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The shadow was the first clue.

"You know, the strange thing is, the closer it gets, the more it looks like a piano."
Frankie Boyle, Mock the Week, "Unlikely Last Words",

Although killing off characters by dropping large objects on them is something normally reserved for cartoons, it still happens occasionally. But the universe (cough, writers, cough) appreciates irony far more than it should, and therefore sees fit that any character who is killed by a falling object will look up and see it just in time to be flattened.

They will usually be alerted by a whistling sound, combined with the rapidly growing shadow of the object that is around them. Of course, they are always comically slow in looking up to see the object...and even once they see it, they refuse to do anything useful such as leap out of the way. They instead choose to stare at it in shock until they are crushed. Of course, it's probably fairly surprising to see a piano bearing down on you in the middle of the sidewalk...but you would think survival instinct counted for something. Sometimes, a character, if trying to invoke the trope on someone they are fighting against, will also point up slightly to hint that they should look up, to which the enemy inevitably falls for it just as they are flattened.

Keep in mind that, as this trope is particularly common in cartoons, where characters are almost impervious to permanent damage, this trope does not always actually result in death.

Sub-Trope of Death by Irony. Super-Trope of Falling Chandelier of Doom. Almost always used with Death From Above.

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.

Examples of Death by Looking Up include:

Anime & Manga

Films — Animation

  • When Gru attempts for the last time to thwart Vector's fortress in Despicable Me, he looks up after hearing a bunch of guns cocking, and many missile laser sights cover his face. We then get a non-violent Gory Discretion Shot of a mushroom cloud from far away. As with any kid's movie, the scene ends with Gru after a Disney Death. Sort of.
  • In Recess: School's Out, after Gus (who acted as the commander of the children faction of the resistance against Benedict's No Recess group) sprayed soda on the ninjas, the ninjas attempt to attack Gus out of revenge, but then Gus tells them to stop, and then points upward. The Ninjas take the hint and look up... only for Spinelli to flatten them with a flying press.
    • On the topic of the flying press, it was subverted in the only other time it was shown: She was preparing to use it on Gelmond during Wrestling camp. However, TJ and his friends while trying to get her out to investigate suspicious activity at Third Street Elementary caught her midway through performing the move and carried her away without breaking stride. This humorously has Gelmond after a few seconds looking around and then shrugging in confusion while the camera was panned away.
  • At the end of Ice Age, the evil saber-toothed cat Soto is impaled by several falling icicles.
  • At the end of The Pebble and the Penguin, Drake is crushed to death by the very boulder he was attempting to kill Hubie with.

Films — Live-Action

  • James Bond
    • Goldeneye: The death of Janus. Ironic, since he's just survived what seems to be a hundred-meter-fall from the giant parabolic antenna that ends up crushing him.
    • Die Another Day: Bond shoots a a giant chandelier, Zao looks up and screams as it crushes him.
  • The Dark Knight has such a scene, though it's a bit different: it was a car bomb. One of the Joker's victims was given an envelope telling her where she was going into hiding, and the only word inside was "up". She looked up... and then the car went up.
  • Transporter 3: The warehouse fight scene ends with Frank Martin hitting a switch that drops a car onto two temporarily incapacitated bad guys, who look up, scream, and hold their hands up (ineffectually).
  • Over Her Dead Body: The Villain Protagonist dies at the beginning of the film because she just stood there staring at the falling statue, even though she had plenty of time to get out of the way.
  • Mission Impossible: In the opening, the Hacker-type on Tom Cruise's team is killed in this way. However, he was sitting on top of a rising elevator at the time: it rose upwards and drove his face into some spikes (not to mention being crushed as well).
  • The Dragon from Lethal Weapon 2 got a face full of shipping container.
  • Subverted in The Return of the King, where Gothmog stares at the huge chunk of rock that is about to crush him, only to take a step back at the last second, causing it to miss him completely. And then he spits on it.
  • The villain of Con Air, following a long and difficult death process, ends up on a conveyor belt... and is condemned to see the rock crusher at the end of it.
  • One of the victims in Final Destination 2 looks up just in time to see a large window literally smash him into a bloody mess.
    • The next two Final Destination films pay homage to that particular scene by reusing the same camera position showing the victim(s) that are about to be crushed looking up at the camera (and their impending doom). In the third, it's done with a falling cherry picker near the end of the film, and in the fourth, it's done in the opening disaster with a collapsing stone bleacher. The latter of the two notably kills off two people at the same time.


  • According to urban legend, turkeys and/or chickens are so stupid that if it rains they'll look up to see what's hitting them and drown. Again, however, urban legend. There is a medical condition that effects turkeys, causing them to "stargaze," but it is caused by a nutritional imbalance in their diet and not stupidity. The "drowning in the rain" part comes from farmers joking that if it rains while the turkeys are looking up, then they would drown. And now you know.


  • Happens to mountain lion Sharptooth in Warrior Cats when Feathertail knocks a stalactite off the ceiling of the cave.
  • In the first Redwall book, Cluny the Scourge is rooted to the spot in shock, staring up at the bell falling from above.

