You think it's annoying when the elevator stops working and you need to climb three floors to reach your apartment? Be glad you don't have to face the Absurdly Long Stairway.
The Absurdly Long Stairway is so incredibly, well, long that ascending it is a serious challenge in itself. The characters will probably be utterly exhausted by the time they get to the top, assuming they will persevere that long. (Descending such a stairway tends to be easier, one way or the other, but not always.) Such stairways may have thousands of steps and stretch for miles. Indeed, sometimes they are literally endless.
These stairways can be found in man-made structures (such as very tall towers with no lifts) or more supernatural locations. They can have a major symbolic meaning, about ascension or spiritual uplifting or the like. They can find application both in serious works and in comedy. In the latter case, expect some unlucky Butt-Monkey to trip and tumble all the way down.
A notable subset of Absurdly Long Stairways are Absurdly Long Temple Stairways. In Real Life, a somewhat tamer version of this trope is relatively common in temple architecture, and may be observed in various Buddhist, Hindu, and Mesoamerican temples. Sometimes in fictionnote , this is taken to extremes by placing the temple on the slopes - or even the summit - of a mountain, with stairs leading all the way up. The symbolism of ascending to the temple should be obvious; sometimes, as with the Aztecs, the long temple stairs were also used for a Staircase Tumble when they tossed the bodies of sacrificial victims down them.
A Stairway to Heaven may be one of these. Can be sometimes found in an It's All Upstairs From Here climax. Compare Endless Corridor. May be an Unnaturally Looping Location. See also Ending by Ascending.
- In the first episode of Doki Doki Pre Cure, Mana runs up an extremely long staircase all the way to the top of the Clover Tower (which is similar to the real life Tokyo Tower) in order to fight a monster, even though she hasn't become a Pretty Cure yet at that point.
- Dragon Ball, during Goku and Krillin's Training from Hell under Master Roshi, one exercise to deliver milk on foot to an entire island. At one point, Roshi tells the boys that their next house is up a flight of stairs that they should just walk, not run, up. Krillin's relieved...up until that the stairs go up an entire mountain.
- The Sanctuary in Saint Seiya. Though the stairs are broken up by the twelve Zodiac Temples that house the Gold Saints, the stairs in-between each temple are still extremely long, sometimes taking entire filler episodes to climb.
- The Mickey Mouse Comic Universe story "Watch Your Step!" has Mickey descending into Hades down a very long staircase. He realizes that he can get down more easily via a Bannister Slide, though he eventually attains a rather dangerous velocity and comes flying off at the end.
- In the second volume of Scott Pilgrim, Scott defeats Lucas Lee by convincing him to rail grind a huge stairway on his skateboard. After exceeding speeds of 309 kph he crashes hard.
- In Lucifer, the angel Meleos keeps a copy of every written work humankind has ever produced. The archives are in an "underground tower more than a mile high," concealed beneath the Hamburg bookshop he manages. At the very bottom he keeps his own creation, a living tarot deck, which has become corrupt and extremely dangerous, such that when he tries to destroy the cards, they overpower him and escape. Too weak after the battle to manifest his wings, he must climb the staircase on foot.
- In Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, Chip and Belle seem to face this when climbing the staircase up to the attic to consult with the other members of the household about putting together a Christmas party.
- Cinderella: While it's not too long for a human, the stairway to Cinderella's room is this trope for Gus and Jaq (who are realistically-sized mice) when they have to carry the heavy (to them) key up the stairs to her to free her after Lady Tremaine locks her in there.
- In Encanto Mirabel's attempt to reach Bruno's room hits an obstacle of a huge cliff-side flight of stairs. She proceeds to climb up them, singing "Family Madrigal"... but as she goes up to them, she grows increasingly tired ("There's so many stairs in la casa Madrigal") and the singing gets more and more strained and flat ("You'd think there'd be another way to get so high up 'cause we're magic but no!"), until Mirabel practically growls out this:
Mirabel: It's magical how many stairs fit in here! Bruno, your room is the WORST!
- Even Bruno admit it. As he appears to be more comfortable in his hidden room and recalls his old room as being a lot of stairs.
- Kung Fu Panda:
- The Jade Palace sits on the peak of a mountain. There's a single, straight staircase up to it from the valley floor. Naturally, Po spends a good chunk of the film either climbing those stairs, or tumbling down them.
- In the sequel, Po and the Furious Five are taken to Lord Shen's throne room at the top of a tall tower. Po has to be carried by one of Shen's guards for half of the way.
Po: My old enemy... stairs.
- Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers: Mickey, Donald and Goofy follow the Beagle Boys to a very tall tower where they're keeping Minnie and Daisy prisoner, and they somehow manage to catch up to them in a few seconds (but not without overexerting themselves).
Beagle Boy #1: Oy, what we do about them Musketeers?(the trio are suddenly right there, completely exhausted)Mickey: (gasping) Hold it right... there... you fiends!
- Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls: Ace has retreated to a mountain temple to meditate. It is accessed by, you guessed it, absurdly long stairs. He does not squander the opportunity to try out a Slinky on them.
- Ghostbusters (1984): The protagonists have to climb 20 flights of stairs for the confrontation with Gozer, due to the elevators being out of service.
- I, Robot: As Spooner, Sonny, and Calvin are looking up the flights of stairs from the basement to the top floor of US Robotics...
Sonny: Two thousand, eight hundred and eighty steps, Detective.
- In Labyrinth, Sarah tries to reach her baby brother Toby through what is not only an insanely long set of stairs, but ones designed to look like M.C. Escher's "Relativity".
- In The Music Box, Laurel and Hardy deliver a piano up a long staircase. The staircase was also used in the comedy films Isn't Life Terrible? and Ice Cold Cocos.
- The Three Stooges short, "An Ache in Every Stake", had the Stooges deliver an ice block to a house atop a very long staircase, but the ice always melts by the time they make it to the top.
- Invoked in The Wolf of Wall Street. While tripping very heavily and discovering a botched emergency, Jordan Belfort has to get back to his car, at the entrance to a country club. In long shots, you can see it is only about six steps, but in close-up shots (from Jordan's perspective), it's much, much longer than that.
- At the end of Buster Keaton's The Haunted House, Buster goes up a long set of stairs to heaven, but when St. Peter rejects him, the stairs fold flat and he slides down into Hell. Turns out, it was All Just a Dream.
- Avengers: Endgame revisits the Battle of New York and explores the aftermath of Loki's defeat there. The Hulk can't fit into the elevator with everyone else, and so is required to walk down the stairs of Stark Tower.
Hulk: "Take the stairs". Hate the stairs!
- Rendezvous with Rama: The interior of the eponymous gigantic cylindrical spaceship, 54 kilometres long, has three extremely long ladders leading down from its airlocks at the hub. And then there come stairways with "thousands upon thousands" of steps. Getting from the airlock down the ladders and stairs, to one end of the cylinder, takes the protagonists three chapters. Though it's highly likely it's all a triple-redundant emergency backup system, and the Ramans normally used some sort of smaller vessel or vehicle to travel around their ship's interior.
- Ubik makes an ordinary, sixteen-step staircase into one of these, as the character climbing them has had his life-force drained near completely by a local psychic vampire, and crawling up even one step becomes an immense effort.
- The Eyrie in A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones is a castle atop a very high, sheer mountain. It can only be reached by a stairway that takes all day to climb and is so narrow that it has to be ascended in single file, making it more or less impregnable to attacking armies.
- The Lord of the Rings:
- The peak called Zirak-zigil by the dwarves had a stairway (appropriately enough, called the Endless Stair). It reached from the peak to the bottom of Moria's lowermost natural caverns (so deep that Gandalf calls them "the lowest roots of the mountain"), and its top was destroyed during Gandalf's battle with the Balrog.
- Somewhat less impressive, but still a challenging climb for mortals, are the Stairs of Cirith Ungol which Frodo and Sam climb to reach the mountain pass into Mordor.
- In The Phantom Tollbooth's kingdom of Digitopolis, numbers are real and physical, so when Milo asks what the largest possible number is, the Mathemagician points him to the Stairway to Infinity, where the answer is at the top. The stairway is, naturally, infinite.
- In Discworld the Unseen University's Tower of Art is 800 feet tall and along the inside edge of the building are some (very old and infirm) steps which spiral upwards and number 8,888. Several wizard traditions require senior wizards to climb those steps, then spend five minutes being out of breath and wheezing. There may be something supposed to happen after this, but since most UU wizards are elderly and overweight, few ever get enough puff back to carry them out. They still climb the spiral steps though, because it is tradition.
- Inverted at the other University in Bugarup, where the Tower of Art's stairs are only two stories tall from the bottom, but the Tower's top is about a mile high. Yes, it's taller from the top than from ground level.
- Harry Potter has the stairs at Hogwarts- which extends seven floors plus the dungeons, with a landing between each floor. On top of that, the stairs can change where they lead whenever they feel like it, and since the floors have high ceilings, it's nearly double the steps of a standard building. And this is a school, mind you- not only do the students have to climb the mess to get to classes, but to make it to meals as well!
