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18 Survival Movies You Don’t Want To Miss

Throughout history, humankind have recounted nerve-wrecking stories of valiant survival. We humans, understandably, have a preoccupation and fixation with staying alive. For these reasons and more there is something tantalizingly satisfying about survival movies. They can frame the total range of human emotions. They can summon our greatest passions and our greatest fears. Most of all, they can depict the human spirit’s steadfast will never to give up.

“Survival” can be as extensive or as circumscribed a genre as one makes it. The natural catastrophes, the throes of human conflict, war, day-to-day struggles for subsistence, the abandoned, ensnared, marooned traveler or explorer…all these can be survival. Technically, every movie about war is a movie about survival. Every movie about abuse, loss, grief, poverty, those also are survivor movies.

Yet, we tried to choose movies where “survival” is narrowly demarcated. There are movies where the main characters’ very life (and not just their means and mental soundness) is under duress. The galvanizing tensions are straightforward, primal: will they live? We’ve chosen movies where this stress comes as a surprise, where the character meets the real danger unknowingly, either alone or with a small group of cohorts.

Landing on a beach with an army under heavy enemy fire, while a peril to one’s life, is not “survival” in the manner we are defining it. However, undertaking a mission that sends two soldiers into unknown territory, this entanglement can become “survival.”

We also favored more modern films so as to make streaming easier to access. These are the best survival movies (in no particular order). Our selection is always subjective, but we believe that this list of our favorite survival movies will not disappoint. Each one captures that drama of human survival against all odds.

All Is Lost (2013)

All Is Lost
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Robert Redford (Actor)
  • J.C. Chandor (Director) – J.C. Chandor (Writer) – Neal Dodson (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

All Is Lost is a pretty typical survival drama on paper. A man (played by Robert Redford and never named) on a solo voyage across an unnamed sea finds his boat compromised after a collision with a shipping container. As storms and waves strike and hope slides away, the man must do all he can to survive and reach safety.

And that’s it. There have been many films like it, but All Is Lost is special for one very simple reason: Robert Redford. The legendary actor’s performance in the film is nothing short of breathtaking. There are no other actors in the entire film, and very few lines of dialogue (51 words), and yet Redford is able to capably carry the plot through its many intense scenes and confrontations.

Directed by J.C. Chandor, the film moves beautifully through lashing storms, high winds, and moments of true anguish, but the man’s perseverance and hope never waver.

This is film-making at its finest, large in scene but small in scope, a one man show packed with emotion that never once lets up.

Into the Wild (2007)

Into the Wild
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt (Actors)
  • Sean Penn (Director) – Sean Penn (Writer) – Art Linson (Producer)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

Into the Wild came out in 2007 and was directed by actor Sean Penn. It is based on the book of the same name by Jon Krakauer. It follows the true story of Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsh), a recent university graduate who decides to give up nearly all his possessions and hitchhike across North America.

Set in the 1990s, the biopic is a powerful and deeply respectful character study of a man who wanted to live off the land in Alaska, alone in nature and free of civilization. Boasting a career-best performance from Hirsh and some excellent supporting roles from Marcus Gay Harden, William Hurt, and Hal Holbrook (nominated for an Oscar), the film is quiet, reserved, and constantly building up to the tragedy of the young adventurer

Even going into the film unaware of the story it’s based on, you can feel the conclusion is inevitable and you know it’s not going to be good. And yet, thanks to Hirsch’s sensitive performance and Penn’s understated directing style, you can’t help but become engrossed in the man being portrayed.

Into the Wild is a survival story in its purest form, but it is so much more than that: a beautiful and intelligent picture with a lot to love and a lot to ponder once the credits roll.

Gravity (2013)

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If there is a feeling of dread about being lost out in the ocean, imagine what it would be like to be lost in outer space. This is exactly what Sandra Bullock and George Clooney have to contend with in this great survivor movie. This Academy Award-winning film (it won 7) was written and directed by Alfonso Cuaron and tells the story of two astronauts trying to find their way back to Earth after the space shuttle they are on is destroyed by space debris.

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It’s a survival tale that puts man and woman in the precarious confines of space as they search for a way to rescue themselves before the space debris makes its way back to them. The film is about survival and sacrifice, with survival not guaranteed in the least.

The Revenant (2015)

The Revenant (4K UHD)
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson (Actors)
  • Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Director) – Mark L. Smith (Writer) – Arnon Milchan (Producer)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

In The Revenant, it is man against beast against nature in this harrowing tale that stars Leonardo De Caprio and Tom Hardy. The film, set in the 1820s, tells the true story of Hugh Glass (De Caprio) a fur trader who is on an expedition with his hunting team when he is mauled by a bear and left for dead by the team.

