Survival is in human nature, and the fight-or-flight response is all too familiar to most of us. So, it’s no wonder survival movies have stood the test of time and are still fan-favorites of many; the main characters often remind us of ourselves!
But there’s actually more to survival movies than meets the eye. Various themes intertwine, and not all flicks are made equal.
Sometimes, the man has to fight the mountain in order to survive. Other times, it’s the wilderness survival movies that carry a strong message of hope and perseverance.
Whether or not you’re into survival movies, we definitely urge you to watch a few of these. Most have been praised by critics and feature a star-studded cast. Others, however, don’t enjoy the same level of popularity — but are still worthy of your attention.
Without further ado, here are the best survival movies for the action-seeking adventurer in you.
Wilderness Survival Movies
The Revenant (2015)
When The Revenant came out, everyone was praising Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance and the way he handled himself on screen. However, what we particularly loved about this movie (and the reason it’s on this list) is that it’s not the usual story of survival we most often get to see.
The main character isn’t as likable as one would expect. Still, you cannot say he doesn’t know his way around the wilderness. In fact, this is one of those wilderness survival movies that genuinely make you think — what would I do?
But the story is more complicated than what most survival movies offer. It’s not just about persistence; it also conveys how loyalty is a fleeting thing when faced with fear and that revenge sometimes makes people do extraordinary things, including somehow surviving a vicious bear attack and hiding inside a horse’s carcass.
Overall, this is one of the best survival movies of the 2010s, and it definitely deserved its three Oscars.
The Way Back (2010)
If you love survival movies that show people fighting the elements to the best of their abilities, you will probably enjoy The Way Back.
We’ve included it on this list because it follows an interesting story but doesn’t make history the main character. It’s all about survival here, as it is a story about prisoners of war. They have escaped from a Soviet gulag and are now faced with the greatest challenge of their lives — walking 4,000 miles to freedom.
Based on a memoir by Sławomir Rawicz, The Way Back tells the tale of a group of prisoners who have succeeded at something unimaginable.
Escaping a Russian gulag was not common in those days, and most would even say it was downright impossible. Yet, Sławomir claims in his memoir that he managed to do it. However, he then had to fight the elements for 4,000 miles until he could reclaim his freedom.
Although not a true masterpiece and an Oscar-worthy candidate, The Way Back is still one of those survival movies that stay with you. You feel as if you’re right there with the characters, trying to survive each step and live another day.
Into The Wild (2007)
Now, some people would say that Into the Wild is not a real survival movie per se. However, we disagree. Just because the main character has decided to hitchhike his way through the Alaskan wilderness and go off-grid, it doesn’t mean he didn’t survive a true ordeal.
Christopher McCandless, the main character, isn’t meant to be a survivor. This is a destiny he begins forging for himself; he goes off-grid, eliminates all his credit cards, and starts living completely alone in the wild.
Yet, this movie mostly grows from a simple adventure-driven flick into a survival movie in the last part.
Christopher discovers that nature, albeit beautiful, can also be harsh. In essence, he realizes that in his quest to detach himself from anything modern that could corrupt him, he has forgotten happiness isn’t possible when you’re lonely. Unfortunately, he realizes that far too late.
In general, Into the Wild is not a masterpiece, and the book might be better. Still, the survival aspect of the movie makes it well worth the watch.
Besides that, the cast, featuring Emile Hirsch, Kristen Stewart, Marcia Gay Harden, and William Hurt, ensures some excellent acting.
127 Hours (2010)
One of the many things people love about going on an adventure is the thrill of not knowing who you’ll meet, what will happen to you, or where you’ll end up. However, even if you’re an adventurer, saying where you’re going is the first step toward a potential rescue mission — should something terrible happen.
127 Hours is a biographical movie about Aron Ralston and a tale of survival. It tells the story of how Aron decided to go hiking one day in Canyonlands National Park, only to get trapped by a boulder and have to amputate his own arm.
Now, you may wonder — where’s the survival there? Well, this isn’t one of those typical wilderness survival movies that show the character making use of common objects.
For the most part of the movie, Aron is trapped. He is trying to boost his morale by making a video diary and rationing his water and food. In the end, though, the amputation is inevitable — but it lets Aron survive his ordeal.
Although there’s no wilderness or bears or even a battle between good or evil, we like this movie. It shows not only how one survives a situation they essentially put themselves in — but how they handle it internally as well.
The Grey (2011)
Liam Neeson has become popular among the younger generation because of his action-packed movies. However, The Grey offers more than pure action. It is a story of man vs. wolf and how survival remains uncertain until the very end.
Neeson portrays a marksman who kills wolves for a living in order to protect oil drillers. He has a wife with a terminal illness; because of that, he wants to kill himself at the beginning of the movie. Yet, he doesn’t do it! The very next day, he survives a plane crash and has to fight off wolves to survive.
