Best Sword & Sandal Flicks

by Wuchakk | created - 19 Nov 2016 | updated - 2 months ago | Public

While "Braveheart" (1995) and "Gladiator" (2000) are technically well done films and very popular, they fall short as far as interesting characters and compelling drama goes. "Braveheart" in particular is thoroughly overrated (with some really eye-rolling moments, like the betrayal scene). My list includes several films that are superior sword & sandal flicks IMHO, even if the production may not be as technically good.

This list includes films from all three types of sword & sandal movies: 1. historical or realistic, 2. fantasy ones that typically have an element of magic/sorcery (i.e. "sword & sorcery") and 3. biblical, which is arguably one-and-the-same as the first type.

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1. Troy (2004)

R | 163 min | Drama, History

56 Metascore

An adaptation of Homer's great epic, the film follows the assault on Troy by the united Greek forces and chronicles the fates of the men involved.

Director: Wolfgang Petersen | Stars: Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Julian Glover

Votes: 456,384 | Gross: $133.38M

This is the greatest sword & sandal film of all time IMHO. Brad Pitt is outstanding as Achilles. The story captivates you right from the get-go and never lets up the entire 2.5 hour runtime. Beyond this, "Troy" extravagantly visualizes the Trojan war for the viewer, something I never did until seeing this mind-blowing, outstanding piece of cinema.

Neither the Greeks nor the Trojans are painted as the 'good guys' or 'bad guys.' They're just people at war, and in war there's no real glory, as Hector points out,... and it never ends, as Achilles states. An additional point of the film is that living in a state of war is a JOYLESS existence. And both Bana and Pitt get this across well.

2. Attila (2001)

Unrated | 177 min | Action, Adventure, Biography

A romanced story of Attila the Hun, from when he lost his parents in childhood until his death. Attila is disclosed as a great leader, strategist and lover and the movie shows his respect ... See full summary »

Stars: Pauline Lynch, Steven Berkoff, Andrew Pleavin, Tommy Flanagan

Votes: 9,681

You wouldn't expect much from "Attila," especially when the contemporaneous TV epic "Druids" is astonishingly amateurish (albeit worthwhile in a so-bad-it's-good way), but "Attila" is pleasantly surprising. Despite its TV-budget limitations, "Attila" is one of the greatest sword & sandal flicks I've ever seen. "Braveheart"? "Gladiator"? These pale in comparison. No kidding. Not in the realm of technical quality, since those movies cost way more to make, but in the realm of quality characters and compelling story. Sure, there's a comic book tone to the proceedings, but the story moves briskly, never getting bogged down, and the complications of the events are made palatable. The cinematography, costumes, score and locations are notable, although some of the Roman sets are dubious.

Butler makes for a worthy protagonist even though it is said that the barrel-chested Attila was short of stature with half-Asian features (Gerard is 6'2"). There are several historical inaccuracies, but no more so than the two hailed movies noted above.

3. Ben-Hur (1959)

G | 212 min | Adventure, Drama, History

90 Metascore

When a Jewish prince is betrayed and sent into slavery by a Roman friend, he regains his freedom and comes back for revenge.

Director: William Wyler | Stars: Charlton Heston, Jack Hawkins, Stephen Boyd, Haya Harareet

Votes: 203,428 | Gross: $74.70M

This is the greatest Christian-themed sword & sandal flick and a great epic period; inspiring.

4. Conan the Barbarian (1982)

R | 129 min | Action, Adventure, Fantasy

43 Metascore

A young boy, Conan, becomes a slave after his parents are killed and tribe destroyed by a savage warlord and sorcerer, Thulsa Doom. When he grows up he becomes a fearless, invincible fighter. Set free, he plots revenge against Thulsa Doom.

Director: John Milius | Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow, Sandahl Bergman

Votes: 129,223 | Gross: $39.57M

Although the film loses points for deviating from the Conan of Robert E. Howards outstanding pulp yarns, there are numerous positives: First of all, the score by Basil Poledouris is magnificent and awe-inspiring. Surely this is one of the greatest compositions ever written! The movie's worth watching just to hear this score -- no lie. Secondly, despite acceptable discrepancies (e.g. Conan has black hair not brown, etc.), the casting is great.

