Low Clearance

Howard Payne: I'm smarter than you, Jack! I'm smarter! I'm smarter!
(Hanging light decapitates Payne)
Jack Traven: Yeah? Well, I'm taller.
Speed

On situations involving fast-moving vehicles or animals (such as a Traintop Battle), watch out for low bridges, tunnels, light fixtures, and branches. In cartoons and comedies, it's for laughs as characters get knocked off with some bruises; elsewhere, it can be rather gruesome to the point of decapitation.

Alternatively, characters will duck or move to an awkward position to avoid getting hit. Bonus points if somebody says, "Low bridge!" during such.

This trope is not limited to vertical examples.

Instant Convertible is a Sub-Trope, where the character's car is the victim. Compare Watch Out for That Tree!, Toyota Tripwire, and Belly Scraping Flight.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • In the thirteenth Pokémon movie, Kyurem is about to experience this trope before wisely jumping off before plowing into the mountainside.
  • Captain Gloval often hit his head while entering the bridge of the Super Dimension Fortress Macross.
  • Happens twice on SD Gundam Force; Grappler Gouf is trying to hijack a train, but is focused on the train that he doesn't see the tunnel and hits the wall. Later on, when he and the Gundams are fighting their Traintop Battle, the same thing happens to Zero.
    Grappler: Hurts, doesn't it? At least I'm not the only idiot around here...
  • A horizontal variant occurs in Love Live!. Nico is running through the streets, from the rest of the group, who are chasing her. Nozomi is close, but Nico gets away sideways between two parked cars. Nozomi tries, but doesn't fit. When the other girls come and ask what happened, Nozomi just looks down...

    Films — Animated 
  • The Iron Giant: as Hogarth is chased by the Giant, he hits his head on a low-lying branch.
  • In Kung Fu Panda 2, Po is chasing villains in a rocket-powered cart, but then goes through a street with a lot of hanging signs and hits his head on every single one.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In a blooper they left in Star Wars a stormtrooper hits his head on a door that didn't open quite enough.
    • Later, in Return of the Jedi, a Storm Trooper falls victim to a rope strung between two trees on Endor, which violently snags him off of his speederbike.
  • According to the movie, this is where Max Headroom's name came from—the last words seen by Edison Carter before getting clocked by the sign.
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: in a pursuit between a Nazi pilot in his plane and Indy and his father in a car, they reach a narrow tunnel which breaks the plane's wings off as it grinds on the road humorously by the car it was pursuing before exploding at the end.
  • This is how the bad guy in Speed meets his end. As he and the protagonist are fighting on the top of a runaway subway train, he gets clocked by an overhead light, chopping off his head.
  • Played for laughs in Men in Black II when Jay is trying to subdue the giant worm alien in the subway tunnel. He's riding along on top of it and having to duck light fixtures and various other objects.
  • Star Trek V: The Final Frontier:
    Scotty: I know this ship like the back of my hand. *bangs his head*
  • In Silver Streak, one Traintop Battle is ended when one of the combatants is knocked off the top of the train by a signal light.
  • In Top Secret!, two men are fighting atop a train. One of them sees a bridge, and ducks. The other doesn't, causing the bridge to be destroyed.
  • The Chronicles of Riddick: When the Mercs are riding the tunnel tram into Crematoria's prison complex to deliver Riddick, one of them is sitting on his legs telling Riddick how he's going to take his Cool Shades once they arrive. Riddick notices the light fixtures on the low ceiling and lifts his legs so that the guy gets his head smashed in. The other Mercs find this hilarious.
  • On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Blofeld encounters a low branch while fighting Bond on a bobsled.
  • The Dark Knight: Some of The Joker's goons use harpoon guns and cables to snag a police chopper during a high-speed chase.
  • Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock barely prevents Watson from running into a pane of glass at throat-height. When asked how he could even see it, he replied that it was because he was looking for it.
  • In The Hangover Part III, a giraffe traveling in a trailer gets decapitated at a highway bridge.
  • The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad: As he is chased by the Headless Horseman, Ichabod hits a low hanging branch that swings him up in the air, landing alongside the Horseman. He continues on until he realizes whose horse he's riding, at which time the same branch knocks him back onto his own horse.
  • Casper: Amber is riding piggyback on Vic as they flee the house. Vic runs under a set of lights strung across the ballroom, and continues to drag Amber across the floor as he runs away.
  • In The Kid Brother, Harold has the bad guy trussed up in the back of a cart and is racing back into town. The bad guy manages to get to his feet in the cart, and, unseen by Harold, is working himself free of the ropes, when a low-hanging tree branch clubs him back down to the bottom of the cart.

