Ten Best Treasure Hunting Movies

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Treasure hunting movies are big in Hollywood. The Deep, Trespass, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, National Treasure, The Log of the Black Pearl, Into the Blue, The Long Ships, Sahara, Three Kings and Easy Come, Easy Go are the top films.

Everyone loves a good treasure hunt, including Hollywood. Here are ten treasure hunting films that no movie fan should ever miss. It's an eclectic bunch, ranging from the classics to the light-hearted, with a scuba diving Elvis Presley even in the hunt!

The Deep (Columbia, 1977)

Based on the 1976 best-selling novel by Peter Benchley, The Deep is a slam-bang shipwreck mystery movie featuring Nick Nolte and Jacqueline Bisset as vacationing New Yorkers David Sanders and Gail Berke who stumble upon sunken treasure in Bermuda. Throw in Robert Shaw as veteran treasure hunter Romer Treece, Louis Gossett Jr. as evil Hatian drug lord Henri Cloche, Eli Wallach as old salt Adam Coffin, a deadly 12-foot moray eel and a boatload of impressive pyrotechnics, and The Deep is sure to satisfy the most hardcore action-adventure movie buff. There are actually two treasures pursued in The Deep: the untold riches of the sunken Spanish galleon El Grifon and the 98,000 ampules of morphine resting nearby in the World War II cargo ship Goliath. Look for real-life treasure hunting legend Teddy Tucker, who plays the harbor master in the film. "Is anything worth the terror of The Deep?" the movie's tagline asks. Yes, lost Spanish treasure!

Director: Peter Yates

Great line: "Hey, boy, this is Goliath trash! What the bastard hell were you doing diving down there?"- Robert Shaw as Romer Treece to Nick Nolte

On DVD: The Deep (Columbia/TriStar, 1999)

The Deep (1977) half sheet movie poster - Heritage Auctions

Trespass (Universal, 1992)

An old treasure map leads Arkansas firefighters Vince Gillian (Bill Paxton) and Don Perry (William Sadler) to an abandoned factory in rough-and-tumble East St. Louis, Illinois. The building may haarbor lost golden artifacts stolen from a church by a hysterical old man the two had encountered during a fire. One problem: the decrepit building is occupied by a scheming homeless man named Bradlee (Art Evans) and is also the home turf of a vicious street gang led by King James (Ice-T). Murder, running gun battles, a psychotic killer named Savon (Ice Cube), a test of wills and the search for hidden booty make this film a no-miss entry in Hollywood's treasure hunting sweepstakes.

Director: Walter Hill

Great line: "I don't know what this stuff is anymore. Our gold. God's gold. Fool's gold." - William Sadler as Don Perry

On DVD: Trespass (Fox, 2004)

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (Warner Bros., 1948)

Two down-on-their-luck buddies, Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) and Bob Curtin (Tim Holt), go to work for a notoriously corrupt businessman (Barton MacLane) in 1925 Mexico. The pair meet up with an old, grizzled prospector (Walter Huston) who insists that there's gold in them thar hills. The men set out and eventually hit paydirt, with each collecting his share of the shiny stuff. What follows is treasure fever gone mad as the rich prospectors make their way back to civilization, consumed by greed and distrust and pursued by a Mexican bandit named Gold Hat (Alfonso Bedoya), who eventually ends up on the wrong side of a firing squad. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre won three Academy Awards: Best Director (John Huston), Best Screenplay (John Huston) and Best Supporting Actor (Walter Huston). The moral of the story: all that glitters isn't necessarily gold – or good.

Director: John Huston

Great line: "Ah, as long as there's no find, the noble brotherhood will last but when the piles of gold begin to grow... that's when the trouble starts." - Walter Huston as Howard

On DVD: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre Two-Disc Special Edition (Warner, 2003)

Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) - Heritage Auctions

National Treasure (Buena Vista, 2004)

Nicolas Cage plays Benjamin Franklin Gates, a historian/cryptologist who's descended from a long line of treasure hunters. Gates' current pursuit is a long-lost treasure trove of artifacts allegedly hidden by the Founding Fathers. Beginning with clues from his family history, Gates embarks on his treasure quest with buddy Riley Poole (Justin Martha) and financial backer Ian Howe (Sean Bean). An old colonial shipwreck frozen in the Arctic, a riddle-engraved meerschaum pipe, a clue on the back of The Declaration of Independence and a cryptic $100 bill eventually lead to a hidden treasure chamber under Trinity Church in New York City. Toss in the FBI, the Freemasons, the Department of Homeland Security and pretty Diane Kruger as Abigail Chase and National Treasure delivers as one of the best treasure hunting/action movies in the genre. Just bring your own scorecard in order to keep running track of the movie's many clues.

