The two movies, Dawn Wall and Free Solo, probably blew your mind the first time you watched them. And you can’t seem to point out which one is better than the other. You probably have questions that are stuck or rather enchanted. Dawn Wall vs Free Solo – which is the best?

Relax. By the end of this article, you will get all the answers to your questions and concerns about the Dawn Wall vs Free Solo movies. And to the mortal climbers worldwide, these two great movies give both entertainment and act as motivation.

Dawn Wall vs Free Solo: Which is the Best?

Which is the best documentary between the Dawn Wall and Free Solo? This is a question many people ask after watching the two movies. It would be unfair to point out one over the other, but the verdict must come out at the end of the day.

To tell the truth, these are the most exceptional climbing movies in history (before the release of The Alpinist in 2022, featuring the incredible solo climber Marc-Andre Leclerc); no wonder the battle is between just the two of them.

Free Solo Best Climbing Documentary

Defining these two climbing movies by their success, though they both have high review ratings from the approved sites, Free Solo takes the trophy.

It generated more revenue, won an Oscar award, and stayed longer than the Dawn Wall in theatres. Free Solo won the Oscar for the best documentary feature on Sunday at the 91st Academy Awards.

What Exactly Brings out the Difference in Free Solo and Dawn Wall?

Though there are several similarities between the two documentaries Free Solo and Dawn Wall, there are still five different ways you can tell the difference between Free Solo and Dawn Wall, listed below.

  1. The climbing styles used in Free Solo and Dawn Wall
  2. Different climbers
  3. The route for the two movies Freerider vs Dawn Wall
  4. The box office and accolades
  5. The response from the public

1) The climbing styles used in Free Solo and Dawn Wall

The difference in their climbing styles is pronounced in the movies. The Free Solo movie featuring Alex Honnold took a hazardous climbing style, free soloing, which gave him fame.

Free soloing means that Alex Honnold climbs without protecting himself from the possible harm staring at him in the process. 

This climbing style is quite risky, and only a few brave climbers attempt it. Imagine being meters high above the ground, depending solely on your skills, chalk, and shoes to keep you on the wall. This style is so scary, but Alex Honnold pulls it out smoothly without fear.

On the other hand, the Dawn Wall movie featuring these two great climbers, Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell, took a completely different climbing style, perhaps to stand out. 

They opted for a free ascent, meaning that they climbed up with climbing ropes and harnesses, but only to protect them in case they fall, and not to assist progress. This is the first free ascent of the Dawn Wall on Yosemite’s El Capitan.

They both took positions to guide each other up the wall, each covering 32 pitches. Further, get to understand what is free climbing vs. free soloing.

2) Different climbers

I don’t know if you noticed that the climbers from these two movies were different. If you didn’t, let me assure you that they were. These climbing movies feature the three most excellent athletes in this community, Alex Honnold in Free Solo and Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell in Dawn Wall. 

They all deserve all the honors since they put their fair share of time climbing those walls. You’ll agree with me that it is not an easy task, and it’s risky too.

The star of the Free Solo movie – Alex Honnold – is a Yosemite veteran who dedicated himself to traveling across the country to some of the best US climbing sites.

Dawn Wall Documentary

After Alex left his studies at the University of California, where he studied civil engineering, he entirely concentrated on his climbing career.

He went straight to live in his mother’s minivan from the university, which enabled him to move across the country to practice with ease.

Alex never looked back from there; his career brought success upon success, his daring free soloing ascents continue to wow many, the reason he is still the best climber to date.

The Half Dome, Too Big to Flail, and Moonlight buttress are among the many movies that awarded him more rankings on popular sites.

If there is anyone that can come close to Alex in this field is Caldwell. These two are good buddies outside sports, by the way.

They have such a strong bond based on the adventures they’ve had in the past together, breaking the record for the nose speed and scaling the Fitz Roy Traverse.

For over two decades, Tommy Caldwell has successfully climbed up some of the big walls that are deemed hard to climb. Like on El Cape alone, he did the first six ascents.

Though Kevin is a world-class climber, he can’t come close to what Alex and Tommy have achieved. He has some notable ascents like the Ambrosia, the Damned, and the many Highball Boulder Climbs.

