Cliffhanger (film)

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Cliffhanger Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Renny Harlin
Produced by
Screenplay by
Story by
Music by Trevor Jones
Cinematography Alex Thomson
Edited by Frank J. Urioste
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Release dates
  • May 28, 1993 (1993-05-28)
Running time
113 minutes
  • United States
  • France
  • Italy
Language English
Budget $70 million[1]
Box office $255 million[1]

Cliffhanger is a 1993 American action adventure film directed by Renny Harlin and starring Sylvester Stallone, Michael Rooker, Janine Turner, and John Lithgow. Based on a concept by climber John Long, the film follows Gabe (Stallone; who co-wrote the screenplay) a mountain climber who becomes embroiled in the failed heist of a U.S. Treasury plane flying through the Rocky Mountains. The film earned $255 million worldwide.


Rangers Gabriel "Gabe" Walker and Jessie Deighan are dispatched to rescue their friend Hal Tucker and his girlfriend Sarah after Hal suffered a knee injury and stranded them on a peak in the Colorado Rockies. As they try to rescue Sarah, part of her harness breaks, and though Gabe is able to grab her, her gloved hand slips out, and she falls to her death. Hal blames Gabe for her death and Gabe is overcome with guilt, taking an extended leave.

Eight months later, Gabe returns to the ranger station to gather his remaining possessions and convince Jessie to leave with him. While there, they receive a distress call from a group of stranded climbers. Hal goes to locate the climbers and Jessie is able to convince Gabe to help out. Hal remains bitter towards Gabe over Sarah's death, at one point threatening to send Gabe over a ledge. When they find the climbers, they discover the distress call was a ruse and are taken prisoner by former Military Intelligence operative Eric Qualen and several mercenaries. Qualen, along with turncoat U.S. Treasury agent Richard Travers, were able to steal three suitcases full of uncirculated bills valuing over $100 million. Their escape plan backfired, sending their plane crashing into the mountain, and they now require Gabe and Hal's help to locate the cases with the help of beacon locators.

At gunpoint, Gabe leads them to the first case, located at the top of a steep rock face. They force Gabe to tether himself to reach it, and Gabe uses the opportunity to escape. The mercenaries attempt to fire on Gabe, which causes an avalanche that kills one of their members. When they see the money from the first case fluttering away, Qualen believes Gabe is dead, and orders Hal to lead them onward. Gabe races ahead to find Jessie at an abandoned cabin. They recover old mountaineering gear to reach the second case before Qualen does. By the time Qualen arrives, Gabe and Jessie have emptied the case and left only a single bill with the taunting message "Want to trade?" on it. Qualen orders his men to split up, allowing Gabe to dispatch two more of Qualen's men. Gabe attempts to call for help from Frank, their rescue helicopter pilot, on one of the mercenaries' radios, but Hal alerts him to explosives Qualen has rigged above them on the mountain. Gabe and Jessie escape the falling debris in time. Elsewhere, when Hal sees two friends, Evan and Brett, he warns them away before Qualen orders his men to open fire. Brett is killed while Evan is wounded, though he manages to ski off the mountain and parachute to safety. Night falls on the mountain and both groups take shelter. Frank, having not heard from Gabe or the others, scouts the mountain in the helicopter, spots Evan's parachute, and is able to get him to safety while contacting the authorities.

When morning breaks, Gabe and Jessie beat Qualen to the last case. Meanwhile, the mercenaries flag down Frank in the helicopter, and by the time he realizes it's a trap it is too late. He is shot by one of the mercenaries and dies, but not before slipping Hal a knife. As the mercenaries split up to look for the other case, Hal is able to use the knife to wound one of the mercenaries, kill him with his own gun, and escape. Elsewhere Hal finds Gabe, and together they kill Travers. However, at the same time, Qualen takes Jessie hostage when she waves down the helicopter, believing that Frank was flying it. Qualen tells Gabe and Hal over the radio that he is holding Jessie captive on board the helicopter, demanding Gabe and Hal to surrender the money from the third case at a high elevated rendezvous point and threatens to kill her should they refuse to cooperate.

