A tough list, this one. Despite the countless gorilla starring movies (Gorillas in the Mist, all three versions of King Kong, and 1995 action comedy flop Congo all spring to mind), there’s quite a shortage of goodies. After rummaging around in my thorny brainbox, I came up with these nuggets of cinematic gold that, in one tenuous way or another, interpret the jungles of the world.
Apocalypse Now, dir: Francis Ford Coppola, 1979
An easy choice and inarguably the finest film on our list. Coppola’s Vietnam war epic is a truly perennial piece of work. It’s a film about many things, including – but not limited to – the scathing horrors of war, existentialism and the debilitation of the human id, and the repugnant hypocrisy of Western imperialism. The rural Luzon Island film location is used as both a literal and figurative jungle, a prism that holds captives the prisoners of war, right alongside the people imprisoning them. All that and more, you also get career best performances from Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall and Michael Sheen, plus Vittorio Satoro’s Oscar-winning, intense cinematography, and one of the best endings of film history. Skip the Redux version and feast on the original. It’s the quintessential jungle picture.
Predator, dir: John McTiernan, 1987
Die Hard directing legend John McTiernan joins forces with Arnold Schwarzenegger during his patchy welterweight period. Fortunately, this action/sci-fi romp is a nonsensical, genuinely unnerving riot. Cheekily, the rather luscious Hawaiian rainforest location is presented as a towering South American jungle. An extra-terrestial is on the loose, but don’t worry, Mr. Universe has got the biceps to handle such a wild pest. If Arnie isn’t your thing, Predator can be replaced any inferior example from Sly Stallone’s Rambo series (at a push, I’d say First Blood: Part II is the best of a bad bunch).
Captive, dir: Brilliante Mendoza, 2012
Our most obscure choice, Captive was a big buzz drama at Berlinale back in 2011. From the doyen of Filipino cinema Brilliante Mendoza, and starring French starlet Isabelle Huppert, it’s a based on a true story tale of French humanitarians and tourists held hostage by a group of Islamic extremists in the Filipino jungle. Much like Apocalypse Now, this well crafted indie drama depicts the jungle setting with great suffocation. If you can get your hands on this little wonder, then do!
Romancing the Stone, dir: Robert Zemeckis, 1984
I full expect to get some flack for this choice, but I really don’t care, this is a forgotten classic! An early one from Zemeckis, this comedy caper has been somewhat overshadowed by his blockbusting Back to the Future, but it certainly keeps some of it’s ‘fun for all the family’ charm. Michael Douglas is on fine form, Kathleen Turner is a prissy hoot, and Danny DeVito is in full on loon mode. What’s not to love?
Fitzcarraldo, dir: Werner Herzog, 1982
Another jungle adventure movie, this classic from austere German filmmaker Werner Herzog is the story of Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, aka Fitzcarraldo, a passionate man determined to build a grandiose opera house in the middle of the jungle. An ambitious feast for the eyes, we’ve selected Fitzcarraldo as our film of the week, so expect a big critical chinwag on it’s highs and lows on the upcoming podcast, available from Friday 22nd March, right here!
Terrence Malick’s Battle of Mount Austen drama The Thin Red Line matches the war setting with the jungle to question dogmatic American ideologies and machoism. It’s typically ‘Terrence Malick’, a beautiful, cluttered film that could be just about everything and nothing simultaneously.
One of the most notorious films of all time, Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust features an ethnographic film crew in the Amazon to shoot an indigenous jungle tribe. Wrongly classified as a ‘snuff film’, the most incriminating aspect of this grim horror is that it helped birth the putrid ‘found footage’ shtick. By no means a ‘good’ movie, but certainly one worthy of note.
A film that is certainly due an airing is Danny Boyle’s The Beach. Adapted from Alex Garland’s bestselling novel, DiCaprio is a nomadic twenty-something Richard, who’s curiosity gets the better of him during a trip in Thailand and leads him to an idyllic and uninhabited exotic island. An adventure drama live a knotty and constantly involving plot.
Lord of the Flies will no doubt be getting a mention in our JUNGLE literature picks, but Peter Brook’s 1963 film adaptation is worth a mention here. The story of schoolboys turned savage castaways, it’s an artful companion piece to Golding’s master novel.
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s cult art film The Holy Mountain could also be considered here. While it doesn’t have a literal jungle sequence, it’s such a convoluted, bolted-to-your-seat film experience that you’ll certainly feel like the Mexican absurdist has thrown you into the wild.
That’s our favourite jungle films, but what are yours? Let us know!