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Film / Cliffhanger

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Cliffhanger is a 1993 action-adventure film directed by Renny Harlin and starring Sylvester Stallone.

Gabe Walker (Stallone) was just your friendly everyday mountain rescue worker, happily flying to the rescue in the Rockies with his helicopter-pilot girlfriend Jessie Deighan (Janine Turner), until his best friend Hal Tucker (Michael Rooker) took his completely untrained girlfriend to climb to the summit of a cliff. Of course, this led to her horrifying death hundreds of feet below when the rescue equipment failed to function properly.note  In spite of Gabe's valiant efforts, Tucker blamed him for the tragedy. Gabe, being the good-hearted musclehead that he is, took the blame to heart and left the mountains in guilt and grief.

8 months later, Gabe came back to pick up his things from Jessie, just in time to be the only climber qualified enough to reach a band of plane crash survivors trapped in the mountains by a snowstorm. Partnering himself with Tucker, who still hated him, the duo reached the plane...

...only to find the distress signal to be a ruse of Eric Qualen (John Lithgow), a maniacal terrorist leader leading a Card-Carrying Villain band of Psycho for Hire mercenaries (which includes a pre-Modern Warfare-and-One Piece Craig Fairbrass) who have just lost $100 million worth of $1,000 bills they hijacked during the crash. Gabe and Tucker are captured and forced to help the terrorists get their ill-gotten money...

A sequel is currently in development, tentatively planned for a 2025 release.

This film provides examples of:

  • Action Survivor: Gabe, Tucker, and Jessie. Notably, all of them (even the mountain of muscle that is Gabe) end up taking a serious beating whenever they have to face any of the mercs in a straight fight, due to being professional mountaineers, not professional soldiers.
  • Actor Allusion:
  • Amazon Chaser: The only member of his team Qualen actually admires is The Squadette, Kristel, who's notably smarter than the rest of his mooks (when making the fake distress call, she claims that one of their party is running out of insulin so the rescue team won't wait till after the storm). Subverted later in a Shoot the Dog and You Have Outlived Your Usefulness moment when Qualen shoots her dead solely to force the hand of Travers, who's trying to become The Starscream.
    Qualen (watching her plant an explosive booby trap): You'll make a good wife for someone one day.
    Kristel: You should see me bake a cake.
  • Anyone Can Die: Including a Hero of Another Story, a Plucky Comic Relief and a Cool Old Guy.
  • Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: Kynette, especially during his No-Holds-Barred Beatdown of Gabe, when he drags out his fight just for his own gratification.
  • Artistic License – Biology: In real life, Walker would not have emerged from swimming topless in icy water unscathed, as he'd be in shock and succumb to hypothermia.
  • Artistic License – Sports: The film takes many artistic licenses with rock climbing, particularly the gun with fires pitons directly into rock.
  • The Atoner: Gabe Walker.
  • Ax-Crazy: Qualen, Kynette, Delmar and eventually Travers when he undergoes his Villainous Breakdown. These guys are much more serious and violently dangerous than most villains from "Die Hard" on an X movies.
  • Badass Bystander: Matheson, one of the few red shirts in movie history to more or less nearly take out the villains all by himself.
  • Bad Boss: Qualen. When one of his mooks is injured during the mid-air robbery, he kills him.
    Kynette: What do we do with him?
    Qualen: Send him to the nearest hospital. Fast. (throws mook out of the airplane)
  • Big Bad: Qualen, the leader of the robbers.
  • Big Bad Wannabe: Travers, especially when he attempts to pull The Starscream after being the No-Respect Guy in the eyes of his accomplices.
  • Big "NO!":
    • Sarah, as she's falling to her death in the beginning of the film.
    • Hal does one (although the audio in that scene is silenced, and it's just the music playing.) when Kynette shoots and kills Brett.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Travers at the beginning of the film initially appears to be an honest Reasonable Authority Figure, however, when Travers reveals his true colors as The Mole, not only is he a mole, he's a mentally unstable, disgruntled Jerkass.
