Survivor Series is the most-maligned of the big five. While it's often spectacular, it doesn't quite hold the same dream-match, all-roads-lead-to-here prestige as WrestleMania or SummerSlam. And just like the Royal Rumble, it's defined by a match type in the form of the annual elimination-tag which doesn't generate nearly the same amount of hype for wrestling fans as the annual Rumble match does. In terms of the big four, it's certainly bottom of the pile.
However, before we write Survivor Series off as a throwback destined for the chopping block let's remember that there have been a number of truly excellent traditional Survivor Series elimination matches in the event's thirty-year history.
Whether it's a case of high stakes, great spots, star-power, unusual combinations of wrestlers that you often wouldn't see working together or hey, why not all of the above, this collection exhibits the very best of Survivor Series warfare, with most of WWE's eras represented.
Comparing a Survivor Series match of the modern era to a golden era bout, each period having its own unique booking hangups and agendas, has been fascinating. Hey, you'll laugh, you'll learn and at some point, even in matches that are considered classics, you wonder, “oh god why did they do that?!”
Speaking of which...
10. Team Flair Vs. Team Piper – 1991
Ric Flair, The Mountie, The Warlord & Ted DiBiase vs. Roddy Piper, Bret Hart, Virgil & The British Bulldog
This is a tricky one. On one hand, it featured six of the best workers of the early 1990s (also Virgil and The Warlord were there) going 20+ minutes, but on the other, it's lumbered with one of the worst finishes in the history of the five-on-five.
Let's start with the positives. Flair was in the WWF! This was The Nature Boy's first PPV and he was mixing it up with Roddy Piper of all people. Isn't that nice? It was a dream meeting of two of wrestling's gabbiest anti-heroes and the crowd was understandably cock-a-hoop at the prospect. Second, the match felt epic; there were no rushed eliminations. In fact, the first fall didn't come until 10 minutes in. The match built and built, and the fans' anticipation for eliminations reached a fever pitch as each man left it all in the ring. Also, Ric Flair was the sole survivor on his first WWF PPV, which again, is nice, isn't it?
However, choosing to wrestle in this style meant that, unless the match was going to go 60 minutes (and who can say it won't when Ric Flair is involved) then the rate of eliminations really needed to speed up, and, well, they did. The finish saw Ric Flair be dumped to the outside and the remaining five men brawl in the ring. They brawled so much that the ref DQ'd everyone in the ring, leaving Flair, who was on the outside, the sole survivor.
That's certainly one way to make Flair 1-0 on WWF PPVs, I guess? The flat ending compromised a match that was slowly turning into an all-time great and sees something that, by rights, should be in the top five, come in bottom of a still-very-good list.
9. Team Strike Force Vs. Team Hart Foundation – 1987
Strike Force, The Rougeau Brothers, The Killer Bees, The Young Stallions & The British Bulldogs vs. The Hart Foundation, The Bolsheviks, The Islanders, The Dream Team & Demolition
There were no storylines or stakes heading into Survivor Series 1987 so WWE decided to throw together this 20-man tag team match. You read that correctly. This was no Battle Royal, this was a 20-man tag team match. If anything, credit to those in charge way back when for stacking a division with so many teams. This really was a golden era of tag team competition.
Anyway, the action was a mess, but what a beautiful mess it was.
The match went 37 minutes and the lads filled their time with showstopping choreography. Dynamite Kid and Haku went mental on each other with chops; Jim Powers Sunset-flipped into the ring to pin a submission-attempting Greg Valentine, while Davey Boy Smith did a lot of strong things and a great many moves off the top rope. It's hard to keep up with but if you want to remind yourself of tag team wrestling's heyday, it more than merits a watch.
8. Team Shield Vs. Team Mysterio - 2013
Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Cesaro & Jack Swagger vs. Cody Rhodes, Goldust, The Usos & Rey Mysterio
This is the bout that's otherwise known as 'that match that Roman Reigns haters really don't want to talk about' because everybody, themselves included, was really rooting for Roman Reigns to overcome the odds and he did and everyone was really, really happy.
On paper, it's a really oddly booked match. The Shield were still technically heels, coming off rivalries with perennial babyfaces The Usos and the Rhodes Brothers. On top of that, the babyfaces had Rey Mysterio, the eternal patron saint of face, as their figurehead. Despite this, The Shield were booked with a numbers disadvantage from the off. After 10 minutes, it was five on two, with Rollins and Reigns being the only guys left standing.
