In fiction, just about everyone is afraid of heights so when the hardass cop or anti-hero finally corners one of the Big Bad's friends from his Five-Bad Band who refuses to spill the beans about his boss's Evil Plan on a very high balcony, at the top of a cliff, in a helicopter, or anywhere else that's high off the ground, that hapless mook is guaranteed to be dangled over the edge by our protagonist in an attempt to loosen his lips. With his life literally hanging in the balance, the mook finds himself in a position where he is forced to tell the badass hero whatever he wants to know or be dropped to his death.
In Real Life, however, this is perhaps the single worst interrogation technique imaginable, taking the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique to new heights of unreliability. Anyone with any bit of common sense should realize that an interrogator would need to keep his man alive if he's ever going to get some answers, but because this method relies on threatening to kill the person with the needed information, the interrogator is put in a position where he has to either (1) not do it and lose all credibility and control of the situation, or (2) let his lead fall to his death and lose the information he would have had. Dead men tell no tales, after all. Furthermore, any death threats may give a potential informant the impression that his interrogator may just kill him after he shares the information that is asked of him, anyway, which doesn't give the potential informant any incentive to cooperate. (One attempt to get round all this is for the interrogator to suggest that of course they can't intentonally drop their victim, but the more time that gets wasted, the more likely it is that they'll just lose their grip.)
Regardless, this technique has an extraordinarily high success rate in all fictional formats. The mook will almost always be willing to comply and do whatever the hero asks, and the hero will always gain enough new information to move the story forward. Uncommon cases where someone is dropped from a height that wouldn't prove fatal but would still be pretty harmful would qualify as Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique.
Compare Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique, Torture Always Works, and Dramatic Gun Cock, which also relies on making death threats during interrogations.
Watch out for Unhand Them, Villain! when a bad guy does this. Not to be confused with Dramatic Dangling.
A subtrope of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.
See Also: Disney Villain Death
Batman is famous for this. In both Batman and Superman comics, some mooks have pointed out that the hero is known for never killing, so the threat isn't very convincing. In both cases, the hero has pointed out that just means no-one's ever caught them killing someone...
The Punisher uses this among other interrogation techniques. Like most typical Anti-Heroes, he often does go through with the threat of letting them plummet to death.
Probably the only time in which this trope was used sensibly was when General Zakharov in The Punisher MAX was doing this to Rawlings; he had no intention of letting the latter live anyway unless Rawlings came up with an epic plan under fear of death — if he wasn't able to, well, then no skin off the General's nose.
On at least one occasion, he dropped a mook, used superspeed to catch him, and said, "Now, we can keep doing this until I get tired, or..."
Back in the Golden Age, he threw the mook to a high altitude and then caught them on the way down (why being caught by Superman at five feet above ground level is safer than hitting the ground is never mentioned).
A minor version called "Superman 2020" has Superman's grandson, who has a rougher style, doing a variant. He takes two suspects to a high altitude and demands they talk lest he drops them, but they naturally think he's bluffing. At that, Supes III drops one of them (to a hidden soft landing he prepared earlier) and threatens the other; that crook starts to sing.
In the sister series to Irredeemable, Incorruptable, the main character, Max Damage at one point needs to score information from Origin, a mad scientist who specializes in giving people super-powers. He does so by dangling him over a vat of chemicals containing a tentacled monster (in actuality his last client). Afer Damage gets his information, Origin attempts to blackmail him over some information involving his powers. Max responds by blowing up his hideout.
In Nemesis the Warlock, Book I, when Brother Gogol insists that he'd rather die than help Nemesis let every alien prisoner and human traitor escape Termight, Nemesis's response is to levitate Brother Gogol and hover him over a cliff until he changes his mind.
In the Nikolai Dante story arc "The Great Game," when a spy suggests to Jena Makarov the existence of a superweapon that the Makarov Dynasty does not know about as a means of raising his "bargaining power," Jena responds by hanging the spy over a high balcony by his nostrils and demanding he tell her everything he knows about the weapon or be dropped. The spy is killed by intervening assassination droids shortly after he begins spilling the beans.
In Lucifer, the title character inverts this with Mahu. Since a fall won't kill Mahu, Lucifer threatens to throw him into orbit, from which re-entry will kill him .. eventually.
Daredevil has been known to do a variation of this. Instead of simply threatening to drop the criminal/mobster/what have you he is currently engaged with, he actually does drop them, and then catches them in the nick of time.