  • Black-and-White Morality: Like most action movies from the 1980s and 1990s, there is very little moral ambiguity in this film. Eric Qualen and his gang are a bunch of unrepentant murdering psychopaths. While the good guys, on the other hand, are Rocky Mountain Search and Rescue volunteers.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Of all the bad guys who get any kind of characterization, Kynette is the first to meet his richly deserved end.
  • Blinded by the Light: At one point, Gabe blinds a mook by lighting a flare in front of his night vision goggles.
  • Blood Knight: Kynette seems to be this, but at least he mantains some discipline. Delmar on the other hand is totally sadistic and murderous and he seems to take part in Qualen's operations just for the fun of killing people rather than for the money.
  • Body Sled: Gabe, and then Ryan. The former manages to save himself with an ice axe.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: Kynette and Delmar might have lived to steal and terrorize another day if they had just done away with Gabe and Hal quickly and quietly instead of dragging out their fights just for thrills. Instead Kynette receives a very karmic attack on his privates before being impaled and Delmar gets a knife in the leg before Hal shoots him.
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: Gabe loses some of his climbing equipment when he manages to run away from the thieves (and his jacket was taken away by them when they forced him to fetch the first money case), so he's forced to take replacements from the exhibit display inside of a rest cabin. At one point he even quips about how unsafe it must be to pull off a stunt with the sixty-year-old rope that he snagged from the cabin.
  • Brief Accent Imitation: Krystel affects a very convincing American accent during a fake distress radio call. The fact alone that her actress can do an authentic Fake Americaninvoked accent was what probably what led her to be cast as the President of the United States in Hunter Killer in 2018.
  • Briefcase Full of Money: The plot involves a mid-air heist of several cases of uncirculated $1,000 bills, but things go wrong and the crates get dumped in the Rocky Mountains. Fortunately the cases have tracking devices attached in case of a plane crash, so the villains kidnap some mountain rescue climbers to help track them down.
  • The Bully: The terrorists, especially Jerkass Co-Dragons Kynette and Delmar and to a lesser extent Qualen and Travers.
  • Butt-Monkey: Tucker.
  • Can't Kill You, Still Need You:
    • It quickly becomes obvious that Travers has outlived his usefulness as soon as the mercs manage to get the money off the transport plane. To keep himself alive, he points out that the tracking device used to trace the money containers (which have been scattered across the mountain) resets every 15 seconds and requires a rotating series of passcodes to operate, which only he knows.
    • When Travers tries to pull a You Have Outlived Your Usefulness on Qualen before Qualen can do it to him, Qualen kills the only other merc who can fly their escape helicopter in order to leave himself the only one who can fly them off the mountain.
  • Card-Carrying Villain:
    • As stated by Qualen:
    "Kill a few people, they call you a murderer. Kill a million and you're a conqueror. Go figure."
  • Chekhov's Gun: Tucker quickly pockets Frank's knife while nobody is looking. It comes in very handy later.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: For all his tactical expertise, Qualen sure is a lousy judge of character. He forms a band of henchmen that are so sociopathic and mean-spiritedly selfish that they can barely trust and cooperate with each other.
  • Climb, Slip, Hang, Climb: Implied by this poster.
  • Crooks Are Better Armed: Although taking on a bunch of Treasury security men is probably no walk in the park even with Matheson getting the drop on them, Qualen's crew go above and beyond the call of duty by bringing an absurd amount of explosives, multiple automatic weapons and even a grenade launcher (that they lose early on), all of which end up pitted against a lone man armed with climbing equipment.
  • Cruelty by Feet: Delmar, one of Eric Qualen's terrorists, is a former soccer player. He tells Hal this right before roleplaying a soccer game and kicking Hal around as if he were a ball. He manages to kick Hal off the cliff, leaving him dangling off the ledge while stomping on his fingers and laughing sadistically over his torment.
  • Damsel in Distress: Jessie Deighan turns into one. She's a helicopter pilot. She does mountain rescues. Then she gets scared by bats in a cave, and cringes in a corner while the he-men fight (granted, after she had her head bashed into a wall by Kynette).
