Climbing is an interesting topic for a movie and there are examples of films from almost every genre. Just some examples of the genres of climbing movies include biographical, drama, disaster, thriller, horror, action, and even comedy. This means there are interesting climbing movies to watch to suit all preferences, and each can teach you something different about climbing. Similarly, there have been many fascinating documentaries that focus on climbing and these often focus on experienced climbers or well-known climbing locations. Here’s a list of some of the best climbing movies and documentaries that you must watch.
- The 10 Best Climbing Movies
- The 10 Best Climbing Documentaries
- The Final Verdict
The 10 Best Climbing Movies
This 1997 biographical war drama is based on a novel by the same name that was written by Henrich Harrer, an Austrian mountaineer. The movie starred Brad Pitt and David Thewlis, and it was directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud. The story is about how Harrer and Peter Aufschnaiter are mountaineering in British India at the time that World War II began and became Prisoners of War at the Himalayan Foothills. They escape the prison camp but must cross a treacherously high plateau to cross the border into Tibet to get to safety. Climbers should watch this as it is a good combination of drama, action, and even a little romance. It can teach them that even when faced with a seemingly impossible challenge, working together can help you to climb great obstacles.
A film in the survival thriller genre released in 2000. It was written by Robert King, directed by Martin Campbell, and starred Chris O’Donnell Robin Tunney, Bill Paxton, and Scott Glenn. The film is about how a mountaineering family face tragedy when they are left dangling by fellow mountaineers. The father tells his son to cut him loose to save himself and his sister. While the son quits climbing and becomes a photographer following the death of his father, his sister becomes a famous mountaineer. While shooting in the Himalayas, the son goes looking for his sister who is climbing K2 and discovers that the group has become trapped. He forms a rescue team and embarks on a thrilling rescue mission. Climbers will love the suspense of the film while learning about the challenges people face when climbing in extreme conditions and how they overcome dangerous challenges.
K2 is the second largest and most dangerous mountain in the world, so it is little wonder that it is used as the subject and location for an adventure action film. The film was released in 1991, was directed by Franc Roddam, and was co-written by Patrick Meyers and Scott Roberts. The storyline is loosely based on the real-life story of Jim Wickwire and Louis Reichardt, who were the first American pair to reach the summit of K2. The duo encountered other climbers on the ascent, some of whom they have met before. When an avalanche falls, many of the group are tragically killed but the two main characters finally reach the summit. Unfortunately, the celebrations are short-lived as one then slips and breaks his leg. He tells his fellow climber to leave him and make the descent alone to get help.On his descent, the lone climber discovers some equipment belonging to one of the people killed in the avalanche. He returns for his friend and injects him with a drug that he found in the kit. He lowers his friend a few feet at a time down the mountain. Nearing the end of the descent, he collapses from exhaustion on a mountain ledge just as a rescue helicopter arrives and the pair are saved. This is an exciting film for avid climbers who can learn about the dangers of K2 and the strength of friendship.
A biographical survival drama, this film is based on Paul Read’s book ‘Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors’. It tells the true story of a rugby team from Uruguay whose plane crashes into the Andes mountain range. Some people are killed outright while others are seriously injured. To save the injured passengers, those who can walk embark on a journey through the mountains to get help. Very few survived this tragic accident. The film’s screenplay was written by John Patrick Shanley and it was directed by Frank Marshall. The ensemble cast included Ethan Hawke, Vincent Spano, and Josh Hamilton. Climbers will enjoy the drama of this film and can learn how people have overcome difficult situations in the mountains with little equipment available.
For climbing enthusiasts who love action movies, this is a fantastic film to watch as it features a climber in the lead role but has all the twists, turns, and excitement you would expect from a great action movie. It is about a climber, played by Sylvester Stallone, who becomes embroiled in afailed heist involving a U.S. Treasury plane. The film is set in the Rocky Mountains. Stallone co-wrote this 1993 movie with Michael France and it was directed by Renny Harlin. Along with Stallone, the film also starred John Lithgow, Michael Rooker, Janine Turner, and Leon Robinson. It was critically well-received and was also a commercial success as it tool $255 million at the worldwide box office on a budget of $70 million.
