People vs. Nature: Top 10 Survival Stories on Film

Published 11 months ago by This is a list post.

Top 10 Survival Movie List Although movie-making may be a business built on storytelling and over-the-top 'movie magic,' audiences have shown that if there's one thing that captures their attention, it's a grueling, heart-wrenching tale of survival. We may never want to live through it, but we'll line up to see someone else attempt it. Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity sits atop the box office and critical praise, and Tom Hanks stars in another survival drama based on real events; but Captain Phillips isn't the first time the actor has faced certain death (or pretended to). Tales of survival can follow kidnappings, alien worlds, or malevolent human beings, but the survival stories that most stick with us involve little more than nature. Armed gunmen are dangerous, but our Top 10 Survival Stories on Film prove an untamed Earth is deadlier than any bullet.

Alive (1993)

Alive Survival Movies We couldn't possibly begin our list with any film other than director Frank Marshall's Alive, an adaptation of the real-life accounts of a Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashed onto an unknown peak in the Andes Mountains. Battling the harsh cold and complete lack of supplies, the story of the surviving passengers has come to represent the genre as a whole. Arguably one of the most realistic survival stories to date, the battle for warmth and struggle to remain calm have cropped up in numerous films to date, but the questions posed in Alive - how much people are willing to risk, or eat - remains as integral to a good survival movie as they were when it was first released. The fact that the story is based on actual events makes the movie even more tragic, but also cements it in film history.

The Way Back (2010)

The Way Back Survival Movies Plenty of films focus on the scheming and planning that goes into escaping from prison, but Peter Weir's The Way Back (2010) dealt with the challenges of what comes after the escape. Following a group of WWII prisoners escaping from a Siberian Gulag, the ensuing 4,000 mile walk through the Gobi Desert to India is a battle against nearly every natural threat, from dehydration to simple endurance. The trip was chronicled firsthand in Slawomir Rawicz's "The Long Walk," telling a story of human survival almost impossible to believe wasn't a work of fiction. Which is likely why many have come forward to discredit Rawicz's account, claiming it is exaggerated, stolen, or simply made up. Weir has since stated that regardless of the accuracy, The Way Back is a fictional film, with the talent of its cast (Ed Harris, Mark Strong, Jim Sturgess, Saoirse Ronan) making it an oft-overlooked gem.

Apollo 13 (1995)

Apollo 13 Survival Movies Alfonso Cuarón and Sandra Bullock may have brought survival in space back to the top of the box office, but Apollo 13 isn't in danger of being pushed aside. The early days of NASA's space program remain largely unknown to anyone but enthusiasts or history buffs, but director Ron Howard made the doomed Apollo 13 mission common knowledge for an entire generation. When an explosion crippled the manned spacecraft and tossed any notion of a moon landing to the solar winds, the grueling hardships of 'the successful failure' took over. Battling cold, sickness, dehydration, and a loss of oxygen, the Apollo 13 crew completed film's most memorable fight to simply return home to Earth. We don't know if Tom Hanks simply attracts stories of beating the odds, but Apollo 13's 'failed' mission may be NASA's most famous (and yes, Alfonso Cuarón did call on Ed Harris to reprise his role as the voice of Mission Control in Gravity).

The Grey (2011)

The Grey Survival Movies Given the previous entries on our list, a film following Liam Neeson as he struggles to keep the passengers of a crashed flight alive would fit in our list quite easily. But The Grey wasn't named for the Alaskan snow that dominates the film - it refers to the animals hunting the cast. Luckily the story is fiction, but nevertheless preyed on a human's most primal fears. In our own element, with weapons at our disposal, a grey wolf is just an animal. But drop a few strong, able-bodied men into their territory, and survival means outwitting or outlasting a species that has existed for hundreds of thousands of years, threatened only by man and tigers. We think we're the top of the food chain, but The Grey gives a wake-up call. And in case you convinced yourself that the film's 'super wolves' are simply make-believe, the largest recorded territory defended by a single pack of 10 wolves was in Alaska, and covered 2,422 square miles. Stick with the city.


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  1. Life of Pi
    Lawrence of Arabia
    Jurassic Park (i dont care if it’s sci-fi, that is raw man vs nature)
    The Poseidon Adventure

  2. I was made to watch Alive in a P.E lesson at school, I didn’t really think about it at the time but looking back it seems very odd….

  3. Openn Water was great even though no one survived.

    • Agreed. Besides renewing the ‘I don’t want to go in the water ever’ fear, that small budget kicked off plenty of others (nod to Frozen). But yeah…survival stories.

  4. Great list, although I would have included Life of Pi. Cast Away definitely had to be number 1 though :)

  5. Sanctum was good too

  6. not to mention “Robinson Crusoe” and “The Blue Lagoon” ;)

  7. I’m just not a fan of “The Grey.” I like all of these better…

    Life of Pi
    The Treasure of Sierra Madre

  8. The Edge (or Bookworm, as I believe it was originally to be called) is truly an underrated film from two fine actors. Glad to see it make the list!

    • The Reef was good also- Kinda like open water but with sharks lol, makes me never want to go in the ocean.

  9. I enjoyed your list as well as the movies added by previous readers. I posted seven more good movies about survival on my blog, The Next Phase. you can see them at:

  10. The ghost and the darkness

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