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! —Alex Vo
Adjusted Score: 94018%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Leaving his country village, D'Artagnan (Douglas Fairbanks) heads to Paris in hopes of becoming a musketeer. Soon after, he meets... [More]
Adjusted Score: 113447%
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.
Actress Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) and director Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) travel to the Indian Ocean to do location shoots... [More]
Adjusted Score: 103864%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
In England in the 1600s, Dr. Peter Blood (Errol Flynn) treats the wounds of a man who had been injured... [More]
Adjusted Score: 108184%
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.
When King Richard the Lionheart is captured, his scheming brother Prince John (Claude Rains) plots to reach the throne, to... [More]
Adjusted Score: 115421%
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.
When a tornado rips through Kansas, Dorothy (Judy Garland) and her dog, Toto, are whisked away in their house to... [More]
Adjusted Score: 93885%
Critics Consensus: Funny, suspenseful, and spectacularly entertaining, Gunga Din is an expertly calibrated adventure flick with some unfortunately outdated ideas about race.
British army sergeants Ballantine (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.), Cutter (Cary Grant) and MacChesney (Victor McLaglen) serve in India during the 1880s,... [More]
Adjusted Score: 106550%
Critics Consensus: Remade but never duplicated, this darkly humorous morality tale represents John Huston at his finest.
In this classic adventure film, two rough-and-tumble wanderers, Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) and Curtin (Tim Holt), meet up with a veteran... [More]
Adjusted Score: 75647%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Aspiring swordsman D'Artagnan (Gene Kelly) arrives in Paris with hopes of joining the royal guard and falls in love with... [More]
Adjusted Score: 103060%
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.
After religious spinster's (Katharine Hepburn) missionary brother is killed in WWI Africa, dissolute steamer captain (Humphrey Bogart) offers her safe... [More]
Adjusted Score: 92561%
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.
In 1866, Professor Pierre M. Aronnax (Paul Lukas) and his assistant Conseil (Peter Lorre), stranded in San Francisco by reports... [More]
Adjusted Score: 85931%
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.
Capt. Ahab (Gregory Peck) has a vendetta against Moby Dick, the great white whale responsible for taking his leg. He... [More]
Adjusted Score: 100093%
Critics Consensus: A feudal adventure told from an eccentric perspective, The Hidden Fortress is among Akira Kurosawa's most purely enjoyable epics.
Japanese peasants Matashichi (Kamatari Fujiwara) and Tahei (Minoru Chiaki) try and fail to make a profit from a tribal war.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 84167%
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.
A geologist (James Mason) and his assistant (Pat Boone) set off on an expedition to the center of the earth.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 106649%
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.
Due to his knowledge of the native Bedouin tribes, British Lieutenant T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) is sent to Arabia to... [More]
Adjusted Score: 98930%
Critics Consensus: With its impeccably slow-building story and a cast for the ages, The Great Escape is an all-time action classic.
Imprisoned during World War II in a German POW camp, a group of Allied soldiers are intent on breaking out,... [More]
Adjusted Score: 52983%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
An adaptation of the classic Dumas novel, this film tells the tale of aspiring swordsman D'Artagnan (Michael York), who arrives... [More]
Adjusted Score: 99161%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Based on a short story by Rudyard Kipling, this adventure film follows the exploits of Peachy Carnehan (Michael Caine) and... [More]
Adjusted Score: 103457%
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.
Dr. Indiana Jones, a renowned archeologist and expert in the occult, is hired by the U.S. Government to find the... [More]
Adjusted Score: 85407%
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.
The second of the Lucas/Spielberg Indiana Jones epics is set a year or so before the events in Raiders of... [More]
Adjusted Score: 89285%
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 dowdy romantic-adventure writer is hurled into a real-life adventure in the Colombian jungle in order to save her sister,... [More]
Adjusted Score: 85520%
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.
On his way to school, Bastian (Barret Oliver) ducks into a bookstore to avoid bullies. Sneaking away with a book... [More]
Adjusted Score: 81502%
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.
When two brothers find out they might lose their house they are desperate to find a way to keep their... [More]
Adjusted Score: 58118%
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.
Dorothy discovers she is back in the land of Oz, and finds the yellow brick road is now a pile... [More]
Adjusted Score: 85991%
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.
This 1978 Disney adventure tells the story of 12-year-old David (Joey Cramer) who lives with his family in Fort Lauderdale,... [More]
Adjusted Score: 78919%
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: 103619%
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 fairy tale adventure about a beautiful young woman and her one true love. He must find her after a... [More]
Adjusted Score: 94341%
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.
An art collector appeals to Jones to embark on a search for the Holy Grail. He learns that another archaeologist... [More]
Adjusted Score: 80040%
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.
When kids sneak into inventor Wayne Szalinski's (Rick Moranis) upstairs lab to retrieve an errant baseball, his experimental shrink ray... [More]
Adjusted Score: 71633%
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: 32993%
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.
When his young children are abducted by his old nemesis, Capt. Hook (Dustin Hoffman), middle-aged lawyer Peter Banning (Robin Williams)... [More]
Adjusted Score: 67613%
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.
This adaptation of Jack London's wilderness tale focuses on young Jack Conroy (Ethan Hawke), who has arrived in Alaska to... [More]
Adjusted Score: 54379%
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.
Nobleman crusader Robin of Locksley (Kevin Costner) breaks out of a Jerusalem prison with the help of Moorish fellow prisoner... [More]
Adjusted Score: 96992%
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.