Released in 2008, ‘North Face’ is a German historical fiction film that starred Benno Furmann, Florian Lukas, Johanna Wokalek, and Ulrich Tukur. It was directed by Philipp Stolzi and co-written by Christopher Silber, Rupert Henning, Johannes Naber, and Philipp Stolzi. In the film, two climbers are attempting to climb the Eiger north face, which is considered one of the most dangerous rock faces in the Alps and is famous amongst mountain climbers. It is based on the true story of two German climbers who competed in a competition in 1936. The Italians and French climbing teams abandon the climb due to terrible conditions, but the Germans and Austrians go ahead. Catastrophic incidents lead the two teams to help each other for the sake of their survival. This was released in 2008 and has become a cult movie among climbing enthusiasts. It teaches them the dangers of climbing in adverse conditions and the importance of working together as a team in life-threatening situations.
‘The Eiger Sanction’ is one of the best-known mountain climbing movies of all-time. This 1975 thriller film stars Clint Eastwood in the lead role as an art history professor who is also a mountain climber and a former assassin. He agrees to do one last job as an assassin and his mission involves him joining a climbing team in Switzerland to climb the Eiger north face. The Eiger north face was the principal location when shooting and special equipment was used for the dangerous climbing sequences. During production, a British climber called David Knowles died on the Eiger. Critics praised the action sequences and the climbing footage. From a budget of $9 million, this film grossed just $1.2 million at the worldwide box office but has since become more popular.
Based on Joe Simpson’s 1988 book of the same name, this 2003 docudrama survival film is about Simpson and Simon Yates climbing the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. Their climb was disastrous and near-fatal and this account of the events wasconsidered by critics as one of the most successful docudramas in British cinema history. It recounts how they documented a self-rescue despite suffering injuries. Many serious climbers will connect with the real-life situations that the duo faced during their climb. This movie was directed by Kevin MacDonald and starred Brendan Mackey, Nicholas Aaron, and Ollie Ryall.
One of the most heart-rending films of all time, ‘127 Hours’ documents the true-life story of a rock climber who found himself in an impossible situation. This biographical survival drama film is about canyoneer Aron Ralston. On a day out climbing, he falls into a crevice and is trapped by a boulder which has crushed his lower arm. He soon runs out of his water supply and the heat of the midday sun bears down on him, leaving him exhausted and dehydrated. He knows he will not survive unless he can get out of the crevice, but the boulder is pinning him down and it is impossible to move. He makes the heart-wrenching decision to cut off his own arm to save his life and climbs his way back out to find help, despite being in incredible pain from his amputation. The film was directed by Danny Boyle, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Simon Beaufoy. The screenplay is an adaptation of the biographical book written by Aron Ralston about his tragic experience called ‘Between and Rock and a Hard Place’. James Franco played the role of Ralston in the movie. This is an inspirational story for climbers as the end of the movie shows how he continued to climb despite losing his arm.
Everest was one of the most commercially successful movies of the year and one of the best movies about climbing of all-time. It is a biographical adventure film that is based on the true events of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster. The focus of the film is on the survival attempts of two expedition groups, one of which was led by Scott Fischer and the other by Rob Hall. Extreme weather and medical problems hamper their mission to make it back to camp with some members of the group dying along the way. This climbing movie was directed and co-produced by Baltasar Komakur and co-written by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy. This inspirational story of survival is something that climbers will love as it is set at one of the most famous climbing locations in the world and recounts one of the best-known climbing disasters in history.
The 10 Best Climbing Documentaries
Released in 1998, ‘Everest’ is a 1998 70 mm climbing documentary film. The theme of the documentary is the struggles of climbing Mount Everest in the Himalayan region of Nepal. It was produced by MacGillivray Freeman Films and released in IMAX cinemas. It became the highest grossing film in IMAX format. Liam Neeson documents the 45-minute film, explaining how the climbers are battling blizzards, avalanches, and oxygen deprivation. This is a useful mountain documentary for climbers to watch if they are considering progressing towards greater climbing challenges.
This 2012 documentary follows eleven wounded veterans as they set off to climb Mount Everest. The expedition is led by Erik Weihenmeyer who was the first blind man to reach the summit of Mount Everest. The group is joined by experienced climbers who have previously reached the summit of Everest. The film premiered at the Boulder International Film Festival in Colorado and was then selected for the several other film festivals. These included the Sarasota Film Festival, Newport Beach Film Festival, and Seattle International Film Festival. This is an amazing documentary to watch for climbers who have personal or physical challenges to overcome to achieve their dreams.
‘To the Limit’ is a great documentary to watch for rock climbers who are keen to set themselves new goals. This 2007 German rock climbing documentary is about the rock climbing brothers Alexander and Thomas Huber. The brothers are not satisfied with simply tackling some of the most difficult mountains and cliff faces in the world, they are obsessed with climbing at speed, so viewers can watch them racing precariously across high peaks and along thin ledges. Most of the film covers them climbing the El Capitan rock formation in Yosemite National Park. The 95-minute-long production won the award for the Best Documentary Film at the Bavarian Film Awards.
