5 Of The Best Non-Horror Nail-Biters: It’s a transcendental experience to watch someone take on the extreme; though many people would never dare attempt what they watch on the screen, that doesn’t mean they won’t pack into theatres for a glimpse of a nail-biting experience.
Though many prefer horror films for a few adrenaline-filled moments, many prefer more nuanced risks. Want to live vicariously through the adventures of high-stake risk-takers? Check out one of the nail-biting, non-horror flicks below.
Free Solo (2018): In Free Solo, we are taken on a thrilling journey as Alex Honnold tackles many people’s worst nightmare: heights. As one of the best free climbers ever, Honnold reaches some of the highest peaks ‘free solo’, which means he has no rope or assistance.
The film’s focus on mental preparation and visualisation to eliminate fear made it a hit project for a wide range of industries. In other words, professionals of all stripes could find relevant insight from Alex Honnold’s climbs. For example, many poker pros found themselves relating to Hannold, as they also work alone and must prepare mentally if they’re not going to self-sabotage while at the table.
While not quite as death-defying as scaling thousands of feet into the air, Free Solo touched on one key aspect of the human experience: facing inner fears to accomplish extraordinary feats.
Man on Wire (2008): Everyone has had a dream where they slowly drift to sleep, then jolt awake after feeling a sudden (imagined) plummet. In Man on Wire, one death-defying athlete knowing places themselves in this type of situation.
The 2008 documentary follows Philippe Petit (above) as he performs a high-wire walk back in 1974, crossing from one World Trade Center Tower to another with only a wire beneath him. The notorious daredevil enlists the help of an expert crew to guide him on his mission.
The documentary echoes action movie plots like the Fast and Furious series, which draw on absolutely insane stunts to please audiences… but in Petit’s case, the unbelievable danger wasn’t a Hollywood invention.
The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52 (2021): This is the story of 52 Hertz, the loneliest whale in the world. After an accidental discovery by the CIA locates a strange frequency being emitted from the ocean, scientists discover the origin of the noise to be a blue whale. Experts speculate that the frequency 52 Hertz emits isn’t detectable to other whales, which means he spends most of his time in solitude as he traverses the oceans.
The documentary is full of intrigue and mystery with an element of sadness as we follow the crew in their attempt to find the loneliest creature in the world. Though far from a horror flick, audiences are left with an unquenchable tension after viewing.
The Rescue (2021): In 2018, a soccer team and their coach were trapped inside a flooded cave in Thailand. As the oxygen level in the cave decreases, trained divers have a limited time to execute a one-time rescue operation.
The Rescue chronicles the timeline of a daring attempt to save the group. Navigating the narrow underwater cave tunnel is particularly dangerous; for safety purposes, it requires help from the Royal Thai Navy SEALs and US Air Force.
From the Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker who created Free Solo, The Rescue combines elements of life-threatening danger with a nail-biting timeline that ticks on in the background.
14 Minutes From Earth (2016): This project (above) follows computer scientist Alan Eustace in his attempt to make the biggest jump ever recorded in human history—one that starts in outer space. The documentary focuses on the engineering process in which several experts collaborate to make Eustace’s dream possible, which includes a rocket-like balloon filled with helium.
The documentary takes audiences on a rollercoaster ride, covering two prior failed attempts at the same jump. Along the way, viewers are left with the feeling that they’re watching an inevitable train wreck from a man hellbent on an ill-advised adventure… which isn’t entirely untrue.