Thirdly, Milius and Stone show their brilliance by incorporating Genghis Khan's historical quote in Conan's response to "What is best in life?" Conan answers: "To crush enemies, see dem driven before you and to hear da lamentation of der women." What a stroke of genius! Fourthly, the locations, sets and costuming are superb; they certainly got the LOOK of Howard's Hyborian Age right.

Fifth, As long as one is prepared to accept the deviation from Howard's Conan, the story keeps your interest throughout (which is my personal way of determining the worthiness of ANY flick). Sixth, Sandahl Bergman is super sharp and sexy; she possesses a certain barbaric beauty essential to the role and it's hard not to gaze at her shapely form in utter awe when she's on screen. Lastly, the overall tone of the film is quite serious and brooding; despite Valeria's initial campy sequence a couple of amusing scenes with Mako, the film eludes the rut of camp (unfortunately the sequel cannot boast of this quality).

5. Black Death (2010)

R | 102 min | Action, Drama, History

71 Metascore

Set during the time of the first outbreak of bubonic plague in England, a young monk is given the task of learning the truth about reports of people being brought back to life in a small village.

Director: Christopher Smith | Stars: Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean, Carice van Houten, Kimberley Nixon

Votes: 41,407 | Gross: $0.02M

The film has high production values and was shot in NE Germany. The story pulls you in before the first act is over. But it's the final act where the film's greatness really emerges. This part of "Black Death" took me by surprise and reveals that it's not really a film about the Black Death, at least not literally. The era of the bubonic plague is just a stage for a grueling exploration into personal belief in God, whether true faith or false.

Two important characters are introduced in the second half: Hob (Tim McInnerny) and the beautiful Langiva (Carice van Houten), the authorities of the village. Carice is exceptional.

A couple sequences show true cinematic excellence: A scene where Langiva leads Osmund out into the night marsh for an amazing revelation, and later when Osmund searches through the misty reeds while Langiva conveys the awful truth.

The lengthy water-pit sequence also stands out just for being so excruciating and is on par with the initial Russian roulette sequence in "The Deer Hunter" but with more meaning since the outcome in "Black Death" hinges on the victims' faith or lack of faith and the everlasting outcome. If Christianity is true, those who denounce their faith have nothing but eternal black death to look forward to.

"Black Death" is reminiscent of films like "Witchfinder General," "The Wicker Man," "The Last Valley" and maybe "Ravenous." "Black Death" is as good or better.

See my review for an explanation, but watch it first.

6. The Vikings (1958)

Not Rated | 116 min | Action, Adventure, History

A slave and a Viking prince fight for the love of a captive princess.

Director: Richard Fleischer | Stars: Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Ernest Borgnine, Janet Leigh

Votes: 11,457 | Gross: $7.00M

This is cinematic art at its finest. If you like authentic (to a point) historical adventure, you won't be disappointed.

The film is very brutal: hands get chopped off, faces get mutilated, people are thrown into a pit of wolves, etc.

I never knew how beautiful Janet Leigh was until I saw this movie (she doesn't appear very attractive, for instance, in "Psycho").

Seeing the three Viking ships make their ominous trek to England is magnificent; the various depictions of the ships are great -- at dawn, in the mist, etc.

The arrival in England and the taking of the castle is nothing short of breathtaking. The score during this scene is just a constant, primal drum. It's very fitting.

Speaking of the score, I hated the goofy Viking horn melody at first, but then it grew on me, sorta like certain kinds of cheeses. It's dorky, trust me, but I now can't imagine the film without it.

7. Tristan + Isolde (2006)

PG-13 | 125 min | Action, Drama, Romance

49 Metascore

An affair between the second in line to Britain's throne and the princess of the feuding Irish spells doom for the young lovers.

Director: Kevin Reynolds | Stars: James Franco, Sophia Myles, Rufus Sewell, David O'Hara

Votes: 48,996 | Gross: $14.73M

Although there are some contrived plot elements -- Would Tristan's near-dead body likely be found on the shore by the Irish king's daughter? -- the story is coherent and pretty compelling.

