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15 Best Adventure Movies of All Time
In a way, every movie is an adventure—an act of transcendence, submitting to the unknown of a story world and all that comes with it. When watching a movie, you latch onto a protagonist’s hand without looking back, agreeing to tag along for the ride. Of course, some cinematic adventures are more thrilling than others.
There comes a point in every hero’s journey when they must accept their call to adventure and dive into a new world of wonders and challenges. And, there comes a time in every movie watcher’s viewing experience when they must decide whether the first five minutes seem promising enough to put their phone down and commit. (Look at you, you phone-less vagabond.)
Whether you prefer rope-swinging through the jungle or setting the open seas, these movies are sure to bring you on the trip of a lifetime. Choose your own adventure from this list of the genre’s best.
Stand by Me
Rob Reiner’s iconic adaptation of Stephen King’s The Body serves as an all-but-ordinary coming of age story, set in 1959. River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Wil Wheaton, and Jerry O’Connell star as a group of young boys determined to uncover the missing body of a local boy for a cash reward. The film is a blend of hilariously crude adolescent humor, saturated scenes of nostalgia, and meditations on innocence, maturity, and friendship.
Life of Pi
Few voyages at sea begin with the shipwreck, but such is the case for Life of Pi, based on Yann Martel’s novel of the same name. Directed by Ang Lee and starring the late Irrfan Khan and Suraj Sharma, the film weaves a spectacular tale of spiritual discovery as a shipwrecked young man navigates the Pacific Ocean while stranded on a lifeboat. (Think Cast Away, but swap the volleyball for a Bengal tiger.)
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
The first installment of Peter Jackson’s trilogy adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s iconic epic novels, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring introduces us to the fictional appendix that is all of Middle Earth and its inhabitants. Viewers join the earnest quest of young hobbit Frodo and his caravan of companions, with performances by Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, and Orlando Bloom.
Nothing says adventure like two twelve-year-olds falling in love and running away together to an island off the coast of New England. This whimsical and peculiar comedy is as Wes Anderson as Wes Anderson can get: peak aesthetic pleasure in its set and costume design, obsessively precise cinematography and writing, and, of course an overwhelmingly stacked cast of celebrities.
The Hidden Fortress
From the beloved Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, The Hidden Fortress follows two peasants who find themselves on an unexpected quest to escort a man and woman across enemy lines in the midst of a war. The shared journey finds some comical and dramatic speedbumps though when it is revealed that the two men are actually escorting a war general and princess.
The Peanut Butter Falcon
Shia LaBeouf and Zack Gottsagen respectively star as a local outlaw and young man with Down’s Syndrome who, upon finding each other while both on the run, form an unlikely bond. The latter has left his care facility determined to pursue his dream career in professional wrestling, and one of his nurses eventually catches up to the two friends at large. However, she might just end up being a perfect third companion.
Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark
In the first installment of the famed Indiana Jones franchise, Harrison Ford stars as the titular archaeologist on his quest to prevent a group of Nazis from stealing the precious religious relic, the Ark of the Covenant. Directed by Steven Spielberg, this epic is a classic Hollywood archetype of the hero’s journey, with its Jones donning a signature whip and, of course, an achilles heel for snakes.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s adaptation of Clarke’s, “The Sentinel,” 2001: A Space Odyssey is something of a monolith in itself within film history, still serving as a subject of analysis for us today. The enigmatic sci-fi thriller, amidst its exciting ingenuity in filmmaking, serves as an ominous meditation on man vs. machine that will make you feel like you’re staring straight into the beady red monitor of your own existence.
Tom Hanks stars as Chuck Noland, a FedEx engineer who ends up stranded on a deserted island while on a work assignment. In a true case of man versus wild, Noland’s chalk-tallied days spent with his volleyball companion become more than a test of will. They become a test of humanity and the world as he knows it.
Another larger-than-life blockbuster from Steven Spielberg, Jurassic Park follows the aftermath of what one might expect if a billionaire had come up with a way to recreate dinosaurs for a theme park. Shockingly, even movie billionaires don’t think through the ethics of their latest ventures. What some of the movie characters lack in technological savviness, the filmmaking itself makes up for with special effects and animatronics that made the standards of its time seem prehistoric.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
The prototypical adventure movie, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a western-tinged story of two outlaws who encounter a veteran prospector, then travel together into Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains to strike gold. Though they find treasure, they become quickly beleaguered by bandits and internal strife. Directed by the inimitable John Huston, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is the film that kickstarted the genre.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
In the film that catapulted Ang Lee to directorial superstardom, Lee sets the scene in nineteenth century China, where a warrior entrusts his fabled sword to his beloved, only for the sword to fall into the wrong hands. Come for the adventure through a bygone era in Chinese history, but stay for the breathtaking martial arts sequences, which remain unparalleled even two decades later.
In this adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s acclaimed climate fiction novel, five female scientists journey into Area X, a sinister and unexplained ecological phenomenon consuming Florida’s coastline. Featuring an all-star cast including Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, and Oscar Isaac, the journey into the unknown pushes these scientists to the limits of their bodies and their sanity.
Nothing says “adventure” quite like an intergalactic romp through trash-covered planets, right? The third film in Marvel’s Thor sequence is the series’ loosest, centering on a madcap adventure through outer space, which leaves a powerless Thor stranded on a wacky planet ruled by a sadistic Jeff Goldblum. Directed by Taika Waititi, Ragnarok remains a one-of-a-kind standout in Marvel’s filmology.
Not all adventures have to be serious. Melissa McCarthy makes a feast of her juiciest role yet in this underappreciated gem from Bridesmaids director Paul Feig, featuring an uproarious cast that also stars Rose Byrne, Jude Law, Allison Janney, Jason Statham, and 50 Cent. McCarthy stars as a timid CIA desk jockey catapulted into the field by the sudden death of her partner, sending her on a wild journey for vengeance and self-discovery from the slums of Paris to the casinos of Rome.
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