10 Survival Movies Based on Thrilling True Stories

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Survival movies take viewers from the coziness of their homes to perilous situations where characters teeter on the brink of life and death. Despite how harrowing they may be, survival movies remain popular, tapping into viewers’ primal desire for adventure and their enduring fascination for disaster movies. Sure, they may be heartbreaking or hard to watch, but there’s something about them that sparks inspiration and shows off the grit humans have in tough times.

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Knowing that the heart-pounding survival stories on this list have happened to real people has a way of intensifying viewers’ feelings towards them. Take, for example, The Revenant, which is drawn from a true-life story. It became so popular not just for its stunning cinematography or top-notch performances, but also for its intense survival themes. Similarly, Society of the Snow draws from a true story to tell a moving and intense survival movie. Here are other survival movies based on thrilling true stories to explore next.

10 Society of the Snow (2023)

Society of the Snow

Release Date
December 22, 2023

Director
J.A. Bayona

Cast
Enzo Vogrincic , Simon Hempe , Rafael Federman , Santiago Vaca Narvaja

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The Uruguayan rugby team’s 1972 plane crash in the Andes has inspired several books, films, and other adaptations, and Society of the Snow is the most recent. It’s a heart-wrenching and inspiring story that focuses on doing the unthinkable to survive very harsh conditions, bringing to mind Yellowjackets and the 1993 film, Alive, which also draw from the same event. It is a must-watch for anyone interested in survival stories drawn from true stories.

What Makes It Great

Director J.A. Bayona successfully presents a touching and raw portrayal of the 1972 catastrophe from Pablo Verci’s 2009 book. Its realism sets it apart from other adaptations. Through striking cinematography, sound design, and a clever blend of CGI and practical effects, Bayona recreates the terrifying plane crash and the heartbreaking aftermath. The actors perfectly capture the psychological transformation of the characters. Stream on Netflix

9 Everest (2015)

everest
Everest

Release Date
September 10, 2015
Cast
Jason Clarke , Ang Phula Sherpa , Thomas M. Wright , Martin Henderson , Tom Goodman-Hill , Charlotte Bøving

Everest vividly recounts the true story of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, where several climbers lost their lives during a thunderstorm in the mountain. The film stars Jason Clarke and Jake Gyllenhaal as experienced climbers Rob Hall and Scott Fischer, responsible for leading the two expedition groups.

What Makes It Great

Everest was praised for its attention to detail in capturing the physical and emotional struggles faced by climbers as they battle the harsh conditions of the mountain during this catastrophic event. The realistic portrayal of this harrowing situation, including the intense weather conditions and perilous terrain, contributes to the immersive and authentic experience for viewers, making them feel like they are right there with the climbers. Everest remains one of the most compelling and dramatic survival movies ever made. Stream on Peacock Premium

8 Alive (1993)

Alive (1993)
Alive

Release Date
January 15, 1993
Cast
Ethan Hawke , Vincent Spano , Josh Hamilton , Bruce Ramsay , John Newton

Directed by Frank Marshall, Alive is based on the true story of the Uruguayan rugby team’s struggle for survival after their plane crashed in the Andes Mountains in 1972. Adapted from Piers Paul Read’s book Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors, this chronicles the harrowing events faced by the survivors.

What Makes It Great

As the characters try to survive the harsh realities of the mountains, making tough decisions to stay alive, the movie truly becomes bleak and sad. It doesn’t shy away from depicting the lengths survivors took to stay alive, including resorting to cannibalism. Despite its grim and dark aspects, the movie delves into human drama unfolding as characters confront their circumstances head-on, making it quite touching. Rent on Vudu

7 Deepwater Horizon (2016)

Deepwater Horizon is yet another dramatization of a thrilling and harrowing true event, highlighting the enduring fascination people have for natural disaster movies, especially those rooted in real history. This movie recreates the true events of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and the subsequent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

What Makes It Great

With its awesome special effects, coupled with the emotional depth brought by the actors, Deepwater Horizon will send shivers down the spine as it captures the disturbing disaster in gory detail. However, it doesn’t only focus on the dread and dismay, but also captures several acts of heroism displayed by the rig crew in the face of extreme danger, leaving viewers in awe. The film strikes a balance between being an enlightening documentary film and an enjoyable blockbuster. Buy on AppleTV

6 The Revenant (2015)

An amazing story about a frontiersman, Hugh Glass, and his epic survival in the wilderness after he is nearly mauled to death and left for dead by his companions, The Revenant is certainly a must-watch movie for fans of survival movies based on thrilling true stories.

