Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Dungeon Crawls in Cinema

Do you love the thrill of exploring dark, winding corridors, fighting off dangerous monsters, and discovering hidden treasures? Odds are you do if you play old school style table top adventure games. In this post, I will be reviewing some of the best dungeon crawl movies out there that give you that same adrenaline rush.

This reddit post on r/osr has some user suggestions for films with dungeon crawls in them. I watched a bunch to separate the wheat from the chaff and find the movies that capture the essence of the dungeon crawl experience. But before we dive into the reviews, let's first define what I mean by "dungeon crawl."

A dungeon crawl is a type of adventure that involves exploring “underworld” environments, such as dungeons, catacombs, or caves. These places don’t need to be underground, per se, they just need to follow different rules than the world of the mundane. Dungeon crawls typically involve battling monsters, solving puzzles, and collecting treasure, but not always. Most importantly, dungeon crawls involve delving into the unknown. and characters that must use their wits to survive against all odds.

I evaluate each movie based on a set of criteria that I personally believe are essential to a successful dungeon crawl: tension, the unknown, craftiness, hopelessness, and overall dungeon crawl vibes. So, buckle up, grab your torches and weapons, and get ready for some thrilling dungeon crawl reviews.

Barbarian (2022)

Legit Dungeon Crawl

Dungeon Crawl Vibes: 5/5

Tension: 5/5

Unknown: 5/5

Crafty: 3/5

Hopelessness: 5/5

Barbarian (2022) provides a genuine dungeon crawl experience for the characters and the audience. Tension ramps and comes to a head multiple times without excessive jump scares. It is true horror of the unknown. It’s pretty much perfect.

Despite the film’s title, there is no shirtless, buff, sword-wielding character in this film. The protagonist is not a superhero. She’s an ordinary person who is put in a shitty situation and the audience gets to find out what kind of person she is at the same time she does. The main character is faced with difficult choices multiple times. She shows true bravery in the face of danger.

The overall feeling of dread and helplessness experienced throughout the film is palpable. While the dungeon crawl portions only last for about 20 minutes of the movie, they are terrifying and definitely worth the experience.

The transition between the mundane world and the underworld is masterfully done. There are many things that aren’t quite right and they are showcased throughout the film when the protagonist travels between destinations. Things get awkward moving from the relatively safe city, to the shadiest neighborhood around. And the discoveries in the dark under her airbnb get weirder and weirder the deeper we go. The transitions are reminiscent of what Bryce Lynch's speaks of in his adventure reviews, which is high praise in the world of dungeon crawl enthusiasts.

Overall, Barbarian (2022) is a must-watch for those who enjoy the dungeon crawls and appreciate the craft of creating a truly terrifying experience. 10/10 scary points. Would not watch alone again.

Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

Not worth the 3 minutes of dungeon crawling.

Dungeon Crawl Vibes: 2/5

Tension: 0/5

Unknown: 1/5

Crafty: 1/5

Hopelessness: 1/5

Big Trouble in Little China (1986) is an action-comedy movie that incorporates elements of fantasy and martial arts. Although it does have a few scenes that somewhat resemble a dungeon crawl, the movie as a whole does not capture the true essence of the genre.

The movie follows a truck driver named Jack Burton (played by Kurt Russell) who gets caught up in a battle between a group of Chinese sorcerers and a gang of underworld thugs. The story takes place in San Francisco's Chinatown and features elements of Chinese mythology and folklore.

The movie has some scenes that take place in underground lairs and temples but they do not have the same level of tension, uncertainty, or danger that is associated with a true dungeon crawl. The action sequences are more focused on the fighting and martial arts aspect rather than the exploration and discovery that is central to a dungeon crawl.

Additionally, the characters are not faced with the same level of hopelessness and desperation that is present in a classic dungeon crawl adventure. The stakes don’t feel high, victories feel unearned, and the characters never seem to be in real danger.

However, despite not being a true dungeon crawl movie, Big Trouble in Little China does have its own unique charm and style. It has a strong cult following, and it has inspired many other works of fantasy and martial arts.

I now have inspiration for a new beholder-like monster in my games.

Looks like a pretty chill dude.

Dredd (2012)

Fun, but no teeth.

Dungeon Crawl Vibes: 1/5

Tension: 1/5

Unknown: 1/5

Crafty: 2/5

Hopelessness: 1/5

Dredd (2012) is an action-packed science fiction movie that, while an enjoyable experience, does not have the typical dungeon crawl vibes. The movie centers around Judge Dredd, a tough law enforcement officer who patrols the streets of Mega-City One, a sprawling metropolis in a post-apocalyptic world. When Dredd and a rookie partner are trapped in a high-rise building controlled by a ruthless drug lord, they must fight their way to the top to bring them to justice.

