Recently, I watched one of the best mountaineering movies I’ve ever seen.
Historically, mountaineering movies have struggled to bridge the gap between climbing documentary and Hollywood blockbuster. However, Everest – released in 2015 and starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Josh Brolin – has managed to please both thrill-seeking moviegoers and mountaineers alike (unless you’re Jon Krakauer of course).
I would rate the film right up there with the wince-inducing 127 Hours (2010) and North Face (2008), a chilling German film about a failed attempt on the Eiger. It made me want to re-watch the very best mountaineering movies, in particular The Summit (2012) and Touching the Void (2003), the latter of which is also the best mountaineering book I’ve ever read.
Inspired by this latest dizzying Hollywood production, I’ve put together a list (in no particular order) of the best mountaineering movies ever made. Brrr…
|1.||Touching the Void (2003)
Simpson and Yates’ now infamous ordeal is re-enacted on the Peruvian Siula Grande. The footage is utterly engrossing and the haunting interviews add an emotional depth to this thrilling piece of cinema.
|2.||North Face (2008)
In 1936, two German climbers begin a daring attempt to conquer the unclimbed north face of the Eiger, spurred by Nazi propaganda urging the nation’s Alpinists to push further.
|3.||The Summit (2012)
In one of the best mountaineering movies made, filmmaker Nick Ryan interviews the survivors of the 2008 K2 expedition and, together with footage recorded on the mountain, offers an insight into the reasons behind the 11 lives lost.
The story of the 1996 climbing expedition in which two groups attempted to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Although the groups had plenty of experience and training, nothing prepares them for the oncoming freak storm.
|5.||Beyond the Edge (2013)
This film documents the first conquest of Everest by Hillary and Norgay. Charting the treacherous conditions endured during the 1953 expedition, the film uses re-enactments and archive footage to recount the event that would stun the world.
|6.||127 Hours (2010)
The incredible story of climber Aron Ralston’s remarkable adventure to save himself after a boulder crushes his arm and traps him. With only a day’s worth of water, a blunt penknife and the will to endure he does everything he can to survive.
|7.||The Beckoning Silence (2007)
Joe Simpson travels to the treacherous North Face of the Eiger to tell the story of one of mountaineering’s most epic tragedies. It was this story that first captured Simpson’s imagination and inspired him to take up mountaineering.
|8.||The Eiger Sanction (1975)
A college lecturer (Clint Eastwood) tops up his university wage by carrying out the occasional assassination. His latest assignment involves joining an expedition up the Eiger, identifying the Russian killer amongst the group, and then neutralising him. Classic Clint.
|9.||The Wildest Dream: Conquest of Everest (2010)
A documentary exploring the mysteries around the death of mountaineers George Mallory and Andrew Sandy Irvine on Everest in 1924. Conrad Anker retraces their journey in an attempt to answer some of the questions around Mallory’s demise.
|10.||Scream Of Stone (1991)
Another Werner Herzog film about obsession. Donald Sutherland stars as Ivan, a journalist and climber who instigates a rivalry between two professional climbers: Roccia, a professional climber and Martin, a champion indoor climber.
|11.||The Mountain (1956)
When a passenger plane crashes near the top of Mont Blanc in the Alps, greedy Christopher Teller decides to rob the dead. However, he has no hope of getting to the crash site without the help of his older brother, a highly-skilled mountain climber.
Alpinists Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk attempt to climb the Shark’s Fin on Mount Meru, a 21,000ft peak in Northern India and the ultimate challenge in the high-stakes world of big-wall climbing.
The gripping adventure of six blind Tibetan teenagers who set out to climb the 23,000ft Lhakpa Ri on the north side of Mount Everest. The journey soon becomes a seemingly impossible challenge.
|14.||The White Tower (1950)
Glenn Ford and Italian screen legend Alida Valli star in this gripping 1950 action drama set in the Swiss Alps. The White Tower is an Alpine peak that has never been tamed by man. It is said to be impossible to climb and conquer.
|15.||The Alps (2007)
On the sheer rock-and-ice wall known as the Eiger, an American climber is about to embark on the most perilous and meaningful ascent he has ever undertaken: an attempt to scale the legendary mountain that took his renowned father’s life.
This giant-screen IMAX motion picture was filmed during the infamous 1996 storm that claimed eight lives. It
documents the filmmakers’ harrowing rescue efforts to help surviving members of the ill-fated group.
|17.||Third Man on the Mountain (1959)
Filmed on location in Switzerland, Disney’s Third Man on the Mountain was based on book Banner in the Sky. James MacArthur plays a Swiss youth who vows to be the first to scale a formidable Matterhorn-like mountain called the Citadel.
|18.||Nanga Parbat (2010)
A dramatic account of sibling mountaineers Reinhold and Guenther Messner’s ambitious 1970 expedition to the summit of Nanga Parbat.
|19.||High Lane (2009)
A French mountaineering horror film where a group of adventurous friends head into the wilderness seeking thrills in the hills, but instead encounter the lethal attentions of a homicidal mountain man.
|20.||Beyond the Heights (2015)
A soon-to-be-released and eagerly awaited documentary about young Pakistani mountaineer Samina Baig who, at the age of 22, became the first Pakistani woman to summit Mount Everest.
|21.||To the Limit (2007)
Thomas and Alexander Huber rank as two of the best mountain climbers ever. Now the brothers set out to break the record in speed climbing the 2,900ft sheer cliff known as ‘The Nose’ of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley.
A pair of climbers attempt to scale the world’s second-largest and most dangerous mountain in this visually impressive adventure. The bulk of the film centers on the dangerous climb and the even more challenging descent, beset with challenges both natural and human.
|23.||The Holy Mountain (1926)
Not to be confused with the very different 1973 film of the same name, this early mountaineering film follows a dancer who finds herself at the apex of a love triangle when she is pursued by two climbers who become lost in the mountains.
|24.||The Conquest Of Everest (1953)
The original documentary charting when Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first men to conquer Mount Everest. Remastered and re-released in 2007, this still stands as one of the best mountaineering movies ever made.
Okay, so it’s not really one of the best mountaineering movies, but I just couldn’t leave out old Stallone! Take away the mountains and what you have is a howlingly bad action film but it’s good fun and features stunning aerial shots of the Rocky Mountains.
Update: we saw a preview of BAFTA-nominated Sherpa this week. Check out our film review here.
(Lead image: Dreamstime)