The List: Our 13 Favorite Adventure Movie Heroes

When it comes to our action movie heroes, we’re willing to suspend our belief to go along for the ride.

When it comes to our action movie heroes, we’re willing to suspend our belief to go along for the ride. We know that no one would survive falling off a building that high or getting shot in the abdomen multiple times or being so close to an exploding grenade. But not so when we see a movie about our sports, when we’re all, like, “a real climber would never do that,” or “that’s so fake.” Still, compared to fans of romantic comedies and violence, adventure sports love just don’t get many opportunities to relate to movie heroes, so we either suck the inaccuracies and embellishments with a grain of salt or we make fun of them relentlessly. Either way, we can’t not watch.

1. Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), Point Break
“He’ll take you to the edge…and back,” Tyler (Lori Petty) tells Johnny Utah (pre-Matrix Keanu Reeves) about Bodhi and his crew of surf brahs. Swayze was at his ’80s/’90s best here (Dirty Dancing > Road House > Ghost > Point Break) as a skydiving/surfing/spiritual adrenaline junkie who robs banks on the side, shredding and dropping gems like “100 percent pure adrenaline!” and “Little hand says it’s time to rock and roll!” all over the place. With flawless hair.
Fun fact: Swayze did his own skydiving in the movie.

2. Dr. Jonathan Hemlock (Clint Eastwood), The Eiger Sanction
Classical art professor. Classical art collector. Assassin. Hired to kill a man on the Eiger Nordwand, the fiercest north face in Europe. He tried to climb it twice, it tried to kill him twice. Deception. Action. Seduction. Pitons (it was 1975).
Fun fact: In the guidebook “Zion Climbing: Free and Clean,” Jonathan Hemlock is listed as the first ascent party on a chimney climb – it’s possible the route had never been climbed before the filming of the Eiger Sanction, when Clint Eastwood and George Kennedy train in southern Utah.

3. Peter Garrett (Chris O’Donnell), Vertical Limit
Vertical Limit is an action-packed two hours and four minutes of misinformation about climbing and mountaineering, and Peter Garrett is its leading man: climbing rock in Monument Valley (illegal), preposterous belay techniques, helicopter rides to start the climb from base camp, nitroglycerin, epic accidents that happen every 20 minutes, and Peter’s incredible, running, double-ice-axe all-points-off dyno across a chasm.
Fun fact: When it’s time to launch a rescue from base camp, Peter Garrett goes. Ed Viesturs, in a cameo appearance as himself, does not. Ed?

4. Jack Casey (Kevin Bacon), Quicksilver
He was a stock trader whiz kid who gambled big – and lost. Then he hit the San Francisco streets to become a bike messenger. Actually, he shaved his creeper mustache, then he hit the San Francisco streets to become a bike messenger. Through rad chase scenes – bike vs. car, Kevin Bacon vs. Lawrence Fishburne – an awkward love story, and some fun 80s bike ballet, Jack Casey shines in this Flashdance of bike movies.
Fun fact: Add “singlespeed” or “fixie” to the chart when you talk about the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon – he rode both in this flick.

5. T.J. Burke (Paul Gross), Aspen Extreme
As one reviewer wrote: “Old school skiing, rad story line, babes, booze, and Aspen! EXTREME!” T.J. Burke and his best friend Dexter are up against some competition in the ski instructor clinic in Aspen, but as T.J. says, “They’re not from Detroit.” T.J. battles to juggle women, job troubles, and keeping Dexter from running afoul of the bad people in Aspen’s drug trade, all while trying to train to compete in the Powder 8 competition.
Fun fact: Legendary Doug Coombs did some of the stunt skiing in the movie.

6. Harkin Banks (Patrick Houser), Hot Dog
Skiing prodigy from the sticks travels to Squaw Valley for the big comp, battles snobby Euro star for skiing glory and women. Add some funny dialogue and gratuitous nudity, and you’ve got yourself a wonderfully ’80s ski movie, with our hero Harkin Banks navigating slopes and hot tubs with style.  “And now for the rules of the International Chinese downhill: there are none.”
Fun fact: B movie queen Shannon Tweed just started dating Gene Simmons, whom she would marry in 2011, the year before she starred in Hot Dog‘s more racy scenes.

7. Gabe Walker (Sylvester Stallone), Cliffhanger
Stallone, in between Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot and Demolition Man, is Gabe Walker, climber and rescue ranger. Although the film actually performed well at the box office and was nominated for three Academy Awards, the climbing scenes are ridiculous at times: Walker’s “bolt gun” that fires bolts, complete with hangers, into rock faces, is fantasy, and if the climbing harness accident in the movie’s first scene was anything close to realistic, no one would ever trust a harness again. Still, Stallone is at his action hero best in this one, delivering classic monosyllabic Sly dialogue while dishing out justice and saving lives with his massive biceps.
Fun fact: The stuntman who crossed between two planes at 15,000 feet, Simon Crane, was paid $1 million for the stunt, a Guinness World Record.

