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A sudden blackout cuts the electricity to an entire city, state, country, etc.

This is probably caused by a machine that sucks way too much energy. Sometimes the power is adequate and the machine works, other times it begins a quest for the heroes to find something that is powerful enough.

Alternately, it could be caused by a giant Electro Magnetic Pulse.

Usually just caused by natural disasters or accidents in real life; the citizens of television must see the power company as extremely unreliable.

Often illustrated by a distance shot of an entire city at night (blackouts never start during the day), with large rectangular sections of the city going out one-by-one, about a second apart.

Examples of Big Blackout include:


Anime

  • Happens in The Big O when they try to jump-start Big Fau.
  • In Neon Genesis Evangelion, all the power in Japan is needed to power up the Positron Rifle, causing a (planned) nation-wide blackout.
    • Matariel also arrived conveniently in the middle of a daytime blackout. Since the power grid of NERV HQ had multiple backup systems, it HAD to be sabotage.
  • Happens in Highschool of the Dead when a submarine fired an EMP missile to completely wipe out all electronics in the city. Thankfully it happens in daylight whereby the protagonists have time to react.
  • In the OVA Giant Robo The Animation, a key part of the backstory is the "Tragedy of Bashtarlle", a test of an experimental Phlebotinum drive Goes Horribly Wrong, causing an blackout of all power sources worldwide that lasted for seven days, killing two-thirds of the world's population. (The explosion at ground zero also annihilated the country where the test took place. Guess the country's name - we'll wait.) The Big Bad's plan revolves around three MacGuffins meant to power a Phlebotinum Bomb that would repeat the effect of the original disaster.

Comics

  • In the Batman: Hush storyline, Batman follows a lead to Gotham City on Poison Ivy's whereabouts, only to find that she's used her poisons to control Superman's mind. After initially getting away, Batman gets the drop on Superman and electrocutes him with a main power line. All of the lights in Metropolis (which is generally shown to be a highly modern, borderline Crystal Spires kind of city) momentarily go off. Superman was only stunned for a short time, but Batman was only buying time until he could break Ivy's control anyway.
  • Ex Machina: Zeller's arrival triggers one of these, knocking out all the power in the state of New York, and a little beyond that. The name of the arc where this takes place? Power Down.
  • Spider-Man foe the Shocker once initiated a series of blackouts, one block at a time, in a pattern to spell out his name when viewed from above.

Fan Fiction

  • A small blackout strikes Hinamizawa when a storm strikes in Kyon: Big Damn Hero. It apparently happens a lot, hence most houses having a generator.
  • Happens in the Danny Phantom story, Stolen Years when Jack's newest ghost invention accidentally sucks up the power of half the city, much to the chagrin of Danny and the neighbors.

Film

  • The Deneuralizer in Men in Black II.
  • Superman Returns, when Lex Luthor throws a shard of the Fortress of Solitude into a small pool of water.
  • The supercomputer in Superman III.
  • National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, when Clark Griswold finally gets his Christmas lights working. We cut to a shot of his house like a beacon in the midst of his suburb, as all the lights around his house dim from the power drain he's causing to the suburb. Then we cut to a shot of the "Auxiliary Reactor" switch in a nearby nuclear power plant, which is turned on (implicitly) because of the amount of electricity he's using.
  • Happened in Fantastic Four. Don't ask how Reed managed to hook in the Baxter Building to the entire city's power grid.
  • In Weird Science, creating the "Lisa" entity shorts out a lot of the power of the city they're in.
  • That... thing (generator?) in The Last Mimzy.
  • The end of Shortbus, when the lights go out across New York City when the therapist has an orgasm.
  • Real Genius has this happen when Chris Knight turns on his laser beam pathway for the "Tanning Invitational". It's not known how far spread the blackout is, maybe only the Pacific Tech campus.

 Chris Knight: "Relax. That's just the fuses at the substation, they'll have it back on in a minute. Maybe I shouldn't have shorted across the building transformer. But more important: did we get a charge?"

