Adventure Movies

10 Best Adventure Movies That Are Not Action, Ranked

July 6, 202410 Mins Read

Since pretty much the birth of cinema as a storytelling art form, the adventure genre has been one of the most popular and prolific. The thrilling and often enjoyable genre allows plenty of room for many kinds of narratives and tropes, lending itself to becoming a fan favorite. At its core, however, adventure is defined by stories of intrepid characters traveling through exotic locations, usually chasing a very specific goal.

Most often, adventure is intertwined with the action genre. On their journey, fearless characters tend to come across situations where they must rely on combat to get out. However, not all adventure films are created equal. In fact, some of the genre’s best examples, like Back to the Future and Interstellar, don’t fit into the action genre at all, even if a few do have occasional action scenes. These are the best and most acclaimed adventure movies that don’t qualify as action, instead adopting other genres like sci-fi, family, or comedy.

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

Directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones

A soldier making funny faces from the top of a castle in Monty Python and the Holy Grail - 1975
Image via EMI Films

The British comedy troupe got their breakthrough on television with Monty Python’s Flying Circus, but it’s probably their movies that they’re best-remembered for today. Most notable is their quasi-surreal Arthurian comedy Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table embark on a mind-bending, low-budget search for the legendary Holy Grail, encountering many silly obstacles along the way.

Directed by Monty Python members Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, the latter of whom would go on to become one of the most important surrealist filmmakers of all time, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a perfect, hilarious encapsulation of what makes the troupe’s absurdist sense of humor so timeless. It has a handful of action scenes like the Black Knight sequence being one of the funniest action scenes ever committed to celluloid. All in all, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is an Arthurian adventure that favors humor over spectacle.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail Film Poster

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Release Date
May 25, 1975

91 minutes

9 ‘The Wages of Fear’ (1953)

Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot

A man holding another man covered in blood in The Wages of Fear.
Image via Cinédis

The Wages of Fear is a masterpiece of French psychological thriller filmmaking, often imitated but never matched. It’s set in a decrepit South American village, where four men are hired to transport an urgent nitroglycerine shipment without the equipment to make the journey safe. What follows is a ticking time bomb of a movie full of tension and high-octane thrills.

The perfect anti-adventure adventure film, Henri-Georges Clouzot‘s magnum opus is a dark drama about the havoc and destruction that the human condition’s relentless goal-oriented nature can cause. Gritty, realistic, brilliantly written, and beautifully performed, The Wages of Fear violently snatches the audience’s attention and keeps a tight grip on it until the credits roll. And even then, viewers are bound to keep thinking about it for days after.

wages of fear poster

The Wages of Fear

Release Date
April 22, 1953

Yves Montand , Charles Vanel , Folco Lulli

153 minutes

Henri-Georges Clouzot , Jérôme Géronimi

Watch on Criterion

8 ‘Inglourious Basterds’ (2009)

Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Danny Donowitz and Lt. Aldo Raine looking down at the camera in Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Image via Universal Pictures

Ask anyone the question of what Quentin Tarantino‘s best film is, and one is bound to get a wide variety of different answers. However, there are a select few that are bound to come up many times, and Inglourious Basterds will surely be among the most common. This dark anti-war dramedy is set in Nazi-occupied France during WWII, where a gang of Jewish American soldiers hatches a plan to assassinate a bunch of Nazi leaders.

Masterfully directed by Tarantino at the very top of his game, Inglourious Basterds knows precisely when to use pitch-black humor, when to be a bit more serious, and when to be so suspenseful that one could practically slice a butter knife through the tension-filled air. Though full of Tarantino’s signature use of violence, Inglourious Basterds is certainly not an action film, nor is it your typical adventure movie. It’s something that must be experienced by every cinephile at least once in their lives.


7 ‘Interstellar’ (2014)

Directed by Christopher Nolan

The spaceship Endurance travels towards a planet on the brink of a black hole in 'Interstellar' (2014).
Image via Paramount Pictures

Love him or hate him, the fact is that Christopher Nolan is one of the most influential and highly acclaimed filmmakers currently working in Hollywood. He has achieved that title through films as outstanding as the sci-fi epic Interstellar, where a former NASA pilot is tasked with leaving the unhospitable Earth with a team of researchers to find a new planet for humans.

With jaw-dropping visuals, one of Hans Zimmer‘s most atmospheric scores, and some of the best characters in Nolan’s filmography, Interstellar is a galactic adventure movie that makes space exploration seem as exhilarating as it is terrifying and poignant. Nolan has built his career on the foundation of the action genre, but for this particular gem, he only needed set pieces so grand and unforgettable that they could speak for themselves without the need for any punches.



Release Date
November 7, 2014

169 minutes

6 ‘The Lion King’ (1994)

Directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff

Simba, Timon, and Pumbaa smiling in The Lion King 2x1
Image via Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Even thirty years after its release, The Lion King is still hailed by many as Disney Animation’s best film to date. Somewhat of a loose adaptation of William Shakespeare‘s seminal play Hamlet, it’s a musical about an enthusiastic young lion prince who’s banished from his kingdom by his treacherous uncle, who has killed his father and usurped the throne.

The Lion King was an immediate smash hit when it came out — so much so that it made itself worthy of a Broadway adaptation. More than just a simple family-friendly adventure, The Lion King is a surprisingly profound and moving philosophical journey symbolized by a young lion’s search for purpose and meaning. Never has a Disney film been this impactful, memorable, or outright irresistible.