The locations (Ireland) and cinematography are truly breathtaking. The score's good too. But this isn't just a film that's beautiful in appearance & sound, the film's beautiful period. Yes, even despite all the brutal violence, bloodshed & betrayal. The general ambiance is similar to, say, "The Last of the Mohicans" (1992) and lacks the unnecessary crudeness of "Rob Roy."

Some complain that James Franco is too selfishly sullen as Tristan, but that's a big part of the story. Should he have played Tristan as elated that the one & only woman he's ever loved has become the king's wife, a gift from Ireland?

The whole adulterous tangled web could have probably been avoided if either Tristan or Isolde simply told the truth about their relationship BEFORE Isolde married the king, but it's not always easy to do this, especially when you're so young and dumb. By "dumb" I don't mean stupid, but rather naive and lacking the life-skills that only come with age & experience.

There's also a lot of good stuff to glean from the tragedy: Everyone wants someone to believe in them; never trust a proven scoundrel; humble confession, remorse & repentance; the natural desire for freedom and "true love," etc.

FINAL SAY: Despite its relatively obscure status, it's possible that "Tristan + Isolde" is the best Medieval/British Isle film ever made. No kidding.

8. King Arthur (2004)

PG-13 | 126 min | Action, Adventure, Drama

46 Metascore

A demystified take on the tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

Director: Antoine Fuqua | Stars: Clive Owen, Stephen Dillane, Keira Knightley, Ioan Gruffudd

Votes: 152,756 | Gross: $51.88M

This is Medieval-British Isle flick in the tradition of the three 1995 films "Braveheart," "Rob Roy" and "First Knight," as well as 2006's totally underrated "Tristan and Isolde," which I feel is the best of the batch.

"King Arthur" is my second favorite. "King Arthur" is visually gorgeous, shot mainly in Ireland, but also Wales and England. It has a good assortment of actors.

The theme here, other than duty and war, is that of finding one's true home and calling. Many of us dream of "home" as some far-off place to find in the near or far future, but home may be closer than we think. We just need to be open and open our eyes. This reminds me of this story of a Texas minister who wanted to move to a place with small lakes & springs, etc. and the LORD told him it was ALREADY there on his property, he just had to use his imagination and create it. So he made some small lakes on his property with seven springs, as well as other modifications. Later, when his father was visiting, the subject of vacationing came up. His dad confessed that he enjoyed coming to his son's house rather than traveling elsewhere because it was so beautiful and peaceful that it felt like paradise. The minister learned a lesson: You might be sitting on your paradise (or "home") and just don't realize it. In short, quit looking for the greener grass somewhere else and simply open your eyes!

I expected this movie to be another take on the legend like "First Knight" or "Excalibur" (not that those two films are in any way interchangeable), but "King Arthur" is totally different. It's got a unique story, full of savage Medieval action, but it also possesses an undeniable air of beauty and reverence with quite a few epic/dramatic moments.

9. Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan (2007)

R | 126 min | Action, Adventure, Biography

74 Metascore

The story recounts the early life of Genghis Khan who was a slave before going on to conquer half the world in 1206.

Director: Sergei Bodrov | Stars: Tadanobu Asano, Amadu Mamadakov, Khulan Chuluun, Honglei Sun

Votes: 42,445 | Gross: $5.70M

The film explores Temujin's origins and what led to him becoming the great king of the Mongols and world-terrorizer. Despite being a foreign film with subtitles the movie successfully pulled me into its world and characters. The Mongols on the vast Asian steppes lived similar to American plains Indians. I've seen numerous photos of Mongols living on the steppes with their yurts, etc. over the years, but I could never relate to them as people. Just as, say, "Dances With Wolves" made American Natives come alive to the viewer so this film does with Mongols.

"Mongol" eschews the American "blockbuster" syndrome and simply tells the story of Temujin from his early boyhood to his crowning as the great Khan. Although there's a steady amount of action throughout, there are a lot of quiet lulls with Temujin calmly waiting-out his various imprisonments and seeking Tengri, the god of the blue skies. Regardless, I found myself drawn into the characters and simple story.

