The characters take a recommended short cut or are traveling through uncharted territory. After a while a character will see a notable marking, and point out that they passed one just like it half an hour ago, and an hour before that...
When normal people get lost, it tends to be a gradual realization. But having a group suddenly realize they're at a landmark they passed earlier allows one moment of despair at being lost, and quite definitely no closer to their goal. It can also imply that something weird is going on.
Occasionally it won't be a landmark, but a set of footprints. Either the presence of footprints where you wouldn't expect anyone else, or the revelation that a character is following his own trail.
Compare the Unnaturally Looping Location.
- In the Lucky Star OVA, while the main four are on a school camp, Konata forgets the compass and takes the gang on a detour, leaving them lost and causing Miyuki to remark that they seem to be Going in Circles.
- Naruto has a variation where recognizing a tree makes the group realize that they are in a genjutsu (illusion).
- One Piece: During the Skypiea arc, "it was on the right side of the map" Zoro ends up right back where he started at the sacrificial altar. After a bit of back and forth regarding whether he's been there before, he finally decides that this "new place" just looks the same as the old one and shrugs it off.
- In Uzumaki, when Kirie and the others escape from Kurozu-Cho and head into the spiral infested forest, they find themselves face to face another group that had escaped as well, but had gone a different way. They soon realize that they've gone in circles.
- In Tintin: Land of Black Gold, Thompson and Thomson end up going in circles in the desert when they decide to follow the tracks of a jeep not knowing they're following their own tracks. When they notice an increasing number of tracks, they just assume more jeeps joined the original one. They only break the cycle when they find a "lost" can of gas and notice they "also" lost their can and decide to go back and get it.
- They do this again in Tintin: Explorers on the Moon, finding their own footprints and assuming there are more people. Keep in mind, the Tintin universe, this is the first time anyone has ever set foot on the Moon. They even mention doing it before in the desert. Yep.
- In one Knights of the Dinner Table story, the party repeatedly falls into a spiked-pit trap. They eventually figure out that it's the same spiked-pit trap, and that they keep returning to it because of Dave's incompetent mapping.
- The Blair Witch Project pulls this off nicely. The three kids start to worry that something has them going in complete circles despite the fact that they've been heading south all day (especially confusing and creepy since they have been confirming their southerly progress all day with a compass).
- In The Avengers (1998), a drugged Emma Peel is running through the Big Bad's mansion and notices that she has run through the same room twice. She throws down a vase, breaking it, and continues running. When she runs into the room again and sees the broken vase on the floor, she knows she is trapped inside a tesseract. A variation on the original The Avengers (1960s) episode "The House that Jack Built".
- A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master: Freddy has the Final Girl running in circles as he stalks another victim, which gives the Final Girl's boyfriend a sense of déjà vu.
- A three-dimensional version in Grave Encounters, in which characters not only keep Going in Circles as they're lost within the haunted asylum, but find themselves on the ground floor after ascending multiple stairwells in an attempt to reach the roof.
- The Edge: Despite keeping the same peak ahead of themselves and crossing over a very prominent ridge, the main characters still end up right back where they started somehow.
- Haunter: When Lisa can't take it anymore, she tries to leave the house on her bike, only to end up back at the house each time.
- Desert Nights: Jewel thieves Steve and Diana rob a diamond mine, kidnap Hugh the mine foreman, and make their escape into the desert. They run out of water and start to get desperate, before Hugh finally leads them to an oasis. Steve pulls a gun, takes all the diamonds, and follows the stream trickling out of the oasis—and winds up right back at the diamond mine, to his shock. It turns out that Hugh deliberately led them in a circle through the desert.
- One unlucky character in Frogs flees from a rattlesnake by heading off the path into the swamp, slogs through leech-infested mud for a while, then winds up right back on the same path where the same snake is waiting.
- In Jungle, Yossi finds a fresh boot print in the mud and is ecstatic because he thinks he must be close to another person. Then he sees the shells from the eggs he had eaten earlier and checks the print against his own boot. He then breaks down as he realizes he has been walking in a circle.
- Long Weekend: When Peter and Marcia are trying find Lunda Beach, Marcia's tells him they are driving in circles, as they've passed the same tree multiple times. Later, when Peter is attempting to escape he beach, he stops to refill the car's rank and drops the empty fuel can by the side of the track. He drives off, but a few minutes later her finds himself driving past the bright orange fuel can.
- And He Built a Crooked House: The tesseract case was born in Robert A. Heinlein's story. In this case, one of the main characters winds up chasing himself around the entire tesseract several times before retrieving his own dropped hat and realizing what's happened.
- Franklin: In "Franklin is Lost,", Franklin and Fox get lost in a forest. They try to get out, only to end up circling right back to where they started. They then decide it's best to stay right where they are until someone comes looking for them.
