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After the success of Conan the Barbarian in 1982, filmmakers around the world suddenly saw an opportunity to try to copy – make their own versions of that film and make some money. Fortunately for us, many of them succeeded, and also, Conan wasn’t the first movie of its kind, which you will have a chance to see in our list of best sword and sorcery movies of all time.
There are a lot of movies in this list, and we love them all, but we have to sort them from ‘worst’ to the best. Check our order of best sword and sorcery movies in history.
Best Sword And Sorcery Movies (Ranked)
Today, in the age of celebrating science, there are few people left who are willing to believe in magic. However, movies about sword and sorcery still have an appeal, as they allow you to temporarily detach yourself from the usual and predictable reality and immerse yourself in mysterious fairy-tale worlds. The following movies on this list have to be called the best.
We also have an article about the best magic fantasy books of all time, so go and check it out.
21. Red Sonja (1985)
After her family is killed, a young woman named Red Sonja becomes the master of the sword and takes revenge on the evil queen responsible for the chaos that befell her.
Also, the queen seems to have stolen a powerful, carefully guarded, glowing ball just before it was to be destroyed, one that has its own powers, allowing the owner to control elemental forces and create storms and earthquakes if they so desire.
Kalidor, one of the individuals overseeing the destruction of the orb, joins forces with the Red Sonja, although their paths differ, ultimately leading to the same place. They are soon joined by a cheeky, young prince named Tarn and his guard/servant Falcon, whose kingdom Gerden unceremoniously erased as a test of his newly discovered powers.
20. Masters of the Universe (1987)
This attempt by the now nonexisting Cannon Group to bring He-Man to the big screen was so bad that it became almost cult. They wanted to take a look at the success of Star Wars, but they were late with it, they owed a huge debt to George Lucas – from the design of Skeleton’s soldiers to his Vader-like themed melody.
Still, thanks to Grayskull for the villains. Frank Langella is amazing as Skeletor, while Meg Foster follows in his footsteps like Evil-Lyn. Meanwhile, Dolph Lundgren looks good in the skin, and Courteney Cox drills her screaming for Scream, released less than a decade later. It’s cruel and funny, but we love it.
19. The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982)
This Albert Pyun film was among the first to appear after Conan’s success. Here is the tramp Talon with his three-edged sword fighting Richard Lynch – look for him in a lot of these movies – to fight the night out with Princess Alan.
18. Krull (1983)
Wrong in all the right ways, Krull is a genre-confused film that needs to be watched in order to fall in love with it. Think of “Knights Against Aliens.”
About the prince and a group of companions who set out to rescue the prince’s bride from the fortress of alien invaders who have arrived on their home planet, Krull has it all, and then a little more – horses, swords, axes, aliens, lasers, one-armed cyclops and strange weapons that look like the crossing of a starfish and a throwing star Ninja.
This film is pure fantasy from the 1980s and was a modest hit when it was released in the summer of 1983. Audiences could see it in a double edition along with Superman 3.
Starring a cast of complete unknowns, except for Liam Neeson in the supporting role, Krull began his own life among fans of the 1980s fantasy. Truly an epic piece of pop culture.
17. The Beastmaster (1982)
If you had a satellite in the 80s and 90s, there’s no way you missed this series of movies. Originally created by Don Coscarelli, this series is about the adventures of Dar, a barbarian who can talk to animals. There are two sequels – Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time and Beastmaster III: The Eye of Braxus, as well as 66 episodes of the related TV series.
16. Conan the Destroyer (1984)
A cult sequel to one of the best sword and sorcery movies of all time. Unfortunately, it was not even close to the original, which you will see higher on our list, but still a top film with now cult characters.
Conan is recruited by the evil Queen Taramis to safely escort the teenage girl and her powerful bodyguard to a distant castle to retrieve the magical horn of Dagon. Unknown to Conan, the queen plans to sacrifice the princess when she returns and inherits her kingdom after a bodyguard kills Conan.
