When it is mentioned at all, the force of gravity is often portrayed as a sort of cosmic quicksand, an intractable mire that can yank spacecraft out of the sky without any consideration of orbital momentum. Frequently accompanied by exclamations like, "We're caught in the planet's gravitational field!" or "We're being sucked in!"
Obviously not Truth in Television. Gravity is what allows stable orbits to exist — without gravity, Earth would just fly away from the Sun (disregarding for a minute that without gravity, both would fail to form in the first place). Even increasing gravity, until a certain point, would not cause an orbiting body to fall onto the planet, but would simply shift it to a different orbit.
Black Holes are particular offenders of this nature, because everyone knows that their gravitational pull is so powerful even light cannot escape and the subatomic particles that constitute you will be ripped apart. Scientists even called this effect "spaghettification", although this only applies to the event horizon inside the black hole, not the orbiting accretion disk around it. See also Analysis for cases on when this trope does not apply and when it does.
A subtrope of Space Does Not Work That Way and the cousin of Space Friction. See also Gravity Master, when a character has the power to control it.
open/close all folders
In Dragon Ball, the gravity from King Kai's miniature planet, which manages to be pull at 10 times the force as on Earth despite its size, doesn't affect anything unless it gets within a few hundred feet, then you immediately get pulled toward it. To be fair, that is in the afterlife, so there's no reason the physical laws would be the same, or even exist.
The Astronaut Farmer has loads of horrible physics, but one shining example is the eponymous character's reentry. After a de-orbit burn lasting less than a few seconds, the craft appears to stop, and just drops straight down.
In The Last Starfighter, Alex knocks out the engine of the Ko-Dan command ship and a nearby planet does the rest:
Ko-Dan Lieutenant: Star Drive out. Thrusters out. We're caught in the planet's gravitational pull. What do we do?
Ko-Dan Captain:(matter-of-factly) We die.
When Mike crashes into, then attempts to save, the Hubble telescope in MST3K: The Movie, it immediately drops away and falls to Earth. An incredulous Mike points out that it couldn't possibly do that.
Star Trek III. When the Enterprise's Self-Destruct Mechanism activates, the explosions in the saucer section are sufficient to knock it out of orbit and plummet dramatically as it burns up in the atmosphere.
In the 2009 Star Trek film, Kirk, Sulu and Ensign Ricky drop straight down toward Vulcan's surface as soon as they jump out of the shuttlecraft.
In Star Trek Into Darkness, the Enterprise is knocked out of warp near Lunar orbit. After some action, we find out that the ship has been caught in Earth's gravity and is rapidly falling, despite the fact that it would take a long time for an object close to the Moon to fall to Earth (it's more likely to fall into the Moon, actually).
The Super-Star-Destroyer-into-Death-Star was explained in the novel as them being at full speed maneuvering through the battle, and that A-Wing crashing into the bridge disabled the controls and the entire command hierarchy. If they hadn't been aimed directly at the Death Star, then they could have reestablished control from engineering and brought her back around. As Imperial designers were more concerned about a mutiny than the 1-in-a-million chance that you would be aimed at an object large enough to do damage when the bridge is destroyed, it wasn't designed to be easy to do.
Supernova has one scene where the medical ship Nightingale drops like a rock toward a moon as soon as it completes its FTL jump. Most of the movie's physics are accurate, but the ship would have retained the velocity and momentum it had before the jump. Even if the ship's velocity relative to the moon was below the moon's escape velocity, it would not have plummeted straight down.
Actually averted in the Star Wars Expanded Universe novel Vector Prime, where the weird gravity device used by the Yuuzhan Vong to Colony Drop Sernpidal's moon onto the planet does not cause a "sucking" effect, but instead the moon's orbit decays more or less realistically every time it passes over the device. Not that there's anything realistic about a superweapon that produces a gravitational force greater than a planet's.
Sam: Suppose you were on a ship for Mars and they announced that the power plant had gone blooie and the ship was going to spiral into the Sun? What would you think?
Max: I'd think somebody was trying to scare me. (... A) spiral isn't one of the possible orbits. And (...) if a ship was headed for Mars from Earth, it couldn't fall into the Sun; the orbit would be incompatible.
Justified via A Wizard Did It in The Stormlight Archives. Windrunners can create what's known as a Reverse Lashing, a bubble of folded gravity that pulls projectiles towards it. Works much better on things that aren't touching the ground, for some reason.
Justified in Andre Norton's Sargasso of Space, where the entire planet was turned by The Precursors into a superweapon capable of generating a very powerful gravity-like field that pulls spaceships from afar (possibly even from hyperspace) and crashes them on the surface of the planet.
Live Action TV
In the Doctor Who episode "Voyage of the Damned", the starship Titanic begins to predictably crash into the Earth as soon as its engines fail. This might be justified, though, as the ship's owner was planning to crash it, so it was already on a collision course to begin with.
Let's not forget "The Impossible Planet", where the Doctor repeatedly says that it's "impossible" for a planet to be in orbit of a black hole - and when the artificial gravity machine fails, the planet gets sucked straight inward, as is the spaceship in which the humans are trying to escape.
