Follow TV Tropes


Literal Cliffhanger

Go To

Cliff Hanger! Hanging from a cliff!
And that's why he's called Cliff Hanger!

You're on a cliff and fall off. Unless you're a wily coyote, there will be a ledge or branch below that you can hang from. For some reason, the standard cartoon canyon has dead trees growing out of the sheer rock face. It's what Cliffhanger is named from.

Being a dead tree, it will break. Perfect timing for Take My Hand!, or falling to another branch. Another variation is to have another character join you, only to overload the branch. A third variation is having an irate eagle or vulture there guarding its nest. A fourth, scaled up variant, is for it to be a Bus Full of Innocents tilting precariously on said cliff.

This also includes the urban version: hanging from a flag pole. Another way to stop the fall is with a Blade Brake. If the character's items or equipment fall while or before they fall, you're being given a Plummet Perspective. This is one of the building blocks of Climb, Slip, Hang, Climb. Sister trope of The Precarious Ledge. See Teetering on the Edge when it is a vehicle that is hanging over a cliff.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In a Case Closed case that takes place in an island, Kazuha and Heiji find themselves like this. Since the cliff's about to break Kazuha tries to get Heiji to release her so he will survive, but he manages to hold on and ultimately save the two of them.
  • Fruits Basket. In the end, a screaming Akito corners Tohru on a cliff. Tohru almost manages to convince her to let go of her hatred. But when Tohru extends her hand to Akito and she is about to take it... the cliff collapses, Tohru falls.
  • Futakoi Alternative A character is being held up by her arm by the male protagonist. She's dangling a few hundred feet above the ocean, he's trying to left her up onto a collapsing bridge.
  • In a filler episode of Ranma ˝, both Akane and Ranma jump over a cliff to retrieve a MacGuffin. Ranma catches the MacGuffin, Akane catches Ranma's hand and a convenient branch on the side of the cliff.

    Asian Animation 
  • Happy Family: In "Adventure in the Forest", Xiaodi slips and hangs to the edge of a cliff while camping out in the wilderness. Her sister Dadi tries to help her up, but they both fall off the edge.
  • Happy Heroes: In Season 8 episode 36, Big M. accidentally jumps off the edge of the cliff and clings to a stick on the side of it. It's shown that the cliff is so short that it barely even counts as a cliff, though.

    Comic Books 
  • Jeff Smith's Bone:
    Fone Bone: Those rat creatures would have to be pretty stupid to follow me onto this small, frail branch.
    [next panel, both rat creatures are hanging off the branch] Stupid, STUPID rat creatures!!
  • Happens to Donald Duck in the Don Rosa comic Incident at McDuck Tower. After falling something like 50 meters from the top of a sky-scraper, he lands on a pole, which cracks under his weight. Just when he's about to reach a window, a bird settles on his head and the pole breaks.
  • ElfQuest, here. Yes, there are dead trees growing from the sheer cliff face. This was originally meant to be Skywise's big death scene but Richard Pini vetoed Wendy killing him off, so he lives to this day.
  • In Jonah Hex #50 (original series), Emmylou Hartley falls off a cliff during a snowstorm. She manages to grab hold of a small tree jutting out a few feet down the cliff, leading to Take My Hand! moment from Jonah.
  • In The Maze Agency #8, Gabe gets knocked off the roof of his building by the killer. He manages to grab hold of a TV antenna that bends alarmingly and leaves him dangling over the side of the building. Jen manages to grab him and haul him back just before the antenna snaps.

    Comic Strips 
  • Beetle Bailey uses this trope for laughs as a running gag, with the heavy Sgt. Snorkel hanging from a branch while other characters rescue him.

