Everyone loves survival movies, on this page you will find the best survival movies of all time. Across genres, movies and television are constantly about life and death. Many characters find themselves in threatening extreme situations on such a regular basis that the prospect of their own demise is only an uncomfortable aspect of their everyday working lives. At the same time, there are also people on this list who knowingly accepted a risk – nevertheless, they were hardly prepared for the dangerous emergency situations in which they would ultimately end up.
In this list, we have included not only the blockbuster survival movies that possibly many of you would expect to see here, but also the movies where survival is a strong element in the particular setting. Some of these are fictional movies, while others are documentaries or movie adaptations of real survival stories that actually happened.
The Grey (2012)
In essence, John Ottway (Neeson) has finished with his life. The death of his wife contributes significantly to his poor mental condition, but of all things a plane crash over the frosty Alaskan wilderness mobilizes long-forgotten forces in him: As a trained hunter, he has very special skills that he has acquired over many years. Rarely are they more in demand than in the wolf-infested icy landscape through which Ottway wants to guide the survivors against all odds. Unadorned and adrenaline-packed survival action!
Cast Away (2000)
With celebrated and award-winning movies such as “Apollo 13,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Captain Phillips” and “Philadelphia,” there are a whole handful of Tom Hanks movies that would do well on this list. The winner, however, is perhaps his most popular contribution to the survival theme: in “Cast Away” he plays FedEx employee Chuck Noland, who is stranded on a deserted island after a plane crash and – loosely based on Robinson Crusoe – has to make do with its meager resources and a few washed-up objects.
The Way Back (2010)
Towards the end of World War 2, seven prisoners break out of an inhumane Siberian labor camp. Escaping the deadly gulag is the least of their problems: to gain their freedom, the men have to cover an almost insurmountable distance on foot and without equipment. Their destination: India, more than 4,000 miles away! The group around Mr. Smith, Valka and Janusz must brave hunger and thirst as well as the wild tundra of Siberia, the sandstorms of the Gobi desert and the icy cold of the Himalayas. On their arduous journey, they discover not only the value of human life, but also the true meaning of friendship.
Although slasher flicks would in principle fit the survival theme of this list, we don’t really want to open this deep barrel here. Regardless, we still have to commend Ellen Ripley’s (Weaver) reliable will to survive: As the only female crew member aboard the spaceship Nostromo, she is confronted with unprecedented horror as a creature brought in from an alien planet decimates the crew with shocking ease. With no weaponry or combat training to speak of, Ripley must abandon ship urgently!
Battle Royale (2000)
As a cynical measure against the flourishing juvenile delinquency, the Japanese government kidnaps entire school classes to let them compete against each other in a life-and-death contest on a shielded island. Some students escape the perfidious game by committing suicide, while others are finally allowed to act out long-held violent fantasies with impunity. Purposeful groups also form, but the rules require a single victorious individual.
All Is Lost (2013)
The Virginia Jean is leaking! A sailor (Redford), who remains nameless in the course of the plot, is awakened by the penetrating water, which suddenly puts his boat in distress. Damage caused by a collision with a container can repair the aged adventurer makeshift, but henceforth he drifts navigationless and variously endangered over the ocean. There he vacillates between a fighting will to survive and incipient resignation.
The Day After (1983)
Kansas City is no more. Dr. Oates stands in the ruins of his hometown, marked by death. The day after the nuclear exchange between the two superpowers, the USA and the USSR, presents a picture of horror: all supply systems have collapsed, the hospitals are overcrowded, the doctors are overwhelmed. Those who survived the firestorm are now fighting for bare survival, for water and bread for the next meal.
The Revenant (2015)
In the 19th century, trapper Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) and his son travel through the United States in the service of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. Attacking natives raid their expeditionary force and set Glass’ martyrdom in motion: In the course of the unplanned route change, he is critically wounded by a grizzly bear. Standing at death’s door, he must also watch as the greedy John Fitzgerald (Hardy) stabs his son and buries Glass alive. Needless to say, what the latter longs for after his repeated survival.
Sheerly speechless panoramas of the wintry wilderness nabbed Oscars for Best Director and Cinematography, while DiCaprio’s committed performance earned him Best Actor honors for the first time.
Into the Wild (2007)
In the early nineties, Christopher McCandless (Hirsch), put off by the materialism prevailing around him, decides to give up his possessions and turn his back on civilization: Seeking the happiness of a simple life, he sets out to settle in Alaska.
Based on true events and an associated reportage, director Sean Penn also and especially devotes himself to the irritated family and the motives of the idealistic emigrant, whose stations in the wilderness are to this day the destination of like-minded pilgrims.