Despite this, the heels put in a heroic performance for the next 15 minutes with Rollins grabbing one pinfall and Reigns somehow eliminating the other four with Spears. The crowd came UNGLUED as Reigns and Rollins gradually clawed it back.
7. Team Hogan Vs. Team Andre - 1987
Hulk Hogan, Bam Bam Bigelow, Ken Patera, Don Muraco & Paul Orndorff vs. Andre The Giant, Rick Rude, Butch Reed, King Kong Bundy and One Man Gang
You can forget the superiority of today's in-ring action, despite living up to the lumbering standards of the day, in terms of sheer, unadulterated hype the first-ever Survivor Series main event has few to rival it.
Not only was this a brand-new PPV format but for the first time since WrestleMania III the fans were getting Hogan vs. Andre. That was a big deal and oh boy did the fans know it. Strong crowd-reactions can turn an otherwise good match into a great match and the fans were molten throughout this main event, lapping up both expected encounters and unexpected (yet shrewd) swerves.
Any fan looking at this match would expect the final two combatants to be Hogan and Andre but, in fact, while the two men did eventually lock up after early teasing, Hogan was counted out after interference from King Kong Bundy and One Man Gang, leaving Bam Bam Bigelow to go it three-on-one. Bam Bam bravely overcame Bundy and Gang but eventually fell to The Giant giving the heels the victory.
While that initially sounds groan-worthy, this booking accomplished three important things. It gave the fans a taste of Hogan/Andre but left the door wide open for their singles rematch to make TV wrestling history, it gave relative newcomer Bam Bam a star-making turn and gave Andre a vital win to even his score with Hogan 1-1 without The Hulkster eating a pin.
Huge stars, a hot crowd and unexpected but smart booking. A true main event.
6. Team Bodydonnas Vs. Team Underdogs – 1995
123 Kid, Skip, Tom Pritchard & Rad Radford vs. Marty Jannetty, Hakushi, Barry Horowitz & Bob Holly
We've gone from main-eventers and huge storytelling to undercarders with no build here and yet somehow this a match that might be better than the Hogan/Andre encounter from earlier in this list. It's often the case that the matches with the least consideration from management often find themselves having the most freedom and, well, with perennial jobbers like Horowitz and Radford involved, you don't get much less considered.
Low on company stock but high on in-ring talent, the eight undercarders exploited the rare minutes afforded them by WWF having an anaemic roster in 1995. A blistering encounter stole the show from their more-valued peers for sure.
The athleticism was off the chart throughout, especially from high-risk maestros like Hakushi, Jannetty, and Kid. The final exchange between Jannetty and Kid, especially, is one of the best in Survivor Series history, with Kid emerging with the much-needed win in his first major match since turning heel.
The match ended up being a huge accomplishment, both in doing wonders for Kid and helping to convince the mid-90s fans that WWF's roster had some depth after all.
5. Team Raw Vs. Team SmackDown - 2005
Shawn Michaels, Kane, Big Show, Chris Masters & Carlito vs. Batista, Rey Mysterio, Bobby Lashley, Randy Orton & JBL
Shawn Michaels and Randy Orton are two of the more reliable performers in the event's history. They're just super good at Survivor Series. Orton is the perfect slippery bastard, weaselling his way out of trouble, striking out with his lightning-quick finisher to take an unfair advantage in the blink of an eye. Michaels is the perfect babyface-in-peril, striking out with his lightning-quick finisher to even the odds in the blink of an eye.
From 2003-05, Randallberry was the sole survivor three years on the trot. He's a very clever snake. For two of those matches, HBK was his final opponent and both of those bouts are fantastic.
This is another one of those Raw vs. SmackDown Survivor Series matches with no real build beyond 'the colour red is better than the colour blue and I'll kill you if you say otherwise'. In-ring, the match had some phenomenal moments, from Michaels Superkicking Rey Mysterio out of mid-air before immediately swatting JBL as well, to World Champ Batista's shocking early elimination; excitement all round for sure.
4. Team Raw Vs. Team SmackDown - 2016
Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns & Braun Strowman vs. Bray Wyatt, AJ Styles, Dean Ambrose, Shane McMahon & Randy Orton
Clocking in at a frankly silly 52 minutes, Raw vs. Smackdown '16 is the longest Survivor Series match of all time and hey, let's given them credit, they brimmed the thing with really good things.
It's wall-to-wall memorable moments, character touches and feud-serving booking. Pretty much every elimination had something going from Strowman hilariously being eliminated in part by his old nemesis James Ellsworth; KO getting himself DQ'd while destroying his 'friend' Y2J's List; Shane O'Mac being Speared out of mid-air so hard that Randy Orton had to take a moment to personally apologise to his kids; the breathtaking Frog Splash-to-RKO elimination of Rollins and The Shield briefly reuniting to Triple-Powerbomb AJ Styles.