What we find interesting here is the level of will to survive that the main character has. Even though he wanted to kill himself, somehow, this survival response drives him forward and influences every single one of his moves.
It’s funny how we sometimes believe our lives are over because we are in control and can end them — only to realize we don’t want to die when faced with true danger.
The Edge (1997)
Overall, The Edge is a somewhat strange movie, in that Alec Baldwin’s character was planning to kill Anthony Hopkins’ because he wanted to be with his wife. It’s just not as plausible as one might think. Baldwin plays a photographer, and Hopkins is a billionaire. Surely, someone would catch him? Besides, who tells someone they want to kill them?
In any case, the movie, although it mostly deals with male insecurity, is a survival story. The main theme (or so the viewer thinks) is man vs. nature. The two main characters (the third one dies half-way through) have to run away from a vicious Kodiak bear.
In the end, they do manage to kill the bear. However, since that wasn’t the whole point of the movie, the flick doesn’t end there.
In essence, the characters have to overcome their insecurities and put their differences aside to deal with something far more dangerous. Yet, once the bear is out of the picture, we get to see the real motivation behind the movie — the man vs. man battle over a woman.
Surviving the breakdown of one’s marriage, heroin addiction, loose behavior, and a mother’s death isn’t something most people can do.
However, Cheryl Strayed survives it by going on a very long hike along the Pacific Trail Quest. In order to stop the destruction of everything she is and stands for, she opts for self-exposed exile. Later on, she writes a book that has become one of the best survival movies of all time.
In reality, Wild isn’t a survival movie most people would be interested in. Lighting fire with two rocks or hiding inside a horse’s carcass isn’t something you’ll see in this flick. The true survival is related to getting over all the obstacles life throws in one’s way. As such, it shows how the main character survives her own life — and builds it up again.
Wild was well received by critics and has sparked a huge following around the globe. It also helps that it had a wonderful cast that made the movie a modern masterpiece; it features Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Michiel Huisman, and Thomas Sadoski, just to name a few.
What would you do if you knew forgetting about your morals was the only way you could survive? Most of us might never have to ask ourselves that question.
However, the survivors of the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crash in the Andes had to — and they learned where their limits stand.
Cannibalism often appears in survival movies purely because it’s one of those dilemmas that scare most humans. Could we ever eat one of our own to survive? Would we ever be able to forget the taste of their flesh even though we’re still alive because of it?
The dilemma is the main theme of this movie. It is also the reason we believe this is one of the best survival movies the world has ever seen. It plays out well to show how survival affects different people.
The cast portrays desperation, as well as the will to survive of the passengers. More importantly, it shows the inner struggle they go through with each passing moment.
Based on a true story of Yossi Ghinsberg, an Israeli adventurer, Jungle is a tale of survival. It shows that no matter how much the wilderness seems appealing — you needn’t bother with it if you’re not ready to give it your all.
In the movie, Yossi (Daniel Radcliffe) is excited by the mere thought of going into the heart of the Amazon rainforest to meet an Indian tribe. However, he fails to see that Karl (Thomas Kretschmann) is far from trustworthy. There are red flags.
Yet, he chooses to ignore them, proving yet again that sometimes, an adventurous heart forgets to think about safety.
The movie received average to mixed reviews. Nevertheless, we loved Radcliffe’s acting, and the way survival plays a key role. There aren’t any philosophical themes — only pure determination to escape the jungle alive.
A Cry in the Wild (1990)
Though it lacks favorable reviews, A Cry in the Wild tells the tale of Brian Robeson, a 13-year-old who has to fight the Yukon wilderness and fend for himself after the pilot of his plane dies mid-flight. As such, the movie is different from what we’ve seen so far, in that a child is the survivor.
The movie was based on the novel Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, which is the thing Brian uses the most throughout the flick — the hatchet his mother gives him before he goes on the plane.
Will it change your life? We don’t necessarily think so. However, it is a decent 1990s survival movie that stars a familiar face if you’ve ever seen Honey, I’ve Shrunk the Kids — Jared Rushton. Additionally, the movie features some grizzly bear cubs, too. If you love animals, you might just find it endearing, as well.
Man Against Mountain
Humanity has always been fascinated with the fight-or-flight response, as well as with whether humans can survive even the deadliest circumstances. Because of that, movies like Everest are often quite popular among audiences who love survival movies but don’t necessarily want to see a “happily ever after” at the end.
In essence, Everest offers a realistic portrayal of what happens when you think you’re stronger than nature.
Despite all their best intentions and skills, the characters are no match to extreme winds and blizzards. These can change their destiny in mere seconds, proving yet again that humanity, although it can win sometimes, rarely comes out of the battle against nature unharmed.
Even those who aren’t into survival movies will probably enjoy Everest.