Mount Everest – a myth and at the same time one of the greatest adventures of this planet. For the participants of two expeditions, it is the challenge of a lifetime. When the two groups of experienced mountaineers Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) tackle the summit, it turns into a dramatic fight for survival. Because even the best preparation and the hardest training is no guarantee, if suddenly the life hangs only by a thread.
John J. Rambo (Stallone) is an introverted Vietnam veteran who, after his war deployment, wants to visit an old comrade and have something to eat in a small town. Back home, however, he is met with blatant contempt, resulting in his arrest and physical abuse at the hands of local sheriffs. Spurred on by his traumas, he overpowers his tormentors and flees into the woods, where the enraged officials force a merciless chase on him – unaware of cornering a specialist in survival and guerrilla tactics.
The Martian (2015)
The Mars mission “Ares III” has to be aborted head over heels when the crew is surprised by a storm. While leaving the Red Planet in a hurry, astronaut Mark Watney (Damon) has an accident and is mistaken for dead by his team and left behind. Back to consciousness, he accordingly finds himself all alone on Mars and quickly realizes how he has to deal with his predicament: “I’m going to have to science the shit out of this.
127 Hours (2010)
During a climbing tour in Bluejohn Canyon, Utah, the climber falls in a crevice so unluckily that his right hand is trapped under a boulder. Aron Ralston’s (Franco) cries for help fade into the deserted mountains, where the unlucky climber is increasingly troubled by chilly nights and a lack of water. Hallucinating, Ralston reviews his life and decides that it should not end yet – even if he will not be able to save himself in one piece.
Rob (Stahl-David) moves to Japan for work, which is why his friends throw him a lavish farewell party. When the earth suddenly shakes in New York, the celebrating society initially assumes an earthquake – but a demolished Statue of Liberty and fleeting sightings of a towering monster show them that their dawning struggle for survival has a completely alien cause.
The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)
Only one year after the publication of the literary original by Elleston Trevor, this star-studded adaptation appeared under the same name. In both cases, the story is told by the crew of a cargo plane, which is made up of members of the army, technicians and workers from an oil company, among others. Due to a sandstorm, the pilot (Stewart) has to make a rude emergency landing of the transport plane – in the middle of the Sahara. In addition to running out of water supplies, internal disputes threaten to make survival considerably more difficult.
Rescue Dawn (2006)
Director Werner Herzog is obviously fascinated by the fate of the US-American pilot Dieter Dengler. Dengler was shot down in 1966 during the Vietnam War and subsequently became a prisoner of war in Laos, from which he was only able to escape after brutal torture and a flight through the jungle that was draining on all levels. After Herzog had already dedicated the documentary “Escape from Laos” to his heartfelt subject, he followed it up with “Rescue Dawn”, a sovereign staging of the events in authentic-looking locations. Lead actor Christian Bale was also completely in his element, as he was once again allowed to noticeably lose weight for his role.
Open Water (2003)
To bring their stress-ridden relationship to a climax, Daniel Kintner (Travis) and Susan Watkins (Ryan) travel to the Caribbean together. They take to the sea with a diving group and enjoy the idyll underwater – until a chain of unfortunate circumstances leaves them forgotten on site. Adrift helplessly in the open ocean, natural dangers soon loom, while as hopes for rescue diminish, so does the potential for conflict between Daniel and Susan.
This minimalist survival thriller transforms a dream vacation into a completely unexpected extreme situation and lingers in the memory.
The Road (2009)
After an unspecified catastrophe, the United States has turned into a hostile wasteland. A father-son pair (Mortensen and Smith-McPhee) come to terms with the inhospitable circumstances rather badly than well, wandering the desolate expanse in search of food and resources. In addition to hunger, scattered gangs of other survivors are a constant source of danger: The supply problems mitigate some of them through cannibalism.
Faithful adaptation of the tragic Cormac McCarthy novel, whose bleak end-time atmosphere is effectively supported by strong acting and a soundtrack by Nick Cave.
Henri “Papillon” Charrière (Charlie Hunnam) is wrongfully convicted of murder in 1930s France and must serve his life sentence in the notorious penal colony of St. Laurent in French Guiana. Along the way, Papillon encounters the strange Louis Dega (Rami Malek), a convicted forger. After he manages to defend him from an attack by other prisoners, they reach an agreement: from now on, Dega is under Papillon’s protection. In return, Dega finances Papillon’s escape attempts. Over time, a deep friendship develops between the two men, which helps them survive the hard labor and the sadistic treatment of the guards, and which gives them the strength again and again not to give up.