The Queen’s plans do not take into account Conan’s strength and cunning and the abilities of his assistants: the eccentric wizard Akira, the wild woman Zula and the incompetent Malak.
The hero and his allies must together defeat both mortal and supernatural enemies in this journey to the land of swords and magic.
15. Legend (1985)
Ridley Scott’s eye for stunning visuals amplifies this epic fairy tale starring young Tom Cruise as Jack, a forest dweller who, along with Princess Lily (Mia Sara), tries to save two unicorns from the Lord of Darkness (Tim Curry).
Disney’s fairy tales have obviously inspired Scott’s vision of the Legend’s appearance, but he gets darker when it comes to Darkness, a truly terrifying enemy that wouldn’t even look out of place in Lord of the Rings. Great set of horns, also…
14. Return to Oz (1985)
If you thought The Wizard of Oz was scary, you probably haven’t watched such a belated sequel so often. Continuing with Dorothy (played by young Fairuza Balk), the plot sees her return to Oz, which King Nome has completely destroyed. It’s up to Dorothy and her friends to get everything back in order.
It’s like a post-apocalyptic played on a fairytale canvas with some seriously disturbing images – not to mention the terrifying Wheelers.
13. Clash of the Titans (1981)
Forget the 3D remake, in this Clash of the 80s the Greek gods manipulated the fates of ordinary people. And did we mention how Laurence Olivier plays Zeus? Because who else could do that?
The cool factor is out of the scale thanks to Ray Harryhausen’s monster stop motions (still more realistic than most modern CGI). Medusa in particular is shockingly terrifying and the key to one of the best movie settings. Who needs remakes, huh?
12. Dragonslayer (1981)
Peter MacNicol may not appear on many “cool” lists, but he definitely fits into Disney / Paramount’s fairy tale with swords and magic on screen, which features one of the most handsome movie dragons ever.
MacNicol plays young apprentice Galen, who goes through a ritual that ends with him facing a gruesome monstrosity and appearing as the title killer. The fiery cave scenes are surprisingly terrifying, and director Matthew Robbins permeates his fantasy with shadows of darkness. He is still working, recently signing the screenplay for Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak.
11. Time Bandits (1981)
Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin, John Cleese. A brief look at the merits for Time Bandits and you’ll be forgiven if you assume it’s another hilarious outing for those Monty Pythons. You would be half right. It’s more fantasy than Brazil, it’s a humorous, unpredictable, smiling piece of joy for an 11-year-old boy who encounters a team of interdimensional thieves.
In the second part of Gilliam’s “‘Trilogy of Imagination” (after Brazil, but before The Adventures of Baron Munchausen), Time Bandits bursts with childlike joy.
10. The Dark Crystal (1982)
Viciously dragging some seriously traumatic things into a ‘children’s film’, Jim Henson’s first feature film adapts Roald Dahl’s story by showing scary things without the slightest excuse.
Skeksis? Disgusting. Garthim? Scary. Even good things like Aughra are very weird and unreliable. Henson’s ambition is great in the complete absence of people (let’s ignore a few shots of Jen’s climbing), building a large-scale world, and adult philosophical discussions. No wonder no one has been brave enough to make a sequel yet. Except unfortunately not a good enough Netflix TV show (which only lasted for one season).
9. Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
John Carpenter took a break from intimidating the audience because of this madness in San Francisco that capitalizes on the never-sought-after Kurt Russell in the role of Jack Burton. Immediately iconic in a vest and jeans, Jack is one of the finest cinematic heroes.
Given that Carpenter is behind the camera, there is no lack of madness (and monsters), and the action comes thick and fast. And if Russell’s acting wasn’t enough, there’s the great, young Kim Cattrall. Totally cool movie…
8. Highlander (1986)
On paper, the Highlander just shouldn’t work. It is an action fantasy starring a Frenchman (Christopher Lambert) who clashes with Sean Connery, who is actually a Scot, despite his name being Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez.
