Alice is being pursued by some Mooks through a high-rise building. She pushes the button for the elevator, but it takes its time getting to her floor. With the mooks catching up to her, she takes the stairs, realizing that by the time the elevator arrives, she could already be captured.
It's common in chase scenes, but a chase isn't necessary for this trope to work. This could come into play during any situation where a character, sick of waiting for an elevator, decides to take the stairs instead.
Note that over one or two floors, stairs are faster even if the elevator is immediately available, though this changes quickly once you need to climb more flights of stairs than that—elevators don't tire, but people do.
Compare Elevator Snare, when the pursuers take the stairs and the pursu-ee takes the elevator only to be caught.
This trope can also mean that sometimes it is faster to take the stairs than to fall the same distance. See also Variable Terminal Velocity.
- Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu: In a hurry to get up to Sôsuke's apartment to retrieve her homework, Kaname first goes to elevator, presses the button, and waits for a few seconds - then screams in frustration and runs for the stairs.
- In an episode of Pokémon, Jessie is hastily crawling across a wooden beam suspended between two buildings ("Would you just give me a break?"), and falls. James and Meowth race down the stairs and arrive at the bottom before Jessie does - they still don't catch her.
- The Ring. Rachel is racing to warn Noah that Samara has not been put to rest and is after him. When she arrives at his apartment she tries to use the elevator, but gets frustrated by the delay and runs up the stairs instead.
- In The Blues Brothers, the brothers take the elevator up to the floor the Assessor's office is on, then disable the one elevator they came up in. The combined might of the Chicago Police, SWAT, National Guard, etc. try to follow up the elevator, but after waiting a few seconds they decide to charge up the stairway instead.
- In Silk Stockings, in a hotel in Paris, Nina Yashenko, carrying her suitcase, starts walking up several flights of stairs at the same time three of the men she's working with start up in an elevator. She is already waiting there when they arrive.
- Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home: Kirk and co. get on the hospital elevator, while the cops chasing them take the stairs. The police are waiting for them when the elevator arrives, only for it to be empty (Kirk and co. beamed to the park).
- Nearly happens in Aliens. Ripley, carrying Newt, races back towards the sub-basement's elevators and frantically hits the buttons for both, with the Alien Queen in hot pursuit. Increasingly desperate, she slings Newt onto her shoulders and starts to climb a nearby ladder, only for the first elevator to finally touch down; they promptly board it instead. The Queen, naturally, ends up taking the second elevator.
- Rat Race: After Donald Sinclair has told the characters the rules of the race, all of them claim that they're not going to participate, and then each makes an excuse to take the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator, hoping to get a head start on the rest.
- Tanghi Argentini: Andre and Franz are on an elevator together after Franz has rejected Andre's request for tango lessons. Andre gets off on his floor. Franz goes a couple of floors down, only to be very surprised when the doors open again and he sees Andre outside, demanding lessons.
- Human Target: Played Straight. Ames takes the stairs when she realizes Winston is on to her. It doesn't work out for her, though.
- 24: Jack Bauer proves this trope when he outruns Coffel's elevator, beating him to his limo.
- Leverage: In an effort to delay Sterling, who's taking the elevator, Nate runs up the stairs and pushes all the elevator call buttons, causing Sterling's elevator to stop at every floor. He's more and more winded at each floor, beating the elevator by narrower and narrower margins, until on the very last floor he's totally out of energy and has to just slump against the wall just out of eye-line as the elevator doors open
- Happens a few times on Alias. Sometimes the stairs aren't necessarily faster, but are stealthier than an elevator.
- Person of Interest. In "Dead Reckoning", John Reese (wearing a bomb vest that's counting down to zero) is trapped on a Missing Floor only accessible via a code-locked elevator. Detective Carter and Fusco take the fire exit up to him. It's on the 21st floor, which doesn't make Fusco happy.
- The Mole: In the Belgian version, season 6 had one challenge where a contestant rode an elevator all the way to the top of a building while the other contestants tried to outrace the elevator on the stairs for an exemption. One of the racing contestants just managed to beat the contestant in the elevator — though it must be noted that: 1) she was the most athletic contestant in the cast, 2) she was allowed to ride another elevator partway up the building and thus only had to take the stairs for part of the trip, and 3) all other contestants on the stairs became far too exhausted to catch the elevator.
