Adventure Movies

10 Best Adventure Movies of the 1970s

March 10, 202412 Mins Read

The Big Picture

  • Some famous adventure movies of the 1970s have thriller elements, reflecting the era’s darker turns and socio-political turmoil.
  • The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and Superman were box office hits, proving that adventure movies can be timeless and always in fashion.
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Jaws are renowned for blending adventure, comedy, thrills, and action in unique and entertaining ways.

Much like the 1960s, the 1970s were full of adventure movies entertaining people of all ages. However, as this decade brought forth some of the greatest horror movies of all time, so havethe movies in other genres taken darker turns, too – and this includes some famous fantasy and action films. Most are still family-friendly, but some of the more famous adventure movies of the 1970s have thriller elements.

This dramatic change was due to the rising war themes (especially amid and after the Vietnam War), cinematic exploration of genre blending, and introduction of socio-political turmoil into various movie topics. Both fans who love a carefree adventure and those who enjoy their grittier sides can enjoy the best action adventures of this decade to get their fix and expand their cinematic knowledge.

10 ‘The Golden Voyage of Sinbad’ (1973)

A fantasy adventure based on an Arabian Nights tale

The master of 20th-century stop-motion animation, Ray Harryhausen, produced special effects for many popular movies in his career. The genre he tackled most was adventure, and he did it masterfully. Besides the memorable Jason and the Argonauts, Harryhausen wrote and created special stop-motion effects for The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. This exciting movie depicts the ship captain Sinbad on a journey with his crew; when one night a mysterious flying creature drops an amulet onto their ship, the crew tries to decide what to do with it. Their first instinct is to throw it away, but Sinbad decides to wear it around his neck instead.

This gives Sinbad visions of the future in his sleep, as he and his crew take on various enemies and fantastical creatures. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad is one of three movies about Sinbad’s adventures from the Arabian Nights tales. This one is unique for its great adventurous spirit, special effects, and the story that remains relevant so many years later. Not only that, but it was a box office hit worldwide, and won the first ever Saturn Award for the Best Fantasy Film of 1973, proving movies like it are never out of fashion.

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9 ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ (1972)

An adventure starring a star-studded ensemble cast

Though it was received with mixed reviews from critics (particularly a funny one from Roger Ebert), The Poseidon Adventure is a big favorite among adventure fans. Gene Hackman leads the ensemble cast made up of him and other Oscar winners, like Shelley Winters, Ernest Borgnine, and Jack Albertson. As the ocean liner SS Poseidon takes its final sea voyage before being turned into scrap, the people traveling on it come from all walks of life.

However, when a huge tidal wave hits and flips over the SS Poseidon, those people have to find their way out or figure out how to survive. Gene Hackman stars as an adamant and courageous priest who leads the survivors across the ship and into safety. This story is filled with thrills and tense and unpredictable moments. Action is constant, with some efforts to show Poseidon’s visitors and crew as humans with different plans and desires. The Poseidon Adventure encapsulates what disaster movies always wished to depict, and this one even has the word ‘adventure’ in its name, signaling to viewers that it is, indeed, worth watching.

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8 ‘Aguirre, the Wrath of God’ (1972)

A gritty biographical adventure by Werner Herzog

Aguirre, the Wrath of God is entertaining, heavy, and controversial. The historical epic depicts the cruel Spanish conquistador Lope de Aguirre leading soldiers into the Amazon to find The City of Gold (El Dorado). Aguirre called himself Wrath of God, deeming that it was his right to take whatever was in front of him. Historical accounts name him as cruel and bloodthirsty, with no admirable traits. The movie stars the eccentric German actor Klaus Kinski as Aguirre, with Werner Herzog at the director’s helm of one of his best movies.

