Wilderness Survival Movies
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10 Best Wilderness Survival Movies We Can All Learn From

Would you be able to make it through some of these absolute nightmare scenarios?

Survival stories are tailor made for suspenseful filmmaking.

There are some great movies are works of fiction, but some of the best survival movies are adaptations of harrowing real life survival stories.

There are classics of literature like "Treasure Island" and "Robinson Crusoe," and Hollywood keeps cranking out new stories of people overcoming extreme odds every year.

Often they begin with getting lost, a plane crash, or a shipwreck, and things always get worse before they get better. While most at least end on something of an up note, even then a lot of people usually don't make it. Some end on a complete downer, but that doesn't make them any less enjoyable. Here are some of the best wilderness survival movies out there:

Cast Away (2000)

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis

Starring: Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt, Paul Sanchez

Cast Away is a survival drama starring Tom Hanks, who is the only person on screen for most of the film. He also went through a dramatic physical transformation to play Chuck Noland, an American FedEx troubleshooter who goes all over the world to get the delivery company's various offices in tip-top shape.

He's on a work trip right around Christmas when his plane crashes in the middle South Pacific ocean and he washes up on a small, deserted island.

The film chronicles his initial difficulties learning to survive after he first arrives and then revisits him four years later after he has fallen into a somewhat sustainable but mind-numbing routine of survival before a piece of a porta-potty washes up on his beach that he is able to turn into a sail for a raft to get him over the island's breakers. That sets him adrift on the open ocean for a chance at escape.

This is a modern classic that is basically the perfect deserted island survival movie that also manages to be quite accurate from a survival perspective. Hanks was up for an Oscar for the role, but it went to Russell Crowe for Gladiator. 

The Grey (2011)

Directed by: Joe Carnahan

Starring: Liam Neeson, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney

The Grey is another survival film that sets the action in motion with a plane crash, and like the crash in Cast Away, this one is also uniquely visceral and terrifying. And like Cast Away, it's completely fictional, based on the short story "Ghost Walker" by Ian MacKenzie Jeffers.

The group of survivors in this one is a motley crew of oil workers who spend long stretches working in a remote oil field in Alaska.

The group is on their first flight on a rotation home when the plane crashes in the Alaskan wilderness. There are only a handful of survivors, but they soon realize they aren't alone. A pack of huge, ferocious timberwolves is tracking them and taking them out one at a time as they trek through blizzards and frozen country trying to find a river and the way back to civilization.

Alive (1993)

Directed by: Frank Marshall

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Josh Hamilton, Vincent Spano

This one is definitely based on a true story. It tells of the harrowing ordeal survived by members of a Uruguayan rugby team after their plane crashes in the Andes mountains in 1972.

The story gained worldwide notoriety because the survivors had to resort to cannibalism, eating flesh from the bodies of the dead from the plane crash to survive.

Some of the group would have enough strength to hike through the mountains, even though none of them were experienced climbers, in an effort to find help and the way back home. The turmoil the survivors have over this decision is captured wonderfully in this movie, and it's hard not to put yourself in their place while watching.

The Martian (2015)

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels

While the planet Mars isn't the first thing we think of when we hear "wilderness," it is most certainly that. When we finally get there, it will be the harshest wilderness humans have ever explored.

The movie is set in the near future, with humans having landed on the surface of Mars. After an unexpected and powerful storm strikes the home base of a team of Mars explorers, Mark Watney (Damon), astronaut and botanist, is left stranded alone on the red planet when his crew mates conduct an emergency escape launch, believing him to have been killed in the storm.

Much like Hanks in Cast Away, Damon has to carry most of the movie, as he explains to the audience via a series of video journal entries how he plans to grow food and survive on a planet that isn't made for people to survive on.

I Am Legend (2007)

Directed by: Francis Lawrence

Starring: Will Smith

This post apocalyptic thriller turns New York City into a strange sort of wilderness after a mysterious disease has wiped out pretty much everyone on the island of Manhattan, with the exception of Robert Neville.

He is a virologist attempting to find a cure for the disease while navigating a city where nature is taking over and wild animals from forests and local zoos roam the streets. There's also a horde of people who have been turned into semi-dead vampire creatures by the disease. They spend time living underground and in darkened buildings during the day.

The movie is based on Richard Matheson's 1954 novel of the same name and was previously adapted as The Last Man on Earth (1964) and The Omega Man (1971).

The Edge (1997)

Directed by: Lee Tamahori

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Alec Baldwin

This fictional survival film pairs Charles Morse (Hopkins) and Bob Green (Baldwin), a rich tagalong husband of a super model and a top tier photographer in a harrowing tale about battling the Alaskan wilderness. Oh, and battling a relentless Kodiak bear.

The duo survive a plane crash, along with another member of the photo shoot crew, only to be stalked by a particularly intelligent grizzly bear as they struggle to find food and to stay one step ahead of hypothermia.

The bear kills the other crew member and Morse and Green must make a stand against the massive animal with primitive spears and a little ingenuity. The bear is played by Bart The Bear, a famous Hollywood animal actor who appeared in a number of movies and commercials from the era.

The Road (2009)

Directed by: John Hillcoat

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee

This grim post-apocalyptic survival film is effective because it's so realistic. Based on a haunting Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name, The Road follows a father and son, known only as Man and Boy, as they make their way through a burned and dead wilderness.

Food is extremely scarce and danger comes from everywhere, especially from the few humans who are left alive, mostly scavengers and cannibals.

This is absolutely a great movie and really makes you think about how you would survive in a decayed version of an industrialized nation, and it does it in ways that cheesy zombie movies don't.

Jeremiah Johnson (1972)

Directed by: Sydney Pollack

Starring: Robert Redford

This film is considered a revisionist western with Robert Redford playing the title character, an American mountain man based loosely on a real mountain man named John "Liver Eating" Johnson.

Pretty much every mountain man story is an epic tale of wilderness survival, as these rough men, who made a living trapping and hunting, spent weeks and months alone in the wild, sleeping in the open, battling the elements as well as Native Americans.

This is considered the quintessential movie about the old American frontier and of the often damaged and tragic figures that inhabited its mountains and forests. They of course became experts at survival with skills most people today can only hope to master.

Rescue Dawn (2006)

Directed by: Werner Herzog

Starring: Christian Bale, Steve Zahn, Jeremy Davies

This is a different kind of wilderness survival movie, set within an epic war drama about two American POWs during the Vietnam War. They eventually escape their captors and must survive on their own in the hostile tropical jungle while also evading the enemy and trying to get back to American forces somehow.

Rescue Dawn is based on the true story of pilot Dieter Dengler, who was shot down and captured by villagers sympathetic to the North Vietnamese. While this movie tanked at the box office, the critics loved it, and that's probably because there's a lot to this movie that exposes how people behave after extreme trauma, while under extreme stress, in some of the worst circumstances imaginable.

The Revenant (2015)

Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy

The real life survival story of Hugh Glass is a remarkable one, and while its retelling here isn't exactly faithful to history in this movie, the cinematography and remarkable bear attack scene alone make this a classic.

DiCaprio plays Glass, the ultimate mountain man, who is attacked and mauled by a grizzly bears while guiding a party of fur trappers many miles from their home base at Fort Kiowa. He's on the verge of death when the trapping party decides to leave Glass with two men and his son to wait for him to die from his wounds.

The less than reputable men kill Glass's son and abandon Glass to die alone half buried in the ground. Despite his horrific wounds, Glass manages to crawl from the shallow grave, and slowly make his way back to the fort,. Then he seeks his revenge. A revenant is a mythical reanimated corpse, a fitting moniker for Glass.