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Hanging by the Fingers

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"Quite an experience to live in fear, isn't it?"

A character is holding onto a ledge or rope by their fingers far above a rocky chasm or atop a building. One by one, each finger loses its grip. To ramp up the tension, the ledge or rope may be wet, or rain is falling. Or someone or something may peel the fingers off slowly, one by one...

The trope is often paired with a villain at the ledge stomping on their hands or peeling the finger off. When there isn't a villain around, another hero or their ally will try to grasp their hands.

If they do fall, their death isn't certain if they are a hero, especially if they are "wearing" Plot Armor. If they need to survive for plot purposes, they may grab a vine/gutter/drainpipe in mid-air or land on a conveniently-present soft surface (bales of hay in a Period Piece or a pile of garbage bags in modern stories).

Villains who are dangling by their fingers near the end of a story (when they have no Plot Armor) may lose their grip and plummet to their death, giving a satisfying moral about how "crime does not pay". Villains in kids' movies have a high propensity to lose their grip and fall to their doom, because Moral Guardians find it more acceptable than having a scene where the hero stabs the villain ten times.

If the creator wants to do Fanservice, they may show a female character from below with a gratuitous Panty Shot. If Played for Comedy or Played for Drama or whatever have you, the rescuer may themselves fall and have to be grabbed by an even stronger person.

Subtrope of Literal Cliffhanger. See also Stock Clock Hand Hang, Take My Hand!, Chain of People, Hand Stomp.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Deltora Quest: Dain first stomps on Leif's fingers while he's hanging over the edge, then helps him back up, only so he can taunt him and fight him some more.
  • Doraemon: Great Adventure in the Antarctic Kachi Kochi: The climax has Doraemon, stranded in the past (100,000 years ago) after being blown away from the Time Belt, clinging for life on a ledge with a drop several hundreds of meters below him as the monster Blizarga, intending to turn the world into a frozen wasteland, freezes the whole city in the back. Thankfully, in the present Nobita (thanks to his new sidekick Mofusuke) managed to collect the spare Time Belt battery hidden 100,000 years ago and bring everyone back to the past, just in time to catch Doraemon as he fell.
  • Ichi the Killer has the fight between Ichi and Kakihara come to a close when Kakihara runs away and tries to jump from one apartment building to another, only to invoke this trope. Although no one comes to stomp on his hand, something even worse happens: a bird comes by and shits on his fingers, causing him to slip and fall to his death.

    Comic Books 
  • In The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones #9, Indy attacks a Hovito Indian on a narrow ledge atop a skyscraper with his tuxedo jacket. Indy knocks the Indian off, but the Indian grabs Indy's jacket and yanks him off as well. Indy manages to grab hold of the ledge but is left holding on only by his fingers. The cliffhanger has the Big Bad sending another Indian to stomp on Indy's fingers.
  • Superman:
    • In The Phantom Zone, Supergirl stops herself from falling right into the Disintegration Pit's radioactive flames by clinging to the giant cauldron's walls. Her fingers rip into the metal and tear a long gash in the shaft as she falls, but she manages to slow down her descent.
    • Superman/Supergirl: Maelstrom: Kal and Kara are attacked by two giant carnivores as exploring an alien world where they have no powers. As Kara is fending off the predatory couple, Kal is clinging to a cliff's wall and struggling to climb back up.
    • The Planet Eater Trilogy: As fighting the titular world-sized super-weapon, Superman often finds himself clinging to a metallic ledge to try resist the Planet-Eater's incredible gravity pull trying to drag him into its core and turn him into fuel.
  • Tragg and the Sky Gods: In #6, Keera is fighting a Duel to the Death against Lorn. She lunges at Lorn, but Lorn dodges and Keera plunges into a pit lined with Spikes of Doom. She manages to grab hold of a tiny handhold on the wall and is left dangling above the spikes before Tragg and Lorn show mercy and offer to pull her up.