In "The Name of The Doctor" The TARDIS drops like a stone towards the planet Trenzalore the very second The Doctor turns off the anti-gravs. To be fair, the TARDIS was probably not actually in orbit (instead using "anti-gravs" to simply hover in place).
In an early episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, a number of space dog skeletons (or whatever they were called) were piling up onto the space station in such numbers that they were weighing the station down to the point where it was dropping the orbit. Remember the MST3K Mantra.
An example of failing to recognize what an orbit is shows up in Stargate Atlantis. In "Inferno", they jump a ship to "orbit" using the hyperdrive and magically going into orbit (their sublight propulsion/maneuvering system was inoperable at the time). In reality, the ship would start to fall. Fast. Usually the problem of orbit vs. altitude is handwaved via the same mechanism which brakes the ship as it goes sub-light. That's the kind of thing which makes it so hard to make an actually realistic space simulator appear as realistic to the layman.
Averted in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode, "Courtmartial". Finney sabotages the Enterprise, causing it to lose power. The Enterprise remains in orbit and they have time to correct the issue before it decays.
In the Star Trek: Enterprise episode Breaking the Ice, Reed and Mayweather are taking mineral samples on the surface of a comet. Mayweather injures himself when a slope gives way underneath him and he falls several feet. It would be a rather nasty fall on Earth, but they're on a comet and probably weigh all of six ounces. They later seriously damage their shuttle when it falls through weakened ice on the comet's surface...twice.
Recca has this boss◊ who fires out two kinds of gravity wells, blue ones which suck your ship towards them and white ones that repel your ship. This is an NES game...
In Halo, Pelican dropships are shown dropping like a stone the second they are released from the ship suspending them above the surface of the planet below. Possibly justified if the parent ship deliberately flies low enough before releasing its cargo, but that's certainly not how it looks in the game. Like a lot of Halo, it is cribbed from Aliens.
Justified in that the dropships aren't just released, there is a minor propulsive force to put distance between the Pelican and the ship. Even then, they don't fall - they drift along until they engage their own propulsion. A more extreme mechanism is used for the ODST drop pods - they aren't dropped, they're shot out of the ship.
Final Fantasy X has multiple cutscenes of Sinmanipulating gravity. One of them is actually listed as "Gravity Sucks" if you view it again in the Sphere Theater in Luca. Rocks are actually shown floating off of the moon in a roughly straight line toward Spira, implying this trope is somewhat in effect.
In Mass Effect, the offensive “Singularity” skill works by creating a miniature black hole that levitates surrounding mooks in orbits around itself. On one hand, it is never strong enough to actually completely pull a person into the event horizon: however, it doesn’t affect anything beyond mooks and nothing will happen outside its 3-5 m effective radius. Enemies even slightly outside of this radius would not even have their movement impeded.
Mega Man 5 and Mega Man X3 actually avert this with the Gravity Hold and Gravity Well- both of them affect the entire screen. Played straight with Black Hole Bomb from Mega Man 9 and Squeeze Bomb from Mega Man X8- only enemies near the black hole get sucked in.
Averted in Osmos, which revolves around controlling and expanding a primordial cell in an aquatic environment. Since cells are too early in their evolution to have limbs, the only way to propel onself is through inertia from ejecting pieces of itself, and once started, the cell will keep going due to inertia.
Similarly, some levels have Attractor or Repulsor special cells, which will push surrounding cells towards or away from them. Their influence is always present and gradually increases as your cell gets closer.
The orbital mechanics in the mobile gameSpace Agency are a little strange. On one hand, objects orbiting a planet are not going to fall as long as their orbital speed is in the "green" range. If it drops to the "yellow" range, the orbit will rapidly decay until the object either impacts the planet or lands (this is how you land on LUN and splash-down on HOM). Within the "green" range, your speed can change any which way, but your orbit won't change. To escape a planet's gravity, you just accelerate until the "red" range, at which the craft will shoot off out of its orbit in a straight line. Each planet has a ring shown around it, marking the limit of its gravitational pull. If you enter the "ring" at speeds in the "green" range, your craft will be instantly placed in a stable orbit. It's also entirely possible for objects to move at very different speeds in the same orbit.
The actual phrase appears as a graffiti in a prison cell in Space Quest 6.
As in the Film examples, Star Destroyers in the Star Wars Rogue Squadron series are prone to make sudden vertical 90-degree turns as soon as they're critically damaged; Rogue Leaders who aren't careful during the Battle of Endor will suddenly find the Star Destroyer they'd disabled swooping forward to crash into them.
Touhou has Suika and her ability to manipulate density. As this includes the creation of Black Holes, this trope is naturally present in the games she appears in.
Also Utsuho and her last spell card in TH 11. Koishi of the same game has a similar spellcard, but it pushes you away instead — to a wall of danmaku with KILL written all over it.
Koishi's Suppression "Superego" spellcard in 13.5 plays it straight. Get too close to her and you get damaged.
Unreal features Na Pali, a planet that is notorious for pulling ships into its gravity field.
The Angry Beavers: The Sun's gravity in one episode takes this and manages to make it even less scientifically accurate, albeit covered by Rule of Funny. Upon discovering that this is the case for the Sun, the Beavers conclude that since gravity is like a river, they should do what beavers do best and dam that river. It works, although they may doom the planet Earth to a freezing death in the process.