Why Do Moviemakers Love Elevators?

Building on the anxiety that’s inherent with riding in an elevator, Hollywood has given us some unforgettable moments that take place going up and down. Different moviemakers use the elevator differently, as with most things in Hollywood. Three of these scenes are dramatic, and two are comedic.

Let’s count backward:

5. “The Untouchables”: While transporting a bookkeeper who is to be a witness against Al Capone, Agent Oscar Wallace, as played by Charles Martin Smith, must ride an elevator in the police station. A Capone torpedo named Nitti gets on, too, dressed as a cop. He pulls his gun and coldly executes the bookkeeper and Agent Wallace. Then, he uses their blood to write the word “touchable” on the wall of the elevator.

4. “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”: At the end of the film, Charlie and Joe steal two Fizzy Lifting Drinks, which was against Willie Wonka’s rules. Charlie, therefore, is disqualified from the contest of winning all the chocolate. Charlie is disconsolate, and gives Gobstopper to Slugworth. Lo and behold, it was a test. Charlie passed! Willie Wonka, as played spectacularly by Gene Wilder, take Charlie and Joe on the ride of their lives on the Great Glass Wonkavator, which can go any direction the riders want. He then wills the factory to Charlie for passing the test and retires.

3. “The Shining”: Although this scene doesn’t technically take place in an elevator, the the sight of a giant mechanical arm forcing the elevator doors to go in the wrong direction while hidden in tons of blood is enough to curdle fresh milk.

2. “The Silence of the Lambs”: Hannibal Lecter has killed almost all of the guards who were watching him in his makeshift cell and is roaming free in the building. One of the guards is still barely alive even though he’s been horribly disfigured by Lecter’s teeth. The police surround the man and take him down the elevator to a waiting ambulance as other officers frantically search for Lecter. They discover what they think is Lecter lying on top of the elevator. Suddenly, the grievously injured guard sits up inside the ambulance and lays waste to the personnel inside. It’s Lecter himself, and he’s wearing the bitten-off face of the guard as a disguise.

1. “The Blues Brothers”: When the police corner them in the Cook County office building, where they went to pay off the tax bill for the orphanage, the Blues Brothers blithely enter the elevator to the soothing strains of “The Girl from Ipanema.” When they get to their floor, one of them calmly produces a lighter and an aerosol can from his pocket to form a makeshift flamethrower to fry the elevator circuits in an effort to buy time.