In the world of film, an elevator can be a wonderful source of comedy and drama. An elevator is something many people use every day, whether this be in an apartment building, at work or at a shopping mall. People share elevators with others, with which naturally comes a whole heap of awkwardness – you have to stand in a big metal box in complete silence, waiting impatiently for the elevator to reach your floor, all the while trying to hold in that big fart you’ve been holding in ever since you stepped foot through the automatic doors. With all of this natural tension, it’s of little wonder that cinema has latched onto this everyday experience.
Elevator scenes have been used in comedies; the aforementioned feeling of social awkwardness provides much potential for a whole array of LOL-worthiness. They have been used in horrors; the feeling of claustrophobia that many experience when inside an elevator can be taken advantage of, with victims helplessly trapped inside an inescapable box that’s dangling on a wire. They have been used in thrillers and actioners; the inescapable box dangling on a wire can provide a cramped setting for suspenseful action sequences. In short, elevators provide much potential for effective moments in cinema and have been the setting of many great scenes in many great movies. Anyway, let’s take a look at the ten best elevator scenes from the world of film. Caution: some of the scene descriptions contain spoilers.
10. “Liar Liar” (1997)
We start the list with “Liar Liar,” a Jim Carrey fantasy comedy from “Ace Ventura” director Tom Shadyac. Carrey plays Fletcher Reede, a successful lawyer who, after his disappointed son’s birthday wish magically comes true, is physically incapable of telling a single lie for a whole 24 hours. One result of this disability is hilariously horrible embarrassment for Fletcher when he enters an elevator with a, shall we say, well-endowed lady (she’s got big boobies!). “New in the building?” queries Fletcher, a slight grin on his face. “Yeah, I just moved in Monday,” the lady cheerfully answers. “Everybody’s been real nice.” “Well, that’s because you have big jugs,” Fletcher bluntly replies. “I mean, your boobs are huge!” he desperately tries to correct himself. “I mean, I wanna squeeze ‘em!” he continues before exclaiming the word, “Mama,” puckering up and making loud sucking noises. After a big, hard, well-deserved thwack to the eye, a mortified Fletcher exits the elevator, holding onto his face as the cross-armed lady stares scornfully from inside the elevator. Briliant.
9. “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” (1991)
There’s a whole boatload of high-octane, action-packed set-pieces in James Cameron’s sci-fi masterpiece, “Terminator 2: Judgement Day;” this elevator scene, coming halfway through the film, is naturally one of the smaller ones, but also one of the most intense ones. The scene takes place in a mental asylum, where heroic robot the Terminator (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) and future resistance leader John Connor (played by Edward Furlong) are busting out John’s wrongly committed mother, Sarah (played by Linda Hamilton). Meanwhile, shape-shifting villainous robot the T-1000 (played by Robert Patrick) is in hot pursuit of the escaping trio, who run into the asylum’s elevator together. Not one to give up easily, the T-1000 cranks open the elevator doors, jumps down the elevator shaft, lands on top of the elevator, turns his arms into sharp-pointed blades and begins frantically stabbing through the elevator roof. The Terminator and Sarah both shoot through the ceiling to no avail; Sarah then has her shoulder sliced by Edward Blade-Hands moments before she exits with John and the Terminator when the elevator finally reaches the car park. It’s ever so intense.
8. “Final Destination 2” (2003)
In the first (and best) sequel of the very popular “Final Destination” franchise, an elevator is the cause of an innocent woman’s horrible death. This innocent woman is Nora Carpenter (played by Nora Boyd), a grieving mother who has recently cheated death and as such is on a “list” created by Death himself – she soon discovers that it is her name that is next to be crossed out. After leaving the group of fellow death-cheaters she’s been tagging along with, Nora gets in an elevator with fellow death-cheater Eugene (played by Terrence C. Carson) and a creepy-looking man carrying a box full of hooks. It is then that Nora receives a phone call warning her that a man with hooks will be the cause of her death. In the ensuing panic, Nora’s head gets stuck between the elevator doors as the faulty elevator begins to rise. And, in spite of the best efforts of Eugene, the man with hooks and two other death-cheaters to save her, Nora is slowly but surely decapitated as the elevator stubbornly lurches its way upwards. Take the stairs next time, dear.
