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Have You Seen These Bone-Chilling Winter Survival Films?

Ah, winter! It’s the season of holidays, sharing warmth with your loved ones, and curling up by the fire with some hot chocolate. Also, how can we not talk about how everything looks so beautifully fluffy, like being covered in a snowy blanket?

But as charming as winter can be, it can also be harsh and brutal. Winters are so severe in some places that lifestyles are changed. People are forced to stay indoors, traveling becomes a risk, there are constant health issues, and surviving the season feels like a challenge.

Many movies have depicted the harsh realities of winter quite well. Today, we will have a look at some of the most intense cold-weather survival films that remind us how oppressive winter can be.

1. The Revenant (2015)

This film needs no introduction. The movie is based on the legend of Hugh Glass, an American frontiersman and fur trapper. He survived a savage bear attack and traveled hundreds of miles across harsh terrains alone to avenge the death of his son by a member of his hunting team. Along the way, Glass withstands the hostile elements, comes under attack by Native Americans, and even takes shelter inside a horse carcass to protect himself from the unrelenting weather.

The movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio, who won an Oscar for Best Actor for his fantastic portrayal of Glass. The Revenant also deserves accolades for its incredibly faithful portrayal of a world where surviving harsh weather conditions is an everyday reality.

Related: 8 Movies Based on Incredible True Stories

2. The Grey (2011)

The Grey is based on the short story Ghost Walker by Ian MacKenzie Jeffers. Starring Liam Neeson in the lead role, the story revolves around eight men stuck in the frozen wilderness after a ferocious storm causes their plane to crash. As the men attempt to trek southward toward civilization and safety, they struggle with the icy elements, mortal injuries, and a pack of vicious timber wolves.

The wintry backdrop in the film serves as a metaphor for how unmerciful life and nature can be.

3. Alive (1993)

Alive tells the true story of the Uruguayan rugby team who must survive against all odds after their plane crashes in the snow-swept Andes mountains. The team initially struggles to cope with the brutal temperatures and lack of supplies. Eventually, they are forced to resort to cannibalism to survive.

Alive isn’t for the faint-hearted, but it’s brilliantly directed and engrossing. It needs to be seen for its depiction of an intensely cold environment and the extreme measures people can take to stay alive.

4. Togo (2019)

Set in the winter of 1925 in an isolated Alaskan village, Togo is the true story of dogsled trainer Leonhard Seppala and his lead sled dog, Togo. When their neighboring town is reeling under the terrible outbreak of diphtheria, Seppala and his Siberian husky, along with a relay of 20 teams, must travel across the treacherous terrain of Alaska to transport medicine before things become worse.

Outstanding cinematography, the almost impossible mission, and the dogs make Togo an excellent watch. It’s sometimes funny, sometimes sad, and always true and heartfelt.

Related: Find Out How Togo the Dog Helped Stop an Outbreak In 1925

5. The Way Back (2010)

This story is about a young military officer Janusz, who finds himself held in a remote Siberian World War II-era labor camp with a small band of convicts. Faced with unsparing conditions, a determined Janusz leads a heroic escape and embarks on a 4,000-mile (6,437km) foot journey across five countries to reclaim his freedom. 

The Way Back is based on The Long Walk, the gripping memoir of Polish POW Sławomir Rawicz. It’s an epic survival tale that’s exquisitely shot and leaves a lasting impression on the viewer. 

6. Eight Below (2006)

The movie deals with an adventurer and a scientist looking for meteor stones in the frozen wasteland of Antarctica. A devastating accident and a blizzard forces them to leave their team of sled dogs behind. Alone, the brave huskies must face the harsh ice and struggle to stay alive in the great white south.

The dogs are the true stars of Eight Below. They have a powerfully emotional story, and you are compelled to cheer for them as they hunt seals, birds, and penguins to survive. They are even attacked by other animals but refuse to give up. It’s a beautiful story of survival against all odds that deserves a watch. If not for anything else, watch it just for the breathtaking Arctic landscapes.

7. Into the White (2012)

Set during World War II, Into the White tells the story of a group of British and German soldiers who end up stranded in a harsh and inhospitable land during winter after an aircraft battle. They find shelter in a desolate Nordic cabin, but to survive the winter, they are forced to work together. The result is an unlikely friendship interlaced with angst, philosophy, and humor.

The movie captures the breathtakingly gorgeous snowy landscapes of Norway and does a great job of portraying the humans behind soldiers on opposite sides of a dreadful war. More specifically, it focuses on the subject of friendship and survival. It’s a fine, underrated human drama that you won’t regret watching.

8. The Mountain Between Us (2017)

There are two reasons why you must watch The Mountain Between Us: stunning cinematography and two fine leads - Idris Elba as Ben and Kate Winslet as Alex. The two are lost in the cold somewhere in the northeastern Utah wilderness. Ben is a doctor who has just lost his wife, while Alex is a photographer who isn’t overly enthusiastic about her upcoming wedding. When the two strangers realize help isn’t coming, they try to survive together in the plane's wreck during an unrelenting winter.

Yes, the story may sound a tad cliché, but it’s so charming that you can’t help but fall in love with these characters. The breathtaking snowy backdrop further enhances the experience. 

9. Everest (2015)

Everest tells the tragic true story of New Zealand's Robert Edwin Hall, who teamed up on a joint expedition to ascend Mount Everest in 1996. Unfortunately, their efforts are cut short when a violent storm - the fiercest blizzard ever encountered by man - strikes the mountain. The team is left struggling to cope with terrible winds and freezing temperatures to survive against insurmountable odds.

