Ranking the Greatest Adventure Stories Ever Told

Brett Bates
TV Movies
TV Movies Star Wars
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Of all the new game features and quality-of-life improvements promised for Destiny 2, perhaps most anticipated is an expanded focus on storytelling. In Destiny 2, developer Bungie is aiming for the grand scale of an epic adventure that’s still grounded in a simple, down-to-earth premise: Villain Ghaul has destroyed humanity’s last outpost and sapped the Guardian heroes of all their powers and weapons. It’s up to the player to rise from the ruins, defeat Ghaul, and save mankind.

How does that stack up against some of the greatest adventure stories ever told? Let’s take a look at our favorite adventure epics as we wait to find out when Destiny 2 launches on September 6 for PS4 and Xbox One and on October 24 for PC.

5. Firefly

firefly feature hero cast
Firefly's focus on character is a big part of why it still resonates today.

Sometimes, the greatest stories are also the simplest. No overly complex plots or surprise twists, just solid storytelling and characterisation. On the face of it, Firefly has a simple concept – a crew of outlaws and misfits struggling to survive and remain one step ahead of the law. Firefly only lasted for fourteen episodes before cancellation, and the film Serenity followed several years later to effectively provide closure.

In that time, Joss Whedon constructed a well-defined universe, and the series contained a level of narrative storytelling that rewarded those who watched through the episodes in the intended order. All of the show’s characters were well-defined with compelling back stories, and the universe that Firefly and Serenity populated was rich in variety and lore. Like all good adventures, Firefly has generated a wealth of background material and a rich fan following that underlines its status as a cult classic to this day.

Some of the most fascinating themes to run through Firefly are the concepts of morality, doing what is right, and freedom. Living on the edge of the law as they do, can the crew claim to be good people and justify their actions because their main concern is earning enough to live on? Or are they just common criminals existing outside the law and thumbing their noses at authority? Are they hampered by the choices they make to remain on the edge of society, or are they truly free to chart their own course?

4. Star Wars

darth-vader star-wars
Star Wars is the defining modern take on good vs. evil.

The conflict between good and evil is one of the most classic stories since the beginning of time. The details change, the players are different, but at the heart of the story is the tale of great heroes and wicked villains. Star Wars is only one of the latest in a grand tradition of stories to use this central theme, and has rightly become a timeless classic because of deft storytelling and memorable characters.

But if that’s all you think the series is about – that and really sweet starfighter battles and lightsaber fights – then you are missing out on so much more. While the central theme remains good versus evil at its most basic level, other themes are woven through the narrative. The entire arc of Anakin Skywalker, for instance, shows that not all heroes are great and good people, but at the same time shows that not all villains are entirely evil.

If all you want is good guys versus bad guys with the fate of the galaxy at stake, then Star Wars is definitely the series for you. The beauty of Star Wars is that it is not just an adventure story; scratch a bit deeper, and you’ll also find other stories under the surface like a compelling generational saga, redemptions arcs, discussions on the nature of evil itself, and even a love story!

3. Indiana Jones

Raiders-of-the-Lost-Ark1 indiana jones harrison ford vs snake
Indy captures the pulp fun of 1930s adventure films.

There’s no greater hero in the adventure movie pantheon than Indiana Jones. When Raiders of the Lost Ark opened in 1981 it launched an epic franchise that’s still loved by audiences almost four decades later. What made Raiders such a smash? Steven Spielberg and George Lucas took a simple concept derived from the serial adventure films of their childhood — exactly like Lucas did with Star Wars — and amplified it to epic blockbuster status.

The enduring appreciation for the series’ central character is due in large part to Harrison Ford’s charisma and charm. And it doesn’t hurt that he leads a life that’s basically the ultimate escapist adventure fantasy.

In spite of the misfire of 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the franchise still has some gas in the tank. The as-yet-unnamed “Indy 5,” directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Harrison Ford, is due for release on July 10, 2020.

2. Back to the Future

Back to the Future expertly blended comedy with an earnest adventure story.

If you have ever wanted to go back in time and change your future, then Back to the Future is the film series for you. At its heart, Back to the Future is a fun adventure romp through time. But at its core, it is a serious time-travel movie with a strict internal logic to the films. It is a testament to the skill of the filmmakers that they can turn a trilogy with a lot of complex time-travel mechanics (paradoxes, cause and effect) and make it relatively easy to understand. Few films that employ similar techniques can boast the same.

While the story is relatively simple, the beauty of Back to the Future is that there is so much more to the narrative hidden throughout the film. Watching as the changes wrought by time travel take effect is fun, but also highlights the very real consequences of a person’s actions. Important themes are touched upon such as how much control one has over their own fate.

Back to the Future was conceived as a standalone film, and tells a standalone story with one of the best sequel hooks in cinema. The film did not need a sequel – but the ones that followed make Back to the Future one of the strongest trilogies of all time. The two sequels benefit from being shot back to back so that elements that will become important in the third film are laid down in the second. Likewise, the filmmakers deftly weave in events from the first film into the narrative of the second to create a crossover in the timelines.

1. Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica redefined genre storytelling on TV.

Ronald D. Moore’s reimagining of Battlestar Galactica has been lauded as one of the best television series ever produced. A reimagining of the classic 1970s series created by Glen A. Larson, Battlestar Galactica tells the tale of mankind’s near destruction at the hands of the Cylons, and their desperate escape from their homeworlds.

Sure, reboots and reimaginings had been done before, but Battlestar Galactica set the gold standard by taking the essence of the original show and crafting it into something new and unique. With plenty of nods to the original series, Battlestar Galactica stood above its predecessor and carved out its own place in TV history.

Battlestar Galactica effortlessly fused thrilling military action with deep character development while exploring themes such as morality in war, post-apocalyptic survival, and the influence of religion in society. The show dealt with both the mundane issues such as dwindling supplies and the importance of morale, as well as the exploration of what humanity will do when faced with their own extinction. The most common theme is the idea of humanity reaping what they have sown – through their own hubris were the Cylons created, and now are the cause of their downfall. Does humanity deserve its fate for trying to play to god, or are they victims of their vengeful children?

Destiny 2 releases September 6 for PS4 and Xbox One and on October 24 for PC.

Brett Bates
Brett Bates is a staff writer at Fandom. He's been in the video game industry for eight years as a writer and as a developer for companies like BioWare, Rumble, EGM, and Bitmob. According to his business card, he's a fan of indie games, crime comics, and boxer dogs.