  • Interesting variation in the climax of Iron Man, which involves a power generator being overloaded and draining power from the surrounding area; however, unlike most of the 'plunge entire city into blackout' examples, it was clearly only a few blocks that were affected.
  • One of these accompanies the appearance of the UFO craft at the start of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
  • The suspense film The Trigger Effect involves a massive (seemingly nationwide) power outage, the cause of which is never revealed.
  • In Ocean's Eleven, the main characters use an electromagnetic pulse to knock out power all over Las Vegas.
  • A daytime example occurs in The Day After, due to the EMP from the airburst.
  • The 1968 Doris Day comedy Where Were You When the Lights Went Out? takes place during the real-life New York City blackout of '65.
  • The finale of Love at First Bite takes place during one of these, also in New York City.
  • Live Free or Die Hard
  • Ghostbusters II has Ray accidentally knock out the power to seemingly the whole of Manhattan, if not the entirety of NYC.
  • A blackout helps the lunatics escape in 1982 Alone in the Dark (1982 film).
  • In City of Ember, these were happening more and more frequently because of problems with the Generator.
  • Darkness Falls.
  • In Titanic, the power fails right when the ship splits in half, just like in real life.
  • The Blackout features monsters who drain power from electric lights in their vicinity. Since it's Christmas, there's a lot.
  • Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, due to Michael throwing a city worker into the electrical system.

Literature

  • In The Dresden Files book Dead Beat, baddies do this to Chicago in order to create a panic, as it knocks out not only building power but all electronics in the area, although phones and cars still work sporadically for some reason.
    • It's a jamming effect, but phones and cars have their own power source, so they're easier to work. After all, anything powered from the mains need everything down the power transmission to be working, a cellphone only needs the phone and the tower to be clear.
  • The Phil Rickman novel, December, describes a large blackout in Liverpool that occured on the day John Lennon was shot.
  • In the French Sci Fi novel Malevil, a blackout is the first effect that World War III has on the characters. The lights fail alongside an obnoxious blaring radio going silent. They have enough time to realize that the radio didn't break, the dial light works, but it's no longer receiving radio signals when the blastwave hits them.
  • Atlas Shrugged ends with all the lights in New York City going out.

Live Action TV

  • Mr. Bean did this once in a Christmas skit, when he somehow unplugged the power to an entire department store while testing a string of Christmas lights.
  • An episode of Stargate SG-1 had a device that could render Earth intangible, at the cost of blacking out the entire United States.
  • Spencer's sculpture in the world record broadcast episode of ICarly.
  • In Jekyll, the power sometimes starts to flicker when Dr. Jackman's personalities are fighting for control. At the beginning of his character arc, it's limited to whatever minor electronics are in the room; by the climax, the entire city of London is undergoing rolling blackouts.
  • An episode of Mad About You had Paul inadvertantly causing a citywide blackout in New York; as part of a "Blackout Thursday" Crossover gimmick on NBC that week, several other set-in-NYC sitcoms on that same night (most notably Friends) featured blackout stories.
  • Occasionally used on Hustle, when they'll cut power to a single specific block or something.
  • NCIS has the seventh season episode "Power Down". Team Gibbs has to solve the case using old-school methods. Poor McGee was stuck with the duty of looking through the boxes of files.
  • Happens in the BBC Speculative Documentary Supervolcano.
  • The Law and Order episode "Darkness" involves one of these.
  • A Barney Miller episode involves one of these.
  • The All in The Family episode "Archie and the KKK" begins during the 1977 NYC blackout, and includes discussion of the real-life looting and arson that took place.
    • Another episode, "Mike and Gloria's House Guests", has Archie and Edith staying at Mike and Gloria's house after their furnace goes on the blink. This naturally leads to tension between the family members, until a power outage brings them together.
  • An old Sesame Street skit has Ernie and Bert engaging in Loud of War by turning on various appliances (TV, radio, blender, etc.), which results in a fuse blowing and the power going out in their apartment.
    • A later skit, perhaps inspired by the 1977 New York blackout, has Ernie noticing that the whole street has lost power.
  • A Bewitched episode has Aunt Clara inadvertently causing one of these. (The episode was inspired by, and first aired exactly one year after, the 1965 Northeast blackout mentioned in the Real Life section below.)
  • In Green Acres, the 1965 Northeast blackout is supposedly caused by Oliver attempting to get electricity into the house.
  • A Halloween Episode of Chicago Hope involves the hospital losing power during a storm.
  • The Criminal Minds two-parter "Our Darkest Hour" and "The Longest Night".
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In "Dead Man's Party" Willow talks of blowing out the power for an entire city block when she first tried to communicate with the spirit world.
  • CSI "CSI Unplugged" All of Las Vegas goes dark, forcing the CS Is to process their case old school.

