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Elevator Failure

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Captain Obvious would probably say this is not a good place to be in right now.

Elevators (or lifts as they are called in the UK) are pretty mundane devices. They go up, they go down, and they move people and property vertically. The general rule of the elevator business is that, when their job is done right, you don't even notice the trip. There's a reason for this: because elevators carry people and improper operation can result in injury or death, there are various rules. Elevators have certain codes and requirements and generally have to be inspected every year.

In fact, the inspection certificate has to be publicly posted in the elevator itself, usually behind a glass frame (to keep the certificate clean and to prevent someone from stealing it) so anyone seeing it can see that it was inspected during the last 12 months. In fact, you should be very wary if you have entered an elevator where you notice the inspection certificate is missing or expired.

If the inspection official with the city or region does an inspection and it fails, the elevator will be ordered out of service as unsafe until it is brought back into code.

But sometimes, that's exactly what happens. Because of tampering, inadequate maintenance, or unusual environmental conditions, something goes wrong with an elevator, with very bad results. If you're lucky all that happens is you're Locked in a Room. If not, "going down"...

May lead to Born in an Elevator. Can also be used as a way to relieve sexual tension, especially if two people who seem to be incompatible share a big kiss.

Note that this trope deals with ordinary elevators that fail or are sabotaged by someone. When the elevator itself can make itself fail, that's not Elevator Failure, that's Evil Elevator.

Definitely not related to Elevator Going Down, unless someone decides they Must Not Die a Virgin.


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  • One classic commercial had a well-dressed businessman get on the elevator and hide behind a newspaper; he notices an extremely hot young woman as one of the passengers and ... once the elevator car stalls and the power goes out, he attempts to make his move by saying, "I can't notice how attractive you are!" Only for a middle-aged man's voice to answer back in the dark, "Thank you very much!" Unknown to him (but known to the viewers), the sexy woman, along with a few other passengers, had gotten off at their floor; the man whose voice is heard gets on. The businessman, instead of hoping to get to grope a hottie, is now stuck in an elevator with a balding, mustached maintenance worker in his early-to-mid 50s wearing a work uniform!

    Anime & Manga 
  • Another: Sanae Mizuno gets killed gruesomely inside an elevator when the cables snap and the car plummets to the bottom of the shaft. The investigation afterward finds lack of maintenance at fault, but the main characters know that the curse on class 3 was the real cause.
  • In Cardcaptor Sakura, Eriol magically traps Sakura and Li in an elevator to force Sakura into transforming the Clow cards into Sakura cards. The results are adorable. But not before Sakura is apparently swallowed by a sorta black hole, which makes Li panic and scream her name (which he had never done before)... and then Sakura saves herself via transforming the card she needed and returns to him.
  • The Teddy Bomber tries to kill Spike and Andy in the Cowboy Bebop episode "Cowboy Funk" with a sabotaged elevator; instead of plummeting to the bottom, it's rigged to go to the top of the building, causing a bomb to explode. Andy anticipated this scenario and changed the codes on the elevator controls so he could stop it; unfortunately, so did Spike, making them what the bomber set originally.
  • A similar trap was used in Futari wa Pretty Cure, with one of the villains cutting the wires of an elevator that the heroines were standing on top on... and that was full of people. Honoka ties up a wire around her waist and tries to use her legs to make the fall slower and Nagisa joins her; they succeed.
  • Nichijou: In Episode 8, Yuuko, Mio, and Mai get stuck in an elevator when it shuts down and spend some time in a stupor after finding no way to get out.
  • Nephrite tries to kill Sailor Moon by sabotaging an elevator. Later Zoicite tries to do it to get rid of both Usagi and Mamoru, and her transforming into Sailor Moon in front of Mamoru to save both of them is what reveals her Secret Identity to him.
  • The second arc of Shinjuku D×D deals with this trope. In short, a quack doctor, a rookie detective, a pregnant woman, a Yakuza, a repairman, a high school girl, and an old lady happened to walk in the same elevator when an earthquake happened and trapped them inside. Unfortunately, the pregnant woman is in pain and about to give birth leading to the protagonist and the other passengers having to perform the operation with no basic equipment except for what they have.
  • Given an horrible spin in Tokyo Babylon. Shinji Nagumo deliberately tampers with an elevator and then gets in alongside his boss. It plummets down and almost crashes — which is exactly what Nagumo wanted, as due to him being Born Lucky, he ends up surviving... and the boss, an old rich man with a weak heart, dies of cardiac failure induced by the massive terror he felt when the lift failed.

    Fan Works 
  • In the CSI fic Panic Room, Nick and Sara are stuck in an elevator. Unfortunately, it's right after "Grave Danger", and it pushes Nick's Trauma Button and he has a buried alive flashback.

