Adventure Movies

10 Most Underrated Adventure Movies, Ranked

March 14, 202410 Mins Read

Ever since the medium’s inception, cinema has been a form of art that allows its viewers to experience something they’ve never seen before in a safe and entertaining environment. Great adventure films give their viewers a sense of escapism by telling wholly unique, original stories that evoke enthusiasm. While that’s not to say that the genre is built on the denial of reality, the greatest adventure movies of all time all have a strong component of joy.

While epics like The Lord of the Rings trilogy are still very rewatchable to this day, there are multiple great adventure films that simply slipped by most audiences. Whether they were mismarketed, financially unsuccessful, completely misinterpreted, or just failed to find an audience, these great adventure stories are worth checking out for film fans who have already seen many of the more well-established classics.

10 ‘The Pirate’ (1948)

Director: Vincent Minnelli

The great filmmaker Vincent Minnelli is responsible for some truly great classic musicals, including the beloved Best Picture winner An American In Paris. While his name is often associated with extended musical sequences of romantic yearning, Minnelli combined intrigue, action, comedy, and spectacle in his adventure musical The Pirate. This modern version of a swashbuckling adventure story stars Gene Kelly as a good-natured pirate who attempts to woo an illustrious girl (Judy Garland) who is on the precipice of being married.

Although it’s often not considered to be one of the best projects that either Kelly or Garland worked on, The Pirate presents its viewers with a unique opportunity to see two of Hollywood’s greatest stars of all time working together. Seeing Kelly and Garland pay tribute to the classics of pirate cinema makes for a highly entertaining throwback, complete with wondrous musical numbers.

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9 ‘Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier’

Director: Norman Foster

Buddy Ebsen and Fess Parker standing by a river in Davy Crockett
Image via ABC

Although there have been a few films about the Battle of the Alamo, the life of one of the conflict’s most historically important veterans was just as interesting. While it may not exactly be a factual version of events, the classic Disney adventure film Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier shows why its titular hero became such a dominant figure within early American fiction. The film stars Fess Parker and follows Crocker during his exploits in the Tennessee wilderness, service in American Congress, and final moments fighting in the Alamo.

Although the film was actually created by combining three episodes of the Davy Crocket television show, Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier paints a complete portrait of its subject’s life, enhanced with vivid footage of the wilderness. While it does not deny some of the darker aspects of his story, Parker’s charismatic performance helps make the film suited for audiences of all ages.

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8 ‘Little Big Man’ (1970)

Director: Arthur Penn

Dustin Hoffman as Jack Crabb and Chief Dan George as Old Lodge Skins in Little Big Man
Image via National General Pictures

An epic western if there ever was one, Little Big Man is both a deliberate attempt to de-mythologize the standards of American Western stories and a thrilling adventure film in its own right. The film follows the life of Walter Crabb (Dustin Hoffman), a former orphan who is raised and taught to fend for himself by the benevolent Cheyenne leader Old Lodge Skins (Chief Dan George). Crabb goes on to find himself involved in many critical events in American history.

Although the role of Old Lodge Skins was first offered to Marlon Brando, Chief Dan George was ultimately cast in a role that earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor and served as a breakthrough piece of representation. Little Big Man’s respectful depiction of Native American culture and satire of the American military’s incompetence made it an outlier within its genre worthy of watching today.

Dustin Hoffman as Jack Crabb in the Little Big Man movie poster

Little Big Man

Release Date
December 23, 1970


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7 ‘The Great Waldo Pepper’ (1975)

Director: George Roy Hill

Robert Redford has appeared in many all-time classics, but his star turn in the historical-themed adventure comedy The Great Waldo Pepper is sadly overlooked. It’s certainly not a serious work of political commentary like The Candidate or All The President’s Men; however, The Great Waldo Pepper is an earnest deconstruction of hero worship that pays tribute to the heroes of World War I. Redford stars as the titular flying ace, who is given the chance to use his skills once more as a stunt performer.

The film deals with the growing disenfranchisement of the American population in the aftermath of the Great War. Still, The Great Waldo Pepper finds unexpected humor in its breathtaking aerial sequences. It’s one of the rare adventure comedies that can keep its audience both on the edge of their seats and breathlessly laughing throughout its entire running time.

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6 ‘Robin and Marian’ (1976)

Director: Richard Lester

There have been countless films about the Robin Hood legend, and many amount to little more than a simplistic reading of the character. However, Richard Lester’s deeply sensitive 1976 romantic adventure Robin and Marian aims to tell a much more mature version of the classic hero of Nottingham. Sean Connery gives one of his most underrated performances as an older version of the famous outlaw who returns to his old community to win the love of his lifelong sweetheart, Maid Marian (Audrey Hepburn).

There is certainly some great action here, as Robin Hood has a way of attracting trouble wherever he goes. Yet, the film’s biggest strength is its earnestness; Robin and Marian is unafraid to get sincere without becoming saccharine. Seeing a more mature take on this timeless story is far more entertaining than Ridley Scott’s gloomy 2010 film and the equally forgettable 2018 reboot starring Taron Egerton.