    Fan Works 
  • The German World of Warcraft-Parody radio drama "Allimania" has a scene at the end of one episode where the character Cliff was literally hanging on a cliff off the Hellfire Citadel. His comment? "Oh no... It's a goddamn CLIFFHANGER!"
  • Examples of the Calvinverse:
    • Calvin, Andy, and Hobbes end up in this situation in Chapter 6 of Attack of the Teacher Creature.
    • Calvin & Hobbes: The Series:
      • Calvin's dad ends up in this situation in "Gasping for Air".
      • It happens to both of his parents again in "The Insane Road Trip".
      • Andy ends up like this in "The Five Calvins". Tracer Bullet saves him with a vine.
  • In Of Men and Mugic, with a car, to top it off. Adam, Wally, Seth, and Blade are in a car at the end of one of the chapters teetering on the edge of a cliff.
  • Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness Act III: In chapter 8, Tsukune and Dark's brief fight leads to the cliff they were standing on giving way. Tsukune manages to catch hold of a rock and hold both himself and Dark up. Unfortunately, the rock can't support their combined weight and begins to give way, but Moka, Kokoa, Mizore, and Felucia work together to pull both boys up.
  • In the fanfic "Stripped," when Blue Beetle II and Booster Gold are stripped of their technological advantages, they get beaten and thrown to a cliff. Beetle's leg, broken, catches on a tree and Ted tries to bear the pain while he holds on to the dangling Booster for hours. Most of the fic relies on the tension of wondering how long they can avoid dying.

    Film — Animation 
  • BIONICLE 3 has a scene that purposely mirrors the famed scene from The Empire Strikes Back, with Matau hanging on a ledge on the top of the Coliseum and Vakama, who's evil at the moment, trying to get him to fall. Thankfully by the time he does, Vakama's regained his mind and sense of duty and lunges after him with a spiderweb-bungee rope.
  • The Emperor's New Groove: during Kuzco and Pacha's confrontation with Yzma for the human transformation potion outside the palace's front, Yzma manages to make Pacha lose his balance and fall; he fortunately manages to grab on to one of the big eye-shaped ledges, but considering the palace's dimensions and how difficult it was for him to hang on, Pacha was a tad too close to going through a HUGE, deadly drop.
  • A Parasaurolophus died this way in The Land Before Time VII: The Stone of Cold Fire as the other dinosaurs who followed Pterano were killed by Deinonychus. Ducky has a similar fate, though Pterano saves her this time!
  • The Lion King (1994) plays this twice. The first time, Mufasa is thrown into the chasm by Scar. The second time, Simba jumps and attacks Scar.
    • In The Lion King II: Simba's Pride, Zira dangles from a cliff over a swift river with tumbling logs. After Kiara reaches her paw to help Zira, Zira appears to swipe it away before falling to her death. This is gentler than the original version, where Zira outright refuses to be saved by Kiara, and intentionally lets go of the cliff.
  • Little Angels: The Brightest Christmas:
    • In the opening montage, one of the angels' good deeds was to rescue a child who was falling from a cliff.
    • Daniel and Jimmy go sledding off a cliff, giving the little brother serious injuries and kicking off the plot.
    • When traveling to find a doctor, Daniel and his dog need to cross over a chasm with a log. The dog slips, and the angels need to rush to his rescue.
    • To reach town, Daniel and Scout need to scale another cliff, and this time it's Daniel who takes a fall and needs saving.
  • Monsters vs. Aliens has a character hanging on to the ledge of a six-story building. Fortunately, said character is five stories high.
  • This occurs in Mulan during the avalanche scene.
  • Tarzan: Happens towards the end of the movie. After Tarzan boards the ship to go back to England and sees Jane, her father and the rest of the crew were taken hostages, he attempts to escape by using Le Parkour on the ship's cages and masts, leading to him leaping from the top of a mast and actually managing to reach the funnel's top and hang from it. Despite being him, his shoes make it impossible for him to climb it up and so he's left horrified as he awaits his inevitable fall.
  • In Turning Red, Mei hangs on to a building's projecting sign four storys off the ground before scrambling onto its roof.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit: Eddie ends up hanging from a flagpole in Toon Town by one hand. Unfortunately, Tweety Bird is nesting there, and he wants to play "this widdle piddie".

