Adventure Movies

10 Best Adventure Movies from the 1960s, Ranked

March 3, 202412 Mins Read

Adventure movies are never out of fashion. They can be dramatic, comical, or very serious, but adventures are something many people crave; escaping real life for an hour or two is the reason this genre is popular among children and adults alike. Since most of our parents and grandparents can remember, they would list movies like The Three Musketeers and Robin Hood as stuff they grew up watching. Those are the movies many younger viewers watched with their families, too, and many of them inspired kids to enjoy and love film.

Some of the best movies of all time are adventures, and others have even won Best Picture Oscars. To those successful, and less successful ones, there’s a lot to thank for, but mainly for keeping people’s spirits and imaginations alive. Some fantastic cult classics were made in the 1960s, and for watchers looking to dive deeper into the genre, this is a good decade to start. From boundary-moving science fiction to wartime epics, there’s an adventure for every type of movie lover.

10 ‘Barbarella’ (1968)

A sci-fi adventure starring Jane Fonda

Is it even possible to talk about famous adventure movies from the 1960s without mentioning Barbarella? Science fiction has been a lasting and defining genre, with most adventures bordering on a visually rich sci-fi premise. Barbarella‘s plot may not be all too gripping, but the movie itself is defining for numerous reasons. It was, firstly, defining for Jane Fonda, who became a global superstar and sex symbol because of it. As if this is not enough of an influence, Barbarella is now a cult classic that inspires numerous cosplayers to dress up as this 41st-century Earth warrior and has even inspired Jean Paul Gaultier to create film costumes.

Barbarella is about an Earth soldier/astronaut of the same name who travels to a galaxy far away to stop the criminal scientist Durand Durand from spreading his evil to other worlds. In many ways innocent and lovely, Barbarella is also independent and curious. Though many modern critics and viewers might find the movie tasteless, the director, Roger Vadim, still made it a visual feast for the eyes with superb special effects and costume design. Maybe just don’t plan a family movie night around this film – its official rating is X.

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9 ‘That Man from Rio’ (1964)

A French comedy adventure starring Jean-Paul Belmondo

There was a rising popularity of James Bond movies during the 1960s, but there were just as many spoofs, parodies, and films inspired by the Bond series. If any French actor was meant to be the looser, raunchier version of Bond, it was surely the young Jean-Paul Belmondo. That Man from Rio is an entertaining and fast-paced action-adventure set in the frequently romanticized Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

Belmondo plays Adrien Dufourquet, an airman planning to spend his leave in Paris with his fiancée Agnès (Françoise Dorléac). Agnès’s friend works as an art curator in a museum where a mysterious Amazonian statue, believed to carry the key to hidden treasures in the Amazon, is stolen. Agnès is kidnapped together with her friend, and Adrien sees this. He decides to follow and save his fiancée, ending up in Rio. Belmondo displays incredible charm as the leading man, all while doing his own stunts. It’s apparent why he was so important to the French New Wave and cinema in general. Explosions, stolen treasures, and epic jungle adventures make way for one of the most entertaining movies of the 1960s.

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8 ‘The Great Race’ (1965)

A comedy adventure with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon

Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy… Curtis and Lemmon? Though they only made two movies together and never performed as an official duo, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon were a fantastic pair that drew comedy and adventure out of each other. As Tony Curtis once recalled the time when he was filming Some Like It Hot with Jack Lemmon, the two would hold hands while getting their hair and makeup done. Almost half a decade later, they made the most expensive comedy of that time and engaged in the most epic pie fight on film (with 4,000 pies used).

The Great Race shows The Great Leslie (Curtis), a beloved hero, and Professor Fate (Lemmon), a dastardly villain, taking on the biggest challenge of their lives – to win the infatuation of a woman (Natalie Wood). The Great Leslie challenges Professor Fate to a car race from New York to Paris, devising a plan for a car company to make a special vehicle for this event.

This epic slapstick comedy was directed by the most entertaining director of the time, Blake Edwards, who mentioned being inspired by Laurel and Hardy and the 1908 New York to Paris Race. This combo makes The Great Race a guaranteed combination of world adventures and comic relief, wrapped in Curtis and Lemmon’s palpable co-lead chemistry.

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7 ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ (1963)

Based on the myth of Jason, starring Gary Raymond

An underrated classic gem and a real definition of an adventure film, Jason and the Argonauts takes one of the most famous Greek myths and turns it into an immensely entertaining and encapsulating movie experience. Jason is a Greek mythological hero, commander of the company called Argonauts, and the seeker of the legendary Golden Fleece.

This mythical journey is one of the most famous Greek stories, and one often retold through TV movies, series, and silver screen spectacles.

Despite all the versions sailing out there (pun intended), the 1963 version directed by Don Chaffey is now considered a cult classic and the best depiction of the incredible sea adventures of Jason. What separates this film from the rest is the stop-motion animation created by Ray Harryhausen. His prowess in this field makes Jason and the Argonauts a movie well beyond its time; the effects are incredible and nostalgic, but worthy of study and praise to this day. Whether it’s the energetic skeleton army or the colossal Talos fight, this is an adventure worth watching over and over.

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6 ‘The Time Machine’ (1960)

Based on an H.G. Wells novella, starring Rod Taylor

Another exceptional sci-fi and stop-motion marvel, the movie simply called The Time Machine, waltzes in as one of the greatest adventure movies of the 20th century. Partly because it was based on an H.G. Wells novella of the same name, and in other parts, because of the fascinating stop-motion and special effects that make the movie feel ahead of its time. The Time Machine depicts a passionate scientist inventing a creative and complex time machine, fueled by the hunger to find out what the future holds.

