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Stairwell Chase
Elevators are for amateurs.

A Cinematography trope. A Pursued Protagonist is being chased up (less often, down) a stairwell. As they run up the camera "floats" upwards and we see the hero and his adversaries as they spiral upwards, or may well descend to show all the pursuers. The hero and the pursuers will look up and down at each other at least once before setting off running.

This works as a means to establish claustrophobia and vertigo, as the hero is fleeing in close quarters and essentially going in circles. This can be accomplished by having the camera on the opposite bank and move up/down, or using a harness and crane to move the camera and operator

See also Camera Chase. As the hero is likely to "tree" himself at the top of the stairs, see also Climbing Climax.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Film 
  • A reversal occurs in The Bourne Identity, when Bourne is on the top floor and the bad guy is running up to meet him. Bourne cuts out the chase and jumps down about fifteen stories, shooting the bad guy on the way down. It's made even more awesome by the fact that he rides another mook's body while falling and uses said body to break his fall. Of course, it does almost nothing to help him avoid injury, but it's still awesome.
  • In The Matrix, the dejavu sequence features this shot at least twice.
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail has the camera angle, but it's not a chase, and is in fact completely separate from the plot. The man walks down the stairs, so it takes him a little while.
  • In the Sin City segment with Marv, the police beeline up the stairs to get to Marv. He barrels past them and jumps down the stairwell.
  • Shoot 'em Up has a stairwell chase... culminating in a spiral of death as the protagonist bungees down.
  • The International has a scene that's part stairwell chase in New York's Guggenheim Museum. Though thanks to the museum's layout it's more of a staircase running gun battle.
    • For non-New Yorkers wondering what's so amazing about that: The Museum's defining architectural characteristic is that all the public areas are designed entirely without stairs, so the actors are racing down the spiral walkway at the heart of the Museum.
    • An earlier chase through the Guggenheim was seen in Men In Black.
  • As seen in the page image, the movie Underworld made good use of this trope.
  • Used in the film adaptation of The Fugitive with the titular character desperately running down to escape the armed US Martial.
    • Used in the sequel, U.S. Marshals, only this time the fugitive is running UP the stairs.
  • A classic: The Belltower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo", pioneering the iconic "zoom in / dolly back" effect to show the lead character's intense terror.
  • A form appears in the 2007 Transformers movie: Sam runs up a stairwell to the roof as Megatron smashes his way up after him.
  • Batman chases the Joker up a bell tower in its finale.
  • A variation appears at the climax of Raising Cain, where the cops, a desperate mother, her boyfriend, and her MPD husband's female personality close in on the child-stealing villain, all from different directions, via a motel's outdoor stairwells and balconies. The camera pans from the villain and mother facing off on an elevated walkway, then down a stairwell past the approaching cops, then to the ground-level boyfriend running to catch the little girl when the villain drops her over the railing.
  • Bond chases the villainous Elektra up the stairs of her hideout during the climax of The World Is Not Enough.
  • Near the end of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, the citizens are chasing Captain Culpepper up the stairs, and this shot is used.
  • In Weekend at Bernie's, one of the couples is going up to the top of a lighthouse and this shot is used.
  • A variation occurs in American Psycho, but rather than pursuing his victim down the stairs, he simply watches from the top of the stairs and drops a chainsaw on her head from there.
  • Arthur in Inception runs downstairs, with a projection of Fischer's militarized subconscious right after him. Thanks to the fact that they're Penrose Stairs, which impossibly take you right back where you started on the stairs, Arthur can sweep in behind his pursuer, and then drop the man off the high ledge the landing's suddenly become. As Arthur says, "Paradox."
  • Played for laughs in Ghostbusters, where it becomes more of a Stairway Trudge. This example is also a bit of a cheat: the flights above our heroes are a matte painting.
  • REC is big on this. The chasing gets more intense as the Infected increase in number.
  • Lolita (1997). Dolores accuses Humbert of murdering her mother and shouts at him to kill her as well. She then flees down the stairs of their apartment building with Humbert in pursuit, with the camera spinning to follow them instead of staying in place, showing how their lives are spinning out of control.
  • Welcome to the Punch (2013). After seeing his Arch-Nemesis Jacob Sternwood fleeing a hotel room shootout, Cowboy Cop Max Lewinsky chases him down the fire stairs only for his knee to give out from the injury Sternwood gave him three years ago.

    Live Action TV 
  • Appears in Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes "Wild Rebels" and "Warrior Of The Lost World". (In the latter, there was no actual chase, and the staircase was a "square" spiral, but it was done in the same spirit)
  • Used in the Dollhouse episode "Spy in the House of Love", with NSA agents chasing Sierra up a staircase towards the roof.

    Video Games 
  • Used as part of a level in Xenosaga: Episode II. The player must run up a very long staircase while mechanical threats chase from below.

    Western Animation 
  • Appears in the Filmation's Ghostbusters episodes "Statue of Liberty" and "The Way You Are."
  • In The Beatles episode "Hold Me Tight," George and Ringo chase a man who they think is going to blow up the Statue of Liberty up the statue's stairwell.

Stairs Are FasterChase SceneSuicidal Gotcha
Split-Screen ReactionCamera TricksStaggered Zoom
Delayed CausalityImageSource/Live-Action FilmsUnforgiven

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