The survival movie features a bear attack scene that is graphic but sets up just how much Glass had to endure just to survive. Not only does Glass have to survive the bear attack and the elements, but members of his team also decide it is best to leave him for dead, burying him in a shallow grave.

127 Hours (2010)

127 Hours
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara (Actors)
  • Danny Boyle (Director) – Danny Boyle (Writer) – Danny Boyle (Producer)
  • French, Finnish, Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish (Playback Languages)
  • French, Finnish, Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish (Subtitles)

One of the most truthful retellings of a true survival story, 127 Hours tells the story of the life-or-death ordeal of Aaron Ralston after becoming trapped by a boulder in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. Ralston spent more than five days trapped with only a small amount of food and water plus a pocket knife and a camcorder which he utilized first as a journal and later as a last will and testament. Realizing he was going to die, Ralston knew he had just one option to break free, to amputate his arm.

With a true story like that, there was very little scope of fictional dramatization. Director Danny Boyle did it faithful justice, even shooting the film at the actual spot of the occurrence. The climatic scene actually caused a few people to faint in theaters.

The Grey (2011)

The Grey
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Liam Neeson, Frank Grillo, Dallas Roberts (Actors)
  • Joe Carnahan (Director) – Joe Carnahan (Writer) – Joe Carnahan (Producer)
  • (Playback Languages)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

A group of oil men in Alaska survive a plane crash, but that is just the beginning of their troubles, as they find themselves in the midst of the territory of grey wolves who begin stalking them without mercy.

It is once again man against beast, in a movie that stars Liam Neeson, Frank Grillo, and Dermot Multoney. Neeson is John Ottway, a sharp shooter working for an oil company in Alaska whose job is to protect workers from wolves. Ottway is readying for his two weeks off when the plane he is on hits turbulence and crashes.

Unlike many survival films, this is not just a gore-fest showing a group of victims being killed in gruesome ways. It involves conversation between nuanced characters and an interesting philosophical angle. The intensity rises as the number of survivors thin, only one remains by the end, but does he survive?? We will leave you to find out. Watch it till the very end of the credits though.

Alive (1993)

Alive
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Ethan Hawke, Vincent Spano, Josh Hamilton (Actors)
  • Frank Marshall (Director) – John Patrick Shanley (Writer) – Robert Watts (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

Alive tells the truly brutal and harrowing story of an Uruguayan rugby team who were forced to do the unthinkable after their plane crashed in the Andes in 1972. The film stars Ethan Hawke and Vincent Spano as two of the rugby players who went to extreme lengths in order to survive the 72 days of being stuck in the Andes.

The team members and coaches, along with members of their families, were on their way to a rugby match in Chile when the plane hit a mountain, taking off both wings and tail and crashing into a mountain slope. Six passengers are killed immediately in the crash, six others die shortly after. Faced with no food, others dying from injuries, and even more deaths from an avalanche, the remaining survivors make the horrific call to eat the dead to survive. One of the more gruesome survival movies, but one that shows the lengths people will go to stay alive

When all was said and done and rescuers found the group, 28 had perished leaving 16 survivors.

The Road (2009)

The Road
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Viggo Mortensen, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce (Actors)
  • John Hillcoat (Director) – Joe Penhall (Writer) – Paula Mae Schwartz (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

The Road came out in 2009, based on the novel by literary master Cormac McCarthy. Though it was a slow and carefully crafted book with an unconventional setting and grasp of time, director John Hillcoat managed to fuse all the elements of the story into one of cinema’s most deeply affecting pictures.

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Controlled beautifully with a respect for the source material, the film follows a man (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kode Smit-Mcphee) as they journey across a wasteland of a dead world and come face to face with cannibals, suspicious wanderers, and their own shared past.

What makes the film so effective is the unorthodox narrative. The apocalypse and its origins aren’t important, this is a film about a man trying to find a life for his young son.

It’s dark and thrilling despite being a slow burner with some shocking scenes (and deaths) and an ambiguous ending that is either really hopeful or very bleak indeed.

Unbroken (2014)

Unbroken
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Jack O’Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Miyavi (Actors)
  • Angelina Jolie (Director) – Joel Cohen (Writer) – Matthew Baer (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

Unbroken, released in 2014 and directed by Angelina Jolie, is a truly remarkable film about an even more remarkable man, Louis Zamperini.

