Soft Water comes into play when a fall from any height at all can be rendered harmless or merely incapacitating if, at the end of the fall, the character meets a body of deep water (and sometimes, not even all that deep).
In the real world, falls into water from even moderate heights can be injurious if not done correctly, as anyone who's belly-flopped or back-smackered off a diving board can attest to. Falls from a sufficient height into water will be fatal regardless of whether or not it's done "correctly". A fall at eighty miles per hour into water is lethal; meanwhile the average human body falls at roughly 120 miles per hour, in as little as 10 seconds (from 200 feet).
To put it simply, water gets pushed out of the way by your body when you jump in, but it can only get out of the way so fast.
In real life, a person who falls into very deep water and enters it in a dive may fare better than hitting ground because they are making a gradual rather than a sudden stop. However, there will still be a lot of force exerted on the person's body, given that water is about 800 times as dense as air. So if you've ever been hit by 120 mph (55 m/s) wind, just imagine if the air was 800 times as thick to get an idea of hitting water at that speed. To make matters worse, entering a diving posture in preparation for entering the water will increase a person's terminal velocity, meaning they will be going even faster when they enter the water.
There's also the issue of one's swimming ability — many people who are fortunate enough to survive the fall itself will often drown because of poor swimming ability or injuries will make them unable to keep their head above the water (particularly if knocked unconscious upon impact). Then there's the issue of exhaustion, as even the fittest and most skilled swimmers simply cannot tread water forever. Or, if the water is sufficiently cold, you're likely to succumb to hypothermia and drown before help can reach you.
In short, a fall into the drink from 200 feet or more will pretty much always be fatal — whereas a fall even onto "solid" ground may not!
But in TV-world, after a moment or two of dramatic silence (and perhaps tears of shock and mourning from onlookers), the hero or heroine will emerge from the lake/ocean/pool none the worse for the wear, except being a bit wet. Which can be kinda cool.
Falls into water from high cliffs are a great way for writers to provide a Disney Villain Death for a character (or a relatively blood-free Karmic Death in the case of villains) while at the same time leaving open a possible future return because everybody's absolutely certain that No One Could Survive That, and they probably never find a body.
Of course, this all depends on the falling character not having Super Drowning Skills.
In some cases Hollywood water can be justified because in particular places water really does become softer. Kayakkers have paddled off waterfalls over 180 foot high and survived because the water coming off the falls breaks the surface of the river below and introduces a lot of air into it, which comes up as bubbles. They're not actually landing in water, but in a water/air mixture with a lower density than just water. This of course does introduce a completely new set of problems because it means the falling person will end up diving to a greater depth than they would have done in normal water and thereby increasing their chances of hitting the riverbed, especially when not using a kayak or another device with several hundreds of liters of air inside to help one avoid such a fate (such as the barrels used for going down the Niagara falls).
This trope has resulted in a rather interesting side effect: Usually, in order to show that a given potential fall into water would be dangerous, they'll show the water as being turbulent with jagged rocks. Because that's somehow more fatal.
This goes in both directions. A character or a building hit by a wave crashing over them often won't get as much damage as they would in real life, despite the fact that one cubic yard of water weighs nearly a ton. (A cubic meter of water weighs a metric ton.)
Note: "Soft water" also won't stop bullets, which visibly penetrate water quite deep with prominent "bullet-streaks" and fatal strikes. However, MythBusters demonstrated that no supersonic bullet can penetrate more than 14 inches (35 cm) of water. Subsonic pistol rounds do better, penetrating a few feet. And any other bullet's trajectory will be thrown off in a large body of water. A target is unlikely to be hit anyway, since light-diffraction from the water makes their location appear slightly off, disrupting a gunner's aim and the impact of the bullet at the water's surface will likely change the bullet's trajectory to some degree.
MythBusters also demonstrated that even at very high velocities, water is significantly softer than concrete (it's the difference between breaking all your bones and breaking your bones and being decapitated from the impact) — falls that would be fatal on land become survivable in water. On the other hand, you might survive the impact only to drown moments later if your injuries are so great that you lose consciousness or otherwise can't swim to safety, as mentioned above.
No relation to the stuff that comes out of a household water softener — which isn't any gentler to land on from a great height than hard water.
See also Not the Fall That Kills You, Hollywood Density, Variable Terminal Velocity.
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A commercial by Fleggaard shows nearly-naked female skydivers, one of which fails to open her parachute and lands in a pool from a height of several hundred meters. She climbs out completely unscathed and her biggest problem is that she is now completely naked among several visitors of a nearby party.
Anime & Manga
In the end of Ouran High School Host Club, Tamaki and Haruhi take a tumble off a bridge — from a moving car and a moving horse-drawn carriage, respectively — into deep water. They come out of this completely unharmed, and not even emotionally shaken.
In another, earlier episode, Haruhi is pushed off of a cliff, into the water. Now, it looks like this trope will not be in effect, as Haruhi is noticably unconscious and appears to be drowning. So what does Tamaki do? He jumps in after her, in a diving position, hits the water, grabs Haruhi, and pulls them both out of the water, more or less completely safe.
The title protagonists from Michiko To Hatchin fall into the sea from a balloon that is flying at a considerable height. They get wet.
Played straight in Black Cat, where Train jumps from a skyscraper into a lake below, but first shoots the water to break the water and make it appropriately soft.
Used in Sonic X, where Sonic makes an incredibly large leap... only to start falling — and then land in a pool! Subverted in the next moment though, because this being Sonic, he sinks to the bottom and has to be fished out.
Near the beginning, Ranma takes his fight with Kun˘ outdoors — by jumping out the third floor window. Even though there's a pool below, Kun˘ is horrified; Ranma panics only because the water will trigger his change and possibly reveal it to the school at large. True enough: when they hit, Ranma is perfectly fine and tries to swim away. Kun˘, however, is knocked out, and only wakes up while she is dragging him to safety.
And near the end, Ranma has to dive over a cliff after his mother, saving her from falling into the raging waters below. Since they all fall into the water a few scenes later, from a much lower height, it's made clear that the danger didn't come from the rocks at the foot of the cliff, but from hitting the water from the top of the cliff.
The anime version is somewhat inconsistent: the example with Kun˘ mentioned above merely stuns him for a few moments, and he grapples with Ranma while still in the pool. Also, in the first movie, after being tossed overboard from Kirin's flying boat, several hundred feet in the air, the whole cast (sans Ranma, Lychee, Happ˘sai, and the elephant Jasmine) splashes harmlessly into the water below.
Averted in the Cursed Doll storyline: a possessed Akane pulls Ranma down with her off a cliff overlooking the water; Ranma immediately pushes her around so he hits the water first, shielding her from a direct impact. It's this action that convinces the doll's spirit that she had wrongfully blamed Ranma, and peacefully changes places with the real Akane again.
Ginta is standing on a pillar to confront Alviss, landing in the pool created by a waterfall. He has enough momentum that he injures himself on the pool's bottom and complains as he climbs out.
In an example that crosses over between this and Giant Robot Hands Save Lives, Snow saves herself from a fall which the watching characters clearly expect her to go splat from, she saves herself by calling on her giant snowman and landing safely in it's hand.
Luffy and a contingent of pirates of mostly Devil Fruit users (who are thus incapable of swimming) free their ship from being stuck at the top of a giant-sized frozen solid tidal wave, by breaking their ship out. What they weren't aware of is that they would fall into an equally frozen warzone. Fortunately, they happen to land in a hole in the ice made when a giant-sized iceberg was torn out of the sea to be used as a projectile. All this landing on the water from a height of "so high it wasn't even in vision" did not hurt any of them in the slightest, aside from momentary unconsciousness from Super Drowning Skills. Luffy is at least justified — he's virtually immune to blunt impact — and a few of the other characters have similar excuses, but at least half of them should have died. On the other hand, most of them are still Made of Iron when not directly Made of Diamond. We're still talking about former Impel Down prisoners, who endured ghastly tortures for a long period of time.
Sadly Averted earlier though, the hard landing from the group leaving Skypeia worsened the hull damage Belamy's crew caused to the Going Merry, this damage made it irrepairibly trashed, which led to them having to give it a burial at sea when it's not longer fit for sailing.
