Films on Survival


Touching the Void

Docudrama 2003 R 1hr 46m.  Docudrama 2003 R 1hr 46m.  This gripping docudrama retells the story of the mountaineering trek gone awry of Simon Yates and Joe Simpson, who breaks his leg while climbing in the Andes.  In 1985, they ascended a 20,000 foot peak in the Peruvian Andes, the never-before conquered west face of Siula Grande.  On descent, Joe shattered his leg, and what followed for the two men quickly spiraled into a nightmare chain of events.  See Full Review

Storm Over Everest

2008 Frontline NR 109 mins.  This edition of “Frontline” heads to Mount Everest, where climber and filmmaker David Breashears relives the rescue effort to save climbers who were stranded in subzero extremes caused by a ferocious storm on May 10, 1996.  Three teams of climbers were caught high on the mountain during an unexpected and ferocious wind and snow storm. What ensued was a desperate 48 hours, with amazing stories of survival and tragic stories of death. Attempted rescues of stranded climbers were impossible due to the incredible conditions during the disaster in which eight people lost their lives.  The documentary consists of dramatic recreations and interviews with survivors—their faces and hands bear witness to the horrible conditions on the mountain.  I have seen quite a few of the DVDs about the 1996 tragedy on Mount Everest, and this is one of the better ones, and the interviews on this one are the best. There are several interviews with the surviving team members themselves.  There are several interviews with the surviving team members themselves. A perfect companion piece is Jon Krakauers book Into Thin Air that also deals with this storm on Mt. Everest.

The Revenant  (2015)

Docudrama 2015 R 156 min. A frontiersman on a fur trapping expedition in the 1820’s fights for survival after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his own team of trappers, one of them the young Jim Bridger. This actually happened to mountain man/fur trapper Hugh Glass, living in the world far beyond the frontier in 1820-1830 era. In the movie Leonardo DiCaprio has an Indian son and mourns the murder of his wife. The tale of fictionalized misfortunes which befall this poor tortured man may stretch your incredulity to the breaking point. Only the magnificent performance by DiCaprio convinces us that any one could possibly survive his experiences. DiCaprio manages to star in the two hour plus movie with perhaps three pages of dialog. All the rest of his performance consists of close ups of his face as various terrible things happen to him. Astonishing acting. Hard to believe, but the beginning events draw from the true life horrors which befell the actual Hugh Glass, abandoned without supplies or weapons by two fellow fur traders during General Ashley’s expedition of 1823.

The true story of Hugh Glass: Ashley asked for two volunteers to stay with Glass until he died, and then bury him. Young Jim Bridger, then 19 years old, and John Fitzgerald, then 23 years old, stepped forward, and as the rest of the party moved on, began digging his grave. Later, claiming that they were interrupted by attacking Arikara Native Americans, the pair grabbed the rifle, knife, and other equipment belonging to Glass, and took flight. Bridger and Fitzgerald later caught up with the party and incorrectly reported to Ashley that Glass had died. Despite his injuries, Glass regained consciousness, but found himself abandoned, without weapons or equipment. He had festering wounds, a broken leg, and deep cuts on his back that exposed his bare ribs. Glass lay mutilated and alone, more than 200 miles (320 km) from the nearest American settlement, at Fort Kiowa, on the Missouri River. Glass set the bone of his own leg, wrapped himself in the bear hide his companions had placed over him as a shroud, and began crawling back to Fort Kiowa. To prevent gangrene, Glass laid his wounded back on a rotting log filled with maggots and let the maggots eat the dead, infected flesh, from the rest of his healthy body. Glass crawled overland south toward the Cheyenne River, where he fashioned a crude raft and floated downstream to Fort Kiowa. The journey took him six weeks. He survived mostly on wild berries and roots; on one occasion he was able to drive two wolves from a downed bison calf, and feast on the raw meat. Glass was aided by friendly Native Americans who sewed a bear hide to his back to cover the exposed wounds and provided him with food and weapons. After recovering from his wounds, Glass set out again to find Fitzgerald and Bridger. Glass found Bridger, but apparently forgave him because of his youth. Glass later learned that Fitzgerald had joined the army and was stationed at Fort Atkinson, in present-day Nebraska. He traveled there as well, where Fitzgerald returned his stolen rifle. Glass reportedly spared Fitzgerald’s life because of the heavy penalty for killing a soldier of the United States Army.

