This post has been updated from our original 50 Survival Movies post that was first published in 2021. We keep our content updated as the world around us changes, as we learn new skills and techniques, and (of course) when we find more survival and prepping movies. This list is now a little more than 50 movies.
Survival movies are a great way to relax, kick back, and be entertained. They also give us an easy way to learn about prepping and survival, just by watching characters map out their decisions when confronted with different survival situations. Typically, the more prepared and experienced they are the better off they are- but movies are made in Hollywood and anything can happen!
In our curated list below, we break out our favorite survival movies and list the rest broken up by the type of threats our protagonists face. they are surviving an emergency on their own or fending off hordes of zombies with their friends, there are examples of prepping and survival tactics in each of our picks.
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The Best Prepper Movies
These movies with survival themes and prepper characters hold a special place in our hearts. If you’re going to check out any of the movies on this list, pick one from our top picks below that you haven’t seen yet. These are our subjective picks, but most of them are well received by a wide range of audiences.
2011 – Directed by Steven Soderbergh – Starring Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, and Gwyneth Paltrow – 85% Rotten Tomatoes, 6.8 IMDB
This movie with a blockbuster cast flew under the radar until COVID-19 showed plenty of similarities, and it became the ‘movie to watch’ at the beginning of the pandemic. Even prior to the pandemic, many people in epidemiology and preparedness praised it for its accurate portrayal of a novel virus’ effect on society and how we would be unprepared to quickly deal with it.
The cast is great in this movie; Matt Damon is a great sympathetic father trying to navigate the pandemic. Jude Law really stands out as the prepared guy who earns the public’s trust by questioning authorities’ response, with a great twist at the end. If you still haven’t seen this movie, you should check it out for its chilling model of a governmental pandemic response that never stood a chance against the virus (or the public panic).
2009 – Directed by John Hillcoat – Starring Viggo Mortensen, Charlize Theron, Robert Duvall, and Guy Pearce – 74% Rotten Tomatoes, 7.2 IMDB
A man and his son have to cross an apocalypse-scorched America to reach the ocean. This movie is a gritty look at the post-apocalypse world, as he avoids remaining humans while searching for food and shelter.
Viggo Mortensen is excellent in this role of a rugged father doing best by his son. It has you asking yourself questions about how you would handle situations, and whether you could hack it in such a cold and uncompromising world. The movie is based on the novel by the same name, which serves as great source material.
28 Days Later
2003 – Directed by Danny Boyle – Starring Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, and Christopher Eccleston – 87% Rotten Tomatoes, 7.6 IMDB
One of the first ‘zombie runners’ movies, this well-paced horror has some amazingly tense scenes that keep you on the edge of your seat. Cillian Murphy is great as the guy waking up in a hospital at the tail-end of a zombie apocalypse, as London is eerily empty when he stumbles out.
Food, shelter, and avoiding other humans are all front-and-center in this story as the handful of survivors have just as many issues with these as they do with the hyper-aggressive zombies. 28 Weeks Later, the sequel was also well-received but doesn’t quite edge out the original story.
The Book of Eli
2010 – Directed by the Hughes brothers – Starring Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman – 46% Rotten Tomatoes, 6.9 IMDB
Denzel is a force in this post-apocalyptic movie that focuses on his travels to restore hope for mankind. Plenty of tense action for our lone wanderer, as the other humans are predictably terrible in most post-apocalypse scenarios. A couple of twists and the ‘controversial’ biblical undertones made this movie a mixed bag for critics, but who relies on them for a good movie list anyways?
2015 – Directed by Ridley Scott – Starring Matt Damon – 91% Rotten Tomatoes, 8.0 IMDB
A sci-fi prepper masterpiece, The Martian is a masterclass on surviving with limited resources – on remote planets with nobody else around. With most of the science used in the movie surprisingly sound, the story becomes much more believable and you can’t help but root for Damon’s character. His mistakes are teachable moments about how assumptions can be life-and-death when you are in a survival situation.
The movie is based on a book and it earned several awards. The attention to detail will have you geeking out about the survival science: from horticulture on Mars to creating water from hydrazine. It’s definitely worth watching if you haven’t seen it yet.
2014 – Directed by David Michôd – Starring Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson – 66% Rotten Tomatoes, 6.4 IMDB
The Rover feels like a blend of The Road and Taken- our hero loses his car and will stop at nothing to get it back (and punish those that took it). The apocalyptic setting is grim, gritty, and plays out like a true Western movie.
Guy Pearce is awesome to watch in this and Robert Pattinson is great as the left-behind baddie as well. They form an unlikely alliance to exact some gratifying revenge.
