Top Ten Treasure Hunt Movies for Treasure Hunters ~ by Duncan Burden

treasure hunts

Top Ten Treasure Hunt Films  for Treasure Hunters

~by Duncan Burden

Although films like ‘The Goonies’, ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, ‘Lara Croft – Tomb Raider’ and modern blockbusters like ‘National Treasure’ and ‘The Da Vinci Code’ may be a few of the great titles that have inspired generations, and new generations, to delight in the concept of lost treasures and treasure hunts, as we become more experienced in the ups and downs, and challenges of this hobby, we may discover that our choice of favorite, or inspiring, films may have changed.

As such, here is my offering of the Top Ten Treasure Hunter Films for Treasure Hunters.

1) The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Most fans of the history of cinematic expression would list this as one of the classics, alongside ‘Casablanca’ as must-to-see. It epitomizes the fedora and trench-coat wearing private detective suckling in the shadows, with dangerous dames walking into dingy offices. It even has a plot that includes the murder of the Detective’s partner – a concept frequently parodied, even in the modern classic of ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’.

With the text book delivery of Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, the audience follows various characters chasing the whereabouts of the gilded statue of a Falcon, described as once being given as a tribute to Charles V of Spain, in 1539 from the Knight Templars of Malta – (Considering that this film is based on a book written in 1929 – could this also be the first cinematic record of a lost Templar treasure – a fun foot note).

2) The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

As with Bogart’s ‘The Maltese Falcon’, ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’ is considered a cinema classic, but surprisingly enough more spoken about than actually watched. As a piece of movie history it is actually the first Hollywood film to actually be shot on location outside the United States. The story itself is about two men down on their luck who decide to try their chances at gold prospecting, and with an old experienced prospector to help them, go in search of this natural treasure.

In the film the old prospector gives a philosophical explanation for the price of gold, saying that it’s not for the wages of those finding it, but the cost of those who didn’t, and lost their lives and minds in the failure – the price is almost to cover the emotional cost. The prospector also gave another warning that no matter how strong a friendship is, that gold has the power to create a powerful greed. It is on this principle that the plot of the story hangs, how the greed of gold effects each of the group and those they encounter. The twist in the story may be expected, but it’s the darkness, how the human values are portrayed is stunning.

3) It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)

After the darkness of the previous suggestions perhaps it is time to reflect on the fun aspect of treasure hunting, especially those that are more related to actually created treasure hunts, than quests for lost treasure. Hence the suggestion of the film ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

The film could be seen as extremely dated, with its 1960’s setting and humor and vast array of famous actors of the period who appear in both feature and cameo roles. Yet, for those of us who remember these actors, and can harbor a feeling of fun nostalgia, then this is genuinely an epic film – epic in the nature of what was then a big budget movie.

Even if not appreciated for this value, then for those who have traveled to a remote field, climbed a mountain or metal detected a beach in the belief they had decoded a book, and need to do it urgently before the hordes of equally devote treasure hunters will descend and beat you to your prize, then I think you, at least, will smile at this film.

The film itself is a comedy about a diverse group of characters suddenly aware of where $350,000 of stolen money is buried, and all are in hot pursuit to get there first to dig up bounty (sound familiar?)

4) Kumiko – The Treasure Hunter (2014)

The film is really suggested to highlight that part of the Treasure Hunters mind that sees or asks questions that are normally missed.

In 1996, a film was released called ‘Fargo’, which became a cult classic in its own right. The film was meant to be based on a real crime of a blotched kidnapping , which involved the ransom of $1,000,000. Through the engaging twists and turns of events, the money is almost incidentally buried in a pile of snow by an ordinary road. It is casually portrayed, but the fact the money is not retrieved, by the end of the film, it is forgotten about by the majority of the audience – excluding the more treasure hunting inspired members who have clicked that if this is a true story, then $1,000,000,000 is buried by the side of the road waiting to be found.

And this is the plot of this film. It follows the urban legend of the central character coming to America solely to try and find the lost money portrayed in the film ‘Fargo’.

5) Raise the Titanic (1980)

Long before the actual wreck of the Titanic was found, this film was produced, based on the book by Clive Cussler. Although, again, very much dated cinematically, even though a highly financed film, and technologically advanced for it’s time, the production hasn’t aged well. Yet, also, with the success of 1997 film ‘Titanic’, the general public is so much more aware that the ability to raise the Titanic, especially as portrayed in this film is simply not possible. As such, unlike most films of the 1980’s it’s not a film reproduced for circulation.

Yet, when it came out, the resting place of the Titanic and the state of it, was still not known. So the legend of the famous ship was still much more intense than it is today. Besides the tragic loss of life, another headliner of her story has always been the amount of valuable treasures that went down with her. Indeed, it was the treasure of a single jewel that fueled the opening of the 1997 film ‘Titanic’, although in ‘Raise the Titanic’ the valuable cargo is the plot line of this particular movie.

