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: 101.667%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
In this rendition of the Alexandre Dumas swashbuckling classic, D'Artagnan moves through the extravagant sets and beautiful costumes in total... [More]
Adjusted Score: 109.519%
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.
"How would you like to star opposite the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood?" Enticed by these words, brunette leading... [More]
Adjusted Score: 105.152%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
This film is set during the oppressive reign of King James II. Irish physician Peter Blood is condemned to slavery... [More]
Adjusted Score: 110.073%
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.
In order to avoid the material copyrighted by Douglas Fairbanks Sr. for his 1922 Robin Hood, the scripters of this... [More]
Adjusted Score: 118.605%
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.
L. Frank Baum's classic tale comes to magisterial Technicolor life! The Wizard of Oz stars legendary Judy Garland as Dorothy,... [More]
Adjusted Score: 94.695%
Critics Consensus: Funny, suspenseful, and spectacularly entertaining, Gunga Din is an expertly calibrated adventure flick with some unfortunately outdated ideas about race.
Though Rudyard Kipling's poem Gunga Din makes a swell recital piece, it cannot be said to have much of a... [More]
Adjusted Score: 107.622%
Critics Consensus: Remade but never duplicated, this darkly humorous morality tale represents John Huston at his finest.
John Huston's 1948 treasure-hunt classic begins as drifter Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart), down and out in Tampico, Mexico, impulsively... [More]
Adjusted Score: 78.492%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
The third talkie version of Dumas' The Three Musketeers, this splashy MGM adaptation is also the first version in Technicolor.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 104.701%
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 years of wooing director John Huston via good reviews, film critic James Agee was given a chance to write... [More]
Adjusted Score: 91.327%
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.
This 1954 Disney version of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea represented the studio's costliest and most elaborate American-filmed... [More]
Adjusted Score: 88.192%
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.
Previous film versions of Moby Dick insisted upon including such imbecilities as romantic subplots and happy endings. John Huston's 1956... [More]
Adjusted Score: 101.457%
Critics Consensus: A feudal adventure told from an eccentric perspective, The Hidden Fortress is among Akira Kurosawa's most purely enjoyable epics.
Two soldiers hide out in the woods from the invading army. They find a gold bar hidden in a tree,... [More]
Adjusted Score: 85.867%
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.
There was neither a heroine nor a villain in Jules Verne's 1864 novel Journey to the Center of the Earth,... [More]
Adjusted Score: 106.198%
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.
This sweeping, highly literate historical epic covers the Allies' mideastern campaign during World War I as seen through the eyes... [More]
Adjusted Score: 99.46%
Critics Consensus: With its impeccably slow-building story and a cast for the ages, The Great Escape is an all-time action classic.
Based on the book by Paul Brickhill, The Great Escape is the true story of Allied prisoners plotting to break... [More]
Adjusted Score: 86.597%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Richard Lester's adaptation of The Three Musketeers was only the latest of many when released in 1974, but it arrived... [More]
Adjusted Score: 99.705%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
A late-career masterpiece from legendary director/adventurer Huston and adapted from a Rudyard Kipling story, it stars Sir Sean and Michael... [More]
Adjusted Score: 101.772%
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.
Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is no ordinary archeologist. When we first see him, he is somewhere in the Peruvian jungle... [More]
Adjusted Score: 89.257%
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 George Lucas/Steven Spielberg Indiana Jones epics is set a year or so before the events in... [More]
Adjusted Score: 88.806%
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.
In this film, adventure writer Kathleen Turner learns that her sister is being held prisoner by evil art dealers in... [More]
Adjusted Score: 82.718%
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.
Wolfgang Petersen adapted Michael Ende's children's story for this charming fantasy film that spawned several sequels. Bastian (Barret Oliver) is... [More]
Adjusted Score: 80.146%
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.
Leonard Maltin wasn't alone when he noticed similarities between Goonies and the 1934 Our Gang comedy Mama's Little Pirate. Adapted... [More]
Adjusted Score: 56.053%
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.
This '80s follow-up to The Wizard of Oz is based upon two of L. Frank Baum's later Oz books. In... [More]
Adjusted Score: 86.213%
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.
The year is 1978: 12-year-old David Freeman (Joey Cramer), playing in the woods near his home, is knocked unconscious. He... [More]
Adjusted Score: 76.975%
Critics Consensus: While it's arguably more interesting on a visual level, Labyrinth provides further proof of director Jim Henson's boundless imagination.
Fifteen-year-old Sarah resents her baby brother Toby and secretly wishes that he will just disappear. Her wish comes true when... [More]
Adjusted Score: 103.13%
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.
Robin Wright and Cary Elwes star in this fairytale adventure about a beautiful princess and the gallant hero who rescues... [More]
Adjusted Score: 93.574%
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.
The third installment in the Spielberg/Lucas Indiana Jones saga, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade evokes many of the thrills... [More]
Adjusted Score: 79.152%
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 absent-minded inventor leaves his latest creation, a shrinking ray, unattended in his attic, where it is accidentally triggered by... [More]
Adjusted Score: 72.997%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Jackie Chan returns to his adventuring Indiana Jones-esque Asian Hawk character with this rollicking action-adventure yarn. In this go-around, Jackie... [More]
Adjusted Score: 33.566%
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.
Steven Spielberg filters J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan through a distinctly 1990s sensibility in Hook. Peter Pan has become Peter... [More]
Adjusted Score: 65.713%
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.
