We absolutely love stories of grit, spirit, and human courage. It could be the story of a stranded castaway stuck on an island far from the inhabited lands or the story of a plane crash survivor struggling to survive in extreme temperatures. We love them all. A lot of these movies are also based on real-life stories that make the death-defying acts of the protagonists even more fascinating. It’s inspiring to cheer for people who are stuck in brutal conditions and it’s even better to watch them survive it with battle scars that they’ll wear for the rest of their lives.
But we must admit that being in a dangerous situation where you’re struggling to light a fire by rubbing two rocks or building your own boat to cross the unmerciful ocean wouldn’t really be a good feeling. In fact, it’ll be more or less of a nightmare for most of us. And that’s why we prefer to watch all of that instead of actually experiencing it. And quite honestly, why would someone even think of getting themselves in a situation like that on purpose unless of course, you’re “Alexander Supertramp” or Bear Grylls? Let’s be honest, we wouldn’t survive a day without our privileged lifestyles. Having said that, it’s great to sit and watch survival movies and Netflix has got an incredible collection of them. So, here’s the list of really good survival movies on Netflix that are available to stream right now:
20. Into the Forest (2015)
‘Into the Forest’ focuses on the dynamics and experiences of two sisters- Nell (Elliot Page) and Eva (Evan Rachel Wood), set in the near-futuristic timeline. They stay with their father in a beautiful home in the woods. Their off-the-grid lifestyle sees heavy dependence on technology and electricity. As they experience a blackout for about a year. It is the story of the two sisters who survive in isolation despite all the terrible situations they face. The film highlights the fact that nature is no more a habitat natural to humans. Without information and connection with the larger world, we soon start to lose ourselves. The story is a test of resilience in a back-to-basic world.
19. Circle (2015)
‘Circle’ is a psychological thriller set in a single location where fifty strangers find themselves arranged in two concentric circles in a room. The science fiction is inspired by the 1957 drama, ‘12 Angry Men.’ The extraterrestrial experiment is a matter of life-and-death as people vaporize every two minutes or if they try to leave. The participants soon realize that they can vote to nudge the danger away from themselves. Although set against a fictional backdrop, the film does not skimp on the existential questions that we as human beings face. How we evaluate life when it comes down to the bare basics and our will to survive is captured with haunting accuracy.
18. #Alive (2020)
Amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, this film builds on the fear of viruses with an extra dose of zombies. Joon-woo (Yoo Ah-in) is a teen gamer who is left alone in his parents’ apartment as a zombie outbreak takes over the city of Seoul. Joon-woo fights to survive and finally learns to fend for himself.
The film also captures the budding romance amidst the apocalypse between Joon-woo and another survivor isolating herself in her apartment, Yoo-bin (Park Shin-hye). As the internet services shut down, it gets harder to survive and seek help. Although highly dramatized for the current situation we are living in, the film is relatable when it comes to dealing with topics of loneliness, decisions that question ethics, and even the importance of communication, albeit through social media.
17. IO Last on Earth (2019)
The movie is set in a post-apocalyptic Earth where almost all of the human population has left our planet and moved to Jupiter’s moon, IO. Earth has been declared toxic but scientist Sam Walden believes otherwise and still wants to find a way for humans to live on their home planet. She sends out a broadcast message one day to see if anyone who is still on earth will come to find her. A man named Micah hears the radio transmission and visits her. But Micah is not at all convinced with Sam’s notions and believes that there is no scope for survival on Earth anymore. They both have a tough decision to make — should they take the next shuttle which is the last one to IO or stick around and find a solution?
16. Abandoned (2015)
The trimaran (yacht), Rose Noelle set sail from Picton, New Zealand to Tonga with a crew of four in 1989. ‘Abandoned’ tells the story of their survival as the yacht is capsized by a freak wave, setting them adrift for 119 days before they hit the shores of Great Barrier Island. Directed by John Laing, the film captures the conflicts in personalities of the four survivors who spent the days at sea on a space barely as big as a double bed. Their miraculous survival made the headlines all over the world but also raised doubts about the authenticity of their story.
15. The Ritual (2017)
Based on the novel by Adam Nevill, ‘The Ritual’ is a British horror film that tells the story of a group of college friends who reunite for a hiking trip in the forests of Sweden to honor their friend who was killed in an armed robbery. An ancient evil presence stalks them in the forest as the characters are seen staring into the darkness. Director David Bruckner leverages the landscape to build the spine-chilling experience. The film, shot in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania stars Rafe Spall has Luke, Arsher Ali as Phil, Robert James-Collier as Hutch, Sam Troughton as Dom, and Paul Reid as Robert.
