Movies About Survival

Kon Tiki Movie 2013If you’re in the mood to binge watch movies about survival while sitting on a comfy sofa in a warm room eating chips and drinking beer, here’s the list to choose from. Just pick your environment: mountains, ocean, desert, jungle, outer space or alien planet. Cross reference by disaster: weather, plane crash, boat capsizing, science expedition, adventuring, or sheer stupidity. Then add your favorite apex predator: shark, wolf, grizzly bear, tiger, or other humans.

Sit back and enjoy.

127 Hours (2010)

A climber becomes trapped under a boulder while canyoneering alone near Moab, Utah. He takes desperate measures to free himself in order to survive. I could not bring myself to watch this movie. If Aaron Ralston had followed even one of the basic safety measures recommended for people going into the wilderness, he would have all his body parts today.

  • Environment: Desert
  • Activity/Event: Rock climbing. canyoneering
  • Apex Predator: None

Adrift (2018)

A true story of survival, as a young couple’s chance encounter leads them first to love, and then on the adventure of a lifetime as they face one of the most catastrophic hurricanes in recorded history.

  • Environment: The Pacific Ocean
  • Event: Hurricane
  • Apex Predator: Wind and Water

Alive (1993)

From the book by Piers Paul Reed. The Uruguayan rugby team is stranded in the snow-swept Andes and forced to use desperate measures to survive after their plane crashes.

  • Environment: The Andes mountains
  • Event: Plane crash
  • Apex Predator: None

All Is Lost, Robert RedfordAll is Lost (2013)

A man sailing alone on the Indian Ocean must survive a collision and a storm that destroy his vessel. The critics liked it better than I did.

  • Environment: Indian Ocean
  • Activity/Event: Collision with container
  • Apex Predator: None

Apollo 13 (1995)

After their spacecraft undergoes massive internal damage, three astronauts must devise a strategy to return to Earth safely. We saw this and I enjoyed it at the time but it lacked the immediacy and reality of Gravity.

  • Environment: Space
  • Activity/Event: Equipment failure
  • Apex Predator: None

Cast Away (2000)

After he survives a crash landing on a deserted island a FedEx executive must transform himself physically and emotionally to live. Is there anyone who didn’t like this movie? Anyone? Bueller? Wilson?

  • Environment: Desert island
  • Activity/Event: Plane crash
  • Apex Predator: None

The Edge, Alec Baldwin, Anthony Hopkins, Bart the BearThe Edge (1997)

A billionaire and two other men accustomed to civilization are stranded by a plane crash in a dangerous wilderness. A grizzly bear makes a formidable foe. I have seen this movie twice, maybe three times. It’s terrific.

  • Environment: Alaskan wilderness
  • Activity/Event: Plane crash
  • Apex Predator: Grizzly bear

Everest (2015)

A climbing expedition on Mount Everest is hit by a severe storm that killed X climbers and guides.

  • Environment: Himalayas — Mount Everest
  • Activity/Event: Severe storm
  • Apex Predator: Nature

Gravity, @Gravity_Movie, George Clooney, Sandra Bullock, Alfonso Cuaron

Gravity (2013)

A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space.

  • Environment: Space
  • Activity/Event: Space debris destroys the space shuttle
  • Apex Predator: None

The Grey (2011)

After their plane crashes in Alaska, a skilled huntsman leads six oil workers to survival while a pack of relentless wolves haunts their journey.

  • Environment: Alaskan wilderness
  • Activity/Event: Plane crash
  • Apex Predator: Wolf pack

The Hunger Games (2012)

Young but resourceful Katniss Everdeen volunteers to replace her younger siste in the Hunger Games, a televised fight to the death in which two teenaged “tributes” from each of the twelve Districts of Panem are chosen by lottery to compete.

  • Environment: An arena that changes each year
  • Activity/Event: The annual Hunger Games competition
  • Apex Predator: Man

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Jennifer Lawrence, Donald Sutherland, Suzanne CollinsThe Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark are sent back into the arena for the 75th Quarter Quell when they  become targets of the Capitol.  Their victory in the 74th Hunger Games has sparked  a rebellion in the 12 Districts of Panem that President Snow wants to put down quickly.

