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Vertical Limit

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Vertical Limit
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMartin Campbell
Screenplay byRobert King
Terry Hayes
Story byRobert King
Produced byMartin Campbell
Robert King
Marcia Nasatir
Lloyd Phillips
CinematographyDavid Tattersall
Edited byThom Noble
Music byJames Newton Howard
Distributed bySony Pictures Releasing
Release date
  • December 8, 2000 (2000-12-08)
Running time
124 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$75 million[1]
Box office$215.7 million[2]

Vertical Limit is a 2000 American survival thriller film directed by Martin Campbell, written by Robert King, and starring Chris O'Donnell, Bill Paxton, Robin Tunney, and Scott Glenn. The film was released on December 8, 2000, in the United States by Columbia Pictures, receiving mixed reviews and grossed $215 million at the box office.

The film was the third collaboration between Campbell and actor Stuart Wilson, after No Escape (1994) and The Mask of Zorro (1998).



While climbing in Monument Valley, siblings Peter and Annie Garrett lose their father Royce after Royce forces Peter to cut him loose after a freak accident. Three years later, Peter has retired from climbing, but Annie has become a renowned climber. Their relationship is strained, as Annie still blames Peter for Royce's death. Peter reunites with Annie at the K2 base camp, where Annie is planning a summit attempt on K2. The expedition is funded by wealthy industrialist Elliot Vaughn. Their team includes Annie, Vaughn, renowned climber Tom McLaren, mountaineer Ali Nazir, and one other.

The night before the climb, Vaughn throws a party. The gala is interrupted by reclusive Montgomery Wick, reportedly the foremost K2 expert, who verbally challenges Vaughn. It's later revealed that Wick's wife, an expedition guide, died during Vaughn's previous expedition. Vaughn claims they were hit by a storm and Wick's wife died of pulmonary edema because her supply of dexamethasone was swept away in the storm. Wick has never believed that story and has spent years trying to find his wife's body. Back in the present day, Vaughn forces McLaren to continue despite a radio warning from base camp of an approaching storm.

During an avalanche, Annie, Vaughn, and McLaren become trapped in a crevasse, while the other two people in their group are killed. Radio contact is lost, but Peter hears Annie using static and Morse code to signal that they are alive. Peter assembles a rescue team, which includes Wick. Pairs are assigned, and after a treacherous helicopter drop-off, each pair takes a different path to increase chances of success. Each pair carries a canister of explosive nitroglycerine donated by the Pakistani army to clear the entrance to the crevasse.

Monique and Cyril experience a harrowing incident after Cyril loses his balance at the edge of a cliff. While Monique attempts to rescue him their nitro canister falls over the cliff and explodes, causing another avalanche. Monique survives, but Cyril does not. At the military station, the nitroglycerine canisters are exposed to sunlight and explode. Base camp tells the team to get their cases of nitro into the shade. Kareem and Malcolm do so, but their canister leaks fluid into the sunlight, causing another explosion that kills them. Underground, McLaren is severely injured and has lost his dexamethasone. Annie shares her dexamethasone with him, but Vaughn refuses it. Annie risks her life to reach Ali's backpack and manages to obtain more dexamethasone, but Vaughn says that since McLaren is unlikely to survive, he and Annie should keep the dexamethasone for themselves.

The explosions have shaken loose some ice, and Wick finally discovers his wife's body. The empty dexamethasone container nearby suggests that Vaughn lied and stole her dexamethasone, ensuring his own survival while leaving Wick's wife to die.

Monique, Peter and Wick camp for the night. Peter is wary of Wick, who seems more intent on taking revenge than in rescuing the survivors. In the crevasse, Annie falls asleep, and Vaughn kills McLaren with a syringe full of air to avoid having to give McLaren more dexamethasone. Wick awakens to find that Peter and Monique have left him. Annie and Vaughn manage to mark the crevasse entrance by detonating a flare inside a bag of McLaren's blood which explodes over the snow. Peter and Monique see the marker and use nitro to blast a hole, enabling access to the survivors. They drop a rope, and Vaughn harnesses Annie.

Wick descends into the cave, and although Vaughn thinks Wick will attack him, Wick attaches a clip to Vaughn. Monique and Peter attempt to pull Annie out of the crevasse, but an ice boulder falls, knocking Wick and Vaughn from the ledge in the crevasse, and pulling Annie and Peter down, creating a scenario similar to the opening scene: Monique alone remains on the ledge holding the rope from which the other four are dangling. To save Annie and Peter, and to fulfill his desire for revenge against Vaughn, Wick cuts the rope and he and Vaughn fall to their deaths.