In the "Night Baron Virus" case from Detective Conan, the title character sneaks into a hotel room to search for clues. When he gets near to the balcony, someone enters and pushes him off it. Did we mention that this room was several stores up the building? Conan is just waaaaay too "lucky" that said room was right above the hotel pool, where he lands without much injury. And it becomes a Chekhov's Gun, since he deduces that the victim of the week was thrown from the same balcony, but under different circumstances — by the same person who almost killed him.
In the Axis Powers Hetalia movie Paint It White, everyone jumps out of the alien mothership (while it was in flight) and fall very, VERY far into the ocean below. Other than being knocked unconscious on impact, none of the characters show anything worse than minor scrapes and bruises when they reconvene on the island below. Possibly justified in that the countries are generally very difficult to hurt (like Britain having a missile sticking out of his head), but falling from above the cloud layer should not be survivable ever.
Subverted in Denpa Onna To Seishun Otoko - Makoto hits a lake from very high up and seems fine, but in the next episode it's almost immediately revealed that he actually broke his arm in the process. Erio was apparently okay, though.
Parodied in Soul Eater: Kilik claims they can survive falling from the moon because they would land in the ocean. Jackie thinks otherwise.
Implied in Children Who Chase Lost Voices. Shun leaps off a bridge with Asuna in his arms, and they apparently land in the river hundreds of feet below (the landing isn't shown, but Shun doesn't seem to be able to fly). Shun has Super Strength to protect him, but Asuna should have been smashed to bits; instead, she just passes out for a while. Similar incidents happen a couple of times in Agartha, but these may be justified by the "water" being a magic substance which actually is less dense than regular water.
Played totally straight in an issue of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic. Buffy and Willow are facing a fall onto solid concrete from the top of a skyscraper. In order to avert their inevitable demise, Willow magically changes the sidewalk into water. They climb out with nothing more than wet clothes.
Scrooge McDuck discovers his trademark ability to swim through cash like it was water when he's thrown off a cliff onto a moving train full of cash below. Naturally, he uses it as Soft Water to save his life. If it's paper-money then this is understandable — but not if it's coins, obviously.
In one comic, Scrooge McDuck actually defeats the Beagle Boys this way, right after the Boys have succeeded in legally stealing Scrooge's entire fortune. Scrooge asks them for one last "swim," which the Boys magnanimously grant, though with the suspicion that their victory has left Scrooge so despondent that he plans to break his neck on his lost fortune. On seeing Scrooge dive into a pile of metal coins and surface not only completely unharmed, but swimming and jumping in and out of the money like a dolphin, they decide it looks so fun that they try it themselves... only to knock themselves cold on the hard surface from a much shorter dive. Scrooge's confused nephews ask Scrooge how he manages to swim through money like he does, but Scrooge only reveals that "there's a trick to it." The Boys are left in a coma for months, during which time Scrooge undoes all the legal maneuvering they performed to steal the McDuck fortune.
In the thankfully short-lived Norwegian comic Dido, the eponymous hero (yeah, his parents actually called him that) dives into a lake from what looks like about 100 feet. The Bad Guy turns impatiently away declaring that no-one could have survived that fall, but moments later the kid emerges from the lake still in one piece with no explanation whatsoever and no complaints other than "Ouch, that really hurt!" And that was only the last in a row of unlikely escapes...
In an early issue of Firestorm, Firestorm transmutes the pavement into water to save Hyena from a fall of several dozen stories. She lands unharmed.
In Metal Gear Solid: Fight of Metal Gears, Jake Snake survives jumping out of his plane without his parachute opening by landing in water.
Films — Animation
Disney's Pocahontas. The title character dives off what looks to be a 500-foot cliff into the lake below. To no ill effect whatsoever. And she's such a good diver she enters the water without even making a splash.
Disney's Pinocchio- the title character and his best friend escape from Pleasure Island by jumping of a gigantic cliff (though to be fair Pinocchio is at least a bit scared about doing so). They both survive. Made all the more bizarre by the fact that the best friend is a cricket- which ordinarily would drown quickly even entering from a mundane height.
Both played straight and averted in The Incredibles. Mr. Incredible jumps off a high waterfall and lands safely below but hey, his super power is being Made of Iron. The aversion is listed below.
Gandalf and the Balrog fall for a particularly long time, but are saved simply by landing in an underground lake. But then again, one is an angel and the other is a semi-legendary monster from the First Age. Gandalf and the Balrog, in the book, were both stated to be capable of falling to their deaths; however in the movie, they fell miles to the water, but still were none the worse for wear when they hit bottom.
Aragorn also survived a fall off a cliff with a Warg into the river. Aragorn fell only a relatively short distance — but was still knocked unconscious, and was severely weakened afterward; he was only rescued by a super-intelligent horse of Rohan.
A bit of Reality Ensues : Viggo Mortensen actually nearly drowned during the filming of one of those sequences and had to be resuscitated.
Ironically used in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, where Obi-Wan is believed dead after falling from a cliff into deep water from about 600 feet: in response, the clones say "he couldn't have survived that fall", despite knowing full-well that Jedi are capable of falling safely from extreme heights — and likewise knowing that Jedi carry compact SCUBA equipment (both of which Obi-Wan in fact uses to escape).
In the novelization, the clone commander insists that Obi-Wan isn't dead until they find the body. They send probes to make sure, but Obi-Wan tricks a nearby predator into eating them.
Justified by the previous mention that Ben studied wreckage diving at the Naval Academy — he would likely have learned how to dive from heights "correctly" to avoid worse injury. They even showed him diving the correct way, feet first with arms crossed.
Played to the hilt in True Lies. After a shootout in a mall, the main villain rides a motorcycle to the roof of a hotel, then drives it off the edge and splashes down in the pool on the roof of a building across the street. Considering his parabolic arc, the drop must have been at least a hundred feet, but he's uninjured and impaired only by a sopping wet trenchcoat. The horse that Arnold Harry Tasker rides in this chase makes this "you've GOT to be kidding me" look when Harry tries to make him follow and stops just short of the edge, pitching Harry out of his seat and causing him to dangle precariously.
The ultimate example is shown in Commando, where Matrix jumps from the landing-gear of an airliner just after take-off— only to be saved by landing in about 18 inches of water (it even has reeds and cat-tails in it!). Even if the falling-distance itself wasn't far enough to be harmful, the velocity of the plane at take-off (175 knots plus) would cause him to be moving faster than terminal velocity, being certainly fatal. Likewise, the lateral motion from the plane would cause him to skip like a stone across the surface of the water, causing a certain fatality. But in the movie, he just falls in as if he had stepped off of a 5-foot platform.
The eponymous protagonist himself in The Bourne Identity is shot, falls of a boat, and ends up injured further with his plot-driving amnesia. In The Bourne Ultimatum, he jumps off a building into water and survives. Never mind that he gets shot while in mid-jump. However, it could be one of the reasons it took him so long to move after hitting, the wound and avoiding surfacing to be spotted also viable arguments. Meaning that he was even able to take a deep breath of air before impact! Even James Bond would be amazed.
In xXx: State of the Union (xXx 2: The Next Level) the protagonist shoots a grenade into the water he's about to fall into, thus heavily aerating the water and actually making it Soft Water. Granted, he'd probably still die, but they tried.
MythBusters tested ye ole drop-something-in-first trick. Didn't do squat. They blew up part of the water first. That one, the impact into the water wouldn't kill you. The EXPLOSION would.
Used at the climax of Death Becomes Her — Ernest Menville falls off an enormous mansion, smashes through a stained-glass skylight, and lands in an indoor pool, with only a nasty-looking (but utterly unthreatening) cut on his arm and a wet tuxedo for it. Cheap but forgivable on its own, until one considers the entire movie has been focusing on ways in which a body can be horribly mangled and playing them for laughs. Unless the mansion was over 100 feet high, then this is easily do-able; and the skylight would actually slow his fall; glass can't cut you if you hit it sideways. Finally, the water could protect him from the falling glass, as long as he was under it when it hit.
Lampshaded and played straight in Face Off where the main character is on a prison oil rig with information that if you should attempt to swim away the fall with kill you. He jumps anyway, in shackles, and not only manages to survive the fall but somehow get back to mainland without too much of a problem.
Subverted in Club Dread: Before jumping off a cliff into water, Juan tells the others to close their legs, or else they'll die from the fall. However, what he says will happen isn't exactly accurate.
Done by Riggs in the second Lethal Weapon movie when he falls out of a window and lands in a pool. To make matters worse, he gets mad at his partner for not following him out the window. Again, distance is important. 10 stories is plausible: 20 isn't.
