Top Outdoor Adventure Films

Ten movies to inspire outdoor adventure: "The world is not in your books and maps, it's out there." — Gandalf

30 January 202110 min read

In no particular order:

Free Solo

Free Solo (2018) - IMDb

Directed by Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. With Alex Honnold, Tommy Caldwell, Jimmy Chin, Cheyne Lempe. Alex Honnold attempts to become the first person to ever free solo climb El Capitan.

If you're afraid of heights, Free Solo is not for you. In 2017, Alex Honnold scaled the towering 3,000-foot walls of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. No big deal, right? Hundreds of people do the same thing every year. Except Alex did it without a rope. Husband and wife filmmaking team Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi combined stunning scenery with an epic story to create this Academy Award-winning documentary. If you're anything like me, you'll be peeking through your sweaty hands, dreaming about when you too can climb El Capitan. With a rope, of course.


180º South: Conquerors of the Useless

180° South (2010) - IMDb

Directed by Chris Malloy. With Yvon Chouinard, Doug Tompkins, Keith Malloy, Alicia Salome Acuna Ika. The film follows adventurer Jeff Johnson as he retraces the epic 1968 journey of his heroes Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins to Patagonia.

In 1968, Yvon Chouinard (founder of Patagonia) and Doug Tompkins (founder of The North Face and Esprit) took an epic journey from their home in Ventura, CA, to Patagonia, Chile. The epic 5,000+ mile journey inspired Jeff Johnson, a lifelong adventurer whose resume includes lifeguarding on Hawaiian beaches and being Patagonia's first staff photographer. So with the goal of summiting the Corcovado Volcano, Johnson set out to retrace the path of Chouinard and Tompkins. Unlike his predecessors, Johnson opted for a sailboat over a Ford E-150 van. Feast your eyes on his sailing, surfing, and climbing misadventures as his journey takes him South. The film culminates with Johnson meeting Chouinard and Tompkins for an attempt to summit Corcovado.180º South also features a killer soundtrack with original pieces from Jack Johnson and Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse.


127 Hours

127 Hours (2010) - IMDb

Directed by Danny Boyle. With James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara, Sean Bott. A mountain climber becomes trapped under a boulder while canyoneering alone near Moab, Utah and resorts to desperate measures in order to survive.

Another one not for the faint of heart. In 2003, Aron Ralston was canyoneering in Southern Utah when an 800-pound boulder crushed his right hand against the wall of Bluejohn Canyon. Not having told anyone about his plans for the day, Aron was alone with no way to call help and nobody missing him. James Franco plays an incredibly emotional role with Ralston, the only character for nearly all of the film. For his performance, Franco was nominated for Best Actor but was beaten by Colin Firth in The King's Speech. I think that's a bit of a ripoff considering that Colin Firth didn't amputate his arm with a dull pocket knife, but I'm no film critic.


Into the Wild

Into the Wild (2007) - IMDb

Directed by Sean Penn. With Emile Hirsch, Vince Vaughn, Catherine Keener, Marcia Gay Harden. After graduating from Emory University, top student and athlete Christopher McCandless abandons his possessions, gives his entire $24,000 savings account to charity and hitchhikes to Alaska to live in the w…

Alaska, the wildest and unconquered territory in the United States. In the early 90s, recent college graduate Chris McCandless donated his $24,000 college savings to OXFAM and lit out to live a vagabond lifestyle. After traipsing around the continental US for about two years, Chris hitchhiked from South Dakota to Alaska to face his greatest challenge yet. After a local man dropped him off at the primitive Stampede Trail, Chris found an abandoned bus and turned it into his home. Four months later, hunters searching for shelter found his decomposing body in a sleeping bag, weighing in at only 67 pounds. Into the Wild forces you to look inside yourself tells a compelling story, and backs it all with an epic soundtrack featuring Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) - IMDb

Directed by Ben Stiller. With Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Jon Daly, Kathryn Hahn. When both he and a colleague are about to lose their job, Walter takes action by embarking on an adventure more extraordinary than anything he could have ever imagined.

We all probably know at least one dauntless person who would drop everything and gallivant all over the globe scaling lofty peaks, bombing gnarly hills on longboards, leaping out of airplanes, and forging new friendships with everyone from Kurdish warlords to drunk helicopter pilots. However, we definitely know a bunch more people that would never do that. And ourselves? That's out of the question. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is for those who can only dream of such adventure. Ben Stiller directs and stars as Walter Mitty, an average joe who daydreams about being a hero and doing something amazing with his life. When the adventure of a lifetime comes calling, Walter goes, carefully at first. But he soon learns that life was not meant to be lived timidly. This one is for the dreamers. Stop dreaming your dreams and start living them. Have Google Flights ready when the credits roll because you're gonna want to buy a one-way ticket to Iceland.

