Cliffhanger theatrical poster
|Written by|| John Long (premise)|
|Directed by||Renny Harlin|
|Produced by||Alan Marshall|
|Music by||Trevor Jones|
|Cinematography by||Alex Thomson|
|Editing by||Frank J. Urioste|
Le Studio Canal+
|Distributed by||TriStar Pictures|
|Release Date||May 28, 1993|
|Run time||112 min.|
Cliffhanger is a 1993 American action-adventure thriller directed by Renny Harlin and starring Sylvester Stallone and John Lithgow. Stallone 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.
In this film, Gabe Walker (Sylvester Stallone), an ex-mountain rescue ranger haunted by his failure to save the fiancée of his friend Hal Tucker (Michael Rooker), is asked by his estranged girlfriend and fellow mountain ranger Jessie Deighan (Janine Turner) to help Hal rescue a few trapped hikers stranded in a plane crash, only for Gabe and Hal to find themselves taken captive by a gang of terrorists, led by cold-blooded ex-intelligence agent Eric Qualen (John Lithgow), and are forced to help them find three suitcases that contained $100 million after a failed mid-air heist. After Gabe escapes death from them, he sets to save Hal and defeat Qualen in the Colorado mountain range.
Cliffhanger is almost unanimously regarded as one of the best Die Hard scenario movies.
In the opening scene, hotshot mountain climber and rescue ranger Gabriel "Gabe" Walker and fellow ranger Jessie Deighan are dispatched to pick up their friend Hal Tucker on a narrow peak in the Rocky Mountains called "The Tower", where he was stranded after a knee injury. While moving from one mountaintop to a helicopter via a steel cable, Hal's girlfriend Sarah's harness breaks and she is left dangling over a deep chasm. While the others try frantically to come up with a solution, Gabe straps himself in and goes out to save Sarah, but is unsuccessful; her gloved hand slips through Gabe's and she falls 4,000 feet to her death in the chasm.
Eight months later, Gabe returns to town for the first time since Sarah's funeral. Overcome with guilt over having lost Sarah, Gabe has returned only to pack his remaining possessions to leave permanently and convince Jessie to come with him. However, a radio distress call comes in to the local rescue center where Hal and Jessie still work. Hal heads off to find the stranded climbers while Jessie pleads with Gabe to join Hal's rescue attempt. Battling his inner demons Gabe meets Hal on the mountain, where Hal, still angry with Gabe for being unsuccessful at saving Sarah, lashes out and almost throws Gabe off a ledge.
The distress call turns out to be a fake; the two climbers are taken prisoner by a group of ruthless thieves led by former Military Intelligence member Eric Qualen, who seeks to recover three suitcases containing $100 million in uncirculated $1,000 bills belonging to the U.S. Treasury Department. With the aid of turncoat U.S. Treasury agent Richard Travers, Qualen and his mercenaries attempt to steal the suitcases via a daring air-to-air transfer, but the transfer is foiled and the three suitcases are lost among the mountains and two die during the heist. The thieves' plane loses power during the attempt and crashes. The suitcases holding the money have beacon locators, but the thieves need expert help locating them in the mountainous terrain, thus prompting them to summon the unwitting Gabe and Hal to their aid.
The group locates the first of the three cases, and Gabe is tethered to a rope and ordered to scale a steep wall to retrieve it. Gabe frees himself from the rope, and the group begins firing up the mountain, causing an avalanche which kills Heldon, one of Qualen's thugs. Seeing the money flutter down from the top of the mountain, Qualen presumes Gabe dead and orders the group to proceed to the second case.