    Literature 
  • On Gor warriors use giant warbirds called tarns. In defense cities put up tarn wire, almost invisible wire stretched between buildings, which can slice a tarn's wings off. See Real Life below for the Truth in Television to this.
  • One of the standard death-defying feats of flying in the X-Wing Series is weaving through obstacles that are just barely wide enough for the fighter to pass. It's mentioned that X-Wings, and to a lesser extent TIE Interceptors, have a big advantage over TIE Fighters thanks to their more slender profile. Some of the obstacles featured have included: Coruscant's pedestrian walkways (in Iron Fist), a forest full of trees (also Iron Fist), and the capital city of Cartaan's love affair with inter-building telecom wires (Starfighters of Adumar).
  • Subverted in Raising Steam; in the midst of a Traintop Battle, protagonist Moist von Lipwig is knocked down and his opponent raises his axe for an ending blow, but Moist notices an oncoming tunnel and smugly says goodbye. However, since the opponent is a dwarf, all that happens is that the roof of the tunnel draws some sparks off his axe...which distracts him long enough for Moist to deliver a Groin Attack.
  • Generation Kill: During the book's Action Prologue describing a vehicular assault through a hostile town, the Iraqi soldiers string cables between buildings, hoping to clothesline the roof gunners of the speeding humvees. Bravo 2-1's gunner takes a glancing blow from one of the cables, and quickly shouts to the driver that he's OK.
    • In the series, it was a downed power line in the second episode that snagged the gunner, nearly strangling him. Person realizes just in time and reverses the Humvee enough for the marine to free himself.

    Live Action TV 
  • On The Borgias, news arrives that king Philip of France died from an injury he sustained after hitting his head on the top of a door frame. Philip was rather short so one of the cardinals jokes that he must have specifically searched for a door that was low enough.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: During an A Day in the Limelight episode focusing on Xander he is battling a zombie while in a speeding car. In the middle of getting instrucions on how to defuse a time bomb the zombie and his (non zombie) friends have set at the school, the zombie's head gets lopped off by a mailbox they zoom by.
  • Power Rangers Samurai: In the last episode, Skull and Spike are hit by a "Maximum Height" sign from behind as they say goodbye to Bulk.
  • JAG: After they first board the submarine in "Shadow", Harm manages to smack his head on low ceiling support twice within five minutes. He ruefully lampshades this.
  • In one of Governor Gatling's stories on Benson, a logging truck from the family lumber mill once got stuck under a railroad trestle. Nobody could figure out how to get the truck unstuck until one lumber mill employee suggested letting the air out of the tires. It worked.
  • One clip on World's Dumbest... features a bridge that is so notorious for ruining trucks that try to squeeze under it that the locals call it a "guillotine".
  • The Doctor Blake Mysteries: The Victim of the Week in "Against the Odds" is killed when a cable is strung across the racetrack to knock him off his horse.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • The gruesome version happens in Dick Tracy. Selford Depool is crushed to death when the parade float he has hijacked deliberately veers under a viaduct, smashing off the top part where he is hiding.

    Rides 

    Stand Up Comedy 
  • Bill Engvall has a "here's your sign" joke wherein he was driving along and came across a tractor-trailer stuck under an overpass. He pulls over and starts talking to the driver as they wait for the police. Cop pulls up and asks the driver, "You get your truck stuck?"
    Bill: And God bless this trucker, without missing a beat he goes, "No, I was delivering this overpass and I ran out of gas."

