Adventure Movies

All 10 Adventure Movies That Won Best Picture, Ranked

January 5, 202411 Mins Read

The adventure genre, when applied to cinema, is wonderfully broad and can be combined with just about any other genre under the sun. They can be action-packed, fantastical, tragic, scary, or funny; all they really need is to have an emphasis on exciting stories or some kind of journey undertaken by one or more characters, usually to lands unfamiliar to them. What might be considered an adventure in real life, if depicted on screen, then becomes something that belongs to the adventure genre.

When being relatively broad in one’s definition of an adventure movie, it turns out that a total of 10 have won Best Picture at the Academy Awards, showing that even Oscar voters can’t resist a good adventurous story every now and then. These winners are ranked below, starting with the adventure films that are decent, albeit a little flawed, and ending with the classics that are also up there with the best of the Best Picture winners in history, regardless of genre.

10 ‘Tom Jones’ (1963)

Director: Tony Richardson

Tom Jones laying on the ground and smiling in Tom Jones
Image via United Artists

Tom Jones isn’t a particularly amazing movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it does stand out among other Best Picture winners, particularly those released in the 1950s and ‘60s. It’s a good deal breezier and more small-scale than some of the other, more serious-minded winners from around this time in history, seeing its titular character engage in various adventures/misadventures, all the while things are tonally quite comedic, and even somewhat romantic.

It may ultimately be about class division, following two people who love each other yet feel torn apart due to being from different backgrounds, but it takes a relatively light-hearted approach to the subject at hand. Tom Jonesisn’t bad for its time by any means, and some aspects of it hold up alright, even if it might struggle a little to feel particularly memorable as far as Best Picture winners go.

Tom Jones 1963 Poster

Tom Jones (1963)

Release Date
August 24, 1963

Tony Richardson

Albert Finney , Susannah York , Hugh Griffith , Edith Evans , Joan Greenwood , Diane Cilento

129 minutes

Watch on Max

9 ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ (1956)

Director: Michael Anderson

Phileas Fogg and Passepartout standing in a hot air balloon and drinking champagne in Around the World in Eighty Days
Image via United Artists

Arguing that Around the World in Eighty Days feels a little too long wouldn’t be an unreasonable thing, by any means. At 182 minutes, this adventure/fantasy/comedy movie can claim to be one of the longest Best Picture winners in Oscar history, and indeed, one of those epics that makes smaller scale winners from around this era (like the aforementioned Tom Jones and the very brisk Marty from 1955) stand out.

It’s based on the Jules Verne story of the same name, and sees a scientist undertake a mission that seemed impossible back in the 1870s: traveling around the entire world in 80 days or less (it’s in the title, really). The scope of the film can still be appreciated, but the adventure shown was probably more thrilling and eye-opening for audiences back in 1956, making the film feel a little drawn-out and less special when watched today.

Around the World in Eighty Days 1956 Poster

Around the World in Eighty Days

Release Date
October 17, 1956

Michael Anderson , John Farrow

David Niven , Cantinflas , Finlay Currie , Robert Morley , Noel Coward , Trevor Howard , John Gielgud

175 minutes

Rent on Apple TV

8 ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ (1935)

Director: Frank Lloyd

Fletcher Christian and Captain Bligh, standing on a ship and looking out to sea in Mutiny on the Bounty
Image via MGM

While it received an adaptation in the 1960s that starred Marlon Brando, plus another adaptation in the 1980s that had an all-star cast including Daniel Day-Lewis and Anthony Hopkins, the most successful movie based on Mutiny on the Bounty – at least according to the Oscars – came out in 1935. This one managed to win Best Picture, and, befitting the title, as far as adventure movies go, it is perhaps one of the darker and more drama-focused ones.

It sees a crew turn on their captain, at which point he vows revenge no matter what, leading to a great deal of turmoil and conflict. The 1935 version of Mutiny on the Bounty does inevitably hold up surprisingly well, and is perhaps one of the better Best Picture winners of the 1930s. Though there are ultimately numerous adventure movies that won the same top prize and are better, this one still shouldn’t be entirely overlooked.

Movie Poster for Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)

Mutiny on the Bounty

Release Date
November 22, 1935

Frank Lloyd

Charles Laughton , Clark Gable , Franchot Tone , Herbert Mundin , Eddie Quillan , Dudley Digges


Watch on Tubi

7 ‘Dances with Wolves’ (1990)

Director: Kevin Costner

Lt. John J. Dunbar and Kicking Bird, riding solemnly on horseback in Dances With Wolves
Image via Orion Pictures

Kevin Costner movies don’t get much more well-known than Dances with Wolves, which he starred in at the height of his popularity as an actor… and it marked his debut as a director, too. It follows a soldier from the U.S. Civil War who feels completely directionless in life until he comes across a Native American Sioux tribe, appreciating their lifestyles and finding meaning in his own life once more.

It’s a movie that might not see its protagonist venture as far as heroes from other adventure movies do, but it’s not always about the distance traveled; sometimes, it’s about the quality of that travel, and the changes it brings about. Dances with Wolves is sentimental, arguably overlong, and perhaps a little heavy on that whole white savior thing, but it still largely works and holds up as a compelling viewing experience.

Watch on DirecTV

6 ‘Ben-Hur’ (1959)

Director: William Wyler

A man races a chariot pulled by eight horses in Ben-Hur
Image via Loew’s, Inc.

Perhaps the ultimate epic of its decade, Ben-Hur has a lofty reputation for being one of the biggest American movies of all time. Decades on from its release, it does indeed still feel huge, clocking in with a runtime of close to four hours while telling a huge story set in biblical times, largely revolving around one man’s quest for revenge after he and his family are sold into slavery.

