10 Survival Films To Get Your Heart Racing

Gravity | © Warner Bros. Pictures
Gravity | © Warner Bros. Pictures
Photo of Courtney Stanley
18 December 2016

Stories of survival can be some of the most inspiring to watch. As the film Touching the Void says, “The closer you are to death. The more you realize you are alive. The closer you are to death, the harder you cling to life.” Feast your eyes on these movies that expose the lengths humans will go to remain among the living.

127 Hours (2010)

This film was based on the true story of Aron Ralston, a man who was trapped by a boulder while climbing the canyons of Utah. Danny Boyle directed, co-wrote, and produced the film, which stars James Franco as Ralston. Franco’s portrayal of psychological turmoil was undeniably staggering, and the film was critically acclaimed. Even those who have never seen it know of the especially disturbing scene where Ralston has to free his trapped arm with only a dull pocketknife. Watching this film is an emotional and nightmarish experience as it shows what desperation and the will to survive could lead someone to do.

127 Hours | © Fox Searchlight Pictures

Life of Pi (2012)

Adapted from Yann Martel’s best-selling book, Life of Pi is the story of a 16-year-old boy who survived a shipwreck that killed the rest of his family. Pi is now lost at sea and must keep himself alive while drifting through the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger as his only companion. Director Ang Lee’s film contemplates the complex philosophy of survival through the groundbreaking use of 3D and special effects. The film was nominated for three Golden Globe Awards, including Best Picture.

Life of Pi | © 20th Century Fox

The Martian (2015)

Add a science fiction twist to your survival film of choice with the critically acclaimed Ridley Scott film, The Martian. Based on Andy Weir’s novel, The Martian tells the story of an astronaut, played by Matt Damon, who was left behind on Mars after his crew presumed him dead. Damon realizes he needs to work with the planet’s harsh environment to survive until the next mission, which is still years away, and he also needs to find a way to communicate with NASA so they don’t give up on him. The Martian has a surprisingly hilarious script for a survival film, but it also does a superb job pulling at our heartstrings as we will Damon to survive.

The Martian | © 20th Century Fox

The Grey (2012)

In Joe Carnahan’s adventure thriller starring Liam Neeson, workers on an oil pipeline in Alaska are involved in a plane crash and then hunted by a pack of wolves. Stranded in the harsh, freezing Alaskan terrain and trying to outsmart the wolf pack, the eight survivors of the crash — a collection of rough, tough men — have to work together to fight back against nature. Suffice to say, it’s not a pretty ending for the men. Although it was originally marketed as a simple action movie, The Grey weaves existential and philosophical thoughts into the plot line, creating a deeper story.

The Grey | © Open Road Films

Gravity (2013)

Gravity is a film produced and directed by Alfonso Cuarón that explores the terrifying prospect of a fight for survival in space. Although the Oscar-winning film stars big names — Sandra Bullock and George Clooney — their incredible performances allow viewers to look past the familiar faces. The action kicks off when an explosion destroys Bullock and Clooney’s space shuttle while they are working outside on the Hubble telescope. What follows is a thrilling battle for survival in deep space, in which everything that can go wrong does.

Gravity | © Warner Bros. Pictures

Cast Away (2000)

This survival film features a FedEx employee, played by Tom Hanks, whose plane crash lands on a deserted island in the South Pacific. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, the film tells the story of a modern day Robinson Crusoe as Hanks adapts to island life. He learns to survive by building his own fires, catching his own food, and befriending a volleyball he names Wilson in a desperate attempt at human interaction. Hanks gave an incredible performance and won the Best Actor Oscar.

Cast Away | © 20th Century Fox

Into the Wild (2007)

Based on the 1996 nonfiction book by Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild retells the true story of Chistopher McCandless’s travels around North America. The beautiful soundtrack by Eddie Vedder sets the tune of the emotional film in which McCandless endures self-imposed isolation in the wilderness in an effort to escape his conventional American life. What starts as a wild adventure turns into a struggle to survive. The film was directed and written by Sean Penn, and Emile Hirsch gives a stellar performance as McCandless.

Into the Wild | © Paramount Vantage

Stranded: I’ve Come From a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains (2008)

This intense film recounts the horrific and true story of the Uruguayan rugby players whose plane crashed in the Chilean Andes Mountains in 1972. Although dramatizations have been made (the most popular being Alive in 1993), the documentary style of Stranded is harder to watch. The survivors of the incident recount their struggles surviving in the freezing cold mountains, including resorting to cannibalism. Directed by Gonzalo Arijon, a Uruguayan filmmaker, the film won Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary at the 2008 Directors Guild of America Awards.

Stranded | © Zeitgeist Films

The Naked Prey (1965)

An unnamed safari guide, played by Cornel Wilde, must survive in the South African wilderness after a hunting trip goes badly. Wilde is leading a couple of disrespectful upper-class white men on an elephant hunt. When they insult a local tribe, the hunters get their due punishment, but Wilde manages to escape. The tribe is soon after him and he must rely on his athleticism and his knowledge to escape. The chase is the focus of this violent film.

The Naked Prey | © Paramount

Touching the Void (2003)

Joe Simpson’s nonfiction book was adapted into this riveting documentary-style film in which Simpson and his climbing mate attempt a trip up Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. Disaster strikes when, after reaching the summit of Siula Grande, Simpson breaks his leg and the men are caught in a snowstorm. As the situation goes from bad to worse, you’ll be thrilled finding out how these men do the impossible and escape.

Touching the Void | © IFC

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