60 Essential Adventure Movies
The adventure is one of the hardest kinds of movie to define, but like certain other genres: “You know it when you see it.” Adventures are grand, exciting, and often epic tales, usually focused on people on a mission, whose purposes include fame, fortune, and glory. The best adventure movies can run on the thrill of exploration and discovery, treading deep into jungles, stalking across arid deserts, or sailing across open oceans. The casts of characters feature rambunctious pirates, lordly counts, mercenaries and bounty hunters, big whales, and even bigger apes. And adventure movies can invite their other genre buddies along for the ride, too, including fantasy and science-fiction.
Now we’re embarking on our own journey, plundering gem after gem for a guide to what we’re calling the essential adventure movies if you love the genre. Listing these best adventure movies in chronological order, we begin a century in the past, when the adventure genre was defined by the swashbucklers of Captain Blood and The Three Musketeers. At the same time, the fantastical elements introduced in King Kong and Wizard of Oz marked adventure movies as the spot to introduce the latest in dazzling special effects.
After World War II, the adventure genre entered its prestige era, with historical epics like Lawrence of Arabia and The Man Who Would Be King, and tales of derring-do in The African Queen and The Great Escape. Here it should be said there is a certain Western-centric viewpoint that cannot be denied as inherent to many adventure movies, one that ‘others’ different countries and cultures. And hopefully what elevates these movies above that are their swaggering sense of playful optimism and lighthearted fun.
That’s certainly evident in Raiders of the Lost Ark, whose retro serial action and intrigue established the adventure formula for a new generation, which marched on through Indiana Jones’ sequels, Romancing the Stone, National Treasure, and The Mummy. During the same ’80s Indy decade, the adventure genre opened itself back up to sci-fi and fantasy, along with spotlighting younger protagonists, leading to The Goonies, The NeverEnding Story, Labyrinth, and more.
Around the turn of the century, the adventure movie successfully aided the resurrection of other genres that common Hollywood wisdom had deemed box office poison: swashbucklers (The Mask of Zorro), high fantasy (The Lord of the Rings), and even the pirate movie (Pirates of the Caribbean), which had been sent to Davy Jones’ Locker after Cutthroat Island sank Carolco Pictures.
And since 2012’s Life of Pi, there’s been another adventure resurgence with The Jungle Book and more Kong and Jumanji movies.
Now, continue on and discover the 60 best adventure movies to watch now!
Adjusted Score: 101988%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
D'Artagnan (Douglas Fairbanks) helps Athos (Leon Barry), Porthos (George Siegmann) and Aramis foil Cardinal Richelieu's plot to besmirch the queen.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 110242%
Critics Consensus: King Kong explores the soul of a monster -- making audiences scream and cry throughout the film -- in large part due to Kong's breakthrough special effects.
Shipped from mysterious Skull Island for display in the United States, a gigantic ape escapes from his bonds and carries... [More]
Adjusted Score: 105115%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
A British doctor (Errol Flynn) sold into slavery becomes a dashing Caribbean pirate and fights a duel with a French... [More]
Adjusted Score: 110368%
Critics Consensus: Errol Flynn thrills as the legendary title character, and the film embodies the type of imaginative family adventure tailor-made for the silver screen.
The Sherwood Forest outlaw (Errol Flynn) and his men save King Richard and Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland) from Prince... [More]
Adjusted Score: 118424%
Critics Consensus: An absolute masterpiece whose groundbreaking visuals and deft storytelling are still every bit as resonant, The Wizard of Oz is a must-see film for young and old.
After a tornado whisks Kansas farm girl Dorothy (Judy Garland) to a magic land, she must travel to the Emerald... [More]
Adjusted Score: 94846%
Critics Consensus: Funny, suspenseful, and spectacularly entertaining, Gunga Din is an expertly calibrated adventure flick with some unfortunately outdated ideas about race.
British soldiers (Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Victor McLaglen) and their water carrier face Thuggee cultists at the Khyber Pass... [More]
Adjusted Score: 109159%
Critics Consensus: Remade but never duplicated, this darkly humorous morality tale represents John Huston at his finest.
