Gripping Survival Movies That Will Prepare You for the Worst

by Last updated Jun 30, 2020Travel Wisdom

I have always believed that travel is an adventure. The quest of the unknown and the joy of trying something new are all a part of the great adventure. Sometimes adventures go wrong. We are often trapped in situations that go beyond our control. Have you ever thought what would you do if you are stuck in a near-death situation? How will your survival instincts work? Well, reel life has plenty of such situations. These survival movies will bring you face to face with people battling the wilderness and the harsh nature, only relying on their instincts and zeal to live on. While some have a happy ending, some clearly do not. But each of these survival movies does teach a lesson.

There are definitely a few lessons that we can learn from these survival movies. We can see how a regular weekend adventure can turn into a nightmare or the importance of letting your loved ones know where you are heading for an adventure. Because you do not know what might happen. Most of these movies are based on true stories and so the connection is quite real. Finally, there is definitely one lesson I have learnt from these survival movies. You can never win with nature. And we must remember that.

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I had asked a few fellow travel bloggers about their favourite travel movies that also portrays the survival instincts of their protagonists. Along with those recommendations, I have collected a few of my favourite survival movies that also depict a destination in a beautiful way. This is in continuation with my article on Favourite Travel Movies. There are many other awesome movies, but these are the ones that I have watched. If you have any suggestions, do let me know.

List of Survival Movies

  1. Castaway (2000)

IMDb Rating: 6.8

Available on: Netflix

This is one of my favourite survival movies. I have always loved Tom Hanks as a performer and he outshines here in the role of Chuck, the FedEx employee who gets marooned on an uninhabited island after the cargo plane crashes into the sea.

While Chuck is stuck at the island without any company, he adapts to his surroundings for survival. He learns to light a fire, fishes with a spear and makes a friend “Wilson” out of his Wilson volleyball with a painted-on face. He never gives up even in these hopeless surroundings and finally makes himself a raft and ventures out in the sea. Where he survives and returns to the mainland becomes the crux of the story.

Tom Hanks breathes in life to the character of Chuck. He was nominated for all the awards that year and won the Golden Globe Award. If you are fond of survival movies, then Castaway should definitely be on the list.

  1. The Beach (2000)

IMDb Rating: 6.7

Available on: Amazon Prime

Contributed by Jeff from Life Of Y

“The Beach” is one of my favourite travel movies. I remember watching it nearly twenty years ago and not knowing a thing about travel. I can honestly say that this was the movie that made me think ‘maybe there is more to life than work, mortgages and taxes!’

The movie takes place in Thailand, where else?! Backpacker, Richard (Leonardo DiCaprio) is in Bangkok when he is given a map to a secret island with a legendary beach. He makes his way to the secret island with a French couple and discovers a small community of travellers who live on the island in secret. It doesn’t take long before Richard’s paradise becomes a nightmare he can’t escape.

The thing I love most about The Beach is how it is so relatable to how we want to travel (except the ending!) We all want to do something different on our adventures, only to find that everybody else has the same idea. So we all end up visiting the same places and doing the same things. But, once in a while, something magical and unexpected can, and often does, happen.

After watching the movie, I was so intrigued by the idea of travelling and went on my first year-long backpacking trip after university. The first stop on my adventure was, of course, Thailand, and even though places like Bangkok and Koh Phangan were portrayed well in the movie, I still loved it!

Watch the movie before, or even during, any trip to Thailand and I can almost guarantee that you will relate to the movie just as much as I did! Something to think about when you consider that The Beach is twenty years old!

  1. Touching the Void (2003)

IMDb Rating: 8

Available on: YouTube

Touching the Void is another documentary about the mountains that tells the miraculous story of one man surviving a climbing accident in the Peruvian Andes. It is a true story where two young climbers Joe and Simon attempt to reach the summit of Siula Grande in Peru. This is said to be one of the most difficult summits and had been attempted several times but never achieved before. The two climbers ascended the peak, but there was an accident on the way down. Joe broke his leg while on the descent. The film is about what happens after that and whether and how the two climbers manage to reach the base camp. Touching the Void is an ultimate test of friendship, courage and determination.

  1. Into the Wild (2007)

IMDb Rating: 8.1

Available on: Netflix

Contributed by Adriana from Czech The World

My favourite travel movie is “Into the Wild“, which is based on a true story of an American student Christopher McCandless who embarks on a journey to the Alaskan wilderness.

