Good adventure movies have a few necessary ingredients. You need a protagonist, or a group of them. There also has to be a mission — a goal, a reason for setting out. Then there’s the journey. It can be a literal journey — into space, up a river, or to the bottom of the ocean — or procedural, like proving you did not in fact kill your wife.
Whatever your journey, these 10 adventure movies will get you thinking about your own next mission, sort of like how everyone hits the gym after binge-watching the Rocky movies. At least for a day or two.
10. GAME OVER: Aliens (1986)
Directed by: James Cameron
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Bill Paxton, Michael Biehn
Sure it’s a sci-fi extravaganza, but it’s also a woman traveling across the galaxy with a platoon of space Marines and their pet android to do battle with otherworldly killing machines, one of which slaughtered her shipmates and condemned her to drift in space for five decades. Of course, nothing goes according to plan and they end up in a pitched battle for survival against a horde of monsters in an off-world colony that’s on a clock to disintegrate into a nuclear void once the reactor that powers it goes into meltdown. If anyone knew how to do adventure in an interesting, new way, it was 1980s Cameron.
Adventure Advice: The green lieutenant will always get you killed. Don’t listen to the green lieutenant.
9. LONG-TERM SHIT: The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)
Directed by: Kevin Reynolds
Starring: Jim Caviezel, Guy Pearce, Richard Harris
Edmond Dantès (Caviezel) is the original badass. First, he accidentally becomes Napoleon’s confidant while in exile, then he’s horribly betrayed by almost all the people he trusts before being sent to a stone-hole-in-the-wall prison to rot forever, where he attains the equivalent of a doctorate in history, science, mathematics, and philosophy while tunneling his way to freedom, only to ultimately escape by posing as his dead friend’s body in a sack and swimming to freedom when he’s thrown off a cliff into the ocean. That’s all before he hooks up with a gang of pirates and becomes a notorious raider on the high seas until he finds an unimaginable cache of treasure thanks to a map from his prison mentor. He then uses his newfound insurmountable wealth to create an alternate personality, weave his way back into his old social circle as a count, and systematically destroy the lives of those who betrayed him in the most satisfying ways possible. Hell. Yeah.
Adventure Advice: Don’t fuck with Edmond Dantès.
8. VENGEANCE ADVENTURE: True Grit (2010)
Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon
Sometimes movies do benefit from a remake, especially when in the hands of the Coen brothers. The story in both versions of True Grit is pretty much the same, but the 2010 version is undeniably better, way less corny than the original, and The Dude’s in it. What’s not to love? The spirit of the adventure is simple and pure in this one: a young girl sets out into the untamed frontier in pursuit of the scoundrel who murdered her father when no one else seems willing to avenge him. It’s also a redemption story from the perspective of Rooster Cogburn (Bridges), who musters up the balls and sobriety for one last ride, reins clenched firmly in his teeth.
Adventure Advice: When you weigh about 90 pounds, don’t fire a big gun while standing in front of a 20-foot-deep snake pit, whether it’s 1969 or 2010.
7. COMMUNICATION INTERRUPTION: Jaws (1975)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss
Three men set off on a ship to battle a gigantic, child-killing monster that has survived unchanged for millions of years, swimming in the ocean’s depths, hunting, killing — that’s some loin-stirring shit. The high adventure of the first summer blockbuster in history still hasn’t faded after 45 years, despite several terrible sequels attempting to chip away at its legacy. Plus, every time a campfire back-and-forth is halted by someone telling a super heavy story that captivates everyone until it’s over, and one person just quietly says, “God damn” as everyone takes a pull of their drink, you just have to think of Quint’s legendary monologue about surviving the sinking of the USS Indianapolis.
Adventure Advice: When hunting freakishly intelligent, man-eating, 20-foot great white sharks, don’t do it on a rickety-ass boat helmed by a lunatic with an all-consuming vendetta propelling him like a figurehead on the bow of madness. You smash the radio? Really, bro?
6. NEVER STOP RUNNING: The Fugitive (1993)
Directed by: Andrew Davis
Starring: Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones
This is an undeniably classic adventure movie that can be seen as a real horror story if you happen to be afraid of your wife being killed, getting your ass kicked by a one-armed man, and everyone automatically assuming you’re guilty before being tried and sentenced to death for a murder you didn’t commit. Dr. Richard Kimble (Ford) unwittingly becomes embroiled in a complex plot to get a liver-damaging pharmaceutical approved, but you really don’t have to understand the RDU-90 angle at all to love this movie — hell, you don’t even know what it’s all about until the end. Otherwise, this is a mad dash across several months as Kimble tries to find out who ruined his life and Lt. Sam Gerard (Jones) and his team of US Marshals doggedly pursue him in Chicago.
