The 20 Best Adventure Movies of All Time

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Adventure stories have always held a special place in the culture of society. They may not have the emotional impact of a complex drama or the titillation of a horror story but, however, they are the greatest way to provide the audience with a sense of wonder.

The great strength of the adventure story is its ability to separate the viewer from reality and transport them on a journey, providing thrills and romance along the way. These stories’ universal appeal and timeless quality ensure that more adventures will always be told.

From the early days of film, adventure has been one of the most popular genres, with from the early silent fantasies and swashbucklers to the present, effects-heavy blockbusters. One of the greatest things about the adventure genre is that there are no limits to the “whos”, “whens” or “wheres” of the story, as long as there is intrigue and high spirits. On this list to follow, there are, featured, many great adventure films from all periods in film, taking place in all corners of the world, and beyond.


20. Fantastic Voyage (Richard Fleischer, 1966)

Fantastic Voyage

One of the big adventure hits of the 1960s, this incredibly fun and over-the-top story follows a group of scientists and researchers who embark on a dangerous mission of miniscule proportions. The goal of their journey is to shrink themselves and a submarine down to molecular levels and enter the body of a great scientist in order to save his life by removing a deadly clot. There are, however, complications with the voyage including Soviet agents, malicious organisms and a race against time.

The plot of the film may be silly and completely unscientific but this takes nothing away from the enjoyment. Inspired by the wonderous stories of Jules Verne, Fantastic Voyage captivates its audience with thrills and, for its time, great visual effects. The cast, which includes Raquel Welch, Donald Pleasence and Edmond O’Brien, also add to the fun adventurous atmosphere by hamming up their characters creating plenty campy amusement.


19. The Goonies (Richard Donner, 1985)

The Goonies

This cult classic 1980s family adventure has only increased in popularity over time and is now considered an unforgettable classic of the genre. The story surrounds a group of kids who live in the “Goon Docks” neighborhood of Astoria, Oregon where their parents’ houses are about to be foreclosed.

Instead of moping about, the friends set about on a journey to find the famed treasure of the pirate One Eyed Willie. This involves a dangerous trek into caverns as well as facing off against the Fratellis, a mean family of criminals who are also searching for the treasure.

The young cast, including stars sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Corey Feldman, are phenomenal in bringing liveliness as well as real relativeness to the roles of the desperate kids who have to grow up too fast. The comic Fratelli bad guys are also outstanding and are played by Anne Ramsay, Joe Pantoliano and Robert Davi. Filled with hokey fun, thrilling adventure and classic coming-of-age moments, The Goonies is a family movie with parts for the kids and parents to enjoy.


18. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Gore Verbinski, 2003)

Pirates of The Caribbean The Curse of The Black Pearl

An unexpected smash hit, the first film in this swashbuckling series is one of the most fun and rousing flicks of the 2000s. Johnny Depp stars as Captain Jack sparrow, a once fierce pirate who has been reduced to a shadow of his former self after his old crew mutinied him and took his ship, The Black Pearl.

After being locked in a port prison for trying to steal a ship, he gets another shot at adventure and to retake his ship. A young man Will Turner, played by Orlando Bloom, breaks him out in exchange for his help in rescuing the beautiful Elizabeth Swann, played by Keira Knightley, who was taken captive on The Black Pearl.

Loosely based on a ride at Walt Disney World, Pirates of the Caribbean was made as a cheap fluff adventure film, and while it kept this light feel, it turned into an enormous sensation that spawned a three sequel franchise that broke box office records.

Most of the success of the film is due to Johnny Depp scene-stealing turn as the sly buccaneer, a performance that earned him an Oscar nomination. There is also much to say about the rest of the film, however, including many other performances and the film’s bringing about of the return of less-serious action fare in Hollywood.


17. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (Terry Gilliam, 1988)

Robin Williams in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

Based on German folk tales about an 18th century nobleman who is full of stories of his unbelievable exploits. Veteran stage actor John Neville stars as the whimsical Baron who finds himself in a rundown city that is being bombarded by the Turks. He attends a play about his own stories, but not liking their interpretation, he corrects them and the stories he spins turn into real life events. Some of these imaginative stories include wager with sultans, conflicts with Gods and a trip to the Moon.

These popular fables have been adapted into many films over the lifetime of cinema, most notably the 1943 Weimar picture. While others may be more true to the source material, none of them capture the adventurous spirit or imaginative landscapes quite like Gilliam’s film. The production of the film was troubled and went way over budget and, unfortunately, it was a bust at the box office. In more recent years, however, the film’s reputation has increased significantly and is considered one of Gilliam’s greatest works.


16. Up (Pete Docter, 2009)

Up (2009)

One of Pixar’s most acclaimed films, Up is a touching story all about the spirit of adventure and it’s revitalizing powers. Carl Fredricksen, voiced by Ed Asner, is an aging widower who has become a crotchety old man. He is the last on his block to sell out to a major construction firm and is being coaxed into retirement homes by the authorities.

Sick of his life in the city, he harkens back to the adventurous ideas and movies of his youth and escapes civilization. Carl does this by tying millions of balloons to his house and floating away to serenity in the Amazon. Things take a surprising turn, however, when he discovers a young boy, Russell, who was on his porch is stuck with him on the trip.

This is by far the most down to Earth film in Pixar’s filmography to date, touching on deeply human and emotional issues in all of the characters. While it still features a few silly characters to keep the feel of the brand and capture the family appeal, the true focus of the film is on the characters.

The transitions that Carl and his young friend Russell undergo on the adventure are deeply poignant and give a lot more substance to the adventure than many other films on this list. Although not the most action packed film on this list, Up is an unforgettable film, important for all ages.


15. Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade (Steven Spielberg, 1989)

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

The third film in the Indiana Jones series teams up the titular lead, played by Harrison Ford, with his father, Henry Jones played by veteran actor Sean Connery. Once again, Jones finds himself facing off against Nazi troops who are tracking down another priceless artifact, the legendary Holy Grail. Some of the amazing adventures that the father son pair get into include tank battles, air fights, double crosses and, as always, mythological surprises.

Wrapping up what many consider the original trilogy, which excludes the fourth film Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Last Crusade is a very complete movie, telling Jones’s backstory, showing his relationship with his father as well as delivering a top-of-the-line adventure story. After branching out into more dramatic features at this point in his career, The Last Crusade also showed there was still a vibrant, fun side to Spielberg’s filmmaking.