5 Amazing Mountaineering Movies

Always loved the great outdoors? Wanted to climb the 7 peaks or even dreamed of scaling the infamous Everest or the perilous K2? These films will inspire you, make you cry and start you off on your planning (as you’ll see that thorough preparedness is key to a successful climb, summit and descent – though even the more experienced climbers have their bad luck) your next… or maybe even your first climb!

Everest (2015)

Based on the devastating true events of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, this highly-rated mountaineering movie deals well with the sensitive subject matter and is an emotive, gripping tale from start to finish. This film is moving, as well as being inspiring, especially when we hear each mountaineer’s personal reason as to why they decided to climb this formidable mountain. After this tear-jerking yet inspirational moment, you will be left planning a number of outdoor adventures of your own… just, maybe not climbing Everest.

A film full of set-back after set-back, rivalry, camaraderie, stunning views and… snow, Everest is a masterpiece of a mountaineering film. Beginning in May 1996, in the lead up to the that fatal climb, the film follows two real-life mountaineering group leaders and their groups, also based on the real figures involved in the disaster. We follow them briefly through safety talks, motivational talks and trial runs at some of the climbs before the real event happens – including some of the heated discussions about route planning and preparation sharing between American expedition leader Scott Fisher (Jake Gyllenhaal) and New Zealand expedition leader, Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), of rival expedition firms. This stunning movie is definitely worth a watch, not only for stunning views, but to see the enduring human spirit – of people still looking after one another even when they themselves are pushed to their limits.

The Summit (2012)

This documentary looks at the events that transpired during the 2008 K2 disaster, a tragedy that occurred on the world’s second highest mountain after Everest, K2, located on the China-Pakistan border, in which 11 international mountaineers died. This film incorporates actual documentary footage and survivors’ testimony and intersperses it with dramatised recreations of the events of that deadly August day. This intense film is so gripping partly due to the fact that fully accurate details of the events that transpired are still not fully known and there’s still some mystery surrounding a number of the 11 deaths that occurred in this tragic 48 hour period.

This chilling documentary about the deadliest of the world’s five highest mountains, less well-known than its 237 metres higher sister, Everest, K2 is thought to offer a more challenging and treacherous climb. These fatal 48 hours focused on in the documentary see the climbers face a number of problems including ice falls, avalanches, delays and miscommunication. This heart wrenching documentary is definitely worth a watch if you’re interested in finding out more about this still-recent mountaineering disaster.

Cold (2011) – short film

This short film, documenting an American mountaineer’s feat of achievement of climbing one of Pakistan’s ‘eight-thousanders’ (a nickname given to peaks over 8000m, over which height is known as the ‘Death Zone,’ as there is so little oxygen up there that the human body starts to shut down) in wintertime, really lives up to its name. From opening shots of frozen-over sleeping bags to shots of windy glaciers this fast-paced self-shot (by the American climber Cory Richards himself) short film will make you shiver. This short film focuses on these three men’s’ climb of Gasherbrum II, also known as K4, the world’s 13th highest mountain, standing at 8035m and located between Pakistan and China, in the same mountain range as the aforementioned K2, in the Karakoram in the Himalayas.

Filming the ascent with his two fellow climbers, from Italy and Kazakhstan, we see the non-fictionalised minutiae of the climber’s preparations, plans and struggles. This highly-acclaimed short film, only around 20 minutes long, is a great bite size look into a death-zone height mountaineering adventure, and one in the winter time at that! Climbing in this snowy landscape at sometimes colder than -40 degrees Celsius, you see just what the limits of human endurance are, with fascinating yet heart wrenching bits of narration from the cameraman and climber himself talking about just how painful it can be. An eye-opening and interesting watch.

Vertical Limit (2000)

The first film to feature in this list that isn’t based on true events, this action-packed survival thriller is full to the brim of death-defying stunts, and maybe some less realistic mountaineering than has previously featured in this list. That being said, this eventful film is a fan-favourite, centered around two adult siblings whom after losing their father in a climbing accident, reunite a number of years later at K2 basecamp, after which one of the pair joins a small team on an expedition to the peak, which takes a turn for the worse…

This film is a great watch if you’re looking for action and adventure – including a lot of almost falling of ledges, large (and maybe unrealistically so) jumps from cliff edge to cliff edge and lots and lots of shouting into radios. A noughties classic mountaineering flick, Vertical Limit is a great film that has you on the edge of your seat the whole way through, even if the plot can be a bit predictable at times.

Touching the Void (2003)

From Academy Award winning documentary filmmaker, Kevin Macdonald, Touching the Void is a mountaineering docudrama that gets you hooked from the very beginning. Mixing gripping real-life interviews with dramatisations of the true events that happened to English mountaineers, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates in 1985 on the Siula Grande Mountain in the Peruvian Andes. This disastrous climbing trip was later recounted in Joe Simpson’s 1988 book, from which this film takes its name.

These experienced mountaineers’ near-fatal tale about survival and friendship, involving broken bones, assumed death and snowstorms, is a critics favourite and an enduring story that is just as poignant now as it was on its release 17 years ago, when it won Best British Film at the 57th British Academy Film Awards. With a cool 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, this is not just a great mountaineering film, but a great overall film to watch even if mountaineering or climbing isn’t your favourite movie genre or sport!


Top Photo Credit: Wolfgang Lutz