Elevator Failure

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Elevators (or lifts as they are called in the UK) are pretty mundane devices. They go up, they go down, and they move people and property vertically. The general rule of the elevator business is that, when their job is done right, you don't even notice the trip. There's a reason for this: because elevators carry people and improper operation can result in injury or death, there are various rules. Elevators have certain codes and requirements, generally have to be inspected every year, and will be ordered out of service if unsafe.

But sometimes, that's exactly what happens. Because of tampering, inadequate maintenance, or unusual environmental conditions, something goes wrong with an elevator, with very bad results.

Note that this trope deals with ordinary elevators that fail or are sabotaged by someone. When the elevator itself can make itself fail, that's not Elevator Failure, that's Evil Elevator.

Examples of Elevator Failure include:

Anime & Manga

  • Nephrite tries to kill Sailor Moon by sabotaging an elevator. Zoicite tries to do it to get rid of both her and Tuxedo Mask.
  • The Teddy Bomber tries to kill Spike and Andy in the Cowboy Bebop episode "Cowboy Funk" with a sabotaged elevator; instead of plummeting to the bottom, it's rigged to go to the top of the building, causing a bomb to explode. Andy anticipated this scenario and changed the codes on the elevator controls so he could stop it; unfortunately so did Spike, making them what the bomber set originally.
  • In Cardcaptor Sakura, Eriol magically traps Sakura and Li in an elevator. The results are adorable.

Films -- Live Action

  • A View to a Kill features James Bond and The Bond-Girl stuck in one of these—made more dangerous as the Big Bad (Christopher Walken) has just firebombed the thing.
  • Devil is about five people who get trapped in an elevator by none other than the Devil himself, who slowly kills each one off.
  • In Die Hard:
    • John McClane drops a chair with C-4 explosive tied to it down a shaft in order to kill some terrorists on a lower floor.
    • Because a bomb blew up the roof of the building, an elevator stops on the floor John McClane is on, with a little "ding", and instead of the doors opening the elevator explodes.
  • In Earthquake:
    • A dam inspection elevator has been flooded, and when an inspector uses it, he never comes back. Two other men call for the elevator to go look for him, only to have the elevator open, dumping a full cab of water on them and the man's body. This is later lampshaded when someone says they shouldn't panic over the incident, and one of the other inspectors responds sarcastically, "Yeah, right, people drown in elevators every damn day."
    • An elevator in a highrise fails, and an aftershock knocks it off the rails, causing it to plummet, killing the passengers.
  • The aptly named Romanian film Elevator is about two teenagers that get trapped in an abandoned warehouse elevator, with no one who can hear them and rescue them. The movie ends with both characters hopelessly expecting to die inside.
  • Variation in |Mission Impossible: one of Ethan's crew is atop an elevator. Someone (later revealed to be the team boss) hacks the elevator to make it go straight up into triggered spikes.
  • In Speed, a man wires the cables on an elevator with explosives, blows them (while people are on the elevator), then wants $3 million or he blows the emergency brakes.
  • The Towering Inferno has:
    • Several firefighters have to climb out of an elevator and rappel down after power fails.
    • Some people take an elevator after being told not to take it, because it could stop on the floor where the fire is. It does exactly that, and they are burned to death.
    • The glass elevator needs to be rewired so it can be lowered after the power fails, but it is knocked off its rail. It ends up being cut loose and lowered by helicopter.


  • Arthur Hailey's Hotel culminates with a poorly maintained hotel elevator falling down, snapping in two and dropping some of the passengers through the hole to injury or death.
    • In Overload, a nurse and a janitor get stuck in an elevator during the climactic power outage. Problem is, the nurse works for a paraplegic woman whose wheelchair got drained of power when they were shopping earlier, and the nurse forgot to change it for the charged one before she stepped out, simply plugging in the chair. The pair even try to go out through the hatch, and fail. The narration points out that even if they had made it out, they'd still be stuck in the shaft. The nurse starts crying when she remembers the battery, and the woman eventually asphyxiates.
  • The Father Brown story "The Eye of Apollo" deals with the mystery of a body found at the bottom of the elevator shaft. The solution is that she was blind, and the murderer tricked her into thinking the elevator was there, and she fell down the shaft.
  • Inverted in Agatha Christie's Towards Zero: the murderer places an "out of order" sign on the elevator, so the elderly victim takes the stairs instead, and suffers a heart attack.
  • In of the Alex Rider novels, a contract killer kills his target by sabotaging his elevator, causing it to go up one floor higher than it normally would and then leaving a sophisticated hologram of the elevator in it's place, causing the target to step into the empty shaft and fall to his death.
  • Occasionally used in the Give Yourself Goosebumps series. The books were fonder of Evil Elevator, but there were a few endings where you would fall down an elevator shaft while running from a monster, or similar.
  • Sweet Valley University, a spin-off of Sweet Valley High, had a book called "The Roommate" that copied the plot of Single White Female, where Isabella acquires a roommate who begins imitating her and taking over her life. At the end of the story the roommate falls to her death down an elevator shaft during a psychotic episode.

Live Action TV

  • In the Criminal Minds episode "Scared To Death", Reid, Morgan and Hotch are investigating an apartment. While Reid and Morgan ride an elevator, Hotch (wisely) takes the stairs. It gets stuck, and then proceeds to drop suddenly. They hit the emergency button, Morgan tries to pry the door open, Reid panics, and they both scream (well, Reid squeaks) for Hotch before it finally opens and they stumble out. Which can be seen here.

