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Em's top picks for outdoor documentaries and adventure movies on Netflix right now... time for a film night!
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Emily R

It's the middle of July, which means we're suffering from the Great British Weather Syndrome. Namely, it's always raining.

So, whilst we're always champions of getting outside whatever the weather, we might have to make an exception for these adventure films. These are our top 10 picks of the best outdoor documentaries and movies streaming on Netflix right now.

We're not talking action and adventure, we're talking proper outdoor adventure. Epic climbing, insane mountain videography and tales of the wild. Grab your popcorn, put your feet up for a few hours and enjoy the ride.


Our Picks: The Best Adventure Movies

1. The Dawn Wall

Rating: 9/10
Starring: Tommy Caldwell, Kevin Jorgeson

OK, I have a thing about never watching the same film twice. Once I've experienced it for the first time, there's no going back. There are two exceptions to this: Catch Me If You Can (best film ever made) and The Dawn Wall.

I cannot get enough of this documentary by Josh Lowell and Peter Mortimer. If you loved Free Solo, you might love this even more, or at least I did.

The beginning is an unexpected documentation of legendary free climber Tommy Caldwell's harrowing earlier years climbing in Central Asia, which led to where he is at the time of filming, about to embark on a 3000ft free solo ascent of The Dawn Wall on California's formidable El Capitan.

The documentary tracks the attempts and practise runs made by Caldwell and his climbing partner Kevin Jorgeson before crescendoing to the dramatic final ascent.

2. Sherpa

Rating: 10/10
Starring: Russell Brice, Tim Medvetz, Pasang Tenzing Sherpa, Phurba Tashi Sherpa, Edmund Hillary, John Hunt, Tenzing Norgay  

Not many documentaries pan out the way the filming of Sherpa did. Australian filmmaker Jennifer Peedom originally set out to document a hillside conflict in 2013 between local sherpas and tourist climbers, before quickly getting caught up in the 2014 avalanche disaster, undoubtedly the worst tragedy to have ever happened on Everest.

Quickly shifting focus, the documentary gives voice to several Sherpas and their grief and anger as expedition leaders during the disaster.

Shining a spotlight on the inequalities between the industry's profit and the Sherpas' reward (or lack thereof), the documentary led to a drastic readdressing of safety standards, welfare conditions and pay, though for sure more work is to be done.

Sherpa is a visually compelling and rich, nuanced act of story-telling that will have a lasting message. One of the best outdoor documentaries to watch right now.

3. Arctic

Rating: 7/10
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma Smáradóttir

Not at all what I was expecting, which was a sort of Castaway-style plot with some semi-predictable hurdles and victories along the way and a bit of light humour thrown in.

But this film, as my partner and I repeated continually throughout, is not that kind of film. The hooks come from Mads Mikkelsen's acting and facial expressions, rather than a series of nail-biting moments.

It's a minimalist film. Joe Penna has his protagonist in the Arctic for reasons we can only guess. It's stark, it's unrelenting, and almost completely barren of life. The perfect setting for a true survival film.

4. Into the Wild

Rating: 9/10
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughn, Hall Holbrook

Based on a true story, Into the Wild chronicles the journey of Christopher McCandless, a teenage athlete and newly graduated student, and his decision to leave his home, family and trust fund in search of a different kind of life.

Disillusioned with the materialism of commercial American society, he heads into the wild in search of adventure, and ultimately himself. It is a serious, at times sorrowful, compelling film. One that intertwines the sublime of nature with the simultaneous harshness of it.

Traversing rivers, wild rapids and waterfalls, sparse plains and raw mountain landscapes, McCandless hikes, climbs and swims his way to freedom, eventually crossing the Teklonika River to the Alaskan plains.

It is an unfiltered reality of wild living in the unforgiving Alaskan plains, and documents a kind of raw nature that most are never privy to. But it is a celebration of such a lifestyle too.

5. Everest

Rating: 9/10
Starring: Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Robin Wright, Michael Kelly, Sam Worthington, Keira Knightley, Martin Henderson and Emily Watson

Based on the real events of the 1996 Mount Everest Disaster, Everest is regarded as one of the best outdoor dramas out there. The film chronicles the plight of two rival, commercial expedition groups, led by Scott Fischer and Rob Hall.

On May 10 1996, as they and their other climbers come together to approach the summit, they are hit by an unrelenting blizzard. In some of the harshest conditions you could ever imagine, the climbers begin an epic battle for their lives.

Whilst it may seem like any well-dramatised action and adventure movie, Everest is made only more nail-biting and sorrowful by the fact it is a true story.

6. Mountain

Rating: 9/10
Starring: Willem Dafoe

Not an outdoor documentary per se, more of an artistic blend of stunning cinematography and commentary by Willem Dafoe.

It is a mesmerising, touching look at the role mountains have come to play in our lives, the human urge to conquer them, and their unrelenting disregard for human life.

Centuries ago, huge mountain peaks were places of danger and death, not beauty and adventure. Human interest may have change, but the mountains remain harsh, looming and sublime.

7. Valley Uprising

Rating: 7/10
Starring: Yvon Chouinard, Alex Honnold, Peter Sarsgaard, Royal Robbins, Lynn Hill, Dean Potter, John Long, Jim Bridwell

Fans of Jimmy Chin's Free Solo and its tales of climbers living free in the wilds of Yosemite National Park will love Valley Uprising. It delves deeper into the lives of the climbers who started a counter-culture lifestyle in America's most famous National Park and their encounters with conservative park rangers.  

It is an ode to the dropouts and 'beatniks' of the world, those who embrace a different kind of lifestyle, and the people who try to suppress them. One of the most interesting documentaries out there at the moment.

8. A Life on Our Planet

Rating: 9/10
Starring: David Attenborough

In our minds there is no better documentary streaming on Netflix than this right now. If you haven't watched it, you absolutely must.

This is the best of David Attenborough, with the familiar jaw-dropping videography that leaves you agape for the entirety of the documentary.

Attenborough reflects on his 93 years. He has visited every continent on the planet, travelled to some of the wildest places on Earth and has seen nature in a way most of us will never even come vaguely close to.

But there is a point and a message to this documentary that transcends Attenborough's reverence for the Earth's wild spaces.

Having lived for the best part of a century, he describes the immensity of the impact that humans have had on nature, wildlife and natural spaces, which he has witnessed first-hand.

Attenborough delivers a strong message in this documentary about how we can shape our future on planet Earth and work towards living in harmony with nature. We promise you'll feel inspired.

best outdoor documentaries and outdoor movies in the world right now

What did you think to our list of the best outdoor documentaries and films on Netflix? Are there any more you'd add to the list?

Give us a shout if you enjoyed any of them!

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