Happens in House, starring William Katt. In a scene where Katt is going down a rope into nothing but darkness, the rope is cut and Katt falls for several seconds, landing in water. He is not harmed by the landing.
The Fugitive. "The guy did a Peter Pan right off this dam, right here!" The fall in question is a special case, however, as it's not straight down into a pool of water. Kimble drops into water that is flowing down the outside of the dam, which curves outwards. Provided he could hold his breath for long enough, and the initial contact was at a sufficiently shallow angle, he could have used the dam as a slide. Some may be familiar with the now-vanished funfair / amusement park rides that used the same principle, only with polished plywood rather than water down concrete.
Happens to Plenty O'Toole in the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever.
And in Skyfall; the opening sequence features Bond being shot twice and knocked off a speeding train as it crosses a bridge, falling at least 100ft into water. They don't even bother to handwave how he survives.
Resident Evil: Afterlife has some people in an elevator. The solution to not having a working motor? Cut the cable and drop the elevator in the water below.
Elizabeth Swann faints from her corset being too tight, and falls off a cliff into some Soft Water. She is in danger of dying, but it's from drowning; the impact seems to have not hurt her at all. (Hitting the water backside-first might have saved her life by sparing her head... but in that case would have snapped her lumber (lower) spine, costing the use of her legs for life.)
In On Stranger Tides, Blackbeard makes Jack Sparrow jump off a high cliff into a river to retrieve a MacGuffin, though this time it's actually acknowledged that the fall could kill him (Hence Blackbeard sending Sparrow instead of one of his more trustworthy crewmen). Blackbeard's Quartermaster "solves" this by throwing a Voodoo Doll of Jack into the river. Since the doll was undamaged, Sparrow himself was also able to make the jump unharmed. Or maybe he just got lucky.
At the end of the first Ghostbusters movie, the EPA officer has a huge amount of melted marshmallow fall on him. It doesn't crush him to death, despite the fact that it is probably thicker than water and fell over 20 stories before hitting him.
12 Rounds: Two people fall out of a helicopter into a swimming pool and survive with no obvious injuries.
Mary Watson is thrown from a moving train into water with little injury.
Near the end of the film, inspired by The Adventure of The Final Problem, Holmes falls down a waterfall with Prof. Moriarty and is presumed dead until the last scene. The oxygen device he swiped from Mycroft explains how he didn't drown, but not how he survived the several hundred foot fall.
Played straight naturally in Batman & Robin. Freeze demolishes a wall by freezing it with water (What, You expected Them to follow other laws of physics?), only to reveal an absolutely massive drop to water. They jump without any hesitation, only commenting about being able to swim.
Unlike the movie version of The Lord of the Rings, it's uncertain in the book whether Gandalf and the Balrog fell into Soft Water, or the fall was simply a shorter distance than it looked. While Gandalf and the Balrog aren't ordinary humans, the story elsewhere made clear that both Gandalf and Balrogs could be killed by falling — earlier, for example Gandalf had been imprisoned on top of Orthanc solely by the 500' drop, while in The Hobbit Gandalf almost jumped from the top of a fir-tree, and Tolkien said "that would have been the end of him." Likewise, in The Silmarillion a Balrog fell to its death. In crafting the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien wrote in his notes that since Gandalf had to survive the fall, then "The gulf was not deep (only a kind of moat and was full of silent water)"; however this may or may not have been used, since in the story Gandalf later says "little had I guessed the abyss that was spanned by Durin's bridge." Gimli said that no plummet had ever found the bottom; however stone plummets sink into water, and so the water could have been miles deep, but only 100 feet below the surface. While Gandalf said "long time I fell," seven seconds can seem a long time while falling. Likewise, Gandalf also said "his (the balrog's) fire was all about me, I was burned;" however again, Gandalf wasn't burned too badly to fight (and kill) the balrog after chasing it for days through tunnels and up miles of stairs, so its fire couldn't have been "all about him" for more than a few seconds.
The danger for Gandalf in the hobbit was more due to the spears and weapons of the goblins than the fall, and he would have used more of his natural power fighting the balrog allowing him to survive the fall in moria, he also stepped into famirirs pyre to lift him out in the book, showing he has a resistance to fire, allowing him the battle the Balrog for some time while falling.
Although it's worth remembering that Gandalf's fire resistance is likely because he's the wielder of Narya, the Ring of Fire.
Actually, my take from the book was that Gandalf died. He was just brought back to life by the good forces as Gandalf the White in order to continue the fight against evil. And, of course, Gandalf is a semi-human wizard as well.
In Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief, Percy explicitly thinks of the falsity of this trope, that water would be no different from concrete, before risking it because he's Poseidon's son. Which does prove enough to help him. In The Last Olympian, he pulls off another such jump — but he knows the demigod with him died, because not being Poseidon's children, he was not immune to the reality.
Beckendorf's death in The Last Olympian has less to do with Soft Water not applying and more to do with the fact that he was still on the ship when it exploded. Luke/Kronos did survive both the explosion and the fall, but only because he was invulnerable. The book was very unclear on how exactly Ethan survived, but it's indicated that the other demigods onboard were killed.
Percy warns Ethan and the other demigods to get off the ship. Percy is immune to any harm from water — he can breathe it, see through it, not be crushed by the pressure of it, not be injured falling into it... hell, he doesn't even get wet unless he wants to.
Further averted in the same series: Percy and Thalia have an argument. Thalia hits Percy with a bolt of electricity, so he lifts up the entire river to hurl at her. Chiron shouts at him to stop what he was doing, implying he would have killed Thalia. He is distracted by the Oracle before he can throw the water.
In The Count of Monte-Cristo, Edmond Dantes escapes the island fortress Chateau d'If by being thrown off a cliff into the sea. He emits a shout as he hits the water, but it's the sudden cold that causes it, rather than dropping just shy of a hundred feet. He swims away and is completely fine afterward.
In Angels and Demons, Langdon survives a fall from the helicopter into the Tiber river thanks to a tip he learned from a Chekhovs Classroom. It's noted by the emergency personnel who save him that he didn't break his bones.
Averted in The Movie, where Langdon was never on the helicopter in the first place; only the Camerlengo, who in both versions used a parachute and landed near St. Peter's Square.
Despite having not only been thrown into a deep-water-covered bog at high speed but also hit by a dragon's tail, Simon Heap in Flyte survives the fall. (One notes that he can breathe underwater so drowning, at least, was not a danger.)
In Michael Flynn's The January Dancer, even gas is not soft — a man observes that at the rate a ship is going, hitting a star would be like hitting a brick wall, even though it's all gas.
The Carl Hiaasen novel Skinny Dip opens with the protagonist surviving a several hundred-foot plunge from the deck of a cruise ship after being pushed off by her husband. It's noted that the only reason she's able to survive the fall is because she was on the diving team in high school and thus knows the proper technique to minimize damage - and even then, the force tears her dress off and leaves her so banged up that she can barely swim.
In the Lexx episode "The Beach", Stanley Tweedle and Kai fall from the upper atmosphere of Water into the ocean below. Kai, being dead, merely sinks to the bottom (he can't float) but Stanley of course is perfectly fine. Making this even more stupid? Stanley later gets exhausted and drowns. (He got better, though.)
Followed to a T in the Hornblower TV movie Retribution, when Hornblower, Kennedy and Bush decide to jump from a cliff to get back on their ship. We even get the choice quote: "It's only water! You won't break anything!"
In an episode of MythBusters, Adam and Jamie investigated a viral video showing a man making a 115-foot long waterslide jump into a kiddy pool. Oddly the team didn't take up whether the foot-deep pool would actually make the landing survivable, testing only distance and accuracy. In addition, MythBusters have tested the saying that, at a certain speed, hitting water is like hitting concrete (a myth previously perpetuated on this very page). They found that water is always softer than concrete, even at terminal velocity. Obviously at a certain point hitting water doesn't help as it is still lethal, but the damage is less and thus the saying is busted.
In Heroes, the Petrelli brothers were flying at some hundred miles an hour, when Nathan suddenly loses his power. No problem, they fall into a lake.
Invoked in the Batman live-action series, when Catwoman takes a huge fall and then lands into a river, but Batman specifically says that she could have not made it because hitting the water from such a height would've caused enough killing harm. Subverted, she actually did survive, but it's not clear if it was due to this trope being played straight or if she managed to avoid falling in the first place.
