Words: James Gray
As much as we’d all like to be out hiking, camping or trail running all weekend and every evening after work, it’s not always realistic, especially in winter when the days are so short.
To help you tolerate those housebound days and to get you through the last few weeks before the clocks go forward, we’ve put together a list of the best adventure movies on Netflix for 2018. We’re hoping these outdoorsy films and documentaries, ranging from life-affirming epics to documentaries charting human endurance, will inspire you out of hibernation.
At the time of writing (February 2018) they can all be found on Netflix for your immediate escapism.
Valley Uprising (2014)
First up in our list of the best adventure movies on Netflix is a must-watch documentary, particularly for anyone interested in climbing. Valley Uprising looks back on a motley crew of hard-living hippy climbers in the campgrounds of 1970s Yosemite Valley National Park, California. It's the stories of them pushing themselves to their physical limits conquering the seemingly impossible heights of the surrounding mountains while at the same time seeing their counterculture being monetised into the type of mainstream sport they resented.
The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young (2014)
There are marathons, then there are ultra marathons and then there’s the Barkley Marathons in the mountains of eastern Tennessee. The Barkley is a fatigue-inducing 60-hour, 100+ mile long trail run through thorny, humid, hilly terrain. It’s a military-style test of cardiovascular and mental limits. Runners crazy enough to attempt it have to contend with the organiser Gary "Lazarus Lake" Cantrell’s complex set of rules and race traditions to have any chance of success. From firing the starting gun in the wee hours, weaving the route around in circles and through industrial tunnels, to following a treasure hunt for book pages. Sounds crazy - just wait until you see the zombie-state of the few participants who crawl towards the finish line. In fact, the Barkley is so long, tough and complicated that at the time the documentary was filmed, fewer than a dozen out of thousands of nut-bag athletes had ever finished.
Expedition Happiness (2017)
This German documentary follows two adventurers and one dog on a once in a lifetime road trip from Alaska to Mexico. In it, Felix Starck and Selima Taibi convert a 40ft old U.S. school bus into an impressive, even luxurious, ‘loft on wheels’ and hit the road. Get ready for glory shots of wilderness, waterfalls, jungles and mountain roads. It’s natural to feel jealous of Felix and Selima’s lifestyle choices, but the great thing about this documentary is that you feel like you’re on the bus with them experiencing the journey too.
Chasing Ice (2012)
A kick in the teeth for climate change deniers who tend to utter phrases like, “I’ll believe you when you show me the evidence". James Balog’s mission to conduct his Extreme Ice Survey offers up terrifying stop motion footage of glaciers as they retreat further and further uphill across landscapes they once used to dominate. A serious watch for everyone (not just environmentalists) who are concerned about the future of natural wonders, rising sea levels and planet Earth in general.
Into The Wild (2007)
Is Into The Wild a biopic of a millennial whingebag who needs to move off whole milk and get a job? Or is it a scathing critique of everything wrong with modern society on par with the best of Jack London? It depends who you ask. Anyone over 25 who has the travel bug out of their system might respond that Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) shunned loving parents, was annoyingly self-righteous and naively underprepared for his unforgiving destination – the wilderness of Alaska. Anyone under 25 might defend 'Alexander Supertramp' as a heroic loner, living by his own set of rules and giving the grown ups he meets on his travels a much needed fresh perspective. Whichever camp you fall in, McCandless's tale of self-imposed poverty and its individual vs society theme has become a classic 'get out there and live life' film. Oh, and it's got a genius soundtrack written and performed by Eddie Vedder.
Finding Traction (2014)
This documentary charts Nikki Kimball as she sets herself the challenge of becoming the world’s fastest person to complete The Long Trail, a 273-mile (that’s ten marathons) trail run across the jagged hills of Vermont. For Nikki, this is more than just satisfying her neurotic competitiveness or overcoming a seemingly impossible challenge. It’s about inspiring the next generation of female ultra-runners. Finding Traction take viewers through Nikki’s journey of preparation, triumph, anguish and self-discovery. It’s a nail-bitingly good documentary.
The Way Back (2010)
Something a bit different to the other adventure movies on this list. The Way Back is an epic survival story of a band of jailed 'enemies of the Soviet state' who, after escaping the clutches of their Serbian Gulag, embark on a 4,500-mile journey across treacherous terrain in the direction of safety. So how did they survive? Simple. By walking, and walking and walking. Despite this as a cinematic premise, The Way Back is high-tempo, and it's got an A-list cast. The real star of the film, however, and what gets it onto our list of the best adventure movies, is the panorama of landscapes that will inspire you into booking your own next hiking trip (just maybe a shorter one).
"It’s defeated so many good climbers and maybe will defeat everybody for all time," said Jon Krakauer of Mount Meru, a shark fin-like peak in the Himalayas. This documentary shows a group of climbers, including Jimmy Chin and Conrad Anker as they attempt to become the first people to reach the top. The cinematography really is next-level, and there's a great deal of poignancy along the way as each climber in the team reflects on some of the challenges they've faced in their lives leading up to their ascent – ranging from the loss of friends, surviving avalanches and a battle to learn to walk again.