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One-Dimensional Thinking

Logically the fastest way to avoid something that's coming straight at you is to move a few steps aside of its path and let it pass by, but in fiction nobody ever seems to do this. At all.

So like a flightless version of Acrophobic Bird, characters being chased by a car, falling rocks, or anything else that travels in one direction will inevitably run straight ahead and try to outrun the threat. They appear to only be able to think in one dimension — escaping that oncoming freight train by jumping off the track just doesn't occur to them.

This looks very dramatic on camera, but Fridge Logic kicks in a little while later and you ask "Well why didn't she enter one of the buildings instead of letting the car chase her down the freeway?"

Note that this doesn't apply when there's an actual reason that the character can't simply leap to the side: Maybe that car is cruising down a narrow alley where there is no "sideways" for the runner to go, that boulder is rolling down a tunnel with no sidepaths, or those railroad tracks are currently crossing a bridge over a hundred-foot canyon. (These highly specific examples are highly specific because they're some of the few times there's ever been a good justification for outrunning the danger.)

Truth in Television: In real life, many animals (including humans) have a natural 'herding' response to danger, so having a terrified character run directly away from an approaching threat may not be tactically sound, but it does make sense psychologically. (And if the threat is a predatory animal, simply leaping to the side wouldn't help in the first place because the predator would take note.) Savvy military conquerors have exploited this fact for centuries to herd panicked civilian crowds to where they want them, although they need to keep the crowd in a state of panic so that no one has a chance to consider the tactical advantages of veering off to the side. And it is the way to maximize the distance between you and the object; if you veer off, the pursuer can follow the straight line to cross less space than you can.

See also 2-D Space, No Peripheral Vision and Blind Alley. Slower Than A Speeding Bullet is a common subtrope of this. Can easily come off as Too Dumb to Live in especially egregious cases.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • During Asuna's Training from Hell in Mahou Sensei Negima!, Evangeline uses her Malleus Aquilonis spell to suddenly send an ice boulder rolling down a mountain after Asuna. Having just been thrown out into the icy wilderness naked and now scared out of her wits, Asuna naturally tries to outrun the boulder until she luckily falls on a lower ledge.
  • In the Gantz manga and anime, after being caught on the train tracks, Kurono and Katou decide to try and outrun the train to get beyond where the front car will stop. Even if the train hadn't turned out to be a non-stop express, it's unlikely they would have been able to run far enough in time, and the fact that they break off an attempt to climb onto the platform in favor of running seems pretty counter intuitive. They probably would have made it up with help from the bystanders. Then again, the theme of this scene seems to be general apathy and the onlookers' interest in seeing someone die.
  • In the second Cardcaptor Sakura movie, Sakura is on a roller coaster track with the coaster coming right at her. She first tries running straight along the track rather than taking one step sideways onto the emergency walkway. Then, when it's about to hit her, she stops time, then stays right where she is, rather than getting out of the way before the spell wears off.
  • In episode 17 of Digimon Adventure, the chosen first dodge the cruise liner in the middle of the desert by, sensibly, running to the side. When it it actually start chasing them, though, the trope promptly kicks in full force. Late, in Episode 49, it shows up again as they are fleeing a balled-up Waru Monzaemon.
  • In Tokyo Magnitude 8, the Tokyo Tower falls, but the characters run parallel to the direction of the falling tower rather than running off to the side.
  • In Angel Beats!, one of the traps in the hallways leading to Guild is a rolling boulder. Apparently, this is massively averted, as not only the resident ninja Shiina managed to find a small nook to hide from the boulder (and pull away most of the members, Hinata tackles Otonashi to the corner of the hallway, thereby evading the boulder (remember, a boulder is spherical, the hallway is rectangular, so the edges on the bottom won't be swept by the boulder). Indeed, the only casualty is the guy who kept running.
  • Averted in episode 8 of The Third: The Girl with the Blue Eye. Honoka and her tank, Bogie, find themselves on the wrong end of a stampeding herd of sand dragons. Bogie's response, rather than drive away from the dragons, is to drive off to the side and get out of their path. They aren't quite fast enough to get out without damage, but do survive nonetheless.

    Comic Books 
  • The title hero of the comic book Night Man also realizes there is space when a circle (a giant ball) rolls down a square hall. He lies down and rolls to the left, where the floor meets the wall.

