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Climbing Climax

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Graydon: And then they're on the roof!
Clifford: Why are they on the roof?
Graydon: Because those are the rules!

Included by Roger Ebert in his Book of Hollywood Clichés under the name Fallacy of the Climbing Villain.

A villain pursued by the good guys comes to a tall tower, steeple, stairwell, or building. He starts to climb. This would clearly lead to his getting trapped at the top, like a cat treed by a dog. An ordinary person in a state of panic may have done this on instinct, but for a criminal mastermind, it is unlikely. To do this after one sees what happens to climbing villains is also a clear case of Genre Blindness.

Ebert could just as easily have called this one The Fallacy of the Following Hero, as when a villain trees himself at the top of a building or other high place, instead of just staking out the bottom and waiting for him to come down, the hero has to go up after him. If it's a dangerous climb, the hero will probably drop his gun on the way up and have to fight the villain with his bare hands. Even if that doesn't happen, it will be a long, scary showdown, probably with a Literal Cliffhanger moment or two (see also Take My Hand!). May involve Climbing the Cliffs of Insanity. Generally, the villain falls to his death, but occasionally, the hero takes him alive or even saves his life, and the villain agrees to come quietly.

However, there are many ways this can be justified. The villain can have a Black Helicopter revved up and ready to leave (or arrive Just in Time in true Gunship Rescue fashion and sweep him away). A Plot Device may be locked in the fortified upper levels to turn the tide, and/or the villain expects the Mooks stationed throughout the levels to gun down the chasing hero.

Often preceded by a Stairwell Chase. Compare Ending by Ascending (when the climb itself is the climactic or final event rather than the prelude to it) and Journey to the Sky (when climbing or flying is simply the means to reach the skies, or a location therein).

During the 1980s, this trope was largely replaced by the Darkened Building Shootout and Executive Suite Fight.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The final confrontation in The Castle of Cagliostro takes place as the Count and Lupin battle it out while climbing a clock tower.
  • Fate/stay night, Fate route: Saber versus Rider.
  • The climax of the Ranma ½ movie Big Trouble In Nekonron China. Not only does the cast have to fight its way up a mountain, fighting Kirin's henchmen along the way, but he has taken Akane to the top of his tower at the summit. The Nerima Wrecking Crew (minus Ranma) arrives to rescue her, but are easily knocked out in a single attack, so Ranma has to take it upon himself to fight Kirin. In the end, since the tower was built on top of a hot spring, Ranma's Hiryuu Shoten Ha attack makes the entire thing explode in a gigantic waterspout.
  • In the climax of Ghibli's Tales from Earthsea, the evil wizard Cob flees to the top tower of his castle pursued by the hero Arren, and he uses his magic to collapse the masonry as he goes.

  • The Fallen Angel: Inverted. While it's true that Cabanel's Lucifer is lying on top of a mountain, the painting details the aftermath of his rebellion against God, not the actual fight. Furthermore, a mountain might usually be regarded as a high place, but it's a considerable downgrade if compared Heaven.
  • Sistine Chapel: When viewed from the altar to the entrance, the ceiling frescoes culminate with the fallen men who desire only evil scrabbling up mountains as the divine floodwaters rise up to do them justice.

    Comic Books 
  • In Batman #1 from the spring of 1940, Dr. Hugo Strange creates "monsters" out of people from the psych ward by giving them growth hormones to make them huge. The last one Batman fights climbs to the top of a building in order to take a swing at Batman, who is in his Batplane. Knowing Bob Kane's propensity for such Shout Outs (or just outright ripping plot points off), this is almost certainly a reference to King Kong (1933).
  • In Bookhunter, when library police swarm the apartment of their book thief, they find it's empty. Agent Bay realizes the apartment was only vacated a few minutes ago, and that the thief must have taken the window fire escape. Sure enough, the thief climbs up, rather than down; Bay follows, and a rooftop confrontation ensues.
  • One of the many villains to usurp the throne of The Trigan Empire was confronted by the Emperor Trigo and actually attempted to escape by climbing his own Lady Liberty-sized statue. Trigo followed, and only when standing on the upraised hand did the baddie think to pull a gun on him. The baddie then slipped, but Trigo caught him and brought him down to "use his genius for the good of the Empire." What a guy!

