47 Thrilling Adventure Movies for Travelers & Thrill Seekers

Collage of seven different adventure movie scenes, including: Long Way Round, Into the Wild, Midnight in Paris, The Bucket List, Thelma & Louise, and more
The Best Adventure Movies for Travelers & Thrill Seekers

Are you eager to add some adventure to your life? First, use this list to find vicarious inspiration from the best adventure movies out there. I’ve gathered films and documentaries that are travel- and outdoor-themed adventures, to fit with the spirit of this blog.

We’ll kick off this list with movies spanning everything from decades-old classics to modern treasures. And if real-life stories are more your jam, check out the second half of our list, which covers several of our favorite new and exciting documentaries.

You’ll find options similar to my all-time favorites: The Grand Budapest Hotel for its charming world-building, Cloudburst for adventures not bound by age, and Free Solo for staggering real-world accomplishments.

If you’re a traveler or thrill seeker, my list of the best adventure movies definitely has something for your next movie night. It may even inspire you to get off the couch and hit the road running on an adventure of your own.

Best Adventure Movies

This first section of our list will take you through a mix of original screenplays, novel adaptations, and artistic retellings of real-life events. Regardless of your cinematic preferences, you’ll find an adventure movie here that suits your tastes.

Into the Wild (2007)

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Based on the real-life story of Christoper McCandless, Into the Wild chronicles his solo attempts to live off the land in the Alaskan wilderness. With this flick, you’re in for an accurate and thoughtful depiction of the joys, sorrows, and costs of trying to make that dream a reality.

Starring: Vince Vaughn, Katerine Keener, Emilie Hirsch
Director: Sean Penn
Runtime: 2h 28m


Motorcycle Diaries (2004)

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The stereotypical idyllic motorcycle trip through South America becomes so much more in this film as it covers the formative early years of Che Guevara through a mix of joyful road-tripping and exploration of social injustices that formed the ethos of the revolutionary figure.

Pro Tip: Read about our founder, Noel’s motorbike adventures through Vietnam to get you primed and ready for a viewing of Motorcycle Diaries.

Starring: Gael García Bernal, Rodrigo de la Serna, Mía Maestro
Director: Walter Salles
Runtime: 2h 6m


Stand by Me (1986)

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Stephen King fans look no further; this adaptation of his novella is a coming-of-age story of four young boys who traverse through forests and over railroad bridges to find a missing boy’s body, but also find themselves on a journey of self-discovery.

Full of whimsy and nostalgia, Stand by Me captures a bygone era of kids striking out to make their own adventures in sleepy American towns. It gets bonus points from this Oregonian for being set in the fictional town of Castlerock, Oregon.

Starring: Will Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman
Director: Rob Reiner
Runtime: 1h 29m


Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

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Taika Waititi’s ability to make quirky, heart-warming movies is on full display in this story about a misfit boy and his reluctant foster uncle traversing through the New Zealand bush while being part of a national manhunt. You might laugh and cry while watching this hidden indie gem.

Starring: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima te Wiata
Director: Taika Waititi
Runtime: 1h 41m


Wild (2014)

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It’s no secret that hiking and backpacking are big themes on this blog, and Wild is one of Hollywood’s rare depictions of trail life. Reese Witherspoon stars as Cheryl, who, after having her life fall apart, turns to the Pacific Crest Trail to try and pick up the pieces of her life.

This story will resonate strongly for any reader who has turned to nature for healing and free therapy. It might just motivate you to start planning your own through-hike. If you need further inspiration, check out our guides to both the Appalachian Trail and the Inca Trail.

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Gaby Hoffmann
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Runtime: 1h 55m


Deliverance (1972)

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Our first aquatic entry is a ’70s thriller about the efforts of four friends to canoe down the Cahulawassee River before it’s dammed. The adventure quickly goes awry and would easily rank #1 on our list of real-life worst travel stories.

Starring: Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty
Director: John Boorman
Runtime: 1h 49m


O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

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O Brother, Where Art Thou is worth watching for the soundtrack alone, as it has the rare distinction of being one of the few original movie soundtracks to win an Album of the Year Grammy award.

Beyond the music, this Coen brother’s film is one of the strongest entries in their filmography. The comedy-drama follows three escaped convicts and their pursuit of freedom and buried treasure on a journey full of escapades and quirky characters.

