Best Survival Movies of All Time

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Who doesn’t love a great movie about survival? Survival films cover a wide range of genres, from overcoming natural disasters, nuclear wars, and shipwrecks to sci-fi alien invasions and zombie infections.

But all of them have one thing in common; they’re fantastic! It all goes down to the crucial components of the best survival movies: there are very few characters, they only have their wits and limited tools at their disposal, and they only have one goal in mind: to survive.

Yet these movies are still able to get our blood pressures up to and gives us a twinge of the existential terror that is the vastness of nature.

What they overcome varies and gives us a glimpse at what we really fear greatest. These films primarily involve staying alive through the harsh circumstances of a vast wilderness.

In the face of vast obstacles, the largest danger for them is isolation and keeping spirits up and minds sharp. That’s why I made this list of survival movies!

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There really are a million and one movie lists available, I understand, and I’ve seen my fair share of movie lists for survival, but many of them suck!

This is why we needed to take the time to put together a list of some of the greats of all time. You can find some of these on Netflix, but many of them are quite tough to find. I’ll refer to all of them below on Amazon.

Now, let’s dive into the best survival movies list!

Wilderness Survival Movies

Jeremiah Johnson

Jeremiah Johnson

Robert Redford stars as Jeremiah Johnson, a movie about a veteran of the Mexican-American War who wishes to live a life of loneliness in the mountain ranges.

Johnson, unprepared for the lifestyle, learns to survive in the wild as a mountain man. The film is based partly on the legendary mountain man John Jeremiah Johnson’s life, a tale told in the book Crow Killer: The Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson and Vardis Fisher’s Mountain Man.

127 Hours

Aron Ralston, whose journey into Utah’s Canyonlands National Park would become one of the greatest tales of endurance and bravery ever told. This is based on the true story of 127 hours.

The story tells Ralston’s powerful story, pinned by a boulder in an isolated canyon in the Utah desert, to save himself. Over a five day period, before doing the unthinkable to free himself from the boulder that trapped him, Ralston examines his life and manages to survive the ruthless environment.

Alive

The Uruguayan rugby team flew to Chile to play a game in 1972. The plane, with 45 people on it, plunged while flying over the Andes Mountains.

Sixteen survivors were eventually saved two months after the disaster; their story hit the headlines nationwide when it became known that the survivors resorted to cannibalism to survive. Alive is based on actual events of a crash-landed Uruguayan rugby team in the Andes.

The Donner Party

Based on real events of a group of pioneers who have been trapped and resort to cannibalism to survive in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Into the Wild

Into the wilderness is not really a survival story; instead, it’s a tale of what can go wrong when an unprepared person attempts to take on the natural world.

The movie tells the true story of Christopher McCandless, a man who in search of adventure. When an unprepared person tries to survive in the wilderness, the film gives a chilling look into what can go wrong.

Man in the Wilderness

Into the wilderness is not really a survival story; instead, it’s a tale of what can go wrong when an unprepared person attempts to take on the natural world. The movie tells the true story of Christopher McCandless, a man who in search of adventure. When an unprepared person tries to survive in the wilderness, the film gives a chilling look into what can go wrong.

Survival by Sea Movies

Cast Away

Cast Away

Featuring Tom Hanks, Cast Away is the tale of Chuck Noland, a time-obsessed Federal Express employee who marooned on a desert island after his plane crashes into the ocean.

Noland learns how to cut coconuts, baitfish, make a fire, as well as make use of several FedEx boxes that have been washed up with him with little knowledge of how to survive.

Shackleton – The Greatest Survival Story of All Time

Based on Sir Ernest Shackleton’s great journey, whose 1914 Antarctic adventure turned out to be one of the biggest and best survival stories ever told. The film recounts Shackleton’s epic battle to lead his twenty-eight-man team to safety after his ship was destroyed in the ice pack.

Kon-Tiki

This film has elements of a throwback action movie: in 1947, a team led by a Norwegian explorer attempts to sail the Pacific on a light, balsa-wood raft to show that ancient people from South America could have done the same.

Along the way, they face sharks, storms, and the hazards of the open sea. And while that sounds like an amazing assumption, it’s based on a true story, and the raft is still on display in an Oslo museum.

Unbroken

The true story of the near-fatal plane crash in WWII by Olympian and war hero Louis “Louie” Zamperini. Zamperini survived 47 days in a raft with two fellow crew members after colliding before being caught by the Japanese navy and sent to a Concentration camp.

Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies, based on William Golding’s lit-class-staple novel, follows a group of teenagers who are trapped on an island, without rules or society to keep them in line. The elements, and each other, have to survive. There’s a 1990 remake that stars Balthazar Getty and the 1963 version.

