Cliffhanger is a 1993 American action film directed by Renny Harlin and starring Sylvester Stallone and John Lithgow. Stallone plays a mountain climber, who becomes embroiled in a failed heist set in a U.S. Treasury plane flying through the Rocky Mountains. The film was a major box office success, earning more than $250 million worldwide.
In the opening scene, hotshot mountain climber and rescue worker Gabe Walker (Sylvester Stallone) meets with his friends Hal Tucker (Michael Rooker) and Jessie Deighan (Janine Turner) on a narrow peak in the Rocky Mountains. While moving from one mountaintop to a helicopter via a steel cable, Hal's girlfriend Sarah's (Michelle Joyner) harness breaks and she is left dangling over a deep chasm. While the others frantically come up with a solution, Gabe straps himself in and goes out to save Sarah, but is unsuccessful and she falls to her death at the bottom of a mountain. Eight months later, Gabe returns to town for the first time since Sarah's funeral. Overcome with guilt over having lost Sarah, Gabe has returned only to pack his remaining possessions to leave permanently. However, a radio distress call comes in to the local rescue center where Hal and Jessie still work. Hal heads off to find the stranded climbers while Jessie pleads with Gabe to join Hal's rescue attempt. Battling his inner demons, Gabe meets Hal on the mountain, where the latter, still angry with Gabe for being unsuccessful at saving Sarah, lashes out and almost throws Gabe off the cliff. The rescue turns out to be a fake; the two climbers are taken prisoner by a group of ruthless thieves led by Eric Qualen (John Lithgow), who seeks to recover three suitcases containing $100 million in uncirculated US currency belonging to the United States Department of the Treasury. With the aid of turncoat Treasury agent Richard Travers (Rex Linn), Qualen and his associates attempt to steal the suitcases via a daring air-to-air transfer, but the transfer is foiled and the three suitcases are lost among the mountains. The thieves' plane loses power during the attempt and crashes. The suitcases holding the money have beacon locators, but the thieves need expert help locating them in the mountainous terrain, thus prompting them to summon the unwitting Gabe and Hal to their aid. The group locates the first of the three cases, and Gabe is tethered to a rope and ordered to scale a steep wall to retrieve it. Gabe frees himself from the rope, and the group begins firing up the cliff, causing an avalanche which kills one of Qualen's men. Seeing the money flutter down from the top of the cliff, Qualen presumes Gabe dead and orders the group to proceed to the second case. Gabe survives the avalanche and makes his way to an abandoned cabin where he finds Jessie, who was airlifted into the area earlier. Together, they reach the second case only moments before Qualen and his mercenaries arrive. They find the case empty (except for a single $1,000 bill with the words "Want to Trade?" written on it) and split up to find Gabe. A fight ensues between Gabe and one of the thieves, resulting in the latter plummeting into the darkness. The thieves, with Hal still as their guide, make their way to the abandoned cabin for the night. Meanwhile, Gabe and Jessie hole up in a cave and stay warm by burning the money they found to stoke their fire. The following morning, Gabe and Jessie attempt to beat the thieves to the remaining case. Qualen flags down and commandeers a rescue helicopter while Travers, Hal, and the last remaining mercenary track the case. Once within a reasonably close distance to the case, Travers leaves the mercenary to kill Hal, only to find that Gabe has beaten him to the case once again. Gabe kills Travers while Hal manages to dump the remaining mercenary, Delmar, off a cliff. Meanwhile, Jessie, who signaled the rescue helicopter thinking it to be a fellow rescue team member, is taken hostage by Qualen. Communicating by radio, Qualen and Gabe make a deal to exchange Jessie for the money Gabe collected from the third case. Qualen releases Jessie, but Gabe throws the bag of money into the helicopter's rotors. In the following confusion, Qualen's helicopter falls precariously against the side of the mountain, suspended by a steel cable. Gabe and Qualen fight atop the dangling wreck. Gabe manages to jump off as the wreckage falls several thousand feet and explodes, killing Qualen. After which, Tucker quotes "If you're looking for Mr. Qualen, try about 4000 feet south of here. He'll be the one wearing a helicopter." The film ends as Gabe, Hal, and Jessie are found by federal agents and rescued.