Over the years, films and documentaries about adventure and survival have made their mark in the industry. Many of these films are made even more powerful because they are based on or inspired by true events. Whether it’s an aging man on a quest to find meaning toward the end of his life, or a young girl trying to escape an abusive life, these tales are made more meaningful against the backdrop of nature and themes around being one with the Earth.

Although the horror genre has taken on many of these stories, there are more than a few incredible tales of journeys through the Appalachian Trail, soul searching in the wilderness, and even learning to survive when things don’t go as planned.

10 A Walk In The Woods (2015) – 6.4

A Walk in the Woods was released in 2015 and has a star-filled cast, led by Robert Redford and Nick Nolte. The two actors go on a soul-searching journey across the Appalachian Trail in an attempt to run from their age and have one last adventure. Despite it not doing so well in the box office, the story was sentimental and provided lessons about aging and never giving up despite one’s limitations.

Most critics were mainly interested in watching the two veteran actors converse on-screen, cracking jokes, and bringing smiles to viewers, especially those familiar with what it takes to hike the AT. This is one for the must-watch list if nothing else but for its gentle viewing and beautiful locations.

9 Southbounders (2005) – 6.5

This drama also follows a journey along the Appalachian Trail. In Southbounders, young Olivia, down on her luck, decides to help build her confidence by hiking the over 2,000 miles long Appalachian Trail alone. The story follows her journey as she meets different kinds of people on the trail and grapples with whether or not to continue.

The independent film was released in 2005 and mostly stayed within the indie film festival circuit. Director Ben Wagner creates wonderfully relatable characters and makes audiences feel as though they are hiking the trail right along with them.

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8 Edie (2019) – 6.6

This 2017 British film was directed by Simon Hunter and follows an elderly woman named Edie, played by Sheila Hancock, as she embarks on the journey of a lifetime. Edie is a wonderful tale of overcoming past regret, learning to make decisions for yourself, and embracing nature.

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After Edie’s husband dies, and her relationship with her daughter becomes more and more strained, she decides to take a trip to the Scottish Highlands to hike. This had been a trip she was meant to take with her father, but since he has passed, she begins the journey on her own. Although the film itself is a bit ordinary, Hancock’s performance and the story itself are beautiful driving forces.

7 Wildlike (2014) – 6.6

Wildlike is a wonderful adventure film about discovery and coming-of-age. The story deals with adult topics after a troubled teen has an inappropriate interaction with an uncle she is staying with in Alaska. She decided to run away and meets a backpacker in his 50s and decides to follow him. Eventually, the two work together to get her back home to Seattle.

The film did really well in the festival circuit and has very positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Fans might recognize Ella Purnell from her latest role as Jackie in Yellowjackets. The scenery is beautiful, and director Frank Green utilizes its beauty and the silence of nature to ‘show not tell’ the developing bond between the two main characters. The story is, at its root, an outdoor adventure story with amazing character development.

6 Wild (2014) – 7.1

Wild‘s screenplay is based on a memoir written by Cheryl Strayed and follows Reese Witherspoon, portraying Strayed, as she embarks on a journey hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Recently divorced and her life in shambles, Strayed’s mission for this trek is to discover herself and heal from all of her recent misfortune.

She meets many people along the way, including animals she interprets as spirits of her late mother, played by Laura Dern. Both Witherspoon and Dern received Academy Award nominations for their role in this film. The film won over critics and is regarded as one of the best self-discovery films of its time. It touches on what it’s like to live with loss and how sometimes one has to push themselves past their limit to break away from the pain. The movie is a must-see for nature lovers everywhere.

5 Tracks (2013) – 7.2

Typically known for her acting in horror, Mia Wasikowska has a change of pace in this epic memoir film. Tracks is based on the real story of a young woman as she embarks on a solo trip across the deserts of Australia with just four camels and her dog. Adam Driver plays a National Geographic photographer who documents parts of her journey.

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The film did very well in the festival circuit and made its mark on critics. Wasikowska’s performance as the wayward wonderer added to the beauty and realistic nature of the film. The dreamy visuals of the Australian Outback are not common in outdoor films and they provide an interesting perspective to the storyline.

4 The Way Back (2010) – 7.3

Another movie based on a true story, The Way Back is an intense survival film that highlights the struggle of a Polish army officer attempting to escape a labor camp in Siberia. The story is told against the backdrop of World War II, and at its basis is an adventure survival story, full of self-discovery, camaraderie, and a deep-rooted man-against-nature theme.

The cinematography, script, and overall creative technical aspects of this film make it one that is highly recommended for viewing. Director Peter Weir has audiences cheering for the group of outcasts throughout the entire film, and he really seals the deal with the star-studded cast.

3 The Way (2010) – 7.4

The Way is an emotional homage to the son of a man grieving a loss no parent should have to go through. Emilio Estevez directs this hiking drama and highlights a famous outdoor trek that is rarely featured in the cinema. The film stars Martin Sheen acting as Dr. Thomas Avery, who travels to France after his son dies making the pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago that ends in Spain.

Rather than just picking up the ashes as he intended, Dr. Avery decides to make the trek himself. The film is a wonderfully sentimental visual of a father’s love for his son. There is a pattern of hiking films being about healing, The Way is no exception, but the wonderful scenery and moments of spiritual guidance make this a must-view.

2 127 Hours (2010) – 7.5

127 Hours is yet another real-life survival and dramatic rescue story, this time set in the wilderness of Slot Canyon in southeastern Utah. James Franco plays the real-life character, Aron Ralston, as he sets out on a bicycle trip through the canyon when he ends up with his arm trapped by a boulder, off-trail. The rest of the film follows his efforts to free himself and get to safety.

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The film was nominated for three Golden Globe Awards, including Franco receiving a nod for Best Actor. Some critics say it is one of his best performances. He manages to create an atmosphere on screen that makes audiences feel as though they are stuck in the canyon with him. The reality of what could go wrong on a solo trip sinks in, and viewers find themselves gasping at the screen, with no way to help him get out.

1 Into The Wild (2007) – 8.1

Into the Wild is top of the list for a reason. This film lets audiences lose themselves in the dream of running away to the wilderness with nothing but a backpack and the shoes on their feet. Sean Penn captivates viewers with this film based on a true story and makes them believe they can do anything. The film follows Christopher McCandless, played by Emile Hirsch, as he hikes through North America and into the Alaskan wilderness.

The film was nominated for two Golden Globes and two Academy Awards, winning one Golden Globe. This film is full of life, and truly questions what is worth doing with the little time people have on Earth. The worthwhile subject, beautiful cinematography, important lessons, and excitement of adventure make this a must-see hiking film.

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