Movies That Will Make You Never Want To Attempt Rock Climbing

By Sean Thiessen | Published

Going to the rock climbing gym is a nice evening outing or weekend activity. There is a harness, temperature control, plenty of oxygen… Everything you need for a nice time. On mountaintops, those luxuries are in short supply, and there are plenty of films to show just how tough this sport can get. This is our list of movies that will make you never want to attempt rock climbing.

Vertical Limit

Ready for a Y2K adrenaline rush? Chris O’Donnell comes in hot to climb frozen peaks in Vertical Limit. After an avalanche traps his sister and her climbing party on K2, O’Donnell’s character ascends with a rescue team to face one of the highest and most dangerous climbs in the world.

The film is a stylish nail-biter full of ridiculous and horrifying situations that push the capabilities of ice axes to the limit. Critics were slow to embrace Vertical Limit when it was released, but audiences showed up for the rock-climbing adventure. Against a budget of $75 million, the film grossed a whopping $215 million at the global box office.

This over-the-top thriller was shot on location in Pakistan, where K2 is actually located, and in New Zealand. Directed by GoldenEye and Casino Royale helmer Martin Campbell, Vertical Limit will be enough to keep you off the side of a mountain for good.

Free Solo

Some rock-climbing movies make the sport look fun. Free Solo makes it look insane. This Oscar-winning documentary follows Alex Honnold, one of the world’s most famous and prolific free solo climbers, as he attempts to ascend the face of El Capitan in Yosemite – without a rope.

It is a feat no one before Alex had ever attempted and for good reason. The climb is difficult with a rope. Without one, any mistake will be your last.

This gripping documentary follows Alex, the people who struggle to support him, and even the ethical dilemma facing the camera team as they consider the possibility that they may capture Alex’s death on camera.

Free Solo is tense, but it is also a meditation on what it means to truly be alive. Alex Honnold may represent the ultimate “don’t try this at home” activity, but his philosophy about life and climbing is fascinating enough to make this rock climbing movie a story for us all, even if it drives us away in a fury from the sport itself.


What makes a rock-climbing movie truly great? Sylvester Stallone, that’s what.

Cliffhanger is what you might call a mediocre masterpiece. Critics don’t love it, and even audiences are torn. But if you want to watch some big, dumb, 90s action fun, then Cliffhanger is the summit you are looking for.

When a heist goes sideways, suitcases full of cash fall from a helicopter and rain across the Rocky Mountains. The criminals send a distress signal that brings a rescue team that includes Stallone and his friends. The bad guys then take the rescuers hostage, forcing them to guide the group to the missing money.

From there, Stallone goes rogue to create Die Hard in the Rockies scenario. Who doesn’t want to watch that?

The film is full of epic stunts, most of which were done by Ron Kauk and Wolfgang Gullich, who filled in for Stallone. Sylvester Stallone is actually afraid of heights, which makes watching Cliffhanger all the more hilarious.

Cliffhanger depicts one rock climbing disaster after another. It is fun to watch, but seeing it on the screen is about as close to the action as we really want to be.


When is climbing more than climbing? Meru is an award-winning documentary out of Sundance that asks that question as it follows a group of elite climbers on a life-threatening quest up one of the climbing world’s most coveted routes.

Meru is as much about the philosophy of risk-taking as it is about the climb itself. Rock climbers at any level, but especially at the level of those who attempt Meru, are searching for something. Whether it is a sense of accomplishment or simply a more vivid relationship with life, these people are after something intangible and compelling.

This harrowing documentary may not make you want to risk your life on a dangerous mountain in a faraway land, but it carries the power to stir you toward activities built on the same principles. Meru is a rock climbing film about living life to the fullest, and at the end of the day, that is what climbing is all about.

Still… We’ll leave our rock climbing in the movies.