The 10 most underrated adventure movies on Netflix
The most stressful question of my day comes just when I should be enjoying my after-dinner eating coma: “What should we be watching tonight?” Just typing it sends my cortisol level up the upper deck.
If you’re like me, you hate yourself for scrolling through row six or seven of Netflix, to where the poorly spawned, underfunded, and randomly released movies inhabit. But we’ve all been there – in the mush of pulp movies of the 1960s, the Bollywood crossovers and that particular brand of low budget madness perpetrated by Asylum– to this kaleidoscopic abyss where lay Fury badges, Cheerleader Ninjas, and Hidden assassin. (Peace to Dolph Lundgren.) And yet you keep on scrolling, hoping for a promising reflection in the rawest.
It’s not hopeless, but when pushing that depth it helps to have a guide to point out some landmarks under the radar. These are ten legitimately shining gems – true depictions of adventures, all of them – that you can feel good about excavating mud:
1. In the spirit (2013)
Sherpas Cinema is popping up all over our radar these days for their bold conceptual approaches to extreme ski movies.
In the spirit, sponsored by The North Face, marks the studio’s second feature film, following the 2011 festival festival Anything I can. The film takes our affinity for helmet cameras to the extreme: it is largely made up of first-person experiences on great mountain slopes. Paired with impressive cinematography, the effect is an unprecedented cinematic examination of risk and reward.
2. Rescue dawn (2007)
Documentary author Werner Herzog directs Christian Bale in a Vietnamese film about a prisoner of war escape. How did you miss this?
Rescue dawn represents Herzog’s second shot at telling the true story of Dieter Dengler, a German immigrant to the United States who joins the military and whose fighter plane is shot down over the Vietnamese jungle, and who ends up escape internment. Herzog picked up Dengler’s story from the 1997 documentary Little Dieter needs to fly. His second attempt, produced with a budget of just $ 10 million from MGM, is an excellent survival movie.
3. All is lost (2013)
Robert Redford portraying a symbol of aging masculinity? Wow, let’s talk about autonomy!
But seriously, if Redford’s character doesn’t budge, then a savvy filmmaker could adapt a setting that underscores the actor’s unwavering stoicism. This is exactly the shape of All is lost, which sets a drama of epic proportions from the simple premise of a man sailing solo at sea. Redford isn’t just the centerpiece, he’s the only character in the film, and he delivers less than five lines of dialogue . Around him, the clouds over the Indian Ocean transform into a vicious hurricane that tests not only his resolve, but also his stubborn old man’s survival instinct. Of course, the critics dug it. But a brief staff survey found most people didn’t watch it from start to finish. It is a mistake.
4. The hunter (2011)
A lone hunter wanders the misty Tasmanian Highlands with a giant rifle in search of a long-lost animal: the Tasmanian tiger. He is hired by a military biotechnology contractor on a continent tasked with collecting samples of the animal, whose DNA could be the key to a powerful new biological weapon.
The hunter may have landed with viewers in the ’90s, but in today’s era of tent mega-films, more subtle and gripping thrillers are often overlooked. Such was this film, even with the rifle in the capable hands of Willem Dafoe.
5. The ghost and the darkness (1996)
Val Kilmer (slender Kilmer from the 1990s) is a bridge engineer. Michael Douglas (long-haired Douglas from the 1990s) is a sarcastic big game hunter. They team up to hunt a pair of lions that wreak havoc in a village of African workers who build a transcontinental railway line in the late 19th century. Lions may or may not represent angry ancient spirits, and their attacks may or may not represent a final boost against Western colonialism.
The film marks a milestone in the career of director Stephen Hopkins, who had just scored a hat trick of rock solid ’90s action films in Predator 2, Judgment Night, and SoufflÃ©, and which would move on to the 1997 parody film Lost in space. Oh, and it was written by William Goldman, who designed the screenplay for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
6. Tracks (2014)
A young woman embarks on an existential journey on her own in the wilderness, meets and overcomes challenges, then writes a book about her experience. Seems familiar?
Tracks was easy to lose sight of as it came out three months before Savage, the Hollywood film adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling book starring Reese Witherspoon. As in many of those dueling movie releases (Deep impact vs. Armageddon, White house down vs. Olympus has fallen, etc.) there must be a winner and a failure. Tracks liquidate the latter, but there is nothing obvious holding it back. The fundamentals of storytelling, drama, solid acting, and gorgeous cinematography are all on display here. Give it a chance.
7. Living (1993)
This movie is awesome by early ’90s standards, and it’s even more awesome now that it’s on Netflix. A team of Christian rugby players crashed their plane in the Andes Mountains in 1972 and suffered blizzards, avalanches and other Donner Party-type setbacks for 72 days. Spoiler alert: The Donner Party parallels don’t end there. Eventually, a group of survivors begins a long trek out of the mountains, back to civilization.
It’s a classic survival tale that also happens to be based on a true story posted by one of the survivors called Alive: The Story of the Andean Survivors. Bonus: A young Ethan Hawke plays the moral compass of survivors.
8. The way back (2010)
It’s hard being Colin Farrell. He’s a solid actor who just can’t carry a quality movie as the lead man. There should be a curse named after him. Luckily for the brave Irishman, director Peter Weir (Master and Commander, The Truman Show) placed him between relative newcomer Jim Sturgess and grizzled mainstay Ed Davis, who all help push this minor epic to glory.
The film chronicles a small group of prisoners who escape from a Siberian gulag during WWII and trek an incredible 4000 miles to India. It’s a story of endurance, survival, and Farrell’s Russian accent. It’s also loosely based on a true story as described in the 1956 book The long walk.
9. Ascent of Valhalla (2009)
You probably used Nicolas Winding Refn on IMDB after the violent indie crossover of 2011 released Drive, with Ryan Gosling. Then you probably found out that Refn had made a movie with Tom Hardy three years earlier titled Bronson, about a slightly schizophrenic convict. The double triumph of these two films cast a shadow over a film Refn made between them called Ascent of Valhalla.
Despite the name and the fact that it takes place in 1000 AD, Ascent of Valhalla does not speak openly about the Norse god. In fact, it is not openly about anything. Essentially, it’s a 93-minute demonstration of primal masculinity, which should be a comfort: it’s the stock and trade of Refn. This one is placed squarely on the bare, scarred shoulders of Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen (known for the award-winning series “Hannibal” on NBC), who plays a silent warrior named One Eye on a bloody quest through muddy mountains and misty seas. Did we mention that the main character doesn’t speak?
ten. A deserted place to die (2011)
A climbing film masquerading as a conventional thriller (or vice versa), A deserted place to die is essentially Scotland’s response to Suspense. But instead of chasing crates of cash, the bad guys are in pursuit of a kidnapped little child who falls into the healthy hands of an unsuspecting group of traditional climbers.
The “survival” element of this movie is mostly encapsulated in a cat-and-mouse game between armed kidnapper thugs and puffy-jacketed climbers, though there are some pretty gnarly rope drops. Bonus: Close-ups of actors placing cameras (like real climbers!).