    Film 
  • In Sharknado, no one being chased by the rolling dismounted Ferris wheel thinks to run sideways.
  • In Star Wars Episode II, Count Dooku uses the Force to push over a giant pillar, directly in the path of a helpless Anakin and Obi-Wan. Yoda just uses the Force to push the pillar off to the side and set it down gently on the floor, right? Nope, he pushes directly against the pillar's momentum, brings it to a stop directly above them, and keeps it floating in the air for a moment. This visibly exhausts him, and it stalls him for long enough for Dooku to escape.
  • The first Indiana Jones film, Raiders of the Lost Ark: Close investigation of the scene where Indy is being chased by the boulder will reveal it is on rails (big viney ones) and he could have run towards it, past said rails, when it first appeared, then safely followed its path out of the cave — though he would have needed to get past it at some point, as at the end of the scene it blocks what's apparently the only way out. This is justified in the novelization and the script, where it is explained that the ball would seal Dr. Jones in by blocking the entrance and he knows it. Indy has a very good reason to outrun the boulder.
  • In the film Aliens, everyone runs forward when the Drop Ship crashes, instead of moving sideways out of the path of the oncoming debris.
  • Directly parodied at the start of Weird Al's UHF: The boulder chases the Weird Al version of Indiana Jones around various random locations until he realizes he can just run to the side... and the boulder turns to follow him.
  • In the bad TV movie 10.5, a bicyclist tries to outrace the Space Needle as it breaks from its base and comes crashing to the ground... when he could have easily biked all of six feet to either side of or behind the base, and avoided the whole problem.
  • Parodied in Wrongfully Accused, when Harisson flees a runaway train by running into the woods—whereupon the train promptly follows him.
  • Played with in Mars Attacks! when a flying saucer, planning to crush a group of Boy Scouts, demolishes the base of the Washington Monument, only for them to run out of the way. The saucer then flies around to the other side of the falling obelisk to make it fall the other way. Rinse, repeat.
  • Monsters vs. Aliens. Susan ran forward, and way from the meteor, instead of, you know, going left or right. Actually, she would've been fine where she was at originally, it only hit her because she ran straight into its path.
  • Back to the Future:
    • Justified in the second film. When Biff tries to run down Marty, they're inside a tunnel and Biff has the speed advantage (and can swerve his car if Marty attempts to dodge.) Then later on, it's subverted as Marty does eventually dodge in a second dimension - upward.
    • In the third film, Marty has to think fourth-dimensionally. He's in the DeLorean being pushed along an incomplete train track, but he travels forward in time, to a point where the track is complete.
  • The remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) has the human-Krueger do this for a while as angry parents pursue him through an abandoned factory complex.
  • The Rule of Funny gives an interesting twist to this one in Who Framed Roger Rabbit: A way too amorous toon is running full bore towards Eddie Valiant. Instead of running away or stepping to the side, he takes the white line on the road that she's running on and directs it into the wall. Naturally, a wall pizza ensues.
    Eddie: Toons. Gets 'em every time.
  • Buckaroo Banzai. While being pursued by a Red Lectroid driving a truck, Buckaroo runs straight ahead down the road, where he would have inevitably been run down if a Blue Blaze Irregular helicopter hadn't arrived to rescue him.
  • An unusual vertical example from Jurassic Park: When Alan is rescuing Tim from the park jeep caught up a tree, and the jeep starts to break through the branches above them and fall, how do they escape? By rapidly climbing down the tree. Not, say, around to the opposite side of the tree trunk where the vehicle is not falling from.
  • Countess Lisl from For Your Eyes Only is killed when she tries to run away from a car in a straight line.
  • Parodied in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. As the protagonists escape on a very slow Road Roller, a lone security guard screams in terror as the roller approaches and proceeds to scream "STOOOOOP!!" multiple times as it approaches, making no attempt to move to the left or right until finally being run over. As he's about 50 feet in front of it (as shown above) when he starts, this takes more than a few seconds.
  • In Prometheus, Shaw and Vickers are running away from a collapsing Space Jockey ship, which hits the ground sideways and begins rolling towards them. They run in a straight line for several minutes before Shaw falls down, and only then does she roll away sideways, while Vickers stays the course and gets crushed as a result. Penny Arcade parodied this scene.
  • In Daylight, Sylvester Stallone runs straight away from a metal tank that's rolling toward him through waist-deep water. Initially it's this trope, but when the terrified woman who's helping him freezes in the tank's path, he has to keep going straight to intercept her and drag her sideways to safety.
  • In Godzilla (2014), except for the unnamed couple with the cute daughter, the crowd running from the tsunami doesn't flee into the buildings to gain height. Averted with the soldiers on the railway bridge, as there's only one direction to run.

