The Best Climbing Movies and Documentaries of 2021

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From the breathtaking landscapes to the opportunities for introspection to the display of sheer human will – the best climbing movies have it all. You may be interested in true stories and documentaries of incredible feats of expert climbers, or perhaps fictitious dramas about the struggle for survival, either way, we have a movie for you. In this article, we’ll go through the best climbing movies you can watch right now.

After you’re done, be sure to find your next great climbing book too in this post.

Our Top Pick
Free Solo
Our #2 Pick
Touching the Void
Our #3 Pick
Meru
Movie and Documentary Title
Free Solo
Touching the Void
Meru
Prime Eligible?
-
-
-
Our Top Pick
Free Solo
Movie and Documentary Title
Free Solo
Prime Eligible?
-
Our #2 Pick
Touching the Void
Movie and Documentary Title
Touching the Void
Prime Eligible?
-
Our #3 Pick
Meru
Movie and Documentary Title
Meru
Prime Eligible?
-

Last update: 2021-11-23 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

What Makes a Climbing Movie Great?

With so many climbing movies out there, how do we know what makes a climbing movie great? Climbing movies are so diverse, from Reel Rock to Meru to Valley Uprising these movies vary in so many ways, and while we can appreciate the diversity in styles, themes, and quality, we can point to a few indicators for what makes a climbing movie great:

  • The average ratings – Of course, probably the best way to know if a movie is great if it has a large number of high ratings. We look at IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic, and what we, and others, think.
  • A ‘wow’ factor – Think of your favorite top five movies of all time, something about those movies sets them apart from others. Usually, it is something unique, innovative, or compelling about the movie that truly sets it apart. For our list of the best rock-climbing movies – we call it the ‘wow’ factor.

For the average ratings, we will score the movie out of 5. For the ‘wow’ factor, we will give a short description of what we think sets the film apart from the rest. We were close to including a realism rating in, but because there are so many great documentaries which made it on this list, it just wouldn’t make sense to keep it in.

While not impacting the quality of the movie, the price can be an essential factor when considering what film to watch, so we will include the most competitive price as well as where you can find our list of the best mountain climbing movies. Now, enough talk, let’s get on to the climbing movies!

Here are our top picks for the top climbing movies.

Our Favorites for the Best Climbing Movies & Documentaries of All TimeOur Favorites for the Best Climbing Movies & Documentaries of All Time

Free Solo

We are starting strong with the 2018 hit documentary on Alex Honnold and his climb of El Capitan grossed around $21.8 million in the box office. It has won numerous awards and boasts very high ratings from nearly all who watch it. The nail-biting free soloist climb up the 3,000 foot El Capitan is documented with excellent quality, allowing us to feel as if we are in Alex’s shoes as he completes the first free solo climb of this famous granite behemoth. But this movie does more than show off Alex’s ascent, it also dives into what makes him tick, and proves to be an insightful look into the psychology of an expert thrill-seeking climber. We would highly recommend this movie to anyone, but it is a must-see for any climbing fanatics out there.

Ratings: 5/5

The ‘wow’ factor: A genuinely exciting documentary which showcases the world’s first free solo climb up El Capitan by the highly skilled Alex Honnold, it stands out for the nerve-wracking heights,  skilled climbing, and as a look into Honnold’s life as one of the better climbers out there.

Cost: While free on Hulu, Free Solo costs a bit higher on other streaming services.

Free Solo
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Dierdre Wolownick, Tommy Caldwell, Jimmy Chin (Actors)
  • Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (Director)

Last update: 2021-11-23 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


Touching the Void

A true story told through both reenactment as well as through interviews; this film tells the story of two men’s struggle for survival superbly. This movie starts with two climbers reaching the summit of the Siula Grande in Peru, all seems well till disaster strikes on the descent, one of the climbers, Joe, breaks his leg, but it only gets worse from there. Full of breathtaking shots of the Andes, this movie hits home the strength of human perseverance in the face of all odds. All of this is heightened by the narration by the actual climbers, to hear a person discuss their fear of dying alone on a mountain top truly grounds this experience in reality. This film is considered one of the better climbing movies out there, and for good reason.

Rating: 4.5/5

The ‘wow’ factor: If you love tales of survival against all the odds, complemented by superb storytelling and high-quality cinematography, this is for you.

Cost: While free on Hulu, Touching the Void can also be found on a variety of other services, albeit not for free.

