Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation

10 Harrowing Survival Movies


Being lost and all alone is big for 2013. Gravity's doing it, with Sandra Bullock bobbing about in the lonely depths of space. All Is Lost is doing it, with Robert Redford trying not to drown when his boat sinks. Captain Phillips is sort of doing it with Tom Hanks trying to survive in a lifeboat with some gun-toting Somali pirates.

What we're saying here is that survival movies are having a moment. So here are ten of the best 'man against adversity' movies guaranteed to make you feel really tense and upset. You're welcome.

This article contains spoilers

Gravity and Captain Phillips are both in cinemas now. All Is Lost hits cinemas on Boxing Day

Buried (2010)

To be survived: Live burial

The rare ‘single victim’ survival movie, in which Ryan Reynolds’ truck driver is kidnapped and buried alive, left only with a lighter and a phone that doesn’t even have Candy Crush on it. You might not think you want 90 minutes of Ryan Reynolds emoting in a box, but you would be very, very wrong. By the end you’ll want to go outside just to revel in all that space.

Most harrowing moment: That ending.


127 Hours (2010)

To be survived: A heavy rock

If you’re going to go exploring in dangerous areas, always tell a friend or family member where you’re going. Aron Ralston did not remember this and was squashed by a massive boulder in a Utah canyon, eventually having to hack his own arm off to escape. Sure, Danny Boyle made an Oscar-nominated movie about him, but is that worth losing a limb for?

Most harrowing moment: The amputation (warning: This clip is extreme)


Touching The Void (2003)

To be survived: Some big mountains

A mix of documentary and recreated scenes, this is the horrifying true story of two mountain climbers who were separated after one of them suffered a broken leg. For the one with command of all his limbs, just making it back to base camp is ordeal enough. The other has to make it back to base camp with a shattered leg, after having fallen down two ravines. So that first man should probably just stop complaining, really.

Most harrowing moment: The rope is cut.


Cast Away (2000)

To Be Survived: A desert island

Tom Hanks is a perennial of the survival genre (see later entry on Apollo 13 and, to an extent, Captain Phillips). In this he’s a Fed-Ex employee whose plane crashes, leaving him marooned on a desert island to grow a big beard and talk to a volleyball, which seems to be the only thing anyone really remembers about the movie.

Most Harrowing Moment: The tooth removal, but there's no clip of that available so here's Tom Hanks on a raft.


Life of Pi (2012)

To be survived: A sinking ship; a tiger

The nature of what’s being survived rather depends on your interpretation of the film. What we can all agree on is that a ship sinks on the journey from India to Canada, with the only human survivor a young man left adrift in the ocean. His journey back to civilisation is one of spiritual enlightenment, metaphorical animals and some very pretty pictures.

Most harrowing moment: The ship in the storm


Alive (1993)

To be survived: A plane crash

The survival movie everybody remembers, even if they haven’t seen it. When a plane carrying the Uruguayan rugby team crashed in the Andes mountains in 1972, the survivors were forced to fend for themselves while they awaited rescue, eventually having to make the choice between starving to death and eating the deceased passengers. We won’t spoil for you the decision they make, but best not watch while eating jerky.

Most harrowing moment: There's no footage of people ingestion, thankfully, so let's go with the crash.


The Impossible (2012)

To be survived: A tsunami

Juan Antonio Bayona puts you horribly in the midst of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in his terrifyingly effective disaster movie. Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts play the parents of a family that is wrenched apart when millions of gallons of water tear through their hotel and wash them and everything else away. If you haven’t cried at least once by the end then you are unfortunately a terrible person.

Most harrowing moment: Dad makes a phone call home.


Lifeboat (1944)

To be survived: A shipwreck; other people

A ship and a U-boat sink in Alfred Hitchcock’s clever gimmick movie, but it’s not so much the elements that have to be survived as the rest of the inhabitants of the single lifeboat. With just one small set to play with, Hitchcock builds the recriminations between the survivors as they try to establish some kind of community in the confines of a little wooden vessel. This being Hitchcock, that community quite quickly turns on itself.

Most harrowing moment: The young mother loses her child.


Apollo 13 (1995)

To be survived: A broken spaceship

Just don’t let Tom Hanks fly things. In this 1995 movie he plays Jim Lovell, the astronaut who had to get himself and his two co-pilots (are astronauts pilots?) home when their ship malfunctions. So it’s a little like Gravity, except Tom’s not on his own and there’s no 3D. So, in essence, is it’s just a lazy Gravity, really. (It’s actually very good)

Most harrowing moment: Everyone back home waits for word from the earthbound ship


The Grey (2011)

To be survived: Wolves, lots of wolves

The central character, John Ottway (Liam Neeson), is a wolf-killer on his last day in the job, so we’re already off to a flyer. On his way home to retirement Ottway’s plane crashes and he and his colleagues are left stranded in wolf territory. A surprisingly bleak movie yet also notable for a scene in which Liam Neeson fends off wolves with gloves made of smashed alcohol miniatures.

Most harrowing noment: Talget ain't gonna make it.

(Images: Allstar)



30 Memorable Subway Scenes in cinema

final destination.jpg

Most terrifying movie plane crashes


Cinema's 15 most shocking moments



The very best 'so-bad-they're-good' movies you absolutely need to see

Thought 'The Room' was bad? You ain't seen nothing yet

by Gary Ogden
21 Jul 2017

Watch the trailer for 'The Disaster Artist', the film about 'The Room'

James Franco steps into Tommy Wiseau's infamous boots

by Gary Ogden
18 Jul 2017

The 90% or higher-rated Rotten Tomatoes films you've never seen before

Hidden gems you have to add to your list

by Carl Anka
18 Jul 2017

Why the 'Planet of The Apes' series is the best trilogy of the century

The prequel series is that rarest of things: a trilogy without a dud

by Carl Anka
18 Jul 2017

An immersive Star Wars hotel is coming and it looks amazing

Like a Star Wars-themed Westworld - but real

by Gary Ogden
17 Jul 2017

George A. Romero, creator of Night of the Living Dead, dies at 77

Fans and celebrities have paid tribute to him on Twitter

by Gary Ogden
17 Jul 2017

Talking haircuts and Dunkirk with Cillian Murphy in a hall of mirrors

"To an actor, nostalgia is death. The next piece I do will be the best piece I do."

by Chris Mandle
14 Jul 2017

Quentin Tarantino's new movie will be based on an infamous murder case

He's dipping into true crime

by Gary Ogden
12 Jul 2017

The 10/10-rated movies Reddit says you have to see before you die

How many have you seen?

by Matt Tate
12 Jul 2017

The 10 scariest, must-see horror movies at London's Frightfest

Essential for fright fans

by Gary Ogden
11 Jul 2017