    Literature 
  • Naturally, the narrator of Flatland visits Lineland, a world where this is literally true. The inhabitants of Lineland can't pass each other, and each being only ever sees two things: his two immediate neighbors' eyes/asses. Reproduction is pulled off by having sex partners sing to each other over long distances, which is handy, since at least one of a Linelander's neighbors will always be a parent or sibling.
  • Deconstructed/Parodied/somethinged in Dr. Seuss' "The Zax", a short tale in his book ''The Sneetches and Other Stories." A creature called a North-going Zax and another called a South-going Zax run into each other, and both refuse to go around the other since it would require them to move, very slightly, in a direction different than they're used to. Their refusal to compromise means they basically stand glaring at each other forever while a highway overpass is built over their heads.
  • One of the Dragaera novels makes reference to the Street of the Nine Pleasures in old Dragaera City's red-light district. One of the Pleasures there is the chance to see two Dzurlords — a highly-combative branch of the nobility, with much the same attitude about veering aside as Seuss's Sneetches — confront one another in a street that's too narrow for them to pass by each other easily.
  • Averted in Neil Gaiman's American Gods, where the Technical Boy is able to run down Bilquis with his limo because she was trapped on a road with a sheer, muddy climb up on one side and a sheer drop off a cliff on the other. She tried to get out of the way, but the surroundings themselves had her trapped.

    Live Action TV 
  • An appearance of this trope in MacGyver, episode "Fire and Ice" almost suggests that there is a mystical force that compels people to run in a straight line in front of oncoming objects. A man hit by a truck at the beginning of the episode would have been perfectly safe if he had not gone out of his way to run in front of the truck.
    • Truth in Television. In real life, panicked people instinctively run directly from threats, and the panic keeps them from tactical considerations of veering sideways.
  • In the pilot episode of LOST, Jack, Hurley, and Claire run from the plane's falling wing. None thinks to run sideways out of its path.
  • Appears in an episode of Criminal Minds, where a serial killer runs over people with a truck. What makes it worse is that he's a serial killer, so he has done this repeatedly without anyone just running off the side of the road.
  • Justified in an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise. The crew learn that a highly radioactive Negative Space Wedgie is heading straight towards them, and it's going faster than the ship can. They proceed to evacuate the whole crew into heavily-shielded areas to survive. They do consider the idea of simply getting out of its way, but it's too large for them to try to get out of its way before it hits them; and going too fast to outrun.
  • Played hilariously straight in an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, in which Chakotay is running from the bad guys, and he stays on a winding path instead of just cutting across the grass.
  • Justified in the Next Generation episode New Ground, where the Enterprise is deliberately holding position in front of the speeding Soliton Wave so as to be able to disperse it. Also inverted, since to get into that position, the Enterprise has to take a rough ride through the wave. Although dialogue suggests the wave is too big to fly around, special effects suggest it is no bigger than the Enterprise.
  • Subverted in an episode of The Big Bang Theory, where Sheldon, who shown as afraid of hospitals, dodges a gurney carrying a sick person by ducking into a nearby door. Unfortunately for him, the room is an isolation ward for a patient with a highly infectious disease.
  • In Walking With Monsters, a fish is being chased by a sea scorpion. Despite the fact that the fish can swim, but the sea scorpion can only walk on the bottom of the ocean, the fish tries to go faster than the scorpion. It takes the appearance of a larger scorpion for the fish to finally swim up where neither scorpion can get it.

    Music 
  • Radiohead's music video for "Karma Police" features nothing but a long, straight road, a car, and a man on that road running away from the car. He never once thinks to run off either side of the road. However, the expected outcome of such a chase is subverted, since the car actually slows down to match the man's running speed. The man later gets revenge on the car by lighting a trail of gasoline leaking from it, which inverts the trope when car's unseen driver exhibits One-Dimensional Thinking by driving backwards on the road in a futile attempt to escape the flames.