After he graduates from Emory University, Chris decides to give up his privileged life. Bored by consumer society, established rules, and parents’ expectations he gives his entire savings to charity, and hitchhike to Alaska to live in the wilderness. Chris is at once a troubled, impulsive boy and a brave and dedicated spiritual pilgrim. He encounters a series of characters who shape his life. The whole journey is a self-discovery path for him.

When he reaches Alaska, he sets up a campsite in an abandoned bus. At first, he is happy with isolation, the beauty of nature, and the thrill of the land. Later he found out that he is insufficiently prepared and wants to come back. Unfortunately, the frozen stream he crossed in the snow has become an impassable river. The whole journey brings him to the final and tragic realization that “Happiness is only real when shared”.

I was lucky to spend a whole summer in the Alaskan wilderness while working on the ranch in Healy which is north of Denali National Park and only about 30 kilometres from actual Magic Bus. You can also see the replica of the bus, which was used to shoot the movie in 49th State Brewery in Healy. Trying to reach the bus is not recommended for obvious reasons, several tourists already had to be rescued from the area.

  1. North Face (2008)

IMDb Rating: 7.4

The movie North Face is like a classic when it comes to survival movies or stories. The film is based on a true story when two German climbers Toni Kurz (Benno Fürmann) and Andi Hinterstoisser (Florian Lukas) attempt to take on the Eiger’s 5,900-foot near-vertical infamous North face during the rise of Nazi Germany. At that time, climbing the North Face was considered next to impossible and was named as the “Death Wall”.

North Face attempts to tell the story of these two mountaineers, their inspirations and aspirations. While I was not very much impressed with the movie’s political subplot, but the story of the mountains and adventure always finds a place in my heart.

  1. 127 Hours (2010)

IMDb Rating: 6.8

Available on: YouTube Movies

Danny Boyle creates magic once again on screen in 127 Hours. The movie is based on the book of adventure enthusiast Aron Ralston, who gets trapped by a boulder in the middle of nowhere in the Grand Canyon. Aron (played brilliantly by James Franco) goes for a weekend hike in the Blue John Trail and inadvertently his arm gets pinned by a huge boulder. With limited supply of food and water, he survives inside the crevice for 127 hours and finally decides to do the unthinkable to survive.

While he is stuck in the canyon, he remembers his family and friends and all those he left behind. Boyle had used subtle imagery in depicting Aron’s state of mind. I don’t know what I would have done in such a situation, but Aron’s zeal to live on is commendable and he does stay alive for 5 days. Finally, on the 6th day, he decides to cut off his arm so that he can escape from inevitable death. Well, I was appalled by the gore in the scene where he actually does that, but the thought of Aron’s journey to that situation is so emotionally draining.

The movie captures the beauty of the Grand Canyon in a great way, but it is the never die attitude of Aron that is left behind with us. And not to mention, the background score by A R Rahman is simply brilliant.

  1. The Way Back (2010)

IMDb Rating: 6.8

Available on: Netflix

If there is one survival movie that I can watch over and over, it has to be The Way Back. It was one of those movies where I truly felt as if I was enduring the journey with the cast. Based on a true story, the film is about a group of WWII prisoners of wars who escapes from Siberian Gulag and travels 4000 miles on foot to their freedom. They start from Siberia, trek all the way to Lake Baikal, continue their journey through the deserts of Mongolia and then through Tibet, finally reaching India.

The movie, though not fully shot in the original locations does make the traveller in me yearn to visit those places. And for the time being, the movie does take me to those destinations virtually!

  1. The Grey (2011)

IMDb Rating: 6.8

Available on: YouTube

The Grey is a movie about six oil workers who are left to survive at Alaska after a plane crash. The film is an exceptional story of survival where the worst in humanity is pitted against the worst in nature. Liam Neeson plays a tough oil well worker who takes the job of killing the wolves encroach the oil camp in Alaska. An airplane carrying these workers crashes and the men are hunted by the pack of wolves. What follows is the battle of survival of these men in the wilderness.

  1. Life of Pi (2012)

IMDb Rating: 7.9

Available on: YouTube Movies

Contributed by Camilla Malvestiti from Tigers in the Wild

Ang Lee’s Life of Pi is a beautiful, visual and philosophical take on an improbable friendship between a boy, Pi, and a Bengal tiger, Richard Parker.

Inspired by a successful novel by Yann Martel, the movie is set between the South Indian old French colony of Pondicherry, the lovely hills of Munnar in Kerala and the Pacific ocean.