- Altered Carbon. Takeshi Kovacs realises too late that his Love Interest and the prisoner she was escorting are in an elevator with a hitman who is Impersonating an Officer. He races up and down the stairs while a bloody Elevator Action Sequence ensues, but only arrives after everything is over and the villains have escaped.
- The Venture Bros.: The Monarch and Henchman 21 take the chute down to the Monarchmobile while Henchman 24 takes the more sensible stairs. He gets there first and closes the sunroof just as they would fall into the car.
- An extreme example in Drawn Together: events in the episode had left Captain Hero a quadriplegic. At one point he has to ascend a ludicrously long flight of stairs in his wheelchair. Just a moment after he finally reaches the top, his housemates arrive by elevator.
- Parodied in the Futurama episode "Less than Hero", in which Leela descends a set of stairs faster than Fry can fall the same distance. (Since she and Fry, in this episode, can run at super-speed, but not fly, this might even be justified.)
- Hilariously played with on Inspector Gadget: Gadget's chasing Brain. Brain desperately calls for the elevator while his pursuer comes barrelling in on Gadget Skates. Brain makes it just in time; Gadget realizes he needs to take the stairs. Upon seeing the seemingly endless flight of stairs above, the inspector deploys his Copter Hat. All goes well until Gadget gets entangled in a chandelier. Flying Inspector of Doom, anyone?
- Zig-zag: In the Porky Pig cartoon "Porky's Hotel" (Clampett, 1939), Porky carts a guest's luggage to an elevator. He presses the "up" button, and when the doors open, it displays a flight of stairs.
- In an episode of Batman: The Animated Series, the Clock King pulls a heist using a device that accelerates time for him to the point of the rest of the world effectively being at a complete stand-still. As the goods he's after are on an upper floor, he hits the elevator button...then remembers that it's just as temporally frozen to him as everything else and opts for the stairs.
- Played Straight for comedy in an episode Courage the Cowardly Dog. Courage pulls off an elaborate scene to escape from Dr. Zalost only for the doctor to immediately catch him once he reaches the top floor of the tower. To make the scene even more hilarious, Zalost somehow found the time to get some ice cream on the way!
Dr. Zalost Why didn't you take the stairs? It's much faster.
- In the pilot of Carmen Sandiego, Inspector Chase Deveraux pursues Carmen in a museum's painfully slow elevator.
Chase: Why must the elevator date back two centuries?! Was no one ever in a hurry back then?!
- Jackie Chan Adventures: There are too many examples to list of Jackie reaching Section 13 or returning to street level and being met by either an enemy he was racing against or (usually) Jade. He questions how this is possible, and they reply with, "The stairs." At no point does Jackie ever try to learn from this. Then it gets flipped around in a different building where Jade and Uncle take the stairs to get away from Tohru who simply takes the elevator down and exits it just as the now-exhausted Jade and Uncle reach the bottom of the stairs.
- Normally, Danger Mouse and Penfold take a sofa lift down to the Mk. III car and then back up when the mission is completed. There were two instances where they wind up taking the stairs instead. "Mechanised Mayhem" had them taking the stairs after a mechanical revolution pre-empts the sofa lift function, while in "Viva Danger Mouse," they consign themselves to the stairs after they find cactus needles in the sofa cushions.
- In most cases, this is true so long as it's only three or four floors at the most; the elevator is meant for people carrying packages, for people who may be unable to take stairs due to injury or infirmity, or for people ascending or descending so far that it would make the stairs difficult or impossible. Usually taking the stairs is faster than waiting for the elevator's arrival, boarding the elevator, waiting for the doors to close, waiting for the ascent or descent to the proper floor, potentially being interrupted as new passengers board or exit on the intervening floors, waiting for the doors to open, and disembarking. It's also easier go downstairs than it is to go upstairs.
- However, it seems most people will use the elevator if one exists, whether or not it makes sense.
- At the Ohana West Hotel in Waikiki, Hawaii, the stairs are faster, as the lobby only has one or two elevators, one of which is either already in use or out of order.
- Averted in some buildings where, for reasons of security, the doors from the stairwell to the upper floors are one-way locked — the stairs can be used to exit the building, but not to travel between floors.