Post apocalyptic survival movies are usually pretty interesting to watch. And there’s something in them we can all relate to. We wonder how we’d fare if we were in the same situation. Would we crumble apart or would we survive? And if we have a protagonist, if he isn’t a knucklehead, we want to root for this resourceful individual.
Everyone loves explosions, guns and tons of action but in them lots of muscle-bound, weapons-carrying survivalist-types die in these movies. Why?
Our hero survives the craziest circumstances not because of his muscles and guns. Our hero, is the guy who uses his wits over weapons.
I applied some of US Navy Seal Don Mann’s excellent Survival Tips and added a bit of my perspective. If you haven’t seen any of these movies keep in mind there are serious spoilers in this article!
It’s easy to pick any of these movies apart. Critics easily trash movies for the things they lacked, such as suspension of realism or an overblown budget, the movie directors or writers ignore the expertise of technical-advisors, it was held to a budget, the music is dated, or the issues were only relevant for that period of time.
In the end, we like them. In all of our inner-selves we are fighters and survivors. Here are the movies chosen.
- The Walking Dead
- A Boy and His Dog
- Escape From New York
- Zombie Land
- The Omega Man
- The Book of Eli
- I Am Legend
- The Road
- 28 Days Later
1. Assess your situation as objectively as you can.
In the television series,the Walking Dead, our hero Rick Grimes wakes up from a coma in a damaged hospital. He’s not certain what happened. Is he dreaming a nightmare? The lights are flickering in the hallways and the place is empty of people. Rick shambles down the corridors and walks down the blackened stairwell in darkness. It isn’t until he opens the fire escape door and into the sunlight that it’s apparent to him what’s occurred. The world has gone to Hell. Eventually he’ll see this world is over run with zombies.
He also discovers that his son and wife are missing. First, he has to get some place safe. But where? He walks along a street and finds only the upper torso of a decayed woman…and she’s alive and moving towards him. This body is moving! He shuffles along in shock and disbelief. Once his shock begins to diminish he soberly assesses his situation. Things are bad! Things are very bad. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do yet, but before proceeding any further he begins to gather facts. How does he do this?
Upon being whacked over the head with a shovel by a little boy and awaking, Rick listens intently as the boy’s father speaks.
He hangs on to every piece of information given him by a neighbor holed up in a house. He learns how to kill a zombie and that it’s best not to travel at night. He knows that gun fire and loud noises attracts them and he needs to be brutal, if need be, to survive. Rick is heading into danger but he also understands a few key things if he’s going to get his family back.
In order to succeed with his mission he begins it when he’s recovered from the initial shock, he arms himself with loads of weapons, gets a vehicle for traveling, and refreshes his mind/body with a shower. Lastly, he dons his uniform which provides him with psychological strength. He’s not fully aware of what he’ll face, but after gathering facts he at least has a working plan. Rick is a mature individual who can soberly assess a situation is doesn’t do things in a reactionary manner.
- What needs to be done to assure your safety?
- Do you need to move to a safer area?
- Observe the area of your location. What are the hazards?
- Are there enemy or friendly forces in the immediate area?
- What are the advantages?
- Is there water nearby?
- What can you take advantage of to help you survive?
- Plan your next move carefully. Work out a plan in your head first. If you’re satisfied with it, proceed. If not, give yourself time to come up with a better alternative.
Okay, let’s admit, the team does some stupid stuff in later episodes in later seasons. But a lot of fun to watch!
2. Take stock of your supplies and immediate needs.
In the movie, A Boy and his Dog, Vic and Blood live in a barbaric, post-apocalyptic world. Vic is a young man who communicates telepathically with his telepathic dog named Blood.Because of the dogs mutant engineering, Blood lacks the ability to gather food on his own. Blood helps Vic find sex and food and navigate the world. They need each other to survive getting killed by mutants and wild bands of marauders. They travel along the desert wasteland and scavenge off of other scavengers. It’s clear they have a tight relationship, as a dog and man should.
Towards the end of the movie Vic is captured by the citizens of a weird, survivalist group that intend to use him for impregnation purposes. In the beginning he’s happy to oblige, but when he realizes they intend to rid of him after they artificially inseminate the women, he begins his escape.
Vic and the daughter of the leader of the secluded survivalist group escape imprisonment but now Vic has another problem. Blood is weak and dying and needs to eat. Blood can’t survive without Vic. Should Vic stay with the woman or kill her? She does tell Vic that she loves him.
In the end the choice is clear and Vic lets Blood eat the woman for nourishment. Vic clearly looks out for himself and the choices he makes are clearly selfish. But it works if he’s to survive the harsh world the rules he uses must be different from the old world. Ff Vic wasn’t so impulsive or reactionary and was less concerned about food and sex and he could have used Blood smartly. He could have planned to obtain necessary supplies, or team up with people who could help him out. But that would be another story and we wouldn’t have this issue. Our protagonist is of course only 15 years old, and his choices are narrower than a mature persons’.
