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Unfortunately, much of what makes up modern prepping — rational thought, simple steps, and realistic scenarios — doesn’t make for a good Hollywood survival movie.
So while some of these films are included because they can directly teach you something about preparedness, many of them are over-the-top but included for fun. Some don’t even touch on prepping itself yet are included because they do a good job showing what a situation would be like and give you something to think about.
More: 20 great TV shows
Movies can actually be a real way to improve your preparedness — similar to how pro sports players watch the same game film you do for fun, but they do it for ‘work.’ There’s a lot about the mental side of preparedness that just can’t be captured in a text article or even a short video, such as how you would make a decision in a given situation. Because when thinking about things like, “when would l bug out, and would I actually realize it’s time before it’s too late?” it so often boils down to the sum of little details that can only be captured in a feature film.
In no particular order:
Greenland (2020). A big-budget disaster flick that keeps the story focused on a family trying to navigate a sudden global catastrophe. Lots of examples you can learn from, such as having situational awareness, knowing when and how to bug out, opsec, clogged roads, panicked masses, uncoordinated government responses, ethical choices and people abandoning morals, and so on. “It’s definitely worth a watch, but I kept getting angry with the main characters for making so many stupid decisions. So consider this a two-hour demonstration of what not to do.” – John Ramey
Contagion (2011). Extremely spooky parallels with COVID-19. Starts when the wrong bat meets the wrong pig in China, then spreads rapidly. Leading an all-star cast directed by Steven Soderbergh, Matt Damon is a father trying to navigate his family through food shortages, looting, government missteps, and more. Sound familiar? Given our early coverage of the coronavirus spread, a journalist even recently compared The Prepared to Jude Law’s character (minus the conspiracy junk!) (IMDB) (Trailer)
The Road (2009). Viggo Mortensen shines as a father trying to navigate his son through a post-apocalyptic wasteland while finding food, shelter, and avoiding the last remaining humans. Raw, gritty, and real. (IMDB) (Trailer)
Red Dawn (1984). An 80’s Cold War classic. Follows a group of normal people in Colorado as the Soviets and Cubans parachute in without warning, invading America from the inside-out. There’s a key scene where Patrick Swayze and his friends raid a store to get supplies before bugging out to the mountains. (IMDB) (Trailer)
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016). The fantastic John Goodman is a hardcore prepper with a full bunker. When SHTF, a random bystander (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) ends up in the bunker, together with Goodman and another stranger, trying to figure things out. A loose sequel to the original Cloverfield movie. (IMDB) (Trailer)
The Grey (2011). Liam Neeson survives a small plane crash in the frozen north. (Wait, another one?! But this movie has wolves!) A little on the artsy side — the main motif is about the will to live — with some action sprinkled in, including demonstrations of leadership and wilderness survival skills. (IMDB) (Trailer)
127 Hours (2010). True story of hiker who gets their arm stuck beneath a boulder while canyoneering near Moab, Utah. Another personal, gritty film showing the lengths people can go to to survive. (IMDB) (Trailer)
The Book of Eli (2010). A post-apocalyptic tale, in which a lone man fights his way across America in order to protect a sacred book that holds the secrets to saving humankind. Bonus: the importance of wet wipes for barter. (IMDB) (Trailer)
Zombieland (2009). Just a good, funny zombie movie with a great cast. It’s on the list because the main character, a “oh he’s definitely gonna die first” character played by Jesse Eisenberg, survives by creating and sticking to a list of survival rules. The recent 2019 sequel is nice, but not nearly as strong. (IMDB) (Trailer)
Outbreak (1995). Dustin Hoffman is the chief biological investigator for the US Army. Together with the CDC, they react to a sudden epidemic spreading through a small California town. Shows how things spiral out of control quickly in these scenarios. (IMDB) (Trailer)
Tremors (1990). Kevin Bacon in a cheesy monster flick that turned into a cult classic with a million sequels (none of which are worth it). Reba McEntire and Michael Gross play married super preppers that are the embodiment of doomsday prepper cliches. (IMDB) (Trailer)
Children of Men (2006). Alfonso Cuaron, who later directed the 2018 Best Picture winner, created this beautiful film that is still considered a Big Deal some fifteen years later. Has one of the best single-shot scenes in cinema history. Not much about prepping, but a gritty and interesting take on what slow societal collapse could look like in the near future. (IMDB) (Trailer)
A Quiet Place (2018). Monsters attack, killing off most of society. Led by Emily Blunt and John Krasinski, a family survives on a farm while dealing with post-collapse issues like security, repairs, communication, food, and pregnancy. (IMDB) (Trailer)
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014). Set 10 years after the apes first escape a lab, humans are struggling to survive in and communicate between small colonies. A group leaves San Francisco for ape territory to try and revive an important hydroelectric dam. (IMDB) (Trailer)
