Any minor obstacle which causes a fleeing victim to fall or become slowed to allow a pursuer a better chance to catch up — a broken shoe heel, a tree root, a twisted ankle, a car that won't start, etc.
This trope dates back to the early days of movie-making and more often involves female characters, although males also had to be slowed down for some monsters. Frankenstein and the '40s-era mummy movies both featured monstrous characters unable to move faster than a walking pace. The Frankenstein movies were usually well-made enough so that the inability of human characters to run away from the monster might not be noticed. There were often scenes in films in which characters would run, run a bit more, and even enter a building and lock doors, and still inexplicably find the creature following right behind them and able to throttle them before they could sound an alarm or make a phone call.
In movies of the '20s and '30s, the Distressed Damsel could simply simper, act dizzy, and faint to let monsters catch up. The '50s were the heyday of wearing narrow-hemmed long skirts with spike heels. In these situations, moving over anything but smooth floors was difficult for the actress, so having her stumble, stagger, and trip over outdoor terrain made sense. Unless, of course, you asked why on Earth she would dress like that while investigating a potentially dangerous situation out of doors.
In modern horror films, "broken heel" situations tend to stand out more, as they have to be coupled with a communications blackout. That is, to be isolated enough for the monster to prey on them, the hapless quasi-teens have to be kept from running away, calling out on their cell phones, or flagging down a ride. In movies following the Friday the 13th stereotype, very often, most of the plot beyond that of the monster's killing attacks involves explaining the victim's isolation or watching the victim's attempts to break it in some manner. When the scriptwriter is desperate enough, Jason, Pumpkinhead, etc. will often just show up in front of the character for no reason other than that destiny (or the plot) demands it. This will even happen to a character who has been running directly away from the killer for several minutes.
Specific variations: Twisted Ankle, My Car Hates Me, Dramatic Slip. Help, I'm Stuck! is a similar situation where a character (otherwise able-bodied) is trapped in place directly in the path of some hazard and must be rescued.
See also: Offscreen Teleportation
Unrelated to Heel or Villainous Breakdown.
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Nike averted this trope in a commercial once (an athlete escapes chainsaw-wielding killer by outrunning him), and Moral Guardianscomplained because the girl was in her underwear.
A variation happens in One Piece, where Vivi's search for a Time Bomb that's about to explode is slowed down by one of her sandals breaking into pieces. She falls down and the other one slips off. Vivi can't use the ruined pair anymore and has to keep going barefoot.
There's a story where The Joker is well ahead of Batman as he runs from his abandoned Evil Lair, but a previous plot point has established that the beach onto which they're running is covered in oil. The Joker overcomes this, despite slipping a few times, and makes it to the Batmobile, planning to escape Batman in his own car. The car, however, won't start, and Batman catches up. Once he has the Joker in custody, Batman reveals that there's a hidden mechanism involved in starting the thing - there's some sort of mechanism attached to the radio which has to be set to read "BATMAN" before the car will start. Clearly, this was something he put in before this one story before dismissing it as too impractical, because how else would he start the damn thing so quickly in other stories?
I assumed he just changed the mechanism later, making it something much simpler and quicker, such as a particular code he'd send from his cowl or something, or perhaps he regularly changes it.
But neatly inverted in The Relic when the heroine, dressed for a fancy museum reception in a gown and heels, realizes she's been locked in a wing of the building with the monster and promptly removes her high-heeled shoes to go barefoot.
Likewise inverted in Crocodile Dundee when the character Sue, trying to catch up to Dundee before he gets on a subway, is slowed by her high heels. She takes them off, tosses them away, and starts sprinting.
Subverted in Diary of the Dead: in it, a woman is running from a zombie when her heel breaks and she falls. Since the camera is being held by one of the characters, she gets furious when he keeps filming instead of helping her. She throws her shoes at him, knocks out the zombie herself, then abandons the cameraman to his fate.
Not forgetting the lampshade at the start of the film questioning why women always seem to fall over in movies.
Subverted in Club Dread, where a female character struggles to get a golf cart started, and then does — only to discover it's so slow that the killer just has to walk a little faster to catch her.
Used straight in the airport scene of Red Eye where Rachel McAdams' high heels cause her to fall over in the terminal while fleeing said psycho. Of course, said heels don't actually break, allowing for heel-based pawnage to occur. Why she was trying to outrun a psychotic terrorist in high heels is another matter.
Happens again when Jackson is chasing Lisa through her father's house. This time, the heel actually breaks, and she stabs him with it.
Averted in Romancing the Stone, in which heroine Joan Wilder does this once, leading grizzled hero Jack Colton to grab her shoes and remove the heels. With a machete.
Joan: Is nothing I own sacred to you? Those were Italian!
Jack: Now they're practical.
Which is major Fridge Logic for those who know the engineering of high heels. If you tried to wear them sans heel you'd be walking around with your toes pointed nearly 90 degrees straight up.
The Scary Movie series parodies this very liberally, with the chasee tripping over everything dozens of times inside of 3 yards' distance.
The zombie flick Raiders of the Damned has a (barely) interesting male version. The beeftastic hero is running away from the zombies towards some kind of teleport thingy (the movie isn't really clear about it) that is going to close. He trips on a blade of grass and, rather than getting back up and running even faster, he continues forward on his belly. He doesn't make it and gets munched. And there was much rejoicing.
Apparently subverted then inverted quite neatly in Batman, when the Joker makes hostage Vicki Vale take off her high heels to subvert this as they both ascend to the eventual Climbing Climax at the top of the very, very tall Gotham Cathedral. The inversion is that because her heels were slowing her down until the Joker got rid of them, it was the hero who gained ground.
Subverted in Zombieland: When the ridiculously Genre Savvy Columbus drops his keys while trying to get into his car, he merely runs another lap around to get more distance between the zombies chasing him ("Cardio" being Rule #1 for him) and try again (only to learn that the car was unlocked anyways).
In the 2009 SyFy Original B-MovieInfestation, while hiding from the giant insects in a mall, Sara finds some sneakers and hands them to Cindy. Sara explains this trope and asks her to replace her high heels with the sneakers. Cindy refuses her advice, but surprisingly, she doesn't suffer a Broken Heel problem later.
Proper example from Friday the 13th films is Pam from Part V, as she is shown slipping on the mud when she's on the run.
Played with in the Discworld book Lords and Ladies, when Nanny Ogg remembers her youth, when she and Granny Weatherwax were being chased by men with...uh..."romantic" intentions across the fields: "She could outrun any man. Now me, I just tripped over the first old branch I came up to. Took me ages to find one, sometimes."
Subverted in the novel Shadowman where, when female lead Lissa breaks her heel walking through a marsh, she simply throws them away (we then get a brief, but...uh, detailed description of how the marsh feels on her bare feet.
Live Action TV
Inverted and spoofed in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy is retreating from Glory, an enemy who is stronger than Buffy and yet looks like a fashionable young woman. Glory breaks a heel, thus allowing Buffy to escape. (And, in her annoyance at this development, Glory stamps her foot—and shakes the foundation of the building she is in.)
Spike: I mean honestly, what kind of retard wears heels like that in a dark alley? Take two steps and break your bloody ankle.
Woman in alley:[annoyed] I was just trying to get home.
Spike: Well, get a cab, you moron!
Susan Foreman, the Doctor's granddaughter in Doctor Who, has this happen to her a lot. Apparently, the Gallifreyian superior physiology doesn't include the ankles.
A Kids in the Hall sketch featured some teenagers who were attempting to run from some slow, lurching zombies where the female kept breaking her heel at inappropriate moments, removing the offending shoe, and then breaking a magically reappearing shoe again moments later.
A couple of Mother Goose and Grimm comics had Grimm musing to Atilla about how women keep falling over him. Atilla then holds out a broken shoe heel and tells Grimm that it's because he kept chewing the heels off their shoes.
Lucas in Super Smash Bros. Brawl's "Subspace Emissary" where he trips on a root while running away from the Pig King Statue, somehow managing to get his leg caught underneath it, but is saved in a Big Damn Heroes Moment by Ness.
In Valkyria Chronicles, Welken and Alicia are thrown off a cliff by an artillery bombardment and have to cross through enemy-held territory to rendezvous with their comrades. Unfortunately, Alicia twisted her ankle in the fall, which makes dodging the enemy's patrols and random mortar fire that much more difficult.
The Pokémon move Grass Knot invokes this. It uses grass to trip the opponent. The amount of damage depends on the opponent's weight.
Lampshaded in the Angry Beavers Halloween special. The beavers and Toluca Lake are fleeing monsters when she falls over and breaks an ankle. A few seconds later, she breaks her other ankle, and finally breaks both of her ankles again.
Daggett: Why don't we just cut the darn things off?!
From the She-Ra: Princess of Power pilot film, The Secret of the Sword, while running from a monster, Bo trips over a vine (root?). Interesting how this plays out almost like if he were a girl (the more classic scenario), including how he just lies there waiting to get rescued instead of trying to get up and keep running. Although technically, the monster just offscreen teleported to in front of him anyway, so maybe he thought it was useless by that point to run anywhere.
Rings were issued to spies which had a small sharp hook for slashing tires. You presumably wouldn't have time to slash more than one if you were being chased, but it would buy time.