The Best Movies You’ve Never Seen About Lost Treasures

The Good the Bad the Weird (2008)

Manchuria in 1939 is as Old West as the East gets, and three men are on a collision with violent destiny. One is a villain, the other a lawman on his trail, and the third is a petty crook more malicious than malevolent. All three find themselves tied together in pursuit of a treasure map and the bounty it points towards.

Like Chan’s films above, this South Korean masterpiece is far from obscure, but being a foreign language release, it’s a movie still not enough people have seen. Seek it out now if that’s you: the movie is a beautiful, stylish, and action-packed riff on Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) that stakes its claim throughout as more than mere homage. Terrifically crafted set-pieces litter the film with small interactions and epic chase sequences across the wide-open landscape.

Director Kim Jee-woon is no stranger to cinematic brilliance having also gifted us with the likes of I Saw the Devil (2010) and A Bittersweet Life (2005), but here he applies it to somewhat lighter fare. There’s still plenty of death, but it feels far less cruel in its execution. Lee Byung-hun, Song Kang-ho, and Jung Woo-sung bring the lead trio to life, and each of them embodies their chaotic alignments with energy, personality, and charisma. This is entertainment to watch loud, and on as big a screen as you can find.

The Good the Bad the Weird is available on Blu-ray/DVD and streaming.

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2014)

A young Japanese woman tired of her life finds purpose after watching 1996’s Fargo. The movie ends without anyone retrieving the cash hidden along the fence, and believing the film to be a treasure map of sorts, she heads to America in pursuit of the loot.

Movies about the hunt of lost treasures are almost always adventures filled with thrills and excitement, but this beautiful and somber film is more of an intimate and emotional tragedy. Sounds fun, I know, but the Zellner brothers – David and Nathan, who also made this year’s brilliant Damsel – craft the film and their character with such warmth and soft wit as to make it every bit of an engaging journey. A sad journey, to be sure, but an engaging one.

The strength of the film belongs to lead Rinko Kikuchi, who melts our hearts even as the snow piles up around her. Her Kumiko is a woman determined in her quest for this treasure, and her innocence and hope leave us urging her forward despite knowing her dream is a fantasy. There’s a low-key sense of humor running through it all, more dark than laugh out loud, and it leads to some smiles even as things head in unfortunate directions.

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is available on Blu-ray/DVD and streaming.

Dawson City: Frozen Time (2016)

A small town in Canada’s Yukon Territory was home to a grand discovery of lost treasures in 1978: hundreds of film reels from the early 20th century kept intact beneath a permafrost layer covering an abandoned and buried swimming pool. Together with news clippings and archival photographs, they tell the story of Dawson City itself.

Documentaries don’t typically come into play on these lists, but the film reels represent a treasure unlike any other and were thought equally lost. Many of the reels represent the only surviving copies of films, meaning their discovery and subsequent clean-up revealed images thought gone forever. Their monetary value may not be as impressive as the one associated with piles of gold bars or tombs filled with treasures, but as a glimpse into the past, these treasures are priceless. It’s a glimpse we’re made privy to without the distraction of narration or talking heads, too – we’re simply watching Dawson City.

Bill Morrison‘s doc is a mesmerizing experience for the senses as we fall into the town’s past, from financial booms to devastating busts, and as it unspools before us, the story of America and of Hollywood’s burgeoning film industry comes equally to life. We see the town face the calamity of major fires (more than once!) and watch as it’s built up again and again, and their struggles often mirror the ups and downs of the United States as a whole. It’s a fascinating trip filled with intriguing history and unlikely emotion, and you’ll wish its two-hour running time was several times longer. Rather than a tale about searching for treasure, the film becomes one about its burial and unexpected discovery. These films weren’t missed until they were found, and there’s a lesson there we can all take to heart.

Dawson City: Frozen Time is available on Blu-ray/DVD and streaming.

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