Tightrope walking, or wire-walking, is an old practice in many different regions. In fictional works, a character, (whether it be through training or from magic), is able to walk, or even run, across very thin surfaces.
It is, in the simplest sense, walking on tightened ropes. The performer may use a balancing tool such as an umbrella, a long pole, or they may stretch out their arms. Tightrope walkers were staples in traveling circuses. These balancing performers walked on ropes high above the circus ring. There are other more dangerous versions of this as well.
High-wire walkers walk generally about 20+ feet off the ground. Skywalkers take their stunts to Dangerous Heights by walking between skyscrapers, poles, and other terrifying places. Even more dangerous versions of sky-walking involve tightrope walkers stretching ropes over The Grand Canyon without any climbing gear to speak of.
Being able to walk on ropes is not a very common skill in Real Life, and reveals a lot about a character, like that they have a very good sense of balance and body control, that they can perform graceful, lithe combat maneuvers. Depending on the background of the work, it can imply a character's history with a traveling troupe, ninja village or a circus, for example, pointing to useful further contacts for the character.
This trope takes into account all objects these skilled balancers walk and run on. These include but are not limited to ropes, wires, thin railings, chains, power lines, or any other super thin surfaces.
Compare Electric Slide for more "shocking" examples, Grind Boots for when skateboards are simply too expensive, and The Precarious Ledge for when high wire walkers get cold feet. Also compare I Have the High Ground, and promptly thwack them round the ankles. That'll teach 'em.
- A Duracell commercial from 1992 features several battery-powered unicycle riders going across a tightrope. The Duracell-powered rider makes it across just fine (and even spins on it after successfully making it across), but the riders powered by lesser batteries run out of power and fall into the safety net below.
- The eponymous warriors in Claymore can do this, and one of them, Anastasia, has even weaponized this ability, using her super-strong and super-thin hair for Not Quite Flight. Other warriors can also use her hair to "float" in the air.
- In Noragami, Hiyori, after discovering her spiritual body's athletic abilities, runs and dances on the power lines.
- Chiko, the title character of The Daughter of Twenty Faces, works as a tightrope walker when the gang goes undercover as a circus troupe. Later, she uses the skill to flee an angry mob by tightrope walking from one roof to another.
- A variation of this trope happened in a Disney Comics Donald Duck story, when Daisy Duck is on a building site and walks out onto a bouncy, springboard-like plank to retrieve a hammer left near one edge where it could fall on someone. She points out that (in this story) she's a ballet teacher and such perfect balance is nothing special for her.
- In Superman's early appearances he couldn't fly; he got around Metropolis by running quickly along telephone wires. He explains on more than one occasion that as long as he jumps over the connectors at the telephone poles he's in no danger of electrocution.
- Batman: Before Jason Todd was retooled he was from a family of murdered circus performers like his predecessor Dick Grayson, only instead of trapeze artists they were tightrope walkers.
- Chihiro in Spirited Away has to attempt walking on a thin metal pipe once to reach a far ladder. At the end, however, she is absolutely terrified when she actually makes it.
- Madellaine, Quasi's love interest from The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, wants to learn how to wire walk, but her boss/father figure discourages her, saying her purpose is to stand around and look pretty. She masters it just in time to rescue Phoebus and Esmerelda's son, Zephyr.
- In The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, we see Legolas running along a chain to attack the cave troll.
- In Heroic Trio, one of the main heroines is introduced, running along powerlines, She even does the splits between two of them while throwing knives at a foe.
- Exploring the Klowns' tent/ship in Killer Klowns from Outer Space, the characters encounter a passage where they must walk a tightrope in a fog; they manage, but wobble enough to show it's not easy. The weirdness of the scene increases when they reach the end of the passage, where the rope is bent into steps which lead to the next doorway.
- Experimental montage film A Movie contains a clip of a tightrope walker, probably to set up the later montage of people and vehicles crashing, falling, and collapsing.
- In The Circus, Charlie Chaplin is pressed into service as the tightrope walker after the regular tightrope walker doesn't show.
- The Walk, about Philippe Petit's story of how he conceived of, planned for, and pulled off illegally walking between the two towers of the World Trade Center is basically Tightrope Walking: The Movie.
- The Three Stooges short Three Little Twirps has Curly end up on a tightrope at a circus. While on it he loses balance, and inexplicably starts spinning around on the rope in circles, defying gravity.
- In the Henry series by Mary Calhoun, a Siamese cat learns how to walk on his hind legs, to the point that he can actually walk on a clothesline. This enables him to get to the family's new puppy when he crawls out of a window and puts himself at risk of falling off the roof.
- Legolas in The Lord of the Rings. Similar to the movie example, in Lorien, Legolas ran along a rope to get to the other side of a stream. It was mentioned that elves did this sort of thing a lot if a bridge was not available. He points out nobody else in the group is an Elf, so it is probably easy for them.
- The Wheel of Time: When joining Valan Luca's traveling circus in The Shadow Rising as a way to cross the countryside incognito, Elayne trains herself to become a tightrope walker. She originally creates a wider path with magic, but has to do it for real after learning that a dangerous foe is hunting her and would sense what she was doing.
- Chronicles of the Kencyrath: Jame has excellent balance and training in Le Parkour, and frequently ropewalks. The Kendar companions, however, often has a great fear of heights despite having great balance. The officer academy of Tentir makes use of that, by having the cadets ropewalk in order to learn how to control their fear and their bodies, and as a test.
- In The California Voodoo Game, Acacia crosses a rope strung over a chasm in the Crystal Maze. The narrative mentions that she's actually capable of such a feat for real, although in-Game it's her character's skill that determines her chances.
