Romancing the Stone (1984)
Although dismissed by many critics at the time as a Raiders of the Lost Ark knockoff, Romancing the Stone was written earlier than the release of the first Indiana Jones movie. And honestly, it is just another great ’80s adventure movie with little similarity to the earlier hit. While Raiders is more an homage to old adventure films with male heroes, this effort, scripted by Diane Thomas, is a tribute to romance novels and centers on a woman character (Kathleen Turner). Yes, she does wind up with an Indiana Jones-type (Michael Douglas), whom she bickers with African Queen style, but she’s the primary lead, similar to Emily Blunt in the Jungle Cruise movie.
The plot follows a romance novelist who finds herself in a perilous journey mixed with a love story not unlike the books she writes. She heads to a South American jungle to locate a secret treasure and save her kidnapped sister. Along the way, she meets and teams up with a bird smuggler who’s a bit of a scoundrel and who only wants in on the adventure for personal gain. Turner and Douglas have excellent chemistry that makes their characters’ sexual tension believable in a way that Blunt and Johnson also, surprisingly, do in Jungle Cruise.
More suggested viewing: Cocoon (1985), which Robert Zemeckis was developing when he was fired and then moved onto Romancing the Stone and which involves MacGuffins that heal and extend life; The Jewel of the Nile (1985), the Romancing the Stone sequel that is undeniably a lesser effort but is still very entertaining thanks to its returning main cast.
Romancing the Stone is available to rent at your favorite digital outlet.
The Mummy (1999)
Universal’s action-fantasy reboot of its The Mummy property is probably one of the most influential blockbusters of the last twenty-five years, for better and worse. Of course, it’s a product of 1930s and 1940s monster movies and adventure movies as well as the Indiana Jones franchise, by way, also, of the 1950s and 1960s fantasy adventure flicks featuring Ray Harryhausen special effects. In the decades since, it has served as a model for the comedic-tinged fantasy adventure movie even more than Raiders has, if only because it’s a bit more easily mimicked and has a lot more special effects-driven supernatural elements.
The Mummy also directly connects to Jungle Cruise in focusing on a brother and sister who team up with a rogue adventurer. The trio travels to the “City of the Dead” in Egypt, where they encounter a cursed member of a long-ago time who has become a monster. Sound familiar? Of course, the sister character is a strong-willed adventurer in her own right with an independent nature but who falls for the obnoxious male hero by the end anyway.
More suggested viewing: The Mummy Returns (2001), the first sequel to The Mummy, which began the movie acting career of Jungle Cruise‘s Dwayne Johnson, then a professional wrestler, and it spawned his own prequel vehicle, The Scorpion King (2002); The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008), which involves a place with healing and life-extending powers.
The Mummy is now streaming on HBO Max.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
Disney’s first big blockbuster hit based on one of their theme park rides, the original Pirates of the Caribbean is still an excellent fantasy adventure movie, even if it rehashes a lot of elements from the likes of Star Wars, Cutthroat Island, and The Mummy, and even though it has spawned a franchise with exponentially lesser sequels. I was a bit shocked at how much of the POTC formula Disney recycled for Jungle Cruise with the undead cursed men made out of other creatures (like Davy Jones in the first sequel) and a magical MacGuffin. I wonder if it’s possible to do an adventure movie without supernatural and fantasy elements anymore.
Here’s what Jungle Cruise producer Hiram Garcia told us about the special connection between POTC and the new attraction adaptation:
“I remember [Dwayne Johnson] saying specifically when he first saw that ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ trailer, just how enamored he was with it and how much he admired what Disney was doing by bringing that ride to life. He always felt like, ‘God, I hope I get to a point where I can do one of those projects with Disney.’”
I guess Dwayne Johnson has the honor of being the Johnny Depp of Jungle Cruise while Emily Blunt and Jack Whitehall are the Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom parts, only now they’re siblings rather than a boring romantic pairing. And Édgar Ramírez is Barbossa? The plots of the movies aren’t really that related, however, until the quest-oriented narrative of the fourth POTC installment.
More suggested viewing: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006); Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007); Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011), which is not as great as the first three but one that relates kind of too much to Jungle Cruise in dealing with the search for the Fountain of Youth.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is currently streaming on Disney+.
The Fountain (2006)
Darren Aronofsky’s cult classic sci-fi film follows three narratives at different times in history. One involves a conquistador (Hugh Jackman) searching for the Tree of Life, which heals wounds and extends life. Never mind that this movie’s version of the myth and exploration takes place in Central America rather than South America. There is also a present-day storyline in The Fountain, in which a scientist (also Jackman) attempts to cure his sick wife using an elixir from a tree in Central America, which is similar to why Blunt’s character wants to find the Tree of Life in Jungle Cruise: to help people.
More suggested viewing: Medicine Man (1992), in which Sean Connery and Lorraine Bracco are a mismatched pair of scientists in the Amazon working on a cure for cancer before the rainforest is destroyed; Amazon (1997), an Oscar-nominated documentary short film about the search for medicinal plants in the Amazon.
The Fountain is currently streaming on Tubi.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)
Would Jungle Cruise exist without this Jumanji reboot sequel? Yes, but would it exist in its ultimate form as a Dwayne Johnson vehicle? Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle showed Johnson could have a huge hit as a classic adventure hero in a jungle setting facing off against both natural and supernatural threats. When Disney’s movie was gearing up for production, some reporters referenced the similarities between it and Welcome to the Jungle, even suggesting that Disney was trying to ride Sony’s success. It’s no coincidence that my own son saw part of a trailer for Jungle Cruise and thought it was an ad for another Jumanji installment.
In the movie, Johnson plays one of a handful of avatars inside a kind of virtual existence video game where he stands in for an unconfident teenager. As the brawny archaeologist and explorer Dr. Xander Bravestone, the kid has to lead his friends through a non-specific jungle (filmed in Hawaii, like Jungle Cruise; both movies also shot on stages in Atlanta) to find a magical MacGuffin. Like Johnson’s character in Jungle Cruise, Bravestone survives some situations that should kill him as well, albeit for a different reason.
More suggested viewing: Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012), a sequel that brought in Johnson for a Jules Verne-inspired adventure tale; Jumanji: The Next Level (2019).
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is currently streaming on Fubo TV and FX Now.
Missing Link (2019)
The most recent animated feature from Laika kept coming to my mind while watching Jungle Cruise, despite the fact that none of it takes place in the time period or primary location of Disney’s new live-action adventure. But Missing Link does begin with a man (voiced by The Fountain‘s Hugh Jackman) in England being rejected by a scientific society to which he wishes to belong. He then goes off on his expedition to prove himself correct and does just that with his discovery of a Bigfoot. I was also reminded, by Blunt’s character in Jungle Cruise, of the strong-willed female adventurer in this movie, voiced by Zoe Saldana.
I do think that both Missing Link and Jungle Cruise lose some of their charm and spirit in their final acts, but until then they have an exhilarating air to their old-fashioned explorer narratives where anything can happen. Both movies also have rather forgettable adversaries who are following the heroes in their expedition, despite both having familiar voices I do enjoy.
More suggested viewing: Up (2009), Pixar’s film in which a scientific explorer goes missing in South America trying to prove the existence of something nobody else believes; Moana (2016), another movie involving Dwayne Johnson as an annoying man whom an adventurous woman needs in order to find a magical MacGuffin.
Missing Link is currently streamingly on Hulu.