This isn’t the first movie that depicts a mountain expedition gone wrong. However, Everest is well-made and makes its point without succumbing to clichés. Watching the movie is a harrowing but rewarding experience.

10. Against the Ice (2022)

This movie is like a Jack London novel set in 1909 with dogs, polar travel, nature, and people as its central characters. Against The Ice is based on the true story of Danish explorer Ejnar Mikkelsen who set out on a voyage in 1909 to find proof that Greenland is one island and not broken up into two pieces of land. By doing so, he would help consolidate Denmark's dominion over the island.

Mikkelsen and his crew member Iver Iversen succeed in sledding across the ice and discover that Greenland is, in fact, one island. However, returning to their ship is a lot more difficult than they anticipated. The two men must battle starvation, fatigue, and a polar bear attack to prevail in Greenland's vast icy landscape.

Against The Ice is an engaging story that hooks the viewer from the start. It’s a solid winter survival film with real characters experiencing overwhelming hardships in the icy wilderness.

11. The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

What if we are on the brink of a new Ice Age? This is the question that plagues climatologist Jack Hall when he discovers a huge ice sheet in Antarctica that has sheared off. His concerns prove true when a massive superstorm develops, triggering a series of natural disasters around the globe. People realize that the world is about to enter a new Ice Age, and they must move to the warmer climates of the south to survive.

The Day After Tomorrow isn’t flawless and takes a lot of liberties with scientific facts. However, it sure is an entertaining and thrilling disaster movie featuring some truly spectacular special effects.

12. Iron Will (1994)

Growing up on a farm in South Dakota, Will Stoneman is worried about the financial impact his father’s demise will have on his family farm. When all options run out, he decides to register for a marathon dogsled race, which offers $10,000 to the winner - a hefty sum in 1917. While the young man is familiar with dog sledding, the ruthless nature of this race, which will require days of racing through harsh weather and terrain, takes him by surprise.

Though formulaic, Iron Will is enjoyable and is a cheer for the human spirit. It’s one of those "against-all-odds-courage-finding" stories that just hit its mark.

13. Frozen (2010)

Frozen is the story of three snowboarders who, through a series of unfortunate circumstances, are left stranded on a chairlift when it stops midway near the top of Mount Holliston. To make matters worse, the night lights are turned off, and inclement weather has caused the place to shut down for a week. Now, the three friends must face two choices: either leave the chairlift and find their way down or freeze to death.

This is a solid short thriller that keeps you hooked until the end. The panic gripping the trio is absolutely palpable, and the terror due to their predicament keeps you on the edge of your seat.

14. The Donner Party (1992)

Based on the real-life events of The Donner Party tragedy, the film recounts the desperate situation of a group of California-bound American settlers trapped in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the winter of 1846. After becoming snowbound, many of the trapped settlers make a courageous attempt to reach California and organize a rescue party. Those left have no choice but to resort to extreme measures to survive.

The Donner Party is a gripping survival film that tells a story of impossible choices in impossible circumstances. It depicts how people might have reacted in a wilderness survival situation admirably.

The cinematography is outstanding, and the pace is crisp. Despite the grim subject matter and some inaccuracies in the historical events depicted, it’s a movie worth your while.

Related: 10 Oscar-Winning Foreign Movies You Can’t Afford to Miss!

15. The Icebreaker (2016)

Set in the mid-eighties, The Icebreaker follows the crew of a Russian polar icebreaker ship Mikhail Gromov. While trying to dodge an iceberg, the ship gets trapped and is forced to drift with ice near the coast of Antarctica. The crew then has to endure almost five months of polar nights while trying to find a way out of their icy trap. One wrong move and they risk getting crushed by ice.

The Icebreaker is an engaging Russian disaster film with gorgeous visuals and plenty of thrills.

Winter-Themed Survival Docudramas to Watch on a Chilly Day

Looking for some realistic winter survival movies? Check out these docudramas. 

16. Shackleton's Captain (2012)

This docudrama tells the true story of Ernest Shackleton, an English explorer who wanted to be the first to cross Antarctica on foot. In 1914, he set out with his crew to Antarctica. However, when his ship is crushed by ice, the entire crew is left stranded in the brutal Antarctic winter. The captain of the ship, Frank Worsley, then uses his extraordinary navigation skills to save everyone’s lives.

The movie is told through the eyes of Worsley and makes for a compelling watch. It’s a dramatization of the actual story sprinkled with actual film footage and still photographs of the voyage.

17. Touching the Void (2003)

In Touching the Void, two climbers, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, attempt to make the treacherous journey up the previously unclimbed West Face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985. After an arduous ascent, they succeed, but their happiness is short-lived. They face a series of problems on the descent, which puts their lives in grave danger.

Touching the Void features real interviews with Joe and Simon inter-cut with dramatic re-enactments of their perilous climb. Watching the story unfold just by seeing the events on film is exciting. But listening to Joe and Simon’s narration of the actual events leaves you fascinated and terrified at the same time.

18. Beyond the Edge (2013)

Beyond the Edge tells the story of Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay's historical ascent of Mt. Everest in 1953 - the first men to reach the summit of the highest mountain on Earth. The documentary doesn't rely on fake sets or orchestral swelling. Instead, the film depicts the epic adventure story using rarely seen footage, numerous archival interviews, stunning visuals, and dramatized recreations of the monumental event.

Related: This Man Climbed Everest 21 Times - Incredible!

Even though the world knows the result of this climb, watching this documentary makes for a fascinating experience from beginning to end. The film is a fitting tribute to the men and the event.

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