How far would you go to survive? It’s a question we ask ourselves when we watch films and TV shows about people trying to survive extreme conditions. Personally, I think they give quite a rush!
A couple of things to mention about the following list: I stayed away from the obvious survival films like I Am Legend and The Revenant. I’ve also avoided over-the-top films, like 2012 or The Day After Tomorrow. So on to the list. Here are my recommendations for survival films.
Into the Wild (2007)
Into the Wild is far from your typical survival movie for one reason: the protagonist Chris McCandless (Emile Hirsch), finds himself in an extreme situation because of his own choices. Instead of getting a job after graduating from university, he gives his money to charity and hitchhikes his way to the Alaskan Wilderness.
Is he a brave adventurer or a foolish dreamer? This film means different things to different people and it’s based on a true story. For that alone, it deserves a watch! Also, it’s not just two and half hours of a guy trudging through the wilderness. It cuts back and forth between Chris’ time spent in the outdoors and the events leading up to the journey.
127 Hours (2010)
Would you cut your own arm off if there were no other way to survive? It’s a tough question and who knows if we could do it, but Aron Ralston (James Franco) has to make this agonizing choice in 127 Hours, to save himself. He becomes trapped under a boulder while exploring a canyon alone. Like Into the Wild, it’s based on true events.
If there’s one thing to learn from this survival movie is that it’s a good idea to always tell someone where you’re going. And remember, if you ever fancy taking a trip to Blue John Canyon in Utah, it’s worth bringing a good survival knife…
The Impossible (2012)
I have a lot of love for The Impossible. It’s outstanding and gives an unforgettable film experience. It’s the true story of a tourist family in Thailand, who get caught up in the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. While disaster is its primary plot device, it’s still a survival tale. It’s one that uses a family as the catalyst to show the devastating effects of the disaster. As the deadliest tsunami in history, killing more than 230,000 people – it’s a story everyone needs to see.
We’re thrown into the wave with Naomi Watts and Tom Holland (as Watts’ son). The family get separated when the wave hits and this chaotic situation is presented in a deeply compelling way. Rather than trying to capture the entire wide-ranging event, the film focuses on the few. It makes for a riveting family-centred drama, that’ll stay with you.
All is Lost (2013)
All is Lost is a gripping, minimalist survival story. It has one confined setting. Virtually no dialogue and man (Robert Redford) with the determination to fight for survival on a sinking yacht. Redford is the only cast and he gives a wordless performance, conveying what’s going on his head through effective facial expressions.
Every bit of progress “our man” makes during his struggle gets outdone by a setback. He’s against the perils of the sea and it doesn’t want him to win. We don’t know anything about the guy, except that he has the will to live. That’s enough for us to get behind him. The result of the film’s unique approach is heart-in-your-mouth action. It’s a life or death situation from the start, with the latter looking inevitable. If you’d like to read my full review of All is Lost, you can do so here.
The Shallows (2016)
200 yards from shore, medic student Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) gets attacked by a white shark in The Shallows. She has no choice but to fight for her life as the hungry predator circles her. Shark movies are a hit and miss affair. This one, though, is sharp and smart, which manages to carve out its own niche.
It was one of my favourite summers hits of 2016. It’s simple with an engaging lead, and has an interesting setting. Through Nancy’s plight, we take on the role of an ordinary surfer, faced with a game-changing situation. We identify with the scenario, despite never having experienced it ourselves (I hope). It’s an entertaining battle of wits between human and shark!
So that was my rundown of some of the best survival movies. As you can see, I went for true-stories and films presenting situations that could happen in real-life.
The idea of coming up against your own mortality appears to be the lure of the “survival” genre. Following characters we care about in perilous situations is both thrilling and moving. And to see which character survives is gratifying in a way few types of movies are. Boy, I sure hope survival movies never dry up.