Whether it be up a mountain, in the jungle, or out at sea, stories of human triumph over nature have always stirred our imagination. But while embarking on a great adventure into the unknown is exciting enough, these stories become even more thrilling when disaster strikes and the adventure suddenly becomes a fight for survival…
Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal, Doctor Strange) finds himself in just such a situation in powerful new survival thriller Arctic. Stranded alone in the desolate polar wilderness after a plane crash, Mikkelsen stars as a pilot forced to use his wits to survive the cold, hunger, treacherous terrain, a crippling injury and a very hungry polar bear…
To celebrate the release of this breathtaking story of isolated endurance, we’ve taken a look at some of the best twenty-first century movies featuring men and women thrust into life-or-death situations and up against everything nature has to throw at them.
OPEN WATER (2003)
Most survival thrillers drop their helpless protagonists in an unfamiliar environment but at least they can usually rely on their feet being on solid ground… well not in Open Water, which sees an unfortunate couple stranded in the middle of the ocean! The film finds stressed-out Daniel and Susan embark on a much-needed scuba-diving vacation but after hitting the water, the pair resurface to find their tour boat has disappeared. Alone at sea, things take a deadly turn for the worse when sharks are spotted circling below the surface. Shot on a tiny budget, the found-footage style adds to the realism of this horrific shark tale, a horror that’s heightened even further by the fact that it’s based on a true-life incident…
127 HOURS (2010)
Over his career, Scottish director Danny Boyle has crafted a variety of critically acclaimed, box office hits and in 2010 he turned his hand to the survival film with 127 Hours. The film is based on American canyoneer Aron Ralston’s book Between a Rock and a Hard Place, which recounts his terrible experience of climbing in an isolated canyon in Utah when a loose boulder crushed his right arm and hand against a rock wall. In true survival movie style, after being trapped things start to get grisly for Aron (played by James Franco) who at first drinks his own urine to survive but soon comes to the realisation he must cut off his own arm with a blunt pen knife to free himself. Ouch! The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, proving yet again that Boyle can make great films whatever style he works in. 127 Hours is a heart-wrenching and dramatic story about the human will to survive and one of the very best of an eclectic genre. Highly recommended.
Prepare for a claustrophobic thrill ride with director Rodrigo Cortés’ Buried. Ryan Reynolds stars as Paul Conroy, a US engineer kidnapped by terrorists while working in Iraq and buried alive in a coffin in an unknown location. The story follows Conroy’s attempts to break out of the box as it slowly caves in and his oxygen runs out. Armed only with a lighter and a mobile phone, he frantically calls colleagues and family, to try to escape the coffin. To craft this ingenious thriller, Cortes looked to the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock most notably his James Stewart-starring classic Rope and the influence was noted by the critics, with Roger Ebert citing Hitchcock in his rave review. A Spanish production but in the English language, the film was shot in Barcelona over just 16 days. With excellent writing and an incredible performance from Reynolds, Buried is a simple concept implemented for maximum thrills. Nail-biting stuff!
THE 12TH MAN (2017)
This powerful World War II thriller is based on the gruelling real-life survival ordeal of Norwegian Resistance fighter Jan Baalsrud. Baalsrud was one of 12 soldiers sent on a covert mission into Nazi occupied Norway to sabotage military facilities. The operation goes wrong almost upon arrival when all the fighters except one are captured. Managing to escape, but not before having his two shot off, Baalsrud goes on the run, surviving freezing temperatures, frostbite, infection and with the ruthless enemy on his trail. The 12the Man came courtesy of Hollywood director Harold Zwart (The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones) who returned to his native Norway to direct his best film to date with fellow countryman Thomas Gullestad (aka rapper The Finger) in the role of Baalsrud and British fave Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Vikings) putting in a chilling turn as vicious Nazi officer, Kurt Stage. This is a gripping an uplifting tale of survival and one of the twentieth century’s most incredible stories of survival.
Based on a remarkable true story of survival at sea, Adrift adds a touch of romance to the survival-thriller formula. The film opens on a woman, Tami, (Shailene Woodley, The Fault in Our Stars) aboard a broken boat adrift and alone at sea. A series of flashbacks reveal Tami to be a young adventurer island-hopping around the world when she runs into, and falls in love with, British sailor Richard (Sam Claflin, Journey’s End). It’s not long before the pair get offered the chance of a lifetime; sail a luxury yacht across the ocean for a hefty paycheck. The dream turns into a nightmare when a storm hits the boat, sending Richard overboard. Despite being able to rescue him, Richard is too hurt to sail and it’s up to Tami to deal with injury, food shortages and a broken boat in order to navigate their way home. In a timely break in this male-dominated genre, Woodley shines as a tough and smart sailor who overcomes every challenge thrown in her way.
The directorial debut of Brazilian musician and filmmaker Joe Penna, Arctic premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018 and has been praised by critics as one of the best survival movies ever made. Featuring a powerful central performance from Mads Mikkelsen, the film finds a lone pilot stranded in the polar wilderness and inhabiting a makeshift camp while awaiting rescue. When a disastrous accident occurs, the pilot makes a decision to take survival into his own hands, leaving the relative safety of camp to make a deadly trek into the unknown… An experienced actor known for tough roles, Mikkelsen had proved his action credentials in King Arthur, Casino Royale and Doctor Strange but even he admitted the shoot in the snowy mountains of Iceland, was the toughest of his career. With some incredible vistas and an incredible solo performance from Mikkelsen, Arctic is not to be missed.