36

The first recorded cliffhanger (sudden dramatic plot changes at the end of an episode, with the intention of encouraging the audience to view the next episode) was Thomas Hardy's A Pair of Blue Eyes, where one of the main characters was literally hanging off a cliff. This eventually led to all these kind of suspensions at the end being called 'cliffhangers'.

However, while I know numerous figurative cliffhangers, and scenes where somebody hangs from a cliff in the middle of an episode or movie, I can't recall an instance from (relatively) modern TV series (or movies, for that matter, but they tend to have much less cliffhangers in general) where somebody is left hanging off a cliff. Is the term only being used figuratively nowadays?

There have been a lot of scenes which I'd personally classify under clifffallers or cliffjumpers; actual cliffhangers are preferred but those examples are interesting nonetheless.

  • To be clear: you are looking for a literal cliffhanger in a TV episode that took place relatively recently? Could I ask, just to make the criteria more explicit, what you were thinking of as your lower limit (60s<, 70s<, 80s<, 90s<, early 2000s, etc.) and also whether you are excluding movies from your desired query results? – Ghoti and Chips Sep 2 '17 at 11:51
  • @GhotiandChips movies would be fine as well, but they tend to have less cliffhangers in general. The newer, the better; I'm not sure if I should put a limit to the episode's age. I don't really want to, but if that's better for the question, I'll let the community decide on this. – Glorfindel Sep 2 '17 at 11:58
  • I couldn't nail specifics, but Dr Who used to do cliffhangers every time there was to be a continuation episode of the same story. – Tetsujin Sep 2 '17 at 12:09
  • Posted an example from the 00s, but I guess it depends on the definition. Can they fall off the cliff or must they hang from it? Does it have to happen at the end of the episode, or can it happen before a commercial break or even just at the end of a scene? – Walt Sep 2 '17 at 12:46
  • Maybe pedantic, but where do you land on a character falling off a cliff at the end of one episode, and then being revealed to hang onto the cliff in the next episode? Are you looking for instances where the cliffhanger itself is someone hanging off of a cliff (thus making my example invalid), or any cliffhanger that could also later be answered by someone hanging off a cliff (thus mking my example valid)? – Flater Sep 4 '17 at 8:39
36

I can recall a few instances of using cliffs/cliffhangers within an episode of a tv show or film, but I'm struggling to think of an episode or a film that ends in a cliffhanger, except Big Little Lies, Hannibal, Game of Thrones, and possibly Alias.

Cliffhangers in episodes

LOST - 1x05 "White Rabbit" John saves Jack when he goes a over a cliff after chasing his father.

Jack White Rabbit

2x21 "?" John Dreams of Echo climbing the cliff from where the airplane fell and looks down to reveal the Pear Dharma station. In the dream Eco falls, playing on John's conscious in terms of what happened to Boone and foreshadowing Eko's role, as the plane was the plane his brother left Nigeria on.

John Dreams of Eco and Pearl Station

Game of Thrones - Wall Climbing/Crumbling Motifs

3x06 "The Climb" - Jon, Ygritte, and Wildlings Climb Crumbling Wall. Ygriite Falls, Jon is able to hold onto them both.

Tormund - Climbing Treacherous Wall

7x07 "The Dragon and the Wolf" - End of Episode/Season 7 Finale - The knight King and Ice Dragon Collapse Wall/East Watch - Fates of Characters at Wall (Tormund, Beric, Edd) currently unknown.

Kight King Ice Dragon

Note: Philosophy "The Climb is All There Is" = Thematic.

Stranger Things 1x06 "Chapter 6" - Eleven Saves Mike From Jumping Off Cliff

Mike Falling

Big Little Lies (Mini series) Episode 1.04 "Push Comes to Shove" - Episode Literally Ends with Jane about to jump off a Cliff!

Jane running toward cliff

Note: Cliffs are thematic to Big Little Lies foreshadowing the murder sequence and adds a great deal of suspense in many scenes.

Hannibal (TV Series) - 3x13 "The Wrath of the Lamb" - End of Episode - Will and Hannibal Fall Together Off A Cliff After the Murder of 'The Tooth Fairy'.

Hannibal & Will - Falling

Alias 5.01 "Prophet Five" - Sydney Tells Vaughn She's Pregnant, Before They Both Escape Their Enemies by Jumping Off A Cliff. I believe this one is a cliffhanger, even though it happens in the middle of the episode. I think the remainder of the episode focuses on other characters. (But it's been a while since I watched).

Sydney & Vaughn Take Plunge

Other In-Film/Episode Scenes:

Star Trek (Kelvinverse - Film Franchise) - Young Kirk Iowa Flashback (Star Trek), Kirk & "Bones" Chase/Jump Opening Sequence (Star Trek Into Darkness), USS Franklin Jump-Start Cliff/LOST Dharma Van Parallel (Star Trek Beyond)

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - Blackbeard Makes Jack Jump

The Lion King - Scar Murder Mufasa Death Scene

LOST - Hurley Nearly Commits Suicide ("Dave"), Sawyer & Kate Jump Escape (finale season)

I'm sure there are more. If I think of them, I will edit my post.

