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.
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
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Anime & Manga
- Nephrite tries to kill Sailor Moon by sabotaging an elevator. Zoicite tries to do it to get rid of both her and Tuxedo Mask.
- 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.
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. and 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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...
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)