Elevator Failure

Talk about getting caught between floors.

Elevators (or lifts as they are called in the UK) are pretty mundane devices. They go up, they go down, and they move people and property vertically. The general rule of the elevator business is that, when their job is done right, you don't even notice the trip. There's a reason for this: because elevators carry people and improper operation can result in injury or death, there are various rules. Elevators have certain codes and requirements, generally have to be inspected every year, and will be ordered out of service if unsafe.

But sometimes, that's exactly what happens. Because of tampering, inadequate maintenance, or unusual environmental conditions, something goes wrong with an elevator, with very bad results. If you're lucky all that happens is you're Locked in a Room. If not, "going down"...

Can be used as a way to relieve sexual tension, especially if two people who seem to be incompatible share a big kiss!

Note that this trope deals with ordinary elevators that fail or are sabotaged by someone. When the elevator itself can make itself fail, that's not Elevator Failure, that's Evil Elevator.

Examples

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    Advertising 
  • One classic commercial had a well-dressed businessman get on the elevator and hide behind a newspaper; he notices an extremely hot young woman as one of the passengers and ... once the elevator car stalls and the power goes out, he attempts to make his move by saying, "I can't notice how attractive you are!" Only for a middle-aged man's voice to answer back in the dark, "Thank you very much!" Unknown to him (but known to the viewers), the sexy woman, along with a few other passengers, had gotten off at their floor; the man whose voice is heard gets on. The businessman, instead of hoping to get to grope a hottie, is now stuck in an elevator with a balding, mustached maintenance worker in his early-to-mid 50s wearing a work uniform!

