When preparing for an adventure outdoors, it’s important to have your gear squared away — and your head squared away, too. To that point, here are the top 10 movies you want to avoid at all costs before a big trip into the wild. These films provide a special kind of fuel for irrational fears about flying, hiking, driving, swimming, canoeing — or just plain traveling in the less populated parts of the world. Some tap into primal fears like starvation, others explore specific kinds of wilderness train wrecks, like getting lost in the high desert. All should be avoided before your next outdoor adventure, or if you’re not easily scared off by worst case scenarios, watch them with your greenhorn friends before venturing off on the big hike or hunt.
10. GETTING STRANDED: Scenic Route (2013)
Directed by: Kevin Goetz, Michael Goetz
Starring: Josh Duhamel, Dan Fogler
Scenic Route is the story of two old friends who wind up trapped in a dead truck on the side of a remote desert road. They wait for cars to come by, but none do, so they eventually start walking. The two men, who have longstanding issues between them, start needling each other, and soon an argument comes to blows. When the dust settles, Mitchell (Duhamel) believes he has killed Carter (Fogler) in the scuffle. While he is trying to bury the body, the very much not-dead Carter wakes up and — understandably — freaks the fuck out.
Lesson Learned: Pick your traveling companions carefully. Complicated friendships can turn nasty quick under the stress of an adventure gone wrong.
9. GETTING LOST: Gerry (2002)
Directed by: Gus Van Sant
Starring: Matt Damon, Casey Affleck
Gerry is an early Damon/Affleck movie — the other, younger Affleck — in which two friends drive out to the New Mexico desert and go on a hike. On the way back, they believe they’re following the same path until they realize they’re completely lost. Slowly, they come apart, both physically and mentally. The friends end up crawling across the desert Man-with-No-Name style, before things get, well, confrontational.
This slow-moving, visually remarkable movie is loosely based on the story of David Coughlin and Raffi Kodikian, who got lost while hiking Rattlesnake Canyon in New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns National Park in 1999. Coughlin didn’t survive, and after the ordeal, Kodikian pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, saying he’d killed Coughlin out of mercy. He served 16 months in prison.
Lesson Learned: Bring a GPS. Always — they’re literally the size of a watch now — and a backup map and compass, too. Oh, and maybe pick a friend who won’t strangle you when the going gets rough.
8. STARVATION: Alive (1993)
Directed by: Frank Marshall
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Vincent Spano, Josh Hamilton
Alive is based on the true story Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors about a Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashes in the Andes Mountains in October 1972. The blockbuster film version depicts the horrific crash and their harsh, freezing existence above the tree line at 11,000 feet, where they remained until rescued. As the survivors slowly starve, they attempt to eat the plane cushions and little bits of leather, before turning to the bodies of the flight crew and eventually their teammates left dead and frozen in the snow.
Lesson Learned: Always, always, always have the “Is it okay to eat you if you die?” conversation before you get on the plane. You’ll feel much better if it ever gets to that.
7. BEARS: The Edge (1997)
Directed by: Lee Tamahori
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Alec Baldwin
Flying around Alaska looking for the perfect rugged local subject for a photo shoot, a New York City fashion magazine editor, a photographer, and a rich philanthropist along for the ride find themselves in a primitive survival situation when their bush plane crashes in a river, killing the pilot. Cold and wet, they immediately have to use one of three signal flares rescued from the sunken plane just to start a fire. They try to hike out of the mountains but end up walking in a circle back to their first camp — and that’s when an exceptionally intelligent grizzly zeros in on them.
The fact that this flick was made before the widespread use of computer-generated imaging (CGI) means every shot of the bear is, in fact, a 100% real bear. This makes it a measure scarier than, say, the bear attack in honorable mention from The Revenant.
Lesson Learned: You know those “dumb” Altoids-tin survival kits? If you’re traveling around remote Alaska, carry one of those — plus a .500 S&W revolver. At. All. Times.
6. PLANE CRASH: Flight (2012)
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, John Goodman
Don’t watch this movie for at least two weeks before you get on a plane, whatever your destination. Some of the most harrowing survival stories on this list begin with a plane crash before the really awful stuff happens. But Flight captures the horror of a plane actually going down — in painful, minute detail — better than any movie made before or since. The striking thing about this movie is the realism, including the behavior of the flight crew, the cramped quarters of coach, the boarding procedures — it’s all so true to life that it makes the violence of the actual crash feel oh-so real and oh-so powerful. Watch this movie and you will never not fasten your seatbelt before takeoff again.
Lesson Learned: Maybe a road trip is a better way to go.
5. ROAD TRIPS: The Mothman Prophecies (2002)
Directed by: Mark Pellington
Starring: Richard Gere, Laura Linney
Road trips are a great way to get to the best adventure spots in the US, especially if you’re traveling with expensive or restricted gear like camera equipment, fishing tackle, or firearms. But on long highway drives, it’s easy to space out for who knows how long, until that little voice says, “Dude, how long have you been driving on this highway?” Then comes a quick flush of panic: “Did I miss my exit? Where the hell am I?”