Doctor Who has River Song fall several stories down a building and land in the TARDIS swimming pool, apparently unharmed. Though it was the TARDIS swimming pool. The TARDIS is known for being psychic, and having the ability to alter its own shape, rooms, and properties such as gravity. It has also been known to help people stay alive.
House once jumped off a hotel balcony several stories up into the pool below and suffered no visible injuries.
In an episode of Burn Notice, Michael explains in the narration how despite people thinking (becuase of this trope) that diving from a height is a great way to escape, it can result in injury when not done right, especially if the person doing it is just some untrained schmuck. So when they have to get a dude out of a motel room that's a couple stories up to evade the bad guy, Mike tosses a the mattress out into the motel pool, and tells the guy to aim for that. The untrained schmuck still injures his ankle in the process.
And busted by the Mythbusters who found that landing on the mattress was much more dangerous than jumping into the pool without it.
Dilbert, of all things, features a variation on this. Elbonian air travel, which works by being shot out of giant sling shots at high speeds and sometimes intercontinental distances, doesn't kill or seriously injure the "passengers" because the entire country is made of mud.
In 7th Sea, falling player characters suffer no damage at all if they land in water or anything else "soft" such as a haycart or awning. This is because the game's swashbuckling genre simulation rules explicitly enforce Not the Fall That Kills You to encourage players to perform ridiculous stunts.
In Minecraft even if you build a tower to the top of the world, and have a hole at the bottom of the world, if there is water that is at least four blocks high — you'll survive.
Particularly flagrant in Half-Life and the mods and sequels thereof, in which a drop from fatal heights could be stopped by landing in any fluid, including but not limited to radioactive waste and spilled coffee, as long as it was two "units" (roughly 1 to 1Ż inches, depending on the game's scale) or deeper, in which case all damage is negated (not counting any damage from the liquid itself, if it happens to be radioactive waste).
Some maps in Half-Life and its mods even incorporate the "fall into a puddle of spilled coffee" game mechanic into their level design. For example, the Counter-Strike map Aztec has a slightly flooded canal flowing below a bridge — players can jump off the bridge and aim for the ankle-deep water to make a strategic shortcut if necessary. Most levels in HL2 with significantly high falls into water avoid this trope by placing an instant-death trigger at the water level (most notably in the bridge level).
There are at least two instances, one in HL1 and one in HL2: Episode Two, where in order to proceed the player is required to fall an absurd amount of distance into a pool of water.
The objective of Counter-Strike and Team Fortress 2 "surf" maps is to obtain a high velocity through manipulation of flaws in the physics engine. Making 2-inch deep puddles of water is a perfectly logical and simple way for map designers to mitigate all damage to players upon landing.
Averted in Dwarf Fortress: being pushed off the top of a waterfall or catapulted into a pond causes realistic concussion, broken bones, organ damage and eventually death from trauma or internal bleeding.Even short falls (about 3 feet) can prove fatal, as they will still stun the victim long enough for them to drown.
Justified in Halo. The Master Chief is equipped with a suit of Powered Armour that allowed a user to survive falling two kilometers, into a forest, with practically no injuries. Falling a few hundred meters into engine coolant isn't hard to believe at all. In most in-game situations, however, falling more than about 10 meters is always fatal, even if there is water below. And some bodies of water are programmed to give MC Super Drowning Skills.
Battlefield 1942 and Vietnam treated this realistically, where any fall that would kill if you hit the ground killed if you hit the water, but it reached new heights in absurdity when they took this mechanic out in Battlefield 2 and you could jump out of a jet at 1500 feet and be perfectly fine if you only landed in a body of water.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. You can get into a jet, go over a body of water at full screaming-engine speed and drop without a parachute and all you'll get will be wet clothes. Of course, previous games in the series lacked a swimming mechanic, and so treated any body of water greater than waist-deep as a pool of instant death.
In one of the games, Lara is dropped down a shaft into the longest drop in the game — her death-scream, an indicator she will die if she hits the bottom, loops several times — and she is saved by a pool of water, just like in every other jump into water in the games.
Similarly, the beginning of the Aldwych level in Tomb Raider III, where you drop down from the bell tower into the sewers. The death scream doesn't loop here, though.
A notable quest drops you 300 feet in the air over a lake in the Plaguelands. The player lives. It may not be unrealistic for that universe, since characters can survive around 65 foot drops onto solid ground as well. On the other hand, the water does need a certain depth to save you. If it's too shallow, you'll smack into the bottom and die.
At the monthly Darkmoon Fair event, players can get launched from a cannon and, with a slow-fall buff that must be cancelled at the right time, try to land in a lake half the zone away. The operator advises you to either aim well, or hope you have life insurance.
Shamans used to have the power to avert this (and have a good laugh at their friends' expense) by casting the Water Walking spell on the falling person, which would cause them to smack into the water surface as though it was solid ground.
In the new expansion, Death Knights have been given a similar skill, allowing them to run on water by freezing a path of ice. To add insult to injury, this spell is cancelled by damage, so that jumping into a lake with it on leads to 1) taking a massive amount of damage, and 2) plunging into the water anyway, probably by smashing your bones through a thick sheet of ice.
At least two Northrend dungeons (Utgarde Keep and Azjol-Nerub) have some fun with this. In order to exit Utgarde Keep, a giant keep, you have to either A) walk out, or B) jump down into a cavern behind the boss. It's a really big fall... but there is water below you, so it's OK. Azjol-Nerub just has you jumping off a platform, into an even bigger fall, to land in an underwater lake in order to get to the final boss.
Done again with the Trial of the Crusader, when Arthas breaks the ground beneath you and drops you to the last boss. You survive by landing in a conveniently-placed pool of water.
One of the worst examples is the entrance to the mostly-hidden area "Naz'anak: The Forgotten Depths". It's an insanely long and totally vertical shaft, which takes maybe twenty seconds to fall down and a little more to fly, but as long as you land in the middle of the small pond at the bottom, you will be completely unharmed.
One optional boss in Zul'Gurub, Gahz'rahka, tosses players into the air, and they must land in the water to avoid taking falling damage.
An interesting bug in Morrowind: you can fall into water from any height and survive — until the instant you touch land, at which point you go splat. If you have a spell granting water-walking active, water behaves exactly like land.
Used and averted in Oblivion; in most cases water will save you, but landing in the shallows still applies fall damage. One ruin has you falling for a good ten seconds and being saved by 10 feet of water, despite a similar-length fall onto land killing you instantly.
Also quite glaringly obvious in Skyrim. Players who want to give this a a good looking at, head to the College of Winterhold. There's a fairly decent bit of overhanging rock at the northernmost point. What's it hanging over? A good few seconds of free-falling and a lake. Or the ground, if you're unlucky... This has even become a meme in the form of Extreme Fishing.
Metal Gear Solid 3 plays this completely straight during cutscenes but averts this during actual gameplay. Snake is thrown off of a bridge early in the game, falling to a height in excess of 100 feet, and later leaps from a drainage pipe which is easily even higher of a fall. If Snake leaps or drops off of the bridge on his own, he'll die. Both times Snake lands into water, with no injuries other than what was sustained in a brutal asskicking. The second fall DOES knock him unconcious, though.
Assassin's Creed pulls this off not just with water but also with haystacks (and in the forested areas of Assassins Creed III, piles of leaves and branches), never mind that these, while not quite as hard as the ground, would be equally deadly due to containing lots of pointy objects. The story justifies this as an embellishment of the Animus simulation that the game takes place in, but that doesn't explain why the Assassins themselves are observed to do it as part of their training and Desmond later does it in the modern era.
Taken to extremes in The Legend Of Zelda Twilight Princess. To access the last dungeon, you need to shoot yourself into the sky with a cannon. Sure enough, you land in a small pool of water, but at least then you wouldn't be travelling that fast since you slow down when you came up. The real problem is, to get back on earth, you need to use another cannon that shoots you up even higher, with Lake Hylia being the Soft Water.
Worth noting that Link takes those dives head first.
Twilight Princess does it again with the introduction to Lake Hylia. Wolf Link and Midna cross a bridge over it when some Mooks light the oil on the bridge on fire. Wolf Link climbs over the guard rail and jumps off the bridge, managing to fall into the remains of the lake, which is very little water.