    Film — Animated 
  • The Lion King:
    • Scar sets a trap for Simba and Mufasa, luring Simba into a gorge and having the hyenas drive a large herd of wildebeest into a stampede to trample him. Mufasa saves Simba but winds up hanging perilously from the gorge's edge; he begs for Scar's help, but Scar throws Mufasa back into the stampede to his death.
    • Simba spares Scar's life but, quoting what Scar told him long ago, orders Scar to leave the Pride Lands forever. Scar refuses and attacks his nephew, but after a brief battle, Simba throws him off the ledge to the ground below: with Scar clinging briefly to the ledge before falling.
  • Sully and Randall's battle in Monsters, Inc. climaxes with Sully hanging off the edge of a door over a chasm, while Randall prepares to stomp him off.
  • The Steam Engines of Oz: Oscar ends up hanging by his fingers when he falls off the side of the munchkins' invisible bridge.
  • In Zootopia, when chased by Manchas, Judy Hopps slides from a wet bridge and ends up hanging on the edge with one paw.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The opening scene of Azumi: Death or Love has Azumi fleeing from a band of ninjas after her life, where she ends up diving off a cliff and hanging by its side on one hand. Complete with a Panty Shot as the camera pans upwards...
  • Batman (1989), Joker has Batman and Vicky on a ledge while he dances on the stones causing them to fall apart one at a time. Batman's grapnel gun eventually saves them when they fall.
  • In Blade Runner, Deckard is hanging from a rain-slick girder thingy, hundreds of feet above street level, with only his fingers (two of which were broken earlier by Roy).
  • The Brain Stealers have this happening to the heroine from the top of the Tokyo Tower. She nearly falls, too, but her partner managed to flip the mook pulling a Hand Stomp on her over the railings and grab her hand.
  • In Breakheart Pass, Deakin ends up hanging on for dear life to the top of a train car as Carlos attempts to stomp his hands and send him off the train to his death.
  • In Chai Lai Angels: Dangerous Flowers, Chen escapes being run over by Mei Ling by jumping over the edge of the down ramp in the car park. He catches on to one of the lower levels and is hanging there by his fingertips when Mei Ling stops the car and starts shooting at him.
  • Circus of Fear: While attempting to escape from the police with the cash, Gregor falls off a cliff. He drops the suitcase and is left clinging to the cliff by his fingers. The killer arrives and treads on his fingers.
  • During the climax of Doctor Jekyll and Sister Hyde, Dr. Jekyll attempts to escape from the police over the rooftops. He slips and falls and winds up hanging from the fingers from the gutters.
  • Mel Brooks's High Anxiety parodies this. In a climactic scene, the protagonist (played by Brooks) has a slipping hold on a ledge until he is improbably hanging on by a single fingertip. Once he gets a morale boost from another character, he manages to regain his hold and climb up.
  • In the Line of Fire: subverted by Mitch during a rooftop chase where Frank slips and ends up in this position. Mitch creeps up to the ledge and rather than throw him, he genuinely tries to help him up.
  • In Jungle, Yossi slips while climbing the cliff out of the canyon. He slides most of the way back down before managing to grab hold of a handhold. He is left dangling above the river by his fingers.
  • In King Kong (2005), Kong hangs briefly by his fingers off a cliff before being dragged down by the V-rex that grabbed his leg.
  • Unlike the book, the film of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King sees Frodo put in this predicament after a struggle with Gollum for the One Ring, whereas in the novel Gollum plummets unaided through his own carelessness. Cue tense sense where Sam struggles to but eventually does pull him up.
  • The Lost Boys: David and the Boys taunt Michael until he joins them in dangling beneath a railroad bridge until the strain and vibrations of a passing train cause him to slowly slip with his fingers losing grip causing him to fall.
  • In North By Northwest, Cary Grant is hanging off Mt. Rushmore by his fingers (while holding up Eva Marie Saint with his other hand). Bad guy Martin Landau presses down on his fingers with his shoe only to be shot right off the cliff. How the heroes get back up is kind of glossed over.
  • In The Pit and the Pendulum (1991), Antonio is left hanging by one foot when Mendoza accidentally triggers the opening mechanism for the pit. He manages to swing up, undo the binding holding his foot, and catch the lip of the pit with his other hand. This leaves him dangling by on hand and the cover on the pit slowly closes.
  • Postcards from the Edge: In the film within the film that Suzanne is shooting, her character, a police officer, is shown hanging by her fingers from a window ledge at one point
  • Happens twice to Mary-Anne in quick succession in Ripper: Letter from Hell. When her car is teetering on the edge of the cliff, the killer rams it with his truck; smashing her out through the windscreen. She is left clinging to the grille, dangling over the edge of the cliff. When the killer rams the car again, she loses her grip and falls. She manages to grab a handhold and is left clinging to the rock face.
  • In Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend, Devlin falls into the Pit Trap in Clark's office, but he manages to grab hold of the lip of the trap and slowly haul himself out.
  • One of the most nail-biting moments of the action film, Skyscraper, which has Will Sawyer (The Rock) clinging to dear life with his fingers from the top of the titular skyscraper, which is said to be as tall as the Burj Khalifa. This scene is depicted clearly in the film's poster.
  • Special Female Force:
    • Macy in the Action Prologue, after trying to fight The Dragon, Lung, to no avail and ending up being flung over a set of railings. Since Lung is the Sadist, his Hand Stomp method is to gleefully bend down to drive his knife slowly underneath Macy's fingernails, slowly tormenting her until the pain gives away causing her to fall to her death.
    • In the climax, Cat ends up hanging over a tall bridge when Lung knocks her over, but Fa drags her back up in time.
  • Star Trek (2009): Kirk gets thrown off the edge of the drill during the fight but manages to grab the edge and hang on. A mook tries to stomp him off, but Sulu stabs him just in time.
  • Star Wars
    • The Phantom Menace: A young Obi Wan is left hanging over a reactor shaft before using the force to draw Qui-Gonn's lightsaber towards him, somersaulting over Darth Maul then slicing him in half at the waist, leaving both halves of him to fall down the shaft.
    • In Revenge of the Sith Yoda was left hanging on the chancellor's podium by his fingers after his battle with Darth Sidious. He falls off after a few minutes but survives and escapes from the Senate chamber.
    • The Empire Strikes Back: Luke is first left hanging on a catwalk during his duel with Darth Vader. After Darth Vader finally defeats him Luke finds himself hanging on for dear life on one of the many weather vanes extending out from beneath the city.
    • Return of the Jedi: Lando is left hanging by his fingers onto a blaster rifle that Han Solo extended over a Sarlacc that would love nothing more than to consume Lando for dinner.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit: Tweety makes a cameo in the Toontown scene, playing "widdle piddies" with Eddie Valiant's fingers, which are precariously holding onto a flagpole (this is a reference to the Merrie Melodies cartoon "A Tale of Two Kitties").

