High Altitude Interrogation

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"I have to remind you, Sully, this is my weak arm!"

Maroni: From one professional to another, if you're going to threaten somebody, pick a better spot! From this height... the fall wouldn't kill me.

Batman: I'm counting on it.

In fiction, just about everyone is afraid of heights so when the hardass cop or Anti-Hero finally corners one of the Big Bad's friends from his Five-Bad Band who refuses to spill the beans about his boss's Evil Plan on a very high balcony, at the top of a cliff, in a helicopter, or anywhere else that's high off the ground, that hapless mook is guaranteed to be dangled over the edge by our protagonist in an attempt to loosen his lips. With his life literally hanging in the balance, the mook finds himself in a position where he is forced to tell the badass hero whatever he wants to know or be dropped to his death.

In Real Life, however, this is perhaps the SINGLE Worst Interrogation Technique imaginable, taking the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique to new heights in terms of unreliability. Since this method relies so much on threatening to kill the person with the information that the hero is looking to gain, that means following through with the death threat if the mook is non compliant would leave the interrogator without the information he is after or any new leads to follow. Dead men tell no tales, after all, so anyone with any bit of common sense should realize that he would need to keep his man alive if he's ever going to get some answers. Even worse, the informer may believe his interrogator will let him fall to his death no matter what he might say, anyway, which gives him even less incentive to want to cooperate. Torture may make someone committed to their ideals think their interrogator is weak; a death threat makes him look like a huge idiot. There is a variant (actually used in real-life by less than scrupulous intelligence agencies) where you are interrogating multiple suspects, and so throwing the first several to their deaths is being used largely as a device to convince the last ones in line that they really want to start talking, but of course no one has ever actually tried to use information gained in such a way as admissible evidence in a court of law.

Regardless, this technique has a whopping 100% success rate in all fictional formats. The mook will always agree to do whatever the hero asks, and the hero will always gain enough new information to move the story forward. Depending on the hero's morality, he may help his informer regain his footing as a reward for his cooperation before telling him to scram or, if he's a particularly egregious Type IV Anti-Hero or higher, he might just simply let the guy fall to his death, having outlived his usefulness (and, again, a foreseeable conclusion that the mook should easily have expected when his enemy is willing to kill and threatens his life and demands he rat out his only friends and allies). Uncommon cases where someone is dropped from a height that wouldn't prove fatal but would still be pretty harmful would qualify as Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique.

Compare Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique, Torture Always Works, and Dramatic Gun Cock, which also relies on making death threats during interrogations.

Watch out for Unhand Them, Villain! when a bad guy does this. Not to be confused with Dramatic Dangling.

A subtrope of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.

See also Disney Villain Death.

Examples of High Altitude Interrogation include:

Comic Books

  • Batman is famous for this.
    • In both Batman and Superman comics, some mooks have pointed out that the hero is known for never killing, so the threat isn't very convincing. In both cases, the hero has pointed out that just means no one's ever caught them killing someone....
  • The Flash once did this to a mook. The mook taunted that Flash was trying to copy Batman, but Flash drops him, uses his superspeed to catch him, and then continues dangling him.
  • Spider-Man occasionally does this.
  • The Punisher uses this among other interrogation techniques. Like most typical Anti-Heroes, he often does go through with the threat of letting them plummet to death.
    • Probably the only time in which this trope was used sensibly was when General Zakharov was doing this to Rawlings; he had no intention of letting the latter live anyway unless Rawlings came up with an epic Plan under fear of death—if he wasn't able to, well, then no skin off the General's nose.
  • Superman, surprisingly, has done this.
    • On at least one occasion, he dropped a mook, used superspeed to catch him, and said, "Now, we can keep doing this until I get tired, or..."
    • A minor version called "Superman 2020" has Superman's grandson, who has a rougher style, doing a variant. He takes two suspects to a high altitude and demands they talk lest he drops them, but they naturally think he's bluffing. At that, Supes III drops one of them (to a hidden soft landing he prepared earlier) and threatens the other; that crook starts to sing.
    • And his first ever usage of this trope back in the Golden Age was to throw the mook to a high altitude and then catch them on the way down (why being caught by Superman at five feet above ground level is safer than hitting the ground is never mentioned).
  • In the sister series to Irredeemable, Incorruptable, the main character, Max Damage at one point needs to score information from Origin, a mad scientist who specializes in giving people super-powers. He does so by dangling him over a vat of chemicals containing a tentacled monster (in actuality his last client). Afer Damage gets his information, Origin attempts to blackmail him over some information involving his powers. Max responds by blowing up his hideout.
  • In Nemesis the Warlock, Book I, when Brother Gogol insists that he'd rather die than help Nemesis let every alien prisoner and human traitor escape Termight, Nemesis's response is to levitate Brother Gogol and hover him over a cliff until he changes his mind.
  • In the Nikolai Dante story arc "The Great Game," when a spy suggests to Jena Makarov the existence of a superweapon that the Makarov Dynasty does not know about as a means of raising his "bargaining power," Jena responds by hanging the spy over a high balcony by his nostrils and demanding he tell her everything he knows about the weapon or be dropped. The spy is killed by intervening assassination droids shortly after he begins spilling the beans.