I liked the fact that a monk was able to "see" Temujin's greatness and future world-conquering potential even though he was only a lowly slave, which others understandably couldn't see. I also liked the low-key commentary on people choosing their leaders and forsaking the less worthy, and the resulting strife, as well as the focus on Temujin's many quiet times in the wilderness seeking the Divine for wisdom and power to walk in his greatness and fulfill his dream, not that I'm suggesting Genghis Khan was God-ordained, of course. The lead actors are all great, especially Honglei Sun as Jamukha, Temujin's "brother" and then greatest enemy in Mongolia. Despite all this, people who require constant roll-your-eyes action and explosions will likely find "Mongol" boring.

10. Beowulf (2007)

PG-13 | 115 min | Animation, Action, Adventure

59 Metascore

The warrior Beowulf (Ray Winstone) must fight and defeat the monster Grendel (Crispin Glover), who is terrorizing Denmark, and later, Grendel's Mother (Angelina Jolie), who begins killing out of revenge.

Director: Robert Zemeckis | Stars: Ray Winstone, Crispin Glover, Angelina Jolie, Robin Wright

Votes: 155,785 | Gross: $82.16M

The film has the same characters as the epic poem -- Beowulf, Hrothgar, Wiglaf, Grendel, Grendel's mother and the dragon -- and the three Acts split between Beowulf's fight with Grendel, Grendel's "sea hag" mother and the dragon; other than this the film deviates from the poem. Needless to say, don't watch if you're a Beowulf purist.

However, if you don't mind the animation or the re-imagining and enjoy sword & sorcery adventure like Conan, you'll likely appreciate it. It's both entertaining and thought-provoking. I recommend watching this version back-to-back with 2005's "Beowulf & Grendel," which is a live-action version with Gerard Butler and Sarah Polley, shot on the gorgeously bleak landscapes of Iceland.

The message of this animated version is that the reality behind the story is much different than the legend because it has been embellished over the years. Some reviewers complain that Beowulf isn't a genuine hero, but this isn't true. He's a bold warrior who takes on the gargantuan and intimidating (not to mention UGLY) Grendel NAKED and somehow defeats him! He then goes on to lead a mighty Nordic kingdom for decades to come. If this isn't a hero, what is? Okay, so he exaggerates his past exploits and has a weakness for babes, what else is new?

I should add here that, not only is this a beautiful film to look at, animated or not, it also has an excellent epic Viking-ish score by Alan Silvestri, highlighted by the main title ("What We Need Is A Hero") and the two versions of "A Hero Comes Home" (the first is the shorter version sung by Robin Wright-Penn whereas the second, sung by Idina Menzel, plays during the end credits).

See my review for insights on the story.

11. Samson and Delilah (1949)

Approved | 134 min | Drama, History, Romance

When strongman Samson rejects the love of the beautiful Philistine woman Delilah, she seeks vengeance that brings horrible consequences they both regret.

Director: Cecil B. DeMille | Stars: Hedy Lamarr, Victor Mature, George Sanders, Angela Lansbury

Votes: 6,335 | Gross: $28.80M

The movie excels in the casting department. Victure Mature may have been fearful of many things in real life (like the lions in the film), but he brims with masculine charisma as Samson. As for Delilah, Hedy Lamarr was simply stunning. People who worked on the crew said no man could speak to her when she walked into the break area because they were stunned to silence; they would just watch in awe as her beautiful mouth chewed food, lol. Secondary roles are also well-cast as well.

Memorable scenes abound, like the opening fight with the lion. You can tell on close-ups that it's a lion-tamer and not Mature, but it's still exciting. There are other effective action scenes, like Samson taking down a thousand Philistine soldiers utilizing a donkey's jawbone and the closing fall of Dagon's temple.