  • Environment: An arena that changes each year
  • Activity/Event: The annual Hunger Games competition
  • Apex Predator: Man

The Hunger Games; Mockingjay — Part 1 (1914)

  • Environment: District 8 and District 13
  • Activity/Event: Rebellion against the Capitol
  • Apex Predator: Man

Into Thin Air: Death on Everest (1997)

Based on Jon Krakauer’s book of the same name, it depicts the disastrous events that took place during the Mount Everest climb on May 10, 1996. The book was better.

  • Environment: Himalayas—Mount Everest
  • Activity/Event: Storm
  • Apex Predator: None

Jaws (1975)

Is it really survival if you go hunting the great white shark? Or is it only survival if the great white shark is hunting you?

  • Environment: Atlantic Ocean off Martha’s Vineyard
  • Activity/Event: Shark attack
  • Apex Predator: Great white shark
Jeremiah Johnson, Robert Redford, Will Geer

Jeremiah Johnson

Jeremiah Johnson (1972)

We have seen this movie multiple times and it never gets old. This is Robert Redford at his best. He sure could skin griz. Eh.

  • Environment: The Rocky Mountains
  • Activity/Event: Escape from civilization
  • Apex Predator: Grizzly bear

Jurassic Park (1993)

I would not have thought of this movie in the context of survival but it works.

  • Environment: Theme park
  • Activity/Event: Tropical storm
  • Apex Predator: Tyrannosaurus Rex, Velociraptor

Jurassic World (2015)

Do not wear high heels to go out in the dinosaur paddocks. I’m just saying.

  • Environment: Theme park
  • Activity/Event: Sabotage
  • Apex Predator: Indominus Rex

Kon-Tiki (2012)

This movie recreates legendary explorer Thor Heyerdal’s epic 4,300-mile crossing of the Pacific on a balsa-wood raft in 1947. His goal was to prove that it was possible for South Americans to settle in Polynesia in pre-Columbian times.

  • Environment: Pacific Ocean
  • Activity/Event: Expedition from Peru to Tuamotu Islands
  • Apex Predator: None

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

We saw the re-mastered 50th anniversary edition and it was outstanding. While the movie includes a survival in the desert scene, however, that is not the focus of the story so it would not be on my list.

  • Environment: Rub Al Khali Desert of Saudi Arabia
  • Activity/Event: Surprise crossing
  • Apex Predator: None
Life of Pi, Irrfan Khan, Ang Lee, Suraj Sharma

Life of Pi

Life of Pi (2012)

IMHO this should be on anyone’s list of the Top 10 survival movies. It’s also the most beautiful of any I can remember.

  • Environment: Pacific Ocean
  • Activity/Event: Tropical storm and shipwreck
  • Apex Predator: Bengal tiger

Lone Survivor (2013)

In this movie, based on actual events, Marcus Luttrell and a team of Navy SEALs take on a mission to capture or kill notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shah, in late June of 2005. Due to a variety of failures, Marcus and his team must fight for their lives in hostile territory and against a greater force than they expected.

  • Environment: Mountains of Afghanistan
  • Activity/Event: Raid on a village
  • Apex Predator: Taliban fighters

Lord of the Flies (1963)

Shipwrecked on an island, a group of castaway boys finds that surviving and being civilized are not the same thing at all. I saw it too long ago to remember whether it was good.

  • Environment: Ocean
  • Activity/Event: Plane crash
  • Apex Predator: None

The Martian (2015)

During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut and botanist Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With insufficient supplies, he must draw upon his scientific training, ingenuity, wit, knowledge, determination and spirit to subsist. He also has to find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.

Mark Watney alone on Mars

This is the ultimate survival environment. During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.

  • Environment: Mars
  • Activity/Event: Powerful storm
  • Apex Predator: None

The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

Victims have to survive the island as well as the hunter.

  • Environment: Tropical island
  • Activity/Event: Manhunt
  • Apex Predator: Man

The Naked Prey, Cornell WildeThe Naked Prey (1996)

Cornell Wilde has to survive being hunted by a tribe in Africa but the environment is a strong opponent. I saw it as a kid at the outdoor it was gripping.

  • Environment: African veldt
  • Activity/Event: Elephant Hunt
  • Apex Predator: Man

Open Water  (2003)

Based on the true story of two scuba divers who were accidentally stranded in shark-infested waters after their tour boat left without them. I have not been able to watch this either in the theater or on TV because the thought of it is too awful.

