Putting people in desperate situations makes for good drama, and there is no shortage of movies and television shows that have taken advantage of this. When discussing the best survival movie 2018, one of the core conflicts a writer can explore is “Man Vs. Environment,” which is where most survival-oriented plots are developed (though they often also include “Man vs. Man” or “Man vs. Other” to ramp up the tension and keep the plot from stalling out).
The following list is not comprehensive by any means but is a good cross-section of different television shows and movies whose characters are just trying to survive. We’ve loosely divided them into broad categories, but there can be some overlap. How many have you seen?
(All images courtesy of IMDB.)
NOTE: Reality shows are, for the most part, scripted and edited to exaggerate the danger and conflict.
- Naked and Afraid – Each week, two strangers (a man and a woman) are paired together and tasked to survive three weeks in some of the world’s harshest environments without clothes or supplies. They are each allowed to bring one item with them.
- Man vs. Wild – Survival expert “Bear” Grylls takes viewers around the world to demonstrate survival techniques. One of many such shows, but probably the most accessible for beginners to survival prepping.
- The Colony – A group of people is placed in a simulated post-apocalyptic urban landscape and must learn how to obtain food and water, turn a warehouse into a secure shelter, and cope with supply theft.
- Alone – Participants are allowed one backpack to take supplies into the Vancouver Island wilderness, where they compete to see who can survive the longest. Each participant films themselves, offering personal observations as they hunt for food and build shelters.
- Junkyard Wars – While not a survival show per se, it does demonstrate how a basic grasp of engineering and physics can be useful in a survival situation. Each week, two teams are given one day to build a machine using parts found in a junkyard. The junkyard is naturally seeded with essential components, but the idea is sound.
- Cast Away – A FedEx employee is the sole survivor of a plane crash, and must learn how to stay alive on a deserted island in the south Pacific using both natural resources and limited items from the wreckage.
- The Martian – An astronaut stranded on Mars must figure out how to create enough food and water to survive long enough to be rescued (a process which will take years). But first, he has to let his team know that he is still alive.
- 127 Hours – The true story of Aron Ralston, a mountain climber whose arm became trapped by a boulder while climbing alone in Moab, Utah.
- Alive – Another true story. In 1972, the Uruguayan rugby team was flying to Chile for a game when their plane crashed in the Andes Mountains. It was two months before the survivors of the crash were rescued.
- Flight of the Phoenix – When a plane crashes in the Sahara Desert, the survivors (including an engineer, fortunately) must try to build a new one from the wreckage before they succumb to the harsh environment. There are two versions of this movie, and both are entertaining.
- Rescue Dawn – A U.S. fighter pilot’s plane is shot down over Viet Nam during the war. After ending up in a POW camp, he makes an escape plan with the other prisoners. They all must survive the harsh jungle environment while being hunted.
- The Grey – Oil workers in Alaska survive a plane crash and must trek to safety while fighting off a pack of hungry wolves. Though led by an experienced hunter and guide, they are whittled down one by one.
- The Revenant – After being attacked by a bear and left for dead by his own team, a frontiersman must fight against his wounds, the elements, and the threat of starvation to survive.
Note: We’ve avoided over-the-top disaster films such as Waterworld, 2012, and The Day After Tomorrow.
- The Wave – Based on an event that is predicted to happen (in that it’s a matter of “when,” not “if”), this film follows a family of four after a mountain pass above a Norwegian fjord collapses, and sends a 275-foot high wall of water down the canyon.
- Eight Below – A survival story told from a team of sled dogs who are left behind in Antarctica after the research team stationed there is prevented from returning. Loosely based on actual events.
Post-Apocalyptic: Survival Movie 2018
- The Road – An ailing father and his young son journey across a shattered country in the hopes of finding something better. Along the way, they must contend with scarce supplies and armed opponents that threaten them.
- The Book of Eli – A lone man makes his way across the country, journeying through the blasted remains of society to protect a book that some believes has the potential to save mankind.
- The Divide – The survivors of a nuclear attack on their city end up in the basement of their apartment building, where they must contend with dwindling supplies, increasing health problems, and the mistrust growing among them.
- Jericho – The townspeople of Jericho, Kansas must come together to figure out how to survive as a community after a nuclear strike on nearby Denver cuts them off from communication and outside supplies.
- The Postman – After a war destroys most of America, a wanderer uses a postman’s uniform and a story about the restoration of the government as a means of getting into walled towns for shelter and supplies, but he unwittingly becomes a symbol of hope to the desperate survivors.
- The Walking Dead – When the dead rise up and society falls apart, a disparate (and desperate) group of people must scrounge for supplies to live and try to establish a shelter that is safe from zombies and other survivors, all the while dealing with internal conflict among various group members.
We certainly don’t advise that you try to learn survival techniques from movies or television shows. In many cases, the effectiveness or difficulty of different methods and conflicts are exaggerated (in either direction) for pacing issues or dramatic effect, editing can skip over essential steps, and characters find something that works, only to forget it a few episodes later when the script calls for them to be threatened again.
That being said, these shows and films can be an excellent opportunity to think about what you would do in a similar situation. Not only from a practical point of view (How would I start a fire there? What would make that shelter more secure?), but also taking into account moral questions (Would I be able to leave an injured person behind?
Am I willing to steal someone else’s supplies?). By giving it some honest thought and discussing it with your friends and family, you can turn a few hours’ of entertainment into practical applications towards your emergency planning and disaster prep.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this article, and have found some good recommendations for your next movie night or binge-watching marathon. Join us next week when we will discuss backcountry safety, good light and power sources you should have in your emergency prep kit, the art of orienteering, and how to maximize your chance of surviving an earthquake. We will see you then!