Touching the Void
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Simon Yates, Joe Simpson (Actors)
  • Kevin Macdonald (Director) - John Smithson (Producer)

Last update: 2021-11-23 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


Meru

Another fantastic documentary makes it on our list about the Himalayas. This movie focuses on three close friends and their pursuit to climb the most dangerous peak in the Himalayas: The Shark’s Fin. The trio came close in 2008 in climbing this peak, and we get to experience their journey to take on this climb once more. This documentary spans many years across their lives and explores the difficulties each of these climbers have had to endure. The cinematography alone makes this movie great, with many shots throughout the film being poster-worthy, it really makes you feel as if you are there with these men through their impossible climb.

Rating: 4.5/5

The ‘wow’ factor: This is a film of an inspiring journey about these three friends to face their inner demons while taking on one of the most dangerous climbs in their lives, it is a story about human perseverance against the all-powerful mother nature.

Cost: Meru can be found on a variety of sites, but is not free with any subscriptions at the moment.

Meru
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, Renan Ozturk (Actors)
  • Jimmy Chin (Director)

Last update: 2021-11-23 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


Dosage I-V

The Dosage series is chock-full up great content, from bouldering to sport climbing to deep water soloing. Likely to get you amped up to climb, each of the five films contains multiple parts featuring different climbers in different locations. There are five movies total in this series by Big UP productions that do a fantastic job of capturing the spirit of the sport and the excitement of climbing.

Rating: 4/5 – Because there are five movies in the series, and they were only released online, there are not any ratings for us to use, so the rating you see is just our opinion.

The ‘wow’ factor: The unique style of having 6+ different mini-movies in one movie serves this series well and adds to the overall tone of the films: an escape into the immersive world of true climbing experience.

Cost: Each Dosage film is available through Vimeo, but just know that the quality of this rock climbing movie comes at a higher cost than most of the other films here.

Vol. 4-Dosage
  • Big Up Productions
  • TOMMY CALDWELL, CHRIS SHARMA, DAVE GRAHAM AND LISA RANDS (Actor)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

Last update: 2021-11-23 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


Valley Uprising

A documentary on the struggle of the counter-culture climber lifestyle in the Yosemite Valley and more which spans over half a century. It begins in 1955 and works its way to the present, capturing the free spirit sense of rebellion which shapes climbing culture today. While some may criticize it for its portrayal of the past, we would advise that you just go into the film with the understanding that it isn’t supposed to be an objective representation of history. In many ways, Valley Uprising raises the bar for climbing documentaries, considered by many to be one of the best climbing films out there. Praised for its depth, scope, and quality, Valley Uprising is one of Sender Films’ best documentaries.

Rating:  4.5

The ‘wow’ factor: This film takes a good look at something typically only hinted at in other climbing movies: climbing culture and does so in a very entertaining and lively way.

Cost: Valley Uprising can be found quite cheaply with an Amazon Prime subscription, and is also available at a variety of other sites.

Valley Uprising
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Peter Sarsgaard (Actor)
  • Pete Mortimer (Director)

Last update: 2021-11-23 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


First Ascent: The Series

A collection of six half-hour films which focus on some of the most excellent climbers on the planet. Unlike Dosage, each part focuses on one story, whether it be Alex Honnold and his solo climb of Half Dome, to Stan Leary and his spreading of his lover’s ashes from a summit in South America. This series has a diverse set of stories, focusing not just on the fantastic climbing and scenery, but the climbers as well. First Ascent spans across five continents and two years and is as grand as it is breathtaking.

Rating: 4/5 – Like Dosage, First Ascent is a collection of films which do not have the traditional amount of exposure to gather ratings so that this score will be less consistent.

The ‘wow’ factor: The episodic nature of this series adds some flavor which may be appreciated by certain viewers in addition to the more human stories gives a slightly different take as compared to many other rock-climbing films out there.

Cost: Available through Amazon’s Curiosity Stream with a subscription and also found on Vimeo.

First Ascent: The Complete Series
  • Alex Honnold, Dean Potter, Chris Sharma (Actors)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

Last update: 2021-11-23 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


The Dawn Wall

While it is another documentary about the climb of El Capitan, the two films could not be more different. The Dawn Wall is a more human tale, one of an individual’s struggle to overcome monumental hardship. The Dawn Wall is more of a story about Tommy Caldwell, and his partner, Kevin Jorgeson. Their climb took six years to plan and nineteen days to achieve. The climb itself was a new route, considered impossible by many, which only strengthened Caldwell’s resolve more. One of the more substantive climbing movies out there, this movie shatters impossibilities and breaks barriers, delivering to the audience more than amazing climbing, but a story we care about.

