Let’s be honest, if you’re looking for bit of cinematic inspiration in the fantasy genre, as in sword and sorcery, you’ll be hard-pressed to find much worth while. Oh, sure, one could point to Peter Jackson’s Middle-Earth hexalogy or HBO’s adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire, both of which are amazingly rendered (although a departure from the source materials), but beyond that, where do you turn?
Here are my Top Picks that excluded both of those franchises:
10. Hawk the Slayer
I will be the first to admit, this thing is terrible, but when I was a kid, catching Hawk the Slayer on late night tv was a dream come true for someone who had only been playing D&D for two years or so. It’s a Dungeons & Dragons campaign come to life. Admittedly a bad campaign, but nevertheless, this was a thrill then and it still gives me a thrill now. Nostalgia can be a cruel mistress.
09. The Sword and the Sorcerer
Take away that silly three-bladed sword and you’ve got a darn good pulp adventure that feels like a Robert E. Howard tale. Prop sword notwithstanding, its got decent special effects and stunt work and a popping script that steals blatantly from the best.
08. The Mists of Avalon
Well, the book’s author was revealed to be a real life monster and thus has fallen out of favor, but I will forever have fond memories of discovering the novel and this groundbreaking mini-series. I am a sucker for Arthurian Legend, and this was a fresh and revitalizing take.
07. Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger
06. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad
Different casts and directors, but both movies have one thing in common beyond the titular hero — Ray Harryhausen. While some may think the special effects in these movies pale in comparison to modern CGI, I marveled at the wondrous creatures that Harryhausen brought to life with stop-motion cinematography. I still do. These two films together are still beautiful works of art and an unrelenting thrill ride of epic proportions.
05. Drakar och Demoner
Here’s an odd choice for you. Do a youtube search for Drakar och Demoner and you will find a handful of videos that bring this Swedish RPG to life. Some are subtitled. Some are not. And it doesn’t matter. There is something about these little films that ignites the internal fires in me. I may not know what they’re saying, but I can sure feel it.
04. Lord of the Rings
I’m not sure if I have made the connection until right now, but I saw this movie in early December of 1978, a few weeks later I was playing D&D for the very first time. Coincidence? No, I suppose not. The two have always seemed linked in my mind, but I hadn’t connected the dots of just how closely these two events were intertwined. In anticipation of the movie I had read Fellowship of the Ring. Was I disappointed that this never got a proper ending? Absolutely. Still is a sore spot with me, but when I think of Aragorn, it is John Hurt’s voice I hear to this day.
03. Fire & Ice
Another animated film? Another Bakshi? You betcha. And this one has Frank Frazetta’s fingerprints all over it. This movie is brilliant, with some stellar animation and a story that’s equal parts Robert E. Howard and Michael Moorcock. Not to be missed.
02. The 13th Warrior
In this retelling of Beowulf you have everything you could ever hope for in a sword and sorcery flick. It’s gritty, real, and dangerous. Some of the armor is off. Some of the weapons are dodgy. But this one lights the fires. It has a siege. It has awe-inspiring combat. And it even has a dungeon crawl. One of my all-time favorites.
Forged by a god. Foretold by a wizard. Found by a King. As I said earlier, I’m a sucker for Arthurian Legend and Excalibur is the pinnacle of that legend on film. With a simply brilliant and amazing cast, it is a beautiful picture and inspiring beyond measure on so many levels. Don’t take my word for it. If you haven’t seen Excalibur, do so, post-haste.
What to leave in? What to leave out?
Lists like these are always hard. There are several films I could have included, ones I mulled over, like The Vikings, The War Lord, Prince Valiant, Ivanhoe, Dragonslayer, Ladyhawke, and so many more.
Some, I left off purposely, like Schwarzenegger’s three barbarian epics (Conan the Barbarian, Conan the Destroyer, and Red Sonja). While each is a decent sword and sorcery movie, they are so NOT Conan that I couldn’t add them. They offend me to my core. I can watch them, but only by pretending that it is another Conan, Ko-nan if you will, so far removed from Robert E. Howard they stray. I have gone on record stating how much I appreciated Jason Momoa’s portrayal of the Cimmerian. I just wish he’d been given a better script. If that had happened, I could see him sitting there at number one, like a warrior king atop a mound of his fallen enemies.
Well, there you have it. Tell me, do you have a favorite I’ve left off? Maybe something I’ve forgotten? Share it with me below…