Best survival movies

It’s not worth trying to make a ranked list, so this is just a collection of the 50 (or so) best prepper movies based on community feedback and our judgement.

Last Updated: April 27, 2020
Added: Cast Away.

What do you think should (or shouldn’t) be here? Comment below!

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, such as how you would make a decision in a given situation, that just can’t be captured in a text article or even a short video. 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:

Contagion movie review
Goop in Contagion

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)

Viggo and Kodi Smit-McPhee in The Road

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)

Goodman and Winstead in the Cloverfield bunker

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)

Arctic (2018). Mads Mikkelsen survives a small plane crash in the frozen north. Excellent, gritty, personal film about the skills and mental fortitude needed to survive. (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 down-to-earth film showing wilderness skills, leadership, and the will to make it out. (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)

Gooding, Spacey, and Hoffman in Outbreak

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)

Defiance (2008). True story. Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber are Jewish brothers in Nazi-occupied Europe who lead hundreds of non-combatants into the woods to survive the war. (IMDB) (Trailer)

Refugees in cages in Children of Men

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)

Bushwick (2017). Dave Bautista is a war veteran leading a young girl out of New York City after martial law spins things out of control. (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)

Joel Edgerton making plans in It Comes at Night

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)

Alive (1993). True story. Ethan Hawke and a rugby team survive in the Andes mountains after a plane crash. (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)

American Blackout (2006). A 90-minute “docu-drama” about the impact of a cyber attack that takes down the US power grid. “When the lights go out, what do we do next?” (IMDB) (Trailer)

The Blackout (2014). A rural town deals with the immediate aftermath of a large grid-down event as people panic and urbanites start spreading to the country. (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)

Buried (2010). Ryan Reynolds is a US truck driver in Iraq. He’s attacked, and wakes up to find himself buried alive in a coffin with only a lighter and cell phone. (IMDB) (Trailer)

Flu (2013). Chaos ensues when a lethal, airborne virus infects the population of a South Korean city less than 20 kilometers from Seoul. Subtitled. (IMDB) (Trailer)

The 33 (2015). True story of the 33 Chilean miners trapped underground for 69 days. (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)

Hanks making fire!

Cast Away (2000).Tom Hanks is stranded on a deserted island. Watch as he collects food, water, and deals with the mental stress of survival. (IMDB) (Trailer)

The Trigger Effect (1996). A blackout leaves those affected to consider what is necessary, what is legal, and what is questionable, in order to survive in a predatory environment. (IMDB) (Trailer)

Dirty War (2004). A terrorist group detonates a radiological dispersal device (RDD) in Central London. Due to a lack of preparation, training, and resources, chaos ensues. (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)

The Way Back (2010). Siberian gulag escapees travel four thousand miles by foot to freedom in India. A true story and an epic feat of survival. (IMDB) (Trailer)

The Tomorrow Man (2019). An elderly, single prepper falls in love. A personal drama touching on the strains of some members of a family preparing while others don’t. (IMDB) (Trailer)

Jungle (2017). Daniel Radcliffe is a tourist who has to survive in the jungle. (IMDB) (Trailer)

The Girl with All the Gifts (2016). Glenn Close and Gemma Arterton in a unique take on the post-apocalyptic zombie genre. (IMDB) (Trailer)

Mad Max series. We prefer the latest installment, 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road. One of the first big movie franchises in the post-apocalyptic genre. Bullets, gas, and water. Witness! (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)

Threads (1984). An unusual movie. Filmed from the perspective of normal people on the ground as things escalate into air raid sirens, panic buying, bomb shelters, etc. (IMDB) (Trailer)

How It Ends (2018). Forest Whitaker is a preparedness-minded father who journeys across the country during a mysterious apocalypse. (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)

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