20 Great Treasure Hunting Movies Worth Watching

treasure hunting movies

Who among us has not tried – at least once in his life – to find a treasure? To become rich overnight and not have to worry about anything anymore. When we are little, the chase is better than the catch because what matters the most is the journey, even though it leads to no treasure. When we are grown-ups, we try to eliminate the journey or get through it as quick as we can in order to reach the treasure.

The pure fascination for a treasure and for the very thought of riches has been around for ages and it will probably never go away; just think of children’s’ classic books like “The Count of Monte Cristo”, “Treasure Island” and many more. All these books plus many, many movies have stimulated the imagination of children and adults alike.

In the film world, treasure hunting is a big deal; it is not something that belongs to the youth’s fantasy, it is something that should be treated with seriousness and respect. When you come to think about it, some of the most beloved heroes of the cinematic world have something to do with treasures and treasure hunting; just think of Indiana Jones or Jack Sparrow.

Every year, Hollywood try to present to the audience a new hero on the trail of riches and spoils, but not every such hero sticks to the audience’s collective memory. Here is a list of 20 memorable treasure-hunting movies that are guaranteed to stir and fire up one’s imagination. The list is chronological.


1. The Treasure of Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948)

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

“The Treasure of Sierra Madre” is probably the ultimate existing treasure-hunting movie. It is one of John Huston’s most masterful works and it inspired directors like Stanley Kubrick, Sam Raimi or Paul Thomas Anderson. The film marks the third collaboration between director John Huston and lead actor Humphrey Bogart. “The Treasure of Sierra Madre” is not only a stunningly visual treat, but also a story and script of depth and magnitude, set in old time Mexico.

The plot involves two drifters, Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) and Curtin (Tim Holt), who one day encounter a veteran prospector named Howard (Walter Huston). Howard tells them that in the Sierra Madre Mountain of Mexico, there is more gold than they can imagine. Convinced by the old man, the two join him and head to Mexico to claim the treasure.

As expected, they are not the only ones after the gold. A band of ruthless Mexican bandits is also on the gold’s trail. Another thing that the men have to worry about is their own greed.

The film feels fresh and could stand up well against anything put out today in the action-adventure genre. It also contains one of the famous quotes in movie history that is actually a misquote. The famous line “we don’t need no stinkin’ badges” is actually incorrectly quoted (like James Cagney’s “you dirty rat”, also a misquote). The actual line of the film is “Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges! I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges!”.


2. Treasure Island (Byron Haskin, 1950)

Treasure Island

“Treasure Island” is a forgotten gem of the Old Hollywood. It is fairly faithful to its famous source novel as it retains the fantasy and the adventurous spirit of Robert Louis Stevenson’s writing.

The film doesn’t stray very much from the original book and it accurately presents the adventures of young Jim Hawkins who gets caught up with the pirate Long John Silver in search of the buried treasure of the buccaneer Captain Flint. It is a wonderful family movie that is full of fun, mysteries and treasures.


3. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (Stanley Kramer, 1963)

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

When thinking of genre associations, one would hardly think of putting epic and comedy next to each other. Still, the best way to describe “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” is by calling it an epic comedy.

The film begins with an accident on a lonely freeway in the Southern California desert. With his last breath, Smiler Grogan (Jimmy Durante) reveals to the four drivers that have stopped to offer assistance that he has hidden 350.000 dollars under a certain “W” sign in Santa Rosita.

Unable to find common grounds on how to split this fortune, each of the drivers engages in a crazy rat race towards the “W” sign. Whoever gets there first gets to keep the money. However, at no point was there mentioned that they are the only ones who know about this treasure.

All these characters met on the side of the road. They were just ordinary hard working people who had nothing in common, except for one dream. That unreachable fantasy. They all wanted the treasure so bad that they would do anything to beat each other. They are just common people overcome by greed, which becomes their overlying problem. The film is probably one of the first Hollywood blockbusters bringing together so many comedy actors and guaranteeing a good laugh.


4. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Sergio Leone, 1966)


If John Wayne movies do not turn on your appetite for western movies, then Clint Eastwood movies will surely do. Drawing inspiration from Kurosawa’s samurai pictures, Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood made history with their “spaghetti westerns” by challenging and changing the genre forever. “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is the last film of Sergio Leone’s “Dollars Trilogy” that gave us the man with no name.

The film is set during the American Civil War when talks of lost treasures were all around. In this setting, the man with no name (nicknamed Blondie), a professional gunslinger trying to earn a few more dollars, Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef), a ruthless hitman and Tuco (Eli Wallach), a petty criminal, find themselves racing for the proverbial gold of the Civil War. The film is a staple of the western genre and it is already in the collective conscience of the moviegoer.

The movie is long, but there’s not a wasted scene in the film. The pacing is incredible, as is the direction – Sergio Leone manages to build a lot of uncomfortable tension in the film, keeping the film from ever getting predictable. If by some strange reason, you have not seen this film, see it RIGHT AWAY!


5. The Twelve Chairs (Mel Brooks, 1970)

The Twelve Chairs

“The Twelve Chairs” is an honest comedy that strays just a little from the typical Mel Brooks humor, making way for the well-recognizable Russian humor of Ilya Ilf and Yevgeni Petrov. Mel Brooks takes on a supporting part and leaves the leading roles to Ron Moody, Frank Langella and Dom DeLuise.

