You think it's annoying when the elevator stops working and you need to climb three floors to reach your apartment? Be glad you don't have to face the Absurdly Long Stairway.
The Absurdly Long Stairway is so incredibly, well, long that ascending it is a serious challenge in itself. The characters will probably be utterly exhausted by the time they get to the top, assuming they will persevere that long. (Descending such a stairway tends to be easier, one way or the other, but not always.) Such stairways may have thousands of steps and stretch for miles. Indeed, sometimes they are literally endless.
These stairways can be found in man-made structures (such as very tall towers with no lifts) or more supernatural locations. They can have a major symbolic meaning, about ascension or spiritual uplifting or the like. They can find application both in serious works and in comedy. In the latter case, expect some unlucky Butt-Monkey to trip and tumble all the way down.
A notable subset of Absurdly Long Stairways are Absurdly Long Temple Stairways. In Real Life, a somewhat tamer version of this trope is relatively common in temple architecture, and may be observed in various Buddhist, Hindu, and Mesoamerican temples. Sometimes in fictionnote , this is taken Up to Eleven by placing the temple on the slopes - or even the summit - of a mountain, with stairs leading all the way up. The symbolism of ascending to the temple should be obvious; sometimes, as with the Aztecs, the long temple stairs were also used for a Staircase Tumble when they tossed the bodies of sacrificial victims down them.
- In the first episode of Doki Doki Pre Cure, Mana runs up an extremely long staircase all the way to the top of the Clover Tower (which is similar to the real life Tokyo Tower) in order to fight a monster, even though she hasn't become a Pretty Cure yet at that point.
- The Mickey Mouse Comic Universe story "Watch Your Step!" has Mickey descending into Hades down a very long staircase. He realizes that he can get down more easily via a Bannister Slide, though he eventually attains a rather dangerous velocity and comes flying off at the end.
- In Scott Pilgrim, Scott defeats Lucas Lee by convincing him to rail grind a huge stairway on his skateboard. After exceeding speeds of 309 kph he crashes hard.
- In Lucifer, the angel Meleos keeps a copy of every written work humankind has ever produced. The archives are in an "underground tower more than a mile high," concealed beneath the Hamburg bookshop he manages. At the very bottom he keeps his own creation, a living tarot deck, which has become corrupt and extremely dangerous, such that when he tries to destroy the cards, they overpower him and escape. Too weak after the battle to manifest his wings, he must climb the staircase on foot.
- In Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, Chip and Belle seem to face this when climbing the staircase up to the attic to consult with the other members of the household about putting together a Christmas party.
- Kung Fu Panda:
- The Jade Palace sits on the peak of a mountain. There's a single, straight staircase up to it from the valley floor. Naturally, Po spends a good chunk of the film either climbing those stairs, or tumbling down them.
- In the sequel, Po and the Furious Five are taken to Lord Shen's throne room at the top of a tall tower. Po has to be carried by one of Shen's guards for half of the way.
Po: My old enemy... stairs.
- While it's not too long for a human, the stairway to Cinderella's room in Disney's Cinderella is this trope for Gus and Jack (who are realistically-sized mice) when they have to carry the key up the stairs to her to let her out of the room when she was locked in by the wicked stepmother.
- In The Boy and the World, Cuca and his new friend walk up many of these in the city.
- Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls: Ace has retreated to a mountain temple to meditate. It is accessed by, you guessed it, absurdly long stairs. He does not squander the opportunity to try out a Slinky on them.
- Ghostbusters (1984): The protagonists have to climb 20 flights of stairs for the confrontation with Gozer, due to the elevators being out of service.
- I, Robot: As Spooner, Sonny, and Calvin are looking up the flights of stairs from the basement to the top floor of US Robotics...
Sonny: Two thousand, eight hundred and eighty steps, Detective.
- In Labyrinth, Sarah tries to reach her baby brother Toby through what is not only an insanely long set of stairs, but ones designed to look like M.C. Escher's "Relativity".
- In The Music Box, Laurel and Hardy deliver a piano up a long staircase. The staircase was also used in the comedy films Isn't Life Terrible? and Ice Cold Cocos.
- The Three Stooges short, "An Ache in Every Stake", had the Stooges deliver an ice block to a house atop a very long staircase, but the ice always melts by the time they make it to the top.
- Invoked in The Wolf of Wall Street. While tripping very heavily and discovering a botched emergency, Jordan Belfort has to get back to his car, at the entrance to a country club. In long shots, you can see it is only about six steps, but in close-up shots (from Jordan's perspective), it's much, much longer than that.
