Movie Tips! The 13 best Polar Movies

Die 13 besten Polarfilme
Movie Tips! The 13 best Polar Movies

Get on the sofa! Grab a warm blanket, a hot cup of tea and immerse yourself in fascinating ice worlds, exciting adventures and visually stunning documentaries. Bring the Arctic and Antarctica home to your living room with my film tips for polar movies. Enjoy!

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Note: The films are available in German and English. However, I have only linked to the English-language trailer on YouTube in each case. I watched the movies either on YouTube, Amazon Prime or Netflix. Please check the channel of your choice for availability.

Adelie Penguins, Antarctic Peninsula.

#1 Big Miracle – USA, 2012

Rescue of whales trapped in the ice.

In 1988, the small village of Point Barrow is all over the news. That's because a family of California gray whales is trapped in the ice, their access to the open sea cut off. The three animals survive only as long as the only remaining breathing hole does not freeze over. Animal rights activists, whalers, the National Guard, politicians, the U.S. President, onlookers and oil industry representatives end up working together to try to save the whales. Who will make it in the end? The Russians with their gigantic icebreaker and a captain who will stop at nothing.

Click here for the movie trailer on YouTube.

Conclusion: A really beautiful and touching polar film to cheer along.

By the way, the film is based on a true story, which is described in the book Freeing the Whales* as Operation Breakthrough.

Fluke eines Buckelwals
Fluke of a humpback whale, Neumayer Channel, Antarctica.

#2 Arctic – Iceland, 2018

Survival thriller following a plane crash in the Arctic.

Arctic is a 2018 Icelandic survival thriller from director Joe Penna. Set in a remote, Arctic area, it is about pilot Overgård who is the only survivor of a plane crash. Day after day, he tries to summon rescue by radio signal. The wreckage of the plane provides him with shelter and he feeds on raw fish, which he catches in a nearby lake. When the rescue helicopter finally arrives, everything gets worse and a fight for survival begins. Not only for his own survival, but also for that of the co-pilot, who is the only one to survive the helicopter crash in the storm. On a sled, Overgård pulls the badly injured woman through a hostile landscape of polar bears, storms, frostbite and crashes. Do they make it? I won't tell you here - watch it!

Click here for the movie trailer on YouTube.

Conclusion: Pure goosebumps!

Herðubreið the "Queen of the mountains of Iceland".

#3 Orca the Killerwhale – USA, 1977

A bull orca whose pregnant mate has been murdered by whalers takes revenge.

Orca the Killer Whale is a US animal horror film with cult status. Canadian whaler Captain Nolan wants to catch an orca for an aquarium. But this goes wrong. He harpoons a pregnant female and pulls her aboard. While hanging upside down from the crane, she loses her calf. This all happens before the eyes of the orca bull. He memorizes the whalers' faces and a vendetta against the boat crew ensues. Captain Nolan is forced to take his boat out and face the battle with the whale. He is accompanied by, among others, the sympathetic whale researcher Rachel. They follow the whale up from Newfoundland to the pack ice, where the whale sinks the ship. The final battle between Nolan and the orca is fought out in the ice and water. Only Rachel survives and is rescued by a previously called helicopter.

Click here for the movie trailer on YouTube.

Conclusion: My absolute favorite polar movie. I don't know how many times I have watched it. Somehow this must have had a strong influence on me: the first car I bought was a green Series 2 Land Rover - exactly like the one the whale researcher drives in the movie.

Orca off San Juan Island, Washington State.

#4 The red Tent – Soviet Union, Italy, 1969

Prominent adventure film with Sean Connery, Claudia Cardinale, Hardy Krüger and Peter Finch.

Italian Umberto Nobile sets out for the North Pole in the airship Italia in May 1928. Adverse weather conditions, however, make a landing at the North Pole impossible. On the return flight to Spitsbergen, the airship becomes increasingly difficult to steer due to increasing icing and finally crashes. The survivors find shelter in a tent, which they paint red. The subsequent rescue operation turns out to be difficult. Thus, the polar explorer Roald Amundsen has an accident himself during the search and the icebreaker sent by the Russians is stuck in the ice. When the pilot Lundborg finds the victims, he persuades the injured Nobile to be the first to be flown out. However, the rescue of the other team members is then delayed due to weather conditions. From then on, Nobile is plagued by a guilty conscience. Nightmares haunt him night after night in which he discusses the question of guilt with the other participants.

Conclusion: A thrilling adventure film based on real facts.

Click here for the movie trailer on YouTube.

Blau schimmernder Eisberg
Iceberg and blue shining water, Antarctic Peninsula.

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#5 Eight Below – USA, 2006

Walt Disney film about the survival story of a group of sled dogs left behind in Antarctica.

