10 Times It Was Earth All Along

10 Times It Was Earth All Along

The trope has been widely overused, but here are 10 great stories that did it right.

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The pale blue pearl of Earth hangs in a jet-black sky.
Image: NASA

Do you hate when you land on an alien planet, do something foolish like nuke it or die on it, only to realize you were on Earth the entire time? It happens more often than you’d think in fiction (seriously, check out the massive TV Tropes page). In fact, it’s completely overused, but there’s a reason it’s overused—and that’s because when it worked, it really worked. Here’s an assortment of movies, TV shows, and books that revealed it was Earth All Along, and still managed to surprise us.

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Planet of the Apes

Planet of the Apes

Planet of the Apes (5/5) Movie CLIP - Statue of Liberty (1968) HD

It wasn’t the first time it was revealed to have been Earth All Along, but it’s certainly the most iconic, and the scene that led to so many copycats that the twist became a trope. When astronaut George Taylor (Charlton Heston) lands on a distant planet 2,000 years in the future, he’s appalled to be enslaved by a society of sentient ape-men. But he eventually sizes his freedom and escapes, only to discover the Statue of Liberty, submerged in sand up to its neck, revealing… well, it was Earth All Along, clearly decimated by some nuclear war in the past. A despairing, bitter Taylor sums it up perfectly: “You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you!”

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Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica | Where Have You Taken Us, Kara?

The ending of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica was… divisive, to say the least. After four seasons of searching for the mythical planet Earth, the final remnant of humanity lands on a barren, hostile, barely habitable planet destroyed by a nuclear war thousands of years ago. Suffice it to say, this bums everyone out. But when human-Cylon peace talks go awry, Kara “Starbuck” Thrace (Katee Sackhoff) uses Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” lyric “There must be some way out of here” as last-ditch coordinates to escape, they arrive at a lush planet they decide to call “Earth” in honor of the “original” Earth. Except it turns out all of these sci-fi shenanigans happened in the distant past instead of the far future, and people on the Galactica landed on what we know as our Earth. Remember how weird this show became?

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Agents of SHIELD

Agents of SHIELD

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 5x01 Ending - Apocalyptic Future Revealed

The fifth season of the MCU-adjacent-if-you-squint series began with Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and crew on a space station in the far future. But what the team slowly realized was that the space station had been carved into a large asteroid… which itself was a hunk of Earth, having been blown up sometime in the interim by Agent Daisy “Quake” Johnson (Chloe Bennet).

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The Shannara Series

The Shannara Series

SDCC Official First Look | The Shannara Chronicles: Now on Spike TV

When Terry Brooks’ The Sword of Shannara kicked off his long-running fantasy series in 1977, there was no reason to suspect its high fantasy world of elves, druids, and magic had a secret history, even if there was the occasional talk about “the Great Wars.” But 2006’s Genesis of Shannara series made it clear that Shannara was set in America’s Pacific Northwest (that’s the toppled Seattle Space Needle above), after an apocalypse caused by demons made elves come out of hiding. Interestingly, the 2016 TV series Shannara Chronicles, which adapted the first Shannara trilogy, revealed the connection early on.

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Doctor Who

Doctor Who

Orphan 55 is Earth! | Orphan 55 | Doctor Who

It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that the venerable Doctor Who franchise, in its myriad forms, has pulled the “Earth All Along” trope on numerous occasions. The most recent was in season 12 episode “Orphan 55,” when the Thirteenth Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and Team TARDIS decided to take a break at a futuristic spa. Unbeknownst to them thanks to some subtle teleportation, the spa was located on another planet, Orphan 55, a decimated wasteland full of monsters. It was, obviously, a far-future Earth, having been wrecked by climate disasters.

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The Twilight Zone

The Twilight Zone

Image for article titled 10 Times It Was Earth All Along
Screenshot: Paramount

Given that Rod Serling wrote the screenplay for Planet of the Apes and its iconic twist ending, it’s not surprising he used a very similar premise for one of his episodes of The Twilight Zone, titled “I Shot an Arrow Into the Air.” Three astronauts crash-land on a desert planet, where they begin in-fighting over their limited water, and two of the astronauts die in the chaos. The twist? The sole survivor eventually discovers they landed in modern-day Nevada, not far from Reno, and killed his crewmates for nothing.

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Adventure Time

Adventure Time

The Complete Adventure Time Timeline | Channel Frederator

The cool thing about Adventure Time—well, one of the many cool things about Adventure Time—is that it slowly became clearer that was seemed to be a fantasy land of shape-shifting dogs and sentient candy people was Earth after the “Great Mushroom War” mutated just about everything but a small group of humans. It’s a slow burn that begins when the addled Ice King says he picked up his magic crown in Scandinavia, something that could easily be dismissed as a gag. Instead, the show eventually shows what happened to turn Earth into Ooo, leading to flashbacks that serve as the show’s best and most heartbreaking episodes like “Remember You.”

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Justice League

Justice League

Superman Punches Vandal Savage Super Man

I’m not sure why a disintegrator beam built by the minor villain Toyman would transport Superman to a distant planet. I’m equally not sure why it would send Superman 30,000 years in the future, and I’m not sure the show’s writers of the 2003 Justice League episode “Hereafter” did either. But while the planet’s desolation and red sun confuse Superman at first, he eventually runs into the immortal Vandal Savage, who confesses he accidentally killed everyone on the planet. The repentant Savage then helps Superman return to his own time to prevent his mistakes.

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The Wheel of Time

The Wheel of Time

Image for article titled 10 Times It Was Earth All Along
Image: Amazon Studios

If you read all 14 of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time massive fantasy novels, you could be forgiven for never realizing the story of heteronormative magic, monsters, and ancient evils takes place on our Earth. As it turns out, however, “The Third Age” protagonist Rand al’Thor finds himself in is just a later epoch in the cyclical destiny determined by the Wheel, which will eventually spin back into our own era. The clues are extremely subtle, but Jordan has confirmed them: the Mercedes logo pops up as a mysterious relic, the mythical hero Lenn who “flew to the moon in the belly of an eagle made of fire” is astronaut John Glenn, and Queen Elsbet is Queen Elizabeth II, naturally. Head here for more examples.

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Transformers: Beast Wars

Transformers: Beast Wars

Beast Wars: Transformers - The End of Optimus Primal | Transformers Official

Any Transformers fan worth their Energon cubes knows that Beast Wars takes place on Earth in between the crash-landing of the original Transformers, such as Optimus Prime and Megatron, and their eventual awakening in the modern-day. But when they first arrived on the prehistoric planet, they had no idea because there were two moons overhead. Eventually, it was revealed the second “moon” was secretly an alien superweapon, which Optimus Primal gave his life to destroy. And when the classic, comatose Transformers were eventually discovered in the crashed ship, their location was no longer in doubt.


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