While survival films know no bounds in terms of locale — the Andes, Alaska, outer space, and on — there’s nothing quite as punishing as being completely lost, abandoned and left to fend for yourself in the middle of the open ocean.
“All is Lost” — the critically acclaimed nail-biter starring Robert Redford (and if for some strange reason you don’t care for Redford, well, he’s the only one in it) as an unnamed man fighting for his life in the middle of the Indian Ocean — has brought renewed interest in the lost-at-sea genre, a genre that’s not just filled with nightmarish, completely unfathomable scenarios (and sharks) but tales of heroism, resilience, self-discovery and the triumph of the human spirit.
If you enjoyed “All is Lost” and are on the hunt for a few other films where the primary character(s) spend a majority of the running time set adrift, here are a few suggestions. And you may notice that we’ve left out a closely related cousin of the lost-at-sea film: marooned-on-a-desert-island flicks. While there are some good ones out there (“Castaway,” “The Blue Lagoon” and, of course, “Swiss Family Robinson”) they’re just not the same.
Have any favorite lost-at-sea films that you’d like to add to the list?
'Abandon Ship! (1957)
Ack. Pity the man — in this case, proto-hunk Tyrone Power — who is left to decide which of the 27 shipwreck survivors stranded on a nine-person lifeboat must be thrown overboard as a massive storm approaches, a storm that would surely swamp the overloaded dinghy if more than a few unfortunate souls aren’t sacrificed by being set adrift in the middle of the Atlantic. Also known as “Seven Waves Away,” the plot of this stressful British survival drama is loosely based on the real-life sinking of the William Brown off the coast of Newfoundland in 1841. Martin Sheen starred in a made-for-television remake in 1975.
To tweak a tagline of a certain long-running MTV reality show, Alfred Hitchcock’s heralded — and harrowing — adaption of a John Steinbeck survival-at-sea yarn is an exploration of what happens when seven-ish strangers trapped on a tiny lifeboat in the middle of the North Atlantic stop being polite … and start getting real. Considered by many to be among Hitchcock’s finest works, this wartime production from 20th Century Fox even manages to incorporate one of Hitch’s traditional cameo appearances despite its “limited-setting” status. Keep an eye out for him in a newspaper advertisement hawking a fictional weight loss drug called “Reduco.”
'The Deep' (2012)
While “Life of Pi” (see below) managed to make serious waves at the 85th Academy Awards (best director, score, cinematography and visual effects), this engrossing, existentialist stranded-at-sea drama based on the true story of a blessedly blubbery fisherman named Guðlaugur Friðþórsson captured the hearts of Icelandic critics and filmgoers alike and served as that country’s official entry for Best Foreign Language Oscar. Criminally overlooked in this country, Baltasar Kormákur’s "Djúpið" is about an ordinary man touched by an extraordinary miracle … and how a little extra body fat can come in real handy when your fishing boat has capsized off the coast of Iceland and you, as the soul survivor of the accident, are forced to swim for six hours in frigid waters before trekking across a treacherous lava field to find help.
'The Disappeared' (2012)
Rough seas, raw skin, rations and lots and lots of rowing. Released in 2012, a big year for lost-at-sea survival films, this Canadian import from director Shandi Mitchell about six men fighting for their lives in the North Atlantic takes a decidedly different approach than its peers, focusing more on storytelling than gimmicks and special effects. The result is a powerful film that’s at turns breathtakingly beautiful and excruciating to watch.
'Life of Pi' (2012)
It just doesn’t feel right to describe the Ang Lee-helmed adaptation of Yann Martel’s “unfilmable” 2001 bestseller as a lost-at-sea picture. While it technically is a movie about being set adrift in the middle of the great blue nowhere — the plot involves a polytheistic Indian teen who, following a shipwreck that claims the lives of his entire family, becomes stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific for 227 days in the company of a ravenous Bengal tiger named Richard Parker — the ocean-bound setting is more or less a vehicle for feel-goody musings on faith, spirituality and the power of storytelling. While some may find the film a touch too treacly, there’s no denying its astonishing technical showmanship. The phosphorescent whale breach scene is worth the price of admission alone.
'Open Water' (2003)
“The Blair Witch Project” meets “Jaws” in this psychologically punishing — and partially true! — tale of a bickering yuppie couple who, while awaiting rescue after being stranded during a scuba excursion in the Bahamas, become delicious déjeuners for a marauding gam of peckish great white sharks. If 80 minutes of treading water, circling dorsal fins, shaky camera work and high anxiety is your idea of a fun night in front of the television, the filmed-in-Mexico sequel to this low-budget sleeper hit isn’t too shabby, either.
'The Reef' (2010)
While we’re on the topic of films about marooned people being eaten by large predatory fish, this extraordinarily stressful — and scary — Australian film expertly combines your standard capsized boat premise with gruesome, great white terror. But seriously, the manner in which this particular lone shark stalks the film’s five ill-fated sailmates is so brutal, so relentless that it feels like your watching a classic 1980s slasher film in which everyone is wearing wetsuits.
While it’s difficult to easily explain the plot of this head-scratcher of a psychological thriller (co-starring a pre-“Hunger Games” Liam Hemsworth!), you could say it’s like “Groundhog Day” (minus the comedy) meets the “The Shining” (minus the snow) meets “Memento” (minus the Polaroids) in the middle of the ocean. Seriously, never before in cinema history has a luxury cruise liner been quite so nightmarish. Aussie actress Melissa George’s unflinching, tour de force will haunt you while the ominous vibes that permeate this complex, stranded-at-sea creep-fest — tagline: “Fear Comes in Waves” — are truly hard to shake.
'Two Came Back' (1997)
Sure, it’s a bit on the hokey side but you have to hand it the Christmas movie specialists at the Hallmark Channel for taking a risk on something a touch more, err, harrowing. Based on the true story of teen sailing trip gone terribly wrong — it’s an adaptation of Deborah Scaling Kiley’s “Albatross: The True Story of a Woman’s Survival at Sea” — the film features the gratuitous drinking of sea water, severely chapped lips, sharks, lifeboat-bound freak-outs and decent performances by Melissa Joan Hart and the late Jonathan Brandis, who, as two of the stranded teens, could have really used some help from Darwin the dolphin and Salem the cat.
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