7. “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991)
The elevator scene in Jonathan Demme’s Oscar-winning thriller “The Silence of the Lambs” arrives during Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins)’s elaborate escape from his heavily guarded jail cell in a Tennessee courthouse. While taking an unconscious, heavily injured guard down to the ground floor in the building’s elevator, police officers notice that there is blood dripping down from the top of the ceiling. Fellow police officers then take a look down the elevator shaft and spot Lecter lying face-down on top of the elevator. They give him a warning shot, shooting him in the leg, but the body does not react; maybe he’s unconscious, maybe he’s dead. Some police officers then hesitantly open the elevator’s hatch and watch as Lecter’s unconscious body swings down and dangles from the roof above – only it’s not Lecter’s body; it is in fact a guard who has had his face ripped off. Meanwhile, in the middle of a speeding ambulance, Hannibal Lecter rises up from a gurney, removes the guard’s face (which he has been using as a mask) from his, and promptly kills the unsuspecting attendant sitting in front of him. Oh Lecter, you sneaky swine, you.
6. “The Blues Brothers” (1980)
The elevator scene in John Landis’ comedy classic “The Blues Brothers” takes place during the hilariously psychotic climax of this hilariously psychotic film. Brothers Jake (played by John Belushi) and Elwood Blues (played by Dan Aykroyd) are on the run from the law. Clad in the sharp suits, fedora hats and snazzy shades they’re known to wear on occasion, Jake and Elwood enter an elevator in the Chicago City Hall building with the intention of paying a tax bill on the top floor. Meanwhile, hundreds of police officers, state troopers, SWAT teams, fire fighters and military police surround and invade the building, determined to catch and arrest the two brothers. We intercut between these two parallel scenes, one of which is a calm and casual elevator ride, complete with relaxing elevator muzak (commonly used bossa nova hit “The Girl from Ipanema”), while the other is a batshit insane display of madness and mayhem as dozens of law officers clamber up a staircase, gripping onto their guns and yelling at the top of their lungs. The result of this juxtaposition is comedic genius.
5. “Total Recall” (1990)
Here’s another scene starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, this time in Paul Verhoeven’s stylishly violent sci-fi actioner “Total Recall.” Here, Arnie plays Douglas Quaid (no relation to Dennis), a construction worker in the future who’s found himself stuck on planet Mars and in a whole lotta danger. During an action-packed sequence towards the end of the film, Quaid chases the villainous Richter (played by Michael Ironside) into an elevator with no walls. As the elevator gradually climbs towards the all-important control room, Quaid and Richter have a little struggle, during which Richter is thrown off the side of the elevator. However, Quaid grabs Richter’s arms and holds onto him long enough for Richter’s arms to be torn off by a dead end, following which Richter presumably falls to his well-deserved death. “See you at the party, Richter!” yells Quaid before throwing Richter’s newly amputated arms off the side of the elevator. That’s some mighty good disarming there, Schwarzenegger.
4. “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (1971)
Now, this scene doesn’t take place in any ordinary elevator; no no, this scene takes place in the great glass Wonkavator. As Mr Willy Wonka (the enigmatic Gene Wilder) proudly points out, a normal elevator can only go up and down, while the Wonkavator can go sideways and slantways and longways and backways and frontways and squareways and any other ways that you can think of. The wonderful Wonkavator is in fact the very last thing we see of Wonka’s magnificently whacky and occasionally disturbing chocolate factory. Wonka, young Charlie (played by Peter Ostrum) and Grandpa Joe (played by Jack Albertson) enter the Wonkavator, in which Wonka tells Charlie to push the big red button. Charlie does so, causing the elevator to begin rising and rising, rising faster and faster until it eventually smashes its way through the factory’s glass ceiling and flies high above Charlie’s home town. As the Wonkavator flies high in the sky, Wonka informs Charlie that he is the heir to Wonka’s chocolate factory. Hooray! Charlie then sadly died of morbid obesity years later.