The crew of the small US research station in Antarctica is already preparing to return home. It' s the end of the season. But one last mission remains to be accomplished: Jerry Shepard is to assist professor Dr. Davis McClaren in his search for a meteorite from Mercury. With the sled dog team the two set off to Mount Melbourne and find the meteorite. Then the weather changes and the professor collapses in the ice. With the help of the brave dogs and their super sense of direction they make it back to the station. Because of the rising storm front the crew is to be flown out immediately. But there is no more room for the dogs in the plane, they have to stay behind. Jerry tries to get his dogs back - unsuccessfully. Only several months later he makes it back to the station. What happened to the dogs? Just watch it!

Click here for the movie trailer on YouTube.

Conclusion: A really nice polar movie, which I have already watched several times. And again and again I have tears in my eyes at the end.

You also want to go dog sledding? Click here to read my article about a Dog Sledding in Greenland.

Schlitten in Port Lockroy, Antarktis
Toboggan in Port Lockroy, Antarctica

#6 Encounters at the End of the World – Canada, USA, Germany, 2007

Documentary by Werner Herzog about people and places in Antarctica.

Werner Herzog's films are always something special. So is this one. Herzog and the Austrian cameraman Zeitlinger travel to Antarctica. There, at the end of the world, they meet people and tell their stories. What connects them to this place and how did they get here? The journey begins at the American McMurdo Station and continues via Ernest Shackleton's station to the South Pole and Mount Erebus. What drove Werner Herzog here himself? The underwater footage of divers: ice from below and life under the ice. Have you ever heard seals under water? In the film you have the opportunity – it sounds like an encounter on another planet.

Click here for the movie trailer on YouTube.

Conclusion: A very personal and endearing documentary about the people of Antarctica. At the end you ask yourself why you don't work there yourself.

You want more Antarctica? Then have a look at my Antarctica Articles.

Kurz vor Mitternacht in der Antarktis, Damoy Point
Shortly before midnight in Antarctica, Damoy Point

#7 Nanook of the North – USA, 1922

Documentary from the silent film era.

The film follows the Inuit Nanuk and his family over several weeks. Nanuk lives with his family as a nomad in the Canadian Arctic. Together with his two wives Nyla and Cunayou, his son Allee, the baby Rainbow and the sled dogs he fights daily for survival. The daily life of the Inuit family is shown, including seal and walrus hunting, fishing, igloo building and fur trading. The care of the children and care of the sled dogs are also vividly documented. In addition to the beauty of nature, the harshness of Arctic life is also shown as the family's lives are put in danger during a sudden snowstorm.

Conclusion: For all who want to know how the daily life of the Inuit was in the twenties.

Click here for the whole movie on YouTube.

Iced bay at Tasiilaq, East Greenland

#8 Never Cry Wolf – USA, 1983

Nature film by Walt Disney, based on the autobiographical novel "Never Cry Wolf" (1963) by Canadian biologist and writer Farley Mowat.

After the plane takes off again, young biologist Tyler finds himself alone on an icy lake. Poorly equipped and inexperienced, surrounded by the white expanse of the Arctic tundra. On behalf of the government, he is to investigate the decline of the caribou population. The suspects are wolves, about which many horror stories are circulating.

After a while and with the help of an old Inuit, Tyler slowly finds his way around. Only he doesn't find any caribou. Instead, he explores a wolf pack and builds a respectful bond with the alpha pair. When the caribou herd finally arrives, he watches as the wolves chase the caribou and snatch an animal. After the fact, Tyler realizes that it was a sick animal. Might it be the hunting tourists who are behind the caribou kill after all? After this realization, and after an Inuit hunter kills "his" pair of wolves and three cubs are orphaned, Tyler's world collapses.

Click here for the movie trailer on YouTube.

Summary: The film shows the nature of the arctic tundra in wonderful pictures. A lot of wildlife, Inuit culture and a young man who turns from a fearful scientist into a nature lad and wolf lover.

Junger Schlittenhund, Ostgrönland

#9 The Thing 2 – USA, Canada, 2011

Horror and science fiction film with woman power and shape shifter.

Norwegian scientists find a crashed spaceship and a creature trapped in the ice in Antarctica. Both are estimated to be 100,000 years old. They bring the block of ice containing the creature to their station and flown-in paleontologist Kate begins to study it. Elated by their spectacular find, the team celebrates the evening exuberantly. But they are abruptly interrupted. Because the extraterrestrial being is still alive. It frees itself from the ice block and kills the scientists. One after the other. To do this, the being transforms into the shape of the scientists as soon as it touches them. No one can distinguish anymore who is human or monster. Only inorganic material cannot transform the creature - a small detail that saves Kate's life in the end. She is the only one to survive the monster's attacks, but now finds herself alone in an icy desert.

The film tells the prequel to John Carpenter's The Thing from 1982, which was itself a remake of Christian Nyby's 1951 classic.

Click here for the movie trailer on YouTube.

Conclusion: A bit too much horror and a very unattractive creature. But great that in the film a woman is the smartest of them all.

Adeliepinguine auf Brown Bluff
Adeliepinguine auf Brown Bluff

#10 The Thing – USA, 1982

Horror and science fiction film for the hard-bitten.

It picks up where the 2011 film ends: a man tries to shoot a fleeing dog from a flying helicopter. When they reach an American research station, everything goes haywire: the helicopter explodes, the crazed shooting Norwegian is shot by the Americans themselves, and the dog is put in the kennel with the other dogs. There he then shows his true colors and kills the other dogs. Using a flamethrower, the Americans kill the creature - or so they think.

To understand the events, two of them fly to the Norwegian station. They find it almost completely destroyed. With the help of the Norwegians' records, the Americans find out what they are dealing with. The alien being is a shape-shifter that was trapped in the ice after its spaceship crashed about 100,000 years ago. After physical contact, the being can take on the form of the person in question. No one can distinguish who is human or monster anymore, they all distrust each other. There is only one thing they agree on: they must prevent the alien being from leaving the station and threatening all of humanity at all costs.

Click here for the movie trailer on YouTube.

Conclusion: You have to like horror movies...

Krabbenfresserrobbe bei Cuverville Island
Crab-eating seal, Antarctic Peninsula

#11 Smilla’s Sense of Snow – Denmark, Germany, Sweden, 1997

A meteorite crashed in Greenland and a suspected accident involving an Inuit boy awaken the detective in a reclusive scientist.

Smilla Jaspersen liked her neighbor, the little Greenlandic boy Isaiah. She didn't think he fell off the roof while playing. Because his footprints in the snow, in her eyes, rather indicate an escape. The scientist investigates. Her search leads her to the Greenland Mining company and finally to a research ship and Greenland. In the meantime, she experiences many dicey situations and only narrowly escapes a bomb attack. In the end she finds out the truth in Greenland and realizes the connection between the meteorite that crashed in 1859 and the death of the boy.

Click here for the movie trailer on YouTube.

Conclusion: An exciting thriller that takes us from Copenhagen to Kiruna and Greenland.

The colorful houses of Tiniteqilaaq, Greenland.

#12 Antarctica: Ice and Sky – Germany, 2015

Portrait of glaciologist Claude Lorius and plea for climate protection.

In this documentary by Luc Jacquet, we accompany French explorer Claude Lorius into the endless snow and ice landscapes of Antarctica. Lorius sets out in 1957 to study the ice masses of Antarctica.

He discovered that the air bubbles trapped in the ice provided information about the climate of past times. His work made it possible for the first time to trace climate history back 800,000 years. The insights gained into climate change are groundbreaking and proof of man-made global warming, the consequences of which Lorius warns of as early as 1965.

Click here for the movie trailer on YouTube.

Conclusion: A documentary worth seeing, which shows not only the beauty of Antarctica, but also its fragility.

Eisabbruchkante im Neumayerkanal
Ice breaking edge in the Neumayer Channel

#13 Glory & Honor – USA, 1998

The biographical feature film tells the story of the expeditions of Robert Edwin Peary and Matthew Henson.

At the end of the nineteenth century, the American Robert Edwin Peary set himself the goal of planting America's flag in the North Pole.

During his first exploratory voyage to Greenland in 1891, Peary is accompanied by his assistant Matthew Henson, among others. The Inuit recognize the black Henson as a kidnapped cousin. They outfit him with polar clothing and teach him their language and how to use dog sleds. This gives him a clear advantage during the rest of the expedition.

On the second expedition, Matthew Henson has risen to full expedition member and is an important link between the explorers and the Inuit. But both advances to the Pole fail and Peary loses eight of his toes to frostbite.

The Third Expedition in 1908-1909 is better equipped: with Inuit fur clothing, dog sleds and igloos, the advance to the Pole is finally to succeed. (Note: It is still disputed whether Peary actually reached the North Pole).

Click here for the whole film on YouTube.

Conclusion: For everyone who is interested in the early polar expeditions and the relationship between the explorers and the Inuit, this is a great polar film.

On the inland ice in Greenland. Photo: Dr. Till Pasquay

Are your eyes now square from watching so many movies? Then how about a book? In my article Polar Literature - Book Tips on the Arctic and Antarctic you will surely find what you are looking for. Have a look right now!

Here are a few books* as a foretaste:

There are many more great polar movies, especially documentaries. A second article with more great Arctic and Antarctic films will follow. What is your favorite film? I would love to add it to my list. Which is your favorite movie? Ich würde ihn gerne in meiner Liste ergänzen.

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Recommendations for further Reading

Do you love the polar regions as much as I do? Then check out my articles about Antarctica and a Winter Tour in Greenland .

Antarktis - die besten Tipps für die Reise
Antarctica - the best Tips for your Trip

Grönland im Winter
Greenland in Winter


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