127 Hours

Docudrama 2010 R 94 minutes. From director Danny Boyle comes this harrowing tale of real-life mountain climber Aron Ralston (James Franco), who literally cuts himself loose from danger — and lives to tell about it when sliding rock pins his forearm under a boulder during a climb in Utah. To stay alive, Ralston resorts to his basest survival instincts. The film scored Academy Award nominations in the Best Picture and Best Actor (Franco) categories.


Docudrama 2014 PG-13. This inspiring tale of survival is based on the real-life experiences of Louis Zamperini, an American pilot held by the Japanese during World War II. After his plane crashes into the Pacific Ocean, Zamperini spends 47 days adrift before his capture.


Drama 2013 PG-13. As a medical engineer on her first shuttle mission embarks on a space walk with a seasoned astronaut, debris strikes their craft and destroys it — leaving the two floating through space tethered together, with no connection to Earth.

All Is Lost

Drama 2013 PG-13 106 minutes. In this harrowing drama — which has no dialogue — Robert Redford portrays a man stranded alone at sea, courageously battling a ferocious storm as he struggles to survive with just a sextant and maritime maps to guide him.

Lone Survivor

Docudrama 2013 R. Mark Wahlberg stars as Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrel in this action-drama based on an ill-fated real-life mission to bring down a Taliban boss. But the stakes are even higher when Luttrell and his unit are ambushed in the Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan.

Sole Survivor

Documentary 2013 NR This heartrending documentary captures the vivid recollections of four people who were each lone survivors of a commercial airline accident. Years after their ordeals, they still struggle with the meaning of their inexplicable good luck.

Camp 14: Total Control Zone

Documentary 2012 NR 101 minutes. Through interviews and footage of a North Korean re-education camp, director Marc Wiese paints a shocking portrait of inhumanity as he chronicles the harrowing story of Shin Dong-huyk, who was born inside the camp but survived and escaped at age 23.

Surviving the Tsunami

Documentary Nova 2011. The earthquake that hit the northern coast of Japan on March 11, 2011, was recorded at magnitude 9.0 — the worst ever recorded in Japan. It generated an unprecedented tsunami, obliterating coastal villages and towns in a matter of minutes. In some areas, the tsunami climbed above 100 feet in height and traveled miles inland. Amazingly, amateur and professional photographers captured it all on video, including remarkable tales of human survival, as ordinary citizens became heroes in a drama they never could have imagined. As the waves rush in, a daughter struggles to help her elderly mother ascend their rooftop to safety; a man climbs onto an overpass just as the wave overtakes his car. These never-before-seen stories are captured in video and retold after the fact by the survivors who reveal what they were thinking as they made their life-saving decisions. Their stories provide lessons for how we should all act in the face of life-threatening disasters.

Mayday! Bering Sea

Documentary 2010 TV-PG 42m. This is the true story in the words of the fishermen who survived a shipwreck in the frigid Bering Sea, and the heroic account of those who did not.

Into the Wild

Docudrama 2007 R 148 minutes. A young man gives up everything — including his trust fund and ties to a seemingly stable family — to lead a solitary life in the wild. Eschewing convention to trek across Alaska’s harsh and unforgiving terrain, he resolves to live off the land.

The Extraordinary Tale of William Buckley

Docudrama 2010 Australia 55 min. Presented by historian Michael Cathcart, The Extraordinary Tale of William Buckley is a dramatized documentary that tells one of Australia’s great untold stories. This tells the remarkable true story of an escaped convict who spent 32 years living with an Aboriginal tribe in Australia before white colonization. Thought to be a spirit, he was forced to learn the native culture, or perish.

The Way Back

Docudrama 2010 PG-13 133 minutes. After narrowly escaping from a wretched World War II Siberian labor camp, a small band of multinational soldiers desperately undertakes a harrowing journey to traverse Siberia, the Gobi Desert and the Himalayas on foot. Title Card: “In 1941, three men walked out of the Himalayas into India. They had survived a 4000 mile walk from a Siberian gulag to freedom. This film is dedicated to them.” This is an outstanding historical and survival drama, that is amazingly based on a true story. It portrays a part of WW II that we don’t hear much about…the Siberian gulags. Stalin and the Soviets were our allies during the War; but in 1941 when this took place, Stalin and Hitler were allied, and parties to the sordid partition of Poland. Polish political prisoners, like the protagonist, Janusz, were arrested on trumped up charges and sent to the virtually escape-proof gulags of Siberia. This movie portrays the story of how a group of prisoners manages to escape from a gulag and make their way out of Siberia, through Mongolia and the Gobi Desert, Tibet and the Himalayas, to India. They all did not make it of course, but the miracle is that any did. Based on the book The Long Walk.