More:

  • Against the SunAfter being forced to ditch their torpedo bomber, a WWII pilot, bombardier, and radioman find themselves lost at sea in the South Pacific in a tiny lifeboat in an incredible true World War II story.
  • White SquallA true story about a group of young boys who were crewing a sailing ship that was actually functioning. A unique weather phenomenon puts them all to the test while learning how to sail.
  • All Is LostA sailor finds himself marooned on a life raft in the midst of a solo voyage in the Indian Ocean after an accident with a shipping container at sea.

Zombie Apocolypse Survival Movies

Zombie Apocalypse Movies

The Omega Man

Army doctor Robert Neville, one of the very few survivors of an apocalyptic war with bioweapons, follows the Omega Man as he struggles to create a cure for a zombie plague that has wiped out most of humankind.

The Omega Man stars Charlton Heston and is the first of the classic films. And yes, I realize that The Omega Man does not have “classic zombies,” but the movie is one of the movies/books that inspired the genre.

I Am Legend

The remake of the original Richard Matheson classic is I am Legend. In this version, after discovering a cure for a virus that turned everybody into demented zombies, Will Smith plays Robert Neville, a military scientist left alone in Manhattan.

Zombieland

Zombieland follows Columbus, an anxious grad student who establishes his rules for surviving the Zombie Apocalypse and has managed to survive a zombie virus. For what’s probably one of the funniest Zombie movies ever made, he teams up with a real zombie-killing badass named Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson).

Dawn of the Dead (1974 Edition)

Blood, gore, and zombies.

More:

  • The Last Man on EarthIn the first big-screen version of Richard Matheson’s classic I Am Legend, Vincent Price stars.
  • 28 Days LaterA hospital patient wakes up from a coma to discover a world full of vicious zombies.
  • 28 Weeks Later28 weeks after the first movie, 28 days later. A carrier mistakenly spreads the deadly infection when the virus is thought to be contained and causes havoc.
  • CarriersFour kids are trying to prevent a terrifying pandemic from attacking humanity.
  • World War ZGerry Lane, a former United Nations researcher, travels the world trying to stop a mysterious infection that turns everyone into raging zombies.

Post-Apocalyptic Movies

post-apocalyptic movies

The Book of Eli

The Book of Eli is a violent post-apocalyptic story that takes place 30 years after the world was destroyed and left completely unrecognizable by a war. For the past thirty years, a drifter, Eli, has been wandering North America, finding solace in a special book which he carries and guards with his life.

The new world is filled with roaming gang members who have destroyed all the world’s books to control whoever is left. In a post-apocalyptic world, The Book of Eli is the story of a man who is on a mission to help revive a lost society.

The Road

While ‘post-apocalyptic’ may be the very last category, you’re interested in watching right now. The agony is worth this haunting adaptation of the novel by Cormac McCarthy. In the grim wasteland that once was America, Viggo Mortensen starred as the unnamed man who struggles to care for his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee). The Road is a suspenseful exploration of endurance and paternal love.

More:

  • Waterworld– Waterworld is a future post-apocalypse where water has covered the entire planet. The tale is about a couple of people who cling to the hope of finding dry ground to ensure humanity’s future.
  • The Postman– Set in a post-apocalyptic future, a wandering loner becomes the symbol of resistance after a war has destroyed the government.
  • Mad Max – In the first of the Mad Max series, the end of the oil age is here, and civilization has begun to break down.
  • The Road Warrior– In a post-nuclear war world, a loner fights against other survivors searching for gasoline.
  • Panic In Year Zero– Just before a nuclear bomb destroys the city, a family of four leaves Los Angeles for a camping trip. The father must fight to keep his family alive as chaos breaks out.
  • 20 Years After– A Post-Apocalyptic tale of a young woman on a journey to deliver the first baby to be born in over 15 years.
  • A Boy & His Dog– Several apocalyptic movies were inspired by a twisted cult movie set in Post-Apocalyptic America.
  • Children of Men– Children of Men is a tale wherein a world filled with terror and nuclear fallout; humans have become infertile. To protect pregnant women and save the human race, a small group travels through an urban landscape filled with vicious urban warfare.
  • Reign of Fire– A Post-Apocalyptic Sci-Fi adventure, where a boy unknowingly releases dragons back into the world.
  • Time of the Wolf – A disturbing but well-crafted French movie from 2003 explores a family’s experience trying to cope with violent behavior after an unknown and unexplained catastrophe and social collapse.
  • The Survivalist: A raw post-apocalyptic thriller where two women are hit by a lone person as they fight to survive roving gangs and the severe isolation of a world of kill-or-be-killed.

War Survival Movies

War movies

Defiance

Based on the real-life narrative of the Bielski brothers, Defiance tells the story of a group of brothers fleeing the forest after Nazis killed their parents. In makeshift villages built throughout the forest, they established a resistance group and cared for over 1200 people.

