The classic example. Two men head toward each other, driving cars. The first to turn away is the chicken. If neither turns... well, you get the idea.
A similar scenario occurs with two guys driving their cars toward the edge of a cliff at high speed. Whichever driver stops closest to the edge of the cliff without going over wins the other driver's car. If either driver doesn't (or both drivers don't) stop in time...
There are other variations, like standing on a railroad track bridge over water as a train comes (whoever jumps first is chicken) or stalling your cars on the tracks as the train comes (whoever hits the gas first is chicken) but all are incredibly dangerous.
It goes without saying Do Not Try This at Home! Fatal accidents can - and have - happened to people who tried this. It's better to be the chicken who refused to play than dead duck who did.
More broadly, "Game of Chicken" can be used as a metaphor for any challenge that depends on seeing who will be the first to back down, such as in political or business negotiations. (The first person to cave in usually gets the worse side of the deal, but if nobody caves in, neither side gets a deal.)
Compare Wronski Feint, Mutually Assured Destruction, and Showdown at High Noon; similar concepts include Mexican Standoff and Prisoner's Dilemma. Closely related to Nobody Calls Me "Chicken"! Also related to Zany Scheme Chicken. See Clucking Funny for actual chickens.
- Shotaro Kaneda, as the leader of the Capsules, plays chicken with the leader of the Clowns in Katsuhiro Otomo's AKIRA. This is done on a highway of Neo-Tokyo upon motorcycles at 150 kmh (88 mph).
- In My Monster Secret, Akane wants chocolates from the local Supreme Chef. Her great-granddaughter, Akari, wants to punish her by feeding her chocolates from the school's numerous Lethal Chefs. Where does the game of chicken come in, you ask? Akane is a stupidly powerful demon, and summons an asteroid that will destroy the Earth if she doesn't get what she wants or is defeated. So while the rest of the world is sending failed space teams to destroy the asteroid, despairing about the end of the world and altogether looking like your standard disaster movie, the main characters are feeding a little girl really REALLY bad chocolate. In the end, Akane finally loses consciousness, and the asteroid veers off course, saving the world. It's that kind of series, yeah.
- In Samurai Champloo, Mugen and his former pirate comrade Mukuro play chicken, so that Mugen will take part in another scheme. They drive horses off the edge of the cliff, and Mukuro wins by catching a ledge below the one Mugen hanged onto.
- In Calvin and Hobbes, two passenger jets do this trying to land on the same runway in one of Calvin's toy-inspired fantasy sequences. Calvin's plane gains a decisive advantage by doing a barrel roll.
- In another strip, Calvin asks his mom if he can learn how to skydive. His mother responds, "Why not just play chicken on the railroad tracks? That would be an easier way to toy with death, I'm sure."
- RoboCop 2. During the Motorcycle Jousting between Robocop on a cycle and Cain in an armored car, the two drive straight at each other. Robocop ends up going through the armored car's windshield and grabbing Cain. Well, technically, Robocop's risk was much lower than in most cases here, but still...
- This comes up in one of the first Herbie The Love Bug film. Herbie's driver chickens out but Herbie doesn't, so the driver can't turn the wheel to get out of the way of the other car.
- In Rebel Without a Cause, the "chickie run" game is to drive towards the edge of a cliff and see who will jump out first. One of the drivers gets stuck in his car and can't jump out in time.
- Parodied in Last Action Hero, where this works in the movie world that Jack Slater, a Captain Ersatz of John McClane, inhabits, but not in the real world.
- Except it does work because Slater wisely chooses a car with airbag protection, unlike his opponent.
- Danny at one point attempts this on the villains car...on a bike. He tries to rationalize it that since this a movie and he's a good guy, it has to work. He then realizes (almost too late) that he's not The Hero, he's the Plucky Comic Relief so it won't work.
- Also happens in another Schwarzenegger film, Red Heat, with Arnold and The Big Bad driving at each other in buses.
- Invoked in Groundhog Day. Phil Connors, upon realizing he can do anything he wants with no consequences, pretends to play chicken with an oncoming train, scaring the hell out of the passengers in the car. "I'm betting he's going to swerve first."
