See It Instead: Tomb Raider.
If you’re looking for ancient buried treasure, we’ve got three older movies that can scratch your Tomb Raiding itch.
If you’re not quite up to spelunking through another Tomb Raider movie, I can sympathize. The franchise seemed poised to return to cultural relevancy for a hot minute in 2013 when Square Enix rebooted the series and everyone seemed to love it. Then a few years passed and nobody seemed particularly motivated to check out the sequel and Lara Croft slipped back into retirement. Treasure hunt movies went through a similar cycle where they were all the rage in the 1980’s thanks to gems like Indiana Jones and The Goonies*. The decade passed, however, and even Indy had trouble staying relevant.
While the glory days of tomb raiding are gone, they’re not forgotten. Here we have three films with enough buried treasure and booby traps to keep you swinging from the entertainment vine.
Tomb Raiders (2018).
Despite being the heir to a gigantic fortune, young Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) is trying to duck her prestigious last name hard and make her own way in life. Her father was a famous adventurer who disappeared years ago, and Lara is eager not to fill his shoes in the family business. Unfortunately, clues about his whereabouts and rumors of a mysterious island draw her into the treasure hunting game.
The Serious Pick: King Solomon’s Mines (1950).
Fabled big game hunter Alan Quatermain reluctantly agrees to escort Elizabeth Curtis through the untamed heart of Africa as she searches for her missing husband. The lost treasure seeker was hunting the legendary lost mines of King Solomon before going radio silent. As Quatermain and Curtis trek deeper into the bush, they become embroiled in the adventures of a ruthless criminal in hiding and an exiled African prince seeking to regain his throne.
The best regarded of the Alan Quatermain adventures, based on H. Rider Haggard’s novels, King Solomon’s Mines has been adapted no less than three times for the big screen since 1937, and once for the small screen starring Patrick Swayze. The 1950’s version may be a tad dated, but it has the best pedigree of the three. Starring Deborah Kerr and Stewart Granger, practically Hollywood royalty, this version is regal where the others are more voyeuristic. Certain aspects of the drama still trade on the “marvel at the savagery of darkest Africa!” tropes, but the producers went to the trouble to shoot on location and involved local tribes such as the Masai, giving the film a rich texture and still-impressive cinematography. The story of the displaced prince actually becomes the big finale to which the white adventurers become merely accessories, which is quite progressive for a film from the 50’s!
The Lighthearted Pick: Romancing the Stone (1984).
Joan is a romance novelist who receives a mysterious treasure map from her brother-in-law, who has been recently murdered. The perpetrators kidnap Joan’s sister and set up a swap for the map, but other forces looking for the treasure waylay Joan in the jungles of Columbia. Out of options, she teams up with a soldier of fortune named Jack, and the two hunt the treasure while trying to save Joan’s sister and stay one step ahead of the bad guys.
This is the first of a pair of movies starring Kathleen Turner, Michael Douglas and Danny DeVito and it is the stronger of the two. Turner and Douglas have a nice chemistry as potentially romantic frenemies and DeVito plays an ingratiating schmuck with his usual panache. In addition to being a charming romantic comedy, Romancing the Stone has quite a few exciting action sequences that play like some of the lighter elements of the later Indiana Jones films. While it may not be a classic, I’ve always remembered this film fondly and it has stood the test of time on subsequent viewings. Fans will enjoy the sequel, The Jewel of the Nile, but it’s certainly not as engaging as Turner and Douglas’ first adventure.
The Unconventional Pick: The Last Treasure Hunt (2016).
Oliver and Lucy grew up on an island with their eccentric father who liked stage elaborate treasure hunts for the young children. As time passed, adult concerns and the friction caused by their oddball father drove a wedge between the two siblings, and between them and their father. When the old man abruptly passes, the two grudgingly return to the island for the reading of the will, only to find that their inheritance is a final treasure map. As they follow the clues one last time, they begin to reconcile with each other and with the memory of their strange father.
As the new Tomb Raider focuses heavily on the role of absent fathers and the strains between children and parents, I thought immediately of this mostly overlooked film from 2016. While it may seem quirky and goofy, the film is actually quite the character-driven drama. It takes a hard look at the expectations of family and at the rough transition between childhood and adulthood that can turn once innocent fun into a frustrating ordeal. That this is all packed into a seemingly simple “follow the clues” formula is quite charming.