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Air Vent Passageway / Live-Action Films

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Air-Vent Passageways in live-action movies.

  • 10 Cloverfield Lane. When Michelle wakes up trapped in the bunker, she doesn't try to use the air vent as the hatch is too small, though she does light a fire in there to get Howard to open the door. Later the air filtration system stops working, and Michelle is the only one small enough to crawl through the vent to fix it. There's a larger access hatch in the living room, but the duct itself is extremely cramped; Michelle doesn't crawl through it so much as she inches her way into it. This is played for drama when she makes her escape through the vent and Howard (who's much too big to fit in the vent himself), tries to kill her by stabbing a knife through the duct.
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  • Referenced in 12 Monkeys when the staff of a mental hospital find Cole has vanished from his restraints, in a locked room. Their eyes turn to the tiny air vent way up on the high ceiling. After all, there's no other way out. Unless he was snatched through time...
  • 28 Weeks Later has Andy using this to escape a room in which the ranks of the infected are growing exponentially. Partially justified in that Andy is supposed to be only around ten or eleven and therefore is small enough to fit inside the vent with little trouble.
  • In 1408, protagonist Mike Enslin attempts to escape from the titular room by crawling through the air duct... only to discover that one of the room's many long-dead occupants has taken up residence there as well. He manages to escape the ghoul by quickly backtracking out of the vents, but the attempted escape in the first place didn't do anything, as most of the airvents leading to different rooms simply lead to various memories he's had throughout life, making it a pointless effort to begin with, not that he knew that until he tried.
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  • Deconstructed in the "A is for Amateur" segment of ABCs of Death 2 where the assassin's planned entrance through the air vents is foiled by close quarters, protruding nails, and massive amounts of dust. He eventually takes out his target anyway, when the vent is opened to find the source of the corpse-stink, and the gun falls out, going off when it hits the floor.
  • Alien:
    • In Alien, the monster actually uses the air duct escape against the protagonists
    • In Aliens, Ripley and the marines use ducts to escape the monsters (which likewise use the ducts to invade). Likewise the aliens bypass the walls and doors by sneaking through the ceiling plenum à la The Breakfast Club, correctly using the structure to carry their weight and cross the lay-in-ceiling.
    • It's only explained in the movie's extended director's cut, but the character of "Newt" earned that nickname because she was so good at playing hide-and-seek in those same ducts.
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  • Naturally Ant-Man finds this trope easier than other heroes, but a Properly Paranoid Big Bad puts micromesh across the ventilators, so our hero has to get inside the building first via the water pipes.
  • In Bad Kids Go to Hell: Matt attempts to use the ducts to escape the library, but they collapse under his weight. The lighter Tarvek is later able to use them to actually get outside. For all the good that does him.
  • Bad Santa 2 features a character crawling up both a garbage chute and an air-vent to spy on someone. He's discovered when his phone rings and starts to play Pop That Pussy.
  • Played completely straight in Blue Streak, where Logan manages to hide a huge diamond right before the cops find and arrest him. Years later, he is released from prison and comes looking... only to find out that the building is now a police precinct.
  • Subverted in The Boondock Saints, when the brothers break into Copley Plaza Hotel to assassinate Russian mobsters, but get lost and break the vent... granted, they happen to near-fall into the correct room. Agent Smecker than explains how this trope is only ever seen in "bad television":
    Smecker: Little assault guys, crawling through the vents, coming in through the ceiling — that James Bond shit never happens in real life! Professionals don't do that!
  • Subverted in The Breakfast Club. After John Bender is locked in a broom closet by Principal Vernon, he tries to escape through an air duct, which collapses just as he is muttering the punchline to an obscene joke to himself (and the audience).
  • Memorably parodied in The Brothers Bloom. Penelope needs to smuggle a MacGuffin out of a church while the police are thoroughly distracted. She fits in the air vents well enough, but they are not concealed in the least, and the clamor she makes attracts the police to her. The duct has very little support, so it breaks open right in front of a SWAT team, and she picks herself up into a Fighting Stance.
  • Subverted in the B-movie Chopping Mall. The teens attempt to escape the shopping mall's malfunctioning killer robots through the airvent. Only the girls get in before the guys are forced to flee for their lives. The girl end up abandoning this plan when it seems the computer has turned on the heat, forcing them to leave the vent and re-enter the mall.
  • In Colombiana, Cataleya sneaks through a prison's air vents, helped by the fact that she is very skinny. She had to disable the vents' fans before starting her journey.
  • Slightly altered in Crossfire, where the main characters are able to escape an army of police by crawling through an air duct of a building.
  • Cyberjack: Nick uses the giant air ducts to navigate around the office building and hide from the terrorists.
  • A variation happens in the Italian movie Danger: Diabolik (featured on the last episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000), where the title character scales up a castle wall using a pair of devices consisting of three hand-activated suction cups attached to a handle. Mike and the Bots have a field day with it.
    Servo: Diabolik's only two feet down the tower, moving as fast as he can...
  • In Dawn of the Dead, the main characters use the mall's air vents to access the stores that are locked with gates. They also drywall and paint over the door to their hiding area so it looks like there was never a door there and rely on the air vents to access the area instead, figuring that marauding survivors may target the mall and would be a bigger threat than zombies. An assumption that proves very valid.
  • Daylight has Sylvester Stallone get into a caved-in tunnel through a air vent. Since the air vent was meant to supply air to a car tunnel, its huge size is justified. However, the architecture of the system is still not completely realistic.
  • Subverted in the Day of the Dead (2008) remake, as one of the zombies catches the heroes trying this and actually follows them into the vent.
  • In the HBO Movie Deadly Voyage (depicting the murder of 8 African stowaways on a Europe-bound cargo ship), the 9th stowaway manages to escape from the ship and his would-be killers by shimmying up one of these. Made all the more harrowing by the fact that movie is based on a true story and that this isn't Adaptation Displacement — this is EXACTLY how the man was able to get away.
  • In D.E.B.S., Lucy Diamond uses the air vents to infiltrate the building in which Endgame is occurring, but it turns out that Homeland Security has been briefed about the possibility that spies could enter illegally through such routes.
  • In Den of Thieves, Donnie escapes from the basement of the Reserve by crawling up an air vent to the second floor.
  • In Desperate Measures, the villain Peter McCabe can take a medical facility over by himself once he gets to the control room, able to lock and open doors at will and talk via the police intercoms to the movie's main character, Frank Connor. An agent attempts to listen into McCabe and Connor's conversation by situating himself in an air vent above the control room and lowering a small mic, but he is soon found out by McCabe. He shoots into the ceiling and waits until he sees blood drip from the bullet holes in the ceiling. When asked by Connor what happened, he simply replies "Just a rat, Frank. Just a rat."
  • Die Hard
    • Used quite famously in the first film: the villains quickly realize the hero John is using the ventilation system, and come perilously close to catching him inside. Also lampshaded in that John McClane is rather muscular and the vents are small; he remarks, "Now I know what a TV dinner feels like." Plus, he gets really dirty.
    • In the second film, McClane crawls through a ventilation shaft on directions from the janitor to reach an area where he believes mooks are waiting to attack an airport SWAT team escorting the engineer to a backup radio system to establish contact with planes circling the airport. He turns out to be right, but gets there after the SWAT officers have been taken out permanently.
  • Played with in Eight Legged Freaks, when a character narrowly escapes the giant spiders by diving into a rooftop air duct into a mall's ventilation shafts... only to slide helplessly down a slanted vent, then get trapped when the grill at the bottom won't come loose.
  • Escape from Alcatraz: Morris, Charlie, and the Anglin brothers mount an escape by digging out the back of their cells to get into the ventilator shafts and escape Alcatraz prison through the roof.
  • In Escape Room (2017), the surviving players crawl out of one of the rooms through the large ducts. Justified when it turns out that the vents are just another part of the game.
  • The Fifth Element
    • Subverted when the villain sweeps the ceiling with a machine-gun, perforating Leelo, who is hiding in the ceiling duct.
    • Played straight earlier, when she escapes from the cloning lab by running through rather massive air ducts to get outside.
  • Seen in Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane. On board a 747 of all places.
  • Another MST3K film, Future War, subverts this trope. A minor character climbs into an air vent to avoid a rampaging killer cyborg. The vent promptly collapses through the ceiling under the weight of her average-sized body and she gets killed.
  • The starship in Galaxy Quest has a spacious duct system plus a team of fanboys able to navigate the heroes across. Justified as the starship is based on one used in a TV show, so this trope would come into play.
  • Garfield. Garfield goes through the air vent of the Telegraph building in order to find Odie. Justified since, even though Garfield is obese, he is still a cat and thus much smaller and lighter than a human. However, once he enters it, security guards turn on the air, causing him to fly around the air vents. He then slams into the end of the ducts, but doesn't get out. Eventually, he goes around to where he finds Odie.
  • Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed: Used by Ghost and Brigitte. Somewhat justified since they are both skinny teenage girls.
  • The 1998 American Godzilla movie has this, where Audrey Timmonds and Animal Palotti are sneaking through the vents of Madison Square Gardens in order to escape Godzilla's babies. Also subverted, since it turns out the vent can't hold their weight after all.
  • In Graduation, Carl and Chauncey crawl through the air vents to spray paint the cameras covering the lobby of the bank.
  • As evidenced in Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, Michael does not take too kindly to this trope. He proceeds to relentlessly stab the outside of the air vent when a would-be victim (his niece) tries to escape through one.
  • The Hand: At the end of the film, the hand reappears emerging from an air vent in the mental hospital. Justified, as it is a self-mobile severed hand and has no trouble fitting through a vent.
  • Subverted and lampshade Hung in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, when Kumar calls in an incident as a diversion and crawls through a heating duct to get Harold out of jail, making a racket, having an argument with Harold (who doesn't want to escape) while still in the duct, getting stuck in it and eventually causing the duct to collapse, falling onto a table and hitting his head on a file cabinet. He does manage to grab the bag of weed and get Harold out due to lampshade Hung Police Brutality, though.
  • Havenhurst: Jackie and Sarah crawl through a vent to the outside of the building in hopes of escaping. Sarah gets out, but Jackie gets caught by Ted and dragged back into the building by Jed.
  • Hero and the Terror: After his escape from prison, Simon Moon chooses to hide out in a popular opera house. He captures new victims by hiding in the air ventilation system.
  • Horrific: In Terror Vision, the giant eye uses the air vents to travel around the apartment building.
  • Inception had the group breaking into an ice fortress using a air vent system. Justified since they had created those air vents to be big enough to let people move around.
  • In Like Flint. While in Moscow, Flint escapes from Russian agents, opens an air vent cover and goes inside. He then crawls down the tunnel and spies upon the Prime Minister (presumably they meant the Premier).
  • One of the scenes in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry involves the main characters (who are firemen) having to rescue a would be thief who got stuck trying to sneak through an air duct.
  • Done in Iron Sky by James Washington when escaping from the Nazis on their Moon base (It Makes Sense in Context). We're not shown how he actually get into the vents, all so that we can be treated to a pun by Klaus Adler, when he comments to Renate that she is a "knockout"... just as a vent cover is falling on him from the ceiling. Slightly justified in that the Nazis never expected to be invaded or infiltrated. And all their technology is of the Schizo Tech variety.
  • James Bond
    • Subverted in GoldenEye. The Dragon pursues Natalya Simonova into a breakroom and, seeing the air vent cover pulled down, opens fire into the air vent. After she's left, Natalya emerges from a cabinet, having used the air vent as a Decoy Hiding Place.
    • Double-subverted way back in the film Dr. No. When Bond tries to escape his cell through the vent, he gets electrocuted when he touches the grill. However, he tries again by using his shoe to push it out and succeeds in escaping. One part of the vent had red-hot surfaces and Bond gets swamped by a huge wave of water at one point. As a nice touch, he experimentally taps the grill at the other end with his feet to make sure it isn't electrified.
  • In Johnny English Reborn they use the Garderobe to infiltrate the castle.
  • In The Journey of Natty Gann, Natty escapes from a reform school via some kind of vent which she gets into by removing a grate from the bottom of the bathroom wall.
  • Alan, Lex and Tim do a variation of this in the original Jurassic Park. They're in the Visitors' Center kitchen, and can't get out the doors because of the raptors running around. So, they make their way to the center's lobby by removing ceiling panels and climbing up inside. Not into the actual air vents, though.
  • The Killing Room (2009). Several volunteers are locked in a room for a psychological experiment, only to be killed off one at a time. One man is able to smash through the ventilation duct in the ceiling. The researchers react calmly as this has all happened before (in fact, the protagonists had heard someone scrambling through the duct earlier). He reaches a roof duct, but is blocked by a steel grill. Two labcoated researchers with clipboards are shown standing over another rooftop duct from which can be heard a woman screaming. They walk over to the other grill, hit the man with knockout gas and drag him back to the Room.
  • Several of Krampus' minions crawl about the vents of the Engel household in Krampus.
