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Death by Looking Up

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"The funny thing is, the closer it gets, the more it looks like a piano."
Frankie Boyle, Mock the Week, "Unlikely Last Words"

Although killing off characters by dropping large objects on them is something normally reserved for cartoons, it still happens occasionally. But the universe (cough, writers, cough) appreciates irony far more than it should, and therefore sees fit that any character who is killed by a falling object will look up and see it just in time to be flattened.

They will usually be alerted by a whistling sound, combined with the rapidly growing shadow of the object that is around them. It is rare (but not unknown) for characters to leap out of the way. Usually they instead choose to stare at it in shock until they are crushed. Of course, it's fairly surprising to see a piano bearing down on you in the middle of the sidewalk, and this is very much a case of Truth in Television. Sometimes, a character, if trying to invoke the trope on someone they are fighting against, will also point up slightly to hint that they should look up, to which the enemy inevitably falls for it just as they are flattened.

Keep in mind that, as this trope is particularly common in cartoons, where characters are almost impervious to permanent damage, this trope does not always actually result in death.

Super-Trope of Falling Chandelier of Doom. Almost always used with Death from Above. Contrast Disney Villain Death. As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders: Happens in classic cartoon fashion to Jotaro. He survives.
  • Giro and his henchwolves are all killed in an avalanche at the end of One Stormy Night.
  • Cyborg 009 has an example in the form of Apollo, a Cyborg who along with a slew of others sincerely believed he was a God of the Grecian Pantheon destined to pass judgement on humanity. Shortly before her own death, Artemis tries telling him that this was not true and that they were once humans before Doctor Gaia turned them into cyborgs and brainwashed them . He has trouble accepting it and enters an existential crisis just as the temple starts collapsing around him. Despite the pleas of the heroes to flee with them before the Temple crushes them, he merely looks up and says "Artemis" before being crushed by a collapsing pillar.
  • A one-shot horror manga called "Umbrella Girl" takes the trope name very literally, where the titular "umbrella girl" constantly teases a regular boy carrying her to look up her skirt as Schmuck Bait. He manages to resist until he gets home and abandons her, which turns out he was luckily smart to do because under her "skirt" is a circular maw with More Teeth than the Osmond Family just waiting to snap shut and eat him. Something a bonus comic by the creator showed is exactly what would happen.

    Comic Books 
  • Strikeforce: Morituri: Aaron Ray Leonard is one of the Black Watch, the first squad of Morituri. They're given superpowers, then expected to activate them for the first time in a Deadly Training Area. Unfortunately, it's a little too deadly. Aaron freezes in horror when a teammate is killed by Beam Spam, snapping out of it when he sees a shadow above him... but that's too late to stop a mechanical crusher from mashing him into the ground.