Sure there was zero story going into the match and the 'win or I'll be cross with you' stakes imposed on each team were laughable, but MEH. The match had lots of stuff in it, and all of it was fun. Sometimes, that's enough.
3. Team Cena Vs. Team Authority - 2014
John Cena, Dolph Ziggler, The Big Show, Erick Rowan & Ryback vs. Seth Rollins, Rusev, Kane, Mark Henry & Luke Harper
The only way to improve on a blockbuster epic match with no stakes is with a blockbuster epic match with stakes for days, something our top three matches all share in abundance.
Ever since The Dad of Dads, Triple H, Pedigreed Daniel Bryan at SummerSlam 2013, The Authority had been a blight on WWE's overall narrative. While instilling a corporate stable at the top of the card again did create magic by the time confetti poured for D-Bry at WrestleMania 30, come Survivor Series seven months later, Bryan was gone, the Ambrose/Rollins feud was done, and the story had pretty much played itself out. So, when Vince McMahon created the stipulation that should The Authority lose at SS'14 it would disband, it was tantalisingly possible that it could happen.
Few matches are imbued with huge stakes and 50/50 unpredictably and the combination of both created a modern classic. Like Hogan back in 1987, John Cena was shockingly eliminated mid-match, leaving oft-maligned Dolph Ziggler to fill Bam Bam Bigelow's role of gutting it out three-on-one.
Not only did Dolph end up winning it for his team, banishing The Authority, but he did so with the help of a debuting Sting! Sting finally made his way to WWE and even though he had that weird theme when there was nothing wrong with his eery WCW number I don't care. Sting in WWE. Lovely.
Sure, Dolph's star-making turn went nowhere, The Stinger's WWE stint disappointed, and those awful bastards in The Authority returned within a month, but don't think about that. Just focus on the fact that, on that night, what happened was one of the most shocking and colossal Survivor Series endings post-Montreal.
2. Team WWE Vs. Team Alliance - 2001
The Rock, Chris Jericho, The Undertaker, Kane & The Big Show vs. Steve Austin, Kurt Angle, Booker T, Shane McMahon & Rob Van Dam
Of 10 possible entrants in this match, only TWO were actually representative of outside promotions, which speaks volumes as to the total misfire that was the Invasion storyline. However, with that being said, LOOK AT THE STARPOWER IN THAT MATCH!
Look at it. Look at those names. Austin, Rock, Taker, Kane, RVD, Angle, Jericho, it is stuffed full of top-shelf talent. Add to that genuinely astronomical stakes and this match ended up being the best possible ending to a bad, bad story. Whichever side won, the other's company would go out of business and months of build culminated in one of the most important-feeling matches of the decade.
It might have been slightly marred by over-booking in places – Angle's face turn was a muddying addition to the finish – but it's hard to deny just how electric the fans were for the whole bout. From Shane McMahon's constant interference early on, to Jericho's betrayal, to JR and Paul Heyman's inspired performances on commentary, it was perhaps the most storytelling-crammed, epic-feeling Survivor Series match ever.
1. Team Bischoff Vs. Team Austin - 2003
Shawn Michaels, The Dudley Boys, Booker T & Rob Van Dam vs. Randy Orton, Chris Jericho, Christian, Mark Henry & Scott Steiner
This is the best Survivor Series match of all time. It has everything you could possibly want. Epic length, constant action, brilliant performances, genuine gut-punch emotion, and massive stakes. It has no faults. There is nothing wrong with it.
The story going in was that if Steve Austin's team failed to pick up the victory, then he would be forced to stand down as co-GM and, for all the audience knew, retire. However, if his team won, then he was free and clear to start whuppin' ass again, having previously been placed on a no ass-whuppin' diet. The TEXAS Rattlesnake's career hung in the balance, his team was captained by old rival and fellow TEXAN, Shawn Michaels, and the match took place in TEXAS. What I'm trying to say is the crowd was into it and then some.
Only the most special of matches connect with an audience so thoroughly that their reactions line-up perfectly with the theatrical high emotion of commentary. Staunch Austin fan Jim Ross narrated Shawn Michaels' peril beautifully as he found him bloodied, exhausted and battling a three-on-one disadvantage. Just in case you haven't seen it, this is the one match on this list that I'm definitely not going to spoil because the last 10 minutes of it are some of the best theatre of the 2000s. Watch it immediately.