Hotch: Was that the alarm? You guys okay?
Reid: I'll get back to you on that.

  • In an episode of L.A. Law, Rosalind Shays turns to step into the elevator, but it was an error. The bell went off and the door opened, but the car wasn't there and she stepped into an empty elevator shaft.
  • One episode of Castle had the protagonist (Who was paranoid about being cursed by an ancient Mayan Emperor at the time) get trapped in a broken elevator, which goes pitch black and then creepily green.
  • The iCarly episode iSaw Him First has the girls fighting over a guy, and at the end he gets fed up and leaves... accidentally stepping into an empty elevator shaft. Believe it or not, it's Played for Laughs.
  • On Friends, Joey's character is killed off Days of Our Lives when he falls down an elevator shaft. Of course, it's a soap opera, so he comes back to life.
  • In one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, alien programming starts to take over the computer, causing numerous problems. When Geordi La Forge takes a turbolift (an elevator that can also travel sideways), he ends up violently thrown around and pinned to the walls and ceiling. When it finally comes to a stop, he is thrown violently out of the turbolift and onto the bridge.
    • In another episode the Enterprise encounters a cosmic string fragment, causing massive damage throughout the ship. When it hits Captain Picard is in the turbolift with three children (a situation he wasn't exactly thrilled about to begin with), and the impact is so violent he breaks his leg. Later on they discover that one of the safety clamps has been damaged, forcing all four to climb out before the turbolift plummets to the bottom of the shaft.
  • In one episode of 1000 Ways to Die, a mean office manager suffers a Karmic Death this way. While attempting to escape from a stopped elevator, the brakes fail and she is crushed/bisected.
  • In one episode of Boy Meets World, Cory has a nightmare where he pushes all of his friends down an empty elevator shaft.
  • Jam had a sketch where an office elevator breaks down, but because the security guard has a speech impediment, he isn't able to warn people in time and they all plunge screaming to their deaths.
  • One episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show has Rob and Laura (pregnant in a flashback) mugged while in an elevator. The mugger simply pressed the stop button on the elevator so he could hold them up, but pressing the resume button does nothing. The entire episode is devoted to Rob, Laura, and the mugger trying to find a way out and hoping Laura doesn't go into labor while in the stopped elevator. At one point the mugger reads the inspection record of the elevator and finds that just this year they switched inspectors. Dick even climbs out the top of the elevator but only reads a sarcastic comment left by the building workers.

Rob:"In (year), John Freeny laid these bricks. I want to wish you lots of luck, cause if you're reading this you're stuck!"

  • In the CSI episode "CSI Unplugged", Hodges and Henry get stuck in the elevator when the lab and all of Las Vegas loses power.
  • In the Bones episode "The Blackout in the Blizzard", Bones and Booth are stuck in an old elevator in Booth's apartment building.
  • Ziva and McGee are trapped in the NCIS episode "Power Down".
  • Bud takes the elevator not realizing it is malfunctioning in the JAG episode "Yeah Baby".
  • Happens to Chuck in the Early Edition episode "Baby".
  • Monk gets stuck in the episode "Mr Monk and the Blackout".
  • Magnum and Higgins in the Magnum, P.I. episode "Paper War".
  • In Modern Family's third-season episode "Tableau Vivant", Mitchell is stuck in an elevator with its doors not quite closed right after Phil finally tells him he's fired.
  • In The Big Bang Theory, the elevator in Sheldon, Leonard and Penny's building is always out of service. In the flashback episode, Leonard reveals that he accidentally blew it up.

Tabletop Games

  • One Paranoia mission uses malfunctioning elevators to the 99th floor as a Running Gag. One has the walls and ceiling rise, while the floor stays in place; another is airtight and slow, leaving the PCs to choose between laser-ventilating the wall (and paying a fine for damaging Computer property) or each other...

Video Games

  • In Half-Life, an elevator carrying some scientists falls, carrying them to their deaths. Elevator failures happen in other parts of the game as well.
  • Final Fantasy VIII had this in Balamb Garden during the evacuation and your party had to use the hatch on the bottom to advance The elevator will fall down immediately after they leave.
  • At one point in Red Faction, an elevator malfunctions and falls into a Bottomless Pit, forcing you to find an alternate route.
  • Happens a few times in the Max Payne games.
  • Marcus Fenix lampshades this tendency in his typical style at around the end of Gears Of War 2.

Marcus: "Unbelievable."

  • In Dead Rising 2, during the beginning of the zombie outbreak, Somebody disguised as Chuck Green places an explosive device on one of the zombie gates that goes off releasing yet another zombie outbreak and when Chuck is on the elevator it suddenly stops in the overtures to the outbreak. Upon forcing the doors open, he almost gets stuck in front of a rampaging zombie coming right at him, but as luck would have it somebody runs right into it and becomes the new target of the zombie, saving Chuck.
  • This happens in Dead Island at the start when you're escaping from the hotel.
  • The elevator you spent a rather long time trying to fix in Amnesia the Dark Descent only fails on you and crashes.
  • This can happen in The Sims 2 - the elevator a sim is in can crash to the bottom, and the unfortunate sim gets a rather large penalty to needs.

Western Animation

  • Happens to Wakko and Dr. Scratchnsniff in an episode of Animaniacs. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Happens to Fred Pacer in Cars 2 during the scene where Finn McMissile is shown fighting off several Lemons in a back alley in Tokyo.

Real Life