Climbing movies - Intro

The 15 Best Climbing Movies Ever Made: Your Must-Watch List

Rock climbing has gained a lot of popularity over the last 20 years as recreational physical activity and as a competitive sport. And this has resulted in an improvement in climbing documentation. If you love rock climbing and would like to watch some of the best rock climbing documentaries and movies ever made, you’ve come to the right place.

What can you expect from these climbing movies? For one, you can expect to see spectacular scenery of rocks, motivations of climbers, their amazing feats, and genuine drama. You also get a sneak peek into the head of the climbers and see their human side. You see their struggles, their setbacks, and their triumphs.

With each movie lasting only a couple of hours, you are bound to be enchanted by these movies whether you like climbing or not.

Valley Uprising (2014)

  • Directors: Peter Mortimer, Nick Rosen, and Josh Lowell
  • Length: 90 minutes
  • In a nutshell: Extreme rock climbing revolution in Yosemite National Park

The Yosemite National Park can be regarded as the ‘mecca’ of rock climbing. Almost all the standards in rock climbing today were set by climbing rocks in Yosemite. Directors Mortimer and Rosen set out to capture the history and evolution of rock climbing at the National Park in the Sierra Mountains.

Mortimer interviewed more than 50 living climbing legends over seven years to compile and bring the rebellion, innovation, and counterculture that have revolutionized rock climbing at Yosemite for the last 60 years. See climbers defy the law of gravity while enjoying beautiful scenery.

Free Solo (2018)

  • Directors: Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
  • Length: 100 minutes
  • In a nutshell: Alex Hannold’s achievement of his lifelong dream to climb the face of El Capitan…without a rope.

Alex Honnold’s generation-defining free solo climb of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park was spectacularly captured by directors Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. Hannold’s climb required absolute perfection. One wrong move and he’s dead.

This documentary will keep you on the edge of your seat. And the cinematography and storytelling won Free Solo an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

You also learn about Hannold’s personal life and a tragic romance that threatened his stone solid romance. Free Solo exceeded our current comprehension of human limits and is a story of triumph for the human spirit.

The Dawn Wall (2018)

  • Directors: Peter Mortimer, Josh Lowell
  • Length: 100 minutes
  • In a nutshell: Chronicles free climber Tommy Caldwell and climbing partner Kevin Jorgeson’s daring attempt to climb the world’s most forbidding rock surface.

The Dawn Wall takes us through the Journey of Caldwell and his partner, Jorgeson, up the impossible 915m Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in California. We get to see their athleticism, dead drop audacity, and learn a bit about their stories. The directors are climbers themselves and found ways to film the duo without getting in their way.

The success of their endeavor marked an end to a 6-year project as Caldwell has been preparing for the showdown for years. And Caldwell’s tenacity and relentless pursuit are something every human can relate to. You’ll learn about Caldwell’s backstory and what motivated him to climb the Dawn Wall…and it’s not very pretty.

Touching The Void (2003)

  • Director: Kevin MacDonald
  • Length: 106 minutes
  • In a nutshell: Harrowing tale of two young climbers that conquered the Siula Grande and barely made it out alive.

Relationships between climbing partners are sacred and Touching The Void is all about the bond between two rock climbing enthusiasts. Two young climbers Joe Simpson and Simon Yates set out on a first ascent of the west face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985. They reached the summit and the descent, which is normally difficult, was made even more complicated than by bad weather.

Simpson broke his leg and Yates had a decision to make – help Simpson and risk perishing with him or flee and save himself. Yates didn’t hesitate to help Simpson and it was his iron-clad resolve that made the two of them escape death…by the skin of the teeth.

The Sharp End (2007)

  • Directors: Peter Mortimer, Nick Rosen
  • Length: 63 minutes
  • In a nutshell: Collection of stories from different climbers who risk everything to complete the world’s most dangerous and committing climbs.

Is it lunacy? Is it dedication? Or is it something else entirely? These are the questions you’ll be asking yourself when you see The Sharp End. Extreme athletes put everything on the line to achieve seemingly impossible feats. From incredible scenery to compelling interviews, and nerve wrecking action, the Sharp End will make an enjoyable watch.

Meru (2015)

  • Directors: Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
  • Length: 87 minutes
  • In a nutshell: A chronicle of the first ascent of the “Shark’s Fin” route on Meru Peak in the Indian Himalayas.

For a long time, the Shark’s Fin was the ultimate conquest in mountain climbing. It’s actually more of a wall than a mountain, flat, and rising over 20,000 ft above the Ganges River. Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, and Renan Ozturk first attempted the climb in 2008 but they failed. They were so close to the summit, about only 100 meters away from making history but had to turn back as sunset was near and the conditions would become too harsh to survive.

The trio returned to the mountain in 2011 and reached the summit. It’s a story of perseverance, a story of overcoming defeat, overcoming risks, and becoming triumphant in the end.

Higher Ground (2007)

  • Directors: Alexander Lavigne, Chris Alstrin
  • Length: 90 minutes
  • In a nutshell: A documentary that tries to answer the burning questions, ‘Why do climbers climb?’

