I’m not a mountain climber. Probably never will be. Maybe you’re like me, too. (Or maybe you’re not, and you’re reading this from atop K2 via some incredibly strong Wi-Fi.)
But I still think mountain climbing is cool as heck, and there’s been an El Capitan-like uptick in movies about it recently, from the Oscar-nominated documentary “Meru” to that Jake Gyllenhaal movie about Everest. (Title: “Everest.”) Given the fact most of us will be spending a little more time indoors over the next few months, it seemed like a good time to round up some favorites and let you know where to watch them. (And who knows, by spring you might be ready to take on your next ascent … )
Where to watch it: Streaming on Amazon, Showtime
Start here. Beautifully photographed, crisply edited and compelling-as-hell, this documentary tells the story of climber Conrad Anker, along with climber-filmmakers Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk, as they attempt the first summit of Shark’s Fin peak atop the film’s titular mountain. The film captures the moment-by-moment drama — the frostbite-inducing cold, the tiny distances between success and death — better than any movie ever has. With probing commentary from Jon Krakauer, the writer-climber behind “Into Thin Air.”
Where to watch it: Available as a digital rental from multiple providers
Speaking of “Into Thin Air,” this movie is based on the doomed 1996 climb at the center of that book. It’s not, however, an adaptation, instead telling the story from the climbers’ point of view. What unfolds is an adventure driven by both rivalry (between climbers played by Gyllenhaal and Jason Clarke) and good old-fashioned ambition. More impressive is the filming itself, which took place in the Italian Alps and on Everest itself.
“TOUCHING THE VOID”
Where to watch it: Available as a digital rental from Apple
Another award-winning documentary, this one reconstructs a fateful 1985 climb in Peru, wherein two climbers found themselves in a terrible position: One climber, wounded, dangling in a crevasse, supported only by a rope held by his climbing partner. The partner’s impossible choice: Hold onto the rope, risking a fatal fall? Or saving himself but abandoning his injured, freezing partner?
READ MORE > 10 FILMS THAT WILL CHANGE HOW YOU SEE FOOD
A FEW OTHER RECOMMENDATIONS…
If “Meru” piques your interest in Conrad Anker, check out “The Wildest Dream” (available as a digital rental from Apple), a beautifully shot documentary that shows how Anker found the remains of George Mallory, the legendary explorer who made the first attempt to climb Everest. (He’s the guy who famously said “Because it’s there.”) “Blindsight” (streaming on Sundance Now) chronicles six blind Tibetan teenagers climbing Everest, led by the first blind man to reach its top. A bit more obscure: “North Face” (available as a digital rental from multiple providers), a German movie about a ‘30s-era Alpine climb, set against the backdrop of the Nazis’ rise to power. (Mountain climbing was a staple of propaganda films.)
NON-DOC ROCK SCHLOCK
For perhaps obvious reasons, Hollywood mountain climbing movies don’t pack the same dramatic punch as their non-fiction brethren. That said, the following films still showcase awe-inspiring stunts in jaw-dropping settings, even if a little movie magic was required. “Cliffhanger” (available as a digital rental from multiple providers) harkens back to when Sylvester Stallone was still pushing himself beyond Rocky/Rambo nostalgia. “For Your Eyes Only” (streaming on Amazon, Hulu and Epix) stars Roger Moore (or his stunt double) as James Bond, who dangles precipitously from a cliff, only to climb his way back and conquer the bad guy. And then there’s “Vertical Limit” (available as a digital rental from multiple providers) and “K2” (available as a digital rental from multiple providers), about which we’ll just say this: Hey, it’s a long winter.