Bear Movies, Ranked by Realism

Killer grizzlies and cuddly teddies make for good movie fodder, but are they accurate? Our scout goes on a cinematic journey to find out.
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grizzly man

As a documentary, Grizzly Man falls at the top of the realism scale.

Hollywood rarely gives bears their due. The bruins in movies almost always fall under one of two extremes: either they’re vicious killing machines that will stop at nothing to fill their bellies with juicy human flesh, or they’re, well, Ted. Safe to say, neither is very accurate.

Every once in a while, however, some enlightened director shows bears for the complex, intelligent, and, yes, occasionally dangerous creatures they really are. Want to sort the fact from the fiction? Use our scale to figure out which films could pass for scientific studies, and which are pure hyperbole.

1 - Whatever this animal is, it’s not a bear.

2 - Mostly made up.

3 - These feature a healthy amount of artistic license but do still feature bears.

4 - Just a little embellishment around the edges can’t hurt.

5 - Study this before heading into the backcountry.

Grizzly Man (2005): 5/5

Timothy Treadwell’s life of befriending grizzly bears and eventual death at their hands is a true story, which makes it pretty realistic. More than anything, it’s a near-perfect depiction of what not to do. The fact that Treadwell’s story took 13 years to come to its painfully obvious conclusion is the only real surprise.

Backcountry (2014): 4.5/5

Bear spray works. Just ask the main characters in this based-on-a-true-story thriller, who are stalked and attacked by a rogue, aggressive bear in their tent. Predatory killing machines that act like this are rare, but decades of data show that a foamy shot to the face is still the best way to deal with them.

The Revenant (2015) 4/5

It’s just like the old saying goes: “Don’t get between a mother bear and her cubs, or you’ll end up dragging your mauled body through the wilderness of South Dakota on a desperate quest for revenge against the comrades who abandoned you.” Even if you stumble in the middle of the family circle accidentally like Hugh Glass, Mama sees you as a threat to the kids, and will likely be coming in hot. While some of the details of Glass’s story are disputed today, the gist is still accurate.

Grizzly (1976): 3/5

Keep this scene in mind the next time you use going to the bathroom as an excuse to get out of taking down your tent. While bears’ claws are sharp, they’re not sharp enough to take your whole arm off in a single swipe. Later in the movie, the animal antagonist mauls a bear expert until he passes out. Later the expert wakes up to find himself half-buried, only for the grizzly to reappear and finish the job. Bears have actually been known to save a kill (though not a live human) for later in this way.

The Bear (1988): 3/5

Female bears have been known to take in orphaned cubs on rare occasions, but a wounded adult male grizzly, like in this heartwarming story? He’s more likely to eat the youngsters than raise them. Still, one scene, which features a hunter being cornered by the big griz only to be mercifully spared, might have some background in reality. The author of the 1916 novella The Grizzly King, upon which the film is based, claimed the unlikely scenario happened to him when he dropped his rifle down a cliff on a hunting trip.

Into the Grizzly Maze (2015): 2/5

If you’re looking for an over-the-top, gory bloodfest, this film, which pits two brothers against everything from a bloodthirsty tracker to the titular bruin to their own repressed emotions, might be worth watching. The title character (played by prolific animal actor Bart the Bear II) is so vicious it finds a way to scare away all the other bears in the hard-to-navigate region of Alaska known as the Grizzly Maze. The only logical solution for the movie’s human stars? Go there, of course.

Winnie The Pooh (1966): 2/5

Where Pooh goes, so goes his “hunny” pot. The cartoon bear shares his taste for the golden stuff with his real-world relatives: Bears are definitely attracted to bee hives and love honey, as well as the bees and bee larvae, which make for good sources of protein in addition to their more typical diet of fish, insects, berries and other mammals. The whole “talking and wearing a shirt” thing is a little less realistic.

Day of the Animals (1977): 1/5

As if climate change wasn’t bad enough already. In this movie, a widening hole in the ozone layer shoots brain-frying radiation into the animals of the Sierra, sending them into a The Birds-like frenzy and making them attack unsuspecting backpackers. The result? One bare-chested character wrestles a bear to the ground during a thunderstorm. Dramatic? Yes. Realistic? No.

Paddington (2014): 1/5

Bears don’t talk in English accents, or wear red hats, or befriend families they met at the railroad station. And assuming Paddington did really come from Peru, it would make him a spectacled bear, whose blackish fur and beige facial markings don’t quite square with Paddington’s grizzly-cub appearance.

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