The secret to survival in a life-or-death situation is adaptability and the following movie characters not only adapted to survive, but they kicked butt, took names, and in some cases went on to become the future president of the NRA and the governor of California. Here are the best of the best of those who adapted in order to survive daunting circumstances (on Hollywood’s silver screen of course).
Taylor, Planet of the Apes
In the 1968 version of Planet of the Apes, Charlton Heston’s Taylor not only survives his spaceship crash, but also survives days of wandering in the desert, an uppity astronaut, primal humans, and those “damn dirty apes” but he ends up with the only attractive woman on the whole nuked-to-hell planet. Bonus points for Heston going on to be the voice of the NRA.
Rambo, First Blood
Sylvester Stallone’s first appearance as John Rambo finds him – as in most survival situations – a victim of circumstance. After being leaned on by the “I’m husky so I have a bad attitude” sheriff, Rambo survives fire-hose-by-Ginger, being chased through town and in the forest by misguided cops, a heck of a jump through the trees, being shot at, bazooka-ed at, left for dead in an abandoned mine, and an all out shootout in town. Not bad for a homeless drifter.
Jed Eckert, Red Dawn
When the Commies came a knocking this band of attractive high schoolers — led by future “nobody puts baby in a corner” Patrick Swayze’s Jed Eckert — head to the Colorado Mountains to eek out an existence. Like all kids that age, they have ADD and can’t sit still for long so they decide to fight back under the battle cry of their high school mascot, “Wolverines!” With Jed’s leadership the Wolverines take that school spirit and shove it right up the keester of many a Red with an arsenal of deer rifles, bows and arrows, and hijacked AKs. Wolverines indeed!
Dutch, Predator
Don’t think just because Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Dutch was a trained commando that surviving being pursued by an overly aggressive, dreadlock sporting, big-game hunting alien came easy to him. It didn’t. They don’t train for that in the Army. Still, Dutch survives an assault on a rebel compound, having Jesse Venture at his back, one leap from a tall waterfall, and an out of this world beat down to satisfyingly watch that alien go up in a thermonuclear cloud.
Chuck Noland, Cast Away
A meticulous, type “A” personality, a longing for Dr. Pepper on ice, and a wanton desire to see his mildly attractive fiancee again is what keeps Tom Hanks’ Chuck Noland from lying down to die once stranded on a desert island. In his attempt to get back to civilization he masters fire, knocks out a tooth with a figure skate, cuts down trees with a figure skate, and develops a questionable relationship with a volleyball. Wilson! Hey, three outta four ain’t bad.
Charles Morse, The Edge
Say it with me: I’m gonna kill the bear! In 1997’s The Edge, Anthony Hopkins’ Charles Morse is a thinking man’s gazillionaire who survives a plane crash only to have to contend with the Alaskan wilderness, an “I’m secretly sleeping with your wife so I’m going to kill you” Alec Baldwin, and one hungry bear. Hopkins not only kills the bear with a handcrafted wooden spear, but manages to survive Baldwin’s murder attempt so he can go back to his adulterous wife and throw it in her face! Take that to the bank and see if they cash it Elle MacPherson. Did I mention a close to 70-year-old Hopkins kills a bear with a big stick?
Nando Parrado, Alive
If only we had something to eat. When a Uruguayan rugby team crash-lands in the Andes there’s only one-way to survive: eat the dead. Well, it’s better than eating the living. Based on the real life trauma of the team that crashed on Friday the 13th October 1972, this film shows that finding something to eat was the least of their worries. Climbing down the Andes to civilization with no gear proved to be their biggest obstacle. Although all that live are worthy of the title “survivor” special props to Ethan Hawke’s Nando Parrado who, after waking from a crash induced coma, is the first to announce “dinner’s on” and that he’s hiking to safety even if he dies trying.
