One of the most common phobias that people have is acrophobia, the fear of heights. Compared to other phobias, it is one of the more rational fears, and it is also an easy one to exploit for entertainment.
People are terrified of the possibility of falling, but love the thrill and excitement of experiencing this sensation safely. Roller coasters and amusement parks take advantage of this, as do films.
There are several methods that filmmakers use to increase the sense of unease in the viewer, including camera zoom techniques, shot angles and sound effects. An actor's performance also plays a great part, as their panic and physical reaction to their situation makes us unconsciously empathise with that situation.
Improved film quality and CGI lets us see more long range detail, better enhancing the effect of how far away the ground is, but there are still plenty of older films that managed to successfully make uncomfortable viewing for vertigo sufferers.
Let’s take a look at 10 of the scenes that made us glad we had our feet on the ground!
10. Lethal Weapon (1987) - Riggs Saves A Suicide Jumper
This scene from the classic buddy cop movie works so well because Mel Gibson’s character Riggs is already unstable, so you are unsure what to expect from him, putting you in the same position as suicide jumper McCleary.
Riggs and Murtaugh are called to respond to the scene, where they find McCleary on the ledge of the roof of a six-storey building threatening to jump and refusing to talk to police. Riggs volunteers to try and talk him down.
The scene is brilliant because McCleary’s panic contrasts with Riggs' unpredictability. McCleary is clearly scared, whereas Riggs appears much more at ease at that height (although this wasn't the case for Gibson, who apparently only went through with the scene as he didn't want to back out with everyone watching!).
As the viewer, this has the dual effect of making you worry that they will either accidentally fall due to McCleary’s panic or Riggs’ overconfidence. A lot of their interaction is shot from above, further highlighting the precarious situation they are in.
The moment Riggs changes tactic is great to watch as he suddenly turns crazy, asking “Do you really wanna jump?”, before leaping off the building. In hindsight, this was just because he had distracted McCleary long enough so that the rescue cushion could be inflated, but in that moment, it seems that he has lost it and given up caring about saving him.