    Films — Animation 
  • Batman: Mask of the Phantasm: While fleeing from the Phantasm, Buzz Bronsky falls into an open grave. He looks around as the Phantasm taunts him, then looks up to see a massive stone angel toppling on top of him.
  • When Gru attempts for the last time to thwart Vector's fortress in Despicable Me, he looks up after hearing a bunch of guns cocking, and many missile laser sights cover his face. We then get a non-violent Gory Discretion Shot of a mushroom cloud from far away. As with any kid's movie, the scene ends with Gru after a Disney Death. Sort of.
  • At the end of Ice Age, the evil saber-toothed cat Soto is impaled by several falling icicles.
  • Kung Fu Panda 2 ends with Lord Shen crushed to death by his own cannon. Subverted in that he looks up at the cannon, but just closes his eyes and accepts his fate.
  • At the end of The Pebble and the Penguin, Drake is crushed to death by the very boulder he was attempting to kill Hubie with
  • In Recess: School's Out, after Gus (who acted as the commander of the children faction of the resistance against Benedict's No Recess group) sprayed soda on the ninjas, the ninjas attempt to attack Gus out of revenge, but then Gus tells them to stop, and then points upward. The Ninjas take the hint and look up... only for Spinelli to flatten them with a flying press.
  • The 2009 Wonder Woman made-for-DVD animated film features a mook looking up and the last thing he sees is Wonder Woman descending upon him. Given that, in this Darker and Edgier version of the tale, the Amazon kills cold-bloodedly (having done so to a couple of fellow mooks moments earlier and she'll do so again afterwards), it's very likely it was the last thing he ever saw.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Amélie. Amelie's mother meets this fate, courtesy of a suicidal Canadian tourist jumping off a church roof and landing on her.
  • In Army of Frankensteins, Abraham Lincoln gets knocked out of his box by the Frankenstein which is trying to protect him from Booth. The Frankenstein then falls out of the box. Lincoln, lying on the floor of the theatre, looks up and sees the Frankenstein plummeting towards him. It lands on top of him, crushing him to death.
  • Subverted in Avengers: Infinity War, as the trope doesn't kill its target. Talking to Doctor Strange on Titan, Thanos looks up to see Iron Man dropping down a building-sized piece of wreckage on him. Since it's Thanos we're talking about, this is only the opening salvo of the fight.
  • The villain of Con Air, following a long and difficult death process, ends up on a conveyor belt... and is condemned to see the rock crusher at the end of it.
  • Creepshow: In "Father's Day", Hank falls into Nathan's grave and gets pinned under Bedelia's body. He can only lie helplessly on his back, looking up, as the top of Nathan's monument is pushed into the grave; directly on top of his head.
  • The Dark Knight has such a scene, though it's a bit different: it was a car bomb. One of the Joker's victims was given an envelope telling her where she was going into hiding, and the only word inside was "up". She looked up... and then the car went up.
  • In The Darwin Awards, Perp dies when he and Burrows fall off his apartment building and land on the pavement. The heavy stone planter their rope had been wrapped round topples off the roof after them. Burrows rolls out of the way while Perp lies on the ground watching the pot plunge down on top his head.
  • The Devil's Messenger: In "Condemned in Crystal", John Radian is kneeling over Madame Germaine's body when the bust of her on the wall — damaged in their fight — falls. He looks up and is crushed by it.
  • Dredd: When Peach Trees goes into Lock Down, a nuclear blast door comes down on top of a Beggar with a Signboard before he can do more than look up. From his Dull Surprise reaction, he may not have cared.
  • One of the victims in Final Destination 2 looks up just in time to see a large window literally smash him into a bloody mess. The next two films pay homage to that particular scene by reusing the same camera position showing the victim(s) that are about to be crushed looking up at the camera (and their impending doom). In the third, it's done with a falling cherry picker near the end of the film, and in the fourth, it's done in the opening disaster with a collapsing stone bleacher. The latter of the two notably kills off two people at the same time.
  • G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra: Happens twice in the opening battle to Scarlett's arrows.
  • In If Looks Could Kill, Michael Corben is fighting Zigesfeld (the henchman with the robotic hand), and drops a cage down on top of him. Instead of moving out of the way, Zigesfeld stands there and throws his arms up defensively, allowing the falling cage to hit him and knock him into molten gold.
  • James Bond:
    • GoldenEye: The death of Janus. Ironic, since he's just survived what seems to be a hundred-meter-fall from the giant parabolic antenna that ends up crushing him.
    • Die Another Day: Bond shoots a a giant chandelier, Zao looks up and screams as it crushes him.
  • The Dragon from Lethal Weapon 2 got a face full of shipping container.
  • Subverted in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, where Gothmog stares at the huge chunk of rock that is about to crush him, only to take a step back at the last second, causing it to miss him completely. And then he spits on it.
  • Mars Attacks!: This is how the First Lady meets her end.
    First Lady: The Nancy Reagan chandelier! [crunch]
  • Mission: Impossible: In the opening, the Hacker-type on Tom Cruise's team is killed in this way. However, he was sitting on top of a rising elevator at the time: it rose upwards and drove his face into some spikes (not to mention being crushed as well).
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail: The only person killed when the "Trojan Rabbit" is launched by the French soldiers is one of the knights' servants, who stands still, looking up at it.
  • Over Her Dead Body: The Villain Protagonist dies at the beginning of the film because she just stood there staring at the falling statue, even though she had plenty of time to get out of the way.
  • Predator: After taking quite a beating, Dutch finally manages to vanquish the alien hunter by dropping a big log on it. The Predator has just the time to look up before being crushed. Note that he doesn't die immediately, but is mortally wounded and thus starts his self-destruct device.
  • In Serial Mom, Ralph manages to escape from Beverly and get outside his house, but stops immediately outside the front door to scream for help. As he does so, Beverly pushes an air conditioner down on top of him. He looks up just in time to have it smash him in the face.
  • Transporter 3: The warehouse fight scene ends with Frank Martin hitting a switch that drops a car onto two temporarily incapacitated bad guys, who look up, scream, and hold their hands up (ineffectually).
  • Uncharted: After falling out of a wrecked caravel into the ocean, Braddock surfaces just in time to see said ship falling right toward her.