14. Extinction (2018)
This one’s kind of like a Noah’s Ark adaptation with a dash of extraterrestrial hauntings in it. ‘Extinction’ is the story of Peter who is a great father and husband. He suddenly starts getting haunted by reoccurring dreams where his family dies. Everyone gets troubled by his paranoid behavior that follows his dreams but soon after that, the world gets attacked by alien forces that have come with an intention to invade us. Peter needs to find the strength to protect his family from these alien forces but let me assure you that this not your typical sci-fi invasion film about survival. It holds a big twist that makes you jump out of your seat. A must watch for all survival sci-fi lovers as this one holds an amazingly unique concept which has been executed almost perfectly.
13. Adrift (2018)
Set in 1983 against the backdrop of Hurricane Raymond, ‘Adrift’ is based on a true story of a couple who find themselves in the middle of the Pacific Ocean after the hurricane. The film tells the story of how they make it to Hawaii on a damaged boat with no radio. This film adaptation, directed by Baltasar Kormakur relives the account of Tami Oldham Ashcraft (Shailene Woodley) and her fiancé Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin), as they sail from Tahiti to San Diego. With various chilling shots of the small yacht surrounded by the blue waters, cinematographer Robert Richardson has done a tremendous job of capturing the loneliness of survivors in the open sea.
12. Mine 9 (2019)
Following a methane explosion, two miles deep into the earth, nine miners struggle to survive as they have enough oxygen only for an hour. Eddie Mensore makes this film humble and relatable with no over the top theatrics and writing the characters in a manner that viewers don’t favor one or few over the others. This film brings to light the struggle of ‘everyman’ and how we measure the value of a person by their economic productivity. Although the film is not based on any particular real-life event, it evokes a connection from the viewers nevertheless. Matthew Boyd’s cinematography has been widely appreciated as it captures the claustrophobic tone of the story effectively.
11. The Platform (2019)
This Spanish film is a dystopian thriller, originally titled ‘El Hoyo’ meaning ‘The Hole.’ A hundred floors tall vertical prison or “Vertical Self Management Center” houses two inmates per cell, with one cell on each floor. Every day a platform with food descends to every floor for a very brief time to provide the left-overs from the topmost floor. As one descends to a lower floor, the availability of food decreases as it depends on how much the people on the floors above them eat.
The story is told through the eyes of Goreng (Iván Massagué), who wakes up in cell number 48. Every month, the inmates change floors, and we see the shift in the characters’ personalities as they move up and down ‘The Hole.’ Director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia and the writers, David Desola and Pedro Rivero draw a very relatable yet haunting parallel to the current society we live in.
10. Defiance (2008)
‘Defiance’ is essentially based on a true story of a group of Jewish survivors who defied the Nazi rule and set up a self-sustained community in the forests of Belarus. The American film directed by Edward Zwick is filmed in Lithuania and deals with the ethical questions the group faces and how they govern themselves.
Daniel Craig plays the lead role of Tuvia Bielski, who along with his brothers, comes across other Jewish escapees hiding in the forest and take them under their leadership. The “Bielski Partisans” went on to become the most successful group of Jewish resisters. This story, set against the backdrop of Nazi atrocities, focuses on the survival of this community who combat harsh weather conditions, famine, and even epidemic.
9. Kon-Tiki (2012)
‘Kon-Tiki’ tells the true story of the legendary explorer, Thor Heyerdahl (Pål Sverre Hagen), who embarks on a journey on the Pacific, from Peru to Polynesia in 1947. Thor set sail on a handmade balsawood raft with his crew of five men to prove his theory that South American people settled on Polynesian islands in the pre-Columbian times.
What ensues is a 101-day journey of survival on the open seas as the world awaits the result. This film was nominated for the Academy Awards, the Golden Globe, and the Satellite Awards under the Best Foreign Language Film category, making it the first Norwegian film to be nominated for both an Oscar and a Golden Globe.
8. Sand Castle (2017)
Based on a true story, Sand Castle is a war drama that tells the story of a group of soldiers who were sent to a nearby village to fix a problem with the water supply there. But the simple task of water transportation and providing plumbing and infrastructure that supports the cause becomes a struggle for survival in a brutal war zone. The movie is a raw and accurate representation of an actual war scenario without the overdramatization of self-reflection and problems of the main characters, which most war dramas do.
