I have, what I’m finding to be, a very strict definition of adventure movies. It follows the Wikipedia definition pretty closely, but apparently, that is not the definition other people seem to use; at least people that write lists and post them on the internet.
Wikipedia’s definition of an adventure movie:
“Adventure films are a genre of film whose plots feature elements of travel. They typically involve protagonists who must leave their home or place of comfort and go to faraway lands to fulfill a goal. Settings play an important role in Adventure films, sometimes as big as the characters themselves.“
“Main plot elements include quests for lost continents and exotic setting; struggles and situations that confront the main characters, the creation of empires, characters embarking on treasure and heroic journeys, travels, explorations, quests and searches for the unknown usually also having to overcome an adversary. Adventure films are often set in a period background and may include adapted stories of historical or fictional adventure heroes within the historical context. Kings, battles, rebellion, or piracy are commonly seen. Adventure films may also be combined with other movie genres such as action, animation, comedy, drama, fantasy, science fiction, family, horror, or war.“
The ending of the definition is where my opinion diverges, slightly. Adventure movies can, of course, be combined with other genres, but too often on these lists, adventure is the subgenre and has very little to do with the main parts of the movie. When I’m looking for an adventure movie, I want that to be the focus. Things get a bit sticky with films like Star Wars. It’s clearly sci-fi, but it’s also fantasy and adventure. It’s one of those rare movies that straddle genres very well.
Superhero movies will not be on my list. At least none I’ve seen as of September 2020. In my opinion, superhero movies have become their own separate genre. They have elements of action, sci-fi, fantasy, and adventure. The focus, though, is the superhero and all the superhero stuff. This is not what I’m looking for when it comes to an adventure movie.
Most action movies will not be on my list. If the purpose of the movie is to see people get beat up and shit blown up, for me, that’s action, not adventure. John Wick and The Raid are action. Sure, I could see how someone could argue they’re adventure, but, again, that’s not what I’m looking for in an adventure film.
*This definition is completely subjective and as the list grows longer will probably end up making no sense at all.
I think part of the reason I enjoy adventure movies is that unlike action, they often include female characters in more than a token role. Evie in The Mummy is a driving force in the story. Buttercup tries to save her true love and speaks up against the man in control of her in The Princess Bride. It’s Joan’s adventure that we go on in Romancing the Stone and Jewel of the Nile. Princess Leia, Abigail Chase, Elizabeth Swann, Yvaine, and Lamia have large parts in each of their movies. They each may not be the lead of their films, but their actions matter to the story.
Now that’s cleared up, here are the adventure movies I enjoy the most, listed alphabetically. More will be added as I remember them or watch them.
The Goonies is a perfect example of an adventure film. You’ve got a ragtag crew of kids (goonies) that are about to lose their homes until they find a treasure map. Excitement ensues as they fight their way to the treasure at the end.
Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is about a man who is taken from Earth and forced to make his way through the galaxy with people he thought he knew. His initial goal is just to survive in his new environment, but it turns into a quest to find the answer to the ultimate question. It has a sci-fi setting and is a comedy, but the main purpose of the movie is Arthur’s adventure.
The Indiana Jones movies are my definition of adventure film. Indiana is an adventurer seeking treasures that belong in museums. Raiders of the Last Ark is easily the best. Temple of Doom still freaks me out a bit. Last Crusade has Sean Connery and is a bit of a rehash of Raiders, but I still prefer it to Temple of Doom. I actually don’t hate Kingdom of the Crystal Skull but I didn’t include a picture because the gallery looked weird on WordPress when I uploaded it.
Jumanji and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle both have kids completely out of their comfort zones fighting to survive and beat a game.
The Librarian: Quest for the Spear, Return to King Solomon’s Mines, and Curse of the Judas Chalice are movies that were made for TV but they are very much in the vein of the Indiana Jones films. Noah is a professional student who finds himself chosen to work for the Library. He has to seek out mythical artifacts to protect them and the world. There is also a Librarians TV show that I love even more than the movies.
The Mummy and The Mummy Returns are once again very similar to the Indiana Jones movies. However, this time the female character has agency and an integral part to the story. Evie makes these movies, she has a larger role than O’Connell. She’s amazing. Also, everyone in this movie is gorgeous.
National Treasure and National Treasure: Book of Secrets have a team of people searching all over the country for treasure. They are being chased by bad guys and there’s a little bit of romance. It doesn’t have a historical setting, but it does have historical elements.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is the best of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies (Full disclosure I haven’t watched the last one or two). It has swashbuckling pirates, sword fights, and treasure.
The Princess Bride has fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, true love, and miracles. You can’t get more adventure than that, now can you?
Romancing the Stone and The Jewel of the Nile are two adventure movies that follow Joan Wilder, a super successful romance writer, and Jack Colton a man who just wants to buy a boat. They travel through treacherous terrain while being chased by a corrupt military figure, in order to save her sister. The sequel isn’t as good, but I enjoy it none the less.
Stardust has a lot of fantasy elements and I debated including it on my list. It’s one of my favorite movies, but is it more adventure than fantasy? I decided to go with yes. It has pirates. It has a young man on a heroic journey to find treasure for his love. The fantasy setting plays a roll, but the adventure story is what really drives the movie. It hits all the marks I love most about adventure films, but I could just be clouded by my love.
Star Wars just might be the most epic adventure story of all time. These seven movies are a saga that has yet to be surpassed. I know there are a lot of people that hate the prequels, but they came out when I was just young enough to attach some nostalgia. So apart from Clone Wars I enjoy them all. I also included Rogue One because it is the only new movie in the series that I have loved. It is one of my favorite movies, not only in the series, but period.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life have action elements, but Lara’s quest for ancient artifacts trumps that, in my opinion. Plus, I love being able to include female led adventure films. That being said, I wouldn’t call these favorites. I enjoy them and watch them when I’m not feeling strongly about anything, but there are many ways in which they could be better. I have not yet watched the newest, if I like it I’ll definitely add it.
Tomorrowland is another one of my favorite movies. This time, though, I’m pretty sure there’s no question of it’s adventure film status. Yes there are sci-fi elements, but the movie takes part mostly in the real world. You have a young woman searching for Tomorrowland, then trying to save the world. She’s taken out of her comfort zone on a quest for an artifact.