Deus Ex plays this trope very straight as well; there's one section that requires you to take a huge plummet into water, but you're fine once you do so. The character is a cyborg of sorts, though.
Played completely straight twice in Uncharted 2; Drake throws a guard into water a long way below after saying he doesn't want to kill anyone, leading to seeming Moral Dissonance, but if you watch the water it turns out they are completely unharmed. Later, Drake and an ally jump into a river far down a large cliff and end up seemingly unharmed.
In the first game, Drake and Elena drive a jeep backwards off a cliff to escape the bad guys, and fall over a hundred feet to the water below. They don't even get bruised.
I Wanna Be The Guy parodies it like no other, as a pool of water that The Kid lands in after jumping from a great height not only cushions his fall, but also keeps him from burning up from the flames caused by his meteoric fall. This pool is one of the only things in IWBTG that doesn'tinstantlykill you; in fact, it's like the only thing in the game that saved The Kid?
Water in Shadow of the Colossus will break your fall perfectly. There is, however, one particularly tall cliff with water below it that the player may be tempted to jump into, as a Colossus is nearby, but it turns out the water is only a few feet deep, and jumping in it is the same as jumping a thousand feet to solid ground that only LOOKS like a nice, deep lake.
The classic SNES survival game SOS. You can fall any distance, and as long as you land in water, you'll survive, even if the screen has already gone black before you cannonball. My brother was playing the game many years back when the ship turned from upside-down to pretty much perfectly vertical. He fell almost the entire length of the ship, managing to plummet right through at least a dozen doors between rooms, before the screen turned to black, the game apparently assuming along with us that he was dead. Seconds later, it came back on, with his character standing, unharmed, in a pool of water up to his knees at the far end of the ship.
In Alone In The Dark 1992, shortly before the dark maze and final boss room, there is a large room with a maze of catwalks over a pool of water. Although it's only about a 10-20 foot drop, falling in the water causes instant death, no matter what your health. At least until you destroy Pregzt, after which it strangely becomes Soft Water. Definitely not toxic water, either, since going in the water in other parts of the caverns (which connect to this room) doesn't kill you.
Far Cry. The water has to be deep enough to trigger the swimming animation in order not to take any damage. However, if this condition is met, you won't take any damage, whether you've fallen ten feet or a thousand feet.
In Super Mario 64, falling into water from high places will not harm Mario. As an added bonus, the water will heal you of ALL damage once you rise back up for air, since your Oxygen Meter and HP use the same display.
Said physics remain in Super Mario Sunshine, but the healing is gone since Oxygen and HP are separated (if they remained together, the game would be much easier considering the amount of water in Sunshine).
Fridge Logic: in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, Luigi knocks Fawful over the edge of the castle, falling a great distance down. However, Partners in Time reveals that he survived. The only exlanation is that he fell in water, which is likely given where Bowser's Castle falls once it's blown up.
Played straight in Duke Nukem 3 D, with several places requiring a fall to finish a level. Works with lava and toxic waste, too, although you'll still take damage from the goo itself unless you're wearing protective boots. The same mechanics apply in Shadow Warrior and Redneck Rampage that run on the same engine. Possible lampshading, given the tongue in cheek nature of the game: in one level, you jump into a pit, fall a great distance, and land in a pool of ankle deep water, with solid rock underneath, unharmed!
Partly averted in fellow Build engine game Blood. Although the water surface won't ever hurt you, if the pool isn't deep enough to slow you down you take damage on hitting the bottom.
Daikatana did the same as Blood, but most pools you had to fall into weren't actually deep enough to slow your fall.
Metroid deserves a special mention here due to the MythBusters subversion — despite Samus not taking damage from any fall, water or otherwise, short of a Bottomless Pit. Samus can only shoot out of water in the Prime games, not into it. If you need to bag an underwater enemy, you better hop in first.
Unreal uses this a little too often, including one story drop that is neutralized by any water deep enough to swim in.
A later level in Jurassic Park Trespasser begins with an impressive view at the edge of a fifty metre high cliff, and a fifty metre jump into a small pond to continue. Hope you lined it up right!
In Crackdown, falling damage can seriously injure your character (for a while, anyway) unless you aim for a river or the ocean. In fact, the fastest way to end the "High Flier" achievement (climbing to the top of the Agency Tower) is to leap off and splash into the tiny pond explicitly placed there to catch you — there's even a second achievement ("Base Jumper") for doing exactly that.
In Mercenaries a long fall will almost kill your character (usually dropping you to 2% health) — unless you fall into water, in which case you take no damage. Very useful to know when your helicopter is about to explode.
There are several places in Banjo-Tooie where you can do a high dive into water and suffer no falling damage, the most obvious being the "Dive of Death" in Witchyworld.
Played straight in The Saboteur. You can jump from the spire of the Eiffel Tower, fall 300 metres and land in a 2 metre deep pond and survive. You even get an achievement for it. He should've been dead long before that since he jumped from a burning zeppelin into water and was only knocked out for a short time.
Near the end of Kingdom Hearts II, after leaving that mysterious island encountered after defeating Xemnas, Sora and Riku are shot headfirst into a body of water from pretty high up in the sky. Not even their hair is damaged. This specific method of travel is common for those traversing the worlds without a ship — in fact, Kairi first arrived on the world you find her on in this exact fashion.
One Quake II level featuring a room 200 foot high with small puddles of water at the bottom, barely deep enough to get your feet wet. You could jump from the top and as long as you landed on the wet patch, you were fine.
Monster Hunter Tri treats water in this fashion when transferring from one zone to another; you're never knocked into the air enough to actually go into water. Even if a Rathian knocks you off a cliff, you have time in the zone change to adjust your trajectory so you don't break your back. Also, regardless of the height you fell from, if you fall into water while carrying a wyvern egg, you always get the "egg sinks to the bottom" animation you get when you lose an egg by entering water, not the "egg shatters" animation you get from falling from a height.
Justified in Portal 2 as in that game you can fall at any speed from any height and land anywhere and be perfectly fine. However, there is one point where you are dropped down a shaft and fall for several minutes before finally landing in shallow water, completely unharmed. Given that you were dropped down said shaft deliberately by Wheatley, it's entirely possible that it was supposed to kill you. Unexplained, however, is how GLaDOS survives the fall alongside you, given she is undergoing a stint as a potato. Given a lack of leg braces or boots to mitigate the impact, she should've been a potato pancake.
It's even lampshaded before being played straight. GLaDOS asks to be put in one of Chell's boots during the fall, in order to survive the landing, and advises Chell to try land on the other foot.
In Xenoblade, any fall that would normally kill you can be survived so long as you fall into a deep enough body of water. You even get an achievement (and some bonus experience points) for taking a dive from 200 meters or higher. Good thing your heroes can swim...
It's worth noting that while at first this appears to be a gameplay convenience, the evidence suggests that this is an actual quirk of the Xenoblade world's physics. The Fallen Arm, an island in the game-world's ocean, is home to a number of Homs (the game's human-equivalent) who arrived there by falling from Sword Valley, many many miles above, and landing in the ocean nearby. Indeed, you as the player initially arrive there by the exact same route, and if you go back to the specific location you fell from, you can do it again as many times as you like. Perhaps in all the other instances of falling off the edge of the Bionis, it's not the fall that kills you, but the unfortunate reality of ending up stranded in the middle of the ocean below...
While this is true for the game in general, one particular moment comes to mind. At the end of the Chaos Crystal Cavern jumping puzzle, you enter a magical teleportation gate, and wind up hundreds of feet in the air over a fairly deep lake, with no resulting injuries aside from those inflicted by enemies in the lake.
In the third Max Payne, Max drops about thrice his height into a tiny patch of water that doesn't fully cover him even when lying horizontal. Somehow, it barely affects him.
Played straight in Fallout 3, where ordinarily lethal fall distances (such as a 100+ foot high overpass) are cushioned by sufficiently deep water (not so much shallow water).
In the fifth case of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations, Phoenix falls dozens of feet into a powerful river after trying to run across a burning bridge to rescue Maya. Again. He's not completely unharmed though — he gets a cold. It's also mentioned that his back was badly bruised.
Dahlia Hawthorneintentionally jumped into that same river in the fourth case's backstory and came out alive, though we don't know whether or not Dahlia got injured at all.