Starring in this 2018 documentary is rock climber Alex Honnold. His quest is to complete a solo climb of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Filming took place in 2017 and the production team faced many difficulties as they struggled to capture sound because they did not want their equipment to hamper Honnold’s climb. While the film premiered at the Telluride Film Festival, it was also screened in the program of the Toronto International Film Festival. The documentary was released in the United States and grossed over $1 million. This award-winning film will inspire climbers who prefer to climb alone and those who are thinking of tackling El Capitan themselves.
This documentary will bring tears to the eyes of even the most hard-hearted as it follows the amazing story of a group of teenage climbers taking on the peaks of the Himalaya. While this may seem amazing enough, this group of teens are a little different as they are all blind. The Himalayas are too much for many experienced climbers with perfect vision, so the brave attempt of this group of blind teens is an astonishing achievement. The group of teens are joined by famous blind mountain climber Erik Weihenmeyer, who was the first blind man to reach the summit of Everest, and a blind social worker and climbing enthusiast, Sabriye Tenberken. The film was directed by Lucy Walker and released in 2006. It is one of the best climbing films for those who prefer factual entertainment.
‘Beyond the Edge’ is a mountain climbing 3D docudrama that was released in 2013. The documentary is about the ascent of Sir Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay to the summit of Mount Everest in 1953. Although it is a factual documentary, there are some dramatized recreations throughout the film alongside the original photographs and footage. The film also includes several audio extracts of interviews with Sir Edmund Hilary about the expedition and his personal achievement. The film was received positively by critics and will interest climbers who look up to great climbers who have gone before them.
A 2012 mountain climbing documentary, ‘The Summit’ is about the K2 catastrophe of 2008. During this disaster, 11climberslost their lives in a short time span and this is now considered one of the worst climbing disasters in history. The film is directed by Nick Ryan and it combines real footage with dramatized reconstructions of the events that took place leading to the deaths of the climbers. Robbie Ryan was responsible for the cinematography of this film. This documentary acts as a stark reminder for climbers of the dangers of mountain climbing and the natural threats that climbers must face on their quests.
The theme of this theatrically released documentary is George Mallory, the British climber who disappeared on Mount Everest in 1924 along with climbing partner Andrew Irvine. This theme is intertwined with a second story about Conrad Anker, who discovered Mallory’s body in 1999 on Everest. It combines reconstructions with original film footage and archival photos from the 1920s. The film, which is also known as ‘The Wildest Dream: Conquest of Everest’, was released by National Geographic Entertainment in 2010. This documentary will particularly interest climbers who are intrigued to learn more about the history of climbing.
Meru was co-directed by the married couple Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. The documentary chronicles the first ascent of Meru Peak, which is one of the most famous peaks in the Indian Himalayas. The group of climbers includes Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, and Renan Ozturk. The group had previously attempted to reach the summit of Meru in 2008 and failed in their quest and the documentary chronicles the first attempt. It also shows Ozturk suffering a horrific injury that delays the group from making their second attempt while he recovered. The film then goes on to show the group finally succeed to reach the summit of Meru in 2011. ‘Meru’ won the U.S. Audience Documentary Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. The film may encourage climbers who have failed to complete a climb they have dreamed of completing to persevere and make a second attempt at fulfilling their dreams.
Also known as ‘180 Degrees South: Conquerors of the Useless’, this 2010 documentary film was directed by Chris Malloy. It follows Jeff Johnson as he makes an epic journey from Ventura, California, to Patagonia, Chile. He retraces the trip taken by Yvon Chounard and Doug Tompkins in 1968. The highlight of Johnson’s trip is reaching Patagonia where he climbs Corcovado Volcano, which was his lifetime ambition. The documentary premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and was also shown at the Newport Beach International Film Festival. It had a limited release in the United States and a theatrical release in Japan in 2011. It was well received by critics and described as a thinking man’s adventure film. This documentary will appeal to both climbers and travellers. Those who combine their passions for climbing and traveling will certainly feel a connection with Johnson’s journey and achievements.
The Final Verdict
Climbing is a fascinating topic for films and this theme is included in movies of all genres. Even those who do not climb may still enjoy the action and drama that is associated with this activity. Many of the best climbing movies are based on true stories that give climbers inspiration. There are also many fantastic mountain or rock climbing documentaries that follow real-life events as they happen, and these can become a useful resource for rock climbers who want to progress to greater challenges.