The difference of this treasure is that the film pulls on the political climate of the 1980’s and the Cold War between the East and the West. As such the prize is a rare mineral that could help defuse the nuclear arms race – and the clue is a riddling phrase of ‘Thank God for Southby’.

As said before, the film is dated, and wasn’t received that well during its release, but for a treasure hunter the twist at the end, just makes you smile.

For those interested in the Titanic, how do you feel that someone is trying to build Titanic II, a replica of the very same ship! Would you sail on it?

6) The Count of Monte Cristo (1934)

The oldest film in the list!

Obviously the story of the Count of Monte Cristo is well known, not simply because of being a famous book by Alexandre Dumas finished in 1844, but because it has undergone various cinematic reincarnations which has represented the story time and time again. But for a recap, the story is about a humble honest sailor wrongly imprisoned, and loses his liberty and his lady. Whilst imprisoned he makes friends with a fellow prisoner who tells him of a vast hidden treasure and helps him to escape. When free and able to recover the treasure, the sailor assumes the name of the Count of Monte Cristo and takes his revenge.

So with so many film adaptations of this film, why chose an old black and white version? Well, sometimes, with modern versions, attempts are made to make the scenes and environment too real and gritty, which takes the ‘magic’ away from the story. As such, I prefer the theatrical portrayal by Robert Donat. In addition, if you are a fan of the film ‘V for Vendetta’, this is the version watched and loved by ‘V’.

7) Legend of the Lost (1957)

This John Wayne film has all the cliché elements we have come to expect from our modern blockbuster treasure hunt films, but from the 1950’s, and for that reason I add it to the list just so we can smile at the audience’s passion for the treasure hunter with the curious name (in this case John Wayne character Joe January) and a femme fatale, this time the seductive Sophia Loren. Then to add the jealous and obsessive element by the inclusion of Rossano Brazzi, playing a character looking to confirm that his dead father did indeed find a lost city in the Sahara.

This film again has a twist, and can be predicted, but the twist is on the reasons why, not ultimately for greed or jealously, but I won’t spoil it.

8) The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

I have added this film, as I think it is often forgotten as being a treasure hunt film, and remains simply seen as just a Western. The film itself was marketed as being the last ‘official’ part of a trilogy of Spaghetti Westerns, the previous two being ‘A Fist Full of Dollars’ and ‘A Few Dollars More’. Yet, it was this film that is credited as being one of the greatest and most influential Westerns of all time (personally, out of the trilogy, I prefer ‘For A Few Dollars More’ as a story, but appreciate cinematically why this film is/was respected by its industry).

As for the story itself, it is set during the American Civil War, and of various parties becoming aware of $200,000 in Confederate gold being buried in a grave in Sad Hill Cemetery. The story doesn’t really have a great twist, but it always reminded me of a particular Scooby-doo episode, called ‘A Night of Fright is No Delight’, when the Scooby Gang ultimately discover what the villain of the story was looking for – namely one million dollars. When found the prize is found to be worthless as it is a million dollars of Confederate currency (yet, just like us who watched Fargo and realized that the million was still waiting to be discovered – even as a child I knew that surely a preserved casket of one million Confederate dollars would be worth something to collectors?). If you ever fancy a smile and reminiscing, watch this episode – see if you can guess what FEED meant before the Scooby Gang.

9) Without a Paddle (2004)

I am cautious to add this to the list, as comedy is such a personal thing of taste. Now I rather like this film, it is not a favorite, it was just better than I expected it to be. Please don’t judge me harshly if you hated it. The reason I add it though, is that I would consider it a grown up Goonies movie.

Now, I was, for my sins, never a fan of the Goonies (I can imagine many people thinking ‘what? No?! You must be insane!? – but sorry, most of the very young leads I found just annoying). Even so, I have to accept that it hit the mark for a generation as being the kiddie movie of their best Summer – perhaps I was just too old at that time to appreciate it as such. Yet, if we accept that the Goonies is ‘the’ yarn of a bunch of children on the quest of treasure hunted by villains, then perhaps this is ‘the’ movie for those slightly older (but still childish enough to be stupid).

The reason I say this, as the general plot is the same, as a group of three friends (this time meeting after 12 years due to the death of a mutual friend), find a map leading to D. B. Copper’s lost treasure and they decide to go off and find it, and so a slightly adolescent adventure begins. One of my favorite scenes is when a toy C3-P0 is pulled from a box (a sort of time capsule treasure box), and the nerdy one of the group still values it as such – I unnervingly can relate to that.

