5 Thrilling Whitewater Movies

Whether you’re a documentary fan, an 80’s movie enthusiast or a Meryl Streep fan, this list of our top whitewater movies picks has something for all! Head down Niagara, get to know the New Zealand whitewater kayaking community and see Kevin Bacon in several different roles… in several different whitewater movies, as you work your way through these fabulous rafting, canoeing and kayaking films!

Chasing Niagara (2015)

This fast-paced documentary focused on friendship and chasing your dreams is an inspiring watch, filled with stunning shots of waterfalls – not just of Niagara, as the film’s title would suggest. It also features inspiring narration from those involved in the three-year lead up to the main event, of kayaking over Niagara Falls. Rafa Ortiz, a professional kayaker, had the ultimate dream of kayaking over North America’s most-famous waterfall, Niagara Falls, a large and illegal dream – as it is forbidden to go over the Falls in any way.

Watch in awe as Rafa and his friends practice on the falls and whitewater of Mexico and around the Pacific Northwest of the USA, and strategically plan and prepare for this challenging feat, of kayaking over a 150-foot drop. This documentary is interesting even just in showing the sheer amount of planning and preparation needed for such a task.

The River Wild (1994)

A whitewater adventure film like no other, this 90’s classic is packed full of Hollywood’s finest, featuring Meryl Streep, Kevin Bacon and John C. Reilly. Set on the Salmon River in Idaho, USA, a somewhat dysfunctional family, headed by Streep, set off on a rafting holiday in the hopes of forging a closer bond. This whitewater rafting adventure isn’t a happy holiday for long though, as the family of three bumps into some not-so-friendly characters whom are also attempting to raft the river.

The River Wild, a big-budget rafting flick, has garnered some mixed reviews in the many years since its release, but at its core remains a fun, and somewhat thrilling, family whitewater adventure… and with a Meryl Streep performance in it, which is fabulous of course. A film full of dangerous whitewater stunts, some of which Streep did herself, this movie is great to watch for some challenging and inspiring rafting action!

Without a Paddle (2004)

This typical noughties tale of childhood friends reuniting for a life-changing outdoor adventure seems pretty run-of-the-mill at first glance, but actually offers a lot of laughs – albeit with some predictability along the way. This tale of three now-adult childhood friends getting back together 12 years after graduating features familiar comedic actors such as Dax Shepard, Seth Green and Matthew Lillard. The film’s central idea is about trying to stay close to the friends that you may have drifted apart from, as life has taken you on different paths. These three friends come together after the death of a mutual friend, and decide to undertake an adventure that they had all dreamt about during their school years, of tracking down some lost treasure.

This tale of an outdoor adventure, featuring canoeing (not so successfully…) over a waterfall, getting lost in the wilderness and conquering your fears leaves something to be desired in the believability part, as well as a couple of cringe worthy moments along the way, but overall is a fun watch featuring some beautiful whitewater shots and a bit of wilderness camping.

Rivering (2016)

Rivering is a peaceful, inspiring and heartwarming crowdfunded documentary film, looking at the whitewater kayaking community in New Zealand, filmed over a three year period. This is a beautiful piece of documentary filmmaking, and a great watch for those interested in finding out more about the sport or just wanting to hear the hypnotic sounds of the whitewater as you watch people doing a sport that they very clearly love, in stunning surroundings.

A labour of love undertaken by director and whitewater enthusiast, Bill Parks, created with a limited budget and not for profit, (as the film was made to be free to watch after release,) this documentary oozes with pure love for this sport.

Whitewater Summer (1987)

Yet another film on this list to feature Kevin Bacon, Whitewater Summer is a classic 80’s American coming-of-age movie that happens to be centered around a summer camping and hiking adventure in the Sierra Nevada wilderness, (though some scenes were actually filmed on rivers in New Zealand.) This film follows a group of teenage boys, led by Vic their hiking guide – played by Bacon, on an outdoors adventure that includes climbing, hiking and some great whitewater canoeing to propel their journey along.

This lighthearted summer movie is a fun watch for outdoor and whitewater enthusiasts and 80’s movie fans alike. If watching Kevin Bacon navigate a series of whitewater rapids, or listening to a great 80’s soundtrack by American rock-band, Journey, or seeing some fantastic shots of whitewater and waterfalls floats your boat (or canoe,) then this is the film for you!  

Top Photo Credit: Paddy Walker