20 Best Survival Movies of All Time

20 Best Survival Movies of All Time

20 Best Survival Movies of All Time

There is something so incredibly satisfying in a great man-made film. The best survival films reduce everything to the most essential elements: there are very few characters, they have only their intelligence and a few limited tools at their disposal, and they have only one goal in mind: stay in life. And yet, with so few ingredients, these films are still able to increase our heart rate and give us a pinch at the existential terror that is the immensity of nature. Survival films are a study of how to do the most with the least. (Sometimes the characters don’t even speak.)

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What they survive, however, varies – and gives us a glimpse of what we fear most. Most of the time, these films involve staying alive in the harsh conditions of a vast wilderness area. (Especially the ocean. So. Lots. Boats.) Sometimes a more aggressive threat is added, whether it’s a wild animal (to remind us of our own animal instincts, perhaps?) Or a human competing for the few resources available. The unknown – alias outer space – is also a theme in many of them. The biggest threat in them, however, is the isolation and the keeping of the mind and the quick wit in the face of vast challenges. Check out these survival movies below and try to figure out if you have the chops to survive their challenges.

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Drifting (2018)

Two young lovers agree to sail on a 44-foot yacht across the ocean to deliver it to a wealthy couple – what could possibly go wrong? Well, a hurricane, for one. After the storm, the boat gets lost at sea and the film goes from a romance to a story of survival.

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The Martian (2015)

Based on a self-published novel by Andy Weir, The Martian follows the story of a botanist (played by Matt Damon) who finds himself stranded on the red planet. He must understand how he can be his own individual crew and survive long enough for a rescue team to return – or perhaps forever.

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All is lost (2013)

Robert Redford was acclaimed for his almost silent solo performance in this film. He plays a sailor who, after his boat collides with a shipping container, is lost at sea without communication equipment or GPS. He has to improvise his own technology (like making a sextant!) In order to find help.

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Gravity (2013)

No one in space can help you. Sandra Bullock embodies an astronaut who is almost entirely alone and must find a way to return to Earth safely after her shuttle has been destroyed by space debris. The film was nominated for 10 Oscars when it was released, including best actress and best film, and won seven, including best director.

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Kon-Tiki (2012)

This film contains elements of an adventure film: a crew led by a Norwegian explorer in 1947 attempts to sail in the Pacific on a light balsa raft in order to prove that the ancient peoples of South America could have done even. They face sharks, storms and the dangers of the high seas along the way. And although it sounds like a fantastic premise, it is based on a true story, and the raft is still on display in a museum in Oslo.

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Gray (2011)

It is hard enough to survive in the Alaskan wilderness after a plane crash. But the character of Liam Neeson in Grey has something even more frightening to satisfy – a pack of wolves who follow him.

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127 hours (2010)

This film, by Trainspotting director Danny Boyle, tells the poignant and true story of outdoor enthusiast Aron Ralston. While hiking alone in Utah’s caves, Ralston was trapped under a rock and must figure out how to stay alive without being able to move.

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I am a legend (2007)

Will Smith plays a virologist living alone in New York; after a virus that was supposed to cure cancer has been wiped out and wiped out most of humanity, it must endure isolation and dodge the vampire-like mutants that the disease has created. But is he really the only human survivor?

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Cast Away (2000)

Tom Hanks gets rid of his cool character when he plays with a Fed Ex employee whose plane crashes, leaving him deserted on an uninhabited island. He must brave the elements – and the isolation. Hanks was nominated for an Academy Award for his ability to get the public to empathize with his best friend in volleyball.

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The Edge (1997)

Alec Baldwin and Anthony Hopkins act in a film about two men who survived a plane crash in the Alaskan wilderness. They have to survive the cold, the wild animals and the suspicion that one of the men has slept with the other’s wife and deserves a comeuppance.

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Alive (1993)

This film tells the true story of a Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashed in the Andes, and the extraordinary (and sometimes disgusting) lengths they had to endure in order to survive. It presents a stacked cast that includes Ethan Hawke, Josh Hamilton, Josh Lucas and Ileana Douglas.

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Rambo: First Blood (1982)

After the direction taken by the rest of the franchise, it’s easy to forget that the first Rambo movie isn’t a great shoot-’em-up action movie. Instead, it is the story of John Rambo, a highly skilled and troubled veteran who must survive an unexpected encounter with law enforcement.

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The Blue Lagoon (1980)

Who says that a survival movie can’t be this hot? In it, two youngsters, played by Brooke Shields and Richard Atkins, are shipwrecked and left alone on a desert island. They are left there to grow up and make a home on the island without the constraints of their Victorian society.

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Deliverance (1972)

The film that made “Dueling Banjos” emblematic, Issuance tells the story of inexperienced campers who find themselves in a fight against nature and a band of inhabitants of the hinterland who are there to recover them. To survive, they must take their canoes and their brave rapids, among other dangers. Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox play campers.

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The Omega Man (1971)

It is 1975. A biological weapon has killed most of the lives on Earth. Neville (Charlton Heston) thinks he is the only human survivor. He must however keep his mind, because the weapon has transformed the others into nocturnal mutants in search of blood. This film is actually adapted from the same novel as I’m a legend.

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Lord of the Flies (1963)

Based on the enlightened class novel by William Golding, Lord of the flies follows a group of schoolchildren who are stranded on an island, without rules or society to keep them in line. They must survive the elements – and each other. In addition to the 1963 version, there is a 1990 remake that stars Balthazar Getty.

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Swiss Family Robinson (1960)

This adventure tale has it all: shipwrecks, pirates, a tiger and a captivating island hut. It’s also one of the less gruesome survival stories, so you can watch it with the whole family.

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Marisa LaScala
Parenting & Relationships Editor
Marisa LaScala covers everything related to parenting, from postpartum to empty nests, for GoodHousekeeping.com; she previously wrote about motherhood for parents and the working mother.

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