10 epic books and movies about survivors

10. Robinson Crusoe

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Most of us know what Robinson Crusoe is about, and maybe it was even part of your English classes back in high school. But if it wasn’t … have you read it?

First published in April of 1719, Daniel Defoe’s classic tale of human endurance is about the title character, a man (a bit of a spoiled Englishman) survives a shipwreck with little more than a knife, a couple of animals, and tobacco. He will end up spending 28 years of his life on the island, learning how to survive, and of course, undergoes transformations about his beliefs. Robinson Crusoe is considered to be the beginning of “realistic fiction” as a reading genre, and one of the earliest novels in the English language.

It is generally believed that Defoe got inspiration for his story from the real-life story of Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk, who was marooned alone on Más a Tierra off the Chilean coast from 1704-1709. Selkirk had actually been serving aboard a ship called the Cinque Ports, and had had a dispute with the ship’s captain about the ship’s seaworthiness and asked to be left at the island. (Selkirk turned out to be correct, by the way.) Selkirk spent those years alone before being rescued by a privateer.

9. Too Far From Home: A Story of Life and Death in Space 

aa In February 2003, the world watched in shock as the Columbia disintegrated on its re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, reminding us of the intense dangers of space travel and exploration.

Lost in the aftermath of the news and the indefinite suspension of the shuttle program was the fact that three astronauts – Donald Pettit (U.S.), Kenneth Bowersox (U.S.), and Nikolai Budarin (Russia) were still aboard the International Space Station for a routine mission — and now with the shuttle program on hold, how were they to get home?

In Too Far From Home, Chris Jones tells the story of the U.S. and Russian space agencies working together to find a way home — a solution that is practically straight out of the movies.

8. Gravity

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If Too Far From Home is the real-life story, then Gravity is the Oscar-winning version of a similar tale: two astronauts are on a spacewalk when disaster strikes: Russia uses a missile to destroy a defunct satellite, and it accidentally causes a chain reaction as the scattered debris strikes and destroys both their shuttle and the Hubble Telescope, which they had been servicing. They manage to make it to the International Space Station, but find out their possible escape pod is unusable. This heart-pounding adventure will have you breathless and on the edge of the seat as you follow mission specialist Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and her attempts to get home to Earth after an intense crisis in space.

7. Between a Rock and a Hard Place

aaWhat would you do to survive?

Aron Ralston had to ask himself that after he had hiked into the Utah canyonlands alone, and a falling boulder pinned his right hand and wrist against a slot canyon wall. Ralston had broken the cardinal rule of solo adventurists: always tell somebody where you’re going, and when you’ll be back. So now he was unable to free himself, nobody knew where he was, and he would likely die of dehydration before anyone found him.

So he did what few of us could imagine doing: he cut off his own forearm in order to be able to survive. His story was eventually made into the movie, 127 Hours, starring James Franco and directed by Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire).

6. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

aaIn May 1943, Lieutenant Louis Zamperini of the Army Air Forces and two other men survived the crash of their bomber, thousands of miles from civilization.

Zamperini was young and fit — just a couple years earlier, he’d been an Olympian — but he and his fellow two soldiers would endure machine gun strafing, starvation, dehydration, sharks, and a typhoon in their life boat — and that was only the beginning.

An extraordinary biography by the author who wrote Seabiscuit, Unbroken will keep you spellbound. The book was also the inspiration for the movies Unbroken and Unbroken: Path to Redemption.

5. Island of the Lost: An Extraordinary Story of Survival at the Edge of the World 

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What draws the line between those who are able to survive, and those who aren’t?

In Island of the Lost, Joan Druett tells the story of two ships that wreck in early 1864 on the remote Auckland Islands archipelago, 290 miles south of New Zealand — an inhospitable cluster of islands deep in the subarctic Southern Pacific Ocean.

At opposite ends of the main island, and separated by only about twenty miles but also impassable cliffs, the crews of the Grafton (wrecked January 3, 1864) and the  Invercauld (wrecked May 11, 1864) know nothing of each other’s misfortunes — but their outcomes could not be further apart. Despite Auckland Island’s miserable weather (several inches of rain per month, and temperatures ranging between the high 30s and low 60s), the Grafton crew is able to preserve discipline, build a cabin and forge, and find a way to eventually escape and rescue the remaining crew. The Invercauld crew turns upon itself, eventually leading to starvation and cannibalism — only three crew members survived to be rescued.

