How to Identify the Climbing Movie


© Tristar
Clint's finest?

The Climbing Movie is a unique and much loved genre, featuring some recurring commonalities.


  • All good Climbing Movies must contain at least one horrendous accident. As an absolute minimum, at least one person has to get comprehensively squished. At least one rope must snap, or ideally be severed, a la Touching The Void.



  • The main character should have an unusual preponderance of facial hair, an abnormally rectilinear jaw line, and preferably steely eyes. They should also be on steroids to enhance their butch appearance, if only to look like the women from the Ben Nevis Mountain Rescue Team.



  • Actors should preferably be attired in red woollen socks, similar to the present 'standard issue' socks of the well-known Ramblers Association. They should wear an odd combination of forestry clothing, for unknown reasons covered in Scout badges (Vertical Limit). These badges indicate the characters social rank, and should be worn on a crusty old cagoule of the sort usually found in Oxfam.


    Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible © Paramount Pictures
    Nicholas Aaron, playing Simon Yates in Touching The Void © FilmFour Ltd.


  • To add drama, stupendously unrealistic things must also occur, such as the main character crawling off a remote mountain with a broken leg for three days. No wait, that actually did happen! Fortunately Simon Yates was on hand to film the event.



  • Furthermore, like many common-or-garden days in the hills, stolen bonds or a murder should be involved (Cliffhanger, The Eiger Sanction). One of the party should also be prone to over estimating their physical abilities at the expense of others safety before coming to a sticky end, thereby teaching the other group members, and the audience, to stay by your friends (Vertical Limit).



  • And, as a matter of course, all parties travelling light in the mountains should carry a firearm, but only reveal it at an appropriately dramatic moment. Climbers should also carry random electronic gadgets and weird, flashing instruments that beep for no apparent reason (Cliffhanger, Star Trek). These should be used to search for the aforementioned bonds.



  • There is a strange rule among Climbing Movie producers that says on no account must the film be shot on the actual location where the film is set. Hence Touching The Void is filmed in Europe, but set in South America, while Vertical Limit was filmed in New Zealand, but set in the Himalayas. It is rumoured the directors of Vertical Limit decided not to shoot in the Rockies, as people might just think they were watching some sort of Cliffhanger sequel.



  • A Climbing Movie should also introduce entirely new techniques into mainstream climbing. Hence the crevasse-jumping scene in Vertical Limit, and the much-heralded Tom Cruise 'backward-dyno' move in the opening of Mission: Impossible II.



  • All of the above therefore provide an excellent insight into an ordinary, run-of-the-mill day in the hills, which is why many outdoor centres now use these videos as coaching manuals to teach rope work techniques (Cliffhanger) and the finer points of group dynamics (Vertical Limit, Seven Years in Tibet).


    Do say: 'Between the earth and the sky lies the sheer face of adventure.' Don't say: 'I thought Rocky IV was much better.'

    Chris O'Donnell being a Braveheart in Vertical Limit

    Vertical Limit: read a review here

    Cliffhanger: read a review here

    Eiger Sanction: read a review here

    Mission Impossible 2: read a review here

    Touching the Void: read a review here

    Seven Years In Tibet: read a review here

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28 Dec, 2005
... and rock climbing always involves a lot of hanging off one hand trying to put a big cam into a crack that is just out of reach! "The Descent" has some "fantastic" rock-climbing scenes as well:
No one ever needs a shit when they're harnessed up in climbing movies either. Davie
30 Dec, 2005
Surely the best climbing film out of this collection! (apart from Touch' Void) a course : K2 -
3 Jan, 2006
Full of suspense and hardly spoilt by the smattering of reality. The only closeup of a WC friend I've seen in the cinema (outside of a mountain film festival). Highly recommended, but don't watch it on your own ;-)
3 Jan, 2006
I'd add the rule of totally inappropriate gear. Hence the absence of harnesses on the Eiger and the girlies taking ice axes caving in The Descent.
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