Gabe survives the avalanche and makes his way to an abandoned cabin where he finds Jessie, who was airlifted into the area earlier. Together, they reach the second case only moments before Qualen and his mercenaries arrive. They find the case empty (except for a single $1,000 bill with the words "Want to Trade?" written on it) and split up to find Gabe. Qualen's mercenary Ryan chases after Gabe and Jessie. Gabe and Ryan slide down a hill, fighting and the thug is killed when he flies down into an abyss, as Gabe hangs onto a cliff at the last second. Two of Hal's friends, casually hanging out on the mountain, run into Hal and the thieves. Hal tells them to run, and as they do, one is shot dead by Qualen's mercenary Kynette. The other parachutes off a cliff, where his parachute is caught on a tree branch, leaving him dangling off the ground. When Gabe makes an attempt to climb out of a crevice, he is spotted by Kynette. A fight ensues between Gabe and Kynette in the cave, resulting in the latter being impaled on a stalactite, after beating the former up. Gabe tries to pick up the thief's radio to call the rescue helicopter, but Hal alerts Gabe that Qualen is planting explosives directly above him and plans to kill him. Gabe and Jessie barely escape.
The thieves, with Hal still as their guide, make their way to the abandoned cabin for the night. Meanwhile, Gabe and Jessie hole up in a cave and stay warm by burning the money they found to stoke their fire. The helicopter pilot, Frank, having not received any response from Jessie, Gabe, or Hal, flies over to the mountain, where he finds Hal's friend stuck in the tree, cuts him down, transports him to safety, and alerts the authorities as well.
The following morning, Gabe and Jessie attempt to beat the thieves to the remaining case. Kristel flags down the helicopter. Against Qualen's orders, Delmar shoots Frank. Hal crawls over and Frank, just before dying, gives him a knife. Hal sticks it in his boot, and the thieves walk over to the helicopter. Travers, at this point, pulls a gun on Qualen, telling everyone that he is now in charge of the operation. Qualen, held at gunpoint, states that without someone to pilot the helicopter, nobody will even be able to get off the mountain, and shoots dead Kristel, the only other mercenary with piloting experience.
Once again with leverage over Travers, Qualen asks Travers, Hal, and Delmar track the case. Once within a reasonably close distance to the case, Travers leaves Delmar to kill Hal, only to find that Gabe has beaten him to the case once again. Delmar beats Hal and nearly kicks him off a cliff, but Hal stabs Delmar in one of his legs and shoots the thug with his own shotgun. Meanwhile, Jessie, who signaled the rescue helicopter thinking it to be Frank, is taken hostage by Qualen. Travers discovers that Gabe has found the last case before him, and furiously chases him causing Gabe to fall into the frozen river. Under the ice, Gabe outsmarts Travers and shoots the crooked Treasury agent with his bolt gun. His dead body is carried away by the river.
Communicating by radio, Qualen and Gabe make a deal to exchange Jessie for the money Gabe collected from the third case. Qualen releases Jessie, but Gabe throws the bag of money into the helicopter's rotors. In the following confusion, Qualen's helicopter falls precariously against the side of the mountain, suspended by a steel cable. Gabe and Qualen fight atop the dangling wreck. Gabe manages to jump off as the wreckage falls several thousand feet and explodes, killing Qualen. Tucker quotes "If you're looking for Mr. Qualen, try about 4,000 feet south of here. He'll be the one wearing a helicopter." The film ends as Gabe, Hal, and Jessie are found by federal agents and rescued.
Cast and characterEdit
- Sylvester Stallone as Gabe Walker
- Michael Rooker as Hal Tucker
- Janine Turner as Jessie Deighan
- Ralph Waite as Frank
- John Lithgow as Eric Qualen
- Rex Linn as Richard Travers
- Caroline Goodall as Kristal
- Craig Fairbrass as Delmar
- Leon as Kynette
- Gregory Scott Cummins as Ryan
- Denis Forest as Heldon
- Mike Weis as Mike
- Kevin Donald as Ray
- Kim Robillard as Treasury Jet Pilot
U.S. Government agentsEdit
- Paul Winfield as Walter Wright
- Vyto Ruginis as Agent Mathesen
- 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.
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. 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.
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 film's most breathtaking scenes were shot in the Cortina d'Ampezzo area of the Dolomites, Italy. For example the bridge scene was shot on Monte Cristallo. Further filming took place in Durango, Colorado. The credits of the film also thank the Ute Tribe for filming in the Ute Mountain reservation.
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.
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. 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, who performed as climbing double of Stallone before he died in an auto accident in 1992.
The critically acclaimed orchestral score to Cliffhanger was composed by film score veteran Trevor Jones. In his review for the Cliffhanger soundtrack, Filmtracks.com 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." 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.
Scotti Bros. release:
- Cliffhanger Theme (3:52)
- Sarah's Farewell (2:14)
- Sarah Falls (3:53)
- Gabe Returns (3:11)
- I Understand (1:40)
- Sunset Searching (1:19)
- Tolerated Help (2:55)
- Base Jump (4:10)
- Bats (2:25)
- Two Man Job (2:08)
- Kynette Is Impaled (4:00)
- Fireside Chat (0:33)
- Frank's Demise (2:37)
- Rabbit Hole (1:33)
- Icy Stream (1:39)
- Jessie's Release (3:42)
- Helicopter Fight (1:30)
- End Credits (7:23)
Intrada release, with unreleased tracks in bold:
- Cliffhanger Theme (3:52)
- Setting Cable ("Sarah's Farewell" on the Scotti Bros. album) (2:14)
- Sarah Slips ("Sarah Falls") (4:03)
- Driving Invitation ("Gabe Returns") (3:12)
- I Understand (1:40)
- Being Tracked/Matheson Revives (6:51)
- Plane Crash (1:50)
- Two Man Job (2:09)
- Tolerated Help (2:57)
- Fetch/Expensive Funeral (6:04)
- Hal Leads (1:24)
- Ice Castle/Sunset Searching (2:03)
- Night Searching/Face Flare (4:18)
- Qualen In Hut/Fireside Chat (1:14)
- Brett's Death/Evan's Dive ("Base Jump") (4:07)
- Bats (2:24)
- Wolves Away (1:57)
- Footbridge (:40)
- Gabe's Caught (1:27)
- Kynette's Impaled ("Kynette Is Impaled") (4:02)
- Qualen's Timebomb/Jessie's Close Call (4:03)
- Frank's Demise (2:36)
- Blown Bridge/Krystel's Sacrifice (3:02)
- Rabbit Hole (1:34)
- Delmar Falls (2:27)
- Rabbit Surprise (2:58)
- Icy Stream/Jessie's Release/Hooked Copter/Copter Fight (9:35)
- Cliffhanger (End Credits) (7:23)
The film was screened in out of competition at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards, Best Sound (Michael Minkler, Bob Beemer and Tim Cooney), Best Sound Effects Editing and Best Visual Effects all losing to Jurassic Park.
The film was generally praised by critics, receiving a 82% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 33 reviews. 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. 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.
Generally disliked is the film's 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.
Sneak-preview audiences saw a scene where a rabbit gets 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.
The film was originally rated NC-17 by the MPAA on account of its violence. Several cuts were made to almost every violent scene in the film in order to get an R rating. 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 Walker with the bolt gun and blasted with the shotgun by Tucker. This was changed to Walker 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.
The movie was a box office hit. For its British cinema release, the film was edited by one minute, then by a further twenty-five 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.
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 studio has retained the USA home video, USA and Japan television rights to (and therefore not owned in USA home video, USA and Japan television by Carolco successor StudioCanal), and thus Sony Pictures remains responsible for USA home video, USA and Japan television distribution.
- In May 2009, it was announced that StudioCanal (international rightsholder to the original (except japan television distribution)) would be overseeing a remake of Cliffhanger. Neal H. Moritz was set to produce, with filming was due to begin in 2010.
- Archive footage of the plane crash from this film was later used in the low-budget Die Hard scenario film Con Express.