We Gotta Get Outta This Place — Trapped in the Movies!

by | Jan 27th, 2011 | 11:07AM | Filed under: DVD Reviews, Movie Lists, Movies

(Yes, the Star Wars geek in me really wanted to call this movie list “It’s a Trahp!”)

In one of those weird movie industry cycles, we’re suddenly inundated with films about individuals or groups trapped somewhere: 127 Hours is in theaters, and Buried and Devil just came out on home video.

Nor is the trend slowing down–there’s at least one movie about the Chilean miners on the way, and Ang Lee is directing an adaptation of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, about a man in a boat with an orangutan, a hyena, a zebra, and a tiger. (I haven’t read the novel, but I’m assuming it’s some sort of bachelor party mini-cruise?)

You can argue that such films represent deep societal themes of our time: People these days feel more isolated, despite (or because of) online social networking. (And what is The Social Network but a film about a really smart guy trapped by his lack of social empathy?) Or that we feel closed in on by larger, foreboding forces, such as the economy, various global crises, and Justin Bieber.

Or you can just chalk it up to the fact that films shot with just one main actor (like 127 Hours and Buried), or one location (like Devil or Frozen) are cheaper to make. Or that such films come with a built-in hook for spreading buzz: “It’s that movie where someone’s pinned by a rock/buried alive/stuck in an elevator/trapped on a ski lift!”

Let’s look at some of the newer “Trapped” movies in theaters and available from redbox, and then get pinned down on memory lane with some of the classics of the genre.

In Theaters

127 Hours

Who’s Trapped: James Franco

Where is He Trapped?: In a crevice in a Utah national park

How is He Trapped?: By a giant boulder pinning his right arm

What’s the Problem?: Running out of water, too arrogantly self-sufficient to tell anyone where he was going

How Does He React?: Calmly, methodically inventorying his supplies and tools, addressing the problem

Lesson Learned: Always leave a note. Or bring a bone saw.

In the Redbox Kiosks


Who’s Trapped: Ryan Reynolds

Where is He Trapped?: In a coffin buried somewhere in Iraq

How is He Trapped?: By Iraqi kidnappers demanding ransom

What’s the Problem?: Running out of air and cell-phone battery, coffin has no mini-gym

How Does He React?: Panic, scream, panic some more, yell at phone operators

Lesson Learned: Your rock-hard six-pack abs won’t protect you from becoming part of a metaphor about American geo-political nation-building policies.


Who’s Trapped: Five unknown actors

Where Are They Trapped?: In a Philadelphia office building’s elevator

How Are They Trapped?: By writer-producer M. Night Shaylaman’s love of old Twilight Zone episodes

What’s the Problem?: One of them is Satan!

How Do They React?: First by punching the buttons harder and faster; then comes suspicion, paranoia, sharing meaningful life stories

Lesson Learned: Take the stairs


Who’s Trapped: Three young skiers: A guy, his girlfriend, and his now-third-wheel pal (played, ironically, by “Iceman” from the X-Men movies).

Where Are They Trapped?: On a New England ski lift during an overnight snow storm

How Are They Trapped?: Lift-operator negligence, weekend-only resort hours, convoluted plot contrivance

What’s the Problem?: The slopes won’t re-open for days, it’s cold, it’s too far down to jump without breaking your legs (learned that one the hard way), and… wolves!

How Do They React?: Whimpering, crying, then of course sharing life stories.

Lesson Learned: Never hurts to pack some rope. Or a parachute. Or wolf repellent.

The House of the Devil

Who’s Trapped: A babysitter

Where is She Trapped?: In a creepy old house in the ’80s

How is She Trapped?: Needs the cash

What’s the Problem?: There’s no baby, just a cult of murderous Satan-worshippers

How Does She React: Put on Walkman, dance to The Fixx’s “One Thing Leads to Another.” Later, running, screaming.

Lesson Learned: In the ’80s pretty much anyone who looked kinda odd was probably a murderous Satan worshipper

Burning Bright

Who’s Trapped: Greg Evigan’s daughter and the kid from Charlie St. Cloud

Where Are They Trapped?: In their old Louisiana house

How Are They Trapped?: Locked in by her murderous step brother Garret Dillahunt (shakes fist at heavens: “Dillahunt!!!!”)

What’s the Problem?: Step brother set a crazy, hungry TIGER loose in the house!

How Does She React: Fight back against the monkey fighting tiger in her Monday to Friday house!

Lesson Learned: Romantic poetry by William Blake is all fine and dandy ’til it tries to eat you.

The Classics

The Poseidon Adventure Lessons Learned: There’s got to be a morning after. And Shelly Winters don’t float.

AliveLessons Learned: When flying over the Andes, it never hurts to pack a lunch. Even if it’s your rugby teammate.

Snakes on a PlaneLessons Learned: Mr. Samuel L. Jackson would like to respectfully request that all legless lizards who have had carnal relations with their maternal parent please be removed from the aircraft as expediently as possible.

Open WaterLessons Learned: When scuba diving in the Caribbean, always use the buddy system in case you’re accidentally left behind in the middle of the ocean. Leaves more for the sharks to nom nom nom.

Alien – Lessons Learned: There’s a deadly extra terrestrial loose on our spacecraft? Quick, Sigourney, strip down to your underwear.

Cast Away – Lessons Learned: Sure, a volleyball makes a great pal if you’re stranded on a deserted island, but it won’t have your back when the pirates show up. (There were pirates, right? It’s been a few years since I’ve seen it… No? Well, there should have been. My version is better…)

Moon Lessons Learned: Sam Rockwell stuck on a desolate Moon base with another Sam Rockwell? And a robot that sounds like Kevin Spacey? Worse menage et trois? Or best Three’s Company episode?

Night of the Living Dead / Dawn of the DeadLessons Learned: Where would you rather sit out the zombie apocalypse? A deserted farm house or a shopping mall? What do you mean, you’d rather just not have a zombie apocalypse? Come on, it’ll be fun!

Quarantine / [REC]Lessons Learned: Okay then, zombie hata, how about being stuck in an apartment building where everyone is infected with a zombifying rage virus? Happy now?

Phone BoothLessons Learned: Colin Farrell manages to get trapped by a sniper in the Last Phone Booth in the Eastern United States, and most improbably it still works. Meanwhile, Clark Kent waits impatiently outside.

Cube – Lessons Learned: Anyone can rent an inflatable bouncy castle for their next backyard party. Go them one better by hiring out a giant, secret government cube hive full of horrific death traps! (From the director of Splice!)

LifeboatLessons Learned: Who’s da U-boat commander? One of you is secretly a German sub captain? Oooh, tense! Running afoul of Tallulah Bankhead? Terrifying. Thanks, Mr. Hitchcock!


So tell me, what’s your favorite “trapped” movie?

28 Responses to “We Gotta Get Outta This Place — Trapped in the Movies!”

  1. Matt
    Posted on February 2, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    I humbly submit:
    Back to the Future – trapped in the past, no plutonium (or was it uranium)
    Back to the Future III – trapped father in the past, no gas
    12 Monkeys – Sure Brad Pitt is crazy and I saw myself get shot, but what happened to my hair!? And why was there a lion roaming around when it should have been in … wait for it …
    Madagascar! – Zoo animals trapped in the wild with an annoying lemur or meerkat or something. If you have kids you know that this movie was a BIG TRAP! And that song; “I like to mute it, mute it. He likes to mute it mute it!”

  2. Dru
    Posted on February 5, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    May not be my favorite trapped movie, but it was the first one I thought of (after Cube, but that’s already on the list): Gerry.