Cliffhanger (film)

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Cliffhanger Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Renny Harlin
Produced by Alan Marshall
Renny Harlin
Executive Producer:
Mario Kassar
Screenplay by Michael France
Sylvester Stallone
Story by John Long (premise)
Michael France
Starring Sylvester Stallone
John Lithgow
Michael Rooker
Janine Turner
Paul Winfield
Ralph Waite
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
Country United States
Language English
Budget $65 million
Box office $255,325,036

Cliffhanger is a 1993 American action adventure film directed by Renny Harlin and starring Sylvester Stallone and John Lithgow. Stallone, who co-wrote the screenplay, plays a mountain climber who becomes embroiled in a failed heist set in a U.S. Treasury plane flying through the Rocky Mountains. The film was a critical and box office success, earning more than $250 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 Rocky Mountains. 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 it was a rouse: they are taken prisoner by former Military Intelligence member Eric Qualen and several mercenaries, consisting of Kristel, Kynette, Delmar, Ryan, and Heldon. Qualen, along with turncoat U.S. Treasure 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.

Under gunpoint, Gabe leads them to the first case, located down the face of a steep wall. They force Gabe to tether himself to reach it, and Gabe uses the opportunity to escape. The mercenaries, realizing Gabe is planing to escape, attempt to fire on him, causing an avalanche that kills Heldon. 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 a taunting message on it. Realizing Gabe is alive, Qualen orders Ryan to split up, but Gabe dispatches him before Ryan falls off a cliff to his death. Night falls on the mountain and both groups take shelter before resuming the next morning. 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. Rescue helicopter pilot 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. In the meantime, Gabe and Jessie manage to beat Qualen to the last case. While Gabe and Jessie take a shortcut through a crack in a cave, Kynette corners them, intending to kill them, but Gabe gains the upper hand and kills Kynette by impaling his body through a large stalactite. He attempts to call for help to Frank on Kynette's radio, but Hal alerts him to explosives Qualen has rigged above them on the mountain; Gabe and Jessie escape the falling debris in time.

Meanwhile, the mercenaries flag down Frank in the helicopter, but too later Frank realizes it is a trap. He is shot by Delmar, but the dying Frank manages to slip Hal a knife. During an argument over the code, Qualen comes to the realization they need a pilot to find the money, but shoots Kristel, who is the only mercenary to pilot any aircraft, dead and pilots Frank's helicopter. As the mercenaries split up to look for the other case, Travers orders Delmar to silently kill Hal; Delmar proceeds to brutally and sadistically beat Hal by kicking him repeatedly in a style of soccer in an effort to throw him over a nearby cliff. Despite being brutally beaten, Hal uses the knife to stab Delmar's leg, grabs hold of his shotgun and kills him, sending his body over the cliff. While Hal escapes, Travers tracks down Gabe at a wooden bridge over a frozen stream and in the ensuing struggle, Gabe falls through the ice and into the freezing water. Travers then attempts to kill him, but Gabe draws his weapon and shoots through the ice, killing Travers. Elsewhere, Jessie is kidnapped by Qualen when she waves down the helicopter, believing Frank was flying it. Qualen offers to trade Jessie for the third case. Gabe agrees, and they meet at a cliffside bridge. As they start the transfer, Gabe throws the case into the helicopter's rotors, shredding the money. In a panic, Qualen attempts to take off, but the helicopter becomes stuck in the steel cables of the bridge; the bridge snaps and leaves Gabe and Qualen atop the wreckage of the helicopter handing 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.[1]

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.[2] 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.[3]

Carolco had also originally signed Renny Harlin to direct Gale Force, a "Die Hard-in-a-hurricane" action film. The special effects proved too difficult at the time, so he was persuaded to direct Cliffhanger. Three writers claimed that Cliffhanger was their idea. To avoid jeopardizing the film's release, they were paid $250,000 each to drop the case.

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.[4]

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).

The parachute that the basejumper opens, on his escape from the villains, features the design of the Finnish flag, Renny Harlin's native country (he features a reference to Finland in most of his films).

The Denver Mint featured in the film as the producer of the cash stolen by Qualen and his associates actually only produces coins. $100 million from the Denver Mint would weigh 2,500 kilograms (5,500 lb). All paper currency in the US is printed by the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, not the United States Mint.