In The Mothman Prophecies, this urban-legend examination starts with Washington Post reporter John Klein (Richard Gere) experiencing just that, on a drive from Georgetown to Richmond to interview the governor of Virginia. When his car mysteriously quits on him, Klein discovers to his horror that he’s hundreds of miles from his destination, having ended up in Point Pleasant, West Virginia: a drive he couldn’t possibly have made in the time he’d been on the road. Things just get weirder from there in this subtle but horrifying movie. I personally can’t take a long drive at night without thinking of this movie at least once and wondering if the next road sign will tell me I’m in the wrong state or on the wrong coast.
Also avoid this movie if your trip involves crossing a lot of old bridges, as it terrifyingly depicts the true-life Silver Bridge collapse on the Ohio River, which happened in 1967.
Lesson Learned: If you space out while driving and end up in the wrong state, don’t fall in love with the sheriff or try to solve a local mystery. Plus, it’s never normal for a suspension bridge to swing like that.
4. SHARKS: Open Water (2003)
Directed by: Chris Kentis
Starring: Blanchard Ryan, Daniel Travis
It’s almost a required part of any tropical vacation to go snorkeling or scuba diving for a glimpse at the hidden world beneath the waves. Just hope the boat is still there when you resurface — and not a pack of hungry sharks.
Open Water is based on the true story of Tom and Eileen Lonergan, who are believed to have disappeared in these very circumstances back in 1998 while diving on the Great Barrier Reef off the Australian coast. Their bodies were never found. Even though there are some mysteries surrounding the Lonergans’ disappearance, in 2008, two professional divers, Richard Neely and Ally Dalton, were also left adrift at the Great Barrier Reef by a dive boat, though that pair survived to tell their story.
Lesson Learned: Trust the online reviews for that dive boat charter you’re thinking of renting — or any service, outfit, or guide taking you afield. Comments like “they left me behind” should be a deal breaker.
3. TRAPPED: The Descent (2005)
Directed by: Neil Marshall
Starring: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid
The Descent starts off with a car crash scene that will cure you of ever driving behind a truck hauling rebar. After said accident, six women with a penchant for adventure get together for a reconnecting trip that they hope will be therapeutic for their emotionally devastated friend, who lost her husband and daughter in the accident. The plan is to explore a cave in the Appalachian Mountains (although the whole movie was filmed in the UK) that Juno (Mendoza), the group’s de facto leader, promises will be a cave-diving trip unlike any they’ve ever taken before. Juno cagily avoids providing too many details, dubbing the adventure “a surprise.”
Everything goes well at first, but when a narrow passage collapses behind them and the group barely makes it through, Juno is forced to admit this isn’t the cave she told them it was. In fact, they’re in an unexplored, unmapped cave system, which means they now have to find their own way out. Things only get worse from there.
Lesson Learned: Surprises are for birthdays, not spelunking expeditions. If a trip leader is being vague, bail. No adventure is worth getting hunted by a mutant tribe of cave-dwelling humanoids who want you for dinner. Details, please.
2. RAPED BY HILL PEOPLE: Deliverance (1972)
Directed by: John Boorman
Starring: Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight, Ned Beatty, Ronnie Cox
You know the movie that has been making suburbanites squeal for almost 50 years had to have a place on this list. Sometimes you don’t have to do anything wrong, or be in a plane crash, or run across a vengeful grizzly bear. Sometimes, disaster is bumping into bad people far away from help.
This now-classic tale tells the story of four friends — two experienced outdoorsmen and two newbies — who embark on a canoe trip along a section of the fictional Cahulawassee River in northwestern Georgia that is set to be flooded by a dam construction project. Unfortunately for them, the adventure turns into a struggle for survival when they run into a pair of armed hill-dwellers with certain, um … desires?
You can blame Deliverance for entrenching some of the most pervasive and negative “hillbilly” stereotypes about poor, rural Southerners. Nevertheless, once you’ve seen it, you’ll never turn your back on strange locals again.
Lesson Learned: Pack more than a recurve for self-defense. And no matter where you are, if you hear that banjo music, run.
1. SELF-INFLICTED AMPUTATION: 127 Hours (2010)
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Starring: James Franco
When you head into the wilderness, always, always let someone know where you are going, even if you just leave a simple note behind. Why? Because you don’t want to have to cut off your own arm, that’s why.
This is the real-life story of Aron Ralston (James Franco), a rock climber who became trapped in a canyon by a boulder after a fall in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park in 2003. He didn’t tell anyone where he was going that day, and nobody knew where to look for him when he didn’t come home. The title comes from the period of time Ralston spends trying to free himself, which he eventually does by making a tourniquet from his CamelBak hose, breaking the bones in his forearm, and slowly amputating it with a multitool. Oh yeah, and he used a camcorder to record a lot of this ordeal and even took a photo of the boulder after freeing himself but before rappelling down a 65-foot rock face, all while trying not to bleed out.
Ralston wasn’t free-soloing some giant rock formation when things went badly. For him, it was an average hike in a familiar place. But he didn’t tell anyone where he was going.
Lesson Learned: Leave a note, or pack a bone saw. Your call.