  • According to urban legend, turkeys and/or chickens are so stupid that if it rains they'll look up to see what's hitting them and drown. Again, however, urban legend. There is a medical condition that effects turkeys, causing them to "stargaze," but it is caused by a nutritional imbalance in their diet and not stupidity. The "drowning in the rain" part comes from farmers joking that if it rains while the turkeys are looking up, then they would drown. And now you know.

  • Happens to mountain lion Sharptooth in Warrior Cats when Feathertail knocks a stalactite off the ceiling of the cave.
  • In The Dresden Files series, a spell called an Entropy Curse, which causes the victim to die in strange ways, can result in this. Done well, the Curse is completely plausible, such as a person tripping down stairs. Done poorly, the Curse results in utterly ridiculous deaths such as being hit by a speedboat — while miles from the ocean. One person dies when a frozen turkey falls out of an airplane flying overhead — and crushes the person's skull. The pop-up timer on it then goes "ding".
    'Even by the standards of immortal creatures of the night that isn't something you see every day.'
  • In the first Redwall book, Cluny the Scourge is rooted to the spot in shock, staring up at the bell falling from above.
  • In the climax of Tad Williams' Otherland, the Big Bad and his minions don't notice the satellite that is about to crash into their headquarters until far too late to do anything about it. They then play out several variations of fleeing ineffectually before being spectacularly blown up.
  • Gaunt's Ghosts has Mkoll, the titular regiment's Chief Scout, inflict this on a Dark Eldar warrior after outwitting him in what amounted to a hunter's duel.
  • Small Gods finishes Vorbis this way. After Brutha (who can hear his god, currently trapped in a tortoise body, directing an eagle just where to drop him) tells Vorbis he's going to die and it doesn't happen through an instant lightning bolt, Vorbis "smiled beatifically, spread his arms, and looked up at the sky" to see two pounds of tortoise heading for his face at terminal velocity. Apparently, there was just enough time for his expression to change.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Forrest sees too late that Riley threw him a tank of flammable gas.
  • A Victim of the Week on Castle looked up to see a gargoyle's head dropping down upon him.
  • Dead Like Me:
    • The show starts off with George looking up at the sky to see a toilet seat from orbit about smite her. Considering that it is moving at terminal velocity and would be more than "fairly" surprising, I do think it is quite justified that she doesn't do more than say, "Oh shit".
    • Later in the pilot episode, an unnamed woman is crushed by, yes, a falling piano. She does look up, although not soon enough to have gotten out of the way.
  • Doctor Who: In "The Unicorn and the Wasp", it happens to housekeeper Miss Chandrakala when the Vespiform pushes a gargoyle onto her.
  • Dr. Romano from ER looked up just in time to see a helicopter crash on him, killing him. This after he had survived a helicopter cutting off his arm; they really don't like him.
  • This is how Chidi from The Good Place (where everyone is Dead to Begin With) was killed. He was trying to decide which restaurant to go to when an air conditioner fell out of a window onto his head. He looks up and we're treated to a P.O.V. Shot of the plummeting appliance. Eleanor also looks up to see the approaching row of shopping carts that will end up shoving her into the path of the boner pill truck, although those are rolling rather than falling.
  • Gotham: Happens in "The Balloonman" when Lieutenant Cranston's body plummets back to earth. A woman out walking her dog looks up just in time to be squashed by Cranston's corpse.
  • Jonathan Creek: In "The Clue of the Savant's Thumb", the killer attempts to topple a stone angel off the roof on to Fariba. She looks up and sees it coming. Her adoptive mother knocks her out of the way and is instead killed by the statue.
  • Midsomer Murders: In "The Dark Rider", one victim is lured outside his ancestral home and looks up just in time to see a gargoyle toppling on top of him.
  • Supernatural likes playing with this trope. The first time it happens, a piano is dropped on him, but he didn't look up. The second time, both Sam and Dean do look up, but then time freezes and when the air conditioning unit finally does hit the ground, they're not in the same position as before.

