Adventure documentaries are life savers when you’re injured, stuck in ‘cause it’s raining, self-isolating from a pandemic or wishing it was the weekend. They’re also a potent source of inspiration and psyche to get you out there!
When I asked our Explorer Project crew what their favourite adventure films and documentaries were it was like a bomb went off. So screw my original list of 10. Here are 50 bonafide epic adventure documentaries to sink your teeth into.
I’ve sorted them by the main sport they feature but hey, these are films. Some feature multiple sports and others focus on environmental issues. The point is, they’re all watches that will get you absolutely frothing to get out there. Enjoy!
A must for all rock climbers. Valley Uprising tells the story of rock climbing in Yosemite, piecing together old photos and footage to bring the dirtbags (and legends of the sport) to life.
This one hit the mainstream. Alex Honnold climbed Freerider (5.13a, 28) on El Capitan in 3 hours, 56 minutes. Without a rope. It’s phenomenal.
The Dawn Wall
Kinda like Free Solo’s little brother, the Dawn Wall is another epic Yosemite climbing film, but it’s a bit different. Pro big wall climber Tommy Caldwell and pro boulderer Kevin Jorgeson spent 19 days living on the cliff to climb The Dawn Wall in a single push. The route is much harder than the one in Free Solo and ropes are used, but in my opinion the storytelling is better and the climbing is more exciting. Don’t @ me.
Reel Rock is actually the name of a rock climbing film festival. Did you know that you can watch all the past Reel Rock curations on Red Bull TV? You’re welcome.
United State of Joe’s
One from Reel Rock 14, tells the story of a conservative community of Mormons, cowboys and coal miners in rural Utah becoming inundated with boulderers. Tensions rise but eventually… well you’ll have to watch it.
Angie Scarth-Johnson is only 15, but she’s ticked some incredibly tough climbs. This story follows the Aussie girl to ‘Eua, Tonga, to connect with her Dad’s side of the family and bolt some new routes on the island’s sea cliffs with The North Face teammate Lee Cossey.
Legendary rock climber Chris Sharma is looking for unclimbed walls and ends up deep water soloing off the coast of Spain. Bonafide epic viewing and trust me, falling into water ain’t as nice as it sounds. It’s also available on Red Bull TV.
This is a film about 10 incredibly strong climbers. Just so happens that they’re all women. If you’ve ever needed inspiration to Climb Like A Girl then this is it.
The Last Honey Hunter
‘In the steep mountain jungles of Nepal’s Hongu river valley, members of the isolated Kulung culture have risked their lives for generations scaling dangerous cliffs to collect a wild and toxic honey.’
This isn’t technically a rock climbing film. But there’s climbing in it and it’s a must-watch.
Ok, this one’s a highlining film. But show me a rock climber who doesn’t think highlining is rad as fuck. This guy’s doing it without a tether on his ankle, because if you aren’t risking death, what’s the point?
This surf-conservation film from Patagonia is filmed in Australia’s southern oceans. Over half an hour, the piece highlights the pressure these environments face from industrial processes and the activists doing something about it.
North to Noosa
Yep, it’s a surf-motorbike film and it’s cooler than you. It’s so cool that I’m not even allowed embed it, but luckily you can watch it for free.
A Corner of the Earth
Aussie filmmaker Spencer Frost and photographer Guy Williment travel with aspiring pro surfer Fraser Dovell to the Arctic, in winter, to finally get a wave to themselves. They do, and the end result is nothing short of stunning.
North of the Sun
North of the Sun, or Nordfa Sola in Norweigan, is a true tale of isolation. Two young surfers spend 9 months living on a beach in the Northern Arctic, after building a shack out of driftwood and rubbish. A true tale of less is more, with some excellent surfing thrown in when the sun actually came up.
View from a Blue Moon
The first surf film shot in 4K, follows pro surfer John John Florence as he airs and barrels his way across the planet. Stab Mag reckon it’s the best surf film ever made.
The Endless Summer
All the way back in 1964, these Californians were travelling around the world in search of the perfect wave. Bruce Brown, the creative force behind the project, decided to try and create an endless summer by travelling between the hemispheres, and he ended up creating an absolute classic.
