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The Precarious Ledge
It's a looooooong way down if you slip up.

Closely related to Lover's Ledge (but without the love), Precarious Ledge is precisely what it sounds like. It's a situation in which the characters have no choice but to navigate a dangerous ledge. This seemingly foolish route of travel can be taken for a variety of reasons. The Protagonist may be running away from The Syndicate or escaping The Men in Black, Climbing the Cliffs of Insanity, or exploring the Temple of Doom. But eventually, they will come to a point or seeming dead-end where the only way forward involves a high, ridiculously thin path upon which to traverse and advance.

While Lover's Ledge is particular to the escape by an adulterous sneakster, Precarious Ledge is more general; it can include everything from rocky cliff ledges to shiny white ledges in a futuristic facility, from the lip of a volcano to the edge of a high snowy mountain pass.

Perhaps the most defining feature of this trope is when the character will have his or her back pressed tightly against the structure as they move sideways very slowly.

Another way this trope is frequently used is when a character is about to potentially commit suicide by jumping. A character will threaten to jump of the ledge of a building, bridge, or other high structure.

No matter how this trope is used, there's always one common factor. When this trope occurs in some cinematic sequence, these scenes convey tension to the audience. A fear of heights, and indeed of falling from such heights, is quite common amongst people in general, and thus this trope plays on both fears. A little Plummet Perspective camerawork, and the whole thing just comes together so nicely.

Note that, when used in video games, it's not enough for the character to just be able to run along ledges with ease. Traveling along the ledge has to actually be precarious, meaning that the distance is high enough to be lethal or extremely dangerous, or there is Plummet Perspective. Bonus points if the character's animations reflect their fear in being on such a dangerous ledge.

Compare Talking Down The Suicide when a character stands on a ledge to threaten suicide. Contrast No Escape but Down, where the heroes must jump into the unknown rather than get from Point A to Point B.

Also compare Climb, Slip, Hang, Climb, Literal Cliff Hanger, and Balcony Escape.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Comic Books 
  • In the bonus V for Vendetta story "Vertigo," a Secret Police officer forces an innocent man to walk the window ledge all the way around the building, telling him if he makes it, he can go free. The man falls but V saves him, and then makes the officer walk the ledge, on which he's just happened to drop a Banana Peel.

    Film 
  • Played with and Lampshaded in The Man Who Knew Too Little: "There's a hallway! We can walk!"
  • Subverted in The Matrix. Neo is instructed by Morpheus to crawl along a tiny ledge between windows to escape the men in black. He chokes and gets captured instead.
  • In The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowships must traverse a narrow ledge at The Pass of Caradhras through the snow, even as Saruman tries to bring them down with his foul chanting. They eventually decide it's too dangerous and take the route through Moria.
  • 1408: Mike tries to escape The Room by climbing out onto the thin, windy ledge and shimmying into the next room over's window, only to discover that there are no other windows, only an infinite sheer brick wall. He turns back, ending up in a Literal Cliffhanger thanks to the ghost of a woman committing suicide by throwing herself out the window.
  • The film Man On A Ledge is Exactly What It Says on the Tin. The Protagonist spends a great deal of time standing on the ledge of a building over a city.
  • Undercover Brother. While infiltrating the Mega Corp. Multinational Inc., the title character must make his way along a ledge high up on the outside of a building in order to reach a room where he can download information from a computer.
  • In The Bourne Identity Jason Bourne escapes the American Embassy by navigating a ledge.
  • In Mission: Impossible Ethan walks across a ledge on a massive glass building.
  • In Chronicle the boys entertain themselves by sitting on extremely high ledges without fear. This is on purpose, of course, as the boys' powers have made them feel fearless. Which comes back to bite them.
  • The second segment in the Stephen King anthology film Cats Eye, "The Ledge", is built around this trope. A man is kidnapped by his lover's powerful and jealous husband for planning to run away with his wife. The husband makes the protagonist an offer: if he can navigate the minuscule ledge outside his top floor penthouse all the way around the building, he will divorce his wife, if not, he will frame the man for drug charges.
  • Accidental Hero: John, after taking credit for a rescue he didn't actually do, goes out on a ledge and is contemplating suicide. Bernie, the actual rescuer, goes out to talk him down. They both agree that John is more the "hero-type" than Bernie is, so Bernie lets John take the credit both for the original rescue and for talking him off the ledge.
  • The Couch Trip: In the opening scene has mental patient John Burns Dan Aykroyd out on the ledge of a mental institution, but he's not jumping just admiring the scenery. But when his therapist shows up to try to talk him down, he acts like he really is going to jump.
  • Played for laughs in The Great Race. Henry Goodbody, the editor of the New York Sentinel newspaper, sends his assistant Frisbee out on the ledge of a skyscraper to retrieve a messenger pigeon with information about the progress of the title race. The assistant almost falls but manages to retrieve the pigeon.
    Goodbody: Frisbee, next time be more careful. If you're falling, let go of the bird.
  • In Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, after the mine-cart chase scene, Indy and his companions wind up on a narrow ledge that runs past the shaft's opening. Water cascading from the mine causes parts of the cliff wall to cave in or be penetrated by broken wooden beams, forcing the three further along the ledge to avoid the debris.
  • The Naked Gun: Drebin escapes a burning room from a window onto a ledge filled with anatomically correct male and female statues. Hilarity Ensues.