Rating: 5/5

The ‘wow’ factor: Caldwell’s backstory, in combination with the feat he seeks to achieve in this film, creates a drama as powerful as life can provide. All with the backdrop of the sublime mountain ranges of the Yosemite National Park.

Cost: While free on Netflix, The Dawn Wall is also available on other streaming services.

The Dawn Wall
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Tommy Caldwell, Kevin Jorgeson (Actors)
  • Josh Lowell (Director) - Josh Lowell (Producer)

Last update: 2021-11-22 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


The Eiger Sanction

In the mood for the classic feeling of the 70s? Look no further than Eiger Sanction. Clint Eastwood stars in this old school climbing movie that gives you the feel of a classic 007 film with a climbing twist. In this movie, Eastwood, coerced out of his retirement as a professional assassin, must now find and kill the man who murdered his old friend – all while climbing the dangerous Eiger. Now we will be honest; this movie won’t be for everyone; it has its fair share of cheesy 70-esque action and one-liners. But the climbing is about as real as spy movies will get. The backstory behind the film is nearly more interesting than the movie itself; the movie resulted in one death of a cameraman and left another man in a wheelchair. But if you enjoy Clint Eastwood, spy thrillers, and mountaineering, this movie is a must watch.

Rating: 3.5/5

The ‘wow’ factor: As one of the only older movies on this list, Eiger Sanction takes home the prize as “most 70s”, this is a movie for the more nostalgic audience, especially if you don’t mind the hilariously politically incorrect 70s.

Cost: While free on Starz, The Eiger Sanction is slightly more expensive than some other mountain climbing movies on the variety of sites it is available on.

The Eiger Sanction
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Clint Eastwood, George Kennedy, Vonetta McGee (Actors)
  • Clint Eastwood (Director) - David Brown (Producer)

Last update: 2021-11-23 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


Reel Rock

Ending strong with another great Sender Films/Big UP series. The Reel Rock movies aren’t just traditional films, of course, but are famously viewed each year through the Reel Rock Film Tour. Each Real Rock contains multiple short films; each short movie will vary on the theme, style, and story, providing the most variation in each part when compared to the other movie series we have talked about in this article. Each Reel Rock is an excellent work of art, each having their strengths and weaknesses, discussing the differences in each one would require a whole article on its own. We highly recommend these if you enjoyed anything else by Big UP or Sender Films, or if you are just an avid rock climber at all.

Rating: 4/5

The ‘wow’ factor:  The large variety of stories within each movie really sells it all for us, it covers all kinds of climbing and all kinds of athletes and their stories.

Cost: Similar to the Dosage series and Valley Uprising, Reel Rock can be found through Vimeo.

Reel Rock 13
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Alex Honnold, Adam Ondra, Jimmy Chin (Actors)
  • Josh Lowell (Director) - REEL ROCK (Producer)

Last update: 2021-11-23 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


Our Runner Ups for the Best Climbing Movies & DocumentariesOur Runner Ups for the Best Climbing Movies & Documentaries

127 hours

An intense true-story survival drama about Aron Ralston, a canyoneering adventurist who gets his arm trapped by a boulder in a slot canyon near Moab, Utah. This movie was nominated for 6 Oscars and would easily be in our favorites list if it was a more rock-climbing focused movie. Unfortunately for our list’s purposes, this movie isn’t quite a climbing movie – as canyoneering quite the opposite of climbing. Still, this flick is a much watch for any adventurists out there, the performance delivered by James Franco does justice to Aron’s struggle. The film is also a great reminder to all the adventurers out there to always tell someone where you are going and to always bring a quality knife.

Rating: 4.5/5

The ‘wow’ factor: The harrowing, yet inspiring true story of Aron Ralston, combined with top acting and screenwriting makes this movie a standout pick among the rest.

Cost: 127 Hours can be found on many online streaming services.

127 Hours
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara (Actors)
  • Danny Boyle (Director)

Last update: 2021-11-23 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


Cliffhanger & Vertical Limit

While most climbing movies and documentaries appeal for realistic climbing, fantastic views, and the exciting look into the psychology of the climbers, these two films are must watch for different reasons. Cliffhanger and Vertical Limit are infamous for their unrealistic portrayal of climbing, from bolt guns to horrendous safety practices, these movies regularly commit obvious climbing sins in such an extraordinarily over-the-top fashion that it’s hilarious. Cliffhanger is an action adventure featuring Sylvester Stallone as he faces off against a group of international thieves. The film, Vertical Limit, is about a rescue operation organized by a young climber who races against the clock to save his sister who is trapped on the summit of K2. Both made-for-the-masses action and adventure movies, their appeal comes from their slightly cheesy action and their off-base portrayal of climbing.

