10 Unmissable Survival Films You May Have Missed

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10 Unmissable Survival Films You May Have Missed

“That survival instinct, that will to live, that need to get back to life again, is more powerful than any consideration of taste, decency, politeness, manners, civility. Anything. It's such a powerful force.”

- Danny Boyle (director and co-writer of the critically acclaimed survival film, “127 Hours”)

The primary difference between survival films and other genres, especially adventure, is that they are less romanticized and are thus more dark and brutal. Perhaps it has to do with the state of the world, but the last 5-6 years has seen a surfeit of such movies, some of them being must-watch, including, “127 Hours” (2010), “Life of Pi” (2012), “All Is Lost” (2013), “Captain Phillips” (2013), “Gravity” (2013), “The Martian” (2015) and “The Revenant” (2015).

Here however we look at 10 Unmissable Survival Films You May Have Missed:


  • “Lifeboat” (1944), written by John Steinbeck, and made by The Master of Suspense – Alfred Hitchcock – is considered to be one of his most underrated movies. Set during World War II, a British passenger ship and a German submarine sink each other, leaving a few civilians and the ship's crew as well as the captain of the submarine adrift on a lifeboat, struggling for survival.

    Some very influential critics felt that the film showed the German character in a positive light, a claim dismissed by others. But this resulted in the movie not being given a wide enough release and was also not well promoted, which resulted in a dismal box office. It did however receive Academy nominations for Best Director, Original Story and Cinematography (Black & White) and was also selected by The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures as the Best Picture of 1944.

  • “Swiss Family Robinson” (1960), directed by Ken Annakin, is loosely based upon the 1812 novel 'Der Schweizerische Robinson' (The Swiss Robinson) by Johann David Wyss. The movie is about a family on board a ship that's caught in a storm while escaping pirates, that find themselves shipwrecked on an unoccupied island. They continue however to be plagued by the pirates.

    Considered to be one of the best live-action movies from the Disney stable, it was a massive commercial blockbuster upon release, becoming the highest earner of 1960 (in a year of “Psycho”, “Spartacus” and “Exodus”) and is till date one of the top 100 earners ever, adjusted for inflation.

  • “The Flight of the Phoenix” (1965) by Robert Aldrich is based on a novel by Elleston Trevor of the same name, and stars Richard Attenborough and Peter Finch. The movie is about a cargo plane carrying several men, which stalls and crash lands during a sand storm in the Sahara desert, stranding them. With no radio contact and far away from civilization, the only idea, however impractical, is to try and build a new plane from the wreckage.

    The movie was nominated for two Academy Awards but was a commercial as well as a critical failure at the time. It is however considered a cult today.

  • “Planet of the Apes” (1968) is a science fiction movie by Franklin Schaffner, based on the 1963 French novel 'La Planète des Singes' by Pierre Boulle. The movie is about four astronauts who have been in hibernation during a prolonged near-light speed journey and find themselves post a crash land on an alien planet where apes are the dominant species and human like mute creatures are treated alike animals on Earth.

    The movie has been widely regarded since its launch, both critically and commercially, and in 2001 it was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress for being 'culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant'. In 2008, Empire magazine ranked it amongst 'The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time'.

  • “Deliverance” (1972) by John Boorman, is based on a novel by James Dickey of the same name. It is the story of four businessmen who while canoeing through a remote river get briefly separated, during which one of them is raped by some local men. One of the rapists is shot but the others manage to escape. While continuing down the river, one of the quartet falls to his death while the other breaks his back and they realize they are being followed by another of the rapists who wants to avenge his friend's death.

    The film earned three Academy Awards including Best Picture and Director, as well as five Golden Globes including Best Motion Picture (Drama) as well as Best Director, Screenplay and Actor. In 2008, the movie was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress.

  • “Escape from Alcatraz” (1979), directed by Don Siegel and starring Clint Eastwood, is an adaptation of Campbell Bruce's non-fiction book by the same name about a breakout by three prisoners from the maximum security prison on Alcatraz Island in 1962, the only successful one ever from there.

    The movie was highly acclaimed and was listed by many critics in their best film list for 1979. It continues to be a classic and holds a 95% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. What makes the story even more interesting is that the prisoners have never been found, though it was concluded that they drowned during the escape.

  • “Touching The Void” (2003) by Kevin MacDonald is one of two documentaries in this list. It is based on a book of the same name by Joe Simpson about his and Simon Yates' almost fatal endeavour to climb Siula Grande, a mountain in the Peruvian Andes, in 1985. While the pair manage to touch the summit, on the way back Joe slips and breaks his leg, while a storm rages on.

    Considered by Guardian to be the most successful documentary in British cinema history, it continues to be critically acclaimed and is listed in PBS' 100 Greatest Documentaries of All Time.

  • “Stranded: I've Come from a Plane that Crashed on the Mountains” (2007) is an acclaimed documentary based upon an Uruguayan rugby team which, flying along with their friends and family, crashed in the Andes. Of the 45 passengers and crew, only 16 survived, and with no food and no radio contact, had no choice but to eat the flesh of those who had died earlier, as they awaited rescue, which took over 2 months.

    The movie was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at Sundance and also won the Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary at the Directors Guild of America Awards. It also appeared on several top ten list of 2008.

  • “The Way Back” (2010) by Peter Weir, on a screenplay by Weir and Keith Clarke, is based upon 'The Long Walk' (1956), a memoir of a Polish prisoner (Sławomir Rawicz) during World War II who along with a few others escaped a Soviet forced labour camp and walked nearly 6500 kms from Siberia to India.

    The film stars Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell, Ed Harris and was nominated for an Academy Award.

  • “The Impossible” (2012), made by Juan Antonio Bayona and written by Sergio G. Sánchez, is based upon the real life story of María Belón, who was on vacation in Thailand with her husband Enrique and three sons and nearly died when they were hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.


The movie starring Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor was well received, winning many nominations and awards. Watts was especially singled out for praise, and was nominated for the Academy Award and the Golden Globe among others.

Which is your favourite survival films? Write to us in the comments below...

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