- Gattaca has a variant that brothers Vincent and Anton would play many times growing up. They both swam into the ocean, and the loser was whoever first said it was time to swim back. Vincent ended up winning their last two races in spite of his "genetic inferiority"); at the end of the film, he explains that he won because he never saved any energy for the return trip.
- Ingeniously invoked in Touchstone Pictures' Pearl Harbor, where boyhood friends Rafe McCawley and Danny Walker played chicken in propeller airplanes, learning to avoid disaster by each pilot banking hard left, turning the planes' wings almost vertical. During the fateful attack on 7 December 1941, they use this tactic while being pursued by Japanese fighters. While McCawley and Walker dodge each other successfully, their pursuers slam into each other at speed.
- Smokey And The Bandit II featured the world's biggest game of chicken. It was squad cars versus diesel trucks.
- The cliff variant is used in Grease 2 to show how crazy one fellow is.
- The scene is parodied in High School High.
- The final confrontation with Rosta and the main characters of Red Heat involves them going against each other with buses in a game of chicken.
- The Boat That Rocked: The Count challenges Gavin to a game of chicken by jumping off the main mast of the boat.
- Alien Nation shows off what happens when neither side flinches.
- In Highlander, after Brenda is captured by the Kurgan, he takes her for a ride and asks, "Ever play chicken?", as he drives on the wrong side of the street right at people.
- This would get reused in Highlander III: The Sorcerer, when Kane captures Connor's adopted son, John, and does the same thing, only many of the cars and planes he's driving at are illusions he created just to scare John.
- In The Heavenly Kid, the cliff variant is how Bobby dies in the opening scene, and towards the end he learns that his son Lenny is fated to die in the same way.
- The Establishing Character Moment for Mad Max in the first movie. The psychotic and high-as-a-kite Nightrider has gleefully driven his Main Force Patrol pursuers off the road, then finds himself faced by Max's Pursuit Special speeding down the highway directly at him. The Nightrider swerves first, and when Max turns round and starts ramming his tail, he's reduced to blubbering fear. Later while on his Roaring Rampage of Revenge, Max uses this trope as a weapon by driving at several bikers as they're crossing a bridge, so they've got no room to dodge.
- King Solomon's Mines. A German pilot thinks he's in this trope when faced by a plane piloted by Jesse Huston; unfortunately she's so scared she's holding her hands over her eyes, so doesn't even realise what's happening. Despite his Badass Boast that he won't turn away first, he wisely does so.
- Condorman: During the first chase scene, a KGB driver takes a shortcut to get ahead of Woody's car and charges him head-on, apparently hoping to force him off the road. Instead, Woody activates an angled forward-mounted shield that serves as a ramp, vaulting the enemy vehicle over his car and into an explosive collision with the car behind him.
- In The 51st State, Corrupt Cop Kane has McElroy and Desouza trapped in an alleyway. They respond by driving straight at him. At first, he charges forward, yelling "Come on, then! Come on!", but McElroy makes it clear that he's not stopping. Kane loses his nerve, stops and gets shoved out of the way by Desouza's car and in front of an oncoming truck for his trouble.
- Footloose has a memorable scene (set to Holding Out for a Hero) in which new kid Ren is up against The Bully Chuck in a game of chicken (which also happens to be a Cock Fight) played on tractors. Ren wins, not because he's braver than Chuck but because his shoelace gets caught on the gas pedal.
- Prime Cut: The Cadillac driven by Lee Marvin's team is destroyed when they attempt to do this with a combine harvester.
- In P2, Angela and Thomas charge at each other with cars. Thomas turns away at the last second, but Angela loses control and crashes into a wall.
- In Herbie Rides Again, after being insulted by Willoughby, Herbie spitefully enters a Chicken tournament (complete with a jousting theme) with Willoughby trapped inside to convince him that he's sentient.
- A common joke is two Scottish (or whoever fits the local stereotype of that kind) betting for a small sum who will stay longer underwater. Both drown.
