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Action-Adventure Movies You Didn’t Realize Were Based On Real-Life Myths

List RulesVote up the films with surprising connections to historical mythology.

The action-adventure film genre has been around as long as the film industry has been producing films, and even though these movies come in all shapes and sizes, many of them have one thing in common: They're based on actual historical myths. Action-adventure movies are often based on historical people and events - for example, Indiana Jones is partly based on 19th-century archaeologists, while many details from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies borrow from the Golden Age of Pirates. Other movies in the genre, such as Moana and The Scorpion King, are themselves prime examples of historical myths in movies.

Either way, for a genre that's often provided summer blockbuster entertainment, many action-adventure movies are surprisingly based in fact. Here are 12 action-adventure movies based on real myths. 

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  • 1

    Davy Jones’s Locker From ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ Is A Nautical Superstition Dating Back Several Centuries

    Photo: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End / Buena Vista Pictures

    In Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Jack Sparrow faces off against the octopus-faced Davy Jones and his ghostly ship, the Flying Dutchman. One reason Jones makes for a memorable villain is that he was an object of superstition among sailors for centuries. 

    The exact origins of myths about Davy Jones are unknown, but some have theorized he was either a devil figure or an evil god of the seas. He first appears in the written record in the 18th century, but it's likely that myths about him are much older. There were many different legends about Davy Jones. The most common is that he's the captain of a ship doomed to sail across the oceans forever, unable to make port due to the constant rough waters that follow it.

    The phrase "Davy Jones' Locker" refers to the ocean floor, e.g., the resting place for doomed sailors.

    Legendary connection?
  • 2

    Imhotep From 'The Mummy' Is Based On A Royal Architect Who Was Worshipped As A God

    Although most fans probably know him as just "The Mummy," the menacing, mummified Egyptian from various Universal movies was actually based on a real person - just not one who was resurrected with magical powers. 

    In Boris Karloff's 1932 film The Mummy, as well as 1999's The Mummy and 2001's The Mummy Returns, the mummy in question is named Imhotep. But this version of Imhotep doesn't much resemble the one from the movies - although it's also worth noting that Imhotep lived around 2600 BCE, so his true biography is probably unknowable. 

    But the historical Imhotep is still worth a movie of his own. He started life as a commoner and rose to become a trusted advisor and administrator to multiple pharaohs. His main claim to fame was designing the Pyramid of Djoser, a steeped pyramid that was the precursor to the more famous Pyramid of Giza. On top of that, Imhotep was an expert in medicine, so much so that he was revered as a god 2,000 years after his passing. 

    Legendary connection?
  • 3

    'The Scorpion King' Is Based On A Legendary Ancient Egyptian Ruler

    In 2002's The Scorpion King, Dwayne Johnson played a bulked-up commoner from Akkadia named Mathayus, who leads a revolt against an invading ruler named Memnon. With the help of Memnon's soothsayer Cassandra, Mathayus eventually overthrows Memnon and becomes the Scorpion King, a title reserved for an Akkadian warrior-king. 

    It might seem like The Scorpion King was an early entry in the transformation of wrestler the Rock into movie star Dwayne Johnson - and yes, it was the Rock's first starring role - but it still took inspiration from history. The title "Scorpion King" comes from a very ancient Egyptian ruler known today only as King Scorpion. King Scorpion lived around 3150 BCE, before ancient Egypt as we know it existed. 

    The real Scorpion King comes from an era so distant that he was thought to be a mythical figure for most of history, but archaeologists discovered King Scorpion's tomb. Inside, artwork indicated that King Scorpion had led a war to unify Egypt and establish the foundations of the ancient Egyptian empire. So maybe he wasn't too different from the movie version after all. 

    Legendary connection?
  • 4

    Maui from 'Moana' Is A Family-Friendly Version Of A Real Deity From Polynesian Mythology

    Disney's Moana tells the story of a teenage Polynesian girl named Moana. When a blight hits Moana's island and pushes her people to the brink of extreme hunger, Moana rediscovers the art of ocean navigation in order to lead her tribe to better fishing spots. But she can only do it with the help of the demigod Maui. A thousand years before Moana was born, Maui stole the goddess Te Fiti's heart in order to give humanity the ability to procreate, but he ended up disgraced in the process. 

    Like many characters in Moana, Maui is based on a real mythological figure who's central to Polynesian mythology, as well as the mythology of Hawaii, Mangareva, Tahiti, Tonga, and Samoa. The Maui from Moana is really an oversimplified version of the demigod, and different myths about him appear in different cultures. But overall, Maui is both a trickster and a creator of much of the world. Legends credit him with everything from using his magical fish hook to pull islands out of the ocean depths, to wrangling the sun in the sky.  

    Legendary connection?