Paul Conroy’s (Reynolds) desperate fight for survival takes place in a suffocatingly small space: tied up, the freight driver wakes up in absolute darkness and soon has to realize that he is buried alive in a coffin underground. A cell phone and a lighter seem to be his only tools to possibly find a way back to freedom after all.
This Spanish production scores points for its oppressive premise, which is all too easy to get into. Great drama on a claustrophobically small stage!
The Edge (1997)
An assignment takes photographer Robert (Baldwin) to Alaska, where he is to photograph a model named Mickey Morse (Macpherson). The eye candy is married to the billionaire Charles (Hopkins), who unceremoniously accompanies Robert on a flight to another motif. However, the plane crashes in the middle of the unforgiving wilderness, which quickly familiarizes the survivors with the dangers of the great outdoors. Charles, in particular, is quite a match for them – though he has reason to believe that Robert might take advantage of his demise!
Actually, it’s just repair work, but for Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) their mission has personal significance in each case: While the biomedical scientist celebrates her very first mission in outer space, he is on the threshold of a well-deserved retirement. When flying debris destroys their space shuttle, however, the two are catapulted into the vastness of space – can the seasoned astronaut guide the initially panicked debutante through the life-threatening situation?
A proud seven Academy Awards underscore the status of this critics’ favorite, which effortlessly mixes spectacular blockbuster spectacle with soulful moments.
Lone Survivor (2013)
In 2005, four soldiers from the U.S. Navy SEALs special operations unit are sent on an observation mission into the mountains of Afghanistan’s Kunar province with the task of verifying the whereabouts of a leading Taliban fighter. When the men must make a momentous moral decision during their mission, events come to a head: Cut off from communications with their unit, the soldiers find themselves facing an overwhelming force of Taliban fighters in a very short time. With no way out, they have to face a hopeless battle in the impassable terrain of Afghanistan’s mountains, which takes them not only physically but also mentally to the limits of what is humanly bearable.
The Perfect Storm (2000)
After a less than successful fishing season, Captain Billy Tyne (George Clooney) takes his boat, the Andrea Gail, out to sea one more time. There is nothing to indicate that this will be the Andrea Gail’s last trip. But as his crew hauls in the nets off the coast of Nova Scotia, three storms, including a hurricane, converge on the high seas to create a rare natural spectacle: the Perfect Storm, which is also the original title of this survival movie. On their way back to Gloucester, Massachusetts, Tyne and his men get caught directly in the middle of this storm.
Life of Pi (2012)
Young Pi is the son of a zoo owner who wants to pull up stakes in India and relocate the family and its exotic animals to Canada. On the journey, the freighter suffers a shipwreck. As the only human survivor, Pi is able to escape onto a makeshift raft, accompanied by a Bengal tiger. After initial difficulties in dealing with each other, the mismatched pair come to terms, drifting aimlessly in hopes of rescue from the ocean. But how reliable is Pi as a narrator in the face of this incredible story?
The Book of Eli (2010)
After a nuclear catastrophe triggered by war, America is deserted and devastated. For 30 years, Eli has roamed the land where few animals and plants remain. He keeps and guards a book that can give hope for the reconstruction of civilization, but can also be misused to manipulate the few surviving humans. It is precisely for this purpose that the power-hungry, unscrupulous Carnegie is looking for it, who with his gang of scoundrels will become Eli’s greatest opponent.
I Am Legend (2007)
Even the outstanding scientist Robert Neville could not get a grip on the man-made virus – cruelly and relentlessly, the epidemic spread across the globe. Unstoppable. Incurable. For reasons unknown, Neville is immune – the only human to survive in the ruins of New York City. He may even be the last human in the entire world. For three years he has been sending unswerving messages through the ether – in his desperation he seeks contact with possible other survivors.
But the last man on Earth is not alone: light-shy mutants – the infected – watch Neville at every turn. They wait until one day he makes a fatal mistake. Neville assumes that the future of humanity depends on him alone. That’s why he doggedly pursues his goal: to reverse the devastating effects of the virus by using the immune substances in his own blood. But as a lone fighter, he faces a formidable superior force. And time is running out for him.
In a cube-like prison, six people wake up who have never seen each other before. The square rooms arranged next to each other hold partly brutal and deadly traps. The group realizes that they must find a way out of this cube. But it only works if they work together.
The Canadian psycho-triller Cube has since been considered a classic. Due to its strong survival character and its desperate mood, this movie is also indispensable when it comes to survival.
Children of Men (2006)
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (2014)
Apollo 13 (1995)
Conclusion Survival Movies
In this list of the best survival movies, we have tried to select a good mix of all genres, whether outdoor, wilderness, disaster, science fiction or war for you.