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Dangerous Clifftop Road

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Note to self: Always look down before exiting your car...

"They came around the coast too fast, only time for a scream;
A fiery crash of chrome and steel was the beginning of their longest dream..."
Blue Öyster Cult, "Feel The Thunder"

Driving is usually dangerous enough, especially if you're a lousy, irresponsible driver. Even if you're not, there will always be dangers associated with driving a fast-moving vehicle. These dangers are always increased exponentially when driving on a road at the edge of a cliff. After all, you'd have to be going at really high speeds to get yourself killed by driving into a building, and there are even documented cases of people surviving that. But one mistake at any speed could be enough to send you off a cliff, at which point you have barely enough time to start praying before you kick the bucket.

A subtrope of Ridiculously Difficult Route. This trope is for when either the narrative or a character associates a great deal of danger associated with driving along the edge of the cliff (driving straight at a cliff with the intent to go off doesn't count). The danger could be increased by other factors: you could be drunk, you could be just plain stupid, people could be chasing you at high speeds, or people could be shooting at you while they chase you at high speeds. Either way, the danger inherent in all of these situations will be enhanced if the vehicles in question ever end up on a road that runs along the edge of a cliff. Any mistake that would normally just crash the car and, if the cops are present, get the driver busted will most likely be fatal. Actually falling off the cliff is optional as far as this trope is concerned; it's the danger of falling off that this trope refers to.

Despite the title, in fiction — and to a certain extent in Real Life as well — these roads are rarely at the top of a cliff. Rather, they're typically something like 3/4 of the way up, so that there's also a cliff face on the other side of the road, boxing drivers in even more. The end result is that on one side of the road, there is a long — and fatal — drop, and on the other, there's a solid, unmoving wall that will stop you at best, or bounce you off to the aforementioned drop at worst. However, this is not necessary for this trope: this trope is about the perils of driving on a road with a dangerous drop on one side, and while a cliff wall on the other side helps with this, all that's necessary is the chance of a fatal fall and a sense of danger associated with it.

A common variant is to drive the vehicle alongside a drop which, while not especially high or dangerous in and of itself, would land the vehicle in a rushing river or similar water-hazard if it goes over the edge. May feature Every Car Is a Pinto prominently, since cars tend to explode in movies when they go over cliffs.

This trope isn't just about roads on the top of cliffs — a great deal of car commercials will have the cars cruising along nicely with picturesque cliffs in the background, although this trope could possibly come into play if it's a high-end car making difficult turns at high speed — the danger posed by the cliffs is implicitly used to show how awesome the car is for being able to handle them. Nor is this trope about the dangerous situation people find themselves in when they're already half-way over the cliff, that's a Literal Cliff Hanger, though this trope could very well lead into that one. Nor is it about clifftop battles, or exploiting a long drop to get something out of someone. It's just how clifftop roads are portrayed as dramatically increasing the danger of driving.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Castle of Cagliostro: The opening car chase scene takes place on a curvy road along cliff edges.
  • At the beginning of episode six of the Fate/Zero anime, Irisviel (a homunculus with very little actual life experience) is driving along one of these roads at break-neck speeds. She's actually pretty amazing behind the wheel, but she's also extremely reckless, enough so that her passenger, Saber (a ridiculously powerful Magic Knight from the middle ages who was, in layman's terms, brought Back from the Dead) is sweating in fear. The camera swerves almost drunkenly each time the car turns, and the car passes extremely close to the safety-rails (which wouldn't be much good at the speeds they're going at) several times.
  • Several dramatic motorcycle chase scenes in GTO: The Early Years take place along winding cliffside roads, and several Posthumous Characters (Fumiya's brother and Kyosuke Masaki) died in accidents on those roads (though it's ambiguous whether they went over the edge).
    • In Fumiya and Ryuji's chase, Fumiya's bike gets hit by a truck and Ryuji saves him from a Disney Villain Death.
    • Eikichi leads Akutsu to the place where Masaki died, where Akutsu crashes but survives. And then falls off the cliff for an unrelated reason.

