Adventure Movies

Indiana Jones & 9 Other Pulp-Inspired Adventure Heroes

June 5, 20236 Mins Read

The action/adventure genre contains some of the most enjoyable stories in cinema, and has given fans some truly iconic heroes. However, the precursor to the genre was the hugely popular selection of pulp fiction that dominated the early twentieth century. These stories often focused on worldly adventures, the search for lost treasures or artifacts, and battles with villains like the Nazis and Soviets.

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Pulp stories are typically set in the early twentieth century, though this is by no means a rule. The genre has been carried forward into more contemporary films with ease, and has made an impact across mediums. As much as Indiana Jones may be the poster boy of a heroic explorer, he is by no means the only of his kind.

10 The Librarians

The Librarians

The Librarian franchise is a relatively lesser-known action/adventure series comprising a trilogy of films and a TV series. It follows a secret society of protectors of history, dubbed the Librarians. These heroes are often dispatched into the world to retrieve ancient artifacts.

The Librarians use their extensive resources to beat other parties to lost treasures, preventing some nefarious schemes from coming to fruition. Though there are several heroes across the films and TV series, the original trilogy documenting Flynn Carsen’s adventures is the best.

9 Harry Steele

Secret of the Incas Charlton Heston

Secret of the Incas‘ chief protagonist, Harry Steele, took the same inspiration from pulp adventure as Indiana Jones. In fact, the hero’s fedora and jacket costume is a clear inspiration for Jones himself. The movie follows him as he ventures into Peru – the very country Indiana Jones is first shown exploring.

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Harry Steele was every bit the decent yet shady explorer as Indiana Jones. Secret of the Incas was even given a distinctly pulpy poster, which would be perfectly at home as the cover of a Doc Savage magazine.

8 Sky Captain

As seen in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, the Sky Captain is a heroic aviator of an alternate Golden Age world. After giant robots attacked New York, he set out on an adventure around the globe to trace the attack’s origins along with his companions.

Sky Captain exists in a world of “Dieselpunk,” an offshoot of Steampunk that took a more Noir and pulpy tone. As a character, he’s a true and classic adventure hero. When all was said and done, the heroic pilot saved the world from an evil genius who was bent on remaking the world in his own utopia.

7 The Phantom

Billy Zane’s Phantom is perhaps the most underrated comic book film of all time. Based on Lee Falk’s 1936 Phantom newspaper comic strip, it follows the jungle-based hero and protector of Bangalla when he’s roped into an international villain’s plans, forcing him to leave the safety of his jungle.

The Phantom is a heroic mantle passed down between fathers and sons, and the movie follows the hero as he prevents a villainous organization from recovering a series of magical skulls. The hero is adept at several skills, such as aviation and combat, and deserves more movies.

6 Tarzan

Tarzan Disney Film

Tarzan was among the very first heroes created in the pulp genre. The hero has undergone a great deal of change since his creation by Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1912. The hero is now more often considered a Disney hero, protecting his jungle friends from outside threats.

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Tarzan, also known as Lord Greystroke, is the orphan son of British nobility and was raised by the wild animals of the African jungle. His story is primarily centered around the conflict between being a part of humanity and remaining with his gorilla family.


The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was one of Alan Moore’s best-received comics after he left the big two publishers, Marvel and DC. The writer reimagined a series of classic literary characters, such as Captain Nemo and Allan Quartermain, as pulpy adventure heroes.

The idea proved brilliant in comics, despite its movie-going down in flames. The idea didn’t die with the first film’s failures, as its heroes made for an excellent team-up. In TheLeague of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a great adventure team is waiting to be revived.

4 Lara Croft

Lara Croft holds up a half of the Triangle in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Lara Croft is something of a rarity as a female adventure hero. The genre, typically dominated by Dwayne Johnson, Harrison Ford, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Angelina Jolie joined the ranks of legendary adventure heroes. She made her debut in 1996’s game Tomb Raider.

Lara Croft took inspiration from pulpy adventurers, both from comics and film, like Indiana Jones, Doc Savage, and Harry Steele. The treasure hunter and archaeologist Croft has battled a variety of villains to reclaim lost artifacts and is basically a modernized look at classic adventure.

3 The Rocketeer

Clifford Secord/The Rocketeer (Bill Campbell) waves at airlines passengers in mid-flight in a scene from 1991's The Rocketeer.

The Rocketeer was created in 1982 in Starslayer #2 by Dave Stevens as a direct homage to the classic adventure serials of the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s. As shown in his 1991 solo movie, Cliff Secord acquired a stolen jetpack and flight suit, which he converted into a super-suit he used to fight villainy.

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The Rocketeer protects the skies over Los Angeles from threats like Nazis and the mafia. Much like his Golden Age inspirations, his main villains were gangsters and Nazis, and his stories incorporated many of those classic themes, like airships and historical figures.

2 Rick O’Connell

Brendan Frasier as Rick O'Connell wielding an axe in The Mummy movie.

The Mummy is still one of the single most iconic adventure movies of all time, thanks to Brendan Fraser’s performance as the hero, Rick O’Connell. The hero was a great combination of pulpy cowboy tropes and the classic “competent man” adventurer seen in Doc Savage.

Rick O’Connell signifies the peak of the post-Indiana Jones adventure hero, and was more of a self-interested mercenary than a true lover of history. However, as life progressed, and he started a family, O’Connell established himself as a great explorer and hero.

1 Indiana Jones

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones in Dial of Destiny looking at the camera.

Henry “Indiana” Jones Jr is the unchallenged king of cinematic adventure. Created by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, and brought to life by Harrison Ford, the archaeologist travels the world searching for lost treasures. Along the way, he’s battled Nazis, Soviets, and demonic cults.

Indiana’s altruistic motivations to recover artifacts for preservation in a museum have helped show people what an adventure hero should be. His story has been echoed throughout the adventure genre since, with plenty of fellow heroes battling Nazis and exploring ancient mythology.

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