While the final sum of its parts makes Aguirre, the Wrath of God an admirable cinematic feat, it’s mainly controversial because of Herzog and Kinski’s relationship behind the scenes. The two were longtime acquaintances, and Herzog knew Kinski was the one to portray Aguirre; though Kinski’s outrageous behavior made it possible for him to step into the role easily, his and Herzog’s idea of portraying the conquistador differed. By some accounts, this disagreement went as far as Herzog deliberately annoying Kinski and letting his rage lead him into acting. The madness surrounding the

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7 ‘Walkabout’ (1971)

A visually stunning adventure with David Gulpilil

The English director Nicolas Roeg made many movies in the UK, but his Australia-based movie Walkabout helped him make worldwide history. It’s one of the most underrated adventure movies of the 1970s, and it depicts the Australian Outback in all its glory and complexity. Starring the famous Aboriginal Australian actor, David Gulpilil (Crocodile Dundee, Australia, Faraway Downs) who was only 18 at the time, Walkabout depicts two city children abandoned by their father in the Outback. They don’t know anything about surviving nature, so when they meet an Aboriginal boy doing his “walkabout,” they allow him to lead the way and show them how to survive.

Among the Aboriginal Australian tribes, a walkabout is a necessary riteof passage that children (typically between 10 and 16 years old) have to go through. This involves them surviving on their own in the wilderness, which can often last up to half a year. The movie depicts the Aboriginal boy’s walkabout, but also the fate of the two abandoned city kids and their own rite of passage into independence and adulthood.

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6 ‘Superman’ (1978)

The classic rendition of the favorite DC hero with Christopher Reeve

The greatest superhero of all time, Superman, was brought gloriously to the silver screens in 1978, becoming an instant classic; Christopher Reeve embodied Clark Kent and Superman with dignity, charm, and wit. This adventure about an otherworldly orphan with incredible superpowers becoming Earth’s most magnificent and dignified hero was an instant hit, critically and audience-wise.

According to the documentary short Taking Flight: The Development of Superman, the search for the perfect actor to portray Superman was arduous. They say many actors were incredibly talented, but unlike the hero physically, and vice versa. The insistence of casting director Lynn Stalmaster led to the producers going for Reeve. Before he or anyone knew, this decision went down in history, and fans agree that Christopher Reeve is the best Superman of all time. Movies about Marvel characters are adventures in themselves, but 1978’s Superman is special – it encapsulates the adventurous spirit of the comic book Superman perfectly.

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5 ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ (1975)

A comical King Arthur voyage by the Monty Python ensemble

The Knights of Ni, King Arthur’s company, and Tim are just some of the characters in the satirical adventure comedy Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Inspired by King Arthur’s adventures and stories of his quest for the Holy Grail, the movie follows the cast of Monty Python in various roles. True to their form, Monty Python brings goofs, gaffs, and laughs, all while including satirical commentary on the King Arthur myth, the English medieval times, and society in general. This was always their expertise, and many fans and critics agree that The Holy Grail is among their best works.

Empire Magazine named The Holy Grail one of the 100 Best British Films, and it’s surely one of the best comedies of the 1970s, according to Letterboxd. This is interesting, considering that the cast had a very limited budget (which brought on an ending that ensemble member John Cleese disliked), and there’s not a lot to be said about low-budget adventures – some work, and some don’t. This one works for all the right reasons, from its blend of childish and serious adult comedy to its ability to keep viewers entertained and interested – like a real adventure should.

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4 ‘Deliverance’ (1972)

An adventure thriller starring Jon Voight and Burt Reynolds

Deliverance is not an adventure movie for the whole family, but it’s jam-packed with thrills set in a stunning natural landscape. When a group of friends embarks on a canoeing trip across the Cahulawassee River in Northern Georgia, everything takes a turn for the worse after meeting some of the locals living nearby. The river is set to be turned into a dam, which will cut off water for some of the folks living there. The people living nearby have a natural rejection of any city folk that appear, so the adventures of the four protagonists end up much more ominous as soon as they encounter them.

Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight lead the ensemble in Deliverance, an Oscar-nominated adventure thriller that questions and tests the limits of men. As (more or less) adept survivors, the heroes have to fight the elements – and other humans – to get home. It seems Deliverance was an incredibly difficult movie to make, and understandably so – it’s a difficult movie to watch. Though it’s easy to cheer on the protagonists and hope for their escape from the situation, watching them go through everything makes it tough viewing; its messages are clear, though – the destruction of nature, displacement of poorer people, and even the psychological impact of the Vietnam War are all included in this scary adventure.

3 ‘The Man Who Would Be King’ (1975)

A marvelous war adventure with Sean Connery and Michael Caine

The Man Who Would Be King, a Rudyard Kipling short story from 1885, was made for the silver screen by John Huston after decades of planning. The wait paid off greatly for him; he initially failed to get the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Paul Newman to star, finally casting two larger-than-life British actors – Michael Caine and Sean Connery – to portray actual British soldiers on a unique adventure. The film follows two ex-soldiers roaming around India during British rule. They find themselves bored and increasingly ambitious, leading them to attempt to become saviors and kings of Kafiristan (today’s Nuristan area of Afghanistan). Their greedy and ambitious plan leads them into all sorts of events – from life-threatening to ego-flattering.

Younger fans may recognize a similar premise in Disney’s cult classic animation The Road to El Dorado. Critics often call this thrilling movie John Huston’s best. Roger Ebert gave it the highest praise, saying “We get strong characterizations, we get excitement and, best of all, we get to laugh every once in a while.” Indeed, after the success of the grand but serious Lawrence of Arabia, there were many adventure movies set in the East; and though these stories are rarely comedy-driven, a great adventure could have some of it and still succeed. Or perhaps that was reserved only for The Man Who Would be King.

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2 ‘Dersu Uzala’ (1975)

A Siberian expedition adventure from Akira Kurosawa

The most famous Japanese director of all time, Akira Kurosawa, wrote and directed movies with an honest love for cinema. His work hugely influenced Hollywood, especially the likes of Yojimbo and Seven Samurai, but when he expressed a desire to film the story about a brave and skillful Siberian nomad, Dersu Uzala, he never thought he’d make it in the setting it deserved.

According to some accounts, Kurosawa wished to transfer the memoirs of Russian explorer Vladimir Arsenyev into a Japanese setting during the 1950s – that’s how eager he was to create the epic adventure Dersu Uzala. However, when he became popular enough and was given the necessary budget, Kurosawa finally made the movie about this Siberian expedition in the very heart of the taiga – and on 70mm film.

Vladimir Arsenyev was a Russian expedition leader who charted the far eastern parts of Russia between 1902 and 1907. He met the local hunter Dersu Uzala and, impressed by his hunting and navigational skills, asked him to be his guide through the taiga. The movie shows the development and progression of their friendship and mutual respect. Its adventurous parts are depicted in the stunning and treacherous Siberian landscapes, making Dersu Uzala an impressive feat of cinema and one of the greatest adventures known to humanity.

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1 ‘Jaws’ (1975)

The Steven Spielberg cult classic starring Richard Dreyfuss

One of the scariest movies to ever win an Oscar is also the greatest adventure of the 1970s – Steven Spielberg‘s Jaws. This movie has everything – thrills, adventure, comedy, action, spirit, you name it. Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider lead the movie in which a massive shark threatens the safety of an entire town. The great big shark presents a severe threat to the community, but Jaws also depicts how quick people are to judge and misunderstand. All sharks suddenly become victims of hate and violence, while the real threat is still out there. The only way to get rid of the big bad shark is for the unlikely trio – the local sheriff, a marine biologist, and a seasoned sailor – to head out to the sea and do what they can to stop it.

Jaws was the most viewed summer movie in 1975, which may be ironic, considering it’s about a dangerous threat happening during the hottest days of the year, at the most visited place in the summer – the beach. More than just a blockbuster, this thriller marks a historical point in cinema, ending the reign of overstated epic adventures and introducing more subdued, simple movies that still feel adventurous and thrilling.

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NEXT: The 10 Longest-Running Actor-Director Pairings in History, Ranked

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