What Makes It Great

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s masterful direction, the meticulous attention to detail, the powerful performances of Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, and the stunning cinematography make it clear why this outstanding movie won so many Academy Awards in 2016. The visually striking and immersive shots that capture the beauty and coldness of nature, while natural light and wide landscapes add to the overall impact of the film. It is indeed an enthralling and remarkable saga of survival and revenge. Buy on Prime Video

5 127 Hours (2010)

127 Hours is a gripping survival movie based on a true story. It follows Aaron Roston, an adventurous hiker, trapped in a remote Utah Canyon by a boulder pinning his arm. Facing such a dire situation, Aaron must summon extraordinary courage and rely on his resourcefulness to survive the 127 hours.

What Makes It Great

A movie about a man stuck alone may sound mundane, but 127 Hours defies expectations, delivering a riveting, powerful and inspiring story. The film boldly depicts the brutality of the situation and conveys the physical and emotional discomfort Roston endures, trapping viewers in a claustrophobic atmosphere with him while time ticks away, and he runs low on water and food. The storytelling and James Franco’s adept performance help to elevate the film’s impact and intensity. Though tough to watch, it’s undeniably brilliant and riveting. Buy on Prime Video

Related: 10 Saddest Movies Based on True Stories

4 The Impossible (2012)

Set in Thailand in 2004, this touching disaster movie, directed by J.A. Bayona, follows a regular family who travel to Thailand for the Christmas holidays. However, what started out as a joyous holiday becomes a nightmare when a tsunami suddenly destroys the entire place, separating the family.

What Makes It Great

The Impossible was well-received for its powerful storytelling, emotional impact, and the heart-wrenching performances, particularly by Naomi Watts and a young Tom Holland. While it takes viewers on an emotional roller coaster, and is certainly not for the faint-hearted, it also serves as an inspirational movie that emphasizes the importance of familial bonds and coming together to overcome adversity. Stream on Netflix

3 Apollo 13 (1995)

Starring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Bill Austen, Apollo 13 recounts NASA’s near-disaster moon mission. These actors play three astronauts who face life-threatening challenges after an oxygen tank explodes in their spacecraft. Stranded in space, they, along with the NASA team, devise a means to bring them back safely to earth.

What Makes It Great

Apollo 13 keeps viewers on the edge with its gripping and suspenseful plot, balancing personal dramas with the astronauts’ harrowing ordeal. The film is so expertly directed that it feels like the true events are unfolding before viewers’ very eyes. NASA’s collaborative efforts to save them, while their families hope for their safety, are truly inspiring. It’s a great film with excellent performances, and its basis on a true story enhances its enjoyment. Rent on Apple TV

2 Rescue Dawn (2006)

Rescue Dawn is the terrifying true story of Dieter Dengler, a U.S. Navy pilot who was shot down and captured during the Vietnam War. The movie follows Dengler’s struggle for survival as he escapes prison, navigating the harsh jungle terrain to find freedom.

What Makes It Great

Rescue Dawn is often praised for being a compelling and intense survival movie, all thanks to Werner Herzog’s expert direction and Christian Bale’s authentic portrayal of Dieter Dengler. Despite not achieving widespread commercial success, the film is still appreciated for its compelling narrative and the authenticity it brings to Dengler’s survival story. Stream on Paramount+

1 Black Hawk Down (2001)

In Black Hawk Down, it isn’t humans pitted against environmental conditions, but rather a desperate fight for survival when a mission goes awry for the crew of Black Hawk Helicopter. Directed by Ridley Scott, Black Hawk Down is based on the nonfiction book of the same title by Mark Bowden that depicts the true events of the 1993 Mogadishu battle.

What Makes It Great

Though some moments and scenes have been dramatized to heighten the excitement of the movie, this exceptional war film is historically accurate to a great degree. The story is told from the perspectives of various soldiers rather than a specific character as seen in many war movies. This approach makes it feel like documentary footage of a real operation gone wrong. The visual effects, performances, and Scott’s direction come together to make this one of the finest war movies ever created. Stream on Paramount+

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