Three unlucky Americans (Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt) seek gold in Mexico, agreeing beforehand to split it equally.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 77766%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Swordsmen Athos (Van Heflin), Porthos, Aramis and D'Artagnan (Gene Kelly) foil a plot against the king by Lady de Winter... [More]
Adjusted Score: 104722%
Critics Consensus: Perfectly cast, smartly written, and beautifully filmed, The African Queen remains thrilling, funny, and effortlessly absorbing even after more than half a century's worth of adventure movies borrowing liberally from its creative DNA.
An imperious woman (Katharine Hepburn) makes a gin-soaked boat captain (Humphrey Bogart) fight Germans in the World War I Congo.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 91923%
Critics Consensus: One of Disney's finest live-action adventures, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea brings Jules Verne's classic sci-fi tale to vivid life, and features an awesome giant squid.
Jules Verne's Captain Nemo (James Mason) sinks a ship and brings survivors (Kirk Douglas, Paul Lukas) aboard his luxury submarine,... [More]
Adjusted Score: 88216%
Critics Consensus: It may favor spectacle in place of the deeper themes in Herman Melville's novel, but John Huston's Moby Dick still makes for a grand movie adventure.
The captain of the Pequod risks his life and crew in an obsessive quest to kill the legendary whale that... [More]
Adjusted Score: 101679%
Critics Consensus: A feudal adventure told from an eccentric perspective, The Hidden Fortress is among Akira Kurosawa's most purely enjoyable epics.
Two medieval misfits help a beaten Japanese warlord (ToshirÃ´ Mifune) and his princess (Misa Uehara) escape with the royal gold.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 86351%
Critics Consensus: A silly but fun movie with everything you'd want from a sci-fi blockbuster -- heroic characters, menacing villains, monsters, big sets and special effects.
Jules Verne's professor Lindenbrook (James Mason) leads an expedition (Pat Boone, Arlene Dahl) through monsters, mushrooms and a magnetic storm.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 107899%
Critics Consensus: The epic of all epics, Lawrence of Arabia cements director David Lean's status in the filmmaking pantheon with nearly four hours of grand scope, brilliant performances, and beautiful cinematography.
Controversial British officer T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) learns the culture of Arabs (Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn) and unites their tribes... [More]
Adjusted Score: 99297%
Critics Consensus: With its impeccably slow-building story and a cast for the ages, The Great Escape is an all-time action classic.
Allied soldiers (Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough) dig a tunnel out of a Nazi prison camp, pocketfuls of dirt... [More]
Adjusted Score: 85883%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Dashing D'Artagnan (Michael York) helps Athos (Oliver Reed), Porthos and Aramis foil Cardinal Richelieu's plot to besmirch the queen.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 99384%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Rudyard Kipling (Christopher Plummer) sends two British scoundrels (Sean Connery, Michael Caine) to Kafiristan, which they loot.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 103737%
Critics Consensus: Featuring bravura set pieces, sly humor, and white-knuckle action, Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the most consummately entertaining adventure pictures of all time.
Globe-trotting archaeologist Indiana Jones races the Nazis for possession of a legendary religious artifact.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 90676%
Critics Consensus: It may be too "dark" for some, but Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom remains an ingenious adventure spectacle that showcases one of Hollywood's finest filmmaking teams in vintage form.
In 1935 archaeologist Jones (Harrison Ford), a lounge singer (Kate Capshaw) and a Chinese orphan (Ke Huy Quan) search for... [More]
Adjusted Score: 88896%
Critics Consensus: Romancing the Stone reaches back to the classic Saturday morning serials of old with an action-filled adventure enlivened by the sparkling chemistry between its well-matched leads.
A mousy novelist (Kathleen Turner) goes to Colombia for her sister and joins a mercenary (Michael Douglas) on a treasure... [More]
Adjusted Score: 83561%
Critics Consensus: A magical journey about the power of a young boy's imagination to save a dying fantasy land, The NeverEnding Story remains a much-loved kids adventure.