    Films — Animated 
  • Happens to Fred Pacer in Cars 2 during the scene where Finn McMissile is shown fighting off several Lemons in a back alley in Tokyo.
  • Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil: After Wolf and Twitchy are tied up together back-to-back, gagged, and stuck in the elevator, the former has the idea of pressing the button on his back while the squirrel endures being squished between Wolf and the elevator buttons. This works, but the elevator stops at every floor. While it's doing that, Wolf and Twitchy try to break free from their restraints, but they fail to do so and must wait until it reaches the top floor.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Invoked in Andhadhun. Dr. Swami's crew trap Manohar in an elevator by turning off its power while he's inside.
  • Anon (2018): The killer, who is a master hacker, hacks into the eye implants of the detective and torments him with fake images of what he's seeing. At one point the detective is about to step into an elevator, only to realise just in time the doors have opened on an empty elevator shaft.
  • Civil War (2024): Referenced by the hotel staff at the NYC hotel. When Lee is about to go up an elevator to her room on the 10th floor, they advise her not to, since power failures are frequent enough that she could get stuck.
  • In Damien: Omen II, a doctor finds evidence of jackal blood in Damian's blood sample. As he is taking the sample slide to a colleague, his elevator mysteriously takes him first up, then near-freefall drop to the bottom of the shaft, knocking him off his feet. As he recovers, the audience sees the cross cable go right through the car, bisecting everything.
  • Devil is about five people who get trapped in an elevator by none other than the Devil himself, who slowly kills each one off.
  • Earthquake:
    • A dam inspection elevator has been flooded, and when an inspector uses it, he never comes back. Two other men call for the elevator to go look for him, only to have the elevator open, dumping a full cab of water on them and the man's body. This is later lampshaded when someone says they shouldn't panic over the incident, and one of the other inspectors responds sarcastically, "Yeah, right, people drown in elevators every damn day."
    • An elevator in a highrise fails, and an aftershock knocks it off the rails, causing it to plummet, killing the passengers. The fake blood at the end makes this an unintentionally hilarious moment.
  • Elevated: The elevator breaks down completely at one point due to a power break.
  • The aptly named Romanian film Elevator is about two teenagers that get trapped in an abandoned warehouse elevator, with no one who can hear them and rescue them. The movie ends with both characters hopelessly expecting to die inside.
  • During the finale of The Firechasers, Toby goes down into the basement in an attempt to turn the sprinkler system back on. However, the elevator breaks down; stranding her in the burning building.
  • In the 1957 crime picture The Garment Jungle, Walter Mitchell is adamant on keeping unions out of his clothing manufacturer, and is paying mobsters to keep them out. His partner disagrees, but no sooner has he announced his intent than he dies in a suspicious freight elevator accident.
  • Kate in Gremlins 2: The New Batch ends up trapped in a voice-controlled elevator when several Gremlins cling to the outside. Hilariously, when she then calls out to sound the alarm, the Gremlins all go "EENNH, EENNH, EENNH" in unison.
  • Kate & Leopold. The running joke of the film was that elevators are always on the fritz due to the fact that Leopold Montbatten, Duke of Albany was displaced in time and never had a chance to inspire Elisha Otis to invent the safety elevator. This also became a plot point as a character failed to deliver an important message because he fell down an elevator shaft (he lived).
  • Lady in a Cage is a psychological horror film about a middle-aged woman who gets trapped in her own handicapped elevator, stuck between the first and second floors of her fancy house. Ringing the alarm bring not help but instead a bunch of increasingly terrifying hoodlums and criminals.
  • In Last Action Hero, Slater falls from a broken elevator.
  • The indie film Melancholy is basically The Breakfast Club in a stalled elevator.
  • Variation in Mission: Impossible: one of Ethan's crew, Jack, is atop an elevator. Someone (later revealed to be the team boss) hacks the elevator to make it go straight up into triggered spikes, impaling Jack in the head.
  • Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005). Mrs. Smith lures her husband into an elevator on a construction site and places radio-detonated charges on the cables and brakes. The bombs go off and apparently kill him, but Mr. Smith was actually in a different elevator.
  • The title character in Patrick attempts to kill Kathy's ex-husband Ed by inducing one of these through the use of his powers.
  • In Report To The Commissioner a police officer chases a gun-wielding pimp into a department store elevator. It stops between floors (the police cut power), so both of them climb onto the roof. His boss pulls the cop out of the way onto another elevator, then floodlights are turned on. The pimp panics, shoots at the lights and is cut in two by police gunfire.
  • One of the few genuinely scary moments in Resident Evil (2002) involves the supercomputer in charge of containing the outbreak cutting off access to the outside world by dropping The Hive's elevator cars straight to the bottom floor. People inside can be heard screaming in terror all the way down, and several zombies with severely broken limbs are seen later in the movie.
  • In Satan's Slaves 2: Communion, the catalyst of the haunting is a freak accident involving the apartment's faulty elevator, which crashes down, killing all of its occupants save Bahri, as well as four kids who foolishly try to pick up fallen coins at the bottom shaft. Later, when Wina is haunted by the ghosts, she is somehow able to enter the elevator shaft even though there is no car inside. Except not. She is flying in the air, until she realizes she is not, and she subsequently falls down to her death.
  • In Scavenger Hunt (1979), Mildred, Georgie and Selsome's plan to steal a safe comes unstuck when the elevator breaks down between when they get out and when they get back with the safe.
    Selsome: Out of order? What do you mean 'out of order'? It was working just a second ago!
    Janitor: I'm sorry, but it's not working now.
    Selsome: But it was working, just a second ago.
    Janitor: And a second ago, I wasn't standing here talking to a moron.
  • In Speed, a group of people in an office building enter an elevator that is rigged to fail by a terrorist. The elevator goes up a few floors and then he sets off the explosives that cause the cables to snap, making the elevator plummet before the emergency brakes kick in to stop it from falling further. He threatens to blow up the emergency brakes and kill everyone in the elevator unless he gets his ransom money. The hostages are rescued by SWAT and the elevator plunges to the ground.
  • In Spider-Man: Homecoming, the kids on the Academic Decathlon team are rescued from a damaged elevator at the Washington Monument.
  • The Towering Inferno:
    • Several firefighters have to climb out of an elevator and rappel down after power fails.
    • Some people take an elevator after being told not to take it because it could stop on the floor where the fire is. It does exactly that, and they are burned to death.
    • The glass elevator needs to be rewired so it can be lowered after the power fails, but it is knocked off its rail. It ends up being cut loose and lowered by helicopter.
  • A View to a Kill features James Bond and Stacy Sutton stuck in one of these — made more dangerous as the Big Bad (Christopher Walken) has just firebombed the thing.

