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Stairwell Chase

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May the upper floors be safer than the lower ones.

A Cinematography trope. A Pursued Protagonist is being chased up (less often, down) a stairwell. As they run up the camera "floats" upwards and we see the hero and his adversaries as they spiral upwards, or may well descend to show all the pursuers. The hero and the pursuers will look up and down at each other at least once before setting off running.

This works as a means to establish claustrophobia and vertigo, as the hero is fleeing in close quarters and essentially going in circles. This can be accomplished by having the camera on the opposite bank and move up/down, or using a harness and crane to move the camera and operator

As the hero is likely to "tree" himself at the top of the stairs, see also Climbing Climax. Compare Ending by Ascending.


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    Films — Live-Action 
  • A reversal occurs in The Bourne Identity, when Bourne is on the top floor and the bad guy is running up to meet him. Bourne cuts out the chase and jumps down about five stories, shooting the bad guy on the way down. It's made even more awesome by the fact that he rides another mook's body while falling and uses said body to break his fall. Of course, it does almost nothing to help him avoid injury, but it's still awesome.
  • Captain America: Civil War after Steve Rogers locates Bucky's secret apartment, the police are sent to apprehend the Winter Soldier. This results in a chase/ fight where Bucky and Steve are trying to get past the human police officers who are positioned in the stairwell. The super soldiers take advantage of their enhancements to hop over railings and past levels with Bucky primarily focused on evasion and Steve primarily focused on keeping the officers from being killed in the attempt.
  • In The Matrix, the dejavu sequence features this shot at least twice.
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail has the camera angle, but it's not a chase, and is in fact completely separate from the plot. The man walks down the stairs, so it takes him a little while.
  • A one-man version in the Cold Open of Sherlock Holmes (2009). After taking down the night watchman, Holmes steals his lantern and hat and races down a spiral staircase to the crypt where the Big Bad is planning a Human Sacrifice, with the camera panning down to follow him.
  • In the Sin City segment with Marv, the police beeline up the stairs to get to Marv. He barrels past them and jumps down the stairwell.
  • Shoot 'Em Up has a stairwell chase... culminating in a spiral of death as the protagonist bungees down.
  • The International has a scene that's part stairwell chase in New York's Guggenheim Museum. Though thanks to the museum's layout it's more of a staircase running gun battle. The Museum's defining architectural characteristic is that all the public areas are designed entirely without stairs, so the actors are racing down the spiral walkway at the heart of the Museum.
  • A version with cars driving up the multi-level parking is seen in Transporter 2.
  • Underworld (2003) makes good use of this trope.
  • Used in the film adaptation of The Fugitive with the titular character desperately running down to escape the armed US Martial.
  • Used in the sequel, U.S. Marshals, only this time the fugitive is running UP the stairs.
  • A classic: The Belltower scene in Vertigo, pioneering the iconic "zoom in/dolly back" effect to show the lead character's intense terror. This was parodied in High Anxiety.
  • A form appears in Transformers (2007): Sam runs up a stairwell to the roof as Megatron smashes his way up after him.
  • In the finale of Batman (1989), Batman chases the Joker up a bell tower.
  • A variation appears at the climax of Raising Cain, where the cops, a desperate mother, her boyfriend, and her MPD husband's female personality close in on the child-stealing villain, all from different directions, via a motel's outdoor stairwells and balconies. The camera pans from the villain and mother facing off on an elevated walkway, then down a stairwell past the approaching cops, then to the ground-level boyfriend running to catch the little girl when the villain drops her over the railing.
  • Bond chases the villainous Elektra up the stairs of her hideout during the climax of The World Is Not Enough.
  • Near the end of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, the citizens are chasing Captain Culpeper up the stairs, and this shot is used.
  • In Weekend at Bernie's, one of the couples is going up to the top of a lighthouse and this shot is used.
  • A variation occurs in American Psycho, but rather than pursuing his victim down the stairs, he simply watches from the top of the stairs and drops a chainsaw on her head from there.
  • Arthur in Inception runs downstairs, with a projection of Fischer's militarized subconscious right after him. Thanks to the fact that they're Penrose Stairs, which impossibly take you right back where you started on the stairs, Arthur can sweep in behind his pursuer, and then drop the man off the high ledge the landing's suddenly become. As Arthur says, "Paradox."
  • Played for laughs in Ghostbusters (1984) when it becomes more of a Stairway Trudge. This example is also a bit of a cheat: the flights above our heroes are a matte painting.
  • [REC] is big on this, as seen in the page image. The chasing gets more intense as the Infected increase in number.
  • In the 1997 adaptation of Lolita, Dolores accuses Humbert of murdering her mother and shouts at him to kill her as well. She then flees down the stairs of their apartment building with Humbert in pursuit, with the camera spinning to follow them instead of staying in place, showing how their lives are spinning out of control.
  • Welcome to the Punch: After seeing his Arch-Enemy Jacob Sternwood fleeing a hotel room shootout, Cowboy Cop Max Lewinsky chases him down the fire stairs only for his knee to give out from the injury Sternwood gave him three years ago.
  • Max Manus: La RĂ©sistance carry out a raid that takes longer than expected. When the police inevitably show up, there's an Oh, Crap! reaction followed by a shot of Max and his colleagues fleeing down a spiral staircase.
  • A variant appears in Warrior of the Lost World. There is no actual chase, and the staircase is a "square" spiral, but it's done in the same spirit.
  • Rod runs up the stairs of the lighthouse at the climax of Wild Rebels, mainly because Jeeter is standing in the doorway shooting cops. It does allow him to snag a gun from the by-that-time-dead Fats, not that this does him much good.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Used in the Dollhouse episode "Spy in the House of Love", with NSA agents chasing Sierra up a staircase towards the roof.

  • In Lights... Camera... Action!, about filming an action movie, one of the Scenes the player must finish is a foot chase up a flight of stairs.

    Video Games 
  • Used as part of a level in Xenosaga: Episode II. The player must run up a very long staircase while mechanical threats chase from below.
  • Shows up in Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom. The party must climb a long, circular staircase while infinite waves of enemies chase you up from below.
  • Played with in Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness where Lara chases Kurtis and corners him by a staircase. Rather than fleeing from Lara by running down the spiraling staircase, Kurtis opts to jump down in the middle and skip the stairs entirely. He survives thanks to his psychic powers and Lara is forced to traverse down the stairs normally to catch up.

    Western Animation 
  • Appears in the Filmation's Ghostbusters episodes "Statue of Liberty" and "The Way You Are."
  • In The Beatles episode "Hold Me Tight," George and Ringo chase a man who they think is going to blow up the Statue of Liberty up the statue's stairwell.

Alternative Title(s): Staircase Chase