  • From the Lovin' Spoonful song "Pow!":
    When they're droppin' a piano from the forty-seventh floor
    I'm the guy underneath 'em lookin' up...
  • Parodied in Los Prisioneros's "We are South American Rockers", where some paint-filled eggs were thrown around in the video and the last one, right as the song finishes, is tossed with whistling sound effect and as if it was a piano, as the group members stare in horror.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Calvin and Hobbes: Invoked by Hobbes in one strip, where he's sitting in a tree with a bucket of snowballs. When Calvin walks underneath, he drops one snowball next to Calvin so that he will look up and have just enough time to realize what's about to happen, and then dumps the whole bucket right on his face.
    Hobbes: It's that moment of dawning comprehension I live for.

  • Mobster Pat O'Bunion is killed under an avalanche of heavy crates in Capcom's unreleased Kingpin

    Video Games 
  • At the end of Resident Evil – Code: Veronica, Wesker, having just opened a can of whoop-ass on Chris, does a leaping punch to finish him, but Chris uses his last ounce of strength to fling himself out of the way out of Wesker's attack and straight at a lever. Cue loud noises, and Wesker looking up just in time to catch an I-beam with his face right before an entire pile lands on him. Subverted into a Hope Spot, however, considering what said character's already had happen to him.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • In the series, there was a returning enemy called a wallmaster, which would appear suddenly in dungeons, scare the crap outta you, grab onto your face, and pull you into oblivion. In most games this would incur some damage, and if you were on the brink of doom, you would crumple to the ground as soon as you reappeared at the beginning of the dungeon.
    • In The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and its semi-sequel, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, a wallmaster attack was foreshadowed by a terror-inducing whooshing noise and a growing shadow under you that followed you around. But whether it be by glitch or purposeful subversion, the best way to instantly avoid this creature was, ironically, by looking up.
    • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker: Ganon getting the Master Sword right through his forehead.
  • The Sims 2 has a very low chance of this happening when sky- or star-gazing: Sims look up shortly before dying from falling satellite. On the plus side, you can sell the satellite in question for fun and profit afterward. No, really.
  • This happens in Brütal Legend to General Lionwhyte, though somewhat averted; he looks up in time to see a giant mirror falling towards him, and reacts in time by shattering it with his voice... resulting in his death by multiple shards of broken mirror.
  • Asylum: This is a text-with-maze-graphics adventure game for the TRS-80. The plot of the adventure requires the use of this trope. At one point in the game, you find a written note that says "look up". If you do, a piano immediately falls on your head and kills you, implying that there's a concert grand hovering over your head for the entire game just daring you to look at it. To kill an inmate who would otherwise murder you, you have to show the note to him, causing him to look up and get a piano dropped on his head.
  • Averted in the The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim trailer, in which the fellow looks up and then proceeds to unleash his fury on the offending dragon.
  • Dawn of War 2 has one moment at the start of a mission where you'll see some Orks standing in the middle of the desert, one of them looks up and remarks, "What's that up in the sky?" moments before your drop pod turns the whole group into paste.
  • Uncharted 4: A Thief's End: This is how Rafe dies as Nate slices the rope using a broken rapier
    Rafe: I earned this. All of it.
    Nate: You want the treasure, Rafe? It's all yours.
    [Nate cuts the rope, Rafe looks up and large, roped up bag of treasure drops on him]]
  • Rosencrantz in Vagrant Story is killed in a slight variation of this trope, when Sydney manipulates him into standing beneath a statue of a multi-armed war goddess and brings the statue to life with dark magic. Rosencrantz glances upwards just as the goddess awakens and strikes him with her sword.

