Survivalism in fiction
Portrayals of survivalism, and survivalist themes and elements such as survival retreats have been fictionalised in print, film, and electronic media. This genre was especially influenced by the advent of nuclear weapons, and the potential for societal collapse in light of a Cold War nuclear conflagration.
- The 1962 movie Panic in Year Zero! starring Ray Milland, Jean Hagen, Frankie Avalon and Mary Mitchel portrays the Baldwin family's attempt to flee the Los Angeles area for a cave in a rural location after a nuclear war between the US and the USSR.
- The 1970 movie No Blade of Grass starring Nigel Davenport, based on the book by John Christopher, features an apocalyptic scenario in England.
- Deliverance, both the 1970 novel and the 1972 film adaptation, feature elements of survivalism, and one of the main characters, Lewis Medlock (played in the film by Burt Reynolds), is a self-proclaimed survivalist, who at one point briefly explains his apocalyptic worldview: "Machines are going to fail, and the system is going to fail. And then...survival. Who has the ability to survive. That's the game, survival."
- The 1977 film Damnation Alley portrays a handful of survivors of a post apocalyptic world driving across the country in a Landmaster.
- In the 1983 made for television comedy movie Packin' it In, the main character Gary Webber (Richard Benjamin) moves his family from suburban L.A. to the wilderness of Oregon. The family moves into a small rural community where most of the residents are survivalists.
- In the comedy The Survivors (1983 film), Robin Williams plays a man who becomes obsessed with the survivalist culture after being robbed. Walter Matthau costars as Williams' more level-headed companion.
- The 1984 movie Red Dawn portrays Colorado high school students who take to the hills after a fictional invasion of the US by the Soviet Union. The students survive with supplies gathered at the beginning of the invasion, by hunting, and by ambushing Soviet patrols and supply convoys.
- In the Tremors film and television franchise the character Burt Gummer (Michael Gross) is a self-proclaimed survivalist. In the first film he and his wife are preparing for social upheaval. Later in the series Burt shifts his focus towards the "graboids" that infest the soil of his home, Perfection Valley.
- The Postman, a movie based upon the novel of the same name, depicts a post-apocalyptic future in America in which a quasi-survivalist militia preys on weaker communities.
- In Mad Max 2, a global oil shortage causes a total socioeconomic collapse and depopulation. The few scattered survivors in the Australian Outback are depicted fighting for survival, with precious "guzzoline" as their main object.
- In Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) John Connor's mother, Sarah Connor stores weapons in an underground cache in the desert, as instructed by Kyle Reese, John's father, in preparation for an apocalypse precipitated by computerized machines.
- In 1999 the film Blast from the Past was released. It is a romantic comedy film about a nuclear physicist, his wife, and son that enter a well-equipped spacious fallout shelter during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. They do not emerge until 35 years later, in 1997. The film shows their reaction to contemporary society.
- The 2007 film I Am Legend features Will Smith as Dr. Robert Neville, a military doctor immune from a virus that killed off the majority of mankind. Living in an abandoned New York City researching a cure for the virus, he fights off mutated human zombies and struggles to survive on his own. Set three years after the onset of the virus, Neville is equipped with an ample amount of supplies, including weapons, food, and fuel for electric generation.
- The 2009 science fiction film Pandorum features humanity building an interstellar ark to travel to an Earth-like planet because Earth is facing an Malthusian crisis. However something as gone wrong, tribal morlocks now roam the ship hunting the members on board, and Earth has mysteriously disappeared. This leads to the members to fight over resources, resorting to muggings and cannibalism as there seems to be no crew to fly the ship.
- The 2010 film Tomorrow, When the War Began, based on the novel of the same name, features 8 teenagers waging a guerrilla war against an invading foreign power in their fictional Australian hometown.
- The 2011 horror film You're Next begins with an apparently simple horror plot which is then subverted when one of the protagonists is revealed to be survivalist-trained, responding to events with extreme competence.
Games and other formats
Fallen Earth is an MMORPG/Shooter set in a post-war, western-like Arizona. "The Suvivalists" appear here as a hostile non-playable faction.
The Fallout series is a series of games set in a post-nuclear apocalyptic world. The gameplay is centered around the character's own survival instinct and skills, and communities of survivalists. This is taken further with Hardcore mode in Fallout: New Vegas, which introduces the need for the player character to eat, drink, and sleep in regular intervals, suffering increasingly severe stat penalties and eventually death if their needs are not met.