Daredevil: I can keep this up all night. Can you?\
Films — Animation
In Bolt, the title talking dog does this to a mook in the TV show, which, per the script, works perfectly. It doesn't work so well when he tries it with Mittens, who isn't part of the TV show, and just tells him what he wants to hear.
And he attempts it with Patrice in Skyfall, but Patrice dies, rather than talk.
The Four Brothers do this to one of the bad guys they come across early on during their quest to find out who killed their adoptive mother. Like The Punisher above, they also let him fall, but then they continue the interrogation on the ground, since the roof they dropped him from wasn't high enough to kill him, but enough to fuck him up.
Commando: John Matrix (Arnold Schwarzenegger) dangles one of the kidnappers of his daughter above a cliff to make him talk. This one is actually a lot more cold-blooded: while Sully made it perfectly clear that he would be willing to talk, Matrix had already found the necessary Plot Coupon in his coat pocket before holding him over the cliff's edge. He just brought him there solely to let him go.
Matrix: Remember, Sully, when I promised to kill you last? Sully: That's right Matrix! You did! Matrix:I lied. (drops Sully)
In A Fish Called Wanda Kevin Kline's criminal does this to John Cleese's barrister to extract an apology for Cleese calling Kline stupid (which Kline's character indubitably is).
The fake helicopter drop was used in The Gods Must Be Crazy, leaving the prisoner thrashing on the ground, screaming his head off. To clarify: the helicopter is sitting on the ground with the engine running, and the questioner is threatening to chuck to blindfolded prisoner out (a one meter drop, tops). When the prisoner refuses, he's chucked out, and is screaming the location of his compatriots as he's thrashing on the ground, even when it should be clear to him that he's no longer falling and that the whole thing was a ruse.
Batman Begins features the title character dangling and dropping Det. Flass almost as if he were bungee jumping until Batman is satisfied with what information he's given.
The Dark Knight Rises also subverted and a lampshaded in the opening scenes of the film. A CIA team has captured a group of Bane's minions and is trying to get Bane's location out of them; they have them all in hoods, bring one to the open door of the plane, and stick the mook's head out of it. The suspect refuses to talk, and the CIA interrogator pretends to have him killed (shooting his gun into open air before claiming to have thrown the mook from the plane) before moving him out of the way.
In Tim Burton's original Batman movie, Batman does this to a Bit Part Bad Guy at the beginning of the film. Interestingly for a trope that generally works as a death threat, just before Batman holds the guy over the edge of the building, he tells the mook, "I'm not going to kill you."
Batman: I want you to do me a favor. I want you to tell all your friends about me. Mook: What are you? Batman: I'm Batman.
In Bringing Down the House, Charlene (Queen Latifah) holds an (ex) boyfriend over a balcony until he apologizes to the girl.
Painfully subverted in Mission: Impossible 3. Ethan has the Big Bad captive in an airplane and after initial interrogation fails, he opens a hatch in the floor and hangs his hostage down the hatch such that he feels the massive winds in his face, meanwhile cutting the zips holding him in his seat. The Big Bad doesn't crack and worse, he learns Ethan's name from the others shouting at him to stop.
In Black Dynamite, the title character holds Cream Corn upside down over the edge of a high roof. Cream Corn then tells Dynamite everything he knows.
A bit of a variation in the French movie Une chance sur deux. Jean-Paul Belmondo and Alain Delon's characters threaten a corrupt lawyer working for the Russian Mafia to push him from a high bridge above a river, but they have tied his legs to a bungee rope, so after he talks they do push him from the bridge, and watch it dangle, laughing. At least, the first time. The second time, they didn't tie the rope, just put it in the lawyer's hands... and they still push him from the bridge.
Done in Blade: Trinity. A mook is dangled in an attempt to lead the protagonists to the Big Bad, but he refuses to talk. Then his cell phone rings. Blade answers, tells the mook it's for him, and lets go of the rope.
The Live-Action Adaptation of MW has Michio doing this to Yamashita, one of the corrupt politicians involved in the titular chemical warfare. When Yamashita refuses to tell Michio the location of the MW, Michio pushes him off the top of a building and threatens to make him fall to his death by cutting a rope. After Michio gets an answer, he cuts off the rope.
Paul Vitti and Jelly hangs down a hitman who tried to kill them to make him say who sent him. Then Jelly lets him go from misunderstanding his boss, although the mobster falls into trash bags and survives (well, not for long).
Later, Doc Ben Sobel gets similarly hung upside-down for filming a scene in the Show Within a ShowLittle Caesar. His screams are quite realistic, since he wasn't warned.