Although the movie has some elements of a dungeon crawl, such as the confined setting of the high-rise building and the numerous enemies that the characters must fight through to reach their goal, it lacks the sense of unknown, tension, and uncertainty that is present in a dungeon crawl. The characters in the movie are very skilled and experienced, and it is clear from the outset that they are capable of handling anything that comes their way. There is never any doubt that they will be successful in their mission.

The movie does have some moments of craftiness, particularly in the way that the characters use their weapons and gadgets to overcome obstacles and outmaneuver their enemies. However, this is not enough to truly give it a strong dungeon crawl vibe.

Overall, while Dredd is an entertaining and action-packed movie that has its moments of excitement and tension, it does not fully capture the spirit of a true dungeon crawl. Fans of science fiction and action movies will likely enjoy it, but those looking for a dungeon crawl may be left wanting more.

Your Highness (2011)

Beers and pretzels, but no tension.

Dungeon Crawl Vibes: 2/5
Tension: 1/5
Unknown: 3/5
Crafty: 2/5
Hopelessness: 1/5

Your Highness (2011) is a stoner comedy that takes place in a fantasy world with knights, wizards, and mythical creatures. The film follows two brothers, Thadeous and Fabious, on a quest to rescue Fabious's bride-to-be from an evil wizard.

While the film does have some dungeon crawl elements, it’s much more reminiscent of a “beer and pretzels” DnD game with a bunch of knuckleheads messing around. The tone and characters feel out of place in a dungeon crawl setting.

The film's lighthearted tone and comedic approach to the quest make it clear that the characters will ultimately succeed and come out on top. There’s not really any hopelessness.

Overall, Your Highness may provide some entertaining moments, but it falls short as a true dungeon crawl experience.

The Descent (2007)

A terrifying, claustrophobic cave crawl

Dungeon Crawl Vibes: 5/5

Tension: 5/5

Unknown: 5/5

Crafty: 3/5

Hopelessness: 5/5

Watching The Descent (2007) is like watching a group of adventurers descending into a dark, dangerous dungeon. The cave system is both the setting and the main antagonist of the movie, and it delivers on all the terrifying aspects of a dungeon crawl. Claustrophobic spaces, unknown dangers, and the sense of hopelessness all contribute to an intense and suspenseful experience.

The creatures that inhabit the cave system are unique and terrifying and make for some memorable encounters. The main characters are at a significant disadvantage but do manage to figure out ways to get a leg up at times. There’s no exit in sight and only the itsy bitsy-ist glimmer of hope (which is probably just phosphorus).

There are a few too many jump scares in the movie for my taste. I think there are more satisfying ways to relieve tension in horror movies. But overall, The Descent is a must-watch for fans of dungeon crawls and horror movies. It's a well-crafted and intense experience that will leave you on the edge of your seat.

The Goonies (1985)

An exceptional dungeon crawl in the guise of a children’s movie

Dungeon Crawl Vibes: 4/5

Tension: 4/5

Unknown: 4/5

Crafty: 5/5

Hopelessness: 3/5

The Goonies (1985) is a classic adventure movie that captures the essence of a dungeon crawl. The movie follows a group of young misfits, the Goonies, as they set out on a quest to find the treasure of the legendary pirate One-Eyed Willy. Along the way, they face numerous obstacles and challenges, from booby traps and puzzles to dangerous villains and treacherous underground tunnels.

The movie creates a sense of tension and uncertainty throughout, as the characters are never sure what challenges they will face next or whether they will be able to overcome them. The setting is a labyrinthine series of underground tunnels and caves, adding to the sense of unknown and danger.

The characters in the movie are also very crafty, using their wits and ingenuity (and many gadgets) to solve puzzles and overcome obstacles. They work together as a team, each contributing their own unique skills and talents to the adventure.

Although the stakes may not immediately feel as high as in some other dungeon crawl movies, the characters do face significant moments of fear, hopelessness, and despair. The clock is ticking as the protagonists either press forward or face the danger at their heels.

Overall, The Goonies is a classic dungeon crawl movie that is both entertaining and exciting. It has become a beloved classic, inspiring numerous imitators and setting a standard for adventure movies for years to come.

The dungeon is even Jaquaysed.


There you have it, folks. Whether you're in the mood for horror, comedy, adventure, or sci-fi, there's a dungeon crawl movie out there for you. So grab some popcorn, gather your party, and get ready to explore the depths of cinematic dungeons.

1 comment:

  1. Between Two Cairns brought me here.

    An interesting list. I certainly hadn't considered Dredd before.

    Have you As Above So Below? A divisive movie but I think it certainly qualifies as a dungeon crawl.


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