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Twice in Backdraft: "If you go, WE go!"
  • In the Climbing Climax near the end of Blade Runner, the protagonist Deckard slips and nearly falls to his death off the side of a tall building. The film's villain, Roy Batty, saves him.
  • Cliffhanger: Tucker is a professional mountain climber. The film's teaser features a literal cliffhanger, leading to a Take My Hand! moment that fails.
  • Early into The Day After Tomorrow, the hero falls down an ice cliff but is saved by ramming his ice pick into the wall. Then his teammates save him via Take My Hand!.
  • The Good Son ends with a mother holding on to the hands of her Obviously Evil son and her Cassandra Truth nephew while they both hang off a cliff. She isn't strong enough to pull them both up, so she drops the evil one.
  • In The Grand Budapest Hotel, M. Gustave ends up clinging to the edge of an icy cliff after chasing Jopling with Zero.
  • In The Great Race, Professor Fate jumps out a window. When the horrified observers rush over and look down, they see him hanging from a pole below the window.
  • The Guns of Navarone. Captain Mallory while climbing the cliff.
  • Norville Barnes hangs off the edge of a high building in The Hudsucker Proxy.
  • Indiana Jones
    • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade:
      • Tank goes off a cliff, Nazi dies, Dr. Jones mourns for Indiana who seeming went down too, Indy climbs up a vine behind him and sneaks up during his eulogy.
      • Elsa Schneider finds herself dangling from a cliff created by the earthquake she caused when trying to leave a temple with the Holy Grail. In a pure Take My Hand! scene, she attempts to recover the Grail resting just out of her arm's reach. Her persistence is her ultimate undoing and she falls to her death. Indiana then tumbles over and finds himself in the exact predicament, but his father is able to act as the voice of reason.
    • The ending of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom also has this, though they're hanging off a broken Rope Bridge above a crocodile-filled ravine.
  • The Island at the Top of the World: While trying to cross the volcano, Sir Anthony slips and slides off the side of the mountain; saving himself by grabbing an improbably located tree branch. However, the scree he dislodges gives away their position to The Godi and his men.
  • The Italian Job (1969). "Hang on a minute, lads. I've got a great idea..."
  • The King Kong films have this: during the "log shaking" sequence, the hero always manages to jump to the edge of the canyon and crawl into a hole, while the rest of them fall to their doom. (The 70s' film had a second guy who escaped in a similar fashion).
  • The Lord of the Rings has a few examples:
    • In The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf clings to the broken edge of the Bridge of Khazad-Dûm before falling to his temporary death.
    • The Return of the King features an example of this when Frodo and Gollum fight inside Mount Doom near the end of the movie.
  • This happens in Maverick when the title character falls over the edge of the cliff but manages to hold on the edge. The Marshal offers Maverick to take his hand but he refuses until he almost falls to his death and changes his mind.
  • Eva Marie Saint and Cary Grant both wind up hanging from the Mount Rushmore heads in the finale of North By Northwest.
  • The Painted Hills: When Taylor pushes Jonathan off the cliff, he manages to grab hold of a small bush jutting out of the cliff partway down. Jonathan manages to gasp few curses at Taylor before the bush breaks and he plunges to his death.
  • In the silent film La Roue, two characters fight on the edge of a cliff. One goes over the edge and manages to cling on. He shoots the other guy before falling to his death.
  • Safety Last! is a 1923 comedy silent film starring Harold Lloyd. It includes one of the most famous images from the silent film era: Lloyd clutching the bending hands of a clock on the side of a building as he dangles from the outside of a skyscraper above moving traffic.
    • The angle from which it's filmed hides the fact that Lloyd is actually hanging above a rooftop rather than the street below. The fall could still have been fatal, though.
  • In The Shadow of Chikara, Drusilla winds clinging to a ledge after the horses are swept off the mountainside by a landslide.
  • Spy Hard: Spoofed when Steele first defeats General Rancor, when his love interest Barbara Dahl is hanging from a cliff. Not only does Steele(Leslie Nielsen)'s sleeve rip, revealing a ridiculously muscular arm, but it stretches like they're in a cartoon. She falls into the ocean to her death, performing a swan dive.
  • Star Trek (2009). Apparently, James T. Kirk practised for this trope when he was only a kid. Which is just as well given the number of times it happens to him as an adult (twice in the 2009 movie alone).
  • Vertigo opens with a chase scene that leaves Jimmy Stewart hanging from a rooftop. A failed Take My Hand! leaves him up there all alone. We don't see how he eventually gets rescued, but the experience leaves him with...well, you know the title of the movie.
  • Xenogenesis: In James Cameron's 1978 short film, the android Raj is trapped hanging by his fingers over a bottomless chasm.