Recovering at base camp, Annie reconciles with Peter, who then pays his respects at a makeshift memorial for climbers who have died.


Ed Viesturs has a cameo in the film as a mountain trainer.[3]



Vertical Limit was filmed on location in Pakistan (location of K2), Queenstown, New Zealand and the United States.[citation needed]

Bell 212 helicopters contracted from Hevilift Australia were painted in a khaki green colour to represent the Pakistani Army.



Box office


Vertical Limit grossed $69.2 million domestically and $215.7 million worldwide, becoming the 17th-highest-grossing film of 2000. Against a budget of $75 million, the film was a success.

In the United States, the film opened at No. 1 during its opening day, December 8, earning an estimated $5.1 million, overtaking How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which had stayed since November 17. On its opening weekend, the film finished second at the box office, with $15.5 million.[4]

Critical reception


Vertical Limit received mixed reviews from critics, as the film holds a 48% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 110 reviews, with an average rating of 5.2/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "The plot in Vertical Limit is ludicrously contrived and clichéd. Meanwhile, the action sequences are so over-the-top and piled one on top of another, they lessen the impact on the viewer".[5] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 48 out of 100, based on 29 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[6] The movie has the rating of on Allmovie.com.[7] According to free-soloing legend Alex Honnold, the unrealistic opening scene is "horrendous and probably the worst scene in all of Hollywood climbing".[8]

Roger Ebert gave the film three stars out of four, commenting, "It's made from obvious formulas and pulp novel conflicts, but strongly acted and well crafted... "Vertical Limit" delivers with efficiency and craft, and there are times, when the characters are dangling over a drop of a mile, when we don't even mind how it's manipulating us."[9] James DiGiovanna of Tucson Weekly wrote, "...now O'Donnell brings his shockingly wholesome whiteness to Vertical Limit, the best mountain-climbing movie starring Chris O'Donnell to come out this week."[10] Philip French of The Guardian mentioned, "Campbell sustains the tension pretty well and the settings are spectacular. More interesting than the characters, however, are two aspects of the dramatic background. The first is an isolated army post on a mountain peak from which ill-equipped Pakistani soldiers fire an artillery barrage every afternoon in the direction of India as an absurd daily ritual. The second is seeing rich, mindless Americans ruining a beautiful corner of the world in the name of self-discovery. They're a new class of anti-social climbers."[11] David Ansen of Newsweek wrote, ""Vertical Limit" produces a decidedly split reaction in an audience. You gasp at the action sequences, then giggle at the drama, then gasp, then giggle until finally the filmmakers pile on one cliffhanger too many. By that point, the gasps have become muted by sheer disbelief... Alternately generating adrenaline and ennui, "Vertical Limit" battles itself to a hard-earned draw."[12]



A novelization of the film was released in paperback in 2000 written with the assistance of the screenplay authors.[13]


  1. ^ 'Vertical Limit' (budget), Box Office Mojo. Retrieved April 16, 2015.
  2. ^ "Vertical Limit box office statistics".
  3. ^ Viesturs, Ed; David Roberts (2007). No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World's 14 Highest Peaks. Random House, Inc. p. 225. ISBN 9780767924719.
  4. ^ 'Vertical Limit' (daily gross), Box Office Mojo. Retrieved June 3, 2017.
  5. ^ "Vertical Limit (2000)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  6. ^ "Vertical Limit Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved March 6, 2018.
  7. ^ Deming, Mark. "Vertical Limit (2000)". Allmovie.com. Allmovie. Retrieved 5 October 2015.
  8. ^ Alex Honnold Breaks Down Iconic Rock Climbing Scenes | GQ, retrieved 2019-08-08
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 8, 2000). "Vertical Limit movie review & film summary (2000) | Roger Ebert". rogerebert.com. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
  10. ^ DiGiovanna, James (December 14, 2000). "Summit Rut". Tucson Weekly. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
  11. ^ French, Philip (21 January 2001). "Vertical Limit | Reviews | guardian.co.uk Film". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
  12. ^ Ansen, David (10 December 2000). "Cliffhanger". Newsweek. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
  13. ^ Veritcal Limit. Novelization. December 1, 2000 by Mel Odom (Adapter), Robert King (Author, Contributor), Terry Hayes (Contributor).