Apart from a good script and great effects, the movie also boasts an ensemble cast. It features Robin Wright, Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Keira Knightley, and Jake Gyllenhaal.
North Face (2008)
The Nazi propaganda was fierce back in 1936. The Germans were doing everything in their power to boost morale among the people. Strangely enough, climbing the north face of the Eiger seemed like a good idea at one point.
Unfortunately, the climb claimed the lives of five climbers, including Toni Kurz and Andreas Hinterstoisser.
Of course, North Face has a few romantic details here and there. On the whole, though, it’s another one of those survival movies that prove that the mountain (almost) always wins.
What makes it a bit more interesting than some other flicks is that it is set in Nazi Germany and shows how some Germans, despite the appearances, weren’t that into politics.
Toni and Andi, although a part of the propaganda, were reluctant to climb. They knew that they might not survive it. Thus, the whole ordeal was in vain right from the start, and the climbing competition — a foolish attempt.
After two members of a billionaire’s climbing team perish in an avalanche, Taylor and Harold, buddies who lead entirely different lives, beg to join the team so that they can take part in a K2 expedition.
But, of course, not everything works out for them. The climb is deadly in and of itself, with hypothermia lurking around every corner. Moreover, even when the two climbers finally reach the top, one of them slips and endangers the whole ending.
Will he survive? Is there anyone that could save them? You’ll have to watch it to find out.
Still, don’t expect this to be one of those survival movies that stick with you. It mainly received poor reviews and wasn’t a box office hit.
Nevertheless, we find it interesting because it focuses on a K2 expedition and is a bit more lighthearted than how survival movies usually are.
6 Below: Miracle on the Mountain (2017)
6 Below is one of those survival movies that basically has it all; there is a hot main character, a mountain, lots of snow, bad things happening, wolves, and weirdly enough, Mira Sorvino. It conveys the story of Eric LeMarque, who gets lost upon following an unsanctioned path while snowboarding.
The rest of the movie deals with everyone trying to find Eric, a problematic professional hockey player. And, as you can imagine, the whole ordeal serves as a means for Eric to learn to appreciate his life, his mom, and everything God has given him. His life flashes before his eyes, which shows him how much of it he has already wasted.
In the end, Eric finds his way back, loses his legs, and writes a book about his adventure. Now, that book has been made into a movie we can actually recommend watching. It’s not something that will put you off skiing and snowboarding, and the cast and acting are pretty good.
Vertical Limit (2000)
Vertical Limit is not a mere survival movie; it’s a story of revenge and brother/sister relationship, as well as how villains are sometimes right before our eyes.
The K2 is again the main attraction of the movie. The summit attempt on K2 is funded by Elliot Vaughn. One of the participants is Annie Garrett, sister of Peter and daughter of the late Royce.
Annie and Peter have a difficult relationship but reunite when she decides to take part in the summit. However, all is not well in the summit team, which becomes evident when Montgomery Wick shows up. His wife took part in the previous expedition and died under strange circumstances. He believes Vaughn had something to do with it.
Enough with the spoilers — you will have to watch it to see what happens next. But, we thought the movie was quite thrilling. It even features a cast of incredible actors, such as Bill Paxton, Chris O’Donnell, and Robin Tunney.
The only thing that bothered us is how unrealistic some of the dialogue and scenes were — but hey! It (sort of) works!
The Mountain Between Us (2017)
Idris Elba, one of the sexiest men alive, and Kate Winslet, one of the hottest women in the world, join together in The Mountain Between Us, a flick that can leave few people completely partial in regard to survival movies.
There’s just something incredible about movies that should be tragic but ultimately end happily. However, this isn’t one of those wilderness survival movies where the whole point is to safely get off the mountain.
We particularly liked the fact the movie is more about the characters and less about the harshness of their ordeal.
Of course, survival is one of the main themes, but so is love and connection these two people forge in the most heartbreaking situation. Overall, the movie is quite enjoyable and engaging, albeit not the quintessential survival tale.
Man Against The Sea
Against The Sun (2014)
The untamed sea is always a good theme in survival movies, which is why Against The Sun is worth watching. Although not as popular as some others on this list, we actually like this movie as it has an excellent cast. On top of that, it shows that survival is sometimes possible against all odds.
The story follows three US Navy airmen who have to leave their torpedo bomber and survive on a small life raft. They don’t have much food or water, and they have to overcome not just the ocean but the storms, sharks, and each other.
Despite how unfortunate the circumstances seem, the story does have a happy ending; it could even count as a feel-good movie if you really think about it.
In any case, it is an excellent portrayal of the madness of isolation and hopelessness, as well as the fear of never being rescued and having to die at sea.
The Perfect Storm (2000)
Based on real-life events surrounding The Perfect Storm of 1991 and Andrea Gail, a commercial fishing boat, The Perfect Storm is a story of survival that doesn’t play out as you hope.
