The 15 Best Movies About Survival

Whether it is a true story or a fictional story, survival films always make for good cinema. They create high stakes in life-or-death situations while portraying several moments of intensity. Throughout the years, there have been several great survival films that took place in different settings. A survival story in the wilderness usually shows us great animal threats such as wolves or bears. If they take place in the snowy mountains, there are the dreadful threats of starving or freezing to death. Matt Damon even showed us how to effectively survive on a distant planet in The Martian. Many great survival movies come from books, while others are based on amazing true stories.

It takes a unique individual to embark into the wild, and it takes great bravery and skills to come out alive. Reese Witherspoon showed us in Wild, that venturing into the wilderness can be a cathartic and life-changing experience for the better. No matter what, nature can be a cruel place that will create many life-threatening situations. Because of this fact, survival movies have given us several thought-provoking and exciting stories. Let’s take a deep dive into the best survival films of all time.

Updated on August 15th, 2023 by Gargi Chatterjee: This article has been updated with additional content to keep the discussion fresh and relevant with even more information and new entries.

15 The Grey (2011)

Liam Neeson in The Grey
Open Road Films

In The Grey, Liam Neeson leads a group of oil men stranded in the Alaskan wilderness after a plane crash. Although the threat of freezing to death is in front of them, there is also the threat of a pack of vicious wolves.

As the men make their way through the snow, they are picked off one by one by the wolves. Neeson’s character is very knowledgeable of wolves and the wild, so he gives the audience several fascinating facts about survival. The movie is a great example of the threat of vicious animals when you are in their habitat.

14 Black Water (2007)

Black Water
AV Pictures

Want a survival horror movie about a killer crocodile and a stranded family? Then look no further than Black Water. This 2007 Australian movie is about Lee, her older sister Grace, and Grace’s husband Adam who go on a fishing trip to the infamous Australian mangrove swamps.

What they expected to be a normal family outing with the three of them along with a boatman turned into a horrible nightmare when they are stranded in the treacherous waters while being hunted by a monstrous killer crocodile. The movie is nail-biting up until the end and is truly a nerve-wracking experience.

13 Wild (2014)

Reese Witherspoon in Wild
River Road Entertainment

Jean-Marc Vallée’s Wild tells the true story of Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) who embarks on the Pacific Crest Trail to come to terms with her mother’s death and failed marriage. It is a fantastic story about redemption and finding meaning in life through nature.

Strayed must complete challenge after challenge while living in immense discomfort during her arduous journey, which can speak to the soul of some viewers. Through her epic journey, she comes out on top and changes her life forever.

12 A Quiet Place (2018)

The cast of A Quiet Place
Paramount Pictures

Dystopian horror movies are always a treat and especially so if they have John Krasinski and Emily Blunt in the lead roles. That is exactly the case for the 2018 post-apocalyptic survival horror movie A Quiet Place.

Dangerous aliens with sharp hearing and no sight have killed most of the human population. In the midst of all this, a family consisting of a father, a mother, and their three children are trying to survive. The movie is not only a great survival movie but also one of the best alien-horror movies of the last few years.

11 127 Hours (2010)

Franco in 127 Hours
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Danny Boyle’s brutal film tells the true accounts of Aron Ralston (James Franco) after his arm was pinned between two rocks in the Utah Canyons. It is a film that depicts the importance of conservation, problem-solving, and sheer will to survive such a situation.

Ralston overcame all odds and cut his own arm off after five days stranded in the canyon. 127 Hoursis a fantastic film about the power of the will to live, and Ralston claimed the movie to be so factual that it might as well have been a documentary.

Related: 10 Survivalist Movies to Watch Next If You Loved Fall

10 Buried (2010)

The Safran Company

The 2010 movie Buried starring Ryan Reynolds is not a good fit for people who have claustrophobia. As the name suggests, this is a movie where the character Paul Conroy, played by Reynolds, gets buried alive in a coffin.

He has nothing at his disposal but a lighter, a flask, a pen, a knife, glow sticks, a flashlight, and a mobile phone. Paul has to also read a script given to him by his kidnapper and give him $5 million, or be killed. The movie is a high-tension thriller and a survival movie rolled into one.

9 Rescue Dawn (2006)

Christian Bale in Rescue Dawn
MGM Distribution Co.

Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn tells the true story of Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale), an American pilot who crash-landed and was captured during the Vietnam War. The movie shows you the strength and determination that it took to survive being a prisoner of war.

