If you feel the need to explore the great outdoors, you don’t even have to dust off the hiking boots. Here are five great movies where the countryside is more than a gorgeous backdrop, it’s a vital supporting player. Before the next wave of wilderness movies arrives in “The Revenant” and “The Hateful Eight,” check out these fresh-air classics.
“Never Cry Wolf.” There’s some mighty pretty country on display as Charles Martin Smith plays real-life Canadian author Farley Mowat, whose wonderful book of the same name recounted his experiences embedded with wolves in the Yukon tundra. It’s a touching, sometimes lonely, sometimes dangerous struggle for survival shot with a wonderful sense of discovery by director Carroll Ballard (“The Black Stallion”).
“Into the Wild.” Magnificently photographed on location, Sean Penn’s directorial debut is a fact-based docudrama about Christopher McCandless, who left college and his family behind to “find himself” as an isolated drifter near Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve. His wrenching battles against the elements in sublime landscapes create a challenging story supported with a fine soundtrack by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder.
“Wild.” Following her mother’s death from cancer, memoirist Cheryl Strayed walked 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, hiking solo from Mexico to Canada. Reese Witherspoon plays her as a tough, flawed character on a step-by-step journey to escape her demons, giving us a travelogue much richer than “Eat Pray Love,” which implies that the world is here for our entertainment.
“Moonrise Kingdom.” In Wes Anderson’s scout camping gem, a 12-year-old deserts his troop and runs away with his pen-pal sweetheart to a secluded seaside cove. As the kids stumble toward young love, the area’s adults (Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton and Bruce Willis in his best performance in 25 years) fumble in a search party looking for their scenically gorgeous refuge.
“The Blair Witch Project.” A great example of how to make a horrifying movie out of nothing more than woods, cabins, twig figures hanging from trees and imagination. The inventive film launched the found-footage genre as three cold, hungry and lost documentarians record the mounting panic as they explore the legend of a rural she-devil.