- In Legacy of the Drow Series it is mentioned that house Oblodra has a small population because people there like playing the game with levitation spells. Two people float over the abyss. The first one to return to solid ground is the loser. More often than not, neither does.
- In Isaac Asimov's Mirror Image (from The Caves of Steel series), two mathematicians aboard a starship accuse each other of stealing an important discovery. Should they make it to their destination (and therefore, an official investigation), both will have their reputations ruined. Therefore, the innocent one is as likely to admit guilt as the guilty, and the guilty is likely to admit it in such a fashion that he will look innocent. Elijah Baley actually calls it a game of intellectual chicken. The Robots of Dawn show that the entire Auroran politics work on that principle - Spacers have extreme aversion to conflict, so the whole dispute always comes to an attempt by the president to get one side to back down before it comes to blows.
- In Stormbreaker, Alex plays chicken with one of Herod Sayle's mooks while riding a quadbike close to the edge of a cliff. The mook flinches first, and ends up plummeting over the cliff as a result.
- In Shades of Grey, Eddie Russet reminisces on a game he and his friends used to play as children: "dusk running, where the last one back to the safety of the streetlight was the winner." (This is a world where stepping into the darkness at night can cause madness and death.) A showdown between the two champions, Lizzie and Richard, ended with Richard's complete disappearance until his body was found eight months later. The kids stopped dusk running at that point.
- In the novel The Outsiders Pony mentions playing "chicken" with another Tag Along Kid.
"What happened to Shepard?" I asked, remembering Tim Shepard's kid brother. Curly, who was a tough, cool, hard-as-nails Tim in miniature, and I had once played chicken by holding our cigarette ends against each other's fingers. We had stood there, clenching our teeth and grimacing, with sweat pouring down our faces and the smell of burning flesh making us sick, each refusing to holler, until Tim happened to stroll by. When he saw that we were really burning holes in each other he cracked our heads together, swearing to kill us both if we ever pulled a stunt like that again. I still have the scar on my forefinger. Curly was an average downtown hood, tough and not real bright, but I liked him. He could take anything.
- In Double or Die, young James Bond is chased by two villains on the road. When he thinks that he has outrun them, Bond soon finds them ahead, driving straight at him. He briefly despairs, before deciding to just drive forward, forcing them to drive into a ditch to avoid a head-on collision.
- In Biggles a frequent piece of advice for new pilots is "never turn off from a head on combat". While there is an element of Honor Before Reason in this it's also practical advice, if two planes are flying directly towards each other than the first one to turn away is giving the other plane a perfect opportunity to shoot him down.
- An X-Men novel opens with the team separated into two groups for a mock battle, led by Storm and Wolverine. Towards the end Ororo manages to grap Wolverine by the wrists and says that, since being dropped from a height would really inconvenience him, Healing Factor or not, he needs to say uncle. Wolvie responds that it's 'Ro who needs to say uncle, since she hasn't considered how silly it is to be holding him by the wrists, and while she's obviously bluffing, he's just crazy enough to do it. She replies that she's just as determined to win as he is. The first to blink is Iceman, who's been watching the whole thing in increasing horror and finally can't take it any more.
- In the Doctor Who episode "The Time Monster" the Master acquires an artifact that will allow him to control an almost omnipotent transdimensional being; the Doctor initiates an overload of the Tardis's systems that will destroy them both unless the Master hands over the artifact, while the Master insists he'd rather perish than surrender absolute power. The Doctor caves first, but companion Jo triggers the overload. Fortunately they all get better.
- They played this again in the revived series, at the end of Last of the Time Lords, with the Master, thwarted, threatens to blow up Earth with him and the Doctor on it with the black hole converters of his would-be universe conquering space fleet. The Doctor calls him on it, pointing out that he knows the Master and knows that he would never kill himself. The Master caves.
- Scrubs has Gay Chicken, where two guys lean in to kiss each other and the first one to back away loses.
- On Knight Rider, the first episode with KARR climaxes with KITT and KARR driving at each other on a winding mountain road. When KITT tried to take over control (bring programmed to protect human life), Michael wouldn't let him and stayed the course, knowing KARR (who was programmed for self-preservation) would swerve first. KARR ends up driving off the cliff and into the ocean.
- One episode of the British war drama Soldier Soldier had the protagonists jokingly playing gay chicken in a bit of Ho Yay Ship Teasing.
- In How I Met Your Mother, Robin and Kevin get caught in a game of "relationship chicken", where neither one wants to say no to anything. It comes to a head during an outing to a dangerous neighborhood led by Barney. When Kevin finally caves in, Robin is relieved that one of them finally said no.
- Sense8: In the Season 1 finale, Will knows he doesn't have the stomach for a dangerous game of chicken, so he calls up the suicidally reckless Wolfgang to drive an ambulance straight at a low-flying helicopter.
- Person of Interest. In "Asylum", Root forces the Machine to tell them Shaw's location by closing her eyes and walking along the edge of a building in a high wind, until the Benevolent A.I. relents.
Root: You taught the Machine to play chess and blackjack, but how about chicken?
- The Big Bang Theory: In "The Comic-Con Conundrum", Leonard and Penny engage in an emotional variation when he invites her to Comic-Con, but she doesn't want to say she doesn't want to go, and he doesn't want to admit that he doesn't want her there, because each wants the other to be happy.
- The Professionals. In "Spy Probe", Bodie and Doyle drive their Ford Capris at each other, braking with the cars only four inches apart.
- Community: In the first episode of season 2, after Jeff rejected Britta in the previous year, she's riding a wave of popularity as a strong, independent woman who was willing to put it all on the line for love—when in reality she was just in a pissing match with Jeff's ex-girlfriend. Jeff gets fed up and starts dating her to prove a point; since she can't back down without losing her newfound fame, they get into a ridiculous game of chicken (encouraged by Abed) that almost leads to them getting married within hours of their first "date." Annie eventually gets fed up and calls Jeff out for what he's been doing, making Jeff and Britta both realize they're being crazy.
- Blake's 7. In "Duel" the Liberator is being fired on by three Federation cruisers. Rather than wait till they've worn down their forcewall, Blake decides to go Straight for the Commander and ram Travis' ship. Instead of taking evasive action Travis decides to fire everything he has at point-blank range. Sufficiently Advanced Aliens intervene before we find out what would have happened next.
- In the Stargate Atlantis episode "Ghost In The Machine", The replicators, as energy, have taken over the computers of Atlantis and begin to submerge the city without the shields unless they can be given new bodies. Woolsey tells them to go ahead and destroy the city, which would also ruin all the equipment they need to get their new bodies. The replicators relent.
- The Yu-Gi-Oh! game's answer to this is Chicken Game, a Field Spell which works as follows: The player with less Life Points cannot take Battle Damage, and once per turn, the turn player can spend 1,000 Life Points to either A) draw one card, B) destroy this card, or C) increase the Life Points of his opponent by 1,000. While using this card has enormous benefits, letting you draw cards and stop taking Battle Damage should you use it enough, it's also very risky should the card be destroyed; thus, the player who used the second effect is "chicken" (but might be the winner of the duel if the other player used the effects too carelessly). The card's illustration shows the vehicle monsters Oni Tank T-34 and Overdrive racing toward a cliff, while Oni Tank T-34 looks like it is going to chicken out.
- Dungeons & Dragons. According to a supplement book about Beholders — a race of evil creatures that can levitate — they sometimes play a game in which two will rise high above the ground and simultaneously start to free-fall. The one who stops his fall closest to the ground is the winner.
- Manly Guys Doing Manly Things makes a Brick Joke of a game of Gay Chicken between Kratos and Leonidas. "When Spartans play Gay Chicken, they play for keeps, kid." It starts here, then much later it progresses to the "arguing about buying furniture" stage. Eventually it ends with Leonidas conceding defeat, while Kratos realizes it's a Pyrrhic Victory.
- DOUBLE K: When Simon gets kidnapped by a suspect, Kamina challenges him to a game of chicken to get him back. The suspect doesn't initially believe that he'll really let him go if he wins, but Simon says that Kamina does things like this all the time. Kamina rides on the hood of his car while a few shanghaied prostitutes drive. Once the race starts, Kamina orders the prostitutes to bail, but stays on the hood. When the cars crash, he leaps off the hood, grabs his partner and the suspect, and does his best badass pose while the cars explode behind him.
- In the old Super Friends, there was a Wonder Twins short where the duo had to rescue one of two teenagers who tried this. In this variation, the participants piloted motorboats towards the topside of a waterfall on a river, and the one who turned away first was chicken. Ironically, the one whom the twins had to rescue was technically the winner; the guy who turned chicken could at least say he was a smart chicken.
- In The Super Mario Bros. Super Show episode "The Toad Warrior", Kar-Krazy Koopa challenges Toad (as the Toad Warrior) to race towards a ravine. Both end up going over the edge, but while Toad is able to jump to the other side, Koopa ends up crashing into the cliff.
- Looney Tunes gives us "Wild and Woolly Hare." Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam are in locomotives on the same track headed to a collision course, with neither one willing to stop theirs. In the end, Bugs' train has elevator wheels that allow it to go over Sam's engine, which falls off the tracks and into a river.
- In the Batman: The Animated Series episode "The Underdwellers", Batman saves two teenagers from almost getting killed playing chicken. They stood on top of a train and the first to leave before it entered a tunnel was the chicken, but the "winner" got stuck and would have hit the tunnel if Batman hadn't stepped in. As he tells them once they're safe, "You play chicken long enough, you fry."
- In the Batman Beyond episode "Joyride", a Jokerz gang steals an experimental military vehicle. At one point, their leader Scab enters a game of chicken with Dr. Price who is in another vehicle. When they are about to collide, Scab's henchman Coe panics and turns the steering wheel in time, though both vehicles still take damage.
- In Filmation's Ghostbusters, Futura makes this challenge to a villain, threatening to ram her spaceship headlong into his; he recognizes it as a game of chicken and accepts the challenge, but eventually, he's the one who chickens out.
- Transformers: Rescue Bots: The season finale includes a game of chicken between the resident speedster Blurr and the evil Morrocco Bot. Professor Baranova protests, "This is no time to prove who has less brains!". At the last moment, Blurr flips over, just scraping the top of the Morrocco Bot.
- In Rock-A-Doodle, when Edmund, Patou, Peepers, and Snipes find "The King" (AKA: Chanticleer the Rooster), they're trying to get back to the farm so Chanticleer can crow and raise the sun, but they have to escape from Pinky, the evil music manager who wants to get Chanticleer back, and end up having to use Pinky's pink Cadillac. At one point, this happens:
Pinky: So, they want to play Chicken, eh?Pinky's driver Murray: Don't worry boss, I ain't turning!Pinky: Idiot, that's my car!
- In the Voltron: Legendary Defender episode "Bloodlines'', the Garrison Trio is bored and reprograms a robot and have some fun. At one point, they play a game of chicken. It doesn't end well.
Lance: So worth it.
- Aerrow in Storm Hawks often does this against Talons, noting they without fail always "blink first" and more often than not end up crashing their rides in a panic. In fact, in "Talon Academy" he gives this very advice to a recently Heel Face Turned Talon named Lynn (who failed such a game against him earlier in the episode) and sure enough the Talon she goes up against "blinks first."
- The game of Chicken, along with the Prisoner's Dilemma, is a classic problem in Game Theory, in part because it represents the logical inverse of the Prisoner's Dilemma: Whereas the Prisoner's Dilemma is a coordination problem, Chicken is, at heart, an anti-coordination problem—whatever your opponent does, the rewards are highest to do the opposite.
- Game theory has four classic symmetrical two-option two-person games: Prisoner's Dilemma, Chicken, Stag Hunt, and Deadlock. The difference between Deadlock and Chicken is that in Deadlock, both players prefer mutual defection to any form of cooperation. In Chicken, the players would rather concede and cooperate than accept mutual defection. Using the metaphor of two drivers racing at each other, Deadlock is each player prefers the outcomes in this order: other guy swerves > we crash > both swerve > I swerve. In Chicken, these preferences are: other guy swerves > we both swerve > I swerve > we crash.