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Everyone loves survival movies. Whether it is about a castaway stranded on a deserted island, a plane crash survivor trudging through snow, or surviving capture as a prisoner of war, you can experience it all from the comfort of your sofa with a bowl of warm popcorn.
And why would we watch these survival films? Well, we can’t always be outdoors rubbing two sticks together, pitching a tent, or hiking, so when we’re at home with the family, or taking a rest on the weekend, the next best thing is to take a look at how some others might do it in an extreme survival role.
For this list, I have not only included the blockbuster survival films you would expect to appear here, but also the films where survival is a strong element in whatever environment the setting is. Some of these aren’t all made-up films either, but are documentaries, or film adaptations of real-life survival stories that actually get survival right.
So with all of this in mind, I think you are going to want to bookmark this list of survival movies, because there’s a lot of good content right here for you to work your way through on those nights in.
So let’s stuck into them, starting with an all-time favorite of mine.
What a gripping documentary, I mean come on, this literally killed me emotionally for what was supposed to be a relaxing movie night, which ended up with me hanging off the edge of the couch with anticipation and emotion, all from a documentary too.
While it might not be everyone’s version of two-stick fire-making survival, Touching The Void is the true story of the perilous journey of Simpson and Yates’ as they climbed the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985, and, well, things just did not go well – that’s all I can say without spoiling this filmdoc.
Apart from the great story that these two very experienced mountaineers told, comes a real tale of survival in dealing with near-fatal injuries, hunger, and thirst, all in extremely arduous conditions. At the same time, while feeling scared for their safety, the film also shows the threatening beauty of the huge mountain ranges, glacial crevices that fall to nothing, and a community of fellow climbing survivalists.
Yes, for this one we are still in space. But this time we are on Mars, where a dust storm causes the crew to abort the planet. However, one man is left behind, and has to survive on his own, on a planet with no life, and limited supplies.
Even the soil of mars has no organic matter, so in this survival film, we see Matt Damon resort to farming in his own toilet waste, to grow food to extend his life expectancy. That, and he has to go through the battle of keeping sane as he develops new ways to harness energy, grow food and produce water on a very red and baron land.
If you’ve heard of this film, then you would probably remember it in an instant. If you haven’t, all I need to tell you is that Leonardo DiCaprio gets mauled to within an inch of his life by a bear, and then the real story of survival starts.
Again, not your typical survival film, but The Revenant does have that strong element of survival in the wilderness with absolutely disturbing injuries that just make you feel in pain when you watch it. Aside from that, there is a lot of good American history in here, as well as the important feature of exceptional Native American survival skills, bush medicine and bushcraft.
A group of Mexican workers are crossing the Mexican/US border illegally when their truck breaks down and they continue the journey on foot. It hits home for a lot of us as the border issue is quite prevalent, but what is just as important in this film is the method of survival they undertake, surpassing dehydration, serious injury and the perilous border crossing that many have undertaken.
Against The Sun is based on the true story of the US Navy pilots who had to survive at sea after their bomber plunged into the South Pacific. Set in World War II, the majority of the film takes place on a tiny liferaft adrift in the middle of a very large, and very dangerous, ocean.
This movie just goes to show how truly horrible nature can be, and for this setting, it shows the perils of being caught out at sea, with dehydration, starvation, and of course those terrible sharks.
Wow. If you are after a great survival film you definitely cannot skip The Way Back. And what a gripping tale it is, as the film follows the escape of Polish POWs from a Soviet Gulag, only to then walk 4,000 miles through a WWII setting.
If you thought surviving the snows of Siberia, where you can easily freeze to death overnight, was a survival game, this story runs from that freezing cold environment, straight into the hot, dry, Mongolian desert. Essentially this survival movie traverses the drama of both extreme environments in a very real situation where characters have to adapt every detail to survive.
I remember seeing this film thinking to myself ‘I am never getting on a boat ever again’. Of course, this film’s circumstance is based around a freak storm-turned cyclone that crossed right over the top of the path of a commercial fishing vessel.
The film’s context is based around the true story of commercial fishermen who went missing in a 1991 storm. The story of survival here comes in the shape of a very turbulent ride through absolutely gigantic waves and the dangers of being out at sea. While most survival scenarios would be imagined in a forest, or on an island, it goes to show that anywhere can be unsafe when mother nature decides.