Starring: George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson
Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coan
Runtime: 1h 47m


On the Road (2012)

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Jack Keruoac’s 1957 novel inspired an entire generation and captured the essence of the longing for the road, going West, and finding purpose in non-conformity. Though the 2012 adaptation is by no means perfect, it’s worth seeing such an iconic piece of American literature adapted to the big screen.

Starring: Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart
Director: Walter Salles
Runtime: 2h 4m


The Revenant (2015)

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If a bear fights Leonardo DiCaprio in the woods and no one is there to see it, does he still finally win an Oscar? The answer to that is yes, although the stunning cinematography of the 1820s frontier is just as pivotal to The Revenant’s magic as Leo’s award-winning performance in a brutal story of survival and revenge.

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter
Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Runtime: 2h 36m


A Walk in the Woods (2015)

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The second thru-hiking entry on our list jumps cross country to cover an adventure on the other great north-to-south American trek: the Appalachian Trail. Robert Redford and Nick Nolte delight in this buddy comedy-drama of two older and wholly unprepared friends biting off more than they can chew.

Starring: Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Emma Thompson
Director: Ken Kwapis
Runtime: 1h 44m


Touching the Void (2003)

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Based on the actual ascent of the Silua Grande by Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, this docudrama captures the terrifying struggle to survive in harsh mountain conditions when things go terribly wrong.

Though climbing documentaries are plentiful nowadays, this film remains a rare Hollywood entry focused on mountain climbers and the dangers they face in pursuing peaks and glory.

Starring: Simon Yates, Joe Simpson, Brendan Makey
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Runtime: 1h 46m


The Way (2011)

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A grieving father, Tom, takes up the banner of his late son and attempts to complete the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in his honor. Full of beautiful vistas of France and Spain, The Way skillfully captures the camaraderie one can find even amongst strangers when walking together for days on end.

Starring: Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez, Deborah Kara Unger
Director: Emilio Estevez
Runtime: 2h 3m


Y Tu Mamá También (2001)

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This seminal entry into Mexican cinema is a raunchy Spanish language coming-of-age story of two teenage boys who embark on a road trip with an older woman. The second foreign language film on our list is well worth brushing off your freshman-year Spanish or throwing on the subtitles.

Starring: Maribel Verdú, Gael García Bernal, Daniel Giménez Cacho
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Runtime: 1h 46m


One Week (2008)

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After being diagnosed with cancer and facing his own mortality, Ben Tyler decides to take a motorcycle trip across Canada. For those who love to travel, long voyages are often reflective and transformative. One Week poignantly explores those themes against the beautiful backdrop of the Canadian wilderness.

Starring: Joshua Jackson, Peter Spence, Marc Strange
Director: Michael McGowan
Runtime: 1h 34m


Everest (2015)

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The unfortunate nature of disasters makes for compelling stories, and Everest is the second entry on our list to recount a mountaineering expedition gone terribly awry.

Based on the 1996 climbing season, the movie dramatizes the tale of two expedition groups and the fateful May day that immortalized the unforgiving brutality of the Himalayan mountains.

Starring: Jason Clarke, Ang Phula Sherpa, Thomas M. Wright
Director: Baltasar Kormákur
Runtime: 2h 1m


The Bucket List (2007)

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Be ready for both laughs and tears in this film about two elderly gentlemen diagnosed with terminal cancer. Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson star as an oddball duo who set off for one hell of a final ride. They’re sure to inspire you to start checking off items on your own bucket list.

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman, Sean Hayes
Director: Rob Reiner
Runtime: 1h 37m


Cast Away (2000)

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What would you name your pet volleyball after being stranded on an island and coming close to losing your mind? If your answer is anything besides Wilson, prioritize watching this Tom Hanks classic about a FedEx analyst who is the lone survivor of a plane wreck in the middle of the ocean.

Starring: Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt, Paul Sanchez
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Runtime: 2h 23m


The Beach (2000)

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Take a break from the countless forests and mountains covered in our list with this thriller about a young man named Richard, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who sets off to find a hidden paradise on an uninhabited island off the coast of Thailand.

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tilda Swinton, Daniel York
Director: Danny Boyle
Runtime: 1h 59m


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

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Ben Stiller will enchant you with a wonderfully bizarre blend of real adventures and daydreaming in his role as Walter Mitty. If you’re feeling bogged down by the constant drone of office life, throw on this movie for just the right amount of surreal escapism.