    Comic Books 
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: In Don Rosa's The Last Lord of El Dorado, Donald Duck drives a big truck on a winding clifftop road that's just barely wide enough for it. This is when Flintheart Glomgold drops a large boulder behind the truck. This forces Donald to drive down the already extremely dangerous road in full speed. Eventually the truck passes a turn where the boulder rolls off the road, but by the time Donald has managed to stop the vehicle, the truck itself is already off the cliff. Fortunately for him, the trailer is still on the cliff and its weight is keeping the truck, now hanging from the trailer coupler and pointing straight down, from falling.
  • Knightfall: Invoked. The story Tim Drake and Alfred come up with to explain Bruce Wayne's injuries is that he lost control and drove off a cliff. They wreck one of his sport cars to support the cover story.
  • Supergirl:
    • "The Unknown Supergirl", the Danvers are driving along a cliff when their car suddenly drops off the edge, forcing their daughter Linda Danvers to forgo her secret identity to save them.
    • "Supergirl's Big Brother: Jan Danvers is driving his father's car down a highway running along a high precipice, when he loses control of the vehicle and the car dashes off the cliff. Fortunately for everyone, Linda — Supergirl's secret identity — was sitting in the rear seat.
  • Superman: In Superboy 1980 issue #12, Clark Kent stops a car which is skidding off a cliff after slipping on a mud puddle.
  • Tintin: In Cigars of the Pharaoh, Tintin finds himself in a car chase on a dangerously narrow road in the Himalayas.
  • X-Men: Zigzagged. Jubilee's parents were supposedly killed in a fatal car accident along Mulholland Drive, going off the area that is a dirt road. It would later be revealed that they had a little assistance, in the form of a pair of hitmen named Reno and Molokai. Jubilee would later confront them on the same cliff in an issue of Wolverine, where Logan would talk her out of killing the duo, though she did still deliver a Groin Attack to both of them at once.

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes: In-Universe. One of Calvin's imaginary adventures features a man driving to work "80, 90, 100 miles an hour!"..."ALONG THE EDGE OF THE GRAND CANYON!"

    Film — Animated 
  • In 101 Dalmatians, Cruella car-chases the truck with the dalmatian puppies along such a dangerous clifftop road.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Basic Instinct: Serial Killer and femme fatale Catherine lives in a remote part of California that requires visitors to drive on a twisty cliffside road to get to her. This highlights how mysterious Catherine is and serves as a lot of Foreshadowing for the danger she'll put others in.
  • In The Brain That Wouldn't Die, the main character's reckless driving on one of these roads causes him to lose control on a sharp curve and go over the edge of the cliff, resulting in the decapitation of his girlfriend.
  • Chill Factor: Invoked by the terrorists, who blow up a tanker truck with a rocket launcher, which damages the road and makes it more narrow and rocky, in an attempt to stop the heroes who are driving an ice cream truck carrying a bomb that will detonate if it goes above a certain temperature. They take it slow and successfully manage to drive out of that dangerous spot.
  • James Bond:
    • In Dr. No a SPECTRE mook pursues Bond up a mountaintop road. Bond escapes by driving his convertible under a crane whose arm is across the road. The mook isn't brave enough, swerves to try and miss the crane, and goes over the side of the embankment and explodes.
    • In the Action Prologue of The Living Daylights, Bond finds himself struggling with an assassin for the steering wheel of a British Army Land Rover full of burning ammunition crates while driving at speed along a cliff road in the Rock of Gibraltar. The end up going over the side, but fortunately Bond uses the reserve parachute he's wearing to survive; the assassin blows up with the rover before he even hits the water.
    • The Chase Fight at the beginning of Quantum of Solace finds itself on a sort of cliff in an open cut quarry (it's a steep but not truly vertical drop, and a road zig-zaggs down it). Both Bond and his pursuers are skilled enough to navigate the terrain, but the police car following both of them isn't quite as lucky. Bond's pursuers open fire at the cops, and though the officers aren't hit, they duck down for cover. That includes the driver. As a result of this, possibly coupled with damage to the vehicle, the car smashes through the corner of an old building. Cop cars are built to be sturdy (they're probably the only vehicles most people see that are bulletproof), and so the car looks to be in good shape after demolishing part of a building. Unfortunately, still out of control, they go off the cliff. By the time the car tumbles to the road below, it's a wreck.
  • In Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo the Road-Sign Reversal sends Herbie out onto one of these: a gravel road only as wide as one car (no passing), sheer cliff up, sheer cliff down and no barrier. See this here.
  • At the end of The Italian Job (1969), the gold robbers are partying inside their bus as their driver (also getting involved in the revelry as he drives) navigates the road. At first it starts off safe as they drive through what would be more accurately described as hills, but as the partying gets wilder, they reach actual cliffs. While the robbers are oblivious to the danger, the camera repeatedly shows the bus' wheels skidding over the road, and any Genre Savvy viewer (even ones who haven't seen or heard of the movie's ending) could tell that something bad was going to happen, and it would involve the cliffs.
  • The plot of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is kicked off when "Smiler" Grogan, speeding along a clifftop highway, accidentally drives over the edge. He lingers just long enough to tell the gathered onlookers where he hid the $350,000 haul from an old robbery, then he dies.
  • Downplayed in Mulholland Dr.: During Diane's dream of Rita's assassination (or assassination attempt), they are driving across Mulholland Drive, a perilously steep road that overlooks Los Angeles. When Rita fights back, the car crashes and she stumbles out at a view of Los Angeles.
  • In Alfred Hitchcock's film North By Northwest, the Big Bad tries to kill off the protagonist by having his goons get the guy drunk, put him in a stolen car, and then get him to drive down a clifftop road. The idea was to engineer a fatal accident, making this a rare Invocation of the trope. The protagonist almost falls off several times, and the whole scene is done well enough that, even though it's near the beginning of the film and so any Genre Savvy viewer would know he'd survive, it leaves the viewer in suspense for the whole thing, and it's the very presence of the cliff that makes it dangerous.
  • In Raiders of the Lost Ark part of the road from the Tanis excavation to Cairo passes a sheer cliff, despite this not being a common feature in that part of Egypt. Indy rams one of the Nazis' vehicles off it.
  • The Shining: The Torrances are shown driving around a cliff on their way to the Overlook Hotel for the winter. It shows that they're extremely isolated, vulnerable to the weather, and creates a very foreboding atmosphere.
  • A drive along a dangerous cliff-top road is the setting for the climax of the classic Hitchcock thriller, Suspicion, starring Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine. Fontaine's character has suspected her husband of planning to kill her, but it is when he saves her from tumbling out of the car on a twisty road that the truth becomes apparent.