  • Decoy Protagonist: Kind-hearted Cool Old Guy Frank, who spends a good bulk of the movie trying to find Walker, Tucker and Jessie. When finally facing the villains and finding Tucker, instead of simply being taken hostage, he gets mowed down by Delmar and is quickly forgotten, while Qualen steals his helicopter.
  • Defensive Feint Trap: When Kynette heads further into the cave to hunt Gabe down, the latter shouts a taunt to let the mercenary know where he's at. Once Kynette catches up with Gabe (who is pretending to be more injured than he already is), Jessie kicks Kynette in the face from her previously concealed position further up the rock wall. Unfortunately, this only knocks Kynette down for a second...
  • "Die Hard" on an X: Die Hard on a mountain. Unsurprisingly, the director Renny Harlin directed Die Hard 2 as well.
  • Disney Villain Death: Ryan, after getting into a fight with Gabe which results in them sliding down an icy hill, luckily Gabe manages to catch on to it with his icepick.
  • Downer Beginning: The infamous opening scene, which ends with Sarah being killed in a climbing accident, setting up the first part of the film's conflict.
  • Dramatic Gun Cock: The clack-clack seems to happen every time the villains brandish their assault weapons at Gabe and company.
  • Empathy Doll Shot: As a teddy-bear falls out of a backpack into the cliff below in the film's chilling opening.
  • Evil Brit: John Lithgow played Qualen with a strangulated upper-class English accent (way before his much more perfected approach to the accent again as Winston Churchill in The Crown) whilst Krystel and Delmar were played by actual Brits.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Kynette simply can not believe that Gabe would destroy the money, and believes Gabe to be lying right up until Gabe kills him.
  • Evil Is Hammy: Qualen, Kynette, Delmar and Travers, especially as up to eleven Jerkasses.
  • "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner:
    Hal Tucker: Delmar, from me to you, you're an asshole.
    Delmar: Yeah? And you're a loud-mouth punk slag, who's about to die.
    Hal Tucker: Maybe. But in a minute I'll be dead, and you... will always be an asshole.
  • Failsafe Failure: The film starts with Gabe climbing up a mountain to rescue Hal and Sarah. To get to the rescue helicopter they have to pull themselves on a line stretched across a chasm, suspended by their climbing harness and a carabiner (a big metal clip). When Sarah is in the middle of crossing, the carabiner starts to buckle; Gabe goes on the line to catch her, but he is too late and she falls to her death. The problem with that scene is that a carabiner is designed to withstand the weight of a falling climber. A standard one would have a rated strength of 23 kilonewtons, while the static load of a of a Hollywood starlet would would be around 0.5 kilonewton. At that point, viewers who knew their climbing may feel their Willing Suspension of Disbelief shatter with the carabiner. The studio was actually sued by the carabiner manufacturer as a result of this scene and the inaccuracy of it breaking in such a scenario; when it snaps there is a close up of the carabiner with the manufacturer's logo prominently displayed.
  • Failure-to-Save Murder: After Gabe tries and fails to save Sarah, Hal charges him with such, and Gabe accepts it.
  • Finger-Twitching Revival: During the mid-air heist Matheson is shot. As the last villain prepares to depart the airplane, he steps on the man's hand. It twitches in response, then the camera pans to show he's wounded but Not Quite Dead yet. And he has a submachine gun. Although he's killed soon after, his subsequent actions put a wrench in the villains Evil Plan and kick off the rest of the plot.
  • Flag Drop: When the surviving thrill-seeker parachutes off the cliff to escape Qualen's mooks, his 'chute resembles Finland's flag — probably owing to the director's heritage.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Delmar, as he says, used to be a soccer player before becoming an homicidal insane mercenary.
  • Groin Attack: There is one muscle that not even a martial-arts-terrorist can strengthen, as Kynette finds out the hard way in his confrontation with Walker.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Some of the villains are prone to fits of rage, particularly Travers, Delmar and Kynette.
