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8 Best Survival & SHTF Movies (& Lessons Learned)

It’s fair to say a lot of us are spending a lot more time at home than normal.

A lot of us are firing up our various streaming services and consuming more television and movies than ever before.

Maybe you are growing a little tired of the Gilmore Girls? (Get your crap together, Lorelai.) 

Girlmore Girls Pizza
C’mon, Lorelai!

Anywho, if you are trying to find something new to watch, I have suggestions.

Oh, I also have a full list of the best survival movies and where to watch them!

Some are free, some are rentals, all are great.

netflix mug
Ready to binge!

I could just pop you out a list, but that’s boring.

So, I included some lessons learned in the survival realm.

These flicks will make you want to carry a pocket knife, pack a bug-out bag, and learn how to start fires with sticks and stones. 

Be Prepared
Our motto.

(Learn how to start prepping with our Prepping 101 for Beginners resource!)

Without further adieu…

Best Survival Movies

1. The Edge (1997): Youtube/Amazon Prime

A survival film featuring a Baldwin, a guy I’ve never heard of, and of course, Sir Anthony Hopkins, The Edge follows a billionaire whose private plane goes down in the wilds of Alaska.

The Edge Poster
The Edge Poster

Surprisingly, the billionaire, played by Anthony Hopkins, is the most suited to survival. 

This film tracks the men as they attempt to survive the harsh environment even deal with interpersonal relationships. They also contend with a Kodiak bear that’s stalking them.

Baldwin, Hopkins, and Bear
Baldwin, Hopkins, and Bear

The bear acts as a wilderness Terminator — unrelenting in its pursuit.

Unsurprisingly, this keeps them on the move and adds a bit of tension to the film. 

It’s a flick worth watching, but why is it a good survival flick? 

The Edge Bear
“Got any snacks?”

Early in the film, a pocket knife is given to our hero. Chekov’s knife is used quite a bit by Anthony Hopkins in numerous survival scenarios.

A simple folding knife, it’s different than most survival knives we see on the big screen. 

Lyttle Survivla Knife Replica
You could even find replicas of the Lyttle knife that starred in The Edge!

The characters use a compass leaf to determine south, which made my inner 7-year-old rush out to try the same thing.

The men construct a trap for small game and later for much bigger prey.

Various survival techniques are on display, as well as some good ole’ fashioned Hollywoodism in creating villains in a survival scenario. 

Hopkins and Baldwin The Edge
Looks chilly, my dudes.

I appreciate the subtly in the survival techniques, in the knife, and in the men’s dealing with a rather non-permissive world. 

Lessons Learned: Have a pocket knife, preferably a multitool. Knowledge weighs nothing, so knowing how to do things can be as valuable as having things. Knowing how to build traps and compasses can be life-saving. 

edc pocket knives
As you can see, I had lots of options.

2. The Impossible (2012): Netflix

So Obi-Wan Kenobi and Baby Spider Man go on vacation to Thailand with the rest of their family.

The good news: their idyllic beach resort looks like a gorgeous way to spend Christmas.

The bad news…it’s 2004.

The Impossible Poster
The Impossible Poster

For those not in the know, 2004 saw a massive Tsunami hit Thailand.

And this family is caught up in that natural disaster. They get separated again and again. 

The Impossible McGregor
Henry (Ewan McGregor), with his two youngest sons after the tsunami, separated from his wife and oldest son.

A desperate father searches for his wife and son, and we see heroic efforts by rescue crews, doctors, nurses, and policemen.

Technically, the film has a happy ending. But when reflecting on the disaster, the happy ending for one family is not the happy ending for all. 

Naomi Watts and Tom Holland The Impossible
Maria (Naomi Watts) and her son Lucas (Tom Holland) battling the flooding that washed them away from the rest of their family.

As a survival flick, there aren’t any traps set for animals, or pocket knives employed or fires made from nothing.

This isn’t that kind of survival story.

It’s a story about the human spirit in the face of damning odds. 

The Impossible Tsunami
That’s…not good.

It shows men and women working together to help each other. It shows fear and pain, but also generosity and mankind’s willingness to come together across societal barriers to help one another. 

