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Dilating Door

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The door dilated.

This trope refers to a particular sci-fi convention of connoting a "futuristic" setting with doors and hatches that open in unusual, hi-tech ways — doors that dilate like an iris, doors that slide up into the ceiling, doors that dissolve and rematerialize... Apparently, plain old hinges are extinct in the future.

Outside of this wiki, "Dilating door" is science fiction Fan Speak for the more general trope that we call "Cool, but Inefficient". This is a reference to Robert A. Heinlein's advice that you could evoke a futuristic air by casually throwing out details like "the door dilated", as if such things were nothing to really notice.

Subtrope of Our Doors Are Different.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The doors on the industrial ship in Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence don't make any sense. They consist of four squared panels fixed to two hinges on each side of the doorframe at middle height which are tilted sideways and into the walls. However, it looks quite cool when Batou charges through the corridors and every 15 meters one of these opens just a split second before he reaches it.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Alien: The sections of the air duct system on the starship Nostromo are separated by dilating hatches. This makes sense assuming that their intended purpose is to regulate air flow through the ship and not to be pressure-tight in case of a hull breech. Ordinary hatches slide upward or sideways.
  • The Atomic Submarine: A crewman gets crushed when his arm is caught as he tries to dive through the Dilating Door as it closes, so in this case, it's a Contracting Door.
  • Played for Laughs in the film of Barbarella, when Barbarella is wearing (little more than) an animal-skin suit with a long tail and the tail gets trapped in the closing iris.
  • Dr. Who and the Daleks has doors that swing into the sides. However, for some reason, that's just not absurd enough, and one of the doors has to open with a pressure sensor. Said sensor is located three metres away, and elevated by about a foot, meaning that it was utterly useless to the Dalek inhabitants.
  • Masked Avengers: The Masked Gang's lair has one of these doors leading to its inner sanctums, opened by pushing a lever. However, said door only stays open if the lever is held down - an unlucky redshirt finds out the hard way as the door shuts in while he's halfway through, crushing him from the waist.
  • The doors on the Death Star in Star Wars. "Close the blast doors! Open the blast doors!!"
  • Star Trek:
    • In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the Enterprise halls were designed with various decorative pipes along the ceilings. Problem was they often led to walls with doors that opened upward...
    • Amusingly averted in Star Trek (2009). Whereas the Star Trek universe does other things (see below), the Starfleet facility on Delta Vega has a normal exterior door with a panic bar.
  • A bizarre aversion in TRON: Legacy. The interior of Flynn's house in the Grid has obviously visible hinges and door knobs on all of the doors, such that they wouldn't be out of place in a regular modern house. This, of course, is taking place in the entirely virtual world where Cool, but Inefficient is king. Even stranger when compared with the Ascetic Aesthetic design of the rest of the house. In particular, the windows stand out, as they are not made of a solid substance, but instead seem to be Some Kind of Force Field, marking a pretty stark contrast with the doors. Presumably this was either a matter of personal preference on the owner's part or because the filmmakers couldn't get a fancier visual effect to look right.

  • The Guns of Pluto by Allen Steele opens with an airlock's "sphincter door" irising open to admit our hero, making it look like Captain Future has been used for an Ass Shove.
  • Ships in Animorphs are 'living metal'.
  • In the first few paragraphs of Robert A. Heinlein's 1942 novel Beyond This Horizon the protagonist arrives at the office door of his friend. He enters a code combination for the door (as opposed to knocking or ringing a doorbell), then awaits "face check" (from context some sort of video camera rather than some kind of fish-eye lens in the door). Then the door "dilates". None of this is explained or expanded upon, nor is it really relevant to the plot. It's all just background detail, serving simply to establish that the action of the novel takes place in The Future, and was cited enthusiastically by Harlan Ellison as a brilliant example of science fiction Worldbuilding. The Trope Namer.
  • Consider Phlebas. When Bora Horza Gobuchul gets Thrown Out the Airlock on an alien spacecraft, the airlock just turns inside out.
  • This sort of doorway is also explored by Michael Moorcock in The Elric Saga. Elric must enter the perilous Pulsating Cavern, which has a certain organic quality to it...
  • Heinlein's 1982 novel Friday has a casual mention of a door "contracting" in the first three lines of the book. As in Beyond This Horizon this is not further described or explained, and serves only to give the setting the proper futuristic feel.
  • James White was fond of this in his Sector General books, even having a speech about what kind of doors there are in the universe. Essentially, doors can open through hinges, slide in or out, open up or down, dilate clockwise or counterclockwise, or create a quantum-physics manipulating field around themselves so that every atom of a person can pass through without hitting the atoms in the door. The person making the speech went on to say that no civilization in the universe was known to be advanced enough to use the last option, and if any were ever to be encountered, "we will be sure to be very polite."
  • Older Than Radio: In H. G. Wells' The Sleeper Awakes "And then came a strange thing; a long strip of this apparently solid wall rolled up with a snap, hung over the two retreating men and fell again."
  • G. Martynov's Starfarers, a fairly average late day Interplanetary Voyage novel, features Sufficiently Advanced Humanoid Aliens from the planet Phaeton, who used the disintegrating-and-rematerializing doors in their spaceship.
  • Samuel R. Delany's Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand had "the door deliquesced". Parodied in David Langford's first drabble.
  • Flint of Outworld, a modern caveman in Piers Anthony's Tarot series, is unimpressed by the inner world's (that have modern tech) dilating door, comparing it to the anus of a defecating dinosaur.
  • A biotech version from Tk'tk'tk by David D. Levine. The protagonist is a human salesman on a planet of insectoid aliens, so the squicky reaction one has reading it matches his own.
    Walker pressed through the labia of the shop entrance into the heat and noise and stink of the street.
  • The War Against the Chtorr. In A Season for Slaughter, a robot probe is sent into a Chtorran nest, which turns out to have Organic Technology doorways resembling a labia. On seeing this on the camera screen, one soldier quips, "If there are teeth behind that thing, I'm turning gay."
  • In the Doctor Who New Adventures novel Legacy by Gary Russell, the Doctor and Benny travel to Peladon on a Martian ambassadorial cruiser that uses a "refractive molecular arranger" to make the door simply disappear on command (and their guide apologises that there are still a few flecks of door material in the space). Ace, meanwhile, is travelling to Pakha on a Used Future tramp ship with sliding doors that keep getting stuck.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The doors to personal quarters on the eponymous Babylon 5 open by rotating clockwise. They have been known to fall on cast members. Others open like modern automatic doors, sliding to either side. Those doors are actually quite clever, as they're held up by electrical power when open and are closed by the Artificial Gravity produced when the station rotates, with no need for a motor to close them. In the event of a hull breach or life-support failure, the doors would slam shut on their own without any active safety system required.
    • The doors leading to the Grey Council chamber inside the Minbari ship Valen'tha open much like the iris from Stargate.
    • The doors made for the human Thralls on Z'ha'dum are the sliding door variety, but they sound like heavy rocks being dragged on concrete.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The series has far, far too many "dilating doors" to list here, but special mention goes to a door in "Day of the Daleks" which curls up toward the ceiling in a slow, sinister fashion.
    • "The Ark in Space" also features a sliding door that almost takes the Fourth Doctor's arm off. "I'm rather attached to it," he said.
  • On Earth: Final Conflict, the Taelons utilize organic slurry on their ships. When a wall or door is "closed", flaps of "skin" or slurry appear to grow from the door frame and coalesce at the center like a wound rapidly healing. They also utilize "virtual glass" (basically force fields) on some instances.
  • In Firefly, on Serenity, the doors to the crew quarters were these elaborate swinging ladder/door combination things. Quite space-efficient, if a bit easy to lock from the wrong side. (And not wheelchair-accessible, although the guest quarters were.) Still quite modest for this trope, since all the doors on the ship are opened by hand. The guest quarters have perfectly ordinary, manual sliding doors, again a matter of saving space.
  • Shown in the Batman Cold Open of The Mandalorian. It becomes 'the door dissected' when someone is foolish enough to fire on the title character while lying across the doorway. The Mandalorian proceeds to Shoot Out the Lock causing it to close automatically. Cue Gory Discretion Shot as his target becomes Half the Man He Used to Be.
  • In Mystery Science Theater 3000, the main characters are compelled through an elaborate series of variously opening doors and into the screening room. Well, Cambot is. The audience never sees the other characters during the door sequence; they might be going into the theater through a side door. And this might just be a shout-out to the opening and ending sequences of Get Smart.
    • The design is also homaged in the Hexfield Viewscreen, the ship-to-ship communications device of the Satellite of Love, which irises open and shut.
  • Stargate-verse:
    • The defensive (by way of lethal Portal Slam) iris used on the titular gate of Stargate SG-1 is designed this way so as to be able to slide into the portal ring when open. It's never made entirely clear how it fits inside the (relatively thin) ring, nor where the presumably complex mechanism for operating it is. The gate on Atlantis quickly turns out to have a more prop-friendly Force Field filling the same function.
    • Stargate Atlantis: The prisoner cells on Wraith Hiveships have web-like doors that disappear into the walls when opened.
  • Star Trek:

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Traveller, spaceships could have iris (dilating) doors.

    Video Games 
  • Alien: Isolation has these on Sevastopol Station and the Torrens, as part of the game's Zeerust Canon.
  • Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back has sewer levels with round, camera-shutter-style doors in the pipe passageways. Plus, every level starts and ends with doors in two vertically-sliding halves.
  • In the future part of Day of the Tentacle, the doors open vertically with the original Star Trek sound.
  • Dead Space 3 has doors that fold up, rotate and vanish in the alien city.
  • The doors in Descent have a variety of opening animations, from just two panels sliding vertically apart, up to to six-part dilating doors, and several in between.
  • Doors in Doom open upwards, primarily due to limitations of the engine. (When the source code was released, a routine for horizontally sliding doors was found to be Dummied Out with the comment "ABANDONED TO THE MISTS OF TIME!!!") "Polyobjects" from the version of the engine used in Hexen and later source ports can be used to make doors that actually imitate real-world door behavior.
  • The BUILD engine used by Duke Nukem 3D and Shadow Warrior (1997) allows for a fair variety of doors, including Doom-style vertical ones (including variants which open down or split in the middle), sliding doors, hinged ones (technically just rotating a sector 90 degrees around a pivot sprite), and a couple of more esoteric ones which involve making wall surfaces shrink away to nothing as the door opens (called "Star Trek doors" in the level editor documentation, and a variant which combines that with the aforementioned split vertical door), used for curtains and in alien levels.
  • In Everybody Edits Universe, doors have a swirl pattern, made of six segments that quickly slide open.
  • The Vaults from the Fallout series are sealed behind doors in the form of enormous steel cogwheels that are rolled along a track by a mechanical arm and then slid shut.
    • Parodied in Fallout 4 in the Mechanist's Lair where the main entrance is a ridiculously complex set of doors that take easily couple of minutes to open entirely. It's also a Shout-Out to Get Smart and/or Mystery Science Theater 3000, being exactly the same as one of the doors in both those series' famous door sequences.
    • Its appearance in Fallout 4 is actually a callback to the Mechanist's Lair from Fallout 3, which had a very similar seven layer door.
  • Although GoldenEye (1997) usually does fine with normal sliding doors, the Cavern level features iris doors. And yes, it is a pain in the ass when the door takes 5 seconds to open while you're fighting a horde of 20 enemies in your back... on the flip side, they do let you get the drop on some enemies on the other side by abusing the fact that you can get shots off on them faster than their ability to react as you rapidly close/open the door mid opening-animation.
  • Half-Life:
    • Half-Life: Quite a lot of the doors in the Black Mesa Complex do this vertically and horizontally.
    • Half-Life 2 introduces Combine doors, which look like a ton of scrap metal held in place, and each piece individually slides out of the way when the door is opened.
  • Halo: Most Covenant and Forerunner doors are like this. Covenant doors beep before they open though. The Flood-overrun High Charity in Halo 3 has sphincter doors similar to Prey.
  • Knights of the Old Republic features a variety of oddly opening doors, ranging from the relatively boring two part doors that slide sideways to ridiculously complex systems of interlocking bars that unlatch and slide apart.
  • The doors in Mass Effect are made of layers of interlocking parts.
  • The Legend of Zelda has a few, despite the High Fantasy-esque setting:
    • The third dungeon in Ocarina of Time plays this straight with actual dilating doors. Justified, as the "dungeon" is the interior of a whale.
    • Doors in Twilight Princess are surprisingly complicated, mechanically speaking. Many dungeon doors are round, and when pushed in, roll out of the way through some mystery of technology.
  • The Metroid series is an excellent example given that pretty much every door needs to be shot to open. Sometimes they require multiple shots. Sometimes they need missiles.
    • This is explained in the Metroid Prime Trilogy games as being a method of bypassing the door's normal opening mechanism; you're basically lowering a weak shield that's there to keep wildlife (or you in the case of stronger ones) out and the doors are opening automatically (presumably there's a more peaceful manner of opening the doors). The ones that need missiles explicitly have a blast shield (which disappears after being removed the first time) on them for extra security. Some areas of Super Metroid have doors which lack the shields and just let your straight through when you approach.
    • Most other doors and hatches in the Metroid Prime Trilogy are pretty complex as well. Rarely do they simply slide open - there are often many interlocking parts and convoluted mechanisms going on, especially on the Pirate Homeworld in Corruption. Some even require spinning the Morph Ball to operate.
  • Most of the doors in Operation: Matriarchy are circular, opening from the center like an iris. They lead to circular tunnels as well.
  • In PlanetSide 1's Core Combat caverns, the Ancient Vanu facilities all feature large round doors which vanish when approached, then re-materialize. The doors in human facilities such as the bases and towers feature sliding doors which split along the center. Vehicle bay doors in the Tech Plants slide into the ground when a vehicle leaves the vehicle pad.
  • Some towns in the Pokémon games, especially from Generation 3 and onwards, have either automatic doors for even civilian houses or, in cases like Pokémon Black Version's Opelucid City, thin blue film that fades away into the air (in other words, a diluting door) upon entering, then rematerializes after passing completely through. However, if the setting is old-fashioned, even in more recent games, then the doors are built strictly as hinged boards the way most are in the real world, such as in Sootopolis City (themed on Mykonos, Greece) or White Forest.
  • Portal 2:
    • The hatch between the Central Control Chamber and the Main Breaker Room is composed of six triangular pieces that can either be inserted and removed straight-on, or rotated into position to provide the standard iris effect. Which method is used appears to be up to the Artificial Intelligence or computer that happens to be in control at the time.
    • The doors intended for human use slide into the walls or floor/ceiling just like modern automatic doors. However, the locking mechanisms consists of pieces of one side which will rotate into the other side in full view of everyone. For the test chamber doors, when they're fully locked, the mechanism completes the Portal 2 logo.
  • Sphincter and other doors from Prey (2006).
  • Quest for Glory IV has a cave with doors that look like giant sphincters; however, this is Justified since the "cave" is actually the fossilized corpse of an Eldritch Abomination.
  • Spoofed, of course, in Season 3 of Sam and Max, where the doors on Skun'kape's ship dilate, slide in, and even tilt in — from opposite sides!
  • Starship Titanic's arboretum has a door that 'grows' open and closed and is made of metal plants.
  • In layer 2 of ULTRAKILL, square-shaped doors open and close like camera shutters.

  • In Drowtales, the forest-dwelling light elves make use of a magical version of this trope, formed from living, moving wood that spirals open.
  • Girl Genius: Zola and her crew when she's trying to usurp power as a false Hetrodyne get stuck for a while trying to force a dilating door open in Castle Heterodyne. The castle kills one of her lackeys and paints "The Heterodyne Must Enter Alone" above the door in his blood.
  • Subverted in this strip from The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!, when Bob is surprised that alien doors have doorknobs.

    Western Animation 
  • In one episode of Cyberchase, the kids go to Symmetria to find Ava. The building they encounter has a round door with four holes in it, mounted into a wall with four holes in it. By default, the holes don't align, but every once in a while, the door rotates so that they do align briefly. The trick to getting through is to jump through while it's moving. Nobody gets stuck in it, but it's just asking to happen. Good thing those kids are fairly nimble...
  • The Dexter's Laboratory episode "Photo Finish" features a camera-shutter door in the James Bond-style villain's lair. Par for the course since his villain theme is all about cameras.
  • The Gadget Boy & Heather episode "The day Gadget Boy stood still" involves an alien invasion caused by Spydra manipulating the aliens. After the situation has been resolved and the aliens leave peacefully, they've installed a dilating door at the Capitol entrance as a parting gift.
  • In The Legend of Korra, the doors in the police station are a semi-complex pattern of sliding metal slats. Justified, because the main body of the police force are trained Metal Benders, and it's their powers - not mechanisms — that move the doors around. Most of the other doors in the series are traditionally hinged or manually slid doors.

    Real Life 
  • Likely inspired by the human eye. The iris is a naturally evolved mechanism for opening and closing, and probably the only biological example of a "door" that doesn't invoke Squick.
  • Camera shutters open like irises.
  • Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium has a retractable roof that opens and closes by sliding eight triangular pieces on rails back and forth so that the opening that is made dilates like an iris. The stadium opened in 2017 (though it would be another year before the roof itself was finished). Previous stadiums with retractable roofs usually moved the one or two pieces to the side like a sliding door.


Video Example(s):


Vim Factory door

The Vim Factory has those weird swirly dilating doors.

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