The sheriff said she'd been doing ninety
Along the edge of the ravine;
Two sets of tracks — but here's the strange thing —
The other car was never seen.
Whoever clipped Rose, well, they got away clean.
  • In Walk Two Moons, Sal drives down Lewiston Hill and describes it as terrifying: a road of hairpin turns where the downhill side is a steep drop off bordered by only a thin cable. Making things worse, it's dark out, Sal does not have a driver's license (she's only thirteen) and had never driven on a road before, and she's driving to the site of the bus crash that killed her mother, along that very road.
  • The dangerous gully road in Soul Music is a major part of the plot. At the start, it's where the protagonist's parents die in a fiery car(t) crash. At the end, there's a high-speed chase along it, and both carts end up plummeting, although one is saved by Susan and Death's intervention.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Top Gear (UK) had these show up every now and then during the international specials, with the crowning example being their drive along "Death Road" (see "Real Life" section below) during the Bolivia Special. The ledges are unstable, there are no guard rails whatsoever, and hundreds of people are said to have fallen off the side to their deaths. Clarkson himself comes perilously close when he has to pass a vehicle going in the opposite direction.
  • Veronica Mars: For a long time, Veronica assumed the bus crashed off the cliffside route in Season 2, kicking off that mystery arc and killing a whole bus of students. It was only later on that Keith realized there was a bomb planted alongside and the killer timed it then to send them into the water. However, the students who weren't killed by the blast did drown.

  • Blue Öyster Cult's Feel The Thunder, from the album The Revölution by Night, translates the action to a trio of drunken and coked-up Hell's Angels taking their bikes out for a midnight burn on a notoriously dangerous coast road in California. Not unreasonably, tragedy happens:
    They came around the coast too fast, only time for a scream;
    A fiery crash of chrome and steel was the beginning of their longest dream...
  • One live version of Arlo Guthrie's "The Motorcycle Song", which explains the circumstances of how he came to write such a song, begins like this:
    This song is about the time that I was ridin' my motorcycle.
    Going down a mountain road, at 150 miles an hour, playin'
    My guitar. On one side of the mountain road there was a
    Mountain, and on the other side there was nothin' - there was
    A cliff in the air.

