The 20 Best Adventure Movies of All Time

7. The Thief of Bagdad (Michael Powell, Tim Whelan, Ludwig Berger, 1940)

the thief of bagdad (1940)

There have been many great adventure movies adapted from the Arab text “One Thousand and One Nights,” including the great silent adventure starring Douglas Fairbanks, but none match this production’s value of amazement, thrills and visual splendor.

The film, which greatly influenced the plot of Disney’s Aladdin, features an evil vizier named Jaffar who wishes to gain control of his sultan’s chair and tricks him into being thrown into jail. There the sultan, Ahmad, meets a young thief named Abu, who breaks him out and helps him get even with Jaffar and rescue the beautiful princess.

Produced by Alexander Korda, The Thief of Bagdad had a very troubled genesis and went through several directors in England before finally being finished in Hollywood. Although the film went way over budget, the expenses paid off, giving the film some of the most beautiful technicolor footage of its time.

It also features incredible visual effects, notably a gigantic genie, which still looks impressive by today’s standards. This classic film was a huge success, both critically and commercially, and influenced numerous Arabian-styled films to follow.


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

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Half adventure film and half film noir, John Huston’s thrilling masterpiece follows three ambitious men who travel down into treacherous Mexico to prospect for gold. Humphrey Bogart stars as Fred C. Dobbs, an American man is down on his luck. He meets a similarly fortuned man named Bob Curtin and, fed up with their current situation, decide to risk everything and travel down to the gold ranges. They bring with them an old prospector, played by Walter Huston, but after they find gold their nerves and greed overcome them.

The film is packed with gunfights, treachery and tales of survival, but beneath all of the flash The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is still a deeply powerful film. With brilliant performances by the main cast, the colorful characters and their wicked transformations steal the show from the action packed story and, under Huston’s direction, the film becomes a perfect mix of substance and style. Highly regarded as one of the finest films for all of those involved, the movie’s legacy has only increased over time and is now considered one the greatest of classic Hollywood.


5. Lost Horizon (Frank Capra, 1937)

Lost Horizon

This grand film of high adventure, based on the novel of the same by James Hilton, is one of director Frank Capra’s crowning achievements. Ronald Colman stars as Robert Conway, a British Diplomat who is returning home from China after rescuing British citizens from revolutionary forces there. On their flight home, however, the passengers realize that their plane has become hijacked and they crash into a mountain.

Stranded in the cold, they are rescued b a man named Chang who leads them to the city of Shangri-La where they stay as guests. The city, which possesses magic healing powers, is led by the High Lama who wishes to pass on his role to Conway, but he must decide is he wishes to stay in Shangri-La forever or go home.

Like many of Capra’s big films, Lost Horizon had a long and troubled production, with the original cut being late, over budget and much too long. After a few edits, however, the film’s magical atmosphere and thrilling environments captivated audiences.

Unfortunately, several minutes of the film are missing today due to continuous cuts throughout the century and only the audio is left is some sections. Still, the wondrous world that Capra created and its beautiful story are as enchanting as ever, making up one of the greatest adventure film Hollywood ever produced.


4. The Adventures of Robin Hood (MIchael Curtiz, 1938)

The Adventures of Robin Hood

Starring Errol Flynn as the legendary hero who takes from the treacherous elite and gives to the poor. He is joined in his noble quest by Little John and Friar Tuck as they make Sherwood forest their home and plot against the evil Prince John, played by the underrated Claude Rains, and his henchman, the Sheriff of Nottingham. Robin Hood, along the way, also falls for the beautiful Maid Marian, played by Olivia de Havilland, and must win her heart.

This elaborate production is a treat in every way. Featuring an exciting retelling of the classic story, new exquisite Technicolor film and one of the greatest movie scores of all time, by composer Erich Korngold, The Adventures of Robin Hood may be almost eighty years old but it is as rousing as most adventure films made today. A resounding success upon its debut, the classic film has continued to find and enchant new audiences with its charming heroics and the innocent glamour of old Hollywood productions.


3. Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962)

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Based on the real life exploits of British soldier and diplomat T. E. Lawrence, the film stars Peter O’Toole, in a terrific performance, as the titular lead. British master David Lean tells the story of the legendary man, starting with his deployment during the First World War where he has to investigate an Arabian prince’s revolt against the Turks. The film unwraps into an adventure of epic proportions, spanning many years and battles across many different countries.

This sweeping film is one of the most impressive cinematic accomplishments of all time. Not only are the acting and story extremely defined, but the film is also great from technical perspective with incredibly choreographed war scenes and beautiful cinematography.

The movie also features a tremendous score by David Lean’s frequent composer Maurice Jarre. Considered by many to be one of the greatest movies ever made, this almost four hour long journey amazes and inspires every generation of viewers whose path it crosses.


2. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Peter Jackson, 2001-03)

The Lord of the Rings The Return of the King (2003)

Peter Jackson’s humongous film project based on the classic fantasy series by J. R. R. Tolkien is one of the most impressive cinematic achievements of all time. The film’s story is an epic one, following a small band of warriors who are tasked with trekking across the dangerous land of Middle Earth to destroy a powerful ring so that the evil Lord Sauron cannot come back to power. Along the way the group splits up, engaging in many different thrilling adventures.

Released in three different parts, The Lord of the Rings was an eight year project with filming alone taking over a year. In addition to the incredible story line, the technical aspects of the film are what really make the series stand out, with state of the art special effects, great cinematography and a legendary score by Howard Shore.

The acting is also top tier, featuring talents like Ian McKellen, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett, Sean Bean, and many more. Breaking records in the box office, award ceremonies and becoming a huge cultural phenomenon, The Lord of the The Rings is an unforgettable adventure experience.


1. Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981)

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Blockbuster director Steven Spielberg found another enormous hit in this iconic adventure story. The film stars Harrison Ford in a career defining role as the charming and rugged archaeologist Indiana Jones.

Set in the 1940s, Jones is sent by the government to Egypt in order to find and recover the fabled Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis can.Along the way, Jones romances his old mentor’s daughter Marion Ravenwood, played by Karen Allen , while trying to figure out the puzzle of the Ark. Having to fight off an army of Nazi of troops, as well as deal with dreaded snakes, Indiana Jones’s survival and fighting skills are put to the test.

There are several factors that make Raiders of the Lost Ark the greatest adventure movie of all time. Its myriad of iconic scenes have been referenced in pop culture ever since, maintaining the film’s importance and appeal. The no-nonsense, adventurous attitude of Jones makes him one of the most likable and coolest heroes ever, whether he be running from rolling boulders or fighting Nazi mechanics.

Accompanied by one of John William’s best scores, Raiders of the Lost Ark is a masterful work of fun entertainment and adventure that came at the height of Spielberg’s creative vision.

Author Bio: Matthew Benbenek is an undergraduate Mechanical Engineering student at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. He has a passion for film, music and literature and, when not watching movies, is an amateur director and violin player. You can visit his Youtube channel here.