In the end, there is no real survival here, as none of the characters make it — they end up lost at sea. However, this movie highlights the struggle people go through while hoping for survival, as well as how the impending meeting with death affects them.
There’s no denying that The Perfect Storm leaves a somewhat bitter taste in your mouth. We wouldn’t blame you if you never wanted to step onto a boat after this again.
However, we had to include it on our list; the movie features not just superb directing but a wonderful cast. Geroge Clooney plays the main character, alongside Mark Wahlberg, William Fichtner, and John C. Reilly.
Open Water (2003)
Based on the tragic true story of Eileen and Tom Lonergan, Open Water shows just how dangerous the ocean and all of its creatures can be. It reminds us all that even something as adventurous as scuba diving can have severe consequences if the puzzle pieces of our lives fall into just the right place.
The movie depicts how Eileen and Tom get stranded at sea after the dive-boat crew fails to take a proper headcount. They are left to their own devices, with sharks circling them and hoping for a meal. In the end, they don’t survive.
Even today, though, there are multiple theories as to what actually happened to them.
The movie follows the theory that sharks got to them. However, some believe it was a murder-suicide that put the Outer Edge Dive Company out of business.
Either way, the movie explains how deadly open waters can be and how little chance anyone has of surviving them.
Life of Pi (2012)
Getting trapped on a boat with a Bengal tiger surely isn’t a situation most of us would expect to find ourselves in. Yet, in the 2001 book by Yann Martel, Pi Patel talks about how he shared a boat with the orange man-eater and actually survived it.
The director of Life of Pi, Ang Lee, is famous for his other works, such as Brokeback Mountain and Sense and Sensibility. However, up until Life of Pi, no one really knew how incredible he is at using special effects to make a story seem as authentic as possible.
That is the main advantage of this movie — it’s downright gorgeous and eye-pleasing. While watching it, we couldn’t believe the attention to detail and the sheer colors that were dancing in front of our eyes.
Nevertheless, the man against the sea aspect of the flick is what makes it one of the best survival movies of all time.
White Squall (1996)
What happens when you put Jeff Bridges on a boat together with a group of somewhat mischievous prep school students? A survival movie, of course!
All jokes aside, White Squall is a treasure when it comes to survival movies, as it tells the tale of how sometimes, even the greatest will to survive is not enough. It shows how humans always need someone to blame, even if a natural disaster, such as a white squall windstorm, is at play.
The plot is not as exciting as one might expect. The adventure starts when a storm hits the boat. It follows the Skipper and his crew, as well as the students, on a brigantine during a school sailing trip.
For the most part, the movie deals with each of the students and their relationship with the Skipper and each other. Once the boat sinks, the plot thickens; the parents of one of the students (who survives) want the Skipper to lose his license.
Directed by Ridley Scott and guided by Jeff Bridges’ incredible portrayal of the Skipper, White Squall is just the thing an adventurous mind would enjoy. Who cares if the movie was a box office disappointment? It’s the story that matters!
All Is Lost (2013)
All Is Lost is a real gem of a movie, as it is entirely unique on this list. Featuring a one-man cast and almost no spoken words at all, it puts the entire focus on the survival and the perils one must overcome when lost at sea.
The story follows Robert Redford as a lone sailor whose boat gets hit by a wayward shipping container and is now sinking fast. He tries to fix it, but the damage is excessive; after attempting various things to survive, the sailor ends up dangerously near a shipping lane.
During the whole 8-day ordeal, it’s not certain whether he will survive. The movie even starts with the sailor penning a letter to those he will miss. However, at the very end, when his life raft is burning, a searchlight appears. Miracles do happen, at least in survival movies!
It’s not difficult to guess why we love this film — waves upon waves of emotions make up for the lack of words.
In our opinion, this is a movie that sticks with you for a long time and makes you think about what you would do if you were in the sailor’s situation. When would you give up — would you even fight the waters?
Back in 1947, Thor Heyerdahl, a real-life explorer, had a crazy idea. He was going to prove that in pre-Columbian times, native South Americans settled some islands in Polynesia by traveling 4,300 miles on a balsa wood raft.
The idea, although incredible, was based on a range of theories going around at that time. Thor Heyerdahl wanted to see if the trip was possible without using any technological advances except for a radio.
In the movie, he and his crew of five men have to rely on stars and ocean currents to interpret where they are going. Needless to say, the journey doesn’t go so smoothly, and they have to face all the dangers of the open sea.
Yet, this is a survival movie with a happy ending, as the expedition is a success. Still, the movie has some inaccuracies, particularly in regard to the portrayal of second-in-command Watzinger.
If that doesn’t bother you, though, and you want to enjoy real survival action, don’t miss out on this flick; even the subtitles didn’t bother us since it completely enchants the viewer!