  • 9
    The very end of the original The Italian Job (2003) ended with a literal cliffhanger. I always wondered if there was supposed to be a sequel that never got made. – davidbak Sep 3 '17 at 6:09
  • Good question! I forgot about that one for sure! I had also thought of the final scene in Thelma and Louise, but I don't know if that would qualify as "recant"? – Darth Locke Sep 3 '17 at 15:28
  • @DarthLocke Was there any suspense in that, though? Wasn't it obvious what happened? Not an expert on that film, so don't mind me if I am incorrect. – can-ned_food Sep 4 '17 at 4:46
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    Your mention of s07e07 of Game of Thrones seems to go beyond the OP's question (literally hanging off a cliff). Thormund and Beric were last seen descending the wall, later we see the wall collapse, and we don't see the characters anymore. There's no real reason to expect them literally hanging off a cliff. So their fate is a figurative cliffhanger, not a literal one. It seems far-fetched for them to hold on to the wall that is crumbling in order to save themselves. The wall basically broke all the way to the ground where the ladders were, there's no clifff to hang on to. – Flater Sep 4 '17 at 8:36
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    @davidbak : Ahem! The original "Italian Job" was made in 1969! There may have been a more recent knock off; I am fortunate enough not to have suffered it. – Martin Bonner Sep 4 '17 at 13:54
39

One of the closest recent examples to a literal cliffhanger on TV might be the Green Wing finales of season 1 and season 2 from 2004 and 2006, respectively. From a TV Tropes page on the subject:

The first season finale of Green Wing was a literal cliffhanger, with three characters in an ambulance about to go off a cliff. The second season also ends in a literal cliffhanger with a stolen campervan which happened in an almost identical fashion.

Closest because it seems to fit the criteria best: they ended not only the episode but the season with major characters hanging off a cliff with their fates unknown, twice. It's worth mentioning, though, that Green Wing is somewhat absurd and parodic in nature. Here's the ambulance:

enter image description here

  • 'ucking LOVE Green Wing. – Tim Sep 5 '17 at 1:38
26

Just about every episode of Between the Lions

The children's television show Between the Lions (2000-2010), which was all about teaching kids how to read, had a recurring sketch called "The Adventures of Cliff Hanger":

The sketch always ends with him literally hanging from a cliff and yelling out "Can't…hold…on…much…longer!"

8

This isn't a very good answer, but I figured someone ought to be the first to mention:

  • The Italian Job (1969) ends with the protagonist in a bus cantilevered over the edge of a cliff — and the movie ends with this literal cliffhanger unresolved!

  • Both Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park II have set pieces involving vehicles going over cliffs and dangling; but they don't cut away from these scenes, so they can't really count as "cliffhangers".

  • I have vague memories of Cliffhanger (1993), starring Sylvester Stallone, but I don't recall any cutaways that would have counted as actual "cliffhangers" in this sense. Maybe someone who's seen it more recently could comment. :)

Also, the TVTropes page for Literal Cliffhanger lists several Dr. Who episodes and an episode of MacGyver from 1991 that all seem to fit the bill.

  • That first example is a rather decent one, methinks. A film, an actual cliffhanger, and the cliffhanger occurs at the finale. ATOW, none of the other answers feature examples which meet all those criteria. Another comment also mentions the 2003 remake: movies.stackexchange.com/questions/79902/… – can-ned_food Sep 4 '17 at 4:40
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    While The Italian Job is a classic, and probably the inspiration for the parodic Green Wing cliffhangers mentioned in another answer, it misses out on the "at the end of an episode, with the intention of encouraging the audience to view the next episode" nature of a cliffhanger. It might have been the hook for a sequel that never happened, but that's not quite the same thing. – armb Sep 4 '17 at 14:42
1

I remember that in Arrow, Season 3 Episode 9 "The Climb", people joked that it had a literal cliffhanger. This was in 2014.

But, I am not sure if you would count it as literal, because the character doesn't hang on to the cliff, but gets kicked down.

  • 1
    It does not count as a cliffhanger because no one is haging in this cliff, just falling. – Zanon Sep 3 '17 at 12:02
  • I would consider any kind of suspense involving a literal cliff a kind of cliffhanger, even falling over, because the concept is the same--you don't know if someone made it or not, even though a lot of films and tv series tend to use them in a minor short term way these days. – Darth Locke Sep 3 '17 at 15:34
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    @DarthLocke Agreed: similar gimmicks were used in episodes of Radar Men From the Moon — due to the protagonists possessing rocketpacks, falling from a cliff was recoverable. – can-ned_food Sep 4 '17 at 4:42
  • @DarthLocke What if the cliff is a waterfall? – Peter Sep 4 '17 at 19:44
  • @Peter that's a good question! My guess is that in some cases, it could also be an advancement or extension of cliffhanger, because I would try and argue that probably the concept is the same with the exception of comedic or satirical use or just as a romantic setting. But waterfalls could be more treacherous in many cases -- However, sometimes waterfalls themselves can have additional meaning as 'falling water'... – Darth Locke Sep 4 '17 at 20:58

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