Man versus nature – finding drinkable water, scavenging for food, sparking a fire to stay warm, trekking miles to find a sign of civilization. These survival stories fascinate many, not just in reality shows like Survivor and Naked and Afraid.
These tales inspire and amaze and have become a genre unto themselves, captivating fans in literature, film, and television. Hollywood has brought plenty of action-packed survival movies to the silver screen, offering a glimpse into the human desire to stay alive by battling the elements and miserable conditions.
Bear Grylls noted: “Survival can be summed up in three words: never give up. That’s the heart of it, really. Just keep trying.” Here’s a look at five films where the protagonists take that advice to heart.
Inspired by the best-selling 1974 book by British author Piers Paul Read, this film captures the story of a high school rugby team in Uruguay. Their plane crashes in the frigid, snow-covered Andes while traveling to play a match.
Along with some friends and family, the boys deal with sub-zero temperatures, little food, and some problematic options. The survivors eventually resort to eating the dead to stay alive. After 72 days, only 16 of the original 45 on the flight survive after a brave few hoof it through the treacherous mountains to find help.
The book is a classic of survival literature. But the movie, starring Ethan Hawke, offers some excellent viewing as well – maybe just skip the popcorn.
This excellent film starring Christian Bale and directed by Werner Herzog tells the 1966 story of German-born American Navy pilot Dieter Dengler. Shot down while on a mission over Laos, Dengler is captured by villagers sympathetic to the Pathet Lao communist movement.
After being taken prisoner, Dengler encounters several other prisoners, some of whom have been held captive for years. The men endure torture, malnutrition, regular beatings from guards, and other horrific conditions. The pilot begins devising escape plans but receives little support from his compatriots.
As the food supply dwindles and faces starvation, the guards plan to kill the prisoners and return to their homes. Faced with few options, the men put their escape plan into action as they look for freedom. The prisoners may have escaped but still face a journey to cross the border into Thailand. It’s a great tale that will leave viewers glad they’re watching a survival tale from the couch and not experiencing a similar ordeal firsthand.
Plenty of hikers and adventure lovers have dreamed of a getaway to the wilds of Latin America. Israel’s Yossi Ghinsberg meets up with three other hikers for a grand trip into the Amazon rainforest. The movie is based on Ghinsberg’s book detailing his real-life journey in 1981.
What should have been an adventure of a lifetime turned into a nightmare. After being lost for days and then undergoing a deadly rafting accident, Ghinsberg is forced to survive on his own in some of the densest jungles and most unforgiving terrain on Earth.
This thrilling survival tale is also a bit of a warning to others about being prepared. Ghinsberg faces long odds without a knife, map, or any real survival training. Somehow he stays alive to tell an epic survival tale. Jungle is a great book and an edge-of-your-seat movie with plenty of action. (Note to self: don’t forget your map, knife, and compass on that next hiking trip.)
This film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, focuses on the tale of famed fur trader and frontiersman Hugh Glass. While guiding fur trappers through the Dakotas in 1823, Glass is attacked by a grizzly bear and left for dead by the other trappers.
The film focuses on Glass’s efforts to treat his wounds and make his way to safety while also avoiding potential Native American tribes who may be ready to capture or kill him.
The Revenant adds a real piece of Old West history to the survival film and won numerous awards, including the Oscar for best cinematography and DiCaprio for best actor. The brutal bear attack offers some grueling realism and reminds us that it’s called the “wild”-erness for a reason.
This is a new entry into the world of survival films and is quite an addition. The film, starring Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell and directed by Ron Howard, tells the real story of a Thai soccer team trapped in a cave after rainwater completely floods the tunnels.
The boys and their coach face impossible odds, trapped about a mile and a half from the cave entrance. The story made international headlines in 2018, and the odds of retrieving the group were long. Facing strong currents, low oxygen levels, and rising flood waters, the outlook for the boys looked grim.
But a crack team of expert divers got to work. Their unreal efforts to free the boys gripped the nation, and bringing them home safely came with plenty of risk. This one may leave you rethinking that next spelunking adventure, but it will certainly warm the heart.
There you have it, folks, survival movies we can all learn lessons from and enjoy!