Gabe and Hal agree, and they meet at a cliff side bridge. However, Qualen tries to challenge Gabe into throwing the case into the helicopter, but when he also threatens to kill Jessie again, Gabe orders Qualen to free her at a safe distance away from the cliff. Qualen reluctantly agrees, and uses a winch to lower Jessie to the ground. Once Jessie is safely down, however, Gabe throws the bag of money into the helicopter's rotors, shredding the money. Enraged, Qualen attempts to fly off, but Gabe has used the winch cable to tether the helicopter to a steel ladder up the cliff face. The ladder snaps and leaves Gabe and Qualen atop the wreckage of the helicopter hanging by the cable. Gabe fights Qualen and manages to climb to safety as the wreckage snaps off the cable, sending Qualen to his death. Gabe reunites with Jessie and Hal as federal agents arrive in helicopters to offer their assistance.


  • Sylvester Stallone as Gabriel "Gabe" Walker, a former mountain climber and rescue ranger haunted by his failure to save the girlfriend of his best friend, Hal Tucker
  • John Lithgow as Eric Qualen, a sadistic former military intelligence officer, now leader of the gang of thieves trying to rob $100 million from the U.S. Treasury
  • Michael Rooker as Hal Tucker, Gabe's best friend and a mountain ranger who blames Gabe for failing to save Sarah
  • Janine Turner as Jessie Deighan, Gabe's girlfriend who works in the same mountain search-and-rescue group, and whom Gabe has become distant from since failing to save Sarah
  • Rex Linn as Richard Travers, a U.S. Treasury agent who is a double agent working with Qualen
  • Caroline Goodall as Kristel, Qualen's pilot and companion
  • Leon Robinson as Kynette, Qualen's brutal main henchman
  • Craig Fairbrass as Delmar, Qualen's sadistic ex-soccer player-turned-henchman.
  • Gregory Scott Cummins as Ryan, Qualen's henchman
  • Denis Forest as Heldon, Qualen's henchman
  • Michelle Joyner as Sarah, Hal's ill-fated girlfriend who falls to her death after Gabe failed to save her
  • Paul Winfield as Walter Wright, A U.S. Treasury agent who discovered Qualen's plot to rob the money from the U.S. Treasury
  • Ralph Waite as Frank, a search-and-rescue pilot working for Gabe, Jessie and Hal
  • Max Perlich as Evan, a thrill-seeking young man who is friends with Gabe and Hal
  • Trey Brownell as Brett, Evan's friend who is also a thrill-seeker
  • Vyto Ruginis as Matheson, an undercover FBI agent who foils the mid-air robbery
  • John Finn as Agent Michaels
  • Bruce McGill as Treasury Agent
  • Jeff McCarthy as Pilot
  • Wolfgang Güllich as Gabe Walker (stunt double)


Carolco Pictures had originally signed Sylvester Stallone to appear opposite John Candy in a comedy directed by John Hughes about feuding neighbors. When the project was dropped, Stallone was persuaded to appear in Cliffhanger.[2]

Half of the film's budget was provided by TriStar Pictures in exchange for complete distribution rights in North America, Japan (television), Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and France.[3] Other funding was provided by Rizzoli-Corriere della Sera, Le Studio Canal+, and Pioneer Electric Corporation. The financing arrangement was the result of Carolco's serious debt issues, and as a result, the studio would ultimately receive very little of the box office gross.[4]

The large majority of the film's scenes were shot in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Dolomites, Italy. For example, the bridge scene was shot on Monte Cristallo in the via ferrata VF Ivano Dibona, which was reconstructed immediately after the movie. The climbing was mostly on the Tofane cliffs, and in some scenes toward the end of the movie the audience clearly sees the three Tofane, the Croda da Lago, the village of Cortina; the location of this is on top of mount Faloria, at the arrival of the funivia Faloria. In other scenes viewers may recognize the sentiero ferrato Astaldi, over the Rifugio Dibona. The small house has been constructed on the sand of the river Boite, in Fiames, close to the heliport. Little filming took place in Durango, Colorado. The credits of the film also thank the Ute Tribe for filming in the Ute Mountain reservation.[5]