The Lion King (1994)

Release Date
June 24, 1994

88 minutes

Irene Mecchi , Jonathan Roberts , Linda Woolverton

5 ‘Spirited Away’ (2001)

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Chihiro confronts No Face in the 'Spirited Away' Bathhouse
Image via Toho

Spirited Away, one of the best adventure movies of recent years, is widely agreed to be anime film master Hayao Miyazaki’s greatest masterpiece. Touching, thought-provoking, and enveloping, it’s the coming-of-age tale of Chihiro, a sullen young girl who wanders into a world ruled by gods, witches, and spirits, where humans — including her parents — have been changed into beasts.

Chihiro is one of Studio Ghibli’s best characters, and her arc from childishness to maturity is the beating heart of the whole story. Built on this emotional foundation is an engrossing world of quasi-surrealist fantasy where the normal rules of reality don’t apply and audiences are all the more delighted by it because of that. The protagonist’s adventure through this magical world is as enchanting as the world itself, and the conclusion of that thoughtful adventure is nothing if not deeply satisfying.

Spirited Away Poster

Spirited Away (2001)

Release Date
July 20, 2001

Rumi Hîragi , Miyu Irino , Mari Natsuki , Takashi Naitô , Yasuko Sawaguchi , Tatsuya Gashûin

125 minutes

Watch on Max

4 ‘Back to the Future’ (1985)

Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Marty McFly and Doc Brown look at a watch in 'Back to the Future'
Image via Universal Pictures

One of the best sci-fi movies of all time, Back to the Future is also one of the most delightfully simple. It’s about Marty McFly, a brave but cocky high school student who’s accidentally sent thirty years back in time. There, he must make sure that his parents fall in love so that he can travel back to his own time before he and his siblings disappear altogether.

This is a time-traveling adventure like no other. It’s funny, romantic, and exciting, and it gets everything about the adventure genre right without the need for any action scenes. Back to the Future spawned a trilogy and cemented itself as one of the most iconic ’80s movies for a reason. Wildly imaginative yet straightforward, it tells a thoroughly entertaining story yet remarkably simple story with eccentric yet endearing characters and a time-traveling DeLorean.


Back to the Future

Release Date
July 3, 1985


3 ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ (1966)

Directed by Sergio Leone

The Man with No Name and another man talking in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Image via United Artists

Sergio Leone is arguably one of the most important filmmakers of all time, having re-defined the Western and having pretty much been the face of the Spaghetti Western subgenre. He did this with masterworks like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, about three men who form an uneasy and unlikely relationship of both alliance and competition as they race to find a fortune in gold buried in a remote cemetery, all while the American Civil War rages on behind them.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is a bloody, epic, humorous deconstruction of the Western genre and the Old West myth, told with Leone’s distinctly keen eye for details, both visual and narrative. While definitely not without its fair share of shootouts and Civil War sequences, the film is too focused on its character-driven adventure and representation of greed to bother belonging to any genre other than the adventure Western.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Movie Poster

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Release Date
December 29, 1967

Clint Eastwood , Eli Wallach , Lee Van Cleef , Aldo Giuffrè , Luigi Pistilli

178 Minutes

Agenore Incrocci , Furio Scarpelli , Luciano Vincenzoni , Sergio Leone

2 ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (1962)

Directed by David Lean

A man riding a camel in Lawrence of Arabia.
Image via Columbia Pictures

Many of the all-time best adventure movies are set in the desert, and Lawrence of Arabia stands as proof. Based on the true story of controversial British soldier T.E. Lawrence, it’s a nearly four-hour-long epic that follows this English officer as he unites and leads the warring Arab tribes during World War I against the Turks.

Lawrence of Arabia‘s sheer sense of scale and magnificence has never been matched since and will very likely never be seen again. Of course, only a director as masterful as David Lean could have directed a historical epic that is a gargantuan tale of war and pride yet somehow manages to feel like the most intimate, small-scale character drama imaginable. The best part is that it does this by narrowing its focus on Lawrence’s adventure through not just the desert but through his own identity.

Lawrence Of Arabia Movie Poster

Lawrence of Arabia

Release Date
December 11, 1962

Peter O’Toole , Alec Guinness , Anthony Quinn , Jack Hawkins , Omar Sharif , Jose Ferrer

227 minutes

T.E. Lawrence , Robert Bolt , Michael Wilson

1 ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968)

Directed by Stanley Kubrick

A red-suited astronaut walks down a white, brightly lit hallway aboard the space station in '2001: A Space Odyssey'
Image via MGM

Many would say that Stanley Kubrick is the greatest filmmaker who has ever lived. And, frankly, it would be much easier to agree than to do the opposite. After all, this is the man who directed some of the greatest movies of all time, such as the philosophical sci-fi adventure 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s about a spacecraft sent to Jupiter to find the origins of a mysterious artifact that’s been found beneath the Lunar surface, manned by two men and the supercomputer HAL 9000.

There isn’t a single spaceship battle or hyperspeed chase in 2001. Yet, it manages to be one of the most engrossing sci-fi films ever made. How? By telling one of the most deeply existentialist stories cinema has ever seen, where drama and suspense come organically from the characters and the deeply human themes of the story. No adventure film has ever been so incredible without the need for any action scenes.


2001: A Space Odyssey

Release Date
April 2, 1968

Keir Dullea , Gary Lockwood , William Sylvester , Daniel Richter , Leonard Rossiter , Margaret Tyzack


Stanley Kubrick , Arthur C. Clarke

NEXT:The Best Adventure Movies of All Time, According to IMDb

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