  • Dragon and Damsel: Bernadette ends up clinging to the end of a slippy, broken stone bridge after nearly slipping and falling down the tall tower it's inside of. She ends up losing her grip on the slippery wet stone, but is rescued just before hitting the bottom.
  • Septimus Heap - Queste: Septimus is thrown over the edge into the Abyss surrounding the House of Foryx, but manages to grab a bridge stanchion. He is eventually pulled back up by Jenna.
  • Wet Desert: Tracking Down a Terrorist on the Colorado River: The bomber for a short time holds himself to a helicopter's landing gear by hand, before letting go.
  • Warrior Cats: In Starlight, Leafpool gets knocked off the cliff overlooking the ThunderClan camp during a battle; while the warriors who bumped her fall to their deaths, she manages to barely hook her claws over the edge, starting to slip as the rain falls. Crowfeather finds her there, and after freezing in horror because it reminds him of a similar situation where he lost the cat he loved, he manages to save her life just as she loses her grip.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In The Adventures of Superman episode "The Human Bomb", Jimmy ends up hanging from the Planet building's ledge by his fingers. The Villain of the Week steps on his hand to speed up the process. Then a cop tries to grab him, but he falls and has to be caught by Superman.
  • In The A-Team episode "Fire", one of Kelsey's men knocks Murdock off their fire truck during the climactic fight. The guy is trying to pry Murdock's fingers off the truck when Hannibal turns up and cold-cocks him.
  • The Book of Boba Fett: Fennec literally gets the drop on Black Krrsantan by opening the trapdoor to the rancor pit under him, but he catches the ledge at the last moment. Fennec solves this problem by pulling a throwing knife out of her rifle's stock and pegging Krrsantan in the hand.
  • Castle: Beckett was hanging by a thread, only to get saved at the last minute by the other cops. She's very happy to be alive, as she later shows Castle with a rather passionate kiss scene.
  • Frontier Circus: At the climax of "Calamity Circus", the saboteur is left dangling by one hand from the trapeze, before slowly losing their grip and falling to their death.
  • Harrow: In "Audere Est Facere" ("To Dare Is to Do"), Harrow confronts the killer on the roof of a skyscraper. Lured over the safety rail, the killer gives Harrow a shove that leaves him hanging by his fingertips from the lip of the ledge.
  • Parker in Leverage does this on occasion on the show. In one instance, when she surprises a foe with a Neck Lift, she explains that regular use of this trope in her role as a Classy Cat-Burglar has made her a lot stronger than she looks.
  • Mission: Impossible: Max is left dangling by one hand of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in "The Golden Serpent: Part 1".
  • Tested on Mythbusters, and was deemed plausible that you could support your weight by your fingertips for a short time, though if you wanted to be pulled up, help would need to come VERY quickly. It's notably one of the only times Tory had been hurt: he smashed his knee on a window ledge during the experiment and required stitches.
  • Rizzoli & Isles: "Love Taps" opens with the Victim of the Week dangling by his fingertips off a cliff face. The killer slowly grinds their foot on each of his hands till he loses his grip and plunges to his doom.
  • The X-Files. In "Excelsis Dei", an abusive orderly in a retirement home gets thrown off the roof by an invisible force. He manages to hang on to the edge until the same force breaks his fingers one at a time until he falls.

