The ten best adventure films

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The Independent Culture

1 KING KONG Merian C Cooper, 1933

This is where modern adventure began; it was the film that woke me up to the notion of film-making in general, and has been a great influence ever since.

2 STAGECOACH John Ford, 1939

This was the first big action-adventure film, and so many films since have been derivative of it. Watching it now, it's almost like a cliché, until you realise that everything originated with this film - it's where the clichés come from. It was the film that opened up the modern style that we see today.

3 LAWRENCE OF ARABIA David Lean, 1962

This is one of my favourite films in terms of its sheer scope, in its setting and backdrop. And yet it's also an intimate film about one man who went through this larger-than-life adventure. Like all David Lean's films, it's really beautiful.

4 LOST HORIZON Frank Capra, 1937

A group of people crash-land in the Himalayas and find themselves in what is, essentially, Shangri-La, where no one ages but no one can leave. Capra's films are ultimately very much about the characters, and in this case it's about the dilemma the stranded characters face.


This is the one recent film that I'd include. It's a tremendous adventure in terms of its scope, scale and ambitions, but it also has these important characters who lead you through it. It has taken everything leading up to it and advanced it - it raised the bar in terms of what you can do with an adventure film.

6 JAWS Steven Spielberg, 1975

I think this is one of the best films Steven Spielberg has made, and I hate it when people dismiss it as a simple horror film. The film-making is extraordinary. It is the story of the human beings - three men trapped on a boat, searching for a Great White Shark - that make the movie so fascinating.


First and foremost this is just a great, great movie, and, in terms of adventure, there is probably none better. It is one of the most entertaining and satisfying films ever made. This is largely because the characters are the most well-conceived in the genre - it's something many people have tried to emulate but have fallen well short of.

8 THE WIZARD OF OZ Victor Fleming, 1939

This may not be as rollicking as the others but, in terms of whimsy, wonder and pure adventure in the world of imagination, it is unsurpassed. Anyone who has lived through the flying monkeys as a child doesn't forget the experience.

9 STAR WARS George Lucas, 1977

This breathed new life into a stagnant genre. I saw it at the cinema when I was young, and I felt as if I'd been transported to another place. From the very first images - the scrolling text, and then the ship that flies over you that you feel is never going to end - I knew something special was in store. That initial set-up is brilliant - you are captivated and brought into the film's world, so by the time you get to the very simple story, you are really with it.

10 RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK Steven Spielberg, 1981

As the advertising campaign used to say: "If adventure has a name, it must be Indiana Jones". This movie is innovative, too - it might have been represented as being like the old adventure serials, but they weren't anything like it in terms of the speed of their story and their action. The plot is like a Heath Robinson contraption, where once the action begins it is unrelenting and incredibly inventive. The characters are iconic and yet they are fully realised; they are not just people you want to know, you want to be them. It's the quintessential adventure film.