The 6 Greatest Elevator Scenes in Movies

Film-fanatics, Netflix-lovers and the Hollywood-obsessed, here’s some lighthearted entertainment. Discover the elevator scenes in movies you need to know, both old and new, that will surely put your movie trivia to the test.

In the eyes of Hollywood elevators are more than just a means of transportation, they are a tool that sets a mood and brings characters together. Whether it’s by chance for a romantic meet cute or sworn enemies trapped in a confined space, elevators always create tension because (no matter the scene) there’s nowhere to run.

Read on to see if your favourite movie made the cut.

1. North By Northwest (1959)

Elevator scenes in movies | North By North West
Image: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

The elevator scene in the 1959 Hitchcock classic, North By Northwest, provides a moment of comedic relief within this suspenseful mystery. 

After Roger Thornhill (Carey Grant) unsuccessfully tries to convince his mother (Jessie Royce Landis) that his life is in danger, she innocently jokes to two men in their elevator ride (who are indeed trying to kill Roger) about her son’s situation:

“You gentleman aren’t really trying to kill my son are you?”

Everyone in the lift laughs… except for Roger. 

This scene is a great example of how Hitchcock chooses to shift the film’s tone frequently throughout. 

Directed: Alfred Hitchcock

Rated: PG

2. Drive (2011)

The elevator scene in Nicolas Winding Refn’s critically acclaimed 2011 action-drama, Drive, serves as a key turning point in the film. Only three minutes long it is one of the most memorable moments in the film. The elevator setting works twofold in this scene. Firstly its dim lighting and confined space creates intimacy between The Driver (Ryan Gosling) and Irene (Carey Mulligan). Secondly, the confined space becomes much more problematic when a hitman joins them. This leaves The Driver no choice but to expose the violent lengths he will go to to protect Irene, but in doing so risks his chance of a future with her.

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Rated: MA15+

3. You’ve Got Mail (1998)

While we hope you never get stuck in an elevator, the stuck elevator scene in You’ve Got Mail provides a critical turning point for Joe’s (Tom Hanks) character. With himself, his girlfriend Patricia (Parker Posey) and two others trapped mid journey, everyone starts to re-evaluate their lives. It’s at this moment that Joe finally realises exactly what he wants, or more accurately who he wants. 

Director: Nora Ephron 

Rated: PG

4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

The elevator scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier is definitely an iconic one. Here the elevator setting is used as a trapping agent, as disguised Hydra officers set out to ambush Captain America. He pre-empts their attack asking:

“Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?” 

From there, he single handedly takes them all on, winning in an awesome display of power and strength. This scene was doubly significant at the time of the film’s release with huge speculation amongst Marvel fans at the time about whether or not Captain America was going to be killed off.

Director: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo
Rated: M

5. The Departed (2006)

The Departed is an iconic Cop Drama / Irish Mob film set in New York which also utilises an elevator for one of its key scenes. It’s hard to talk about this scene without giving away major spoilers but for those who have seen it, you will know just how much tension, suspense and pure shock you felt while watching it (and how that was largely facilitated by the elevator setting). Firstly the elevator provides a quiet moment between Sullivan (Matt Damon) and Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), who at this point had spent the entire film trying to learn the identity of one another. Secondly, the shock of what awaits the two on the other side of the opening elevator doors is what cements this scene as utterly jaw dropping.

Director: Martin Scorsese 

Rated: MA15+

6. Willy Wonka (1971) 

If we’re talking about iconic elevator movie scenes, it just wouldn’t be right to leave out the great glass elevator from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Willy Wonka. Who could forget the magnificent moment when they break through the factory ceiling and soar through the sky. The Roald Dahl elevators provided two of the most memorable and magical cinema moments ever.  As the elevator bursts through the roof of the factory and flies Charlie, Wonka and Grandpa Joe over their city, it is here that Wonka reveals his true intention behind the magical golden tickets and the children’s visit.. We also got an equally magical reboot of this classic scene in the 2005 Tim Burton adaptation, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. 

Director: Mel Stuart

Rated: G

Elevator scenes in movies | Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Image: Warner

So how did your trivia match up with these elevator movie moments? 

If you’ve missed some of these movies add them to your weekend watch list; order your favorite take out and treat yourself to an evening on the couch. Honourable mentions that just missed the cut include The Shining (1980), Speed (1994), The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) and Inception (2010). 

Responsible for nail-biting tension, comedic relief and shock filled plot twists, these really are some of the greatest elevator scenes in movies.



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