Follow TV Tropes


Flipping Helpless

Go To
I've fallen, and I can't get up!

The colossodon's hard outer shell stops many predators, but with a gentle flip from a dragon, it quickly becomes a meal in a bowl.

A common Weaksauce Weakness is flipping something or someone on their back. While it is possible to reorient, it usually takes a significant amount of wobbling to do so, leaving one vulnerable.

In video games, this is very effective against Stone Wall enemies, especially shelled ones.

A problem that tends to happens to turtles and tortoises (and Bender) from time to time.


    open/close all folders 

  • In a mid-1990s commercial for Snapple, a young man writes in to the Snapple Lady asking if Snapple has a mascot (and if not, could he be it)? Snapple sends him to mascot boot camp, and he discovers the hard way that once you fall over while wearing a fake giant glass jar over 70% of your body, it's pretty near impossible to get back up again.

    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Strips 
  • Commented on in Get Fuzzy, when Bucky loses his trademark fang, and Rob's friend compares him to a flipped-over "wedge-bot" on Battlebots. "He's got nothin'."
  • A Peanuts strip had Charlie Brown slip on the ice and land on his back, becoming "trapped like a turtle" due to his heavy winter coat. Lucy and another girl walk past discussing Spin the Bottle, and are oblivious to his distress, only noticing him at all when Lucy spins him to illustrate how the game works.
    Charlie Brown: It sounds like a great game ... I wonder who I'm pointing to ...

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Gamera:
    • In Giant Monster Gamera, the army attempted to invoke this to stop him. In their defense, no one could have anticipated the giant turtle would fire rocket boosters out of its shell and fly away.
    • Gamera vs. Viras (AKA Destroy All Planets): the giant turtle Gamera is trapped lying on his back (shell) and a giant alien with a pointed head repeatedly spears him in the stomach while he's helpless.
  • In A Christmas Story, Ralphie's little brother is dressed up in so many layers for the Indiana winter, he can't get back up when he falls down. The narrator even mentions he looks like a turtle on his back.
    "Randy lay there like a slug. It was his only defense."
  • Blade Runner: In the Voight-Kampff test that Holden gives to Leon, one of the questions involves a flipped tortoise.
    Holden: You're in a desert walking along in the sand when all of a sudden you look down and you see a tortoise. It's crawling towards you. You reach down and you flip the tortoise over on its back. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun beating its legs, trying to turn itself over, but it can't. Not without your help. But you're not helping. Why is that?
  • RoboCop (1987): ED-209's Weaksauce Weakness to stairs also displays its total inability to right itself after tipping over. It's left helplessly flailing and squealing.
  • In Jurassic World, the Indominus rex picks a fight with a group of Ankylosaurus. Most of them scatter, but one stands her ground and uses her armor and tail to fend off the invader. After failing to bite through her back, the Indominus flips her over to kill her.
  • In This Is Where I Leave You, protagonist Judd's wife is having an affair with his boss. When all of the above are at a hospital (it makes sense in context), Judd offers to pay a group of college athletes who are also there to flip over his boss's expensive sports car. When he explains why, they do it for free. It does not end well for the car.