Although Samson was a man of great faith, a Nazarite consecrated to the Almighty, and spectacularly used to begin the Israelite's deliverance from the Philistines, the biblical account shows that he forsook God's law in order to marry a Philistine woman, disobeyed his parents, was rash, vindictive and had a serious weakness for the ladies. How could God use Samson so supernaturally, particularly after just visiting a prostitute? The obvious answer is that the LORD used Samson IN SPITE of his moral failings and in no way sanctioned them. God's anointing on a person is not necessarily an indication of a completely godly life. As such, Samson is hailed for his faith in the bible, but not for his righteousness. I think it's great that God refuses to whitewash characters like Samson. The Scriptures share the truth about Samson — the good, the bad and the ugly. And keep in mind an important moral lesson from Samson's account: The mighty man whose downfall had come through the lust of his eyes ultimately had his eyes gouged out by his enemies.

Getting back to the movie, due to its colorful Technicolor cinematography "Samson and Delilah" is a delight to watch, but there's sometimes too much melodrama (talk) and certain parts feel seriously padded, like Samson and Delilah in the tent in the second half.

12. Ulysses (1954)

Not Rated | 94 min | Adventure, Fantasy, History

A movie adaptation of Homer's second epic, that talks about Ulysses' efforts to return to his home after the end of ten years of war.

Director: Mario Camerini | Stars: Kirk Douglas, Silvana Mangano, Anthony Quinn, Rossana Podestà

Votes: 3,105

In this fantasy-adventure based on Homer's epic poem The Odyssey, Kirk Douglas is larger than life in the title role and Silvana Mangano is spellbindingly beautiful in the dual role of Penelope/Circe. Most importantly, the story & script are compelling. The Cyclops sequence is a highlight and the F/X are surprisingly good for 1954. Moreover, the climax when Ulysses is revealed after posing as a beggar is dynamic. Sometimes it's necessary to temporarily kowtow to the arrogant in order to assess the situation and bide your time for an effective strike.

Unlike the 1997 rendition with Armand Assante, "The Odyssey," this version is more streamlined, lacks the eye-rolling manifestations of the gods and it's hard to beat Douglas' imposing portrayal.

13. Beowulf & Grendel (2005)

R | 103 min | Action, Adventure, Drama

53 Metascore

In Denmark, during the 6th century, Danish king Hrothgar and his warriors kill a troll whose son, Grendel, vows revenge.

Director: Sturla Gunnarsson | Stars: Hringur Ingvarsson, Spencer Wilding, Stellan Skarsgård, Ingvar Sigurdsson

Votes: 16,915 | Gross: $0.07M

Grendel is no longer an evil monster here, but rather a Neanderthalic lug who lives by himself in the wilderness, which the director described as a "Sasquatch," but – don't worry – he looks nothing like a conventional Bigfoot. He looks just as described: A mentally-challenged Neanderthalic lug. The movie wisely adds the character of a seer outcast, Selma, played by Sarah Polley, who's a highlight.

The fact that the movie is called "Beowulf & Grendel" signifies that Grendel is probably going to be a more sympathetic character than in the poem, and he is. The motive for his slaughter of the Danes isn't due to the agonizing sounds of celebration, as in the poem, but rather primal vengeance. Despite Grendel's lack of sophistication there's ethicality to his killings. For instance, he refuses to slay Hrothgar and also refuses, at first, to harm the Geats. The story reveals why. As for Beowulf, he isn't depicted as a one-dimensional; he plays the detective who starts to see that there's more going on than meets the eye.

The movie plays like a fairly realistic Viking tale, but the inclusion of the sea hag puts it in the realm of fantasy. What the heck is a "sea hag" anyway? In any event, this is an excellent live-action companion-piece to 2007's animated "Beowulf," which was much more popular at the box office ("Beowulf & Grendel" bombed, but – then again – it was barely released). The percussion-oriented score is great and the Icelandic locations are magnificent. While the plot is simple, there's a lot more going on underneath the surface. For details see Callmomrad's incredibly well-written and erudite review on IMDb. My lone criticism is that you can only make out about half the dialogue due to the heavy accents and muffled deliveries, which wouldn't be a problem if the DVD had a subtitle option, but it doesn't; so you'll have to listen closely.