*A quick note, the book is 100% better, Jolie takes all the spiritual element out of the story and ruins it with her woke Hollywood bullshit.

Zamperini (played by Jack O’Conell) was an American track star whose career was cut short when the United States got involved in World War II. The film portrays his journey to the 1936 Olympic Games and his days as a bombardier in the army. After his plane was shot down he spent 47 days at sea on a raft, and was eventually captured and placed in a Japanese POW camp. There he was tortured and subjected to terrible abuse.

The film is harsh, no question about that, but Unbroken is an important and defining drama about the strength of human character and the pain of war.

As a survival movie, it is intense, moving, and very powerful. As a film, it is a masterpiece of emotion and hope.

The Edge (1996)

The Edge
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Anthony Hopkins, Alec Baldwin, Elle Macpherson (Actors)
  • Lee Tamahori (Director) – David Mamet (Writer) – Art Linson (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

1996’s adventure drama, The Edge, stars Anthony Hopkins alongside Alec Baldwin as the two men lost in the Canadian wilderness after a plane crash. They must work together to reach civilization and find safety.

It’s a classic setup: two unlikely allies paired together in the most extreme of circumstances. They’re alone without communication to anyone who could possibly help them, and there’s really a big bear after them. But among all these classic survival movie tropes, there is also added tension between the two leads. Charles Morse (Hopkins) is married to Mickey (Elle Macpherson) and believes Robert Green (Baldwin) is having an affair with her.

So amongst a thick wildfire and the bear threat (which is an actual threat), the men must come face to face with their pasts and their mistakes, and find a way to survive.

Despite being typical survival movie stuff, thanks to clever directing from Lee Tamahori and solid performances from Hopkin and Baldwin it’s also a compelling and engaging movie.

The Way Back (2010)

The Way Back
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Ben Affleck, Al Madrigal, Janina Gavankar (Actors)
  • Gavin O’Connor (Director) – Brad Ingelsby (Writer) – Gordon Gray (Producer)
  • Spanish, Portuguese (Playback Languages)
  • Spanish, Portuguese (Subtitles)

Inspired and loosely based on The Long Walk, a memoir written by Polish army Lieutenant Slawmir Rawicz, The Way Back delves into an epic escape story of prisoners from a Soviet gulag in the depths of Siberia.

After being imprisoned by the NKVD (Russian secret police), who believed him to be a spy, Polish army officer Janusy Wieszczek (Jim Stirgess) meets a diverse cast of characters with whom he builds enough trust to plan an escape to Mongolia, including an American engineer named Mr. Smith (Ed Harris) and a mischievous Russian delinquent named Valka (Colin Farell). Others join in on the plan, but facing the brutal elements of the Siberian landscape, their survival is in peril.

Weeks into their expedition, the group reaches Mongolia, only to realize they are still in danger as the area is under the control of Josef Stalin’s communist regime. With the continent of Asia war-torn from various regional conflicts, the group must make a stark decision and travel thousands of miles out of their way in hopes of achieving their safety and freedom.

Rescue Down (2006)

Rescue Dawn
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Christian Bale, Steve Zahn, Jeremy Davies (Actors)
  • Werner Herzog (Director) – Harley Peyton (Writer) – Steve Marlton (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

Few tales of survival are as harrowing and suspenseful as those of people who endure the brutality of war. Rescue Down epitomizes that by depicting real-life events and struggles of German-American pilot Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale) and his fellow prisoners during the Vietnam War.

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When a deep air-support mission in February of 1966 goes away, Dieter’s plane is shot down over Laos by Pathet Lao sympathizers. Over the next half year he and his fellow POWs are subjected to abhorrent torture and abuse by their captures.

Though initially skeptical of Dieter’s vow to escape, upon realizing they will be killed anyway, the group of POWs agree to Dieter’s elaborate escape plans.

This film isn’t for the faint of heart. What takes place during the two-hours-and-six-minute movie will have watchers sitting at the edge of their seats. The movie’s unexpected outcome is a testament to the unwavering strength, fortitude, and spirit of America’s military personnel and the strength and courage of individuals with a will to do whatever it takes to survive in the face of sheer evil.

Cast Away (2000)

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One of my favorite movies ever!

One of the most recognizable films on this list, and one of Tom Hanks most impressive, Cast Away is the ultimate survival film cinema. Directed by Robert Zemeckis (of Back to the Future and Forest Gump fame) and starring Hanks in a daring and challenging role, the film portrays a man stranded on an island for four years after a plane crash.

Hanks is Chuck Noland, a FedEx executive who travels the globe to fix problems the company has with productivity.

In the midst of Christmas, Noland is summoned by his employer to respond to an issue in Malaysia. As if leaving his family on the holiday for work wasn’t bad enough, his fortunes take a significant turn for the worse when his plane crashes in the remote Pacific Ocean, rendering him the only survivor.

What makes Cast Away one of the best survival movies of all times is its introspective focus on the importance of fortitude to persevere against all odds…even if it takes befriending and personifying a volleyball, better known as “Wilson,” to keep him going.

What makes the survival movie even more impressive, as far as Hanks is concerned, is that the actor gained 50 pounds for the film, which was shot in chronological order, so he could show the weight loss of his character. There were large gaps in production, so Hanks could lose weight and grow out his hair and beard to show that he was stranded for four years.

Lone Survivor (2013)

Lone Survivor
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch (Actors)
  • Peter Berg (Director) – Peter Berg (Writer) – Peter Berg (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

Lone Survivor caters to war movie enthusiasts since it tells the story of survival on enemy grounds. It is loosely based on true events and told from the recollection of the surviving member of a SEAL group that was sent to war-torn Afghanistan.

Marcus Lutterell (Mark Wahlberg), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch), Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), and Mathew “Axe” Aaelson (Ben Foster) are on a reconnaissance and surveillance mission to track and kill a high Taliban operative. The team arrives in the Hinder Kush region of Afghanistan where they are ambushed.

Luttrell is the only one who makes it out alive. He lives to tell the story of how the team fought for their lives when they were outnumbered by the enemy.

Lone Survivor is an honest and brutal depiction of war and tells an emotional story about bravery and heroism.

Everest (2015)

Everest
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes (Actors)
  • Baltasar Kormákur (Director) – William Nicholson (Writer) – Tim Bevan (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

The best survival stories are usually those based on true events and Everest is no exception. Inspired by the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, it highlights the plight of a group of climbers as they struggle to survive the brunt of nature’s piercing cold temperatures.

Directed by Baltasar Kormakur and anchored by an incredible ensemble led by Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Emily Watson, and Jake Gyllenhaal.

The story focuses on the survival attempts of New Zealand’s Robert Edwin Hall (Jason Clarke) and Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) as they each lead an expedition to climb Earth’s highest mountain. A storm greets the group on their final ascent to the summit, which leaves them in an epic fight for survival against nature. They battle through a fierce blizzard and the repercussions brought by freezing temperatures. They attempt to descend but with tragic results.

The film highlights the dangers of commercial Everest expeditions regardless of the expertise of the guides since unexpected and rapid changes in weather conditions can pose dire problems.

Apollo 13 (1995) 

Apollo 13
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton (Actors)
  • Ron Howard (Director) – Jim Lovell (Writer) – Brian Grazer (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

Apollo 13 is a dramatic documentary that recalls the historical events of NASA’s aborted 1970 mission to the moon. It’s one of the most intense and claustrophobic space dramas focusing on the true story of astronauts, Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigart, attempting to make it home after their ship is damaged.

Ron Howard’s direction is seamless and the plot is well-crafted and respectful to the historical source material. It also boasts some career-best performances from Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Ed Harris, and the late Bill Paxton.

As soon as the ship is damaged, the stakes are heightened with a reveal that the oxygen supply has been depleted. The film quickly goes from a fun, tense space adventure to a grueling exploration into how the men (both in the ship and on the ground) dealt with the severity of the situation. It’s thrilling, well-paced, and a deep dive at the community-like spirit of the men and women involved. Plus, who can ever forget Hanks’ delivery: “Houston, we have a problem.”

Behind Enemy Lines (2001)

Behind Enemy Lines
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Owen Wilson, Gene Hackman, Joaquim de Almeida (Actors)
  • John Moore (Director) – David Veloz (Writer) – John Davis (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

Owen Wilson delivers a memorable performance as Lieutenant Chris Burnett, an American naval officer who finds himself alone in enemy territory. The film is set during the Bosnian war and follows Lt. Burnett in his attempt to evade the pursuing enemy. A Serbian paramilitary leader is intent on killing him because he holds viable proof of the genocide crimes happening in the remote area of the Balkans.

Behind Enemy Lines is a classic escape-and-rescue-mission movie filled with spectacular fight scenes, tension, action, and suspense.

If you’re a fan of thrilling adventures and gripping tales of human resilience, the 18 survival movies mentioned above are an absolute must-watch. From the freezing wilderness to scorching deserts and unforgiving oceans, these films take us on an emotional rollercoaster as characters confront their darkest fears and fight against all odds to survive.

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