Our Ten’s List: Treasure Hunts!

Raiders of the Lost Ark
The Poster that went on to inspire a dozen imitators.

Our Ten’s List: Best Treasure Hunts Movies!

As Tomb Raider delves for buried box office gold, we look at ten of our favorite movies about seeking hidden treasure.

For nearly a century the story of heroic adventurers recovering priceless artifacts has been a big box office draw.  While the genre has declined from the heady heights it experienced in the late 40’s and mid 80’s, the allure has not faded.  This weekend we see a new Tomb Raider film that hopes to join the pantheon of legendary relic seekers.  Here we gather ten of the most intrepid explorers and set out for fabled riches as we uncover the best treasure hunt movies of all time.

best treasure hunt movies
For a while there, treasure hunt movie were just…hanging on.

Top Ten Movie Treasure Hunts.

10.  Firewalker  (1986).

Firewalker 1986Chuck Norris and Louis Gossett Jr. are two luckless soldiers of fortune who try to turn their fortunes around with a treasure map.  In the jungles of Central America, our pair of would-be heroes manage to stick their foot into every trap and their nose into every fight they can find.

This schlocky rip-off of other popular 80’s treasure hunter films goes so far into the awful side of the meter that it manages to come back around again onto the hilarious side.  I’m as surprised as anyone to say that Chuck Norris actually can be really charming when he’s playing a goofball approximation of his super macho persona.  Lou Gossett Jr. never really got the credit he deserved in the action movie community, despite many cult classics like Iron Eagle, Enemy Mine and Diggstown.  Together they manage to amiably bungle their way through some fun action sequences, including a fight where Chuck wipes out an entire bar full of baddies with his bare hands.

Chuck Norris, Firewalker
There’s also a running gag about Norris not being able to shoot a gun straight which is hilarious compared to his other movies.

9.  Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter  (2014).

Kumiko the treasure hunter
I guess people liked it.

Kumiko is an office worker at the very bottom of the totem pole.  She hates her job, her boss, and her living conditions.  Fascinated by tales of lost treasure, she stumbles upon a copy of the Hollywood movie Fargo.  In the only scene of the VHS that works, she sees Steve Buscemi bury treasure in the snow.  Convinced that the tape is real, she steals her boss’ credit card and flies to America, despite having a poor grasp on US geography and a worse grasp on English.

Fargo may be a dark comedy by Kumiko is pitch black by comparison.  It’s one of those comedy of errors that makes you laugh because the only other option is to go hang yourself.  That may not sound like much of recommendation, but Director David Zellner harnesses the latent existential angst of the film to create truly hypnotic sequences and “theater of the absurd” situations.  It may not be a film that will warm your heart, but it’s a film you should see at least once.

8.  Treasure Planet  (2002).

Treasure Planet, Walt Disney Studios
The 3D modelling paid dividends.

Jim Hawkins is a young lad who longs for the adventurous life of a space pirate.  One day he gets his wish when a ship crash lands next to his home and a dying stranger gives him a map to the fabled pirate island, Treasure Planet.  Jim sets off to collect his treasure but winds up having a cosmic adventure when his ship is shanghaied by a cyborg pirate, John Silver.

This space-opera version of the classic Treasure Island manages to ably adapt Robert Louis Stevenson’s story while injecting it with some whiz bang cosmic sequences thanks to the folks at Disney.  The voice acting is commendable, but the real star is the pioneering computer aided animation that utilized fully rendered sets in which traditionally animated characters could perform.  This allowed a larger degree of freedom for the “camera” and allowed for many of the more spectacular shots.

7.  It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).

It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World
That’s an accurate representation of the actual cast.

When a group of five motorists stop to help a crash victim, they all become witnesses to his final words: the location of a buried treasure under a W along the Mexican/Californian border.  The bystanders try to come up with an equitable solution to finding the gold…before promptly stabbing each other in the back and sneaking away to get the gold for themselves.  In a race by land, sea and air, the five groups fan out to be the first to find the mysterious treasure.

This comedy struck a funny bone with the Oscars, nabbing six nominations and one win.  It was the progenitor of a whole genre of chase comedies that became such a staple that even Sesame Street imitated it in Follow That Bird.  The cast is packed to the rafters with the biggest names in comedy of the time, and the pace is non-stop lunacy.  It’s on the AFI list of funniest comedies for good reason, and well worth tracking down by any means necessary.

6.  Romancing the Stone/ The Jewel of the Nile  (1984/1985)

Romancing the Stone, Jewel of the Nile
I guess they really like vine swinging?

Kathleen Turner plays a romance novelist who gets more than she bargains for when a mysterious treasure map is mailed to her.  She winds up on an adventure in Columbia, where she meets a dashing scoundrel played by Michael Douglas.  They go on to have a follow-up adventure in Africa with much of the same cast returning for a second shift.

