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Rising Water, Rising Tension

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"Don't drown."
Objective, Psychonauts

Floods are dramatic events. And while flash floods can drown places in an instant, slowly (or quickly) rising flood waters have a drama of their own.

This trope happens when characters find themselves in a location that is slowly disappearing beneath rising flood waters. Expect the heroes to be in a race against time to retrieve the MacGuffin before it is lost forever beneath the water. In doing so they will face a familiar environment that has suddenly turned hostile, and run the risk of drowning, electrocution (from power cables in the water) and other unexpected forms of death, including (but not limited to) Stuff Blowing Up, aggressive aquatic creatures, water currents, getting entangled in objects below the water and more.

Often overlaps with Big Storm Episode. Also with Big Dam Plot if the flood threatens to destroy the local dam. There is an almost 100% chance the cast will end up in Sexy Soaked Shirts.

See also Rise to the Challenge, where rising flood waters are one of the obstacles a character might have to avoid, and Giant Wall of Watery Doom, where the water is a much more abrupt threat. Compare Drowning Pit, where a character is locked in a single room filling with non-flood water.


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    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Hunter's Hellcats: In Our Fighting Forces #119, the Hellcats attempt to escape from Berlin through the subways. The Nazis attempt to drown them by flooding the tunnels.

    Comic Strips 
  • Dick Tracy:
    • Tracy's showdown with The Mole during the Mole's first appearance takes place in the Mole's system of tunnels which are filling with water; first from melting snow and then from a burst water main.
    • In the Miss Egghead arc, Miss Egghead is double-crossed by her ally Chicory and locked in a gamecock pen in the basement of his hacienda. When a hurricane strikes the island, Chicory flees; leaving Miss Egghead in the cage in the basement which is slowly filling with water.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Rango fic Old West, Grace Glossy finds underneath the town of Mud the water pipe that provides the much-needed water, blocked by the gold diggers of the Big Bad. She manages to open the pipe while having to fend off Ramirez Arvenga. Unfortunately, she has to rush to the surface as the flood fills the cave system. She nearly makes it out before she's trapped by debris and is left in the danger of dying from the lack of oxygen or warmth (as an ectotherm, she's heavily dependent on external warmth). Fortunately, Rattlesnake Jake manages to pull her up in time. Ramirez Arvenga also manages to escape, though some of his cohorts don't.
  • In Olives Old Partner, Olive hits her Rage Breaking Point and completely blows her stack on Oscar for leaving her high and dry on cases, ignoring her, and overall seemingly treating her like dirt. On top of that, the pair are about to drown in orange juice, which is flooding the Boiler Room at a rapid pace.

    Film - Animated 
  • The villain of Cats Don't Dance is filling the soundstage with water in a scheme to drown or discredit the animal performers. While her victims try to remain afloat aboard a set piece never meant to be seaworthy, poor Pudge remains tied in the control room where the rising water submerges him entirely.
  • The LEGO Movie has the heroes escape from the overrun Cloudcuckooland in a hastily built submarine. As they ponder their options, the wizard Vitruvius wonders why his feet feel wet. It turns out the submarine is leaking badly, and Lego-water is pouring in. Batman, immersed to his chin, snarls "This is not how Batman dies". Wyldstyle is heard ordering "Abandon ship! Abandon ship!" moments before the doomed craft explodes.
  • The opening scenes of Rock-A-Doodle has young Edmond being read a bedtime story by his mother, while his father and older brothers struggle to sustain a barrier of sandbags against floodwaters that threaten to inundate the family farm. Persistent rains aren't helping; a break in the storm clouds is needed desperately.
  • Tangled: While escaping the dam, Flynn and Rapunzel are briefly trapped in a cave that is slowly filling up with water. Since they think they're about to die, they admit some truths about each other. Just as they're about to run out of air, Rapunzel sings the song that makes her hair light up, and the two are able to find an exit.