  • Occasionally used in the Give Yourself Goosebumps series. The books were fonder of Evil Elevator, but there were a few endings where you would fall down an elevator shaft while running from a monster or similar.

  • In of the Alex Rider novels, a contract killer kills his target by sabotaging his elevator, causing it to go up one floor higher than it normally would and then leaving a sophisticated hologram of the elevator in its place, causing the target to step into the empty shaft and fall to his death.
  • Due to hexes, the elevator in Fancy Apartments keeps failing, one time stopping in-between floors.
  • The Father Brown story "The Eye of Apollo" deals with the mystery of a body found at the bottom of the elevator shaft. The solution is that she was blind, and the murderer tricked her into thinking the elevator was there, and she fell down the shaft.
  • Arthur Hailey:
    • Hotel culminates with a poorly maintained hotel elevator falling down, snapping in two and dropping some of the passengers through the hole to injury or death.
    • In Overload, a nurse and a janitor get stuck in an elevator during the climactic power outage. Problem is, the nurse works for a paraplegic woman whose wheelchair got drained of power when they were shopping earlier, and the nurse forgot to change it for the charged one before she stepped out, simply plugging in the chair. The pair even try to go out through the hatch and fail. The narration points out that even if they had made it out, they'd still be stuck in the shaft. The nurse starts crying when she remembers the battery, and the woman eventually asphyxiates.
  • Sweet Valley University, a spin-off of Sweet Valley High, had a book called "The Roommate" that copied the plot of Single White Female, where Isabella acquires a roommate who begins imitating her and taking over her life. At the end of the story, the roommate falls to her death down an elevator shaft during a psychotic episode.
  • In the first Dresden Files novel, Storm Front, Dresden is escaping from a giant scorpion in his office building, and is carrying a wounded comrade and can't take the stairs. But because, as a wizard, he's a Walking Techbane, the elevator fails halfway down. Dealing with the scorpion involves smashing the elevator against the roof, then the floor of the shaft and the resulting wreck regains power just long enough to open on the ground floor. (It's that kind of series.) A few books later, it's mentioned that the repairs raised the rent on everyone in the building.
  • Inverted in Agatha Christie's Towards Zero: the murderer places an "out of order" sign on the elevator, so the elderly victim takes the stairs instead and suffers a heart attack.
  • In the Roald Dahl short story "The Way Up to Heaven", a woman rids herself of her petty-minded bullying husband by "accidentally" leaving him stranded in their building's malfunctioning elevator when she finally gets away on an extended trip to visit her grandchildren.
  • Affected by Iris's jinx, the elevator in The Woman Who Made Machines Go Haywire keeps sending her to the wrong floor.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 1000 Ways to Die:
    • In one episode, a mean office manager suffers a Karmic Death this way. While attempting to escape from a stopped elevator, the brakes fail and she is crushed/bisected.
    • In another episode, an accountant is faking paralysis, complete with motorized wheelchair, in a workplace-injury scam. His secretary catches him standing in his office, and he, getting in the chair, chases her into an elevator. The doors close, and he slams into and through the elevator doors, plunging to his death. (Presumably, the woman was going up instead of down.)
  • This happens to Lt. Geils at the end of the Angie Tribeca pilot episode, in a likely homage to L.A. Law.
  • In the Babylon 5 episode "Convictions", a Mad Bomber's attack damages an elevator trapping Londo and G'Kar. Londo is ready to work together to escape, but G'Kar is perfectly happy to sit and do nothing as it will mean Londo's death. Much to G'Kar's chagrin, they are eventually rescued.
  • In The Big Bang Theory, the elevator in Sheldon, Leonard and Penny's building is always out of service. In the flashback episode, Leonard reveals that he accidentally blew it up.
  • In an episode of The Bob Newhart Show, Bob steps into an empty shaft. He hangs onto the cable, but for the rest of the episode is obsessing over his mortality.
  • In the Bones episode "The Blackout in the Blizzard", Bones and Booth are stuck in an old elevator in Booth's apartment building.
  • In one episode of Boy Meets World, Cory has a nightmare where he pushes all of his friends down an empty elevator shaft.
  • One episode of Castle had the protagonist (who was paranoid about being cursed by an ancient Mayan Emperor at the time) get trapped in a broken elevator, which goes pitch black and then creepily green.
  • Subverted in the Soap Opera The City (1995) (a reimagined Loving). When the elevator doors open and there's no elevator there, Sydney manages to stop herself from falling into the shaft. But just as she breathes a sigh of relief, she's shoved in by the Serial Killer who's been stalking the show for the past several weeks. Luckily, the fall isn't that far and she suffers only a broken arm.
  • In the Criminal Minds episode "Scared To Death", Reid, Morgan, and Hotch are investigating an apartment. While Reid and Morgan ride an elevator, Hotch (wisely) takes the stairs. It gets stuck, and then proceeds to drop suddenly. They hit the emergency button, Morgan tries to pry the door open, Reid panics, and they both scream (well, Reid squeaks) for Hotch before it finally opens and they stumble out. Which can be seen here.
    Hotch: Was that the alarm? You guys okay?
    Reid: I'll get back to you on that.
  • In the CSI episode "CSI Unplugged", Hodges and Henry get stuck in the elevator when the lab and all of Las Vegas loses power. To make matters worse, the elevator technicians who would normally be called in to rescue them... are also stuck in an elevator in another building.
