Survival films have had a universal appeal for decades. Audiences have often found it easy to connect to inspirational stories of human struggle and situations where people overcome extreme scenarios against incredible odds. These films see protagonists rising to the challenges and becoming the best versions of themselves in order to prevail.
Audiences have been treated to a wide assortment of survival films that have arrived in nearly every size and shape. Some survival films are compelling, realistic dramas that delve deep into the human psyche. Others incorporate these themes into sci-fi or action genre settings. Survival films usually involve adverse conditions in natural environments, but additional risks and twists are often introduced. The best survival films have high stakes and an inspiring message.
10 First Blood Gave Audiences Much More Than Just A New Action Hero
When most people think of John Rambo, they think of the larger-than-life action hero turned cultural icon. However, it’s easy to forget that the original 1982 film was more of a survival drama than an outright action movie.
When Rambo is harassed by a small-town sheriff for attempting to find a local diner, a chain of events is set in motion. Rambo escapes custody and his survival instincts and Green Beret training kick in. With Rambo on the run and fending for himself in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, First Blood is rich with social commentary about human connection. This is particularly true during Rambo’s rant about current societal conditions in First Blood’s final scenes.
9 Cast Away Is A Bittersweet Tale Of Survival And Loneliness
Tom Hanks portrayed the FedEx systems analyst Chuck Noland in Cast Away. The film was a fascinating but heartbreaking case study in human isolation and perseverance. After the FedEx plane crashes in the Pacific Ocean, Noland finds himself as the sole survivor on a deserted island. His only companion is a Wilson volleyball that he converts into an imaginary friend.
While Noland encounters many challenges and struggles during the four years he is stranded on the island, his ingenuity, strong spirit, and determination pulls him through. These character traits help his rescue and return to civilization.
8 Surviving The Game Is A Survival Film With A Twist
This under-the-radar 1994 gem offered audiences something a little different from the usual survival fare. Jack Mason is offered a job by a seemingly compassionate antagonist named Thomas Burns (played brilliantly by Rutger Hauer).
What makes Surviving The Game such a compelling film is not just the survival aspect, but also the social commentary on the value, or dispensability, of human life. Mason isn’t merely contending with solitude and nature in this story; he is also being hunted by his fellow man. As such, he must think and act quickly to survive in the woods and take out the human threats to his life.
7 The Shallows Raised The Stakes With Surfing And A Great White Shark
Arguably one of the best shark films since Jaws, the tension in 2016’s The Shallows is palpable and engulfing. Blake Lively turns in a stellar performance as a surfer who’s stranded on a rock 200 yards from the shore. While she’s stranded, a giant great white shark circles the waters.
Lively’s character employs creative solutions to address the multiple challenges she encounters while trying to stay alive. After she’s bitten by the shark, she uses her surfing tether to slow the bleeding and her jewelry to stitch up her wounds as best she can. The Shallows‘ practical effects are realistic and convincing, and the movie delivers a compelling story of human endurance.
6 A Family Survives A Tsunami In The Impossible
In 2012, The Impossible captivated audiences with its riveting depiction of a vacationing family’s survival in Thailand after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami struck. Starring Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor and Tom Holland, The Impossible is an intense and emotional rollercoaster that doesn’t let up until its heart-warming conclusion.
During the chaos that ensues once the tsunami hits, the family has to deal with the consequences of natural destruction, and they’re also separated from each other. Their stress of being split up and the subsequent attempts to reunify under disastrous circumstances feed the urgency of The Impossible.
5 The Martian Featured Survival On Mars
Matt Damon’s portrayal of astronaut Mark Watney in Ridley Scott’s The Martian gave audiences a different kind of survival hero to root for. While survival films frequently feature tough environmental challenges and natural weather conditions, The Martian took the notion of survival in extreme environments to a whole new level: Mars.
Because of Watney’s resourcefulness, he survives on Mars, alone, under severe conditions. The Martian is particularly engaging in how it handles the science behind surviving 564 days alone on Mars. Watney manages to stay calm and address each issue he encounters with reason and sheer brain power.
4 The Hunger Games Is The Ultimate Survival Story
In 2012, The Hunger Games thrilled audiences with its portrayal of the dreary dystopian society known as Panem. In many ways, The Hunger Games could be considered one of the greatest survival stories. The protagonists aren’t just trying to survive a harsh environment; they’re fighting against an entire system that has normalized a lethal game. This game gives the protagonists a desperate “kill-or-be-killed” mentality.
The Hunger Games isn’t just about surviving the game itself. It’s about surviving everyday life and the soul-killing authoritarian system that keeps its citizenry under tight control. Through the brutal game, citizens are reminded about what happens if they step out of line.
3 The Revenant Is A Stunning Survival Drama
Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of hunter and fur trader Hugh Glass in The Revenant was nothing short of remarkable. Set against the harsh winter conditions of the Dakotas, Glass must overcome one extreme problem after another. After being tested in every way imaginable, he prevails.
Whether being mauled by a bear or driven over a cliff by the Arikara tribe, Glass tackles each challenge with courage. He does whatever is necessary to survive, such as cauterizing his own wounds to stay alive. The cinematography, while often quite gray and dreary, is breathtaking and a sight to behold. The Revenant is often tense and brutal, but also captivating and engrossing for survival film fans.
2 A Billionaire Must Survive The Alaskan Outdoors In The Edge
Set against the vast expanse of the Alaskan wilderness, Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin both brought strong performances to their respective roles in The Edge. After a plane crash leaves them stranded in the wilderness, Hopkins’ Charles Morse uses his sizable intellect to overcome the intense challenges; namely, a persistent Alaskan brown bear stalking them.
Charles faces another challenge in staying alive. Baldwin’s Bob Green, the survivor Morse is stranded with, has plans to steal Morse’s wife. Baldwin did a great job as the arrogant and deceptive third wheel whose motivations can never be trusted.
1 Alive Was Based On A True Survival Story
Alive stands apart from other survival tales because this inspirational story is true. Alive is based on the 1972 incident in which a Uruguayan rugby team was flying aboard a plane that crashed in the Andes mountains.
The ordeal leaves them stranded for more than two months in the frigid extremes of mountain temperatures. The team members go to shocking lengths to survive, including cannibalizing the dead to sustain themselves. Ultimately, the story is an incredible triumph for the 15 people who survived, and viewers feel every bit of their struggle watching this film.
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