- Alex Rider: In Ark Angel, Alex escapes from a burning high rise by walking across a cable attaching a banner to the neighbouring building, using some 'props' left behind by a building crew for balance. Author Anthony Horowitz explains in an afterword that the physics of what Alex does would work, but tells readers Don't Try This at Home.
- This is a common task on The Amazing Race. However, having so many untrained contestants means that lots of safety equipment is generally involved to keep those who are participating from falling and either hurting or killing themselves.
- Subverted in Le Cur a ses Raisons: during the Telethon sequence, Criquette announces that Ridge will now perform his famous tightrope-walking act... but because of insurance reasons, he will have to execute it directly on the floor.
- Shining Time Station: When Mr. Conductor showed up towards the end of "Schemer Alone", he was on a bike while hanging on a tightrope. He even did it upside down.
- Albeit, it is done with the unwilling assistance of an opponent locked in an arm wrench but this is the basis of The Undertaker's "Old School" maneuver. It's really just an elevated arm wrench club, the rope walking is Rule of Cool.
- Elix Skipper's "New School" maneuver involved him tight rope walking across the ropes to an opponent sitting on the turn buckle then jumping on them and delivering a Frankensteiner. In TNA, he's done if not on a rope, but after walking on the edge of a steel cage.
- One of Yoshitisune's signature moves involves tight rope walking on the top rope before delivering a dropkick.
- Tag Team partners Christina Von Eerie and Buggy Nova had a double team move where they held hands while Von Eerie walked on the top rope before jumping off and delivering a Frankensteiner, in a shout out to both "Old" and "New" schools.
- One "Journey to Ernie" sketch on Sesame Street has Big Bird walking across a tightrope in a circus to get to a box that Ernie may or may not be in.
- In Final Fantasy X, Team Tidus doesn't so much run along wires as skitch down them. He and his posse have impressive Grind Boots.
- The Legend of Zelda:
- In Twilight Princess, though your human form can't move on ropes, your wolf form is perfectly able to do so, do a jumping 180 on the spot, and leap off as if he were on solid ground rather than a swaying rope no thicker than his leg.
- The Grappling Hook can be used this way in Phantom Hourglass. Have two wooden stacks present, draw a line between them with the hook equipped, and then walk over it.
- Occurs in Skyward Sword, where you can walk across tightropes. So can your enemies, but they move slower.
- In Assassin's Creed games, Alta�r, Ezio, and Connor can all run on certain incredibly thin ropes, wires, and the like.
- In Mirror's Edge Faith can run on thin pipes and planks if need be. She can also run on cranes, but this is not automatic and dependent on the skill of the player.
- Discussed in a dialogue option in Neverwinter Nights 2 Storm of Zehir. When investigating the wreck of the trade ship Vigilant, if your party contains a rogue they can observe that they've stood on ropes thinner than the one that snapped in the storm. It broke because it had been partly cut through by a saboteur.
- Super Mario Bros.:
- Super Mario Sunshine contains many tightropes which Mario can cross and bounce on. Funnily enough, initially a new player would be nervous to cross one, and be very careful about walking in a straight line, but eventually testing reveals that the tightropes are, in fact, impossible to fall off of unless you intentionally jump off.
- In the handheld New Super Mario Bros. games, as well as Super Mario 3D Land, there are tightropes that make Mario and Luigi move slower, but jump higher.
- The thief in Quest for Glory gets a chance to demonstrate his balance on numerous occasions: from the humble beginnings of shuffling over a tree branch, to creeping around on tightropes twenty feet above the head of a demon wizard.
- Featured as one of the balance games in Wii Fit.
- The Tenno from Warframe can run on numerous ropes hanging around the maps. They can even stand on them and shoot from firearms while doing so and never lose balance. Everyone else uses these ropes as ziplines.
- On Avatar: The Last Airbender, Ty Lee does this in the episode "The Boiling Rock", to get to the cable car: She sprints across a gondola cable◊ for a rematch with fellow Action Girl, Suki.
- In the Back to the Future episode "Gone Fishin'", while they're planning a way to stop Doc's younger self from being forced into one final, very dangerous, stunt, Jules asks Marty if he can walk a straight line, which Marty confirms. Jules' plan involves Marty creating a distraction with a tightrope act while he and Verne get Emmett out of the way.
- In Mother Up, Apple becomes obsessed with winning pretty trophies; the last one in the case is for tightrope walking, and was retired since the last winner fell off and died. For some reason, the school still has the tightrope set up and Apple walks it in a fugue state (unless the ghost she sees is real, hard to say.)
- Kaeloo: In the Circus Episode, Quack Quack, who is known in-universe for doing things that are Beyond the Impossible, manages to do this without a rope to walk on, by balancing on thin air. The act is called "Tightrope walking without a tightrope".
- In the Looney Tunes episode "Bear Feat", the three bears are practicing going across a tightrope on a unicycle. Pa Bear and Junior go across, but the large Junior's weight pulls the tightrope to the ground. Pa demands that he get off, and when Junior does, Pa is launched into the sky.
- This is often done by Le Parkour practicioners.
- Many acrobats have made a career of this trope.
- Dean Potter and Mustafa Danger are two such practitioners of Tight Rope Walking.
- The Flying Wallendas are a famous trapeze/tightrope walking family of circus performers. Most of them have died when falling from incredible heights during walks.
- Philippe Petit is most famous for this, especially when tightroped between the towers of the World Trade Center as recounted in the Oscar winning documentary, Man on Wire.
- Blondine was famous in the 19th century for tightrope walking over Niagara Falls.
- Jultagi, or Eoreum, is an ancient Korean tradition of rope-walking that is still practiced.
- Gibbons are able to run on long branches. Just like humans do when performing, gibbons stretch out their arms as balancers.
- Slacklining is a variant involving a wider ribbon with some elasticity and slack to allow for acrobatic bouncing tricks.