    Web Animation 
  • In part two of Nazo Unleashed, Super Sonic rushes into space and then aims back at Nazo back on earth in a manner similar to a meteor. When Super Sonic is close to impact, Super Shadow, who is currently fighting Nazo at this point, points up slightly. Nazo takes the hint and looks up... only for Super Sonic to collide into him and seriously injure him.
  • The brilliant indie computer-animation short Pigeon: Impossible has the lead pigeon meeting its demise in this manner while eating the all-important bagel for which much of Washington, DC was destroyed.


    Western Animation 
  • Family Guy had something of a parody of this in a Cutaway Gag — the man in "Hiroshima, August 1945" having the Worst Day Ever looks up as a shadow grows over him and a whistling sound is heard, gives a slow, awed "Oh my god..." and gets hit by... an escaped baboon which proceeds to claw his face off. Worst Day Ever, indeed.
  • A running gag in Metalocalypse is that some unlucky patron (usually a audience member or a production staff) looks up just as chaos erupts. And something sharp flies through the air then impales him in the face.
  • From Winnie the Pooh: "What do Jagulars do?" "Well, they always call 'Halloo!' And when you look up, they drop on you." "I'm looking d-down, Pooh."
  • Looney Tunes: Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner played this trope up, down and sideways with all the various things that fell on Wile E. Coyote's head over the years. He's looked up and then opened a comically tiny umbrella to protect him; looked up, looked to the camera, pointed up and gulped; looked up, seen the rock, stepped just out of the shadow on the ground and been hit anyway... you name it.
  • Happened to 45 in the unaired version of the Invader Zim Most Horrible X-Mas Ever. Since this took place after the regular series, it can be assumed he was Killed Off for Real. In the edited version, the scene cuts away just as he notices the Shadow of Impending Doom.

    Real Life 
  • Rock climbers never yell "heads up" or "look out" for exactly this reason; people looking up may get hit in the unprotected face instead of on the top of their helmets. Instead, climbers shout "Rock!" (even if what's falling is a piece of equipment or some other non-rock object), which means to get your head down and stand close to the wall. If something very large falls, the shout is instead "Boulder!", which means you should look up, at least so you can see what's about to smash you.
  • Similarly, at least one construction company has "don'bethere!" as a code word for telling people to vacate where they're standing, without wasting any time to "look out" or figure out where to "move."
  • Theater. One of the first things they teach on tech crew is don't look up when people yell "heads up," as that's a great way to get a faceful of molten plastic, shattered glass, broken light, falling planks... you get the picture. Run, duck, cover your head, just don't look up.


Video Example(s):



In the final episode of Cyberpunk Edgerunners, Rebecca tries to shoot at Adam Smasher when she sees him, cursing at him for interrupting her conversation with Lucy, only for him to kill her by squashing her through the ground feet first. Her death comes right out of nowhere and there isn't even enough time afterward for the other characters to mourn her.

How well does it match the trope?

3 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / SurprisinglySuddenDeath

Media sources: