What the heroes are looking for is behind one door. The problem is that the heroes stand in a long hallway or circular room lined with doors in any direction they care to proceed. Every other door but the exit has something disheartening, dopey, dangerous, disastrous or deadly on the other side, but none of them are marked or visibly distinct from each other, so they have no choice but to try each one to find the way out. Named for the game of chance in which there's only one way to win and many ways to lose, this trope is the same thing — lots of doors lead nowhere (or nowhere good), but only one is the way forward.
The one trying the doors must be quick and slam the door before the danger on the other side emerges (or reaches out to grab them)!
Riddles, such as Knights and Knaves, may play some part in the process of deciding which door is the one that leads to reward or safety rather than confusion or danger. More enterprising or less white hatted heroes may fudge against the rules a bit and find a more creative method to determine which door is the one they want. Sometimes the danger behind the doors is the villain who can do the Offscreen Teleportation trick and be behind each door progressively.
In order to save money on camera shots or the wacky Stock Footage, sometimes the shot would show the character opening the door, accompanied by a sound effect that indicates a wild animal, monster or other unexpected danger lurks on the other side without ever showing it. With CGI being more prevalent in filmmaking, though, this is becoming less of a problem. If the scene is lighter fare and/or Played for Laughs, you can expect the Standard Snippet from "Yackety Sax" to accompany those trying the doors. The funnier the setting, the more likely it is that an oncoming locomotive will show up behind one of the doors.
An occasional variation is to have a room with no way out but the door one came in through, but opening it the second time, it now leads someplace else.
A form of Malevolent Architecture. Not to be confused with Scooby-Dooby Doors although often the long shot down the hallway is something both tropes have in common. If the door takes the hero back to the entrance, it's One of These Doors Is Not Like the Other. For the video game version, see Magical Mystery Doors.
- There's a Kraft Macaroni & Cheese commercial where Cheeseasaurus Rex is wandering up and down a long hallway of all white doors trying to find the Macaroni and Cheese. He finds various silly and amusing things before he finally finds what he's looking for.
- The English dub of Duel Masters uses heavy editing to throw Mimi into this situation in one episode.
- In the original Yu-Gi-Oh! manga, when Shadi is trapped inside Dark Yuugi's mind, he was forced to do this to find his way out. One door contained the true mind of Dark Yuugi while countless others held nasty surprises. It was implied that had his adversary not shown a rare bit of mercy and helped him at the last moment, he would have been lost there forever.
- There was once a recurring Archie Comics strip called Open the Door, Dilton, where Dilton Doiley would open doors leading to Visual Puns based on their labels; a door leading to 'Tennis Court' featured a player being sentenced a $500 fee for a double-fault by the judge, and a 'Roller Derby' had people racing derby hats on wheels.
- The My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic comic book had Chrysalis challenge the Mane 6 to find her behind one of the doors in her castle. The wrong doors had creepy movie references behind them, such as The Phantom of the Opera or a priest of Kali from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
- Yellow Submarine. While the protagonists are looking for Paul inside a hall of many doors, they open several doors leading to (a) King Kong reaching in to get Fay Wray, (b) an oncoming train (John slams the door shut) and finally (c) Paul giving a concert performance.
- Prior to that, a series of very surreal objects go in and out the doors.
- The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother. Professor Moriarty puts one of his henchmen through one of these tests, including tricking him into going through the wrong door and getting killed.
- In Casino Royale (1967), Sir James and Moneypenny end up in a hall with many doors which all look alike.
- Happens in Forbidden Zone as part of the homages to old 1930's cartoons.
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix has this when Harry and his friends are in the Department of Mysteries and they're trying to find which door is the one with all the glass balls seen in Harry's dreams.
- It (2017): Played for Gallows Humor when the titular Master of Illusion Eldritch Abomination creates three doors in one room of its lair, labeled "Not Scary at All", "Scary", and "Very Scary". They choose the first door, take one look at what's inside, slam it, and force themselves to disbelieve the illusion instead.
- In the 1949 film I Was a Male War Bride, French army captain Henri Rochard (Cary Grant) experiences a variation on this trope. In the hallway of a U.S. Army office building in post-war Germany, he experiences Acronym and Abbreviation Overload in a hallway filled with solid office doors labeled with alphabet soup acronyms. He recites what he thinks the acronym on each door means until he comes to the women's restroom. He starts to recite what he thinks the acronym "LADIES" might stand for when a female corporal walks out.
- Labyrinth has the Knights and Knaves riddle variation. Hoggle also helped Sarah escape the oubliette with a magic door. Open it one way and it goes to a cupboard. Open it the other way, and it leads outside.
- The Master of Disguise has a deleted scene combining this trope with Scooby-Dooby Doors where a pair of bad guys chase Pistachio into a hallway of doors and Pistachio somehow appears in a different disguise behind every door which somehow open and close by themselves, leaving the bad guys thoroughly confused. A few moments from this scene and a few extras that weren't used in it can also be found in the movie's end credits.
- Neo's path to the Architect in The Matrix Reloaded had roulette doors.
