Treasure hunting movies are a blast, but what makes them really stand out is when they feature a hidden treasure you’d actually want to go hunting for yourself. How many of these movie treasures would you brave secret temples, devious traps, and supernatural forces to steal for your private collection (read: your one-bedroom apartment)?
The Goonies is easily our favorite childhood movie about the role of generational wealth in gentrification. The titular gang of elementary school friends are spending their last day together before their neighborhood is demolished by the local rich family to make way for a country club. The only way to stop the massive foreclosure is to find a bunch of pirate treasure by sunrise the next morning, because that’s how banks work.
The Goonies go hunting for the unfortunately-named One-Eyed Willy’s legendary pirate treasure, braving sewers, riddles, ancient traps, and aggressive Mafia stereotypes. They eventually discover an entire pirate galleon, completely intact and full of gems and gold (and also, in a quick Easter egg cameo, C3P0 and R2-D2). The ship even sails away into the sunset, presumably driven by the ghosts of its pirate crew. We’d crawl through several Northern California sewers for a ship full of money, ghosts, and Star Wars references.
Treasure Island is the prototypical treasure hunting adventure story that also addresses madness, paranoia, and the distrust of anyone with a physical disability. Legendary pirate Long John Silver (Robert Newton) befriends Jim Hawkins (Bobby Driscoll) as they join an expedition to recover the lost treasure of Captain Flint, although Silver quickly reveals that he was Flint’s mutinous first mate and plans to steal the loot for himself.
The treasure itself is 700,000 pounds in 1700s British money, which is roughly 121 million pounds (or $157 million) in today’s money. That’s nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in pirate doubloons. We would hijack a zeppelin for that much cash, so taking over an old-timey British galleon with a bunch of our creepy old drinking buddies is a no-brainer.
Despite being the benchmark of treasure-hunting adventure movies, most of the loot in the Indiana Jones series are things you want to avoid. The Ark of the Covenant is full of face-melting, skull-detonating Bible ghosts, the sacred Sankara stones feed you to crocodiles if they get angry, and the crystal alien skull from the fabled city of Akator grants you so much knowledge that your brain literally catches fire inside of your head. But there is one Indiana Jones treasure we’d like to get our hands on.
The Holy Grail grants you eternal life, so long as you stay inside the magic temple in which it is kept. That may sound like a boring way to spend centuries of extended life, but if you brought a bunch of books and an internet connection, it wouldn’t be so bad. You could finally get caught up on The Sopranos. Also, the Grail can heal any wound or ailment, so you could technically set up the world’s most successful day spa right there in the temple.
The Maltese Falcon
The classic hardboiled detective yarn The Maltese Falcon sees rough-and-tumble PI Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) at the center of a web of murder and deceit, all revolving around the recovery of a near-mythological artifact, the titular Maltese Falcon. The Falcon inspires such extreme levels of double-crossing that by the end of the film, nobody gets to claim the treasure. Which means it’s fair game!
A big golden falcon bedazzled with priceless gems is worth throwing a couple of grimy private detectives under the bus. Even if you don’t immediately sell the thing for the incalculable number of dollars it is clearly worth, you’d have a pretty sweet conversation piece with the built-in antitheft device of absolutely blinding any would-be burglars the second the lights come on.
If you don’t celebrate National Treasure like the mid-week teacher work day during which it was designed to be watched, we cannot help you. Treasure hunter and solver of impossible riddles Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) steals the Declaration of Independence to prevent it from being stolen by the villainous Sean Bean, but the Declaration is just a map to an even greater treasure.
The greater treasure in question is a vault filled with gold, artwork, and other priceless artifacts gathered from various countries over the centuries by the Knights Templar. It’s basically a private museum of stolen culture. You’d go a long way towards repairing relations with several nations by returning some of these artifacts to their rightful homes, or you could auction them at Sotheby’s and buy a palatial speedboat.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
The Pirates of the Caribbean series has been pretty good at coming up with mythical treasure that we’d actually want to track down and plunder. Most treasure hunting movies involving supernatural loot (we’re looking at you, Dr. Jones) involve some bizarre curse that discourage you from even being in the same room as the treasure, but Pirates bucks that trend by making even the cursed booty pretty righteous.
