Adventure Movies

The Best Adventure Movies of All Time

April 17, 20248 Mins Read

When times get tough, I put on Raiders of the Lost Ark and just go somewhere else in my mind. That’s because the best adventure movies are the ones that can make you shut off the world around you and transport you far, far away.

The adventure genre has had some landmark films since the dawn of cinema, and today, I want to go over the best entries into the mix.

We’ll also dive into the tropes, the history, and what makes adventure movies so special.

Let’s dive in.

The History of the Adventure Movie


‘King Kong’

Warner Bros.

The adventure genre has existed since we started putting stories on film. Major early titles, like The Mark of Zorro and Robin Hood established now-iconic tropes like daring swordfights, acrobatic escapes, and charming heroes battling villains.

Documentaries like Nanook of the North ignited a sense of exploration with glimpses into remote lands. The advent of sound, and later color, amplified the impact of adventure films. Sweeping orchestral scores and vibrant visuals transformed stories into spectacles.

I mean, who doesn’t love a John Williams score?

Films like King Kong and The Wizard of Oz blended adventure with fantasy, transporting heroes to impossible lands.

World War II shifted the landscape, inspiring gritty action films often based on real-life battles. The Cold War fueled the rise of spy thrillers, with James Bond leading the charge with suave action and international adventures.

Westerns thrived as a sub-genre, defining archetypes of lawlessness and heroism in the American frontier.

In the 1980s, blockbuster hits like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars revitalized the genre. Raiders introduced the iconic Indiana Jones. Advances in effects led to increasingly ambitious action sequences.

Modern adventure movies continue to evolve. Technological advancements allow for the creation of immersive worlds. Female heroes are taking center stage, and established tropes are being subverted, adding grit, humor, and unique twists to the genre.

The future of adventure is bright.

Streaming platforms provide space for niche adventures, and the rise of global cinema offers fresh perspectives. The scale of these movies can make them expensive to shoot, but the biggest ones clean up at the box office.

Tropes of the Adventure Genre

Tropes of the Adventure Genre‘Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom’Credit: Paramount Pictures

Adventure films rely on a collection of familiar tropes that create a sense of anticipation and excitement.

Here are a few key examples:

  • The Quest: The hero sets out on a journey to achieve a goal, be it retrieving a lost artifact, saving a princess, or uncovering a hidden truth. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) exemplifies this trope with Indiana Jones’ pursuit of the Ark of the Covenant.
  • The Underdog Hero: Against all odds, an ordinary person rises to the challenge. The Princess Bride (1987) features Westley, a farmhand determined to rescue his love, Buttercup.
  • The Lovable Scoundrel: A charming rogue who may aid or hinder the hero’s journey. Think Indiana Jones.
  • The Treacherous Villain: A formidable opponent who stands in the way of the hero’s success. From Nazis to Professor Moriarty, these villains provide the main conflict.

The Best Adventure Movies of All Time

What makes an adventure film the “best” is subjective. Here are some of my favorites.

Classic Adventures

  • Lawrence of Arabia (1962): Epic historical film chronicling T.E. Lawrence’s experiences in Arabia during World War I.
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938): Dashing hero Robin Hood fights for justice against the evil Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham.
  • Seven Samurai (1954): A Japanese masterpiece where a group of masterless samurai defend a village from bandits.
  • Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972): A ruthless Spanish conquistador leads an expedition into the Amazon jungle in search of El Dorado, the city of gold.
  • The African Queen (1951): A grizzled captain and a missionary woman team up to escape German forces in East Africa during WWI.
  • The Wizard of Oz (1939): A tornado whisks a Kansas farm girl to the magical Land of Oz where she embarks on a quest to find her way home.

Indiana Jones Franchise:

  • Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981): Intrepid archaeologist Indiana Jones races against Nazis to recover the powerful Ark of the Covenant.
  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984): Indy races against a sinister cult to recover mystical stones in India.
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989): Indy teams up with his estranged father to find the legendary Holy Grail before the Nazis do.
  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008): Years later, Indy must stop Soviet agents from harnessing the power of a mysterious artifact.
  • Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023): Indy faces a new adventure in the 1960s as he teams up with his goddaughter to turn back time.

National Treasure Franchise:

  • National Treasure (2004): History buff and modern-day treasure hunter Ben Gates uncovers a secret plot to steal the Declaration of Independence.
  • National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007): Ben Gates sets out on a quest to clear his family name, diving into historical mysteries and hidden clues.

Back to the Future Franchise:

  • Back to the Future (1985): A teenager accidentally travels back in time and must ensure his parents fall in love to secure his own existence.
  • Back to the Future Part II (1989): Marty and Doc Brown travel to the future and past to fix a broken timeline.
  • Back to the Future Part III (1990): Stranded in the Old West, Marty must find a way back to the future.

Pirates of the Caribbean Franchise:

  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003): Blacksmith Will Turner teams up with the eccentric Captain Jack Sparrow to rescue the governor’s daughter, Elizabeth Swann, from the clutches of cursed pirates led by the terrifying Captain Barbossa.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006): Jack Sparrow finds himself with a blood debt to the legendary Davy Jones, captain of the ghostly Flying Dutchman. To escape his fate, Jack must find the fabled Dead Man’s Chest.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007): Will Turner, Elizabeth Swann, and Captain Barbossa form an uneasy alliance to rescue Jack Sparrow from Davy Jones’ Locker and confront the powerful Lord Cutler Beckett, who seeks to control the seas.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011): Jack Sparrow embarks on a quest for the legendary Fountain of Youth, crossing paths with the formidable pirate Blackbeard and his daughter Angelica, a woman from Jack’s past.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017): Captain Jack Sparrow faces a new enemy, the terrifying ghost captain Salazar, who is determined to kill every pirate at sea. Jack’s only hope lies in finding the mythical Trident of Poseidon.

The Mummy Franchise:

  • The Mummy (1999): Adventurer Rick O’Connell and librarian Evelyn Carnahan accidentally awaken a cursed Egyptian priest, Imhotep, who unleashes a series of plagues upon the world as he seeks to resurrect his long-lost love.
  • The Mummy Returns (2001): Imhotep is back, and this time he’s joined by the Scorpion King, a powerful warrior from ancient Egypt. Rick and Evelyn, now married with a son, Alex, must stop both ancient evils before they take over the world.
  • The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008): Rick and Evelyn are called out of retirement to face a new mummified threat – the Dragon Emperor of China, who seeks to awaken his terracotta army and conquer the world.

More Fantastic Adventures!

  • Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017): Four teenagers get sucked into a magical video game and must play as their avatars to survive.
  • Jurassic Park (1993): Dinosaurs are brought back to life in a theme park, and chaos ensues when the prehistoric creatures escape.
  • King Kong (2005): A filmmaker and his crew venture to a mysterious island and encounter a giant ape called Kong.
  • Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003): A British captain pursues a French warship during the Napoleonic Wars.
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014): A quirky concierge at a famous European hotel becomes embroiled in a plot around a wealthy dowager’s fortune.
  • The Princess Bride (1987): Fairy-tale adventure filled with swordplay, giants, pirates, and true love.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (2015): In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, a warrior and a group of rebels flee a tyrannical warlord.
  • Life of Pi (2012): A teenage boy survives a shipwreck and finds himself adrift on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger.
  • The Goonies (1985): A group of kids go on a treasure hunt, facing booby traps and a comical crime family.
  • Moana (2016): A Polynesian princess sets sail on a daring mission to save her people and discovers her own identity.

So, the next time you’re looking for a thrilling escape, delve into the world of adventure films.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

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