The 21 best survival movies of all time

Before ranking the “best” survival movies, we should get a definition.

“Survival” can be as broad or as narrow a genre as you like. The natural disaster, the wake of human conflict, the war, the daily struggle for sustenance, the stranded/trapped/abandoned traveler or explorer – it can all be “survival”. Technically, every war movie is also a survival movie. Every film about abuse, loss, grief, poverty – these can also be survival films, although “survival” is less existentially defined.

It’s obviously a broad genre, and we’ve probably missed one or two or twenty-seven films that could make it onto this list; instead, we chose what we thought were among the best of the subgenres. These genres: Adventure Survival, Disaster Survival, Survival Horror, Post-Apocalyptic Survival, and Real-Life Survival.

They come in the form of documentaries, animated feature films, summer blockbusters and arthouse cinema. (Shorts would probably fill a whole other list.)

We tried to choose films where “survival” is more narrowly defined. These are films where the very life of the protagonist – and not just his means or his mental stability – is threatened. The motivating tensions are basic, elementary: will they live? We have chosen films where this tension is surprising, where the protagonist meets the existential threat without knowing it, alone or with a small group of companions. Storming a beach with an army under fire, although a threat to one’s life, is not “survival” as we define it. Receiving a mission that only sends two soldiers into the unknown, however, this drama can turn into “survival”.

We also favor more modern films, if only to facilitate access to streaming, and also because we know that we are going to piss off some cinema purists anyway, so why not set our own rules?

These are the 21 Best Survival Movies or, at least, 21 Survival Movies that we really like and you should watch.

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