Director: Jon Turteltaub (with an uncredited Jerry Bruckheimer)

Great line: "We have to steal The Declaration of Independence?"- Nicolas Cage on obtaining a vital clue to the treasure's location

On DVD: National Treasure Widescreen Edition (Buena Vista, 2005)

Nicolas Cage in National Treasure (2004)

The Log of the Black Pearl (NBC-TV, 1975)

This made-for-TV movie stars Kiel Martin as Christopher Sand, a Chicago stockbroker who inherits an old sailing ship called the Black Pearl and a mysterious medallion that may hold the key to a fortune in sunken Nazi gold. Chucking his business suit and tie, Sand takes ownership of the vessel and begins renting it out for the tourist trade. Piecing together clues afforded by the medallion, Sand pursues the lost treasure with the Black Pearl's crusty Captain Fitzsimmons (Ralph Bellamy) and first mate Jocko Roper (Jack Kruschen) in tow. Also in the running for the treasure is heavy Michael Devlin (Glenn Corbett), with femme fatale Lila Bristol (Anne Archer) in the mix as well. Seafaring treasure hunters will love this beautifully-filmed adventure movie, which was first telecast on January 4, 1975. The Log of the Black Pearl, loosely inspired by the old radio series The Voyage of the Scarlet Queen (1947-48), was the two-hour pilot film for a proposed weekly television series that went unsold.

Director:Andrew V.McLaglen

On DVD: Not commercially available

Into the Blue (Columbia, 2005)

While living in the Bahamas, American diver and aspiring treasure hunter Jared Cole (Paul Walker) discovers the remains of the legendary French pirate ship the Zephyr. Resting nearby the Zephyr’s priceless cargo is a downed airplane loaded to the gills with bricks of cocaine. Jared, along with his girlfriend Sam (Jessica Alba), visiting New York lawyer friend Bryce (Scott Caan) and Bryce’s gal pal Amanda (Ashley Scott), decide to salvage the shipwreck but leave the cocaine below. Bryce, however, who is in trouble with a Las Vegas loan shark, hatches a plan to sell some of the smack to a nightclub owner. That brings trouble in the person of a vicious drug lord named Reyes (James Frain), who confronts the treasure hunters and demands that they return his cocaine. Into the Blue, a modern, sexier version of The Deep, is sure to entertain, with plenty of action and thrills as the Americans go for the gold while keeping Reyes and his henchmen in check. “Treasure has its price,” the movie’s tagline warns.

Director: John Stockwell

Great line: “You've dreamt about finding buried treasure ever since you were a little kid.” Jessica Alba as Sam to boyfriend Paul Walker

On DVD: Into the Blue (Sony, 2005)

L-r: Ashley Scott, Scott Caan, Paul Walker, Jessica Alba in Into the Blue (2005)

The Long Ships (Columbia, 1964)

Viking adventurer Rolfe (Richard Widmark), brother Orm (Russ Tamblyn) and their rogue crew set sail in the king's funeral ship to find the legendary great golden bell, known as “The Mother of Voices,” in this rousing Norse saga. Also seeking the magnificent bell is Moorish king Aly Mansuh (Sidney Poitier), who captures Rolfe and his crew and forces them to lead him to the treasure. The great bell is found, cleverly hidden in an old church on a remote island, and taken back to the Moorish capital. But waiting in the city are King Harald (Clifford Evans) and his Viking hordes, who had waded ashore the night before.