In Underworld Awakening, while Selene is escaping the lab, a scientist orders his troops not to fire on her, in the hopes of following her to "Subject 2". Later, Selene holds him out a window and interrogates him. After he reveals what he knows, he protests, "I was the one who let you go!" She replies, "I guess this makes us even," and lets go of the scientist.
Played with in The Heat; Mullins and Ashburn aren't strong enough to pull the suspect back to safety when they attempt this and end up dropping him a couple stories onto the hood of a car.
In the 1990's movie Gunmen Denis Leary hangs Christopher Lambert upside-down from a rope underneath a helicopter to get him to talk. For good measure, Leary had the pilot fly low so that Lambert would hit the trees underneath.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Played with when Captain America and Natasha do this to a mole. He makes Cap admit that he'd never throw someone off a roof. So Natasha does it. But as planned, Sam "Falcon" Wilson catches him and flies him back to the roof. THEN the guy talks, presumably not wanting to repeat the incident.
The protagonist does this to the terrorist who killed his mother in Jumper, but in a particularly nasty way. Davey can teleport, so he teleports the guy to the top of the World Trade Center, drops him, and teleports down to catch him just before he hits the ground. Then he does it again, and again, letting him get closer to the ground with each drop...
In The Green Eagle, Doc Savage captures a group of mooks. To make one talk he hangs him outside a window. When the mook refuses, he drops him. Being a Technical Pacifist, he had Renny and Longjohn catch the mook in a net, but the other mooks don't know that.
The Executioner. Mack Bolan does the helicopter version, but also uses the prisoner's religious beliefs, pointing out that when his body hits the ground from that height, it will break apart and be eaten by various animals, meaning his spirit will be divided and so never find rest.
Kara (Actually Brainiac at the time) does this to someone by smashing a hole in his plane and shoving his face out at 20,000 feet.
Clark does this with Tess in order to find out what Checkmate was up to. He holds her over the edge of a building for a few seconds until she agrees to talk to him. He pulls her back before he starts asking questions, but given how she glances at the edge before she answers, it's pretty clear that this trope was still part of the situation.
Happens frequently on Chuck with Chuck himself the one being dangled.
Chuck subverted the trope when he grabbed a Fulcrum agent who was about to fall from a building. When the agent asked Chuck if he would drop him if he didn't talk, Chuck told him no, noting it would be a terrible thing to do. The agent agreed to talk, but lost his grip before he could do so.
The Lois and Clark episode "That Old Gang Of Mine" sees Superman do this to John Dillinger (or his clone, anyway).
In one episode of The Cape, Vince dangles a corrupt cop by dangling him over a bridge with his cape. It doesn't work.
In Burn Notice, Michael and Sam use this technique on two men to try to find the boss of a medical scam ring. The interrogatees, however, were in no real danger as they were tied to the ground; Michael and Sam's plan was just to pretended they dropped one of them so the other would squeal from terror.
Richie did this with the punk who shot Tessa in Highlander. He was really close to letting go, especially because Duncan was pressuring him to back off-the kid had been in a drug-induced haze and didn't even remember doing it, and he had cleaned up and had a family now. Fortunately, Richie settles for finally triggering the guy's memory and getting a confession;he doesn't kill him.
Where demons are capable of surviving a fall from high ground, Chris prefers to hang them over a flaming volcano. He also tends to kill them even if they talk.
Phoebe did it once to a corrupt landlord in a episode where she was granted superpowers.
Luther does this in the first episode of his third series. When a suspect in a tower flat tries to make a break for it, he somehow ends up dangling over the edge. It's unclear if Luther actually pushed him, but he's certainly willing to milk the moment to get information. What he doesn't know is that Internal Affairs are gunning for him and his partner has been coerced into wearing a wire. There's too much noise for them to tell precisely what's going on, and Luther relents before they can actually lay eyes on the scene.
On an episode of The A-Team, the team interrogate a mook by having BA hold him over a cliff above the carnivore pit at a zoo.
An episode of The Fall Guy had Colt interrogating a mook on a plane. When said mook wouldn't talk, Colt shoved him out of the plane and jumped after him. During their freefall, Colt showed the mook the altimeter on his wrist and said he had until they reached a certain height (when Colt would have open his chute) to talk. He talked.
In episode 1x06 of By Any Means, Jessica and Charlie persuade a drug dealer to talk by hanging him by his ankles from the top story of an apartment high-rise.
In Cold War: On Your Own Behind the Iron Curtain, this is used to get a part of the combination to a safe. However, it really only works because the interrogatee is afraid of heights.
