Since people have discovered how to produce videos and movies, and the cinematography era has started, directors from all over the world started to invent various films dedicated to all topics you can imagine: from romantic stories that describe real-life situations to terrifying horror films that bring viewers nightmares; from fantasy movies with unreal characters to cartoons for kids and adults, all these and many others daily attract movie lovers all over the world.
One decent place in movie ratings is taken by survival movies which is a whole different category from other films. These movies are quite difficult to create; they require sophisticated production, unbelievable scenery, a talented cast, a smart director, deep research of the survival topic, and other elements. However, when all these elements meet together, as a result, we get another gem of outstanding survival films, whether based on a true story or on someone’s imagination only.
Year by year, production crews create more and more impressive survival movies that can surprise almost everyone in the audience. In this review, we will talk about the best survival films, provide you with several recommendations regarding what you can watch, and mention the basic details about each movie. Even if you know some of the films we suggest, maybe it is the perfect moment to re-watch them.
Whatever you think of when you hear “survival movies”, it will probably be here, in our review. An uninhabited island, a plane crash, a person who is off the grid and left alone in the woods, and so on — welcome to our epic journey of the best survival movies you can find today!
Why Watching Survival Movies In the First Place?
If you are way too emotional and afraid that such films might break your heart, of course, you can skip our review and get back to the regular movies that comfort you. However, what is the point of watching films about survival for those who do not limit their movie choice anyhow?
Firstly, such movies are extremely exciting and interesting. Whether they are true stories or fiction, they have so many details and pictures that you may have never thought of in your daily life. We do not want to insert any spoilers here, but where else will you see a scene where a man sleeps inside of a horse or a group of people tries to survive on a no man’s land?
Secondly, such movies are full of useful information, and attentive viewers will get it all. When watching, try to remember some lifehacks for survivors and preppers — just in case. You never know what movie scripts can be implemented in real life, so being prepared for any scenario is a smart move.
Lastly, many movie lovers enjoy such films because they give you truthful emotions that can be caused only by the best survival movies. You will cry, you will worry, you will laugh, and you will gaze at a screen without any possibility to put the movie on pause — this is what awaits you when you turn on such a film. Normally, they last no less than two hours, so the pleasure will be rather long.
Hopefully, we have convinced you to check out at least one movie, so let us dive into our rating of the top 25 survival movies everybody needs to see.
1. 127 Hours
127 Hours is one of the most notable movies when we speak of survival films. The movie tells about a risky adventure of a real mountaineer called Aron Ralston who has survived a terrible accident when exploring one of the multiple canyons in the United States (in the state of Utah, particularly).
If we reveal the details of this true story, you will probably not be interested in watching this incredible movie, so all we will say is that the film is worth watching because it demonstrates how powerful a human being can be, left alone in the mountains without any chance to get help.
Danny Boyle who is famous for numerous legendary films (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, The Beach, and many others) directed the movie. The title role was amazingly played by James Franco. These two names should be enough for you to check out this fantastic masterpiece.
Released in 2017, the film tells about a horrible pandemic in Australia that cannot be stopped. The pandemic was caused by zombies, and people who get the virus have only 48 hours before they die. The main character (played by Martin Freeman) loses his wife due to the virus. He himself is also infected, and now he has only two days to find shelter for his cute little daughter.
While zombies are still a fictional thing, the movie is rather realistic and has gained numerous fans since its release.
3. Cast Away
Robert Zemeckis, famous for his fantastic Back to the Future series, tried his hand at creating a film about a survival crisis in 2000. And he succeeded! As a result, we have an amazing Cast Away movie that shows a story that inspires (and that reminds us of a well-known Robinson Crusoe plot).
Tom Hanks is the main character here, and we know how good Tom Hanks is. During the film, he lives alone on an uninhabited island and has no people around. His only friend is a volleyball (that has a name, by the way), and still, he manages to survive somehow, having no real-life conditions and things we are used to daily. We consider Cast Away one of the best movies telling about survival moments.
This movie became especially popular when the COVID-19 pandemic spread all over the world in the year 2020. Many viewers have a strong opinion that Contagion (released in 2011) is a film that has predicted all the coronavirus events that happened almost 10 years later, and the prediction turned out to be extremely precise.