- In the Ensemble Cast comedy Nothing but Trouble, there is a sequence where a character tries to open several doors in a hallway, only to find bizarre things like tombstones or a room full of bats (and guano). Unusually for this trope, they're not stock footage but actually there. It's a very strange house.
- In Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, the "one door leads to two different locations" variation is used.
- American Gladiators. The last part of The Eliminator challenge involved the contestants deciding which (paper) door to burst through. If they chose correctly, they had a free run to the finish line. If they chose the wrong one, they had to get past one of the gladiators.
- The American version of Hell's Kitchen has an unusual variation. In the finale, Gordon Ramsay shows doors to the audience. The finalists stand behind the doors, and only the winner's door is unlocked.
- Let's Make a Deal. The Big Deal of the Day was hidden behind one of three doors: Door Number One, Door Number Two or Door Number Three. A Zonk was hidden behind some doors earlier in the show.
- The Price Is Right did it with the Showcase game at the end of the show.
- Subverted on Silent Library. A recurring punishment is "Bad Door", with punishments including a zombie, a motorcycle spewing exhaust, and more.
- Treasure Hunt used to do it with good prizes and booby prizes they called "klunks".
- Often used on Takeshi's Castle for various events and challenges.
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix has this when Harry and his friends are in the Department of Mysteries and they're trying to find which door is the one with all the glass balls seen in Harry's dreams. In fact, the doors spin around the group like an actual roulette wheel.
- "The Lady, or the Tiger?" (found here) by Frank Stockton. Significant criminals in a "semi-barbaric" kingdom are judged in the king's arena, where they must choose one of two identical doors. One door contains a tiger that will kill the criminal, while the other door hides a beautiful woman whom the criminal must marry. The 'defendant' is considered innocent or guilty based on which outcome befalls him.
- Jack Moffitt wrote "The Lady and the Tiger" which is a continuation of the above story. In it, the door the princess pointed to had the tiger behind it. The man who opened the door then quickly opened the other door, behind which stood his beloved. He hid himself behind the two open doors and the tiger killed the girl. He turned out to be one of the two thieves who died with Christ.
- Edgar Rice Burroughs' Lost On Venus had one of these: only one of the room's multiple doors led to safety; all the others were deathtraps. (Once the jailers brought you in and left, the lights went out and the floor spun for a while so you'd lose track of which was the safe door.) Food and drink were provided — most of it poisoned. Oh, and to discourage hesitation, after a while dangerous snakes started slithering in.
- Seven Ancient Wonders by Matthew Reilly has a pair of these puzzles in rooms as Death Traps. The rooms quickly fill up with quicksand, and were designed to be disorientating to make it harder to find the correct door.
- A Song of Ice and Fire. Daenerys Targaryen encounters a corridor like this in the House of the Undying, with the doorways containing various prophecies and Lotus-Eater Machine traps designed to lure her off her path.
- The Lady Or The Tiger is discussed by Picard and Worf in the Star Trek: The Next Generation novel Rogue Saucer. Worf opines that the only appropriate ending is for the man to open the door with the tiger, hurl himself upon it, and die an honourable death.
- In The 10th Kingdom, our heroes get past this trap in an unusual way: the father has had it at that point, so he picks up the toad who serves as the keeper and tosses him into the corridor beyond one of the doors, which immediately erupts into flame. They then decide to take the other door.
- In Batman (1966) Catwoman did it with the choice of "The Lady or the Tiger", giving Batman a chance to catch her or die.
- In the Doctor Who episode "The God Complex", there's an eerie hotel in which each room contains the worst fear of someone who has once been trapped in it. Finding the door meant for you means a perversion of your particular faith and subsequent death. There is no door out unless you have no faith in the first place.
- Candice set up a fixed, unwinnable version of this trope with her illusion powers in season 1 of Heroes. No matter what door Micah ran to, all the doors led him back to the room he was trying to leave.
- The Monkees - In the episode "Monkee Chow Mein," Micky and Peter must choose between four doors to escape sudden death from the clutches of evil Chinese Restaurateurs.
- In Square One TV segment "Ghost of a Chance", the protagonist is trapped in a haunted shack and must frequently choose between doors which may conceal an exit, or hidden dangers. Mathematics Ensues.
- The Huey Lewis and the News video for "Heart And Soul" has Huey and the girl trying to escape from a house with a long hallway. One of the doors leads to a wild party. One leads to the band singing. Another leads to a vampire (played by bassist Mario Cippolina) biting a victim. The next, to a track with an old-fashioned locomotive racing toward them, all of which Huey slams closed before finally finding the door leading back out to the normal world. Watch it here, starting at approximately 2:53.
- In The Goon Show episode "The Yehti", Seagoon finds himself in a building where there is an express train behind almost every door, and flocks of sheep behind the rest. Later, accompanied by Eccles and Bluebottle, he follows Yeti tracks and finds himself in a hallway with a large number of doors. Opening each door in turn, they find things that Seagoon can perceive but the other two can't, things that the other two can perceive but Seagoon can't, things that the audience can perceive but the protagonists can't, the narrator taking a bath, attractive women who offer Eccles grapes and an explosion that, as usual, 'deads' Bluebottle. Only one door remains — surely the Yeti must be behind it? No, another express train.
- In the film montage show, CineMagique at Walt Disney Studios Paris, there's a scene where the main character is in the film, Titanic (1997), and trying to find Jack in a hallway of doors. Behind each door he finds, in order: Jack Sparrow, the Parr family, Inspector Clouseau, Hannibal Lecter, Gollum, and Regan MacNeil. It all makes sense in context. Sort of.
- Fallout 4's Nuka-World DLC has a side-quest where the player must traverse a decaying funhouse run by a stage magician who was transformed into a Glowing Onenote when the bombs dropped. One of the rooms is a circular chamber with a spinning floor and about ten different doors, some of which lead to blank walls, others to staged "scenes" (like skeletons watching TV), and of course one leads to the next part of the area.
- Mario Party 5: The minigame Pound Peril has two dueling characters surrounded by 12 switches in a circle. Eleven of them are hazardous; the objective is to be the first to find the safe switch.
- One of the co-operative mini-games in Wii Party has the actual doors — some of them have boxing gloves on springs, some have wheels that run you over, and some have other Miis on the toilet. The object is to find the single door in each room that leads to the next one, and eventually meet up in the middle.
- The The Adventures of Batman episode "The Nine Lives of Batman" started with this.
- Batman: The Animated Series had an episode, "What Is Reality", where Batman and Robin had to save Commissioner Gordon from a virtual reality simulation constructed by The Riddler. The first obstacle Batman encounters is a hallway full of doors. This being the Riddler, however, the doors were all labeled with clues as to what was behind them. The door labeled "crazy intent", for example, had an oncoming locomotive.
- Fleischer Studios cartoon Bimbo's Initiation has this as one of the obstacles in Bimbo's initiation ceremony.
- Happened in the Courage the Cowardly Dog episode "Courage in the Big Stinking City", where behind door number 1 is Stock Footage of King Ghidorah, behind door number 2 is stock footage of a shark, and behind door number 3... is a cute girl playing a violin. Until she turns around, revealing a monstrous screaming face.
- The Ghost Zone in Danny Phantom has doors like this that float in midair instead of lining the sides of a hallway. They lead back to Earth, to other places in the Ghost Zone, or to other dimensions or even other time periods. In an odd twist, the Ghost Zone actually has been mapped, so whoever has the map won't have the problem of guessing which door leads where.
- In the Eek! The Cat episode "HallowEek", Eek was running around a room at the haunted house freaking out, and opens three doors, but there are different monsters behind them that scare him, and then he opens another door and Mr. Rogers is behind it uttering "Won't you be my neighbor?", which also scares him.
- Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends: In "Affair Weather Friends", Mac, on a sugar bender, goes through the house of Bloo's new friend Barry and opens several doors trying to find him. One closet contains various possessions and a photo of a family that doesn't look like Barry's, the next is a Stalker Shrine to Bloo, and the next contains said family Bound and Gagged. This shows that Barry isn't what he seems.
- One episode of Garfield and Friends, "Mystic Manor", had Garfield searching a haunted house for Odie and encountering this. Behind one door was Nancy and Sluggo, behind another was the manor's crazy caretaker taking a shower, and behind another was a sunny beach crowded with surfers, which results in Garfield being drenched by a huge wave.
- Looney Tunes:
- In Bugs Bunny and the Three Bears, Bugs tries to escape the bears' house after his plan to seduce the Mama Bear works too well, but finds her behind every door dressed in different lingerie. "Tell me more about my eyes!"
- Both The Trial of Mr. Wolf and Plane Daffy feature a gag where a character tries to flee his pursuer's house, but finds him behind every door brandishing increasingly deadlier weapons.
- In Yankee Doodle Daffy, talent agent Porky is trying to flee his own office, but finds Daffy behind every door doing a succession of musical numbers.
- Happens frequently on Muppet Babies, where opening the closet door can be a risky proposition.
- The Simpsons: Bart Simpson encounters this when he's in the Shelbyville Zoo trying to leave without being eaten by a tiger.
- In the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, Leonardo and Raphael are in a hallway with a lot of doors in the Technodrome, when they decide to try to open them. From behind the first a missile comes out, but Leonardo says that there can't be missiles behind every door. Naturally, behind the second are about 20 Foot soldiers!
- In the "Mad Mod" episode of Teen Titans, the Titans try to escape Mad Mod's "school". There's a wacky J-Pop number and this trope is crossed over with Scooby-Dooby Doors as the doors change problematically from second to second due to Mad Mod being an illusionist.
- In the Wander over Yonder episode "The Void", while trying to escape a dimension where literally anything can happen, Slyvia repeatedly opens a single door to find a way out. Behind it contains tons of Freeze Frame Bonuses, including Lord Hater taking a shower, Wander and Slyvia's concept art, a photo of Wander's voice actor Jack McBrayer, a photo of Craig McCracken and a message saying, "Thanks for watching Wander Over Yonder and for taking the time to still frame this! - CM"