Survival movies are no doubt a thrilling cinematic experience. And when they are done right, we root for the character(s)’s peril and ordeal as he/she/they overcome the challenge for survival against the odds. This month itself, we already have the Idris Elba-starred “Beast” and now, “Fall”. The latter involves two best friends stranded atop an abandoned 2,000-foot TV tower and having seen the movie earlier, I’m happy to share that it’s definitely a gripping thriller worth checking out.
To coincide with the release of “Fall”, here are 10 Survival Movies Worth Experiencing.
1) Cliffhanger (1993)
Okay, those who have watched “Cliffhanger” before wouldn’t categorise it as a survival movie but more of a “Die Hard”-on-the-mountain action thriller.
But it’s hard to ignore the fact that “Fall” and “Cliffhanger” share a similar situation during the opening scene, which is one of the characters plummeting to his/her death after the climbing goes awry. The opening scene in “Cliffhanger” is one of the most suspenseful moments in the movie and the subsequent set pieces showcased director Renny Harlin’s impressive flair for high-octane action and thrills. Sylvester Stallone is still the bankable action hero at the time and let’s not forget about John Lithgow in his scenery-chewing antagonist turn as Eric Qualen.
2) Everest (2015)
Based on the true story of the ill-fated 1996 Mount Everest disaster, “Everest” boasts a solid ensemble cast including Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, and Jake Gyllenhaal. Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur (you can currently watch his latest movie, “Beast” in cinemas) effectively combines a thrilling Hollywood disaster genre with an emotional gut-punch of a character-driven drama.
Not to mention that “Everest” is an immersive cinematic experience and more so if you happened to watch it on IMAX 3D back in 2015. The movie also does a seamless job integrating practical sets (shot on location in the foothills of Mount Everest and the Italian Alps) and special effects.
3) Vertical Limit (2000)
In the world of television, Chris O’Donnell enjoyed a career resurgence in the long-running “NCIS: Los Angeles”. But it was a tough break for him when comes to feature-length movies (the god-awful “Batman & Robin” debacle came to mind). And yet, you got to give him some credit for pulling off an engaging role as a climber trying to save his sister (Robin Tunney), who is trapped near the top of K2 — the second-highest mountain in the world in “Vertical Limit”.
“Vertical Limit” also benefits from Martin Campbell (“GoldenEye”) as the director of the movie, particularly in terms of the action sequences. And as expected, he knows well how to stage edge-of-your-seat suspense and palpable thrills all around. The stuntwork is incredible and so do just about every technical aspect of this movie.
4) Frozen (2010)
Elsa, Anna, and Prince Hans find themselves stranded on a chairlift and the bad news is, it happens to be Sunday and the ski resort would only reopen five days later. Wait… my mistake. The three characters aren’t supposed to be the ones from the popular Disney animation of the same name. Instead, the characters are a couple including Dan (Kevin Zegers) and Parker (Emma Bell) and Dan’s best friend, Joe Lynch (Shawn Ashmore).
Writer-director Adam Green does an excellent job establishing the three characters from the get-go. And when the tension eventually arrives, he doesn’t sugarcoat the trapped-on-a-chairlift scenario. In other words, “Frozen” grows increasingly pessimistic with ominous dread while Green doesn’t shy away from matter-of-fact gore, violence and harsh realities (the frostbite scene comes to mind). It helps that he insists on shooting the movie practically with no CGI or green screen whatsoever. That means real location (Snowbasin Ski Resort in Mount Ogden, Utah) while the three principal stars were actually there on a chairlift.
5) Cast Away (2000)
Here’s the movie that I personally thought the Academy should have awarded Tom Hanks his third Oscar for Best Actor (after “Philadelphia” and “Forrest Gump”) for. His one-man performance as Chuck Noland, a FedEx executive who ends up stranded on a deserted island following a plane crash, is one for the ages.
“Cast Away” was a huge hit at the time of its release and deservedly so, thanks to Robert Zemeckis’ masterful direction and William Broyles Jr.’s engaging script. It was a quintessential survival movie that makes you root for the character’s ordeal. And of course, extra credit goes to the introduction of Wilson the volleyball, Noland’s only companion and imaginary friend.
6) 127 Hours (2010)
What do you do if you find yourself trapped under a boulder with no outside help whatsoever? That’s the engrossing premise in Danny Boyle’s acclaimed true-story survival drama, “127 Hours”. The movie is, of course, famous for James Franco’s tour de force one-man performance. The amputation scene where he finally takes matters into his own hands is unflinchingly graphic. Boyle also deserves mention for his amazing visual flair, where he incorporates everything from creative camera angles to POV shots, which helps to enliven the otherwise stagy nature of the movie.
7) All Is Lost (2013)
Yet another impressive one-man performance in a survival drama and this time, we’re talking about Robert Redford in “All Is Lost”. It was his best late-career performance before he retired from acting five years later. He plays an unnamed protagonist, who finds himself stranded in the middle of the ocean after his yacht collided with a shipping container. Over the course of the movie, he only delivers sparse dialogue and spends most of the time conveying his varied emotion through facial expressions.
While Robert Redford steals the show in “All Is Lost”, the movie also benefits from J.C. Chandor’s airtight direction and first-rate special effects, notably the storm sequence.
8) Buried (2010)
“Buried” boasts a simple but high-concept premise for a survival thriller. And that is, a truck driver (played by Ryan Reynolds) finding himself buried inside a wooden coffin. With no way out, he only has a few things in his possession: a cell phone, a Zippo lighter and a pencil.
When you have someone like Ryan Reynolds attached to a movie, you would normally expect him in the same old sardonic acting style. But not so in “Buried”, where he pulls off an engaging performance that relies heavily on facial expressions. Rodrigo Cortes’ direction helps too and kudos to him for making good use of the confined space to generate claustrophobic tension and dread-inducing moments.
9) Open Water (2003)
When it comes to shark movies, “Jaws” will always be the undisputed champion of its kind. But there are some of them worth mentioning here including the 2003 low-budget gem called “Open Water”. It was based on a true story about a young couple (Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis) stranded in the middle of shark-infested waters after their group tour boat accidentally leaves them behind.
The stripped-down premise allows writer-director Chris Kentis to focus on the fear of being alone and of course, the escalating sense of dread and uncertainty. “Open Water” became a sleeper hit at the time of its release, where it spawned two more movies. Well, do yourself a favour and avoid them. The original one remains the best.
10) The Shallows (2016)
Who wouldn’t want to watch Blake Lively trying to survive from getting eaten by a hungry great white shark? Well, having her in such a genre movie did help the box-office result in “The Shallows”. She’s photogenic and the camera sure loves ogling her amazing beach body.
But really, “The Shallows” mostly works because of Lively’s committed performance in her largely one-woman show. She is even given a “Cast Away”-like supporting role in the form of an injured seagull instead of a volleyball, where she named it “Steven Seagull” (an obvious nod to Steven Seagal). The pace may have been erratic in places but director Jaume Collet-Serra knows well how to stage some suspenseful and thrilling moments.
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