Two main things differentiated the two wrecks: the leadership of their respective captains, and the resources the crews were able to salvage from their ships. Island of the Lost is a solid illustration of the best and worst of man facing survival.

4. Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man’s Miraculous Survival

aaIn 1985, two men, Simon Yates and Joe Simpson, successfully attempted the previously unclimbed West Face of Peru’s Siula Grande. As they were descending back to base camp, connected by only 150 feet of line, Simpson fell and shattered his right leg. Yates did what he could to try to lower his friend to base camp, but when Simpson fell again, the exhausted Yates cut the rope, which dropped Simpson into a crevasse. Thinking his friend now dead, Yates eventually made his way back to base camp.

But Simpson wasn’t dead — although his right leg was useless. Through sheer willpower, he managed to pull himself out of the crevasse, and eventually, to survival. Touching the Void tells their story – or you can watch the 2012 movie which recreates their ordeal.

3. Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration

aaMost of us are at least vaguely familiar with the story of Ernest Shackleton’s famous expedition to the Antarctic aboard the Endurance. But much lesser known is the story of Douglas Mawson, who led the Australasian Antarctic Expedition in 1912-13, two years before Shackleton’s doomed expedition.

Mawson’s group wasn’t after South Pole glory, which is perhaps why their story has gotten lost under the shadow of the Endurance. Instead, he was leading a group making scientific observations about the continent. Mawson finds himself far from base camp, his two companions dead, his supplies minimal. Alone on the Ice tells the story of his month-long survival trek back to camp, as well as details of other Antarctic explorations of the time.

2. Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage

aaOne of the greatest tales of survival of all time: Endurance tells the saga of polar explorer Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 expedition to Antarctica. Their original plan was to cross the continent on foot; but only a day away from reaching land after sailing through pack ice, the ship became locked in the ice, and the crew lived aboard as the ship drifted with the ice pack.

The Endurance would be eventually crushed in the ice, and Shackleton and his 27 men would camp aboard an ice floe, in hopes of eventually drifting towards Paulet Island, where stores were cached, 250 miles away. Mother Nature had other plans, and Shackleton and his crew were finally able to gain land at Elephant Island, after spending nearly 500 days between the ship and crossing the ice.

From there, Shackleton and five of his men undertook a perilous journey across open seas in a modified lifeboat to reach South Georgia Island, where they would get help to rescue the rest of the crew.

1. The Martian

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Every so often, a book comes along that’s absolutely brilliant, and it gets made into a movie, and the movie is pretty spectacular. The Martian is one of the best to fall into both these categories.

Andy Weir’s meticulously researched novel is an incredible read, telling the story of astronaut Mark Watney, who gets inadvertently stranded on Mars when his fellow crew think he’s dead after an accident forces an emergency evacuation, how he survives, and how he eventually gets home. It is a fantastic story, and even if you don’t consider yourself a “fan” of science fiction, there is much more here about the strength of the human condition than the “sci-fi” part of the story.

In 2015, The Martian became a movie starring Matt Damon as the title character, and was so well-received that it received dozens of award nominations. Directed by Ridley Scott, it was filmed in the Wadi Rum desert of Jordan, which stood in for the surface of Mars.

Travel Around the World With These 15 Travel-Inspirational Films (vol. 1)

While we’re in the midst of the current pandemic, it’s hard to think about traveling: we miss it, but since we can’t travel, the best we can do is daydream about it, or plan future adventures.

In the meantime, here are 15 of my favorite travel-inspirational films to give you something to daydream about! I’ll post more lists over the next few weeks.

Links are included in each recap to view the trailer for the films, as well as potential books or other guides to help you discover more about the subject matter.

15. The Way (2011)

15-the way Based on the book Off the Road: A Modern-Day Walk Down the Pilgrim’s Route into Spain by Jack Hitt, and adapted for the screen and directed by Emilio Estevez, The Way tells the story of a father who receives a phone call and discovers that is estranged son has died while traveling the historic El Camino de Santiago, also known as “The Way”, in Spain. Once he arrives there and receives his son’s cremains, he decides to take the pilgrimage himself.

It is not simply a film about self-discovery and growth, but a tale about the adventures that people have while taking one of these pilgrimage walks. There are no limits to the backgrounds or ages or lifestyles of the hikers, or what inspires them; they become bound together on a common quest with a shared goal. It is powerful and moving, and also shows you the beautiful northern Spanish countryside that the historic Camino wanders through.