In Yume Miru Kusuri, during a series of events so bizarre it seems like it should have been all just a dream, the protagonist manages to fall from a great height into a swimming pool (while having sex with and strangling the crazy drugged-up girlfriend who is begging him to kill her. It's even weirder than it sounds. Also, they didn't know the pool was there and fully expected to die.) and is perfectly fine afterwards.
An escape in The Dreamland Chronicles hinges on this. The fact that it's a three-hundred foot drop is briefly brought up, but ultimately, the impact is ignored, leaving drowning as the only apparent danger.
Same thing happens in her review of Cutthroat Island; after a series of gags about the main character having gravity as her ally, she looks at a scene where the two leads plunge about five hundred feet off a cliff face into quite shallow water and says, "No, really, they should be dead."
On one occasion, a character fell out of a moving aircraft to what should have been certain death. He instead landed unharmed in a rooftop penthouse's swimming pool. If the soft water didn't kill him, the speed he would have hit the water at should have ensured that upon hitting the bottom of the pool, he'd have broken both his legs.
Also averted in one episode. The DCAU version of Count Vertigo dies by falling out of a castle window and into the moat.
This series uses every trope in the book to avoid the cartoon violence of a person being killed or injured, despite often falling from high places; they'd just fall harmlessly into a bush, a tree, a canopy, etc. And if anyone did die, it would turn out to be simply a robotic impersonator.
Another scene involves a character being tossed off the Statue of Liberty and landing unharmed in the water below. However the original writer probably wanted the drop to be fatal, but was required to show the victim survive as censorship. Only a few seconds later a similar event occurs when the assassins responsible, as opposed to committing suicide, spray themselves with a mindwiping gas. Instead of dying from the drop, said character was in a coma and never appeared for the rest of the series.
Averted when Clayface fell about 30 feet off a cliff and promptly disintegrated when he landed in Gotham River. This is a special case, though, because of his condition.
Avatar The Last Airbender has an army of soft-waterbenders. Given the amount of water some waterbending attacks take, they should be incredibly painful if not fatal, but are often brushed off. In the second season finale Katara attacks Zuko and Azula's men with a huge wave of water that should have been fatal if only because of the sheer weight of the water and not the concussive force. They get all up with no injuries.
Interestingly, they avert it in the series finale where after falling from a great height, Aang specifically bends water upwards to catch him and it flows downwards as it returns to sea level meaning he deliberately softened the water to make the landing safe.
In the first episode of the second season of Winx Club, Lord Darkar threw Layla (who was at the time unable to transform into her fairy form) off his castle, declaring that no can survive a fall from that height. Layla survives because she landed in a river, although she did spend four days in a coma after the ordeal. A few episodes later, while on a mission to rescue the pixies, both Stella and Brandon fall of a cliff and survive by landing in the same river.
In the Static Shock episode "The New Kid", Static is being pursued by Specs and Trapper's kill-bot, and uses Edwin Alva, who has been funding the pair's research, to get them to stop shooting at him. When Daisy causes a power outage that disables the robot, Static drops Alva into his penthouse swimming pool below. Not only does Alva land headfirst into the water from very high up and emerge unharmed, the kill-bot had landed in the pool before him, and was visibly sparking before Static dropped him. And still, he's perfectly fine when he surfaces.
In Happy Feet, we see Mumble in free fall for at least two seconds after jumping off a cliff, ultimately hitting the water unharmed.
Shows up many times in Inspector Gadget, including an instance where a movie studio uses a water tank for a jumping-out-of-a-building stunt that would probably use an air cushion or wires in real life, and an instance that uses the Trope Naming joke when Gadget makes it out of a fall off the roof of his house without so much as an Amusing Injury because he landed in an inflatable rubber kiddy pool maybe a foot or two deep.
It's rather difficult to determine the exact diving height from which lethality is guaranteed, but surviving from around 200 feet (60 meters) isn't unheard of. The current world record is 177 feet (without injury) by Oliver Favre, and suicide attempts from San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge (220 feet) have been survived (over 90% aren't, however).
220 feet is only the average clearance above the water; this can vary with heavy rains etc. Likewise, a strong wind can slow a person's descent considerably by creating a "gliding" effect.
When a train stopped on a bridge at night in QuimperlÚ, France, two passengers mistakenly thought they'd reached the station and stepped out. The one who landed in the field below died, but the one who landed in the river, a few feet further, survived (although seriously wounded).
Cliff diving from places like La Quebrada, Veracruz, Mexico runs on this, though, of course, divers must calculate the right moment to jump to catch an incoming wave and avoid serious injury or death.
Aversions & Subversions
Anime & Manga
Subverted (sorta) in Axis Powers Hetalia, when Russia tries to pull this with snow, jumping off an airplane without a parachute. It... doesn't work.
Averted in Code Geass: Kallen is in free fall in her Knightmare over the Pacific ocean and cannot eject, thus she expects death as the logical outcome. A Midair Repair saves her. Of course, later on Gino has a similar problem over solid ground, and not only does he not eject, he isn't even injured despite having no means of deceleration.
Miss Yukari from Azumanga Daioh proves that even a belly-flop at the pool can have dire consequences. In the anime, she challenges Nyamo to a swimming contest. While the Phys. Ed. teacher dives in expertly, Yukari SMACKS into the water hard enough to mark her entire front a pinkish-red hue (and with a slap loud enough to make everyone nearby wince). Then she does it again, and she knocks herself out.
While played straight most of the time in Excel Saga, in the manga Iwata, who at this point is a cyborg, once again proves to be Too Dumb to Live while working on a skyscraper and falls with his safety line off. Although he lands in the ocean, he still breaks into many pieces, having Shiouji remark on why water doesn't work on a 50-story drop.
Averted in Welcome to the NHK!, in that the characters at the offline party seriously expect to die.
In fact one of the offline members asks if there's any chance of them surviving only for someone to tell him that it "only happens in anime an manga."
In Denpa Onna To Seishun Otoko this trope seems to be played straight When both Makoto and Erio appear unhurt after Makoto loses control of his bike going down a very steep hill that ends with a guardrail and a cliff, sending both him and Erio high into the sky before plummeting down into the ocean. This is subverted in the next episode when it's revealed that his arm broke when he hit the water and he had to spend two weeks in the hospital as a result. Erio did virtually the same thing by herself except off a bridge before the start of the series and it ended with a broken leg.
A few Gundam characters have actually been killed this way, most notably Miharu, Kai's (very) short-lived love interest, of Mobile Suit Gundam, who's blown off the Gunperry when attempting to launch a missile in defense of the White Base and ends up hitting the water. Kai already knows she's dead and it ends up changing him.
Averted with Gwen Stacy's death in Spider-Man; when she's thrown off a bridge, Spider-Man knows he has to catch her, otherwise she will die when she hits the water. He manages to catch her with his webbing, but the sudden stop breaks her neck.
Interestingly, an issue of the Tomb Raider comic had Lara dropping off a cliff, observing calmly that she will probably break every bone in her body if she hits the water, but that it was "better than kissing the rocks below". She falls into the water with such impact that her glasses shatter, bones are snapped and she falls instantly unconscious, possibly dead — but since the drop was to get into the valley of Shangri-La, a legendary city of eternal health, she wakes up in a king-size bed fully healed.
Averted in Justice Society of America #38, in which a device created by the Fourth Reich that nullifies superpowers turned off Green Lantern's ring while he was flying over water, killing him.
Averted in the final chapter of the Batman storyline Knightfall, Bane is driven off by the Jean-Paul Valley Batman (still wearing the classic Batsuit) and JP attempts to save his own life after the rope snagged on his foot breaks and his grappling hook doesn't catch right. He kicks the wall and attempts to somersault into a mall fountain, but the cape causes too much drag and he barely makes it. Though he's alive, he's injured his arm and he ends up limping out of the mall, his leg ended up smacking into the edge of the fountain in the end.
Films — Animation
Averted in The Incredibles. While over the ocean, Elastigirl evacuates herself and her kids from an airplane and then flattens and spreads her torso to form a parachute. As they get near the ocean, she warns them, "Brace yourselves!"
Subverted in Megamind. Megamind realizes he's going to land in a fountain, but knows that it won't break his fall. Double subverted when he uses his dehydrator gun to dehydrate himself, which does break his fall. He is rehydrated once he reaches the water.
Averted in Rio: It's pretty much made clear that falling out of a plane and into the ocean would be fatal.
