Archives For Into the Wild

The Top 10 Survival Movies

September 17, 2015 — 2 Comments

After watching two fascinating survival movies in the past few weeks, it has been a reminder of why I appreciate these movies so much. The first was 71′ starring Jack O’Connell (Unbroken) and All Is Lost (2013) starring Robert Redford. They are incredibly different stories of survival but their lives were at stake and basic human instincts the same. I understand that movies like this are difficult to watch for some but I would argue that they are necessary for us to watch, learn, and grow.


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 Can Survival Movies Change Us?

What I love about survival movies is seeing how characters respond to their fear. Some panic. Some find their true grit. Ultimately each character must recognize that they need others and for many, they need God. No character is left unscathed and can survive alone.

If we look close enough, we can see ourselves in these characters. I draw hope, courage, and inspiration from many of them.

As movies like The Martian and Everest release, it is time to reflect on some of the finest survival films.

There are many excellent movies about survival, too many to count in fact, but here are my ten favorite along with honorable mention.

The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

A group of passengers struggle to survive and escape when their ocean liner completely capsizes at sea. Gene Hackman is at his best leading a group to safety.

All Is Lost (2013)

After a collision with a shipping container at sea, a resourceful sailor played by Robert Redford finds himself, despite all efforts to the contrary, starring his mortality in the face. It is one of the most beautiful and personal films about survival because of the close-proximity filming style the director uses.

Swiss Family Robinson (1960)

After being shipwrecked on a deserted island, the Robinson family overcome the obstacles of nature and transform their new home into a community. Pirates, tigers, and storms. What more could a family adventure bring? If you visit Magic Kingdom at Disney World, you have to tour the treehouse.

Panic Room (2002)

A divorced woman played courageously by Jodie Foster and her diabetic daughter (a young Kristen Stewart) take refuge in their newly purchased house’s safe room, when three men break-in, searching for a missing fortune. Even in your own home, survival is the central theme.

Alive (1993)

Uruguayan rugby team stranded in the snow swept Andes are forced to use desperate measures to survive after a plane crash. The movie begs the question, ‘how far will you go to survive’?

Castaway (2000)

A FedEx executive played by Tom Hanks must transform himself physically and emotionally to survive a crash landing on a deserted island. The ending still makes me wonder.

127 Hours (2010)

A climber played by James Franco goes on a hike and becomes trapped. Yes, he even has conversations with Scooby Doo. It’s a reminder to let people know where you are going before you head into the wilderness.

Rescue Dawn (2006)

A U.S. fighter pilot played by Christian Bale and his epic struggle of survival after being shot down on a mission over Laos during the Vietnam War.

Flight of the Phoenix (1965)

Robert Aldrich’s tense, 1965 drama about a plane crash in the Sahara is a unique psychological study of men in desperate circumstances. I studied this film in business management classes.

Apollo 13 (1995)

NASA must devise a strategy to return Apollo 13 to Earth safely after the spacecraft undergoes massive internal damage putting the lives of the three astronauts on board in jeopardy. Led by Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell and supported by Bill Paxton with the omnipresent Kevin Bacon, this is a must-watch “failure is not an option” movie.

Honorable Mention

Life is Beautiful (1997)

28 Days Later (2002)

The Day After (1983) 

71′ (2004)

Lone Survivor (2013)

Into the Wild (2007)

The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

White Water Summer (1987)

Unbroken (2014)

Red Dawn (1984)

Empire of the Sun (1987) 

Gravity (2013)

What are your favorite survival movies and why?

I recently went to a local playground with my young girls.  I walked around casually following them as they explored the array of colorful pipes and swings.  When I saw my oldest daughter struggling and I offered to help, she shouted “I can do it all by myself.”  Meanwhile, she kept calling on me to help so I was oddly confused.  I’m definitely not God but I wonder often if this is how he feels when we do the same thing. Nevertheless, it got me thinking about how we as humans view the adventure and struggle of life.

I recently re-watched two amazing survival movies, 127 Hours (2010) and Into the Wild (2007).  I’ve always been curious by books and movies like these along with Call of the Wild, Alive, and Unbroken.  Perhaps my quest of manhood is revealed through their stories.  What amazed me most about these stories is that they are based on real events while not entirely dreamed up by Hollywood.

127 Hours features Aron Ralston a 20-something adventurist out west.  He became widely known in May 2003 when, while canyoneering in Utah, he was forced by an accident to amputate his right arm with a dull knife in order to free himself from a boulder.  James Franco did a terrific job playing Aron and the movie was anchored by director Danny Boyle with dream-like cinematography.  It is a difficult movie to watch due to the amputation scene but like many I’ve spoken to about it, it still captivates you.

Into the Wild features Chris McCandless played by Emile Hirsch, a recent college grad who packs up his car, leaves his family and heads west to the Alaskan wilderness with little food and equipment, hoping to live in solitude.  In only a few months he died of starvation.  While a disturbing movie, it is beautifully helmed by Sean Penn and the soundtrack by Eddie Vedder is inspiring.  I catch myself on weekends driving around town and opening up the windows to listen to Big Hard Sun.

The question after watching these two films is “Why” go on these adventures alone? 

Like these two characters, I love being out on my own whether it be hiking, traveling, or playing golf.  I haven’t been able to do that in a long time but I know the power it can have in restoring my soul, spending time with God, enjoying time to reflect.  I am reminded by a powerful line from John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart, which stirs me.

“Men need to go on a safari of the heart to recover a life of freedom, passion, and adventure.”

It is good to go on that journey.

Here is the problem: Man is misguided by the world.  

The world says that he should be an island.  The world says…Go it alone.  Rely on yourself.  Don’t admit weakness.

In 127 Hours, Aron becomes stuck and recognizes that he must go to extreme measures to return to the people he loves.  He fights to get back to them.  In Into the Wild, Chris feels like regular society has left him so he must leave it.  People should not be part of this equation, only nature.  In the end of the story as he literally is lying on his deathbed, Chris reflects on the people he loved and who loved him. That is what mattered most in the end.

There is a reason that men ultimately love movies like The Fellowship of the Ring and Band of Brothers because the adventure is about being together.  It is the similar with women and movies they love focusing on deep and enduring friendships.

It is important to go on that “safari of the heart”.  

But that safari is meaningless without sharing the spirit of it with people and God that inspires it.