8 Best Movies About “Surviving Against All Odds”

This is a list of films about fictional or inspired accounts highlighting: “But in the end one needs more courage to live than to kill himself.” ― Albert Camus. Stories of survival can be some of the most inspiring to watch. As the film Touching the Void says, “The closer you are to death. The more you realize you are alive. The closer you are to death, the harder you cling to life.”

Feast your eyes on these movies that expose the lengths human will goes to endure. Survival movies bring you face to face with people battling against the wilderness, relying on instincts they never even knew they had in order to hang on for that crucial hour longer. This is a list of films which can make you feel a little gladder about being alive.

While the thrill of a man fighting for his mortality isn’t new to cinema, survival is a genre which has certainly come of age recently. This is a list of the best films about fortitude, about survival. The struggle to survive, physically and spiritually, seems dramatic enough, and the movies are never plodding or boring. Depicting man’s struggle to keep breathing in a wide array of hostile settings, ranging from unrelenting mountains and the Holocaust to even outer space, the films we honour in this list will make your own problems feel tiny in comparison. Checkout:

Into the Wild (2007)

The film is presented in a nonlinear narrative, cutting back and forth between the protagonist’s time spent in the Alaskan wilderness and his two-year travels leading up to his journey to Alaska. ‘Into the Wild’ chronicles the life and times of Chris McCandless, who relinquishes all his possessions and hitchhikes to Alaska to find salvation in nature, meeting and being influenced by various characters on the way. The journey of this rebellious, yet affable boy (Emile Hirsch) proves to have a contemplative, deep and lasting impression. You’ll spend more time mulling about ‘Into the Wild’ and how it relates to your own life than watching it. The gorgeous landscapes and music which form the backdrop of this tale are an added bonus.

The Revenant (2015)

Robert Redford put a committed singular display for ‘All is Lost’, but the dedication put into this Oscar-winning semi-biographical film about the legendary exploits of hunter Hugh Glass is so stratospheric that it could be made into its own survival film. It’s impossible to deny the visceral, visual power of what [Alejandro González Iñárritu] has put on the screen – a power that feels more like you’ve been pulled directly into the screen instead of merely sitting in front of it. “The Revenant” is a film of contrasts as much as it is connections. Memories collide with nightmares, death can be as savage as it can be benevolent and living versus life is a Sisyphean effort. There is a spiral motif running through “The Revenant,” explicitly etched at one point on the front of a metal canteen that represents the symbiosis of nature in juxtaposition with the humans trying to glut themselves on greed and cruelty towards a linear demise. A gripping tale, beautiful cinematography by Chivo and commendable acting performances ‘The Revenant’ a sure spot on this list. It ostensibly worked for The Academy and they bestowed their highest honors upon the film.

The Way Back (2010)

In “The Way Back” a group of political prisoners and one bona fide crook and con artist, in Stalin’s Russia ca. 1948, escape from a prison camp in Siberia. Their journey takes them across frozen Siberia, the Gobi desert and the Himalayas to their ultimate destination, India and freedom. Some of them don’t make it. The elements are the enemy. The film does a fine job of juxtaposing the most minuscule details with the vastness and harsh beauty of the landscapes (the photography is by Oscar-winner Russell Boyd). Along the way the men discover that the world they once took for granted has been recast in the molds of the hammer-and-sickle and the red star. “The Way Back” has a feel to it reminiscent of the epic films of David Lean (“Lawrence of Arabia”, “Doctor Zhivago”, “A Passage to India”) and Steven Spielberg’s “Empire of the Sun”. It’s a nice change from the testosterone-charged epics currently ruling the box office. The director hasn’t culled a melodramatic storyline from the true-life material he is working from. Using “walking” as the movie’s predominant metaphor, there is a bold and thrilling final sequence that will make you gasp with delight. It’s a leap of the imagination that few movies manage to take.

The Pianist (2002)

Some survival stories occur against forces more brutal than nature itself – like fellow humans. ‘The Pianist’ is one such story. It is a adaptation of the autobiographical book The Pianist, a World War II memoir by the Polish-Jewish pianist and composer Władysław Szpilman, who is forced to survive in the Warsaw Ghetto during Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland. Roman Polanski (who managed to escape from the Kraków Ghetto as a child, and thus experienced the horrors of WWII firsthand) holds nothing back in his depiction of the Holocaust’s extreme atrocities. The camera doesn’t flinch when young children are beaten to death, innocent men and women are gunned down and executed in the streets, piles of dead bodies are set afire and a man in a wheelchair is hurled off a balcony, fatally crashing into the ground below. It’s not an easy watch, but it’s a powerful one.

Touching the Void (2003)

Joe Simpson’s nonfiction book was adapted into this riveting documentary-style film in which Simpson and his climbing mate attempt a trip up Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. Disaster strikes when, after reaching the summit of Siula Grande, Simpson breaks his leg and the men are caught in a snowstorm. As the situation goes from bad to worse, you’ll be thrilled finding out how these men do the impossible and escape. Blending first-hand interviews with dramatized reenactments, Touching the Void is a gripping tale of the power of sheer will, and yet another reminder that amazing feats often come with hefty price tags.

The Martian (2015)

Based on Andy Weir’s novel, The Martian tells the story of an astronaut, played by Matt Damon, who was left behind on Mars after his crew presumed him dead. Damon realizes he needs to work with the planet’s harsh environment to survive until the next mission, which is still years away, and he also needs to find a way to communicate with NASA so they don’t give up on him. The Martian has a surprisingly hilarious script for a survival film, but it also does a superb job pulling at our heartstrings as we will Damon to survive. Add a science fiction twist to your survival film of choice with this critically acclaimed Ridley Scott film.

127 Hours (2010)

One of the most truthful retellings of a true survival story, ‘127 Hours’ tells the story of the life-or-death ordeal of Aaron Ralston after becoming trapped by a boulder in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. Ralston spent more than five days trapped with only a small amount of food and water plus a pocketknife and a camcorder, which he utilised first as a journal and later as a last will and testament. Realizing that he was going to die, Ralston knew he had just one option to break free; to amputate his own arm. With a true story like that, there was very little scope of fictional dramatization; and Director Danny Boyle did it faithful justice, even shooting the film at the actual spot of occurrence. The climactic scene actually caused a few people to faint in theatres. That is a hefty testament of the chops of the film we’d say!

Cast Away (2000)

Isolation on a deserted island. Cast Away features one of Hanks’s most iconic performances, but it’s also one of Robert Zemeckis’s most mature films, a fascinating take on what we’re capable of in dire circumstances. Before 2001, survival was hardly a prominent genre in film. Survival films were sparse and mostly gory. Then ‘Cast Away’ came along. Tom Hanks famously gained fifty pounds before filming Robert Zemeckis’s deserted island tale, all of it weight that he would lose again over the course of the story, and for his complete dedication to the role, he was rewarded with a Best Actor nod. One of the few entries on this list not based on real events, the film follows the struggles of a FedEx employee named Chuck Noland (Hanks) who is stranded alone on a remote island for four years when his plane crashes en route to the US. With no company and only the contents of washed-up delivery boxes to aid him, Chuck fails an escape attempt on a self-made raft before settling in for the long haul. He holds conversations with a volleyball, teaches himself spear fishing, and eventually builds a sturdier second raft to take him away from the island.

“Brave is he who stares death in the eye and makes it blink first.” — Ernest Hemingway

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