During a daring mid-air heist all goes wrong and three suitcases full of cash end up at various locations in the Rocky Mountains. In order to find the money the criminals take mountain rangers Gabe Walker (Sylvester Stallone) and Hal Tucker (Michael Rooker) hostage and force them to track the suitcases. Due to the ruthless and trigger-happy nature of criminal leader Eric Qualen (John Lithgow), Gabe manages to get away from the criminals who now have to rely on Hal to lead them through the rough terrain. On his own Gabe tries to outsmart the criminals and save his friend and colleague from certain death. Since the title of this movie is Cliffhanger, this obviously involves a lot of hanging from cliffs.
Cliffhanger is often recalled to as Die Hard in the Rocky Mountains and its not hard to see why. One guy taking on a group of ruthless criminals one by one at a certain location. But Cliffhanger is more than that. The mountain setting gives the movie a larger scope than all those Die Hard copies that took place in a confined location. Cliffhanger is more of a Die Hard 2 clone, which isn’t that surprising since both movies are directed by the same guy.
Cliffhanger came at an interesting moment in the career of Sylvester Stallone. After the failures of Rocky V, Oscar and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, his career as a leading man was hanging by a thread when this movie put him back on top. It’s not hard to see why this movie was a smash hit, but Stallone’s presence had very little to do with it.
The true stars of the movie are the stunt men and Italian mountains pretending to be the Rocky mountains. Cliffhanger is filled with gravity defying stunt work. Including the first and probably still only shot of a person going from one plane to another in mid-air. A stunt so special the performer receives a special credit during the end credits.
Tying the imposing scenery and death defying stunts together is director Renny Harlin who was still on a hot streak in Hollywood having directed A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 and Die Hard 2 prior. Cliffhanger is an action packed experience that rarely takes a time to catch its breath and can be considered to be one of the pinnacles of 90s action movies.
Watching it now I’m impressed how well the movie holds up. Especially in terms of special effects. There are some shots that made me wonder how they did that back in 1993. like the extreme zoom out of a mountain climbing Sylvester Stallone that convinces the audience he is actually scaling this enormous mountain.
Some shots don’t hold as well, like the explosion of a helicopter at the end of a movie. Yet they still gave that scene its own little making off on the DVD and Blu-Ray releases. The stage work is also rather obvious. Since most of the movie takes place outside on actual mountains, the scenes which are obvious sound stages stand out from the rest of the movie.
But overall Cliffhanger holds up really well and it a great action movie. Even if it’s often referred to as Die Hard in the Rocky Mountains. Then again, most of the great 90s movies were just a variation on Die Hard. As Steve Jobs famously said: Good artists copy, great artists steal.