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Like an oddly-colored sky with multiple suns or moons, this is one of those surefire ways of letting the audience know that the story has taken them to a world vastly different from our own. Just stick a ginormous monster skeleton somewhere in the scenery, and presto, instant otherworld! Interestingly, the heroes almost never encounter a living monster of that type, or one in an earlier state of decay. Sometimes, dinosaur bones may be substituted to indicate another time period instead of another world entirely.
Anime & Manga
- There are a few Demon God corpses, overgrown with greenery, in the opening landscape of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.
- In the Animal Crossing movie, the cave by the sea contains, sticking out of the wall, an enormous, intact seismosaurus skeleton. In the finale, they climb it to grab one of Gulliver's gears.
- In Naruto, Madara's hideout (which includes his lab, the statue tailed beasts are sealed in (most of the time), and his mindless clone of the 1st Hokage) turns out to be a mountainous area covered in giant animal skeletons of unknown origin. We eventually learn this place is called "Mountains' Graveyard".
- In One Piece, one arc features an island with two giant skeletons on it. Although at first they appear to be just scenery, they turn out to be important plot points. In addition, gigantic monsters are quite common in the series.
- In the Magic: The Gathering backstory, we have the Talon Gates, what appear to be a pair of giant pointy rocks off the coast of Madara. They're really the ribs of a leviathan planeswalker killed by Nicol Bolas.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! has a living example in the monster Temple of Skulls.
- The Far Side had a comic about archeologists coming across the coveted chipmunk graveyard which was a large pile of tiny bones.
- Another showed the oxen of a wagon train glancing anxiously at a nearby skeleton. In an anniversary book, Larson explained that he got a lot of letters from people who missed the joke, which quite simply was that we tend to look at things more seriously the closer they are to our own interests.
- one of Wally Wood's favorite tropes, an example is the cover of Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide #9
- In the classic Brood storyline of the X-Men back in the 80s, we discover roughly an issue in that the Death World surrounding one of the Alien bases was in fact the semi-decomposed corpse of one of the Space Whales they had enslaved as Living Ships. To give an idea of the scale, the tips of the ribs poked out of the planetary atmosphere.
- Moebius had quite a few decorating the landscape of Arzarch.
Films -- Animation
- In Heavy Metal, Taarna the Tarakian flies past a monstrous skeleton of truly ludicrous size, combined with Alien Sky.
- In the Disney version of The Little Mermaid, Ursula lives in the skeleton of... some kind of big fish thing, overgrown with weeds. (On second viewing, knowing that those weeds are the Baleful Polymorph of everybody else who's lost in the Chain of Deals that Ursula strings them on, the long pan down the hallway into Ursula's lair is horror.)
- The elephant graveyard in The Lion King.
- In Quest for Camelot, one of the first things greeting the Kayley and Garret in "Dragon Country" is a giant skeleton that they climb over without realizing what it is. Much later, they have a giant dragon skeleton dropped on them.
- Near the end of the "Rite of Spring" section of Fantasia there is a desert littered with dinosaur bones.
Films -- Live Action
- Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope has a famous example. C3-PO and R2-D2 walk across the desert on Tattooine and come across the bones of a Krayt dragon. Anakin and Ahsoka stumble upon the same skeleton in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, so yeah, he's been there a while.
- Spoofed in a Robot Chicken sketch featuring a green water-dwelling creature talking to his wife about finding great things beyond their little lake. As it turns out, he was the creature to whom the skeleton belonged, so things evidently didn't work out for him.
- It was still there when Lucas went out to film scenes for the prequel trilogy.
- The picture up there has Anakin, Ahsoka, and R2 walking in front of a Bantha skeleton. That one's not the same as the aforementioned Krayt dragon.
- Red Sonja has a bridge made of giant vertebrae roped together.
- In Pitch Black, if the derelict settlement doesn't clue you in that something went Horribly Wrong, the discovery that the "trees" on a hill are actually the skeletal "fins" of several dozen long dead mega dinosaurs in the valley far below should.
