Best Wilderness Thriller Movies

Maria Johnson
• Wednesday, 02 December, 2020
• 10 min read

It also allows for inherently cinematic stories that can be told wordlessly for long stretches of time, relying on the actors to register everything in their faces. When someone’s running out of food or trying to avoid being eaten by a bear, their lousy marriage doesn’t seem so crucial anymore, unless, of course, some savvy filmmakers find a way to make it matter.

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By 1965, Jimmy Stewart had long since shed his ever chipper, corn pone ways by giving dark, obsessive performances for Anthony Mann and Alfred Hitchcock in the fifties. And here we find those unsavory shades fully integrated into his lead performance here as a pilot that crashes in the Libyan desert due to a sandstorm, leaving an all-star cast to run out of water and slowly go crazy.

Aldrich relies on some clichéd music cues and lets the pace get shaggy as the picture runs well over two hours, but it remains something more compelling than The Towering Inferno or any entry of the Airport franchise. Finch plays a stuffy British soldier who only has faith in standard practices, and that airplane designer is German, who “probably” wasn’t a Nazi, but certainly becomes a petty dictator along the way.

It’s WWII and an American pilot (Lee Marvin) crashes on a same remote island where a Japanese naval officer (Toshiba Minute) is already stranded. Doorman had just delivered the gleaming crime haiku of Point Blank, and this is no less stylistically adventurous, with Sergio Leon close-ups and crash zooms, perspective tricks and a stunning score by Lao Schwerin that uses everything from natural sounds to church organs.

The result was Minute’s most sophisticated performance in an English language film, as most American filmmakers only tapped him for his gunpowder scowl and guttural shouting. Both stars offer equally layered, cagey turns that seem to simmer with their ghosts, and while the movie flopped, it’s lodged as a career high for Marvin and Minute.

No list of this kind can ignore Doorman’s masterpiece of wilderness terror, made from John Dickey’s novel about a group of guys having the worst rafting trip in history. Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ronny Cox and Ned Beatty play old pals rafting through the Georgia backwoods, until they piss off some craven locals who are looking for a terrible kind of fun.

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In spite of that backstage trauma, it’s a remarkably reserved picture, and Doorman’s poker-faced, utterly frank depiction of the atrocities make them all the more terrifying. The movie smartly hints at rifts among the men, not so big to make it odd that they’d vacation together, but real enough to bloom into hostility during a crisis.

It seems more a nightmare of pampered men who want to play tough on the weekend, only to realize that they really are soft and coddled boys, who left hard labor, and the physical competence that comes with it, to someone else. What makes this such an enduring nightmare is that it shows the wilderness to be not some unsullied Eden, or romantic playground, but a place that destroys pretensions of competence or virtue, both of which Americans tend to revere more than the real thing.

But this obscures the fact that Dieter is one of the most hopeful characters in any movie in recent memory, keeping the spirits of his fellow POW's up after crashing in Vietnam, and being captured. Herzog mines this upbeat fellow for plenty of laughs, as to find joy as a POW may require a unique brand of mental illness.

This isn’t to say that Herzog doesn’t test that good cheer with some truly terrible suffering, but that unshakable spirit plays like a long-lost American character, before the country devolved into petty adolescents that meltdown when a coffee order goes south. The director understands how to shoot the mountains as an apocalyptic escape with off-kilter frames he sits on long enough to let our own imagination make something malevolent out of them.

To Penna’s credit, he keeps the proceedings nailed down to credible twists of fate, and isn’t scared to enrich the sense of isolation with long stretches of silence. That patience and rigor imbues the slightest gesture from Michelsen with weight, and the actor radiates a quiet decency that wasn’t evident in his Stateside persona of unsavory European nihilists.

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Instead, he excels as an every man and Penna knows that his situation is dire enough that he already has our sympathy, and his choice to save Smáradóttir does the rest, without witty banter or some forced romantic chemistry between the only two characters here. Sometimes it’s nice to sit back, relax, and watch someone else fight for their lives in a survival situation.