As Far as My Feet Will Carry Me
(So weit die Füße tragen)

Docudrama 2003 NR 122 minutes. After escaping from a Siberian labor camp in the wake of World War II, German soldier Clemens Forell (Bernhard Bettermann) makes his way toward his wife and children, traveling more than 8,000 miles over the course of three long years to reach his final destination. Hardy Martins directs this critically acclaimed adaptation of the best-selling book by Josef Martin Bauer, a true story of survival and courage.

North Face

Docudrama 2008 NR 121 minutes. . In 1936, young German climbers Toni Kurz (Benno Fürmann) and Andreas Hinterstoisser (Florian Lukas) face off against a rival Austrian duo in an attempt to be the first team to scale the infamous north face of the Eiger in the Swiss Alps. As the men make the treacherous climb, journalist Luise (Johanna Wokalek) — Toni’s childhood love — covers the biggest story of her career. Philipp Stölzl helms this drama based on a true story. See also the films To the Limit and Man on Wire.

I’ve Come from a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains

Documentary 2007 NR 131 minutes. In 1972, a plane carrying players, coaches and friends of a Uruguayan rugby team crashed in the Andes. Using dramatic reenactments and interviews with the remaining survivors, this documentary recounts the riveting story of their horrific ordeal. The harrowing tale of human survival (which inspired the movie Alive) became even more dramatic when it was discovered the men ate the dead bodies of their friends to go on living. Story also told in 1993 docudrama Alive.


Docudrama 1993 R 126 minutes. Ethan Hawke and Josh Hamilton star in the true story of a Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashes in the Andes mountains. During their epic struggle to survive, the 35 athletes were stranded on a barren glacier with almost no food or supplies. Over time, as desperation and frostbite set in, the survivors were forced to feed on their dead teammates to stay alive. Eventually, three men set off on a last-ditch journey to find rescue. Story also told in 2007 documentary Stranded.

I’m Alive

Documentary 2009-2011 TV-PG 2 Seasons. In one moment, a chance encounter with an animal can take your life away, but these attack victims decided to take life back.

After the Attack

Documentary 2006 TV-PG 1 Season. Hear the traumatic but triumphant tales of people who have survived deadly confrontations with wild animals and wish to share their stories.

Seoul Train

Documentary 2005 TV-PG 54m. Via dramatic footage and firsthand accounts, this illuminating documentary chronicles North Koreans’ struggle to escape their oppressive Communist country, risking torture and execution for a chance at liberty. Refugees try to flee through China to their southern counterpart or to another country, aided by the underground railroad — a loose network of safe houses and secret routes leading to freedom. The film also details activists’ efforts to help.

Cast Away

Drama 2000 PG-13 143 minutes. After FedEx systems engineer Chuck Noland’s (Tom Hanks) plane crashes in the Pacific Ocean, he finds himself fighting to survive on a deserted island with nothing but a painted volleyball — a silent partner he names Wilson — for company. An acting tour de force for Hanks (who received a Golden Globe Award for his performance), this drama from director Robert Zemeckis is a fascinating abstract about the indomitability of the human spirit.

Vertical Limit

Drama 2000 PG-13 124 minutes. Trapped near the summit of K2, the world’s second-highest mountain, Annie radios to base camp for help. Her brother Peter assembles a team to save her and her group, but the rescuers face terrifying conditions on their mission.

The Perfect Storm

Drama 2000 PG-13 129 minutes. Veteran fisherman Billy Tyne (George Clooney) has had a run of disappointing catches and is determined to change his luck by going beyond the normal reach of New England fishing boats to the remote Flemish Cap. But in doing so, he risks everything. Once at sea, he hears about a huge storm building up, but is convinced he can beat it back to Gloucester with an enormous catch. Mark Wahlberg and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio co-star.

The Edge

Drama 1997 R 117 minutes. When their plane crashes in the Alaskan wilderness, fashion photographer Bob and intellectual businessman Charles must fight for their survival and fend off their inner demons in this taut thriller from renowned scribe David Mamet.

Titanic  (1997)

Docudrama 1997 PG-13 194 minutes. This cinematic spectacle — winner of 11 Oscars — follows society girl Rose and penniless artist Jack as they fall in love just as tragedy strikes. Rereleased for the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster, the stirring romance remains timeless.

