A pioneer of the survival film subgenre and an unforgettably unpleasant work, “Deliverance” is as gripping today as it was in 1972. The film follows four businessmen – memorably played by Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Jon Voight and Ronny Cox – as they venture into the Georgia wilderness, only to find they are being hunted. “Deliverance” sometimes borders on the borderline of exploitation, as with its infamous rape scene, but it also makes viewers feel the tamped dread with startlingly perfect clarity. As the group heads downstream, their fear mounts all the way. The further they get away from the civilized world they know, the more helpless they become.
“Deliverance” is a story of man against nature that has inspired many who have followed it, including several on this list. Its banjo-playing streak, in particular, is so ubiquitous that it’s been parodied by everyone from Steve Martin and Kermit the Frog to the Tiny Toons. But in the context of the film, the banjo duel turns into a bad omen, a sign that there is something strange and off-putting about the rural people whose territory has been violated by these men. Like much of the best wilderness horror that follows, “Deliverance” imagines a natural hierarchy in which city dwellers, disconnected from the world around them, are doomed the moment they step off the beaten track. (Valerie Ettenhofer)