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5 ‘The Great Train Robbery’ (1978)

Director: Michael Crichton

John Simms talking to another man in The Great Train Robbery
Image via United Artists

Michael Crichton is best known as the author behind the blockbuster success of the Jurassic Park franchise, but the dinosaur stories aren’t his only great adventure novels. Based on one of Crichton’s most acclaimed novels, The Great Train Robbery is a terrific period caper that examines the origins of the heist genre. The film follows the London high society master thief Edward Pierce (Sean Connery) and his accomplice Agar (Donald Sutherland) as they attempt to rob a safe traveling through the train service between London Bridge Station and Folkestone.

While it’s not the only cinematic adaptation of the historical event, The Great Train Robbery proved that Crichton was just as talented as a director as he was a writer. The humorous banter between Connery and Sutherland as they conduct their brilliant plan in the heist sequences makes the film even more entertaining. Equal parts crime caper and adventure movie, The Great Train Robbery is one heck of a good time at the movies.

The Great Train Robbery Poster

The Great Train Robbery (1978)

Release Date
December 14, 1978

110 minutes

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4 ‘Time After Time’ (1979)

Director: Nicholas Meyer

Herbert George Wells looking at something in his hands in Time After Time
Image via Warner Bros.

Nicholas Meyer famously directed the emotional sci-fi sequel Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but that wasn’t his only contribution to the genre. A unique blend of steampunk sensibilities and time travel narrative quirks, Time After Time is an underrated gem that brilliantly recontextualizes classic works of American fiction. The film stars Malcolm McDowell as a fictionalized version of the great author H.G. Wells, who uses a time machine to travel to the 20th century to encounter the villainous serial killer Jack the Ripper (David Warner).

Time travel stories can often grow confusing, but Time After Time never spends too much time on the plot mechanics that would detract from Wells’ character arc. The presence of a larger-than-life villain like Jack the Ripper certainly adds some intensity, and there’s also a lot of satire through Wells’ musings on modern society, elevated by McDowell’s expert comedic timing. Time After Time effortlessly juggles sci-fi themes with a classic, adventurous approach, resulting in an underappreciated gem that deserves more attention.

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3 ‘White Fang’ (1991)

Director: Randal Kleiser

A young boy talking to a dog in White Fang
Image via Disney

The work of revered author Jack London has inspired generations of young readers and spawned many memorable adaptations; among the best is 1991’s White Fang. The film stars a young Ethan Hawke as Jack Conroy, whose quest for gold in the Yukon Valley leads him to form a friendship with the wolfdog known as “White Fang.”

While it lacked the modern technological advancement in visual effects that would produce more wondrous action sequences, White Fang is earnest in a manner that reflects its source material. In what would ultimately be one of the earliest roles in his lengthy career, Hawke shows why he is such an endearing movie star. His earnest portrayal of a confused young man in a nontraditional coming-of-age adventure story serves as a very relatable character for young viewers. Some of its scenes are quite intense, and the ending is heartbreaking, making it a 90s classic that can be somewhat traumatizing, but White Fang remains a solid adventure movie from one of Disney’s most forgotten periods.

White Fang Poster

White Fang

Release Date
January 18, 1991


Watch on Disney+

2 ‘The Missing’ (2003)

Directed by Ron Howard

Samuel and Maggie riding horses acros the desert in The Missing (2003)
Image via Sony Pictures Releasing

While director Ron Howard has done a little bit of every genre, his 2003 western adventure The Missing certainly ranks among the most underrated efforts. Both a historically minded revisionist Western and a throwback to classic adventures, The Missing tells a powerful story about the importance of preserving one’s familial relationships. Set in New Mexico in the late 19th century, the film follows the rancher Maggie Gilkeson (Cate Blanchett) as she teams up with her reclusive father Samuel Jones (Tommy Lee Jones) to look for her missing children.

The Missing is told on an epic scale with a keen eye for historical accuracy, but it remains focused on the central relationship at play. While often disturbing in its depiction of frontier violence, the characterization of family bonding in The Missing makes it a surprisingly sensitive revamp of the Western adventure premise. The adventure elements perfectly blend with the film’s grittier approach, resulting in a Western that feels exciting yet raw.

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1 ‘Safety Not Guaranteed’ (2012)

Director: Colin Trevorrow

A man and a woman talking on the street in Safety Not Guaranteed.
Image via FilmDistrict

Although he generated significant criticism for mishandling classic characters in the Jurassic World franchise, filmmaker Colin Trevorrow proved he was much better suited for intimate adventure dramedies with his directorial debut, Safety Not Guaranteed. The film follows the cynical journalist Darius Britt (Audrey Plaza) as she investigates a classified ad listed by the enigmatic inventor Kenneth Calloway (Mark Duplass), who claims to have created a time machine.

What follows is a totally bizarre yet oddly relatable argument for the merits of clinging onto childhood dreams once one is already an adult. While the film’s humor is reliant on its characters’ idiosyncrasies, Safety Not Guaranteed succeeds in adding an appropriate romantic subplot to an otherwise thrilling adventure. The terrific chemistry between Plaza and Duplass certainly elevates material that could have felt overly saccharine if improperly handled.

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NEXT: 10 Great Movies to Watch if You Liked ‘Dune: Part Two’

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