Top 10 Treasure Hunts in Film

Fancy an adventure? These great treasure hunt movies are guaranteed to provide thrills aplenty as we set out to find the loot…

10. Trespass (Hill, 1992)

trespass_treasure-hunt_bill-paxtonThis little-seen Walter Hill effort from 1992 sees fire fighters Bill Paxton and William Sadler on the hunt for hidden loot in an abandoned warehouse. The only trouble is there’s a vicious street gang led by Ice-T in the area. When the treasure hunters witness Ice-T’s King James carry out an execution, they find themselves the target. Barricaded into one of the abandoned building’s decrepit rooms they have to hold back the gang while searching the room for the riches.

9. National Treasure (Turteltaub, 2004)

national-treasure_nic-cageNicolas Cage stars as historian and wannabe adventurer Benjamin Franklin Gates who is driven by a single clue to seek out the so-called national treasure that was hidden by the founding fathers and Freemasons during the American civil war. In one of few films made by Francis Ford Coppola’s nephew in the last decade that’s any good, National Treasure hurtles along at breakneck speed. It neatly weaves American history into a contemporary setting and features a hearty sense of humour, some excellent set pieces and a charismatic support cast.

8. The Mummy (Sommers, 1999)

the-mummy-1999-brendan-fraser_Rachel_Weisz_treasure-hunt-filmThis fun adventure horror from director Stephen Sommers draws its inspiration from the Boris Karloff-starring 1932 film and sees a lively Brendan Fraser take on the role that would have otherwise gone to Indiana Jones. As adventurer Rick O’Connell he finds himself leading an expedition to find the tomb of the infamous Imhotep, an ancient Egyptian high priest who was mummified alive after embarking on an affair with the mistress of Pharaoh Seti I. An energetic cast make this a lovable potpourri of comedy, action and horror as director Sommers brings us B-movie styling with A-movie finesse.

7. Pirates of the Caribbean (Verbinski, 2003)

Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean, Johnny DeppBased on the popular Walt Disney theme park ride, Gore Verbinski’s comic swashbuckler sees an inspired Johnny Depp take on the role of perennially inebriated pirate Jack Sparrow. Verbinski’s lavish photography and production values (it’s a Jerry Bruckheimer-produced movie so, unsurprisingly, no expense is spared) is a feast for the eyes as the villains chase the treasure and the good guys chase the girl.

6. Three Kings (O’Russell, 1999)

three-kings-gold_treasure-hunt-filmAcclaimed director David O’Russell, who thrilled critics and audiences with The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook in recent years, made Three Kings in 1999. The film is set at the tail-end of the first Gulf War as three American soldiers form a plot to steal gold bullion from Saddam Hussein. Faced with the Iraqi uprising as well as Saddam loyalists, George Clooney, Mark Walhberg and Ice Cube take on the desert dust to track down the gold. This satirical war film has moments of levity drawn from the director’s dark sense of humour alongside tragedy and high stakes military drama.

5. Romancing The Stone (Zemeckis, 1984)

romancing_the_stone_movie_image_michael_douglas_treasure-hunt-filmClearly taking its cues from Raiders of the Lost Ark (although its earliest incarnation in script form was written by late writer Diane Thomas prior to Raiders’ development), Spielberg protégé Robert Zemeckis brings us the delights of Romancing The Stone. Michael Douglas is the care-free bird exporter Jack T. Colton who happens across a stranded romance novelist (Kathleen Turner’s Joan Wilder) in the Columbian jungle after she takes the wrong bus trying to find her kidnapped sister. The kidnappers want a map leading to hidden treasure that Wilder has in her possession. In return for bringing the map to Columbia, where the treasure is buried somewhere, they will release her sister from captivity. But Wilder’s saviour, the swashbuckling Colton, has other ideas. If they can find the treasure themselves, they’ll have a much better bargaining tool. So the pair head off in search of the precious emerald, pursued by a bumbling small time crook (Danny DeVito) as well as a sadistic General and his gang of well-armed military police.

4. Time Bandits (Gillian, 1981)

Time Bandits, Film, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin,This offbeat adventure from the minds of Monty Python alumni Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin mixes two wonderfully entertaining concepts – the treasure hunt and travelling through time. An eleven-year-old child joins a group of dwarves as they use a stolen map to steal riches from a variety of historical figures as they travel through time. This dark, comic tale is made all the more enthralling thanks to the wonderful imagination of its creators.