    Video Games 
  • 007 Racing begins with a Run for the Border level where James Bond extracts the captive Cherise Litte from a military outpost in Eastern Europe. The escape leads to Bond driving across some hills, and in the ending cutscene he then uses his Oil Slick to send two enemy jeeps driving off the cliff.
  • In Crash Team Racing, the Dingo Canyon track is set at the top of a cliff, as is Polar Pass.
  • Land of War - The Beginning has Car Chase Shootout on a steep hill where you're pursued by a German half-track. As you're in a jeep and the half-track is too heavily-armored for you to damage, you instead aim for the slit where the half-track's driver would be. Deal enough damage and the half-track drives off the side.
  • Need for Speed: Carbon features "Canyon Duels" take place through the dangerous canyon roads of Palmont. What make trope qualify is that the roads have very fragile guardrails on the edges of the cliff that you can destroy and if you're not careful, you will indeed fall down into the ravine, losing the event automatically.
    • While Canyon Duels don't feature in the GBA/DS version, Own the City, the canyon roads still form a critical plot point. A crash there sent you and your brother off the edge of the road and down the cliff, killing him and leaving you with amnesia, and your motivation throughout the game is to find the person responsible.
  • Invoked and played with in the intro to the first Rock Band. The starring band can be seen playing and surfing atop their run-down tour van, nearly skidding off the side of a tall mountain that they're driving on (for some reason) several times. All while playing the guitar solo to "Highway Star" by Deep Purple. At the end of the solo, the vehicle does topple over the the cliff-side, but the band lands perfectly fine (including the drum set) atop an even more elaborate tour bus. In other words, the whole scene runs off this trope + Rule of Cool.
  • Driver 2: Invoked in the antepenultimate level (infamous for being That One Level and a Luck-Based Mission), where you have to ram the guy who just shot your buddy over the edge of a mountainside road while trying to dodge civilian traffic dawdling by (be thankful for small mercies that it's a one way road so you don't have to worry as much about other cars driving into you).

  • Freefall has Sam, Florence and Helix drive out to the colony ship for spare parts. As night falls, Sam continues driving along the edge of a canyon. Florence worries that Sam is driving dangerously close to the edge. Sam dismisses her worries, stating that he's using a GPS device to navigate. Florence reminds Sam that such devices have a margin of error of +/- 30 meters. Sam wonders if that's significant just before going over the edge.

    Western Animation 
  • In an episode of King of the Hill, Hank and the boys use a tractor-trailer to move furniture to an aging relative out west. They get lost and end up on top of a mountain in a snowstorm, and have to back down a narrow cliffside road to get back down the mountain.
  • Mickey's Trailer: The trailer goes into one of these while Goofy leaves his post as driver. He manages to rush back to the car and get back on the right path, but in doing so accidentally unhitches the trailer, sending it careening down the cliffside road with Mickey and Donald inside.
  • The Simpsons: Homer as Mr. Plow has to go up a dangerous narrow road in order to rescue Barney, who he had sent on a wild-goose chase up the mountain.

    Real Life 
  • Several gift shops along the Appalachian Mountain Range in the eastern United States sell hats and other merchandise warning motorcyclists not to take the region's many hairpin turns too fast. Deals Gap on the North Carolina-Tennessee border is particularly famous among motorcycle enthusiasts for "The Dragon", a challenging 11-mile stretch of US 129 said to contain 318 curves.
  • The picturesque Bwlch yr Oernant, also known as the Horseshoe Pass, is a steep ascent and circuit around two sides of a valley near Llangollen in Northern Wales. It is frequently closed in winter for safety reasons, and responsible for its fair share of accidents.
  • A narrow highway linking La Paz to Coroico (from the Altiplano down the east side of the Andes Mountains) in Bolivia, called the Yungas Road, is often nicknamed "the Death Road" and is considered one of the most dangerous roads in the world, claiming an estimated 200-300 lives per year. Parts of this road run along the sides of cliffs, with up to 600 meter drops without guardrails (and a cliff wall on the other side), a road width of about 10 feet, and an uncomfortably high susceptibility to fog, muddiness, and rock slides.


Video Example(s):


The Mountain Road

Falcon derails at a very dangerous part of the railway line.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / DangerousClifftopRoad

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