There is something about survival movies that just pulls at your emotions. Even if it is based on a true story and you know the outcome, you find yourself at the edge of your seat, completely immersed in the experience.
During the really gripping survival movies, you may even find yourself yelling advice to the characters and getting mad that they’re not taking it.
Survival movies make us question what we would do in a similar situation. Do we have the fortitude to make it out alive? If you’re really paying attention, there are important lessons you can take away from these movies as well.
What not to do, what to do, and maybe some tricks you can use if you ever have the bad luck to end up in a movie worthy survival situation.
We have compiled 21 of the best survival movies that you need to watch, asap. This list includes true stories, documentaries, classic survival stories, and some outliers that fall in between thrillers and survival movies. These are listed in no particular order, and all of them have a valuable take away.
21 Survival Movies You Need To Watch
1. 127 Hours (2010)
Even though I said this was in no particular order, I had to put this at the top of the list. Never has a movie that takes place almost entirely in one spot pulled me in the way this one did.
Based on the true story of Aron Ralston who slipped into a crevice and was pinned by a boulder while hiking in Utah, 127 Hours is intense. No spoilers, but the lengths he went to, to survive highlight the tenacity of the human spirit is amazing. This movie also highlights how important it is that you let people know where you’re going before you go on a hike.
2. The Edge (1996)
The cast alone makes this movie worthwhile. Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin are two men whose plane has crashed in Alaska.
They are fighting against the elements while being stalked by a Kodiak bear. Throw in the suspense of a possible murder plot because of a scandalous love affair, and what more could you ask for in a movie.
3. Cast Away (1993)
No list of survival movies is complete without this Tom Hanks classic. Stranded alone on an Island with no company except a volleyball, it shows the extreme mental stress being alone can place a person under.
Tom Hanks’ performance is brilliant, and there is a reason this movie has been considered a classic since the moment it was released.
4. The Grey (2011)
Liam Neeson is a plane crash survivor in Alaska, attempting to lead a group of men to safety while being hunted by wolves.
The cinematography in The Grey is amazing, and the demonstration of leadership during an intense survival situation is a good lesson for anyone, whether or not you’re being hunted by wolves.
5. Into The Wild (2007)
This film adaptation of Christopher Candles pilgrimage away from modern life, and “off the grid” is a tough watch, but worth it. It shows the effects of being unprepared and unskilled, and the toll starvation takes on a person.
If you are familiar with the story, knowing that his young man could have changed the outcome makes this movie feel heavy from the start.
6. Touching The Void (2003)
This is a docudrama that tells the story of the 1985 ascension of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates up Siula Grande. During their descent, Simpson’s leg was shattered. Fearing neither of them will survive, Yates is forced to cut free of his partner, and travel back to base camp.
Trapped in a crevasse, with a broken leg Simpson must fight the elements to try to return to base camp. No spoilers, but the movie is based on the book later written by Simpson. It’s an interesting view of the choices people are forced to make to survive, and the consequences of those choices.
7. Alive (1993)
Based on the true story of an Uruguayan rugby team that crashed in the Andes in 1972, Alive chronicles the struggle of the survivors to survive the elements and the lack of food while they hope for rescue.
Alive touches on the sentiment that surrounds breaking the taboo of cannibalism even to survive. It makes you question what you would do to survive if you had no other options.
8. Shackleton (2002)
This is a mini-series and not a movie, but it is an intriguing look at the 1914 expedition of Sir Ernest Shackelton into the Antarctic with his ship The Endurance.
The Endurance is crushed in the ice, and Shackelton vows to find a way to save his crew. The expedition failed, but Shackelton’s legacy lives on.
9. Kon-Tiki (2012)
You can not have a list of great survival movies without including the movie about one of the greatest explorers of all time,
Thor Heyerdahl. Kon-Tiki tells the story of Heyerdahl’s 1947 expedition to prove that South American people settled the Polynesian Islands. It has storms, sharks, and the knowledge that Heyerdahl did all this without being able to swim.
10. Unbroken (2014)
The true story of US Olympian, Louis Zamperini, whose bomber crash-landed in the ocean. He was able to survive in a raft for 47 days before being captured and sent to a series of Japanese POW camps.
The tenacity of Zamperini who was able to not only survive 47 days at sea but also the horrors of POW camps is truly inspiring and really makes you wonder if you would be able to do the same thing in his place.
11. A Cry In The Wild (1990)
This film is more family-friendly than some of the others. Based on the book Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, it follows Brian Robeson as he attempts to survive in the wilderness after the pilot of his plane dies of a heart attack.
12. Alone In The Wilderness (2004)
This documentary followed the life of Richard Proenneke who built a cabin after he retired at age 50 and lived off-grid for 30 years.
This is one of the best documentaries about off the grid living ever made and anyone interested in a similar lifestyle should definitely watch it.
13. Open Water (2003)
Based on the disappearance of a couple after they were left behind by the boat that took them scuba diving, this movie theorizes about what might have happened.
The couple is stranded in the open ocean and surrounded by sharks. We can all guess what happens. Is it, survival, or is it horror? It’s highly believable which is part of what makes this movie a must-watch nail biter.
14. The Shallows (2016)
Surrounded by sharks and trapped within sight of the shore. What could be more horrifying? You’ll find out when you get to the part with the dead whale.
The ingenuity the main character, Nancy demonstrates while stranded on a rock, with very little to work with makes this movie stand out.
15. All Is Lost (2013)
Robert Redford is lost at sea with no way to communicate or navigate. Part of what makes this movie so good is how realistic it is about showing what would happen to someone adrift after an accident with no functional equipment.
16. Rambo: First Blood (1982)
The story of a veteran suffering from mental health issues, John Rambo is on the run and hiding from law enforcement. This first installment in the franchise had fewer machine guns and a different tone than subsequent movies.
17. Deliverance (1972)
We all know why Deliverance is continually a punchline. However, despite the banjos, deliverance is an excellent survival film. It highlights not only the struggle of man against man but also man against nature as the protagonists flee from the danger of the backwoods people only to face rapids and other natural perils.
18. Wild (2014)
Cheryl Strayed, a divorced woman with addiction issues faces her personal issues by hiking the Pacific Trail.
There are moments that make you worry about Cheryl and her safety, but it is an interesting look into the mind of someone who has decided to leave it all behind.
19. Contagion (2011)
Contagion is especially compelling in the face of the pandemic we are currently facing. Food shortages, looting, government incompetence, this movie has them all. In these trying times, it feels more like a documentary than fiction.
20. Defiance (2008)
The fictionalized story of the Bielski partisans, led by two Jewish brothers in Nazi-occupied Belarus who help others escape into the woods to fight back against the Nazis.
21. Frozen (2010)
This movie is no way related to the kid’s movie. Frozen is about 3 skiers trapped on a ski lift with no way off. Questionable choices and the sheer incompetence of several of the characters make this movie worth watching, just so you can yell at the screen.
There you have it! A list of 21 survival movies you should watch now. From the true stories to the truly improbable, all of these movies are worth a look. Pop some popcorn, find your comfy chair, and see if you agree.