Is Cliffhanger Based on a True Story?

‘Cliffhanger (1993) is a survival-themed film set in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. It revolves around an experienced climber and former rescue ranger named Gabriel “Gabe” Walker (Sylvester Stallone), who finds himself confronting a deadly group of international criminals looking for three suitcases containing $100 million in uncirculated currency. ‘Cliffhanger’ is widely regarded as one of the most exhilarating, edge-of-your-seat action-adventure films ever produced. If you are wondering whether it is inspired by real-life events, we got you covered.

Is Cliffhanger a True Story?

No, ‘Cliffhanger’ is not based on a true story. However, it does have certain elements that the filmmakers borrowed from real life. The American author, Jeff Long, claimed that the plot of the film originated from his 1987 novel ‘Angels of Light,’ which was in turn inspired by an actual incident that took place in 1977. According to reports, an aircraft carrying large quantities of marijuana and cocaine crashed into the frozen Merced Lake in the Yosemite National Park, leading to a desperate scramble to recover the drugs.

However, one of the co-producers of ‘Cliffhanger,’ Gene Hines, vehemently refuted Jeff Long’s statement. Hines asserted that he and John Long came up with the concept of the movie in 1985. They were supposedly inspired by a television film about Yosemite climbing and meeting some climbers in the national park. Furthermore, Hines pointed out that Jeff Long could not claim any legal rights of exclusivity over the Yosemite incident, considering that John Long was physically present on-site when the aforementioned incident took place.

After some legal struggles, Carolco Pictures, the now-defunct production company associated with ‘Cliffhanger,’ reportedly gave financial compensations to Hines and several others. Furthermore, John Long received the credits for coming up with the premise, while Hines was named one of the co-producers. Michael France, who went on to write screenplays for projects like ‘GoldenEye’ and ‘The Punisher,’ received credit as a scriptwriter for ‘Cliffhanger.’ However, as Stallone extensively reworked the script, the actor was also credited for the screenplay of this film.

The most important aspect of ‘Cliffhanger’ is mountain climbing. But the onscreen depiction has received a mixed response from the climbing community. Some people praised the film for elevating the quality of Hollywood’s depiction of rock climbing. At the same time, others criticized it for allegedly instilling a false sense of fear among the general public about mountaineering gears. The scene where Sarah (Michelle Joyner) dies after her harness breaks especially made waves.

The legendary Wolfgang Güllich initially served as Stallone’s stunt double during the filming scenes. But after his untimely death in a car accident in August 1992, another well-known climber called Ron Kauk joined the production crew to work in the same capacity. However, Stallone’s dedicated efforts to learn the techniques of mountain climbing were deeply appreciated by the crew members who worked with him on this production. Ultimately, ‘Cliffhanger’ is a quintessential Stallone film that is action-packed, fun, and detached from reality. Clearly, it is not based on a true story, but we understand why someone might think it is.

Read More: Where Was Cliffhanger Filmed?