No Escape (2015). In their new overseas house, an American family soon finds themselves caught in the middle of a coup, and they frantically look for a safe escape from an environment where foreigners are being immediately executed. Less about prepping (they have no preps) and more self preservation and situational awareness. Community member Pete Orndorff recommended this film, noting “I like that movie because they literally have no prepper gear, just their determination, reasoning, and courage.” (IMDB) (Trailer)
It Comes At Night (2017). As the world collapses, a family in a remote home creates procedures for quarantine, how to protect themselves while scouting for supplies, how to interact with strangers, etc. Touches on a core prepper question: do you help random people when SHTF, or not? (IMDB) (Trailer)
The Survivalist (2015). “Mad Max in the countryside.” A man lives off a small plot of land in the forest during a major food shortage. Two women show up and force interesting choices. (IMDB) (Trailer)
2012 (2009). A Hollywood popcorn flick from disaster king Roland Emmerich (Stargate, Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow). This film is about the much-hyped Mayan calendar prediction of end times in 2012 (remember that?) There’s basically nothing about prepping, but there’s just something fun about this movie — we’ve watched it five times. (IMDB) (Trailer)
Reign of Fire (2002). Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey lead groups of survivors after dragons (yes, dragons) take over the world. Shows elements of community, leadership, food growth, electricity, etc. in an otherwise standard post-apocalyptic flick. (IMDB) (Trailer)
Into the Wild (2007). True story of Christopher McCandless (played by Emil Hirsch), who gave up his prestigious life to live in the Alaskan wilderness. According to Les Stroud: “Accurate depiction of effects of starvation. Also how the protagonist could have survived if he knew what he was doing (with the elk).” (IMDB) (Trailer)
The Martian (2015). Matt Damon (again!) is stranded alone on Mars. A great film showing how determination, communication, staying calm, and using your head to solve problems can win the day. (IMDB) (Trailer)
The Impossible (2012). Dramatized account of the true story of a family on holiday during the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. Naomi Watts (nominated for Best Actress in this role) and Ewan McGregor give fine performances, but overall this (extremely dramatic) film is very mediocre. It’s primarily on this list because it shows at “street level” what things are like in the mess after a sudden disaster, with torn-apart families trying to find each other in the chaos. (IMDB) (Trailer)
The Divide (2011). A devastating nuclear attack thrusts nine strangers together in the bunker-like basement of their New York apartment building. The survivors are trapped underground with no hope of rescue, and only horror on the other side of the door. As supplies dwindle and tempers flare, they become increasingly unhinged by the close quarters and hopelessness of their situation, and turn on one another. (IMDB) (Trailer)
Carriers (2009). As a lethal virus spreads globally, four friends (lead by Chris Pine) seek a reputed plague-free haven. But while avoiding the infected, the travelers turn on one another. (IMDB) (Trailer)
How I Live Now (2013). An American girl, sent to the English countryside to stay with relatives, finds love and purpose while fighting for her survival as war envelops the world around her. More of a Young Adult film, could be great to watch as a family. (IMDB) (Trailer)
Take Shelter (2011). Michael Shannon is excellent in this personal drama about a man with apocalyptic visions. Should he do something about them and prepare his family, or is he losing it? Also shows the dynamics with a spouse who doesn’t prep (played by Jessica Chastain). (IMDB) (Trailer)
The Postman (1997). One of the films that ended Kevin Costner’s stardom (Waterworld being another), yet there are many in the preparedness community that like it anyway. Set years after a major conflict collapses the US government. (IMDB) (Trailer)
Into the Forest (2015). In the wilds of the Pacific Northwest, two sisters (Ellen Page, Evan Rachel Wood) must fight for survival after an apocalyptic blackout leaves them without gas, water, electricity or cellphones. (IMDB) (Trailer)
Life of Pi (2012). 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. Les Stroud: “Even though it’s fiction, the director has done a great job at depicting real consequences, such as how fast the boat slips away and how the voice does not carry across very far in a storm (that’s why you whistle in an emergency).” (IMDB) (Trailer)
Jeremiah Johnson (1972). Robert Redford moves to the mountains for an isolated life. Quickly overwhelmed, local mountain men and Indians teach him survival tactics. Les Stroud’s favorite movie: “The consultant on this movie was Larry D Olsen, one of the godfathers of survival. Accurate in the fact that it takes time, skills, and repetition to learn how to survive.” (IMDB) (Trailer)
The Edge (1997). Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin survive a plane crash in the Alaskan wilderness. Great use of book knowledge in the field, such as a DIY compass and animal trap. A bear wants to eat them too, just for good measure. (IMDB) (Trailer)
Captive State (2019). Overlooked mid-budget movie with some big names like John Goodman and Vera Farmiga. Takes place nine years after aliens conquered earth and turned the government into a Vichy-style vassal state. The movie definitely has some flaws, but more people should see it and we included it here because it shows covert communication and rebellion in a unique way.