  • The Action Hero's Handbook devotes a chapter to "How to Save Someone Who's Hanging From a Cliff".
  • Discworld:
    • The end of The Colour of Magic. It's worth mentioning that the cliff in question is the edge of the Discworld.
    • An indoor version happens in The Fifth Elephant, with Vimes climbing spiral stairs made of logs hammered in a large stone column when the one he just stepped on breaking.
  • Subverted in Dragon and Damsel. Bernadette flails and tries to grab onto the next broken bridge below her during a deadly drop down a tower. All she gets for her efforts is a scratched hand and maybe slowing down slightly.
  • The first part of Gods and Warriors begins with Hylas escaping the Crows who just attacked his camp in the mountains. He scrambles over the edge of the mountain trail and hides under an overhang while holding from a sapling. When the Crows eventually leave, the sapling gives under the boy's weight, and he falls into the gorge, but he luckily doesn't hurt himself.
  • The Mark of Athena ends on a cliff hanger with Percy and Annabeth hanging from a cliff over Tartarus.
  • According to The Meaning of Liff, the horizontally-growing bush characters cling onto is called a "grimmit".
  • The cliffhanger of the Carnivorous Carnival, the ninth installment in A Series of Unfortunate Events.
  • Warrior Cats:
    • In Starlight, Leafpool accidentally gets knocked off the edge of the cliff at the top of the quarry. She's only holding on by her claws hooking over the edge. Just as she slips, Crowfeather grabs her scruff and pulls her to safety.
    • In Sign of the Moon, Half Moon is blown to the edge of a cliff, hanging on by her forepaws; the other cats with her pull her back to safety.
  • In The Fires of Heaven (The Wheel of Time book 5), Asmodean describes an incident in which he saw a man dangling from a cliff with nothing to grab but a weakly-rooted tuft of grass; having no better hope of saving himself, the man grabbed it, and of course it pulled loose. Full circle in that Asmodean is using this real incident as a metaphor for his own situation. When asked whether or not he helped the man, he evades the question.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Altered Carbon. Takeshi Kovacs gets thrown off a cliff for the cliffhanger ending of "I Wake Up Screaming". In the next episode, he wakes up to hear Trepp Imani telling him repeatedly: "Don't move, don't look down, don't open your left hand." Turns out his left hand is clutching onto a tiny ledge on the cliff face, thanks to the subconscious survival instincts built into his military-grade body.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The Daleks": Episode 6 ends with a Thal missing a jump over a chasm, and Ian (to whom the other end of the rope is tied) struggling to keep his grip on the rock.
    • "The Rescue" ends with the TARDIS materializing at the edge of a cliff only to tumble over.
    • "The Enemy of the World" ends with the TARDIS crew hanging onto the console while it's tilted on its side when they were trying to get rid of Salamander. This was resolved at the beginning of "The Web of Fear".
    • "Genesis of the Daleks" episode 2 ends with Sarah Jane Smith losing her balance on a high scaffold.
    • "The Deadly Assassin": Episode 2 was intended to end with a cliffhanger of a samurai with Goth's eyes cutting through the Doctor's scarf as he hung from it off a cliff face. However, the episode was underrunning and so a lot of Surreal Horror setpieces intended for Episode 3 got bumped forward to Episode 2, resulting in an eventual cliffhanger of the Doctor trapped with his foot on a train track as the train approaches.
    • "The Stones of Blood" has this happen to Romana. Clearly a punishment for the Burberry hat and impractical shoes.
