The Donner Party (2009)

R  |   |  Drama  |  23 October 2009 (USA)
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Ratings: 5.1/10 from 755 users  
Reviews: 21 user | 5 critic

Based on the real events of The Donner Party tragedy. The Donner Party was a group of California-bound American settlers caught up in the western expansion of the 1840s. After becoming ... See full summary »


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Cast overview:
William Foster
William Eddy
Amanda McCutchen
Franklin Graves
Patrick Dolan
Ann Fosdick
Eleanor Eddy
Milt McCutchen
Jay Fosdick
Mary Graves
Sarah Foster


Based on the real events of The Donner Party tragedy. The Donner Party was a group of California-bound American settlers caught up in the western expansion of the 1840s. After becoming snowbound in the Sierra Nevada during the winter of 1846-1847, a number of the trapped settlers joined together in a final effort to reach California and organize a rescue party. Written by Anacapa Entertainment

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Survival Lies Within



Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for some violence

Parents Guide:



Official Sites:



Release Date:

23 October 2009 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Forlorn  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Did You Know?


After the group leaves with Stanton, when Graves attacks Fosdick, Fosdick's hat falls off as they hit the ground. When the camera angle changes, it's back on his head. Then when the camera angle changes again, it's gone. See more »

Crazy Credits

The last two minutes of credits are accompanied only by the sound of a strong wind. See more »


Referenced in Zombies: A Living History (2011) See more »

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User Reviews

Desperate Circumstances Call For Desperate Measures
28 September 2011 | by (Niagara Region, Ontario, Canada) – See all my reviews

Not being by any means an expert on the story of the Donner Party, I've nevertheless done some reading on the subject. It's one of the truly tragic stories of American history that should probably be better known than it is. I stumbled upon this movie quite by chance and decided to give it a go. The criticisms that I've read of it are - strangely - both accurate and unfair. It's true that there were some liberties taken with the story. This is by no means a documentary about this incident. If that's what you want, there are books and documentaries to be consulted. This is Hollywood entertainment - and apparently low budget entertainment as well. The film-makers had to deal with some significant production issues. Given some of the challenges they faced, I thought this turned out to be a workable movie that will hopefully whet the appetite of viewers for more information about this rather famous incident in American history. Yes, I know that some will see this and assume that because they've seen it they know everything about the subject. That's unfortunate, but it doesn't take away the fact that in general terms this portrayal of the story worked fairly well.

Some criticize it for not being "interesting" enough. I'm not sure what those critics wanted. The liberties that were taken were done to inject a spark into the movie, and the movie is already criticized for doing that. This is a movie about desperate people facing desperate circumstances. It's not an action-thriller. It depicts the plight of the travellers. Some criticize it for a lack of character development. The funny thing is that's something I liked about this. I suppose an extra 30-60 minutes could have been added on to this to show the group gathering in Independence, Missouri and getting to know each other and travelling happily across the plains. Now that would have been dull. Instead, we pick up the party already in desperate circumstances. Perhaps the struggle of the trek through the Great Salt Desert would have been interesting. Aside from that (and it would have been difficult to jump from that to the point at which the movie actually started, and cumbersome to include the intervening time) I was happy enough with the story. It's true that perhaps the lack of character development meant we had little emotional connection to the characters, but the story was about the group and its plight and what it finally drove them to, not about the individuals.

The material about cannibalism was, I thought, handled sensitively. It's often over-emphasized and sensationalized in tales about the Donner Party, almost as if there was a cannibalistic feeding frenzy that went on among them. In fact, it was a desperate, last resort when there was literally no other source of food. In that sense, this is a bit reminiscent of the movie "Alive" which also dealt with the issue of cannibalism in desperate circumstances, although "Alive" had a much more spiritual sense to it.

Basically, I thought this was well done. (7/10)

8 of 12 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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It was good, but not accurate at all. allison_young02
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