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.[5]


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
Label Scotti Bros. Records 514 455-2
Producer Trevor Jones
Trevor Jones chronology
The Last of the Mohicans
Death Train

The critically acclaimed orchestral score to Cliffhanger was composed by film score veteran Trevor Jones. In his review for the Cliffhanger soundtrack, reviewer Christian Clemmensen noted 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."[6] 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.[6]

Scotti Bros. release
  1. Cliffhanger Theme (3:52)
  2. Sarah's Farewell (2:14)
  3. Sarah Falls (3:53)
  4. Gabe Returns (3:11)
  5. I Understand (1:40)
  6. Sunset Searching (1:19)
  7. Tolerated Help (2:55)
  8. Base Jump (4:10)
  9. Bats (2:25)
  10. Two Man Job (2:08)
  11. Kynette Is Impaled (4:00)
  12. Fireside Chat (0:33)
  13. Frank's Demise (2:37)
  14. Rabbit Hole (1:33)
  15. Icy Stream (1:39)
  16. Jessie's Release (3:42)
  17. Helicopter Fight (1:30)
  18. End Credits (7:23)
Intrada release, with unreleased tracks in bold

Disc 1:

  1. Cliffhanger Theme (3:52)
  2. Setting Cable ("Sarah's Farewell" on the Scotti Bros. album) (2:14)
  3. Sarah Slips ("Sarah Falls") (4:03)
  4. Driving Invitation ("Gabe Returns") (3:12)
  5. I Understand (1:40)
  6. Being Tracked/Matheson Revives (6:51)
  7. Plane Crash (1:50)
  8. Two Man Job (2:09)
  9. Tolerated Help (2:57)
  10. Fetch/Expensive Funeral (6:04)
  11. Hal Leads (1:24)
  12. Ice Castle/Sunset Searching (2:03)
  13. Night Searching/Face Flare (4:18)

Disc 2:

  1. Qualen In Hut/Fireside Chat (1:14)
  2. Brett's Death/Evan's Dive ("Base Jump") (4:07)
  3. Bats (2:24)
  4. Wolves Away (1:57)
  5. Footbridge (:40)
  6. Gabe's Caught (1:27)
  7. Kynette's Impaled ("Kynette Is Impaled") (4:02)
  8. Qualen's Timebomb/Jessie's Close Call (4:03)
  9. Frank's Demise (2:36)
  10. Blown Bridge/Krystel's Sacrifice (3:02)
  11. Rabbit Hole (1:34)
  12. Delmar Falls (2:27)
  13. Rabbit Surprise (2:58)
  14. Icy Stream/Jessie's Release/Hooked Copter/Copter Fight (9:35)
  15. Cliffhanger (End Credits) (7:23)


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."[7]

The film was screened in out of competition at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival.[8] 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.[9]

The film was generally praised by critics, receiving a 69% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 49 reviews.[10][11] Although the movie was a box-office success, it was nominated for Worst Picture, Worst Supporting Actor (John Lithgow), Worst Supporting Actress (Janine Turner) and Worst Screenplay in the 1993 Golden Raspberry Awards.[12][13] Although most people enjoyed Lithgow's performance, he was criticized for his inauthentic-sounding English accent, especially when next to native English-thespians Fairbrass and Goodall.

The film has been criticised 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.[14][15]

Sneak-preview audiences saw a scene where a rabbit is killed by gunfire. Their reaction was strong enough for Sylvester Stallone to invest $100,000 of his own money to have the scene re-shot so that the rabbit escaped.[citation needed]


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 movie was a box office hit.[16] 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.[17]

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 worldwide television and video rights 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 all 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.[18] In May 2014, Joe Gazzam was set to write the script for the film.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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. 
  2. ^ 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
  3. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ a b Clemmensen, Christian. Cliffhanger soundtrack review. Retrieved 2011-05-23.
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Cliffhanger". Retrieved August 24, 2009. 
  9. ^ "The 66th Academy Awards (1994) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-10-22. 
  10. ^ "Cliffhanger". Washington Post. 1993-05-28. Retrieved 2010-10-02. 
  11. ^ "Cliffhanger (1993)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 1, 2010. 
  12. ^ "Rocky's Mountains". Chicago Tribune. May 28, 1993. Retrieved 2010-09-10. 
  13. ^ "Cliffhanger". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved 2010-09-10. 
  14. ^ "Rock Climbing Media Reviews: Books, Movies, and more". Retrieved 2012-03-04. 
  15. ^ "Stallone Stumbles As Climber 'Cliffhanger' Is About The Outdoors. At Least, That Was The Intent. -". 1994-01-09. Retrieved 2012-03-04. 
  16. ^ 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. 
  17. ^ "CLIFFHANGER rated 15 by the BBFC". 2008-06-03. Retrieved 2012-03-04. 
  18. ^ "StudioCanal remounts 'Cliff' - Entertainment News, Cannes News, Media". Variety. May 13, 2009. Retrieved May 14, 2009. 
  19. ^ "Climb Toward ‘Cliffhanger’ Reboot Moving Forward; Joe Gazzam Set To Write". Retrieved 30 May 2014. 

External links[edit]