Vertical Limit

Ain't no mountain high enough to keep Chris O'Donnell's Peter Garrett away from his sister, Annie (Robin Tunney). Annie is trapped in a crevasse on K2, the second-highest peak after Mt. Everest. At 26,000 feet — for you couch potatoes, that's the vertical limit of human endurance — it's only a matter of hours before Annie freezes over, along with her companions, guide Tom McLaren (Nicholas Lea) and asshole billionaire Elliot Vaughn (Bill Paxton in full smarm mode). Peter must find a crew to join him on this suicide mission. He's lucky to get weirdo Montgomery Wick (Scott Glenn in the flick's top performance) — a hermit whose wife's been an ice sculpture on K2 for years.

But enough of the plot. Shot at 10,000 feet around New Zealand's Mt. Cook, this clock-ticker raises the bar on climbing suspense, and that includes Cliffhanger. Director Martin Campbell (Golden Eye) pulls off thrilling stunts — notably a high-altitude helicopter drop-off and an avalanche precipitated by the nitro the rescuers lug in their backpacks — that will leave you a sweaty-palmed mess. It's top-tier movie escapism.

From The Archives Issue 856: December 14, 2000