  • Hate Sink: The terrorists' unlikable actions and attitudes tends fall into this to a point of overplaying this trope (it could even be said that they overkilled this Trope—most of the Re-Cut footage was done to make them less vomit-inducingly monstrous). Also, outside of their villainy, they are also all completely obnoxious in general. When they first take Tucker and Walker hostage, Kynette forbids Tucker and Walker to talk to each other ("Anytime you want to say something, don't."), refuses to let Walker have his climbing equipment to get to their first case, and takes Walker's jacket away—leaving him vulnerable to the cold—before Qualen finally orders his death.
  • Heel Realization: Tucker when he finds himself faced with a similar choice to that of the opening.
  • Hellish Copter: Gabe takes down Qualen's chopper by securing it to a cliffside ladder, keeping Qualen tethered and unable to escape.
  • Hero of Another Story: Matheson would have been The Hero in another film, having been trailing Qualen for quite some time on behalf of the FBI before the events of this film.
  • Idiot Ball: It is not a good idea to fire a grenade launcher on a snowy mountain, it causes an avalanche when Quinlan and his goons shoot at Gabe and surprisingly only the grenade launcher-wielder Heldon is killed by it albeit explained by the fact he kept firing away and standing exposed while everyone else took cover.
  • I Know Madden Kombat: Delmar uses his soccer skills to kick the crap out of Hal.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Kynette's end at the point of a stalactite - right after suffering a well deserved Groin Attack.
  • Inciting Incident: Had Travers properly disposed of Matheson, Qualen's plan would have succeeded and the movie would be very short.
  • Inside Job: The bad guys rob a US government plane transporting $100 million in uncirculated $1,000 bills while it is flying over the Rockies. This daring and extremely dangerous heist is only possible because one of the federal agents guarding the money is actually working for the bad guys and kills the other guards.
  • Jerkass: The terrorists themselves, with Qualen, Travers, Kynette and Delmar being the biggest Jerkasses out of the group, while Kristel, Ryan and Heldon, despite having little screen time and characterization, also show some shades of this. They aren't Affably Evil or Faux Affably Evil in the least, and routinely threaten and scream at each other.
  • Jerkass Realization: See Heel Realization above.
  • Jerk Jock: Delmar, who proclaims himself as an ex-soccer player, while torturing Tucker and acting sadistically badass.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Tucker, as he blames Walker for Sarah's death, but it is likely out of grief as Tucker loved Sarah. Also, even when he is held hostage along with Walker by Qualen and his team, Tucker encourages Walker to escape their wrath and continue to make sure Walker makes through the ordeal alive.
  • Knight of Cerebus: Things get dark when Qualen and his posse show up. Compared to the villains in a lot of other Die Hard ripoffs, who often try to at least be Faux Affably Evil to The Hero, these guys make no secret that they're a bunch of sadistic psychopathic Jerkasses who all happily swim around the Hate Sink. The movie was originally rated NC-17 thanks to their antics, before the executives forced some of the more out-there moments to be toned down a bit.
  • Large Ham: "You want to kill me, Tucker? Well, take a number and get in line!"
    • Also, "DAMN YOU WALKER!!"
    • "Time to kill a mountain man!"
    • "Partners in criiiiiiiiiiiiiiiime!"
  • Literal Cliffhanger: Tucker is a professional mountain climber. The film's teaser features a literal cliffhanger, leading to a Take My Hand! moment that fails.
  • MacGuffin: The secure briefcases full of money. The Big Bad plans to get them, but knows that he can't do it alone.
  • Made of Iron: Matheson. The man becomes entirely responsible for Qualen's predicament by killing two of Qualen's men and crippling Qualen's plane with a machine gun, all while at death's door from being shot four times in the chest. It takes the Treasury plane exploding to finally kill him.
  • Man Bites Man: Gabe takes a chunk out of Qualen's arm in their final battle.
  • Manly Tears: Cried by Gabe when he fails to save Tucker's girlfriend.
  • Money to Burn: Used justifiably when Gabe burns some of the stolen money to keep himself and Jessie warm. The bills were headed for destruction by the Treasury anyways.