Adventure Advice: Sometimes you have to take serious risks to get through the most difficult challenges, like taking what is almost certainly a suicidal Peter Pan off a dam. He totally would have died if the movie wasn’t about him.
5. COMMIT, COMMIT, COMMIT: No Country for Old Men (2007)
Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: James Brolin, Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones
This is the quintessential “adventure thrust upon an average man,” and what’s more, this average man knows it. From the moment Llewelyn (Brolin) comes upon the remnants of a drug deal gone bad and that briefcase of money, he knows the chances that it will turn out good for him are slim to none, and he also knows that there’s no way he ain’t taking that money. It just seems to be his destiny. So, he sets out to do the best he can in the following cat-and-mouse game between him and psycho hitman Anton Chigurh (Bardem) in the American Southwest. There’s no happy ending here (it is adapted from a Cormac McCarthy novel), but it’s all about the journey, after all.
Adventure Advice: The siren’s song of an inviting woman in a motel with cold beer on a hot day will be your downfall, you married man, you. Steer clear.
4. DON’T GET OUT OF THE BOAT: Apocalypse Now (1979)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Marlon Brando
War is a natural setting for an adventure, but in this adaptation of Heart of Darkness, it’s a remarkably perilous — and long — journey full of fear and despair, with a pretty shitty goal at the end of things, even if the hero does succeed. But that makes it all the more harrowing. This classic tale of an assassination mission in the midst of a jungle war follows Capt. Benjamin Willard (Sheen), the man tasked with the assignment, via boat down a river into the darkest depths of the Cambodian jungle. It all culminates in a weird orgy of depravity and violence that sees the entire crew of the PT boat killed in one way or another, with Willard surviving. The sheer awesomeness of the Flight of the Valkyries scene, and all the Kilgore scenes for that matter, elevate this adventure to another level.
Adventure Advice: Know when to get out of the boat. Even though Chef was completely right and staying out of the jungle was the right move for most of the journey, it ultimately got him killed.
3. SECRETS CAN BE A GOOD THING: Quigley Down Under (1990)
Directed by: Simon Wincer
Starring: Tom Selleck, Laura San Giacomo, Alan Rickman
When on an adventure, it behooves one to keep at least a few secrets, even from one’s allies. As American cowboy Matthew Quigley (Selleck) navigates the unfamiliar wilds of 1800s Australia, he repeatedly shows off his uncanny long-range shooting ability with his custom Shiloh Sharps 1874 rifle. Hell, even his job application answering a call for a sharpshooter in a newspaper was simply the ad with a tight group of six shots and the words “M. Quigley 900 yards” scrawled on it. But it’s not until the end and the final quick-draw faceoff with the particularly cruel villain, Elliot Marston (Rickman), that you find out he’s a good goddamn shot with a pistol, too. “I said I never had much use for ’em. I never said I didn’t know how to use it.”
Adventure Advice: Keep a cool head. As in, when you are thousands of miles from home and friends, beating up the most powerful guy in the area when he insults you at dinner is a good way to get left in the outback to die.
2. BE PREPARED: Stand by Me (1986)
Directed by: Rob Reiner
Starring: Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman
There’s nothing like the rumor of the dead body of a local missing teen killed in the woods by a train to kickstart a wholesome coming-of-age adventure, but we are talking about a Stephen King story. The trials for the four curious young heroes to overcome on their odyssey turn out to be a train bridge, leeches, and a gang of teenage toughs who like to play mailbox baseball and threaten kids with switchblades. Except ol’ Lachance (Wheaton) has that sweet M1911A1 that he breaks out at just the right time and makes king bully Ace Merrill (Kiefer Sutherland) look super small. Oh, and they get to be in the local paper for finding the dead kid, so bonus.
Adventure Advice: Absolutely never, ever bring a pocketknife and a blond greaser haircut to a gunfight.
1. ALONG FOR THE RIDE: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen
Sometimes, you don’t so much participate in an adventure as just hang on for the ride. That’s what Indiana Jones (Ford) does the whole time he’s trying to prevent the Nazis from acquiring and exploiting the mythic power of the Ark of the Covenant in this template for an adventure movie. But despite his best efforts, that’s exactly what happens — plus, he gets his shit stolen a bunch of times by the bad guys, including the Ark, and gets left for dead at least once, and his old flame gets kidnapped twice. Luckily, it all works out with the Nazis getting their faces melted in the end, and it’s a super fun ride, even if the government ends up stealing the Ark from Indy one last time at the end.
Adventure Advice: When you go to steal a Nazi’s uniform to blend in, the damn thing never fits. Ever. Bring your own, preferably in your handy satchel.