    Literature 
  • The Stephen King short story "The Ledge" from the collection Night Shift (which was adapted in Cats Eye, as seen above) is about a mob boss who forces his wife's lover to circumnavigate a 5-inch ledge surrounding a multistory building, saying he'll let the couple go free if he makes it. When the man succeeds, the mob boss tell him the wife is now indeed free, but also dead; the lover manages to overpower the boss's bodyguard and forces the boss out onto the ledge. The lover then waits for him with a loaded gun, saying that he has been known to welch on a wager.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In The Adventures of Superman episode "The Human Bomb", Bet-A-Million Butler drags Lois out onto the Planet building's ledge, which seems barely a foot wide.
  • I Love Lucy: In "Lucy Meets Superman" Lucy dresses up as Superman for little Ricky's birthday party after promising that Superman would show up but then it looked like he might not. She crawls out on the ledge of the building to come in through the window but the "real" Superman note  does show up while she's out there. She gets her cape stuck on a drainpipe so she's stuck out there in the rain. Superman goes out on the ledge and helps her get unstuck.
    Ricky: Lucy, of all the crazy things you done in the fifteen years we been married this is —
    Superman: Wait a minute, Ricardo! Do you mean to say that you've been married to her for fifteen years?
    Ricky: Yeah, fifteen years.
    Superman: And they call me Superman!
  • WKRP in Cincinnati: When Les is Mistaken for Gay he decides to jump off the ledge of the building. Herb climbs out the window to talk him down, and when Les gets a call from the person who had mistaken him for gay apologizing Les now wants to live but is too petrified to move. They manage to bring him in, but Herb falls off and gets injured even though he falls into a Fireman's Safety Net (offscreen).
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine uses the same "narrow ledge inside a cavern" set for this in several episodes.
    • In "Move Along Home" getting past one of these that's being shaken by an earthquake is the final challenge in the Wadis' board game. They fall off into the abyss, but fortunately you can't really die in the game and they appear back in the real world.
    • In "The Sword of Kahless" Jadzia, Worf, and Kor encounter a narrow ledge while working their way to the surface from the Hur'q treasure room. Kor falls down but grabs hold of the edge, and the others pull him back up.
  • In one episode of Adam-12 Reed and Malloy encounter a jumper on one of these. Malloy goes out on the ledge to pull him back in. The sergeant gives him a massive chewing-out for this.
  • 2point4 Children had an episode where Bill and Rona visit Bill's aunt at her seventeenth-floor apartment, only to discover that she has become stuck on a ledge after climbing out to feed the pigeons. She threatens to jump if they call the fire brigade (believing that the authorities would have her sent to a retirement home), so Bill and Rona go out to rescue her - then the ledge nearest the window crumbles, leaving them stranded. Thankfully, the whole building is so poorly constructed that Bill breaks through the wall when she stumbles backwards.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 1st edition Dungeons & Dragons module I12 Egg of the Phoenix. In the section "The Caves of Time", the PCs must climb up the inside of a huge pit using a set of narrow stairs, with several monster attacks to keep things interesting.

    Video Games 
  • Tomb Raider: Lara Croft has to do this quite a few times. In Tomb Raider (2013), she has to move across a ledge at least once on a cliff face with her back to the cliff. Behind her, structures are being destroyed in a violent wind storm.
  • Faith in Mirror's Edge slows down long enough to creep across ledges on the rooftops. These short sections come with Plummet Perspective too.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty Raiden has to press his back against the walls of the Big Shell structures on narrow ledges. At one point he even has to crouch and move simultaneously. In the same portion of the game, a soldier pees over the edge of the building as Raiden eases across the very narrow ledge right underneath.
  • In Metal Gear Solid Disc 2, there is a blast furnace section. You have to cross a ledge on the wall, and there's a piece of crane-like machinery moving around that will hit you and make you fall into the open furnace— As a bonus, you can actually shoot the thing down before crossing it, not that your various Mission Control tells you that like they usually do. This is also the only ledge where there is an actual danger of falling.
  • In one part of Half-Life, during the "Surface Tension" section, you have to fight Marines along the side of a cliff face. It becomes extremely narrow in places and can be nerve-wracking for people with a fear of heights.
  • In The Last of Us the trio Joel, Tess and Ellie go a short way around the edge of a sky scraper on a ledge. The segment of ledge lasts only a moment, and the ledge is a foot thick, but they stick closely to the wall anyway.
  • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker has a few of these, which you have to get past with the "sidle" command. You're fine as long as you don't let up the 'A' button.
  • In the casual game Escape the Museum, the ledge between two windows provides a route from one room to another. Subverted when you manage to raise a window-washers' platform from below and cross on that instead of the ledge.
  • The Matrix Path Of Neo despite using the footage from The Matrix inverts Neo's decision and let's you cross the ledge, when you do it opens up the rest of the level.

    Western Animation 
  • Jonny Quest episode "The Devil's Tower". During their escape the Quest team must ease their way along a narrow trail in a cliff with the mad war criminal Von Duffel bombing them with grenades from the air.
  • The Serpent's Pass in Avatar: The Last Airbender is a long, narrow ledge across the body of water separating the main land from the city of Ba Sing Se. Because the Gaang and a pair of newlyweds cannot manage to buy the ticket for the ferry, they went here instead. Not only navigating here is already hard, there's a freaking giant water serpent that lives here, trying to knock them off the ledge.
  • In A Cat in Paris, Nico makes a career of walking along incredibly thin ledges. At some point, he even saves a potted plant from falling off a window sill without so much as a stumble.
  • Futurama: In the first Christmas episode, Fry buys Leela a bird. It escapes its cage and flies off. He chases after it, ending up along a building edge, then dangling from the numbers of a gigantic digital clock.

    Real Life 


Pop The TiresChase ScenePursued Protagonist
The Patient Has Left the BuildingEscape TropesProtector Behind Bars
Mind Your StepDangerous HeightsRise to the Challenge
Pre-Asskicking MutterAction Adventure TropesThe Precious, Precious Car
Pre-Battle BanterNarrative DevicesPremature Eulogy

alternative title(s): Dangerous Ledge
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