Cliffhanger is in the Guinness Book of World Records for the costliest aerial stunt ever performed. Stuntman Simon Crane was paid $1 million to perform the aerial transfer scene, where he crossed between two planes at an altitude of 15,000 feet (4,600 m).[6]

The principal climbing doubles were Ron Kauk and Wolfgang Güllich. The latter performed as Stallone's climbing double before he died in a car accident in 1992.[7]


Cliffhanger (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Cliffhanger soundtrack cover.jpg
Studio album by Trevor Jones
Released 23 May 1993
Recorded Music performed at CTS Studios London
Genre Stage & Screen
Length 42:18
Label Scotti Bros. Records 514 455-2
Producer Trevor Jones
Trevor Jones chronology
The Last of the Mohicans
Death Train
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 3.5/5 stars[8]

The orchestral score to Cliffhanger was composed by film score veteran Trevor Jones. In his review for the Cliffhanger soundtrack, reviewer Christian Clemmensen said its similarities to Jones's previous work on The Last of the Mohicans, stating: "with Cliffhanger would come a title theme strikingly similar to that of Last of the Mohicans, possibly too reminiscent in fact for some listeners to tolerate." However, his review was still positive, giving the Cliffhanger score four out of a possible five stars concluding, "No matter your view of whether or not composers should recycle their own material, Jones' main identity for Cliffhanger stands on its own as a remarkable piece, and an often enjoyable action underscore will maintain your interest in between the theme's statements."[9] The soundtrack has been released twice; through Scotti Bros./BMG Music on 23 May 1993 and an extended version through Intrada Records on 21 February 2011.[9]


Stallone later said "the director's cut was met with a lot of disapproval at the screening and received some alarmingly low scores. Mainly because the stunts were absurdly overblown. For example, the average man can jump maybe twelve feet across a gorge, and the stunts had me leaping maybe three hundred feet or more, so situations like that had to be pared down and still then were fairly extreme… so you’re probably better off with this cut. By the way, the 2nd unit crew that filmed the majority of the action was extraordinary."[10]

The film was screened in out of competition at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival.[11] The film was nominated for three Academy Awards, Best Sound (Michael Minkler, Bob Beemer, and Tim Cooney), Best Sound Effects Editing (Gregg Baxter), and Best Visual Effects all losing to Jurassic Park.[12]

The film received a 69% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 49 reviews.[13][14] It was nominated for Worst Picture, Worst Supporting Actor (John Lithgow), Worst Supporting Actress (Janine Turner), and Worst Screenplay at the 14th Golden Raspberry Awards.[15][16] Although most people enjoyed Lithgow's performance, he was criticized for his inauthentic-sounding English accent, especially when next to native English actors Fairbrass and Goodall.[citation needed]

The film has been criticized for its unrealistic portrayal of rock climbing. One example is the feature of the bolt-gun which fires bolts directly into rock, forgoing the usual rock-drilling and bolt-hammering used in rock-climbing. This ignores certain material properties of rock that should cause the bolt-gun's impact site to shatter and explode with flaky projectiles. The bolt gun is considered the most serious of the film's technical inaccuracies. Further examples are showing athletic moves, which have no use in real climbing, or free soloing with – then also completely useless – gear.[17][18]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


The film was originally rated NC-17 by the MPAA on account of its violence.[citation needed] Several cuts were made to almost every violent scene in the film in order to get an R rating.[citation needed] Several death scenes in the film were shot in slow motion and lasted several seconds; for instance in the beginning of the film the pilot of the plane shoots the co-pilot in the head in a very brief shot; in the NC-17 version, this was shot from a different angle that showed blood splattering on the window. Bootleg DVD copies taken from a timecoded VHS workprint feature the original rough cut of the film, complete with uncut violent scenes. Travers' death originally featured him being shot in the shoulder by Gabe with the bolt gun and blasted with the shotgun by Hal. This was changed to Gabe firing the gun three times, not due to censorship but because a review of the dailies caused the filmmakers to think of a somewhat slicker death.[citation needed]

The film was a box office hit.[20] For its British cinema release, the film was cut by over a minute, then by a further 16 seconds on video and DVD to gain a '15' certificate. Chief victim was the scene where Delmar beats up Tucker, but other cuts included aggressive strong language and other moments of violence. However, the 2008 DVD release was passed '15' with no cuts made.[21]

The scene where Hal's girlfriend, Sarah, falls to her death, was spoofed in the films Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls and Spy Hard.