  • One episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show has Rob and Laura (pregnant in a flashback) mugged while in an elevator. The mugger simply pressed the stop button on the elevator so he could hold them up, but pressing the resume button does nothing. The entire episode is devoted to Rob, Laura, and the mugger trying to find a way out and hoping Laura doesn't go into labor while in the stopped elevator. At one point the mugger reads the inspection record of the elevator and finds that just this year they switched inspectors. Dick even climbs out the top of the elevator but only reads a sarcastic comment left by the building workers.
    Rob: In [year], John Freeny laid these bricks. I want to wish you lots of luck, cause if you're reading this you're stuck!
  • Doctor Who: In "The Caves of Androzani", Corrupt Corporate Executive Morgus shoves the President of Androzani Major down the empty elevator shaft of his private lift. He then has the lift maintenance engineer shot for negligence.
  • Happens to Chuck in the Early Edition episode "Baby".
  • A variation in The Expanse. In "Back to the Butcher", Star Helix cop Miller is on a tube train when there's a sudden power cut and everyone starts staring at him. Fortunately the power comes on before things get ugly.
  • Father Brown: A sabotaged lift is used as a murder weapon in "The Crackpot of the Empire". The killer knew that the victim's selfishness would make him demand to be the first into the lift, which then immediately plunged to the bottom of the shaft.
  • In Les Filles d'à côté, Magalie would love to be stuck in the lift with her neighbour Daniel with an indefinite period before they are discovered and rescued. This is a fantasy for her. Unfortunately what has caused the lift to jam is the third person in there, the vastly obese Madame Georgette Bellefeuille. She is simply too fat for the lift. And makes it too small for three people to wait patiently.
  • In Friends, Joey's character is killed off Days of Our Lives when he falls down an elevator shaft. Of course, it's a soap opera, so he comes back to life.
  • In The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episode "The Baby Comes Out", Will and Phil get stuck in a malfunctioning elevator just as Vivian is entering labor and there's virtually no one to take her to the hospital. Worse yet, the other guy who's in there with them is a smoker.
  • The Fringe episode "Power Hungry" features Joseph Meegar, a delivery man with uncontrollable electromagnetic powers. While out on a delivery, his powers cause an elevator to short out and plummet to the basement, killing everyone except Meegar who's cushioned by the same powers that caused the accident in the first place.
  • On Gimme a Break!, Nell and other members of her weight-loss support group get stuck in an elevator because of the weight of the occupants (they were all in there because the leader of their group was on the top floor of the building, giving very serious thought to committing suicide). They manage to get the elevator to go back down to the main floor, Nell got off, the elevator closed and went back up again fine, forcing her to have to take the stairs.
  • Happens in Grace and Frankie episode "The Elevator", it's used entirely as a plot device for flashbacks and conflict resolution.
  • Charlotte and Henry believe the elevator to the Man Cave is faulty in Henry Danger. It goes down at a very rapid rate. Captain Man is fine with it, but Henry and Charlotte are usually screaming and crawling out of the elevator, out of breath.
    • In the episode "Elevator Kiss" Henry, as Kid Danger, saves Bianca, his current girlfriend, from an elevator that is about to fall 79 floors. It actually does fall, leaving them dangling by Kid Danger's safety line in the shaft.
  • The iCarly episode "iSaw Him First" has the girls fighting over a guy, and at the end, he gets fed up and leaves... accidentally stepping into an empty elevator shaft. Believe it or not, it's Played for Laughs.
  • Bud takes the elevator not realizing it is malfunctioning in the JAG episode "Yeah Baby".
  • In the 19th episode of Idol x Warrior Miracle Tunes!, Kanon and her friend Ryo get trapped in an elevator on the way to the summer festival. Luckily, the incident only lasts a few minutes, and they are able to escape.
  • Jam has a sketch where an office elevator breaks down, but because the security guard has a speech impediment, he isn't able to warn people in time and they all plunge screaming to their deaths.
  • In an episode of L.A. Law, Rosalind Shays turns to step into the elevator, but it was an error. The bell went off and the door opened, but the car wasn't there and she stepped into an empty elevator shaft.
  • Magnum and Higgins in the Magnum, P.I. episode "Paper War".
  • London's Burning: Being set in a part of central London that has numerous tower blocks, Blue Watch have to respond to a lot of these. On one occasion the crew themselves get stuck in an elevator while trying to get to the top floor and the motor room so they can free some trapped members of the public.
  • On Modern Family's third-season episode "Tableau Vivant", Mitchell is stuck in an elevator with its doors not quite closed right after Phil finally tells him he's fired.
  • Monk: In the episode "Mr. Monk and the Blackout", Monk and his date, power company spokeswoman Michelle Rivas, get trapped in an elevator when radicalist Winston Brenner blows up a power plant. Monk ends up deliriously pressing the lobby button over and over, and panics.
  • One episode of MythBusters involved testing the best course of action should an elevator fail as per the trope. In order to do so, they had to disable several of the safety systems on an old elevator (and we do mean old) in a building slated for demolition. Cutting through the support cables for the counterweight took some time. Disabling the other major safety measure, a braking system, proved surprisingly simple:
    Adam: Anticlimactically enough, I believe I've disabled the entire mechanism by removing this simple pin.
    See also the Real Life folder for the specific urban legend they were looking into.
  • Happens on The Nanny to the resident bitch CC Babcock. Call it Laser-Guided Karma if you will... but this was just after her inadvertent night with the butler Niles, leaving them both in doubt about their "relationship" for a while, but upon hearing she was in danger, Niles immediately tried to reach her, and she admitted that she did love him after all. Cue Niles forcing the doors open BY HAND.
  • A Running Gag of NCIS is Gibbs using the elevator as a meeting room, pressing the emergency stop button to trap him and anyone he needs to have a difficult or private conversation with in between floors.
    • Ziva and McGee get trapped together overnight in "Power Down", after the city suffers a blackout. It's Played for Laughs as Ziva gets increasingly annoyed with him.
    • Ziva and Tony get trapped in "Extreme Prejudice", following an attack on the Navy Yard. This time it's played for Ship Tease.
  • On Night Court, Dan and Roz get stuck in an elevator with two sumo wrestlers. During the ordeal, Dan admits he suffers from claustrophobia.
  • Our Miss Brooks:
    • In "Project X", Miss Brooks begins the episode by nearly falling to her death down an open elevator shaft at Clay City High School.
    • In "School Safety Advisor", a mix-up involves Mr. Conklin and a member of the school board falling six feet down the empty freight elevator shaft.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In "The Haven", all of the elevators in the Haven, an apartment building run by the artificial intelligence Argus, cease to function along with everything else in the building. Caleb Vance almost falls down the elevator shaft as the door opened and the car wasn't there. Immediately afterwards, he somewhat reluctantly rescues Morgan Winters, who had been trapped in the elevator for about 24 hours. Several hours later, the two of them, Alyssa Selwyn and Oren Edgar try to climb down the shaft so they can escape the building. However, the elevator car begins to descend. Caleb, Alyssa, and Morgan manage to get out of the way in time, but Oren fails to jump to safety and falls to his death.
  • Oz. There have been a couple of murders involving service elevators at the prison; in one a corrupt police officer was pushed down the shaft after the doors were forced open, on another the man was repairing the elevator and it was lowered on his head.
  • Person of Interest: In "Nothing to Hide", an electrical engineer sabotages the elevator safety systems while the POI is inside. The intent is to scare the hell out of him rather than kill him, so the brakes kick back in at the last second to give him a painful but not severely injuring landing.
  • Happened in an episode of the Australian series Police Rescue, leading to real-life elevator repairmen to write in to Backchat complaining of the technical inaccuracies involved.
  • Probe's "Now You See It....": Two businessmen, in two different buildings, within one day of each other, fall to their deaths in empty elevator shafts. Austin is quickly convinced these deaths are murder, since he's the designer of the Theta elevator system, and his stuff would never fail to work. He's right; the culprit used a modified control circuit to override the commands to Theta and a Hologram to make it look like the elevator cab had arrived.
  • The Silent Sea. In Episode 4, Captain Han is nearly killed three times by the same malfunctioning elevator. As the elevator is seemingly disabled, he has to climb from the moonbase down the elevator frame into a chasm. While he's doing so the elevator activates for no apparent reason, and he's barely able to swing aside on his safety rope in time. The elevator then snags the safety rope as it passes and he has to release it, only for the elevator to hit the top and then start falling again so he has to dodge that as well, damaging his oxygen supply in the process.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • "The Forsaken" sees Odo trapped in the turbolift with Lwaxana Troi for several hours when the station's systems start acting up. It manages to turn into a Heartwarming Moment for the pair, leading to a close friendship between the two of them.
    • In a later episode, the head of the Bajoran government visits the station and is nearly killed by a sabotaged turbolift.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • In "Contagion", alien programming starts to take over the computer, causing numerous problems. When Geordi La Forge takes a turbo-lift (an elevator that can also travel sideways), he ends up violently thrown around and pinned to the walls and ceiling. When it finally comes to a stop, he is thrown violently out of the turbo-lift and onto the bridge.
    • In "Disaster", the Enterprise encounters a quantum filament, causing massive damage throughout the ship. When it hits, Captain Picard is in the turbo-lift with three children (a situation he wasn't exactly thrilled about to begin with), and the impact is so violent he breaks his leg. Later on, they discover that one of the safety clamps has been damaged, forcing all four to climb out before the turbo-lift plummets to the bottom of the shaft.
    • The Enterprise was infected with parasites who are eating away the ship's nitrium in "Cost of Living." At one point Data and Captain Picard are riding in a turbolift up to the bridge when they notice the tell-tale goo that shows the parasites have been busy and the ride starts to become a little bumpy. Fortunately they reach the bridge before the situation gets worse.
  • St. Elsewhere: In "Loss of Power", Dr. Westphall spends more than five hours stuck in an elevator with an English musician, who is also named Donald, with a bleak view of the world. The failure was caused by a citywide blackout and compounded by the hospital's malfunctioning generator.
  • WKRP in Cincinnati had an episode where Herb and Jennifer get stuck in the elevator. Johnny is lowered down and is able to restart it.

  • Paul Nicholas' "Heaven On The 7th Floor" is a song about himself and a woman getting stuck in an elevator together and falling in love with each other. But since he doesn't mind what happens, he tells people not to rescue him.

  • During "Elevator Madness" in WHO dunnit (1995), the game shows a plummeting elevator car.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Sesame Street: An elevator stops at ten floors, picking up ten passengers. The tenth, a mouse, causes the elevator to overload and explode.

    Tabletop Games 
  • One Paranoia mission uses malfunctioning elevators to the 99th floor as a Running Gag. One has the walls and ceiling rise, while the floor stays in place; another is airtight and slow, leaving the PCs to choose between laser-ventilating the wall (and paying a fine for damaging Computer property) or each other...

    Video Games 
  • In Ace Attorney, Miles Edgeworth avoids elevators whenever possible due to an earthquake trapping him in an elevator when he was a child. Since said incident led to his father being murdered, it makes sense.
  • The elevator you spent a rather long time trying to fix in Amnesia: The Dark Descent only fails on you and crashes.
  • ANNO: Mutationem: At Freeway 42, Ann is told she'll have to take the other path around the Outcasts' settlement as their elevator is stuck halfway due to a malfunction. A side-mission involves collecting parts to repair the elevator to rescue the denizen trapped on it.
  • In Bendy and the Ink Machine, Henry can listen to a tape in Chapter 3 where maintenance worker Thomas Connor complains about Joey Drew Studios' owner neglecting the lift. Later in the chapter, Henry and Boris are sent plummeting when the evil version of Alice Angel sabotages the lift.
  • In Dead Rising 2, during the beginning of the zombie outbreak, Somebody disguised as Chuck Green places an explosive device on one of the zombie gates that goes off releasing yet another zombie outbreak and when Chuck is on the elevator it suddenly stops in the overtures to the outbreak. Upon forcing the doors open, he almost gets stuck in front of a rampaging zombie coming right at him, but as luck would have it somebody runs right into it and becomes the new target of the zombie, saving Chuck.
  • Part of an early level in Duke Nukem Forever requires Duke to save himself and an innocent by using an elevator's emergency brakes before it splatters on the ground floor and kills them both. It's difficult mostly in that you can't bring it to a complete halt before the brakes overheat and you're forced to let them go for a moment, so you have to time your pull so that you're going about as slow as possible once it actually reaches the ground.
  • Final Fantasy VIII had this in Balamb Garden during the evacuation and your party had to use the hatch on the bottom to advance. The elevator will fall down immediately after they leave.
  • One event in the first Galaxy Angel can result in Tact and Milfie getting trapped inside an elevator due to an apparent malfunction (caused by an infiltrated enemy drone that took on Tact's appearance). They're rescued by Ranpha, who opens the doors with her bare hands to get them out.
  • In Gears of War, Marcus Fenix lampshades this tendency in his typical style at around the end of Gears Of War 2.
    Marcus: "Unbelievable."
  • In Half-Life, an elevator carrying some scientists falls, carrying them to their deaths, when you press the button to summon it shortly after the resonance cascadenote . Another elevator on the way to the generator in "Blast Pit" fails while you're riding it, and will go into free fall with you still on if you don't find a way off.
    • Black Mesa adds two more such elevators. One in "Unforeseen Consequences" falls while you're inside and lands in a pool of water that's formed at the bottom of the elevator shaft, forcing you to find a way out before you drown. Another elevator found in an alternate path during "Office Complex" plummets just after you get out of the shaft through a vent.
    • Barney Calhoun is assigned to fix an elevator at the start of Blue Shift. Go ahead, take a guess to what happens when he does.
  • Several variations in the Mass Effect series:
    • Minor example in Mass Effect, where the elevator to the top of Citadel Tower fails During Sovereign's assault on the Citadel. In this case, the elevator merely gets stuck, and Shepard's team simply goes out through a hole in the side of the elevator and begin running up the side of the tower.
    • Comes up in one of the Mass Effect 2 DLCs, Project Overlord. Shepard takes an elevator down to a basement level, and if the player calls the elevator again to go back, they'll hear a recorded message about a "brake failure", shortly before the elevator crashes violently down, destroying itself.
    • In Mass Effect 3, this ends up happening back and forth in a sort of elevator duel during Cerberus's raid on the Citadel, with two opposing forces fighting their way up an elevator shaft and trying to blast the elevators out from under each other.
  • Metal Gear:
    • Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake: When trying to reach the top of the base, Snake is ambushed by a Wolfpack Boss hiding in the elevator, their battle causes the elevator to fall down and be unusable.
    • Metal Gear Solid: Snake attempts to use an elevator to reach the bottom of the communications tower, only to find it's not working. After defeating Liquid's Hind-D, Snake finds four soldiers hiding with stealth camo.
  • Parasite Eve has a scene where Aya takes an elevator to go to the top floor of the hospital. The elevator barely goes up a floor or two when Eve announces her presence and cuts the cables, causing the elevator to fall to the basement. Luckily for Aya, it's not a long fall and she survives. Unluckily for her, Eve also cuts the power to the whole hospital to prevent her from using the other elevator. If you get wise and decide to take the stairs back up, Eve will just make the stairs collapse to make sure you stay trapped.
  • One of the random events in the "No Mercy" job from PAYDAY 2 is an elevator's cable being destroyed due to the bombing of the hospital the gang is stealing from. Naturally, the gang is inside when this occurs.
  • In Quake IV, you are riding an elevator down an extremely tall tower in what is essentially an interactive Cutscene. The gigantic flying Network Guardian shows up and starts attacking the elevator to prevent you from reaching your goal. Nothing they do seems to be working until they use their weight to grab onto the elevator and cause it to start falling uncontrollably until it crashes into your destination.
  • At one point in Red Faction, an elevator malfunctions and falls into a Bottomless Pit, forcing you to find an alternate route.
  • This can happen in The Sims 2. The elevator a sim is in can crash to the bottom, and the unfortunate sim gets a rather large penalty to needs.
  • In the Source Engine Mod Elevator: Source, the lift can fail at certain floors and the player(s) and any NPCs on the lift will fall onto another lift below it unharmed.
  • One portion of Tomb Raider Chronicles has you ride an elevator to the top floor, only for it to stop and open up on a floor full of armed guards. When you try to close the doors, the elevator suddenly starts to plummet and if you don't hit the emergency brakes in time, the elevator crashes and you die on impact.
  • Undertale has one such elevator malfunction: In the "pacifist" route, you discover that the bathroom in Alphys's lab is actually an elevator. You take it to learn some awful truths that Alphys has decided it's time to reveal...but then the elevator malfunctions from a power failure, and it falls for what feels like a few hundred meters before finally crashing. You get out, but now you're stuck in the True Laboratory until you restore elevator power.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines: In the Ocean House Hotel quest, a malevolent ghost Invokes this on the Player Character when they investigate the bottom of the elevator shaft, forcing them to dodge an automatic Game Over from above.
  • Inverted in Wolfenstein: The New Order when BJ's elevator fails and accelerates up. True to form, BJ checks his weapons one last time before the Final Battle

    Web Comics 
  • Irrelevator is based on this, well this and bizarre things happening at the same time.
  • Leftover Soup: Jamie and Max get stuck in one, with medication based complications.
  • The Noordegraaf Files has a mild version of this: Theo has an elevator take him down two extra floors. As the building he was in was on fire at the time, it could have been much worse.
  • Unsounded: Duane cuts an elevator cable when the car starts coming up to his location, sending it plummeting. He arrogantly parrots some nonsense about those aboard being worth no more attention than that since as Crescians they're obviously evil. It turns out those aboard are trying to rescue the waterwomen same as he, just with less wanton murder and bigotry.

    Web Original 
  • The Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse episode "Stuck With You" reveals that Barbie's elevator can only hold one doll at a time. If another doll tries to join the ride, they both become stuck in between the Dreamhouse's first and second floors.
  • In the SuperMarioLogan episode, "The Elevator!", Bowser Junior, Joseph and Cody get stuck in an elevator on their way to a Doofy the Dragon meet and greet. Subverted at the end when it turns out there was a button that opens the elevator doors, so they could have gotten out at any time.
  • Villain Source (Your Online Source For Everything Evil) naturally offers the Elevator of Despair for any high-rise Supervillain Lair, to dispose of meddlesome do-gooders.
  • During the Happy Tree Friends episode See You Later, Elevator, Pop causes a chain of events that ends up resulting in multiple characters dying due to the elevator malfunctioning horrifically.

    Western Animation 
  • A whole episode of Archer becomes this when the ISIS gang get trapped in the elevator that leads to their workplace.
  • Batman Beyond: In "Lost Soul", Terry and his girlfriend Dana are in an elevator that goes into freefall. Terry luckily makes it stop between floors, where they realize that it wasn't just their elevator that had failed, every computer-controlled device in the city had gone haywire thanks to an AI tapping into all of Gotham.
  • In one episode of Big City Greens, the Greens and Gloria are left stuck on an elevator after Cricket messing with the buttons too much causes it to go haywire and then stall. He also ruined the emergency phone in the process, leaving them with no way to call for help.
  • Bob's Burgers: In "The Helen Hunt", Teddy tries to retrieve the netsuke they've been looking for from the top of a broken-down old-timey elevator, but the car gives way and leaves him hanging precariously from the counterweight.
  • In The Crumpets episode "Rat de marée", Caprice and Marylin become stranded on an elevator at the time an internal flood sweeps the Crumpet house.
  • In the Handy Manny episode "Ups and Downs", Manny gets stuck in an elevator while trying to fix it and is separated from the tools.
  • Inspector Gadget:
    • In "Art Heist", a MAD agent cuts the cable of an elevator that Gadget is riding in, causing it to fall down the shaft. Gadget survives the fall by breaking through the ceiling and extending his arms up to the motor.
    • In "Basic Training", Dr. Claw programs an elevator that Gadget is riding to plunge down to the bottom of the shaft, where Spikes of Doom have been set up. Penny sees that the elevator is going too fast and uses her computer book to reverse it, only for a frustrated Claw to send the elevator back down. Claw and Penny continue to send the elevator up and down the shaft repeatedly, until Penny finally overrides Claw's controls and disables the spikes.
  • An early episode of Littlest Pet Shop (2012) has Blythe, Zoe, Minka and Pepper stuck inside the dumbwaiter connecting Blythe's bedroom to the shop when their combined weight causes it to get stuck. Their main problems while in the dumbwaiter are Zoe and Pepper growing to resent each other and Minka suffeirng from claustrophobia.
  • An episode of The Mr. Peabody & Sherman Show opens with the elevator door breaking during the opening, trapping Mr. Peabody inside and leaving Sherman to host the show by himself. The janitor tries to fix it, but this just inexplicably makes the walls of the elevator close in crushing Mr. Peabody.
  • An episode of Police Academy: The Animated Series had an And Knowing Is Half the Battle segment telling the viewer what to do if they find themselves trapped in an unmoving elevator. Step 1: Don't panic or allow others to panic. Step 2: Use the emergency phone in the wall near the control panel to call for help. Step 3: Wait calmly for help to come.
  • Rick and Morty: In "Total Rickall", the family has a flashback of when they got stuck in an elevator after watching a musical. Morty is in the midst of a Potty Emergency and tries to hold it while Summer admits that she had already passed that point.
  • A Robot Chicken sketch features Betty Spaghetty in an elevator with a crowd of people when the elevator gets stuck. Betty then tries to squeeze through the narrow crack in the doorway, with the people cheering her on. She nearly gets through when the elevator starts up again. The people freak out as they try to get her out before she can get crushed to death, presumably to no avail. Meanwhile, a fireman hears the people screaming from outside the elevator and says "Geez, bunch of drama queens. We're coming!"
  • This happened in The Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo Show Comic Book Caper". While Slime Boy was carrying his comic book, he tried using the mezzanine elevator, but it wasn't working for whatever reason. This cause Scrappy to formulate a plan to swipe the comic by using Shaggy to lower Scooby to the monster briefly to grab the comic. This didn't work. Even if Slime couldn't use the elevator in the normal way, at least he briefly used the elevator as a prison cell for the Great Dane when he tied him up.
  • In The Smurfs (1981) episode "Skyscraper Smurfs", Brainy and Hefty both board an elevator of the smurfominium that Handy and Architect both had built together, but as they go up, the elevator stalls and the control lever snaps off. Brainy panics and bangs on the door, wanting to get out. Hefty tries to calm his friend down, saying that somebody will come along and help them. Brainy decides to pass the time reading the books he was transporting on the elevator, which makes Hefty panic and bang on the door. Over time, Hefty develops claustrophobia and breaks out of the elevator window, jumping over to the branch of a nearby tree to escape.
  • Teen Titans Go! had this happen to the boys in "Caged Tiger" when they are called to fight crime due to a brief power surge.

    Real Life 
  • When this happens in Real Life, it can be pretty gruesome (the article is completely non-graphic), but in general, engineers are hard at work to make this as much a Discredited Trope as possible. Modern elevators have at least 6 cables, and each individual cable can support 150% of the elevator's listed maximum load (though the motor itself still can't carry that much). If all the cables fail, automatic hydraulic brakes and/or springs are there to slow your descent to a non-lethal velocity.
    • Another failure mode is that an elevator can fail up, crashing into the ceiling of the elevator shaft. Most elevators have a counterweight that weighs about as much as the elevator car plus half the normal load. If the car is lightly loaded and the motor and brakes fail, it can fly upward and hit the top of the shaft. When it stops, the unfortunate passengers fly up and hit their heads on the ceiling, then fall to the floor.
  • The MythBusters episode concerning this trope references a 1945 incident where a woman managed to survive an elevator plunge from the top of the Empire State Building after it was accidentally struck by a plane traveling through thick morning fog. (In her case, it also helped that the elevator was an airtight fit to its shaft and its cables coiled under it when it landed, absorbing some of the shock.)
  • On 9/11, several elevators in the World Trade Center fell down due to cables and safety systems getting melted away by the extreme heat of jet fuel fire. Several people believed there were explosions at the ground lobby level (fueling the conspiracy theories) but it was later revealed to be the elevators crashing down after falling down hundreds of feet. It's unclear if or how many people were riding them at the time. It also showcases one of the big reasons why evacuations procedures always insist on using the stairs.
  • Stuck elevator turned Drowning Pit due to broken water main.
  • This was the unfortunate end of a significant number of girls trapped in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911. Several dozen people rushing a freight elevator in a panic, coupled with more people jumping down the shaft from the upper floors, spelled a recipe for total disaster.
  • The Washington Metro subway system has more than 70 stations, each having one or more elevators. Almost all the time, every single day of the year, at least 1 to 3 elevators are out of service somewhere in the system, either because of breakdowns or maintenance. They have regular shuttles on standby for the disabled and elderly persons who can't use escalators or stairs.
  • In the rather chilling story seen here, a woman in China starved to death after being trapped in the elevator of her apartment building for a month after two maintenance workers "improperly" shut down the power.
  • In 2003, a doctor named Hitoshi Nikaidoh was decapitated by an elevator with malfunctioning door sensors. He walked inside the elevator and had his shoulders pinned by the elevator doors due to faulty wiring. Despite struggling to pull himself inside, the elevator kept ascending until the ceiling sliced off most of his head. His left ear, lower lip, teeth, and jaw were still attached to his body, which fell to the bottom of the elevator shaft, as the elevator continued moving upward. A surgery resident, who was in the elevator at the time, witnessed the gruesome spectacle and spent more than an hour trapped in the elevator with Hitoshi's head.
  • Two teenagers were killed in Madrid, Spain, as the floor of the elevator failed and both fell from somewhere between the sixth and ninth floor.
  • An anonymous maintenance worker from former Czechoslovakia posted a story, how years ago he forgot to enable failsafes on an old elevator after finishing its maintenence. An old lady took it, but the elevator didn't stop at the top floor but rammed into the shaft's ceiling. Fortunately the cables withstood the force and after a while the motor was overloaded and gave out. The passenger survived and was rescued.
  • Exploited by Elisha Otis in his demonstration at the 1854 New York World's Fair. Early elevators, seen mostly in large mansions, were prone to failure because they lacked safety brakes. His elevator platform, in the Crystal Palace, went up several feet, whereupon an axeman severed the only rope holding it upright. The platform fell three inches before the safety brakes kicked in, leaving the crowd awestruck.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Failevator


Big City Greens

Gloria and the Greens end up trapped in an elevator after Cricket messes with all the buttons. The situation is not helped when the emergency phone gets busted.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / ElevatorFailure

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