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The main characters receive a Distress Call or randomly come across a (seemingly) deserted vehicle and have to figure out what happened and where everybody went. Usually they run across exactly what happened when it tries to eat them. A Big Dumb Object may be involved. And sometimes there are actual ghosts.
Compare Derelict Graveyard.
Anime and Manga
- One sequence in Part Three of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure had the main characters boarding an apparently derelict steamer, with the only passenger being an orangutan. The steamer was actually the orangutan's Stand, Strength. The ape was extremely intelligent by lesser-primate standards and not too fond of people.
- One Piece has Thriller Bark, which is basically a floathing Haunted House that serves as the base for Gecko Moria and his flunkies. It's mostly filled with zombies, but one of Gecko's crew, Perona, has ghost-like powers granted by the Horo-Horo Fruit.
- The unfortunately-named Pansy in Martian Successor Nadesico.
- The Warhammer 40000 spin-off Space Hulk (and the computer game derived from it) is based entirely on the subject of heavily-armed Space Marines boarding a Ghost Ship filled with ugly aliens, in this case Tyranid Genestealers.
- Space Hulks are also an important part of 40k's background fluff. These ghost ships are conglomerations of lost and destroyed spaceships and other space debris, which drift randomly through both real- and Warp-space and tend to be full of horrors, of which Chaos worshippers, Orks and Genestealers are the most common and least terrible.
- There are also more typical ghost ships, the result of what happens when a ship's Gellar field breaks in the Warp. What happens to the unfortunate crew is best not contemplated, for when such vessels reappear in realspace they tend to either be deserted or filled with daemons instead of men.
- There's a whole Chapter made of these, called the Legion of the Damned, who got lost in the Warp and became Warp-Ghosts. When the forces of the Imperium are in dire need, they are said to appear to turn the tide of battle.
- 2010, the lesser-known sequel to 2001. Haunting by Bowman. Big Dumb Object that turned Bowman into an ascended being in the first film turns Jupiter into a star in this one.
- Event Horizon is all about a Ghost Ship, basically a Haunted House In Space!
- Except it's being haunted by hell itself.
- Before Event Horizon, there was The Dark Side of the Moon where docking with an old NASA shuttle near the dark side of the moon brings on board The Devil.
- Before Event Horizon and The Dark Side of the Moon, The Black Hole was about a Ghost Ship In Space. The Crew discovers the USS Cygnus devoid of its people, except for the Captain and his crew of robots. Except that many of the robots are the zombified remnants of the original crew!.
- As is the movie titled Ghost Ship.
- Sunshine (2007). The crew comes across a distress signal from one of these. Monster.
- The derelict ship in the original Alien. Monster, obviously.
- Sphere. Big Dumb Object grants uncontrollable psychic powers. Monsters.
- Supernova. Big Dumb Object makes people younger, or something, ... until it blows up.
- Pandorum starts this way but the main characters quickly find out that the ship is filled with murderous creatures with a taste for human flesh. Of course, they're not the worst that's on the ship.
- The Dean Koontz novel Phantoms, about a town whose entire population has disappeared or been killed.
- In William King's Warhammer 40000 novel Space Wolf, the new marines are sent with a sergeant to find out what happened to another company. They find a tunnel, head down it, and find fragments of Marines' armor. Among other things.
- In Ragnor's Claw, they face a space hulk, which is a conglomeration of dead ships, and float in and out of warp without visible control.
- At one point Ciaphas Cain reminisces, if that's the term, about boarding a space hulk during his time with the Reclaimers Space Marine chapter. It was infested with purestrain Tyranid genestealers, who proceeded to carve their way through the Space Marines' Terminator armor — the biggest, baddest powered armor a living Marine can wear — without any real trouble.
- The seventh novel The Emperor's Finest depicts this period in detail at last.
- "Three Skeleton Key", a short story by George G. Toudouze, is about a derelict ship filled with rats running aground and invading a lighthouse. It was famously adapted as an episode of the '50s radio series Escape, narrated by Vincent Price.
- In Bram Stoker's Dracula, the Demeter runs aground at Whitby with all the crew missing except the captain, whose corpse is found lashed to the helm. However, a ship's log is found which provides clues as to what happened aboard the vessel.
- In several of The History of the Galaxy novels, characters find derelict ships that have long been abandoned by the crew. In most cases, these are colony ships from the Great Exodus period of human history, when hundreds of these left Earth using an untested and unreliable method of Faster-Than-Light Travel.
- In one novel, a military officer from Earth is sent by his superior to find the location of the Alpha, the first extrasolar colony ship that disappeared minutes after engaging its engines. He manages to find the ship drifting through a nebula with not a soul aboard. He then gets attacked by a strange cyborg-like creature. Based on the captain's log, he finds out that the colonists were forced to make planetfall on an inhospitable world nearby, leaving the ship adrift in the nebula to gather hydrogen using its Bussard collectors. The cyborg is from a classified military project of that time.
- Another novel has the Confederacy of Suns find a derelict planet. Unfortunately, despite being nearly a billion years old, the automated defenses are still functional.
- When Septimus and his friends climb aboard the Cerys in Syren, at first it looks deserted - it turns out that pirates have imprisoned the entire crew in a safe room below deck.
- The central mystery of the Alex Benedict novel Polaris revolves around a spaceship that abruptly went out of communication and was later found completely empty. All the shuttles and spacesuits were still aboard, the airlocks were still sealed, and the computer had no record of what happened.
- Robert Westall short story anthology Break of Dark features a ghost plane; which returns from a bombing raid intact but with no one alive except the pilot; who's unresponsive and continues to go through the motions of flying it, even after he's been hospitalized.
Live Action TV
- Blakes Seven, "Space Fall" and "Killer"
- The Doctor Who stories The Ark in Space and "The Girl in the Fireplace".
- Also the spaceship in "The Impossible Astronaut"/"Day of the Moon" and the other ship in "The Curse of the Black Spot".
- The space station in Revenge of the Cybermen
- Firefly, "Bushwhacked"
- Farscape (several episodes including "PK Tech Girl")
- MacGyver, "Ghost Ship"
- NCIS, "Chimera"
- Several times in Red Dwarf, such as the ship with the DNA-editing machine.
- SeaQuest DSV season 1 episode "Knight of Shadows" — underwater ghost ship, even.
- Stargate Atlantis, "Rising", "Aurora"
- Star Trek the Original Series, "The Tholian Web." Haunting by Kirk.
- Star Trek the Next Generation, "Booby Trap", "Night Terrors"
- Star Trek Enterprise, "Fight or Flight", "Impulse"
- The X Files, "Dod Kalm," "Triangle" (to a lesser extent)
- "Derelict", more widely known as Fifteen men on a deadman's chest. Where the titular derelict turned out to be a ship with all crew slaughtered by each other, over hold-ful of Spanish gold and silver. Most of the song is something between a still-life painting and "English for Coroners".
- Space Oddity by David Bowie. It's about, err... an early stage of the orbital derelicthood.
- In Star Ruler, ships that lose power from generator destruction, run out of fuel, or suffer crew death (or in the case of a computer controlled ship, power loss) will go derelict and drift off into deep space. Derelict ships can be reclaimed, so long as the equipment needed to run it is still in working shape.
- Grandia features a deserted ship with a heavily "undead" atmosphere, although the characters find out that the Big Bad of the ship is just a 'regular' (giant, magic-wielding) squid. This is actually truer to the trope as described here, since they discover what got the crew, rather than undead versions of the crew themselves.
- These seem quite frequent in the Metroid series:
- Super Metroid had a wrecked ship, complete with flooding, electrical discharges, ghosts, and weird bouncy things.
- Another one appears in Metroid Prime 3, where Samus is sent to the wreckage of a Federation starship lost in battle. In retrospect, it was probably a better idea not to.
- There's the Frigate Orpheon in Metroid Prime and Biologic Lab's Station in Metroid Fusion where the Ghost Ship is the backdrop for the whole game.
- Metroid: Other M takes place on the Bottle Ship, which is essentially this.
- A Homeworld mission had you investigate a ghost ship. While it ignored strike craft, it would immediately take over any capital ship that got within range. When you had no ships in range of its effect, it looked like a derelict in a mass of other derelicts. As an extra bonus, amongst those other derelicts was a missile destroyer - which was extremely effective at taking out strike craft.
- However, if you spammed it with enough fighters, (that is to say, shield your salvage corvettes from the missiles using a meaty fighter), you could salvage that missile destroyer, giving you strike-fighter superiority several missions earlier than normal.
- The Infocom Interactive Fiction computer game Stationfall. The cause of the station's emptiness turns out to be an alien artifact that corrupts and controls technology; if you lose, it duplicates itself and spreads the copies throughout human space.
- Rogue Galaxy had a ghost ship level, which was also the Bonus Dungeon in that particular game, available only after the main story. It even had a special guest NPC.
- Suitably for games mostly set at sea, The Legend of Zelda the Wind Waker and Suikoden IV had Ghost Ship levels. A notable difference is that the player had to chase these ships down on the open sea by following clues, rather than happen upon them by chance as part of the story.
- The Legend of Zelda Phantom Hourglass, the direct sequel to Wind Waker, has a literal ghost ship which is called the Ghost Ship. It sails around abducting people and stealing their life force.
- In The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, Link gets aboard on the fabled "ferry to the other world" in the Shadow Temple, tripulated by Stalfos. Made creepier by the fact that it doesn't sail on water, but on air, and it sinks when it meets its the goal line.
- The U.S.G. Ishimura of Dead Space is essentially one huge Ghost Ship.
- The Von Braun of System Shock 2.
- Super Mario Bros.:
- The entrance to the Valley of Bowser in Super Mario World was protected by a ghost ship, that appeared deserted at first, but then suddenly the room fills up with ghosts. It's all but stated, at least in the manual, that it may well be one of the flying ships used by Bowser's minions in Super Mario Bros 3.