Starring: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Jon Daly
Director: Ben Stiller
Runtime: 1h 54m


Midnight in Paris (2011)

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Paris has long been a classic adventure destination, but what would you do with the chance to explore the city more than a century ago? Woody Allen’s prodigious filmmaking career is highlighted by this delightful tribute to a writer’s (literally) magical journey through Paris in both the past and present.

Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates
Director: Woody Allen
Runtime: 1h 34m


Cloudburst (2011)

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Getting older doesn’t mean you have to give up adventuring. Cloudburst is a hilarious and lovely entry about an elderly lesbian couple going to Canada to get married after escaping from their nursing home.

Along the way, they pick up a young male hitchhiker, and all three bond as plenty of hijinks ensue. As far as indie films go, they don’t get much better than this, and it’s a personal favorite of mine.

Starring: Olympia Dukakis, Brenda Fricker, Kristin Booth
Director: Thom Fitzgerald
Runtime: 1h 33m


Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

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Van life presents all sorts of unexpected challenges that are only magnified when you try to shove several generations of dysfunctional families into a yellow Volkswagen bus for a cross-country journey to take your daughter to a beauty pageant.

A great ensemble cast captures the frenetic nature of family road trips and all the ways it can cause squabbles while ultimately bringing the family closer together.

Starring: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Greg Kinnear
Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Runtime: 1h 41m


Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

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One of the finest rag-to-riches stories about a young man from Mumbai trying to make his fortunes on the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” Told through flashbacks, the film expertly weaves multiple timelines toward a satisfying payoff.

Starring: Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Saurabh Shukla
Directors: Danny Boyle, Loveleen Tandan
Runtime: 2h


The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

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One of the early entries in Wes Anderson’s career follows three estranged brothers who go on a train journey through India in an attempt to reconnect after their father’s death. Wes Anderson’s distinct visual style will have you itching to book your own train ticket.

Starring: Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman
Director: Wes Anderson
Runtime: 1h 31m


Thelma & Louise (1991)

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A simple fishing weekend getaway for two women becomes far more complicated when they stop midway at a roadside bar. The film is iconic for its feminism and delves into dark, complex issues in a rare way for the often lighthearted travel genre.

Starring: Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Harvey Keitel
Director: Ridley Scott
Runtime: 2h 10m


Lion (2016)

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We’ve all used Google Maps to daydream about our next adventure, but Lion takes it one step further as it tells the real-life story of a young Indian boy named Saroo, who gets lost and adopted at the age of five and 20 years later tries to find his home village by hunting for clues on Google Earth.

Starring: Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara
Director: Garth Davis
Runtime: 1h 58m


Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

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Our second Wes Anderson entry also takes my personal award as his finest film to date. Set in a fictional luxury hotel in 1930s Europe, the story follows a flamboyant concierge and his young protege who get embroiled in a case of a stolen painting and a family inheritance.

The world-building in the Grand Budapest Hotel is impeccable, and the star-studded cast delivers on all fronts for an eminently rewatchable tale. I can’t recommend this film enough as an intro to Wes Anderson’s unique library of work.

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric
Director: Wes Anderson
Runtime: 1h 39m


Out of Africa (1985)

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Winner of seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Meryl Streep stars in a slow burn that is as much a love story with Africa as it is a romance. With the stunning backdrop of Kenya, the film rewards nature lovers just as much as enjoyers of a dramatic, simmering romance.

Starring: Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Klaus Maria Brandauer
Director: Sydney Pollack
Runtime: 2h 41m


The Way Back (2010)

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As a first-generation refugee immigrant from Russia, The Way Back resonates particularly strongly for me as it chronicles the escape of a group of prisoners from a Siberian gulag who traverse thousands of miles to find freedom and safety in India.

Starring: Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Colin Farrell
Director: Peter Weir
Runtime: 2h 13m


Tracks (2013)

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Harsh terrain can play host to some of the world’s most incredible adventures as it innately provides an element of risk and danger, and nowhere does this hold true as much as the desolate stretches of Australia.

The true life story of Robyn Davidson’s solo trek across the Australian desert alongside her camels and dog is both moving and full of phenomenal cinematography that will leave you with a newfound appreciation of desert beauty.

Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Adam Driver, Lily Pearl
Director: John Curran
Runtime: 1h 52m


7 Years in Tibet (1997)

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A movie about a mountain climber that doesn’t focus on mountain climbing may seem odd, but this true story of Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer and his unlikely friendship with the Dalai Lama is a fascinating historical snapshot.

