Best Adventure Movies to Inspire You to Get Outside

Best Adventure Movies to Inspire You to Get Outside
Image by: Paxson Woelber

You love the outdoors, but you live in the real world. Unfortunately, being outside all the time is not an option for very many people. So what’s an outdoor lover to do when you’re stuck at home? Start streaming a movie to help motivate you to get outside again. Movies are a great way to transport you to a different time and place, and the best ones will stay with you long after they’re finished. So pull up a chair and check out some of these classics to get you inspired for your own adventures.

Best All-Around Adventure Movies

Into the Wild wonderfully captures both the highs and lows of someone obsessed with living self-sufficiently off the grid. - Paxson Woelber

Into the Wild: This 2007 film directed by Sean Penn is an adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s bestselling book of the same name. It tells the true story of Christopher McCandless, a young man who upon graduating college with honors, donates all of his savings to charity, destroys his credit cards and ID, and tries to find a new identity in increasingly wild places. His journey to Alaska is a fascinating, real-life mystery, and the movie wonderfully captures both the highs and lows of someone obsessed with living self-sufficiently off the grid. Emile Hirsh is excellent as McCandless, and the score by Eddie Vedder sets just the right mood. Now streaming on Netflix.

The Edge: Want more of a Hollywood thriller? The Edge features a screenplay by David Mamet and heavyweight performances by Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin as two very different kinds of men who have to work together to survive in the Alaskan wilderness. Oh, and there’s a giant Kodiak bear out to get them. Hopkins is a billionaire bookworm forced to adapt to real-world conditions, while Baldwin is the mysterious—and unpredictable—alpha male. Sure, it’s a bit unrealistic, but it’s a fun trip and filled with interesting survival hacks. For rent on various streaming services.

Free Solo: The winner of the Academy Award for best documentary in 2018, Free Solo chronicles the quest of rock climber Alex Honnold to complete an unaided trip—no ropes or protection of any kind—up the nearly 3,000 vertical feet of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. The movie wonderfully balances the insanity of trying such a thing with Honnold’s meticulousness that makes it possible. Directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chen (who also created the fantastic climbing film Meru) create unforgettable images that will have you literally holding on to your seat. Streaming on Disney+ and Hulu.

Best Running Movies

Race delves into the life of Jesse Ownes, an incredible athlete and human being. - Austris Augusts

Without Limits: Generations of runners have been inspired by Olympian Steve Prefontaine, who famously said, “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” Two major motion pictures were released in back to back years (1997 and 1998) telling his story, and while Prefontaine is solid, Without Limits is just a bit stronger. Billy Crudup is great as Pre, and Donald Sutherland gives a memorable supporting role as his coach Bill Bowerman. After watching this, it’s a lot harder to come up with excuses to avoid your own run. For rent on various streaming services.

Race: For some reason, this biopic about Jesse Owens didn’t stand out much when released in 2016. You can perhaps understand some of the critics’ complaints that it’s a bit by-the-numbers when it comes to storytelling. But what a story! Owens had to overcome racial discrimination at home to eventually complete in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, in which he dominated the competition in front of Hitler himself. Give this one another chance, and you’ll be happy to learn more about this incredible athlete and human being. For rent on various streaming services.

Chariots of Fire: By now, almost every runner is probably familiar with Vangelis’s unforgettable score from this Academy Award-winning film from 1981. The opening scene of running barefoot on the beach is pure joy. The rest of the film holds up surprisingly well, telling the tale of two British athletes who both have to overcome obstacles to compete in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. For rent on various streaming services.

Best Backpacking Movies

A Walk in the Woods is based on Bill Bryson’s hike along the Appalachian Trail. - Kirk Thornton

Wild: Based on the best-selling memoir, Wild follows Cheryl Strayed’s journey as she hikes more than 1,000 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. The film works as both an incredible travel log on one of the country’s most beautiful trails and as a personal journey by Strayed, who uses the experience to escape a troubled life. Reese Witherspoon is excellent as Strayed, and the film is a beautiful reminder that we’re all capable of change. For rent on various streaming services.

Tracks: Another film based on a memoir, Tracks is a 2013 picture that tells the story of Robyn Davidson, who traveled more than 1,700 miles across the interior of Australia, from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean. Traveling with her dog and four camels, Davidson (Mia Wasikowska) crosses the interior deserts alone, giving her plenty of time to think and for us to enjoy the rugged land down under. An American photographer (Adam Driver) meets her periodically along the journey, but this is her story, told very well. Streaming on Roku and for rent on various streaming services.

A Walk in the Woods: Based on Bill Bryson’s book about his hike on the Appalachian Trail, A Walk in the Woods features Robert Redford and Nick Nolte as two unlikely companions to attempt such an arduous trek. The film isn’t quite as funny as the book, which you should read, but the two leads work so well together that you can forgive the Hollywood cliches and somewhat predictable plot and just enjoy the time on the AT. Streaming on Roku, Hoopla, and Crackle and for rent on various streaming services.

Family Favorites

Eight Below is one of Disney’s best tales of animal adventure. - Jack Ross

National Parks Adventure: You’ll find this film (narrated by Robert Redford) at many IMAX theaters across the country, which is the best way to see it. But the 40-minute movie is now on streaming on Netflix as well, and there’s no better way to get excited about traveling across the country again. The awe-inspiring look at “America’s best idea”—its national park system—will remind you of how much beauty there is to see across the country, and you’ll want to do nothing more than load up a backpack, throw the bikes on the car, and see it all for yourself.

McFarland USA: Kevin Costner is the king of sports movies, and here he takes on the role of a new coach starting a cross-country team at a mostly Latino high school in central California. McFarland USA hits all the right notes about what draws people to cross-country—especially the team element—while also highlighting the difficulties that many teens have to overcome just to attend school, let alone participate in sports. It’s a feel-good story that will appeal to everyone in the family. For rent on various streaming services.

Eight Below: No one does animal movies like Disney, and this adventure tale in Antarctica is one of its best. Based on a true story, Eight Below follows a dogsled team and a group of scientists at the bottom of the world. While the dogs are the stars of the film, the human performances are memorable as well, especially Paul Walker as the trainer who will stop at nothing to save his team. Streaming on Disney+ and for rent on various streaming services.

January 28, 2021
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