16 Underrated Movies About Lost Cities

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Vote up the movies that deserve another look.

The concept of lost cities has fueled filmmakers' imaginations from the earliest days of cinema. There's something exciting about the idea of a location or civilization that resides apart from the rest of the world. Imagining what such a place might look like, how the residents might behave, and how a protagonist might find it offers the prospect for boundless creativity. Aside from that, opportunities exist for action, adventure, humor, and even romance.

The Indiana Jones movies have dealt with the idea of lost cities and civilizations, and Werner Herzog's Aguirre, the Wrath of God is a highly acclaimed example on the arthouse side. In early 2022, the Sandra Bullock/Channing Tatum comedy The Lost City found success at the box office. If you've seen those films but still have a hankering for a cinematic quest into a lost city, the following underrated movies will be just what you're looking for. Some are decades old, others are more recent. All of them offer a satisfying trip that you can take vicariously to a magical, forgotten place.

Vote up your favorite underrated movie about a lost city. 


  • Disney has made tons of classic animated features over the decades. Atlantis: The Lost Empire was a rare financial disappointment for them. The movie was intended to be the big animated hit of Summer 2001, but a little movie called Shrek ended up opening first, and it commanded the family audience for months. 

    Michael J. Fox provides the voice of Milo Thatch, a young cartographer who is hired to decipher a journal alleged to contain directions to the lost city of Atlantis. His employer, millionaire Preston B. Whitmore (John Mahoney), additionally invites him to be part of the expedition he's funding. James Garner voices Lyle Tiberius Rourke, the commander of the effort.

    Atlantis: The Lost Empire found Disney going beyond animal stories and fairy tales. This is a visually complex science fiction epic with a genuine sense of grandeur. The animation is as beautiful as it is ambitious. All the voice actors do excellent work, and the story has several compelling twists and turns. Perhaps one of the best reasons to check out the movie is that it was one of the last traditional hand-drawn animated features Disney did before the now-dominant computer-generated animation took over. 

    • Actors: Michael J. Fox, James Garner, Cree Summer, Leonard Nimoy, Don Novello
    • Released: 2001
    • Directed by: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
    31 votes

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  • The Lost City of Z is certified fresh at Rotten Tomatoes with an approval rating of 86%. Despite wide acclaim and several notable stars, it stalled at the box office, earning just $8 million domestically. The distributor kept it in fairly limited release, never putting it into more than 866 theaters. That may partially account for its failure to catch on.

    The movie is based on the true story of British explorer Percival Fawcett. As played by Charlie Hunnam, he believes there's a hidden city somewhere in the jungles of the Amazon, one that may have been home to an advanced civilization. Robert Pattinson co-stars as Corporal Henry Costin, an expert on the rain forest who aids in the quest, and Tom Holland is Fawcett's son Jack.

    Director James Gray wrings suspense from the tale, because we know Fawcett disappeared during his trek. Beyond that, he delivers an epic feel with gorgeous visuals. Hunnam's performance is nuanced and powerful, perfectly capturing the explorer's determination to find the city, even if it means enduring extreme hardships along the way. The Lost City of Z takes a true story and brings it to life in a manner that keeps you hooked from start to finish. 

    • Actors: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, Edward Ashley
    • Released: 2016
    • Directed by: James Gray
    21 votes

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  • The original National Treasure was about the attempt to steal the Declaration of Independence in order to retrieve a map on the back of it. The sequel, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, finds Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage) looking for a page from John Wilkes Booth's diary so he can prove an ancestor had no part in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Of course, things get way more complicated than that. In chasing leads, Ben and his cohorts Riley (Justin Bartha) and Abigail (Diane Kruger) eventually end up in a Native American city of gold. Getting there requires traversing a booby-trapped cave and escaping a flood that hits when an old dam breaks.

    Both National Treasure movies were hits, but the first one tends to be better remembered because its central concept was simpler and more memorable. Book of Secrets offers just as much loony history-based mayhem as its predecessor, though. The way both pictures use American history as the basis for over-the-top action is admirable because you can learn a little something at the same time that you're thrilled by the dangers Ben faces. Cage is another selling point. As crazy as the film is, he makes it go down smoothly with his fully committed performance. 