- As Kevin and the dwarves in Time Bandits walk through the deserts of Time of Legends, searching for "the most wonderful object in the world", they pass by myriad skeletons of animals. They discover the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness when they reach an invisible wall, which one of the dwarves, Wally, accidentally shatters by throwing a nearby skull at the leader, Randall, in a fight after being shoved by Randall to the ground.
- In the 2005 King Kong, several gigantic bones from Kong's deceased relatives lie scattered about near his mountaintop cavern.
- The title characters encounter some on an alien planet in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie. They turn out to be Dem Bones.
- One is present in Hunter Prey.
- Huge sauropod ribcages and bones are encountered by the heroes of The Lost World: Jurassic Park near the ruins of the facilities of Site B.
Live Action TV
- In a more-than-usually-dreadful episode of Space 1999, our heroes wind up on a planet where the only signs of animal life are big weird skeletons scattered about the place. The plot (such as it is) revolves around the fact the plants on this planet teamed up and killed all the animals, so it's not quite just scenery in this incidence.
- Some made-for-TV movie with Jack and the Beanstalk as the back-story had a shot of a dragon on a hill in the Giant's realm in the flashback, and the same shot of its skeleton when said realm is revisited in the present.
- The desert surrounding Rak Cthol in The Belgariad was once a shallow sea. When it was drained, the enormous serpents that called it home were left behind and died, leaving skeletons in the black sand.
- The city of New Crobuzon in Perdido Street Station contains a neighborhood (Bonetown) entirely inside the skeleton of some monstrous beast.
- A large Dinosaur skeleton is seen in the Desert in one of the later Dinotopia books.
- SF/Fantasy writer Lucius Shepard has a series of stories about people living in towns on and around the body of a gigantic dragon -- who isn't entirely dead.
- "Monster Island" in the late, lamented City of Heroes had several of these.
- Incarnate-level missions against Mot in the revised "Dark Astoria" zone were liberally littered with these -- but unlike the usual instances, they weren't dead, but part of the god you were battling. Or its dimension. Or both.
- theBlu has what appears to be a whale skeleton dimly visible in its "deep sea bottom"/"abyss" habitat.
- Many creation myths describe gods creating the world itself from the remains of colossal monsters killed in battle at the beginning of time. In Norse Mythology, for instance, mountains were formed from the bones of Ymir, the first and biggest of the frost giant, and his skull became the sky itself.
- In Dungeons & Dragons, one whole layer of Hell is covered with (partially still alive) body of its former ruler, the bones forming giant mountain ranges.
- A memorable adventure from Dungeon Adventures took place in a tunnel-complex that was dug out in and around a gigantic, buried dragon skeleton. Its cranial cavity and ribcage were two of the rooms in the place.
- The short-lived domain of Daglan, from the Ravenloft adventure Feast of Goblyns, featured huge ribs and femurs jutting out of the ground as part of its 'local color'.
- The material for the Eisentown of Freiburg in 7th Sea features a whole city ripe with this trope. One dragon skeleton makes the biggest bridge in town, another one the biggest tower and the last one is used as the cathedral.
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyland has dinosaur bones.
- So does one of the play-areas at Islands of Adventure.
- At the American Museum of Natural History, one of the dioramas is of a whale skeleton on the ocean floor, covered in sea snow.
- Ever Quest has this in the Field of Bone
- In Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, one stage has Kirby exploring an underground cavern where part of the scenery is made of fossils. One of the titular MacGuffins is inside an eyeless reptilian's mouth.
- Banjo Tooie features a stage based (very loosely) on the mesozoic era and features many different fossils embedded on the ground and walls. Why there'd be fossilized bones during the period when these creatures were actually alive is left to the player's imagination.
- If you follow your mainstream science, and god knows I don't, some dinosaurs were dead as long, to others, as they have been dead, to us.
- Many stages in Wario Land: Shake It! feature dinosaur bones.
- Guild Wars: The Crystal Desert is full of them, which the lore handwaves as the remains of the now-extinct 'Great Giants', presumably unrelated to the game's smaller elephant-sized modern giants.