Live-Action TV

  • Dead Like Me
    • The show starts off with George looking up at the sky to see a toilet seat from orbit smite her. Considering that it is moving at terminal velocity and would be more than "fairly" surprising, I do think it is quite justified that she doesn't do more than say, "Oh Shit".
    • Later in the pilot episode, an unnamed woman is crushed by, yes, a falling piano. She does look up, although not soon enough to have gotten out of the way.
  • Dr. Romano from ER looked up just in time to see a helicopter crash on him, killing him. This after he had survived a helicopter cutting off his arm; they really don't like him.
  • A Victim of the Week on Castle looked up to see a gargoyle's head dropping down upon him.
  • Supernatural likes playing with this trope. The first time it happens, a piano is dropped on him, but he didn't look up. The second time, both Sam and Dean do look up, but then time freezes and when the wardrobe finally does hit the ground, they're not in the same position as before.


  • From the Lovin' Spoonful song "Pow!":

 When they're droppin' a piano from the forty-seventh floor

I'm the guy underneath 'em lookin' up...

  • Parodied in Los Prisioneros's "We are South American Rockers", where some paint-filled eggs were thrown around in the video and the last one, right as the song finishes, is tossed with whistling sound effect and as if it was a piano, as the group members stare in horror.

Video Games

  • At the end of Resident Evil: Code Veronica, Wesker, having just opened a can of whupass on Chris, does a leaping punch to finish him, but Chris uses his last ounce of strength to fling himself out of the way out of Wesker's attack and straight at a lever. Cue loud noises, and Wesker looking up just in time to catch an I-beam with his face right before an entire pile lands on him. Subverted into a Hope Spot, however, considering what said character's already had happen to him.
  • The Legend of Zelda
    • In the series, there was a returning enemy called a stairmaster wallmaster, which would appear suddenly in dungeons, scare the crap outta you, grab onto your face, and pull you into oblivion. In most games this would incur some damage, and if you were on the brink of doom, you would crumple to the ground as soon as you reappeared at the beginning of the dungeon.
    • In The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time and its semi-sequel, The Legend of Zelda Majoras Mask, a wallmaster attack was foreshadowed by a Nightmare Fuel-inducing whooshing noise and a growing shadow under you that followed you around. But whether it be by glitch or purposeful subversion, the best way to instantly avoid this creature was, ironically, by looking up.
    • The Legend of Zelda the Wind Waker: Ganon getting the Master Sword right through his forehead.
  • This has a very low chance of happening in The Sims 2 when sky- or star-gazing: they look up shortly before dying from falling satellite. On the plus side, you can sell the satellite in question for fun and profit afterward. No, really.
  • This happens in Brutal Legend to General Lionwhyte, though somewhat averted; he looks up in time to see a giant mirror falling towards him, and reacts in time by shattering it with his voice... resulting in his death by multiple shards of broken mirror.
  • Asylum: This is a text-with-maze-graphics adventure game for the TRS-80. The plot of the adventure requires the use of this trope. At one point in the game, you find a written note that says "look up". If you do, a piano immediately falls on your head and kills you, implying that there's a concert grand hovering over your head for the entire game just daring you to look at it. To kill an inmate who would otherwise murder you, you have to show the note to him, causing him to look up and get a piano dropped on his head.
  • The Elder Scrolls: Averted in the Skyrim trailer, in which the fellow looks up and then proceeds to unleash his fury on the offending dragon.

Web Comics

Web Original

  • In part two of Nazo Unleashed, Super Sonic rushes into space and then aims back at Nazo back on earth in a manner similar to a meteor. When Super Sonic is close to impact, Super Shadow, who is currently fighting Nazo at this point, points up slightly. Nazo takes the hint and looks up... only for Super Sonic to collide into him and seriously injure him.

Western Animation

  • Family Guy had something of a parody of this in a Manatee Gag—the man in "Hiroshima, August 1945" having the Worst Day Ever looks up as a shadow grows over him and a whistling sound is heard, gives a slow, awed "Oh my god..." and gets hit by... an escaped baboon which proceeds to claw his face off. Worst Day Ever, indeed.
  • A running gag in Metalocalypse is that some unlucky patron (usually a audience member or a production staff) looks up just as chaos erupts. And something sharp flies through the air then impales him in the face.
  • From Winnie the Pooh: "What do Jagulars do?" "Well, they always call 'Halloo!' And when you look up, they drop on you." "I'm looking d-down, Pooh."
  • Wile E. Coyote has been known to look up just in time to see giant boulders, etc., fall on him. Made more hilarious when he tries to protect himself with a tiny umbrella.
  • The brilliant indie computer-animation short Pigeon Impossible has the lead pigeon meeting its demise in this manner while eating the all-important bagel for which much of Washington, DC was destroyed.
  • Happened to 45 in the unaired version of the Invader Zim Most Horrible X-Mas Ever. Since this took place after the regular series, it can be assumed he was Killed Off for Real.

Real Life

  • Rock climbers never yell "heads up" or "look out" for exactly this reason; people looking up may get hit in the unprotected face instead of on the top of their helmets. Instead, climbers shout "Rock!" (even if what's falling is a piece of equipment or some other non-rock object), which means to get your head down and stand close to the wall. If something very large falls, the shout is instead "Boulder!", which means you should look up, at least so you can see what's about to smash you.
  • Similarly, at least one construction company has "don'bethere!" as a code word for telling people to vacate where they're standing, without wasting any time to "look out" or figure out where to "move."
  • Theater. One of the first things they teach on tech crew is don't look up when people yell "heads up," as that's a great way to get a faceful of molten plastic, shattered glass, broken light, falling planks . . . you get the picture. Run, duck, cover your head, just don't look up.