Sylvester Stallone is well-known for his big-budget action films and the popular characters that come along with them. One film, that could be considered one of his more underrated action films, is now available on Netflix.
Cliffhanger takes Sylvester Stallone to the Colorado Rocky Mountains as Gabe Walker, a mountain climbing ranger who finds himself battling his guilt as well as international thieves in the thin air of the Rockies.
When we first see Sylvester Stallone’s Gabe, he is on a rescue mission with fellow ranger Jessie Deighan (Janine Turner) to help out his friend Hal (Michael Rooker) and his girlfriend Sarah after Hal injures a knee while climbing. As Gabe attempts the rescue, Sarah’s harness breaks. Gabe is able to grab her hand but not for long. Her gloved hand comes loose, and she falls to her death.
Guilt causes Gabe to leave the job. Many months later, Gabe returns to finally pick up his remaining gear and possessions and also tries to convince Jessie to leave with him. While there, the ranger station receives a distress call from stranded climbers. Hal is off and running and Jessie convinces Sylvester Stallone’s hero to go along, much to Hal’s dismay. Hal still blames Gabe for Sarah’s death.
The two finally get to where the stranded climbers are but quickly learn the climbers are actually a group of international thieves led by Qualen (John Lithgow). The group is in the mountains trying to locate three cases of money totaling over $100 million. Qualen and his sadistic group require the assistance of Sylvester Stallone’s Gabe and Hal to locate the three cases, that contain beacon locators to help track them down.
Now being led by gunpoint, Gabe and Hal are able to track down the first case. Gabe is lowered down to grab the case. Qualen plans to cut Gabe loose once the case is retrieved but Hal warns him. Qualen’s men fire upon Sylvester Stallone’s protagonist, believing to have killed him. Qualen orders Hal to lead them to the second case.
Meanwhile, as he always does, Sylvester Stallone survives and is now in a race to the second case. He arrives at an abandoned cabin that isn’t so abandoned. Jessie is there and together they grab some old climbing gear in order to get the remaining cases.
When Hal finally gets Qualen to the second case, he opens it to find all the money gone but for one bill. On it is a message, “Want to trade?” The battle of wits continues between Sylvester Stallone’s Gabe and Qualen as does the race to the third case.
Cliffhanger is filled with great cinematography, awe-inspiring stunts, and, for its time, pretty nifty special effects. Sylvester Stallone is able to showcase what he loves to showcase and that is his full-ripped physique as he is scaling mountains big and bigger.
The film was directed by Renny Harlin, an action director who has had his share of the good with films without Sylvester Stallone like A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, Die Hard 2, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and Deep Blue Sea.
Harlin has also been tagged with some terrible films like Cutthroat Island, Driven (another film with Sylvester Stallone), Exorcist: The Beginning, and the John Cena clunker, 12 Rounds.
This one, though, lands somewhere in the upper half of Harlin’s films. He was given $70 million to have Sylvester Stallone climb mountains and rewarded producers with a $255 million box office.
Before Sylvester Stallone took on Cliffhanger, he was getting set to star opposite the late John Candy in a John Hughes written and directed film called Bartholomew vs. Neff, a film that was going to pit neighbor versus neighbor. The film never made it to production.
The reason we mention this film is that it was going to be produced by Carolco Pictures, a company that would eventually go bankrupt for their terrible decision making and also because Sylvester Stallone would be set up for two more Carolco projects.
The first was the never-made (yes, again) film Isobar, which would have had Sylvester Stallone duking it out with an alien aboard a high-speed runaway train.
The second project (or is this the third) to fail was called Gale Force, where Sylvester Stallone was to be an ex-Navy Seal having to go toe-to-toe with modern-day pirates after they invade a coastal town during a catastrophic hurricane. Renny Harlin was to direct this but when the project fell through, the two of them moved on to Cliffhanger, a project Carolco was finally able to see through.
As Sylvester Stallone is wont to do, he also had a hand in writing the script. He took scribe Michael France’s script, retooled it, and got himself a writing credit for his work.
Cliffhanger came at a good time for Sylvester Stallone and his career. He had just come off the least popular in the franchise Rocky V and followed that with the underrated comedy Oscar, which didn’t go over well with his fans. Then came the abysmal Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, so Cliffhanger (which followed the next year) was a pleasant surprise and very much needed for the action star.
Since then, Sylvester Stallone has bounced back and forth between the good, the bad, and the ugly. Nevertheless, his films always seem to bring in great numbers at the box office.
Recently, Sylvester Stallone brought back his popular character John Rambo for the 2019 hit Rambo: Last Blood and he was also heard in a big way in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, voicing the popular King Shark.
Up next for the 75-year-old action star is Samaritan, where he will play a superhero in hiding. Then, expect to see Sylvester Stallone reprise another one of his famous characters, Barney Ross, as he gets the band back together again for The Expendables 4. For now, you can catch Rocky climbing around in the Rockies in Cliffhanger, available on Netflix.