Fritz Robinson, Swiss Family Robinson
As someone who’s been forced to watch this movie thousands of times with his kids, let me assure you that it has nothing to do with hot chocolate. It actually deals with the Robinson family who becomes shipwrecked on a desert island while en route to Papua, New Guinea. While the family not only survives, it prospers. The eldest son Fritz Robinson (played by future Hawaii 5-0 star James MacArthur) stands out as the true survivalist. Fritz leads his brother on a cross-island expedition, wins a life-and-death fight with an anaconda, kicks pirate butt, and manages to get the only girl on the island that he’s not related to.
Gabe Walker, Cliffhanger
When a plane crashes in the Rockies it’s up to Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Mountain Rescue Ranger Gabe Walker to find them and bring them to safety. Too bad the crash victims are actually bank robbers intent on killing Stallone. Come on guys! He was trying to save you. Stallone, of course, gets the upper hand in every situation — even if the situation is him being trapped under ice, hurled down a mountain, or reminded every ten minutes of the fact that he dropped a gal 4,000 feet to her death eight months earlier. Bonus points for this being Stallone’s second appearance on our list.
Albert Johnson, Death Hunt
Quasi based on a true story from 1931, Death Hunt follows gruff gravel-voiced Canadian Mountie Lee Marvin as he pursues wrongly accused trapper Albert Johnson (Charles Bronson) across the God-forsaken frozen northern landscape. Bronson survives everything that they throw at him and that includes bounty hunters, dogs, 4 million bullets, and a forced leap off a cliff. Very impressive considering Bronson was 103 at the time.
Snake Plissken, Escape From New York
Call me Snake. Forced to retrieve the President of the United States after Air Force One crash lands in the prison that is New York City or have the Man set off micro explosives in his arteries, Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken manages to escape a fight to the death with nail studded baseball bats, sewer dwelling crazies, a mined bridge, and a pimpmobile-driving, Uzi shooting, Duke of New York played by Isaac “Shaft” Hayes. Bonus points for doing all of the above while wearing an eye patch.
Kit Latura, Daylight
When the Holland Tunnel entrances collapse – yeah, both of them – it’s up to Sylvester Stallone’s cabbie and disgraced New York City Emergency Medical Services Chief Kit Latura to get the few survivors out…to Daylight. Stallone manages to lead a few people to safety despite whiny survivors, an old couple with a dog, prisoners, rats, rats, and more rats, explosions, an ever seeping river, hypothermia, and almost everybody telling him that he can’t do it. He does and gets crazy-haired Amy Brenneman to be his girlfriend to boot.
Jack Hall, The Day After Tomorrow
When a new ice age covers the northern United States in ice in a matter of minutes – man, that was fast – the only way to survive is to use your wits…and hunker down in the New York City Library until Dennis Quaid’s globe-trotting, adventurous paleoclimatologist Jack Hall can rescue you. While Quaid has all the equipment he needs to execute a rescue mission, his son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) is forced to burn books, fight off wolves, homeless bums, ignore naysayers, and cuddle with honey-bunny Emmy Rossum to keep the cold at bay.
Robert Neville, I Am Legend
Based on the 1954 novel of the same name and the Charlton Heston movie The Omega Man, I Am Legend follows Will Smith’s Robert Neville as he hunts for food and tries to survive a manmade plague that’s wiped out 90 percent of humanity and turned most of the remaining population into CGI zombies (humans with a mutated rabies disease). Smith gets jiggy in his survival by hunting deer in New York City with a Colt AR-15 out of a hightailing Mustang, taking down zombies and his dog with a Heckler & Koch Mark 23, lifting weights, sleeping in a bathtub, and blowing himself up with a couple of grenades. Ok. Technically that’s not surviving but with rumors of a sequel you have to wonder. Plus, Smith did pretty well surviving up until that point. Best Survival Movies The 25 Most Incredible Survival Stories of All Time OL Ranks the 20 Coolest Hollywood Archers

Hollywood isn’t totally lost to vampire love stories and superhero sequels. There are still some tough-as-nails survivalists showing up on the silver screen. Here’s a ranking of the 14 best.