    Film - Live Action 
  • Several scenes in The Abyss, most memorably Bud and Lindsey's disabled runabout, where Lindsey gets the idea to allow herself to drown on the remote chance she could be towed back to Deep Core and resuscitated.
  • In The Cell, a serial killer's victim is trapped in a watertight box to which an automatic system periodically adds water. The film's heroine must extract the box's location from the comatose killer's damaged mind before the box fills and his latest captive drowns.
  • Crawl: The rising water from the hurricane acts as a threat to the heroes.
  • In Daylight, an explosion traps commuters in a tunnel under the Hudson River as water starts to seep in.
  • Don't Turn the Other Cheek!: When out to interrogate Mendoza on his own, Lozoya gets into a fight and, looking for defense, hurls himself into an empty well. This doesn't work out as he gets a graze on the hand, his gun runs out of bullets and the soldiers fill the well with water to drown him...
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves: In the Underdark a dragon corners the party in an underwater cavern, and damages it enough that water starts pouring in from above. To stop them all from dying watery deaths, Edgin quickly devises a plan for Simon to blow open the cavern roof with his magic. It works and the party swims to safety.
  • Hard Rain is essentially This Trope: The Movie as Christian Slater plays cat and mouse with gang of robbers and a pack of Dirty Cops to secure $3 million in stolen cash hidden in a town that is slowly disappearing beneath flood waters.
  • Happens in Jumanji when the game unleashes a monsoon inside the house. To make matters worse, the rising flood waters contain crocodiles.
  • In The Poseidon Adventure and its remake Poseidon, the survivors have to contend with this after the ship flips upside down.
  • The climax of The Terror, involves the Baron opening a floodgate to let the sea into the crypts below the castle, drowning himself and anyone who is with him.
  • Titanic (1997): Almost inevitably, Jack and Rose's final escape from the doomed ship involves a race through rooms slowly filling with water (and starting to tilt at an alarming angle).
  • The wuxia swordplay film Twelve Deadly Coins has the two heroes, Chiao Mao and his Love Interest Lung-erh being chained to an underground dungeon slowly filling with water as part of its climax. It was this same scene where he made an Anguished Declaration of Love for her, right before they broke out of their cell.
  • In The World Is Not Enough, the final showdown between Bond and Reynard takes in the flooding reactor room of a nuclear sub.

  • A storm descends on a small town, and the downpour soon turns into a flood. As the waters rise, the local preacher kneels in prayer on the church porch, surrounded by water. By and by, one of the townsfolk comes up the street in a canoe. "Better get in, Preacher. The waters are rising fast." "No," says the preacher. "I have faith in the Lord. He will save me." Still the waters rise. Now the preacher is up on the balcony, wringing his hands in supplication, when another guy zips up in a motorboat. "Come on, Preacher. We need to get you out of here. The levee's gonna break any minute." Once again, the preacher is unmoved. "I shall remain. The Lord will see me through." After a while the levee breaks, and the flood rushes over the church until only the steeple remains above water. The preacher is up there, clinging to the cross, when a helicopter descends out of the clouds, and a state trooper calls down to him through a megaphone. "Grab the ladder, Preacher. This is your last chance." Once again, the preacher insists the Lord will deliver him. Predictably, he drowns. A pious man, the preacher goes to heaven. After a while he gets an interview with God, and he asks the Almighty, "Lord, I had unwavering faith in you. Why didn't you deliver me from that flood?" God shakes his head. "What did you want from me? I sent you two boats and a helicopter."

  • Clade: Adam, Summer, and Noah are in England when a Global Warming-induced hurricane strikes. The family originally shelters in a church, then have to flee as the water rises. They find safety in an abandoned apartment as floodwaters cover the ground floor windows.
  • Eternity Road. The protagonists have located a library of pre-Apocalpyse lost knowledge. However by forcing the door open they've exposed the Elaborate Underground Base to a sudden tidal change. They find themselves trapped in the library, trying to haul the books to higher shelves so they won't be damaged, while also plugging every hole in the ceiling so an air bubble will be created and they won't drown.
  • Book Two of Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy sees the usurper Steerpike rising to higher levels in the castle-state\'s hierarchy. As he makes his final bid to overthrow the Groan family and become ruler, torrential unrelenting rain begins and the castle is flooded. The action of the book happens on two levels. As the lower levels of the castle are progressively swamped by floodwaters, its inhabitants struggle for survival, moving themselves and their possessions to higher and higher levels. This adds to the claustrophobic menace of the situation. The flooding becomes a metaphor for cleansing, both of an ancient civilisation strangling in its own history, and of the need to destroy a cancer in the social body - Steerpike. The water rises to menacing levels, and the Princess Fuchsia dies a lonely death by drowning; Titus Groan, the legitimate heir to Ghormenghast, seeks out and kills Steerpike at the point where the floodwaters rise to their highest. Symbolically, after Steerpike's death, the rain stops and the flood recedes.
  • How the Marquis Got His Coat Back: The Marquis begins the story chained to pole in the middle of a room that is slowly filling with water.
  • Joe Pickett: In In Plain Sight, Joe's daughters are abducted as one of the biggest storms in living memory sweeps in. Joe first has to find a way through the flood waters to the ranch where they are being held, and then race to find and rescue them as the ranch buildings slowly disappear beneath the flood.
  • The Mill on the Floss: A flood is used to provide a dramatic climax to the novel, in which Tom and Maggie use a boat to save Lucy Deane and her family from the rising waters.
  • The One and Only Bob: When the pound that Bob is in starts flooding, and the water level starts rising, he has everyone stack their belongings in their cages so they can have something to lean against and keep their heads above the waters.
  • In Slimy Underbelly, rising sewer-waters threaten to flood the Unnatural Quarter, including the museum. Not only does this ruin most of mummy Ramen-Hotep's possessions, but museum staff must resort to frantic bailing to save the original Necronomicon, which can't be moved to a higher floor due to the multiple, hard-to-disassemble layers of enchantments used to secure the powerful book.
  • Young Bond: In Hurricane Gold, Bond attempts to drive the Stone children to town after the hurricane wrecks the mansion. The car gets caught in a sudden flood and JJ almost drowns.