Averted in Hotel Transylvania. Frankenstein jumps from an extreme high-dive and belly-flops into Dracula's pool. He barely sinks and his individual limbs float off after separating from the force of the impact (he's fine, naturally).
Somewhat averted in Disney/Tarzan. In an early scene, Tarzan jumps off a cliff and dives into a pool a good hundred feet down, at least. He lands with a nasty smack and seems to be a little dazed, but eventually swims away unscathed.
Films — Live-Action
Averted in The Dam Busters, based on a Real Life bombing run in which bombs were skipped across the water to the target. The physicist who came up with the idea pitched it to the skeptical airmen had to argue strenuously against the belief that this wouldn't work.
Subverted in the first Rush Hour movie: the Big Bad falls from the roof of a convention center into a water fountain making an enormous splash, and the first thing said by Detective Carter is: "Ooh, you know he dead!" Carter's right: he's definitely dead.
Partially averted in Final Destination 5 as everyone on the crumbling bridge knows better than to try jumping into the comparably-placid lake beneath them (even Sam and Peter when the alternative is skewering by construction supplies). However also played straight by Olivia surviving her fall into the water seemingly unscathed- until a car falls on her.
Played with in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The two outlaws are on the run, having worn out their horses and down to their last few rounds of ammo, trapped at the top of a cliff by their relentless pursuers. Butch proposes that they jump off the cliff into the river below, but Sundance refuses to go, preferring to stay and attempt a doomed shoot-out with the posse. As Butch tries to persuade him, Sundance reveals that he doesn't want to try it because he can't swim, to which his partner replies "Are you crazy? The fall'll probably kill ya!" This scene was also parodied in The Simpsons.
Averted (horribly) in the (realistic) The Perfect Storm film, where one of the rescuers mistimes his jump and falls 80 feet onto hard water.
Averted in Romeo Must Die, where two characters are thrown out of their high-rise, waterfront condo. The next scene is the police fishing their corpses out of the water the next morning.
Averted quite a few times in the James Bond series: pretty much everybody hitting water from a height dies unless they're diving properly.
Halle Berry still manages to play this trope straight in Die Another Day, though it was given a token Handwave in that her character had apparently chosen the place she dived off beforehand; presumably she checked the water was deep enough to make the fall survivable. The height she dives from is still pushing a bit, but by the standards of that particular Bond film it hardly merits a mention.
Particularly notable in Goldfinger, where a planes explodes on contact with the ocean.
Done twice in A View to a Kill, first is when one of the executives gets Thrown from the Zeppelin, and second is the scene where Max Zorin falls off the Golden Gate Bridge. Though thats the last the audience sees of him (ie. no body), its pretty clear he is killed.
Averted in The Boat That Rocked. The Count and Gavin play a game of Chicken that involves climbing the mast of the ship, and then jumping in the water. In the following scene, The Count is seen with a bruised and bandaged face, while Gavin appears relatively unscathed until he stands up, and limps around on a cane.
Averted in Terminator Salvation, when Marcus Wright falls from a moving aircraft into a river, and goes skipping across the surface like a stone. His not being killed is sort of justified because he's a cyborg.
In contrast to which, the 2011 film has her jumping out of an airship and turning up alive, apparently only having been knocked unconscious and being in danger of drowning rather than being completely splatted. A particularly laughable example because even films that normally play this trope straight wouldn't have someone surviving a freefall from aeroplane heights.
Averted in Van Helsing, where Prince Velkan gets tackled off of a cliff by a dying Werewolf and everyone immediately declares him to be dead. His later survival is justified as he was bitten by the Werewolf beforehand, so falls that could kill a regular human no longer apply.
In Alien: Resurrection the guy from CSI: Crime Scene Investigation apparently dies from a 20 foot drop into a pool of water. We don't see him actually die from the fall (and there aren't any aliens left down there to kill him), but the movie treats him as though he's dead.
The pool itself wasn't all that deep, so he could have hurt himself on the ground or any of the debris floating around down there and simply wasn't able to swim back up. Alternatively the sudden drop may have left him slightly disoriented, and he just wasn't able to find the opening again.
Averted in Rendezvous with Rama; a character is stranded atop a 500 meter-high cliff over the mid-station toroidal lake. Much is made about the problem (no climbing gear, the one and only flier that got him there is now destroyed), and the sheer height of the fall. Then a scientist back on Earth remembers that reduced gravity (okay inertia/centrifugal force) means reduced terminal velocity. Rescue then becomes a matter of him jumping off and staying vertical (they don't tell him this plan/theory until the rescue boat arrives at the bottom of the cliff, so he won't have time to worry). He also uses his shirt as an impromptu parachute.
Averted in the Tom Swift book Monster Machine, in which Tom and his friends are in a transformable vehicle (now a spacecraft) that is plummeting toward the Pacific Ocean from space. Of course, they survive, but during the descent, Tom muses that, even though it's "only" water they are falling toward, from this height, hitting it would be like hitting concrete.
Subverted in Christopher Pike's The Last Vampire series. When someone gets thrown off a 10-story(ish) building into a deep swimming pool, they die. Effectively being pulpified in fact. The thrower, apparently finding this amusing, proceeds to get rid of all her opposition in the same way. The main character only survives because she's a vampire, though she's still very badly injured.
Subverted in Scott Westerfeld's The Risen Empire (or Killing of Worlds, depending if you bought the book as a whole or in halves). While in free fall H_rd brakes her nose on a ridge of ice; the ice then breaks and she continues falling.
One of the rare examples of Hard Water stopping bullets like it does in real life occurs in Nation where it becomes an important plot point.
The bullet penetration error was also averted in Cryptonomicon, where Goto Dengo (whose ship was just sunk) escapes machine-gun fire by diving. The bullets are stopped within "a meter or two" and then just sink.
Averted in the Maximum Ride book "Saving The World And Other Extreme Sports", where Fang jets into the ocean at high speed and equates the impact of him hitting the water as slamming face-first into concrete. He does live, though.
Baywatch. Hasselhoff's character falls out of a plane and dies on hitting the water. There's even a funeral in a later episode. Although it was All Just a Dream.
Averted in Dead Like Me, when showing the death of one of the Reapers. Betty jumped off the side of a cliff assuming she'd be alright, only to die when she hit the water. She actually died from hitting the bottom (shallow enough), not the water, but close enough.
In Burn Notice, Michael breaks a fall into a swimming pool by throwing down a mattress first, but another person who is with him misses the mattress and breaks a leg instead. Averted in a previous episode, when he jumps from a helicopter at around 30-50 feet up, and visibly only assumes a "diving" position about halfway down. It's implied the subsequent five mile swim to shore was more life-threatening, as he did it fully clothed.
The tale of Icarus averts this and gets it right: he lands in the sea and dies.
Subverted in one Foxtrot strip. Peter dives off a diving board, falls for almost the entire strip, turns so that his belly is facing the ground, violently collides with the pool, and comments "Forget chlorine- pools with high dives need to put novocain in the water."
Averted in 3.5 rules: for the first 20 feet you take no damage and for the next 20 you take reduced non-lethal damage, but beyond that you take falling damage as normal. Somewhat straight if you dive into the water, as if the water is deep enough you can make a Swim check and negate the damage no matter how high up you are. However, the DCs to make this dive grow pretty fast.
1st Edition rules (from the Dungeonneer's Survival Guide) also took a water landing into account. On a successful Dexterity check, a character can dive and divide the damage by 10 as a result. On a failed check, though, the fall is just as damaging as against hard stone.
Call of Juarez is a rare exception to this rule, where falling into water exerts the same damage as falling onto solid ground.
Notably averted in the Syphon Filter series starting with Dark Mirror, where falling into the water from a sufficient height is definitely harmful. Judging the fatal height (for both water and solid landings) is also quite difficult thanks to Syphon Filter's health system, where characters are given a (literal) Bulletproof Vest, but very little health. The earlier installments also sort of averted the trope, by virtue of not having any real bodies of water to speak of. In Syphon Filter 2, for example, a fatal fall from a bridge or a sheer cliff in an environment where a river at the bottom may be assumed to be present, are actually just well-disguised Bottomless Pits. If you fall in, the water is not shown — the screen just fades to black, the "Mission Failed" message is shown, and you're brought back to your last checkpoint.
In Omega Strain, falling a height that would be fatal on land (only a few meters) also kills you if you land in water.