  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1978) sees the Heart of Gold materialise in what Ford and Zaphod initially take to be a massive chilly marble cave. When the floor of the cave tips under them and sends them skidding towards the entrance, they realise they are in fact several miles above the surface of the bleak planet of Brontitall. note . Zaphod ends up danging by his fingertips on the rim of the Cup, swearing terribly at Ford, who is not disposed to assist on the grounds that there's no point.

    Video Games 
  • Emergency! series: It's a relatively frequent occurrence and just the occasion to deploy a turntable ladder truck or a jump pad.
  • Fiendish Freddys Big Top O Fun, in the tight Rope Act. If you lose your balance, the acrobat grabs hold, and Freddy picks the fingers one by one. Although Freddy sometimes speeds up the trope by smashing the hand with a hammer.
  • Jazz Jackrabbit: In the final cutscene of the first game, Jazz finds the kidnapped princess Eva Earlong in a cage that's hung by a rope. While he is crossing the rope using his hands to free the princess, the rope tears apart and sends both of them flying onto a cliff, breaking the cage in the process. Princess Eva lands safely, but Jazz holds the cliff with his fingers, and Eva catches him by the hand as he is about to fall into the pit.
  • In Jedi Academy:
    • The rancor mission's cutscene starts with Jaden Korr hanging over a big pit from the edge of a pipe-like tunnel leading into the enemy base. (For some reason. Maybe (s)he jumped and got it wrong.) (S)he loses grip with one hand first, but then, being a Jedi, stops fooling around and pulls her/himself up with a jump ending in a flip.
    • Used as Juno's "ledge hanging" animation in Jet Force Gemini. His sister Vela hangs onto a ledge with two hands unlike him.
  • Jonathan Kane: The Protector have this happening to Jennifer near the final stage, where she missed a jump and falls down a shaft. As Jonathan, you need to make your way downstairs, fighting mooks all the way, and open an exit to help Jennifer in. Her response happens to be one of the oldest in the book:
    "What took you so long?"
  • Slipping off a ledge in Left 4 Dead has your survivor holding on with their arms. As their grip falters, they slip further and can only hold on with their fingers. If they're still dangling, they'll be holding on with the fingers from one hand only. After that, the survivor's grip gives out completely and they fall to their death. While a survivor is hanging, the infected can stomp on the survivor's fingers (or any attack in general) to make them slip faster.
  • Resident Evil:
    • In the Resident Evil 3 (Remake), Jill is thrown off the catwalk she's standing on after Nemesis destroys it and hangs by her hands. Nickolai steps on one, monologues a bit, and then forces her into the arena to fight.
    • Resident Evil 4: In the battle against Krauser, Leon ends up hanging over the side of a ruin by his fingers. Krauser ends up stomping on them.
    • Leon ends up hanging by his fingers again in Resident Evil 6, this time off of a bridge. He's trying to get a better grip with his other hand, but Simmons keeps kicking it away all the while crushing his fingers.
  • Shadow Guardian, an Uncharted clone, have the hero Jason Call spending most of the game dangling on ledges and cliffs by the fingers.
  • Nathan Drake does this in the Uncharted series to no obvious issue. He can even grab ledges while falling, which would surely not work in Real Life.
  • This happens in Zombie Infection when Sharpe fights the Sea Mutant, a kaiju-sized boss, on the pier. The docks suddenly collapses, nearly throwing Sharpe over the edge if Sharpe didn't grab hold of the sides with his fingers; the player needs to control the dangling Sharpe and move him left and right to avoid falling shipping containers, otherwise he gets knocked into the Sea Mutant's maw and gets Eaten Alive.