Starring: Brad Pitt, David Thewlis, BD Wong
Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud
Runtime: 2h 16m


Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

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Take a journey to the Middle East with a film often lauded as one of the most remarkable pieces of filmmaking. Follow along with T.E. Lawrence’s journey through the Ottoman Empire and his conflicting allegiances between his native Britain and the friends he’s made in the Arabian desert tribes.

Starring: Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn
Director: David Lean
Runtime: 3h 38m


The Goonies (1985)

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Being raised in Oregon, it didn’t take long until I was swept up by the cult following of The Goonies, set in the little coastal town of Astoria in my home state.

If you’ve enjoyed the global phenomena of the ’80s nostalgia of Stranger Things, watch one of its inspirations that tells the story of four young boys, an old pirate treasure map, and their quest to find gold and save their neighborhood.

Starring: Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Jeff Cohen
Director: Richard Donner
Runtime: 1h 54m


Jumanji (1995)

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Fantasy and adventure come together in the first Jumanji entry about a magical board game that pits two siblings against wild creatures and challenges in the real world. With so many “serious” adventures highlighted on our list, this classic Robin Williams portrayal provides some very welcome levity as a contrast.

Starring: Robin Williams, Kirsten Dunst, Bonnie Hunt
Director: Joe Johnston
Runtime: 1h 44m


Life of Pi (2012)

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A second entry with heavy overtones of fantasy tells the story of Pi Patel, a young boy stranded at sea after a shipwreck, along with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Is it fantasy? Is it real? Perhaps the answer doesn’t matter nearly as much as the spiritual and emotional journey.

Starring: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain
Director: Ang Lee
Runtime: 2h 7m


Nomadland (2020)

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What does it mean to be a nomad? Explore the essence of a community that strives to live outside convention through Fern’s eyes, a woman who distills her life to its simplest form by traveling the American West in her van after her hometown goes under during the recession.

Starring: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May
Director: Chloé Zhao
Runtime: 1h 47m


Indiana Jones Series (1981 – 2023)

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With five entries spanning 40+ years, the Indiana Jones movies are quintessential entries in the adventure genre.

Regardless of which film in the series you pick, you’ll get plenty of Harrison Ford starring in globe-trotting quests for ancient artifacts. Newcomers should start where it all began: The Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Starring: Harrison Ford and others
Director: Steven Spielberg and others
Runtime: Varies by movie


Best Adventure Documentaries

Fictional or dramatized adventures have their own place, but sometimes you’d prefer to see some real-life footage of the crazy, mind-blowing, first-of-their-kind adventures we humans are capable of. Here are some of the very best to get you started.

Free Solo (2018)

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Alex Honnold is the rare climber who has become a household name alongside such sport greats as Messi, Jordan, and Brady. But what Alex achieved had never been done before: climbing the 3,000-foot face of El Capitan in Yosemite without any safety equipment.

One of the best climbing documentaries ever made has a bit of everything: a gripping narrative, a mind-boggling achievement, and some of the finest cinematography of Yosemite National Park you can find anywhere.

Starring: Alex Honnold, Tommy Caldwell, Jimmy Chin
Directors: Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
Runtime: 1h 40m


The Endurance (2000)

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The 1914 attempt by Ernest Shackleton to be the first man to cross the Antarctic continent on foot would be hard to believe if not for the fantastic stories and footage that he brought back and are on full display in this documentary.

If you’re curious about what it takes to survive in one of the coldest and most desolate areas on Earth, or simply love historical accounts of early explorers, The Endurance is the place to start.

Starring: Liam Neeson, Julian Ayer, John Blackborow
Director: George Butler
Runtime: 1h 37m


180° South (2010)

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Part road trip, part mountain climbing, and part meditation on environmental responsibility, 180° South documents Jeff Johnson’s attempt to recreate the 1968 journey of Yvon Chouinard (founder of Patagonia) and Doug Tompkins to climb the Fitz Roy, in Patagonia.

Rather than glorifying the act of adventuring itself, the documentary dives into the philosophical nature of why we crave adventure and how to make it meaningful on an individual level.