A New York schoolboy (Barret Oliver) escapes into a book about a boy warrior (Noah Hathaway) and an empress (Tami... [More]
Adjusted Score: 81617%
Critics Consensus: The Goonies is an energetic, sometimes noisy mix of Spielbergian sentiment and funhouse tricks that will appeal to kids and nostalgic adults alike.
Coastal Oregon kids (Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Jeff Cohen) follow the treasure map of pirate One-Eyed Willie past his deadly... [More]
Adjusted Score: 56858%
Critics Consensus: Return to Oz taps into the darker side of L. Frank Baum's book series with an intermittently dazzling adventure that never quite recaptures the magic of its classic predecessor.
Insomniac Dorothy (Fairuza Balk) escapes from a clinic to Oz, now a disaster area with a bad king (Nicol Williamson)... [More]
Adjusted Score: 85876%
Critics Consensus: Bolstered by impressive special effects and a charming performance from its young star, Flight of the Navigator holds up as a solidly entertaining bit of family-friendly sci-fi.
A Florida boy (Joey Cramer) returns to his parents (Veronica Cartwright, Cliff De Young) in 1986 no older than when... [More]
Adjusted Score: 78087%
Critics Consensus: While it's arguably more interesting on a visual level, Labyrinth provides further proof of director Jim Henson's boundless imagination.
Teenage Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) journeys through a maze to recover her baby brother (Toby Froud) from a goblin king (David... [More]
Adjusted Score: 104828%
Critics Consensus: A delightfully postmodern fairy tale, The Princess Bride is a deft, intelligent mix of swashbuckling, romance, and comedy that takes an age-old damsel-in-distress story and makes it fresh.
A storybook stableboy turns pirate (Cary Elwes) and rescues his beloved (Robin Wright), who is about to marry a dreadful... [More]
Adjusted Score: 93870%
Critics Consensus: Lighter and more comedic than its predecessor, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade returns the series to the brisk serial adventure of Raiders, while adding a dynamite double act between Harrison Ford and Sean Connery.
Archaeologist Jones (Harrison Ford) rescues his kidnapped father (Sean Connery), and the two race the Nazis to find the Holy... [More]
Adjusted Score: 79774%
Critics Consensus: Even as its special effects take center stage, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids still offers a charming, high-spirited sense of adventure for the whole family.
An inventor's (Rick Moranis) ray gun zaps his son, his daughter and a neighbor's (Matt Frewer) boys down to pea-size... [More]
Adjusted Score: 74605%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
An adventurer (Jackie Chan) and his friend (Alan Tam) aid a woman (Rosamund Kwan) kidnapped by cultists seeking a set... [More]
Adjusted Score: 33627%
Critics Consensus: The look of Hook is lively indeed but Steven Spielberg directs on autopilot here, giving in too quickly to his sentimental, syrupy qualities.
Aided by Tinker Bell (Julia Roberts), a corporate lawyer (Robin Williams) turns into Peter Pan to rescue his children from... [More]
Adjusted Score: 66044%
Critics Consensus: This glossy edition of White Fang shaves off the rough-hewn edges that made Jack London's epic story so distinct, but gorgeous photography and heartfelt performances make this an appealing adventure.
An orphan (Ethan Hawke) joins the Klondike gold rush with his Yukon guide (Klaus Maria Brandauer) and a wolf-dog.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 55690%
Critics Consensus: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves brings a wonderfully villainous Alan Rickman to this oft-adapted tale, but he's robbed by big-budget bombast and a muddled screenplay.
The archer (Kevin Costner) and his Moorish sidekick (Morgan Freeman) join Sherwood Forest outlaws against the sheriff of Nottingham, who... [More]
Adjusted Score: 96648%
Critics Consensus: The Last of the Mohicans is a breathless romantic adventure that plays loose with history -- and comes out with a richer action movie for it.
