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Five Wrong Lessons From Survival Movies

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I don’t have a lot of use for Hollywood these days. I’ve seen enough to keep my imagination occupied for a lifetime. That being said, the puppets in Hollywood still have their place.

From the occasional laugh to a jump scare, I still catch a few movies per year. Of these, I approach survival movies as a means to step into another’s shoes and think about what I would do in their situation.

Most of what hits on the big screen is for entertainment value and very little happens regarding common sense. With this in mind, let’s look at some wrong lessons from survival movies.

Survival Movie Genres

The spectrum of Survival Movies is pretty broad. From man vs nature to zombie extravaganzas, they all contain an element of survival.

Traditional survival films are easy to immerse yourself into. You may not have made the mistakes that brought our hero, however, there are a million other twists that could put you in a similar jam.

Look past the supernatural elements of zombie and alien films. Consider these substitutes or allegories for the roving masses of refuges from worse off areas. Even in these fantasy worlds, there are still valuable lessons learned from the cast of characters.

Regardless of the genre and how stupid the main characters act, you can glean information from their situations.

Ask yourself what you would repeat and what you would avoid. How would you improve the situation? More food, more supplies, more information and communication?

It’s time to take a critical eye to a few and look at the wrong lessons from survival movies and see what we can learn.

Wrong Lessons From Survival Movies: Grid Down Movies

This version of the survival movie places the actors in a grid down situation. Be it from EMP or cyber-attack, the world as they know it has disappeared and things are about to change for the worse.


Blackout follows a small rural town facing a probable cyber-attack. A pack of teens, a couple from the city, and a rural prepper all try to make their way in this dark world.

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The teens in the movie represent the typical clueless people that make every wrong decision possible. The teens provide us with plenty of wrong lessons.

They start on a backwoods hike and when they come back to civilization and find a collapsed society. Then they break into houses and fail to follow known roads.

Their fatal move happens when they wander into a tent camp with all the signs of bad elements (trash, empty beer and liquor bottles) and not leave it immediately.

The prepper character is not without his mistakes. His first mistake is to store his food cache in one location. Further, he locates the cache in his attic.

Attics experience wide temperature swings that shorten the life of any stored food from freeze-dried to canned. It’s better to store your goods in the main part of the house or even better below ground in a cellar.

Likewise, it’s all stored in one location, leaving him to be an easy victim of theft. His choice of defensive weapons was also poor. Throughout the crisis, we only see him with a shotgun.

They represent him as ex-military and he is obviously survival minded as he lectures the town about what is about to come. Even with this show of knowledge, he never brings a battle rifle to bear.

American Blackout

This National Geographic production has a powerful opening segment and equally good lead up to the final country wide blackout. A cyber-attack first takes down the east coast and Midwest.

The blackout soon spreads to the Texas grid and finally the west coast. Until the final grid goes down and the new stations run out of reserve fuel, hope remains with people. Once the silence is deafening, that’s when society truly fails.

The movie follows several groups, from a prepared survivalist, to college aged kids in an elevator, and a high-rise couple that plan to litigate when this is all over. Not to give the ending away, but it ends poorly for them.

Most of the characters are ill prepared and either do not or refuse to recognize the situation for what it is. Many have blackout parties and or sit and wait for the power to come back on. This lackadaisical attitude leaves them slow to hit the stores.

The writers are a bit generous here. In recent days, we have seen looting and mass chaos happen much quicker than the three days in the film. Learn from this and stock up quickly if you need to top off your goods.

Likewise, they all depend on their cell phones for communication. The problem here is too many attempts to make voice calls rather than sending text messages. The cellular system queues up text messages for eventual delivery, while voice calls fail because of saturated circuits.

As soon as the power fails, only one character acts. The survivalist goes “code red” and evacuates the family (including the daughter’s boyfriend) to their bug out location.

He follows “the plan” and secures his family. While he is obviously prepared, he still makes several wrong decisions throughout the film. He fails to train the new member of the group properly, which results in a liability later as the young man gives food to hostile neighbors.

This brings us to the next wrong lesson from the survival movie. The survivalist does form a community with the neighbors. Ultimately, they come to his compound to raid it for food and supplies.

This sets up the final thing that this movie gets wrong. When the power comes back on, he is in the middle of an assault by his neighbors.

The moment the power is back on, they stop their attack and wander back into the woods. I doubt that the lights turning back on and the cell phones working again would stop someone mid-assault.

Wrong Lessons Summary: Know your environment and have a plan

The characters in these movies largely fail to recognize the value of a plan and the situation that they are in. Situational awareness is that ounce of prevention that saves you from a lot of trouble.

Hollywood does not favor the prepared as with preparation, there is no challenge. And without challenge, there is no story.

Wrong Lessons Summary: Have the proper supplies and store them correctly

It takes knowledge, skills, and supplies to survive troubled times. When you have invested time and money in your cache of supplies, they deserve the proper care.

Food, water, and other goods are usually best stored in a cool and dry location. This film’s depiction of food stored in an attic will only lead to quick degradation.