All the events unfold in the United States, where the World Health Organization together with the local government is trying to fight a new virus of an unknown origin that has arrived from Hong Kong. Some patients die, and others have a natural resistance to the virus. Doctors are sent to Hong Kong to understand how the virus has appeared. We will not provide you with any more spoilers; however, the movie has a more or less happy ending.
Directed by an Oscar-winning Steven Soderbergh, the movie shows all the drama tied to surviving during the pandemic crisis, and the cast here is fantastic: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, and other famous actors have participated in the production.
5. Into the Wild
Many of us know Sean Penn as a magnificent actor who has professionally performed in dozens of movies and won a couple of Oskars. However, some of us might have missed the fact that he has created several movies as a director, too.
One of his movies is a popular film related to the survival topic. Into the Wild is a road movie that tells about a student who has just graduated. Instead of getting a job and living a regular life, he makes a decision to transfer all his savings (24,000 dollars, by the way) to charitable needs and move to the Alaskan wilderness where he explores nature, lives off the grid and gets to know extraordinary people all the way.
He begins by driving his Nissan and then when the petrol is over and he cannot get it anymore, he drops the car, takes his backpack, and continues his adventurous trip. The movie is based on a true story which always makes films even more exciting.
The movie has opened new career horizons for a charming actor, Emile Hirsch, who has become a star after the release. Overall, we recommend this film adaptation of the self-titled book written by Jon Krakauer. The film is rather long — almost three hours — however, the excitement and tension will be waiting for you, and you will not regret it with all the Alaskan wilderness beauty and a traditional road movie vibe.
6. The Grey
Another movie that depicts the Alaskan wilderness; however, this time we see a group of desperate survivors lost in the state. After a plane crash, Liam Neeson`s character together with other oil workers is left alone in the woods and tries to survive among wild animals. The region is especially dangerous because of wolves that live there and enjoy hunting.
In this movie, Liam Neeson plays an experienced hunter. He takes the lead and tries to save himself and others from the group from dangerous animals by hiding in the freezing cold woods. A beautiful film about a strong human spirit that tries to keep living and fighting whatever it takes.
7. Life of Pi
Taiwan director Ang Lee (who also created the legendary Brokeback Mountain) used an unconventional approach to the survival topic when developing the Life of Pi film. In a nutshell, here, we will see a young man who is trying to stay alive while being trapped in a rather small boat together with a dangerous tiger.
The movie starts with an irrepressible storm that destroys everything it touches; a ship crashes, and the main character (played by an Indian actor Suraj Sharma; it was his first work in movies) loses his family. He finds himself in a small boat with a couple of different animals (including the tiger, of course). Step by step, the tiger eats other members of the group, and Suraj’s character (whose name is Pi, by the way) starts fighting for his life, staying alive as much as he can.
When released, the movie was considered a huge success, in terms of both commercial issues and critics’ opinions. In 2013, it had 11 Oscar nominations and won four awards (Best Director, Best Original Score, Best Visual Effects, and Best Adapted Screenplay nominations). So, it is definitely worth watching.
8. The Revenant
Probably one of the most well-known films dedicated to the survival topic, The Revenant tells about a trapper who has faced an attack by a bear and gotten multiple wounds and traumas. After the attack, he also lives through his companions’ (played by Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, and Will Poulter) betrayal and has to survive in the cold lonely woods.
Alejandro González Iñárritu is a director who creates unbelievable movies with twisted plots, sincere emotions, and impressive characters. Besides The Revenant, such masterpieces as Birdman, 21 Grams, and Babel are among his most notable works.
The Revenant is not an exception: Leonardo DiCaprio was so convincing and marvelous that has finally won an Oscar (and stopped the long story of jokes and memes regarding his missed Oscars in the past). In total, the movie received a record-setting number of nominations (12) and three awards (Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Cinematography).
In 2015, an Icelandic actor and director Baltasar Kormákur created Everest based on a tragedy on the self-titled mountain, and it immediately became a gem for those who love movies where characters try to survive in dramatic circumstances. The movie (again) is based on a true story, a sorrowful event that happened in 1996. Eight mountaineers died, four were reported missing, and two were severely injured during climbing Mount Everest in May.
A detailed movie full of tragic emotions, beautiful views, and a talented cast perpetuates this terrifying historical event and tells about people who tried to subdue mountains but it did not work out.