- In The Hero and the Crown, the protagonist goes to confront an evil mage in his extraordinarily tall Mage Tower. Climbing all the stairs requires a large dose of Heroic Willpower, and she's left feeling like she's been climbing unceasingly for years.
- In Vasily Golovachev's Time of Troubles series, the Shaft (a tower-like Eldritch Location that connects various aeons and parallel worlds) has two means of moving from one time/world to another: the elevator and the stairs. During the early first book, the elevator does not work properly, it only offers one-way rides into the aeons of Multiverse's infancy. The only way out is climbing the stairs thousands of levels up.
- The Great Medial Screw in The Judging Eye goes up from the bottom of a huge mountain to its top and it takes the characters several days to climb it.
...the endless stairs of the Screw took everything that remained: courage, strength, and endurance—endurance above all. Climbing. Climbing. Climbing. Clinging to seams as they picked their way over collapsed sections. Hurrying past the hundreds of gaping black portals. Bending back their faces to remind themselves of the sky they sought, to wonder at the way it waxed and grew.
- Tortall Universe: Balor's Needle is a very tall tower with an long interior and exterior set of stairs that people have to stop to take a breather on while climbing. In the Protector of the Small, where the protagonist is scared of heights, she has to climb the thing twice.
- Cradle Series: Elder Whisper's tower is a huge white tower, by far the tallest structure in Sacred Valley, with nothing but a room at the bottom, a room at the top, and a spiral staircase winding up the inside. Anyone of Iron rank (which most people in the Valley hit in their late teens) can make the trip easily with their superhuman body, and even a lower-ranked individual can enhance their body to make the trip without too much trouble. Lindon, as an Unsouled, can barely make it to the top without collapsing in exhaustion.
- Doctor Who, "The Snowmen": The Doctor parks the TARDIS in the clouds and uses a spiral staircase to get up to it. The staircase is taller on the inside.
- A minor example in Keeping Up Appearances. When Hyacinth is proud to be a part owner of a mansion, which is all anyone needs to know, all they own is actually a tiny apartment right up in the attic, reached by multiple stairways.
Hyacinth: You couldn't destroy the integrity of a house like this with a lift!Richard: Oh, I could destroy the integrity of a house like this with a lift.Hyacinth: The exercise will do you good.
- In the season two finale of The Mindy Project, Mindy has to climb the stairway to the observatory on the Empire State Building because the elevators are broken. As soon as she starts climbing the elevators start working again.
- Twenty Flight Rock by early rock 'n' roll pioneer Ned Fairchild and later covered by Eddie Cochran. In the song, he describes trying to get up 20 floors worth of stairs to get to his love at the top. Unsuprisingly, he gets super tired and even jokes how "they'll find my corpse dragged over the rail."
- Super Mario 64 has a looping staircase leading to the final stage, with accompanying musicnote that keeps going up as you did. You can climb it forever if you don't have enough stars, but the staircase itself is not actually very big. (The game accomplishes this by silently warping you to a lower position on the stairs once you've ascended enough steps; however, since the game is programmed to do this based on Mario's forward movement cap, and earlier versions of the game have no backward movement cap, you can use glitches like the Backwards Long Jump to rocket up the stairs so quickly it freaks out the code and bypasses the "infinite" staircase effect.)
- Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon has the second boss at the top of twenty sets of three staircases. Pick one of three, and either keep climbing, or slide all the way back to the beginning. Once you finally get to the top, the boss ghost clearly has a sick sense of humor, as it possesses a flight of stairs to fight Luigi with.
- The Tower of Fanatics in Final Fantasy VI is nothing but identical flights of stairs with random encounters in which your characters can use nothing but magic. Every twenty flight of stairs or so there's a treasure room, but there's nothing else to break the monotony, and the atmospheric music adds to the repetitive, endless dread. Overclock Remix's dark, brooding rendition is even called The Endless Stair.
- During the raid on the Shinra HQ in Final Fantasy VII, you can either fight your way through the guards, or climb your way up 59 flights of stairs. Barrett whines and complains the whole way up, while Tifa tells him to "stop acting like a retard and climb!" At the end of the stairway, Barrett says he never wants to see any stairs again for the rest of his life.
- In Final Fantasy VII Remake, the staircase returns, with the same basic premise, but a new spin on the scene and dialogue for the player's entertainment.
- In Wild ARMs 2 nearing the end of the game there's the spiral tower, which has an extremely long staircase leading down into the center of the planet. Once you get to the end of the staircase you have to go through another dungeon then fight several minibosses, and the final boss to beat the game.