The Grand Theft Auto IV expansion The Ballad of Gay Tony has a mission where the player has to intimidate a Shallow Parody of Perez Hilton into not printing anything about Tony, anymore. Part of this involves throwing him out of a helicopter and catching him before he hits the ground, effectively making him crap his pants in embarrassment.
In Mass Effect 2 during Thane's recruitment mission, Shepard happens upon a poor mook, standing too close to a window, in a skyscraper. Shepard asks about Thane, threatening to throw the guy out the window. Subverted in that the mook doesn't have vital information necessary for you to continue the mission, and a renegade Shepard knows it.
The Hugo Strange promotional trailer shows Batman interrogating a Mook in such a manner as this, with Batman demanding to know who sent him and the mook promptly answering, "Hugo Strange."
In game, Batman can do this while interrogating Riddler's henchmen, provided that the player performs the interrogation command close enough to a ledge.
This is also Batman's chosen method for questioning Quincy Sharp during a cutscene.
In one quest line in World of Warcraft's Cataclysm expansion, a Twilight's Hammer higher-up is interrogated this way, with the added feature that he'll suffer Propeller Blender if dropped. At the close, the shaman doing the interrogation reveals that she had several air elementals ready to catch him if he did come loose, so the problem of losing the information with his life was never actually there.
PC:And you worked all that out by sniffing around?
Beckett: Actually, there were two hunters on the roof of the building opposite the hotel who were positively delighted to tell me everything they knew - provided I stop dangling them headfirst over the side.
The Order of the Stick: We see a flashback of Roy and Durkon dangling the kobold oracle upside-down by a window to get a third prediction, the first two being less than helpful.
Specifically, the Oracle answered the question "Where is Xykon?" with the spectacularly useless "In his throne room."
In a Time Travel episode, "The Once and Future Thing, Part 2", young Batman does this to Ghoul and the older Bruce Wayne chides his younger self for being "that green" and shows him the proper way to interrogate someone, which then leads to the two of them doing the 'Good Cop, Bad Cop' routine. The others are stunned at seeing Batman be the Good Cop.
In another episode, the Flash tries interrogating someone this way. An unimpressed punk points out that "[Flash is] no Batman," at which point the Flash drops him, creates enough of an air cushion to prevent him from splattering, and finds the man much more willing to talk.
In The Spectacular Spider-Man episode "Shear Strength," Gwen is being held hostage by The Master Planner, and Spidey attempts to get information out of the captured Tinkerer by dangling him off a building. Tinkerer unwisely calls his bluff, and Spidey really does drop him, only to save him with a webline at the last minute so he'll talk. The best part is Spidey realistically points out that his reflexes might not be enough to pull that trick off a second time.
One Robot Chicken sketch revolving around Ted Turner becoming Captain Planet sees him smash through the window of a corporate office while two executives are contemplating dumping polluted waste in the Grand Canyon. Turner then proceeds to hold one of the two men out the window until he agrees to sign a clause agreeing to not dump waste in the Grand Canyon, at which point Ted Turner would agree to let the guy go.
In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2003, Leonardo — who by then is going through a "hard-core" phase — attempts this once with an informant in order to get information on the Purple Dragons.
In Iron Man: Armored Adventures, War Machine tosses a villain out of a transport helicopter to get him to reveal the whereabouts of Tony, Gene, and Pepper. The first time War Machine catches him, he refuses to crack, so he drops him a second time, this time catching him so the ground is actually in sight. With the prospect that War Machine will keep this up until they close the distance, he breaks.
During The Vietnam War, captured Viet Cong fighters would be loaded into a helicopter and interrogated in the air. If they didn't talk, they would be thrown out of the helicopter, one-by-one, until either they started talking or until they had all been pushed out. However, they were blindfolded and not aware that the pilot had actually lowered the chopper to a non-fatal level and the POWs only fell a few feet, but the other captives didn't know that — all they could hear was the screams of their comrades. Some Vietcong actually died from the fall; they believed the scenario to the extent that falling out of the helicopter triggered a heart attack.
Suge Knight of Death Row Records implied to Vanilla Ice that his thugs would throw him over a balcony unless he signed over the rights to "Ice, Ice Baby". Tabloid rumors suggested that Knight actually held Ice over the balcony and threatened to drop him.
The soprano Francesca Cuzzoni refused to sing her first aria in Georg Friedrich Händel's Ottone; Händel replied, "Oh! Madame, I know well that you are a real she-devil, but I hereby give you notice, me, that I am Beelzebub, the Chief of Devils!" The historian continued: "With this, he took her up by the waist, and, if she made any more words, swore that he would fling her out of the window."