Top 18 Safari Movies to watch before your African Safari
Films to inspire your African Safari
My earliest memory of opening up a National Geographic magazine was seeing elephants, lion, zebras, rhinos and other animals in Africa along with tribes and cultures so distant to mine.
Going on safari has been a dream to have a unique experience of seeing this wildlife adventure, experiencing different cultures and spectacular scenery!
Until my first trip to Africa, I explored through these safari movies featuring the breathtaking landscapes, historical events of locals and human interactions with wildlife and the stars of the savannah featuring conservation programs and struggles to preserve them.
The movie, Out of Africa, inspired many a traveler to take a trip to Africa and specifically Kenya. The movie features breathtaking scenery of Kenya including the areas around Nairobi and the Maasai Mara.
The movie, based on the book by Karen Blixen, is a memoir of her life in the early 1900’s in Kenya, then known as British East Africa to colonists. Meryl Streep and Robert Redford play the lead characters for this romance, though I believe the true romance of the film is Karen falling in love with the land and people of Kenya.
Karen writes and reveals in the movie her own personal experience as a woman in this time period running a coffee plantation in spite of her absent husband and interactions with locals many of which were part of the infamous Happy Valley Set of the Kenya Colony in the 1920’s. The story touches on events of the time including colonialism, World War I, shooting safaris and her interactions with the local Kikuyu tribe. A distance time.
On a trip to Kenya, you can visit her home and conversations with the locals will reveal that the love went both ways. Karen introduced Kenya to many in the world both through her 1937 book and the subsequent 1985 Academy Award winning film.
Gorillas in the Mist is another true story based on the life of Dian Fossey. The story tells the tale of the naturalist, played by Sigourney Weaver, and her relationship with the group of primates she studies in the Congo.
Studying them at close quarters, Fossey develops a means of communicating with the gorillas, and in so doing becomes obsessed with the beasts’ well-being. Appalled by the poaching of the gorillas for their skins, Fossey complains to the Ugandan government, which dismisses her by explaining that poaching is the only means by which some of the Ugandan natives can themselves survive.
With the threat of poachers hovering in the background and strife all around in Rwanda, there’s high drama as well as some magnificent footage of real gorillas in their natural habitat.
The BBC created this incredible six-part mini series, BBC Africa, on Africa’s wild places and wildlife.
Narrated by Sir David Attenborough, he takes us on an awe-inspiring journey through on of the most diverse places on earth including the Kalahari desert, the Sahara Desert, the savannah of East Africa, and jungles of the Congo as well as diverse wildlife including black rhinos, mountain gorillas, and much more of Africa’s amazing wildlife.
From the lush wetlands of Botswana’s Okavango Delta, this documentary focuses on one lioness, named Ma di Tau (“Mother of Lions”), as she tries to protect her cubs against the many threats they face in the wild including poaching.
The Last Lions is a documentary film about the heartbreaking decline of the lion population in Africa. Fifty years ago there were close to 500 million lions in Africa. Today there are around 20,000.
Lions, unlike elephants which are far more numerous, have virtually no protection under government mandate or through international accords. The safari eco-tourist industry brings in over 200 billion dollars per year with lions being a top “must-see” and yet little is done to protect the lions. In addition, big cats are at the very top of the food chain and their elimination would wreak havoc on all species below them in ecosystem collapse.
The documentary was made in collaboration between National Geographic and their Explorers-in-Residence, Dereck and Beverly Joubert, who are filmmakers from Botswana. The film is narrated by Jeremy Irons.
It takes 2 seconds seeing a parade of elephants in the wild to be enthralled by these highly intelligent and emotional beasts. The interactions between the young bulls and then groups of mothers and their calves show the complexity of their family relationships.
The movie, Ivory Game, is a documentary revealing the Ivory Trade industry endangering the elephants. The filmmakers show all side of this Ivory industry from the insatiable Chinese market and the local poachers to the wildlife conversationalists and government programs to save the elephants.
