From Rocks to Raccoons, Who Climbed it Best?

We live in an age of moments when the smallest piece of news or intrigue can go “viral” and be seen by millions of people. Sometimes these moments come together to form a “trend”—stop me if this isn’t news to you. And right now, with the release of Skyscraper, the Fandor movie scientists have identified that the next big trending topic will be…climbing. Don’t believe us? You should.

Anyway, here we present a list of some of the best climbing scenes in all of cinema and beyond (Cliffhanger not included). So who climbed it best? Read to find out.

10. Tom Cruise – Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol

Ghost Protocol isn’t the first Mission Impossible film in which Tom Cruise needed to climb something large and steep in order to save the world, but when it comes to one of Hollywood’s largest stars, small accomplishments like free-climbing a sheer rock face or breaking into the Pentagon don’t always register as “accomplishments.” Climbing the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world? Okay, that moves the needle a bit. While some marks need to be deducted for the use of advanced glove technology, or AGT, he earns them back through the complication of the oncoming sand storm and through pure style—what is it about high altitudes that make Cruise’s hair look so good?

9. Harold Lloyd – Safety Last!

The image of Lloyd hanging from the arms of a large clock face as he tries to scale the side of a building in Safety Last! is an iconic Hollywood image, and one that most filmgoers are familiar with—even if that familiarity is only through references in other movies like Back to the Future. But it’s the choreography of Lloyd’s climb that puts the star of the silent era in the same conversation as fellow luminaries Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Along the way, he encounters vicious dogs, unsympathetic onlookers, a rope that his friend fails to anchor properly, a vicious mouse, and a very grabby clock spring. But the kiss from his beloved is the catharsis we (and Lloyd) need when he finally makes it to the top.

8. William Shatner – Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

On the “Tom Cruise/Jackie Chan Stunt Spectrum,” which measures the need for film production to hire a stunt double, William Shatner ranks near the bottom—at least since the early seventies. The likelihood of someone in Shatner’s shape climbing Yosemite’s El Capitan by the time Star Trek V: The Final Frontier was filmed in 1989 (which for those of you scoring at home is nearly the 90s!) seems like a bit of a stretch. This is probably why the person climbing the rock has his head turned away from the camera during the ascent. When Shatner does appear as Captain Kirk, it’s obvious that he’s on a sound stage (that rock looks particularly “plastic-y”). It’s amusing then, that despite these advantages, Kirk still fails to climb the mountain and is only saved from a very messy fall by a rocket-booted Spock (Leonard Nimoy). Still, there is something about this scene (and the movie) that makes us smile, so Shatner gets high marks for pure amusement.

7. Dwayne “The Rock” JohnsonSkyscraper

Skyscraper tells the story of a man caught between a rock and a hard place. To rescue his family, Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) must scale the tallest, most formidable tower in the world. Oh, and the building is on fire and overrun by terrorists. Out of time and options, Will scales it the only way he can—with duct tape wrapped around his hands and shoes. If that’s not impressive, then we don’t know what is. Take that, Spider-Man.

6. Bruce Willis – Die Hard

Ah, Die Hard, you progenitor of a thousand atrocious-to-decent knockoffs. In this film, John McClane (pre-apathy Bruce Willis) climbs, jumps, rolls, shoots, and mocks his way to action movie greatness. Whether it’s scaling the shaft of a skyscraper, or rappelling his way down Nakatomi Plaza, John McClane handily shimmies his way to the upper echelon of this list—and he does it all without shoes.

5. Christian Bale – The Dark Knight Rises

In Christopher Nolan‘s Batman Begins, Thomas Wayne (Linus Roache) asks his son, “Why do we fall, Bruce?” The Dark Knight Rises answers that heavy, philosophical query—so that Batman (Christian Bale) can haul it back to Gotham from the depths of a non-descript desert pit-prison and sock that mumbling brick head Bane (Tom Hardy) right in the kisser. But in all seriousness, this scene illustrates why Batman is such a great character—he’s just one, really angsty dude who only needs human will (and magical spine healing powers) to be super.

4. King Kong – King Kong

Is there a more iconic climbing scene in cinema history? As the many King Kong magnets sold in the Empire State Building’s gift shop can attest, the answer is no. This classic scene is so burned into the collective consciousness that we tolerated remake after remake of it, and yes, that even includes 2017’s Kong: Skull Island. In fact, we’ll go so far as to say that the previous entries on this list were just following in Kong’s footsteps. Even though King Kong is only ranked fourth on this list, we all know who really climbed it best.

3. Gal Gadot – Wonder Woman

In order to purloin the Godkiller sword, Diana (Gal Gadot) must climb an imposing tower. Diana takes the leap, literally, and when she catches a ledge, she flashes a smile. It’s a tiny moment, but one that’s indicative of Wonder Woman’s transcendence of the glum swampland that is the DC Extended Universe. She’s a superheroine that appeals to humanity’s better nature, which is only possible because—despite being a demigod that can literally punch holes in the tower’s stone façade—she’s a deeply human character, which is no better communicated than in this scene. Diana climbs the tower and takes the sword—an Arthurian moment of myth rendered in the most human way.

2. Sam Neill – Jurassic Park

It’s a testament to the bravura directing of Steven Spielberg that a mid-tier set-piece in Jurassic Park would, in any other film, be one of its highlights. Here, Spielberg manages to craft thrills with nary a dinosaur in sight—all he needs is a tree, a car, and gravity. More significantly, this set-piece is entirely character-driven. It’s no secret that Dr. Grant (Sam Neill) isn’t a fan of kids—“they smell,” he says—and yet, he climbs a tree to save Tim (Joseph Mazzello). It’s a masterful scene in a film brimming with them.

1. Raccoon – St. Paul High Rise

The undisputed winner of this list is the MPR (Minnesota Public Radio) Raccoon that climbed the UBS building in St. Paul, Minnesota on June 12th of this year. The nation tuned in to watch her free climb (no ropes or safety harnesses necessary) the high rise. And, per her official Twitter feed, the movie offers and talk show appearances are already starting to roll in. We can’t wait to see her and the Rock team up to take down an international terror cell in the Skyscraper sequel.

Here at Fandor, we love listicles as much as Tom Cruise loves death-defying stunts. Read about our 10 Favorite Films of the Year, the 20 Greatest Canadian Films, Tom Hanks’ 10 Best Performances, 6 Directors Who Should Join the MCU, and 6 UFO Movies. Plus, check out our videos on sound design and sound editing, Todd Haynes’ “Velvet Goldmine,” and the arc of Adam Sandler‘s career.
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