    Gabe: Costs a fortune to heat this place.
  • My Greatest Failure: Gabe failing to save Sarah.
  • Nail 'Em: Gabe uses a spike-gun to shoot Travers, but it's at close range, and it's pressed against a sheet of ice; so it might work.
  • Never My Fault: Tucker brought his girlfriend—who has absolutely zero experience climbing—on a climbing trip to one of the most insanely difficult and tough-to-reach locations in the canyon. He also has a recurring knee injury which strands them both on one of the most dangerous cliffs possible. He also gives her defective equipment that fails halfway through their rescue. She's left dangling exactly halfway between cliffs, where nobody except Gabe has any hope of reaching her. She completely freaks out and is blatantly unable to climb back up to save herself, so Gabe climbs out to try and save her. Gabe nearly succeeds—grabbing her and holding on for as long as humanly possible before she slips out of her glove and falls. Likely out of judgement-clouding grief, Hal naturally blames Gabe entirely for her death.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: While Gabe is retrieving the first briefcase, Qualen remarks that they don't need two guides and instructs his crew to kill Gabe when he comes down. He says this while standing next to Hal, so Hal naturally yells to Gabe not to come back down, allowing Gabe to flee and become the fly-in-the-ointment to Qualen and crew. Had Qualen kept his mouth shut until Gabe came down, or instructed his men out of earshot, he would've saved himself a lot of trouble.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown:
    • One of the few non-Rocky Stallone films in which he gets beaten to a helpless pulp. To be fair, his opponent, Kynette is a martial-arts master. And Gabe took him down with a very satisfying Groin Attack.
    • Later on, Hal is savagely beaten at gunpoint by Delmar, in a stomach-turning parody of a soccer game. Which Hal puts the kibosh on when he gets hold of Delmar's shotgun. "Season's over, ASSHOLE!!"
  • Noisy Guns: The bad guys' weapons make cocking noises every time they're pointed at someone.
  • Novelization: By Jeff Rovin.
  • Obfuscating Disability: When placing the fake distress call, Kristel claims that "we need insulin" so that the mountain rescue team will not wait until the snowstorm has ended to rescue the terrorists. Qualen himself considers it a stroke of genius.
  • Oh, Crap!: The crooked treasury jet pilot when he realizes Matheson isn't dead yet. And has a machine gun.
    • The look on Kynette's face when, after dominating his fight with Walker, he goes too far by boasting about all the horrible things he'll do to Walker's girlfriend, at which point Walker grabs Kynette by his crotch, hefts him up over his head and then Kynette sees that he's about to be impaled on a stalactite.
    • The look on Delmar's face when, after sadistically beating Hal to a pulp and almost sending him falling to his death, Hal stabs him in the leg, shattering his manly self-image, and then realizes that Hal is about to shoot him with his own gun.
  • Plummet Perspective: Used to horrifying effect in the opening of the movie, with a falling Teddy Bear.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Delmar describes Kynette as a "black bastard." (Delmar also makes the mistake of addressing Kynette as "boy," which results in Kynette swiftly grabbing him by the back of the hair and holding a large knife to the corner of Delmar's mouth: "Maybe this 'boy' should make this big mouth a little bigger!")
  • Plummet Perspective: Used to horrifying effect in the opening with a falling teddy bear.
  • Powerful Pick: Gabe use ice-picks and various other mountaineering tools as improvised weapons whilst he battles terrorists on a snowy mountain.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner:
    • Delmar beats Tucker and announces it like a soccer game; finally, the beaten Tucker is dangling from a cliff with Delmar's shotgun in his face. Tucker manages to stab the sadistic bully of an Englishman in the ankle with Frank's dagger, grab his shotgun while he's distracted by the pain and...
    Hal Tucker: "SEASON'S OVER, ASSHOLE!" (pulls the trigger and blows a hole through Delmar)
    • Gabe delivers another cathartic one before he sends Qualen plummeting to his demise at the end of their final confrontation.
    "Remember, shithead: keep your arms and legs in the vehicle At All. Times!"
