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"And she's buying a stairway to heaven"—Led Zeppelin, "Stairway to Heaven"
Sometimes when a character ascends to a higher plane of existence they also have to ascend the stairs to that higher plane of existence -- Which is usually a Fluffy Cloud Heaven or a Celestial Bureaucracy.
For example, in Genesis 28:12, Jacob dreams of a stairway (or ladder, translators disagree) connecting earth to Heaven with angels going up and down it. The Ancient Egyptians actually tried to build one (known today as the Step Pyramid of Djoser).
A more "modern" take is to replace the stairway with an escalator; though even that iteration of the trope is Older Than Television, dating back to at least to the 1941 movie Here Comes Mister Jordan.
If the character doesn't make it in, the stairs may turn into a Surprise Slide Staircase to Hell.
- In Cowboy Bebop when Spike was high on mushrooms he hallucinated a stair case that he climbed infinitely (he was really just stepping on the the same step of a real set of stairs) and meets a frog:
Frog: This here's the stairways to heaven. You know that, don't you?
Spike: Obnoxious little frog.
- Subverted in Kannazuki no Miko. The stairway that Chikane going up to at the shrine of the moon led to her solitary imprisonment, which is required to save the world. It's better in the manga, where Himeko decided to stay with Chikane at the shrine on the moon.
- There's a Far Side cartoon that plays with this, and the Hellevator, by depicting an escalator going up to Heaven and one heading down to Hell. The demon riding the down escalator pies the angel riding up in the face.
- Here Comes Mister Jordan -escalator
- A Matter of Life and Death (which was released as Stairway to Heaven in the US) -escalator
- The Heavenly Kid - escalator
- Futurama: Beast With a Billion Backs has the golden escalator version, although subverted as they lead to a planet-sized being, who sent shkler/sklis image to primitive man, thus creating our universe's concept of Fluffy Cloud Heaven.
- Averted/lampshaded in the movie Soultaker... leading to a hilarious exchange on the respective Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode:
Brad: Zach... Led Zeppelin was wrong, man.
Tom Servo: Shut up!
Brad: There is no Stairway to Heaven.
Tom Servo: Zep is never wrong, man!
Mike Nelson: Is Sabbath wrong too, man?
- Notable in that the movie does have an elevator to... some form of the afterlife. (Which looks suspiciously like a boiler room.)
- Jacob's Ladder - stairs
- Inverted in Night on the Galactic Railroad - while the characters are exploring the Heavens, they find a stairway that apparently leads down to Earth.
- Unsurprisingly, in Angels in America, considering the story's biblical underpinnings, Prior Walter literally climbs a flaming ladder into heaven.
- Cabin In The Sky shows Eddie Anderson and Ethyl Waters ascending a Stairway To Heaven to close the movie.
- Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny has the Guitarway to Heaven which leads to the titular MacGuffin.
- Teen Angel (the 1997 ABC sitcom one) has an elevator to Heaven in the first episode.
- In Keys to the Kingdom, there's a magical staircase that you can go on that will eventually take you where you want to go, but with a bunch of seemingly-random 'landings' that consist of various different places, worlds and times. While walking on the staircase once, Suzy Turquoise Blue runs into someone she used to know before she became a Piper's child.
- Satan travels past an ornate stairway into heaven in Paradise Lost.
- Angels of the Silences by Simon Bestwick uses one of these as the gateway for ghosts to cross over to the afterlife.
- Within the Heaven of In Nomine by Steve Jackson Games is "Jacob's Ladder" which reaches up into the Higher Heavens and the direct presence of God. Only mortals can climb the ladder; angels must stay in the lowest Heaven (unless called) until the War is won.
- May and her pops, and later Albert and his mother Dorothy ascend the stair version in Clock Tower 3.
- In The Simpsons Game, the characters go to heaven by ascending a stairway made of everything in the Simpsons' house.
- In Super Mario 64, there is a staircase that you can get to, but if you open the door to it before you have the key, it goes up basically forever, no matter how much you climb there's still more ahead. But turn around and you've only gone up a handful of steps.
- Scribblenauts has a level where you must get some bad guys into heaven. Now, you could just tie them to a pegasus and drag them up with chains, but if you summon a stairway, hey presto, they just float up and you win the level.
- Touhou Project has the stairway that physically leads to Hakugyokuro, and the land of the dead around it. Not examctly Heaven per se, but it is a land of the peaceful dead.
- There was an escalator to hell featured in an early Schlock Mercenary strip... 'course, since that takes place in the far future, escalators are probably anachronistic by then.
- Order of the Stick's Lawful Good afterlife once had an escalator, but the monks thought it made things too easy. So they reverted to climbing a mountain in order to reach enlightenment. The strip is appropriately titled "Led Zeppelin Lied to Us All".
- Tom and Jerry "Heavenly Puss" - escalator
- The Simpsons "Bart Gets Hit by a Car" - escalator. He spits over the side clearly pushing his Karma Meter over to the dark side and get gets sent to hell, by Hellevator.
- Another example from The Simpsons, this time a subversion: one of the foolish projects that the people of Springfield embark upon is an escalator to nowhere that looks an awful lot like an escalator to heaven. This is a parody of the bridge to nowhere (which several near-useless bridges have been dubbed), except this escalator literally just ends in a giant fall.
- Looney Tunes "Satan's Waitin'" - escalator to both Heaven and Hell. Unfortunately for Sylvester, the up escalator is corded off.
- Woody Woodpecker cartoon "Wet Blanket Policy" - Buzz Buzzard has just been crushed by a large object, ahd he arrives at a lobby with elevators to both heaven and hell with Woody as the doorman: one opens and the angelic operator says "Going up" and woody forces it closed, the other opens and the demonic operator says "going down" and Woody gives Buzz Buzzard a kick in the rear forcing him into the elevator
- Tiny Toon Adventures How I Spent My Vacation - appears as theme park rides; there's the titular Stairway to Heaven (pictured above)...and the Bullet Train To Heck!
- In the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats, the way to the cats version of heaven, the Heavyside Layer, is apparently a large golden staircase that descends from the rafters during the final number.
- More specifically, a staircase shaped like a cat's paw.
- The Egyptian Pyramid Texts refer to a ladder or stairway by which the deceased king may Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence, and many Egyptologists think that the Step Pyramid of Djoser, the first stone pyramid ever built, was designed to physically provide this stairway.