I watched this movie on the night before I went on a week long safari in Tanzania where the documentary is partially filmed. As a tourist, I just in awe of seeing these animals, but the documentary provided the rich context of ecosystems in Africa where local poachers living in poverty are enticed to sell off the expensive ivory by dealers and also local people are losing crops when the elephants migrate.
The filmmakers looks at all sides working on solutions to save both the elephants and locals interests while stopping the Ivory Trade.
Born Free is a 1966 British drama film starring Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers as Joy and George Adamson, a real-life couple who raised Elsa the Lioness, an orphaned lion cub, to adulthood, and released her into the wilderness of Kenya.
At a national park in Kenya, English game warden George Adamson (Bill Travers) and his wife, Joy (Virginia McKenna), care for three orphaned lion cubs. The lion cubs parents were killed after attacking villagers.
After the two larger lions are shipped off to a zoo in the Netherlands, the smallest of the three, Elsa, stays with the couple. When Elsa is blamed for causing an elephant stampede in the nearby village, head warden John Kendall (Geoffrey Keen) demands the young lion either be trained to survive in the wilds of the Serengeti or be sent to a zoo.
The making of the film was a life-changing experience for actors Virginia McKenna and her husband Bill Travers, who became animal rights activists and were instrumental in creating the Born Free Foundation.
To Walk with Lions is a 1999 film directed by Carl Schultz and starring Richard Harris as George Adamson.
It follows the later years of wild game preserver/naturalist Adamson whose life was transformed into an animal activist after his experience saving a lion cub shown in the movie Born Free.
After his marriage to Joy Adamson ended, Adamson spent the latter part of his life protecting the lions and other wildlife in the Kora National Reserve, Kenya. His program helps ease zoo-bred lions into their natural habitat. The fact-based film focuses on his struggle against poachers and government corruption blocking his quest for wildlife preservation.
Set in 1898 and starring Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas, The Ghost and the Darkness is based on the true story of two lions in East Africa that killed dozens of people working on a railroad.
Sir Robert Beaumont (Tom Wilkinson) is behind schedule on a railroad in Africa. Enlisting noted engineer John Henry Patterson (Val Kilmer) to right the ship, Beaumont expects results. Everything seems great until the crew discovers the mutilated corpse of the project’s foreman (Henry Cele), seemingly killed by a lion. After several more attacks, Patterson calls in famed hunter Charles Remington (Michael Douglas), who has finally met his match in the bloodthirsty lions.
Don’t let this movie put your off safaris. This true story will highlight the struggles in Africa between local populations, development and wildlife that has been a part of their story for over a hundred years.
When you think of safaris and big game, it’s hard not to immediately imagine the Circle of Life scene from the beginning of Disney’s epic African adventure, The Lion King. It might be animation and talking lions rather than real life nature scenes, but adults and kids alike can’t fail to be inspired to take a safari holiday after watching Simba on screen.
The Disney imagineers definitely did their homework. On safari, you will find many of the names of the animals are Swahili and the characteristics of the animals is spot on. I especially saw it in cranky old bachelor lions and the Pummba.
Everyone’s favorite jungle hero has been the subject of many films over the Hollywood years.
In The Legend of Tarzan, it’s been nearly a decade since Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård), also known as John Clayton III, left Africa to live in Victorian England with his wife Jane.
Danger lurks on the horizon as Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), a treacherous envoy for King Leopold, devises a scheme that lures the couple to the Congo.
Rom plans to capture Tarzan and deliver him to an old enemy in exchange for diamonds. When Jane becomes a pawn in his devious plot, Tarzan must return to the jungle to save the woman he loves.
Other Disney Animated versions
I will always be partial to The Jungle Book (1967) for the music. You can’t help but hum “The Bare Necessities” or “I wanna be like you” after hearing it.
Road to Zanzibar is a trip back to old Hollywood.
After the success of contemporary films in the safari genre, Bob Hope parodies African adventures with this farce.