However, when the scientist succeeds in his experiment and visits the distant future, it’s not exactly what he pictured. There, he learns, people are divided into two types of humans – the ones who have it easy dwelling in the light, and others, more sinister, dwelling in the darkness. The film’s director, George Pal, was consistently praised for incorporating breathtaking stop-motion work into film; he used it to portray the visuals of time travel, including special effects. The Time Machine won an Oscar for Best Special Effects in 1961, so it’s one of the more successful sci-fi adventures of the 1960s.

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5 ‘The Guns of Navarone’ (1961)

Action adventure with Gregory Peck and Anthony Quinn

The Guns of Navarone is one of those movies people enjoy from the very first to the last moment. This war adventure is as entertaining as it is superbly acted, with the likes of Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, and David Niven portraying brave Army officers going undercover to save around 2000 soldiers trapped on the fictional island of Navarone from getting bombed. Like in many ensemble movies, the plot requires one man in charge to assemble a skilled crew that will join him on a very important mission.

Anthony Quinn dazzles as the Greek Army member Andrea Stavros, with his intimidating presence reminiscent of Javier Bardem nowadays. Gregory Peck is, as always, stylish and slick, while David Niven provides interesting comic relief to the mix. The Guns of Navarone is a WWII-themed race against time and the prototype movie for numerous similar action premises filmed today; director J. Lee Thompson set a high bar for future wartime adventures. It’s no wonder, then, that it was nominated for Best Picture, Screenplay, Sound, Editing, and Director at the 1962 Oscars.

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4 ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World’ (1963)

A treasure hunt adventure with Spencer Tracy

What’s more adventurous than a treasure hunt? The characters in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Worldtruly go mad once they find out there’s a hidden treasure – or a suitcase full of stolen cash, in this case – somewhere out there. Fans of 2001’s ensemble film Rat Race might particularly enjoy the slapstick chase adventure that marked the comedy genre in the 1960s. Spencer Tracy leads the great ensemble and is joined by legendary comedians, including Milton Berle, Mickey Rooney, and Ethel Merman.

A series of gags, spoofs, and funny encounters make this trip across America a hilarious adventure, but what makes it even more entertaining is the lineup of colorful characters from all wakes of life. This is pretty much an all-American adventure, great to gather around the TV with family and enjoy it all together. The movie is rated G for general audiences and was introduced as one of the 100 greatest comedies by the American Film Institute.

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3 ‘Planet of the Apes’ (1968)

A cult classic adventure starring Charlton Heston

A feature film with an incredible legacy, Franklin J. Schaffner‘s Planet of the Apes was an instant hit. For those of us who haven’t personally experienced what it was like to be alive during the 1960s and see the rise of science fiction dystopia, movies like this one can teleport us back and show how the genre was envisioned then. Planet of the Apes was based on a novel by Pierre Boulle (who wrote another book that inspired a cult classic – The Bridge over the River Kwai), and the film is said to be only loosely based on it.

This was, seemingly, due to production attempts to fit the budget. Charlton Heston plays an astronaut who’s part of a crew that crash-lands onto a planet where ape-like people are in charge, holding humans as slaves. The combination of this premise where apes are the dominant species, the stunning costume design, and the flawless sound engineering inspired awe in people’s minds at the time. However, all these elements have stood the test of time, showing why Planet of the Apes is one of the most amazing adventure movies out there. Its franchise still lives, though its movies jump from offensive to revolutionary.

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2 ‘The Great Escape’ (1963)

An exciting historical adventure starring Steve McQueen

Another WWII-based epic, The Great Escape, is the quintessential adventure movie. It has everything – action, plotting, rebellion, patriotism, amusement, thrills and twists. The movie takes place in a POW camp, where around 250 American soldiers are imprisoned and watched by the German forces. As they announce adding extra reinforcements to the camp to prevent escapes, one small group of crafty men sees that as a challenge rather than a disadvantage.

Steve McQueen superbly leads the talented cast as The Cooler King – a nickname he well deserved; his usually rebellious and somewhat funny demeanor adds to the allure of the adventurous Great Escape. Next to McQueen, James Garner steps into the role of a man who can get his hands on anything, and the brawny Charles Bronson stars as the tunnel-digging master. The Great Escape possesses the exact formula to be equally entertaining and serious in retelling parts of the truth, as the story was based on Paul Brickhill‘s book of the same name written as a first-person account of the events. The movie was loosely based on the book, but is still an admirable wartime adventure.

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1 ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (1962)

A 227-minute spectacle with Peter O’Toole

The greatest adventure movie of the 1960s, and possibly of all time, the colossal Lawrence of Arabia stands the test of time. Despite its hefty runtime of 227 minutes (3 hours and 47 minutes), the viewers are completely immersed in the spectacle from start to finish. This story was based on the autobiography of the British army officer T.E. Lawrence who spent World War I in Arabia, as an advisor to Bedouins during the Arab Revolt.

Peter O’Toole steps into the role of T.E. Lawrence, depicting him as somewhat egotistical, but highly proactive and insightful when it comes to military tactics. While Lawrence of Arabia is a historical and biographical drama, the magnitude of such a larger-than-life story has to be classified as nothing less than an adventure. This spectacle was filmed in Jordan, Spain, and Morocco, and CinemaScope was used to transfer the experience onto screens, making the movie exceptionally immersive and visually stunning. Although movies filmed with 65mm cameras should be seen in cinemas to get the complete experience, Lawrence of Arabia can be enjoyed with the family on a bigger TV, during a cozy, adventure-ready weekend.

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NEXT: The 10 Best Adventurers in Movies, Ranked

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