Even if some other movies from 1959 might hold up a little better, it’s hard to get too angry at voters from the time getting swept up in the action/adventure spectacle on offer in Ben-Hur. The extras are countless, the sets are huge, and the entire climax is legendary. It’s a big movie that also earns its extensive length, and is still impressive to witness even to this day.

Ben-Hur Movie Poster


Release Date
November 18, 1959

William Wyler

Charlton Heston , Jack Hawkins , Haya Harareet , Stephen Boyd , Hugh Griffith , Martha Scott

212 minutes

Watch on DirecTV

5 ‘Gladiator’ (2000)

Director: Ridley Scott

Russell Crowe as Maximus, standing in the arena with the sunlight above him in Gladiator.
Image via Universal

Gladiator didn’t redefine what action/adventure/epic movies were capable of, but it did take what worked about certain movies belonging to those genres in decades past and updated it all for the (very start of the) 21st century. It’s a highlight of Ridley Scott’s impressive filmography and, like Ben-Hur 40+ years before it, tells an emotional and riveting story about one honorable man’s quest for revenge, after another does unspeakable harm to both his family and him.

With excellent lead performances from Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix, as well as an accomplished supporting cast, Gladiator delivers excellent spectacle and rousing action throughout. Many of the effects used to bring ancient Rome to life still hold up incredibly well, and the film travels to plenty of locations throughout its lengthy (but not overlong) runtime of 155 minutes, featuring a good deal of exciting action along the way.

Gladiator Movie Poster


Release Date
May 5, 2000

155 minutes

Watch on Paramount+

4 ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ (1957)

Director: David Lean

Colonel Nicholson standing in front of a group of soldiers in The Bridge on the River Kwai
Image via Columbia Pictures

David Lean’s name is synonymous with big-screen spectacle, though it should be noted that he directed a fair few great small-scale movies in his time, too. One of his biggest movies also happened to win Best Picture at the Oscars: 1957’s The Bridge on the River Kwai. It is, first and foremost, definable as a war/drama movie, but its main characters are largely out of their element, and the prison camp setting does give it the feel of a survival movie, to some extent.

The plot revolves around British soldiers being told to build a bridge by their Japanese captors while, simultaneously, Allied forces plot to destroy the bridge, even though one British commander among the POWs has gotten dangerously attached to the idea of completing the bridge. It’s an effectively tragic anti-war movie while also being spectacular and hugely entertaining, managing to be, somehow, the best of both worlds; a difficult range of tones to balance, for sure, but it’s pulled off well here.

Movie poster for The Bridge on the River Kwai

The Bridge on the River Kwai

Release Date
October 11, 1957

David Lean

William Holden , Alec Guinness , Jack Hawkins , Sessue Hayakawa , James Donald , Geoffrey Horne


Rent on Apple TV

3 ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ (2022)

Directors: Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan

With the conveniences of modern-day travel, people can navigate the world more easily than ever before, and this has perhaps taken away the excitement of traditional adventure movies for some, to some extent. That’s one of the reasons why Everything Everywhere All at Once works and feels so thrilling; it’s an action/adventure/comedy movie with a science fiction premise, as it takes its characters – and the audience – into the multiverse.

And sure, the idea of going to differing universes has become a little commonplace in recent years, but the approach Everything Everywhere All at Once takes to the concept of a multiverse is fresh, emotional, funny, and thoroughly engrossing. It’s not a high-budget movie, but it revolves around the fate of the universe, and the small number of people (plus their alternate selves) who may be able to save all life, everywhere. It’s wild, silly, and extremely moving, and something of a modern classic Best Picture winner.

Watch on Prime Video

2 ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’ (2003)

Director: Peter Jackson

Ian McKellen as Gandolf in the midst of battle in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Image via New Line Cinema

The Lord of the Rings trilogy marks what could well be the peak of what live-action fantasy movies are capable of. Picking a favorite of the three feels impossible at times, because The Fellowship of the Ring starts things off so well. The Two Towers continues the story while building the scope of the world and having an amazing climax, while The Return of the King dials the action and emotion up to 11, and somehow manages to serve as a perfect ending to the trilogy’s whole epic story.

Only one of the three won Best Picture, though, but perhaps the Oscar win for The Return of the King (plus all the other Academy Awards it received) stood as recognition for the entire trilogy’s accomplishments. The Return of the King is a huge fantasy/adventure movie packed with great character moments, battle sequences, and emotional pay-offs; it’s all pretty much perfect stuff, really.

Watch on Max

1 ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (1962)

Director: David Lean

T.S. Lawrence raising a dagger in the desert in Lawrence of Arabia
Image via Columbia Pictures

It takes a lot to top a movie like The Return of the King, but Lawrence of Arabia is no ordinary movie. Not only is it the best epic movie to win Best Picture, but it’s also arguably the gold standard of the epic genre as a whole. As such, it more than delivers a huge amount of adventure-filled spectacle in depicting the life of T.E. Lawrence, and it’s just as successful an adventure movie as it is an epic movie.

Running for almost four hours, and being set largely around World War I, it moves swiftly from one larger-than-life sequence to the next, depicting things on such a scale that even more than 60 years later, it’s staggering to behold. Lawrence of Arabia is a beautiful-looking movie that’s also impeccably acted and scored, and stands as David Lean’s greatest directorial achievement, topping even (the still excellent) The Bridge on the River Kwai.

Lawrence Of Arabia Movie Poster

Lawrence of Arabia

Release Date
December 11, 1962

David Lean

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

227 minutes

Watch on Criterion Channel

NEXT: Every Epic Movie that Won Best Picture at The Oscars, Ranked

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