See “Best Modern Survivors of Cinema” for the companion list.
Survival movies keep you at the edge of your seat, always wondering, “will he/she survive?” The best survival movies give you an attachment to the protagonist, allowing you to connect to him/her before and during the struggle he/she ends up going through. You want this character to survive. You start to sweat as the situation gets more and more dire. Your throat gets a bit dry, as you wonder if this character still has a chance. You sigh in relief, as the movie ends, and your new favorite character makes it through. Or not. Or you use your hands to cover your eyes as this character you’ve grown attached to over the course of 90 minutes (which has felt more like a decade) has been ripped away from you forever. No happy ending. No sequel. Here are the top modern survival movies.
Liam Neeson stars in this survival thriller about a group of people, specifically Neeson’s character, trying to survive in the frozen tundra after their plane goes down. The one negative thing that can be said about this film is the way it ends, leaving you wanting more. Not in the good way of wanting more, mind you. It leaves you wanting more in the sense that you feel cheated of not being able to see potentially Liam Neeson’s most amazing action scene he has ever done. Potential wasted. A good film besides that blunder, it stars Neeson alongside Frank Grillo (Captain America Civil War) and Dermot Mulroney (Insidious: Chapter 3).
The most iconic movie on this list, Cast Away stars Tom Hanks, as a man just trying to survive on a desert island, with nothing but a volleyball as a friend. This movie is so good that you really feel for the relationship between Hanks and the volleyball, Wilson, no joke. Hanks is amazing, acting for the majority of the movie on his own, and really makes you feel his hopelessness and despair.
Based off a true story, James Franco plays Aron Ralston, a hiker who gets his arm trapped under a rock and needs to do anything he can to escape. That may sound like a boring premise, however the movie is anything but boring. The tension you feel throughout the movie is heart-pounding, and there is a moment where you hold your breath and don’t really want to even look at the screen. As basically a one actor performance, this movie shines. Danny Boyle does a fantastic job of directing a film which requires you to really connect with this one character and not get bored, despite the fact that there is no one around for him to interact with. This movie was nominated for six Oscars and three Golden Globes.
Life of Pi
First time actor Suraj Sharma does an amazing job, interacting with essentially non-existent animals, as the majority of this movie is CGI (computer generated images). That, in it of itself is incredible, as you really do believe that this character is on the same life raft as a tiger. This movie was critically acclaimed as well, winning and being nominated for many awards, including four Oscars, for directing, cinematography, music, and visual effects. This is a protagonist that you are truly rooting for (in addition to Richard Parker, Pi’s tiger companion throughout the film). This film is a must, and not just for those who read the book it's based off of.
The Martian stars Matt Damon as a stranded astronaut trying to survive on Mars until the crew that unknowingly abandoned him returns to save him. It features an ensemble cast of Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Donald Glover. It received seven Oscar nominations, including for best picture and best actor in a leading role. Matt Damon is fantastic, as you really feel his despair and hopelessness grow throughout the movie (even though he tries to mask it with humor). It was directed by Ridley Scott and written by Drew Goddard, so you know it’s gotta be good.
Being responsible for Leonardo DiCaprio’s first Oscar win (after six nominations) is reason enough to see this movie. Aside from that, it won three Oscars total including for directing and cinematography. Tom Hardy and DiCaprio star as fur traders who are fighting for survival, with DiCaprio’s character being betrayed and left for dead. It is a beautifully shot film, which was shot on location in Canada and Argentina, with mostly natural light being used throughout production. DiCaprio’s character Hugh Glass is put in some of the most dire situations throughout this film, fighting a grizzly bear at one point and escaping Native Americans trying to kill him. It is a true tale of survival, and while slow at times, it really pays off in the end.
What movies on this list have you seen? Would you add any to this list? Sound off in the comments section below.
Barak Bacharach, SkySaver Content Manager