Climbing and Cliffhangers

The mountains gave Hollywood the sobriquet for one of its stock action genres: the cliffhanger. You would think Hollywood owed the sport of climbing a little respect after all the cliffs that it has hung its leading men and ladies upon. This plot tells me otherwise.

There are movies that use climbing as a metaphor, or as a mere stunt gimmick, and then there are movies that purport a certain authenticity as they attempt to carry us to the heart-stopping moments of risk and mountaineering achievement. These true mountain movies ought to enable us to share the thrill of scaling a remarkable mountain or some extraordinary piece of geology. Most mountain movies fall short (pardon the pun). The time has come to name the guilty.

I have longed for one of the big production companies to create a watchable climbing movie. It grieves me every time Hollywood tries and fails.

If you care about climbing, if you have ever tied on a crampon, or snapped a carabiner, if you know the true adventure of climbing, be selective in what you watch. Too many mountain movies are painful attempts to capitalize on the drama and beauty of the world’s great mountain ranges that give nothing in return. For many films there is no mountain high enough to mask weak casting and lame scripts. Don’t be misled by images of snow-capped peaks on the posters–that may be the closest you get to real climbing in the movie.

These movies are never satisfying to the climber–and, worse still, they give the general viewing public a bizarre view of the sport we love. If a movie includes climbing scenes as part of their tension-building techniques, the so-called climbers are usually implausible daredevils, making decisions that would disqualify them from any climbing team. The characters get into “Mission” impossible scrapes, and if they die at the bottom of the cliff or in a deep chasm, it’s usually a welcome relief.

Is there hope?

How bad is it when a dedicated climber is rooting for the climbing heroes to die a grisly death? Will the next batch of mountain movies change my opinion? Before you race off and watch Jake Gyllenhaal’s attempts to grapple with disaster, death, and destiny at 8,000 metres, let’s review the tradition together and learn from the the Bottom Five Cliffhangers of all time? Watch them at your own risk.

Worst Climbing Movies of All Time.

1. Sylvester Stallone’s “Cliffhanger” (So bad it could be considered ‘wonderfully bad’)
2. Bill Paxton’s “Vertical Limit”
3. Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air”
4. Herzog’s Canadian/Argentinian production “Scream of Stone”
5. SciFi drivel called “Killer Mountain”

Here’s my review of each of these movies.