And I'm bound to keep on ridin'.
And I've got one more silver dollar,
But I'm not gonna let 'em catch me, no,
Not gonna let 'em catch the Midnight Rider."
The protagonist is being pursued and must stay in motion, usually moving to a different Adventure Town each episode. There will be ploys to delay the pursuit. Some will work, some won't. Frequently the protagonist must complete a hunt of their own, to bring the pursuit to an end.
The term "stern chase" comes from the navy cliche, "a stern chase is a long chase", which comes from the old days of sailing ships. When one ship chased another from behind (the stern), both ships had the same wind, could only use the few guns that could point forward or back to fire at each other, and since most ships were roughly the same speed, even if one would eventually overtake the other, it could take days, weeks or even months depending on how determined each side was. Thus, one catching (or escaping) the other depended entirely on shiphandling skill, a lucky shot or a change in the wind making it more favourable for one side to press an advantage.
A Stern Chase makes a good reason why those Walking the Earth choose not to just settle down. It is also commonly associated with Clear My Name plots. The pursuer is often the Implacable Man. If the pursuer is a well-intentioned, sympathetic character, he is an Inspector Javert or a Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist. Compare also Super-Persistent Predator, which is a generally unrealistic animal version of the pursuer.
- Inverted in InuYasha, where the protagonists are chasing the villain forever.
- Monster; Tenma hunts for Johan, and is chased by Lunge and the police.
- Scrapped Princess: Just about everybody and their mother wants Pacifica dead, thanks to a prophecy that states she will eventually destroy the world.
- The title unicorn of the Unico movies that traumatized many viewers in The '80s.
- Magical Record Lyrical Nanoha Force: After protagonist Tohma rescues love interest Lily, he finds himself being chased from one place to another by a large, inter-dimensional organization that wants to secure Lily. The name of the chasers? The Time-Space Administration Bureau, the protagonists of the previous seasons.
- The first season of Monster Rancher ends with one of this in "Melcarba", with the Searchers being pursued by the titular beast.
- Mobile Suit Gundam SEED follows the Archangel, a ship that is chased by ZAFT because it carries aboard the Strike, a prototype mecha that could change the course of the war in favour of the Earth Alliance if it were to go into production.
- One Piece: Smoker and Tashigi. In the first half of the story, they didn't get much screen time (mainly because Luffy couldn't hit Smoker and didn't stand a chance of beating him), but now that Luffy is stronger and can actually fight Smoker on even ground, they're bound to have their roles expanded.
- In the XY arc of Pokémon Special, Team Flare is after X's Mega Ring and is clearly willing to use lethal force against him and his friends. Adding to that is that they have plenty of members disguised as ordinary citizens, so the kids are especially wary of every stranger they meet and staying too long in any area. As such, despite the fact that Y is clearly loaded, the kids have been camping out at night in remote areas and subsisting on convenience food. Likewise, Korinna and her grandfather are also being chased by Team Flare for similar reasons. To protect the secrets of Mega Evolution, the two were forced to destroy the Tower of Mastery before making a run for it.
- Kagerou Project: Azami's backstory began as Walking the Earth to find out more about her origin, but became this when her first meeting with humans turned sour. Even after settling down in the middle of a dense forest, they couldn't just let her lie. She eventually creates a new world to live in and goes there alone, leaving her husband and daughter behind, deciding they're better off without her.
- The reason Lupin III is always moving is that if he stops Zenigata will arrest him, as nothing can stop him. Not even being in Israel when Lupin is in Egypt during the Arab–Israeli Conflict and getting mistaken for an enemy spy and arrested, a day later Zenigata was in Egypt and leading Cairo's police in the chase.
- Roughly the first half of Knights of the Old Republic has Zayne Carrick pursued by his former masters, having been framed by them for the murder of his fellow Padawans. Along the way he tries to help out the Republic Navy, civilians, and his friends in the burgeoning war against the Mandalorians while he tries to clear his name.
- The Enemy Below, a submarine-vs-destroyer duel.
- The Terminator film series involves a killer robot from the future relentlessly pursuing various targets in the present day.
- Master and Commander : The Far Side of the World centers its plot around a very long Stern Chase: it starts off the northeast coast of South America and ends somewhere westward of the Galapagos Islands.
- Apocalypto, once Jaguar Paw gets free from the Mayans.
- Carver chasing Gideon in Seraphim Falls.
- Midnight Run fits this, with a bounty hunter escorting a former mafia accountant from New York to Los Angeles while he is simultaneously being chased by another bounty hunter, the FBI and the mafia.