8. Anne Marie Chadwick (Kate Bosworth), Blue Crush
Anne Marie is an American comeback story waiting to happen: Once a young up-and-comer in the surfing world, an accident and near-drowning have spooked her ever since. Plus she’s helping raise her younger (and a bit troublesome) sister after their mother abandoned them. She works as a hotel maid with her two best surfing pals, hates it, and sees surfing (and sponsorship) as a potential way out. While preparing for the Big Competition, she catches the eye of an NFL quarterback in town for the Pro Bowl. Complications and drama ensue during the lead-up to the comp.
Fun fact: Blue Crush features many appearances from real-life pro surfers, including Keala Kennedy, who competes against Anne Marie in the final competition.

9. Taylor Brooks (Michael Biehn), K2
Devilishly handsome attorney, thrillseeker, ladies man and high-altitude climber Taylor Brooks talks his way onto a K2 climb, with his climbing partner Harold Jameson. Harold isn’t convinced, especially since his wife and mother of his children has pointed out that “half the people who climb K2 don’t come back.” They go to K2 anyway, where Our Hero gets a chance to prove himself – in actually not-too-shabby climbing footage while wearing late-’80s/early-’90s neon pastel apparel.
Fun fact: Al Pacino was considered for the part of Taylor Brooks.

10. Marcus Sommers (Kevin Costner), American Flyers
It’s a tossup who’s the real hero of this film: Marcus Sommers, who convinces his talented brother to compete in the “Hell of the West,” the cycling race based on the old Coors Classic; David, the brother who has a chance to win; or Kevin Costner’s incredible push-broom mustache. The tension: the family has a history of cerebral aneurysm; both brothers don’t know if/when they’ll suffer one. Many of the racing scenes were filmed during the real Coors Classic.
Fun fact: You can still buy a “Hell of the West” jersey online. LINK

11. Dave Stoller (Dennis Christopher), Breaking Away
An Academy Award winner (Best Original Screenplay 1979) and one of the American Film Institute’s List of America’s 100 Most Inspiring Movies, Breaking Away isn’t so much a film we poke fun at. Nineteen-year-old Indiana townie Dave Stoller becomes obsessed with Italian culture, including bicycle racing, and crushes, despite cheating and injuries. Try to not root for Stoller when he has his feet taped to the pedals to finish the race.
Fun fact: The race announcer is played by Dave Blase, the cyclist who was the real-life inspiration for the character of Dave Stoller.

12. Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Premium Rush
Please, Hollywood, can you give us a bike messenger hero? We haven’t had one since Jack Casey in 1986. How about a young, handsome Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Wilee, a fixie-riding New York City bike messenger who accepts a package that’s not just a simple delivery, but will run him into the path of a crooked cop, and, ahem, the ride of his life? Yes, please. Hey, in the middle of an obesity epidemic, it’s nice to see a movie hero who rides a bike, isn’t it?
Fun fact: During the filming of a chase scene, a diplomat drove his SUV through a barricade, entering the film scene, where he cut off Gordon-Levitt, who crashed through the rear window and had to get 30 stitches.

13. Cru Jones (Bill Allen), Rad
In the 1986 BMX movie that likely inspired a thousand broken elbows on 11-year-olds, Rad was a straight-to-VHS (and Laserdisc!) release that got poor reviews, but nonetheless became a top 10 video rental. Cru Jones must choose between taking his SATs and competing in the Helltrack BMX race. He picks the race against the wishes of his mother (an in-between Rocky IV and Rocky V Talia Shire). Against the competition (and some Karate Kid-esque diabolical plotting), Cru wins Helltrack.
Fun fact: Limited to collectible VHS copies for many years, the entire film is now available on YouTube. LINK



Brendan Leonard is a contributing editor to Adventure Journal. Follow him at his blog, Semi-Rad.
Showing 11 comments
  • Todd

    TJ Burke should be in the top 3.

  • Robi Pochapin

    Totally adding Aspen Extreme to the queue.

  • Louis Zuhr


    No Indiana Jones?

    • steve casimiro


  • Alan Lemire

    Lane Myer from “Better Off Dead”. C’mon, he won the K-12 ski race!!

  • Craig Rowe

    First line of Rad: “Let’s walk this sucker.” Cru then proceeds to break his paper route time record.

    Do not forget Lori Laughlin as the Mongoose-sponsored super-hot air walker in Rad. Man I was in love with her for years after that movie. At least until she fell in with Uncle Jesse and the Tanners.

    That movie also inspired us to scrawl “No Wimps!” across our launch ramp. Great times.

  • GOOG

    Thank you for keeping Alexander Supertramp off this list.

  • JP

    Monique Aubertine was the real hero of Vertical Limits. Every true climber knows this.

  • Tropezon

    Harken Banks is my ski hero!

    I had sunny side up. I had sunny side down. I had sunny side all the way around.

  • KatieSue

    No Big Wednesday or North Shore?

  • Steve-O

    When you mention Garrett/O’Donnell from K2, and Walker/Stallone from Cliffhanger, I must assume you’re just trolling for outrage. I spent the entirety of both movies literally praying to Cthulhu for the spectacular demise of each respective character.

    But I agree with Goog: Thankyouthankyouthankyou for ignoring Hirsch/McCandless from Into the Wild.

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