Explore The Adventure Genre in Film and TV
Art and Experience: The adventure genre is built for cinema. It ‘transports’ the audience to remote parts of the world and keeps them on the edge of their seats. So how do you create an adventure movie?
By studying the genre! Even if you aren’t planning to shoot the next Indiana Jones, you can take elements of the Adventure genre and apply them to ANY film to make it more dynamic.
Today we’ll show you how!
The adventure genre is built around our desire to search for “more” in our lives. More meaning, more excitement, and sometimes more treasure. It plays into the mysticism of the unknown and works as pure escapism for those watching. It works as both metaphor (Wasn’t Indy always after MORE than just ‘fortune and glory’?) but it also works as straight up DRAMA. Why?
Because Adventure stories take you OUT of the frying pan and INTO the fire over and over and over… and over!
So trust us this genre packs a wallop. It’s helped many a screenwriter break into the business. So how can you harness the escapist power of the genre in your writing?
Let’s begin our QUEST!
What are the adventure genre and adventure stories?
Adventure stories predate movies. They worked great as books and comics etc. Want to make an adventure movie?
Check out a list of adventure books and see which might be in the public domain, or just flat out get inspired! Some of the most important stories ever populate that list, because Adventure doesn’t just hold our attention…
It takes us on a journey to discover our truest nature.
While adventures started in fiction, they leaped into film and television as soon as the mediums came along. This genre gives us danger, excitement, and a meaningful journey for the protagonist. While there isn’t always a clearcut antagonist, you can rely on maps, swashbuckling, cliffhangers, derring-do and… well… ADVENTURE!
What were the first adventure movies and TV?
One of the earliest movie stars ever was Douglas Fairbanks, and he was known primarily for his ability to star in and produce top-notch action-adventure silents. They were “swashbucklers”. Think Robin Hood and The Count of Monte Cristo.
Fairbanks’ movies were the “Marvelverse” of the silent era. And it makes sense… adventure flat out WORKED even without sound. Fairbanks was an athlete, doing many of his own stunts, and the pinnacle of his work is considered The Theif of Baghdad.
Fairbanks retired due to poor health, and died in 1939 (which might be why today’s audiences are mostly unaware of him). But by then the great adventure genre movie crown had been passed on to a new star, Errol Flynn.
Adventure didn’t just need a big star to work. Through the 1930s and 1940s adventure serials were quite popular. Imagine shorts that would play and leave audiences with ‘cliff hangers’. Literally, a character in a republic serial would be hanging off a cliff and the short would end, leave audiences needing to come back next week to finish the story.
This is where the term cliff-hanger comes from.
In a way, isn’t Game of Thrones a modern-day republic serial? Yes. The answer is yes!
If you’re wondering if there is some connection between the popularity of this genre in the 1930s and the fact that Indiana Jones movies take place in the 1930s then you’re onto something! Because yes, George Lucas set out to invent a modern (in the 1980s at least) feature film format that did precisely what the adventure serials that played in weekend matinee’s had done.
So yeah, Star Wars and Indiana Jones are the descendants of those old adventure genre serials!
Examples from the best adventure movies of all time
As you know, this is all subjective, but the lessons you gain are universal. I picked a diverse list of adventure movies to let you glean as many lessons as possible. They’re in no particular order.
If you have other ones you love, let me know in the comments!
The Goonies is maybe the ultimate childhood imagination movie. I don’t know if there’s enough room to wax about how much this movie ricks. It has lots of things we love in an adventure movie; maps, treasure, a motley crew, and terrible villains driven by greed.
The Goonies tonally hits too – you feel the danger and excitement, but the stakes stay personal. The story is about saving a town, which thematically means saving your friends.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is an ode to those serials that Spielberg and Lucas loved. They gave it the big budget treatment though and brought in a pretty serious real world villain in the Nazis.
This adventure is as traditional as they come. It has all the maps, traps, and set pieces we want, and a bonus for jumping across a few continents and spawning a beloved franchise.
But what about an adventure film with more depth?
Into The Wild is an adventure that probably is a mashup with drama but I don’t care. I’m keeping it here. It’s a beautiful film that takes a guy out with no map.
It’s based on a true story and inspired thousands of hikers to bring more rice places.
Still, the tenements of an adventure movie are here. It involves a long quest, a determined hero, and society functions as the villain.
Examples of the adventure genre in TV
We know that adventure films rule, but adventures got their start in weekly tv shows. And they still are around today. Shows like Adventure Time keep adventure in the title. So you know exactly what happens every week…
What about something a little more traditional? As mentioned before, Game of Thrones is a modern-day EPIC adventure show.
What about Doctor Who? That’s also Science-Fiction but so much of the adventure genre is present. I know this probably counts as a mash-up, but Star Trek was also an adventure TV show. The actual mission of Starfleet is to explore and to map the stars.
Throughout all its iterations, Star Trek has taken us to faraway lands and often uses each episode to lampoon or homage lots of other genres as well.
Finally, one of my favorite cartoons growing up was Tailspin.
It was a show about friendship, planes, and anthropomorphic animals going on some amazing adventures.
Animation does a great job in adventures because anything can truly happen and you don’t need to risk actors’ lives. Pixar really has a monopoly in film, but 90’s era television had lots of adventure cartoons. and this was the best one.
Mash-up potential for the adventure genre
Everyone loves an adventure, especially other genres. Adventures really need other genres as well. Pure adventures are hard to pull off, and right now unless you have them based on some sort of intellectual property, they’re a hard sell.
So what can you mix with adventure?
Pretty much anything.
Starting, let’s look at one of my all-time favorite films, The Princess Bride. This blends adventure and fantasy elements to create a wonderful world with magic, monsters, giants, and lots of clever banter.
If you’ve never seen this movie, leave now and rent it. Buy it. Live it. Breathe it.
What about horror?
The Mummy is a throwback to the serials of old with the horror element to keep this adventure fresh. The addition of the horror elements gives added flair to the map and treasure hunt.
Still, we get guys in planes, damsels in distress, and lots of reading in ancient Egyptian.
What about adventure mash-ups on TV?
How about something from one of my favorite all-time television shows, Lost.
Lost was so smart about how they melded science fiction, adventure, action, and drama. The sheer idea of people lost on an island is definitely adventure stuff, but the fact that they have to travel all over this place helps too.
To this day it’s maybe the most expensive television pilot of all time, and certainly one of the most hotly debated endings.
What’s next? Learn every film genre!
Film and TV genres affect who watches your work, how it’s classified, and even how it’s reviewed. So how do you decide what you’re writing? And which genres to mash-up? The secret is in the tropes.
Click the link to learn more!