    Tabletop Games 
  • This is/was prevalent sometimes in Dungeons & Dragons. In cases where the players get in a minor fight and the DM decides it's not worth drawing a map, or when they go Off the Rails into a space the DM hadn't mapped, everything tends to become one dimensional, since all you generally know is everyone's distance from you.

    Video Games 
  • Samurai Shodown is the first and probably only Fighting Game franchise in which you can lie down on the floor to dodge a horizontal swipe or a projectile.
  • In Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2, a giant sword is about to crash into the ground blade side down. Sasuke tries to dodge this by running parallel directly underneath the sword. (Whether it works or not is up to Press X to Not Die).
  • In Twisted Metal (2012), at the end of the final campaign, Dollface wishes to model on the "biggest runway in the world", and gets deposited on the tarmac at an airport runway. She sees a plane headed directly towards the runway she's standing on, and instead of running off to the side, she runs in the opposite direction. She then breaks her heel and stays on the ground monologuing (instead of rolling out of the way) until the plane crushes her).
  • Another rare justification pops up in Resident Evil 4. Leon appears to be playing this straight by sprinting ahead of two rolling boulder traps when he has room to dodge them, but he does it to get enough distance from them so he can safely dive off to the side without getting caught in its path and crushed.
  • Subverted in Professor Layton and the Curious Village, when the heroes are being chased by a giant ferris wheel that broke loose from its frame. They try to escape by turning a corner. The wheel follows them round and keeps on going.
  • World of Warcraft has a variation caused by MMORPG mechanics. Many people will run away from an enemy attacking them, maybe also using abilities to hide, which is close to 100 percent reliable in solo play. In group combat, though, the smartest thing to do when under attack by a monster you can't handle is to run towards the biggest monster around. Crazy as that may sound, it's because that big monster is probably beating on your party's tank, whose job is to keep the monster's attention on them and usually can easily survive just one more.
  • True of nearly every boss battle and giant boss battle in Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, where Mario and Luigi will end up running straight away from the boss in a straight line rather than just stepping a bit to the side. Or in the case of the giant battles, take on a charging foe/fired projectile head on rather than step to the left or right and let it pass by. See, the battles with Grobot, Bowser, Antasma, Pi'illodium, Drilldigger...It is pretty epic though.

    Webcomics 

    Western Animation 
  • Disney and Looney Tunes shorts are not only blatant offenders, but the prime subverters. You know the shorts where the big, hulking bad guy is running full bore towards an oblivious (or waiting) good guy, and the good guy just steps aside, and it takes the bad guy running a good long while to notice? This is often accompanied by a freight train sound effect, complete with Doppler effect when the bad guy whizzes past. On the other hand, a character running from a falling tree will only run in the same direction the tree is falling and thus get hit, or he may get stuck running in place and never clear any distance at all. Of course, due to Offscreen Teleportation, moving a few feet to one side — or even behind the falling object — would have resulted in getting hit just the same. Really, it all depends on what the writer thought would be funnier.
  • One of the Halloween episodes in The Simpsons features Mr. Burns being crushed by a robot. He hobbles as fast as he can - straight ahead, in the direction the statue is falling, rather than a few steps to the side, which would have allowed him to avoid it entirely.
  • The Powerpuff Girls: An episode has Princess Morebucks getting hit by a de-powering ray because she's too evil to simply fly out of its way.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Rainbow Dash regularly tries to evade ground based hazards by flying along the ground. Given that her greatest flight skill is speed, and she is depicted as Brilliant, but Lazy, it makes sense she'll go for her strengths and try to outfly things rather than just going up.
  • In an episode of The New Batman Adventures, the police have found the batcave. Luckily, Batman has a giant penny on display, which is knocked out of its stand and rolled towards the cops. They all run directly away from it.
  • Just jump down from the conveyor belt or away from the runaway coal cart, Scooby-Doo.

    Real Life 
  • In real life, human beings have a natural instinct to run directly away from a threat during times of panic. Panicked crowds behave the same way, a fact that has been exploited for centuries by conquering hordes.
    • A specific example is running away from shooters, despite the speed of a bullet. In the off-chance you are being shot at, it's better to run in a zig-zag (going to left and right as you run forward) thus presenting the shooter with a moving target, not just a shrinking, but stable and thus easier-to-hit one.
  • If you're ever caught in an emergency scenario wherein your car is in the path of an oncoming train, the safest direction to run isn't away or to the side, but rather, toward the direction the train is coming from after moving to the side, to minimize the chance of getting hit by the doomed car's shrapnel. Also, don't go running back to the car for your boyfriend's class ring.
    • Alternatively, if your car stalls on the tracks, the starter engine can sometimes be used to move your car off the tracks. Just put your manual transmission in first gear and release the clutch, or put your automatic in forced gear one, then turn the key as though you were starting the car. Unfortunately, almost all cars on the road today have a built-in safety feature that prevents the starter from engaging if the transmission isn't in Park or Neutral, or the clutch isn't depressed. Or, if you have half a minute or so, put it in neutral and push.
  • Most people don't realize that rip tides are usually very narrow. Hundreds of people die every year because they didn't realize that they could swim 30 feet to the side to escape the current that's dragging them out to sea.
  • When the Gimli Glider was making its emergency landing at the decommissioned runway in Gimli, Manitoba, the pilots were horrified to see two kids riding bikes on the runway, who, when they saw the plane, turned and tried to outrun a 767 coming in at 200+ knots. Fortunately they had enough of a head start, and the 767's collapsed front gear slowed the plane fast enough, that they actually made it. This was dramatically/hilariously depicted in the TV movie; the kid in question is clearly so terrified that he can't take the obvious step, but he eventually figures it out just in time and the plane whizzes by him.
  • Averted by default and taken advantage of in police chases - officers are taught that when the car in front of them goes around a turn they'll slow down, and this can be good time to ram the car. Many police cars have reinforced bumpers for this purpose.
  • Animal experts recommend that when one must run away from a hungry crocodilian, the best way to do so is by running in a zig-zag pattern, because while crocodilians can sprint really fast in a straight line, they can't turn on a dime. On the other hand, they don't usually give chase at all beyond a brief surprise attack.
  • Animals often run directly away from danger, as this is a better way of escaping from a predator. Turning while running will put them at a disadvantage, as the predator can cut the corner to catch up. This causes a problem with cars, as they don't know the car is not (usually) actively chasing them, moving at a speed they could never hope to run away from, or stuck on a marked path.
    • Emus take this fallacy one step further: when approached by a car, they have a nasty habit of dashing in front of it for a few meters before crossing to the other side of the road. The roads in the Outback are littered with emu corpses, for good reason.
    • Sheep are apparently known for doing this too. This is where the sheep game comes from; the farmer(mouse) should be providing the sheep food and shelter, but sheep are extremely nervous and run away.
    • Averted by eastern gray squirrels, but badly. When presented with a threat, they run towards the nearest tree or the tree they came down from. They will do this even if it takes them into the path of danger more so than sitting still.
      • Small mammals in general tend to go for shelter rather than try to put distance between themselves and threats. This can lead to unwise decisions, like running under a car that's paused at a stop sign.
    • There are a lot of videos of cows, moose and camels getting run over by trains as they try and outrun the thing on the track.
  • Rabbits and hares have an interesting tactic which avoids this trope, and serves them well against vehicles: They try to outrun a predator in a fairly straight line, but when it has closed in too much, make an instant turn of ninety degrees or more. Most predators will overshoot the turn, increasing the distance again.
    • Gazelles and the like do this as well, and for good reason, most of the predators they face are bigger than them, and can only chase in short bursts, and stopping in one direction and speeding up in another is more exhausting for bigger animals than smaller ones.
  • Bullfighting is humans taking advantage of this trope vs. bulls. See Western Animation above for a fictional example.
    • A very specific variant is that, when being chased by an angry rhinoceros of any species, the best situation is not to try and outrun an animal with that kind of momentum, but to stand one's ground and quickly jump to the side at just the right moment. Of course, you still have a somewhat slim chance of survival any time an animal the size of a truck is angry at you- this is just slightly better. Though if your timing and reflexes are particularly bad, you may be better off trying to run.
    • On the other hand, if a dangerous hoofed animal hasn't noticed you yet, moving directly away from it is better than moving across its field of vision, as such animals' eyesight is better-attuned to spot lateral movement than motion straight towards or away from them. Retreating slowly, and doing so only when it lowers its head to browse, is better than running in such a situation.
  • One of the (many) plans to prevent Earth from being hit by a civilization ending asteroid is not to slow it down or divert it, but accelerate the rock. Mass is much easier to manipulate if you have inertia on your side.


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