The Bikes of Wrath
Five Aussies cycle from Oklahoma to California, to trace the Dust Bowl migration outlined in ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ by John Steinbeck. The friends explore the wealth divide in America and unpack the idea of the American Dream™, while realising just how hard it is to ride across a country while shooting a film. It’s available for free on ABC iview.
Brandon Semenuk’s Rad Company
A far cry from pedalling across a country with all your wares, this film is a celebration of balls-out riding that makes you really question whether these blokes are mortal. Like, it’s proper insane. Best watched with a Red Bull in hand.
A pretty rad watch after Rad Company, this film goes all the way back to the early days of mountain biking, when it wasn’t quite a thing. Watch these blokes ride the jankiest of bikes and be amazed at how far we’ve come.
Get ready to take a deep dive into the world of competitive doping. ‘Icarus’ starts with an interest in doping by an amateur cyclist, and ends with revelations about a Russian state-sponsored doping scandal, that goes back to 1968. Heavy. Check it out on Netflix.
Creation and destruction are all part of mountain biking. But did you have to make it so pretty?! Watch it for free.
Where the Trail Ends
Dating back to 2013, this is still one of the most jaw-dropping mountain bike films out there. Pro riders explore remote locations to ride the landscape as-is, when they’re not, y’know, blasting huge airs of course.
Danny’s a Scottish bike rider who’s better at riding a bike than you are on your feet. His videos, all available on Youtube, are creative, fun, and possess a level of skill that’s hard to match. Check out his Wee Day Out, The Ridge, Danny Daycare and Danny’s Gymnasium.
Everyone loves a first ascent. This one just happens to be up something called the ‘Shark’s Fin’ in the Himalayas, to summit Meru Peak. It’s co-directed by married couple Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, and features huge names like Conrad Anker and Renan Ozturk. A must watch.
Touching The Void
Technically this is a ‘docudrama’ but it popped up on that many Explorer’s lists that it had to go in. As with most mountaineering films, it’s about shit going super, super wrong and humans being super tough to kill.
The Beckoning Silence
Heard of the Eiger? It’s one of the three great walls in the Swiss Alps. So obviously some dudes tried to climb it in 1936. This doco seeks to retrace their steps to uncover what the actual heck these blokes were thinking. It features Joe Simpson from Touching The Void too.
Everybody loves mountains. They’re stunning for reasons we can’t explain and a heap of fun to play around in. They’re also deadly. ‘Mountain’ explores the connection between humans and mountains, and chucks in a heap of footage of the world’s highest peaks. Chuck on your puffer jacket and kick back. (P.S. It’s narrated by Willem Dafoe)
Trail Running Films
Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young
This is one of the endurance running films. It’s a quirky race of roughly 100 miles, off-track through gnarly elevation in Tennessee, inspired by an escaped felon. Only 15 people have completed it and in 2019, no one did. The doco is on Netflix and even my non-running mates liked it.
Unbreakable – The Western States 100
Set during the iconic 2010 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run where four of the greatest mountain runners on earth faced off, knowing that a win would almost definitely require a course record. A must for all ultra lovers, the Western States is known as the first ultra and how it went down is trail running history.
The Tarkine Rainforest (takayana) in Tasmania is under threat from logging, mining and development. Patagonia pairs trail running with conservation, as it calls for World Heritage protection of the region. There’s now an ultramarathon that runs through the region too!
A Mile An Hour
Beau Miles is a handyman, distance runner and all-round good bloke. He’s also a Doctor of Outdoor Education at Monash University. Questioning how much he can pack into a day, Beau runs a lap of his roughly one mile block each hour, while completing odd jobs around the house. Beau’s infectious enthusiasm could get you keen to eat raw brussel sprouts, but the idea’s actually pretty rad.
Run The Line
A running-history documentary? Follow up your Beau Miles fanboying with this flick about running a disused train line. Featuring blackberries, irate landowners and a hefty dose of stoke for the recent past, this film will challenge you to be creative about adventures in your own backyard.
When a family falls on tough times, they find themselves saved by an unlikely saviour. Running together. Guaranteed to squeeze out a few happy tears, this film is as genuine as they come, and celebrates the power of movement.