This is the only TriStar-distributed Carolco production which the former (through Sony Pictures) has retained all North American television and video rights as well as partial international rights on a territorial and/or platform basis instead of StudioCanal (current owner of the Carolco film library). This was due to Carolco being strapped for cash during the films production and ended up selling territory-specific distribution rights to TriStar Pictures (who was the co-distributor for most Carolco productions at the time).


In May 2009, it was announced that StudioCanal would be overseeing a remake of Cliffhanger. Neal H. Moritz was set to produce, with filming due to begin in 2010.[22] In May 2014, Joe Gazzam was set to write the script for the film.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Cliffhanger". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2016-01-01. 
  2. ^ Brennan, Judy (1995-12-21). "Troubled Route to Pirate Epic 'Cutthroat'; Movies: As the swashbuckling adventure starring Geena Davis, directed by her husband, Renny Harlin, opens this weekend, financial woes surround its release.". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-10-27. 
  3. ^ Prince, Stephen (2000) A New Pot of Gold: Hollywood Under the Electronic Rainbow, 1980-1989 (p. 148). University of California Press, Berkeley/Los Angeles, California. ISBN 0-520-23266-6
  4. ^ Bates, James (August 30, 1994). "COMPANY TOWN : SEC Filings Show Carolco Has Little to Sing About : Movies: The company expects to lose money this year and next, despite a major financial reorganization negotiated last year.". Los Angeles Times. 
  5. ^ Stall, Bill (1993-06-02). "Making a Movie Out of a Mountain : Climbers Give High Marks to 'Cliffhanger's' Realistic High-Altitude Action Sequences". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-11-08. 
  6. ^ Janela, Mike (2013-10-17). "Stallone vs. Schwarzenegger: Who wins the Escape Plan tale of the tape?". Guinness Book of World Records. Retrieved 2016-01-01. 
  7. ^ Stall, Bill (June 2, 1993). "Making a Movie Out of a Mountain : Climbers Give High Marks to 'Cliffhanger's' Realistic High-Altitude Action Sequences". Los Angeles Times. 
  8. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "Trevor Jones, Cliffhanger [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]". Retrieved December 10, 2015. 
  9. ^ a b Clemmensen, Christian. Cliffhanger soundtrack review. Retrieved 2011-05-23.
  10. ^ [1]
  11. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Cliffhanger". Retrieved August 24, 2009. 
  12. ^ "The 66th Academy Awards (1994) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-10-22. 
  13. ^ "Cliffhanger". The Washington Post. 1993-05-28. Retrieved 2010-10-02. 
  14. ^ "Cliffhanger (1993)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 1, 2010. 
  15. ^ "Rocky's Mountains". Chicago Tribune. May 28, 1993. Retrieved 2010-09-10. 
  16. ^ "Cliffhanger". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved 2010-09-10. 
  17. ^ "Rock Climbing Media Reviews: Books, Movies, and more". Retrieved 2012-03-04. 
  18. ^ "Stallone Stumbles As Climber 'Cliffhanger' Is About The Outdoors. At Least, That Was The Intent. -". 1994-01-09. Retrieved 2012-03-04. 
  19. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-20. 
  20. ^ Fox, David J. (1993-06-01). "`Cliffhanger' grabs the largest opening for a non-sequel on any Memorial Day weekend. `Made in America' opens in second place.". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-10-27. 
  21. ^ "CLIFFHANGER rated 15 by the BBFC". 2008-06-03. Retrieved 2012-03-04. 
  22. ^ "StudioCanal remounts 'Cliff' - Entertainment News, Cannes News, Media". Variety. May 13, 2009. Retrieved May 14, 2009. 
  23. ^ "Climb Toward 'Cliffhanger' Reboot Moving Forward; Joe Gazzam Set To Write". Retrieved 30 May 2014. 

External links[edit]