- Almost the entire film of Mad Max: Fury Road is a stern chase. Furiosa, later joined by Max, is liberating the "wives" of Immortan Joe, who takes his whole army and two of his allies' armies after her to get them back.
- Death Hunt: Albert Johson is a hunter/trapper in 1931 depression-era Yukon Territory who is falsely accused of murder, and is doggedly pursued by an Inspector Javert-type Canadian Mountie. In a reverse to the usual run-for-the-border scenario, Johnson's only hope is to survive long enough to escape to the United States, at the Alaska territory border.
- Most of Sheena is this.
- The Naked Prey.
- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: A significant portion of the second act is about Butch and Sundance on the run from a posse hired to kill them.
- The film Deadly Encounter is one long chase movie with helicopters. After a woman is abducted from a hospital by a drug dealer's Mooks in their helicopter, heroic pilot Sam (Larry Hagmann) chases them in his own helicopter. The situation is reversed after Sam manages to save the woman and get her aboard his chopper, but now the drug dealers are chasing them.
- The similar film Birds of Prey by the same writer and director as Deadly Encounter (Robert Boris and William A. Graham), involves thieves taking a hostage and bringing her with them when they fly away in their getaway copter. A fearless news chopper pilot relentlessly pursues the villains in an effort to save their prisoner before she outlives her usefulness.
- The Last Jedi: The First Order spends the majority of the film chasing the remaining rebels, who can't flee to hyperspace because the FO have hyperspace tracking. They know that the Rebels have limited fuel, and so are simply playing the waiting game for the rebel ships to run out of power and fall into range for them to destroy.
- Romper Stomper features a very long sequence in which an Australian gang of skinheads pick on a few Vietnamese factory workers, who quickly summon reinforcements. The factory's entire workforce empties out and attacks in a Zerg Rush, forcing the skinheads to flee across the city as their members get picked off one by one.
- Stephen King's The Dark Tower: "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." The gunslinger had been following the man in black for, at that time, at least twelve years, longer depending on which edition you're reading; the fact that time and space have become wonky means that it could have been centuries or longer.
- Stephen King's Firestarter opens In Medias Res with Andy and Charlie McGee fleeing the agents of The Shop, constantly moving from place to place, seldom stopping long enough to enroll Charlie in school or for Andy to take anything like a real job.
- The Running Man is about a man in a future dystopia running from bounty hunters as part of a Deadly Game Show.
- The Larry Niven short story "The Ethics of Madness" has Bussard-ramjet-powered starships in a literal Stern Chase into intergalactic space. They keep at it for quite a while.
- Similar to the Niven example above, Alastair Reynolds has another literal Stern Chase in his novel Redemption Ark. It lasts several chapters of the book, with increasingly inventive attempts to kill the pursuing ship being deployed. In the next book in the series, it is revealed that the positions have reversed, although this time we come in at the point where the pursuer catches up, so the stern chase is only inferred rather than being shown.
- Also from Alastair Reynolds, in House of Suns there's a Stern Chase across 60,000 light-years; halfway across the Milky Way galaxy. And then a little further. Notably, this takes place in a setting with no FTL.
- A Stern Chase of the classical type occurs in the 5th Book in the Aubrey-Maturin series, Desolation Island. Aubrey and Maturin, in an old, outgunned 4th Rate Ship of the Line, are chased by a new Dutch 3rd Rate Ship of the Line, whilst on their way to Australia, with an implication the reason is that It's Personal for the Dutch Captain. Jack's master-gunner gets a lucky shot on the Dutch ship's line and rigging, it turns sideways, is hit by a giant wave, capsizes and sinks with the loss of all 600 crewmen within minutes. Damage sustained by Aubrey's ship drives the rest of the plot for the novel.
- Stephen, who often requires nautical terms to be explained to him, mistakes the definition of "stern" and asks if it is "a very stern chase indeed."
- It shows up in the movie as well, but it's far more dynamic with both ships being in several places the pursuer and the pursued, and the stern chases generally only last until one side manages to escape by use of trickery.
- Horatio Hornblower: And of course, it comes up a few times, most notably in the first published book, "The Happy Return", where Hornblower's ship, a smallish frigate named HMS Lydia, is forced to pursue and sink a much larger enemy ship, with the enemy ship's longer-ranged guns allowing them to plink at the pursuing British warship for several hours before they can fire back. To keep his wits about him, he passes the time playing cards with his junior officers. To keep the morale of his men up, he orders a dance contest even as the enemy's shots periodically hit the ship, wounding or killing crewmembers.
- Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea has the main character, Ged, getting chased from island to island by a creature from the shadow realms.