- At the end of Buster Keaton's The Haunted House, Buster goes up a long set of stairs to heaven, but when St. Peter rejects him, the stairs fold flat and he slides down into Hell. Turns out, it was All Just a Dream.
- Rendezvous with Rama: The interior of the eponymous gigantic cylindrical spaceship, 54 kilometres long, has three extremely long ladders leading down from its airlocks at the hub. And then there come stairways with "thousands upon thousands" of steps. Getting from the airlock down the ladders and stairs, to one end of the cylinder, takes the protagonists three chapters. Though it's highly likely it's all a triple-redundant emergency backup system, and the Ramans normally used some sort of smaller vessel or vehicle to travel around their ship's interior.
- Ubik makes an ordinary, sixteen-step staircase into one of these, as the character climbing them has had his life-force drained near completely by a local psychic vampire, and crawling up even one step becomes an immense effort.
- The Eyrie in A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones is a castle atop a very high, sheer mountain. It can only be reached by a stairway that takes all day to climb and is so narrow that it has to be ascended in single file, making it more or less impregnable to attacking armies.
- The Lord of the Rings: The peak called Zirak-zigil by the dwarves had a stairway (appropriately enough, called the Endless Stair). It reached from the peak to the bottom of Moria's lowermost natural caverns (so deep that Gandalf calls them "the lowest roots of the mountain"), and its top was destroyed during Gandalf's battle with the Balrog.
- Given to the freefall speed of skydivers and measuring the time it took Gandalf to fall on the film to the bottom of Moria, the bottom of the mines would be at depth of 3,200 m. (The deepest Real Life mine in South Africa bottoms at 3900 m). If the peak of Zirak-zigil would be at 3700 m (12,000 ft) as Karen Lynn Wonstad estimated, the height of the Endless Stair would have been a majestic seven kilometres high.)
- Somewhat less impressive, but still a challenging climb for mortals, are the Stairs of Cirith Ungol which Frodo and Sam climb to reach the mountain pass into Mordor.
- In The Phantom Tollbooth's kingdom of Digitopolis, numbers are real and physical, so when Milo asks what the largest possible number is, the Mathemagician points him to the Stairway to Infinity, where the answer is at the top. The stairway is, naturally, infinite.
- In Discworld the Unseen University's Tower of Art is 800 feet tall and along the inside edge of the building are some (very old and infirm) steps which spiral upwards and number 8,888. Several wizard traditions require senior wizards to climb those steps, then spend five minutes being out of breath and wheezing. There may be something supposed to happen after this, but since most UU wizards are elderly and overweight, few ever get enough puff back to carry them out. They still climb the spiral steps though, because it is tradition.
- Inverted at the other University in Bugarup, where the Tower of Art's stairs are only two stories tall from the bottom, but the Tower's top is about a mile high. Yes, it's taller from the top than from ground level.
- In The Hero and the Crown, the protagonist goes to confront an evil mage in his extraordinarily tall Mage Tower. Climbing all the stairs requires a large dose of Heroic Willpower, and she's left feeling like she's been climbing unceasingly for years.
- In Vasily Golovachev's Time of Troubles series, the Shaft (a tower-like Eldritch Location that connects various aeons and parallel worlds) has two means of moving from one time/world to another: the elevator and the stairs. During the early first book, the elevator does not work properly, it only offers one-way rides into the aeons of Multiverse's infancy. The only way out is climbing the stairs thousands of levels up.
- The Great Medial Screw in The Judging Eye goes up from the bottom of a huge mountain to its top and it takes the characters several days to climb it.
...the endless stairs of the Screw took everything that remained: courage, strength, and endurance—endurance above all. Climbing. Climbing. Climbing. Clinging to seams as they picked their way over collapsed sections. Hurrying past the hundreds of gaping black portals. Bending back their faces to remind themselves of the sky they sought, to wonder at the way it waxed and grew.
- Tortall Universe: Balor's Needle is a very tall tower with an long interior and exterior set of stairs that people have to stop to take a breather on while climbing. In the Protector of the Small, where the protagonist is scared of heights, she has to climb the thing twice.
- Doctor Who, "The Snowmen": The Doctor parks the TARDIS in the clouds and uses a spiral staircase to get up to it. The staircase is taller on the inside.
- In the season two finale of The Mindy Project, Mindy has to climb the stairway to the observatory on the Empire State Building because the elevators are broken. As soon as she starts climbing the elevators start working again.