Director: Jack Cardiff

Great line: “I am informed that you know the whereabouts of a golden bell, the one people call the Mother of Voices.” - Sidney Poitier as Aly Mansuh to Richard Widmark

On DVD: The Long Ships (Sony, 2003)

Sahara (Paramount, 2005)

Based on the 1992 novel by Clive Cussler, Sahara stars Matthew McConaughey as adventurer Dirk Pitt. This time around Pitt and his old NUMA buddy Al Giordino (Steve Zahn) are in search of the missing Confederate ironclad CSS Texas which disappeared near the end of the Civil War and reportedly wound up in North Africa. The Texas was carrying a mysterious cargo, including rare Confederate gold coins. Pitt and Giordino locate the shipwreck in the Sahara desert of all places, with the Texas' treasure and the onset of a deadly plague all linked together. There's plenty of derring-do, not to mention Penelope Cruz as a little added eye candy, in this action movie made for a reported $130 million. Unfortunately, Sahara lost money at the box office, grossing only $68.671 million during its initial release. Author Cussler later sued producers, claiming that they had not consulted him regarding script approval as stipulated in the contract. Cussler, who was paid $10 million for the movie rights, was later countersued and ordered in 2009 to shell out $5 million in legal fees to Crusader Entertainment. That judgment was later overturned on appeal in March 2010, with the case now back in the California courts. Suffice to say, none of these people should ever band together for a real-life treasure hunt.

Director: Breck Eisner

Great line: "Well, we're in the desert, looking for the source of a river pollutant, using as our map a cave drawing of a Civil War gunship, which is also in the desert. So I was just wondering when we're gonna have to sit down and re-evaluate our decision-making paradigm?" - Steve Zahn as Al Giordino to Matthew McConaughey

On DVD: Sahara Widescreen Edition (Paramount, 2006)

Matthew McConaughey as Dirk Pitt in Sahara (2005)

Three Kings (Warner Bros., 1999)

At the end of the 1991 Gulf War, Major Archie Gates (George Clooney) hatches a plan to snag a fortune in stolen Kuwaiti gold. Gates, along with fellow soldiers Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg) and Chief Elgin (Ice Cube), lead their small band in a mad dash for the treasure amidst the chaos of Saddam's brutal put-down of the U.S.-inspired Kurd uprising. Tough, funny and at times extremely violent, Three Kings may be the best movie in the small Gulf War genre, with the allure of a fortune in hidden gold adding to the suspense. And those who are reminded of Kelly's Heroes (1970), in which a decommissioned Clint Eastwood leads his small band of "treasure hunting" soldiers in a bold dash for Nazi gold 20 miles behind enemy lines, would not be far off in their comparative thinking.

Director: David O. Russell

Great line: "My guess is he's divided these bricks into several different stashes. Just one of these stashes will be easy to take from Saddam's deserting army, and that will be enough to get us out of our day jobs. Unless, of course, you reservists are in love with your day jobs." - George Clooney as Major Archie Gates

On DVD: Three Kings Special Edition (Warner, 2000)

Easy Come, Easy Go (Paramount, 1967)

Elvis Presley plays Lt. (j.g.) Ted Jackson, a Navy diver who discovers an old shipwreck. No longer on active duty, Ted later goes after the sunken ship, believing that a fortune in gold coins rests in her rotting hull. With the help of Jo Symington (Dodie Marshall) and nightclub owner Judd Whitman (Pat Harrington Jr.), Ted pursues the treasure, with villain Gil Carey (Skip Ward) and his blond, buxom girlfriend Dina Bishop (Pat Priest) also in the hunt. This is an Elvis Presley movie, with the King belting out a number of spirited tunes and hip, scantily-clad girls clamoring for his undivided attention, but wait till you see what Elvis and company actually bring up from the bottom of the ocean. Viva Las Vegas – not!

Director: John Rich

Great line: "Every chick I've ever known digs money." - Pat Harrington Jr. as Judd Whitman to Elvis Presley

On DVD: Easy Come, Easy Go (Paramount, 2003)

Elvis Presley in Easy Come, Easy Go (1967) - Heritage Auctions

Ten More Treasure Hunting Movie Favorites

  • Sharks' Treasure (1975)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
  • National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007)
  • Fool's Gold (2008)
  • The Evil Below (1989)
  • The Treasure of Jamaica Reef (1975)
  • Caboblanco (1980)
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
  • The Goonies (1985)
  • Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold (1986)

Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved.


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