3) The route for the two movies Freerider vs Dawn Wall

The only common thing between the Free Solo and Dawn Wall routes is the fact that they were both on the El Capitan. The duo, Kevin and Tommy, attempted a free ascent for the first time after planning for six years from the Dawn Wall movie.

Dawn Wall Route

The route taken by the Dawn Wall is considered the most difficult in Yosemite world, which is up the south-eastern part of the El Capitan.

This route is also the most challenging big wall ever climbed worldwide. These two did a fantastic job taking this route.

The route taken by Alex Honnold in Free Solo is entirely different from that of Dawn Wall. His is some kind of iconic line known as the Freerider.

The Freerider route comes from way back in 1998, created by the Huber brothers to the world. Compared to the Dawn Wall route, the Free Solo route (Freerider) is the easiest climb.

4) The box office and accolades

The two movies both received their fair share of honor and made some fortune in the process. Looking at the Dawn Wall, it won several awards, but these two awards stood out; the SXSW film festival award and PGA Awards.

Besides awards, this documentary continues to make some good money too. It garnered up to 1.6 million dollars box office worldwide in 2018.

The Dawn Wall movie has indeed been a success, but the success of Free Solo supersedes it. The Free Solo documentary received more money and awards.

If you look at the four months this movie played at the cinemas across the country alone, the money generated was 28.6 million dollars, which is much more than what was collected from the Dawn Wall both locally and worldwide.

Away from the US, this documentary did well in China, collecting over 5 million dollars, and in the UK, making 1.3 million dollars box office.

What about the number of awards the Free Solo won? It had a total of 22 nominations, out of which it won 14. What a success! The awards that stood out for the Free Solo team are BAFTA, EMMY, and of course, the Oscar award.

5) The response from public

The public and the climbing family’s response to these films was encouraging and discouraging, which is typical for anything attracting people’s attention.

You always get both bad and good vibes from people, which is good since they express their honest opinions.

Free Solo Moments

For the Dawn Wall film, the criticism was because the team didn’t display more of the crux pitches on their route as the public anticipated.

To them, it was a disappointment since the team overlooked it. Alex Honnold’s Free Solo film wasn’t spared either. The comments were both demeaning and motivating in equal measures.

This comes not as a surprise since the movie displayed what the public, both the climbers and ordinary people, didn’t expect.

It was mind-blowing, to say the least, with the most famous newspaper in the country, the New York Times, referring to it as the most incredible athletics feats ever witnessed in climbing history.

Many people were also not impressed by the climbing style shown in the Free Solo movie as they considered it careless on Honnold’s side and risky. This is evident from how Cliff bars canceled his sponsorship from all the free soloists, including Alex.

When asked about why he ended his relationship with Alex, Cliff said that Alex’s climbing style is quite dangerous.

People also thought that he might influence other upcoming climbers into trying the free-soloing style, endangering their lives since they aren’t qualified enough.

What Came First – the Dawn Wall or Free Solo?

Free Solo movie came first as it was released on August 31, 2018, where the Dawn Wall movie was released on September 14, 2018

Was the Dawn Wall a free solo?

No, the Dawn Wall is not a free solo climb. It is free climbing (free ascent) meaning that the climbers used climbing ropes and harnesses, but only to protect them in case they fall, and not to assist progress.

Did Alex Honnold Do the Dawn Wall?

No, Alex Honnold didn’t climb the Dawn Wall. So far, only three climbers have climbed the Dawn Wall – Tommy Caldwell, Kevin Jorgeson, and Adam Ondra.

What Wall Did Alex Honnold in Free Solo?

In Free Solo, Alex Honnold climbed El Capitan in Yosemite Valley (USA) using the “Freerider” route without a rope or a belay. As a result of climbing this 1,000-metre wall, free solo, he became famous outside of climbing circles, and his documentary about it won an Academy Award.

Was Tommy Caldwell the First to Climb the Dawn Wall?

Yes, Tommy Caldwell, together with Kevin Jorgeson are the first to climb the Dawn Wall in a free ascent.


Putting these two movies together isn’t a walk in the park. The stars undoubtedly deserve both our respect and praise; they both did a fantastic job.

El Cape was a challenge these climbers took positively; though hard, they were determined to concur, and they did, with each team taking a different approach.

If there’s one thing we all need to emulate from these movies is the perseverance these great men had. With determination, you can achieve absolutely anything you set your mind on.

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