Pi and his family own a zoo in Pondicherry, but after the activity goes broke they decide to move to Canada with their most precious animals.  Unfortunately, the ship they board sinks and after a series of heartbreaking events, only Pi and the tiger are left alive on a lifeboat.  The heart of the movie focuses on the desperate journey of the unusual couple to find land, and on a series of flashbacks. The story is enticing and moving, beautifully filmed thanks to Ang Lee’s talent for photography.

As a tiger lover, I have a natural soft spot for Life of Pi. I can totally identify myself with young Pi and with the bond that he develops with the majestic cat.

The landscapes of Kerala’s tea plantations, temples and the infinity of the ocean are extremely evocative. Thanks to this movie, Munnar is definitely on my bucket list of places to visit in India.

  1. Wild (2014)

IMDb Rating: 7.1

Available on: YouTube Movies

This is one of my favourite travel movies of all times. The movie is about a young girl who goes on hiking 1100 miles on the Pacific Trail Coast after the loss of her mother. Unprepared and with a giant backpack on her back, Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) crosses the dusty Mojave desert, forests, snowfields and muddy trails. She loses her toenails as well as the clutter on her mind and gains a mental clarity and perspective for life. I still remember the scene when she takes out all the heavy books from her backpack at the advice of Ed. I think that was when she started shedding her clutters.

  1. Everest (2015)

IMDb Rating: 7.1

Available on: YouTube

Contributed by Mainak Biswas from Places In Pixel

It’s an adventure film based on summiting Mt Everest in Nepal, the highest point on our planet.

My brother and I am a huge fan of hiking and trekking. And since this movie was based on a true story of 2 expeditions towards the summit of Mount Everest, we were super excited to watch it together. And, trust me, we were not disappointed, And I can assure you that even you won’t be!

The movie succeeds in capturing the struggles and exhausting on attempting something super difficult. Anything above 5000 meters is extremely challenging and Mt Everest is 8848 m !!!

Although the film is actually about the accident of 1996 (yes, it’s a disaster movie), but for trekking-enthusiasts like us, it was all about never giving up while faced with difficulty to conquer your challenges.

The very next year after watching the movie, we trekked up the Stok Kangri summit at 6153m. Since it was our first 5000m+ trek, we faced a lot of challenges, but never gave up.

  1. The Himalayas (2015)

IMDb Rating: 6.8

Available on: Netflix

We have a special connection with the mountains, especially with trekking and mountaineering. The Himalayas is a South Korean drama based on true events. Renowned mountaineer Um Hong-gil set out on a mission to Everest to retrieve the frozen corpse of few mountaineers who lay trapped in the mountains. This mission where there are no rewards or recognition turns out to be one of his most challenging. While the film is Korean, I enjoyed watching it with the subtitles. A survival movie on the Himalayas is always a fascinating watch, no matter what and it always reminds us of our trekking days.

  1. Arctic (2018)

IMDb Rating: 6.8

Available on: Amazon Prime

The “Arctic” is a nail-biting tale of a pilot named Overgard played by Mads Mikkelsen who is stranded in the Arctic after a plane crash. He learns to survive by making a cabin out of the rubble and also manages to catch fishes for food. A rescue chopper does come to take him out, but instead of rescuing him, the chopper itself crashes. The pilot dies and the co-pilot barely survives to make Overgard’s life more difficult in the situation. However, he decides to take care of his new guest and finally, he decides to trudge along with his semi-comatose companion to the nearest outpost. Arctic is a lovely tale of humanity and survival. This is a must-see if you are fond of survival movies.

Well, this is definitely not a comprehensive list. I have included those movies which have made me yearn to visit a place. I also loved watching Martian, Buried, Rabbit-Proof Fence and others as well. Do suggest me if you other survival movies that you have watched by commenting below. Which one of these did you like watching?

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Best Survival Movies

 

Agni & Amrita

Agni & Amrita

Travel Experts

We are Agni and Amrita, the story-telling team behind Tale of 2 Backpackers and partners in crime in travel and (mis)adventures of life. We have been travelling together for more than a decade looking for immersive experiences while enjoying the little beauties of life. We are intrigued by heritage, culture, festivals and people and that is reflected in our travel. And yes, we love the Himalayas too.

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2 Comments

  1. Lovely article ! Thanks for including my review 🙂

    Reply
    • Thank you Camilla!

      Reply

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