Set in the Yukon Territory in 1897,"White Fang" is the story of a young man and a wolf.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 55.795%
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.
This film is a '90s version of the classic Robin Hood story, with Kevin Costner starring as the good-guy thief.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 95.713%
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.
Director Michael Mann based this lushly romantic version of the James Fenimore Cooper novel more on his memory of the... [More]
Adjusted Score: 82.127%
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.
This Disney live-action film contains elements of action, adventure, a nature film, and romance. It tells the story of Mowgli,... [More]
Adjusted Score: 56.878%
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.
When young Alan Parrish discovers a mysterious board game, he doesn't realize its unimaginable powers, until he is magically transported... [More]
Adjusted Score: 86.808%
Critics Consensus: Banderas returns as an aging Zorro in this surprisingly nimble, entertaining swashbuckler.
Director Martin Campbell, well-known to the action arena after 1995's GoldenEye, teams up with executive producer Steven Spielberg to bring... [More]
Adjusted Score: 65.171%
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.
Loosely adapted from the classic 1932 horror film starring Boris Karloff, The Mummy is set in Egypt, where over 3,000... [More]
Adjusted Score: 99.059%
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.
Assisted by a Fellowship of heroes, Frodo Baggins plunges into a perilous trek to take the mystical One Ring to... [More]
Adjusted Score: 25.284%
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 popular video game comes to the screen with this big-budget adventure starring Angelina Jolie as a buxom heroine recalling... [More]
Adjusted Score: 76.785%
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 tale of swashbuckling adventure by the senior Alexandre Dumas comes to the screen in its umpteenth incarnation, this... [More]
Adjusted Score: 85.443%
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 tale of adventure set during the 17th Century in the Caribbean Sea. For the roguish yet charming Captain Jack... [More]
Adjusted Score: 91.342%
Critics Consensus: Russell Crowe's rough charm is put to good use in this masterful adaptation of Patrick O'Brian's novel.
Director Peter Weir's first turn behind the camera since 1998's critically acclaimed The Truman Show, Master and Commander: The Far... [More]
Adjusted Score: 81.41%
Critics Consensus: A charming father-and-son tale filled with typical Tim Burton flourishes, Big Fish is an impressive catch.
The story of a braggart and exaggerator, Edward Bloom, and his son, William, who--after a long estrangement--returns home only to... [More]
Adjusted Score: 50.93%
Critics Consensus: National Treasure is no treasure, but it's a fun ride for those who can forgive its highly improbable plot.
Benjamin Franklin Gates is a third generation treasure hunter. All his life, Gates has been searching for a treasure no... [More]
Adjusted Score: 93.306%
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.
One of the greatest adventure stories in Hollywood history gets a new interpretation in this action drama from Academy Award-winning... [More]
Adjusted Score: 81.215%
Critics Consensus: Dazzling special effects for the kids + well-crafted storytelling for the 'rents = cinematic satisfaction for the whole family.
Two young brothers are drawn into an intergalactic adventure when their house is magically hurtled through space because of the... [More]
Adjusted Score: 94.355%
Critics Consensus: This is an old-fashioned, richly textured family film that will appeal to children and adults alike.
When 10-old Xan and his father Peter come across an orphaned cheetah cub, they name their new friend "Duma," the... [More]
Adjusted Score: 82.445%
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.
The sleepy English village of Wall is so named for the cobblestone wall that has, for eons, kept the villagers... [More]
Adjusted Score: 66.881%
Critics Consensus: Modern visuals and an old fasioned storyline make this family adventure/comedy a fast-paced, kitschy ride.
Academy Award-winning visual effects artist Eric Brevig makes his feature directorial debut with this adaptation of the classic Jules Verne... [More]
Adjusted Score: 54.488%
Critics Consensus: Despite good intentions, Nim's Island flounders under an implausible storyline, simplistic stock characters, and distracting product placement.
Anything can happen on Nim's Island, a magical place ruled by a young girl's imagination. It is an existence that... [More]
Adjusted Score: 57.514%
Critics Consensus: City of Ember is visually arresting, and boasts a superb cast, but is sadly lacking in both action and adventure.
For generations, the people of the City of Ember have flourished in an amazing world of glittering lights. But Ember's... [More]
Adjusted Score: 59.664%
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.
Nineteen-year-old Alice returns to the magical world from her childhood adventure, where she reunites with her old friends and learns... [More]
Adjusted Score: 95.59%
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.
Director Ang Lee creates a groundbreaking movie event about a young man who survives a disaster at sea and is... [More]
Adjusted Score: 106.867%
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.
Mowgli, a man-cub raised in the jungle by a family of wolves, embarks on a captivating journey of self-discovery when... [More]
Adjusted Score: 91.705%
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.
Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures' "Kong: Skull Island" reimagines the origin of the mythic Kong in a compelling, original... [More]
Adjusted Score: 85.832%
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.
When four high-school kids discover an old video game console with a game they've never heard of--Jumanji--they are immediately drawn... [More]
Adjusted Score: 96.241%
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.
Based on author David Grann's nonfiction bestseller, "The Lost City of Z" tells the incredible true story of British explorer... [More]
Adjusted Score: 56.59%
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 (Storm Reid) is a typical middle school student struggling with issues of self-worth who is desperate to fit... [More]
Adjusted Score: 91.027%
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 with her parents, nothing could prepare Dora (Isabela Moner) for her... [More]
Adjusted Score: 96.727%
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 in the epic adventure THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING. Alex (Ashbourne Serkis)... [More]