In Curse of the Black Pearl, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and his crew are cursed by Aztec gold they stole from an uncharted island that you can only find if you’ve already been there. You’ve gotta be grandfathered in, like a country club membership. Barbossa tells us that the curse sucks, but when we see it in action, it looks pretty great. You turn into a gnarly skeleton in the moonlight, you can’t be killed, you can breathe underwater – these all sound like reasonable trade-offs in exchange for not being able to feel anything. It’s hard to understand how weepy Barbossa gets about not being able to taste apples when you can get shot in the chest with a cannon and keep right on pirating.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
In Dead Man’s Chest, the second Pirates movie, we’re introduced to the titular chest. It’s a magic lock box containing the undead heart of Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), a legendary ghost pirate with a tentacled beard. Anyone who possesses the heart can command Davy Jones and his crew of mutant sea people, including a shark man and a guy with a conch shell for a face.
That’s a pretty good treasure to hunt, considering the film’s villainous Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) and his East India Trading Company want to use the chest to basically rule the world by eliminating all other competition (and pirates) in the shipping and trading market. Being able to conjure an army of ghost pirates who are also Ninja Turtle villains is a pretty awesome power. On top of that, Davy Jones commands the Kraken, a virtually indestructible sea monster that can instantly destroy any ship with the 18th century piratical version of a Final Fantasy limit break.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
On Stranger Tides puts Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and the infamous pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane) on the trail of the Fountain of Youth, but that’s not the only treasure in the film. Blackbeard himself wields the Sword of Triton, which uses dark magic to control his supernatural ship Queen Anne’s Revenge, although we don’t think Ian McShane necessarily needs the sword. We fully believe ghosts just do whatever McShane says.
Having a pirate crew powered by voodoo magic is pretty appealing, especially if you’ve already got the heart of Davy Jones (which we are assuming we do in this scenario). You basically have two immortal pirate ships at your disposal, but each with a distinct and interesting theme. Also, the Fountain of Youth would be a good resource to have in your holster. According to the rules in On Stranger Tides, you basically have to feed another person to the Fountain to gain their remaining years, but that’s what your immortal pirate crews are for! Just toss one of those undead shark men in there and gain however many centuries he had left.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales brings the whole Pirates Cinematic Treasureverse (PCU) full circle by introducing the Trident of Poseidon. Yet another undead pirate crew, this time comprised of water phantoms and commanded by Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), blow up just about everything in the ocean to find it, and only Captain Jack and his frenemy Barbossa can stop him by, um, stealing it first.
The trident has the power to undo every curse of the sea, meaning it will bring Salazar and his crew back to life. If you’ve been paying attention, that also means that it will essentially suck the magic right out of all the previous Pirates treasure. That makes the trident an indispensable addition to your treasure vault, because you definitely don’t want anyone else running around with that damn thing. It’s like handing somebody else the ability to cancel your credit cards, only in this metaphor your credit line is cursed ocean magic.
National Treasure: Book of Secrets
Nicolas Cage and the most courageous hairpiece in cinema history continue their adventures as globetrotting treasure hunter Ben Gates in National Treasure: Book of Secrets. The stakes have never been higher in this sequel to 2004’s National Treasure, sending Gates after not one but two history-altering MacGuffins of incredible importance.
The titular Book of Secrets is a hidden tome entrusted to each President of the United States. As it’s name suggests, the book contains pretty much every secret the government has ever tried to keep, including the truth about aliens at Area 51 and who was really responsible for the Kennedy assassination (probably aliens). The book alone is worth the risk of breaking in the White House and getting shot by Secret Service agents, but it also reveals the location of a literal city of gold hidden within Mount Rushmore.
Time Bandits is the first film in Monty Python alumnus Terry Gilliam’s “Trilogy of Imagination,” which is a polite way of saying it is a surreal dark comic fantasy that dares you to figure out what the hell is going on half the time. But it has what might be one of the best movie treasures we’ve ever wanted to steal.
