The 21 Best Adventure Movies to Get on Your Radar

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If you and your significant other are on very different end of the movie-watching spectrum, I have good news for you. Good action and adventure elements can turn an okay movie into something special. Even better, these elements can be found in all sorts of movie genres, from spy thriller to space epic to historical drama—which means that you might be able to find something on this list you really enjoy, even if superheroes and sci-fi aren't your thing. These are just a few of the best adventure films in the last 60 years, but each one has a cool, distinctive approach to action within its plot that makes it entertaining in its own right. Some of these are classics; some may surprise you. But they're all entertaining, and in many cases feature empowered women we can all cheer for.

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'North by Northwest'

One of Alfred Hitchcock's later films helped pave the way for action films to come. It's got a Mad Men-era feel, complete with Cold War espionage and a case of mistaken identity, and the tightly paced film features some of the most iconic film scenes ever (including a nail-biting plane chase in a cornfield). It's the Casablanca of action films.

'Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope'

By now, there are a ton of Star Wars movies I could put on this list, including the recent reboots. But no one's ever going to compare to the original Carrie Fisher performance for me. I wish I could have seen it when it originally came out in theaters, but watching this as a kid after all that hype was still satisfying. This is the movie that defined action sci-fi for decades. And it gave me my first empowered female heroine to adore.

'The Terminator'

Lots of people like the second film better, and I totally get it. Linda Hamilton as Sarah Conner as total asskicker is pretty cool to watch (those arm muscles give me tremendous envy). But this, for me, is the film that was just having fun playing with the very "simple" idea of an unkillable robot and the man sent back in time to save the mother of the man who would lead the resistance against Skynet—an artificial intelligence created to safeguard the world that turns upon its creators. (It's more fun than it sounds.) Hopefully the 2019 movie will have that crazy energy.

'Aliens'

Like Terminator and Star Wars, this is just as much sci-fi as it is an action film. But it takes the premise of the first movie (a chest-burster turning into a gross demon-bug) and goes to eleven. More characters. More weapons. More aliens. More of Sigourney Weaver 100% killing it as a feminine badass, both mother and murderer in the same scene. It's thrilling.

'Die Hard'

Ah, my favorite movie of all time. Seriously—I wrote a blog post about it! These days, this film is a massive throwback to the '80s and a tribute to the glories of Alan Rickman (R.I.P., one of the best actors of any generation). But, at its core, it's a perfectly paced action extravaganza that never lags, never loses its way, and is always fun despite the ever-increasing body count. And Bonnie Bedelia is the best.

'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade'

It's tough to pick between the first and third Indiana Jones films (the second...has not aged well, and the fourth is so terrible we should never speak of it again). But this one has the added benefit of scenery-chewing Sean Connery, and Harrison Ford's "action hero-turned aggrieved and irritated son" routine is delightful to watch. Plus, the story's got a great climax. "He chose...poorly."

'The Hunt for Red October'

The first Tom Clancy/Jack Ryan book to be adapted into a feature film is a sharp look at Cold War politics (and is, depressingly, still kind of resonant today). Sean Connery's Scottish Russian accent is utterly rubbish, but who cares—the submarine cat and mouse chase story is as cool as it gets. Granted, there are basically zero female characters, but on the flip side: A young, handsome Courtney B. Vance!

'Speed'

If you only know Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock from their modern movie roles, go watch Speed and realize why America fell in love with them in the first place. Reeves hasn't shed his Bill and Ted stoner vibe completely, but he's still absolutely watchable (and hawt) as the renegade cop. Sandra Bullock is the perfect, cheerful foil. Add a basic plot—a bus can't go below 50 miles per hour or it'll explode, killing all its passengers—and you've got a ridiculous, delightful movie.

'Apollo 13'

This is equal parts drama and adventure, but the simple ticking clock nature of the story—astronauts stuck in space with a rapidly failing ship—means that the story moves along with the speed of a bullet. The most fun part is that you KNOW the ending to the movie, and you still hold your breath all the way to the very end. Young, adorable Tom Hanks is just one of the incredible actors here.

'Casino Royale'

This movie surprised James Bond fans and critics so much at the time that it totally reinvigorated the franchise. It also featured a stronger, more empowered female counterpart (Eva Green), even though the film does feature a good bit of traditional playboy activity. With a riveting high-stake poker game in the middle, this one is still totally watchable even if you've never watched a single Bond film.