  • In Masterminds, Ozzy has an extended sequence where he dodges the hostage-takers in air vents. Done realistically in that the school is huge but only covered by a small group, the ducts are barely large enough for him to fit in the first place (and he's not that big in the first place, being a kid), and he makes enough noise that they can follow him once they stumble upon his location.
  • In Men in Black II, the worms get to the power control of MIB headquarters through the air vents.
  • In Midnight Movie, Bridget sends Timmy through the very large air vents into the projection room in an attempt to turn off the projector. Timmy later uses the vents to escape from the killer when he is trapped in a storeroom.
  • Mission: Impossible: Ethan Hunt infiltrates the CIA headquarters this way (along with Jean Reno's), which leads to the famous "dangling in the ultra-secure white room" scene.
  • Mission: Impossible III: Ethan escapes IMF headquarters like this. Given they are the masters of the air vent entry, you would have thought they'd had better security, but no. He didn't so much "escape" as "get into another office in the same building that shared the vent system". The vent Ethan crawls out of is in a room with pamphlets for the Virginia Department Of Transportation, his cover job, implying that he uses that room frequently and either knows of — or set up — that opportunity, should he ever need it.
  • Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol: There's an offhand comment that "infrared sensors" prevent Ethan from infiltrating the server room in the Burj Khalifa, so he has to get there by climbing up the outside of the world's tallest building. Played straight later on in the movie when Brandt has to enter another server room through the heat vents, which of course are rather hot and contain a Deadly Rotary Fan he has to leap onto and hope his metallic suit will keep him suspended above a remote-controlled robot with a large magnet. As a Running Gag in the movie is the failure of the various gadgets the IMF team is equipped with, this plan does not fill him with confidence.
  • In Morgan, after Lee is locked in Morgan's cell, she crawls up the air vent and kicks out the skylight to escape.
  • Played with in Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005), where assassin Jane Smith's place of work has security lasers everywhere to keep intruders out, including the vent system, as Mrs. Smith is the owner of the company and has used such tactics herself in the past.
  • Used and subverted in The Negotiator, where the SWAT team uses small vents for running fiber-optic cameras and larger vents for team members. When the title character barricades himself into an office, one of the precautions he takes is to close off the vents as best he can with available materials. Later played straight in his attempt to escape the office building.
  • Subverted in Outpost when the last remaining team member escapes through an air vent, only to end up in the testing chamber where he's swarmed by its undead occupants.
    • But played straight in Outpost: Rise of the Spetsnaz where a powerfully-build Russian escapes from the underground lab by climbing a convenient ladder in a vertical air vent. There are no locks or bars whatsoever, in a secret military installation where prisoners and zombies are confined, targeted by American spies and Soviet commando groups.
  • In Paul Blart: Mall Cop Blart attempts to use an air duct to escape from some mooks but only ends up completely giving away his position by all the noise and all the dents showing up, leaving him open to attack. In the end the air vent just breaks loose anyway, proving to not be a stable place to climb in in the first place. It doesn't help that Paul is a little on the heavy side (played by Kevin James).
  • Police Academy: Several officers use this method (among others) to infiltrate a building held by criminals.
    • The obese officer "House" lampshades it when he complains about having to take the stairs (when one infiltration team got to take the elevator while disguised as maintenance personnel) and is reminded that he was offered the vents.
    • In 2, Mauser co-opts Lassard's plan to take the Scullions by surprise via the air vent on top of the zoo enclosure's roof. Unfortunately for him, he chooses Fackler to help him. Hilarity Ensues.
  • The cast of The Pool try to do this, but the killer will have none of that nonsense, and starts stabbing them from beneath, killing two characters.
  • Poseidon: Used as a means of navigation in the remake. Handled a bit more realistically than most examples of this trope: the ducts are wide enough to crawl through without very much effort, but one character does get stuck in a compressed section and has to be helped out. Another one suffers from claustrophobia, and the heroes nearly drown due to the rising water because it takes a lot of effort to get the panel on the other side open.
  • Also used in the sequel to the original movie The Poseidon Adventure, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, complete with internal lighting fixtures.
  • Resident Evil
    • Resident Evil. After leaving the Red Queen's chamber the 2nd time, at one point the surviving team members go through air vents to evade the zombies.
    • In Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Alice escapes Nemesis via a random spacious disposal chute.
    • In Resident Evil: Extinction, one of the Alice clones jumps into an air vent to escape a replica of the Laser Grid deathtrap from the first movie. Milla Jovovich ends up in Air Vents a lot.