Films -- Animation

  • In Bolt, the title talking dog does this to a mook in the TV show, which, per the script, works perfectly. It doesn't work so well when he tries it with Mittens, who isn't part of the TV show, and just tells him what he wants to hear.
  • This is Nigel's method of "negotiating" in Rio.

Films -- Live-Action

  • James Bond does this to a mook in The Spy Who Loved Me and then lets the mook plummet to death when he hears everything he needs.
  • The Four Brothers do this to one of the bad guys they come across early on during their quest to find out who killed their adoptive mother. Like The Punisher above, they also let him fall, but then they continue the interrogation on the ground, since the roof they dropped him from wasn't high enough to kill him, but enough to fuck him up.
  • Bud White interviewing Ellis Loew in L.A. Confidential.
  • At the end of the first Die Hard, and in slomo in the third. Fair enough.
  • Commando: John Matrix (Arnold Schwarzenegger) dangles one of the kidnappers of his daughter above a cliff to make him talk. And then...

Matrix: Remember, Sully, when I promised to kill you last?
Sully: That's right Matrix! You did!
Matrix: I Lied. (drops Sully)

    • This one is actually a lot more cold-blooded. While Sully made it perfectly clear that he would be willing to talk, Matrix had already found the necessary Plot Coupon in his coat pocket before holding him over the cliff's edge. He just brought him there solely to let him go.
  • In A Fish Called Wanda Kevin Kline's criminal does this to John Cleese's barrister to extract an apology for Cleese calling Kline stupid (which Kline's character indubitably is).
  • The fake helicopter drop was used in The Gods Must Be Crazy, leaving the prisoner thrashing on the ground, screaming his head off. To clarify: the helicopter is sitting on the ground with the engine running, and the questioner is threatening to chuck to blindfolded prisoner out (a one meter drop, tops). When the prisoner refuses, he's chucked out, and is screaming the location of his compatriots as he's thrashing on the ground, even when it should be clear to him that he's no longer falling and that the whole thing was a ruse.
  • Batman movies:
    • Batman Begins features the title character dangling and dropping Det. Flass almost as if he were bungee jumping until Batman is satisfied with what information he's given.
    • Subverted and Lampshaded in The Dark Knight, as shown in the page quote above. Batman wasn't threatening to kill Maroni to get his information but to use the situation in a novel way that would actually make this Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique.
      • And Maroni doesn't tell him anything anyway, because he's not going to rat out The Joker for anyone, least of all Batman. "We're on to you," he says. "You've got rules. The Joker has no rules."
    • The Dark Knight Rises also subverts and lampshades this in the first scene of the film. A CIA team has captured a group of Bane's minions and is trying to get Bane's location out of them; they cover them all in hoods, bring one to the door of the plane face down and remove his hood so he can see the ground far below. When he doesn't talk, they put his hood back on, shoot out of the plane, and move him out of the way.
    • In Tim Burton's original Batman movie, Batman does this to a Bit Part Badguys at the beginning of the film. Interestingly for a trope that generally works as a death threat, just before Batman holds the guy over the edge of the building, he tells the mook, "I'm not going to kill you."