'Hot Fuzz'

Before Star Trek got wise to how cool Simon Pegg could be, Hot Fuzz revealed this seemingly dorky actor/producer as a total badass. It starts off as a parody of the buddy cop action comedy—and then it turns into a really successful, suspenseful, surprising buddy cop action comedy. Watching that evolution in a single film is incredible.

'Inglourious Basterds'

Technically, Kill Bill is probably more of a classic Tarantino action film than Inglourious Basterds, but this film features not one but two strong female characters. Diane Kruger and Mélanie Laurent are both riveting, and help ground the movie in what could have totally been a schlocky sausage-fest. The film's controversial and debated for its themes, but the "dueling plans to assassinate Hitler" make for an absolutely riveting plot.

'Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol'

Lots of people will probably disagree with me here, but I think this is the best Mission Impossible movie. The series really found its footing here (pun kind of intended), and it features one of the coolest heroines in Paula Patton. The lavish international locales are matched by the jaw-dropping stunts. Even if you've never seen the movie, you've seen Tom Cruise hanging off the side of of that tall, tall building. The whole film is just that cool.

'The Avengers'

Not everyone's a comic book or superhero movie fan, and that's totally fine (surprising no one, I totally am). Even if you're not, there are a few films that will still appeal as straight-up action films that don't require an encyclopedic knowledge of each cinematic universe. Such is the case with the first Avengers. What's great here is that it dives into the mechanics of a dysfunctional team trying to get their act together—it's the opposite of what you'd expect from this kind of movie, in other words.

'The Man from U.N.C.L.E.'

If you have not watched this movie, pick up your remote and rent it, right this second. It has everything! Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer dueling each other to see which one is hotter (they both totally win). Alicia Vikander going toe-to-toe with them both, in the most gorgeous outfits. A number of fun and recognizable cameos, including...David Beckham?? Top to bottom, this movie's frothy light action that's endlessly rewatchable.

'John Wick'

Content warning: bad guys doing mean things to animals. Keanu Reeves finally ditches his stoner vibe completely and instead channels a stone-cold assassin who's the best at his job. The movie moves from action set-piece to action set-piece without overcomplicating the plot, and the result is a visual feast. One of the more underrated aspects of the film is its humor: One of Wick's opponents freaking out about how many men Wick killed "with a freaking pencil" has me laughing out loud every time. Bonus: Adrianne Palicki being just as tough as the boys.

'Spy'

I'm pretty sure this is what the rebooted Ghostbusters was trying to be. Melissa McCarthy is spectacular—it's the picture-perfect role for her, and the film leads us through her transformation from frumpy to fabulous without ever making her stupid. Jude Law, Allison Janney, Rose Byrne, and 50 Cent(!) are all having a blast with the whip-smart script. But the real star is Jason Statham in his first fully comedic role. Just...trust me on this one.

'Wonder Woman'

Like I wasn't going to put this movie in here. Our first great female-led action film from the modern superhero era didn't disappoint in any way. Come for Gal Gadot as the fish out of water secret savior of World War I, stay for the surprisingly tender love story between her and Chris Pine. They should start showing this movie and Captain Marvel to kids as mandatory viewing.

'Atomic Blonde'

This wasn't a perfect movie, but not since Angelina Jolie has there been anyone as good as Charlize Theron at really selling you on brutal fight scenes. She really goes hard, getting as many punches as she gives. Her character's also unabashedly sexually fluid, and the movie doesn't judge or criticize her for it. Theron's apparently found a home as villain Cipher in the Fast and Furious franchise, but this character is more nuanced and raw. I'm calling it now: Theron's the new Weaver.

'Spider-Man: Homecoming'

I'll be honest. I kind of had to be dragged to this movie, because I really didn't love where the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man films ended up. But once I settled in, this movie is a total blast. It's not bogged down with backstory, and it lets Peter Parker (Tom Holland, adorable) just have fun being a kid, with insane super-powers and homework to finish. And Zendaya is an absolute joy to watch.

'Thor: Ragnarok'

Oh my God, Chris Hemsworth is so funny (in addition to being, you know, really hot). Fun fact: This film, helmed by the hilarious Taika Waititi, is what convinced Hemsworth to remain in the Marvel universe as Thor. There's not a single unfunny moment. EVERYBODY knows what kind of film they're in, from Cate Blanchett to Jeff mother-f*cking Goldblum (also hot). I will watch this movie 50 more times before I die.


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