26 Movies About Survival!

I was going to do some research and write a post that combines the one on survival (Les Stroud on How to Survive in the Wilderness—Or Not) with my post on the movie Gravity (Gravity: to See It Is to Be in Space). This would be a post on movies about survival. Then, Bingo, I saw that ScreenRant had already done it for me.


Louis Zamperini, Unbroken, Angelina Jolie, Laura Hillenbrand, Joel Cohen, Ethan Cohen, WWII POW, Olympic athlete

Angelina Jolie with Louis Zamperini

Before we get to that list, however, I want to point out that Angelina Jolie is directing a movie about the most incredible survivor of the 20th century—Olympic athlete and WWII prisoner of war Louis Zamperini. It’s based on Laura Hillenbrand’s book Unbroken. Brothers Ethan and Joel Cohen are writing the script. For those who don’t know the story, I can say only that it has to be read to be believed. Mr. Zamperini not only survived a record-breaking 47 days adrift after his B-24 bomber “Green Hornet” crashed in the Pacific Ocean, he hung on through three brutal years as a POW in a Japanese prison camp. And he’s still alive! Mr. Zamperini is 96 and looking forward to #UnbrokenMovie opening on Christmas Day, 2014.

The ScreenRant List

In People vs. Nature: Top 10 Survival Stories on Film, Andrew Dyce offers his list of movies that do the best job of making us sedentary viewers feel what it’s like to struggle to survive against nature and against the odds. It includes:

1. 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.

2. The Way Back (2010): Escapees from a Siberian gulag walk 4000 miles overland to freedom in India.

3. 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.  It also lacked the technology available to film makers in 2013.

4. 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.

5. The Snow Walker (2003): A plane crash leaves a pilot and his passenger struggling for survival in the Arctic tundra.

6. The 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. With two great actors at their best, it’s terrific.

7. Touching 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.

8. Kon-Tiki (2012): This movie recreates legendary explorer Thor Heyerdal’s epic 4,300-mile crossing of the Pacific on a balsawood raft in 1947. His goal was to prove that it was possible for South Americans to settle in Polynesia in pre-Columbian times.

9. 127 Hours (2010): A mountain 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.

10. 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?

The Readers’ List

Life of Pi, Irrfan Khan, Ang Lee, Suraj Sharma

Life of Pi

This is a pretty good list, but heavily skewed toward recent movies. Other readers made their own suggestions. These include:

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.

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.

Jurassic Park (1993): I would not have thought of this in the context of survival but it works.

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.

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 theatre or on TV because the thought of it is too awful.

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?

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.

Robinson Crusoe (1997): I missed this one but we all know the story. This is the second film version of the classic.

The 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.

The Next Phase List

But even these two lists miss a few that came quickly to mind for both my husband and me. In alphabetical order we would add:

  • Jeremiah Johnson, Robert Redford, Will Geer

    Jeremiah Johnson

    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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Most Dangerous Game (1932): Victims have to survive the island as well as the hunter.
  • The 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

So if 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 your Netflix list. 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.