- Also present in The Desolation.
- Rather common in World of Warcraft. There are several enormous kodo skeletons in Tanaris desert, a giant snake skeleton off the coast of Stranglethorn Vale, a skull of what is apparently one of the Old Gods in Darkshore (with a glowing Titan sword still embedded in it) and two giant naga-like creatures in Desolace. That's just the most famous ones, listing em all would take forever. The kodo graveyard in Desolace and the Dragonblight (dragon graveyard) in Northrend are obviously chock full of them, too. The biggest one in the game is probably off the coast of the Dragonblight, which is large enough to be seen on the map. Not as an icon like most large or important things, but as a skull and skeleton itself.
- At the very end of Iji, we see the bodyarmor of an Annihilator.
- Planescape: Torment had a desert map about two-thirds into the game that was mostly taken up by a giant, half-buried skeleton. An important NPC built a rather nice keep for himself inside the skull.
- It appears to be a colossal bear.
- One of the things that defined the various Myst ages.
- Used as part of a Continuity Nod. The Age of Riven contained a species of angry purple Moby Dick known as the wahrk, as well as a sort of wormhole, the Star Fissure, that was turning the Age into a vacuum and destroying the universe. A key part of the endgame reveals that jumping into the Star Fissure is survivable and is the only way you can get back to Earth. In Uru -- in the present-day -- you start out the game in the New Mexico desert and determine that this must be around where the wormhole ended, because hey, giant wahrk skeleton!
- The escape tunnel in the first Alone in The Dark looked like a spine with ribs.
- There's a dinosaur skeleton in the desert of My Sims. Though possibly all it indicates is the sort of stuff you can get digging around there.
- A giant dinosaur skeleton is on the Uncharted Isle from My Sims Kingdom.
- In Sonic 3D Blast (Flickies' Island, if you're in a PAL territory), there are several dinosaur skeletons embedded in the walls of Diamond Dust Zone.
- There are several big skeletons in Aquaria. A big one in the Noob Cave that can be swim through, the other ones are more in the background, at least one of them is from a creature that can also be encountered alive, and these creatures are indestructible, (for the player anyway) and quite gentle, so that makes it extra sinister.
- Platformer Vexx has one in its second level, Dragonreach. The level is so-called because the giant skeleton is from a dragon, and it looks like it's reaching for the sky. Naturally, you get to clamber around its back and inside its skull.
- In Dreamfall, the rebel camp is situated partly on a colossal skeleton floating the swamp.
- Starcraft has massive skeletons as part of several scenery sets.
- The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time has an absolutely ginormous dodongo skull near the entrance to the boss chamber in the Dodongo Cavern. Kinda' makes you wonder what would've happened if Ganondorf had resurrected THAT instead of the dragon in the fire temple.
- Furthermore, in Dondongo's Cavern that entire room where the skull is located is inside a massive ribcage. Oddly, this means the ginormous skull is facing the wrong way...
- And in A Link to the Past, both the western swamp and the Dark World Lost Woods are littered with huge monster bones, most of which are actually ribcages. In fact, many Zelda games have human and monster skulls littered about, which can be broken to get health, money, keys, or health-restoring fairies.
- Yoshis Island DS has several large beast skeletons lying around in the "desert" levels.
- The entrance to the Bone Dungeon in Final Fantasy Mystic Quest is marked by a giant dinosaur skeleton. You also fight (a smaller) one inside for the big boss battle.
- Star Fox 64 features a number of these in Titania Arid Desert, foreshadowing the skeletal Boss Fight with Goras at the end of the level.
- Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc features a number of these in the Desert of the Knaaren, in the overground areas.
- They're also the main schtick of the Cave of Bad Dreams in Rayman 2.
- In Mass Effect, on one (and only one) of the optional explorable planets there's a giant skull about the quarter of the size of your MAKO. When you investigate it, it adds a map marker, and says that it does not match any species in the Codex.
- During the creature phase of Spore, you may encounter one or more of these. They are a lot bigger than even Epic Creatures.