Man Against Natural Disasters
Dante’s Peak (1997)
A dormant stratovolcano, a small town in Washington, and Pierce Brosnan as a USGS volcanologist — need we say more? Although Dante’s Peak is by no means a masterpiece and mostly received negative reviews, it was a huge box office hit due to its survival theme.
The movie follows Brosnan as he tries to alert the town of Dante’s Peak that a volcano will erupt soon. No one actually believes him except for (maybe) Mayor Rachel Wando until they no longer can deny all the signs. The water supply is contaminated, and the gas levels, as well as the seismic readings, are surging; the volcano is about to burst.
Of course, no director would let Pierce Brosnan die, so don’t worry about that.
Don’t expect a lot from the script. If you love pure action, adventure, survival, and a lot of lava, then search for the movie on Netflix now. But, if you’re more into dialogue and well-written characters, know that it may not satisfy you.
The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
Even as early as 2004, humankind was aware that extreme climate changes could be the end of us.
In the movie The Day After Tomorrow, we get a glimpse of how that would look. Although clearly created to become the next blockbuster, given that Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal play the main characters, the movie is still not something you want to miss out on. However, do know that it is somewhat scary, although not in the way you may think.
It’s scary to think this could be our future; at one point, the global climate changes could usher in a new Ice Age. Still, for the time being, The Day After Tomorrow is a movie that shows at least a bit of hope. In the end, Earth is free of pollution, and hey — some people even survived the disaster!
The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
The word “adventure” in the movie’s title is used quite loosely; most people wouldn’t find having to escape a capsized boat an adventure. Still, this is an older disaster movie that proves interesting to this day and shows how much action can be packed in the simplest of scripts.
The movie focuses on SS Poseidon, which is retiring after its trip to Athens. During its last voyage, it runs into a rogue wave that capsizes it, leaving passengers to fight for their lives. Since the ship couldn’t take on ballast, it wasn’t stable enough and couldn’t survive the wave.
However, five passengers do survive in the end, and a rescue crew comes to save them.
Nevertheless, to get to that moment, they have to escape the water, which is coming in fast. On top of that, they must survive a malfunctioning ship, fires, structural instability, and more.
Overall, The Poseidon Adventure is an exciting movie and a real treat for fans of 1970s Hollywood. It features a star-studded cast of Oscar winners, and it even won two Academy Awards.
Plus, when you take into account that John Williams did the score for the movie — expect a nice melody to follow all the ups and downs surviving a ship disaster may bring.
Classic Survival Movies
The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)
A true classic, The Flight of the Phoenix takes place in a desert where a group of plane crash survivors has to think of a way to escape.
However, things don’t always go as planned. Of course, having a model airplane designer helps them to build a new aircraft that should rise like a phoenix from the ashes. To get there, though, they need to keep the tension to a minimum.
Why do we believe this is one of the best survival movies of all time? Well, apart from the fantastic cast, it’s rare to find a film that actually takes place in a desert.
As cruel as it is dry, the desert is a place very few people could ever survive. The heat, the lack of water — it’s enough to make anyone crazy. And the cast portraits that perfectly, making you feel as if you’re right there with them, trying to make that aircraft work.
Luckily, it does take off in the end, and the story has a happy ending. It’s just a shame that few people understand what a masterpiece this movie is. It was a huge box office flop, but to us, it’s a winner.
A simple movie, no doubt, Walkabout follows two adolescents as their father commits suicide, and they’re left alone having to fight for sheer survival. Along the way, they meet an Aboriginal boy who they aren’t able to communicate with. There’s a language barrier in place, but somehow, they mime their way through it and learn how to survive together.
Nevertheless, the Australian outback is harsh, making this one of the best survival movies that are genuinely about only relying on your skills and perseverance. No monsters are chasing the children, and they aren’t living in a post-apocalyptic world.
Once again, we have wilderness as the main character and the puppeteer. The other characters are its victims, and while trying to survive, their lives change completely.
The most human emotions come through, making the story poignant and raw. The loss of innocence, the loss of position in society, and the loss of a friend; the movie has everything to make you reconsider your own life.
The Naked Prey (1966)
Even though it’s a small classic today, The Naked Prey takes survival as a theme and runs with it.
A group of white men goes out into the wilderness to hunt elephants. However, at one point, one of them insults a local tribe, and now the whole group has to fight for survival. Only one of them escapes, and he has to run until he reaches a small village.
In the movie, there isn’t much time to think about the philosophy of life or how you’d survive in Africa. It entertains and sets itself apart as it focuses more on the chase and combat rather than on the characters.
It’s a gripping tale that keeps you at the edge of your seat and almost makes you jump and run as well. Consequently, it’s one of the best survival movies set in Africa — and probably the one with the least amount of dialogue.
