With the recent Conan remake, everyone’s minds have turned to the world of sword-and-sorcery, where the muscled and monosyllabic gleefully kill and screw everything that moves, where topless men and women are a fact of life, and where the smallest cut releases blood with the pressure of a firehouse. These 17 movies are all great sword-and-sorcery flicks. They’re all also bad movies, but that’s not the point! Murder, magic and mayhem! Wholesale slaughter! Nipples! It’s sword-and-sorcery!
17. Conan the Destroyer
It seems appropriate that we start with the really, really bad movie in the Conan semi-franchise. Conan the Destroyer was built on the success of its predecessor, but added an all-star barbarian cast. You had Wilt Chamberlin, Grace Jones, AndrÃ© the Giant and Mako involved! Arnold returning to his (at that time) most famous role! How do you screw this up? Pretty easily it seems. You have Grace Jones incoherently screaming for most of the movie, try and get Chamberlin to act, and you put AndrÃ© the Giant in a monster suit so no-one can see him. They cut down the violence and added more massively-unfunny humor. It was a flop, and a pale imitation of the original.
Excalibur has been just about the only attempt to tell a straight, dramatic version of King Arthur. No swapping up time and place, no removing the magic, no comedy. Just telling the legend in the best movie possible, and with an incredible cast. It launched the career of Liam Neeson, and starred Helen Mirren and Patrick Stewart. Visually glorious, it debuted well, though reviews were mixed. So, why isn’t it higher on this list? Well, there’s a sword and there is sworcery, but I wouldn’t call it a sword-and-sorcery film. Far too few topless barbarians and crazy magics for it to do better, I’m afraid.
15. Your Highness
The whole sword-and-sorcery genre has never taken itself too seriously, but it’s rare that it descends completely into parody, like it did with 2011 stoner-fantasy-comedy thing. Yup, it takes all the favorite jokes from Judd Apatow movies and puts them into a high fantasy setting. It’s all about weed, naked ladies, losing your virginity, and dick jokes. Which isn’t to say it isn’t funny, because it was freaking hilarious, and on occasion it was a pitch-perfect mockery of fantasy tropes. If you like monster penis, this is your go to stoner comedy.
I’ve got to confess, I loved this movie growing up. I probably saw it a dozen times in the movies and more on video. Looking back, Dennis Quaid is really, really out of place with his American accent among all the British actors. It has a surprisingly solid cast, with David Thewlis, Pete Postlethwaite and of course Sean Connery being the best dragon the big screen has ever seen. While the plot may have been clichÃ©, the acting was decent, and the characters memorable â€” but more than anything else, the special effects were amazing. Knights, dragons, evil magic, german mercenaries, a peasant rebellion! It was a great film!
13. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Yeah, we get it, Jake Gyllenhaal doesn’t look Persian at all. If we can ignore that, you get a surprisingly decent sword-and-sorcery film that doesn’t get bogged down in its video game roots. Hell, it’s steeped in all the tropes of the genre â€” you’ve got a magic weapon, a cursed royal, a beautiful woman, an evil sorcerer. It just about writes itself! With a huge budget and mind blowing special effects, it’s sad that it didn’t do well enough to warrant a sequel. A swashbuckling thrill ride, it’s still probably the best video game adaption to hit the big screen â€” which really isn’t saying much.
12. Scorpion King
While technically a spinoff of the Mummy movies, Scorpion King is pretty much the closest thing to a true barbarian movie that the 2000s created. The Rock plays a perfect barbarian warlord king, and come on! Michael Clarke Duncan! It’s the genre distilled down into a pretty pure form: hugely muscley topless mercenary, evil emperor/sorcerer, beautiful priestess, thief sidekick, and lots and lots and lots of stabbing, slashing, decapitating and general swordplay. Is it a good move? Oh hell no. Is it a good sword-and-sorcery movie? You best believe it. Best watched with junk food and strong booze, and with a violence-based drinking game.
Deathstalker is one of those “so bad it’s good” movies, in fact, it’s so bad it’s fucking amazing! Shot in Argentina with next to no budget, it road on the coattails of the first Conan film to something vaguely resembling success. It launched the Z-grade career of Lana Clarkson, who starred as a barbarian warrior who fought only in a g-string and a cloak, and was eventually killed by Phil Spector, but I digress. Gratuitously violent, pointlessly filled with nudity, and enough blood to fill a swimming pool, it’s a great entry on this list.
10. The Sword & the Sorcerer
In a list of sword-and-sorcery films, how could I avoid one called “the Sword and the Sorcerer”? It also has the one of the world’s stupidest weapons ever conceived, a three bladed sword that can shoot off its blades. Ah-what? Anyway, orphaned prince raised as a warrior, off to seek revenge on the evil king and lich that overthrew his kind father. With lots and lots of stabbing. Variety called the action an “atrocity-a-minute” which is absolutely perfect for the genre. If there isn’t at least one horrible bloody death every 10 minutes, the patrons get restless, though boobs can work too. Strangely enough, a sequel was made starring Kevin Sorbo in 2010.