    Video Games 
  • Grand Theft Auto V: Some overpasses have signs displaying the clearance height, with an obvious dent in them where tall vehicles have hit them.

    Western Animation 
  • Beware the Batman: Batman has a couple of near misses with fixtures attached to the ceiling while on top of a subway car in "Control".
  • Looney Tunes:
    • In "Lighter than Hare", as Sam pursues Bugs Bunny on a handcar on his UFO, he crashes into the mountain where the train tracks lead to a tunnel through it.
    • In 1958's "A Pizza Tweety Pie", Sylvester is waterskiing behind a motorboat in pursuit of Tweety through the canals of Venice, Italy. Sylvester raises himself by the tail to avoid a mooring mast, but impacts hard against a pedestrian bridge that's marked "Duck-a you head / Lowla Bridge-ada" (a pun on Gina Lollobrigida, a popular Italian actress of that era).
  • From the Josie And The Pussy Cats cartoons by Hanna-Barbera, specifically "A Nemo's A No-No Affair", the villain tumbles into a motorcycle sidecar occupied by Alexandra Cabot. Alexandra pulls on his nose, because girls fight funny. The villain rises to his standing height to menace Alexandra, but a low-hanging conduit fulfills this trope, and the villain is ejected from the sidecar.
  • In an episode of Aladdin: The Series, characters riding a dragon which is flying just above a river have to duck twice, once for "Low bridge" and once for "Even-lower bridge".
  • Wallace & Gromit:
    • A Close Shave. The sheep are stacked up high on top of Wallace in his sidecar, and have to duck together to avoid a low bridge.
    • The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Gromit is operating a lady were-rabbit puppet on top of Wallace's van when they go through a tunnel and the puppet is knocked off the roof, pulling poor Gromit along with it.
  • On Hercules, Phil is knocked off Pegasus by a tree branch.
    • In the animated series crossover with Aladdin, Al invokes this on Herc by taking the chase through "the alley of a thousand sheets." Unlike Phil however, Herc just powers through in spite of Phil telling him to NOT muscle through and use his "noodle".
  • In The Sponge Bob Square Pants Movie, Dennis is about to get SpongeBob while atop David Hasselhoff when they go under a buoy and Dennis is knocked off.
    • A horizontal example in "Shanghaied", SpongeBob is told to watch the sides of the Flying Dutchman's ship as it passes close to some rocks. For the entire duration of the gag, SpongeBob keeps calling out "Keep going, you're good... keep going" as chunks of wood fly past him. Once the ship is out, we see that the entire side is gone.
  • Mace Windu takes advantage of this in Star Wars: Clone Wars: He flies at a gap in the skyscrapers of Coruscant and closes his fighter's S-foils to let him fit through. The Vulture Droids following him can't fit, and wreck themselves on the side of the building trying.
  • An actual clothesline is used in the Tom and Jerry cartoon "The Flying Cat." While chasing Jerry Mouse outdoors, a canary pulls one clothesline of a set of four down to chin-high on the cat. Tom gets caught in this trap, and flips over to impact against the other three lines. At this point, the clotheslines behave like surgical wires, cutting Tom into four segments that fall to the ground.
  • In the episode "Realty Bites" of The Simpsons Homer has bought Snake's convertible car during a police auction. Snake escapes from jail to get his "baby" back, and at one point strings wire across the road to cut Homer's head off as he drives by. Homer happens to serendipitously duck as he goes by the wire, but Kirk Van Hauten isn't so lucky: as he complains that his sandwich wasn't sliced by holding it in the air, the wire slices his arm off.
  • Kim Possible: "Clean Slate": Drakken confronts Kim on top of the train, and ends up getting knocked off when the train heads into a tunnel.
  • Fillmore!: In "Next Stop: Armageddon", the perp of the week pulls a Train Escape by uncoupling the engine of a miniature train from the carriages, leaving Fillmore behind him. However, he stands up to gloat and takes himself out as the engine enters a tunnel.
  • On the Roger Rabbit Short "Roller Coaster Rabbit", Roger narrowly avoids a sign on the coaster warning people "Don't Stand Up", but he doesn't miss the next one, which reads "We Warned You!"
  • Dexter's Laboratory: There's an episode where Dexter worries so much about his short height after he wasn't allowed into a rollercoaster ride that he creates some Applied Phlebotinum to make himself taller. His height continues to increase until he's way taller than the average adult. When he's finally on the ride, the screen cuts to black right before his head hits the first clearance.