    • Actors: Nicolas Cage, Jon Voight, Harvey Keitel, Ed Harris, Diane Kruger
    • Released: 2007
    • Directed by: Jon Turteltaub
    30 votes

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  • Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is a sequel to 2008's Journey to the Center of the Earth. Josh Hutcherson returns as Sean Anderson, a teenager obsessed with Jules Verne. After receiving strange messages over his ham radio, he becomes convinced that his grandfather has found the lost island Verne referred to in one of his books. Sean's stepfather Hank (Dwayne Johnson) agrees to accompany him on a trek to find it. They team up with a helicopter pilot named Gabato (Luis Guzman) and his daughter Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens). The gang gets sucked into a tornado, and when they land, they find themselves on a magical island complete with giant bumblebees, tiny elephants, and other oddities. It's wondrous, but the question becomes how they're going to get back to civilization.

    Great fun for the whole family, Journey 2 has excellent special effects that bring the island's strange quality to life. One of the most thrilling scenes is a chase where the characters zip around on top of those bumblebees. Kids, in particular, will delight in imaginative ideas like that. Johnson and Guzman give the story a healthy dose of humor, too. Because it's inspired by Jules Verne's works and contains many references to it, Journey 2 also serves as a nice gateway into his writing. Young viewers might just be inspired to pick up one of his novels after watching the film. 

    • Actors: Dwayne Johnson, Michael Caine, Josh Hutcherson, Vanessa Hudgens, Kristin Davis
    • Released: 2012
    • Directed by: Brad Peyton
    20 votes

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  • 5
    26 VOTES

    Kong: Skull Island

    Kong: Skull Island stars John Goodman as a guy who discovered a secret island on a weather map. He's assembled a team of scientists, trackers, and a photojournalist to help him go there. This is no ordinary island, as he quickly discovers. It plays home to a host of oversized squids, yaks, spiders, and lizards. A massive ape lives there, as well. Kong ends up being something of a protector to the humans, who are constantly in peril from all the other creatures.

    Kong: Skull Island has an abundance of scenes in which gigantic animals fight each other. First-rate special effects make those sequences exciting to watch. The same goes for scenes in which the people are in danger. Some of the characters don't make it out alive, leading to a couple of memorable demises. Aside from the fun action, the movie also boasts witty performances from an all-star cast that includes Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, and - in a scene-stealing role as a WWII soldier who's been stranded on Skull Island since 1944 - John C. Reilly. 

    • Actors: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Jing Tian
    • Released: 2017
    • Directed by: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
    26 votes
  • 6
    27 VOTES

    Based on the riveting Michael Crichton novel, Congo stars Laura Linney as Karen Ross, a scientist sent deep into the Congo to find out what happened to a team that went hunting for diamonds and found a supposedly lost city called Zinj. Helping her is primatologist Peter Elliot (Dylan Walsh). He wants to return Amy, the ape he's trained to understand American Sign Language, back into a more natural habitat. It's a good thing they have Amy along, because a band of apes resides in and around the city, and they don't take kindly to humans.

    Special effects technology wasn't quite able to create fully convincing apes in 1995, which may have hurt Congo's appeal. A picture like this would fare better today, where CGI is capable of making photorealistic animals. If that doesn't bother you, the movie is old-fashioned fun, harking back to the kind of jungle adventures that were popular in the 1950s. It's got some action, more than a little self-aware humor, and, of course, a wonderfully over-the-top villain in the form of Tim Curry's diabolical “philanthropist” Herkermer Homolka. Congo is, at heart, a B movie and therefore has a lot of goofy pleasure to offer viewers in the mood for such light entertainment. As if that wasn't enough, Bruce Campbell is in this movie, too. What more could you want from a B movie?

    • Actors: Dylan Walsh, Laura Linney, Ernie Hudson, Tim Curry, Grant Heslov
    • Released: 1995
    • Directed by: Frank Marshall
    27 votes

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