Survivor Series has stood the test of time, second only to WrestleMania, as WWE’s longest-running annual PPV event. With a long history and the unique feature of often spotlighting elimination tag team matches, the event has played host to its share of memorable matches and moments.
This article takes a look back at the ten best main events in the show’s history. Narrowing Survivor Series’ over three decades of history to ten matches required some tough cuts. Just missing the list is the historically important main event from 1997 that culminated in the Montreal Screwjob as Bret Hart left WWE for WCW. For as iconic and historically important as this match would become, the bell to bell action itself didn’t quite qualify it for the top ten.
10 Daniel Bryan Vs. Brock Lesnar (2018)
In 2018, WWE followed its new tradition of featuring interbrand matches that focused on champions facing counterparts from the opposing show. Less than a week before the event, Daniel Bryan turned heel to steal the WWE Championship from AJ Styles, and in so doing, punched his ticket for the main event match with Brock Lesnar.
Given the talents of the men involved, it’s no surprise that this match would be good. The additional wrinkle of Bryan’s heel lent a fresh angle to the match. After taking a beating, the newly cunning champ unabashedly delivered a low blow to Lesnar to take control of the action, delivering a fresh spin on the monster Lesnar vs. undersized underdog narrative.
9 The Rock Vs. Mankind (1998)
The Survivor Series main event between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels in 1997 became legendary because of a real-world situation. Hart was on his way out of the company and refused to drop the title to someone who was no only his on-screen but also real-life rival. One year later, WWE coopted the narrative for a totally worked situation which Mr. McMahon screwed not Hart, but rather Mankind.
The WWE Championship was vacant and in a tournament final main event, Mankind seemed to be the chosen one of the powers that be. However, in a masterful swerve, The Rock - who had been working as a face - became the top heel in the company when McMahon gifted him the title instead. While the match doesn’t come across as great in a vacuum, it is a testament to both men’s skill that they played their parts so well, particularly the Rock edging heel before revealing the master plan.
8 John Cena Vs. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels (2009)
In lieu of more obvious programs and in a bit of a holding pattern to build to DX vs. Chris Jericho and The Big Show at the TLC PPV, WWE thought outside the box in booking twin world title Triple Threat Matches for Survivor Series 2009. The Undertaker fended off Show and Jericho, while John Cena faced the no less daunting task of squaring off against Triple H and Shawn Michaels.
The talent involved would imply a good match, but this encounter was especially fun for how it started. Rather than DX working together only to begrudgingly split off in pursuit of the title down the road, HBK immediately KOed The Game with a superkick to make the match one-on-one early on. It was a shocking moment and set the tone of unpredictable action that would follow.
7 Team Raw Vs. Team SmackDown (2005)
WWE has on a number of occasions revisited the theme of casting teams from opposing brands against one another at Survivor Series. Few instances were more successful than when the big names from Raw and SmackDown collided in 2005.
This was a well-worked, fast-paced bout, with the red brand’s face monsters, Kane and The Big Show edging heel to counteract SmackDown’s big man trio of Batista, Bobby Lashley, and JBL. There was a fun dynamic in play, though, of the wrestlers maintaining their face-heel alignment, and the dynamics of the match shifting depending who was still in play at the time. In the end, Randy Orton got the biggest rub as the sole survivor, only to be confronted by a returning Undertaker.
6 Bret Hart Vs. Shawn Michaels (1992)
Five years before their far more infamous match in 1997, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels worked their first PPV main event opposite one another at Survivor Series 1992. Hart was still a new WWE Champion, while Michaels had recently won the Intercontinental Championship, besting the man who’d taken that title from Hart, The British Bulldog.
Given each man’s place in the company - with The Hitman newly positioned as the face of WWE and HBK still finding his footing as a singles wrestler - the outcome of the match wasn’t really in doubt. Nonetheless, Hart and Michaels made a case for themselves as the vanguard of a new crop of talent for WWE that was smaller, faster, and more technical than their predecessors in this forgotten classic.
5 Batista Vs. The Undertaker (2007)
Hell in a Cell has over two decades of history behind it, and at Survivor Series 2007, it was the stage for Batista and The Undertaker to wage war over the World Heavyweight Championship. The two had had a lengthy rivalry leading up to this point and it made complete sense for things to come to a head inside the Cell. That an injured Edge would return added a fresh level of intrigue.
The Rated R Superstar immediately became both a player in the title picture and a prospective rival for The Undertaker when he cost The Dead Man the title. While purists will balk at outside interference affecting the finish of a Hell in a Cell match, this was a case of strong booking to protect everyone and push a new angle forward.
4 The Elimination Chamber (2002)
The Elimination Chamber has become a fixture on the WWE landscape. The first iteration happened in 2002, though, when Triple H defended his World Heavyweight Championship against five contenders. Combining some of the Survivor Series tradition of elimination matches, with elements of War Games’ staggered entries, the concept had promise. Like most major gimmick matches, though, the Chamber needed a strong match to put it over.
The original Elimination Chamber stands the test of time as one of the best ones. Not only Triple H, but Chris Jericho, Booker T, Rob Van Dam, and Kane were all at or around the top of their game. And then there was Shawn Michaels, still relatively newly returned. That he would win one more world title here and do so in wonderfully dramatic fashion by pinning Triple H, went a long way toward making the Chamber a success.
3 Hulk Hogan’s Team Vs. Andre The Giant’s Team (1987)
The very first edition of Survivor Series went head to head with the NWA’s Starrcade event. The main event match featured some of the biggest names in wrestling, and in particular, capitalized on the huge draw of Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant doing battle again. WWE shrewdly recognized that there was only so much smoke and mirrors that could protect this match. Situating both men with teams went a long way toward making this contest feel epic, while also protecting Andre, in particular, as his physical health deteriorated.
This masterfully booked match saw not Hogan, but rather a new recruit named Bam Bam Bigelow as the last survivor on the face team. He put on a terrific fight against three-on-one odds opposite Andre, King Kong Bundy, and The One Man Gang, pulling off back to back eliminations to go one on one with the Giant. That Andre wound up winning preserved his spot as the top heel and top contender for the world title, while Bigelow’s run at the end positioned him as a fringe main event guy in his own right.
2 Team WWE Vs. The Alliance (2001)
The story of WCW and ECW invading WWE in 2001 largely fell flat. When WWE set up a climactic match between its top stars and The Alliance for Survivor Series, it carried a very real concern that this match would less pay off the angle than keep it going past its expiration date.
However, this did wind up being the end of the Alliance as Team WWE won the day. The match was nothing if not convoluted, including Kurt Angle and Chris Jericho each betraying their teams and the quirk of Shane McMahon pestering Team WWE with continual interference to break up pins in the early stages of the bout. The chaos largely spoke to the time, though, as WWE played off the final gasps of Attitude Era mayhem for arguably the best match of the entire InVasion angle.
1 Team Cena Vs. Team Authority (2014)
The prospect of John Cena leading a group of faces against The Authority seemed to ensure an entertaining enough match, if not a super exciting story. The results pleasantly surprised just about everyone.
There were twists, like The Big Show KOing Mark Henry seconds into the bout and Show later turning heel to help the heels when he didn’t feel like his face team stood a chance. There was Dolph Ziggler, working as the unlikely last man standing for the face team after Cena's surprise elimination. But then there was the biggest swerve of all, as Sting made his surprise debut to cost The Authority the match. It was a quality bout with legitimate surprises, long term storyline implications, and a particularly stellar performance from Ziggler, all adding up to the best Survivor Series main event to date.