10 Vertigo-inducing films

James Oliver

We're taking a look at movies that have reached for the sky, taking their cameras up on tall buildings, over mountains or even above the clouds themselves.

You might not be leaving the ground, but there are some mighty vertiginous views here—if you're afraid of heights, maybe you shouldn't look down.
 

District 13

It's a shame that someone had already used the title The Running Jumping and Standing Still Film because that would have been perfect name for this movie. Well, apart from the 'standing still' bit.

This is a film designed to show off the very particular skill set of its performers: they are all experts in 'Parkour'. While the plot is flimsy, the acrobatics are some of the most remarkable you ever will see, especially if the publicity is to be believed and they did all this stuff for real.

 

Hallam Foe

Hallam Foe
Image via Hallam Foe

It's impossible to dislike any film that starts with a title sequence designed by David Shrigley. The film that follows the credits isn't bad either.

Jamie Bell stars as the titular Mr. Foe, a young fellow with a penchant for crawling over the roofs of Edinburgh and spying on the folks who live below.

It is a dark, dreamy film and it shows Edinburgh at the height of its beauty. 'Height'—geddit? Tch, I'm wasted on you.

 

Touching the Void

We need at least one mountain movie on this list and Touching the Void fits the bill admirably.

It is a documentary, and a particularly visceral one at that, chronicling the calamities that befell two climbers on the side of Siula Grande in the Andes.

It is in the main a testament to the resilience of mountaineer Joe Simpson but it's also a salutary warning against climbing anything more challenging than the stairs.

 

Laputa the Castle in the Sky

Laputa the castle in the sky 
Image via Laputa the Castle in the Sky

It's a cliché to call a film directed by Japanese animator Miyazaki Hayao 'wondrous' but it's only because it's usually true. Laputa is one of Miyazaki-san's very greatest works, showing a race to find the last of the flying cities that float high above the world.

There is no director who has shown his audiences so many marvels as Miyazaki, and his imagination has rarely soared as high as it does here.

 

Man on Wire

Back in 1974, French acrobat Philippe Petit strung a wire between the twin towers of the then-brand new World Trade Center and walked across.

His performance had been largely forgotten until this Oscar-winning documentary made in the shadow of the events of the 11th September 2001.

That attack isn't referenced in the film but it surely affects how we perceive Petit's feat—what had once been just a cheeky stunt now became a symbol of the defiant Noo Yawk attitude.
Buy Man on Wire for £6.99

 

Trapeze

Trapeze
Image via The Red List 

The movies love trapeze artists—people hurling themselves through the air, often without the aid of a safety net. No sadistic director can resist such an opportunity to put their audience through the ringer.

Here we have Burt Lancaster as a one-time master of the aerial arts hoping to pass on the tricks of the trade to brash young upstart Tony Curtis. If the melodrama is just a little conventional (there's also a love triangle with Gina Lollobrigida), the circus scenes are anything but.

Lancaster was himself a one-time acrobat and director Carol Reed rounded up the finest performers in Europe to help him out. The spectacular results will have you going OOOH! and AAAH! throughout.
Buy Trapeze for £8.99

 

Gravity

You can't get much higher than Gravity, set about 250 miles above the earth. Space is probably the last place you would want something to go horribly wrong. And so, with the terrifying predictability of the movies, something does go horribly wrong.

Unfortunate astronaut Sandra Bullock is left floating from pillar to post trying to work out a way to get home.

It makes going into space look like a damn foolish idea: far better to stay home and watch a nice movie instead. This one will do just fine.
Buy Gravity for £9.99

 

Wings

Wings film
Image via FW Weekly

We could fill this list with movies set in aeroplanes but that would be lazy. We can't however, leave Wings off. Not just because it's the BEST PLANE FILM EVER, but because all the spectacular aerial stunts were done for real.

Back in 1927, director William Wellman didn't have access to CGI. Hell, he couldn't even call on back projection so wild-man Wellman—himself a wartime flying ace—used real planes with his actors and cameras inside. The results are still sensational 90 years on.

 

Vertigo

Not so much a film about height as the fear of heights (and a good deal else besides).

James Stewart plays one of the most troubled characters in cinema, a detective hired to follow (or should that be 'stalk'?) Kim Novak through the streets of San Francisco.

For many, it's Alfred Hitchcock's best film; for some it's the best film ever made.
Buy Vertigo for £6.99

 

Safety Last/ High and Dizzy

Safety Last
Image via Mubi

It is one of the most famous images in movies and definitely the most famous image of height: Harold Lloyd dangling from a clock on the side of a building.

It's from Safety Last but if you want to see it properly, you're out of luck as it's not currently available on DVD. Blast.

Luckily, another Lloyd film involving hi-jinx on high is available, High and Dizzy (in his Short Films set). We'll use that to get around any objections because no list like this would be complete without Lloyd, the mild-mannered daredevil whose stunts still give audiences nervous palpitations.

He'd often set his stunts high up in the air, and while he used trick-shots and the occasional stand-in, most of the time it was really him up there, risking life and limb just for the sake of a gag…
 

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