Clearly, I’m not advocating killing a person in order to eat them. I’m only positing the idea that you must understand what your priorities are in order to survive. Once you’re able to do this, everything else follows. I once talked to a homeless guy and he told me he spent most of his day trying to obtain something to eat. It didn’t matter if he was getting it out of the garbage can. He didn’t care about the cold or about finding a place to sleep. The moment his belly was full, he searched out warmth, shelter and greater comfort.
Take stock of your supplies and act accordingly.
- Water is your first priority, then food.
- Weather, body type, activity are all going to determine how much you need. And doctors agree that healthy humans can go up to 6-8 weeks without food as long as they have water. Without water you won’t make it.
- Now, check your food stores and see what it is you have to eat and much you have. Once you do this, decide the minimum you can use in order to get you to where you need to go.
3. Prepare for the contingencies and be resourceful.
In the movie, Escape from New York, our hero Snake Plissken is given 24 hours to find the captured President of the United States. Snake begins his tough journey by landing his glider atop the World Trade Center.
We know this isn’t going to be a simple mission and nothing is going to go as planned. Yes, Snake has a tracking device that leads him to the President’s escape pod, but, surprise! No President inside. And now the prisoners/kidnappers of the island are making their demands. What’s Snake going to do?
He adapts to the situation and changes his plans. We know the President is a hostage but Snake still has a tracking device, the President’s life-monitor bracelet, and this gives him purpose for the moment . Even if things go bad, he continues to gather information, builds temporary alliances and doesn’t get distracted from his goal. Therefore, by honing in on what he needs to do, he finds the very things or people who will allow him to accomplish his mission. He doesn’t bother dealing with superfluous stuff. Get in, get out, go home.
As he begins to cross the shambling wreck of New York city, he and a woman get stranded inside a building from cannibal scavengers. Snake is going to be disoriented in this wild world but he won’t panic because that could prove fatal; he’s comfortable traveling in the dark and he doesn’t stick around waiting for a bad situation to get worse. The cannibals break into the house he’s holed up in and get the woman but Snake is gone.
Later, when he injures his leg he keeps on going, and stays resourceful.
- Being lost. Don’t just count on your good sense of direction. Always carry at least one compass, a map, and GPS. Don’t move unless you know where you are and where you are going. Many very experienced point men and navigators have become lost or disoriented in the wild. Remember that the consequences of panic can be fatal.
- Darkness. With darkness we shift from relying primarily on seeing to relying primarily on hearing. This is an uncomfortable change for some people but not for Snake. Stay cool.
- Being stranded. There are countless contingencies under which you could be stuck in the wilderness for an extended period of time. Anticipate that this could happen and plan for ways to alert others and make your way to safety.
- Illness or injury. Treat any injuries –yours or your teammates. Self aid and buddy aid. Your health is most important for survival. Any time you go into the wilderness there’s always the possibility that you can become injured or ill. Practice and develop your own wilderness first-aid skills.
- Extreme weather. There is no such thing as bad weather, just different types of weather. Always be prepared. Snow, rain, or extreme heat or cold can impact your ability to survive. Before heading out, make sure you have the proper clothing, water, and the ability to shelter yourself for extended periods of time. Dress using layers to avoid overheating. Seek or build a shelter in extreme conditions. You may lose your compass, you may lose your water. You may break your leg. Panicking can get you into making a rash decision. Continue to keep in mind what your goals are and ask yourself if you can modify them a bit. Do this by evaluating your situation, and then take action. Don’t stick around waiting for a bad situation to get worse. You can find resources on the way.
4. Set manageable goals.
In our movie, Zombieland, our survivor Columbus is traveling to Columbus to see if his family is alive. A mutated strain of mad cow disease has turned most humans into cannibal zombies.
Columbus is a geeky, wimpy kind of guy. Not the macho hero we’re always rooting for. But he’s smart and makes a set of rules that will help him survive. Each of the goals are manageable and will help him accomplish his larger purpose of getting home to his family. He focuses on the things he can control, rather than focuses on what he can’t control and therefore reduces a potential bad outcome. If he makes his goals small, he can eventually get to where he needs to go.
Even though he has about 20+ odd rules that he sticks to, they are simple enough to follow and become habit. Don’t set unrealistic goals.
- There is much danger in setting too many goals or setting unrealistic goals that impede progress or success. Navy SEAL candidates are trained to have laser focus on successfully completing each training drill and to avoid soley focusing on completing the entire program. Bit by bit sometimes works best.
5. Have a sense of Humor
The Omega Man is the second adaptation of Matheson’s novel, I Am Legend. (1954) The first, Last Man on Earth, starred Vincent Price. This version called, I Am Legend, stars Will Smith, and came out in 2007. Our hero Robert Neville fights against a population of humans turned into vampire-like creatures by a virus.
He’s all alone and the world’s gone to Hell. It’s likely that he’s beginning to lose his mind because he talks to himself as a coping mechanism. In the Will Smith version, he talks to store mannequins. He even looks forward to doing this. Sure, life sucks but our survivors are blowing off steam by telling jokes and having conversation. It’s a lonely planet but this is his way of handling crappy situation.
An example of this is a scene in which Neville visits a car dealership in order to get a car. Neville looks over his shoulder to see the skeletal remains of a dead salesman sitting at his desk. Neville speaks to him and says, “Uh-huh, alright, how much will you give me in trade for my Ford? Oh really? Thanks a lot, you cheating bastard!” Neville knows he’s alone, and life is tough but he has goals and will not give up.
