Over the past decade, rock climbing has graduated from a mostly fringe sport into a worldwide phenomenon, with climbing gyms popping up in almost every major city. As more new climbers head to mountainous crags and challenging boulders eager to send the next big line, the blossoming subgenre of rock climbing movies has seen an equal rise in popularity.
Today, we’re listing off our picks for the top 5 rock climbing movies, many of which highlight the most talented climbers of our generation performing exceptionally dangerous ascents. From the granite cliffs of California to the snowy peaks of the Himalayas, these amazing rock climbing movies take viewers on an adventure to some of the most storied summits in the world. Grab a chalk bag and get ready for sweaty palms as we dig into the top 5 rock climbing movies!
The Top 5 Rock Climbing Movies
1. Free Solo (2018)
As the title implies, Free Solo is a rock climbing movie that focuses on the death-defying art of “free-solo” climbing. This unrestricted form of climbing, performed without the use of any ropes or protection, represents the pinnacle of man versus mountain, where one false move can send a climber plummeting to their death.
More specifically, Free Solo focuses on superstar climber Alex Honnold and his life-long dream to free solo El Capitan, an intimidating rock wall located in Yosemite Natural Park, California. Simply put, scaling this 3,000-foot behemoth is an impressive feat even with excess supplies and protection, making Honnold’s attempt feel like a death wish in disguise. Expertly shot and guaranteed to fill you with anxiety, Free Solo is easily one of the best rock climbing movies of all time. It seems like critics agree, as the film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2019.
2. The Dawn Wall (2017)
While Free Solo depicts the most visceral and high-stakes side of the rock climbing world, The Dawn Wall details a grueling process in the sport that receives far less attention. Centered around Tommy Caldwell, who skyrocketed from a no-name local into one of the best climbers of all time, The Dawn Wall documents the climber’s attempt to be the first man to scale the southeastern face of El Capitan.
Despite being set against the same mountain as Free Solo, The Dawn Wall is a much different beast, as Tommy Caldwell’s mission displays a unique set of skills seen nowhere else in the rock climbing world.
Lugging hundreds of pounds of gear up the side of the mountain, Tommy and his partner attempt to establish the first route on the wall, which is notorious for its non-existent ledges and impassable terrain. The film bounces back and forth between Tommy’s multi-week stay on the wall and his early years as a climber, recalling several tragic events that forever changed his life.
3. The Alpinist (2021)
One of the most interesting aspects of rock climbing is how many different disciplines there are, including sport climbing, bouldering, big-wall climbing, alpinism, and more. The Alpinist tells the story of relatively unknown Canadian climber Marc-Andre Leclerc, a fiercely determined yet aloof athlete with a hunger to push the limits.
While the film mostly acts as a character study and tries to nail down the motivations of this soft-spoken climber, it culminates with Marc-Andre attempting several high-altitude climbs in the snowy mountains of Patagonia.
Like Free Solo, The Alpinist showcases several instances of free-solo climbing, but taken to the next level. Pushing things far beyond the limits of what anyone would consider safe, Marc-Andre Leclerc scales ice, snow, and more, often without any protection to save himself from an unexpected fall. Fair warning, this one’s not for the weak of heart, but it’s undoubtedly one of the best rock climbing movies in recent years.
4. Meru (2015)
Mountaineering and rock climbing go hand in hand, as the tallest peaks on our planet often draw talented climbers to places they would otherwise never think of traveling to. The 2015 film Meru, which was directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (the same directors of Free Solo), details an incredibly dangerous attempt to summit Meru Peak in the Indian Himalayan region. Aiming to be the first climbers to ascend the mountain via the “Shark’s Fin” route, Jimmy Chin, Conrad Anker, and Renan Ozturk test themselves against the elements in this amazing rock climbing movie.
While rock climbing is an inherently dangerous sport (especially when it comes to free soloing), extreme alpinism and mountaineering introduce a swath of other challenges. Expeditions like the one detailed in Meru can often take several weeks, leading to a host of unforeseen problems.
From dwindling food sources to roaring avalanches, surviving in the mountains adds yet another layer of challenge to the mix. We recommend you bundle yourself up in a blanket and check out Meru, if only to better appreciate mother nature’s immense power.
5. Valley Uprising (2014)
Valley Uprising is unlike the other films included on this list, as it’s more of a historical look at the sport rather than a tale of one specific ascent or project. This informative and entertaining rock climbing movie takes us back in time to Yosemite Valley, where the sport saw its first big boom in popularity. Originally seen as an extreme activity only reserved for the wildest nature enthusiasts, rock climbing in Yosemite Valley grew with a fervor, and Valley Uprising gives you the entire scoop.
Unsurprisingly, the history of rock climbing culture is just as wild as the sport itself, fueled by plenty of athletes who spat at authority and forged their own paths in life. Valley Uprising bounces from decade to decade, showing how each respective generation has helped refine rock climbing into the sport it’s known as today. Between altercations with park rangers, illicit drug use hundreds of feet in the air, and much more, Valley Uprising has plenty of drama and action that will both surprise and entertain.
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