Wrong Lessons From Survival Movies: Man Vs Nature Movies

The quintessential man vs nature movies are Cast Away and Into The Wild. While they are very different, they both pit the main character against the elements.

Reflected in the way they handle the situations is our own sense of wilderness skill and ability to handle the unknown.

Cast Away

Cast Away
  • Factory sealed DVD
  • Helen Hunt, Nick Searcy, Chris Noth (Actors)
  • Tom Hanks (Director)

Cast Away pits the main character against nature on a deserted island. A plane crash strands him alone with few resources.

The character overcomes the need for his necessities with the contents of the few packages that wash up on shore and the abundance of natural materials around him.

Despite his success while on the island, his primary mistake, and the wrong lesson of the film happens in the opening minutes.

As he boards his flight, he hands off his EDC to his fiancé. While only a simple key ring, the ring contains his knife. He must improvise several cutting instruments without his knife. This ultimately leads to extra calories wasted and even injuries.

Into The Wild

Into the Wild
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Into the Wild
  • Marcia Gay Harden, Emile Hirsch, Catherine Keener (Actors)
  • English, French, Spanish (Subtitles)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

This story of Christopher McCandless focuses mainly on his rejection of his upper middle-class upbringing and his yearning for adventure.

Time and time again, he ventures out to prove himself. Often taking risks, both personal and emotional. While I admire this spirit, I cannot forgive his fatal flaws.

His search for adventure leads him to the last American frontier in Alaska. And during this quest, he pays with his life. He leaves the civilized world with little more than a few pounds of rice and a .22 rifle.

Any skilled outdoorsman would shudder at his lack of proper food, clothing, maps, and environmental knowledge. Unfortunately, this leads to his death in the Alaskan wilderness he longed to explore.

Wrong Lessons Summary: Be prepared

Hollywood provides us with a resounding lesson in these movies. Be prepared. No matter your skill set, no matter your experience level, mother nature doesn’t care.

An unexpected rain shower or cold front can change the brightest day in the woods to a life-or-death situation if you can’t maintain your body temperature.

A broken ankle can keep you in the woods for days or weeks as search teams spread out to find you. A few thousand calories in the form of power bars or emergency rations can keep your energy up enough to survive a cold night.

Wrong Lessons From Survival Movies: Zombie Movies

Zombies are a fantastic allegory for the lost and desperate in a survival situation. Hollywood has expanded on this theme but the similarities are none the less there.

Both are desperate, and both are relentless. The acts of a father trying to feed his starving children do not differ from a desperate and unstoppable zombie. So what are the wrong lessons from these zombie films?

The Night Eats The World and Alone

Both these films follow a lone survivor in a post-apocalyptic world. A zombie virus has infected the world, and they are stuck in their apartments. While the initial ramp up is similar in both, how they deal with the situation differs.

The Night Eats The World [DVD]
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The Night Eats The World [DVD]
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Both movies are set in urban areas which have questionable survival odds at the best of times, let alone when zombies roam free! The first wrong lesson is their failure to act as soon as things get bad. Within a few days, they are stuck in the apartment with no option but to stay.

The two characters do not recognize their situation and fail to take a survey of the food in their apartments. It takes many days to tally up the resources at their disposal. Likewise, it takes weeks for them to branch out and see what is available in their own building.

Granted, they are swarming with zombies, but characters can deal with these systematically and clear the building. It’s weeks before they even know if there are survivors in their building or neighboring buildings.

These wrong lessons lead to hardships, mostly as isolation and starvation. A little exploration eventually pays off, albeit with some risk and effort. Had they acted sooner, they would have been that much more successful.

Wrong Lessons Summary: Go early

Situational awareness and the willingness to act takes knowledge and faith in oneself. The characters in these two movies are not preppers and have little in the way of stored goods. In an actual situation (e.g., grid down rather than zombies), it’s best to take action early and get yourself to a position of increased safety. Especially if you live in an urban area.

Wrong Lessons Summary: Know your environment and have a plan

It’s all well and good to act early, but direct action requires a plan. A proper plan is cognizant of your environment. Urban areas are challenging enough with their size limitations (e.g., apartment living) and competition for supplies.

The wrong lesson of these films is that the main characters have no plan for and are not prepared for the challenges of their environment.

Even if the situation denies them the opportunity to evacuate, their plan should have included water collection the minute things got sketchy. Likewise, a map of fellow apartment dwellers could have paid off either by building community or pooling resources.

Summarizing Wrong Lessons From Survival Movies

The most boring films are when the good guy wins without a struggle. Nothing but blue skies and full bellies. Good story telling requires conflict and challenges.

A lot of the choices in Hollywood movies are designed to add these elements to the story to make it more appealing. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn from our hero’s mistakes.

A lot of preparedness is running various scenarios through in order to reflect on your knowledge, skills, and tools. Do you have what it takes to survive?

The issue with this is that we are limited by our imagination. This is where movies come in. We get to learn from their mistakes. Take some time to watch these movies and learn from their wrong lessons in survival.