14. Seven Years in Tibet (1997)

14-seven years in tibet Based on Heinrich Harrer’s memoir of the same name, Seven Years in Tibet tells the story of Heinrich Harrer, one of the first Europeans to ever enter Tibet. An Austrian who was also a Nazi, Harrer was in India when WWII broke out. He was jailed, and eventually escaped, traveling over the Himalayas – without permission to be in Tibet – and eventually reached the city of Lhasa.

He became friends with the young Dalai Lama, a friendship that changed his life and his world outlook; and later, when the Chinese invaded the country in 1950, they fled the country together. You’ll have to make an effort to ignore Brad Pitt’s accent in this (Empire magazine ranked it third on all-time worst movie accents) and instead focus on the beauty of the landscapes. Director Jean-Jacques Annaud snuck a film crew into Tibet, and about 20 minutes of their footage made it into the final film; the rest was filmed in Argentina.

13. Out Of Africa (1985)

13- out of africaDanish author Karen Blixen (a.k.a. Isak Dinesen, played by Meryl Streep) was 28 when she moved to British East Africa (now Kenya) in 1913 to marry Baron Bror von Blixen-Fnecke. Based on her memoir of the same name, Out Of Africa tells the tale of her marriage of convenience (and later subsequent divorce), and her love affair with big-game hunter Denys Finch-Hatton.

About 70% of the film was shot on location in Africa. Out of Africa won a number of accolades, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematography. If you’ve ever dreamed of a safari to Africa, this film can help give you a taste of the majesty of the Dark Continent.

12. Score! A Hockey Musical (2011)

12-scoreYes,  the premise of Score! is downright goofy – a hockey-centered comedic musical. The story centers around Farley Gordon, a home-schooled teenager who becomes an overnight hockey sensation while he navigates the rough waters of instant fame.

Musical numbers aside, it is a cute love story between Farley and his best friend Eve, and most of all, a love letter to the city of Toronto and the sport of hockey. Loaded with hockey and celebrity cameos, if you love hockey, you’ll probably get a few laughs from the film.

You can watch the entire film for free on YouTube.

11. A Walk in the Woods (2015)

11 walk in the woodsIt really shouldn’t be a surprise that a number of great travel-inspiring films are based on personal memoirs, and here is another one: A Walk in the Woods (starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte) is based on Bill Bryson’s 1997 hilarious tale of attempting to walk the Appalachian Trail, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail.

Originally completed in 1937, the trail continues to evolve each year. Three million people hike stretches of the Appalachian Trail each year, with under 1,000 people per year doing a full “thru-hike”, or complete hike of the ~2,200 distance between Georgia and Maine.  The fastest completion of a thru-hike was set in 2018 (41 days, 7 hours, 39 minutes); but the average hiker takes 5-7 months.

10. Bottle Shock (2008)

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In 1976, a British wine merchant living in Paris named Steven Spurrier held a blind tasting of French versus American wines at an event that came to be known as the “Judgement of Paris”. It was covered by just one reporter, named George M. Taber, who went on to write a book about the event called Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine.

In 2008, that book was the inspiration for Bottle Shockand while the film took a few liberties with the true-life narratives, it’s a valentine for Napa Valley and the American spirit of hard work. The late Alan Rickman (who plays Spurrier) is our curmudgeonly guide between the French and American wine worlds; and Dennis Farina plays a great supporting role.

9. The Darjeeling Limited (2009)

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Wes Anderson is known for his films which are filled with brightly-saturated, vibrant imagery, and dysfunctional families that are searching for a more… normal life.

The Darjeeling Limited is no exception to his style. Three brothers (played by Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman) who have not seen each other in a year, since their father’s funeral, reunite on the title train in India. They eventually travel to see their mother, who they have also not seen in years, and who is now a nun at a convent in the Himalayas.

Most of the film was shot in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, and the Himalayan scenes were filmed in Udaipur. India’s amazing, colorful landscapes are perfect for Anderson’s style, and the film garnered a lot of accolades and some minor awards.

8. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

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James Thurber’s 1939 short story of the same title was the inspiration for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, telling the story of a man – Walter Mitty – who manages the photo files of Life magazine. The magazine is about to cease publication and convert to only-online presence, and Mitty feels he has the perfect picture for the cover – only he cannot find the negative for it. His pursuits take him to Iceland and the Himalayas – these lush, stunning landscapes are really spectacular on the big screen, but your TV will just have to do! – and he has many adventures along the way.

Starring and directed by Ben Stiller, this is a bit of a departure from his usual manic-comedic roles, although this film can be classified as a comedic drama. The gorgeous scenery will have you eager to leap aboard a flight to Iceland.