While a lot of these films take place in conflict environments, wars or areas where there is mass tension, this one takes place in Australia’s early settlement, where Australia’s indigenous were mistreated or wrongfully imprisoned, and children were taken away from their parents. All of that, and then you have what is easily one of the harshest environments with its Australian animals, hot weather, and long dry distances.
Now let’s just think about that for three Aboriginal girls aged 14, 10 and 8-years-old, as they walk for nine weeks along 1500 miles of a rabbit-proof fence to get to their home village. Oh, and to make matters worse, they are being hunted by police and tracked by an Aboriginal tracker.
The story of the girl’s ingenuity and survival in these circumstances is emotional and gripping and definitely goes to show how much of an impact familiarity with the land can have on your survival in the wilderness.
Based on the true story of the aborted 1970 Apollo 13 lunar mission, this survival film sets us in space, where critical thinking skills are imperative as you are trapped in a flying tin can, years away from Earth, where normal physics just don’t apply. Basically, when things go wrong, you’re stuffed.
The film took onboard NASA technical specialists to ensure they got every aspect of the film right and provide that real effect to accurately depict what really happened.
In most survival films, we see the absence of food or water, or extreme temperatures. In this survival movie, we see the most critical human need of oxygen limited, after an explosion aboard the Apollo spacecraft causes the oxygen supply to plummet.
Set in Afghanistan, a four-man SEAL reconnaissance team on a mission must survive as they are outnumbered by Taliban fighters and must escape the area or be killed.
The film itself is loosely based on a true story as told by the only surviving member of the team Marcus Luttrell. What I enjoyed about Lone Survivor was the film’s realness of combat situations, and survival when an enemy is overwhelming the location you are in. This is definitely a survival film I would recommend to the war buffs out there.
Another war survival movie, this time set in Vietnam War, follows the true story of German-American pilot Dieter Dengler and his story of survival as a prisoner-of-war.
The POWs in this film undergo extreme torture, starvation, and the lingering doubt of whether their guards are about to kill them or not. Even during their escape, there is still the turmoil of angry villagers and a thick and dangerous jungle.
Some of the choices people are faced with in survival situations are just unbearable to think of. And that is exactly what the true story of Aron Ralston in the film 127 Hours is about.
This extreme outdoor sports fan gets the thrill and shock of his life when his arm gets trapped by a boulder in a canyon while canyoning in southeastern Utah. Let’s just say, you can have a wild guess as to how he survives the ordeal and you might just be right.
This news-story borne survival film comes from the events of the 2009 Maersk Alabama hijacking, where a cargo ship captain was taken hostage by pirates off the coast of Somalia in the Indian Ocean. The film also highlighted the trending security issue of pirates to trade vessels in the region.
There is definitely a lot at play in this gripping film, as the Captain Richard Phillips is taken hostage and negotiators struggle to get him safely out of the clasp of the Somalian pirates. It’s definitely one of those movies that gets you thinking: what would you do?
The Pursuit of Happyness hits the emotional spot very hard. Many of you may ask the question why is this on a list of survival movies, the reason is because it shows the reality of surviving when you are broke, homeless, have bills coming out, have children to care for and are fighting hard to get that one reliable job you know will make your life much easier – we can all associate with that story of survival one way or another, that’s for sure.
In this true story, we see Will Smith play the role of Chris Garnder’s struggle of being homeless while trying to fight for a highly competitive internship at a very reputable American stock brokerage firm. All of that, while he is trying to raise his son and leave the best impression of a good upbringing for his son’s future.
I highly recommend you check this film out. It is simple, well-made and very inspirational for modern day survival of real-life issues.
This is the epitome of what everyone wants a good survival movie to be. It’s a plane crash, a desserted island and one man with a very determined and innovative mindset. Tom Hanks is the Robinson Crusoe in this award-winning drama survival film as he finds a way (with his netball-turned friend) to survive, and to eventually escape from the island he is trapped on.
Many of you would have seen this film a few times, and if anything, it reminds us all of the reality of how long it takes to get a spark from rubbing two sticks together. If you haven’t seen this film, watch it now.