Man In The Wilderness (1971)
Remember Hugh Glass from The Revenant? Well, the Oscar-worthy movie wasn’t the first one that was loosely based on its life.
Back in 1971, Richard Harris played a man who was mauled by a bear and left for dead. Somehow, though, he survived and had to go through the wilderness, fighting evils along the way, to get back to his comrades.
Though it lacks the technology we have today, Man In the Wilderness is one of the best survival movies from the 1970s as it focuses on the survival aspect more rather than on revenge (which some viewers might expect).
Of course, the main character is led by his hunger for vengeance. At the same time, though, he’s trying not only to beat the wilderness but himself as well. By the end, revenge isn’t on his mind anymore — only the wish to return to his infant son.
Richard Harris was one of the greatest actors of the 20th century, though some only remember him as Albus Dumbledore. His performance in this movie is, for lack of a better word, moody and silent yet full of emotion and rawness.
Swiss Family Robinson (1960)
If you want a survival movie that won’t leave a bad taste in your mouth, or make you contemplate your whole life, leave it to Disney to make it happen. Swiss Family Robinson was a huge hit in 1960 and made tree houses a thing; even to this day, some of us would trade our apartments for the Robinson family’s treehouse!
The movie’s story is nothing new, as it resembles the tale of Robinson Crusoe. Only this time, we have a family who survives a shipwreck while traveling to New Guinea.
The two parents and their three sons must make ends meet by building a paradise on the island. However, as with everything in life, trouble comes in the form of Bertie, who causes a rift between two brothers, and — just imagine it — pirates!
In the end, all is well. Some members of the family stay in their little paradise while others go back to Europe. See? There are truly happy endings in survival movies, after all!
Jeremiah Johnson (1972)
Today, the meme culture has taken Jeremiah Johnson to a whole new level, with younger generations not even realizing that the bearded man is actually Robert Redford. Back in the day, though, the movie was both a critical and commercial hit.
The movie stars Redford as Jeremiah, a Mexican War veteran who goes off to live in the Rocky Mountains as a trapper and true mountain man. Once there, he realizes he may not be equipped to survive in the wilderness. The first winter is extremely tough on him. Still, he perseveres, slowly honing his skills and making the most of life.
The plot is a bit slow at times, but overall, the movie is thoughtful and poignant. At one point, Jeremiah even starts a family, but it doesn’t work out too well for them.
In essence, this is a true man vs. wilderness vs. tribes vs. himself kind of a movie. It’s a must-watch for any Sydney Pollack and Robert Redford fan.
Moreover, it introduces the concept of revenge yet again. But this time, it sprinkles some forgiveness over it all and shows how vengeance changes us from within.
Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964)
The tale of Robinson Crusoe is a famous one. Yet, when you change the scenery a bit, you get something even better — a true science-fiction masterpiece.
Robinson Crusoe on Mars has a simple enough premise; it’s an SF reimagining of how Robinson would have survived on the red planet, where he isn’t surrounded by water or can build a raft out of trees.
What’s more, the main character, Kit, doesn’t just have to survive on its own. He also needs to keep away from the aliens. These menacing creatures are using human-looking slaves for mining and aren’t afraid to kill them if they don’t comply.
One of the slaves actually finds a way to escape and later befriends Kit. Consequently, Kit names him Friday and begins teaching him his language, building a true friendship along the way.
Of course, there are some ridiculous moments in the movie (edible plant “sausages,” anyone?). Still, we do have to say this is one of the best survival movies set on Mars that doesn’t tire the eye or uses the red backdrop as its main character.
It’s all about survival here, albeit it involves aliens and even befriending a monkey. What’s more, it ends on a happy note, proving yet again that survival is possible, even in outer space.
Misc. Survival Films
Cast Away (2000)
As one of the best survival movies Hollywood has ever brought us, Cast Away holds a special place in every adventurer’s heart.
The movie tells the story of Chuck (Tom Hanks), who gets stranded on a South Pacific island and has to survive the loneliness and desperation that plagues him at first. No Internet, no microwaves, and definitely no help whatsoever; he is all alone and has to make ends meet, hoping one day someone would come and rescue him.
In its very essence, Cast Away is a movie about survival. However, what we’ve noticed is that it superbly shows how loneliness is the worst.
Chuck learned how to catch and prepare food; he honed his survival skills well. But, without Wilson, the volleyball, who knows if he would have survived at all? If there were no Wilson, his only means of socialization, he would have gone completely mad.
The Martian (2015)
The best survival movies aren’t often lighthearted, as survival isn’t a topic most of us can joke about. However, Ridley Scott successfully created a movie that is just as clever as it is funny — The Martian.
Helmed by Matt Damon, The Martian explores the barren land of Mars and how one astronaut gets left behind during a mission. To survive, he has to make Mars suitable for food growth, which does entail farming in his toilet waste.