3. The Goonies (Donner, 1985)

The Goonies, Film, Richard Donner, Hey You GuysA favourite from my youth, The Goonies is an unsurprising hit with a younger, teenage crowd since it follows a group of adolescent friends searching for treasure in order to save their beloved home town. But the greatest thing about Richard Donner’s The Goonies is that it still works whether you are 13 or 30. Featuring a lovable group of child actors who are all clearly having as much fun as the audience pitted against one of the 1980s best family-friendly villains (Anne Ramsey as Mama Fratelli), you have the basis for something very special. Indeed, The Goonies is simply great fun from beginning to end.

2. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Spielberg, 1989)

1989_the_last_crusade_indiana-jones-harrison-fordFive years after the original Indiana Jones adventure, Spielberg release Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The film was significant because it accepted the flaws present in the first sequel and ensured the same mistakes weren’t made again. Spielberg acknowledged that he went too dark with Temple of Doom. The film lacked the humorous bite evident in “Raiders” while the cartoon villainy of the previous chapter was substituted for a murderous cult that preyed on children. “Last Crusade” brings back the Nazis and lets Indiana Jones do battle with them once again. This time he’s teamed up with his father (played by Sean Connery) in hot pursuit of the Holy Grail.

1. Raiders of the Lost Ark (Spielberg, 1984)

Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Harrison Ford,

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Steven Spielberg set a trend with Raiders of the Lost Ark. With Romancing The Stone rushed out to cash-in on the craze and a slew of other treasure hunts in the 1980s, Indiana Jones was not only a character people wanted to go adventuring with but he was the central part of a high concept movie craze that had cinema audiences purring in admiration. In the original, and best, Spielberg has his intrepid archaeologist trekking across the world in order to find the Ark of the Covenant (which holds, supposedly, the tablets of stone on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed). He is pursued on his journey by a vicious Nazi taskforce, determined to find the ark on Hitler’s orders under the impression it will make the army invincible.

Written and compiled by Daniel Stephens.

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Over to you: what is your favourite treasure hunt in the movies?

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Pete Turner (@ilovethatfilm) Reply

    It doesn’t get any better than The Goonies in my opinion!

    • Dan Reply

      It is such a great film – I totally agree Pete. It is one of my favourites from childhood and it still works just as well today as it did when it was first released.

  2. Neal Damiano Reply

    Really cool list some great films on, it is especially nice to see “The Goonies” at number 3! There’s only one film I’d add to the mix ” Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold ” (1986). A really fun adventure film.

    • Dan Reply

      Nice addition Neal. The Goonies is getting a lot of love but Indiana Jones just pips it to the top spot for me.

  3. Colin Biggs Reply

    It’s a shame that sequels to The Mummy and Pirates of the Caribbean were so awful, it makes me hesitant to revisit the originals of actual quality.

    • Dan Reply

      I actually thought the second Mummy film was good apart from the terrible CGI when The Rock arrives near the end.

  4. Evan Crean Reply

    As someone else who is a huge Indiana Jones fan, I’d have to say that our top two treasure hunting films are the same. I’d rank Time Bandits slightly higher on my personal list, but I love the first Pirates, The Mummy, and Three Kings too. I haven’t seen The Mummy in a long time because I got really burned out on it. American television stations were playing it so much at one point I couldn’t stand it. I agree that National Treasure is one of the best Nicolas Cage movies in the last several years, although that isn’t saying much haha. I swear I’ve seen bits and pieces of Tresspass on television before. Surprisingly the only one on this list that I missed was Romancing the Stone.

    • Dan Reply

      Evan, you MUST see Romancing The Stone if you like the treasure hunts on this list, it is one of my absolute favourites and the film that gave director Robert Zemeckis a shot at making Back To The Future. Without Stone’s success, there would be no BTTF…

  5. Alex Withrow Reply

    Great list. Three Kings is one of my all time favorites. I love the hunt in that film.

    • Dan Reply

      …it is such a smart movie – great characters, tightly paced, some great visuals and moments of ingenuity.

  6. Dan Heaton Reply

    But what about the Crystal Skull? Seriously, this is a strong list. I like the mention of Trespass, which was actually shot in East St. Louis right across the river from my city. There are a lot of abandoned buildings there. Lots of great choices here.

    • Dan Reply

      Glad you appreciate the inclusion of Trespass, Dan. It is nice to highlight a slightly lesser known movie and hopefully some new audiences will discover it.

    • Rodney Reply

      Crystal Skull? You rank an abomination like that in with classics like The Goonies, Raiders and National Treasure?

      Wait…. what?

  7. Rodney Reply

    Ha ha, nice list, Dan! I had The Goonies all set to be #1 but I see they were trumped by Indy – fair enough, too. Don’t think I can argue with your choices here, and it would be pure semantics to fiddle with the order.

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