3. “Dressed to Kill” (1980)
This elevator scene is a very Hitchcockian moment in a very Hitchcockian movie. In Brian DePalma’s erotic crime thriller “Dressed to Kill,” a woman is violently murdered inside the inescapable setting of – you guessed it – an elevator. This woman is frustrated housewife Kate Miller (played by Angie Dickinson), who has just embarked on a one-night stand with a stranger in his apartment. Having just discovered that the stranger has an STD, Kate leaves in horror and realises she has left her wedding ring on top of the guy’s nightstand. So, she re-enters the building’s elevator, is taken up to his floor and is about to stroll out to the corridor before coming face to face with a blonde woman sporting a pair of sunglasses and brandishing a shaving blade. The mysterious assailant slices open Kate’s hand, enters the elevator with her and hacks Kate to bits as the elevator rides its way back down the building. Meanwhile, a call girl awaits the elevator on another floor and gets quite a shock when the elevator doors open up. She is also very nearly slaughtered herself, but is saved at the nerve-shredding last second by the sight of the hiding assailant in the elevator mirror. It’s heart-racing stuff and magnificently gruesome.
2. “Drive” (2011)
This scene from last year’s mesmerising crime-thriller “Drive” is a thing of rare beauty. It starts off tense: tight-lipped, nameless hero the Driver (played by Ryan Gosling) and love interest Irene (played by Carey Mulligan) enter the elevator of their apartment building with a rather suspicious-looking man whom The Driver notices is hiding a pistol in his jacket pocket. It then turns romantic: the Driver gently nudges Irene to the side and passionately kisses her as the film’s speed very effectively slows down. It then turns unexpectedly violent: the Driver grabs the back of the mysterious man’s head, smashes his face into the elevator’s wall, gets him on the ground on his back and starts frantically smashing his head in with the bottom of his shoe, eventually turning the man’s skull into a squishy pile of red goo. Beautiful, as I said.
1. “The Departed” (2006)
I suspect that when you, dear reader, read the title of this article, “The Departed” was the first film to pop into your head; it certainly was for me when I came up with the idea of writing this article. Martin Scorsese’s foul-mouthed, ultraviolent, Oscar-winning crime drama has one of the most infamous elevator scenes ever committed to celluloid. The scene I speak of takes place about fifteen minutes towards the end of the film. Police informant Billy Costigan (played by Leonardo diCaprio) is beyond pissed off with corrupt cop Colin Sullivan (played by Matt Damon), whom Billy intends to arrest for generally just being a sneaky bastard. Following a brutal fight on the rooftop of a derelict building, Billy drags a handcuffed Colin into the elevator and waits for them to reach the ground floor. “Just fucking kill me,” pleads a desperate Colin. “I am killing you,” replies Billy. The elevator reaches the ground floor. The elevator doors open. Billy prepares to exit, and then BAM!! Billy’s dead, lying on the floor, his blood sprayed all across the wall, a bullet in his brain, shot by one of Colin’s best buddies. Betcha didn’t see that comin’, did ya?
Honourable mentions: “(500) Days of Summer” (2009), “Aliens” (1986), “Barton Fink” (1991), “Borat” (2006), “Diamonds are Forever” (1971), “Die Hard” (1988), “Die Hard with a Vengeance” (1995), “The Eye” (2002), “Fatal Attraction” (1987), “Gremlins 2: The New Batch” (1990), “North by Northwest” (1959), “Oldboy” (2003), “Resident Evil” (2002), “Speed” (1994), “Spider-Man 2” (2004)
Special honourable mention: “The Shining” (1980), which was not included because THAT scene doesn’t technically take place inside an elevator – marvellously haunting moment, though.