  • Hitmen for Destiny has one character grabbing hold of a ledge inside the invisible castle, and calling for help. When the castle became visible again, the drop turned out to be trivial.
  • Very early in the run of The Order of the Stick this happens to Nale, and being the good twin Elan pulls him up. Called back to later when Tarquin finds himself in the same predicament and Elan doesn't save him because he isn't a twin anymore (and Tarquin deserves it and Elan knows he'll survive).

    Western Animation 
  • The Adventures of Tintin (1991): In "Tintin in America", Tintin loses his footing when moving from one window to another in order to attack a bandit guarding his door. He manages to pull himself up. Note that in the comic, he crosses the gap without incident.
  • In one of the climactic final episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Toph is barely holding on to Sokka's hand when Suki saves them by flying down with a stolen airship.
  • Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: In the episode, "Stranger Invasion", this happens to Buzz after Zurg punches him, attempting to make him fall to his death, after tricking him by telling him he [Zurg] is his [Buzz]'s father.
  • In Danger Mouse, there's an episode where DM, hanging from a branch, has his fingers attacked by a nest of hungry baby birds who mistake them for worms.
  • Family Guy: The Evil Monkey who lives in Chris's closet is thrown from the top of a skyscraper by an insane robot girl. He grabs onto a ledge but his fingers slip off one by one. After the last one, he falls but is caught by Peter & Quagmire in a biplane just before hitting the ground.
  • Looney Tunes:
    • The short "China Jones" has Daffy hanging over a crocodile pool after a trapdoor opened under him. The villain unhooks his fingers one by one.
    • "A Hare Grows in Manhattan" has Bugs do this to a bulldog named Spike.
      Bugs: [as Spike is hanging by his fingers on the clothesline] Mhm... this wittle piddy went to market... [unhooks a finger with a "ping" sound] this wittle piddy stayed home... [unhooks another finger] this wittle piggy had roast beef... [unhooks one more finger; Spike falls] Well, what do you know, ran out of piddies! (Addressing the audience) Gee, ain't I a stinker?
    • In "A Tale of Two Kitties" Catstello is hanging by an electrical wire when Tweety comes over and does the "This widdle piddy" gag to him as he releases Catstello's toes.
  • Phineas and Ferb: at the end of the episode about a traffic cam, Phineas and the disc both hover on the edge of a split bridge. Candace has to make a choice to grab either Phineas or the disc.
  • Total Drama:
    • In "Total Drama Drama Drama Drama Island", Cody, DJ, Tyler, and Owen, who have bound themselves together with a rope to ensure they operate as a team, are chased off a cliff by a bear. Cody is the one to grab onto the edge in time and he actually manages to pull the four of them up a bit. Then the edge breaks off and it's a lucky circumstance Courtney's balloon floats by at that moment or else the quartet would've made an ugly fall.
    • The entirety of Team CIRRRRH and a loaded sledge crash through an ice bridge in "Anything Yukon Do, I Can Do Better". All that saves them are Tyler's unusually strong fingers that grab hold of the nearby cliff's edge and the rope attached to him that the others hold onto. One by one, the rest of the team climbs back up over Tyler and let him deal with the sledge on his own.
    • In "Grand Chef Auto", to prevent Zoey from reaching the top of the totem first, Scott throws his spray can at her. It knocks her back and she can only prevent a serious fall by grabbing onto the totem's wing. She can't pull herself up and eventually her fingers slip, but she makes a reasonably soft landing on Cameron's go-kart.
    • The Heroic Hamsters try to cross the chasm in "Moon Madness" by swinging from a rope. They bump into a tree on the other side, which knocks them back far enough that they go over the edge. Sierra is the one who grabs hold of the edge, with Cameron stuck in a basket on her back and Zoey and Mal still hanging from the rope that's now held up by Sierra's clenched teeth. One by one, the four of them climb back up onto solid ground.


Video Example(s):



Sawa and the guard she's fighting fall off a building, and a lot of things fall with them.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / SerialEscalation

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