Blast from the Past
1999 – Directed by Hugh Wilson – Starring Brendan Fraser, Alicia Silverstone, and Christopher Walken – 58% Rotten Tomatoes, 6.6 IMDB
If you are in the mood for something a little more quirky, this Rom-Com is right up your alley. It’s a time capsule of 90s nostalgia, but the plot revolves around an eccentric family that has been holed up in a bunker for decades. Brendan Fraser is as goofy as ever and sets his eyes on Alicia Silverstone when he’s sent out to gather supplies.
It pokes fun at preppers and highlights the importance of being informed. Christopher Walken is great as the stubborn prepper dad and shows why you should never let preparedness get in the way of living your life to the fullest.
Solo Survival Movies
Sometimes bad stuff happens to just you, and you have to figure it out and survive. These movies focus on self-sufficiency and the ability to be resourceful enough to survive on your own.
The Revenant – Leo won his Oscar for this epic survival tale set in early American uncharted wilderness. Probably for the bear scene.
The Grey – Liam Neeson is badass once again in this survival story of plane crash victims in the Alaskan wilderness.
Life of Pi – Lifeboat survival with a tiger? This is another Oscar winner with beautiful cinematography and a memorable message about life.
127 Hours – The true story of a climber stuck for five days in a canyon and having to make a difficult choice to survive.
Buried – If you wake up six feet under with a lighter, and cell phone- how do you prioritize light, your phone battery, and oxygen?
Never Cry Wolf – Based on a true story, this Disney movie based on a book is a great family movie. A biologist studying wolves isn’t the only one to teach lessons- the wolves themselves have plenty to share.
Arctic – Mads Mikkelsen is stranded in the arctic by a plane crash and has to make the tough decision of whether to stay put or go mobile.
Jeremiah Johnson – Robert Redford in an epic about learning the code of survival in the mountain wilderness.
Man in the Wilderness – A trapper is left for dead after being attacked by a Grizzly. Sound familiar to The Revenant? Well, this one did it first.
All is Lost – Robert Redford is older, wiser, and at it again trying to survive solo on the open sea.
Castaway – Surviving four years on your own is tough, but Tom Hanks makes it easy to come along for the ride.
Group Survival Movies
These picks cover those movies where groups find themselves in some tough situations and need to rely on a little survival know-how to pull through.
The Edge – A plane crash forces Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin to square off to survive.
Jungle – Based on a true story, some people have a tough time in the jungle. Never underestimate mother nature.
Swiss Family Robinson – The original shipwrecked family uses teamwork and ingenuity to survive in this fun family movie.
The 33 – The real-life story of 33 miners trapped in a gold and silver mine for 69 days.
Trolls – Yes, the 2016 kids’ movie full of songs has a main character ‘Branch’ who is prepared- and rightfully so- since his kind is sought out and eaten by the antagonists.
Tremors – In this entertaining monster movie, one highlight is Reba McEntire and Michael Gross as a pair of badass preppers.
Disaster Survival Movies
With 100-year events becoming more common, these disaster movies are becoming more relevant every day. Contagion had parts that were eerily similar to COVID-19… which of these will be the next ‘eerily similar’ movie?
The Day After Tomorrow – A climatologist and his son try to reunite as a series of disasters chain together to begin a new Ice Age.
San Andreas – The San Andreas Fault line rips a magnitude 9 earthquake, so the Rock has to save his daughter.
No Escape – An American family struggles to survive and lay low when a violent coup overtakes a Southeast Asia country.
Bushwick – A civil war erupts as Texas attempts to secede. The premise is a little iffy, but there are still a few survival takeaways.
2012 – Similar to the Day After Tomorrow (and by the same director), this movie shows compounding disasters, including a Yellowstone caldera eruption.
Dirty War – Required watching for Emergency Preparedness, this movie shows the planning, execution, and aftermath of a dirty bomb release in London.
Outbreak – Army medical researchers (led by Dustin Hoffman) try to stem the spread of a deadly novel virus outbreak.
Right at Your Door – Some sort of dirty bomb is released in LA, and a couple navigates the aftermath by sheltering in place with plastic and duct tape and quarantining. The plot is questionable, but it does show some interesting perspectives.
The Trigger Effect – A power outage affects a major city and lawlessness descends quickly as a family learns the importance of preparedness.
The Impossible – A true story of one family’s survival when they were vacationing in Southeast Asia when the 2004 Tsunami hit. A gripping and intense look at the tsunami and its aftermath.