The last members of a dying Native American tribe, the Mohicans -- Uncas (Eric Schweig), his father Chingachgook (Russell Means),... [More]
Adjusted Score: 81454%
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.
When his father is killed by a jungle tiger, Mowgli (Jason Scott Lee) is orphaned and grows up in the... [More]
Adjusted Score: 54128%
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 magical board game unleashes a world of adventure on siblings Peter (Bradley Pierce) and Judy Shepherd (Kirsten Dunst). While... [More]
Adjusted Score: 86350%
Critics Consensus: Banderas returns as an aging Zorro in this surprisingly nimble, entertaining swashbuckler.
After being imprisoned for 20 years, Zorro -- Don Diego de la Vega (Anthony Hopkins) -- receives word that his... [More]
Adjusted Score: 63713%
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.
The Mummy is a rousing, suspenseful and horrifying epic about an expedition of treasure-seeking explorers in the Sahara Desert in... [More]
Adjusted Score: 99997%
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.
The future of civilization rests in the fate of the One Ring, which has been lost for centuries. Powerful forces... [More]
Adjusted Score: 25921%
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.
This live action feature is inspired by the most successful interactive video-game character in history -- Lara Croft. Beautiful and... [More]
Adjusted Score: 77227%
Critics Consensus: Though it may not reach for any new artistic heights, The Count of Monte Cristo is an old-fashioned yet enjoyable swashbuckler.
The classic story of an innocent man wrongly, but deliberately imprisoned and his brilliant strategy for revenge against those who... [More]
Adjusted Score: 87279%
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.
Capt. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) arrives at Port Royal in the Caribbean without a ship or crew. His timing is... [More]
Adjusted Score: 92279%
Critics Consensus: Russell Crowe's rough charm is put to good use in this masterful adaptation of Patrick O'Brian's novel.
In 1805, aboard the H.M.S. Surprise, the brash Captain Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) and his trusted friend, the ship's scholarly... [More]
Adjusted Score: 82279%
Critics Consensus: A charming father-and-son tale filled with typical Tim Burton flourishes, Big Fish is an impressive catch.
When Edward Bloom (Albert Finney) becomes ill, his son, William (Billy Crudup), travels to be with him. William has a... [More]
Adjusted Score: 52081%
Critics Consensus: National Treasure is no treasure, but it's a fun ride for those who can forgive its highly improbable plot.
Historian and code-breaker Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) has been searching his whole life for a rumored treasure dating back to... [More]
Adjusted Score: 94111%
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.
Peter Jackson's expansive remake of the 1933 classic follows director Carl Denham (Jack Black) and his crew on a journey... [More]
Adjusted Score: 81700%
Critics Consensus: Dazzling special effects for the kids + well-crafted storytelling for the 'rents = cinematic satisfaction for the whole family.
After their father (Tim Robbins) is called into work, two young boys, Walter (Josh Hutcherson) and Danny (Jonah Bobo), are... [More]
Adjusted Score: 95581%
Critics Consensus: This is an old-fashioned, richly textured family film that will appeal to children and adults alike.
Xan (Alexander Michaletos) lives on a ranch in Kenya with his mother (Hope Davis) and father (Campbell Scott). When the... [More]
Adjusted Score: 84339%
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 (Sienna Miller), a young man named Tristan (Charlie Cox) ventures into the realm... [More]
Adjusted Score: 66710%
Critics Consensus: Modern visuals and an old fasioned storyline make this family adventure/comedy a fast-paced, kitschy ride.
During an expedition to Iceland, professor Trevor Anderson (Brendan Fraser), his nephew Sean (Josh Hutcherson) and their guide, Hannah (Anita... [More]
Adjusted Score: 55459%
Critics Consensus: Despite good intentions, Nim's Island flounders under an implausible storyline, simplistic stock characters, and distracting product placement.
Life is an adventure for a courageous youngster named Nim (Abigail Breslin), who lives on an exotic island with her... [More]
Adjusted Score: 58418%
Critics Consensus: City of Ember is visually arresting, and boasts a superb cast, but is sadly lacking in both action and adventure.
For generations a massive generator has sustained the needs of the underground city of Ember. But the generator was built... [More]
Adjusted Score: 61372%
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.
A young girl when she first visited magical Underland, Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) is now a teenager with no memory... [More]
Adjusted Score: 96143%
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 deciding to sell their zoo in India and move to Canada, Santosh and Gita Patel board a freighter with... [More]
Adjusted Score: 112853%
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.
Raised by a family of wolves since birth, Mowgli (Neel Sethi) must leave the only home he's ever known when... [More]
Adjusted Score: 102526%
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 unite to explore a mythical, uncharted island in the Pacific Ocean. Cut off from everything they... [More]
Adjusted Score: 92465%
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 high school kids discover an old video game console and are drawn into the game's jungle setting, literally becoming... [More]
Adjusted Score: 103193%
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 journeys into the Amazon, where he discovers evidence of... [More]
Adjusted Score: 59162%
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 Murry and her little brother, Charles Wallace, have been without their scientist father, Mr. Murry, for five years, ever... [More]
Adjusted Score: 93474%
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.
Having spent most of her life exploring the jungle, nothing could prepare Dora for her most dangerous adventure yet --... [More]
Adjusted Score: 100633%
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 unites his friends... [More]