Nothing is more tense and gritty than a fight for survival. In our comfy world of modern amenities and high technology, it can be easy to forget just how brutal the world and nature can be.
Stripped away from all the finery of modern life, would you be able to survive a deadly situation caught out in the wild? Stranded on an island? Beaten and weathered by natural disasters? How long could you hang on for rescue before giving up?
Plenty of movies have been made about humanity’s fight for survival, but there aren’t too many that can be considered great. Here are the best survival movies worth watching!
10. Buried (2010)
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Ryan Reynolds puts on a thrilling one-man show in Buried, bedazzling viewers and critics alike in this departure from his usual roles.
When truck driver Paul wakes up to find himself buried in a coffin six feet underground, he only has the items in his pocket to get himself out: a lighter, a flask, glowsticks, a knife, a pen, and a cellphone that’s running low on battery life.
As it turns out, he’s being held for ransom by terrorists and the US State Department is refusing to negotiate with them. This indie thriller by Rodrigo Cortés is a classic nail-biter with a solid hook, and proves that Ryan Reynolds can do more than just comedy.
9. The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)
The Flight of the Phoenix was first made by Robert Aldrich in the 1960s, which starred Jimmy Stewart and Richard Attenborough. It was remade in 2004 by John Moore and starred Dennis Quaid, Giovanni Ribisi, Miranda Otto, and High Laurie.
Although the original holds a higher rating, Moore’s re-imagining is arguably much grittier. It’s hard to pick which one to recommend, but if you can only watch one, go with the original.
The group of survivors are stranded in the Sahara Desert following a plane crash. Fighting against the heat, thirsty delirium, and personality clashes, only they can ensure their own survival.
8. All Is Lost (2013)
One man. One boat. And only 51 spoken words throughout the entire movie… and yet, All Is Lost is entirely captivating.
Directed by J. C. Chandor and starring Robert Redford, All Is Lost tells the story of a man who takes a solo voyage across the Indian Ocean. But when the nameless man is hit by a storm that sinks his boat, he can only rely on his endurance and ingenuity to survive.
Part of the movie was filmed in the actual ocean! And the title is a reference to E. W. Hornung’s quote that if “pluck is lost, all is lost.”
7. The Martian (2015)
In The Martian, Matt Damon isn’t battling the natural elements of Earth—he’s struggling against the harsh realities of Mars, its barren landscape, its inhospitable atmosphere, and loneliness.
He plays Mark Watney, a botanist who’s left stranded on Mars when a severe dust storm forces his crew to evacuate—and leave him for dead when they lose communication with him.
Unwilling to die on Mars, he combines science with willpower to do everything he can to live as long as he can, hoping to survive the next four years until Earth’s next visit to Mars. He keeps a video diary all the while, which is both insightful and humorous.
Director Ridley Scott strikes a solid balance between drama and humor in The Martian. And between the excellent writing (based on the book by Andy Weir) and Matt Damon’s high-caliber performance, you’ll be in awe, in laughter, and even inspired.
6. Into the Wild (2007)
On September 6, 1992, the body of Christopher McCandless was found just outside Denali National Park. On his makeshift shelter, there was a note: “I need your help. I am injured, near death, and too weak to hike out of here. I am all alone.”
Christopher McCandless was a real person, and his life was retraced, chronicled, and turned into a book by Jon Krakauer. That book was eventually turned into a movie, bringing the story of McCandless to the masses and inspiring viewers with his zest and daring for life.
Emile Hirsch stars in Sean Penn’s adaptation of Into the Wild. After graduating college, he ditches the materialist lifestyle to hike across the North American wilderness, living off the land with little experience and paying the price for it.
5. Life of Pi (2012)
Prepare to be visually blown away by Ang Lee’s epic drama adventure starring Suraj Sharma as 16-year-old Pi who’s devoted to loving God (in every form) and has a deep interest in animals.
When Pi is left stranded on a lifeboat, he finds out that he isn’t alone—there’s a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker on board as well. The tiger isn’t hostile, though, and they work together to survive.
Life of Pi is unique, stunning, and deeply moving. Not only does Pi form a bond with the beast that’s stronger than any bond he’s had with people, there are layers to this story that speak to humanity’s relationship with spirituality, stories, and hope.
4. The Revenant (2015)
It’s no surprise that Leonardo DiCaprio finally won an Oscar with his role in The Revenant. Even with all of his amazing performances, it was his portrayal of 19th-century frontiersman Hugh Glass that blew everyone away and hooked them in.
Based on a real man’s fight for survival in the Dakota wilderness in 1823, Glass not only has to hike through freezing temperatures, but cauterize his own wounds and fight off a grizzly bear.
Alejandro G. Inarritu’s epic Revisionist Western is beautifully shot, with sweeping landscapes and hallucinatory images. You can almost feel the frost coming off the screen. The nip of the snow, the chill of freezing water rapids. It’s spellbinding and frightening.
3. The Impossible (2012)
Before he was Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Tom Holland was affecting viewers in J.A. Bayona’s heart-wrenching disaster movie The Impossible.
The Impossible centers on a family on vacation in Thailand, when they’re hit and separated by the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. Surviving the initial wave—a 100-foot-tall wall of water—is only the beginning. The next obstacle is finding each other again.
The Impossible is loosely based on the experiences of María Belón, who narrowly survived the tragedy. If you’re looking for a weeper, this is the survival movie for you.
2. 127 Hours (2010)
Isn’t it funny how most of the best survival movies are based on true events? That only adds to our sense of shock and admiration. Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours is one of the most brutal examples, showcasing just how powerful the human will to live can be.
James Franco plays the adrenaline-loving mountain climber Aron Ralston, who gets his arm trapped in a Utah canyon. This doesn’t sound so extreme at first, but with nobody knowing his whereabouts, Ralston is forced to saw his own arm off with a blunt pocket knife.
What’s crazy is that the real Aron Ralston took photos and videos of himself while he was stuck—a quick Google search will show you a bunch of eerie pre-amputation pictures. And what’s more? Ralston is still an avid daredevil explorer to this day!
1. Cast Away (2000)
Never before have we felt more emotionally attached to an inanimate object than when we watched Cast Away. Robert Zemeckis’ classic survival movie stars Tom Hanks as a FedEx executive who washes ashore on a deserted island.
Following a plane crash over the Pacific Ocean, Chuck Noland is forced to revert to a caveman-like existence, living off the land for many years. It’s not the hunger or lack of shelter that gets to Noland the most, but his loneliness on the uninhabited island.
His only friend is a volleyball named Wilson, which Noland draws a face on and talks to daily. Cast Away is a powerfully absorbing, instant cinema classic that’s a must-watch for everyone.