Alive is one film that anyone with a survival interest should watch. It poses that timeless question of what would do if your plane crashed in the middle of nowhere and you had no food. The story of the film is based on the true events of a chartered flight carrying an Uruguayan football team crashed, leaving its surviving members stranded in the Andes in 1972.
The story takes a gruesome twist in a ‘you have to do anything to survive’ fashion, where the concept of cannibalism to fight off starvation comes into play.
Into The Wild is a survival film based on the travels of a young man through North America and the beautiful, yet unbearing Alaskan wilderness.
I’ve chosen to include this film on the list as it not only has that aspect of being an outdoor survival film, but it also focusses on the theme of going off the grid and being detached from society without the need to rely on any external services for survival – a theme many preppers and survivalists think about when improving their skills.
Picture this, you are on a holiday doing a scuba diving trip and the charter boat that took you out there accidentally leaves you behind. Oh, and you are in shark-infested waters. Yeah, it’s going to be a tough one to survive right?
That’s what Open Water is about, and is based on the true story of an American couple on their honeymoon in Australia when, you guessed it, they were accidentally left behind in the middle of the ocean. As you can imagine, this survival movie is a thriller.
Another ‘out-at-sea’ story looks at how a group of college teenagers survive after their sail ship is hit by a white squall. For those of you wondering what that is, it’s basically a sudden violent windstorm that turns a very placid ocean into a menace and has a very destructive nature.
In this survival scenario, not only do we see a plane crash in Alaska, but at its center is the survival film’s gripping battle between the survivalist actors and a pack of wolves that stalk the characters and pick them off, as they would in real life.
What I like about The Grey is that it goes into the understanding of wolf pack dynamics, and how they work as a team to stalk their prey. Surviving that sort of situation where a highly skilled predator, comfortable in its own environment, stalks you as its prey, is near impossible. Definitely check this one out.
Here we are back in Alaska, which for a lot of survivalist movies is a common place for a good story. In this film, we see yet another plane crash as three men try to find a person in dangerous bear country. Unfortunately for them, a Kodiak bear (one of the largest bears in the world), picks up their trail and stalks them, attacking at night to get a fresh snack.
In order to survive, the men decide they must face their stalker and kill the bear. That’s not an easy task, as you will see.
I could write an endless list of zombie survival films, and to be honest, I did not include them in this list for the reason that they deserve an entire post of their own. But when it comes to the ‘what would you do’ scenarios and the idea of ‘how would you survive’, the post-apocalyptic film I Am Legend uses a lot of real-life situations in the zombie film setting to explore those concepts.
Will Smith plays Robert Neville, a US Army virologist and quite literally, one of earth’s last survivors. The film takes us through the scavenging, the supply runs, the check points, search areas and building security procedures that a very thorough survivalist would carry out if they were in a similar situation. For a large part of this great survival movie, loneliness is the biggest factor, as Neville spends a lot of time on his own, that is until the dead come out to hunt.
Back out in the ocean and in this very detailed and precise survival film we see a lone sailor left marooned on a life raft after a storm destroys his boat.
Why is this film different to all of the others on this list? There are very few spoken words as it is a one-man cast. Even in the film Cast Away we still see Tom Hanks having regular conversations with a netball, but in All Is Lost there are very few words spoken, with more attention is placed on the detail of how someone would survive adrift at sea, and what they have to do to keep themselves alive.
This survival film received a large number of awards, and for a good reason, it is quality, accurate and very well done.
Everest is based on the 1996 Mount Everest Disaster, where eight climbers died while trying to descend the mountain. The film highlights the incredible dangers of commercial climbing of Mount Everest, and despite the great leadership by the guides, severe blizzards and weather patterns can change rapidly and create a very dangerous situation.
The Road is a film for preppers if there ever was one. It is set in a post-apocalyptic world where an extinction event has wiped out most of mankind, leaving the rest of the world without rule or law, where gangs control the streets and supplies are hard to find.
Amidst that scenario, The Road follows a father and son as they struggle to survive against gangs of cannibals, thieves, in the hope that they eventually find a group of people with morals.
Also, if you enjoy this type of survival situation, be sure to check out my post on Juliane Koepcke, the 17-year-old girl who fell 10,000 feet out of a mid-air plane explosion was thrown into a thick forest canopy smashing against limb after limb of Peruvian jungle trees before she hit the ground. That, and she had to survive 10 days in the jungle before finding help.