(a) on top of the elevator
(b) under the elevator
(c) doing a Ceiling Cling
(d) already on this floor by another route
(e) something even worse. Depending on the context, the supposed occupant of the elevator may be the hero (in which case there'll be at least a platoon's worth of weaponry pointed at, or possibly already emptied into, the door when it opens), the villain or the monster.
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Anime and Manga
- Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. In the first episode of 2nd Gig, a terrorist has a look of surprise when the lift opens to reveal an empty elevator, only to be shot in the face by Batou who's wearing thermoptic camouflage. Incidentally Batou isn't happy at being ordered to go up in the elevator; the only reason the Major told him to do so was because the terrorists were expecting the attack to come via the roof or stairs, and had the hostages there as a Human Shield, plus she used a ghost-hacked terrorist to kill most of the other terrorists waiting in ambush. The scene serves as Bookends when Batou and the Major use the empty elevator trope to assassinate the Big Bad in the final episode, sniping him from an unexpected direction when he's surrounded by CIA bodyguards.
- Leon/The Professional ("Someone's coming up. Someone serious.") (The hero's not in it, but as in Die Hard he has placed one of the bad guys in there instead.)
- Averted in X-Men Origins: Wolverine - they're in the elevator, right in the firing line of two dozen mooks with automatic weapons. So they send in the Merc with the Mouth to "clean up" first.
- In Time Chasers, Nick and Lisa evade the bad guys this way. The Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew are not particularly impressed: "They took the stairs! They're masters of evasion!"
- Men in Black II: J, K and the worm guys arrive back at MIB Central, and the garbage can robot neatly peppers the elevator they arrive in with bullets... but they're all doing a Ceiling Cling.
- Played with in The Silence of the Lambs. In search for Lecter, the police find an already empty elevator.
- In Deep Rising, the mercenaries are searching through the abandoned cruise ship looking for any passengers or crew members, but none can be found. Then the elevator activates, and they can see it moving to their floor. They keep their weapons aimed at the door, but it's empty. Except for the blood-covered walls inside the elevator, that is.
- Resident Evil: Afterlife. The Umbrella Corporation mooks are pointing their guns at the elevator while Alice slips out of a roof vent behind them. In Resident Evil: Retribution as the elevator pad descends to the level of the waiting mooks, a round frizbee-like gadget is tossed out which fires bullets in all directions. The infiltrators turn out to be lying flat on the pad so the bullets don't kill them.
- Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home: In 20th Century San Francisco, Kirk et al are being chased through a hospital by cops. Our heroes beat the cops to the elevator. In an attempt to head them off, the cops rush down the stairs and wait for the elevator to arrive on a lower floor. As the elevator doors open, the cops draw their guns and yell "freeze!" But the elevator is empty; Kirk and co have been beamed away by Scotty in the nick of time.
- Batman Forever: Two-Face's men blast away at the elevator which arrives at their floor, perforating the door and riddling its interior with bullets. The doors open to reveal — nothing. Three seconds later, Batman bursts out, starting the first fight scene. It's not explained how he avoided the gunfire, although he probably just hid above the car.
- Outpost: Rise of the Spetsnaz. A corridor full of German guards wait nervously for Dolokhov to come up to their level, but the doors open to reveal a huge Berserker zombie who immediately attacks them. Dolokhov had ducked into the roof hatch to escape the zombie, so he just drops back into the elevator when the shooting stops, and finishes off the zombie who's now crawling after having killed everyone in the corridor and soaked up all their bullets.
- Raw Deal. After the mobsters use up all their ammo shooting up the Empty Elevator, Arnold Schwarzenegger enters by sliding down the ventilation shaft.
- The Art of War (2000). The villain is in a hall of elevators, which start opening at random around him one by one. The hero then steps out from the end of the corridor, not having been in the elevator at all, so it was apparently just done for Mind Screw.
- Jason Bourne. A hit team is climbing a stairwell around a cage elevator. They peer closely at the elevator as it passes and see Bourne isn't there, not realising that Bourne is actually riding the elevator counterweight.
- The Stone Killer (1973). The mercenaries sent to kill several mobsters are hanging beneath the elevator using abseiling gear. Once the mobsters have reached their floor and the doors close, they climb in through the service hatch, enter the room and kill everyone. The mercenaries are shown rehearsing for the attack using a dummy elevator in their training camp in the desert.
- The Executioner. In "Tiger War", some drug soldiers are on the top floor of a warehouse, and the only way up is a slow service elevator. Mack Bolan sends up a wheelbarrow packed with explosives, with a large sign saying ULTIMATUM attached to it. When Bolan hears the elevator reach the top floor, he activates the detonator.
- In Thief of Time, The Auditors are waiting for their adversaries to come to them in an elevator. They don't.
- In the second season finale of Being Human, Kemp and one of his men watch the elevator descend expecting Mitchell to be there for them to kill. The door opens to reveal a dead body while Mitchell reveals himself elsewhere in the compound.
- Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor does this to fool the guards in "The Deadly Assassin." Quoth Castellan Spandrell (basically a police commissioner):
"Well done, Hilred! You are trying to confuse him, I take it?"
- Person of Interest.
- In "Last Call", a gang of kidnappers start shooting the moment the lift doors open to reveal a suit...on a coat hanger. Cue kneecapping by the Man in the Suit, who came up the stairs.
- In "Prophets", several mooks are waiting for Root in a hotel lobby. First the L appears in one lift indicator, then in all the others. After several lifts open at once a smoke grenade rolls out, eventually followed by Root when the lobby is full of smoke.
- In Heroes episode "Five Years Gone," Matt Parkman and a group of guards wait with guns pointed for Hiro to come out of the elevator, but when the doors open, Hiro is nowhere to be found.
- During the Asgard Manor section of Max Payne, there is a point when Max sees an elevator coming up, the doors open, and it's empty. And then a grenade flies out of it. The enemy is actually on top of the elevator carriage, and jumps down through the trapdoor after the grenade explodes.
- The opening cut-scene in Perfect Dark's second mission shows a soldier guarding an elevator. Suddenly the door opens... but the guard doesn't see Joanna hiding on the ceiling, and when he goes to investigate, she knocks him out.
- Near the end of Batman: Arkham City, Batman rides an elevator up to the observation deck of Wonder Tower. The Big Bad's henchmen are waiting at the top with guns pointed at the doors. Fortunately, the access hatch is open, allowing Batman to climb out of the car and walk out onto the glass canopy above the armed henchmen and perform a takedown.
- In Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness, Michael has to thwart Cipher's raid on ONBS. During this, he gets on an elevator and rides it up a level - the elevator is completely empty when he boards, but when he leaves, there's a Peon right behind him!
- Hitman: Blood Money has a specific mechanic whereby you can climb onto the roof of any lift in the game to achieve this effect, in probable homage to Leon/The Professional.