    Live Action TV 
  • All Saints:
    • The episode "Hard Rain" plays out similar to the ER episode below - up until the little girl gets suddenly washed away before Ben and Bronwyn can rescue her, later turning up dead.
    • "Heart and Soul" has Bron trapped in a flooding basement, while Ben has to rescue her, this time succeeding. Strangely, the earlier episode is never referenced, but it nevertheless seems like an intentional case of My Greatest Second Chance.
  • CSI: In "Lady Heather's Box", Lindsey is trapped in a wrecked car in slowly rising flood waters and Catherine has to race to locate and rescue her.
  • Dad's Army: In "Asleep in the Deep", a bomb falls on the local pumping station as Godfrey and Walker are patrolling there, trapping them. When the platoon try to free them, they get stuck with them, and when a pipe bursts the room rapidly begins filling with water.
  • Dalziel and Pascoe: The climax of "Under World" has Pascoe confronting a murderer in an abandoned mine that is slowly filling with water due to a storm.
  • Occurs in ER's famous "Hell And High Water" episode, as Dr. Ross tries to rescue a boy trapped in a storm drain. There's a very scary moment when you realize that they're both going to drown if he can't free the kid.
  • Midsomer Murders: The final denouement in "Let Us Prey" takes place during a flood that is threatening to engulf the village, and in particular destroy the crypt that lies at the centre of the mystery.
  • In the Neighbours 1998 season final, Joel is trapped under a car that rolled backwards into a river. When it starts raining heavily, Karl has to work hard to keep him breathing until help arrives.
  • Perfect Strangers: One episode has Larry, Balki and others trapped in the basement of the apartment building. A pipe breaks and the basement floods due to a plugged up drain. They have to find a way to escape before the water reaches the fuse box and electrocutes them all.
  • Rizzoli & Isles: In "Dirty Little Secret", Jane and Maura are trapped in a wrecked car that is slowly being submerged as the water rises around them.
  • Silo: In the third episode, Juliette — who has a preestablished fear of water — enters the chamber with the steam valve with a hose to try and cool it down. This buys them some time to fix the generator's rotor blades before the valve blows, but the water slowly rises as Jules screams in fear and pain. Her head eventually goes under, but Cooper manages to get the last rotor blade in in the nick of time, and Jules is rescued by her coworkers.
  • Thunderbirds: In "Terror in New York City", Ned and Joe are trapped underground in a cave which is slowly filling with water from an underground river. Although breathing apparatus is passed down to them from above, the tension rises as they wonder if they will be rescued before the air runs out. Not only that, but buildings above them are collapsing, which might cause the roof to cave in.

  • The Johnny Cash song "Five Feet High and Rising" is about a farm family forced to evacuate as their farm slowly disappears beneath flood waters.
  • Bob Dylan's "Highwater (For Charley Patton)".
  • Jars of Clay have touched on this a bit:
    • Their first hit single was "Flood", which uses the imagery as a metaphor for the hardships of life. "But if I can't swim after forty days, / and my mind is crushed by the crashing waves, / lift me up so high that I cannot fall, / lift me up..."
    • The music video for "Work" starts off as a Performance Video, then water spills into the studio where they're performing. The band just keeps playing as the water rises higher. By the end of the song, even the camera is underwater, and the band members appear to drift away with the current. "I have no fear of drowning. / It's the breathing / that's taking all this work..."
  • "Muddy Water" by The Seldom Scene, also covered by Nick Cave, tells a similar story to the Johnny Cash song above.
    Mary, take the child, the water's risin'
    Muddy water's taking back my home

