Scenario: you find yourself abandoned in the woods. Or be abandoned at sea in a ship. Or left behind after an aircraft catastrophe, or even sent into space. Have you had what it takes to stay alive?
What would I do if I were in that situation? is probably what everyone thinks when watching the finest survival movies. (It’s quite unlikely that I’d ever get back out there. Please feel free to take my hiking boots and anything else I might be carrying that could be of service to you.
These tales of man’s struggle against the elements are riveting because they tap into our most basic human instincts. Some are even based on real events, which are guaranteed to hit close to home. Some are more like action movies than documentaries since they’ve been pumped up for entertainment value.
Others take the calamities to an epic magnitude, making them more akin to films about the end of the world than survival tales. (And do I detect a touch of the horror film in there somewhere? Yes, since being alone may be rather terrifying. If you want your heart rate to increase, but you don’t want to leave the comfort of your sofa, try watching one of these survival movies.
Moonfall is a survival film with elements of an apocalyptic picture that speculates on what may happen if the moon were to be thrown out of orbit. (Warning: spoilers ahead.) The film stars Patrick Wilson, Halle Berry, and John Bradley as a group of misfit scientists who must protect their family from the moon’s shifting tides and falling debris.
The basic notion of Crawl is so terrifying that it never lets up on the tension. In the midst of a storm evacuation order, the story follows a young lady as she cares for her elderly father. As the flood levels rise inside the house, the two must find a means to stay alive despite the presence of a massive alligator.
What could possibly go wrong if two young lovers agreed to sail a 44-inch sailboat across the ocean to give it to a wealthy couple? An extreme weather event, such as a hurricane, for starters. When the ship becomes disoriented in the storm, the film’s tone shifts from romantic to suspenseful.
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Starring Blake Lively, the film tells the story of a medical student whose surfing expedition goes awry, leaving her alone on a rock with a shark lurking nearby. In order to return to dry ground, she must overcome the effects of the heat, thirst, and the shark.
The Martian (2015)
The Martian, starring Matt Damon, is based on a novel by Andy Weir about a botanist who becomes stranded on Mars. It’s up to him to find out how to act as his own ship’s company and stay alive until a rescue team can get to him, or until the end of time, whichever comes first.
The Revenant (2015)
Both Leonardo DiCaprio and Alejandro González Iárritu received their first Academy Awards for their work on this film. It’s the tale of a frontiersman who is abandoned and must find his own way out of the bush while facing several terrifying dangers.
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This film is based on the actual account of the 1996 Mount Everest catastrophe, which occurred when climbers attempted to descend the mountain and were greeted by blizzards, illness, and other tragic or near-death problems. You’ll be glad you’re sitting at ground level to observe it.
All Is Lost (2013)
As the film’s sole and largely silent actor, Robert Redford received a lot of praise for his efforts. His character is a sailor whose ship runs into a cargo container and who is then stranded at sea without any means of contact or navigation. In order to locate rescue, he has relied on improvised technologies (such as building a sextant).
Nothing or no one can help you in space. After her ship is wrecked by space debris, Sandra Bullock’s character must find out how to return to Earth safely almost entirely on her own. When it was released, this film was up for ten Academy Awards, including Best Actress and Best Picture. It ended up winning seven of those awards, including Best Director.
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In certain ways, this film harkens back to classic adventure movies: This 1947 attempt by a crew led by a Norwegian adventurer to sail the Pacific on a balsa-wood raft is an attempt to demonstrate that ancient South American civilizations were capable of such a journey. They are exposed to the hazards of the open sea, like sharks and hurricanes. That may sound amazing, but the narrative is founded on fact, and the raft may be seen today in an Oslo museum.
Life of Pi (2012)
Life of Pi, based on the novel by Yann Martell, tells the story of Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel, who survives a shipwreck and finds himself on a raft with a group of animals en route to a zoo, one of whom being an adult Bengal tiger. In Ang Lee’s hands, a survival drama may seem more gorgeous than grim, and the filmmaker took home four Oscars (out of a total of 12 nominations) for his work on the film.