  • Product Placement: An example that backfired epically: the harness buckle that fails on the opening sequence was one designed by Black Diamond Equipment, and the camera lingers a long time on the brand as the failure occurs and Sarah dangles helplessly over a cliff. The company was so irate about the potential public fear to purchase from the brand in light of such an epic (staged) Failsafe Failure that they sued Carolco and won, and a disclaimer was added to the movie's credits which says that the equipment on that sequence was especially modified so it would fail.
  • Psycho for Hire:
    • All of Qualen's men qualify, but Kynette and Delmar are the straightest examples. They're the most openly psychotic and sadistic and both enjoy dragging out their fights just for their own gratification.
    • Travers himself literally becomes this near the end of film, when he undergoes his Sanity Slippage and Villainous Breakdown with Qualen calling him out for losing his mind.
    • Ironically, Qualen himself is crazy too despite being the employer. One of the FBI agents in-universe even calls him psychotic, while Travers calls him crazy when referring to Qualen's killing of Kristel.
  • Rank Scales with Asskicking: At the climax, effete villain John Lithgow (!) proves to be a match for musclebound Sly Stallone.
  • Rated M for Manly: Let's see, terrorists, gunfights, explosions, and rock climbing? It's a manly movie that flies under the radar.
  • Re-Cut: The workprint contains scenes that were cut to obtain an R-rating:
    • On the plane shootout an agent is shot twice in the chest, in the NC-17 work print it shows a second or so more of him feeling the impacts in slow-motion.
    • Another agent is shot in the head, blood and brain matter splatters on the wall behind him but in the R rated version you only briefly see the aftermath of him falling back.
    • When the co-pilot is shot in the NC-17 work print you see a different angle of blood and brains splattering on the window with him slumping back in the chair in slow-motion in the R rated version the scene is considerably shorter and just shows the pistol put to his head and fired.
    • When the co-pilot is shot in the R rated version you see him wriggling about and then falling backwards out of the plane with some bloody wounds on his back, in the work print you can clearly see multiple bloody bullet holes appearing in slow-motion as he is being shot by the agent.
    • When Brett is shot in the R rated version you see two bloody bullet hits on his back before he falls to the ground. In the work print he takes two bloody bullet hits in the back and then there is another shot of 3 more coming out of his chest and as he falls to the ground you can see another shot of him from behind taking another 3 hits before hitting the ground.
    • In the R rated version Evan is fired upon and doesn't appear to be hit until Frank finds him later. In the work print Kynette forces Travers shoot at Evan you then see Evan take a bullet through the shoulder in slow-motion which explains why he appears to have been shot when Frank finds him later on.
    • The fight between Gabe and Kynette has been shortened for the R rated version which misses shots of Gabe and Jessie being beaten further after Kynette asks for the *third* time where the money is (this is missing in the R rated version which leads to a continuity error as he said he would ask three times). The impaling of Kynette has been shortened, in the work print there is more focus on Kynette's eyes going back into his head and Gabe gritting his teeth holding Kynette up on the stalactite as he is dying before finally dropping him.
    • When Hal and Delmar fight the R rated version has removed a shot of Delmar kicking Hal hard in the kidneys and saying "Tell me how are we feeling so far?" as opposed to the R rated version "Tell me do you like soccer" they have been edited together and this now explains why Delmar appears out of breath when he asks the soccer question.
    • When Hal shoots Delmar with the shotgun in the work print you see Craig Fairbrass get shot with a large splatter of blood behind him and a bloody shotgun wound to his chest as he dives off the mountain. The R rated version shows a different angle with a stuntman falling off the mountain. Additionally the work print shows Delmar's body slamming into the rocks below where as the R rated version cuts away just before.
    • When Qualen shoots Kristel in the work print all three bloody bullet impacts are shown, in the R rated version it cuts away after the first shot to show Travers' reaction.
