Best Survival Shows and Movies: The Good and The Bad

In the early years of the 21st century, a phenomenon happened in Hollywood that would take hold for years to come, survival entertainment. 

survival tv and movies

Somewhere along the line, an ember was born that caught the attention of the masses as it pertained to surviving. That ember soon grew into a full-fledged fire with survival TV and movies appearing everywhere. 

I thought it would be fun and worthwhile to take a moment to discuss some of the best survival shows and movies that have appeared on the screen. Before jumping into the meat and potatoes of this article please know a few things. 

The first is that this topic is subjective. What I like or may not like will certainly be different than some people who are reading this. Second, I will do my best not to give any “spoilers” but be warned, there will probably be spoilers. And lastly, please remember that this genre is called survival entertainment for a reason, meaning much of it is heavily scripted. With that out of the way, let’s jump in and start with survival TV. 

Best Survival TV shows: Top 4 Picks


This was a popular series produced and starring Canadian native, Les Stroud. Les traveled the globe looking for some of the harshest environments to survive in. He would spend up to a week in these locations with minimal supplies and no crew. Two gear items that always seemed to be with him were a multitool and a harmonica. 

The Good 

  • Survivorman seems to be one of the best survival shows to date as it focused on the reality of survival and Les spent his time in these scenarios filming the show by himself. Yes, there usually was a safety team on stand by within radio range but he was largely by himself. 

The Bad

  • Given that the majority of the filming was done by one person and the focus was on “true survival” some view this show as less entertaining and more informative. 

Man Vs. Wild 

Bear Grylls is a former British military man, adventurer, writer, and businessman. He exploded onto the survival scene with his adventuristic approach in Man Vs. Wild. Bear traveled the world and showcased how to survive in almost any environment. With this show, he is best known for keeping the audience engaged through eating gross things and keeping the tempo very fast-paced. 

The Good 

  • Very entertaining. You can’t say that Bear didn’t have fun doing this show which could be seen through his upbeat, positive attitude in every episode. 

The Bad

  • What made this show entertaining also made it hard to watch for some. Bear has been criticized for displaying unsafe methods such as drinking his urine and running, jumping, and swinging through environments that promote unsafe survival tactics. Another criticism was that he was never actually alone but followed by several crew members the entire time. 


This is the most recent show on the list and has an interesting twist to it. In this show, ten people are chosen to participate in a contest against one another for a cash prize. Along with camera gear, minimal safety equipment, and clothing each person is allowed to choose ten survival items to take with them before they are dropped off into a remote location. If for any reason an individual decides to quit, they can tap out by using an emergency radio to contact the crew. The goal, to be the last person standing and to receive the $500,000 cash prize. 

The Good 

  • It is interesting to see ten different approaches to a survival situation that is in the same region. 
  • It is also interesting to see what ten items each person chooses to bring and how they overcome or do not overcome, the problems presented by not bringing a certain item. For example, most bring contestants bring a fishing kit but not everyone brings a ferrocerium rod for starting a fire.
  • The best aspect of this show is that it brings to light the reality of survival situations. The workload, the struggle for food, boredom, the dangers involved, and most importantly the mental strain of isolation. 

The Bad

  • I have heard some say that this is a soap opera in the woods due to all the emotional moments on camera. And yes there are quite a few moments where contestants, not all, break down on camera frequently. I get it, who wants to watch a show where people are crying and having long emotional conversations with themselves on camera. But, I have never isolated myself in a remote location for 80 days having to deal with starvation, dehydration, constantly fighting for the necessities, dealing with dangerous weather conditions, injuries, and predators. Either way, if a semi-emotional roller coaster of a show isn’t your cup of tea, I would suggest watching something else. 

Doomsday Preppers 

Probably one of the most well-known survival shows, Doomsday Preppers showcased individuals known as “preppers.” A prepper is a person who actively prepares for emergencies and disastrous situations by obtaining the proper supplies and skills to deal with such an event. 

The Good 

  • This show was highly entertaining because it featured people with very interesting personalities and ideas for how to survive the coming apocalypse. 
  • Every once in a while there was a golden nugget of information that was presented…once in a while. 

The Bad 

  • This show was purely for entertainment and cast preppers in a bad light. Are there people out there with these extreme attitudes and personalities as it pertains to being prepared? I’m sure there are. However, by in large people who consider themselves preppers are normal, level headed people who strive to be ready when things fail. But that wouldn’t make for good tv now, would it?

Best Survival Movies: Top 4 Picks

The Martian

Bet you didn’t see this one coming did you? The Martian stars Matt Damon as Mark Watney, an astronaut left for dead on Mars by his crew after they abort their mission during a dangerous sandstorm. 

The Good 

  • While this movie is entertaining, the best survival lessons are that the character maintains a positive attitude, stays productive, and figures out how to use items in a way they were not designed to be used.

The Bad

  • As with a lot of science fiction, the science isn’t always one hundred percent accurate.

127 Hours 

The true story of outdoor adventurer Aron Ralston. While hiking through the winding caverns in Utah, Aron becomes stuck when a boulder falls and pins his arm to a rock wall. With a boulder weighing hundreds of pounds keeping him trapped, he must figure out to escape before running out of food and water. 

The Good 

  • One of the big takeaways from this story is a few things not to do. Such as not telling someone where you are going and not bringing proper supplies along. 

The Bad 

  • While it is a great movie it can be a bit of a slow burn for some. Additionally, if you are a bit squeamish, this might not be the movie for you. 

The Edge 

Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin fight for survival in the Alaskan wilderness after surviving a plane crash caused by a bird strike. They must overcome harsh weather, no supplies, and a killer brown bear, not to mention a secret one of them is keeping.

The Good 

  • Anthony Hopkins’s attitude in the movie is a great survival lesson. He is always using his mind to think about what needs to get done. The best quote from him in the movie is, “Do you know why most men die in the woods? They die from shame.”

The Bad 

  • It’s a quick and dirty snapshot of a survival situation. Plane crashes, they do these few things, then you are rescued. 

The Road

A truly post-apocalyptic film, this story follows a father (Viggo Mortensen) as he and his young son traverse a devastated landscape on their way to the coast. 

The Good

  • It does a great job of portraying how dirty survival is, the unwavering endurance required, and a glimpse of what it would be like to experience this with a child. 

The Bad

  • This movie isn’t so much about survival as it is about the relationship between the father and son. 

Wrapping It Up

There you have it, a quick introduction into some of the most popular survival TV shows and movies. This list is but a drop in the bucket so be sure to sound off in the comments below and let us know what you have watched. Thanks for reading!

Written by Bryan Lynch

Bryan grew up in the Midwest and spent every waking moment outdoors. Learning how to hunt, fish, read the land, and be self-reliant was part of everyday life. Eventually, he combined his passions for the outdoors, emergency preparedness, and writing. His goal was to spread positive information about this field. In 2019, Bryan authored the book Swiss Army Knife Camping and Outdoor Survival Guide. His second book, Paracord Projects For Camping and Outdoor Survival, is scheduled to be released on March 2, 2021. Read more of Bryan's articles.