Top 10 Greatest Survival Movies of All Time

We’ve always loved seeing stories of incredible human strength and resilience, courage in the face of seemingly insurmountably long odds, and perseverance in the harshest of situations. This common thread in society, coupled with the rise in popularity of survival-themed television shows, has led to an influx of similarly themed full-length feature films. Many of these films actually have a survival expert behind the scenes as a consultant, and a grand majority are based on true (at least as true as Hollywood can make them) stories. With winter storms raking nearly the entire country, it’s a great time to hunker down with a good flick rather than risk becoming the subject of a future survival film. Here is a list of 10 of the best to keep you entertained during the big chill this winter. Be warned, there are some spoilers ahead.

127 Hours
Sure, the guy made a nearly fatal mistake by failing to let anyone know where he was going, but what Aron Ralston (played here by James Franco) did to survive the situation is a fantastic example of the human will to live. The fact that he was able to muster up the cajones to sever his own arm once he came to terms with his grim reality is just downright badass. It’s also a tall order to make a film that spends a majority of its length in a crevasse focused on one guy and still make it engaging, but this film does just that. Nominated for numerous awards including Best Film, Best Writing, and Best Actor, this movie is not only a great flick, but it’s also a lesson in Survival 101: Always make sure someone knows where you went.

In case you’re wondering–no, not the cartoon with the talking snowman (though it’s supposedly pretty good). Another cautionary tale of “what not to do,” this fairly low-budget flick follows three friends on a ski outing in New England. Being the spoiled folks they are, they bribe the lift operator to let them make one more run down the mountain, despite the fact that the resort is closing and a snow storm is blowing in. Naturally, confusion ensues and they get stuck some fifty feet in the air on the lift when the resort closes. The result is a pretty rough end for two of the three involving ill-advised jumps, wolves, and compound fractures. It’s intense nature and unexpected twists get it to number 9 on this list.

The GreyIf you learn anything worthwhile from this list…watch out for wolves! This film takes us to Alaska where Liam Neeson…I mean John Ottway leads a team of oil workers out of wolf territory after their plane crashes (albeit to pretty grim results). Some of the men start out with a pretty thin desire to live to begin with, but somehow manage to find the courage to fight for awhile. “The Grey” is a pretty great example of humankind’s inherent instinct to live. The film ends on an ambiguous note, with Ottway the lone survivor of the group facing off against the alpha wolf of the pack, and leaves it up to you to decide the victor. Man, those wolves were vicious!

Quest For Fire
A unique film in and of itself, 1981’s “Quest For Fire” is based around that most basic of human needs: flame. In an interesting wrinkle, this film is set in prehistoric times, and characters only speak to each other through grunts and gestures. The movie follows the exploits of three men, from an apparently stunted tribe that has lost their fire, on a trek to find more. They do not know how to simply start one of their own, so they must either steal or find more. What results is a really strange, campy, odd little flick. Be warned, as all of the characters are savages, the movie depicts some pretty graphic content.

Jeremiah Johnson
This Robert Redford drama has the added cool factor of Larry D. Olsen. Olsen, a hardcore primitive skills expert and teacher, was hired by Redford to be a special consultant. The film follows a character of its namesake (played by Redford) who is disparaged by the ways of mainstream society, and decides to set forth into the wild to live off of the land, fend for himself, and lead a peaceful life. What he finds is probably a little more harsh than he had expected, as he is forced to deal with angry natives, aggressive wildlife, ruthless frontiersmen, and unforgiving winters.

Based on a true story as well as a book by Piers Paul Read, this film centers around the plight of a Uruguayan rugby team after their plane crashed in the Andes mountains in 1972. Of the 45 on board, only sixteen survived the ordeal. Freezing, severely injured, and faced with nothing but snow and ice for miles and miles, the passengers who survived the actual crash are faced with a much more scary situation. The big tipping point of the film is when Nando (portrayed by Ethan Hawke, and who, in real life, served as a technical consultant behind the scenes) convinces the other survivors that their key to surviving is to cannibalize the perished passengers. This movie, like so many others on this list, speaks to the lengths that people can go to remain upright and sniffing air.

Rescue Dawn
Though a bit of a failure at the box office, this based-on-a-true story thriller stars Christian Bale as Dieter Dengler, a Navy pilot shot down in Laos. Offered immunity in exchange for his signature on a document that condemns our country, he opts instead to be held captive and endure torture (‘Merica!). After escaping, he and his compatriots must survive the harsh elements as well as angry villagers and their captors. He eventually makes it out (because duh), and is lauded as a hero aboard his ship.

The Way Back
Set during World War II, “The Way Back” stars Colin Farrell and Ed Harris. Escapees from a gulg in Siberia, the group must find the way back (get it?) through Siberia, Mongolia, and the Himalayas. The sheer ground covered in this character-driven film gives it a spot in the top three.

Into The Wild
The true story of Chris McCandless is one that makes an outdoorsman’s pride well up. After graduating from Emory University, McCandless gives up all of his worldly possessions in pursuit of a dream – to live unabated off of the land, without any outside influence from society. This romantic ideal is one that comes with extreme hardship, considering today’s expansive and sprawling residential and commercial areas. After a series of nationwide adventures, McCandless eventually ends up in the Alaskan wilderness north of Denali National Park, living out of an abandoned school bus. Although he was a self-taught expert on survival and edible wild greens, he eventually made a fatal mistake by eating a poisonous plant that looked incredibly similar to a perfectly edible one. Ironically, only a few days after his demise, hunters located the bus – they were the first to encounter it during McCandless’ stay. Directed by Sean Penn and with a killer soundtrack penned exclusively by Eddie Vedder, “Into The Wild” is a must-see.

CastawayThe sheer quotability of this film vaults it to number one on the list. If you’ve never struggled to make a fire, only to scream “I have made fire!!!” upon finally getting it lit, then you’ve probably never seen this movie. As with above-listed films, the ability of the filmmakers to engage an audience while focusing on one solitary person for a couple of hours is pretty astonishing. Plus, we got to learn how to practice primitive dentistry (ouch), make a real bond with a blood-stained volleyball, and find out just how loyal that minx Helen Hunt is.