Moreover, he has to endure the loneliness and lack of socialization, as for some time, no one knows he survived!
In the end, The Martian is the quintessential space movie every Alien or Apollo 13 fan would love. Nevertheless, the lightheartedness makes it even better, as it plays well with the most famous space-survival aspects.
On top of that, the movie features a star-studded cast. Damon is joined by Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, and Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Apollo 13 (1995)
“Houston, we have a problem” — any space enthusiast is able to recognize these five words and match them to one of the best survival movies of all time, Apollo 13.
Based on a failed lunar mission from 1970, Apollo 13 features a wonderful cast, including Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Bill Paxton, and accuracy audiences rarely get to see. To make the movie, Ron Howard, spared no expense and even brought in NASA technical specialists to ensure the whole cast and crew went through proper training. The result? The movie took home over $355 million and is still regarded as one of the best space movies ever.
Yet, despite the accuracy, what we especially love about this movie is how well it portrays sheer survival. Those astronauts weren’t ready for some technical problems, but they pushed through to get back home.
Moreover, the cast’s acting plays well with the space theme, adding to the realism. At one point, you even forget they’re just actors — you’re rooting for them all the way.
Even as far back as 2015, border control and immigrants were worth the attention. That’s why Desierto got a pretty good critical response, even though it didn’t get an Academy Award nomination.
With Gabriel Garcia Bernal portraying the main character, Desierto tells the tale of two immigrants trying to make their way to the US. On their journey, they cross paths with a merciless vigilante, Sam, and his dog, who are eager for blood and don’t care about all the perils they push the characters through.
The story is gruesome and can make you uncomfortable. There’s racism, misconduct, and pure evil in it.
However, in the end, the characters do make it to a highway, so at least it has a somewhat happy ending. What’s more, the survival part of the movie is superbly realistic, showing the desert as a place where all bets are off.
Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002)
Set in early Australia, Rabbit-Proof Fence tells the story of three mixed-race girls who have to walk 1,500 miles to get back to their village after they were taken away from their families and brought to the Moore River Native Settlement.
The story is full of racism, as it’s led by Neville, or Mr. Devil, who believes Aboriginals are a danger to themselves. Thus, he wants the girls to grow in a different environment where they would serve white people, marry them, and slowly but surely diminish the amount of Aboriginal blood their lineage carries.
What Dr. Devil doesn’t take into account is how much the girls want to survive. Even though they’re just children, they don’t give up so easily. They learn how to deal with the Australian climate and all the harshness it brings.
Moreover, the movie shows how survival is sometimes determined by our knowledge of the land we’re trying to overcome.
Ryan Reynolds wasn’t as well known in 2010 as he is now, but Blake Lively’s husband did play the leading role in one of the best survival movies we’ve ever seen — Buried.
Now, Buried is, by no means, an Academy Award-winning movie, but it does portray survival quite well and deserves a spot on this list.
The story follows a truck driver in Iraq who gets buried alive in a coffin by his kidnappers and has to survive long enough for a rescue mission.
With him, he only has a Zippo lighter and a Blackberry. These two things are the stuff that could ultimately lead to his survival — but will they?
In the end, not every survival movie has to end with the character coming back to their family and living a long and happy life.
Sometimes, no matter your skills, if you’re trapped in a coffin that’s slowly filling up with sand, your chances of survival diminish by the minute.
Zombie Apocalypse Survival Movies
The Omega Man (1971)
The second adaptation of the 1954 novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (the first one was The Last Man on Earth from 1964) The Omega Man stars Charlton Heston and is one of the best survival movies with a zombie theme.
Now, zombies in this movie aren’t the ones we know and love today, as they aren’t going around and eating brains. Still, the idea of surviving a global pandemic that makes people turn into nocturnal albino mutants sparks some interest.
The main character has to use all his knowledge and skills to survive and find other survivors as well. To that end, he may sacrifice himself for the greater good.
I Am Legend (2007)
In a post-apocalyptic world, all bets are off, especially if we’re dealing with a raging group of zombies, or to stay politically correct — nocturnal mutants.
All jokes aside, I Am Legend was a massive hit in its time, and it made Will Smith a true movie star. However, what we especially love is the fact that survival plays a vital role and is supported by eternal loneliness the main character feels. That’s what’s driving him forward and making him go through hell and back just to live another day.
To that end, the main character, Neville, makes I Am Legend one of the best survival movies of all time. He’s sincere, tough, and able to fight off those mutants. He becomes a true legend in the end — but you’ll have to watch the movie to see why.
Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Abigail Breslin, and Emma Stone — need we say more? Although Zombieland is one of the best survival movies with a zombie theme, it’s not as serious as one might think.
To be honest, this movie should leave you gasping for air as you laugh and laugh at the characters’ witty lines and the fact Bill Murray shows up as — Bill Murray!