- In Maximum Ride, Max and the rest of her Flock are on the run due to the threat of capture, experimentation, torture, being used as weapons or simply imminent death at the hands of anyone connected to the School, the Institute, Itexicon or Itex.
- Unsurprisingly given that it's basically Wooden Ships and Iron Men IN SPACE, the Honor Harrington series features quite a few.
- The best example is probably in the first book where Honor's light cruiser is chasing an escaping Havenite Q-Ship, she destroys it but her ship is pounded to scrap in the process.
- In one of the spin-off books a character escaping through the air ducts reflects on the cliche about a stern chase being a long one.
- Louisa May Alcott's thriller novel A Long Fatal Love Chase.
- The second half of Jerry Pournelle & Larry Niven's The Gripping Hand consists of a series of trips in various directions by the protagonists, to escape being killed or to buy time until the cavalry can arrive.
"If someone tells me that 'a stern chase is a long chase' one more time." Joyce said, "I'll scream."
- In Michael Flynn's The January Dancer, the chase after the Dancer. It is repeatedly called a stern chase. The Dancer may even be keeping moving before them by choice.
- Logan's Run is nothing but a novel-length chase, holding off not only pursuing Sandmen, but following the breadcrumbs left behind that hint at Sanctuary.
- Les Misérables features one spanning almost two decades between ex-convict Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert. Valjean manages to escape for years at a time, only to be discovered because he just can't ignore people in need and Javert is a dreadful combination of dedicated, persistent, and vengeful. It ends when Valjean saves Javert's life and finally gives himself up, only for Javert (baffled and appalled to realise his prey is a good man who doesn't deserve the harsh sentencing he'll receive) to leap off a bridge rather than have to choose between condemning his savior or violating the law he dedicated his life to upholding. Intensified in many adaptations, as the necessary compression makes it seem like Javert's a monomaniac who does nothing else with his life but hunt Valjean.
- Inverted in the third Provost's Dog book by Tamora Pierce. The whole novel has Beka and her group as the pursuers against the people who kidnapped four-year-old Prince Gareth.
- The first four volumes of The Lost Fleet are one long stern chase, with the titular fleet being trapped Behind Enemy Lines and having to battle thir way through the other side's increasingly desperate attempts to wipe them out. And by the time they get home, they've inflicted so much damage on the way out that the enemy war effort is near total collapse. A rare case where a war was won by retreating.
- One short mystery/horror story deals with the protagonist (a blind man) being hired by a man to warn him of approaching footsteps after he reveals he's been on the run for years from a vengeful mummy/spirit from a tomb he'd violated. Unfortunately for him his latest place to stay, a hotel, is undergoing construction work making him unable to escape when it catches up again. It ends with the blind man hearing him jump from a window to his death but he can still hear the man running and the sound of pursuit from the spirit, endlessly trying to get away.
- Both versions of Battlestar Galactica.
- The Doctor in Doctor Who is always on the move anyway, but on a couple of occasions someone has been chasing him, the most prominent example being the Black Guardian.
- Though David's motivation to Walk the Earth is to find a cure for his condition so he can return from the presumed dead (he also doesn't want to develop ties to people that might end up getting hurt), The Incredible Hulk also involves the hero being "pursued by an investigative reporter" who wants to make his name with inflammatory tabloid coverage of "the creature".
- The Fugitive and its movie adaption are both classic examples, following the titular fugitive trying to clear his name by finding the one-armed man who killed his wife, while trying to elude the determined Lieutenant Gerard.
- Nowhere Man featured a hero constantly fleeing a conspiratorial organization that was out to get him. Every episode had him visit new locations, learn a little more about the conspiracy, and then flee his pursuers once again.
- The Pretender. Jarod, the protagonist, is a genius who was held captive and used by an evil organization as a child, until one day he escaped. Throughout the series he is constantly on the run from agents of the organization trying to recapture him.
- Run, Buddy, Run: a sitcom variant, about a man on the run from mobsters.
- In an episode of the TV series Run For Your Life, the title character, played by Ben Gazzara, is dying of a fatal disease and has only a few months to live. On his Walking the Earth quest to live as much as possible before he dies, in one town he is falsely accused of a serious crime. He is more-or-less held incommunicado in jail, but escapes in order to contact friends and his lawyer to help him. He knows he has to go back to face the charges, but before he can do so, one of the deputies from the town in the other state where he was being held, and without extradition papers, knocks him on the head and kidnaps him back to the town, ostensibly to stand trial.
- Run, Joe, Run: basically The Fugitive only with a dog as protagonist.
- Poets of the Fall:
- Driving Song "Late Goodbye" has a couple chased endlessly by "the Devil" though its unclear whether its literal or metaphorical.