  • In Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, the creepily jolly St. Nick and some Earthling kids escape from a spaceship's air lock through the ventilation duct — employing Santa's long-established ability to fit through chimneys. Mystery Science Theater 3000 adds an appropriately Bondian line: "So, Mister Claus, you have a nasty habit of surviving!"
  • Scarecrow Slayer: After the Scarecrow kills Caleb in the hospital, Mary escapes from her room into Judy's by crawling through a ridiculously large air vent.
  • In Scavenger Hunt (1979), Dummitz breaks into the bridal boutique by crawling in through an air vent.
  • Serenity
    • Minor subversion when the Captain must get a wrench and properly remove the duct cover before executing the trope to get past a locked door.
    • After escaping the space battle in an Escape Pod, the Operative infiltrates Mr. Universe's complex via its air ducts.
    • Played for laughs at the end, when Simon and Kaylee are taking the "unresolved" out of their UST. They begin removing their clothes, then start kissing, then they fall down out of sight... and the camera pans up to show River watching from an air duct overhead.
  • The famous The Shawshank Redemption escape although instead of an air vent, it's a sewage pipe.
  • Used, more realistically than usual, in Sky High (2005). One character's power (glowing in the dark) comes in handy here, allowing the others to see. And only the character who can become a rodent can reach the place needed to save the day. Lame power? What's a lame power?
  • Done in the Lorenzo Lama vehicle Snake Eater II: The Drug Buster: as Lama's character wiggles his denim-clad gluteal region through the mental asylum's air duct, he meets two characters going in — a hired woman, and a pizza delivery guy!
  • Sneakers. One of the team infiltrates an enemy-controlled building through the ventilation system, and tries to get out the same way after the job is completed. Though somewhat subverted in that he is caught as the guards are smart enough to look and find him.
  • Snow White and the Huntsman. Variant, as Snow White escapes the castle through the privy, and the Dwarves use that same privy to sneak in and open the gates.
  • In Son of a Gun, JR part in the caper is to crawl through the air vents at the refinery and hide in the vent over the pouring room until it starts operation. The then drops down through the vent to perform crowd control duties.
  • Star Wars:
  • Used in Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, complete with a rooftop airvent to enter through and enough lighting inside to see. The shaft does however break apart and fall through the ceiling once two people are inside it, crashing to the floor below and alerting the guards.
  • In The Thieves, Yenicall escapes from Park's hotel room by crawling through the ceiling crawlspace.
  • The Thing (2011). The heroine temporarily escapes the alien monster on the Flying Saucer by fleeing down a vent it's too big to follow. Instead of morphing back to human size, the alien gropes for her with its Combat Tentacles, eventually Ankle Draging her into the open. Unfortunately she's used to time to get her hands on a hand grenade. She got into the spaceship in the first place by (accidentally) falling through the intake vents as the ship powered up.
  • Parodied in Top Secret!. While incarcerated in Flugendorf Prison, Nick Rivers tries to escape through the air vent system. He ends up sticking his head out of a medicine cabinet and a toilet before finally sliding back out through the vent into the cell.
  • In Toy Soldiers, the main characters use the air vents to get from the bathroom to the headmaster's office.
  • In Unaccompanied Minors the four kids escape from the four separate rooms where Mr. Porter is holding them by waiting till he is distracted, switching the surveillance cameras with recordings, and then climbing into the air vent in each room.
  • Astronaut Digger Reed in the Walt Disney Presents movie Hero in the Family, who was in the body of the chimpanzee Orville at the time, uses the vents to escape from NASA's animal cages, then later uses them along with his son Ben to take the crystal that had caused the mind swap in the first place.
  • WarGames. While escaping from NORAD, David gets into the ventilation system. He uses it to reach the War Room, where he infiltrates a tour group.
  • Who's Harry Crumb? has the titular detective attempt to spy on his client's Gold Digger wife and her lover (whom he suspects to be the kidnappers of the client's daughter) by pretending to be a repairman and crawling in the vents, which are big enough to accommodate someone the size of John Candy. Subverted in that he actually can't get a good look inside the room due to the awkward positioning of the airholes, so he resorts to using a camera (and then doesn't bother to look at the pictures to find out that the kidnapper is his boss). When the kidnapper turns up the A/C, Harry is rapidly propelled along the vents to the point that he literally flies out at the end.
  • In Winning London, Riley and Brian help the hostages escape using the air vents.
  • Wrongfully Accused uses this. Leslie Nielsen uses the vents to get into the hospital's computer room.


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