The Impossible is based on a true story.

The film also represents the chaos a modern disaster causes, even in the information age.

Failures in communication and travel, injuries, full hospitals, and endless lists of survivors looking for their families are all depicted.  

Sumatran village 2004
A real-life shot of a coastal village in Sumatra after the 2004 tsunami.

It edges into a little over-sentimental but portrays modern disaster well without the need for The Rock to play the hero overcoming odds. 

Lessons Learned: Survival often relies on community and the response of groups of people and not individuals. 

3. Dante’s Peak (1997): Hulu/Amazon Prime

James Bond and Sarah Connor fight a volcano! I’m sold.

My day job is in disaster mitigation and management. This film is often used and referenced regarding community relations. 

Dante's Peak Poster
Dante’s Peak Poster

The premise is simple: sexy Pierce Brosnan goes to a small town in Washington. He makes friends with resident hot mom Linda Hamilton. Soon, he begins to suspect that a dormant volcano is soon to erupt. 

Dante's Peak Looking at Rock
“Hmmm…interesting.”

While many of his superiors don’t believe him, he provides proof, and they finally listen.

While the town is evacuated, he, the aforementioned mom, and her kids are trapped in the flow of incoming lava.

They must survive and escape from an event I doubt many of us plan for. 

Dante's Peak Flooding
And you thought floods of boiling lava was the only thing you had to worry about…

I can’t speak much for surviving a volcano, but we do see some universal disaster survival skills.

One we see is people unwilling to evacuate, and that’s not smart. Disasters are serious business, and orders to evacuate are never given lightly. 

James Bond knows his equipment and makes the most of it. Plus, that ole’ Bronco (*cough* it’s actually a Suburban *cough*) is one sweet bug-out mobile.

This is a silly movie, more fun than anything, but worth watching. 

The Suburban from Dante's Peak
The Suburban from Dante’s Peak

Lessons Learned: Know the risks in your specific area, be it volcanos, tornadoes, or floods. Have a bug-out bag, be ready to move, and leave when ordered to — know-how and where to evacuate as well.

 Also, always rescue the dog. 

Dante's Peak gang
Dante’s Peak gang

4. The Martian (2015): Hulu/Amazon Prime

Jason Bourne gets stranded on Mars!

He’s gotta survive for the next five years until another mission saves him. Along the way, he learns to survive the most non-permissive environment known to man — becoming The Martian

The Martian Poster
The Martian Poster

As the crew’s botanist, he quickly establishes a small garden growing potatoes using water derived from rocket fuel and human waste. 

He constantly works using a phrase that suits a proper survival mentality, “work the problem.”

He faces each challenge head-on and even establishes communication with earth. Admittedly things go wrong eventually, and his rescue is sped up with help from some steely-eyed missile men. 

Spoiler alert: after his survival, he becomes a survival instructor for astronauts heading to Mars. Everyone goes home happy…mostly. 

The Martian rover
Can’t say “been there, done that,” but that posture looks familar.

The lead shows an important survival skill many of us forget in our constant need to prep gear and load guns.

He keeps a level head.

He never gives up and works each problem as it comes. 

The Martian seated
Just waiting on the NASA equivalent of AAA.

Improvising is important, as is mechanical skills. While it’s tons of fun to take a rifle class, but a class on vehicle repair and engines might prove more valuable.

Heck, botany saved the man’s life, not his ability to employ a Mosin Nagant like Vasily Zaytsev. 

The Martian video log
Day 345 of our “two week quarantine”

Lessons Learned: Work the Problem is a wonderful philosophy. Keep improving your situation to the best of your ability. Make use of what you have and improvise when needed. 

5. Alive (1993): Amazon Prime

Based on true events, Alive involves a plane crash and an Uruguayan rugby team.

I’d like to deliver some snark with this, but the real events call for some respect.

Don’t be fooled. The cover of the film portraying smiling faces and hope are not what you should expect to see for 99% of this film

Alive Poster
Alive Poster

In 1972, a plane carrying the rugby team crashed in the Andes mountains.

Alive tells the story of the survivors, often graphically. But also never goes over the top for cheap thrills. It’s a somber movie.