Colonial guide Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis), with his Indian friends, Chingachgook (Russell Means) and Uncas, rescue British sisters from the Huron... [More]
Adjusted Score: 82669%
Critics Consensus: Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book may not hew as closely to the book as its title suggests, but it still offers an entertaining live-action take on a story best known in animated form.
A young man and the wild animals who raised him are endangered when modern civilization invades their jungle homeland.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 57266%
Critics Consensus: A feast for the eyes with a somewhat malnourished plot, Jumanji is an underachieving adventure that still offers a decent amount of fun for the whole family.
A magic board-game brings forth African perils and a guy (Robin Williams) who disappeared in 1969 while playing it.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 86586%
Critics Consensus: Banderas returns as an aging Zorro in this surprisingly nimble, entertaining swashbuckler.
The fabled avenger (Anthony Hopkins) trains an uncouth protege (Antonio Banderas) to drive a Spanish tyrant out of California once... [More]
Adjusted Score: 65805%
Critics Consensus: It's difficult to make a persuasive argument for The Mummy as any kind of meaningful cinematic achievement, but it's undeniably fun to watch.
A young man (Brendan Fraser) opens a tomb unleashing a mummy seeking revenge for a curse laid upon him 3,000... [More]
Adjusted Score: 100570%
Critics Consensus: Full of eye-popping special effects, and featuring a pitch-perfect cast, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring brings J.R.R. Tolkien's classic to vivid life.
A chosen hobbit (Elijah Wood) and his loyal friends join a wizard (Ian McKellen), humans, a dwarf and an elf... [More]
Adjusted Score: 26322%
Critics Consensus: Angelina Jolie is perfect for the role of Lara Croft, but even she can't save the movie from a senseless plot and action sequences with no emotional impact.
A beautiful globe-trotter (Angelina Jolie) battles otherworldly creatures for possession of a powerful artifact.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 77620%
Critics Consensus: Though it may not reach for any new artistic heights, The Count of Monte Cristo is an old-fashioned yet enjoyable swashbuckler.
A French sailor (Jim Caviezel), framed and sent to an island prison, escapes and seeks revenge on those who betrayed... [More]
Adjusted Score: 86537%
Critics Consensus: May leave you exhausted like the theme park ride that inspired it; however, you'll have a good time when it's over.
A swashbuckler (Johnny Depp) must rescue a governor's daughter (Keira Knightley) from a pirate (Geoffrey Rush) and his mates, who... [More]
Adjusted Score: 91439%
Critics Consensus: Russell Crowe's rough charm is put to good use in this masterful adaptation of Patrick O'Brian's novel.
In 1805 a British captain (Russell Crowe) and his crew endure hardships while trying to prevent a French ship from... [More]
Adjusted Score: 82513%
Critics Consensus: A charming father-and-son tale filled with typical Tim Burton flourishes, Big Fish is an impressive catch.
A young journalist (Billy Crudup) searches for the truth behind the tall tales told by his ailing father (Albert Finney).... [More]
Adjusted Score: 50562%
Critics Consensus: National Treasure is no treasure, but it's a fun ride for those who can forgive its highly improbable plot.
An adventurer (Nicolas Cage) must steal the Declaration of Independence and use its hidden map to find a legendary fortune.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 93255%
Critics Consensus: Featuring state-of-the-art special effects, terrific performances, and a majestic sense of spectacle, Peter Jackson's remake of King Kong is a potent epic that's faithful to the spirit of the 1933 original.
Members (Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody) of a film crew encounter prehistoric beasts and a gigantic ape on mysterious... [More]
Adjusted Score: 80805%
Critics Consensus: Dazzling special effects for the kids + well-crafted storytelling for the 'rents = cinematic satisfaction for the whole family.
Two young brothers (Josh Hutcherson, Jonah Bobo) play a mysterious game that propels them into an outer-space adventure.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 94570%
Critics Consensus: This is an old-fashioned, richly textured family film that will appeal to children and adults alike.
A boy (Alexander Michaletos) finds adventure in South Africa when he tries to return his beloved cheetah to its natural... [More]
Adjusted Score: 83390%
Critics Consensus: A faithful interpretation that captures the spirit of whimsy, action, and off-kilter humor of Neil Gaiman, Stardust juggles multiple genres and tones to create a fantastical experience.
