Wild — Reese Witherspoon’s new movie about a woman who decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail solo, despite it being more than 2,000 miles long — ably continues a proud cinematic tradition: namely, movies that make you realize that, while nature is a beautiful thing that we as a species have managed to spoil in numerous ways, it is also something that mankind is almost entirely unequipped to deal with when it comes down to it.
The reason why cinema loves to tell us horror stories about experiences in the natural world is a simple one: cinema knows that we’re far too used to our showers, our beds and our Internet to want to spend too much time outside — but it also knows that we occasionally need reminded not to be too curious about what’s happening on the other side of our window. Here are 10 of the best examples of a genre we might as well call “You Know, When It Comes Down To It, The World Wants You Dead.”
Nic Roeg’s first movie as solo director is almost a horror movie, with the Australian outback as the haunted house. A teenage Jenny Agutter is the focus as she and her brother end up stranded in the outback after their father commits suicide, and their attempts to get back to civilization become increasingly surreal as starvation takes its toll, despite the attempts of a local kid — who doesn’t speak English, of course — to help. Think of it less as “Man vs. Nature” and more “white girl vs. a culture she doesn’t understand.”
LOST WEEKEND (1978)
From one horror movie to another. The plot of Colin Eggleston’s melodramatic cautionary tale is summed up by the movie’s tagline: “Their crime was against nature — nature found them guilty.” Unlike Walkabout, which was horrific because of its realistic attitude towards its lost kids, Lost Weekend steps outside of the real world to deliver a tale of an environment that decides to fight back against a couple who don’t care about nature. Like Walkabout, this movie, too, is Australian; what was going on over there during the ‘70s?
Alive’s story of the survivors of the doomed Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 was all the more chilling for being based on a true story. There really had been a plane that crashed into the Andes, and the survivors really did have to eat the corpses of the dead passengers to survive. It’s a cautionary tale that makes you ask the all-important question that you didn’t even know existed: “Hey, could I eat my friends if I was in a plane crash with them?” (Spoilers: You think the answer is no, but it’s probably yes.)
While earlier Man vs. Nature movies tended to steer into the horror genre, all credit should go to Jan de Bont and writer Michael Crichton for seeing the potential to use the formula to create a summer action-adventure blockbuster, instead. Make no mistake — while the tornados on show here might be frightening, they’re also the star of the show, effortlessly making Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton look small in comparison (Literally). Perhaps best remembered for containing flying cows, it’s worth pointing out that The Wizard of Oz has a relatively similar tornado sequence that features a guy on a bike at one point; this is clearly just what it’s like inside a tornado.
THE EDGE (1997)
What more needs to be said to sell this movie that telling you that it’s all about Alec Baldwin and Anthony Hopkins fighting nature (and each other; Hopkins is a billionaire whose wife is having an affair with Baldwin’s photographer)? How about this: the real star of the movie is Bart the Bear, a trained bear who had previously shared the screen with the likes of Robert Redford, Dan Aykroyd and Steven Seagal. That’s not an exaggeration; his is the first credit that appears on screen after the movie finishes. For those who’ve always suspected Anthony Hopkins could be out-acted by a trained animal, this is most definitely the movie for you.
CAST AWAY (2000)
It takes a lot for us to become sympathetic towards FedEx employees, but this classic — as famous for the appearance of a basketball with a face drawn on it as for Tom Hanks’ genuinely impressive performance — manages that Herculean task. Admittedly, the idea that any deliveryman would be quite so dedicated so as to deliver a package after having been stranded on an island for so long that he’s literally been left for dead, but let’s be honest; this isn’t a movie that you come to for the civilization parts; it’s all about Hanks and his crazy beard trying to survive on his own with only a basketball for company.
We all have friends who try to convince us to go hiking, and we all know that we don’t really want to go hiking. Come on, your friends try to tell you. What’s the worst that could happen? This movie, directed by Gus Van Sant and featuring Matt Damon and Casey Affleck — the three share writing credits for the movie, which was partially improvised based on real life events — is the answer to that question. What’s the worst that could happen? You could end up lost on a wilderness trail for days, succumbing to starvation, dehydration and the temptation to kill your friend. Just saying.
127 HOURS (2010)
Another movie based on a true story, this James Franco vehicle ups the ante from Alive significantly. Sure, you’ve come to accept that you’d probably eat your friends if you absolutely had to, but watching this will have you wondering whether you’d go so far as to cut off your own arm to save your life. It’s a far harder question to answer — sure, eating your friends would be rough, but at least you’d still have both hands left afterwards. (A bonus for those watching this film: Lizzy Caplan! Kate Mara! And the chance to see Aron Ralston, the real-life guy this happened to, right at the end of the movie!)
THE WAY BACK (2010)
“Inspired by real events,” went the poster. But that turned out not to be the case, despite what Peter Weir and stars including Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess and Colin Farrell thought at the time. The movie tells the story of escapees from a Siberian gulag as they trekked 4,000 miles across the Himalayas to freedom, but it was revealed that the source material — a memoir by a former prisoner called Slawomir Rawicz — was fictional. Other such journeys were real, however, so consider this more a case of “very, very similar to real events, just not the specific events described in this movie” than entirely made up.
THE GREY (2011)
Liam Neeson versus wolves. Even though there’s more to the movie than that — you know, a plot, other actors (including Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s Frank Grillo) — it’s fair to say that the core of this movie is watching Liam Neeson take on wolves over and over again; it’s actually the job of his character in the movie, but watching him in action as everything goes to hell slowly, you can just tell that it’s more of a passion. When it comes to movies about Man vs. Nature, that conflict has never been shown on screen as viscerally, as simply, or as essentially as watching Liam Neeson fight wolves a lot. It gets no better.