Bale, as well as the other actors, also portrays the physical and mental toll that being a POW has on an individual. Luckily, after a dangerous escape, Dengler was brought to safety. While critics applauded the film. Rescue Dawn was a box office bomb.

8 #Alive (2020)

Man leans against bloodied door in relief.
Zip Cinema

Zombies are always a great addition to horror and survival movies, and the 2020 South-Korean action thriller movie #Alive is just what a zombie fan needs. Joon-woo is a video game streamer who is stuck alone at an apartment when the zombie apocalypse breaks out

.Yoo-bin is a young woman who lives in the apartment opposite Joon-woo and helps him survive with food and rations. The movie is a suspenseful thriller that keeps the audience at the edge of their seats all throughout. You cannot help but bite your nails and hope that the two of them are able to survive the hundreds of zombies outside their apartments who are waiting to attack and kill.

7 Trapped (2016)

Rajkummar Rao in Trapped (2016)
Reliance Entertainment

The 2016 Hindi-language survival movie Trapped will chill anyone to the bone. The movie tells us the story of a call-center employee Shaurya (played by Rajkumar Rao) who gets locked inside his new apartment without food, water, and electricity.

He also cannot call anyone for help as his phone has run out of battery and due to some construction issues, there are no other residents in the building as well, leaving him stranded. The rest of the movie shows us Shaurya’s brutal and desperate attempts to escape while also trying to survive alone in the apartment without going crazy.

6 The Martian (2015)

The Martian Matt Damon

20th Century Fox

The Martian is an extremely accurate science fiction film depicting an astronaut, Mark Watney (Matt Damon), who was left behind on Mars due to his crew members believing that he was dead. Watney is put to the task of solving several problems including growing food and communicating with NASA.

It is a fascinating look into the intellect that it takes to be a NASA astronaut and Damon gives a fantastic performance of a man faced with catastrophe. The film was directed buy Ridley Scott, who adapted Andy Weir’s novel of the same name.

Related: Best Matt Damon Movies, Ranked

5 Alive (1993)

Alive 1993 frank marshall
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Alive is a brutal true story about a Uruguayan rugby team, based on Piers Paul Read’s book Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors. While flying over the Andes, their plane violently crashes, claiming the first few victims of the tragedy while injuring others.

After their food supply ran out, the team resorted to eating the flesh of the ones who had already died in order to survive. Alive is a fascinating story of survival and the will to live at all costs. It also shows you the brutal forces against you when it comes to surviving in snowy, freezing mountains.

4 The Revenant (2015)

Leonardo Dicaprio in the Western movie The Revenant
20th Century Fox

The Revenant may be a story of revenge, but it is also an epic story of survival. It follows Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is left for dead in the middle of the American wilderness. He must bring himself together, and try to return to his camp, one foot at a time.

We watch several fascinating survival techniques including healing your wounds with gunpowder and using the corpse of an animal for shelter. It is a beautiful film that will fascinate anyone interested in surviving in the wilderness.

3 Gravity (2013)

Sandra Bullock as an astronaut orbiting Earth in Gravity
Warner Bros. Pictures 

Starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, the 2013 movie Gravity is one of the most famous survival movies of all time. Gravity tells the story of two American astronauts who get stuck in space after their space shuttle is destroyed.

The nail-biting survival film is made better with the phenomenal performance of the two actors. This is one of those horror movies that will definitely make you cry by the end and keep you on the edge of your seat as Bullock’s character faces each new challenge that comes her way.

2 Into The Wild (2007)

into the wild
Paramount Vantage

Sean Penn’s Into The Wild tells the true story of Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) who left all of his belongings and money behind to embark on an epic quest to Alaska. Along the way, he meets several memorable characters who change his life.

The film cuts back and forth to McCandless living in the Alaskan wilderness where lives and hunts for food. Unfortunately, in the tragic ending, we learn that McCandless was unable to survive due to the harsh and deadly environment.

1 Cast Away (2000)

Tom Hanks in Cast away
20th Century Fox

Cast Away is a classic film about Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks), a FedEx executive whose plane crashes into the Pacific Ocean, and he is eventually washed ashore on an uninhabited island. Noland has very few survival techniques, and he must use his time to learn how to crack coconuts and make fire, among other things.

This is another great story about the will to survive and never give up, even when you are face to face with deadly circumstances. At the same time, it shows how your love for others can give you the courage and strength to find your way back home.

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