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Eric Qualen

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Kill a few people, and you're a murderer. Kill a million, and you're a conquerer. Go figure.
~ Eric Qualen

Eric Qualen is the main antagonist in the 1993 film Cliffhanger. He is a sadistic and merciless international terrorist who is perfectly willing to kill innocent people, as well as his own accomplices, in order to get what he wants.

He is portrayed by John Lithgow, who also portrays Earl Talbot Blake.

Biography

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Qualen holds his Desert Eagle on Hal.

Eric Qualen was a former military intelligence member turned expert thief. He leads a highly skilled band of international thieves that are attempt to steal $100 million dollars in uncirculated $1,000 bills for international banking transactions from a U.S. Treasury transport plane flying over the isolated Rocky Mountains during a daring midair heist. Qualen succeeds in destroying the Treasury plane, but the cases full of the currency are lost in the mountains and their own plane is forced to make a crash landing. Luckily, there are tracking devices in the cases, but because they need expert help locating them in the mountainous terrain, Qualen has his pilot, Krystal, call for a rescue helicopter so they can hijack it, find the money, and get out of the mountains.

Because it is too windy for helicopters to fly, Rocky Mountain Rescue is forced to send troubled Gabe Walker and his disgruntled former friend Hal Tucker into the mountains on foot to escort them out of the mountains, only for them to be captured by the group, who demand the whereabouts of the helicopter. After the group uses the tracking device to locate the first of the three cases, Qualen takes off Gabe's coat to make sure he comes back to the group. He is tethered to a rope and ordered to scale a steep wall to retrieve it. Knowing that he will be killed once Qualen gets the money, Gabe frees himself from the rope, and the group begins firing up the mountain, causing a landslide which takes one of Qualen's thugs. Seeing the money flutter down from the top of the mountain, Qualen presumes Gabe dead and orders the group to proceed to the second case.

Gabe finds the second case, takes every bill except for one, on which he wrote "Want to Trade?". An infuriated Qualen orders the group to and split up and find Gabe. Gabe uses his environment to his advantage and begins killing the terrorists, and burns the money to keep warm. Hal encounters two adolescent friends of his and warns them, but Qualen orders one of his mercenaries, Kynette, to kill them. Kynette wounds one with his MAC-10 submachine gun, but the other gets away by parachuting off a cliff. After Gabe kills Kynette by impaling him on a stalagmite, Qualen plants C4 explosives directly above him. Hal manages to break away from the terrorists and use a radio to alert Gabe of this and Gabe barely escapes.

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Qualen threatening a terrified Krystal moments before killing her.

By now, the winds have died down enough for a rescue helicopter pilot to fly into the mountains, having not received any response from Gabe or Hal and alerts the authorities. Krystal flags down the rescue helicopter and pulls a gun on him, but against Qualen's orders, Delmar, another mercenary, shoots and kills the pilot. Travers, another mercenary, pulls a gun on Qualen, telling everyone that he is now in charge. Qualen, held at gunpoint, states that without someone to pilot the helicopter, nobody will even be able to get off the mountain. Qualen calmly draws his Desert Eagle and holds it to Krystal's back, telling her that the meaning of true love is sacrifice, and shoots her dead. As Qualen is now the only one who can fly them off the mountain, the playing field is now equal again, and Travers backs off. Qualen tells Travers, Hal, and the last remaining mercenary, Delmar, to track down the case while he goes off in the rescue helicopter. But when they are nearing it, they try and kill Hal when they don't need him anymore, only to be killed by Gabe and Hal. Meanwhile, Gabe's love, Jessie, signaled the helicopter, only to discover that Qualen is the pilot.

Death

Meet me at the highest point from where you are with the money. Or else we'll see if this little angel of yours can fly.
~ Eric Qualen

Communicating by radio, Qualen and Gabe make a deal to exchange Jessie for the money Gabe collected from the third case. Qualen releases Jessie, but Gabe double crosses Qualen by throwing the bag of money into the helicopter's rotors, destroying it. Qualen flies into a rage and chases Gabe across the mountaintop, only managing to survive by grabbing onto an old steel ladder bolted into the rocks. Gabe takes the helicopter's tow line and attaches it to the ladder so it can't get away, and Hal uses a shotgun to destroy the chopper's rotors. Gabe thinks that he has won, but when the helicopter begins falling off of the mountain, its weight pulls the ladder out of the rocks and Gabe barely hangs onto the freezing, rusty metal.

The helicopter falls until the helicopter's cable stretches itself out to its full length. Gabe and Qualen fight atop the dangling wreckage and it appears that Gabe is in trouble when he gets several punches to the face. However, when he sees the helicopter's tow cable beginning to give away under the intense weight of the aircraft, Gabe gets the energy to throw a defeated Qualen into the helicopter and jump off as it breaks free from its moorings, falling to the rocks thousands of feet below, causing a gigantic explosion that finally kills Qualen.

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