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Somebody is building a large and complicated house of cards, and there's stuff going on around them that threatens to cause the structure to collapse.
The collapse often happens just as the last two cards are being placed, leaving the builder holding them in place over the empty air where the house used to be.
Like Endangered Souffle, only not with souffle, and comes with the same two standard variations: In one, the rambunctious behavior around the house of cards is quieted down with no ill effects, only to have a relatively-distant disturbance (slamming door, car backfire) collapse the structure after it is "safe". The other works much the same, except that it is the builder him- or herself who triggers the collapse.
Dish Dash is a related trope.
The trope name is a play on Edgar Allan Poe's Fall of the House of Usher.
Anime and Manga
- Near's tarot card house in Death Note. He specifically warns his coworkers about how pissed he'll be if they knock it over. They don't. However, in a variant on the trope, he builds a huge structure of dice which collapses in slow motion when most of his team gets Death Noted.
- Yugi made one and eventually fell in the Toei Yu-Gi-Oh! series.
- Hunter X Hunter: Hisoka did it, too.
- Done with a bit of symbolism (like everything else) in Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth.
- The Yu-Gi-Oh! fanfiction Decks Fall Everyone Dies is a metaphorical example. The card house is analogous to the government built around complicated Card Games. The stuff going on in Jamerica causes the government to fall, leaving the duelists hanging like a card house builder's hand.
- The 1993 film House of Cards.
- Ron does this with Exploding Snap cards in Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, and singes his eyebrows in the process.
- The Dark Tower: The Drawing of the Three has crime boss Enrico Balazar build a house of cards while he waits for Eddie to cough up the drugs. When things begin go pear-shaped, the cards collapse without him noticing.
- The Brady Bunch, episode "54-40 and Fight": The boys and the girls face off in a house-of-cards building contest to settle an argument.
- Father Ted, episode "New Jack City", as one instance of a Running Gag where Ted rings Father Larry Duff and interrupts him in the middle of doing something that requires unbroken concentration.
- Seen twice in Poirot:
- In the episode based on the first novel "The Mysterious Affair at Styles", Poirot builds a house of cards to calm himself. He knocks it down by slamming his fists on the table, and starts building it anew before Hastings triggers his Eureka Moment.
- A later episode subverts this, with Poirot building an intricate house of cards while on the phone to Inspector Japp. Eventually the whole thing collapses, at which point he picks up the top card and pulls it back up, revealing that it was all stuck together.
- One Hagar the Horrible strip.
- Seen in Ghost Trick. A prison security guard is building a house of cards, but just as he finishes, he thumps the table with outrage at the prospect of escorting a great police detective, who was convicted of murdering his wife with little evidence other than his (slightly dubious) confession, to be executed. This naturally causes his house of cards to collapse.
- Wallace and Gromit in A Grand Day Out.
- The Simpsons: In one of the short segments done for Tracey Ullman, Bart tries to build a house of cards, and Lisa and Maggie keep unintentionally causing it to collapse.
- The Imp cartoon, episode "Bison" (where it is, perhaps unsurprisingly, knocked down by a rampaging bison).
- The 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, episode "Scion of the Shredder". The Turtles and Splinter are chilling in their lair, and Michelangelo is building a house of cards. Right after he places the last two cards, the perimeter alarm goes off. After Donatello hurries to check his computer systems, something starts beating on the front door. The Turtles go for their weapons, and the house of cards gets its very own falling-down shot before it cuts back to the door finally breaking in.
- Happens on an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants. SpongeBob is making a snail-shaped house of cards modeled after Gary, when Patrick comes barreling in and knocks it down.
- At the end of one episode of Adventures in Care-a-Lot, it's revealed that Grizzle didn't appear because he spent the day building a house of cards, complete with Evil Laughter when it's finished. He promptly sneezes, and the whole thing falls over.
- Miss Bitters of Invader Zim uses this as an object lesson:
"Now, add all the dead weight of students like you..."
(Student adds haphazard pile of cards to the top of a very large tower, which quickly collapses.)
"So as you can see, children, our whole society is nothing more than a perilous house of cards, doomed to collapse under its own weight."
- Jimmy Two-Shoes: Lucius uses his Cool Plane to destroy a giant house of cards. He's disappointed it wasn't a real house.
- The Phineas and Ferb episode, "Cheer Up Candace", began with the two boys putting on the finishing touches of their Temple of Angkor Wat house of card replica. Naturally, thanks to Candace's scream of anguish that triggered the plot of the episode, it collapses before Isabella could take a photo.
Non-card examples (included here until somebody thinks of a good name for the super-trope)
Anime and Manga
- During the recap episode of Excel Saga, Il Palazzo is setting up an extremely long domino chain. The Excel Girls kick a few of them down, though Il Palazzo stops the chain reaction in time, and responds by strangling them. The camera cuts away, and cuts back to plushies of them (a reference to how Japanese TV shows will sometimes sub in a cardboard cutout of a host if they're unavailable).
- The Klegdixal Ambassador's dust sculpture in Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire.
- Subverted in an episode of Mash: propaganda photographers want to make a fragile amateur sculpture into a symbol of the war, but the artists are trying to destroy their own creation.
- In Malcolm in the Middle, with Dewey's set of dominoes. They averted the collapse many times, and Hal was really looking forward to the eventual release (trying to keep himself from giving in to the temptation to set them off)... and then he comes home and Dewey has already done it.
- On an episode of Mamas Family, Vint starts stacking up sugar cubes on his plate, claiming to be going for the "world sugar-stacking record". Mama slams the refrigerator door, and they fall down. He starts doing it again, and this time Mama purposely knocks them down with her tongs.
- Happens on an "Over Our Heads" episode of The Facts of Life, when Natalie is trying to stack up some boxes in the store. Everyone keeps slamming the store door and knocking them down.
- The opening video of Raidou Kuzunoha vs. the Soulless Army has Narumi building a house out of matchsticks which gets knocked over by Gouto (the protagonist's talking cat sidekick) jumping onto his desk.
- Bigweld's domino layout in Robots.
- In an episode of The Fairly Odd Parents, Timmy is building a scale model of the Eiffel tower when his dad or mom bursts in and it collapses. Happens as a Running Gag throughout the episode.
- Mickey's Christmas Carol has Scrooge counting his money, piling the coins into tall thin stacks as he basically dumps Belle. She storms out, toppling the piles in mid-count.
- In The Simpsons episode "Sideshow Bob's Last Gleaming", Sideshow Bob builds a miniature model of Westminster Abbey, which collapses from the sound of people laughing at the Krusty the Klown Show.
- Disney's Aladdin. The sultan is stacking some tiny statuettes when Jafar slams open the door and they fall down.