Why do climbers climb? This is the simple, yet not so simple question this movie tries to answer. Several climbers from different disciplines from traditional and sport climbing to ice climbing, alpine climbing, and big wall climbing were interviewed.

The intention was to know their passion and what drives them to climb. The authentic approach used in this movie is sure to appeal to both climbers and non-climbers.

King Lines (2008)

  • Directors: Peter Mortimer, Josh Lowell
  • Length: 60 minutes
  • In a nutshell: A chronicle of Chris Sharma’s most outrageous accents.

Chris Sharma is one of the greatest climbers of all time and renowned for his creative route climbing and climbing techniques. Sharma is obsessed with finding the ‘king lines’ which are the most difficult rocks that require a lot of creativity.

This movie allows you to follow Sharma in some of his most outrageous accents as he goes around the world trying to redefine the possible in the climbing world.

180° South (2010)

  • Director: Chris Malloy
  • Length: 85 minutes
  • In a nutshell: Adventurer Jeff Johnson retraces a 1968 trip to Patagonia undertaken by his heroes, Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins.

Jeff Johnson attempts to recreate the 1968 journey to Patagonia originally taken by Yvon Chouinard (founder of Patagonia) and Doug Tompkins (founder of The North Face). The duo are two of Johnson’s climbing and conservation idols. This movie takes you through Johnson’s six month adventure that ended when his attempt to conquer the Cerro Corcovado peak in the Conservacion Patagonica Park. The park was founded by Tompkins and his wife.

With incredible cinematography and information about environmental conservation initiatives, this movie is more than just about climbing as it emphasizes the need to protect our environment.

Jeff Lowe’s Metanoia (2014)

  • Director: Jim Aikman
  • Length: 84 minutes
  • In a nutshell: Chronicles the life and climbs of legendary alpinist Jeff Lowe.

Jeff Lowe is known as one of the greatest Calvinists and mixed climbers of all time. And he is instrumental to the invention and evolution of ice climbing. This documentary will take you through the life of the legend and his greatest accomplishments.

Lowe’s hardest climb is this two decade-long battle with ALS, a climb he has been facing with patience, humility, and perseverance.

The Last Ascent (2020)

  • Director: Tom Beard
  • Length: 45 minutes
  • In a nutshell: Will Gadd ice climbing on Kilimanjaro’s vanishing snowcap.

Will Gadd has made several first ascents of Kilimanjaro’s ice towers. However, global warming and climate change is making the mountain’s iconic ice cap melt at an alarming rate. There aren’t many tropical ice caps in the world and it’s devastating to witness the loss of Mount Kilimanjaro ice caps.

Gadd makes one last ascent of the Kilimanjaro before the ice caps disappear forever in what I personally refer to as ‘the last dance.’

Claim Freedom (2017)

  • Directors: Herald Francis, Paul McDonald
  • Length: 52 minutes
  • In a nutshell: A climber gets to explore the far reaches of his imagination.

Exploring the limits of the imagination, four adventurers are given the opportunity to take on once-in-a-lifetime challenges. The adventurers embarked on climbing, kayaking, bouldering, and exploration of the second deepest put cave. While the rock climbing may appeal the most to climbing lovers, you’ll love the other adventures.

Our four adventurers had to test their limits and push themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually to achieve the impossible.

Roraima – Climbers Of The Lost World (2013)

  • Director: Philipp Manderla
  • Length: 98 minutes
  • In a nutshell: Climbing in a lost world.

Mount Roraima, a South American peak, is one shrouded in legend. And this is what made three climbers – Kurt Albert, Holger Heuber, and Stefan Glowacz – set out for an expedition to Roraima. The peak is actually a table-top mountain called tepui, surrounded with some dangerous walls where the probability of a climber dying is almost 100% due to frequency of which rock, and other materials fall.

Lunag Ri (2017)

  • Directors: Michael Ginthoer and Martin Hanslmayr
  • Length: 35 minutes
  • In a nutshell: A drive to climbing the unclimbed.

David Lama and Conrad Anker set out to climb Lunag Ri, a stunning and unclimbed 6,907-meter peak on the border of Nepal and Tibet in 2016. They were just a few meters short of the top of the mountain when they were forced to retreat.

In 2017, the duo returned motivated and armed with knowledge and lessons from the first attempt. However, the second attempt failed as Anker had a heart attack on the mountain. Lama would later make a third solo attempt in 2018 and reach the summit of the mountain.

Cerro Torre – A Snowball’s Chance In Hell (2013)

  • Director: Thomy Dirnhofer
  • Length: 101 minutes
  • In a nutshell: Documenting first free climb attempt of Cerro Torre.

World’s youngest climb champion, David Lama, sets out to climb the Cerro Torre, one of the most formidable mountain faces on the planet. The idea sounded crazy and big wall legend Jim Bridwell told the young climber, “You haven’t got a snowball’s chance in hell.” Of course, Lama didn’t listen and this documentary takes you through his conquest of Cerro Torre.

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