A band of dwarfs working for the Supreme Being steal a magic map that allows them to travel to any point in time and basically swipe whatever they want, hence the title Time Bandits. It’s like if a bunch of pirates got a time machine and decided to rob antiquity. But the dwarfs are using it all wrong – clearly the best use of the map is to kidnap a bunch of dinosaurs and use them to open your own theme park. You could also use it to travel back in time and invest in Bitcoin.
There’s an entire Cave of Wonders loaded with treasure to choose from in Disney’s animated classic Aladdin. You could grab any one single item and probably be set for life, such as that gigantic ruby Abu snatches from a leering golden statue (which is also very steal-able) that triggers the Cave’s lava-vomiting gag reflex.
Of course, there’s really only one choice – the magic lamp. You can wish for virtually anything you want, with a few notable exceptions clearly laid out by the Genie (Robin Williams). You could even wish for a whole other Cave of Wonders, filled with the exact same treasure, including that radical flying carpet.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
The titular Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie) travels the globe searching for valuable artifacts, which she acquires by raiding tombs, a phrase you may recognize as meaning the exact same thing as “robbing graves.” In the first cinematic outing of the popular video game character, Croft is in search of the Triangle of Light, an artifact sought by the powerful Illuminati for its ability to control time, like in Clockstoppers or that one episode of DuckTales.
In the film, we see Croft use the Triangle to bring Daniel Craig back to life, but that’s only one of its many uses. The Triangle could presumably bring anyone back to life, as well as grant you the ability to rewind time to prevent tragic accidents, avert disasters, and ensure you’re always first in line for any roller coaster.
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
The treasure at the center of the oft-remade comedy It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World might not be the shiniest pile of booty on this list, but it’s definitely the easiest to acquire, which more than earns it a spot. A dying criminal tells a bunch of strangers where he buried a briefcase filled with $350,000 of stolen cash, presumably because he couldn’t bear the weight of his theft on his immortal soul. The confession kicks off a series of madcap hijinks as the strangers all race each other to be the first to dig it up.
It’s not a magic lamp or anything, but a little over a quarter of a million dollars is nothing to sneeze at, either. Especially if all you have to do is drive to “a big W” on the Mexican border and dig it up. That’s like a fun day trip with your pals. You could spend a few hours in Vegas, then pop on over to the buried treasure and stop at In-N-Out Burger on your way home.
Romancing the Stone
The 1984 film Romancing the Stone was eventual Back to the Future director Robert Zemeckis’s first big hit. It follows romance novelist Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) and professional scoundrel Jack T. Colton (Michael Douglas) as they follow a treasure map deep into the Columbian jungle to recover a gigantic emerald called El Corazon. They’re supposed to trade the treasure map as ransom for Joan’s kidnapped sister, but she and Jack decide to steal the emerald first, which suggests she and her sister don’t have the greatest relationship.
Jack ends up beating a crocodile to death to claim El Corazon, which is awesome. But then he sells El Corazon to buy himself a boat, which is somewhat disappointing. You’d think murdering a crocodile in hand-to-hand combat would’ve inspired more imagination in his purchase. Like, at least buy a boat with a painting of you punching a crocodile on the side of it. Or a helicopter with a similar painting. Or both. We’d purchase a whole fleet of those vehicles with our El Corazon money.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a classic treasure hunting western, featuring such classic genre fixtures as Walter Huston and racially insensitive depictions of Mexican outlaws. Three down-on-their-luck men head out into the desert to prospect for gold and discover a bounteous supply in the mountains. However, Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart), the de-facto leader of the group, succumbs to paranoia and robs the others, only to be macheted to death by karma in the form of machete-wielding bandits.
There aren’t any traps or puzzles to solve in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre except for the puzzle of grueling physical labor and the trap of greedy paranoia, which are obstacles we’d gladly take on in exchange for what might be the biggest gold deposit ever depicted on film.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
$200,000 in Confederate gold is buried in a grave in Sad Hill Cemetery, which sounds like the opening text of a mission in Red Dead Redemption II but is actually the plot of the classic western The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. The title refers to three gunmen – a bounty hunter, a mercenary, and a bandit – who form a shaky alliance to find the gold and divide it amongst them. The film ends in a famous three-way duel, with Blondie (Clint Eastwood) emerging victorious.