In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, a mission involves stealing a harvester from a survivalist farm. Being reduced to being unable to bring in their crop easily, and risk starvation; the survivalists are portrayed as extremely violent and aggressive individuals.
In the 2011 video game Homefront, a mission involves stealing a helicopter from a survivalist farm. These survivalists are also very aggressive and violent.
The video games Metro 2033, and its sequel Metro: Last Light (based on the series of novels and stories) take place in post-apocalyptic Moscow, Russia, where people live in the metro subway tunnels after a nuclear attack.
In Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri the Spartan Federation faction is run by a survivalist.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is a series of games set in the apocalyptic wasteland of the "Exclusion Zone" surrounding the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. The gameplay focuses heavily on survival and relations with factions of survivalists.
The Wasteland video game was released in 1988, and was one of the first video games set in a post-apocalyptic world. The developers and designers of Wasteland went on to produce Fallout 1 & 2 and with the recent success of a Kickstarter campaign a sequel Wasteland 2 is being produced by a team including many of the original creators of Wasteland.
The Last of Us is a survival horror game released in 2013. The player controls Joel escorting a teenage girl, Ellie, across a post-apocalyptic United States. The player uses firearms, improvised weapons and stealth to defend against hostile humans and zombie-like creatures infected by a mutated strain of the Cordyceps fungus.
The concept album Year Zero by industrial rock group Nine Inch Nails, is based around the theme of a hypothetical oppressive US government in the year 2022, and contains a single entitled "Survivalism".
Daniel Defoe's 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe is about a man shipwrecked on a remote tropical island and forced to survive. It spawned an entire genre of fiction called Robinsonade, famously including Johann David Wyss's 1812 novel The Swiss Family Robinson.
Edward Abbey's 1980 novel Good News is about small bands of people in the Phoenix, Arizona area trying to fend off the rise of a military dictatorship after the collapse of the economy and government.
Steve Boyett's 1983 novel Ariel is notable for having all advanced technology ceasing to function, while magic becomes real. The protagonist struggles to travel across a world where no technology functions, filled with cannibals and other dangers.
The Postman by David Brin (1985) is set in a time after a massive plague and political fracture result in a complete collapse of society. It gives a very unflattering portrayal of survivalists as one of the causes behind the collapse. The quasi-survivalist "Holnist" characters are despised by the remaining population. The Holnists follow a totalitarian social theory idolizing the powerful who enforce their perceived right to oppress the weak. However, later Brin stated that when he was writing the book survivalist was the best term to describe the militia movement.
Ernest Callenbach's 1975 novel Ecotopia, about the secession of the Pacific Northwest from the United States to form a new country based on environmentalism, named the political party governing the new country the Survivalist Party. However, in his 1981 sequel to the book, Ecotopia Emerging, he qualified that choice of name by having the party leader state that the name Survivalist referred to the survival of the planet's ecosystems, rather than to people who prepare for an economic or political collapse.
Wolf and Iron by Gordon R. Dickson (1993) details the journey of a single man attempting to cross 2000 miles of hostile territory. He faces roving gangs and fortified towns after a worldwide financial collapse. This book is extremely detailed in its discussion of certain techniques and preparations needed in a post-apocalyptic world.
Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank (1959) is a story dealing with life in Florida after a nuclear war with the USSR. Pat Frank also authored the non-fiction book How To Survive the H Bomb And Why. (J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, 1962.)
Dmitry Glukhovsky's novel Metro 2033, about survivors in Moscow, Russia, living in the city's subway tunnels after a nuclear attack, has spawned many stories, books, and video games that take place in the same setting and fictional universe.
Robert A. Heinlein uses survivalism as a theme in much of his science fiction. Tunnel in the Sky (1955) explores issues of survivalism and social interactions in an unfamiliar environment. Farnham's Freehold (1964) begins as a story of survivalism in a nuclear war. Heinlein also wrote essays such as How to be a Survivor which provide advice on preparing for and surviving a nuclear war.
World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler (2008) is a "cozy catastrophe" set in upstate New York. The time is the near future, and the novel depicts an America that has economically collapsed as a result of the combined impact of peak oil, global warming, influenza pandemic, and nuclear terrorism. The characters struggle to reclaim lost skills, maintain order, and redevelop a pre-industrial revolution lifestyle in an agrarian village. In part, the novel explores the question of what happens when modern technology, based on electricity, is no longer available.