  • Om in Small Gods. Having been a powerful God once, and being that someone who proclaimed to serve him faithfully had been the one to flip Om over, he took it hard.
  • In Jules Verne's The Mysterious Island, the protagonists found a giant sea turtle in this condition. However, while they went to bring a cart and carry it home, the turtle was carried away by a high tide.
  • In Way of the Tiger, your ninja hero Avenger can flip enemies on their backs with different throw techniques. Avenger then follows up with an attack that gets significant bonuses to hit and damage.
  • Discussed in the Anne Lamott novel "Imperfect Birds". The POV character, along with several other teens, is hiking wearing extreme cold-weather gear and carrying 50-pound packs on their backs. One of the teens keeps flipping over onto her back and complaining that she cannot walk another step, and the POV character compares her to a turtle. She gets better.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In an episode of M*A*S*H, an ambulance-truck flipped on its back demonstrates to Colonel Potter the general unfitness of his camp: after everyone pushing together can't get it rightside up, a group of six Marines happens by and rights it all by themselves.
  • My Name Is Earl: Crabman's pet turtle Mr. Turtle is scared of being flipped on his back, at least according to Crabman. It also describes Randy, according to Earl.
  • Elementary: Sherlock brings home the pet turtle which used to be owned by the Victim of the Week, claiming he is going to make turtle soup out of it (after fattening it up first). At one point he uses it as a paperweight by putting it shell sidedown on a stack of papers. Joan is not pleased and puts poor Clyde back on his feet.
  • This was a common weakness in the early seasons of Robot Wars, which made wedges a popular shape and hydraulic flippers their weapon of choice. However, eventually competitors started entering robots which were either able to work both ways up, rolled or (for maximum Rule of Cool) use a SRIMECHnote  to flip themselves back over (after Cassius was able to do so with its flipper in the second season).
    • Even robots designed to operate when inverted can fall prey to this trope. In the 2021 season of Battlebots, Malice lost a fight to Madcatter when it got tipped onto its back end, teetering like a coin balanced on its edge, but unable to tilt itself upright or onto its top.
  • The A-Team was very fond of flipping over the vehicles of the bad guys in rather spectacular fashion; no matter what the stimuli was, they would normally fly into the air, flip 180 degrees and land upside-down. It even had its own camera angle to show this happening.
  • Getting flipped over is the main weakness of Angross, a Monster of the Week from Ultraman Mebius. The final battle had Mebius tunneling underground to attack the monster from below, causing Angross to flip on it's back, at which point the monster becomes easy picking instantly.

    Tabletop Games 
  • BattleTech: Mechs can be knocked over if they fail a piloting check after taking enough damage or suffering certain critical hits. Once on the ground, it may be very difficult for a mech to get back to its feet. Having a Small or Torso-Mounted Cockpit, Modular Armor, Hardened Armor, or damage to the mech's gyro or leg actuators all cause cumulative penalties on the piloting check needed to get back to its feet. If the optional Quirks rule is used, the No/Minimal Arms quirk causes additional penalty. This makes the Stalker II particularly vulnerable to being stuck on the ground- it combines Hardened Armor, a Torso-Mounted Cockpit, and those stubby little missile pods it has for arms for a serious penalty to attempts to right itself. Fortunately, thanks to its Hardened Armor, it's also fairly hard to inflict enough damage to force a piloting check to avoid knockdown in the first place.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Flumphs are saucer-shaped and not terribly strong, and if knocked prone have a chance to land upside-down and remain helpless and incapacitated until they're able to rock themselves rightside-up again. Their tentacles aren't meant to support their weight, let alone leverage it, since they have innate Anti-Gravity (which needs to be pointed downwards to work).

    Video Games 
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • Mario Bros.: Mario and Luigi can flip turtles (Shellcreepers) over by jumping up from directly below and hitting the level that the turtle's walking on. If neither Mario nor Luigi runs into the turtle and knocks it off, it eventually jumps out of its shell, kicks the shell over, gets back in and continues walking. This can be done with crabs (Sidesteppers) as well, but requires two hits.
    • Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga: The brothers can't get past the giant Koopas (known as Ankoopas, as in anchor Koopas) until they've learned the fire dash attack.
    • Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story: Certain enemy attacks could knock Bowser on his back, costing him several turns.
    • Super Mario 64 (DS): Whenever Mario or his friends defeat him by throwing him into a bomb, Bowser lands on his shell and groans in exhaustion in the original version, and helplessly flaps his arms and legs in the DS version. Bowser realizes there's nothing else he can do and promptly escapes while leaving behind a special key or the Giant Star.
    • Paper Mario: Koopas can be flipped on their backs when Mario jumps on them, which also lowers their defense. Beware, though: This can happen to Koopas in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, which includes your own Koopa ally, Koops. This is subverted by the "Shady Koopa" enemy in this game, as they gain a more dangerous attack when flipped on their backs.
    • This is how you defeat Hookbill the Koopa in Yoshi's Island and (adult) Bowser's first form in Yoshi's Island DS; Flip them over, then Ground Pound their underside to cause damage.
    • Bowser's Fury: When doing battle against Fury Bowser, the player can use one of several methods to knock him onto his back, and then Ground Pound his torso to deal damage. However, Fury Bowser is capable of rocking back and forth enough to reorient himself if the player dawdles too long.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • The Spiked Beetle, Terrorpin, and Snapper are various enemies that are based on turtles and thus have this weakness. Typically they can be flipped with the hammer or the shield, or in the latter case, by getting underneath them using a Deku flower.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages: The boss of the fourth dungeon is beaten by flipping it with the Switch Hook.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess:
      • Armogohma lands on her back when you shoot her in the eye with an arrow. This gives you an opportunity to control the nearest statue to her and deal a damaging blow by smashing her belly with its hammer.
      • The giant insect in twilit Lanayru lands this way once you've gotten it twice, allowing you to jump on it and use the area attack on its legs, thus dealing the finishing blow.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword: Walking Skullatulas, unlike their more difficult-to-hit hanging cousins, are easily flipped to expose their soft under belly for a Finishing Strike.
  • Shadow of the Colossus: This is the weakness of two bosses. The eighth Colossus is only vulnerable when it falls and lands on its back, while the ninth is flipped.
  • Tecmo Knight has andromorphic turtle-men enemies who flails about helplessly if knocked over on their shells.
  • Mega Man X8: The Mascot Mook Mettaurs are flipped over when hit by an Armor-Piercing Attack.
  • Alice: Madness Returns: The Hobby Horse and, in a New Game Plus, the Teapot Cannon, are good for inflicting this on Cannon Crabs.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 1: This is a status effect called "Topple" which can only be activated after triggering another status called "Break".
  • Dead Rising 3: The cutscene after defeating Darlene has this happen to her after her mobility scooter runs over some of her puke, before she's killed by choking on her own vomit. Justified due to her obesity.
  • Paladins: Makoa is a bipedal turtle whose "stunned" animation has him flailing about while stuck on the back of his turtle shell.
  • Persona 4: Teddie has a nearly spherical body, so struggles to get up when pushed on his back.
  • Epic Battle Fantasy 4: When Mighty Oak is defeated, and therefore, tipped over, Anna says:
    And he's down! Don't worry, he's not hurt at all. He just can't get back up from that position.
  • Super Smash Bros.: In Brawl and Ultimate, if Squirtle is footstooled while using its Side B special, it will become helpless on its back.
  • de Blob: Graydians can be seen rolling around on their backs trying to right themselves, as the heavy metal suits they're trapped in barely allow them to move.
  • Doom Eternal: One Glory Kill has Doomguy grab an Arachnotron by the legs and flip it upside-down. Given that an Arachnotron's organic body is mostly exposed brain matter and it's mounted on a heavy, robotic spider chassis, this instantly squishes the monster dead.
  • Blood Bowl: In the video game versions, you can see a player get knocked down for whatever reason. When that happens, they need to get back on their feet otherwise they're vulnerable to getting stomped on. It's especially bad if a player with a drawback like Stupidity gets knocked over, as their condition might kick in and prevent them from getting up that turn.
  • Pikmin:
    • Pikmin 2:
      • Anode beetles are protected by their hard shells, which prevent Pikmin from damaging them when they're upright. However, they can be flipped over by throwing a Pikmin directly onto their backs, exposing their unarmored bellies to attack.
      • The armor-plated Segmented Crabwster boss can only harmed by goading it into rolling into the side of its cave, which flips it upside-down and exposed the vulnerable bulge on its underside.
    • Pikmin 3: In order to harm a bugeyed crawmad, a lobster-like enemy whose shell makes it impossible to harm over most of its body, the player must flip it over by attacking its eyes and attack its soft, vulnerable belly.
  • In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, to defeat the fire crabs, Harry must cast Rictusempra to flip it over on its back, and then cast Flipendo while it's on its back to push it somewhere it can't reach him.

  • Drowtales: This trope is lampshaded when Kiel'ndia Val Vloz'ress' turtle golem gets flipped upside down by the Beldrobbaen spellcasters:
    "Once a turtle is on its back, it's done for."
  • Questionable Content: Robot Buddy Winslow had been deliberating whether to upgrade to a humanoid body or stick with his current iPod-shaped one (a flat rectangle with stubby arms and legs). After spending about half a day stuck on his back, unable to get up until Hannelore came home and helped him, he decided that yeah, it's time to upgrade.
  • Goblins: Subverted with Kore, whose 24-hour plate armor and oversized tower shield getup includes a mechanical apparatus that stands him back up when he's knocked over.
  • Humongous in Girl Genius is a giant lifting clank, but if he falls on his back then, "like the mighty chelonian", he's unable to right himself.

    Web Videos 
  • Puppy Can't Get Up. (WARNING: May cause uncontrollable squeeing and in some cases death by cute.) He manages it in the sequel.
  • In TierZoo's episode on the Dinosaur Tier List, this trope was the Achilles' Heel of Ankylosaurus. While Ankylosaurus had superb defence in its armord back and a powerful club tail that could easily cripple enemies, it was left helpless and vulnerable if it was flipped over. For this glaring weakness, TierZoo placed it in A-Tier and not S-Tier. Notably, in the episode which speculated how dinosaurs would fare in the modern day, it was considered S-Tier, presumably due to far fewer animals that could flip it over.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Aang tries to invoke this trope by flipping over the Fire Nation's Tundra Tanks with his airbending powers. However, this doesn't end up working like he hoped for: for the sole purpose of averting this trope, the design of the Tundra Tank includes a rotating cabin.
  • Dinotrux: Zigzagged. Ankylodumps can right themselves with their dump truck beds but only if a certain bolt is in place, without it they cannot right themselves.
  • Futurama: In "Crimes of the Hot", Bender rescues a turtle because he feels a kinship with it, because he too can't get up when laid on his back. (He claims that all those times he got up from his back he was actually slightly on his side.) At the climax, when all the robots have to vent their emissions upward to save themselves, Bender and the turtle are on their backs, unable to get up. Then the turtle manages to flip over, which gives Bender the incentive to do the same.
    Bender: I'm even greater than I thought I was!
  • My Little Pony 'n Friends: They Crabnasties vulnerable to being turned on their backs, as they can't move or right themselves when in this position.
  • The Simpsons: When Selma takes Bart & Lisa to Duff Gardens, Surly (one of the costumed mascots, dressed as a Duff Beer bottle) falls over and can't get back up again.
  • Weebles: Inverted by the Weebles, whose theme song brags about how easily the pear-shaped characters avoid this fate: "Weebles wobble but they don't fall down."

    Real Life 
  • Played very straight for sheep, and some other ruminants, especially when pregnant or with a thick, heavy fleece. Shepherds call this deadly state being "cast", "kessing" or "kewped". A cast sheep needs only the slightest dip in the ground, sometimes none at all, to become fatally trapped. Their inability to "eructate" gases (a medical term for belching) from the rumen in this position makes them "gas up", swelling to make it even harder to right them. Death, especially in summer, can be swift due to overheating, dehydration, exhaustion, and inability to flee predators such as birds and badgers who will happily feast on exhausted sheep. Tourists and residents in sheep-farming areas are encouraged to watch for this, and to right any cast sheep if found. Here's how to save a sheep's life.
  • Chickens, particularly breeds raised for meat, may have this problem. For examples, the Ross Breed is bred for its white meat (the chicken breasts), so the birds become particularly top-heavy. If the chicken falls over, it will likely not be able to get up again.
  • Ironically, not Truth in Television when it comes to most species of actual turtles and tortoises, which can use their heads or tails to right themselves if they wind up on their backs (though it may take some time and considerable effort). Occasionally played straight with pet turtles kept in shallow water. It's rare, but sometimes one will manage to have enough difficulty righting itself that it drowns before it can do so. The real threat is if a turtle or tortoise gets stuck in direct sunlight on a hot day- it can potentially overheat to the point of death before it's able to right itself.
  • Similarly, this is averted with armored medieval knights. Their armor never weighed any more than 55 pounds (just under 25kg), and while that is a lot to lift in the hands alone, the weight of the armor was distributed across the entire body. This meant that while the whole armor set did make knights heavier, it did not hinder their mobility by weighing them down because the pieces individually did not weigh a lot on the body parts they were attached to. While it did take armored knights more effort to get up than someone without armor, it wasn't anywhere near as difficult or time consuming as most people think.
  • Averting this trope underwater is why horseshoe crabs have long, stiff tails, they use them as an anchor point for leverage to lift their bodies up and turn. However, they can only do this underwater, as they don't have the strength to lift their bodies while beached on the surface. This is why people say that you should flip them if you see one beached and upside down.
  • For obvious reasons, this trope applies to pretty much every single human-built ground vehicle ever. Whether it was a tank, a horse carriage or a motorcycle, if its wheels don't touch the ground, it ain't moving. To avoid this trope is why vehicles meant to travel on uneven terrain need to have a low center of mass.
    • In addition, leaving a vehicle flipped on its back can have long-term consequences as well, since most internal combustion engines were not designed to be inverted; gravity will cause the oil and fuel in the engine to drain "upwards" into the engine and into areas oil isn't meant to go. The effects can range from causing a smoking mess when restarted to causing the engine to seize up completely or even catch fire.
    • Inversion can also cause significant problems for many aircraft, ranging from their airfoils no longer producing upward lift for obvious reasons, to their engines and fuel systems not being designed with inverted flight in mind. For example, many smaller airplanes are designed so the fuel tanks sit higher than the engine, such as in the wings. This allows gravity to pull fuel from the tanks into the engine. Invert the plane, and gravity will no longer pull fuel to the engine.
  • A porcupine's quills are on top, so it's quite vulnerable if flipped over. Fisher cats, which aren't cats at all but large weasels, are one of the few animals capable of rendering a porcupine Flipping Helpless.
  • Shrews have learned this trick to prey on certain species of poisonous toads who only have poison on the skin of their heads and backs. Flip them over, and the shrew can tuck into its tasty and non-poisonous belly and innards.
  • Like the above example, some carnivorous Australian birds are learning how to have a good meal of cane toad.
  • Pillbugs probably suffer from this more than turtles. When flipped they'll struggle impotently trying to roll back over to their original position (though they can still usually right themselves).
  • Used as a Cool and Unusual Punishment in the military, dubbed "The Dying Cockroach". Watch it in action.
  • Sharks have a variant of this: if they remain upside-down for longer than a few minutes they enter a trance-like state dubbed "tonic immobility" and are unable to move. Orcas have learned to exploit this and will hold sharks upside-down until this happens, then eat the shark's liver without it fighting back.
  • Ankylosaurus and its relatives had this weakness, as their armored shell made them too top heavy to right themselves, and unlike turtles, their necks and tails are too stiff to get into position to flip themselves back over. Also the aforementioned shell only covered the back, leaving the underbelly exposed, meaning that if an ankylosaur found itself on its back, it would be a sitting duck for any carnivore walking through, that is, if heat exhaustion, starvation, or dehydration didn’t claim them first. Though as ankylosaurs were mostly heavy animals with low centers of gravity, flipping them over was unlikely to have been an easy task. Especially as it required getting within range of their tail clubs.
    • Certain meat eating dinosaurs may have also fallen prey to this, as some later large carnivores (especially abelisaurs) had tiny arms and a top-heavy build.
  • Beetles are very vulnerable to this, especially if they’re on a smooth surface, since, unlike pill bugs, beetles have very flat backs and a stiff carapace. Even flying beetles can fall victim to this because their own weight can keep them from opening their wings. If on dirt however, they can usually dig the spines on their legs into the dirt and use it as a lever to right themselves. If on a smooth, hard surface however, such as a rock, this method falls flat and they will stay there until something steps on them, a bird snatches it up, or worse, ants find them.


Video Example(s):


Earth Vellumental

Mario flips over the giant turtle leaving it on its shell. Then he attacks its vulnerable underbelly to finish it off.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / FlippingHelpless

Media sources: