The 20 Best Survival Movies You Can Watch

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It is no secret that serious prepping is hard work, and maintaining personal readiness is a never-ending task. That being said, all work and no relaxation makes for frayed nerves and grumpy attitudes.

One traditional and time-honored pastime in America is watching movies, be it at home or out at the cinema.

Pretty much all the preppers I know naturally enjoy watching movies in the survival genre, in one form or another.

Not only does it make for high-quality entertainment watching people struggle to survive in some fantastic situation, but we can also learn a thing or two from these movies in the case they are based on true or even certain fictional events.

It can be a sobering exercise to put yourself in the protagonist’s shoes and wonder how you would have fared facing the same grim fate.

Completely fictional or based on decidedly real accounts, today we are bringing you a list of the 20 best survival movies for you to check out.

Deepwater Horizon, 2016

A film based on the 2010 disaster that occurred on the eponymous oil drilling rig off the coast of Louisiana, this film centers on the mishaps, human error.

It’s also about the subsequent chain reaction of mayhem culminating in a massive explosion that resulted in the total loss of the oil rig, 11 fatalities, and one of the worst oil industry disasters in history.

Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, and John Malkovich round out an excellent cast portraying the crew of the rig and BP officials as the former struggle to survive the rapidly deteriorating and increasingly lethal conditions on the ill-fated installation.

A completely true tale of survival and a harrowing escape in the middle of the unforgiving ocean. The ending of the film has some truly moving and gut-wrenching scenes of the families reuniting with the rescued workers, minus of course those who perished in the inferno.

Deliverance, 1972

Deliverance is an infamous and acclaimed film chronicling a deep country canoe trip by four big city businessmen, two portrayed by none other than a young Jon Voight and Burt Reynolds that wind up getting in way over their head somewhere in the darker corners of Georgia.

After two of the men are separated from the others in their canoe, they encounter hostile locals and are taken captive, culminating in a horrifying rape scene before their companions arrive and kill one of their attackers and drive the others off.

Things go from bad to worse as they encounter rough water during their down river escape, infighting threatening to split the group and sustained gruesome injuries before finally escaping. A beautifully shot film, and one that will definitely fry your nerves.

127 Hours, 2010

127 Hours is a true, biographical survival drama starring James Franco that tells the tale of climber and outdoorsman’s Aron Ralston’s entrapment and desperate escape from a canyon after a chance slip sees his right hand and arm crushed by a boulder.

The remainder of the film shows the shocking tale of what he endures and is forced to do in order to self-rescue and survive.

This film is extremely notable for Aron Ralston’s near total endorsement of the events as portrayed.

This is about as real as a survival film can get, and this is a scenario that could happen to almost any of us who venture into remote and unsettled places.

Gravity, 2013

Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, is a tense, claustrophobic survival thriller set in space.

After Russia blasts a decommissioned satellite with a missile to disable it, the resulting and ever-expanding cloud of debris orbiting the Earth results in a chain reaction that destroys the space shuttle during American astronauts’ mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope.

What follows is one of the most anxiety-inducing, beautiful, isolating and claustrophobic survival situations imaginable, as the two surviving astronauts desperately try to make their way to the International Space Station and then, hopefully, back to earth.

This film is especially notable for how it deals with panic, loss of communications and the protagonist’s logical approach to problem-solving in an emergency.

Alive, 1993

Based on Piers Paul Read’s book, Alive is a grim, fascinating movie focusing on the real life story of the Uruguayan Rugby team’s plane crash, and subsequent survival trial in the Andes Mountains in 1972.

After encountering turbulence, the plane ferrying the team to Chile for a match smacks into the side of a mountain and breaks up. Several people died in the crash, but many more survived with varying injuries.

Things start to go from bad to worse as they must fight the incredibly harsh and cold climate high in the mountains, little to no supplies including food and aborted attempts to rescue them.

Ultimately, they resort to cannibalism in a desperate attempt to remain alive while several smaller parties break off in an attempt to affect self-rescue. This is another all-too-real survival scenario that any of us could face today.

Lone Survivor, 2013

Starring Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch and Eric Bana, Lone Survivor is based on the 2007 book written by Marcus Luttrell, a United States Navy SEAL.

He was part of the disastrous Operation Red Wings mission in the Afghanistan war, which was an attempt to locate Taliban leader Ahmad Shah.

In the course of completing their mission, the SEALs are discovered by goat herders whom they decide not to kill.

The decision is made to abort the mission, but before they can get away they are attacked by Taliban forces who were alerted by the same goat herders.

Heavily outnumbered, outgunned and deep within a hostile territory, the SEAL team is killed one by one except for Marcus Luttrell.

Badly injured and with rescue uncertain, this movie shows the events surrounding the ill-fated Mission and Luttrell’s attempts to survive against all odds.

28 Days Later, 2002

At the time of its release, 28 Days Later was a groundbreaking and absolutely chilling spin on the then well-worn and well-trod zombie apocalypse films of the day.

The story stars Cillian Murphy as a bike courier who wakes up from a coma inside an absolutely deserted hospital in London.

Finally regaining his strength and exiting the ravaged facility into a likewise ravaged and seemingly empty London, he is horrified to discover that a virus, one that induces unstoppable, bloodthirsty rage in the people infected by it, has turned the city and likely the British Isles into a nightmarish wasteland populated predominately by the infected.

His struggles to survive while reconnecting with what few survivors remain, including those with ulterior motives, has become the stuff of cinema legend and is a bleak, gritty take on a genre that is usually filled with non-stop, schlocky gore or over-the-top camp.

Although the infected denizens are not really zombies in the strictest sense of the word, this is the film that popularized the notion of “fast” zombies as the premiere horror threat in the aughts.

The Way Back, 2010

Starring Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Saoirse Ronan and Colin Farrell, The Way Back Tells the story of a young Polish army officer trying to escape Soviet incarceration deep in a Siberian gulag in the wake of World War II.

After forming an actionable plan with a few fellow prisoners of various nationalities, all incarcerated for various reasons, they all set out on foot across Siberia trying to reach Mongolia.

In the course of their incredibly long exodus they face trials and tribulations presented by the frozen starkness of Siberia and the burning Gobi desert.

Only their will to survive, and a few interventions by providence see some of the escapees survive.

An excellent movie about endurance, perseverance and the risks one will face in extremely austere environments. An all-star cast and compelling narrative make this a can’t-miss survival movie.

The Grey, 2011

The Grey is a thoroughly modern take on a classic man-against-wild tale. Liam Neeson stars and renders an excellent and nuanced performance as a sharpshooter working to protect oil company operations in Alaska.

Apparently large wolves have been threatening the workers at various sites and Neeson’s character is there to thin them out and keep them at bay.

Struggling against his own nihilism, the sharpshooter and other oil workers are soon involved in a plane crash in the middle of the unforgiving and merciless Alaskan wilderness.

Some of the men die of their injuries and others are picked off by wolves stalking the men’s every move. The rest of the movie centers on the dwindling party’s desperate trek through the magnificent and deadly landscape fighting back not only against hostile wildlife, but against the sheer danger posed by the environment itself.

The movie’s themes of faith and the lack thereof, perseverance, struggling against infighting and coming to grips with impending mortality makes for an entrancing tale.

Lifeboat, 1944

One of Alfred Hitchcock’s more underrated films, Lifeboat tells a story of British and American civilians, sailors and merchant mariners who are all crammed into a small lifeboat after their ship and a German submarine sink each other in combat.

Also among them is a single survivor from the German sub. As the film unfolds, the survivors must deal with all the shortages one would expect being trapped on a lifeboat in the middle of the sea.

Extreme rationing of very limited supplies, mistrust, arguments over who should be in charge, and eventually the onset of madness from both despair and the drinking of seawater.

Later on, people must deal with the fallout of discovering that some on the lifeboat are not who they said they were, and some people did not offer everything they have to give. With stress mounting, the lifeboat’s occupants must come to grips that the greatest threat may come from within.

Jungle, 2017

A film based on a true story of Israeli Yossi Ghinsberg’s ill-fated and ill-advised trek into the Amazon rainforest in 1981. In the movie Yossi, here portrayed by Daniel Radcliffe, travels to Bolivia intent on journeying into the very heart of the Amazon.

While there, he has the misfortune to run into an Austrian man named Karl who tempts him into an adventure to see an unknown Indian tribe deep in the jungle, claiming to be friends with the people.

After gathering supplies Yossi and two acquaintances set off with their erstwhile guide into the jungle.

The villagers are real and friendly, but on the way back out of the jungle the feet of one of the men start to give out, and a series of decisions made to ease the trip start to go from bad to worse, and do not let up.

The deep jungle is one of the most unforgiving and uninhabitable places on Earth, and this film certainly does a fine job of portraying the challenges that the men face if they want to escape.

The 33, 2015

Remember the 2010 collapse of the San Jose mine in Copiapo, Chile? The one where a radical rescue operation was staged using large-bore drills to rescue the survivors?

This is the movie based on those actual events. 33 local workers in that mine were trapped over 2,200 feet underground and more than three lateral miles from the mine’s entrance.

Against all odds, they survive the collapse of the mine entrance tunnel and make it to a rescue chamber. But once there they are disheartened to find that the required medical kit has no supplies at, installed ventilation shafts have no emergency escape ladders, and the radio is not working.

What follows is an amazing test of self-control, faith and human ingenuity in the rescue attempt. This movie provides great examples of how to focus on what is really important and maintaining self-control even when a situation seems hopeless.

No matter how dire things get, there is always a solution.

The Revenant, 2015

Only loosely based on the life and events surrounding the wilderness trial of one Hugh Glass, The Revenant is nonetheless a brutal, beautiful and astounding story of survival.

Fur trappers injured in a fight with local Indians in the winter of 1823 are forced to flee with their prized cargo as far as they can.

Hugh Glass, portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio, is left for dead by the treacherous John Fitzgerald, played by Tom Hardy, after he is savagely mauled by a mother grizzly bear.

After attempting to smother Glass who is on the brink of death and slowing down the party,

Fitzgerald kills Glass’s son who catches them in the act. Somehow, someway he survives his injuries, and sets off on an odyssey of revenge and survival.

Very few survival movies manage to truly sell just how dark, dangerous and deadly the remote places of the world are. The weather itself is as big a threat as any rampaging band of Native Americans, duplicitous hunters and hostile wildlife.

Glass’s will to survive is really something to see, as his endurance and perseverance take on an almost mythological air.

Everest, 2015

Josh Brolin leads an ensemble cast in a film that chronicles the real-life events of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster.

The events revolve around two groups of climbers on the tallest mountain in the world, both led by commercial guides.

Suffering from altitude sickness, snow blindness and all the other attendant illnesses and ailments that are all too common in such a hostile, alien environment, the climbers will to survive and endurance are put to the ultimate test when a blizzard overtakes them.

One climber becomes disoriented and falls to his death. Another dies from either exposure or lack of oxygen. Climbers returning from the summit lose the trail since the blizzard covered it completely.

Another climber goes mad, removes his clothing, and slides down a slope and over a precipice to his death. The situation continues to deteriorate before proper rescue operation is mounted.

A cautionary tale about survival in hostile environments even among the most well-trod and most watched paths. You can never cheat the mountain.

Into the Heart of the Sea, 2015

A movie about the sinking of the whaling ship Essex in 1820, itself a true account that inspired the American epic Moby Dick.

An inexperienced captain and a slighted first mate bicker about the best way to handle the ship and proceed on their whaling voyage before departing the Atlantic Ocean entirely for the, hopefully, more bountiful grounds in the Pacific.

Rounding Ecuador, the crew of the ship meets a dispossessed Spanish captain who tells them that a massive and hateful whale destroyed his ship and killed six of his crew.

Dismissing the unlucky captain, the Essex and its crew plows onward, finding the rich whaling grounds they seek, but also drawing the ire of the forewarned white whale which promptly breaks the Essex in half.

The remainder of the crew is facing a voyage of hundreds of miles back to shore with extremely limited supplies spread among three small whaling boats. Along the way they face starvation and are pursuit by the mythic white whale itself…

Shackleton, 2002

Starring Kenneth Branagh as the eponymous and legendary explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, this two-part mini-series movie chronicles the astounding and true story of Shackleton’s 1914 voyage into the Antarctic aboard his ship Endurance.

The events surrounding the ill-fated Voyage are well-known: the trouble begins with thick sea ice, and abominably low temperatures besieging the ship. The ship is sturdy, but eventually the weight and pressure of the ice are too much, and the ship is crushed.

Shackleton swears an oath to rescue his men, and undertakes an incredible journey across the frozen flows of the Antarctic.

After a voyage of immense strain and weariness, they find a whaling station which dispatches rescue parties to collect the entirety of the Shipwrecked crew. Incredibly, unbelievably, the entire crew of the Endurance survives the ordeal.

The Road, 2009

Based on author Cormac McCarthy’s chilling and touching novel of the same name, The Road is a simple and grueling movie about a father and son struggling to survive an unknown catastrophe that has seemingly wiped out the majority of the population.

Traveling along the highways southbound in order to survive an encroaching winter, they must scavenge for supplies, avoid capture by roaming gangs of hostiles, and all the while struggle against the enormity and crushing weight of despair and hopelessness, a struggle the father calls “carrying the fire”.

Portrayals of absolute lack, a father’s love for his son, and willingness to do absolutely anything to protect him as well as the cost of the loss of humanity entirely are viewed in excruciating and occasionally beautiful detail. A rare masterpiece of a film that can rival the novel.

A Quiet Place, 2018

A rare sci-fi horror survival film, A Quiet Place focuses on a small family as they struggle to survive in a world made empty and gone quiet against its will.

The mysterious arrival of insanely predatory and seemingly unstoppable extraterrestrial creatures with extraordinarily acute hearing means that only those who can maintain absolute silence in their daily lives will have any chance of surviving.

While the premise is fantastical, the practical problem-solving and survival methods displayed in the film are extremely thought-provoking.

The bonds of the family, led by actors John Krasinski and Emily Blunt, as they struggle through childbirth in such a hostile situation as well as raising their deaf daughter (whose reliance on sign language made the family better equipped for the terrifying situation than most) are portrayed realistically, and touchingly throughout.

The Martian, 2015

Based on the best-selling novel of the same name, astronaut Mark Watney is stranded on the planet Mars in the year 2035 after his crew mistakes him for dead after being struck by a dust storm while exploring the Red Planet’s surface.

Facing a damaged environment suit, almost no supplies and the near-certain likelihood he will die on the iron-rich soil of Mars, Watney plans to survive until the next manned mission is due to arrive almost four years later.

His sheer ingenuity and overcoming seemingly insurmountable and impossible problems are really something to see put to the screen, and are excellent examples of remaining solution-focused even when hope is, literally, half the solar system away.

During his trial, Watney improvises a garden, tends to his own wounds, and makes surprisingly resourceful use of any and all materials available to him on the foreign planet.

Cast Away, 2000

One of the quintessential survival films of our era, Cast Away shows us what happens when a man obsessed with time is put in a situation where he has plenty of it, and little else.

Chuck Noland, masterfully portrayed by Tom Hanks, is a punctual time- and efficiency-obsessed system architecture analyst working for FedEx.

When the plane he is flying on goes down over the Pacific Ocean after encountering a powerful storm, he is barely able to escape aboard an inflatable life raft.

Regrettably, the raft’s emergency locator transmitter is lost, but he’s eventually washed up on a deserted island, the quintessential mental survival scenario of most of the readership.

Noland is then forced to survive with only his wits and what few things he can find on the island or scavenge from washed up debris and packages.

The struggle to provide shelter, clean drinking water, food and make fire covers all of the essential survival tasks that every single prepper will face in almost any long-term survival scenario. A tremendous and entertaining film, and definitely a thought-provoking one.

So, Which One Will You Watch Tonight?

There you have it. A list of the 20 best survival movies, from the fantastic and the fictional to the all-too-real and the sublime. While any of the films on this list will certainly do its job of entertaining you and your family, you can get a little bit more out of them if you put yourself in the protagonists’ shoes.

What would you do in the same situation? What would you have done differently? Do you think you would survive as they did, or could you do better?

Keep your thinking cap on while watching these films and any of them can provide good fodder for serious survival discussion.

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    • I concur, The Edge was a great survival film! In my opinion, could replace several movies on the list. Overall, these are many of my favorites. This roster of survival stories could easily be my receipt at FYE! The last DVDs that I’ve purchased were Deepwater Horizon, Lone Survivor, The Grey, The 33 and Everest. I’ve owned Deliverance, Alive and Cast Away for several years. The Road was the WORST survival movie that I’ve ever bought.

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