Malevil by French writer Robert Merle (1972) describes refurbishing a medieval castle, and its use as a survivalist stronghold in the aftermath of a full-scale nuclear war. The novel was adapted into a 1981 film directed by Christian de Chalonge and starring Michel Serrault, Jacques Dutronc, Jacques Villeret and Jean-Louis Trintignant. Malevil at the Internet Movie Database.
Lucifer's Hammer by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven (1977) is about a cataclysmic comet hitting the Earth, and various groups of people struggling to survive the aftermath in southern California. Their similarly themed "Footfall" (1985) is about aliens bombarding Earth using controlled meteorite strikes to exterminate life. Lucifer’s Hammer has contributed significantly to the survivalist movement, as we understand it today. One reviewer noted: "A comet’s impact with the Earth creates an extremely bad, worst-case “fast crash” scenario. ...In this novel, people begin feeding on one another, literally, within a month of the event."
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (1957) describes a group of highly creative people who withdraw from society into a hidden mountain valley while civilization totally collapses - whereupon they emerge to rebuild it. This book differs from others in the genre in that the protagonists' withdrawal directly causes the collapse, since it was they who sustained civilization.
Patriots: A Novel of Survival in the Coming Collapse by James Wesley Rawles (2009) is a novel about a full-scale socio-economic collapse and subsequent invasion of the US. The novel describes in detail how the survivalist main characters establish a self-sufficient survival retreat in north-central Idaho. The novel has had three sequels, all three of which were New York Times bestsellers.
Olaf Stapledon's monumental cosmic history Last and First Men includes an episode when the whole world is devastated by a nuclear chain reaction and the whole of humanity is killed except for a few hundreds who happened to be near the North Pole. Their descendants eventually re-populate the world and create a new civilization, but this takes hundreds of thousands of years.
Earth Abides by George R. Stewart (1949), deals with one man who finds most of civilization has been destroyed by a plague. Slowly a small community forms around him as he struggles to start a new civilization and preserve knowledge and learning.
Dies the Fire, (2004) the first book in The Emberverse series of post-apocalyptic fiction by alternate history author S.M. Stirling. The story takes shape in a universe where electricity, guns, explosives, internal combustion engines, and steam power no longer work. More books follow in the series and flesh out the story-line in a survivalist post-Change world of agriculture, clan-based life and conflict.
H.G. Wells, who pioneered many sub-genres of modern Science Fiction, contributed to this one as well. The later parts of his 1908 novel The War in the Air depicts the collapse of modern civilization due to the massive use of weapons of mass destruction and the systematic destruction of cities, the grim struggle of the isolated few survivors, and the reversion of the world to semi-Medieval conditions - in all this anticipating recurring themes of later works.
Philip Wylie's novel Tomorrow (1954) is the story of two American cities weathering a nuclear attack. One was prepared with an extensive civil defense plan while the other was not.
John Wyndham's 1951 novel The Day of the Triffids is the story of the survival of a small group of people in a post-apocalyptic world dominated by carnivorous plants where most of the population is afflicted by blindness. It was later adapted into a feature film and TV series. It was also the inspiration for Danny Boyle's 2002 zombie film 28 Days Later, which shares plot elements and survivalist themes.
The Tomorrow series is a series of seven novels (published 1993–99) by John Marsden, that tell of a high-intensity invasion and occupation of Australia by a foreign power where a small band of teenagers are waging a guerilla war on the enemy soldiers in the region around their fictional home town of Wirrawee. The name of the series is derived from the title of the first book, Tomorrow, When the War Began. In 2010 the first book was adapted into a movie.
24 is a TV series about a federal agent named Jack Bauer and his attempts foil terrorist plots in Los Angeles. During Season 2 Jack's daughter, Kim Bauer, is on the run from the law and finds shelter with a survivalist.
The TNT series Falling Skies tells the story of the aftermath of a global invasion by extraterrestrials . Within a few days the invaders neutralize the world's power grid and technology, destroy the armies of all the world's countries, and apparently kill over 90% of the human population. The aliens' objectives are not explained. The story picks up six months after the invasion and follows a group of survivors who band together to fight back.