But that oddity is what makes it so cool. Strangeness is the name of the game in Russell Mulchy’s Highlander, which is a unique pile of inconsistent elements that somehow collide in the most beautiful way possible. The film is tense, crazy and it’s impossible not to love it. That unfortunately cannot be said for his sequels.
7. Willow (1988)
George Lucas created this hobbit-like fantasy that owes JRR Tolkien more than a passing debt, but director Ron Howard permeates Willow with loads of fun.
Rolling from one action set to another, his film is full of memorable characters, including Val Kilmer’s fantastic Madmartigan. Meanwhile, Queen Bavmord (Jean Marsh) is a formidable enemy, making Disney’s evil royal members look like grumpy transvestites.
6. The NeverEnding Story (1984)
Admit it, you’re already singing the melody of the theme, aren’t you? David Bowie’s lyrical dexterity may mean that Labyrinth beats NeverEnding Story on “a huge number of likable tunes,” but Limahl’s techno-pop ballad from NeverEnding Story is impossible to defeat.
Creativity doesn’t end there either, director Wolfgang Petersen fills his children’s fairy tale with some of the best paintings of the ’80s. There are floating lavish buildings, turbulent storm clouds, that terrifying swamp that was responsible for the piles of broken hearts when Aretyu’s horse got stuck in it.
5. Labyrinth (1986)
This is an intricate fairy tale about the independence, growing up, and power of storytelling that is wrapped in so many stupid Muppets that people sometimes don’t see how important the story is. For added distraction, there’s David Bowie’s spandex and juggling contacts.
Although it is a tragedy that the film failed at the box office, frequent masquerades at London’s Prince Charles cinema show that the film has definitely become a cult.
4. The Princess Bride (1987)
Any movie that starts with Columbus telling the story from the children of the Wonder Years is a MANDATORY classic, and that’s definitely the case with Rob Reiner’s fantastic and sharp satire. Cary Elwes will forever be known as The Dread Pirate aka Westley, but he’s just one of the great players here, which includes Robin Wright as Buttercup and Wallace Shawn as the brilliantly despised Vizzini.
And we can never forget: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
3. Conan the Barbarian (1982)
How can we talk about the sword and sorcery genres without talking about Conan? Based on Robert E. Howard’s short stories, Conan the Barbarian throws Arnold Schwarzenegger out of the Terminator’s skin into warrior armor as he embarks on an adventure that leads him to defeat an evil wizard.
With enough swords, battles and scantily clad women to satisfy every Game of Thrones fan, Conan the Barbarian is the ideal action film for any viewer who wants a little sword and magic plus loads of muscle, skin and chaos.
2. Excalibur (1981)
If you took the majesty and power of King Arthur and transformed him into the epic fantasy elements of The Lord of the Rings, you would get Excalibur. John Boorman fantastically retells Arthurian sagas relying more on magic, action and spectacle than most romanticized versions of the famous legend.
There is definitely a certain weight and mystical element to Excalibur that most of Arthur’s adaptations lack. What sells us are the swords and sorcery elements of Merlin and Morgana Le Fay, which add an extra amount of magic to this already enchanting film.
Although we adore Conan, rarely can any fantasy movie compare to Excalibur (probably only The Lord of the Rings).
1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)
The series is a film adaptation of the fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien which also consists of three parts: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002) and The Return of the King (2003). The film adaptation follows the plot of the novel, but there are also some deviations from the literary template, which aimed to retain the dramatic charge, a broader profile of some characters (Arwen, Saruman) and the realization of the linearity of the plot.
Director Jackson managed to visualize the eponymous literary template of the British writer and linguist John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973) in such a convincing way that today the story of the inhabitants of Middle-earth and their fight against evil is perceived equally as Tolkien’s novels and Jackson’s films. This is truly a great success, as it seemed almost impossible to make the adaptation without disturbing its original concept, just like Tolkien’s extremely imaginative ideas.
Even though there are many great movies on our list of the best sword and sorcery movies of all time, rarely any movie in history can compare with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, so there was never any doubt which movie will be ranked first on this list.