Among the actors who participated in the movie are Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhaal, Sam Worthington, and Jason Clarke. Supporting roles are played by Robin Wright, Keira Knightley, John Hawkes, and other great actors and actresses.
10. Against the Sun
A quite underrated and “not that famous” movie, Against the Sun tells a story that really occurred — in 1942, during World War II. Three American Navy soldiers find themselves in an ocean, in a small boat, after they had landed on water due to the end of petrol in their aircraft.
They do not know yet that it will be a long journey that will last a bit more than a month: in the Pacific ocean with no people around, only storms and sharks. Just so you know, somehow they have survived such a crazy adventure, and the story has a happy ending.
The true events were reenacted in 2014 by Tom Felton (who is extremely famous for Harry Potter movies’ participation), Jake Abel (who played in Supernatural TV series and movies like The Lovely Bones and Inside horror), and Garret Dillahunt (Raising Hope, Deadwood, and other series and movies).
11. All Is Lost
Another movie that demonstrates how powerful a human being can be. All Is Lost is about a man who is stuck in open water and faces harsh circumstances and situations — from awful weather to desperate hunger. The main (and only) character is played by Robert Redford, a famous American actor who won an Oscar twice — in 1981 for directing the Ordinary People movie and in 2002 for numerous acting performances in various films.
Because he is the only character, the movie has no dialogue at all, and extremely few words because he almost never speaks to himself (but sometimes he does). All alone in the ocean, on his yacht that had faced a harsh storm, he takes all the tiny food and water supplies left and moves to a small rubber boat that will eventually bring him to safety and peace.
Of course, he will face various challenges like a shark tribe that follows his boat and a couple of ships where people notice neither him nor his cries for help. But in the end, everything will be fine.
The movie has a bunch of great reviews from both professional critics and ordinary viewers. At some point, experts predicted that Redford will receive another Oscar for his performance; however, the movie did not make it to the shortlist during the contest. Still, despite missing the award, we strongly advise you to watch this magnificent and intense film.
12. The Martian
We have mentioned some films where individuals try to survive in the mountains, on the water, on islands untouched by human hands; now it is time to see how a man has various adventures during his space travel, all alone in outer space.
Andy Weir wrote the self-titled book in 2011; it was his debut and he gained fame immediately. In 2015, a well-known director Ridley Scott, the author of the famous Blade Runner, Gladiator, and other movies released The Martian movie with Matt Damon who plays the main character. Among the cast are also Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Jeff Daniels, and others.
During their preparation for performance, actors and actresses had been attending informative meetings with astronauts and rehearsing the script thoroughly, line by line, trying to feel a wide spectrum of emotions that a person left alone in space can possibly feel.
Somehow the main character manages not only to survive but also to transmit the S.O.S. signal to his colleagues on Earth who have thought that he is dead for many days. A beautiful fictional story that will leave you content, The Martian is definitely worth watching, especially if you love everything about space and related things.
In 1972, a plane crash happened in the Andes mountains, and the plane was transferring a rugby team Old Christians from Uruguay. In total, there were 45 passengers on the plane, and after the crash and all the consequent challenges, only 16 managed to survive.
The whole story is well-known under the name “the Miracle in the Andes” because the chances to survive for those 16 lucky people were on the lowest level. Somehow they managed to move through the mountains and find a farmer from Chile who helped them stay alive. It took them 71 days to find help.
An amazing movie made by Frank Marshall has charming Ethan Hawke playing the main part. Eventually, he has become a leader during this harsh fight with nature where the risks were high and the chances to live were so tiny.
14. I Am Legend
Will Smith and his dog, Samantha, are left alone in New York City after zombies had attacked it and everybody died. This happened because a cure for cancer was found, as scientists thought; however, turned out that this cure is a dangerous virus that kills everything around it.
In the post-apocalyptic movie staged by Francis Lawrence (The Hunger Games movie series, Water for Elephants, and other movies) we see how cunning human beings can be when they face danger. I Am Legend is based on the self-titled book written by a famous American novelist and script creator Richard Matheson whose works are tied to fantasy, sci-fi, and horror genres.
15. In the Heart of the Sea
In the Heart of the Sea brings us to the middle of the nineteenth century which is quite untypical because usually, movies about survival tell us about something from the recent past. The film is based on real events that happened in that era and were later described by the American author Nathaniel Philbrick who dedicates his life to researching various historical events.