Ladyhawke is bordering on a widely watched an enjoyed movie, unlike most of the entries on this list. It was directed by an established director (Richard Donner) and starred known actors: Rutger Hauer, Matthew Broderick and Michelle Pfeiffer. Technically, it’s not much of a sword-and-sorcery film, seeing as there’s some magic and some swordplay, but mostly everyone stays clothed, no one explodes into a shower of blood, and the people in it can actually act. Nevertheless, I’m keeping it on the list for being an awesome 80s fantasy movie, of which there were too few.
Am I seriously the only person who sees an issue with a razor sharp boomerang as a weapon? Okay, fine “glaive”, but a glaive is a polearm, not a magic throwing star. Half scifi and half fantasy, evil aliens invade a fantasy world, and its up to their prince to find a magic weapon and stop them. Ensue killing of monsters, tearing of shirts, and much, much bad hair. Krull had a huge budget, with immense sets and full orchestral score, as well as early acting roles for Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane, and while it didn’t meet much positive reception from critics or film viewers, it became a firm cult classic.
7. Conan the Barbarian 2011
The 2011 version of Conan hasn’t been met with much acclaim, but none of these movies really were. With a budget reported to be $90 million, it’s only brought in $10 million so far, so unless things turn around really quickly, it’s destined to be a flop. In its favor, the deaths are insane! Conan punches someone with a decapitated head! And Jason Momoa looks like he stepped off of a Frazetta painting, with the coal black hair and short stocky build Conan was actually meant to have. By all accounts, the acting and story are crap, but the action and special effects are amazing: which means this will be a fine entry into the halls of sword-and-sorcery movies.
6. The Beastmaster
Somehow, just somehow, The Beastmaster managed to spawn a franchise, with two sequels and a TV show. While it never did very well in the theaters, it became a mainstay of 90s era cable stations, to the point where TBS was nicknamed “The Beastmaster Station”, and HBO as “Hey, Beastmaster is On.” The weirdest thing about this animal-controlling movie? The “black tiger” was just a tame tiger died/painted black. It’s painfully obvious, and in some scenes you can even see the striped showing through. Is it really that hard to find a panther? Rumor has it that this lead to the death of the animal, and there are also tales that when the eagle wouldn’t fly, they’d just chuck it out of a hot air balloon! That, my friends, is how you make a movie.
There are some who say Highlander isn’t sword-and-sorcery, but they are heretical unbelievers. Immortal warriors battling in a magic quest to decapitate one another? With a sound track by fucking Queen? That shit is straight up metal. Yeah, there aren’t many shirtless Hyboreans, but the Kurgan is as barbarian as they come, and wears a skull as a helmet. Even with its crappy acting and much worse sequels, Highlander is a cult favorite and great movie. No, it doesn’t make much sense, and the show was even worse. That doesn’t stop me loving it totally.
Ever wanted to see Tom Cruise showing off a lot of leg? Me neither, but it’s Legend! Legend is such a peculiar movie, a very traditional tale of good and evil, virgins and unicorns, and Tim Curry in the world’s greatest makeup as the Devil. But once you get down to it, there’s a very much sword-and-sorcery core to the story. A young man, raised in the wilderness, has to arm himself and go rescue a beautiful young lady from a being of unimaginable evil, before it brings about the end of the world. Beautiful and haunting, it’s a bit less bloody than some on this list, but no less great.
Dragonslayer is a sword-and-sorcery film with more sorcery and less sword. Set against the traditional backdrop of an evil dragon who eats virgins, instead of a muscly barbarian slaughtering it, we have a novice mage attempting to stop it. Far more mature and dark than the vast majority of Disney movies, it also marks the first Disney produced film to have full frontal nudity, however brief. With incredible action and special effects, it was one of the best dragons to ever make it to the big screen.
I’m a firm believer that George Lucas is at his best when producing, not directing. For example: Willow, directed by Ron Howard. Prior to LotR, arguably the best fantasy film ever made, and the inclusion of a frequently topless Val Kilmer as Madmartigan pushes it firmly into sword-and-sorcery category. Sure, Madmartigan isn’t really the hero, but he does the slaying and the fighting and the wooing, and he’s muscly and brawling and everything else you want in a good barbarian warrior.
1. Conan the Barbarian
Was there ever any doubt? The whole reason this subgenre of movies exists is because of Conan The Barbarian. Is it a good movie? No, the acting is horrible, Arnold could barely speak English at this point, and the plot makes no sense. Even James Earl Jones calls it in, transforming into a snake for no reason at all right near the end. Was it incredibly awesome? Oh, fuck yes! Bloody, violent, comedic, and filled with boobs, it was every 13 year olds dream movie. It had incredible one-liners and some utterly magnificent scenes. A bad movie but a great experience, hands down Conan the Barbarian was the finest sword-and-sorcery film ever made.