J.A. Bayona’s Society of the Snow is a terrifying yet hopeful tale of survival based on the book of the same name about the survivors of the 1972 Uruguayan Flight 571 plane crash in the Andes. This isn’t the first time a film has been made on this story, yet the 50-year-old tale somehow remains relevant today. What Bayona excels at is eliciting a certain harrowing, and simultaneously optimistic feeling within the viewer that perhaps no other filmmaker can do as well. Society of the Snow may be familiar in its story, but there’s something very new to the way it’s been presented, and on a second watch, it struck me how this could’ve been so tedious and disturbing to watch, but it’s simply a humanistic film. What makes Society of the Snow so compelling is its subtle dialogue and compact camera angles that make us feel for all the characters. This list will cover a bunch of survival movies that can help you deal with that aching feeling in your heart.
Starting strong with Bayona’s very own The Impossible, This is a disaster movie that tells the true story of a family that got split up during the 2004 tsunami. Tom Holland’s debut feature film will leave you in tears, but it is also overly optimistic. I’m not sure if it’s callous to call this a thriller movie considering the nature of its story, but it’ll definitely keep you on your toes from start to finish. If Society of the Snow is about friendship, The Impossible is about familial bonds. Keep your tissues ready because it is “impossible” not to cry while watching this. Also, much appreciation for baby Tom Holland. Not to say this isn’t a flawed movie, but it’s easily a 3-star film that ticks the same boxes as Society of the Snow.
This wouldn’t be a survival film list without the film that catapulted James Franco into an Oscar-worthy performer. Overtly, there are many reasons for this film to be on this list, but to me, the commonality between the two films is how they’re both character studies focused on survival against all odds. The part that stands out the most in Society of the Snow is how Numa navigates his way through his moral dilemma and the perils of the situation. Of course, there are other characters there, but the film heavily relies on Numa, so we get a single perspective of the situation, which is very similar to Aron Ralston in 127 Hours. This is a phenomenal story about Aron, a mountain climber who got caught in the canyons of Utah for five whole days. It’s almost documentary-like and showers you with a bountiful sense of hope. Remember, folks, always tell someone where you’re going! Especially when on solo adventures.
Let’s go into fictional territory now for some exciting sci-fi action. Based on the best-selling novel by Andy Weir, The Martian follows Mark Watney (try saying that name over and over), an astronaut who gets stuck on Mars when his team’s mission goes wrong. Let’s be real here; just looking at Matt Damon’s face gives you a hopeful feeling, but this movie is filled with the joy of promise to the brim. I mean, this man is trying to survive on Mars! Despite how surreal that sounds it’s simply very human. As someone who read the book, I found the movie even more compelling because it condenses all the science bits (that I don’t understand) and makes it more about the feels than the numbers. I suppose having only one main character was a way to make sure Ridley Scott didn’t mess up (whoops).
Now, the typical survival movie out of Korean auteur Bong Joon-Ho’s filmography would be “Snowpiercer,” a film about a train of the last surviving people in the world; however, The Host, according to me, is the better film and much more thrilling and emotional. In typical Bong fashion, this is a bibimbap of genres that provides everything from dysfunctional family drama and comedy to terrifying horror. This is a monster film like no other and an absolute gem. The Host follows a family whose daughter gets captured by a monster in the Han River. Don’t worry, just like with Society of the Snow, you’ll be left questioning everything about life and its meaning. A great way to start off the new year with existentialism.
Was the year 2015 the year for survival films? Probably not, but two of the films on here are from then, so I’m going to pretend it was. Snowy, harsh conditions, being abandoned, and surviving in a terrifying situation—check. The Revenant follows Hugh Glass’ survival story as the man gets separated from his pack after a bear attacks the group. Now, I said I’ve never seen a worse and more accurate plane crash scene like the one in Society of the Snow. I feel the same way about the bear scene in The Revenant. Of course, this isn’t simply a survival film; it’s also a revenge flick, so you’ve got two for the price of one! Additionally, despite not being DiCaprio’s best performance (please argue with a wall), he did win the Oscar for this one, so there’s that too!
In the same way that Society of the Snow is a simple story, Cast Away is also just a story about a man whose plane crashes into the Pacific, forcing him to go into survival mode. This is a lonely movie; it shows us how desperate we are for connections and how much that is a part of our “survival.” Wilson will forever be in our hearts. Before watching either of the films, I was wondering one thing: how do they end up being entertaining (for lack of a better word), while the substance is technically so limited? Well, they keep you hooked for over 2 hours of runtime, so my question was answered as I was done with tears in my eyes and a sense of dreadful hope.