Cliffhanger (film)

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Cliffhanger Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRenny Harlin
Produced by
Screenplay by
Story by
Music byTrevor Jones
CinematographyAlex Thomson
Edited byFrank J. Urioste
Distributed byTriStar Pictures
Release date
  • May 28, 1993 (1993-05-28) (United States)
Running time
113 minutes
CountryUnited States
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, John Lithgow, Michael Rooker and Janine Turner. Based on a concept by climber John Long, the film follows Gabe (played by Stallone, who co-wrote the screenplay), a mountain climber who becomes embroiled in a heist of a U.S. Treasury plane flying through the Rocky Mountains. Released on 28 May 1993, 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. Although Gabe is initially able to grab her, her gloved hand slips out and she falls to her death. Hal blames Gabe for Sarah's 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 persuade 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 persuade Gabe to help out. Hal remains bitter towards Gabe over Sarah's death, at one point threatening to push Gabe off a ledge. When they find the climbers, they discover the distress call was a fake and are taken prisoner by a ruthless gang of international thieves led by psychotic former Military Intelligence operative Eric Qualen and the surviving thieves including brutal Kynette, sadistic Delmar and pilot Kristel. 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 when a supposedly dead FBI agent shoots and damages the hydraulics, 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, Hal and Gabe lead them to the first case, located upwards on a steep rock face. Gabe is tethered and forced to climb up the face to reach the case, but when Qualen plans to have Gabe killed once he's got the case, Hal warns him not to come down before Delmar pulls him back and hold him at gunpoint, Qualen orders Kynette and one of the thieves try to yank him down, prompting Gabe to sever the rope. Qualen orders one of the thieves to open fire on Gabe, causing 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 Delmar and dies and Hal grabs Frank’s knife. As the mercenaries split up to look for the other case, Hal is able to use the knife to wound Delmar, kill him with his own shotgun, and escape. Elsewhere Hal finds Gabe, and together they kill Travers, who is now insane after finding that Gabe managed to get the last case before him. 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 use the helicopter to kill Gabe, but Gabe has used the winch cable to tether the helicopter to a steel ladder up the cliff face. Hal arrives and helps via shooting the helicopter down. 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 they were found by Treasury agents led by Walter Wright in a helicopter after they get a bead on a frequency between Travers and Qualen and he arrange a transportation as Gabe, Hal, and Jessie sitting on top of a mountain peak, just like Gabe, Hal, and Sarah at the beginning.


  • 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 psychotic British former military intelligence officer, now leader of the gang of thieves trying to rob $100 million from the U.S. Treasury
  • Michael Rooker as Harold "Hal" Tucker, Gabe's best friend and a mountain ranger who blames Gabe for failing to save Sarah
  • Janine Turner as Jessica "Jessie" Deighan, a helicopter pilot and Gabe's girlfriend working 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 for Qualen
  • Caroline Goodall as Kristel, Qualen's pilot and companion
  • Leon Robinson as Kynette, Qualen's brutal second-in-command
  • Craig Fairbrass as Delmar, Qualen's sadistic ex-English football 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 Ranger 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
  • Steve Staunton as Ranger Phil
  • Wolfgang Güllich as Gabe Walker (stunt double)


Development and writing[edit]

Carolco Pictures had originally signed Sylvester Stallone to appear opposite John Candy in a comedy about feuding neighbors titled Bartholomew Vs. Neff, which was going to be written and directed by John Hughes. When that project was dropped, Stallone became involved in two other Carolco projects. The first one was the futuristic science-fiction horror film Isobar, which was about a genetically-created monster who breaks free on a high-speed runaway train. Between 1987, when Carolco first bought the original script by Jim Uhls for $400,000, and 1991, directors Ridley Scott and Roland Emmerich were each at different points in time attached to direct the film which would have had a $90 million budget with Stallone and Kim Basinger playing the main roles. However, due to disagreements between them and Carolco and producer Joel Silver about the script changes and lack of artistic freedom, both Scott and Emmerich gave up on the project, which in the end was cancelled.[2][3][4]

The second Carolco project in which Stallone was involved was an action disaster thriller entitled Gale Force, described as "Die Hard in a hurricane", which Renny Harlin was going to direct, and in which Stallone would play an ex-Navy SEAL who has to fight against a group of modern pirates who attack a coastal town during a large, catastrophic hurricane. The first version of the script for the film was written by David Chappe in 1984, who then wrote six more drafts between 1987 and 1989, and after his final draft received some praise and following the bidding war between several studios for it in 1989, Carolco bought his final draft for $500,000, with a promise of an additional $200,000 if the movie were made. Harlin was paid $3 million for directing the film, but because his contract also gave him full control of the project, he demanded many re-writes of the script to, amongst other things, increase the number of action sequences and make them bigger. Between 1990 and 1991 while they were working on the project, Carolco spent over $4 million on all the different screenwriters and versions of the script. One of the screenwriters who worked on it was Joe Eszterhas who was paid $500,000 to write his version. However, he re-wrote it as an erotic thriller, similar to his previous screenplays, so it was rejected. Because they thought that the intended $40 million budget would be too big, and since they couldn't figure out how to make special effects for the film, Carolco cancelled the project two weeks before production was supposed to begin. But Harlin still kept his $3 million, and he and Stallone and everyone else involved in it then moved on to Cliffhanger, another Carolco project, which had a budget of $70 million, almost double that of Gale Force.[5][6][7][8][9][10]

Half of the film's budget was provided by TriStar Pictures in exchange for complete distribution rights in North America, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and France.[11] 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.[12]

The large majority of the film's scenes were shot in the Dolomites in Cortina d'Ampezzo, 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, and the town 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. Some filming took place in Durango, Colorado. The credits of the film also thank the Ute Tribe for filming in the Ute Mountain reservation.[13]

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).[14]

The principal climbing doubles were Ron Kauk and Wolfgang Güllich. Kauk performed as Stallone's climbing double after Güllich died in a car accident in 1992.[15]

When asked about the director's cut, Stallone explained that "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 you’re probably better off with this cut. By the way, the 2nd unit crew that filmed the majority of the action was extraordinary."[16]


Cliffhanger: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Studio album by
Released23 May 1993
RecordedCine-Tele Sound (CTS) Studios, Wembley, United Kingdom
GenreStage & Screen
LabelScotti Bros. Records 514 455-2
ProducerTrevor Jones
Trevor Jones chronology
The Last of the Mohicans
Cliffhanger: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Death Train
Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic3.5/5 stars[17]

The orchestral score to Cliffhanger was composed by film score veteran Trevor Jones. In his review for the Cliffhanger soundtrack, reviewer Christian Clemmensen mentioned its similarities to Jones' 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."[18] 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.[18]


Home media[edit]

Cliffhanger was released on DVD on 13 June 2000,[19] on Blu-ray on 12 January 2010,[20] and on 4K UltraHD Blu-ray on 15 January 2019.[21]


Box office[edit]

The film was a box office hit.[22] 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 in which Delmar beats up Tucker, but other cuts included aggressive strong language and other moments of violence. However, the 2008 DVD release was given a '15' with no cuts made.[23]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 68% based on 53 reviews, with an average rating of 6.2/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "While it can't escape comparisons to the movies it borrows from, Cliffhanger is a tense, action-packed thriller and a showcase for the talents that made Sylvester Stallone a star."[24] On Metacritic the film has a score of 60 out of 100 based on reviews from 16 critics.[25] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.[26]

The film was screened out of competition at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival.[27] It 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.[28]

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.[29] Roger Ebert gave the film 3 out of 4 stars.[30] 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.[31][32][33]

The film has been criticized for its unrealistic portrayal of rock climbing. One example is the feature of the Piton gun which fires pitons directly into rock, forgoing the usual rock-drilling and piton-hammering used in rock climbing. This ignores certain material properties of rock[further explanation needed] that should cause the piton gun's impact site to shatter and explode with flaky[vague] projectiles. The piton gun is considered[by whom?] 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.[34][35]

Cultural influence[edit]

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

Other media[edit]

Sequel and remake[edit]

Around 1994, TriStar Pictures planned to make a sequel of the film titled The Dam (or Cliffhanger 2: The Dam), which would have Stallone's character Gabe Walker fighting against terrorists who took over Hoover Dam, but it never went beyond development stage. In 2008, once again there were plans to make this sequel, and even Stallone was interested, but it was cancelled.[36]

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.[37] In May 2014, Joe Gazzam was set to write the script for the film.[38]

In 2015 on his official Instagram, Stallone stated he would love to make a sequel to Cliffhanger, which puts doubt on whether a reboot will actually happen.[39] In 2019, a female-fronted ‘Cliffhanger’ reboot was announced, written by Sascha Penn, to be directed by Ana Lily Amirpour and Jason Momoa in talks to cameo.[40]

Video game[edit]

The video games based on the film of the same name were released on November 17, 1993.[41]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Cliffhanger". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2016-01-01.
  2. ^ "Money talks State Senate President Phil Rock is..." Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  3. ^ "SCI FI Wire - The News Service of the SCI FI Channel - SCIFI.COM". 3 September 2007. Archived from the original on 3 September 2007. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  4. ^ The Greatest Sci-fi Movies Never Made by David Hughes
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ "How Deals Get Done Over A Hot Script". Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  7. ^ "Sylvester Stallone's Gale Force". 4 October 1991. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  8. ^ WILLMAN, CHRIS (4 July 1990). "Renny Harlin Finds Plenty of Action in Hollywood : Movies: With 'Die Hard 2' and 'Ford Fairlane' opening almost simultaneously, the Finnish director of adventure films is taking the industry by storm". Retrieved 30 September 2017 – via LA Times.
  9. ^ Gelder, Lawrence Van (13 July 1990). "AT THE MOVIES". Retrieved 30 September 2017 – via
  10. ^ "Total Free Fall". 8 March 1992. Retrieved 1 October 2017.
  11. ^ 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
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ "Stallone answers December 9th & 10th Questions in a double round - plus Harry's Seen ROCKY BALBOA..." Retrieved September 30, 2019.
  17. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "Trevor Jones, Cliffhanger [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]". Retrieved December 10, 2015.
  18. ^ a b Clemmensen, Christian. Cliffhanger soundtrack review. Retrieved 2011-05-23.
  19. ^ "Cliffhanger DVD Release Date". DVDs Release Dates. Retrieved 2018-11-14.
  20. ^ "Cliffhanger DVD Release Date". DVDs Release Dates. Retrieved 2018-11-14.
  21. ^ "Cliffhanger - 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Ultra HD Review | High Def Digest". Retrieved 2018-11-14.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ "CLIFFHANGER rated 15 by the BBFC". 2008-06-03. Archived from the original on 2014-01-16. Retrieved 2012-03-04.
  24. ^ "Cliffhanger (1993)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved April 10, 2018.
  25. ^ "Cliffhanger". Metacritic.
  26. ^ "Cinemascore". CinemaScore. Archived from the original on 2018-12-20.
  27. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Cliffhanger". Retrieved August 24, 2009.
  28. ^ "The 66th Academy Awards (1994) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-10-22.
  29. ^ "Rocky's Mountains". Chicago Tribune. May 28, 1993. Retrieved 2010-09-10.
  30. ^ "Cliffhanger". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2010-09-10.
  31. ^ Denby, David (June 14, 1993). "Dim Peaks". New York. Vol. 26 no. 24. New York City. p. 66.
  32. ^ "THIN PEAKS 'CLIFFHANGER' HAS ITS ADRENALINE, BUT OH, THAT SCRIPT . . ". The Buffalo News. May 27, 1993. Retrieved May 1, 2018.
  33. ^ Broeske, Pat H. (June 12, 1994). "FILM; Death is Hard . . . Reincarnation Is Easy". The New York Times. Retrieved May 1, 2018.
  34. ^ "Rock Climbing Media Reviews: Books, Movies, and more". Retrieved 2012-03-04.
  35. ^ "Stallone Stumbles As Climber 'Cliffhanger' Is About The Outdoors. At Least, That Was The Intent. -". 1994-01-09. Archived from the original on 2014-12-19. Retrieved 2012-03-04.
  36. ^ "Sylvester Stallone to Star in Cliffhanger 2: The Dam? – /Film". 16 February 2008. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  37. ^ "StudioCanal remounts 'Cliff' - Entertainment News, Cannes News, Media". Variety. May 13, 2009. Retrieved May 14, 2009.
  38. ^ "Climb Toward 'Cliffhanger' Reboot Moving Forward; Joe Gazzam Set To Write". Retrieved 30 May 2014.
  39. ^ "Sylvester Stallone teases 'Cliffhanger' sequel (Photo)". FanSided. May 31, 2015. Retrieved May 1, 2018.
  40. ^ Wiseman, Andreas (May 8, 2019). "Hang On, Cannes! Neal Moritz's Female-Fronted 'Cliffhanger' reboot Climbs With Rocket Science, CAA". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on May 8, 2019. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  41. ^ "Review Crew: Cliffhanger". Electronic Gaming Monthly (54). EGM Media, LLC. January 1994. p. 42.

External links[edit]