First off, a disclaimer: You will probably not learn many real-life survival skills from my selections on this list. Just watching “Naked and Afraid” or “Alone” are much better for that. Instead, I wanted to highlight movies with a palpable sense of dread and distress from being isolated in a survival situation.
So, I compiled ten great stranded survival movies in no particular order and rated them with the help of Rotten Tomatoes.
10. I Am Legend
Director: Francis Lawrence
Year released: 2007
Will Smith stars as Robert Neville, a scientist who becomes the lone survivor of a virus that ravages New York City, turning humans into mutants. He spends the movie looking for survivors while trying to create an antivirus from his blood.
The movie used to seem farfetched, with humans turning into zombies because of a manufactured plague, but it doesn’t seem so absurd now that we are being plagued with a similar virus.
9. Open Water
Director: Chris Kentis
Year released: 2004
Two people go on a vacation, and on a group dive, they dive deeper, separating themselves from the group. They are left behind by the boat, and they have to survive the sharks that are slowly starting to circle. The ocean adds even more terror to the movie because there is no knowing what is underneath the water aside from the sharks.
This film was one of the truly memorable shark survival movies of the past century, as it has moments that could make your palms sweaty even if you are in an airconditioned room.
8. A Quiet Place
Director: John Krasinski
Year released: 2018
John Krasinski and real-life wife Emily Blunt star as husband and wife in this horror film together with Millicent Simmonds, who is deaf in real life, and Noah Jupe. They strive to survive and live quietly to avoid getting killed by an alien creature with super hearing, while Emily Blunt’s character Evelyn Abbott is pregnant.
Viewers have reported holding their breath at certain scenes. It became even more difficult for the other characters since John Krasinski’s character Lee Abbott died when he tried to save his youngest son from being killed by the creature.
7. The 33
Director: Patricia Riggen
Year released: 2015
Based on a true story, 33 miners got trapped inside a mine after an earthquake occurred. They are forced to stay inside the mind for more than two months because they cannot remove the large rocks that stand in between them and their way to safety.
Unfortunately, despite the film’s heart-rending premise, it was mired in formulaic Hollywood survival movie templates. It could have been better, but unfortunately, the story-telling was too bland.
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Year released: 2009
Okay, ya got me… this isn’t really a stranded survival movie, but I decided to include it just the same. I guess you could say they are technically stranded in a zombie wasteland often, but one isn’t going to learn any amazing survival skills from this film. However, sometimes it’s okay just to watch for fun.
Besides, this is not your typical zombie movie. It can be hysterically funny at times, but at its heart, Zombieland taps into the relationships people build to survive. Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin charm and gun their way out of a zombie wasteland to Los Angeles in search of a haven, making and breaking friends along the road.
The film is supposed to be scary, but the fun lies in the snark and sarcasm delivered perfectly by the four protagonists.
5. The Revenant
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Year released: 2015
This is a survival and revenge movie in one, as Leonardo di Caprio’s character Hugh Glass seeks revenge on the man who betrayed him and killed his son. Unfortunately, he is mauled by a bear, leaving him good as dead, but his desire for revenge keeps him alive. Hugh Glass tries to survive and gain back his strength in a snowy wasteland.
4. 127 Hours
Director: Danny Boyle
Year released: 2011
James Franco plays Aron Ralston in this true-to-life story of a hiker who gets trapped by a boulder that falls on his arm. He defies all odds by amputating his arm while being stuck in a precarious position, making this film one of the terrifying survival films ever to exist.
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Year released: 2021
A family goes on a vacation only to get stranded on an island where their lives are compressed into one single day. They start to age fast, and they are left wondering how to survive such an ordeal. The movie is scary enough without the need for supernatural creatures or serial killers hacking and slashing their way through.
2. The Shallows
Director: Jaume Collet-Sera
Year released: 2016
Blake Lively delivers an Oscar-worthy performance in The Shallows, where she plays a med student who goes on a vacation to help herself heal from her mother’s passing. She is surfing, and suddenly, a Great White Shark attacks and bites her, leaving her stranded and bleeding on a small rock some 200 yards from the seashore. She tries to operate on herself to treat her wound while seeking help from swimmers who also get attacked by the shark.
1. Life of Pi
Director: Ang Lee
Year released: 2012
Ang Lee took a risk in directing this film, as critics deemed it unfilmable. Pi, the main character, gets stranded on a boat with a tiger named Richard Parker after a storm at sea topples the ship they were in. Pi and Richard Parker try to survive, spending months on a lifeboat without proper food or water. Despite their differences in species, the two strike up an unwitting friendship while surviving on meager rations.
Aside from much-awaited succeeding installments to popular movies such as Marvel productions and Disney films, movies seem to follow a trend. For example, there was an influx of vampire movies after Twilight came out in 2008, and zombie films followed right after Dawn of the Dead. There was also a slew of slasher flicks after Saw, and disaster and sci-fi films dominated the cinematic world.
There are many other survival films out there, whether produced by Hollywood or a B-rate production team. However, once in a rare while, a cinematic gem of a survival movie comes along, like Castaway and the others films on this list.
Thanks for reading!
For more, check out Basic Wilderness Navigation Techniques: A Beginners Guide.
Hey, I’m Jim and the author of this website. I have always been interested in survival, fishing, camping, and anything in nature. In fact, while growing up I spent more time on the water than on land! I am also a best-selling author and have a degree in History, Anthropology, and Music. I hope you find value in the articles on this website. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or input!