Batman: I want you to do me a favor. I want you to tell all your friends about me.
Mook: What are you?
Batman: I'm Batman.

  • Subverted in Tango and Cash: the protagonists try this on a Mook. It doesn't work. Then Tango attaches a grenade to his head and starts to take the pin away slowly with Cash trying to dissuade him. It works. The grenade turns out to be fake.
  • In Bringing Down the House, Charlene (Queen Latifah) holds an (ex) boyfriend over a balcony until he apologizes to the girl.
  • Painfully subverted in Mission: Impossible 3. Ethan has the Big Bad captive in an airplane and after initial interrogation fails, he opens a hatch in the floor and hangs his hostage down the hatch such that he feels the massive winds in his face, meanwhile cutting the zips holding him in his seat. The Big Bad doesn't crack and worse, he learns Ethan's name from the others shouting at him to stop.
  • In Black Dynamite, the title character holds Cream Corn upside down over the edge of a high roof. Cream Corn then tells Dynamite everything he knows.
  • A bit of a variation in the French movie Une chance sur deux. Jean-Paul Belmondo and Alain Delon's characters threaten a corrupt lawyer working for the Russian Mafia to push him from a high bridge above a river, but they have tied his legs to a bungee rope, so after he talks they do push him from the bridge, and watch it dangle, laughing. At least, the first time. The second time, they didn't tie the rope, just put it in the lawyer's hands... and they still push him from the bridge.
  • John Robie (Cary Grant) does an impromptu one in To Catch a Thief.
  • Mick performs one on a hitman in Crocodile Dundee 2.
  • Done in Blade Trinity. A mook is dangled in an attempt to lead the protagonists to the Big Bad, but he refuses to talk. Then his cell rings. Blade answers, tells the mook it's for him, and lets go of the rope.
  • The Live Action Adaptation of MW has Michio doing this to Yamashita, one of the corrupt politicians involved in the titular chemical warfare. When Yamashita refuses to tell Michio the location of the MW, Michio pushes him off the top of a building and threatens to make him fall to his death by cutting a rope. After Michio gets an answer, he cuts off the rope.


  • The protagonist does this to the terrorist who killed his mother in Jumper, but in a particularly nasty way. Davey can teleport, so he teleports the guy to the top of the World Trade Center, drops him, and teleports down to catch him just before he hits the ground. Then he does it again, and again, letting him get closer to the ground with each drop...
  • In "The Green Eagle" Doc Savage captures a group of mooks. To make one talk he hangs him outside a window. When the mook refuses, he drops him. Being a Technical Pacifist, he had Renny and Longjohn catch the mook in a net, but the other mooks don't know that.

Live-Action TV

  • Happens frequently on Chuck with Chuck himself the one being dangled.
  • The Lois and Clark episode "That Old Gang Of Mine" sees Superman do this to John Dillinger (or his clone, anyway).
  • In one episode of The Cape, Vince dangles a corrupt cop by dangling him over a bridge with his cape. It doesn't work.
  • In Burn Notice, Michael and Sam use this technique on two men, blindfolding them and strapping them to chairs that he then kicked out of a window to try to find the boss of a medical scam ring. The interrogatees, however, were in no real danger as their chairs were fastened to safety lines; Michael and Sam's plan was just to pretended they dropped one of them so the other would squeal from terror.
  • The reimagined Hawaii Five-O has McGarret doing this to a Serbian Mafia criminal involved in a kidnaping from the roof of a grand hotel. Danno then chew him on about the right of the suspects.