7. The Decline (2020)
The Canadian action thriller is filmed in French and directed by Patrice Laliberte. A group of people joins a survivalist training camp to prepare for any eventuality should it occur, such as war, epidemic, or a societal breakdown. A fatal accident in the camp sends the participants into a frenzy, as they get polarized into two. The film ultimately turns into a hunting game due to the difference in opinions of the two camps that emerge due to the accident.
Alain (Réal Bossé), the organizer of the camp, does not want to deal with the legal authorities who might be accused of manslaughter or “domestic terrorism.” The fast-paced thriller keeps it real and does not takeoff from supernatural events or a villain with twisted motivations. The villains here are people themselves.
6. Solo (2018)
The plot of this one is very similar to that of 127 hours. This film, too, is a true story of the survival and near-death experience of a surfer who accidentally slides down a dune and crashes into the ocean, breaking his hip and injuring his head. I believe that the people who know that they’re going to die soon start looking back and contemplating life to reflect upon all the things and people they took for granted. This is also a common stature for most “do or die” situation kind of films and that’s why it feels so familiar.
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5. Cadaver (2020)
‘Cadaver’ is a Norwegian film, directed by the young director, Jarand Herdal. Survival is one of the biggest themes in the film that also makes us question, what does surviving mean to us? Could it cost us our humanity? In a city torn down by a nuclear disaster, people are barely surviving. With no food, no shelter, and no security, people preferred death over life. Art is what keeps us sane at times like this as it provides an escape; it gives us hope. It is with this hope that a family goes to see a play called ‘The Hotel’ which also included a sumptuous meal. This unusual play invites the participation of the audience- but no one would have thought that it would become a battle for survival. Not much of an escape from reality!
4. How It Ends (2018)
Starring Theo James and Forest Whitaker, this one cannot really be ranked as one of the best but it’s still there on Netflix if you’re in the mood for some survival action movies and have watched almost all the others. The movie is slow and light unlike other movies of this genre and will not make you anxious at all. It’s just a time-killing story of a man who tries to reach home in a post-apocalyptic world so that he can be with his fiancee again. Watch this one with no high hopes and also with the sole intention of passing your time.
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3. The Red Sea Diving Resort (2019)
Inspired by true events in the 80s, ‘The Red Sea Diving Resort’ shares the story of a fake holiday destination in Arous (in Sudan) by the same name, which was a front for Israeli agents’ humanitarian mission. The Mossad agents were rescuing Ethiopian Jews held in refugee camps in Sudan by smuggling them out of the country.
Chris Evans plays the Israeli Mossad Agent Ari Levinson, with Michael. K. Williams, who plays the role of Kedebe Bimro, an Ethiopian Jew who work together to evacuate the Jewish-Ethiopian refugees to Israel. Directed by Gideon Raff, the film was made with some big names on board such as Ben Kingsley, Greg Kinnear, Alessandro Nivola, and Haley Bennett.
2. Bird Box (2018)
‘Bird Box’ is based on a novel by the same name, written by Josh Malerman. This post-apocalyptic thriller follows a mother, Malorie Hayes (Sandra Bullock), who tries to protect herself and her two children from the malevolent forces that drive people to insanity if they look at these entities. The unseen supernatural forces take the form of people’s worst fears and manipulate them into committing suicide.
The film goes back and forth two timelines, five years apart. No survivor has ever seen these entities, but the people must stay blindfolded for their safety and survival. The story is about how Malorie completes a dangerous journey with her children, to the only place that can offer them security. What is appreciated about the film is that it relies on the fear of the characters rather than the supernatural interactions itself.
1. Swiss Army Man (2016)
This movie is one of its kind. Starring Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe, the film revolves around the story of Hank who lives all alone on an abandoned island. Being on the verge of ending his life, Hank finds new purpose when a dead body washes ashore on the beach one day. The dead body that later shows weird abilities and even talks quite a lot becomes Hank’s new buddy just how Tom Hanks befriends his imaginarily personified football “Wilson” in Castaway. But this movie is nothing like ‘Castaway’ and is just about the fun and hilarious journey of two friends who set out to go back home. This one may not entirely fit the survival genre, being so non-serious compared to the other films, but still qualifies as a more humorous comedy than most films in the category, floating just a little above of being qualified as a parody.
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