National Parks Adventure

National Parks Adventure (2016) - IMDb

Directed by Greg MacGillivray. With Robert Redford, Conrad Anker, Max Lowe, Rachel Pohl. Coinciding with the National Parks Centennial, National Parks Adventure celebrates America’s natural wonders. Narrated by Robert Redford, it follows a trio of adventurers and revisits Roosevelt and Muir’s campi…

In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed a bill protecting our first National Park, Yellowstone, forever. The US now has 62 national parks, visited by millions of people each year. This 45-minute jaunt follows famed climber Conrad Anker and friends as they visit some of America's greatest natural treasures. If you're not sold already, it's narrated by Robert Redford and has a killer soundtrack starring Bruce Springsteen, Brandi Carlisle, Jeff Buckley, James Bay, and The Lumineers. There's rock climbing, ice climbing, trail running, mountain biking, hiking, and more adrenaline-pumping activities. Feast your eyes. Pro tip: It's on Netflix, but the stellar views are best enjoyed on a big screen. Check for theatres near you. If you're lucky enough to get an IMAX theatre, prepare to have your mind blown.



Meru (2015) - IMDb

Directed by Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. With Conrad Anker, Grace Chin, Jimmy Chin, Amee Hinkley. Three elite climbers struggle to find their way through obsession and loss as they attempt to climb Mount Meru, one of the most coveted prizes in the high stakes game of Himalayan big wall cl…

Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi return to the list with a first ascent of The Shark's Fin route on Meru Peak in the Himalayas. Nearly everything but the weather was stacked against the team, consisting of Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, and Renan Ozturk. After their first attempt failed, the team returned 3 years later to conquer the route. Challenges include Ozturk suffering a near-fatal spinal injury only five months before the successful attempt and a mini-stroke during the attempt, plus failing gear. Against all odds, the men reached the summit. Thankfully, Renan and Jimmy brought along a couple of cameras so we could come too. The film's motto: "Believe in the Impossible" We do.


Valley Uprising

Valley Uprising (2014) - IMDb

Directed by Peter Mortimer, Nick Rosen, Josh Lowell. With Peter Sarsgaard, Alex Honnold, Yvon Chouinard, Royal Robbins. In the shady campgrounds of Yosemite valley, climbers carved out a counterculture lifestyle of dumpster-diving and wild parties that clashed with the conservative values of the Na…

The granite playground in California known as Yosemite National Park is the epicentre of climbing in the US. But it wasn't always that way. Valley Uprising spins the tale of the men and women who fought against the conservative National Park Service and made "The Valley" the holy grail of climbing in the USA. Wild parties, fierce training, living on cat food, staunch determination, and general rebelliousness are on full display in this flick. It's a part history lesson, part adventure film. If you don't know the names Yvon Chouinard, Dean Potter, Warren Harding, Royal Robbins, and Lynn Hill already, you will after this.


The Barkley Marathons: The Race that Eats its Young

The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young (2014) - IMDb

Directed by Annika Iltis, Timothy James Kane. With Lazarus Lake. In its first 25 years only 10 people have finished The Barkley Marathons. Based on a historic prison escape, this cult like race tempts people from around the world to test their limits of physical and mental endurance in this documen…

Each Spring, deep in the mountains of Tennessee, 40 runners attempt to run 100 miles in 60 hours. The Barkley Marathons is the oddest and toughest ultramarathon in the world. The first race was held in 1986. Nobody finished until 1995. There have only been four years where multiple runners finished. Think you have what it takes? Entering is almost as hard as finishing. The registration date is a secret; you have to write an essay, pay $1.60, and complete other requirements that change each year. If it's your first time, bring a license plate from your state. If you've run before, you have to bring something else, like a flannel shirt or whatever else the race organizer, Lazarus Lake (orange hat above), desires that year. And if you've finished before and want to torture yourself again, you've gotta bring Lazarus, a pack of Camel cigarettes.

Under an Arctic Sky

Under an Arctic Sky (2017) - IMDb

Directed by Chris Burkard. With Chris Burkard, Sam Hammer, Steve Hawk, Sigurdur Jonsson. Six surfers set sail along the frozen shores of Iceland as the worst storm in twenty-five years is about to arrive.

After developing an MRSA infection during a photoshoot in Tahiti, legendary photographer Chris Burkard decided to stick with cold water surf photography. Really cold. Under an Arctic Sky tells the story of Burkard and six surfer friends shredding the coasts of Iceland. Unbeknownst to them, the worst storm the country had seen in 25 years was barreling down on them. Fighting through near-constant darkness, super stormy seas, and frigid temperatures, the team managed to find perfect waves and steal a couple of turns underneath the Northern Lights; after completing filming over multiple trips, Chris and the film crew raised over a quarter of a million dollars on Kickstarter to tour the film around the world.

Leave a comment if we have missed one!

Adapted and modernized from a post originally on by Ryan Sneddon.

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