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Used at the climax of Batman (1989), when the Joker flees up the steps of (the surprisingly tall) Gotham Cathedral, taking Kim Basinger's Damsel in Distress (surprisingly so for a movie made in the last months of 1989 - it's like she was paid per scream) with him. Justified on the Joker's side, since he radios ahead for a helicopter pickup and thus knows he won't be trapped, and takes repeated measures to stop anyone from following. Batman's inevitable pursuit is also somewhat justified by his concern for the Joker's hostage (plus his professional familiarity with Building Swings).
  • Blackmail (1929) - On top of the British Museum.
  • Inverted in Blade Runner, where the hero (Deckard) flees to the roof of a building while being pursued by the replicant Roy Batty.
  • The final action scene of Bury Me High has the hero, Wisely, climbing up a hill while a battle between the La Résistance and the main villain's dictator army rages below him, to reach a cave halfway through. He's unfortunately spotted by an enemy helicopter and must drag himself up like crazy to avoid a Helicopter Blender.
  • At the climax of Curse of the Crimson Altar, Morley climbs on to to the roof of the Lodge as the building burns. He is last seen screaming defiance at the heavens as an image of Lavina appears above him, before the roof gives in and he plunges into the burning building.
  • Justified in Darkman, where the agile villain explains that his father had made him do construction work on skyscrapers early in his career. Luring Westlake to the top of a half-finished building, where he's more comfortable with the terrain than the hero, is an intentional ploy to cancel out Darkman's enraged strength and pain-resistance.
  • Possibly echoing the King Kong example, Ghostbusters (1984) climaxes with a showdown atop another building in New York. Lampshaded (as with everything in the film) in that the actual climb is extremely anticlimactic. The climb is justified within the plot in that the villain seems to be doing perfectly well at ending the world from where they are and the trope is played straight again with the giant Mr Staypuft scaling the building in proper King Kong fashion to get at the Ghostbusters.
  • The Hitman's Bodyguard has Dukhovich escape to the roof of the Hague after he bombs it with Kincaid in pursuit.
  • At the climax of Horrors of the Black Museum, Rick attempts to escape from the police at the funfair by climbing up a Ferris wheel.
  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom ends with Indy and the evil cultists climbing up a fallen rope bridge.
  • James Bond
    • Used in For Your Eyes Only, in which Bond prepares to scale a mountain to reach the monastery located at its summit (there's no other way to reach it without being detected by the bad guys). Unfortunately, the bad guys ARE guarding the cliff, and one of them nearly sends Bond plummeting to his death.
    • A View to a Kill: The climatic fight between Bond and Zorin takes place on one of the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge and ends with Zorin plunging into the San Francisco Bay.
    • Also done in GoldenEye, where the climax takes place atop the giant satellite dish the villain is using to control the titular superweapon. Unlike most examples, though, it's the villain that's chasing Bond (who's trying to disable the dish) rather than the other way around.
    • In The World Is Not Enough, Electra King runs to the top floor of the castle while fleeing Bond. Zigg-zagged with the Cigar Girl, who flees to a hot air balloon, but blows it up instead of using it to escape.
    • Subverted in Casino Royale (2006), when Bond chases the courier, who is a Parkour expert. Yes, at one point, he flees to the top of a crane, but he has the skills to get back down safely.
  • The Killer That Stalked New York: After killing Moss and disarming Sheila, Matt realises that he won't be able to escape down the stairs because the police will be waiting for him at the bottom, so he decides to climb out the window and jump to an adjacent building instead. Sheila follows him out onto The Precarious Ledge, and is shortly thereafter followed by Dr. Wood in turn.
  • Older Than Television: King Kong did this way back in 1933, treeing himself at the top of the Empire State Building. Justified in that Kong was not exactly a mastermind and was likely operating more on jungle/mountain/island instinct than anything else. It's not like a gorilla would understand the concept of airplanes either.
  • At the end of King Kong Escapes, King Kong and Mechani-Kong fight atop Tokyo Tower.
  • Spoofed in Labyrinth, when Ludo climbs to the roof of a simple house from the inside during the Battle of the Goblin City. On the other hand, he's at a convenient location to summon rocks and turn the tide of the battle.