Alive Plane Crash
Alive Plane Crash

Famously, this group of survivors resorted to cannibalism.

It was not done lightly, and it’s not portrayed for thrills. It’s heartbreaking and something the real survivors felt guilty for and maybe still do. 

The Pope himself absolved these men and women. 

The actual plane crash from Alive
The actual plane crash from Alive

Besides cannibalism, the film portrays leadership in the face of adversity, as well as the values of improvisation.

It also shows what happens when rationing and planning break down.

Above all, it’s a wonderful display of the human spirit and inherent want and need to survive. 

Alive bundled up
In the snowy Andes, body heat is a precious commodity!

It’s not an easy movie to watch, and the book based on the event is not easy to read. However, I do suggest everyone read or watch.

It’s eye-opening, but also inspirational. 

Lessons Learned: Hard decisions, even in the face of death, are never easy. Leadership is immensely valuable, as are creativity and improvisation. Never rely on assumptions without evidence. 

Most of all, never give up. 

galaxy quest never give up

6. Red Dawn (1984): Hulu/Amazon Prime

After the grim and realistic approach of Alive, let’s wash our palette with an American classic, Red Dawn.

Not the 2012 remake — the original staring Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez, Charlie Sheen, and C. Thomas Howell. 

Red Dawn Poster
Red Dawn Poster

As a kid, I loved this movie and wished the Russians would invade so I could take to the hills and start my own guerilla war.

I’m a bit like a Red Dawn missionary and have shown countless people the gospel. 

The premise is simple. A Soviet force of Cubans and Nicaraguans invade America alongside the Soviet Union.

A group of teenagers flee their school during the attack and take to the mountains. 

Red Dawn cast
Just a lil guerilla warfare with my homies!

World War III has begun, and the teens begin their own guerilla campaign against the invading communists.

The movie displayed the kids using guerilla tactics against the invaders, as well their own struggles to survive away from society. 

Early on, the kids take bows, guns, and survival gear from a local sporting store and head into the mountains.

Red Dawn meme
…basically.

The film has a clear pro-gun stance. No surprise, writer and director John Milius has long been a friend of the second amendment.

The movie shows the kids hunting, eating, rationing, and making do with what they have. 

Teamwork is one notable feature you see throughout the movie. The group bonds and become proficient warriors, beginning to thrive despite the invading enemy.

Red Dawn Paratroopers
Red Dawn Paratroopers

It’s clearly a bit propagandistic, but also just a fun flick starring the guy who’d later go on to dirty dance, fight in a road house, and later become a ghost with Demi Moore. 

Lessons Learned: Teamwork is critical. Knowing basic field skills is a must-have. Being able to hunt, scavenge, and being willing and able to fight is always important.

Lea Thompson Red Dawn
Lea Thompson Red Dawn

It shows the damage guerilla tactics cause and the importance of surprise and home-field advantage. 

7. Rescue Dawn (2006): Free on Youtube/Amazon Prime

Man, two movies with the word Dawn in the title have made this list.

Rescue Dawn is another stark and somewhat bleak film based on real-life events.

This Werner Herzog-written and directed film is the true story of Dieter Dengler, who served as a US Navy pilot in Vietnam. 

Rescue Dawn Poster
Rescue Dawn Poster

German-born Dieter was shot down and held as a POW by Laotian and Vietnamese fighters. He was tortured, beaten, harassed, and nearly killed multiple times.

His harrowing escape is portrayed in the film, as well as his rescue, capture, and treatment. 

Christian Bale and Steve Zahn Rescue Dawn
Dieter (Christian Bale) and Duane (Steve Zahn) in the POW camp.

Rescue Dawn shows the horrid conditions Dieter suffered and the challenges he faced as he escaped the POW camp.

The films show Dieter’s real and rather ingenious escape. A precise, daring adventure that allowed him and his compatriots to disappear into the jungle. 

Dengler escaping
Dengler escaping through the jungle

Dieter’s survival training kicks in as he attempts to escape yet another cage that is in the form of the jungle.

He makes fire, uses camouflage, builds a raft, and uses his environment as much as possible. He makes it through his ordeals and never gives in or surrenders to an enemy. 