    Real Life 
  • When The Brady Bunch was filming at an amusement park, the producers wanted a shot of the bunch riding a roller coaster, shot from the lead car looking back at them having a great time. Robert Reed, who didn't want to do it anyway, noticed a few places on the coaster where the camera rig would definitely not fit through, and insisted that they perform a dry run (with the camera but without the actors). The producers balked but he eventually talked them into it, and sure enough when the coaster got back to the gate the camera was nowhere to be seen.
  • If you've ever taken an open roof double-decker bus tour, take heed of the warnings not to stand up while the bus is moving - you will have the opportunity to inspect the underside of a hanging traffic light up close.
  • There's an old railroad trestle bridge in Durham, NC, built before minimum clearance requirements, that is less than 12 feet above the road that runs under it. There are many trucks that are more than 12 feet tall. Hilarity Ensues. Here is a website dedicated to the trestle which features videos of the collisions that occur an average of once per month.
  • Low railway bridges are even more common in the UK and European countries. When railways were first built in the 19th century, they didn't need to worry about providing headroom for buses, trucks and lorries. This is less of a problem in the US, where it was more common to build railways at street level.
  • During World War II, Anti-Air defenses could be supplemented with cables either strung between poles or anchoring "Barrage Balloons". The balloons would be allowed to float at a height of a few thousand feet, and low-flying aircraft would run the risk of clipping a wing on the hard to see cables. While these obstacles could be easily avoided by simply flying higher, this made the plane far easier to intercept with aircraft or artillery.
    • Incidentally, this is also why pilots are advised to give a wide berth or fly well above radio towers. While the tower, covered in warning lights and painted red and white, is often easy to see, the support cables often aren't, and are easily capable of downing aircraft that fly into them.
  • Similarly, it is a very old defensive strategy to string ropes or cables in the path of enemies in vehicles or on horseback, hoping to snag the passengers or even stop the vehicle itself, either by tangling in the axles or simply catching the body of the vehicle itself. Note: Depending on the size of the cable and the vehicle, it may end up slicing through the front of the vehicle and passenger compartment before stopping it.
  • If you make a sightseeing tour by boat through Berlin, bridges are NOT your friend. If you stand on the upper deck, you stand higher than the boat. Please obey the animator and sit down.
  • Similarly, there is a boat tour you can take on the San Antonio Riverwalk. There are numerous bridges that the boat passes under, but of note is the one bridge that the tour guide has to look out for. His seat is elevated higher, so that he can both see over the tourists' heads to see where the boat is going, and also to make it easier for him to talk to the tourists.
  • While a teenager, future actor Richard Harris was delivering a massive haulage truck to Dublin. Being somewhat drunk, he tried to drive under a low bridge in the belief that he could get through if he drove quickly enough. He then unsuccessfully tried to convince a policeman that the bridge was on the back of his truck because he was delivering it to Limerick.
  • One escapee from East Germany drove through Checkpoint Charlie by removing the windshield on his convertible and driving straight under the barrier pole. After the same stunt was repeated a couple of weeks later, the guards lowered the pole.
  • Montague Street Bridge in Melbourne, Australia is famous for this, and has wrecked enough vehicles to qualify for Memetic Badass status despite being an inanimate structure.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/LowClearance