When Jezza Williams broke his neck while guiding a canyon in the Swiss Alps, he became dependent on others to survive. It didn’t quench his thirst for adventure, but it did inspire him to make adventures accessible to everyone. This is one of ours and we’re super stoked with it – just try and tell me you don’t want to see a dude paragliding in a wheelchair.
Antoine Gerard’s gnarly adventure is something to behold. We’re talking flying 1250km through the mountains of Pakistan, landing each night to camp solo on ridgelines, with the eventual goal of flying over 8,157m Broad Peak. Antoine had tried climbing the mountain a few times unsuccessfully when he decided to fly over it instead.
My Big White Thighs And Me
This is Hannah’s story about bringing adventure and balance back into her life. The idea, to swim in the wild once a month, is brilliant, but it’s Hannah’s personality that really carries the film. It inspired Assistant Editor Amy to try and swim every day last summer.
One Breath Around The World
This one’s from our Social Media Guy Jono (the WAE crew love to get wet, what can I say). Turn the lights low for this one, and try not to hold your breath!
Road Trip Films
180 Degrees South
A quest to Patagonia, following in the steps of Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins’ 1968 adventure. This film consistently makes people’s and website’s lists for its combo of adventure, inspiration and conservation. Totaly gnarly adventure too. Take a looking glass to your life with this one.
Long Way Round
Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman ride motorbikes from London to New York in this epic series. What follows is gruelling, hilarious and will make you question just what the heck you are doing (unless you’re reading this during quarantine I guess).
The Lorax Project
The plan? Climb Frenchman’s Cap in Tasmania then BASE jump off the farkin’ top. A must-see Aussie adventure flick yeww!
Crossing The Ice
Aussie larrikins Cas and Jonesy ski from the edge of Antarctica to the South Pole and back unassisted. 2275km and 89 days later they’re done, but that’s not the point, it’s what happens along the way. How they make something so serious seem so funny is anyone’s guess.
Skiing & Snowboarding Films
My Wild Home
We put this flick about the Australian Alps together to show people what it’s really like beyond the resort boundaries. Pro-skier Coen Bennie-Faull leads the film as he dives into what stokes his fire. Truly stunning cinematography from Hayden Griffith too.
The Art of Flight
Back in 2011 this film challenged what a snowboarding film had to be about and featured some of the gnarliest riding ever. It holds up. Can’t say the same for snowboarding fashion though.
‘Broken’ explores Jon Wilson’s struggle with feeling, well, broken, after having a leg amputated due to cancer. A beautiful look at resilience with some pretty rad night-para-skiing thrown in.
This is a freeski-mountaineering film that’s so ambitious and epic that it’s hard to sum up. These pros are trying to ski down Mt Cook / Aoraki. Like, what in tarnation, amirite? Red Bull needed a whole article to sum up how cool it is – there’s also a link to watch the whole thing for free! Thank god for energy drinks.
A tribute to snow riders that came before. A celebration of the skills and technology of modern day skiing and snowboarding. Do you froth the cold white stuff? Buckle up, this is one helluva ride.
FLUFFY FLUFFY POW POW. This film is snow pornography. Please don’t ban me for that word Facebook, I’m just calling things as I see them. Crank the fan, eat an ice cube and get DEEP with Valhalla.
Ice and Palms
What the heck? This is one of my favourite ski-bikepacking films ever (it’s a long list ok) and it’s free to watch. Get on it before that changes! Two mates set out to bikepack across the Alps, from Southern Germany to the Mediterranean. Frothy skiing and ski-mountaineering, good vibes, and a whole lotta pedalling. Enjoy!
Now this is a parenting flex. David Morton and his son Thorne, aged 7, ride a stand up paddleboard down the Karnali and Bheri Rivers in Western Nepal. Heartwarming doesn’t begin to cover it.
Into Twin Galaxies
That’s right, it’s a kiteski-kayaking film! These three Nat Geo adventurers tow kayaks 1,000km across Greenland, to reach a river in the North that they know almost nothing about. It’s gnarly as all get out, but they still kayak down it. Truly some people are unstoppable. You can catch it all on Red Bull TV.
What’d we miss? Let us know in the comments!