Top 10 Hiking and Outdoor Films

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By Sean Murphy

While we wait for the world to be open enough for us to enjoy hiking, camping and generally being outside, now is the chance to catch up on the best movies that feature hiking and the outdoors.  Hollywood and production companies around the world have embraced nature as being the backdrop to countless films and TV series.

In the more well-crafted productions, the outdoors can become another character.  Not just a setting, but a tangible presence adding mystery, menace and salvation for the characters who find themselves thrown into the adventure.  It’s a setting that can encapsulate all genres.  Not just adventure, but romance, horror, sci-fi and comedy.  It can be bleak and desolate, or snowy and windswept.  There could be a sandstorm or torrential rain.  Whatever adds to the drama by pushing characters to their limits.

We’ve seen the cruel New Zealand coastline in The Piano, the raw and lonely vistas in Brokeback Mountain, the haunting woods that made Twin Peaks memorable television and drag queens blazing their way across the Australian outback in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.  We know how locations can solidify a film or television production’s identity.  Where the drama is centralised and what the surrounding are doing to develop the story and the characters involved.

Let’s take a look at the best films that have utilised the outdoors and celebrate them for their bravery and scope. 

10) The River Wild

The River Wild. Copyright Universal Pictures

This 1994 adventure thriller saw an escape to the outdoors turn into a cat and mouse chase down a treacherous river.  Filmed on location Kootenai River in Montana, Merryl Streep faced off Kevin Bacon.  The whitewater rafting sequences became the source of action and tension as the Hartman family battle to survive an encounter with Wade and terry, two violent criminals with penchant for robbery and murder. Additional locations used were the Colorado River, the Rogue River (Oregon) and the Flathead River.  The natural beauty of Montana and Oregon providing a picturesque backdrop to the Hartman’s fight to remain alive.

9) Wild

Wild. Copyright Fox Searchlight Pictures

Reece Witherspoon received a Best Actress nomination at the 87th Academy Awards for her portrayal of Cheryl Strayed in the auto-biographical film Wild, based on the 2012 memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.  Recently divorced, Cheryl goes on a journey of self-discovery, despite not having any hiking experience, and hike the Pacific Crest Trail which passes through the states of California, Oregon and Washington. Along the way Cheryl meets hiker Greg, camper Ed and is later forced to wear sandals strapped with duct tape during one leg of her hike.  She ends her 94-day journey when she reaches the Bridge of the Gods on the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington.

8) Tracks

Tracks. Copyright Transmission Films

As with Wild, Tracks centres on a young woman who leaves her urban life and turns to the wilderness, this time it’s the Australian Outback.  This film as well is based on a novel, Robyn Davidson’s memoir of the same name. Starring Mia Wasikowska in the lead role and featuring a pre-Star Wars Adam Driver, the film was directed by John Curran.  Both South Australia and The Northern Territory were used as locations showing Robyn’s journey from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean with her dog and four camels.

7) The Motorcycle Diaries

The Motorcycle Diaries. Copyright Buena Vista International

A young Che Guevara takes a road trip with his friend Alberto Granado, a journey that would shape his political views, with the aim of working in a leper colony in Peru.  The eight-month journey takes Che and Alberto from Argentina through Chile, Peru, and Colombia to Venezuela. Locations included Machu Picchu, the Atacama desert, Patagonia and Nahuel Huapi Lake. At the end of the movie Che gives a birthday speech which inadvertently also becomes his first political speech. The film won a slew of awards ranging from the François Chalais Award at the Cannes Film Festival, an Oscar, and a BAFTA for the Best Film Not in the English Language.

6) Deliverance

Deliverance. Copyright Warner Bros.

Deliverance is a film that raised many eyebrows on it’s 1972 release and synonymous for duelling banjos and the line “squeal like a pig”.  The film is an adaption of the novel with the same name by James Dickey.  It tells the story of four businessmen from Atlanta played by Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox decide to go on a canoe trip in the remote north-western Georgia wilderness.  What unfolds is an encounter with locals that would leave a dramatic impression on the men.  Deliverance was the fifth highest grossing film in the US in 1975 and was nominated for numerous Academy Awards and Golden Globes.

5) Into the Wild

Into The Wild. Copyright Paramount Vantage

Sean Penn produced, directed and wrote the screenplay for this 2007 film which was based on the book by Jon Krakauer.  It tells the story of Christopher McCandless (played by Emile Hirsch), a man who hiked across North America into the Alaskan wilderness, set in the early 1990s.  Into the Wild shows the beauty and the harshness of nature as we follow McCandless journey, right to the bitter end.  The movie was filmed on location in Alaska and proved to be a box office success upon release.  Eddie Vedder provided an original song “Guaranteed” which won a Golden Globe.  Into the Wild also went on to receive two Oscar nominations for Best Editing and Best Supporting Actor for Hal Holbrook.

4) The Way Back

The Way Back. Copyright Newmarket Films

As with Sean Penn and Into the Wild, Australia’s own Peter Weir took producing, directing and writing credit for his 2010 film, The Way Back.  Set during World War II, the story starts with a group of prisoners who escape from a Soviet Gulag and then embark on a dangerous trek out of Siberia, through Mongolia, China and into to the Himalayas.  Not all the group survive as they are exposed to freezing conditions and harsh landscapes. Location filming took place in Bulgaria, Morocco and India and boasted a star-studded cast featuring Colin Farrell, Jim Sturgess and Ed Harris.

3) The Revenant

The Revenant. Copyright 20th Century Fox

Adapted from the 2002 novel of the same name, The Revenant was a box office smash hit in 2015 when it was released.  Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy the film is based on the experiences of Hugh Glass, the real-life frontiersman who explored Montana, North and South Dakotas and Nebraska in the early 1800’s. After being left for dead after being mauled by a bear, the movie depicts Glass’s battle for survival and his revenge on those who abandoned him.  Months of difficult filming conditions paid off with the film receiving 12 nominations at the 88th Academy Awards, with DiCaprio winning the Oscar for Best Actor.

2) 127 Hours

127 Hours. Copyright Fox Searchlight Pictures

Hot on the heels of his success with Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle embarked on his next film 127 Hours based on canyoneer Aron Ralston’s 2004 memoir Between a Rock and a Hard Place.  The 2010 film depicts the events after Ralston becomes trapped by a boulder in an isolated slot canyon in Bluejohn Canyon, south-eastern Utah, in April 2003.  He then faces the dilemma of whether to amputate his own arm or remain trapped in isolation and without help.  With food and water fast running out, Ralston does the unthinkable in scenes that push the viewer’s anxiety levels.  James Franco played Ralston in the film and it was a role that earned him an Oscar for Best Actor.  

1) Mountain

Mountain. Copyright Madman Entertainment

Narrated by Willem Defoe, Mountain is an Australian film by Jennifer Peedom that explores the relationship between humans and mountains across time and our obsession with high places.  Mountain quickly drew accolades for it’s visually stunning photography and scope.  The movie goes from Nepal to New Zealand and Austria to Antarctica and showcases some of the strongest adventure sport cinematography with mountaineers, ice climbers, free soloists, heli-skiers, snowboarders, wing-suiters.  Accompanying the imagery we hear Defoe read passages from Robert Macfarlane’s book Mountains of the Mind.