Rescue Dawn torture
Even under torture, Dengler never gave up.

Macguyver-like skills put into motion.

Worth mentioning, the real Dieter Dengler was such a crafty survivalist he was the only student to gain weight at his Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape school. 

Dieter Dengler Uniform
The real Dieter Dengler

Lessons Learned: “Improvise, adapt, and overcome” — a consistent theme throughout this movie. Dieter had training and took it very seriously. His ability to survive and escape led to his eventual rescue. It all fell back on his training. 

Dieter Dengler after Escape
Dieter Dengler after escape

Training saves lives in both the jungles of Vietnam and the concrete jungle most of us reside in. 

8. First Blood (1982): Hulu/Amazon Prime

First Blood isn’t your typical survival movie.

If you’ve lived under a rock, then let me describe Rambo. Stallone plays a Vietnam vet drifter who rolls into town looking for his friend. 

First Blood Poster
First Blood Poster

However, he immediately gets accosted by local police and refuses to allow himself to be bullied.

This ends with him going to war single-handedly against the police, and later National Guard.

You see, Rambo isn’t your everyday average drifter. 

First Blood
Seen here from left, Sylvester Stallone as John Rambo, and Brian Dennehy as Sheriff Will Teasle confronting Rambo. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

He’s a former commando who is as tough as nails and brilliant in the field.

Once he’s in the wilderness, the police meet their match with a man skilled in survival, guerilla warfare, booby traps, and more. 

Rambo on the hunt
Rambo on the hunt

Rambo escapes and evades expertly and even kills, cooks, and eats a wild pig with nothing more than a knife and his wits.

He makes use of what he can find to survive and constantly works to improve his situation. 

Throughout the movie, Rambo is cunning, smart, and, more importantly, physically able to endure.

A literal army cannot stop the man. Rambo’s training and physical prowess allow him to repeatedly best his enemies and keep moving. 

Rambo in the rain
And, of course, get that iconic “shirtless in the rain” shot!

Lesson Learned: Physical fitness matters. Survival of the fittest is the perfect way to describe Rambo’s struggle against the police and the National Guard. Beyond that, it goes back to Rambo’s survival training. 

Also, again, don’t forget a knife

Conclusion

Survival movies come in all shapes and sizes. From miniature local events to massive Russian invasions, we can’t plan for everything. 

conspiracy theory guy
But we can try!

With that in mind, we can sometimes unplug, kick our feet up and enjoy a flick where someone else has to deal with it.

When possible, we can learn something, gain inspiration to learn a new skill…or ya know to invest in a good knife. 

What’s your favorite survival or disaster movie? Let us know below! Prepare yourself and your family for a disaster by learning how to make your very own Bug Out Bags! Or check out everything survival in our Ultimate Resource: Survival & Prepping.

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9 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Brett

    All Is Lost - starring Robert Redford stranded at sea on a sailboat. Really powerful movie and should be on this list

    March 16, 2021 8:44 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Corban

    In elementary school during recess when it was raining and we couldn't go outside - the school would put on the movie "A Cry in the Wild." Based on the young adult novel "Hatchet" it's sort of "The Edge" for kids: a plane crashes into a lake in the Canadian wilderness, and the survivor is continually pestered by a bear while contending with exposure, hunger, and the other challenges of outdoor survival.

    March 16, 2021 5:54 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Christian

    The Hunted - DIY knife making with Benicio Del Toro and Tommy Lee Jones!

    March 16, 2021 5:54 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Donald

    Book of Eli was my vote. To quote the Martian I'm having vicodin on my potatoes because there is no one here to stop me is perfect.

    March 16, 2021 5:54 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Grunthos

    The grey - Liam Neeson and wolves Hunt for the Wilderpeople - Sam Neill

    March 16, 2021 5:54 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    James

    Touching the Void decisions teamwork team loss endurance

    March 16, 2021 5:54 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    FS

    I thought for sure I Am Legend would make the list. Given the current events it’s very befitting.

    March 16, 2021 5:54 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Jon

    The Road

    March 16, 2021 5:54 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Alternator

      Everything else is fluff garbage by comparison.

      March 16, 2021 5:54 am
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