To win the heart of his beloved, a young man (Charlie Cox) ventures into the realm of fairies to retrieve... [More]
Adjusted Score: 66693%
Critics Consensus: Modern visuals and an old fasioned storyline make this family adventure/comedy a fast-paced, kitschy ride.
A science professor (Brendan Fraser) and his nephew (Josh Hutcherson) encounter strange creatures and stranger lands as they travel beneath... [More]
Adjusted Score: 55062%
Critics Consensus: Despite good intentions, Nim's Island flounders under an implausible storyline, simplistic stock characters, and distracting product placement.
A fainthearted adventure writer (Jodie Foster) joins forces with a courageous youngster (Abigail Breslin) to save the girl's island home... [More]
Adjusted Score: 58161%
Critics Consensus: City of Ember is visually arresting, and boasts a superb cast, but is sadly lacking in both action and adventure.
When the lights in their underground city start to flicker, two youths (Saoirse Ronan, Harry Treadaway) are the only ones... [More]
Adjusted Score: 61137%
Critics Consensus: Tim Burton's Alice sacrifices the book's minimal narrative coherence -- and much of its heart -- but it's an undeniable visual treat.
Now a teenager, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) returns to Underland, where she must find her destiny and put an end to... [More]
Adjusted Score: 97674%
Critics Consensus: A 3D adaptation of a supposedly "unfilmable" book, Ang Lee's Life of Pi achieves the near impossible -- it's an astonishing technical achievement that's also emotionally rewarding.
After the freighter they're on sinks in a storm, a teenager (Suraj Sharma) and a Bengal tiger wind up on... [More]
Adjusted Score: 109835%
Critics Consensus: As lovely to behold as it is engrossing to watch, The Jungle Book is the rare remake that actually improves upon its predecessors -- all while setting a new standard for CGI.
Guided by a no-nonsense panther (Ben Kingsley) and a free-spirited bear (Bill Murray), young Mowgli (Neel Sethi) meets an array... [More]
Adjusted Score: 94452%
Critics Consensus: Offering exhilarating eye candy, solid acting, and a fast-paced story, Kong: Skull Island earns its spot in the movie monster's mythos without ever matching up to the classic original.
Scientists, soldiers and adventurers encounter the mighty Kong and other monstrous creatures after traveling to an uncharted island in the... [More]
Adjusted Score: 87513%
Critics Consensus: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle uses a charming cast and a humorous twist to offer an undemanding yet solidly entertaining update on its source material.
Four teens embark on the adventure of a lifetime when a video game magically transports them to the jungle and... [More]
Adjusted Score: 96987%
Critics Consensus: The Lost City of Z's stately pace and visual grandeur hearken back to classic exploration epics, and Charlie Hunnam turns in a masterful performance as its complex protagonist.
At the dawn of the 20th century, British explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) journeys into the Amazon, where he discovers... [More]
Adjusted Score: 60317%
Critics Consensus: A Wrinkle in Time is visually gorgeous, big-hearted, and occasionally quite moving; unfortunately, it's also wildly ambitious to a fault, and often less than the sum of its classic parts.
Meg and Charles Wallace Murry, guided by three astral travelers, brave a dangerous journey to an evil planet to save... [More]
Adjusted Score: 92840%
Critics Consensus: Led by a winning performance from Isabela Moner, Dora and the Lost City of Gold is a family-friendly adventure that retains its source material's youthful spirit.
Accompanied by a ragtag group of teens and Boots the monkey, Dora embarks on a quest to save her parents... [More]
Adjusted Score: 98964%
Critics Consensus: The Kid Who Would Be King recalls classic all-ages adventures -- and repurposes a timeless legend -- for a thoroughly enjoyable new addition to the family movie canon.
Old-school magic meets the modern world when young Alex stumbles upon the mythical sword Excalibur. He soon joins forces with... [More]