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The 10 Best Pure Adventure Movies

  • Aug 1, 2010

The Adventure genre is both absurdly broad and surprisingly specific. Anything from Beauty and the Beast to Sin City could fall under the label, the only condition is that it holds some element of adventure, some character who goes outside their comfort zone, facing excitement or peril. A comprehensive list of such films could be endless. However, most of these would be better described by some other genre (Romance or Film Noir, respectively for the above titles), adventure has an incidental role. What then makes a true Adventure flick? It's hard to define, and yet easier to recognize. It's a movie that has action, acrobatics, and likely a chase scene or two, yet it's not primarily an Action movie; more swords than machine guns, and more clever than Bad Boys. It may have serious moments, but they're balanced by doses of humor. Most of all though, it must be fun. And now, the best of this unusually rare genre:

The Count of Monte Cristo
The Count of Monte Cristo is a pretty dark movie, full of betrayal, murder, false imprisonment, and most of all, revenge. So if I just finished saying the key component of an adventure film is that it must be fun, why would I pick such a downer for the #1 slot? That's part of what makes this movie so impressive, despite all of the tragedy, it's still an absolute joy to behold. It has sword fighting, duels, pirates, and treasure maps, making for an enjoyable swashbuckler, the likes of which are rarely seen nowadays. In addition, there is some solid, but not over the top, comedic relief provided by Abbe Faria and the pirates Edmond Dantes befriends. Most importantly though, it works on an intellectual level too, as we are dazzled by the brilliant ways in which Dantes executes his revenge against those who wronged him. In an age full of mindless shoot-em-ups, this movie is a sterling reminder of just how good Adventure films can be, if only given the chance.
The Mask of Zorro
I wish they made more movies like this one. A summer blockbuster that has eye-candy action, quality actors giving quality performances, romance, and characters we care about? Okay, so that just happened with Inception, but it's still far from common. Unlike it's lackluster sequel, The Mask of Zorro is just straight up fun, made all the more enjoyable by the investment we actually have in the characters' welfare. It works on so many levels, as a well executed action movie with sword fights, gun skimishes, and horse chases, and as a comedy, a drama, a love story, a tale of revolution, and most everything in between. Anthony Hopkins does a great job as the elder mentor, as does Antonio Banderas as a wily thief and pupil, and who could forget Catherine Zeta Jones being undressed by a sword during a duel with Banderas' Zorro? All in all, a very solid effort.
DVD front
No list of Adventure movies would be complete with an appearance by Indiana Jones, still the benchmark of the genre, and many might be appalled I didn't put it at the top of the list. In the interest of diversity, I'll only include the first of the series here, as I think it's the most complete of the four. Raiders of the Lost Ark more or less invented and defined the modern Adventure movie. Harrison Ford provides the perfect hero, adventurous, but flawed and humorous. The plot is set in exotic locales, features exciting action sequences deftly blended with humor, and centers on the quest for a priceless relic, the Ark of the Covenant. Plus, a Nazi's face melts off. So why didn't I choose Indy as the best Adventure film? Sure most of these others wouldn't have been possible without it, but I simply feel that the top two films built on the formula laid out here and made something even more entertaining.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
The first and best of the Pirates movies remains a visceral delight. The first movie in years to try and use the Pirate motif did so wonderfully, exploiting all of the stereotypes from pillaging to womanizing to searching for buried treasure, helped immensely by an Oscar nominated Johnny Depp; you know it's a big deal when a big-budget summer movie garners an Academy nod. It lifted itself far above it's theme park roots, becoming an epic saga of mystical high seas adventure, buoyed by the silliness of anti-hero Jack Sparrow.
North by Northwest
While the first associations with Hitchcock's name usually evoke images of suspense or horror, he made plenty of excellent movies in other genres as well, one of the most famous of which is the Adventure/Thriller North by Northwest. Sort of a forerunner to more contemporary stuff like Enemy of the State or The Fugitive, North by Northwest is the classic case of the mistaken idenentity/man on the run film. Not quite as light-hearted as the typical adventure, it makes up for it in the excitement of watching Cary Grant being chased across the country, naturally near some famous landmarks, and using his wits to escape time and again in dramatic fashion.
A movie starring Brendan Fraser
While a bit cheesy at times, The Mummy is still a very fun action movie whose CGI has held up surprisingly well. Brendan Fraser does a decent Indy impression, zinging off one-liners, exploring booby-trapped temples, and facing supernatural foes. Rachel Weisz and John Hannah help round out the cast, as semi-naive bickering siblings, playing off of Fraser's gruff O'Connell. There's also some entertaining fights and an intriguing take on the overused mummy mythology. It spawned two sequels, the first of which was okay, and the second of which I haven't seen but have heard is subpar.
DVD front
The Princess Bride is sort of spoken of and treated as if it's a cult classic, but in reality it's pretty universally adored. Blending an assortment of different genres--Adventure, Fantasy, Comedy, and Romance, to name a few, proved successful and an eminently quotable homage/parody to fairy tales was born. It feels like sort of a Live-action Shrek, though of course it was released over a decade before, or maybe a better comparison would be to one of Simon Pegg's films like Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead. While it sort of pokes fun at its genre's standard conventions, it also embraces them and becomes a member of that genre itself, not some Naked Gun style farce. Thus, The Princess Bride is actually filled with fantastic characters, dashing heroes, plots of revenge, dastardly villains, and, as usual, plenty of sword fighting.
The Rundown (Widescreen Edition) (2003)
A somewhat forgotten movie that marks perhaps The Rock's most entertaining role to date as a bounty hunter. Along with Seann William Scott and a delightfully evil Christopher Walken, the chemistry of the cast alone provides a lot of fun. Then transport them to the jungle, throw in a few drugs, some monkeys, and an oppressed indigenous village, into a chase movie/treasure hunt chock full of machetes, whips, and machine guns, and you have a pretty entertaining hour and a half.
DVD front
The relatively low ranking isn't because I think all of the movies above are better, but because I think they are better as Adventure movies. The Last of the Mohicans is very serious almost the whole way through, breaking the normal adventure mold, but I wanted to include it because I think it's a very quality movie that's fairly overlooked. It has elements of adventure, extensive hand-to-hand combat, the backdrop of the French-and-Indian War in wild colonial America, and a couple of damsels in distress, and thus I feel justified with its inclusion. And while the premise deals with nothing less than the extinction of an entire race, it still proves a very entertaining, if more emotionally charged, viewing experience. It's also interesting to see Daniel Day-Lewis in perhaps his most conventional and mainstream role.
National Treasure (Widescreen Edition) (2004)
Sneaking in to the final spot is National Treasure. I considered a few other fringe Adventure movies that I enjoy a little more such as Shanghai Noon (Western), Stardust, (Fantasy) or Live Free or Die Hard (Action), but I decided to round out the list with a movie that more decidely fit the mold. National Treasure is no masterpiece, but it's a decent popcorn entertainment. What I like best about this movie is how it incorporates and synthesizes different aspects of US History into the story; much like a specifically American Indiana Jones, our heroes are searching for (priceless) historical artifacts. This leads to a fun globe-trotting adventure full of codes to crack, treasure to find, and bad guys to outrun: all in all the essence of an Adventure movie.

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September 20, 2010
Gotta say that this is actually the best adventure movie list
September 20, 2010
Gotta say that this is actually the best adventure movie list
August 02, 2010
Holy cow, this list is awesome!!!!! I read your first few choices and thought that this was more of an action-adventure list, but I was pleasantly surprised to see the beloved Princess Bride on here :) Thanks so much for sharing!
August 02, 2010
FYI, I totally didn't see @QUEENBFLIX's comment before I made mine :P
August 06, 2010
August 02, 2010
Interesting list. While I wouldn't classify PRINCESS BRIDE as action/adventure (I'd call it fantasy) I can certainly see how someone else could. I love Banderas and Zeta Jones in THE MASK OF ZORRO.
August 02, 2010
Yeah, I felt it was sort of borderline myself, but I thought the case could be made that it's an Adventure film. It was a little hard to find 10 movies I thought deserved recognition that could be classed primarily as adventures; I didn't want to populate the list with stuff like Sahara just because it fit the genre better, but I didn't want to stray too far either.
August 06, 2010
I'm working on my version of the list. I'm solving the problem by using a lot of older films like the Tyrone Power/Basil Rathbone version of Zorro. There's no reason you can't have two versions of the flick on the same list--the stories are completely different.
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