Titanic  (2012)

Docudrama Series 2012-2012 TV-PG Season 1 DVD. This extraordinary re-telling of the doomed voyage, written by Julian Fellowes, retells the tragic sinking of RMS Titanic, featuring multiple personal narratives and a large and accomplished cast.

Robinson Crusoe  (1997)
(Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe)

Drama 1997 PG-13 91 minutes. After killing a man in a duel over a woman, Robinson Crusoe is forced to flee his homeland on a trade ship and ends up marooned on an uncharted island after the vessel gets wrecked in a violent storm.

The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe  (2003)

Drama 2003 PG-13 193 minutes. As the lone survivor of a sunken slave ship, Robinson Crusoe washes up on an island and manages to eke out a meager existence with almost no human contact — until he rescues a prisoner from the cannibals who occasionally visit the lonely atoll. Pierre Richard, Nicolas Cazale and Jean-Claude Leguay star in this French production of Daniel Defoe’s classic tale of a man shipwrecked on a remote island.

Robinson Crusoe  (1954)
(Las Aventuras de Robinson Crusoe)

Drama 1954 NR 90 minutes. This 50th anniversary issue of the 1952 film directed by acclaimed filmmaker Luis Buñuel brings to life Daniel Defoe’s classic novel, in which the heroic Robinson Crusoe survives a shipwreck in the 1650s and washes up on a remote island. Crusoe (Dan O’Herlihy) must find a way to be at peace with himself and tap into his reserves of courage as he fights loneliness and a group of cannibals, eventually befriending a savage he names Friday.

Burke & Wills

Docudrama 1985 NR 140 minutes. Director Graeme Clifford re-creates the tragic 1860 expedition that took the lives of explorers Robert Burke (Jack Thompson) and William Wills (Nigel Havers) in their attempt to be the first men to trek across the Australian interior. The lushly photographed historical film shows off the untamed Outback, making it clear how the hard-headed Burke became a casualty of his own poor choices in a region where there was no room for mistakes.


Drama 1972 R 109 minutes. Four city-dwelling friends take a canoeing trip down a Georgia river, but what starts out as a lighthearted adventure becomes a voyage into the heart of darkness when redneck locals descend on the group and force them to kill or be killed.

The Flight of the Phoenix

Drama 1965 NR 144 minutes. A small plane carrying oil workers and military personnel crashes, stranding a group of survivors in the Sahara Desert. The conscientious pilot struggles with his doubts as he attempts to build, out of the wreckage, a single-engine plane that will lift them out of the desert before the heat and sand take their toll. Jimmy Stewart and Richard Attenborough star in this adaptation of Elleston Trevor’s novel.

Lord of the Flies  (1963)

Drama 1963 UR 90 minutes. Based on William Golding’s famous novel, Peter Brooks’s daring 1963 film follows schoolboys stranded on an island after a plane crash. Two factions quickly form between the boys — one being more civilized, concentrating on finding shelter and food, and the other more savage, hunting wild pigs and having fun. Tension builds between the factions’ leaders, Ralph and Jack, leading to a battle for control of their own micro-civilization.

Lord of the Flies  (1990)

Drama 1990 R 90 minutes. Young military cadets are marooned on an island and must take up adult responsibilities. With no supervision, they create a new society — but two chiefs emerge with vastly different leadership styles. Ralph (Balthazar Getty) organizes shelter and fire for his followers, while Jack (Chris Furrh) would rather have fun and hunt with his entourage of adventure-seekers. In the end, the foes face off in a battle of primal urges and civilized behavior.

Moby Dick:  The True Story

Documentary 2002 NR 52 minutes.  The true story that inspired Herman Melville’s classic novel is literally a whale of a tale. In November 1820, the 87-foot whaling ship Essex was rammed by an enraged sperm whale; two collisions left the vessel splintered and the crew afloat on three small boats. This historical documentary explores the survivors’ voyage over thousands of miles of open ocean and their battles with starvation and the elements.

Robinson Crusoe
(Las Aventuras de Robinson Crusoe)

Drama 1954 NR 90 minutes. This 50th anniversary issue of the 1952 film directed by acclaimed filmmaker Luis Buñuel brings to life Daniel Defoe’s classic novel, in which the heroic Robinson Crusoe survives a shipwreck in the 1650s and washes up on a remote island. Crusoe (Dan O’Herlihy) must find a way to be at peace with himself and tap into his reserves of courage as he fights loneliness and a group of cannibals, eventually befriending a savage he names Friday.



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