- The Photosphere in the original version of Wild ARMs has one of these as you get closer to Lolithia and Mother. It's not uncommon for players to use Rudy's rocket skates to speed up progress to the top.
- Both Star Ocean: The Second Story and Star Ocean: Till the End of Time end their The Very Definitely Final Dungeon with a needlessly long (straight) staircase leading up to the Final Boss. Especially egregious in that the staircases in each case conclude a long climb up a tower; in the latter game the tower exists in its own pocket dimension on top of that.
- The Infocom game Enchanter has an infinite staircase that turns out to be an illusion.
- BoxxyQuest: The Gathering Storm has one thats explicitly based on SCP-087. (See below, in the Web Original folder).
- The ending of Crisis Zone has your unit shut down the Big Bad's nuclear reactor and now have to climb five kilometers of stairs when the elevator is out of order from the impact.
- Custerd's Quest: You go through four hours of stairs before reaching floor 100 of Necromancer's tower.
- The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II has the Infernal Castle and it's long stairs, interspersed with different floors.
- Tales of Vesperia, in Caer Bocram there is a absurdly long stairway where you must enter a password to continue, if you found at least one of the first 3 clues.
- Race to the Mansion of Tomorrow: When the competitors arrive to the mansion they first have to climb up on a very long staircase on a mountain in Rabbit Garden.
- The SCP Foundation entry, SCP-087 is a dark staircase that seems to go on forever, with what sounds to be a crying child coming at the bottom. Despite this, explorers can never get any closer to the source of the crying, instead encountering a creepy face and running away from it. The second-longest exploration pegged it at just above a mile in depth, and the last (expunged) exploration log determines it's so deep it defies local geology, to the point it may just be infinitely long.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: "The Crystal Empire Part 2" has Twilight Sparkle confront a long, long note circular staircase leading to where the MacGuffin is. She manages to get past this obstacle by reversing gravity and dropping up to the staircase's bottom side, which is smooth and allows her to easily slide up.
- In The Emperor's New School episode "Yzmopolis", the Temple of the Sky God has one of these. Kuzco, lazy bum that he is, naturally complains about this.
- The Amazing World of Gumball: In "The Mothers", when Darwin and Gumball are hanging off a parking garage, Nicole has to go from the bottom up to the 32nd floor to reach then, then go down to the 16th when they drop partway down, even though the garage clearly has only eight floor in exterior shots.
- Star vs. the Forces of Evil: In "Page Turner", Glossaryck is called before the Magic Council, which is atop a high tower. Unfortunately, the elevator is "on the fritz", so he has to take the stairs. After running the incredibly long flight of stairs, he ends up back on the first floor, because the stairs are also on the fritz.
- Wander over Yonder: In "The Epic Quest of Unfathomable Difficulty!!!", the last step of Wander and Sylvia's quest to find the Intergalactic Guru is to climb his temple's million...QUINQUOG-INTER-QUADRA-TENTILLION STEPS!!!
- The Manitou Incline near Colorado Springs has evolved to become this. An abandoned train track up a rather steep mountainside, the wooden railroad ties became a series of steps for local athletes to climb the mountain. It gains 2,000 ft of elevation in just under a mile of distance, featuring 2,744 steps, making for an average 45% grade rising as steep as 68% in places. Because the trail is perfectly straight and almost the entire trail is visible from the ground, it even fulfills the visual impact of the trope. Climbing it fulfills that part of the trope too - it's considered a famously hard workout, as not only do you have to climb the equivalent of the Shanghai Tower's height in stairs, the trailhead is nearly 7000 ft in elevation, so altitude becomes a significant factor as soon as you start climbing.
- A stairway leads from the village of Kilpisjärvi, Finland, to the top of mount Saana (altitude 1029 m). It is the longest stairway in Finland
- During the Cold War, there was the apocryphal tale of a Soviet architect who designed a residential building but failed to include an elevator. As a "reward", the Party gave him the penthouse.
- Any very tall skyscraper will have these. As convenient and nigh-mandatory as elevators are for climbing these buildings, they still require stairs in case of the elevators being unavailable (due to emergency or malfunction).
- Many people escaped from the Twin Towers on 9/11 by climbing down the stairs. One of the most haunting images of the day is of a firefighter pausing on the staircase in the North Tower and looking up.
- At some of deepest stations on the London Underground, the stations are accessed by lifts, instead of escalators. Such stations have an emergency spiral staircase, with announcements warning passengers not to use it, except in an emergency, often mentioning the number of steps. A notable example is Covent Garden station, with 193 steps, and the less well-known Hampstead station, with 320 steps.