But the survival aspect of the movie is why we’ve chosen to talk about it. Columbus (Jesse’s character), aims to survive by following certain rules, and to an extent, that’s what we would do as well.
However, by the end of the movie, he realizes living like that makes you a proper zombie — sans the brain-eating, of course. So, the movie, albeit a bit silly, does carry an important message about not pushing people away.
If you love Zombieland, don’t forget to watch the sequel — Zombieland: Double Tap. The adventures continue!
World War Z (2013)
What do you get when you match Brad Pitt with the impending apocalypse? A world-class survival movie, of course — World War Z.
The movie got positive reviews mostly for Pitt’s performance, but we actually think it’s one of the best survival movies of the 2010s because of the story itself. It follows Pitt as Gerry Lane, who is a former UN employee trying to survive a zombie apocalypse. He ought to find a cure, and it seems the only thing that would help is a pathogen.
The zombies in this movie are smart, as they know that terminally ill or injured people cannot carry the virus further (or well, for that matter). Thus, a pathogen, i.e., a bacteria or virus, should help people protect themselves; the zombies would then ignore them!
Does Pitt succeed in saving the world? It seems that he does, although there should have been a sequel to the movie. It ended on a cliffhanger, as the war has just begun. However, budget cuts killed the sequel, so we might never know what happened next.
Man Against Monsters
We don’t know about you, but we’d rather battle a few zombies than ever come into contact with giant killer worms. Those in the movie Tremors still haunt us to this day and actually make us relate to some of the characters. One of them would rather die of dehydration on an electrical tower than climb down — we’d do the same thing.
The story follows two handymen who have to fight monsters with all the skills they have without knowing if and how the creatures even came about. The premise, although simple, gives way to great jokes and innovative solutions. At one point, the worms swallow homemade bombs and explode — classic!
Even though killer worms are unlikely to wreak havoc in our world, Tremors is one of the best survival movies with the monster theme. It takes seemingly simple characters and puts them in a situation most of us wouldn’t come out alive from.
What’s more, it combines both good humor and terror. The end result is a movie that even sparked a few sequels (direct-to-video) plus a TV show.
No one can say Ellen Ripley isn’t hardcore, so when she returns in Aliens, you can expect plenty of action. The sequel to Alien definitely doesn’t disappoint. In fact, its script and cast make it one of the best survival movies with an alien theme. Nothing has yet come even close to it, and to this day, many of us are afraid of the face-huggers.
Of course, the whole plot happens in a spaceship. After surviving her first “alien” adventure, Ripley comes back to help investigate colony Hadley’s Hope. She thinks aliens have taken over — others don’t. In the end, she turns out to be right and has to blast her way through the ordeal yet again while trying to save as many people as she can.
What we found quite interesting in this movie is that both sides are actually trying to survive. Now, don’t get us wrong — we weren’t rooting for the aliens. But they’re good at surviving on their own, finding a way to use humans as incubators, plus their queen is quite… dedicated to them.
Luckily, Ripley and a few others are able to escape and survive. Well, they are still alive at the end; the third movie of the Alien franchise brings even more to the story!
Post Apocalyptic Survival Movies
The Road (2009)
After surviving an extinction, the last thing you’d want is to fight for survival by running from gangs and cannibals. Fortunately, we don’t have to do it, but The Road, as another entry on our list of the best survival movies, clearly shows us what that would look like.
The story follows a nameless man and his son, who are scavenging for supplies, desperately trying to survive. There’s little food to find and a whole new variety of evils to encounter, including people who have forgotten about their humanity and are surviving by opting for cannibalism.
The struggles are real in The Road, and it’s a heartbreaking movie to watch. It shows just how devastating it is not knowing whether you’ll survive the next day. It portrays a father’s love for his son perfectly, his desperate need for the boy to survive no matter what.
In the end, the boy survives — but does this movie have a happy ending? To us, it truly depends on whether you see the glass half-full or half-empty. The whole movie offers bleak hope, so you could see the ending as either happy or menacing.
The Survivalist (2015)
With generally favorable reviews and superb acting, The Survivalist tells the story of how the kill-or-be-killed world changes people and makes them do things they could never have imagined.
The main character is the epitome of a survivalist, and we don’t even know his name, unlike the two women he enters into a strange domestic routine with. He has been using his skills for quite a while to stay alive, despite how unlikely it seems. However, that doesn’t stop him from allowing the two women to join him. Of course, he wanted things in return, but it was probably his loneliness that made him seek out some company.
Still, it’s a tough world, after all, and the main characters cannot live out the rest of their lives happy. There aren’t enough supplies for all three of them, and besides, there is danger lurking around every corner.
Although not the greatest movie ever filmed, The Survivalist is one of the rawest best survival movies we’ve ever seen. It’s poignant and difficult to watch at times. Still, in its own way, it’s a masterpiece.