Game of Chicken

"The hard part about playing chicken is knowing when to flinch."
Captain Bart Mancuso, The Hunt for Red October

The classic example. Two men head toward each other, driving cars. The first to turn away is the chicken. If neither turns... well, you get the idea.

A similar scenario occurs with two guys driving their cars toward the edge of a cliff at high speed. Whichever driver stops closest to the edge of the cliff without going over wins the other driver's car. If either driver doesn't (or both drivers don't) stop in time...

There are other variations, like standing on a railroad track bridge over water as a train comes (whoever jumps first is chicken) or stalling your cars on the tracks as the train comes (whoever hits the gas first is chicken) but all are incredibly dangerous.

It goes without saying Do Not Try This at Home! Fatal accidents can - and have - happened to people who tried this.

Compare Wronski Feint.


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    Anime And Manga 
  • Shotaro Kaneda, as the leader of the Capsules, plays chicken with the leader of the Clowns in Katsuhiro Otomo's AKIRA. This is done on a highway of Neo-Tokyo upon motorcycles at 150 kmh (88 mph).
  • In My Monster Secret, Akane wants chocolates from the local Supreme Chef. Her great-granddaughter, Akari, wants to punish her by feeding her chocolates from the school's numerous Lethal Chefs. Where does the game of chicken come in, you ask? Akane is a stupidly powerful demon, and summons an asteroid that will destroy the Earth if she doesn't get what she wants or is defeated. So while the rest of the world is sending failed space teams to destroy the asteroid, despairing about the end of the world and altogether looking like your standard disaster movie, the main characters are feeding a little girl really REALLY bad chocolate. In the end, Akane finally loses consciousness, and the asteroid veers off course, saving the world. It's that kind of series, yeah.

  • In Calvin and Hobbes, two airplanes do this trying to land on the same runway in one of Calvin's toy-inspired fantasy sequences.
    • In another strip, Calvin asks his mom if he can learn how to skydive. His mother responds, "Why not just play chicken on the railroad tracks? That would be an easier way to toy with death, I'm sure."