For this list, I picked a few movies that really convey that sense of survival in one way or another. Some are directly about surviving the elements (starting a fire, making shelter, etc.

), while others are about surviving people (suspicious strangers, bands of robbers, etc.) Based on the book Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (a true classic), A Cry in the Wild is different from the other movies on this list.

I loved this movie as a child, and it can be a great discussion piece for a family. It’s also made countless children excited about wilderness survival.

The movie chronicles the struggles (nothing too bad) of a young boy lost and stranded in the Canadian wilderness with only a hatchet. The plot is straightforward: man is stranded, needs rescue, tries to survive.

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Between that and the stark imagery of a lone body in the white tundra, after you’ve seen it, you likely won’t wonder why IndieWire called it “one of the best films ever made about survival.” Based on the real-life story of Hugh Glass, the Relevant is an exercise in brutal, single-minded survival.

Ultimately, the Relevant is a testament to the will to live–not only from the elements, but from the worst in humanity. Make no mistake; it’s primarily a story of how these two people come to love and rely on each other.

A personal favorite, the Grey centers on a group of men struggling to make it in a vast Arctic wilderness after their plane crashes. As each man either succumbs or overcomes their circumstances, you see a narrative steeped in metaphor.

And of course, watching Liam Neeson fighting wolves is always good. Everest features an ensemble cast, and the actors do a fantastic job of emulating their characters’ fear, frustration, and bravery.

After you watch this movie, you’ll come away with a much greater appreciation for what the members of the 1996 Everest teams went through. So far in our list, four movies have used a plane crash to start the characters on their journey of survival.

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Like The Mountain Between Us, Adrift is a love story with wilderness survival elements. Where the movie really shines in how the woman (Tami Ashcroft) fights to survive in the harshest of circumstances.

After a cataclysmic event, a man and his future son-in-law set off across the country to find their daughter/fiancé. Despite its poor reviews, if you enjoy this kind of movie (like I do), it may be worth a watch.

It’s not gritty, per se, but it tells the tale of a volleyball whose only friend is a man left stranded after his plane goes down in the middle of the ocean. But in a way, his experience is a time of growth, and that’s certainly interesting to watch.

That pretty many sums this movie up, but what makes the Martian a fun and interesting to watch is how his character comes up with ways to fix his situation. Based on the book by Andy Weir, the Martian is a great movie about survival, and how the world could come together if it really wanted to.

In 1981, Rossi Ginsberg gets lost in the jungle, after traveling with his friends and a guide to find a promised stash of hidden gold. What’s interesting about Jungle isn’t only the protagonist’s struggles to live, but also how he gets rescued.

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One thing this movie drives home: when you go hiking, wear good shoes. One of the best films of 2010 and one of the hardest to watch (in parts–you’ll know what I mean), 127 Hours tells the true story of Aron Alston, a hiker whose hand became trapped by a rock in a canyon in the desert.

As you probably know, how Alston got out of his predicament involved a Swiss Army knife and a very high tolerance for pain. In fact, it’s based on a true story ; two people left behind, in open water, when their scuba boat mistakenly leaves them.

Another movie loosely based on true events, Backcountry tells the story of a couple lost in the remote wilderness. After a number of questionable decisions, the couple are attacked and pursued by a bear.

Intent on seeing the Cahulawassee River before it's dammed and turned into a lake, outdoor fanatic Lewis Wedlock takes his friends on a canoeing trip they'll never forget into the dangerous American back-country. After graduating from Emory University, top student and athlete Christopher McCandless abandons his possessions, gives his entire $24,000 savings account to charity and hitchhikes to Alaska to live in the wilderness.

Along the way, Christopher encounters a series of characters that shape his life. A frontiersman on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s fights for survival after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team.

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A FedEx executive undergoes a physical and emotional transformation after crash landing on a deserted island. The true story of two climbers and their perilous journey up the west face of Shula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985.

After a collision with a shipping container at sea, a resourceful sailor finds himself, despite all efforts to the contrary, staring his mortality in the face. A government researcher, sent to research the “menace” of wolves in the north, learns about the true beneficial and positive nature of the species.

Legendary explorer Thor Heyerdahl's epic 4,300-mile crossing of the Pacific on a balsa wood raft in 1947, in an effort to prove that it was possible for South Americans to settle in Polynesia in pre-Columbian times. A young man who survives a disaster at sea is hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery.

While cast away, he forms an unexpected connection with another survivor: a fearsome Bengal tiger. A U.S. fighter pilot's epic struggle of survival after being shot down on a mission over Laos during the Vietnam War.

Siberian gulag escapees travel four thousand miles by foot to freedom in India. A chronicle of one woman's one thousand one hundred mile solo hike undertaken as a way to recover from a recent personal tragedy.

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A group of friends joins a guide for a trek into the Bolivian jungle, searching for an Indian village. The men soon realize that the jungle is a difficult place to be.

A pilot and his passenger struggle for survival after crashing in the Arctic tundra. Martin Steel attempts to cover 3,375 miles of the Amazon River, the longest continuous swim in history.

The incredible story of amateur sailor Donald Crowbars and his solo attempt to circumnavigate the globe. The struggles he confronted on the journey while his family awaited his return is one of the most enduring mysteries of recent times.

A Uruguayan rugby team stranded in the snow swept Andes are forced to use desperate measures to survive after a plane crash. At the end of WW2, a German POW doing hard labor in the Soviet Gulag escapes from his Siberian camp to return to Germany, but he's pursued by a Soviet NKVD officer.

Stranded after a tragic plane crash, two strangers must forge a connection to survive the extreme elements of a remote snow-covered mountain. When they realize help is not coming, they embark on a perilous journey across the wilderness.

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During a routine exercise, a team of National Guards are threatened by angry and violent locals. The story of New Zealand's Robert “Rob” Edwin Hall, who on May 10, 1996, together with Scott Fischer, teamed up on a joint expedition to ascend Mount Everest.

After their plane crashes in Alaska, six oil workers are led by a skilled huntsman to survival, but a pack of merciless wolves haunts their every step. If you close eyes on few things the movie can be enjoyable.

Based on the true story of two scuba divers accidentally stranded in shark infested waters after their tour boat has left. An intellectual billionaire and two other men struggle to band together and survive after getting stranded in the Alaskan wilderness with a blood-thirsty Kodiak Bear hunting them down.

Norway, WWII: A group of British and German soldiers find themselves stranded in the wilderness after an aircraft battle. Finding shelter in the same cabin, they realize the only way to survive the winter is to place the rules of war aside.

Based on the real-life event, when a gold and copper mine collapses, it traps 33 miners underground for 69 days. A devastating and heart-rending take on grizzly bear activists Timothy Tread well and Amie Huguenot, who were killed in October 2003 while living among grizzly bears in Alaska.

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A mountain climber becomes trapped under a boulder while cannoneering alone near Moab, Utah and resorts to desperate measures in order to survive. An urban couple go camping in the woods and find themselves lost in the territory of a predatory black bear.

A WWII pilot, bombardier, and radioman find themselves adrift on a lifeboat without food or water after being forced to ditch their plane during a scouting mission. A true story of survival, as a young couple's chance encounter leads them first to love, and then on the adventure of a lifetime as they face one of the most catastrophic hurricanes in recorded history.

The story of the deadliest day on the world's most dangerous mountain, when 11 climbers mysteriously perished on K2. The place is a polar research station on an island in the Arctic Ocean, inhabited now only by Sergei and Pavel.

One day when Sergei is out angling, Pavel picks up a radio message that he darn't communicate. A father and his thirteen-year-old daughter are living an ideal existence in a vast urban park in Portland, Oregon when a small mistake derails their lives forever.

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