The story takes place in the late 1920’s Soviet Union. Ippolit Matveevich Vorobyaninov (Ron Moody) used to be an aristocrat but the Russian revolution reduced him to a government bureaucrat. But luck comes his way as he learns from his dying mother-in-law of a treasure she hid from the Bolsheviks in one of the twelve dining room chairs. Ippolit teams up with hustler Ostpap Bender and embarks on a treasure hunt for the proverbial chairs. But they are not the only ones who know the whereabouts of this treasure.

Father Fyodor also knows the whereabouts of this treasure from the last confession that he gave to Ippolit’s mother-in-law. The movie (which is faithful to the novel apart from the ending, which Mel Brooks couldn’t resist to give it a Hollywood ending) then takes the viewer on an amazing and very funny ride across the Soviet Union.


6. Indiana Jones 1-3 (Steven Spielberg, 1981, 1984 & 1989)

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

When it comes to Harrison Ford, it’s very hard to pinpoint his most iconic role. Unlike most actors, Harrison Ford has had quite a couple of roles that stayed in the hearts of movie fans – Han Solo, Indiana Jones, Dr. Richard Kimble, The President of the United States and Rick Deckard.

Like Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg is also hard to define with just one film, as he is behind some of the most popular films of all time. But there is something about the Indiana Jones films that will always have a special place for both the actor and the director, movie audiences just can’t get enough of the famed archaeologist and his extraordinary adventures.

The public was first introduced to Indiana Jones in 1981 when “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (later renamed “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark”) came out. Since his first appearance, Indiana Jones has become a worldwide star and remains one of cinema’s most revered film characters.

Particular trademarks of the character include his iconic look (bullwhip, fedora, satchel and leather jacket), sense of humor, knowledge of many ancient civilizations and languages, and fear of snakes. But no matter how Indiana Jones, or Indy, chooses to appear in front of his audiences, one thing will always stay the same: his love for adventure and treasures. In each of the Indiana Jones installment, the fictional archaeologist is always on the lookout for a treasure that could change the fate of mankind.

Indiana Jones will surely be back. The only question is what treasures he will go after next.


7. Time Bandits (Terry Gilliam, 1981)

Time Bandits

It’s hard enough to chase after treasures in your own country on present day. But what if you had to chase these treasures in different countries and in different eras of world history? Challenging, right? For the common man, yes, but not for a particular band of dwarves who do this on a regular basis. “Time Bandits” is the first film of Terry Gilliam’s unofficial “imagination trilogy” that also contains “Brazil” and “The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen”.

One must remember that this is a fantasy film and mustn’t be surprised when a black hole is discovered in a young boy’s wardrobe. Through this black hole, a band of dwarves jump from era to era, looking for treasures to steal. The boy accidentally joins them on their adventures through time from Napoleonic times to the Middle Ages to the early 1900s, then to the time of legends and ultimate darkness.

“Time Bandits” may not be a masterpiece, but it is definitely a triumph of the imagination and it’s the kind of film that is to be discovered like a hidden treasure.


8. Romancing the Stone (Robert Zemeckis, 1984)

Romancing the Stone

“Romancing the Stone” is pure entertainment and should be viewed with this in mind. It can be best defined as an action-adventure romantic comedy.

The movie stars Kathleen Turner as Joan Wilder, a lonely romance novelist that receives a treasure map in the mail. The map is from her brother-in-law who was recently murdered. To make matters worse, her sister Elaine is kidnapped in Colombia and a deal is proposed: the map for her sister.

Forced by the situation, Joan decides to act like Angelina (the heroine of her adventure novels) and travels to South America to retrieve her sister. In the mists of South America, she meets a mercenary named Jack Colton (Michael Douglas) who agrees to help her. The two set off on an adventure of a lifetime; just like in Joan’s novels.

Douglas and Turner act very well together, and Danny DeVito shows his comedy skills in all its glory. When you toss in several great chases scenes, a nasty corrupt cop-villain, and some comedy elements, the end-result is fascinating.


9. The Jewel of the Nile (Lewis Teague, 1985)

The Jewel of the Nile

Like any successful Hollywood movie, 1984’s “Romancing the Stone” had a sequel. This time Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner), Jack Colton (Michael Douglas) and Ralph (Danny DeVito) take their treasure-hunting adventure to Africa. “The Jewel of the Nile” finds Joan and Jack as a couple living the easy life but longing for the adventures of their pasts. This creates tension within the couple who seems to be on the verge of dissolution.

Unbearable of this boredom, Joan accepts an invitation from a sheik to go to the Middle East. There she is abducted and finds herself involved with a mysterious treasure simply known as The Jewel of the Nile. Pretty soon, Jack comes to the rescue. They both go from one adventure to another and do what they do best: hunt treasures.


10. The Goonies (Richard Donner, 1985)

The Goonies

Somehow, children and treasure hunting always seem to go hand in hand. The idea comes from a story of Steven Spielberg. Its premise features a band of children on their way to become teenagers.

While trying to find a way to save their homes from demolition, the Goonies discover an old pirate map of the legendary One-Eyed Willy. According to the map, the treasure is right underneath an abandoned restaurant. The Goonies are joined in their quest by a gentle giant named Sloth. The adventure of finding the treasure and saving their homes can now begin.

“The Goonies” is absolutely a pure, fun-filled movie to enjoy with your kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews, or simply by yourself. Hang on and enjoy the ride!