Blue Dragon features a subversion by way of unexpectedly avoiding the issue entirely. Early on, the main characters are dropped out of a flying fortress over a large body of water, and — as we know they're not going to die yet — it seems like there'll be a Soft Water save. Instead, they're sucked back up into a different part of the fortress, and we never find out if they'd have survived the fall; although, if their reactions to the situation are any indication, they wouldn't have.
Averted at one point in Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. Early in the game, you need to raise the water level in a pit to make it down safely, because it's still too far to fall without dying. It's played straight at other points and in the sequel though.
Averted in Metal Gear Solid 2, as if you slip whilst navigating the out side of the Big Shell you get treated to a short of Raiden screaming as he plummets to his demise before switching to the mission failed screen.
For a game that uses so many of the idioms you'd see in a typical action movie, Just Cause 2 almost averts this. Rico can fall very far onto solid ground without getting hurt, and can even prevent fall damage by using his grappling hook to pull himself straight towards the ground, but if a fall is high enough for him to take damage (indicated by him going into a skydiving position), belly-flopping in water will not negate it. However, diving headfirst in to the water will allow you to take no damage at all.
The game Crysis begins with a paratrooper drop, but when the player's parachute is torn off by a flying alien, it is heavily implied that you only survived the drop into the ocean because of your nanomuscle suit (which was briefly disabled by the impact). However, the in-game physics engine plays the trope pretty straight.
Subverted-ish in Far Cry 3. Drop a short distance into water? You'll probably be fine. Drop a long way? You'll black out for a moment, and if the water isn't deep enough you will take damage. A couple of times you do dive what seems to be about fifty to a hundred feet into a cenote, but the water's deep. Justified in that your character is into extreme sports and would know how to dive properly (feet first, arms crossed). Or it would be, if he assumed the right position...
Averted with the Windham Classics text adventure of Treasure Island. Fall overboard during the storm or from any great height and instant death.
A Valley Without Wind calculates falling damage upon impact with the surface of water, and only then does it slow you down. The fact the acid water also starts eating at your health is just salt in the wound at that point.
Averted in the Nancy Drew gameHauntings at Castle Malloy: If Nancy, while wearing a jet pack (long story), attempts to fly over the ocean past the castle, she runs out of power and falls to her doom. One potential "Good News / Bad News" segment begins with the assurance that it's "just water"...then explains that falling into any body of water above fifty feet provides the same effect as falling onto cement.
Averted in some parts of Time Gal. Some of the failure outcomes shows the protagonist falling from a great height into water, high enough for it to be fatal.
Averted in Kerbal Space Program. Hitting water too quickly will totally destroy your vehicle, just like hitting the ground would.
The Lebrons: In the episode "Stay on the Court", Kid nervously climbs on a very high diving board (called a "high dive") and "dives" off of it, taking the longest fall he ever had until he finally hits the water in the swimming pool, where he's about to drown, only to be saved by his love interest Li.
One episode of The Real Ghostbusters has the guys plummeting from high in the air towards the river. Ray thinks it'll be a soft landing, until Egon reminds him that from this height it'll be like hitting concrete. The guys fire their particle throwers at the water to create a plume of water to catch them mid-fall, as well as to slow their descent just enough so that it's a reasonably softer impact.
Averted/Justified in one instance in Avatar The Last Airbender when Aang is about to fall into water and then uses waterbending to lift it up in a column to soften the blow. The same episode has Sokka dumping the crew of an airship out the bomb-bay into the ocean though he at least lowered the airship's altitude possible (they're still stuck in the ocean, miles away from the shore).
Averted in Gargoyles, where two characters fall off a cliff into the ocean... and actually die. But played straight when two other characters fall off of a dam and survive.
Averted in the Code Lyoko episode "Marabounta". Ulrich tries to show off at the pool by diving from the highest platform — which is a very bad idea since he's suffering from vertigo. He panics and ends up belly-flopping and knocking himself out, having to be rescued by William and given CPR by Jim.
Averted in an episode of X-Men: Evolution where Nightcrawler and Shadowcat stow away on the X-jet with an insane Wolverine at the controls (long story). Shadowcat proceeds to ask why they can't just teleport out of the jet. Seeing as they were flying over an ocean at the time, Nightcrawler points out the absurdity in this plan with "Picture this: bumpity bumpity bumpity bumpity SPLAT!"
It can be a case of Not the Fall That Kills You. Since he meant that they were travelling at supersonic speed. Teleporting out would mean that they would be out of the Jet... but still at supersonic speed!
In an old Disney short featuring Donald Duck, Donald was dragged through the air on the end of a rope. Eventually, he is swung with whip-like force downwards into a lake. But instead of splashing in softly as expected, he hits the water with a loud "WHACK", not even making a splash before he sinks. Of course, he survives, being a toon and all.
One Tom And Jerry short, of all things, averts this. When Tom hits the water, he literally falls apart.
The Amazing World Of Gumball: Gumball jumps from the high dive and lands flat on the surface of the water, leaving a huge red imprint on his face and stomach.
(Spike and Whitey are falling) Spike: Keep your legs straight when you hit the water!\\''(Whitey lands safely in the water, while Spike hits a cement stone)
There was a woman skydiver whose parachute failed to deploy, and she fell into water, and survived. There was a catch, though; it wasn't exactly clean water. She fell into an open sewage receptacle. One guess what was keeping surface tension from forming.
Non-aqueous fluids can also be considerably lighter than water, with oil being a prime example.
Cliff divers, whose dives are usually about twice as high as platform divers, usually enter the water feet first: better to have a broken leg than a broken neck.
MythBusters checked the myth that you could avert this by having something hit the water first in order to break the surface tension. Busted.
"Bullet Proof Water" is confirmed, with the observation that high-caliber rifle rounds are easily stopped (more so for the .50 BMG), but smaller projectiles such as pistol rounds and 12-gauge shot can cut through to at least eight feet (ignoring problems of deflection). They also observe that the relative angle between shooter and target suggests that a mere foot or two of depth can provide the needed protection.
At least part of this is due to a bullet's center of gravity (especially long skinny pointy rifle bullets with a copper jacket and dense core) being located towards the rear. They exit the barrel flying in a tight spiral but tend to yaw or tumble when entering a denser medium (such as water, ballistic gel, or organic tissue). The increased surface area effectively turns an aerodynamic "dive" into a "belly flop"; the added resistance can cause the bullet to break apart given enough velocity. The same rifle bullets at a longer range (MythBusters tested at very short range) would shed velocity and thus probably go deeper underwater without disintegrating. Some discussion on this yawing effect with 5.56mm NATO-standard ammunition can be found here.
In "Dive to Survive", they confirm the myth that you can survive an explosion by diving into shallow water. Although, they point out that water can only protect you from an explosion if the conditions are just right. You can be protected from say, gasoline, but water will not save you from more powerful high explosives. You would at the very least have to be submerged at least 50 feet away, and that's for the relatively weak dynamite.
Of course, it should be noted that this trope may come into play with that video because it's water. Regardless of the fact that it's water, it's 10 tons of something.
As noted, San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge is the site of frequent suicide attempts, a few of which each year are invariably unsuccessful. In 2011, a teenage boy leaped from the bridge during a field trip (apparently convinced by this trope that he was in no real danger) and not only lived but sustained no injury more serious than bruising. There are a lot of variables that come into account in these falls, but it's usually the wind that saves you.
It wasn't the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger's fuel tank that killed the crew — that only threw the shuttle off-kilter, and the resulting supersonic aerodynamic stresses tore the orbiter apart. It was't the disintegration of the orbiter that killed the crew, either — the crew module survived the midair breakup intact. What did kill them was falling a hundred thousand feet and landing in the ocean at 200 miles per hour.
Well there is what's known as the "thirty-thirty" - thirty feet over the water, thirty knots, lobbing frogmen out the back. Granted they aren't landing in a foot of water, but...
30 feet, or ten meter, is also a fairly standard height for the highest amongst diving boards. It's a height at which even bad dive attempts are usually survived without too serious injuries. Which is why a foot of water can break ones fall: the diver goes on purpose for a very painful but ultimately survivable belly flop. This troper however would definitely not recommend trying it at home, not without some serious stunts and/or diving experience. Double that height and even professional cliff divers won't jump without a safety team standing by. At these heights air friction doesn't play much of a role yet, and a little extra height can make a big difference.