    • Sarah Jane suffers the embarrassment of a cliffhanger in the television edit of "The Five Doctors". Unfortunately, due to bad camera work and a poor location, it ends up coming across as more the embarrassment of a gentle slope.
    • "Dragonfire" has the Doctor hanging from a cliff by his umbrella at the end of one episode. Unfortunately, bad editing makes it seem likes he's decided to dangle himself off there for a laugh. note  Years later, "The Name of the Doctor" suggests that this may have been due to the Great Intelligence mucking about with the Doctor's personal timeline.
    • "Twice Upon a Time" ends with the newly regenerated Doctor trying to hold onto the TARDIS, but getting thrown out as the console room explodes.
  • The Eternal Love: Lian Cheng falls off a cliff. Xiao Tan grabs him and then they both fall. They survive when they fall into the lake beneath the cliff.
  • The first season finale of Green Wing was a literal cliffhanger, with three characters in an ambulance about to go off a cliff. The second season also ends in a literal cliffhanger with a stolen campervan which happened in an almost identical fashion. Martin was in both of these and had a major case of deja vu the second time.
  • In the season 2 finale of Knots Landing, we get a quite literal cliffhanger when Sid drives off a cliff when the brakes go out in his car.
  • Legend of the Seeker: Occurs in "Eternity" when Richard and Kahlan try to get over the cliffs of insanity. Kahlan falls.
  • MacGyver: Happens at the end of the first part of the two-parter "Good Knight, MacGyver", where Mac and Merlin are left dangling above a lava pit (in Scotland!).
  • The Muppets Mayhem: "Track 1: Can You Picture That?" ends with the Electric Mayhem band's van dangling over the side of a cliff with Animal clinging to the front bumper.
  • MythBusters tested this (specifically, the whole deal with the person just hanging there indefinitely till someone came to save them) and found even a strong person with a good grip could only hold for about a minute before falling, meaning unless you're really lucky and someone wanders by right at that moment, you're screwed.
  • Northern Rescue: One episode has John rescuing a climber stuck on the face of a cliff, while trying to distract her with jokes and personal stories.
  • Rizzoli & Isles. Jane Rizzoli goes out on a bridge railing to talk a Driven to Suicide suspect out of jumping (she's found proof that he's being framed). True to form, just as she's convinced him not to jump, he slips and falls... and she jumps in after him. As this was a mid-season finale, viewers had to wait several months to see if they survived. note 
  • Episode 4 of Squid Game ends in the middle of a tug-of-war game where the losing team is dropped off a very high bridge, just as our protagonists make a desperate last-ditch attempt to get the other team off their feet by running towards the chasm.
  • Star Trek: Voyager:
    • In the episode "Rise", the Villain of the Week throws Tuvok off the Space Elevator tens of thousands of feet above the ground, smugly goes back inside and locks the door. Then we see Tuvok has grabbed onto part of the elevator that's sticking out. Problem is, he can't get past the door, and the elevator is climbing into the upper atmosphere where there's no air to breathe.
    • "Flashback" starts with Tuvok having a sudden memory of himself as a boy failing to save a girl from such a predicament. It then turns out that there's far more going on than a simple bad memory...
  • The X-Files, "Revelations". An insane businessman grabs a boy and jumps into a paper recycling shredder. When a horrified Scully rushes over, she finds the boy holding onto the railing above the bloody mess.