  • Somewhat inverted in The Last Circus, as the protagonist and his love interest are chased up to the giant cross of the Valle de los Caídos monument by the Monster Clown boyfriend of the female lead and the State Police. The dubious inversion comes from the Black-and-Gray Morality of all three characters.
  • The Mighty Peking Man, a Hong Kong film which is a Mock Buster of King Kong starring the titular Peking Man as a King Kong Copy has the Peking Man climbing up the Jardine House as substitute to the Empire State Building.
  • A Justified example in Ministry of Fear. As Stephen and Carla exit her apartment, they see Nazi spies climbing the stairs below them. This leads them to flee to the roof.
  • North By Northwest - On top of Mount Rushmore. This one was parodied by Family Guy and the live-action Richie Rich movie.
  • Beautifully subverted, and possibly parodied considering what happened right after, in The Other Guys where Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne "Rock" Johnson chase a bunch of bank robbers upstairs to the roof of a building, who proceed to ride a zip line down to the street. They cut the zip line and make their getaway. This has got to be one of the funniest scenes in a movie because Samuel and The Rock are so caught up in their celebrity that they attempt to jump off the building to catch the bank robbers. Hilariously the camera follows them as they leap and fall all the way to go splat on the pavement.
  • No Retreat, No Surrender 2: The film's climax involves protagonists Scott and Mac infiltrating enemy base by climbing upwards against a waterfall.
  • In the climax of Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge, Eric leaps from a vent, and tosses the mayor through a window. Melody runs from the office and crawls onto the girders holding up the mall roof. Eric then pursues Melody out on to the steel work.
  • Pool of London: The acrobat Vernon tries to escape from the police by clambering up the inside of the tower above the tunnel. Surrounded on three sides, he attempts to escape by leaping across the centre of the tower, catching hold of pipe in the middle, and swinging to the door on the other side. He almost makes it.
  • In Psycho Beach Party, Chicklet flees from the murderer by climbing up a movie billboard, because they were in the middle of nowhere at night.
  • In Reform School Girls, Edna attempts to escape the rioting girls by climbing the same tower that Lisa had jumped from when she committed suicide; firing a shotgun at them as she goes. Charlie then crashes a bus into the tower, causing it to catch fire.
  • A Shout-Out to King Kong (1933) occurs in the final scenes of The Rocky Horror Picture Show when an enraged Rocky gathers Frank in his arms, climbs to the top of the tower, and plunges to his death in the pool below.
  • Saboteur - In the torch of the Statue of Liberty. Parodied (and subverted) by The Wrong Guy - it was a miniature.
  • In Scotland, PA, the final confrontation happens on top of the local fast-food restaurant.
  • The final fight in Sherlock Holmes (2009) between Holmes and Lord Blackwood takes place on the half-built Tower Bridge.
  • In Superdome, the killer flees onto the Superdome's catwalks, pursued by Mike.
  • Theatre of Blood climaxes with Edward Lionheart scaling his abandoned theater hideout, late daughter/accomplice in arms, in order to give some last words (quoting Shakespeare one last time) to the crowd below before falling to his death.
  • Used by a hero this time in Transformers (2007) during the climactic battle at the end of the movie. Sam runs up a tall building (using an inside staircase) while carrying the Allspark, during which Megatron follows him by just bashing through the different floors. Justified because an Army Ranger had radioed for a helicopter to meet him on the roof of said building. Said helicopter was then shot down by another Decepticon seconds before it grabbed the Allspark from Sam.
  • The Triumph Of Sherlock Holmes, a film otherwise remarkably faithful to The Valley of Fear, ends with Moriarty, of all people, doing this.
  • In the climax of True Lies, Eliza Dushku steals the key needed to set off the bad guy's bomb, and then runs up the stairway, barricading herself in the building.
  • Al Capone's trial in The Untouchables (1987) is interrupted when henchman Frank Nitti flees to the roof of the courthouse after shooting a bailiff.
  • Vertigo: At the top of the same clock tower where the first pseudo-climax occurs; justified in that the protagonist was attempting to Pull the Thread.
  • In White Heat, Cody Jarrett climbs to the top of a gas storage tower to escape from the police. Rather than follow him, the police just shoot him, whereupon he shoots into the tower shouting, "Made it, Ma! Top of the world!" right before it explodes.