  • RoboCop 2. During the Motorcycle Jousting between Robocop on a cycle and Cain in an armored car, the two drive straight at each other. Robocop ends up going through the armored car's windshield and grabbing Cain. Well, technically, Robocop's risk was much lower than in most cases here, but still...
  • This comes up in one of the first Herbie The Love Bug film. Herbie's driver chickens out but Herbie doesn't, so the driver can't turn the wheel to get out of the way of the other car.
  • In Rebel Without a Cause the game is to drive towards the edge of a cliff and see who will jump out first.
  • Parodied in Last Action Hero, where this works in the movie world that Jack Slater, a Captain Ersatz of John McClane, inhabits, but not in the real world.
    • Danny at one point attempts this on the villains car...on a bike. He tries to rationalize it that since this a movie and he's a good guy, it has to work. He then realizes (almost too late) that he's not The Hero, he's the Plucky Comic Relief so it won't work.
  • Invoked in Groundhog Day. Phil Connors, upon realizing he can do anything he wants with no consequences, pretends to play chicken with an oncoming train, scaring the hell out of the passengers in the car. "I'm betting he's going to swerve first."
  • Gattaca has a variant that brothers Vincent and Anton would play many times growing up. They both swam into the ocean, and the loser was whoever first said it was time to swim back. Vincent ended up winning their last two races in spite of his "genetic inferiority"); at the end of the film, he explains that he won because he never saved any energy for the return trip.
  • Ingeniously invoked in Touchstone Pictures' Pearl Harbor, where boyhood friends Rafe McCawley and Danny Walker played chicken in propeller airplanes, learning to avoid disaster by each pilot banking hard left, turning the planes' wings almost vertical. During the fateful attack on 7 December 1941, they use this tactic while being pursued by Japanese fighters. While McCawley and Walker dodge each other successfully, their pursuers slam into each other at speed.
  • Second Smokey and the Bandit movie featured the world's biggest game of chicken. It was squad cars versus diesel trucks.
  • The cliff variant is used in Grease 2 to show how crazy one fellow is.
    • The scene is parodied in High School High.
  • The final confrontation with Rosta and the main characters of Red Heat involves them going against each other with buses in a game of chicken.
  • Alien Nation shows off what happens when neither side flinches.
  • In The Heavenly Kid, the cliff variant is how Bobby dies in the opening scene, and towards the end he learns that his son Lenny is fated to die in the same way.
  • The Establishing Character Moment for Mad Max in the first movie. The psychotic and high-as-a-kite Nightrider has gleefully driven his Main Force Patrol pursuers off the road, then finds himself faced by Max's Pursuit Special speeding down the highway directly at him. The Nightrider swerves first, and when Max turns round and starts ramming his tail, he's reduced to blubbering fear. Later while on his Roaring Rampage of Revenge, Max uses this trope as a weapon by driving at several bikers as they're crossing a bridge, so they've got no room to dodge.
  • King Solomon's Mines. A German pilot thinks he's in this trope when faced by a plane piloted by Jesse Huston; unfortunately she's so scared she's holding her hands over her eyes, so doesn't even realise what's happening. Despite his Badass Boast that he won't turn away first, he wisely does so.
  • Condorman: During the first chase scene, a KGB driver takes a shortcut to get ahead of Woody's car and charges him head-on, apparently hoping to force him off the road. Instead, Woody activates an angled forward-mounted shield that serves as a ramp, vaulting the enemy vehicle over his car and into an explosive collision with the car behind him.
  • In The 51st State, Corrupt Cop Kane has McElroy and Desouza trapped in an alleyway. They respond by driving straight at him. At first, he charges forward, yelling "Come on, then! Come on!", but McElroy makes it clear that he's not stopping. Kane loses his nerve, stops and gets shoved out of the way by Desouza's car and in front of an oncoming truck for his trouble.
  • Footloose has a memorable scene (set to Holding Out for a Hero) in which new kid Ren is up against The Bully Chuck in a game of chicken (which also happens to be a Cock Fight) played on tractors. Ren wins, not because he's braver than Chuck but because his shoelace gets caught on the gas pedal.

  • A common joke is two Scottish (or whoever fits the local stereotype of that kind) betting for a small sum who will stay longer underwater. Both drown.

  • In Legacy of the Drow Series it is mentioned that house Oblodra has a small population because people there like playing the game with levitation spells. Two people float over the abyss. The first one to return to solid ground is the loser. More often than not, neither does.
  • In Isaac Asimov's Mirror Image (from The Caves of Steel series), two mathematicians aboard a starship accuse each other of stealing an important discovery. Should they make it to their destination (and therefore, an official investigation), both will have their reputations ruined. Therefore, the innocent one is as likely to admit guilt as the guilty, and the guilty is likely to admit it in such a fashion that he will look innocent. Elijah Baley actually calls it a game of intellectual chicken. The Robots of Dawn show that the entire Auroran politics work on that principle - Spacers have extreme aversion to conflict, so the whole dispute always comes to an attempt by the president to get one side to back down before it comes to blows.
  • In Stormbreaker, Alex plays chicken with one of Herod Sayle's mooks while riding a quadbike close to the edge of a cliff. The mook flinches first, and ends up plummeting over the cliff as a result.
  • In Shades of Grey, Eddie Russet reminisces on a game he and his friends used to play as children: "dusk running, where the last one back to the safety of the streetlight was the winner." (This is a world where stepping into the darkness at night can cause madness and death.) A showdown between the two champions, Lizzie and Richard, ended with Richard's complete disappearance until his body was found eight months later. The kids stopped dusk running at that point.
  • In the novel The Outsiders Pony mentions playing "chicken" with another Tag Along Kid.
    "What happened to Shepard?" I asked, remembering Tim Shepard's kid brother. Curly, who was a tough, cool, hard-as-nails Tim in miniature, and I had once played chicken by holding our cigarette ends against each other's fingers. We had stood there, clenching our teeth and grimacing, with sweat pouring down our faces and the smell of burning flesh making us sick, each refusing to holler, until Tim happened to stroll by. When he saw that we were really burning holes in each other he cracked our heads together, swearing to kill us both if we ever pulled a stunt like that again. I still have the scar on my forefinger. Curly was an average downtown hood, tough and not real bright, but I liked him. He could take anything.
  • In Double or Die, young James Bond is chased by two villains on the road. When he thinks that he has outrun them, Bond soon finds them ahead, driving straight at him. He briefly despairs, before deciding to just drive forward, forcing them to drive into a ditch to avoid a head-on collision.
  • In Biggles a frequent piece of advice for new pilots is "never turn off from a head on combat". While there is an element of Honor Before Reason in this it's also practical advice, if two planes are flying directly towards each other than the first one to turn away is giving the other plane a perfect opportunity to shoot him down.

    Live Action TV 
  • In the Doctor Who episode "The Time Monster" the Master acquires an artifact that will allow him to control an almost omnipotent transdimensional being; the Doctor initiates an overload of the Tardis's systems that will destroy them both unless the Master hands over the artifact, while the Master insists he'd rather perish than surrender absolute power. The Doctor caves first, but companion Jo triggers the overload. Fortunately they all get better.
  • Scrubs has Gay Chicken, where two guys lean in to kiss each other and the first one to back away loses.
  • One episode of the British war drama Soldier Soldier had the protagonists jokingly playing gay chicken in a bit of Ho Yay Ship Teasing.
  • In How I Met Your Mother, Robin and Kevin get caught in a game of "relationship chicken", where neither one wants to say no to anything. It comes to a head during an outing to a dangerous neighborhood led by Barney. When Kevin finally caves in, Robin is relieved that one of them finally said no.
  • Sense8: In the Season 1 finale, Will knows he doesn't have the stomach for a dangerous game of chicken, so he calls up the suicidally reckless Wolfgang to drive an ambulance straight at a low-flying helicopter.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Yu-Gi-Oh! game's answer to this is Chicken Race, a Field Spell which works as follows: The player with less Life Points cannot take Battle Damage, and once per turn, the turn player can spend 1,000 Life Points to either A) draw one card, B) destroy this card, or C) increase the Life Points of his opponent by 1,000. While using this card has enormous benefits, letting you draw cards and stop taking Battle Damage should you use it enough, it's also very risky should the card be destroyed; thus, the player who used the second effect is "chicken" (but might be the winner of the duel if the other player used the effects too carelessly).

    Web Animation 

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • In the old Super Friends, there was a Wonder Twins short where the duo had to rescue one of two teenagers who tried this. In this variation, the participants piloted motorboats towards the topside of a waterfall on a river, and the one who turned away first was chicken. Ironically, the one whom the twins had to rescue was technically the winner; the guy who turned chicken could at least say he was a smart chicken.
  • In The Super Mario Bros. Super Show episode "The Toad Warrior", Kar-Krazy Koopa challenges Toad (as the Toad Warrior) to race towards a ravine. Both end up going over the edge, but while Toad is able to jump to the other side, Koopa ends up crashing into the cliff.
  • Looney Tunes gives us "Wild and Woolly Hare." Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam are in locomotives on the same track headed to a collision course, with neither one willing to stop theirs. In the end, Bugs' train has elevator wheels that allow it to go over Sam's engine, which falls off the tracks and into a river.
  • In the Batman: The Animated Series episode "The Underdwellers", Batman saves two teenagers from almost getting killed playing chicken. As he tells them once they're safe, "You play chicken long enough, you fry."
  • In Filmations Ghostbusters, Futura makes this challenge to a villain, threatening to ram her spaceship headlong into his; he recognizes it as a game of chicken and accepts the challenge, but eventually, he's the one who chickens out.