    • The Gabe and Travers fight has been edited (this might not be censorship, apparently the filmmakers decided it would be better to have Gabe shoot Travers' with his piton gun before falling under the ice as per the R rated version). In the workprint, Gabe shoots Travers once with the piton gun and Travers gets up and tries to shoot Gabe through the ice and is then shot by Hal three times with a shotgun before falling under the ice (this explains why Hal appears with a shotgun in the R rated version).
    • The ending fight with Gabe and Qualen has been shortened so kidney punches, an arm break and a longer shot of a terrified Qualen crashing to his death in the helicopter were taken out.
  • Red Herring Mole: The first few scenes make it look like Matheson, an FBI agent who joins the currency transfer flight at the last moment, is shady and suspicious and a potential mole. It turns out the actual mole is Travers, the veteran Treasury agent in charge of the currency transfer, and Matheson arranged to join the flight specifically because he suspected there was a mole on the inside who would attempt to hijack the shipment.
  • Retirony: Poor Frank, an elderly-artist who would not hurt a fly...
  • Sanity Slippage: Travers undergoes this when he succumbs to his Villainous Breakdown, with Qualen lampshading on it when speaking to him one last time.
    Travers: Lost it. Have I lost it? Fuckin' A, I've lost it, Qualen! Pure, fuckin' section eight!
  • Savage Wolves: After one of the basejumpers crash down on the woods, bunch of wolves appear to check him out. Luckily Frank arrives and chases them away.
  • Scary Black Man: Kynette is an evil martial-artist who dispassionately guns down a helpless teenage boy for just having seen his face. This lets us cheer when Gabe shoves his evil heart into a stalactite.
  • Scenery Porn: Being shot in a snowy mountain range guarantees lots of lovely sights.
  • Shell-Shock Silence: Whenever someone is being shot at and missed, the machine gun is very loud. When they are going to die, the shooting makes no sound at all.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: Or more like Shoot Down the Clowns, as Those Two Guys Brett and Evan act as the sole Plucky Comic Relief duo of this picture, yet they are gunned down by one Knight of Cerebus Scary Black Man Kynette for being witnesses with Brett killed and Evan seriously injured.
  • Short-Lived Aerial Escape: Trope Maker, thanks to Travers' attempt at using the chopper as a weapon in the final fight, leading to it crashing.
  • Smug Snake: The terrorists are very arrogant, but (with the exception of Qualen), all of them are out of their depth. Even the smart ones like Kristel and Travers get more than they bargained for.
  • The Sociopath: The terrorists, especially Qualen, Travers, Delmar and Kynette, all of whom are Ax-Crazy Jerkass textbook examples. Kristel, Heldon, Ryan and the rest of the gang probably also qualify, but they have less screentime to show it.
  • The Squadette: The only member of his team Qualen actually admires is Kristel, who's smarter than the rest of his mooks. Despite this, Qualen ruthlessly kills her to force the hand of Travers.
  • The Starscream:
    • Travers attempts to be this until Qualen took the upper hand and regains command.
    • While not a Big Bad Wannabe, Delmar wishes Kynette to be bumped off either by his hand or not so he could take his place of The Dragon for Qualen.
  • Stupid Evil: Most of the terrorist's problems wouldn't have escalated had they'd reel in their trigger happy tendencies.
  • Suddenly Shouting: Qualen asks Travers for the code to the tracking device. When Travers replies that it changes every few hours, Qualen, who's been pretty collected up until this point finally snaps:
    So what's the fucking CODE?
  • Tagline: "Hang on"
  • Take My Hand!:
    • The movie opens with a scene where the Gabe and Sarah, a fellow climber, are trying to cross a deep ravine to a helicopter using a wire. Sarah's harness breaks and she dangles in the air. Gabe tries to save her but has a hard time keeping his grip on her gloved hands. The glove starts slipping off and before he can pull her up, the glove comes off completely and Sarah plummets to her death.
    • Much later in the film, Gabe and Jessie slip off a cliff after the 60-year old climbing rope they were using breaks, and Jessie dramatically finds herself in the exact same situation Sarah was at the beginning of the film. However, as Jessie is a professional mountaineer rather than an untrained tourist, she remains calm and quickly uses her training to lift herself up and use her free hand to climb up Gabe's body to reach safety, resolving the whole thing fairly quickly with it being barely an inconvenience.