The devil grins from ear to ear when he sees the hand he's dealt us
Points at your flamin' hair, and then we're playin' hide and seek
I can't breathe easy here, 'less our trail's gone cold behind us
'Til in the john mirror you stare at yourself grown old and weak
- Driving/Wanderlust Song "Daze" has the singer complaining "I Just Want to Have Friends" but being compelled to drift from place to place by a pursuer
With constant companions, would that I could
Further afield my nemesis on stilts is gaining on me
- Driving Song "Late Goodbye" has a couple chased endlessly by "the Devil" though its unclear whether its literal or metaphorical.
- Prince of Persia: Warrior Within has the prince running from a demonic entity bent on enforcing the Timeline, which says the Prince must die.
- Used in the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series twice. In Red/Blue Rescue Team, the hero and their partner must flee the other rescue teams out for their blood due to a critical logic failure; in Explorers of Time/Darkness/Sky, the pair are trapped in the Bad Future and searching for a way back. Both sequences include an understandable difficulty bump, given the circumstances.
- Essentially inverted for the majority of disc 1 of Final Fantasy VII as the player's party pursues Sephiroth across continents and around the world even as he is hunting for the Black Materia
- Anyone that's played sailing games like Sea Dogs or Pirates of the Caribbean (aka Sea Dogs II) will probably have experienced the literal version. Needless to say, they can get pretty boring.
- The ending of Dragon Age: Origins for a male character who romanced Morrigan has the player abandoning all of his political clout and hero-worship to chase after her.
- The first part of Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete has the party being tracked by Lord Leo and Althena's Guard.
- Battlefield2142: Another example that echoes the original military scenario: a running battlewalker has the same speed as a tank moving in reverse. At a distance, the walker's rockets do not fly true, and the tank's shells can easily be dodged. Unless the tank driver gets stuck on an obstacle, the walker giving chase has a long fight ahead.
- Luigi's Mansion pulls this as you start the final section in the game: lightning strikes the mansion and causes a blackout, which naturally makes the ghosts pop up all over the place. In order to stop the infestation, Luigi must hunt down a ghost using a somewhat obscure hint from E. Gadd to get a key to open the previously-accessible basement and switch the power back on.
- About half of TRON 2.0 involves the protagonist running from system to system to escape pursuing security Programs who have mistaken him for a virus.
- After the prologue in In FAMOUS 2, where Cole Macgrath decides to run from the Beast instead of fight it, he has already escaped down the Eastern Seaboard to New Marais, but the Beast is slowly catching up to him, with the game giving updates as to how far the Beast is from the city.
- In the first Golden Sun game, your party is chasing after the people responsible for lighting the Elemental Lighthouse, who also kidnapped a childhood friend, her brother, and a sage, with every new location you enter telling you you juuuust missed them (in some locations, they move a lot faster than you or actively slow you down by causing landslides). In the second game, you play as the kidnapped people (minus the two who serve as the Final Boss) but due to a major earthquake and shifting landmasses, you can't reach your old party to explain the situation (especially the fact that the Lighthouses need to be rekindled). Both parties are eventually reunited with each other.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: The majority of Season 1 is concerned with the Gaang evading the Fire Nation and trying to get to the North Pole, where Aang can learn waterbending, usually with Zuko and/or Admiral Zhao on their heels.
- Here Comes the Grump. Princess Dawn, her Non-Human Sidekick Bip, and ordinary Earth teenager Terry Dexter are being chased by the villainous Grump and his klutzy Dragon. Each episode takes them to a new locale, where the heroes enlist the aid of the locals to try and get The Grump off their trail.
- The third season of The Secret Saturdays starts with this due to the Tomato in the Mirror reveal (Zak Saturday is Kur, who is believed to be the ultimate evil) of the previous season.
- The Zeta Project ran off of this. The government is chasing after Zeta because they believe he's turned against them and Zeta is chasing after his creator to find evidence to prove he's genuinely sentient and peaceful.
- Dogstar has the Clarkes chasing the Dogstar, and Bob Santino chasing the Clarkes.
- Gary and Mike The duo are unknowingly being pursued by Officer Dick, who's morever after Mike for sleeping with his daughter and costing him a promotion (she was suppose to marry the Police Chief Officer's son but called it off after sleeping with Mike). Gary's father later joins in on the chase after he finds out Gary had lost the SUV he had given him for the trip (Though that was more Mike's doing. Never pick up hitchhikers folks).
- Ed, Edd n Eddy's Big Picture Show has the opening chase where the Eds try to escape Peach Creek in Eddy's Brother's car while the rest of the kids try to get at them over their scam Gone Horribly Wrong.