- In Terry Pratchett's Lords and Ladies Granny Weatherwax and Archancellor Ridcully end up passing the same tree with a bit of his robe snagged on it three times, despite her having lived in the woods her entire life. The Queen is getting past her mental defenses and disorienting them.
- Pooh and Piglet follow their own tracks around a tree and decide that the footprints were made by woozles.
- Rabbit's plan to lose Tigger in the mist results in Rabbit, Pooh, and Piglet getting lost and repeatedly finding a pit.
- Zigby: Happens to Zigby the zebra and his friends in "Zigby's Kite".
- In Tarnsman of Gor, the first book of the series, Tarl Cabot runs away in terror from a clearing where he had made camp, but ends up back at the same spot just before a spaceship picks him up to take him to Gor.
- The Long Rain, by Ray Bradbury. After days of slogging through the jungles of Venus under a constant downpour, the survivors of a crashed rocketship find themselves back there because the electrical storms have thrown off their compass. In the Ray Bradbury Theatre adaptation, the Sun Dome they're heading to is a lot closer so they switch off their guidance computer because the Computer Voice is driving them bonkers.
- In The Two-Headed Eagle, Otto Prohaska and his pilot are flying an aircraft while searching for an enemy submarine when they see an oil slick which they follow for some time until they realise one of their own engines is leaking fuel producing the slick because—with one engine working fine and the other faulty—their aircraft is flying in a huge circle.
- The Monkees episode "Monkees Marooned":
Micky: Wait! Our footprints. Great Scott, that means we're lost, we've been going around in circles!
- Star Trek: The Next Generation: In the episode "Where Silence Has Lease", an entity called Nagilum has Worf and Riker going in circles from one bridge on a phantom Enterprise into the same bridge. Earlier in the episode, the Enterprise crew tries to fly the ship out of the void they find themselves in, only to end up back at their starting position each time.
- Warehouse 13: One episode has three main characters trapped in a house where every exit leads back into the house.
- The X-Files: Used in a Christmas episode. Mulder and Scully are investigating a haunted mansion and find themselves in a room where the only door leads into the same room.
- In the classic Doctor Who story "Logopolis", the city begins to "fold" in upon itself when its underlying mathematics is disrupted, with streets on one side of the map feeding back into those on the other side.
- Star Trek: Voyager. Beacons are being released as a tech-Trail of Bread Crumbs to help Voyager navigate its way out of Chaotic Space, only the ship runs into the first beacon they released an hour earlier.
- The Mythbusters tested this, with both Adam and Jaime attempting to walk a straight line in an open field while blindfolded. Both failed miserably.
- The Partridge Family: When Keith, Danny, and Reuben get lost during the Camping Episode, Danny starts hanging his socks and underwear on the branches to mark their path. Eventually Reuben finds some of his clothes and realizes they've been walking in a big circle. They start screaming for help and are rescued by Shirley and Laurie, followed by a troop of girl scouts, who inform them that they were only a few dozen yards away from their lodge.
- Some Bible students believe God purposely led the Israelites around the same mountain over and over until most of the generation that came out of Egypt, those twenty and older that refused to enter into the Promised Land due to unbelief, had died in the wilderness, and when there was only Moses, Joshua, and Caleb left, God told them to start moving to the Promised Land, with Moses being the one who would die before the others would enter in.
- In The Wizard of Oz, the Munchkinland playfield requires the player to make multiple consecutive loops for the best rewards.
- In 8-Bit Theater, Fighter insists that they can't be lost, as he's been following the tracks of two guys, a big guy in armor and a small guy in a robe. Black Mage quickly points out the problem with this logic.
- Nyx Crossing has the characters notice it in episode 2.
- Happens in the camping episode of The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.
- Lampshaded in a Cartoon Network music video featuring Fred and Barney going past the same scenery multiple times (and commenting on it in subtitles). The song? "Circles" by Soul Coughing.
I don't need to walk around in circles
Walk around in circles
Walk around in...
- Happened in the Futurama episode "Neutopia".
Hermes: Uh oh, I think we're going in circles. I recognize that pattern of striations on that gypsum formation.
Fry: Also, my shoe that fell off.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
- In "What Lies Beneath", Smolder is trying very hard to avoid the cave of the Stepford ponies, but every time she ventures in the tunnels they invariably bring her back to the same spot.
- "Student Counsel": In the Everfree Forest, the search party is quickly seen passing over and over on the same spots, from trusting Trixie to know where she was going, while from her own admission she was winging it.
- Wilderness survival experts know this is a very real risk when traveling without a compass. Experiments with blindfolded people have shown that humans are literally unable to walk in a straight line without some landmark to anchor themselves.
- Hedge mazes are sometimes designed to do this to people who try to solve them by always turning left or always turning right. Only by varying one's choice of turn at the right place can you find the path to the center.
- Wide open stretches of land (grasslands, plains, and deserts) are notorious for being hard to navigate not only because they're empty, but they're HUGE, so you might not find landmarks like rivers or mountains just by looking around.