  • This Is for Emphasis, Bitch!: See Pre-Mortem One-Liner above.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: Right before the villains' plane is about to crash land:
    Qualen: Don't bother to buckle up - you may not want to survive this.
  • Those Two Guys: Brett and Evan, the two friendly extreme sports enthusiasts.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Heldon fires a grenadelauncher at Gabe, and when that starts an avalanche, Heldon continues to fire until the snowfall throws him clear off the ridge and falls to his death instead of taking cover like everyone else.
  • Tracking Device: The plot involves a mid-air heist of several cases of thousand dollar bills, but things go wrong and the crates are dumped in the Rocky Mountains. Fortunately they have tracking devices attached (in case of a plane crash) so the villains kidnap some mountain rescue climbers to help track them down, setting up the plot. At one point, the heroes put a tracking device on a rabbit to send the villains off on a false trail.
  • The Unfettered: Qualen wants the money at all costs. Any bystander is just an inconvenience to him and his own men are just pawns. Even Kristel, his lover and possibly the less sadistic member of his gang is not safe from him as he kills her just to remain the only one pilot.
  • Unskilled, but Strong: Gabe is a professional mountaineer, not a professional soldier, and it shows when he's forced to face bloodthirsty professional mercenaries Kynette and later Qualen in hand-to-hand. However, he's also a huge mountain of muscles, and is able to beat his opponents by rope-a-doping them until he gets an opening to take them out.
  • Use Their Own Weapon Against Them: Tucker kills Delmar with his own shotgun.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Or rather, on an urban legend among American climbers. The legend version was that a dope smuggling plane had gone down in the mountains and been found by climbers, who - being the only people able to get to it - recovered the stash. David Breashears, who was employed on the Movie as a climber, relates the story in his book High Exposure.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Travers when he finds Gabe has outsmarted him and he'll never be able to locate the money, rendering all his crooked dealings to get it moot.
  • Violence Is Disturbing: The original workprint cut was notorious for not only Gorn, but also the intensely brutal beatings and graphic outcomes and was initially rated NC-17 before it was cut down for a R rating.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: Other than being a Die Hard on a mountain, the action film also shared similar traits to Wes Craven's horror directorial debut The Last House on the Left as it involves an Ax-Crazy Hate Sink group of criminals (which even includes the token female amongst them) find themselves in the wilderness and both films showcased their graphic monstrous atrocities and the villains themselves explicitly meet their ends too as a result by the hands of the heroes. However, the prison transfer break is instead replaced by the botched air-to-air transfer robbery and the villains here are much more heavily armed. Both films even had trouble amongst the ratings system due to their graphic content and had to be Re-Cut to get the more markable "R" rating. Interestingly enough, the horror film features an early appearance by actor Martin Kove, who acted with this film's star Stallone on Rambo: First Blood Part II, as a deputy and is real life friends with the actor who played the said horror flick's villain David Hess.
  • Women Are Wiser:
    • In regards to Gabe and Hal's falling out, Jessie is quick to call out Gabe for running away and hoarding as much guilt as he can, while pointing out that Hal was on a difficult climb with a rookie and insisting that it was Gabe's fault.
    • Kristel seems to be the only level-headed, sensible person in Qualen's crew.
  • Worthy Opponent: Played with, and one-sided on Qualen's part:
    Qualen: "I got to say, you're a real piece of work."
    Gabe: "Well I got to say you're a real piece of shit."
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness:
    • Qualen throws out an injured mook in mid-air during the robbery.
    • Averted during the mid-air robbery when Travers decides to rope across to the jet before the money out of a gut-feeling that Qualen would leave him behind if he send down the money first.
    • Qualen orders Walker "retired" once he comes down with the first case, only for Tucker to thwart it and Walker escape.
    • When Travers threatens to turn against him, Qualen shoots dead his pilot Kristel (up till then the most useful member of his team) so he'll be the only remaining pilot, and so Travers can't afford to kill him.