The story focuses on the Essex whaling watercraft that suddenly faces an attack by an enormous whale. Passengers decide to evacuate in small boats and swim back to the shore. However, this does not help them to get rid of the whale: it still tries to catch and kill them. At some point, they manage to avoid danger and start their challenging adventure in open water which ends well only for some of them.
The cast of the movie directed by Ron Howard is amazing: on the screen, you will see Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, and Tom Holland. The film is also famous for its magnificent soundtrack written by Roque Baños López, a composer recommended by Hans Zimmer who could not participate in the movie and kindly recommended his colleague.
16. The Road
Yet another movie that is dedicated to the theme of post-apocalyptic life and terrifying events, The Road is about a world where suddenly almost all animals and plants died, and people are left alone with no food (except canned food made before the catastrophe). The main characters here are a father (played by Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who try to save themselves in such harsh circumstances. The father often sees his dead wife in his memories, played by Charlize Theron.
If you are way too impressionable, this movie might be difficult to watch. However, still, it is a great story about survivors who try to keep living whatever it takes, even in an empty world full of danger, with a lack of supplies and scary situations.
The movie’s director, John Hillcoat, is famous not only for this film (which, by the way, was nominated for the Golden Lion award) but also for a great number of music videos made for Depeche Mode, Nick Cave, Massive Attack, Placebo, and other artists. Among his movies, the audience especially loves Lawless and The Proposition. He also released one episode of the Black Mirror series in 2017.
17. Rescue Dawn
Yet another real story that happened during a war: this time, the Vietnam War in the year 1966. The American pilot survives a plane crash, and his plane crashes in the jungles in Laos, in the middle of nowhere. He is lost in the woods and faces a long walkout during which he will go through captivity, torture, and other terrifying things.
Fun fact: because a human being gains weight faster than loses it, some actors had to lose weight before shooting, and all movie scenes were shot not in chronological order but in the opposite. The main part is amazingly played by Christian Bale, an Oscar-winning actor (The Fighter movie, Best Supporting Actor award).
18. Behind Enemy Lines
Continuing the war topic, we recommend you see this movie with Owen Wilson who was very convincing and great while performing. The movie is partly based on the true case of the American pilot Scott Francis O’Grady whose aircraft was shot down during the Bosnian War in 1995.
O’Grady managed to survive thanks to his parachute and was hiding in the enemy’s territory for six days until the help arrived. In order to survive, he had to eat grass, leaves, and insects. We say that the movie is partly based on this war incident because, in 2002, O’Grady tried to sue the production company responsible for the movie’s release: he accused the company and crew of lies and misrepresentation of the story. However, two years later, the parties reached an agreement, and the trial never happened.
19. The Way Back
The Way Back is a movie about Sławomir Rawicz, a Polish army member from Poland who was arrested by the Soviet Union authorities and managed to get away from the Soviet Gulag. This is a real story; however, in the movie, Sławomir is called Janusz.
He has fellow prisoners who escape with him; during their long way, they meet various adventures and even save a child’s life. Their challenges are accompanied by crazy weather: they experience different conditions from freezing cold in Siberian woods to the hot air of deserts in Mongolia.
The Polish prisoner Janusz is magnificently played by Jim Sturgess; Colin Farrell, Saoirse Ronan, and Ed Harris also took part in the movie; Peter Weir directed it.
20. 12 Years a Slave
In 1841, an American man Solomon Northup was kidnapped by slave traders who promised him that he will become a violinist. When he met his potential employers (as he was told), traders lied to him and drugged him instead. He was sent to New Orleans where he became a slave and was serving for 12 years, until his epic release in 1853.
The story above really occurred in the United States in the mentioned period. After liberation, Northup wrote a book about these awful events and his survival. The book later was taken by a director (Steve McQueen) and turned into a brilliant movie. As a result, the film received three Oscar awards, Best Picture included. Chiwetel Ejiofor depicted Northup in the movie, and his companions were Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender, and Brad Pitt.
21. The Pursuit of Happyness
Another movie where Will Smith not only stars but also plays the main role. The Pursuit of Happyness is notable because it is very real, and we mean that no one here survives awful events like plane crashes, distant planet landings, deserted island living, and other similar things.