The Grey (2011)
Surviving an aircraft crash in the Alaskan tundra is difficult enough as it is. In The Grey, Liam Neeson’s character faces an even more terrifying foe: a group of hungry wolves.
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127 Hours (2010)
From the filmmaker of Trainspotting comes a film on the terrifying real-life experiences of outdoor enthusiast Aron Ralston. Ralston, while caving alone in Utah, becomes stuck under a rock and must devise a strategy to stay alive.
I Am Legend (2007)
The protagonist, played by Will Smith, is a virologist who lives alone in New York City after a virus designed to treat cancer spreads and kills out most of humanity. But can we be sure that he is the last human alive?
Into the Wild (2007)
Whether it’s a shipwreck, a plane accident, or some other type of catastrophe, most of these films are about people who must learn to survive in extreme conditions. The actual account of Christopher McCandless’s attempt to survive in the Alaskan wilderness without any modern conveniences is shown in the film Into the Wild, which is based on the book by Jon Krakauer of the same name.
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Cast Away (2000)
Tom Hanks abandons his affable character as he portrays a FedEx employee stranded on a desolate island after his plane crashes. He must endure the wilderness and his loneliness. For his work in making the viewer care for Hanks’s volleyball best friend, he was nominated for an Academy Award.
Vertical Limit (2000)
Watch this film if you enjoy action-packed survival tales. Peter Garrett (Chris O’Donnell), an accomplished mountaineer, races against time to reach the summit of K2 and save his sister, who has become imprisoned there.
The Edge (1997)
The film stars Alec Baldwin and Anthony Hopkins as two guys who are the only ones to get it through an aircraft accident in the Alaskan wilderness. One of the men is suspected of having an affair with the other’s wife, and both men are certain that the other deserves punishment for his infidelity.
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A plane carrying an Uruguayan rugby team crashed in the Andes Mountains, and this film depicts the remarkable (and at times filthy) lengths to which the survivors went in order to stay alive. This film boasts an impressive cast including Ethan Hawke, Josh Hamilton, Josh Lucas, and Ileana Douglas.
“Rambo”: “First Blood” (1982)
It’s easy to forget, in light of the rest of the Rambo series, that the first picture wasn’t a huge action movie with lots of gunplay. In its place is the tale of John Rambo, a disturbed but highly skilled war veteran who must avoid capture by the police.
The Blue Lagoon (1980)
Someone somebody explains to me why a movie about survival wouldn’t also be weirdly hot. In this one, Brooke Shields and Richard Atkins play two young people who are shipwrecked and forced to survive on an uninhabited island. They’ve been abandoned for them to grow up and find their own way in the world, far from the rules of their Victorian-era civilization.
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In Deliverance, the story of a group of novice campers who find themselves in a battle against nature and a bunch of backwoods residents who are out to get them, “Dueling Banjos” became an instant classic. They have to take to the water in canoes and paddle over dangerous rapids if they want to make it. The actors playing the campers are Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, and Ronny Cox.
The Omega Man (1971)
It’s the year 1975. As a result of a biological weapon, the majority of Earth’s living forms have been eradicated. During the film, Neville (Charlton Heston) thinks he is the last person alive. However, he must stay alert, as those who have used the weapon have been transformed into nighttime mutants thirsting for blood. It turns out that both I Am Legend and this film are based on the same novel.
Lord of the Flies (1963)
Lord of the Flies is based on William Golding’s classic novel of the same name and tells the story of a group of schoolboys who are marooned on an island and must learn to survive without the guidance of adults or any sort of established civilization. They must endure the weather while also protecting themselves from one another. There’s also a 1990 adaptation, this time starring Balthazar Getty, that follows in the footsteps of the 1963 original.
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Swiss Family Robinson (1960)
This exciting tale features shipwrecks, pirates, a tiger, and a treehouse on an island that any envious person would covet. Because it’s not as gory as some other survival stories, it’s appropriate for family viewing.
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