When the International Space Station is destroyed by satellite debris, killing most of the crew, doctor and first-time astronaut Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) must figure out how to get back to Earth. Both the acting and the effects are so superb that it's easy to forget that this harrowing tale wasn't really shot in space.
2. All is Lost
The unnamed main character of All is Lost (played by Robert Redford) is somewhere in the Indian Ocean when he wakes to find that a shipping container has collided with his sailboat, damaging the hull, partially flooding the vessel, and destroying the navigation and communication equipment. Though he manages to get himself out of that pickle, a tropical storm takes out the boat for good, and he must make his way on an inflatable raft. And that's really only the beginning of this tale of survival, which has just one character and very little dialogue.
This tense tale of a container ship captain taken hostage by Somali pirates is based on a true story. Tom Hanks plays the kidnapped skipper of the Maersk Alabama, and his performance is gritty and realistic. One incredible sequence, in which pirates board the container ship, was filmed in the open ocean – an incredibly dangerous stunt that makes the film all the more immersive.
Lone Survivor follows a team of SEALs as they track Taliban leader Ahmad Shah in Afghanistan. After they're discovered by herders – who subsequently alert the Taliban – the SEALs are ambushed and must fight for their lives. In one of the more intense sequences, the soldiers jump off a cliff to escape the insurgents. (Stuntmen made a 15-foot jump off a cliff get the shot.)
WINNER: All Is Lost. It was a very good year for survival movies, but Redford's brilliant performance takes the prize.