- In Super Mario Galaxy, there is one located in the underground area of Deep Dark Galaxy.
- Final Fantasy VIII: Squall and Rinoa end up on a spaceship that was abandoned for 17 years and overrun by regenerating alien monsters. Since it is Final Fantasy VIII, the ship is in full working condition, and they clear it of alien monsters and claim it their own with relative ease.
- Early on in Final Fantasy V, your party ship is set adrift and end up in a ship graveyard. Naturally, you have to navigate through several derelict ships to reach land, fighting several undead enemies along the way.
- The Ghost Ship from Tales of Vesperia.
- The Elizabeth Dane in Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines, whose crew was wiped out while carrying the game's central MacGuffin.
- Seiken Densetsu 3 at one point in the game has you boarding a ship to get to the next continent. Strangly, no fee is charged (unlike every other boat ride) and when you go to sleep, you wake up to find the ship is actually a ghost ship.
- Cryostasis is made of this. A lone meteorologist finds himself on a derelict Soviet nuclear icebreaker, missing for over a decade. The ship is completely frozen, and the crew are either dead and perfectly preserved by the cold, or dead and somehow mutated into ice monsters. The player character also sees both ghosts and flashbacks of events as everything was going to hell aboard.
- In Xenogears, the heroes explore a drifting ship whose crew was attacked and killed by the seemingly undead monsters called Wels. At one point, when they turn on the showers and a spray of red fluid pours out, prompting one of them to react with a horrified "what happened on this ship?" - but then it turns out that it's just rusty water.
- Mass Effect has one. The MVS Estevanico, which crashed on a planet about a hundred years ago. Even though it's a historical relic, it's falling apart and it's also extremely creepy.
- Legend of Dragoon has the Queen Fury crashing into a phantom ship filled with undead enemies, and where some important information about the Black Monster is learned.
- The "Sunken Ship" level in Okami, complete with Chest Monsters, ghosts that keep floating towards you even on the brush screen, the phantom heads of previous bosses that fly straight into the camera in an apparent attempt to eat your face, Spikes of Doom, a completely inexplicable giant hand that tries to squash you, and a couple of crab-demons living on a pile of bones that turn into an enormous armored shark.
- Space Griffon VF 9. See above example with Space Hulk. Imagine if a Tyranid Tyrant manifested into an ever-evolving Cosmic Horror by not only understanding but controlling and absorbing energy from The Warp, enough to inflict long-distance mind control and mutation upon your fellow soldiers, and change the Genestealers to rogue machines and Body Horror Silent Hill creations. There's a reason why you'll brick the toilet with this game despite the fact it places you in a vaguely familiar transforming mecha. Though, a good half of it IS atmosphere. If you aren't really 'feeling' it, it just won't affect you as much aside from the long range powers thing.
- Mario and company have to explore one of these in Super Mario RPG to retrieve the Star Piece that landed in the ocean. What's unusual about this example is that you actually find out what caused the ship to sink in the first place, and you also get to fight the monster that caused it.
- Subverted then played straight in Chrono Cross. The party while sailing through dense fog runs across a ship that is known as a ghost ship and decides to rest, but quickly finds that it's in fact a pirate ship using the legend as a deterrent. After being taken prisoner the party finds out that another ship has arrived directly adjacent, an actual ghost ship... with actual ghosts.
- Knights of the Old Republic 2 has the Harbinger. According to the ship's Apocalyptic Log, the Sith vessel the assassins came from, was no different.
- Then, there's the Ravager, which, while not really a ghost ship, it's got the look of one, and it's crew is pretty much made up of zombies, with an actual ghost/HumanoidAbomination for a captain.
- The Starship Titanic, due to a premature launch (basically had its moorings cut while the crew finishing out the interior was on break), is populated solely by the robot support staff and an obnoxious parrot belonging to one of the decorators. Oh, and a flock of starlings in one of the upper chambers.
- Castlevania: Rondo of Blood and it's remake feature a stage set in and around a ghost ship. Worth noting is the painting that comes to life and flies around the room - if it touches you, you're dead! There's also one in Aria of Sorrow, which is mostly scenery.
- Sonic Rush Series Adventure has the Haunted Ship stage, culminating in a boss battle against a robotic pirate.
- Sword of the Stars has the aptly named Alien Derelicts, which are actually broken-off sections of a larger craft. Bear in mind that even so they still are larger than player-buildable dreadnoughts... and their weapons are still active.
- The Dragon Quest series has had several ghost ships. Dragon Quest III and Dragon Quest Monsters 2 had ships that still sailed with an undead crew. Dragon Quest VI had a sunken ship you could explore once you gained the ability to travel underwater.
- Endless Ocean has a large derelict pirate ship which transports the player to and from Ship's Rest.
- Halfway through The Adventures of Rad Gravity, your spaceship is damaged in an asteroid field, and to find spare parts you must search an abandoned ship.
- Captain Kunkka in Defense of the Ancients sum