1. A positive attitude is the type of thinking that can grant you victory. A negative attitude will bring you defeat. Yes, you need to be objective about your situation, but don’t tell yourself how bad a situation is. This is counter-productive and will get you nowhere.
2. The well-respected writer and Nazi Concentration camp survivor Victor Frankl wrote in his book His book, Mans Search For Meaning “Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
6. Be careful about getting distracted from your goal. Don’t get sidetracked!
In this post apocalyptic movie, the Book of Eli, our protagonist Eli is a nomad. He wanders the world in order to deliver a book to a safe location somewhere in the Western United States. He is told by a voice to deliver the last copy of the Bible to a safe zone.
Along his journey through the nuclear wasteland he encounters cannibals, marauders and henchmen. Upon arriving in a desolate town, governed by Gary Oldman, Eli can choose to stay. Although the town is in the full control of Oldman, it truly is the first organized place Eli has found. The governor wants to build more towns and extend his control on these people. Eli could settle down here. With his fighting skills, he’d be a valuable asset to the governor.
Eli is no fool.
In fact, the blind mistress of the governor sends her daughter to seduce Eli but to no avail. Eli ain’t bitin’. In fact, Eli turns the situation around and ends up praying with the girl.
He’s focused on his goal, and NOTHING will distract him from it. Sure he could have a more comfortable life than the one he’s known for years. But he knows what he wants to accomplish. Girl or no girl, companionship or loneliness, Eli chooses to stay focused.
- Don’t focus too much on acquiring more than you need. This can build complacency and laziness.
7. Stay Disciplined
This 2007 movie, I Am Legend, is the third movie version of Richard Matheson’s novel, I Am Legend. In this movie, Neville is a brilliant scientist and military officer. After most of the world turns into mutated humans, Neville becomes the lone survivor.
He spends his days with routines such as exercising to stay fit or experimenting on infected rats to find a cure for the virus. He journeys through the silent, decaying remains of Manhattan in order to collect supplies. Sometimes he hunts for deer or talks to mannequins. Every day he keeps watch, waiting for a response to his recorded broadcasts. These broadcasts instruct any survivors to meet him at midday at the South Seaport.
Come up with a schedule of things to accomplish. Whether it is gathering firewood daily, checking traps, walking the perimeter or doing vehicle maintenance, these small goals are preventative measures to avoid further pitfalls.
Having a routine is a way to manage fear. Even if you perform the tasks mechanically it will get you to the next minute, the next hour the next day. It’s not really living but it beats dying. Each task has a purpose and may get you to the next moment. The next moment may bring you the answer you were looking for.
8. Have Faith in Yourself and have Moral Strength.
The Road tells the story of a man and a boy. The man will do whatever is possible in order for them to survive the post-apocalyptic world. The world is bleak. Nothing grows any longer. There is nothing but ash and coldness. Cannibals roam the earth looking for people to eat. Kindness doesn’t exist any longer. They are alone. He realizes they must get to the sea in order to escape the bleaker winter coming.
In order to survive, the man tells his son stories that give the child hope. And in doing this it gives the man hope. He tells stories that inspire his son. These stories are about humanity and courage. He tells him about justice and how to keep the fire alive inside his heart.
The father believes they will get to their destination despite the tough environment, the wicked people and the lack of resources. The boy loves his father and this gives hope to the father because his son his pure and innocent.
- Continue to believe in yourself and have moral courage. Do the right things. This allows you to let go of guilt, remorse, and it instills the belief that things are worth fighting and dying for.
9. Know your enemy
In this British Zombie horror movie, 28 Day Later, the world is infected by flesh-eating zombies. People have become monstrous, quick running flesh eaters. Society has broken down and there are very few human survivors remaining.
Our protagonist Jim travels London alone. He’s uncertain what the heck just happened. The streets are empty of people. Traffic is gone from the streets. Eventually he runs into a guy named Frank and they both hear a pre-recorded radio broadcast announcing a safe haven is in Manchester.
Upon arriving Jim finds out that it’s a ruse. The major in charge of an army platoon has no intention of helping anyone. His goal is to lure female survivors to his blockade and mansion in order to make sex slaves of them. He will use his soldiers to repopulate Great Britain. Eventually, Jim will put aside his humanity and become a beast in order to put to death the soldiers who have become ‘monsters’.
- Don’t disarm your weapons or minds so quickly. My brother once told me, “I don’t worry about the people on the other side of the fence because they think like me. I don’t think about the people on my side of the fence because I know who they are. I worry about the fence sitters. Their motives are never clear.”
- Don’t be naive. Sure you have to build relationships because this means more hands and additional resources and contacts.
Even with the potential boon in having safety and numbers and added weapons, get to know who they are first. Get to know your neighbors before things get bad.
Are they likely to help or be a hindrance? Do they share the same core philosophies as you? What do they bring to the table and will they drag you down. The world is filled with decent people, but once a crisis occurs, these same people can be a disaster. Don’t just stupidly disarm yourself.