- Super Mario 64 has a looping staircase leading to the final stage, with accompanying music that keeps going up as you did. You can climb it forever if you don't have enough stars, but the staircase itself is not actually very big. (The game accomplishes this by loading another instance of the stairs once you've ascended enough steps; however, since the game only checks your forward motion, a series of backward long jumps can scale the "infinite" staircase without any problems.)
- The Tower of Fanatics in Final Fantasy VI is nothing but identical flights of stairs with random encounters in which your characters can use nothing but magic. Every twenty flight of stairs or so there's a treasure room, but there's nothing else to break the monotony, and the atmospheric music adds to the repetitive, endless dread. Overclock Remix's dark, brooding rendition is even called The Endless Stair.
- During the raid on the Shinra HQ in Final Fantasy VII, you can either fight your way through the guards, or climb your way up 59 flights of stairs. Barrett whines and complains the whole way up, while Tifa tells him to "stop acting like a retard and climb!" At the end of the stairway, Barrett says he never wants to see any stairs again for the rest of his life.
- In Wild Arms 2 nearing the end of the game there's the spiral tower, which has an extremely long staircase leading down into the center of the planet. Once you get to the end of the staircase you have to go through another dungeon then fight several minibosses, and the final boss to beat the game.
- Both Star Ocean: The Second Story and Star Ocean: Till the End of Time end their The Very Definitely Final Dungeon with a needlessly long (straight) staircase leading up to the Final Boss. Especially egregious in that the staircases in each case conclude a long climb up a tower.
- The Infocom game Enchanter has an infinite staircase that turns out to be an illusion.
- BoxxyQuest: The Gathering Storm has one thats explicitly based on SCP-087. (See below, in the Web Original folder).
- The ending of Crisis Zone has your unit shut town the Big Bad's nuclear reactor and now have to climb five kilometers of stairs when the elevator is out of order from the impact.
- Custerd's Quest: You go through four hours of stairs before reaching floor 100 of Necromancer's tower.
- The SCP Foundation entry, SCP-087 is a dark staircase that seems to go on forever, with what sounds to be a crying child coming at the bottom. Despite this, explorers can never get any closer to the source of the crying and typically tend to run afoul of whatever is scurrying around in the darkness instead.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: "The Crystal Empire Part 2" has Twilight Sparkle confront a long, long note circular staircase leading to where the MacGuffin is. She manages to get past this obstacle by reversing gravity and dropping up to the staircase's bottom side, which is smooth and allows her to easily slide up.
- In The Emperor's New School episode "Yzmopolis", the Temple of the Sky God has one of these. Kuzco, lazy bum that he is, naturally complains about this.
- The Amazing World of Gumball: In "The Mothers", when Darwin and Gumball are hanging off a parking garage, Nicole has to go from the bottom up to the 32nd floor to reach then, then go down to the 16th when they drop partway down, even though the garage clearly has only eight floor in exterior shots.
- Star vs. the Forces of Evil: In "Page Turner", Glossaryck is called before the Magic Council, which is atop a high tower. Unfortunately, the elevator is "on the fritz", so he has to take the stairs. After running the incredibly long flight of stairs, he ends up back on the first floor, because the stairs are also on the fritz.
- The Manitou Incline near Colorado Springs has evolved to become this. An abandoned train track up a rather steep mountainside, the wooden railroad ties became a series of steps for local athletes to climb the mountain. It gains 2,000 ft of elevation in just under a mile of distance, featuring 2,744 steps, making for an average 45% grade rising as steep as 68% in places. Because the trail is perfectly straight and almost the entire trail is visible from the ground, it even fulfills the visual impact of the trope. Climbing it fulfills that part of the trope too - it's considered a famously hard workout, as not only do you have to climb the equivalent of the Shanghai Tower's height in stairs, the trailhead is nearly 7000 ft in elevation, so altitude becomes a significant factor as soon as you start climbing.
- A stairway leads from the village of Kilpisjärvi, Finland, to the top of mount Saana (altitude 1029 m). It is the longest stairway in Finland
- During the Cold War, there was the apocriphal tale of a Soviet architect who designed a residential building but failed to include an elevator. As a "reward", the Party gave him the penthouse.
- Just about any very tall skyscraper will have these; as convenient and nigh-mandatory as elevators are for climbing these buildings, they still require stairs in case of the elevators being unavailable (due to emergency or malfunction).