    Video Games 
  • Lampshaded in Deadpool during the transmission tower and magnetic apocalypse sequence in Genosha; after the last Wheel of Insanity, close to the top, explodes in his face and sends him flying, Deadpool manages to hang on to a piece of floating debris.
    A cliffhanger! How profound.
  • Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children: Cloud manages to make Kadaj hang from a block, not a cliff. It happens before Kadaj drops off the box containing Jenova's cells and the reunion starts.
  • Can potentially take place in the Sanroku no Mystic side of the The Prince of Tennis Dating Sim, Doki doki survival. If Sanada's path is pursued, at some point he and the Player Character Tsugumi will be hanging off a cliff, with him using a hand to hold on the rock and the other to hold on the terrified Tsugumi. He manages to lift her up to safety, then climb his own way up.
  • In the Henry Stickmin Series game Fleeing the Complex, Henry can end up in one of these in one path, stuck in a wrecked truck about to topple over a cliff, with the Warden threatening to push him over if he doesn't surrender, and three options to get out of it. Not using any of these options and letting the Warden push it over the cliff is actually the correct option, leading to the Presumed Dead ending.

    Web Animation 
  • Tucker invokes this trope in the finale of Red vs. Blue: Revelation when the Meta drags Grif along with him to his untimely demise over a cliff. Leads to a comedic scene where they have to convince Sarge that this could have happened.
  • Homestar Runner: In the ''Strong Bad Email "cliffhangers", Strong Bad was asked to "Resolve all the cliffhangers, please." Strong Bad replies, "Okay," and it cuts to Homsar and the King of Town dangling from ropes tied to a cliff.
    Homsar: This dinner party is top dollar!
    Strong Bad: (while carrying the Bigg Nife) Okay, cliffhangers! Prepare to be resolved! (cuts the ropes, dropping Homsar and the King)


    Western Animation 
  • The cliffhanger to part one of the 101 Dalmatian Street two-pater, "A Summer To Remember", features the Dalmatian family trapped in a Bus, which is dangling over the edge of a cliff. Part two focuses on Dolly, Dylan, Spike & Summer trying to rescue them.
  • Done in at least two The Backyardigans episodes:
    • This is how Tyrone meets Uniqua in "Polka Palace Party". The latter was so busy playing her clarinet that she didn't notice she was about to fall off a mesa, which is where Tyrone found her.
    • In the snowboarding leg in "Race Around the World", Pablo, who is a terrible snowboarder, falls off a cliff and hangs from one of the signs that is supposed to tell the racers where to go. Austin saves him with a rope.
  • In Batman: The Animated Series, Batman has done this repeatedly, using a flag pole or awning to slow his fall whenever he falls off a cliff and cannot Building Swing.
  • The Edutainment show Between the Lions has a segment called "Cliff Hanger", which was about a guy hanging from a cliff. Each episode contains a segment with the titular character trying find a way up the cliff, but somehow always ends up back where he started: hanging from a cliff. With his catchphrase:
  • During the Bravestarr episode "Bravestarr and the Three Suns", part of the cliff that Judge J. B. McBride is standing on breaks away and causes her to fall. She manages to hang on for a while before losing her grip and falling. Luckily, she is saved by Marshal Bravestarr due to Falling into His Arms.
  • Code Lyoko: This happens close to Once per Episode in the digital world, for about any of the heroes. Hanging from a ledge is most distressing for the Lyoko Warriors since a fall in the Digital Sea would be fatal, unlike the usual devirtualizations. A few Literal Cliffhangers also occur in the real world.
  • At the end of the first season of Dawn of the Croods, a sudden eclipse causes panic amongst the Croods, including Grug walking over a cliff because he couldn't see it in the dark.
  • The Mighty Mouse cartoon "The Perils Of Pearl Pureheart" starts right off with the continuation of a presumed cliffhanger showing Pearl dangling by one foot as Oil Can Harry lowers her from a cliff towards a pack of lions.
    • Similarly, "Sunny Italy" starts off with a story "in progress" that has Pearl dangling by one foot from the Tower of Pisa as Oil Can Harry uses a car jack to tilt the Tower forward.
  • In the second episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Twilight was hanging off a cliff at one point. Applejack reassured her that she was actually going to be fine if she let go, Twilight fell and Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy caught her.

    Real Life 
  • Sir Douglas Mawson was an explorer on several Antarctic expeditions. One day in 1908, he was working in a tent when another expedition member, Professor Edgeworth David, called to him, asking if he was busy. Mawson was busy and said so. A few minutes later, Professor David asked again, this time explaining, "I am so sorry to disturb you, Mawson, but I am down a crevasse and I really don't think I can hold on much longer." Mawson himself fell into crevasses at least twice in the same expedition. During a trek in 1913, he fell into another crevasse, dangled for several minutes at the end of the rope he'd been using to tow his sledge, and finally climbed up the rope — twice, the edge of the crevasse broke just as he was pulling himself out the first time.
  • New Zealand's Milford Sound note  has a veritable forest of literally cliffhanging trees on the sheer cliffs lining the Sound. The trees' root systems generally intertwine with each other instead of anchoring on the cliff face, and are sustained by the region's rain forest climate. Occasionally note  these connections fail, and the resulting "treevalanche" clears an entire section of the cliffs.


Video Example(s):


Farewell, Dinobots!

Using a heard of wild dinosaurs, Megatron forces the Dinobots over a cliff into a tarpit, where they apparently sink to their doom.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / QuicksandSucks

Media sources: