Sylvester Stallone: The Impact of “Total Risk”
American actor Sylvester Stallone was once the reigning king of Hollywood with his iconic characters of Rocky and Rambo. However, the ’90s initially saw him struggle with the failures of his comedies Oscar and Stop or My Mom Will Shoot. But things changed with his action film, Total Risk (Cliffhanger in North America) in 1993. This blockbuster outside his famous sagas was directed by Finnish director Renny Harlin and grossed $255 million globally. It also earned three Oscar nominations for Sound, Sound Effects and Visual Effects. Though the movie was not perfect, it featured action-packed scenes that were a feast for action lovers. The film helped Sylvester Stallone regain his lost position in Hollywood.
Total Risk dealt with themes of guilt, redemption and reconciliation between two climbing friends. It all began with tragedy when Gabe (Stallone) assists in the rescue of his friends, Hal (Michael Rooker) and Sarah (Michelle Joyner), who got trapped on top of a mountain peak. However, the rescue goes wrong, and Sarah’s harness broke, causing a dramatic scene of desperation and tragedy. The story continued with a storyline of kidnapping caused by thieves who had crashed a US Treasury plane in the middle of a mountain. Despite the film’s critics’ criticism of its unrealistic portrayal of the sport, the action sequences conveyed a shocking level of realism.
One of the most incredible and realistic scenes in the movie involved British stuntman, Simon Crane, performing one of the most dangerous and costly aerobatics ever undertaken. He slipped between two planes in the air, passing from a DC-9 plane to a smaller Gulfstream JetStar between a zip line that connected the two moving vehicles traveling at 150 mph and at an altitude of 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). This ambitious scene cost one million dollars and holds the Guinness World Record for the “most expensive trick performed in the air.” The scene was so risky that, during filming, Stallone offered to reduce his salary by one million dollars to make it happen.
Total Risk was a film focused on height and action-packed scenes, and the production made full use of realism in every way possible. Besides featuring professional climbers who carried out the riskiest action sequences in the Dolomite Alps in Italy, Stallone also trained to shoot some scenes himself. For instance, he hung suspended by his left hand by holding onto a ledge while dangling in the air. Although there was a cable that protected him in case he slipped, the scene was still dangerous.
Thirty years following Total Risk’s release and at 76, Sylvester Stallone is preparing to return to his favorite universe with a reboot that he will direct. The actor will reprise his role as Gabe Walker, and the production is looking for a new actor to lead the cast alongside Stallone. Despite its imperfections, Total Risk left a lasting impact on 90s cinema archives and stood alongside emblematic productions of the era that changed the action genre like Contracara, The Avenger of the Future, and Breaking Point. These movies did not rely on visual effects or CGI, and Total Risk took full advantage of realism in every way possible.