10) Treasure Island (2012)

This story by Robert Lewis Stevenson still has to be the greatest treasure hunt story of them all, and to omit it from the list would be a crime in itself. Like that of ‘The Count of Monte Christo’, there have been many versions, but here with over 50 to choose from the dilemma is so much harder. From a silent version released in 1918 to the 2012 TV two part version produced by Sky. Besides these, other variants could be included, of which the animated space version of ‘Treasure Planet’ deserves a mention. Then, obviously, the Muppet’s version, to which hold little reliance to the actual story, (yet for those who have read the book could note that a few of the very dark elements are represented, assumingly as a homage) – and Tim Curry, does do a rather good presentation of as the alluring Master Pirate Long John Silver.

The challenge of putting the story to screen is to how the book was written. For the vast majority of the book, it is written as if the cabin boy ‘Jack Hawkins’ is retelling the tale of his adventures. As such, much of the backstory is only told from his perspective. To put this to a screen version, this would mean a lot of self-dialogue, which would lose the pace of the film. Even Stevenson could not complete the book using this style, so at one point, he has the Doctor of the story take over for a period to explain things when Jack wasn’t there.

When we appreciate this difficulty in trying to make a direct representation of the book to the screen, we have to give the producers a little leeway in how they choose to represent that backstory and give pace to moments when (sorry Mr. Stevenson) the book version doesn’t really hold enough visual engagement to hold an audience. As such, I would choose the two-part version produced by Sky in 2012. My only criticism was the death of the Squire, but I accept it must have been a directors choice to present the continued element of the character’s greed.


So, there is my list. I would really like to hear people’s opinions on the choices. Especially on films that you think should be on there. Thanks again for reading.

~by Duncan Burden: MW Team Writer


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15 Responses

  1. Jenny Kile says:

    A great list of movies! Thanks Duncan. As soon as I finish Season Two of The Daredevil, I’ll order some of the above movies I haven’t seen. Wine and movie nights for the next month…. sounds wonderful.

    To answer your question though- on treasure hunt movies…let me think on that…..

  2. VGBOSS says:

    Thrill of the Chase Movie coming soon… Just a VGBOSS wish.

  3. Nate Beck says:

    Great article Duncan! Maltese Falcon, Legend of the Lost, Treasure Island, and Without A Paddle are among my favorites as well!

  4. Nate Beck says:

    No person’s literary experience is complete without reading Stevenson’s Treasure Island!

  5. Madesquare says:

    I like Ninja Scroll-

  6. Nate Beck says:

    Being a huge fan of actor Jack Palance, I would have to add to this list of Treasure Hunting films ‘City Slickers 2: The Legend of Curly’s Gold’! The film didn’t do near as well as its predecessor, but I love it all the same!

  7. Helen says:

    Thanks for this great list, Duncan!

    I recently enjoyed watching a film that I had never heard of before. Lust for Gold (1949) is an entertaining, semi-educational and cautionary tale about life, love and The Lost Dutchman Mine. I think it will appeal to searchers of Forrest Fenn’s treasure. It’s available online in all the usual places.

    While not really a film, there’s even a treasure story for fans of Bo and Luke Duke – Dukes of Hazzard Series 2 Episode 16 – Treasure of Hazzard. Very high brow 😉 Again, available for free online.

    Kelly’s Heroes is fun (“I’m drinking wine, and eating cheese, and catching some rays, you know”,) and as a more serious counterpoint, try The Monuments Men. Outstanding actors portraying outstanding individuals who were “treasure hunting” for all the right reasons.

    For me, The Mummy series with Brendan Fraser is a must-see too 🙂


    • Nate Beck says:

      Those are some great films too Helen! It’s kinda funny that you bring up The Monuments Men (a great film!) because one of the famous works of art that the film portrays is Nicolas Poussin’s Shepherds of Arcadia, which is a painting which holds great significance for Duncan 😉

  8. Nate Beck says:

    Another good treasure hunt film is Sahara with Matthew M. and Steve Zahn!

  9. Nate Beck says:

    Hi Duncan,

    Maybe you can do an article on the “Top Ten Treasures of Freemasonry”?

  10. Nate Beck says:

    …Or the “Top Ten Mysteries of Freemasonry” would be a good piece too! Maybe I’ll do that one!

  11. Canny_Guy says:

    You forgot Thunderbolt and Lightfoot!!

  12. Gordon Swain says:

    I love treasure movies!! Need to add a few…Goonies, Mckennas Gold and Fools gold. Also does anyone remember the movie where Clint Eastwood hid a saddle bag of money in a rattlesnakes den??

  13. Don Adams says:

    You could also add the two “National Treasure” movies with Nicholas Cage.

  14. Nate Beck says:

    Allan Quartermain and the Temple of Skulls, starring Sean Cameron Michael, is also a great treasure hunt movie. It is deliciously bad haha.

    I love it

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