Lone Survivor

Lone Survivor is based on the true story of four heroic Navy SEALs that have been ambushed when trying to capture or kill notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shah during a covert mission. It’s based on a tale told by Marcus Luttrell, the only surviving member of the team.

Red Dawn

The United States’ invasion has begun, and eight teenagers are fleeing into the Colorado mountains and preparing to wage a guerrilla war against the Russians.

Heaven Knows Mr. Allison

The WWII survival story features a marine stranded with a nun on an island swarming with Japanese soldiers.

Behind Enemy Lines

A pilot is forced behind enemy lines to evade and survive.

The Way Back

Not to be confused with either last year’s Ben Affleck drama of the same name or the excellent summer film The Way Way Back. In this true story, Jim Sturgess stars as Sławomir Rawicz, a former Polish prisoner of war who, after being betrayed by his wife during World War II, is imprisoned in a Siberian labor camp. Although he flees the camp alongside some fellow prisoners, the ordeal of Rawicz is just beginning as he must travel 4,000 miles to safety through the Himalayas.

The Island on Bird Street

This movie is often disregarded, but it is a fantastic movie related to survival. It shows the survival of an eleven-year-old Jewish boy separated from his father and uncle, who are taken to labor camps from which no one returns, based on a true story during WWII in Warsaw, Poland. He has three things to support him: his pet mouse, Snow, the Robinson Crusoe book, and his father’s promise that he’s going to come back.

End of The World Movies

When Worlds Collide

The Planet is at risk of colliding with an unrestrained star as a band of survivors builds a space ship to begin a new civilization—a 1951 Classic.

The War of the Worlds (1953 Edition)

George Pal, who made “When Worlds Collide” as well first introduced H.G. Wells’ classic alien invasion story from 1953 to the big screen. The film is a classic sci-fi movie and won the Best Special Effects Academy Award in 1953.

Independence Day

As aliens attack the world, the question of whether we’re alone in the universe is answered.

Cloverfield

Their attempt to survive is documented by five young New Yorkers as a creature attacks the city.

The Day After Tomorrow

Global warming plunges the world into an immediate Ice Age that causes super storms, misery, and destruction everywhere.

Armageddon

Sent into space, a group of oil riggers tries to save the world from a giant deadly meteor.

More:

  • The Core – The U.S. government finds out that the Earth’s core has stalled, and humankind’s survival could be at stake.
  • Deep Impact – An astronomy student from high school discovers a comet heading straight for Earth. To help avoid the extinction of humanity, the government builds caves, and a group of astronauts is sent to destroy a comet with atomic warheads.

Kids Survival Movies

White Fang

Jack London’s classic tale of a young man attempting to carry out his father’s final wish to search for gold on the great frontier of Alaska.

Davy Crockett

Some of Davy Crockett’s thrilling adventures.

Shipwrecked

A Disney Original involving a shipwreck, pirates, and a boy on a tropical island must survive independently.

Wilderness Family Trilogy

The adventures of a modern family leaving a large city to the mountain ranges for life.

More:

  • Swiss Family Robinson – This journey has it all: shipwrecks, pirates, a tiger, and an island treehouse that induces envy. It’s also one of the least grisly tales of survival, so it’s definitely family-friendly.
  • A Cry in the Wild– Based on the original wilderness survival novel by Gary Paulsen, “Hatchet,” a 13-year-old boy tries to survive in the wilderness alone.
  • Lost in the Barrens– An adopted kid is sent to stay in the wilderness with his uncle.

Survival Documentaries

Alone in the Wilderness

Alone in the Wilderness

This is probably one of my all-time favorite survival films for anyone who has ever dreamed of leaving it all behind and going off the grid. It is possibly one of the greatest documentaries on wilderness survival ever made.

“Alone in the Wilderness” is documentary showing Richard Louis “Dick” Proenneke, naturalist and survivalist, choosing to live alone in Twin Lakes, building his own log cabin up in the mountains of Alaska. 

Alaska Silence & Solitude

A follow-up to Alone in the Wilderness is Alaska Silence & Solitude. Directors Bob Swearer and Bob Swearer Sr. trek into Alaska’s remote wilderness to meet Richard Louis “Dick” Proenneke, 25 years after the original classic was made. The film shows Proenneke, who is 75 years old, and how he has lived for over 30 years in the wilderness.

More:

Final Thought

Thank you for reading the entire list. I really enjoyed putting together a list, watching tons of movies, and I really felt like these were the absolute best movies out there.

I hope you found a survival movie you liked.

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1 thought on “Best Survival Movies of All Time”

  1. While I’ve seen most of these movies, two you didn’t mention are:
    1) Ultimate Warrior staring Yul Brenner. Post apocalyptic film started in New York.
    2) Biography of Eddy Albert.

    Reply

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