  • Lampshaded in Jago. A boy instinctively heads for the highest floor of a building to escape a monster, realises he has no way out except back down past the monster, and then remembers that his father always derides characters in movies for making exactly this mistake.
  • In Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, everyone and their grandmother (seemingly) climbing up the massive staircase to the top of Green Angel Tower is the buildup to the big climax at the top. It even starts below ground for several characters, as the tower descends at least as far beneath the surface as it does above.
  • Moving Pictures (Discworld) culminates in a fifty-foot woman climbing a tall tower whilst clutching a hostage ape in one hand...
  • Referenced in Robert Rankin novels; one of the four sets Private Detective Lazlo Woodbine uses is a rooftop, for climatic battles.
  • In A Shadow Girls Summer Of Love And Madness, this trope is invoked twice by the villain.
  • Star Wars: Honor Among Thieves: Han Solo and Scarlet Hark infiltrate an Imperial Intelligence data center to determine what happened to the files Scarlet had been trying to steal. When they get the data, the place is alerted, leaving them high in a skyscraper with a hundred floors full of troops below them and only twenty fairly empty floors above. So they go up. When they reach the roof, they keep climbing, onto a towering antenna, as stormtroopers fire upon them. Han calls Chewbacca, and they leap from the antenna into the Millennium Falcon as it does a flyby.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: The climax of "The Woman Who Fell to Earth" takes place as the heroes and villain rush to the top of two cranes, as the operator of one of those cranes has been randomly selected as the target of an alien ritual hunt and the Doctor and company are trying to save him.
  • Used in the Grand Finale of The Fugitive in the prelude to Kimble's showdown with the One-Armed Man at the top of the tower. You would think that, after being kicked in the head three times after as many unsuccessful attempts to follow him, he'd start to get the hint...
  • In the Inspector Morse episode "Service of All the Dead", Morse pursues the murderer up a church tower. This is lampshaded in the original book; it mentions that, later, Sergeant Lewis asked Morse why he didn't just lock the murderer in and call in reinforcements.
  • While the final episode of Maddigan's Quest sets this trope in motion as a trap for the heroes rather than the villains, it's largely played straight from there on in. The children make it to the top of Solis tower with the solar converter, where they are greeted by the Duke of Solis and betrayed by Timon. Maddie, Boomer, and Yves arrive, and in the resulting chaos, Ozul and Maska fall to their deaths, Timon reverted back to his usual self, and Solis is saved.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Professional Wrestling abuses this trope in the "Hell in a Cell" gimmick match. For the uninitiated, it's a match in which the ring is entirely enclosed by a huge cage (with a roof). Ever since Mick Foley took a bump off the thing in a match with The Undertaker in 1998 (and, actually, they started on the roof that time...), a significant percentage of matches have involved the heel "escaping" by climbing the cage, and terrible, terrible things happening as a result. It's been toned down over time, but WWE video games still keep the trope alive by having breakable panels on the roof and specific animations for being thrown off. After 'Taker tossed Foley off the roof, Foley managed to get back up, climb the cage, and get chokeslammed through the cage.
  • This trope is the entire point of ladder matches and other Gimmick Matches that are won by climbing and retrieving some object.