Considering it provoked the most iconic showdown in movie history, the Sad Hill Cemetery treasure definitely belongs in our hypothetical treasure vault. Gold Confederate bricks aren’t the most immediately spendable treasure, but you could easily pawn them or melt them down to build a giant cowboy statue, in honor of the Wild West.
DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp
Scrooge McDuck (Alan Young) steals just about any damn treasure he can get his feathers on, so it’s no surprise that he would eventually stumble upon a magic lamp. The lamp contains a wish-granting Genie (Rip Taylor), obviously, but the wish economy in DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp sets it apart from Aladdin in some pretty crucial ways.
First of all, the Genie grants Huey, Dewey, Louie, and Webby (Russi Taylor) three wishes each, because he’s not bound by that “one person at a time” rule Aladdin had to deal with. Second, there’s a talisman possessed by the evil wizard Merlock (Christopher Lloyd) that grants you the power to have unlimited wishes. Also, the talisman can transform you into any animal form you can think of, meaning you could be a tyrannosaurus with unlimited wishes.
Congo is easily the greatest film featuring a talking gorilla and Tim Curry speaking in an accent that has never existed. Curry hires gorilla expert Peter Elliot (Dylan Walsh) to lead him into the jungles of the Congo where he intends to search for the lost city of Zinj, a mythological ruin that was supposedly the location of King Solomon’s diamond mine. They discover the city and the diamonds, only to have Curry’s skull detonated by zombie gorillas and a volcano erupt to bury Zinj beneath a river of lava.
Zombie gorillas and lava lakes aside, there are unlimited diamonds in Zinj. Diamonds are just scattered all over the place like Pokemon. It’s not a mine so much as an open-air farmer’s market. We’d gladly brave killer hippos, goblin gorillas, and violent warlords just to do a two-minute supermarket sweep through Zinj.
The Rundown is a 2003 action film featuring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a bounty hunter and Christopher Walken as a villainous diamond mine mogul doing a Christopher Walken impression. The Rock teams up with Seann William Scott and Rosario Dawson to liberate a Brazilian town from Walken’s elderly clutches. And to do it, they need to recover a legendary treasure.
El Gato de Diablo is a golden artifact worth enough for an entire town to buy their freedom from a mining operation, so it could probably get us at least a few cars and Street Fighter arcade machines. We figure that’s worth the price of doing battle with a bunch of evil diamond miners, angry wildlife, and martial arts champion Ernie Reyes, Jr.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time may have failed to light the box office on fire, but it definitely features one of the better movie treasures we’ve ever seen. A mystical dagger that can control time is definitely worth braving some dark magic, which is a phrase here meaning “Jake Gyllenhaal’s British accent.”
The Dagger of Time can be used to rewind time, which would be incredibly useful for a number of reasons, not the least of which would be to successfully gamble on sporting events like a be-daggered Biff Tannen. You could also use it to cheat at Monopoly.
Treasure Planet follows the same basic story as Treasure Island, only this time it’s in space, and space makes everything cooler. There’s a few other additions to this sci-fi retelling that make us covet its treasure equally if not more than the one in the original.
Firstly, the titular Treasure Planet is an entire space station loaded with booty. It’s like a floating interstellar treasure vault, the kind of thing you’d expect to battle an alien emperor in order to claim. Second, the treasure map doesn’t actually lead you to Treasure Planet, but rather to an interdimensional portal with the ability to instantly teleport you anywhere in the universe. That’s worth more than the actual treasure.
Aquaman has a lot of righteous treasure in it, including the lost city of Atlantis, tons of pirate treasure. And Willem Dafoe riding a hammerhead shark. But there is one piece of mythical loot for which we’d steal experimental submarine technology from the government to plumb the depths and discover.
The Trident of King Atlan is hidden in a pocket dimension within the Earth’s crust, along with a bunch of dinosaurs and a literal Kraken. It’s a little hard to get to, but we’re up to the challenge, because the trident grants you the power to control all the life in the ocean.