Jericho (2006) is a TV series that portrays a small town in Kansas after a series of nuclear explosions across the United States. In the series, the character Robert Hawkins uses his prior planning and survival skills in preparation of the attacks. Most of the episodes center around the sudden collapse of American society resulting in a six way split of the country. The town usually must fight an outside enemy in order to preserve their food and supplies. Jericho, as well as other media fiction (as Oddworld) also focuses on scavenging.
Lost, a group of crash survivors are stranded on an island with little food and only the remains of the aircraft and baggage to survive with. Over the course of the series, the survivors adapt to life on the jungle isle while some even welcome it. One of the main characters of the series, John Locke, appears to be a survivalist even before the events of the crash, due to carrying knives with him as baggage, possessing hunting and tracking skills, and being part of a pseudo-survivalist commune earlier in life.
Revolution (TV series) is an NBC science fiction television series that takes place in a post-apocalyptic future. Fifteen years earlier, an unknown phenomenon disabled all advanced technology on the planet, ranging from computers and electronics to car engines, jet engines, and batteries. People were forced to adapt to a world without technology, and due to the collapse of public order, many areas are ruled by warlords and militias. The series focuses on the Matheson family, who possess an item that is the key to not only finding out what happened fifteen years ago, but also a possible way to reverse its effects. However, they must elude various enemy groups who want to possess that power for themselves.
In the HBO TV series Six Feet Under, George Sibley's delusions manifests itself as a form of survivalism, and he becomes terrified that a number of apocalyptic or damaging events, ranging from nuclear war and the disappearance of water to earthquakes, are imminent and takes precautions against it, much to the horror of his wife - who realizes that it is beyond cautious and is becoming obsessive.
Survivor (2000–present) is a reality television game show which places a group of contestants in remote location and awards a prize to the one which lasts the longest. Generally, the game is structured such that a player's social skills are more important to winning than survival skills.
The BBC TV series Survivors, which ran from 1975-1977, suggested a UK view of survivalism with a small band of survivors emerging from a pandemic that wipes out more than 95% of the population. The BBC as of November 2008 started airing a new updated Survivors series. This new series is more hard-edged than the original, but still shows the protagonist "Abby Grant" and her ad hoc survival group as reluctant to arm themselves, even after being confronted by armed adversaries on numerous occasions. As of episode 6 (which aired on Dec. 29, 2008) Abby's group is forced to abandoned their quasi-retreat—a country estate—following a confrontation and kidnapping by a provisional government.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008) is a science fiction show involving time travel with lead characters that take survivalist steps to prepare for, or possibly prevent, a future nuclear war.
Sheldon Cooper, a character in The Big Bang Theory is a paranoid survivalist, he keeps at least two survival kits in his bedroom and has planned emergency escape routes from each room in the house. He also keeps a "Bug Out" bag in case he needs to leave at a moment's notice, as such a course of action is "recommended by the Department of Homeland Security. And Sarah Connor".
Discovery Channel has aired two seasons of reality show The Colony in which a group of survivors try to survive in a "post apocalyptic world" where a majority of Earth's population is killed by a hypothetical "virus" and attempt to "rebuild".
Two made-for-TV movies made during the 1980s, The Day After in the US and Threads in the UK, portray a nuclear war and its aftermath of social chaos and economic collapse. Both movies were, at the time, among the most controversial ever made for television.
The Fire Next Time (1993) a made for television mini-series set in 2017 portrays the world undergoing green house gas-caused global warming caused natural disasters. The story follows the Morgan family, as they try to escape the floods, hurricanes and droughts and find a way to survive together against all odds. The movie starred Craig T. Nelson, Bonnie Bedelia and Justin Whalin.
The AMC series The Walking Dead (2010–present) features a small group of survivors led by Rick Grimes of a worldwide "zombie apocalypse". The group moves together, scavenging what they can from the remains of society, while fighting off a seemingly endless number of zombies. The group starts off as a camp outside the city of Atlanta then after an attack by a large number of zombies, the remaining survivors of the group make it to a farm and live somewhat comfortably there for some time until the farm is burned down in a fight with a large number of zombies. The group are now currently located in an abandoned prison and caught in a war with a larger and heavily armored group of survivors.
- Panic in Year Zero! (1962)
- The Unknown Movies - unknownmovies.com
- Kermode, Mark (6 May 2007). "A capital place for panic attacks". Guardian News and Media Limited (London). Archived from the original on 13 May 2007. Retrieved 12 May 2007.
- - The Colony, discovery program