Stairs are one of the oldest human inventions, and one that tends to be suited uniquely to a creature with multipedal locomotion using legs of roughly human length. Creatures with differing forms of locomotion sometimes have... trouble with them. Hence this trope.
For some reason this is often the case with hostile robots, but it's not required to be either hostile or a robot to count as this trope, just a creature or device that logically will often be called upon to deal with stairs, yet has a great deal of trouble navigating them.
Bonus points if the creature attempts to navigate the stairs anyway
, resulting in a Staircase Tumble
. Extra bonus points if it is actually destroyed in the resulting fall, or disabled so thoroughly that The Hero
can dispatch it at his leisure.
A subtrope of Weaksauce Weakness
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- The ED-209 in Robocop. Justified in-story, as it was a poorly-conceived design in several ways, which is why the project was abandoned in favor of the titular character.
- Averted in-story, but in full force in Real Life, on the set of Star Wars. In The Empire Strikes Back, C3PO technically couldn't use the stairs, and the filmmakers "cheated" by having the human characters walk down, the camera would lose 3PO for a second, and he'd rejoin them from behind once they passed the stairs. Attack of the Clones shows R2D2 getting slowed down by Naboo city steps, but he still manages to keep up with the humans. Also see the LEGO Star Wars example in Video Games below.
- In The Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort has to descend a flight of stairs while so high on quaaludes that he's crawling on the ground. He rolls himself down the stairs.
- The anti-heroic Torture Technician Inquisitor Glotka in The First Law, was himself previously the victim of debilitating torture, with the result that while he can use stairs, it causes him agonizing pain, since his torturers smashed bones in his legs and feet and cut off his toes. He jokes to himself that if he could torture any man, it would be the inventor of stairs (and that if he could shake the hands of any man, it would be the inventor of chairs).
- The Golem King in Terry Pratchett's Feet of Clay. Golems are invulnerable unstoppable robotic killing machines created by an alchemical marriage of magic and pottery. There is just one drawback: they are far too heavy for a normal set of stairs to take without collapsing.
Live Action TV
- A Running Gag about the Daleks in Doctor Who.
- Subverted, however, in "Remembrance of the Daleks." The first episode cliffhanger was the Doctor fleeing up the stairs and thinking he was safe from the Dalek chasing him, only for him to start levitating up the stairs after him.
- Enforced subverted in "Dalek", where the Doctor tells folks the pursuing Dalek won't be able to follow them up the stairs. The Dalek announces "EL-E-VATE!" and begins levitating up them. This was put in after one of the writers asked his girlfriend why she thought the Daleks made rather pathetic villains in the original show, and she told him how easy they were to foil.
- Paranoia supplement Acute Paranoia. The Playing Robots chapter allowed the creation of robot PCs. One of the movement options was "wheels", and the text noted that robots with wheels couldn't go up stairs.
- The robot Claptrap in Borderlands. In the second game, this is pointed out, and the player is forced to use a crane to hoist him.
- The Star Wars examples under Film above actually get carried over into the LEGO Star Wars games where droid characters like C3PO can't jump or navigate stairs Many levels have sections that require the player to go through an elaborate puzzle solving process in order to move the droids across the area that the human characters can easily jump or climb a staircase to access.
- In Pokémon X and Y this is why you can't make off with the Skiddo at the place where you can ride them. They jump ledges but can't do the stairs just outside the broken fence area.
- On Pelswick, the school bully picks on Pelswick as the favored target, but knows he can't use physical force on a kid in a wheelchair and opts toward psychological abuse. One of his methods was to jump on top of a staircase so Pelswick couldn't follow.
- In The Simpsons episode "Grift of the Magi", Bart injures himself and is forced to use a wheelchair. He finds it difficult to enter the school due to the stairs, since Principal Skinner can't afford a ramp system. Enter Fat Tony of the Springfield Mafia, who offers to build one with his construction outfit, "Valdezzo Bros. Olive Oil". By the time an inauguration ceremony is held for the needlessly complex ramp system, Bart's suddenly healed enough to have no more use of the wheelchair, rendering the whole effort a waste. Skinner pats a ramp in confidence that at least they're ready for "the new millennium", only for the whole ramp system to collapse. It turns out it was built out of breadsticks, paint, and shellac. The mob has conned the school out of $200,000, resulting in its closure.
- Played for Laughs in X-Men: Evolution when Professor X (who is, famously, paralyzed from the waist down) talks to Jean about overcoming limitations... and then finds himself at the top of a staircase.
- The Roomba. Justified considering how costly it would be to engineer that ability into them. Some of the more advanced models can at least be programmed to avoid them.
- Wheelchairs. Fortunately, various workarounds exist.
- Racing greyhounds have to be stair-trained after retirement, because being caged means they don't learn as puppies.
- It is commonly said that cows can go up stairs, but they can't go down stairs, due to the design of their knees. This is only partially true; cows can go down stairs, but not very long ones or they lose their balance. Many other ungulates such as sheep and horses hate stairs for the same reason, and thus are reluctant to use them.