Starring: Yvon Chouinard, Doug Tompkins, Keith Malloy
Director: Chris Malloy
Runtime: 1h 25m


The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young (2015)

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At one point, medical professionals claimed that even a marathon was too long to be safe. Then came the era of the ultra marathon, which could only be upstaged by the crazed creation of a man named Lazarus Lake: an ultra race that aims to have no finishers.

You probably won’t want to run the Barkleys after watching this documentary (if you’re sane), but you’ll definitely enjoy a deep dive into one of the most daunting American foot races, set in Tennessee’s Frozen Head State Park.

Starring: Lazarus Lake
Directors: Annika Iltis, Timothy James Kane
Runtime: 1h 29m


Grizzly Man (2005)

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Documentary fans have undoubtedly heard the name Werner Herzog, but if you haven’t, Grizzly Man is one of his crowning accomplishments and a must-watch. The documentary looks at the life of Timothy Treadwell, a bear enthusiast obsessed with living alongside grizzly bears in the Alaskan wilderness.

Starring: Timothy Treadwell, Amie Huguenard, Werner Herzog
Director: Werner Herzog
Runtime: 1h 43m


Encounters at the End of the World (2008)

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Herzog is so iconic he gets back-to-back entries on this list. Rather than focusing on the landscape or wildlife of Antarctica, he takes a deep dive into the people living and working at McMurdo Station.

A focus on the eccentric population highlights Herzog’s love of people and his intrinsic ability to draw out and dissect the tendrils of their life stories. All of this is juxtaposed against the stark beauty of Antarctica’s desolate surroundings.

Starring: Werner Herzog, Scott Rowland, Stefan, Pashov
Director: Werner Herzog
Runtime: 1h 39m


Meru (2015)

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Jimmy Chin is a master of filming outdoor adventures, including leading the creative team behind Free Solo. Meru provides an intimate look into his attempts, along with world-renowned climbers Conrad Anker and Renan Ozturk, to be the first humans to scale the Shark’s Fin route up Meru Peak in the Himalayas.

Starring: Conrad Anker, Grace Chin, Jimmy Chin
Director: Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai, Vasarhelyi
Runtime: 1h 30m


Long Way Round (Miniseries) (2004)

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With so many documentaries providing only a short snapshot into their subject matter, it’s refreshing to dive into the sprawling, in-depth look at the 20,000-mile motorcycle journey taken by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman.

Covering Europe, Asia, and North America, their journey and first-hand footage will take you to rarely-seen places like the wilds of Mongolia and Siberia.

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Charley Boorman, David Alexanian
Creators: David Alexanian, Charley Boorman, Russ Malkin
Runtime: 5h 15m


A Map for Saturday (2007)

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Could you give up your entire life and travel the world full-time? For many of us, that’s not completely desirable or realistic, but this documentary by Brook Silva Braga captures his year of globe-trotting.

Whether you use his experiences to plan your own grand worldly adventure or vicariously enjoy his nomadic lifestyle, you’ll enjoy this dive into the “why” of long-term travel and backpacking.

Starring: Scott Erikson, Rebecca Filmer, Sabrina Hezinger
Director: Brook Silva-Braga
Runtime: 1h 30m


14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible (2021)

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Climbing a single 8,000-meter peak would be a monumental lifetime achievement for the average person, but Nirmal Purja set out to climb all fourteen of the world’s tallest peaks in just seven months.

Beyond celebrating one of mountaineering’s most challenging and prized achievements, the documentary is a thoughtful look into the pivotal role of Nepalese Sherpas who so often get overlooked by Western media.

Starring: Nirmal Purja, Suchi Purja, Klára Kolouchová
Director: Torquil Jones
Runtime: 1h 41m


Time to Make Your Own Adventure Movie

We here at The Packable Life are all about exploration and discovery, so we encourage you to take inspiration from these vivid travel- and outdoor-themed adventure movies. From classic travel journeys to heart-pounding nature documentaries, I hope this list motivates you to schedule your next quest.

Now you know a few of my favorite adventure movies, but your list will likely look very different. By all means, let’s share — use the Comments section, below, to add your own must-sees or to tell me how misguided I am for some of my picks.

Happy trails to you, and may you never stop exploring!

Last Updated on March 19, 2024

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Maks Durayev

Maks is a writer residing in the Pacific Northwest who loves to cover all things related to food, the great outdoors, and environmental sustainability. When he's not writing, you’ll find him roaming the woods or trying out new recipes in the kitchen.

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