Indiana Jones and Romancing the Stone where two pillars upon which much of the 1980’s gold-rush in treasure hunting movies were founded upon.  Turner and Douglas have a great chemistry, alternating between steamy romance and sharp-tongued rivalry.  The action set pieces are quite good and the the ins and outs of the treasure hunting are suitably ludicrous for a broad action comedy.  As we covered in our See It Instead for Tomb Raider, Romancing the Stone is the superior film but together they add up to a fun duo.

5.  National Treasure (2004).

Nicolas Cage plays Benjamin Franklin Gates, a historian and treasure hunter whose family has a long legacy of hunting up American antiquities.  One treasure has always remained beyond their grasp, a fabled cache made by the Founding Fathers known only by few cryptic phrases passed down in Gates’ family.  His quest takes him all over the country to historic landmarks in search of clues.  He has to hurry though, since a former friend has double crossed him and is seeking the treasure for personal gain instead of the good of posterity.

Hot damn, remember when Nicolas Cage was fun to watch (and not in a “hey look at that flaming car wreck” kind of way)?  This breezy flick is like a marriage between The Goonies and The DaVinci Code, except the action is slicker than The Goonies and the premise is actually meant to be over-the-top camp instead of Dan Brown’s dubious historicity.  All in all, it’s a romp through antiquity, like US history flashcards devised to amuse even the most recalcitrant student.

National Treasure, Nicolas Cage
“…and that, class, is how precisely none of history happened.”

4.  Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).

Harrison Ford is back as Indiana Jones, this time joined by his bookish father (Sean Connery).  The Jones boys are out to foil Hitler one more time:  Nazi soldiers are hot on the trail of the Holy Grail, seeking to make Hitler and his armies immortal.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Harrison Ford, Sean Connery
You can see the humor really starting to take over.

The third film in the Indiana Jones trilogy (the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull did NOT happen) is my favorite, although I reluctantly admit that it is not quite the best of the series.  This entry leans a bit too heavily into the campiness of the franchise that was much less overt in the first two films.  It does make up for that failing by being bigger and broader than the other films.  The jokes are better, the action is crazier, and the stakes are sky high.  Connery and Ford have a great back and forth as polar opposites.  It was a glorious swan song for the Indiana Jones series (because, you know, the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull DID NOT HAPPEN!)

3.  The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948).

Treasure of the Seirra Madre, John HustonTwo desperate men head to Mexico based on the lure of gold in the Sierra Madre mountains.  They survive privation, isolation, and the perdition of the local bandits (who most assuredly do not need any stinking badges!).  When they finally overcome their hostile environment and strike gold, the real struggle for survival begins as each man begins to believe the other wishes to steal his share.

Before the 1980’s turned buried treasure into a lark, it was serious and deadly business in movies.  Here Humphrey Bogart and Tim Holt give tremendous performances under the direction of the legendary John Huston.  You can practically see gold fever hollow and carve out the men, especially Bogart who becomes a veritable fiend.  This is one of Huston’s classics that sees much less screen time than his other important works; fans of cinema should grab a pick-ax and dig this cinematic gold up.  Just watch your back for greedy characters or bandits without badges…

Humphrey Bogart
Humphrey Bogart absolutely loses his mind, and it’s a delight.

2.  The Goonies (1985.)

The Goonies
OK, OK, I won’t mention The Goonies again…want to talk about Clue?

Four kids and their reluctant older siblings get roped into a grand adventure looking for fabled pirates gold.  The fortune of One-Eyed Willy is rumored to be fraught with danger, but it’s the kids’ only hope to stop greedy land developers from foreclosing on their home town.

I’ve talked about The Goonies ad nauseum.  It’s a classic.  It’s one of Richard Donner’s best films, and I adored his Super Man flicks!  I can’t think of much more to add, so I’ll leave off singing its praises until I accidentally put it in another one of my See It Instead articles.

1.  Raiders of the Lost Arc  (1981.)

Archaeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is approached by the US Army to help in their efforts to thwart the Nazis.  Hitler wants to capture the Ark of the Covenant, which can supposedly make his soldiers invincible.  Those whose face it doesn’t melt off, apparently.  Jones goes on a globe trotting adventure to find a staff that will open up a tomb that will lead to a well which leads to a…you get the point.

Raiders of the Lost Ark, Toht
Wait. Hitler wants to acquire a relic that melts his OWN army…and you want to STOP him?
Raiders of the Lost Ark
The Poster that went on to inspire a dozen imitators.

No movie did more to establish the tropes of the modern treasure hunt movie than Steven Spielberg’s original Indiana Jones film, Raiders of the Lost Ark.  After this film, subsequent treasure hunting movies had to either pay homage, comically subvert, or blatantly rip off Indiana Jones.  For good reason:  the film is immaculately paced, filled with colorful settings, features excellent action sequences, and introduced audiences to one of the most iconic film heroes of all time.  The first film surpasses the sequels because it had to work harder than them.  When Indy was an unknown quantity and Harrison Ford was still a rising star, the story had to be tight, and boy was it.  Even after dozens of viewings the movie is a total pleasure to watch.


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