7. A Good Year (2006)

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In A Good Year, Russell Crowe plays Max Skinner, a high-octane British investment banker who inherits his uncle’s chateau and vineyard in Provence, a place that he spent his childhood summers. The film is loosely based on Peter Mayle’s novel of the same name.

Skinner visits the property, expecting to ready to hastily sell it so he can get on with his very busy life, and finds it is poor repair. As he hurries around the property taking pictures, he falls into the empty swimming pool, and is stranded there until Fanny (played by Marion Cotillard) is able to back-handedly rescue him — but because of his mishap, he misses an important work conference call, which causes him to be suspended from work for a week. As he spends the week trying to defend his job while simultaneously trying to ready the estate from work, he comes to understand that he has missed the idyllic Provincale lifestyle, and wonders if the high-stress London workaholic career he’s had is still what he wants out of life. A lovely ballad to Provence!

6. The Bucket List (2007)

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In The Bucket List, billionaire health care magnate Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson) is infamous for his cost efficiency. “I run hospitals, not health spas. Two beds to a room, no exceptions!” His philosophy kicks himself in the butt when he becomes ill, and ends up in one of his own hospitals, finding himself roommates with Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman), a blue-collar mechanic. Both men have terminal lung cancer, and they eventually begin to find common ground together.

Carter has been writing a ‘bucket list’, but after discovering he has less than a year to live, he throws away the list. Edward finds the list, and unexpectedly proposes financing the bucket list for the both of them. The two men go on a series of adventures, facing the end of their lives with a joie de vivre, traveling around the globe. The film is a good reminder to not only appreciate every day as if it’s your last, but to also travel when you have the chance.

5. Roman Holiday (1953)

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What do you do when you’re a princess (Ann, played by Audrey Hepburn) and you’re having a bit of a breakdown due to your overloaded schedule? Why, you run away and have marvelous adventures around Rome with a handsome reporter, Joe (Gregory Peck), of course, doing all the things she always wanted to do, but could never do as a proper princess.

Roman Holiday is a classic romantic film set against the beauty of 1950s Rome, shot at some of the most famous sites in the city, including the Mouth of Truth at Piazza Bocca della Verità – a scene often homaged in later films, like 1994’s charming romantic comedy Only You.

Hepburn won Best Actress for the film, and it was nominated for Best Picture. It continues to inspire travelers to Rome even now, painting an image of a lovely, joyous Italian city.

4. French Kiss (1995)

4 french kissFrench Kiss is a perfect romantic comedy starring Meg Ryan and Kevin Klein. Kate (Ryan) is an American who is in the process of completing her Canadian citizenship in order to marry her fiancee, Charlie (Timothy Hutton). Charlie has to go to Paris for work, and wants Kate to come with him – but she is terrified of flying – so he goes alone. A few days later, he drunkenly breaks up with her by phone call, saying he has found “the one” in Paris. Anguished, Kate manages to get on a plane in her determination to win Charlie back – and it is on that flight that she meets Luc (Klein), a small-time French crook who is on his way back from the States after a score. Luc uses her to smuggle his loot into France, but then struggles to keep up with her as she chases through France, trying to find Charlie.

This is one of the best romantic comedies of the 1990s, and Ryan and Klein play off each other perfectly. Travel ranges from Paris to the Côte d’Azur. Pair it up with A Good Year, Bottle Shock, and your favorite French-inspired foods and wines for a great weekend of French travel inspiration.

3. Romancing the Stone (1984)

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There’s a scene early in Romancing the Stone that will make all travelers laugh: Jack (Michael Douglas) and Joan (Kathleen Wilder) have been hiking through the Colombian jungles. Frustrated by their progress, Jack takes out his machete and whacks the high heels off Joan’s shoes.

“Those were Italian,” Joan bemoans, picking up her beloved shoes.

“Now they’re practical,” Jack glibly replies.

This mid-1980s comedy is a romance, sure, but it’s also a solid comedy that will give you plenty of laughs. Jack clearly takes influence from Raiders of the Lost Ark‘s Indiana Jones, wearing a similar outfit and having a skill with a machete, though he’s more of a freelance opportunist to Jones adventurous researcher.

2. Midnight in Paris (2011)

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In Midnight in Paris, Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) is a Hollywood writer on vacation in Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her family in Paris. He is also struggling to write his first novel, and he is hoping that the city he once lived in will help give him the inspiration he needs to complete it.