  • Environment: Great Barrier Reef
  • Activity/Event: Scuba diving
  • Apex Predator: Sharks, jellyfish

The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

A group of passengers struggles to survive and escape, when their ocean liner capsizes. Believe it or not, I don’t think I ever saw this movie.

  • Environment: Atlantic Ocean
  • Activity/Event: Rogue wave
  • Apex Predator: None

The ReefThe Reef (2010)

A great white shark hunts the crew of a capsized sailboat along the Great Barrier Reef. I haven’t seen this one, either.

  • Environment: Great Barrier Reef
  • Activity/Event: Sailboat capsizes
  • Apex Predator: Great white shark

Rescue Dawn (2006)

This depicts a U.S. fighter pilot’s epic struggle of survival after being shot down on a mission over Laos during the Vietnam War. We enjoyed this one and thought it very well done. Christian Bale is excellent.

  • Environment: Laotian jungle
  • Activity/Event: Plane shot down
  • Apex Predator: Man
Riddick, Riddick 3, Riddick 2013

Riddick and Friend

Riddick (2013)

Convict and king Richard Riddick is left for dead on a barren, sun-scorched planet. Just because it’s science fiction doesn’t mean it’s not a survival movie.

  • Environment: Barren planet
  • Activity/Event: Abandoned
  • Apex Predator: Alien predators

Robinson Crusoe (1997)

I missed this one but we all know the story. This is the second film version of the classic.

  • Environment: Tropical island
  • Activity/Event: Shipwreck
  • Apex Predator: None

The Shallows ( 2016)

A mere 200 yards from shore, surfer Nancy is attacked by a great white shark, with her short journey to safety becoming the ultimate contest of wills.

  • Environment: Tropical ocean
  • Activity / Event: Surfing
  • Apex Predator: Great White Shark

The Snow Walker (2003)

A plane crash leaves a pilot and his passenger struggling for survival in the Arctic tundra.

  • Environment: Arctic tundra
  • Activity/Event: Plane crash
  • Apex Predator: None

Touching the VoidTouching the Void (2003)

I didn’t think a movie could do justice to the book, which was riveting. But the film version is arguable better. At times I forgot to breathe.

  • Environment: Peruvian mountains
  • Activity/Event: Mountain climbing
  • Apex Predator: None

Twister (1996)

Two storm chasers on the brink of divorce, must partner to create an advanced weather alert system by putting themselves in the cross-hairs of extremely violent tornadoes.

  • Environment: Oklahoma
  • Activity/Event: Tornado
  • Apex Predator: None

Unbroken (2014)

After a near-fatal plane crash in WWII, Olympic runner Louis Zamperini spends a harrowing 47 days in a raft with two fellow crewmen before he’s caught by the Japanese navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp.In the camp he’s selected for special torment by one of the guards over an extended period of time.

  • Environment: Pacific Ocean, Japanese prison camp
  • Activity/Event: World War II, Plane crash
  • Apex Predator: Man

The Way Back (2010)

Escapees from a Siberian gulag walk 4000 miles overland to freedom in India.

  • Environment: Siberian tundra, Gobi desert
  • Activity/Event: Prison escape
  • Apex Predator: None

3 thoughts on “Movies About Survival

  1. Although Captain Picard orders the ship into warp after their investigation is complete, Data cautions him to not do so until he completes a sweep of the ship with ” anyon ” particles to remove the chronoton radiation. Knowing that time is short before the ship will enter warp, Ro and La Forge head to their funeral which has become more of a festive wake and celebration and attempt to phase through objects. They fire the Romulan’s disruptor to attract the attention of the attendees. When this does not work, Ro sets the disruptor to overload, causing a large burst of chronoton radiation. Data instructs the computer to sweep Ten Forward with anyon particles, causing Ro and La Forge to temporarily become visible in front of Data and Picard. Data deduces the fate of the crew members, and orders another massive flood of anyon particles, which brings Ro and La Forge back into phase. La Forge is able to warn Engineering about the warp core in time. He and Ro then join their “funeral” and celebrate with the rest of the crew with a much more joyous tone to the occasion.

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