Apocalyptic Survival Movies
What’s bigger than a disaster but not as big as a cataclysmic event? An apocalypse! And boy does Hollywood love movies with an apocalypse going on or set in the post-apocalyptic future.
Blackout – A global blackout causes society to crumble as a small group attempts to survive.
Red Dawn – A teenage militia (including Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen) try to fend off Russian invaders in the Rockies.
Children of Men – Mass infertility drastically change society, and one man (Clive Owen) must protect humanity’s last chance.
Defiance – A Jewish resistance camp in the Belarussian forest provides the backdrop for this historical tale of perseverance and grit.
The Survivalist – A guy and two gals team up to survive a post-apocalyptic kill-or-be-killed world.
How I Live Now – The UK and the rest of Europe collapse into violence, ruining a girl’s idyllic romance.
American Blackout – A cyber attack takes down the American power grid in this docu-drama by National Geographic. Experts share what will happen to society, and just how quickly we will all be affected.
Flu – A deadly flu variant ravages Korea in this foreign film. It feels like Contagion if the virus had a higher R0 transmission rate, mortality rate, and gruesome face-melting symptoms.
Carriers – In this global pandemic movie, four teens turn on each other as they try to outrun the deadly virus.
Threads – A couple’s nuptials are interrupted by nuclear war.
Z for Zachariah – The last three people alive have a tough time grappling with suspicion, secrets, and jealousy.
A Boy and His Dog – After World War 4 food, shelter, and companionship are hard to come by.
Mad Max: Fury Road – A more recent remake of the original Mad Max trilogy, this one has awesome special effects and cinematography as Max battles roving marauders in the endless quest for bullets, gasoline, and especially: water. A very entertaining Oscar Winner.
Doomsday Survival Movies
These movies cover the areas where characters are really stretching the odds of survival. Aliens and other cataclysmic events really should just wipe us out. Nevertheless, the resourceful bunch in these movies persist. There are plenty more movies that fit in this category, but this list really highlights preparedness extending your survivability.
A Quiet Place – Noise abatement is always useful in survival situations, but this movie takes it to the next step. Hyperaggressive aliens with really good hearing take anyone out they hear, so survivors must find clever ways to keep quiet.
10 Cloverfield Lane – John Goodman is amazing as the prepared prepper that lets a few strangers into his bunker in this thriller. It’s an excellent new take on the original Cloverfield movies and well worth a watch.
Zombie Survival Movies
You can find some survival and preparedness nuggets in almost any zombie movie. It’s often said, “If you’re prepared for zombies, you’re prepared for anything”. That may not be exactly true, but zombies make for great movies and entertainment. I’ve always been partial to them, and here are a few of the more relevant ones:
Zombieland – The nerdy protagonist shouldn’t survive- but does due to his strict set of survival rules. This comedy/horror with Woody Harrelson is great and has some good cameos. There is a sequel, but the first movie is better.
Train to Busan – Korean subtitles in this one, but the story is fantastic. I can’t vouch for the sequels and spinoffs, but the original is worth a watch.
World War Z – A fast-paced global zombie thriller focusing on the chase to find patient zero. It stars Brad Pitt and highlights Israel’s robust emergency response. It is based on a book by the same name (though it’s a very different read), by the author that brought us The Zombie Survival Guide.
I am Legend – Will Smith is a scientist and the last man alive. He fills his days with scavenging and golf but is sure to be inside by night when the freakishly fast zombies come out. It is based on the book by the same name.
The Omega Man – Another movie based on the “I am Legend” book, this one features Charlton Heston squaring off against mutant people (close enough to zombies).
Dawn of the Dead – The 2004 version by 300 director Zack Snyder is one of the most solid remakes there is. It does an excellent job of taking the first movie premise and exploring the human element when confronted with the zombie threat. It’s 100 minutes of fun from the action-packed start to finish.
Survival Movies on Netflix
Netflix has over 200 million subscribers, so it would only make sense that they start adding some survival movies to their catalog. Give these movies a search wherever you stream Netflix:
- The Platform
- The Decline
- How it Ends
- It Comes at Night
- Bird Box
- Into the Wild
- The Platform
- The Ritual
- Don’t Look Up
The Final Word
Movies are a great way to kick back and relax, and movies with prepping and survival elements can be both entertaining and enlightening. Our favorites include movies that show possible disasters events and survival situations, and how the protagonists choose to navigate them.
Here are a few other ways you can up your prepping and survival game from your couch:
- 21 Prepper TV Shows Worth Watching
- 15 Off-Grid TV Shows Worth Watching
- 9 Survival Skills You Can Learn from Your Couch
Keep exploring, stay prepared, and be safe.
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