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T his Friday, Liam Neeson will don a parka and head for Alaska in “The Grey,” an action-survival film about a group of oil-rig workers whose plane crashes in the icy wilderness. Sounds pretty chilly — especially when the wolves show up.

Whether audiences will embrace the film warmly remains a question. The survival movie can be a tough sell: There’s something inherently compelling about man versus nature, but bad weather alone won’t hold anyone’s attention. Throw in a human villain, and the audience might start expecting an action flick; focus on the hero’s inner struggles, and the mood can get too intense. “The Grey” is expected to earn about $11 million next weekend, the same as the new Katherine Heigl comedy, “One for the Money,” according to

How have other survival movies tried to pull in audiences? Here’s a look at what worked and what didn’t:

“Swiss Family Robinson”

Disney’s 1960 version of the 1812 novel about a family shipwrecked on a tropical island couldn’t have had a happier ending: They stay and establish a colony! Total gross: $427 million (adjusted for inflation).


Ethan Hawke starred in this 1993 dramatized story of the Uruguayan rugby team that survived a 1972 plane crash by resorting to cannibalism. Might have been too grim for mainstream viewers. It grossed about $36.7 million, according to BoxOfficeMojo.

“Open Water”

Vacationing scuba divers come up for air and realize their boat has forgotten them. Sharks appear, but with a tiny budget of $500,000, the 2003 movie focuses mostly on bickering. Total gross: $30.6 million.

“127 Hours”

The true-life 2010 tale of hiker Aron Ralston (James Franco), who fell into a chasm and escaped by hacking off his right arm with a pocketknife, earned six Oscar nominations but only $18.3 million. Reports of viewers vomiting in theaters might not have helped.


Three young skiers get stuck on a chairlift overnight. As if the oncoming blizzard weren’t bad enough, one has to pee. Total gross: $246,000. Bad news for “The Grey” — this 2010 movie also featured wolves.