I don’t know what it is about November, but for me it’s a very nostalgic month. Something about the cold and snow sweeping in on the heels of a vibrant autumn, the enveloping gloom, the time change, and the burgeoning anticipation of the holiday season all conspires to make me want nothing more than to be cozy and re-watch all my favourite action/adventure movies.
I’m not sure why action/adventure is specifically the genre I go for. Maybe to counteract the urge to hibernate? While the natural world slows down and beds down, we as a society keep grinding, and so I suppose I seek out some fun and adrenaline to revitalize me in this nippy, busy time without…actually exhausting myself by doing more*.
*Fittingly, a lot of these movies take place in warm, sunny tropical or desert climes, so it only makes sense that I want to watch them when everything’s grey and freezing outside.
If there’s one uniting thread to experiencing winter around the world (for those who have winter, anyway), it’s that it’s a time of story telling. After all, what better way is there to pass the long cold nights than to gather with friends, family, and community and entertain ourselves?
As such, the action/adventure films I tend to favour are ones I would classify as good stories first and foremost. Not necessarily in terms of quality (which is subjective), but in terms of an engaging and well-constructed narrative (also subjective but maybe a little less so?). That doesn’t mean they are without plot holes or don’t require some suspension of disbelief, but for me, a good story is one where the characterization is clear and consistent, the dialogue natural and true to the characters and world, the story is cohesive, the conflict is properly resolved and cathartic, and overall…it’s fun.
There’s a lot of opinions on what makes a story effective and why stories even resonate with us in the first place, so if you’re curious to learn more, check out these books!
Stories shape who we are. They drive us to act out our dreams and ambitions and mold our beliefs. Storytelling is an essential part of what makes us human.
So, how do master storytellers compel us?
In The Science of Storytelling, award-winning writer and acclaimed teacher of creative writing Will Storr applies dazzling psychological research and cutting-edge neuroscience to our myths and archetypes to show how we can write better stories, revealing, among other things, how storytellers—and also our brains—create worlds by being attuned to moments of unexpected change.
When you consider the thousands of years of storytelling that comprise our literary tradition, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the shadow of so many works.
But there are common threads that link all stories—from Beowulf and Hamlet to Gone With the Wind and The Godfather to the story you’re drafting right now in your head. These threads form the foundation that supports story—a foundation Nancy Lamb shows you how to access and master.
Whether you’re writing a novel, a memoir, or a screenplay, The Art and Craft of Storytelling offers time-tested ways to translate a concrete idea into a polished work.
Humans live in landscapes of make-believe. We spin fantasies. We devour novels, films, and plays. Even sporting events and criminal trials unfold as narratives. Yet the world of story has long remained an undiscovered and unmapped country. It’s easy to say that humans are “wired” for story, but why ?
In this delightful and original book, Jonathan Gottschall offers the first unified theory of storytelling. He argues that stories help us navigate life’s complex social problems–just as flight simulators prepare pilots for difficult situations. Storytelling has evolved, like other behaviors, to ensure our survival.
Drawing on the latest research in neuroscience, psychology, and evolutionary biology, Gottschall tells us what it means to be a storytelling animal.
Now that the education portion is out of the way, on to the entertainment! I’ve compiled what is, for me, the ultimate list of nostalgic action/adventure films, which you can borrow from the library on Blu-Ray or DVD, or watch on Hoopla or Kanopy.
National Treasure and National Treasure: Book of Secrets are two movies that are a perfect blend of fun, puzzle, and genuine heart. Say what you will about Nick Cage, but he’s always a dedicated actor, even if it’s to a plot that is…maybe a little cringey. Still, I find the National Treasure duology (soon to be a trilogy?) to be a great depiction of a nerd having fun with fellow passionate nerds, with middling stakes, complex villains, history factoids, and treasure thrown in.
The Mummy is a classic and a classic for a good reason. Brendan Fraser is a wholesome, charming goofball who only looks like a rascal (for a little bit), Rachel Weisz is a curious if slightly clumsy and passionate librarian, and the titular Mummy is equal parts tragic and villainous. Also, Oded Fehr is incredibly hot. Just putting that out there. The sequel is just as good, though we do not acknowledge the existence of any third film OR the reboot.
Sahara is less fantastical than the previous movies, with a much more serious premise: a deadly illness that is the result of capitalistic negligence resulting in a contamination of the waterways is seeping throughout the country and soon to the world. Still, the movie is perfectly in keeping with the others: we’ve got the charming rogue in Matthew McConaughey, the capable genius in Penélope Cruz, and the funny but still helpful sidekick in Steve Zahn, an adventurous setting, and a suggestion that the real treasure is the world we live in and, of course, the friends we made along the way.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is my favourite of the Indy films, probably because it was also my first Indy film. I remember first watching it at 9 or 10 years old, when my homeschooling group would put on a movie for lunch (back then, the teacher I learned from had an entire closet dedicated to VHS tapes, and getting to choose which we’d watch was a privilege worth fighting over). Though it stands the test of time a little less well than the others on this list in terms of stereotyping and sexism, I find this Indiana Jones adventure to be the least offensive.
Listen…is The Prince of Persia good? Not…really. Why are all these supposedly Persian characters played by tanned and kohl-eyed white people? Why do they all have British accents? Let’s also not even touch on the utter lack of historical accuracy. All that aside, for a movie based on a video game, it’s pretty great. The costumes are gorgeous (though Gemma Arterton is so pretty that she could probably pull off a paper bag), and Jake Gyllenhaal surprised me with the heart he gave his character, who really and truly loves his adopted family. Also, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a sucker for parkour and soulful gazes, which this movie has plenty of.
With Pirates of the Caribbean we finally break the trend of action/adventure films that take place in desert environments! I love the first three especially, enjoy the fourth because I quite like mermaids, and would rather pretend the fifth never happened. I think the combination of Elizabeth, Will and (Captain) Jack Sparrow is what really makes these movies, along with the supporting cast, fantastical world, delightful dialogue, and commitment to the fun of it all.
This list would not be complete if I didn’t include The Road to El Dorado, which, though animated, has the spirit of the other films in this list, as well as gorgeous art, a hilarious and complex trio of characters, treasure, and con-men redeemed…to an extent. Also, as an adult watching this, quite a lot of ribald jokes and suggestive themes which flew over my head as a kid.
Speaking of ribald, The Lost City was hilarious and had, dare I say it, a perfect amount of raunch. A newer but worthy edition to my ‘to be re-watched again and again’ list, this movie tells a good story, has characters with enough surprising depth to really hook me, and a slightly ridiculous villain who is nevertheless a problem for our intrepid explorers, which is always fun.
I first watched this on the plane and laughed so hard (though silently) that my seatmate asked if I wouldn’t mind sharing my earphones so she could watch it with me, as I seemed to be having a blast.
The last movie I’d add to the list is the 2008 film Fool’s Gold, also featuring Matthew McConaughey. Unfortunately, we don’t have it in our catalogue, so I shall simply leave the recommendation here. (Though if you’d like us to purchase it, you can request we do so at no cost for you!)
It also takes place in sunny climes and has all the other hallmarks of the films on this list: a fun and funny trio, treasure, slightly campy villains, daring-do, etc.
Do you have a favourite action/adventure film that you think would fit this list? Or do you have a different genre when November’s nostalgia has you in its grips? Comment below and let me know!