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Watch the insane 'Cliffhanger' stunt which cost $1,000,000 to make


Characterised by big-budget, bombastic action movies and technological innovation, the 1990s were a truly revolutionary time for cinema, heralding in the likes of The Matrix, Toy Story and The Blair Witch Project that would each change the medium forever. Along with such cinematic innovations came a bevvy of action films like Face/Off, Total Recall and Point Break that each worked to make the high-concept ‘90s movie a thing of Hollywood history.

Keeping hold of his superstardom following roles in Rocky and First Blood in the mid-20th century, Sylvester Stallone entered into the ‘90s having worked both his iconic title characters into the ground with multiple, repetitive sequels. As a result, Stallone made Cliffhanger in 1993, what seemed like a low-key action film following a botched mid-air heist that resulted in several bags of cash being scattered across the Rocky mountains and a desperate search by several criminal groups.

Though the film appeared more low-key on the surface, Cliffhanger fascinatingly includes one of the most dangerous and most expensive aerial stunts ever performed, with a stuntman risking his life when he ziplined between two planes. Tasked with the stunt was the British performer Simon Crane who had to travel from a DC-9 plane to a smaller Gulfstream JetStar between a zip line stretched between the two vehicles travelling at 150mph.

So ambitious was the stunt that it quickly became the ‘most expensive stunt performed in the air’ according to the official Guinness World Records, reporting, “Simon Crane (UK) performed one of the most dangerous ever aerial stunts when he moved between two jets at an altitude of 4,572 m (15,000 ft) for Cliffhanger”. So intricate and extravagant was the stunt that it cost the film a staggering $1 million to pull off, a cost that adds up to about $1,923,515 adjusting for inflation. 

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“If something went wrong, it was then very, very dangerous,” stuntman Simon Crane told the AMC show Hollywood’s Greatest Stunts, explaining: “I could have easily been killed”. Taking months to rehearse, Crane pulled the stunt off wearing a prosthetic mask as well as a concealed parachute to use in case of emergency as he hurtled through the air at 150mph. 

Terrifyingly, something did indeed go wrong when the stunt went ahead, with Crane unable to get through the door of the second plane due to a powerful pocket of turbulence that knocked him off course. As the stuntman recalls, “I actually bounced into the door and bounced out again, and that’s when I went above and slid along the roof. I was probably within about six feet of the engines of the Jet Star, which was very, very dangerous”.  

Thrown off to the side, Crane released his parachute once he was clear of the plane and survived the frightening ordeal, with the editing team behind the film able to stitch together the climactic scene that the stuntman was never able to complete. With CGI often making these stunts unnecessary and untenable due to budget restraints in the modern industry, it’s a joy to go back to when cinema did action stunts for real.