    Role-Playing Games 
  • At the end of Dino Attack RPG's Final Battle, Dr. Rex climbed to the top of Dino Attack Headquarters and battled against Dino Attack's T-1 Typhoon fleet.

    Video Games 
  • The opening video of Baldur's Gate is build around this trope, only that it's (apparently) a hero who is chased to the top of the tower by a villain, only to be promptly thrown all the way back down. Is Sarevok badass or is he badass?
  • Donkey Kong:
    • The original Donkey Kong arcade game has Mario chase DK across four stages, the last of which takes place at the top of the building. There, Mario has to remove the junctions that keep the structure stable to make DK fall down and rescue Pauline.
    • Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest: The overworld sees Diddy and Dixie climbing Crocodile Isle, culminating in the vertically-oriented levels of K. Rool's Keep. But when they reach the top, K. Rool's Cool Airship swoops in and lifts him and the trapped Donkey Kong away.
  • Justified in Dragon Age: Origins, where the Big Bad is a giant, flying, demon-possessed dragon god, who's decision to retreat to the top of Fort Drakon to confront the party comes after Riordan had performed a Blade Brake that crippled one of it's wings, thereby forcing it to land.
  • In the climax of Final Fantasy XII, Princess Ashe is first tasked by the Occuria to cut a shard of the Sun-Cryst to destroy The Empire and take back her kingdom. To reach it, she must climb the hundred-floor Pharos Lighthouse, atop which the Sun-Cryst—and many revelations of herself, the Occuria, and her enemies—reside. Furthermore, at the end of the story, the party infiltrates Sky Fortress Bahamut and pursues Vayne to the topmost balconies, confronting him in a Final Battle.
  • It's a lot more climactic when it happens again in Ghostbusters: The Video Game, with Mr. Stay Puft scaling another building to get at the girl. This time around, there's no opportunity for Crossing The Streams and the 'busters have to resort to just melting his face with their arsenal of experimental equipment.
  • The lighthouses in both Golden Sun and Golden Sun: The Lost Age.
  • A variation of this happens in Half-Life 2: Dr. Breen runs from his office near the top of The Citadel to the nearby Combine Portal, which he intends to use to leave Earth while simultaneously killing Freeman. Said machine slowly lifts him up to the portal via a shielded platform, and you basically have to reach the apex before him and shut the gateway before he escapes. By that point, you're very high above City 17.
  • It happens twice in Jak II: Renegade, both leading into Boss Battles.
    • The first time involves Jak climbing Haven Palace and is caught out by Baron Praxis.
    • The second occurs late in the game. Jak and Daxter must get through the levels of a weapons factory to stop their ally Krew from completing a weapon that is in actuality a Doomsday Device. Krew refuses to back down.
  • In Mass Effect, due to the lifts to the Council Chamber getting halted via the lockdown, Shepard and squad are forced to EVA and "climb" up the outside of the Citadel Tower in order to reach Sovereign.
  • Max Payne subverts this with the last level, in which Max ascends to the roof of a skyscraper, only for the Big Bad to board an armed Black Helicopter. Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne plays it straight, however.
  • The video game Mirror's Edge features the final level, the Shard, the tallest building in the city. In a bit of a variation, protagonist Faith isn't necessarily chasing the villain to the top of the tower - at this point, she still doesn't know who the real villain is - but when she inevitably gets to the top of the tower, the Bad Guy jumps into a helicopter to fly away.
  • The final leg of The Very Definitely Final Dungeon of NieR: Automata is a dramatic ascent up a tower, with your two protagonists taking turns battling two bosses as they ascend in a flight unit/elevator before they reach the top and team up to battle the bosses' Fusion Dance form and then each other.
  • While you spend a good portion of the game progressing up Tartarus in Persona 3, the final month, following the Wham Episode, is when the final block of Tartarus opens up, and the topmost floors, where the Final Boss awaits, can only be accessed on the final playable day.