We see the legendary King Atlan (Graham McTavish) wield the trident in a flashback to make whales dance for him, and that’s only one of the many practical applications of this ability. You could also create a team of shark burglars, or ride across the Atlantic on the back of a dolphin.
The Mummy Returns
At the center of The Mummy Returns, the aggressively mediocre sequel to 1999’s surprise hit The Mummy, is the Spear of Osiris. The spear is a magic weapon granting whoever wields it total control over the army of the dead, including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in gigantic scorpion form. All you have to do is stab Dwayne “The Scorpion” Johnson with it, which admittedly is a tall task.
Total command over an army of supernatural jackal warriors is worth everything the adventuring O’Connells endure in the film, including a double-decker bus fight, poison-wielding pygmy zombies in a forbidden jungle, and the groan-inducing wisecracks of an irritating child. Apart from using them to declare your own nation-state, you could instantly field any sports team, and you’d never be short on players for DnD.
Sphere isn’t a typical treasure-hunting movie in that it’s mostly about boring people having boring conversations at the bottom of the sea. However, these dull-as-dishwater scientists are flapping their gums about an ancient spacecraft wreckage they’ve recently discovered on the ocean floor, and it’s the loot inside that spacecraft that gets our Indiana Jones sense tingling.
Locked within this technological is a mysterious sphere that grants anyone who enters it the ability of psychic manifestation – you can instantly create anything you think of, out of thin air. The characters in the film use it to make dumb things like Queen-Latifah-eating jellyfish and a giant squid, but think of what a bunch of non-lamewads could do with it. You could conjure up a Scrooge McDuck vault full of cash, or a Scrooge McDuck vault full of cheeseburgers. You could even create a Scrooge McDuck vault filled with Scrooge McDuck vaults. The possibilities are truly endless.
The Lord of the Rings
Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy goes to great lengths to convince us that magic treasure is bad, which might be the craziest thing we’ve ever been tricked into believing. Sure, magic treasure can corrupt those who use it, but only huge nerds like Gollum (Andy Serkis) and Frodo (Elijah Wood). If you’re radical, you can use magic treasure no sweat. Try to imagine the One Ring corrupting Crockett and Tubbs from Miami Vice. You can’t, because it would never happen.
The One Ring grants the power of invisibility, with the trade-off than you’re always being monitored by the Eye of Sauron. So basically, it’s an Amazon Alexa that turns you invisible. Technically, it drops you into a shadow dimension full of dead kings, but we’re splitting hobbit hairs here. Vanishing at will is an ability with nearly limitless application, so we can see why everyone in Middle Earth wants the damn thing.
The contents of the briefcase in Pulp Fiction has been the subject of speculation pretty much since the beginning of the internet. We see that Vincent (John Travolta) unlocks the briefcase with the combination “666,” and that the valise’s innards glow with an ethereal light, so we can only assume it contains bioluminescent gold bars or a human soul. Perhaps both.
There are a number of ways you can use a human soul. For instance, you could trade it to any number of folktale devils in exchange for some pretty great things, like fame & fortune, incredible athletic ability, and a hybrid car with low mileage. And since it isn’t your soul, you don’t have to worry about any of the monkey’s paw side effects.
Plus, this particular human soul might be the easiest treasure on this list to acquire. A room full of geeky stoner bums managed to steal it, so we can’t imagine it was hidden in a puzzle temple or locked behind a series of deadly riddles. Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) probably left it in a cab or something.
Castle in the Sky
Hayao Miyazaki’s 1986 film Castle in the Sky throws sky pirates, a vicious government agency, and a lost princess and her idiot boy in a race against each other to discover the city of Laputa, an ancient civilization located on a floating island in the sky. The city is rumored to house a great treasure, and it’s one we’d definitely hijack a blimp to acquire.
As the flying island suggests, Laputa had some seriously advanced technology, including energy crystals that apparently grant eternal propulsion and an army of nigh-indestructible robots that can do almost anything. Heck, we could just live on Laputa once we found it, and send the robots down on Earth errands to buy groceries and new Xbox controllers and stuff.