Theater

Video Games

  • In the computer game Carmen Sandiego: Math Detective, Carmen does this to the whole world.
  • Final Fantasy VII does this to Midgar at the end of disc 2 to power up a super weapon.
  • Happens in the "New Dark Age" ending of Deus Ex.
  • In Pokémon Diamond and Pearl/Platinum, a blackout occurs in Sunnyshore City and the player is unable to venture to said city until they beat the main game at Spear Pillar.
  • In Home Front, the opening cutscene shows a KPR satellite flying above the planet, intending to broadcast "a message of peace to the entire world." It's really an EMP satellite, and what we get to see is an image of all the lights going out on the North American continent...the entire continent.

Western Animation

  • Weird variation in Rocko's Modern Life: Rocko, Heffer and Filbert made a potato light bulb that blacked out the town, then shot out a beam of light powerful enough to be seen from space.
  • Happened more than once in Rugrats with Stu's inventions.
  • The first-season episode of The Simpsons where the family members apply so many electric shocks at each other at Dr. Marvin Monroe's therapy that they take the power from the city.
    • Blackouts have occurred several times in Springfield. In keeping with the show's exaggeratedly cynical take on human nature, citizens tend to riot the very second the power goes out.
      • Including once when the mob smashes into a musical instrument store and come out playing a university fight song.
  • At the end of Bebe's Kids, one of the kids unplugs a cord that turns off the entire Las Vegas Strip.
  • Beavis and Butthead
  • A power outage occurs in Rio de Janeiro as a result of a character hitting an electrical transformer in one scene in Rio.
  • An episode of House of Mouse was about Pete creating a power outage as an attempt to shut down the titular nightclub. He fails.
  • A Strong Bad Email from Homestar Runner was about Strong Bad accidentally creating a power outage thanks to a pair of electric boots in which he apparantly ordered from the mail.
  • Happens about twice in the show Arthur, though in different episodes: one about a blizzard, another about a heatwave.
  • Happens in Monsters, Inc. as a result of Boo giggling too much.
  • Kim Possible first encounters Señor Senior Senior and Junior after tracing a Europe-wide blackout to their mansion. It wasn't something they were doing on purpose (they hadn't yet taken up villainy) -- they'd overloaded the power grid with extravagances such as Junior's blimp-sized sunlamp.

Real Life

  • The northeastern United States and Ontario saw massive blackouts in 1965 and 2003. New York City had another one in 1977.
    • "Does that sound particularly slow to you?"--WABC-AM disc jockey Dan Ingram in 1965, noting that the songs he was playing were slowing down (due to decreasing frequency as the electric grid slowly collapsed).
  • North Korea is in pretty much a perpetual blackout.
  • Predicted by some to happen on a global scale in 2012 as part of the Olduvai theory. May also be caused by a severe solar storm, again potentially in 2012.
    • The latter once happened to Northeastern Canada in 1989, causing everyone living there to lose power for almost ten hours.
  • Earth Hour: For several years the World Wildlife Fund has staged this event on the last Saturday in March, which encourages cities to go dark deliberately for one hour as a way to raise climate change awareness.
    • Rolling blackouts are another intentional application of this, done by electric companies to reduce the strain on their systems during periods of heavier-than-normal usage and prevent larger outages.
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