    Video Games 
  • Beauty and the Beast: A Board Game Adventure: In the "Lumiere's Leaks" mini-game, the pipes in the cellar are leaking and dripping water. Lumiere must use his flames to keep the water drops from falling onto the floor and flooding the cellar, but if too many water drops hit his flames at one time, they will put them out. If too many water drops fall onto the floor and the cellar is flooded, the mini-game is over. By completing the first two rounds, the water level will slowly drain.
  • Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped: The level Tomb Wader is set in an Egyptian catacombs where water floods up and drains down at intervals. When the water goes too high you should find a tall footing for Crash to stand on and wait until the water drains, otherwise he'll be drowned in the water.
  • A Dark Souls 2 boss, the Flexile Sentry, takes place in the hold of a Ghost Ship with the water starting at ankle level and slowly rising, making it harder to manoeuvre and dodge the boss's attacks as the fight goes on.
  • Ghost Trick: A late level is set in a sinking submarine. You have to make a path for your companions to flee from the rising water.
  • The villain of Heavy Rain kidnaps young boys and holds them inside a flood drain during the rain season, which slowly fills with water over several days. This means that when a new victim is kidnapped, the police and, particularly, the victim's father (who receives hints from the killer) have only limited time before the boy drowns, with the dramatic tension rising accordingly.
  • As Iron Lung nears its climax, bloody water begins to slowly leak into the shoddy submarine, rising steadily higher until its almost covered the control panel. It's so dark in the sub the player may not even notice at first.
  • The Left 4 Dead 2 campaign Hard Rain takes place during a heavy rainfall, which intensifies with every stage. Other than limiting visibility and attracting the Infected, the levels eventually get so flooded they severely hinder movement on the ground. This prompts players to instead seek higher ground and travel along walkways and ledges to keep up the pace.
  • Mega Man Zero 3: Volteel Biblio's level is set in a sunken library where the water goes up and down at intervals. The danger isn't the water itself (Zero is fine underwater) but when the water touches the exposed wiring that hangs off the ceiling, shocking the water; Zero can get harmed if he doesn't go out of the water quickly.
  • One moment of Ratchet & Clank (2002) has the titular duo traverse a Rilgar City Sewer System. Cue a small button that opens the door you need to advance through, but also a pipe that starts pouring water in. While you can't outrun the water, you must stay underwater as little as possible so Ratchet won't run out of his breath.
  • SOS: After the Lady Crithania breaks apart when there are 33 minutes left, the ship begins to tilt and fill up with water. When there's only one minute left, the ship will quickly flood itself with water. If you don't get out safely before time is up, the ship will soon be your grave marker.
  • Steel Assault have this happening near the exit of the plant, where a chemical spill causes an Acid Pool to rise all the way to the top, and you need to jump upwards on platforms or use your Grappling-Hook Pistol to avoid getting killed on the spot.
  • Toy Story 3: Or rising coffee rather, in the Bonnie's Room stage.
  • Worms Armageddon: One setting has the water rise with every turn, dooming the worms that don't get to higher ground.

    Western Animation 
  • American Dad!, as it's part of the three-part "Hurricane" story arc that took place across all three of FOX's animated shows at the time, had the Smith's become trapped in their house when a hurricane flood hits Langley Falls, and Stan had refused to evacuate due to his obsession with the idea that as the man of the house, it was his job to keep everybody safe. Unfortunately, as part of his storm-proofing, he had sealed up the storm drain under the house, leading to the house being washed off its foundation and flooded. It goes downhill from there as Stan's decisions just make things worse at every turn, and almost gets Hayley and Francine killed. In the end, they have to be rescued by Buckle, the mountaineer.
  • The season 4 finale of Archer revolves around a scientist onboard a deep-sea laboratory threatening to launch two nerve gas missiles at New York unless the world agrees to several serious changes in eco-politics, and ISIS is sent in to take him down. However, it turns out there are no missiles and the scientist has simply gone insane from isolation. A brief scuffle leads to the walls of the lab being breached and flooding the whole complex. Since there are only three scuba tanks for four people, Archer agrees to go without, leading to him drowning and being legally dead for a few minutes once they reach safety.
  • Family Guy had the episode "A Griffin Family History" where the Griffins hide in a panic room when burglars break in, and are trapped inside when the sprinklers go off, causing the room to slowly flood. To pass the time while they wait to drown, Peter tells the story of their ancestors (and caps it off by telling his family that he didn't like The Godfather). Luckily, they're rescued by Joe before the room is completely full.
  • Parodied in the Futurama episode "A Flight to Remember", in which Bender and another robot are trapped in a flooding room on the spaceship Titanic. They scream and panic as the water rises around them ... and then shrug once the water has filled the room, as they're robots, and thus don't need to breathe.
  • The Perils of Penelope Pitstop: In "The Terrible Trolley Trap", Penelope is afloat in a sealed room that the Hooded Claw fills with water. While the water rises, the Ant Hill Mob search the ship for her. Just as Penelope is near the harpoon on the ceiling, the mobsters open the door and release all the water.
  • Sealab 2020: In "Green Fever", a red alert is signaled after a supply ship's concrete mooring, cast off during a hurricane, unwittingly strikes Sealab's control dome and splits a major section of the shell, causing it to start flooding.
  • Thunderbirds Are Go: In "Ring of Fire" Part 1", International Rescue have to save the crew of an underwater lab that has been damaged by an earthquake and is taking on water.