    Anime & Manga 
  • Nephrite tries to kill Sailor Moon by sabotaging an elevator. Later Zoicite tries to do it to get rid of both Usagi and Mamoru, and her transforming into Sailor Moon in front of Mamoru to save both of them is what reveals her Secret Identity to him.
  • A similar trap was used in Futari wa Pretty Cure, with one of the villains cutting the wires of an elevator that the heroines were standing on top on... and that was full of people. Honoka ties up a wire around her waist and tries to use her legs to make the fall slower and Nagisa joins her; they succeed.
  • The Teddy Bomber tries to kill Spike and Andy in the Cowboy Bebop episode "Cowboy Funk" with a sabotaged elevator; instead of plummeting to the bottom, it's rigged to go to the top of the building, causing a bomb to explode. Andy anticipated this scenario and changed the codes on the elevator controls so he could stop it; unfortunately so did Spike, making them what the bomber set originally.
  • In Cardcaptor Sakura, Eriol magically traps Sakura and Li in an elevator to force Sakura into transforming the Clow cards into Sakura cards. The results are adorable. But not before Sakura is apparently swallowed by a sorta black hole, which makes Li panic and scream her name (which he had never done before)... and then Sakura saves herself via transforming the card she needed and returns to him.
  • Given an horrible spin in Tokyo Babylon. Shinji Nagumo deliberately tampers with an elevator and then gets in alongside his boss. It plummets down and almost crashes — which is exactly what Nagumo wanted, as due to him being Born Lucky, he ends up surviving... and the boss, an old rich man with a weak heart, dies of cardiac failure induced by the massive terror he felt when the lift failed.
  • The cause of Sanae Mizuno's death in Another.
  • The second arc of Shinjuku Dx D deals with this trope. In short, a quack doctor, a rookie detective, a pregnant woman, a Yakuza, a repairman, a high school girl, and an old lady happened to walk in the same elevator when an earthquake happened and trapped them inside. Unfortunately, the pregnant woman is in pain and about to give birth leading to the protagonist and the other passengers having to perform the operation with no basic equipment except for what they have.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • A View to a Kill features James Bond and Stacy Sutton stuck in one of these — made more dangerous as the Big Bad (Christopher Walken) has just firebombed the thing.
  • Devil is about five people who get trapped in an elevator by none other than the Devil himself, who slowly kills each one off.
  • In Die Hard:
    • John McClane drops a chair with C-4 explosive tied to it down a shaft in order to kill some terrorists on a lower floor.
    • Because a bomb blew up the roof of the building, an elevator stops on the floor John McClane is on, with a little "ding", and instead of the doors opening the elevator explodes.
  • In Earthquake:
    • A dam inspection elevator has been flooded, and when an inspector uses it, he never comes back. Two other men call for the elevator to go look for him, only to have the elevator open, dumping a full cab of water on them and the man's body. This is later lampshaded when someone says they shouldn't panic over the incident, and one of the other inspectors responds sarcastically, "Yeah, right, people drown in elevators every damn day."
    • An elevator in a highrise fails, and an aftershock knocks it off the rails, causing it to plummet, killing the passengers.
  • The aptly named Romanian film Elevator is about two teenagers that get trapped in an abandoned warehouse elevator, with no one who can hear them and rescue them. The movie ends with both characters hopelessly expecting to die inside.
  • Variation in Mission: Impossible: one of Ethan's crew is atop an elevator. Someone (later revealed to be the team boss) hacks the elevator to make it go straight up into triggered spikes.
  • In Speed, a man wires the cables on an elevator with explosives, blows them (while people are on the elevator), then wants $3 million or he blows the emergency brakes.
  • The Towering Inferno has:
    • Several firefighters have to climb out of an elevator and rappel down after power fails.
    • Some people take an elevator after being told not to take it, because it could stop on the floor where the fire is. It does exactly that, and they are burned to death.
    • The glass elevator needs to be rewired so it can be lowered after the power fails, but it is knocked off its rail. It ends up being cut loose and lowered by helicopter.
  • Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Mrs Smith lures her husband into an elevator on a construction site and places radio-detonated charges on the cables and brakes. The bombs go off and apparently kill him, but Mr Smith was actually in a different elevator.
  • Kate & Leopold. The running joke of the film was that elevators are always on the fritz due to the fact that Leopold Montbatten, Duke of Albany was displaced in time and never had a chance to inspire Elisha Otis to invent the safety elevator. This also became a plotpoint as a character failed to deliver an important message because he fell down an elevator shaft (he lived).
  • In Damian Omen II, a doctor finds evidence of jackal blood in Damian's blood sample. As he is taking the sample slide to a colleague, his elevator mysteriously takes him first up, then near freefall drop to the bottom of the shaft, knocking him off his feet. As he recovers, the audience sees the cross cable go right through the car, bisecting everything.
  • Elevated: The elevator breaks down completely at one point due to a power break.

    Gamebooks 
  • Occasionally used in the Give Yourself Goosebumps series. The books were fonder of Evil Elevator, but there were a few endings where you would fall down an elevator shaft while running from a monster, or similar.

    Literature 
  • Arthur Hailey's Hotel! culminates with a poorly maintained hotel elevator falling down, snapping in two and dropping some of the passengers through the hole to injury or death.
    • In Overload, a nurse and a janitor get stuck in an elevator during the climactic power outage. Problem is, the nurse works for a paraplegic woman whose wheelchair got drained of power when they were shopping earlier, and the nurse forgot to change it for the charged one before she stepped out, simply plugging in the chair. The pair even try to go out through the hatch, and fail. The narration points out that even if they had made it out, they'd still be stuck in the shaft. The nurse starts crying when she remembers the battery, and the woman eventually asphyxiates.
  • The Father Brown story "The Eye of Apollo" deals with the mystery of a body found at the bottom of the elevator shaft. The solution is that she was blind, and the murderer tricked her into thinking the elevator was there, and she fell down the shaft.
  • Inverted in Agatha Christie's Towards Zero: the murderer places an "out of order" sign on the elevator, so the elderly victim takes the stairs instead, and suffers a heart attack.
  • In of the Alex Rider novels, a contract killer kills his target by sabotaging his elevator, causing it to go up one floor higher than it normally would and then leaving a sophisticated hologram of the elevator in it's place, causing the target to step into the empty shaft and fall to his death.
  • Sweet Valley University, a spin-off of Sweet Valley High, had a book called "The Roommate" that copied the plot of Single White Female, where Isabella acquires a roommate who begins imitating her and taking over her life. At the end of the story the roommate falls to her death down an elevator shaft during a psychotic episode.
  • In the first Dresden Files novel, Storm Front, Dresden is escaping from a giant scorpion in his office building, and is carrying a wounded comrade and can't take the stairs. But because, as a wizard, he's a Walking Techbane, the elevator fails halfway down. Dealing with the scorpion involves smashing the elevator against the roof, then the floor of the shaft, and the resulting wreck regains power just long enough to open on the ground floor. (It's that kind of series.) A few books later, it's mentioned that the repairs raised the rent on everyone in the building.
  • Due to hexes, the elevator in Fancy Apartments keeps failing, one time stopping in-between floors.
  • Affected by Iris's jinx, the elevator in The Woman Who Made Machines Go Haywire keeps sending her to the wrong floor.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Criminal Minds episode "Scared To Death", Reid, Morgan and Hotch are investigating an apartment. While Reid and Morgan ride an elevator, Hotch (wisely) takes the stairs. It gets stuck, and then proceeds to drop suddenly. They hit the emergency button, Morgan tries to pry the door open, Reid panics, and they both scream (well, Reid squeaks) for Hotch before it finally opens and they stumble out. Which can be seen here.
    Hotch: Was that the alarm? You guys okay?
    Reid: I'll get back to you on that.
  • In an episode of L.A. Law, Rosalind Shays turns to step into the elevator, but it was an error. The bell went off and the door opened, but the car wasn't there and she stepped into an empty elevator shaft.
  • One episode of Castle had the protagonist (who was paranoid about being cursed by an ancient Mayan Emperor at the time) get trapped in a broken elevator, which goes pitch black and then creepily green.
  • The iCarly episode iSaw Him First has the girls fighting over a guy, and at the end he gets fed up and leaves... accidentally stepping into an empty elevator shaft. Believe it or not, it's Played for Laughs.
  • On Friends, Joey's character is killed off Days of Our Lives when he falls down an elevator shaft. Of course, it's a soap opera, so he comes back to life.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation
    • In one episode, alien programming starts to take over the computer, causing numerous problems. When Geordi La Forge takes a turbolift (an elevator that can also travel sideways), he ends up violently thrown around and pinned to the walls and ceiling. When it finally comes to a stop, he is thrown violently out of the turbolift and onto the bridge.
    • In another episode, the Enterprise encounters a quantum filament, causing massive damage throughout the ship. When it hits Captain Picard is in the turbolift with three children (a situation he wasn't exactly thrilled about to begin with), and the impact is so violent he breaks his leg. Later on they discover that one of the safety clamps has been damaged, forcing all four to climb out before the turbolift plummets to the bottom of the shaft.
  • In one episode of 1000 Ways to Die, a mean office manager suffers a Karmic Death this way. While attempting to escape from a stopped elevator, the brakes fail and she is crushed/bisected.
    • In another episode, an accountant is faking paralysis, complete with motorized wheelchair, in a workplace-injury scam. His secretary catches him standing in his office, and he, getting in the chair, chases her into a elevator. The doors close, and he slams into and through the elevator doors, plunging to his death. (Presumably the woman was going up instead of down.)
  • In one episode of Boy Meets World, Cory has a nightmare where he pushes all of his friends down an empty elevator shaft.
  • Jam has a sketch where an office elevator breaks down, but because the security guard has a speech impediment, he isn't able to warn people in time and they all plunge screaming to their deaths.
  • One episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show has Rob and Laura (pregnant in a flashback) mugged while in an elevator. The mugger simply pressed the stop button on the elevator so he could hold them up, but pressing the resume button does nothing. The entire episode is devoted to Rob, Laura, and the mugger trying to find a way out and hoping Laura doesn't go into labor while in the stopped elevator. At one point the mugger reads the inspection record of the elevator and finds that just this year they switched inspectors. Dick even climbs out the top of the elevator but only reads a sarcastic comment left by the building workers.
    Rob: In [year], John Freeny laid these bricks. I want to wish you lots of luck, cause if you're reading this you're stuck!
  • In the CSI episode "CSI Unplugged", Hodges and Henry get stuck in the elevator when the lab and all of Las Vegas loses power.
  • In the Bones episode "The Blackout in the Blizzard", Bones and Booth are stuck in an old elevator in Booth's apartment building.
  • Ziva and McGee are trapped in the NCIS episode "Power Down".
  • Bud takes the elevator not realizing it is malfunctioning in the JAG episode "Yeah Baby".
  • Happens to Chuck in the Early Edition episode "Baby".
  • Monk: In the episode "Mr. Monk and the Blackout", Monk and his date, power company spokeswoman Michelle Rivas, get trapped in an elevator when radicalist Winston Brenner blows up a power plant. Monk ends up deliriously pressing the lobby button over and over, and panics.
  • Magnum and Higgins in the Magnum, P.I. episode "Paper War".
  • In Modern Family's third-season episode "Tableau Vivant", Mitchell is stuck in an elevator with its doors not quite closed right after Phil finally tells him he's fired.
  • In The Big Bang Theory, the elevator in Sheldon, Leonard and Penny's building is always out of service. In the flashback episode, Leonard reveals that he accidentally blew it up.
  • Happens on The Nanny to the resident bitch Cece Babcock. Call it Laser-Guided Karma if you will... but this was just after her inadvertant night with the butler Niles, leaving them both in doubt about their "relationship" for a while, but upon hearing she was in danger, Niles immediately tried to reach her, and she admitted that she did love him after all. Cue Niles forcing the doors open BY HAND.
  • Happened in an episode of the Australian series Police Rescue, leading to real-life elevator repairmen to write in complaining of the technical inaccuracies involved.
  • Oz. There have been a couple of murders involving service elevators at the prison; in one a corrupt police officer was pushed down the shaft after the doors were forced open, on another the man was repairing the elevator and it was lowered on his head.
  • Doctor Who. In "The Caves of Androzani", Corrupt Corporate Executive Morgus shoves the President of Androzani Major down the empty elevator shaft of his private lift. He then has the lift maintenance engineer shot for negligence.
  • Babylon 5 has the 3rd season episode Convictions where a Mad Bomber's attack damages an elevator trapping Londo and G'Kar. Londo is ready to work together to escape, but G'Kar is perfectly happy to sit and do nothing as it will mean Londo's death. Much to G'Kar's chagrin, they are eventually rescued.
  • On an episode of The Bob Newhart Show, Bob steps into an empty shaft. He hangs onto the cable, but for the rest of the episode is obsessing over his mortality.

    Tabletop Games 
  • One Paranoia mission uses malfunctioning elevators to the 99th floor as a Running Gag. One has the walls and ceiling rise, while the floor stays in place; another is airtight and slow, leaving the PCs to choose between laser-ventilating the wall (and paying a fine for damaging Computer property) or each other...

    Pinball 
  • During "Elevator Madness" in WHO dunnit, the game shows a plummeting elevator car.

    Video Games 
  • In Half-Life, an elevator carrying some scientists falls, carrying them to their deaths. Elevator failures happen in other parts of the game as well.
    • Barney Calhoun is assigned to fix one in Blue Shift. Go ahead, take a guess to what happens after that.
  • Final Fantasy VIII had this in Balamb Garden during the evacuation and your party had to use the hatch on the bottom to advance The elevator will fall down immediately after they leave.
  • At one point in Red Faction, an elevator malfunctions and falls into a Bottomless Pit, forcing you to find an alternate route.
  • Happens a few times in the Max Payne games.
  • In Gears of War, Marcus Fenix lampshades this tendency in his typical style at around the end of Gears Of War 2.
    Marcus: "Unbelievable."
  • In Dead Rising 2, during the beginning of the zombie outbreak, Somebody disguised as Chuck Green places an explosive device on one of the zombie gates that goes off releasing yet another zombie outbreak and when Chuck is on the elevator it suddenly stops in the overtures to the outbreak. Upon forcing the doors open, he almost gets stuck in front of a rampaging zombie coming right at him, but as luck would have it somebody runs right into it and becomes the new target of the zombie, saving Chuck.
  • This happens in Dead Island at the start when you're escaping from the hotel.
  • The elevator you spent a rather long time trying to fix in Amnesia: The Dark Descent only fails on you and crashes.
  • This can happen in The Sims 2 - the elevator a sim is in can crash to the bottom, and the unfortunate sim gets a rather large penalty to needs.
  • In the Source Engine Mod Elevator: Source, the lift can fail at certain floors and the player(s) and any NPCs on the lift will fall onto another lift below it unharmed.
  • Several variations in the Mass Effect series:
    • Minor example in Mass Effect 1, where the elevator to the top of Citadel Tower fails During Sovereign's assault on the Citadel. In this case, the elevator merely gets stuck, and Shepard's team simply goes out through a hole in the side of the elevator and begin running up the side of the tower.
    • Comes up in one of the Mass Effect 2 DL Cs, Project Overlord. Shepard takes an elevator down to a basement level, and if the player calls the elevator again to go back, they'll hear a recorded message about a "brake failure", shortly before the elevator crashes violently down, destroying itself.
    • In Mass Effect 3, this ends up happening back and forth in a sort of elevator duel during Cerberus's raid on the Citadel, with two opposing forces fighting their way up an elevator shaft and trying to blast the elevators out from under each other.
  • One portion of Tomb Raider Chronicles has you ride an elevator to the top floor, only for it to stop and open up on a floor full of armed guards. When you try to close the doors, the elevator suddenly starts to plummet and if you don't hit the emergency brakes in time, the elevator crashes and you die on impact.

    Web Comics 
  • Irrelevator is based on this, well this and bizarre things happening at the same time.

    Web Original 
  • Villain Source (Your Online Source For Everything Evil) naturally offers the Elevator of Despair for any high-rise Supervillain Lair, to dispose of meddlesome do-gooders.
  • The Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse episode "Stuck With You" reveals that Barbie's elevator can only hold one doll at a time. If another doll tries to join the ride, they both become stuck in between the Dreamhouse's first and second floors.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • When this happens in Real Life, it can be pretty gruesome (the article is completely non-graphic)
  • Stuck elevator turned Drowning Pit due to broken water main.
  • In general, engineers are hard at work to make this as much a Discredited Trope as possible. Modern elevators have at least 6 cables, and each individual cable can support 150% of the elevator's listed maximum load (though the motor itself still can't carry that much). If all the cables fail, automatic hydraulic brakes and/or springs are there to slow your descent to a non-lethal velocity. This was investigated on Mythbusters when they were trying to see how a woman whose elevator ride took a plunge in the Empire State Building several decades ago managed to survive. (In her case, it also helped that the cables coiled under the elevator when it landed, absorbing some of the shock.)
  • On 9/11 Several elevators in the World Trade Center fell down due to cables and safety systems getting melted away by the extreme heat of Jet Fuel fire. Several people believed there were explosions at the ground lobby level (fueling the conspiracy theories) but it was later revealed to be the elevators crashing down after falling down hundreds of feet. It's unclear if or how many people were riding them at the time. It's one of the reasons why evacuations procedures always insist to use the stairs.
  • This was the unfortunate end of a significant number of girls trapped in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911. Several dozen people rushing a freight elevator in a panic, coupled with more people jumping down the shaft from the upper floors spelled a recipe for total disaster.


Alternative Title(s):

Failevator