Video Games

  • In Cold War: On Your Own Behind The Iron Curtain, this is used to get a part of the combination to a safe. However, it really only works because the interrogatee is afraid of heights.
  • The Grand Theft Auto IV expansion The Ballad Of Gay Tony has a mission where the player has to intimidate a Shallow Parody of Perez Hilton into not printing anything about Tony, anymore. Part of this involves throwing him out of a helicopter and catching him before he hits the ground, effectively making him crap his pants in embarrassment.
  • In Mass Effect 2 during Thane's recruitment mission, Shepard happens upon a poor mook, standing too close to a window, in a skyscraper. Shepard asks about Thane, threatening to throw the guy out the window. Subverted in that the mook doesn't have vital information necessary for you to continue the mission, and a renegade Shepard knows it.
  • Batman: Arkham City:
    • The Hugo Strange promotional trailer shows Batman interrogating a Mook in such a manner as this, with Batman demanding to know who sent him and the mook promptly answering, "Hugo Strange."
    • In game, Batman can do this while interrogating Riddler's henchmen, provided that the player performs the interrogation command close enough to a ledge.
    • This is also Batman's chosen method for questioning Quincy Sharp during a cutscene.
  • In one quest line in World of Warcraft's Cataclysm expansion, a Twilight's Hammer higher-up is interrogated this way, with the added feature that he'll suffer Propeller Blender if dropped. At the close, the shaman doing the interrogation reveals that she had several air elementals ready to catch him if he did come loose, so the problem of losing the information with his life was never actually there.

Web Comics

  • The Order of the Stick: We see a flashback of Roy and Durkon dangling the kobold oracle upside-down by a window to get a third prediction, the first two being less than helpful.

Western Animation

  • Justice League
    • In a Time Travel episode, "The Once and Future Thing, Part 2", young Batman does this to Ghoul and the older Bruce Wayne chides his younger self for being "so green" and shows him the proper way to interrogate someone, which then leads to the two of them doing the 'Good Cop, Bad Cop' routine.
    • In another episode, the Flash tries interrogating someone this way. An unimpressed punk points out that "[Flash is] no Batman," at which point the Flash drops him, creates enough of an air cushion to prevent him from splattering, and finds the man much more willing to talk.
  • In The Spectacular Spider-Man episode "Shear Strength," Gwen is being held hostage by The Master Planner, and Spidey attempts to get information out of the captured Tinkerer by dangling him off a building. Tinkerer unwisely calls his bluff, and Spidey really does drop him, only to save him with a webline at the last minute so he'll talk. The best part is Spidey realistically points out that his reflexes might not be enough to pull that trick off a second time.
  • One Robot Chicken sketch revolving around Ted Turner becoming Captain Planet sees him smash through the window of a corporate office while two executives are contemplating dumping polluted waste in the Grand Canyon. Turner then proceeds to hold one of the two men out the window until he agrees to sign a clause agreeing to not dump waste in the Grand Canyon, at which point Ted Turner would agree to let the guy go.
  • In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Leonardo — who by then is going through a "hard-core" phase — attempts this once with an informant in order to get information on the Purple Dragons.
  • In Iron Man: Armored Adventures, War Machine tosses a villain out of a transport helicopter to get him to reveal the whereabouts of Tony, Gene, and Pepper. The first time War Machine catches him, he refuses to crack, so he drops him a second time, this time catching him so the ground is actually in sight. With the prospect that War Machine will keep this up until they close the distance, he breaks.

Real Life

  • During The Vietnam War, captured Viet Cong fighters would be loaded into a helicopter and interrogated in the air. If they didn't talk, they would be thrown out of the helicopter, one-by-one, until either they started talking or until they had all been pushed out. However, they were bindfolded and not aware that the pilot had actually lowered the chopper to a non-fatal level and the POWs only fell a few feet, but the other captives didn't know that—all they could hear was the screams of their comrades.
    • Some Vietcong actually died from the fall; they believed the scenario to the extent that falling out of the helicopter triggered a heart attack from which they died.
  • Suge Knight of Death Row Records implied to Vanilla Ice that his thugs would throw him over a balcony unless he signed over the rights to "Ice, Ice Baby". Tabloid rumors suggested that Knight did this, rather than merely implied it.
  • The soprano Francesca Cuzzoni refused to sing her first aria in Georg Friedrich Händel's Ottone; Händel replied, "Oh! Madame, I know well that you are a real she-devil, but I hereby give you notice, me, that I am Beelzebub, the Chief of Devils!" The historian continued: "With this, he took her up by the waist, and, if she made any more words, swore that he would fling her out of the window."