The movie is classic Hollywood with ridiculous scenarios including love triangles, races through the jungle, swimming with leopards and plenty of jewels, the fast-paced comedy is a fun trip.
Another one from old Hollywood, The African Queen focuses on life in Africa during World War II.
After religious spinster’s (Katharine Hepburn) missionary brother is killed in WWI Africa, dissolute steamer captain (Humphrey Bogart) offers her safe passage. She’s not satisfied so she persuades him to destroy a German gunboat. The two spend most of their time fighting with each other rather than the Germans. In true Hollywood fashion, time alone on the river leads to love.
The movie, shot in Uganda and the Congo, was one of the first movies to use real locations and backgrounds.
Clint Eastwood’s film is based loosely on the experiences of writer Peter Viertel and director John Huston on the set of The African Queen.
Love trumps in the 1950s classic The Africa Queen, but White Hunter Black Heart is much darker and explores the morality of hunting wild animals.
Hard-living, macho movie director John Wilson (Clint Eastwood) arrives in 1950s Zimbabwe to prepare for his next film. Accompanied by screenwriter Pete Verrill (Jeff Fahey), Wilson becomes far more interested in shooting an elephant than getting ready for the shoot.
Determined, Wilson moves production to a village where a native hunter helps him in his quest. Obsessed with this goal even as filming grows ever more chaotic, the director begins to question the ethics and origins of his fixation.
King Solomon’s Mines, based on H. Rider Haggard’s novel is about a rescue party that sets out to find an explorer who has disappeared on an African treasure hunt.
The search leads the party across the continent and through the terrors of jungle, swamp, and desert.
Their ultimate destination is the fabled lost mine of Solomon, a source of unimaginable wealth and deadly danger.
There is also a 1985 version of King Solomon’s Mines starring Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone, which has a more Indiana Jones feel.
In Mogambo, Victor Marswell (Clark Gable) is a big-game hunter in Kenya. After Eloise Kelly (Ava Gardner) is stood up by a friend there, she falls in with Marswell.
Shortly thereafter, the Nordleys (Grace Kelly, Donald Sinden) arrive for a gorilla safari. Mrs. Nordley, disillusioned with her husband, takes a liking to Marswell, and the two have a brief affair. Kelly grows jealous, and the two women engage in a battle of wills over the hunter, while Mr. Nordley remains oblivious to it all.
This is an old classic Hollywood triangle filmed in Kenya and Uganda. The music featured in the film was mostly performed by local native tribes.
Hatari, meaning “Danger” in Swahili, stars the legendary John Wayne takes the cowboy from the Old West to the African landscape. Filmed in Tanzania in the
Ngorongoro Crater, this old Hollywood film is about a group of who traps animals for zoos. While not an activity I endorse today, this was the historical reality at the time.
A female wildlife photographer joins the group to document and finds herself the mother of baby elephants she tries to save.
The movie features the amazing scenery and wildlife of Tanzania and I recognized many of the places still from my recent safari.
The Naked Prey is set in the South African veld. This eerie movie starring Cornel Wilde is a dark tale that switched the traditional roles of a hunting safari.
The guide leads a troop of hunters through a tribe’s colony to start the hunt, but when the group offends the locals, he finds himself in the role of the animals – naked and being chased through the landscape by warriors from the tribe.
The Young Indiana Jones is a TV series, created by Steven Spielberg, featuring a 10 and later 17-year-old Indiana Jones on his adventures in his early year. The set includes 3 seasons and 24 episodes
The “Passion for Life” episode focuses on a 10-year-old Indiana Jones as he goes on safari with his parent in British East Africa in September 1910.
Young Jones befriends a Massai boy named Meto who helps him in his search for the rare Fringe-Eared Oryx for former US President Teddy Roosevelt.
The scenery is spectacular and in typical Indiana Jones style, an adventure ensues as Indy finds himself in the middle of it all. The episode is one hour, but the DVD set also has a complimentary disc with documentaries exploring the themes in each episode with historical clips and commentary.
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