Cliffhanger Rating: 2.5/5

Vertical Limit Rating: 2/5

We give a lower rating for vertical limit here because the climbing sins are a little bit more egregious and the average ratings of the movie are a bit lower than those of Cliffhanger.

The’ wow’ factor: As we mentioned earlier, the comedic climbing, in addition to the classic 90s/early 2000s action vibe set these movies apart from all other films on this list.

Cliffhanger Cost: Can be found at a discounted price on Amazon Prime and Vudu while slightly more expensive through other platforms.

Vertical Limit Cost: Free on Crackle, Vertical limit can also be found on many platforms.

On Sale
Cliffhanger / Vertical Limit
  • Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, Chris O'Donnell (Actors)
  • Martin Campbell (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)

Last update: 2021-11-23 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


Our Value Picks for the Best Climbing Movies & DocumentariesOur Value Picks for the Best Climbing Movies & Documentaries

You might not have the most disposable income to throw around on movies, we get that, but most of us have Netflix these days, and if you are okay with losing a dollar or two, online won’t kill you. So, we will list out the movies on this list, which are either on Netflix or are offered at a low rate online. Unfortunately, for US servers at least, The Dawn Wall is the only movie on our list currently on Netflix, one can hope they will add a few more soon! Netflix is quite sparse in general for climbing related films, the only apparent result, other than Dawn Wall, was Mountain, which is a documentary that takes you on a journey through some of the world’s most breathtaking peaks; still, not entirely all that climbing related. There used to be more rock-climbing films on Netflix, and we are sure there will be some in the near future.

Cliffhanger, Meru, The Dawn Wall, Vertical Limit, Eiger Sanction, Free Solo, Touching the Void, and Valley Uprising all cost $2.99 or less on some platforms. Some of these films can also be found online at various sources for lower prices if you are determined enough.

How to Choose Which Climbing Movie or Documentary to Watch Next

With so many climbing movies and documentaries to choose from, it can seem impossible to decide which one to watch next. We have all been there, surfing through Netflix for longer than we’d like to admit, flicking through hundreds of movies and television shows, only to settle on something we are less than excited about watching or perhaps giving up entirely.

The first step to avoiding this problem, in general, is to create a running list of movies you want to watch. If you find yourself in a mood for climbing movies, then open our list and pick one, watch it, then cross it off, this way you can go through a list of quality climbing movies quickly and efficiently.

A second strategy you can use is to categorize your movie options by what mood you are in. Whether it be a fast-paced action movie, a dark drama, or an informative documentary, you can filter your list of movies down quite a bit this way. Whereas before you might have had twenty climbing movies, you now have eight dramas. In the mood for action and pure climbing? Go with the Reel Rock series. More in the mood for a true story drama? Pick out Touching the Void.

Finally, just pick a movie! It can be so easy to overanalyze your selection and search until you have found the ‘right’ rock climbing film. Cut down on time spent surfing your streaming service and just watch one. You can also simply go through premade lists like this one and watch the first one that looks remotely good. Some of the best movies we have seen are because we went a little out of my viewing comfort zone and just picked a movie and watched it without too much thinking.

Summary of the Best Climbing Movies & Documentaries

Putting everything together, in this guide we reviewed the following:

Our Top Pick
Free Solo
Our #2 Pick
Touching the Void
Our #3 Pick
Meru
Movie and Documentary Title
Free Solo
Touching the Void
Meru
Prime Eligible?
-
-
-
Our Top Pick
Free Solo
Movie and Documentary Title
Free Solo
Prime Eligible?
-
Our #2 Pick
Touching the Void
Movie and Documentary Title
Touching the Void
Prime Eligible?
-
Our #3 Pick
Meru
Movie and Documentary Title
Meru
Prime Eligible?
-

Last update: 2021-11-23 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

We explored a few mountain climbing dramas, action flicks, climbing documentaries, and short films. With some of the best climbing films covered on this list, there are still a ton of great movies and documentaries on climbing out there. A great list we came across briefly goes through many different climbing movies.

Whether you are in the mood for a documentary or an action flick, our list has it all. We hope you found the right movie to watch and picked out a few more for later. But after the movie, get to a wall, and start climbing.

Want more climbing entertainment? Check out our reviews of the best climbing books here.

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