  • "Dramatic fight scene while climbing" is the bread and butter of gameplay in Shadow of the Colossus, but this trope still comes into effect with the final boss, who is a mile tall.
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • Super Mario 3D World has a climax in which after Bowser uses a Cat Bell power up, you have to climb his tower, which stands right in front of you. The only question is who's being chased, Bowser or you? In any case, you have to climb the said tower to the top.
    • Mario Party 7: The Final Boss battle against Bowser in Solo Mode evokes this. The player is in a large square arena that serves as an elevator to reach the top of a 100-floor tower. The corners of the arena have each a black-and-green dice block like those used in the boards to walk through their paths, only these have the purpose of raising the arena higher; after the player hits all four dice blocks, the sum of the numbers obtained will be the number of floors the arena moves up, and the blocks will roll their numbers again so the player repeats the operation. The catch in all of this? Bowser will shoot boiling rocks and homing missiles, forcing the player to dodge them while going for the blocks; it takes one hit from any projectile to lose the battle, so it's not an easy ordeal. And when the arena reaches floor 50 or higher, Bowser will summon a reinforcement (one of the Koopa Kids), thus transitioning into a Dual Boss. Not only will both villains shoot the aforementioned projectiles at the same time, but also gain a new one in the form of a powerful energy beam they always perform simultaneously. If the player manages to reach floor 100 without receiving a hit, stars from the sky will begin hitting Bowser, eventually making him plummet into the ground below; the player then celebrates their victory (funnily enough, Koopa Kid celebrates the victory, but a star hit him and makes him fall down as well).
  • Mario Party 8: The minigame Gun The Runner features a solo character trying to climb to the top of a skyscraper in construction, while the other three characters (boarding a helicopter shaped like a Bullet Bill) have to shoot at them to hinder their progress. If the solo players makes it to the top, they win; if 30 seconds pass, then the rival trio wins.
  • In the Tomb Raider (2013) reboot, Lara has to scale a mountain that's being torn to pieces by a storm born of Himiko's rage, avoid lightning strikes and debris ripped off the mountain by gale force winds, and outrun a horde of undead samurai below her. Unlike with most examples, the climb itself is the climax, rather than used to build up tension for the final confrontation. Though it's used for that, too, the climb itself is climactic enough to count. The finale just makes it even cooler.
  • Watch_Dogs:
    • The final showdown with Damien Brenks takes place at the top of their hideout at the Chicago Harbor lighthouse. They even lampshade it as you're climbing up: "Seems fitting. Everything reeks of conclusion".
    • During the attack on Rossi-Fremont, the final confrontation with Iraq happens on the unfinished part of the building's roof.
  • The Kill Michael ending in Grand Theft Auto V, after Franklin chases Michael to the oil refinery. Franklin even lampshades it a couple times. Justified as Michael is a film buff, has a tendency to make things overly dramatic and has just crossed the Despair Event Horizon, so he knows that this is his last stand.

  • In the movie-within-a-comic "Man on the Border" in Nip and Tuck, the villain and the hero (played by Nip) end up in a desperate struggle on the catwalks in the roof of the Astrodome. Justified by the fact that the villain, thwarted in releasing a biotoxin through the fire sprinkler systems, was taking a distant second alternative by tossing the vials from the catwalk onto the crowds below...
  • Wondermark: "A fistfight atop a tower" is one of the cliched climax options that the Electro-plasmic Hydrocephalic Genre Fiction Generator 2000 can select to finish off your work of genre fiction.

    Western Animation 


Video Example(s):


Hot Air Balloon Destruction

Zig-Zagged with the Cigar Girl, who flees to a hot air balloon, but blows it up instead of using it to escape.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / ClimbingClimax

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