The outdoors has been featured in movies since their beginning, and the allure of the outdoors has led to the wilderness and survival genres. Mother Nature has been depicted as beautiful, spiritual, and special while also being depicted as dangerous, relentless, and unforgiving. When you’re removed from the outdoors at your job or your home during COVID-19 lockdowns, it’s easy to imagine breaking free from society and having our own adventure story. We might try to satisfy our draw to nature by googling the best wilderness movies, but why do we do this? We know how dangerous the world can be, but for some reason, we continue to be drawn to nature.
Part of the allure of nature comes from breaking the routine of living in towns and cities. When you’re bored at work or home, your mind is fatigued and craves what scientists call a “restorative environment”. Since your imagination of “the wilderness,” is so different from your day-to-day routine, nature’s characteristics provide your brain breaks from the boring tasks at your job and the mental stimulation that you have at home.
Awesome, we understand why we crave the outdoors, but why do we turn to movies? Shouldn’t movies already be categorized as part of our routine since we’re watching them at home or in a theater?
Studies have shown that the brain follows how movies are made (i.e. your eyes and attention follow the main character moving across the screen) and feels emotion based on what’s happening. These behaviors indicate that even though our brain is watching a movie, the brain can have similar reactions to actually being in those situations.
Knowing this, we have thought of five reasons we enjoy wilderness and survival movies!
- We want to be shocked and awed
Planet Earth and National Geographic are popular because they depict nature is breathtaking and beautiful ways. As mentioned by the earlier study, if our brains are feeling real emotions by watching movies, nature documentaries make us feel the shock and awe of seeing the outdoors in-person. Being bored at work or home is only going to push our brain to want more excitement in our lives.
- We want to learn how to survive in different situations
Lost and Castaway are popular survival movies on deserted islands and based around the fear of being in a plane crash and stranded in the ocean. We can fully understand that these stories are fictional and often silly, but part of us is curious about how people survive those tricky situations. Since the brain loves to learn, we subconsciously (and consciously) watch entertainment like this to learn survival strategies because we think there’s a small chance that we might end up in those circumstances.
- We examine the main character’s choices and see if we would agree
There is something about people that love to feel smart and imagine what they would in someone else’s place. The two main appeals of shows like Jeopardy! and Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader? are being impressed by how smart people are and imagining ourselves beating the contestants on the show. Part of the appeal of watching a survival movie is approving and disapproving of what the main character does. For example, if the main character starts to drink saltwater, we might think “that was dumb”, but if the main character makes a water purification system out of sticks and duct tape, we might think “I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do that”. People love to judge, so of course, we are going to like movies where we can do that.
- We’re doing our research
Sometimes we have a dream trip in mind and turn to movies to see what it would be like to go there. If we are thinking about hiking in Utah, of course, we’re going to watch 127 Hours just in case we are stuck in a canyon. We also get the benefit of seeing the beautiful Utah desert.
- We’re refreshing old memories
Movies almost serve as a way to relive memories. Not all wilderness movies are based around surviving extreme situations, some movies are more relatable to the average person. For example, Barking Water is about one last road trip, and road trips are a more accessible way to experience the outdoors.