roof and down through every floor.
- In the American version of Godzilla, several Misguided Missiles end up destroying the Chrysler Building, after the titular monster dodges them. The military men are more annoyed at missing the creature, while the Mayor of New York is a little more concerned about a goddamn skyscraper being blown up. Since New York has been evacuated just prior to Godzilla showing up, there is nobody in the building.
- In Die Hard, a security guard conveniently mentions that there's nobody in the building except the folks partying on Holly's floor. Good to know John can blow up elevator shafts without taking out any unsuspecting night-shift janitors or overnight painters and repair crews.
- The Dresden Files is inconsistent on this trope. Some days, like in Blood Rites, the building is Conveniently Empty. Other days, like Grave Peril it's packed to the gills with his enemies. Either way, if a building can be burnt to the ground without hurting innocents, odds are Jim Butcher will see to it that it ends as a burnt husk.
- The building in Grave Peril probably wasn't empty of all innocents, a fact which causes Harry significant distress. However, the humans in there were almost certainly dying or doomed without his interference anyway.
- Discussed and justified in That Hideous Strength since the destruction of Edgestow was orchestrated by angelic beings, who also arranged to clear the town ahead of time.
- Averted callously in Stationery Voyagers, where destroyed buildings are almost always occupied by somebody. Since a lot of the villains are Complete Monster types by design, this shouldn't come as a surprise.
- Power Rangers loves this one.
- Mighty Morphin Power Rangers once commented that the giant robot-kaiju battles took place in the "abandoned warehouse district". Whether it was a warehouse district that had been abandoned due to weekly giant robot-kaiju battles, or a district that had been set aside at some point for the express purpose of being full of empty warehouses in case of giant robot-kaiju battles, is left up to the viewer.
- In Power Rangers Lost Galaxy, even a giant city-sized spaceship that had only been constructed recently, containing a cityscape inside it, had an abandoned warehouse district for the robot-kaiju battles.
- In Power Rangers SPD, one monster exclaimed "I hate empty buildings!" as it knocked one down. Another episode of the same series has a monster fire at a building, blowing it up to drop rubble at the Rangers, and the Yellow Ranger says "Lucky no one was in that building!" (No, there was no sign that anybody checked, or could have checked.)
- Don't think Super Sentai never does this, either. In Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger, a villain has hijacked the most powerful of the mechs. When he turns it to obliterate a few buildings, Doggie Kruger quickly orders an evacuation. Apparently, a massive evacuation was completed in the seconds it took for the robot to turn ninety degrees and fire. That's some kind of record.
- Deka's also got a monster who was sympathetic ( seen trashing cars early on, it turns out a non-evil alien was framed and not actually the Monster of the Week. He hates cars because his wife and child were killed in a car accident.) who escaped the Rangers by blowing up a building to drop rubble at them (in fact, this scene is the source of the footage for the "Lucky no one was in that building" SPD moment.) We get no such line, of course. However, the whole point of the character is that he didn't kill the one person who died earlier in the episode... and we have him committing an act that would realistically have a body count in the several hundred! Nobody commenting on it makes it worse, really.
- Naturally, both Power Rangers and the Super Sentai original have many, many, MANY instances - fewer in PR post-9/11 but they're there - of buildings being annihilated during giant robot-kaiju battles. The fact that it'd mean thousands of people were also annihilated often goes unmentioned. The otherwise-wacky Engine Sentai Go-onger was especially bad about it. Hammer monster strikes the ground, several blocks' worth of downtown buildings crumble to piles of concrete instantly, nobody seems to care.
- The Doctor Who special "The Next Doctor" subverts this when an enormous Cyberman begins to fall, and the Doctor has to keep it from destroying the Inconveniently Occupied Buildings.
- First Encounter Assault Recon: The Auburn District of Fairport is entirly abandoned by the general population. Anyone who lived there claims sickness, nightmares and ghosts for moving out of there. There is a reason for this underneath the surface.
- Not so much conveniently empty buildings as conveniently empty starships, but in Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, Laharl singlehandedly annihilates an armada of 2 million ships sent to attack the Netherworld. It's all right though, because as Etna notes, he just happened to allow all of the crews to escape before destroying their ships. Flonne, of course, sees this as further proof that he is awakening to The Power of Love. Laharl, for his part, makes one of his customary excuses for this.
- Seemingly averted in Bangai-O, of all things. Every time a building is destroyed (for the purpose of raising the high score), screams can be heard. Not that anyone cares.
- Constantly lampshaded in Megas XLR, with signs like "Conveniently Empty Building" and "Going to Be Demolished Anyways" on the buildings in question.
- In Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, while Joker is trying to blast the Batmobile with a Kill Sat, the beam passes over what seems to be an abandoned building. Originally, it was a full, operating movie theater, until the animators were forced to change it. Similarly, the commentary sarcastically notes that all the cars knocked off the road by the beam were empty robot-driven cars.
- Swat Kats has this in spades. Commander Feral constantly blasts the heroes for all the collateral damage they cause, although no mention is made of any casualties. Subverted in one episode where a stray missile supposedly injured innocent bystanders, although it was later revealed to be a setup.
- Probably every episode of Sym-Bionic Titan. Especially in the first episode when an alien fire monster literally incinerates what looks to be a radius of about five to ten miles of densely populated city.
- In Men in Black: The Series, villains get ready to obliterate the Washington Monument. The President asks if the monument is still closed for renovations. A second after she gets a "yes," the monument is reduced to pebbles, as if even the bad guys were waiting for just that moment.
- In Teen Titans the entire city will sometimes be conveniently empty when the Titans fight. This is a good thing, as anything is fair game for the Titans to use as a weapon in battle, from cars to street lamps. The most Egregious example however is in Season 4 finale "The End (Part 1)" when Cyborg lifts an entire office building and uses it to smash Plasmus through two other buildings.
- The entire DCAU exhibits this trope. The property damage in a typical episode of Superman or Justice League can be massive, but almost no-one gets hurt. An extreme example was in the finale of JLU, in which Superman hits Darkseid with everything he's got, sending the big D flying through five or six skyscrapers, but the only people seen on screen are those on the ground watching in awe. STAS also played with subverting the trope in the episode in which Lobo is introduced: Superman hits him, sending him flying through the Lexcorp building, and there's a lovely shot where Luthor is working in his office and Lobo comes crashing through the floor and out through the ceiling, cursing the whole way. No-one gets hurt, but the building was definitely occupied.