The couple runs into friends in Paris, and Inez happily takes up going out and about the city with them. Gil – who is very nostalgic by nature – suddenly finds himself transported back to 1920s Paris, which he regards as the city’s golden age, where he meets Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, among others. He can’t believe this isn’t a dream at first, but soon he is seeking out the transformation every night, making friends with the literary and artistic elite of 1920s Paris.

He then meets Adriana (Marion Cotillard), girlfriend to Pablo Picasso, and finds himself falling in love with her – and doubting his relationship with Inez. Adriana, he finds out, has a nostalgia for what she thinks is Paris’s golden age – the Belle Époque, and Gil begins to wonder if any of us are ever truly satisfied with the age that we live in. A lovely tour of modern Paris and a salute to its history as a hotbed of art, music, literature, and politics.

1. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

10 raidersIn 1981, Steven Spielberg introduced us to one of the most beloved action figures of all time, Indiana Jones, in his film Raiders of the Lost Ark. From the jungles of South America to the frozen villages of Nepal to the deserts of Egypt, Raiders is the film that set the standard for action and comedic adventure in the forty years since, with a leading man who created the larger-than-life casting mold for leading men ever since – and probably inspired many people to have an interest in archeology.

Get your popcorn, put Raiders on, and this timeless film continues to entertain.

R.I.P, Anthony Bourdain – thank you for your inspiration

When I woke up this morning and picked up my phone, it was the first news I saw. Anthony Bourdain found dead at 61 of apparent suicide. Another icon and influence gone.

You need not have considered yourself a fan of Bourdain to be saddened over his passing, because even if you weren’t a fan, if you’re a fan of food-related television or writing, or you consider yourself a foodie, chances are you’ve been influenced by him in some way.

His book, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (2000), broke the mold for what people had come to expect about food writing. It wasn’t simply a memoir about great food experiences and a collection of recipes. No ― it was a gritty, honest look at what it takes to make it as a professional chef. Shows on foodie TV make it seem like being a chef is a fun, awesome gig ― which sure, sometimes it can be. But Bourdain threw open the kitchen doors, and showed all the flaws and problems and chaos that existed within, the wild collection of characters, the frenzy behind the calm in the dining room. It felt as if he were a rebel chef, tossing aside the glossy shine of the celebrity cooking industry, and stage-whispering the secrets of the industry in our ears.

As somebody who had already spent several years working in restaurants by the time Kitchen Confidential came out, I could relate so much to his book. These personas ― the cooks and chefs and waitstaff ― were people that I knew and worked with.

Not only was he honest about the people in the kitchen, he was honest about the food and the food business in general, and that was an important part of his appeal ― this was a guy who wasn’t going to put up with bullsh*t, but could also talk about his own issues. He was honest about his personal struggles with substance abuse, ranging from alcohol and cigarettes to cocaine and LSD. This was a man with grit and problems and a past, who was still appealing ― because he wasn’t perfect.

The popularity of Kitchen Confidential led to him writing A Cook’s Tour: In Search of the Perfect Meal (2001), and a television series on the Food Network of the same name (A Cook’s Tour) in 2002. This led to Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations and later The Layover, both on the Travel Chanel, and most recently, Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown on CNN. He also made guest appearances on other shows, such as Top Chef on Bravo and Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. He was heavily nominated and awarded for his work, from ‘Food Writer of the Year’ (2001, Bon Appétit magazine) to multiple Emmy Awards.

His lasting legacy is what he championed: willingly seek out other cultures and learn about them, explore their cuisines, meet their people and talk with them. His blue-collar, fearless approach of exploring food and travel made the world accessible to everyone; and gave people the confidence to leap in and try new experiences. As President Barack Obama expressed on Twitter this morning, “He taught us about food — but more importantly, about its ability to bring us together. To make us a little less afraid of the unknown. We’ll miss him.”

He inspired ― and will continue to inspire ― people to try new things, explore new places, meet new people.

I think Drew Magary said it best in his “Appreciation” today:

“He lived. Anthony Bourdain lived so much that the idea of him dying seems completely preposterous. …. And I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say the world would be a better place, and can very much be a better place, if everyone followed his lead and took true joy in seeking out and understanding the unknown. That is the greatest and most wondrous indulgence of all. Raise a glass. Cook a pig. Hug a friend. We cannot have Anthony Bourdain’s life, but thanks to him I know damn well that all of us can still have fantastic lives of our own, and that’s no small thing.”

 

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