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The Best Survival Movies Based on True Stories

Updated August 26, 2020 2.2k votes 466 voters 38.2k views25 items

List RulesNo straight horror movies.

There are hundreds if not thousands of movies about survival, but only a choice few are based on true events. The survival movies based on true stories can offer harrowing examples of people performing extraordinary feats in the most desperate of circumstances, but those films are few and far between. Survival films often depict what really happened to people whose life is told in a story that could be inspirational or end in disaster.

You may think a survival movie like Tom Hanks' Castaway would wind up on a list like this one, but that film was based on multiple survival accounts of people who survived that sort of situation instead of a single, true event. The strict criteria for this list means you'll find the best survival movies - if and only if they are based on true events! Real stories about people surviving or struggling to overcome obstacles offer an interesting and sometimes difficult viewing of struggle, perseverance, and the will to overcome... but not everyone survives and often, these movies end in ways you may not desire...

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  • Photo: BBC Films
    The Mercy is a 2017 British biographical drama film directed by James Marsh. Amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst (Colin Firth) attempts to circumnavigate the globe alone as his family awaits his return....  more
    • Actors: Colin Firth, Rachel Weisz, David Thewlis, Ken Stott
    • Released: 2018
    • Directed by: James Marsh
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  • Photo: Metaweb (FB) / Fair use
    Alive is a 1993 American biographical survival drama film based upon Piers Paul Read's 1974 book Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors, which details the story of a Uruguayan rugby team. The film was directed by Frank Marshall and narrated by John Malkovich. One of the survivors, Nando Parrado, served as the technical advisor for the film. The film also starred Vincent Spano and Josh Hamilton. ...  more
    • Actors: John Malkovich, Ethan Hawke, Josh Lucas, Illeana Douglas, Michael DeLorenzo
    • Released: 1993
    • Directed by: Frank Marshall
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  • Photo: Jungle / Umbrella Entertainment
    Jungle is a 2017 Australian biographical survival drama film directed by Greg McLean. An adventurer (Daniel Radcliffe) joins a group during an expedition into the Bolivian jungle, only to find themselves in a dangerous situation....  more
    • Actors: Daniel Radcliffe, Alex Russell, Thomas Kretschmann, Yasmin Kassim, Joel Jackson
    • Released: 2017
    • Directed by: Greg McLean
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  • 12 Years a Slave is a 2013 period drama film directed by Steve McQueen, based on the 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man from upstate New York, is taken and sold into the trade....  more
    • Actors: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti
    • Released: 2013
    • Directed by: Steve McQueen
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