- Final Fantasy XI has this in a few areas, like Tahrongi Canyon and the Maze of Shakhrami.
- Dragon Quest VIII has an entire dungeon inside of a dragon skeleton (with several smaller ones forming the terrain)
- The Code Lyoko Wii game Quest for Infinity offers a sort of variation; parts of XANA's mechanical monsters (disembodied heads, limbs, etc.) can be found littered about; you get points if you break them by shooting them or jumping on them.
- Adventure Island had levels like this, and parts of the bridge/spinal column would fall off as your player ran across them.
- The first Space Quest had an area consisting of a large skeletal ridge in the middle of a desert planet. The player character can walk across the spinal column like a bridge, and as in Adventure Island, a part of the column was cracked. The player can only cross the cracked area twice before it breaks, at which point you had better hope you picked up everything you needed beforehand
- In the VGA remake, it resembles a Krayt Dragon skeleton from the Star Wars verse.
- Skull Man's stage in Mega Man 4.
- Endless Ocean lets you swim through a WHALE skeleton...
- Jak and Daxter: Misty Island.
- Serious Sam 2 has them, mostly in planet Kleer. Most of them are found in the aptly named Boneyard level.
- Patapon has giant skeletons in the desert level which mark very dangerous areas which have damaging lava geysers.
- Radical Rex has a level called Dinosaur Graveyard, in which you have to climb up huge jumbled dinosaur skeletons. Just watch out for Stegosaurus plates and carnivore claws.
- Borderlands: Planet Pandora is littered with them. Bandits have turned some into encampments, most notably Titan's End.
- Primal - There's a Ribcage Ridge underwater. It's the skeleton of a giant fish, naturally.
- The first world in Secret of Evermore, a prehistoric-styled jungle, contains a "Mammoth Graveyard" that serves as a battle arena. Sticking out of the unpleasant muck are the remains of woolly mammoths; giant tusks frame the path to the next area.
- Present in Donkey Kong Country Returns.
- You walk down a spinal column of a giant deceased Dragon in Hades in Quest for Glory 5: Dragonfire.
- In Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, in the Necromancer Abyss, at several points you encounter rock formations that look suspiciously like bones, and then one cave which is clearly a ribcage. Of course those happen to be the fossilized remains of a dragon, which are then reanimated by the Necromancer to serve as the stage's boss: The Dracolich Titan.
- The final Boss Rush of Primal Rage take place in a tar field littered with dinosaur bones.
- The plains and mountains of Skyrim are liberally dotted with the ribcages, spines and occasionally skulls of large animals (usually "mammoths", but there a few troll and dragon skeletons lying around). And killing a dragon can cause this instantly (apparently eating draconic souls makes flesh disappear).
- Fossil Valley in Chrono Cross, one of the earliest places the player visits, has a gigantic dragon skeleton as part of the background. No live ones are ever encountered because the specific species of dragon is long extinct. (bar one egg that the player can hatch)
- A variant in Shadow of the Colossus - Returning to the site of a colossus battle shows the corpse of said colossus becoming a part of the environment. The imagery falls more into this trope with larger colossi like Basaran and Phalanx.
- Stage 4 in the NES port of Life Force has a giant ribcage with a gauntlet of lasers near the end, and a giant skull as the boss.
- In Spore, these abound in the Creature Stage. In fact, you're encouraged to dig them up, in order to acquire new parts you can use to "evolve" your creature later. Too many of them in one place is often a tip-off that an Epic creature is in the vicinity.
- The opening of Samurai Jack features Jack swimming through a huge, multi-eyed fish skeleton.
- All over the face of planet Bone in Shadow Raiders.
- Wakfu: Yugo stumbles onto the skeleton of a dragon in the desert during episode 21. It takes him some time to realize what it is since he can't use his eyes but only Aura Vision at the moment.
- Adventure Time had an episode where Finn and Jake carry tarts through a desert wasteland. At some point, they walk in between the bones of this dead, giant creature and climb through its eye socket. Oddly, it seemed that its brain hadn't fully decayed yet.