The story tells us about an unlucky man who loses all his savings yet convinces his wife (who left him) that he can provide not only for himself but also for their son. At some point, things get worse, and both of them become homeless and start seeking shelter here and there. However, after all his struggles and challenges, Will Smith’s character manages to find an internship that will later save the situation.
The character is called Chris Gardner, and he really exists and lives in the US. All these things happened to him in the seventies, and later, when everything worked out great, he became the CEO of his own entity and wrote a book about this harsh period.
This story and this movie are great examples of surviving in real life and a very inspiring movie created by an Italian director Gabriele Muccino.
A truly crazy movie, most events of which occur in a wooden box that looks like a coffin where the main character finds himself after he wakes up. Ryan Reynolds is playing a man who is desperately trying to get out. He has only his cell phone and a Zippo lighter with him and is buried alive because his killers had thought that he is already dead.
The box where Reynolds is lying is tiny, and he almost cannot move there. It gets harder to breathe. With his phone, he tries to connect with his beloved ones and say goodbyes or find rescue.
23. Lone Survivor
Lone Survivor also tells us about events that happened during the war; it is dedicated to the unsuccessful operation called Red Wings that American Army tried to implement in Afghanistan in 2005.
Back then, four soldiers received a task to observe certain territories and find one of the Taliban terrorists. At the very beginning of their journey, they meet a couple of residents who later expose them to terrorists. Since then, a dangerous and risky path starts, and only one soldier will survive it.
Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, and Eric Bana play the fighting fourth. The movie was nominated for Oscars after its release: both nominations happened for great sound and sound effects.
24. The Blue Lagoon
After all the dramatic stories, let us advise you to a romantic movie where two kids grow up on an island where nobody lives and then become a couple, have a child, and live an ordinary (as much as possible) life as a family.
It is considered that the story happens in the Victorian era with many social stereotypes and limitations. Characters should not follow any rules or obey anyone; they simply live their wildlife as they see it.
Crawl is more of a horror than a survival-themed picture; however, the survival topic is well-covered with the main character played by outstanding Kaya Scodelario who tries to stay alive in an intense fight with alligators.
A massive storm falls on Florida and leads to flooding that, in turn, causes an alligators’ invasion in the village, and Kaya Scodelario’s character tries to save herself, her father, and their dog from death that is coming way too close. A worrying fight that seems to be endless has a happy ending after all.
To Sum Up
So, this was our rating of the top 25 movies you can watch if you wish to see inspiring or dramatic stories about people fighting for their lives in different circumstances, and dealing with various obstacles and challenges. Of course, there are more movies to see and describe; however, we believe that these 25 are the best you can currently catch.
The only thing we should warn you about is that generally, survival movies are full of various triggers and terrifying moments; so, if something triggers you (like people’s death, stories about cannibalism used to survive, shooting, or any other awful thing), it would be best if you read more details about each movie we suggest before you start watching it. This will help you to stay calm and not be disappointed about this or that film recommended above.
Frequently Asked Questions — FAQ
Are survival movies realistic?
Usually, it is quite hard to come up with ideas that become a base for survival pictures; so yes, many movies are realistic. However, not all of them; some films you see where people try to keep living in odd or scary situations have nothing to do with reality or history. Still, regardless of being based on a real event or not, most good-quality movies about survival are impressive and exciting.
Are survival movies useful?
Yes, many films about survival are extremely useful because you never know what can happen tomorrow and which events you will face: being on an island with no people, climbing mountains, facing a storm while traveling on a watercraft — all these circumstances and many others used in survival pictures are quite real. So, the knowledge you get from such movies might be useful one day.
What is the best survival movie?
Our rating has no aim to define the best movie about survival because our readers and survival films audience have different tastes and preferences. Some viewers love stories about people fighting for their lives in the mountains; others prefer to watch adventures tied to storms and open water, and so on. If you are curious about survival topics in general, we are happy to provide you with the rating above where all pictures are worth watching.
What are survival documentaries?
Survival documentaries are movies that are based on true stories and have fragments with real characters inserted. For instance, a survival documentary can involve interviews with survivors, archive videos made during the event, and other real evidence.
Who is the most popular survival?
Probably, the answer to this one is that all survivors mentioned in movies are popular, and there is no rating of survivors made in the world yet. Regardless of what happened to these people, all of them are both extremely brave and lucky; the movies we have mentioned above which tell about real people’s lives prove it.