14. Spartacus (1960)

PG-13 | 197 min | Adventure, Biography, Drama

87 Metascore

The slave Spartacus leads a violent revolt against the decadent Roman Republic.

Director: Stanley Kubrick | Stars: Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton

Votes: 114,385 | Gross: $30.00M

The first hour is cinema at its finest. And the rest ain't bad.

Enough said.

15. Viking Destiny (2018)

R | 91 min | Action, Adventure, Fantasy

25 Metascore

A Viking Princess is forced to flee her kingdom after being framed for the murder of her father, the King. Under the guidance of the God Odin, she travels the world gaining wisdom and building the army she needs to win back her throne.

Director: David L.G. Hughes | Stars: Martyn Ford, Terence Stamp, Paul Freeman, Will Mellor

Votes: 739

"Viking Destiny" (2018) may be low-budget, but it's superb for what it is: A simple heroic fantasy flick with a compelling story that flows, great Irish locations, colorful cinematography & costumes, an effective score, a quality cast, and a runtime that doesn't overstay its welcome (the credits start rolling at 84 minutes). I'm assuming the events take place during the Viking era, 793-1066 AD. In any case, Anna Demetriou is both beautiful and convincing as the Viking princess, a thoroughly worthy protagonist.

The budget is comparable to similar low-cost flicks like "The Viking Queen" (1967) and "The Lost Future" (2010), but with the modern production sheen of quality sword & sandal TV series', like Vikings, but more colorful and less dismal & brooding. Nevertheless, there are several bits o' wisdom to mine. If you like movies like "Tristan + Isolde" (2006), "The Vikings" (1958), the aforementioned "The Lost Future," "Conan the Barbarian" (1982) or any of the D&D pictures, I guarantee you'll find a lot to appreciate here.

There's one story issue that might turn-off some viewers and that's the idea that a couple of Norse Gods appear to the protagonists and antagonists. But it's explained that only the person in question can "see" these gods, whether Odin or Loki. It might help to accept this on the grounds that people in the modern day are motivated through God or the devil & evil spirits (or however you want to put it). The character of the individual determines which ones from which they receive.

16. Vikings (2013– )

TV-MA | 44 min | Action, Adventure, Drama

Vikings transports us to the brutal and mysterious world of Ragnar Lothbrok, a Viking warrior and farmer who yearns to explore - and raid - the distant shores across the ocean.

Stars: Gustaf Skarsgård, Katheryn Winnick, Alexander Ludwig, Travis Fimmel

Votes: 350,541

Yeah, this is a TV series rather than a movie, but it's very well done. It slows things down so there's more drama than the typical sword & sandal flick, but this helps you to get to know the characters.

17. The Passion of the Christ (2004)

R | 127 min | Drama

47 Metascore

Depicts the final twelve hours in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, on the day of his crucifixion in Jerusalem.

Director: Mel Gibson | Stars: Jim Caviezel, Monica Bellucci, Maia Morgenstern, Christo Jivkov

Votes: 202,400 | Gross: $370.78M

The last 12 torturous hours of Christ's life are depicted. It's ultra-serious, brutal, compelling and maybe even life-changing.

18. First Knight (1995)

PG-13 | 134 min | Action, Adventure, Romance

Lancelot falls in love with Guinevere, who is due to be married to King Arthur. Meanwhile, a violent warlord tries to seize power from Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.

Director: Jerry Zucker | Stars: Sean Connery, Richard Gere, Julia Ormond, Ben Cross

Votes: 63,838 | Gross: $37.60M

This is a believable take on the King Arthur/Camelot legend starring Sean Connery as Arthur, Richard Gere as Lancelot and Julia Ormond as Guinevere. They get tangled up in a love triangle.

It's a realistic portrayal of the story so, thankfully, you won't see any of that silly magical jive with Merlin, Excalibur, etc. This explains why so many panned the film, but I don't get their beef, aren't there enough cinematic depictions of the Camelot tale for them to enjoy, like "Excalibur"? I'll put it this way, "First Knight" is to the Arthor/Lancelot legend what the film "Troy" is to the "Helen of Troy" chronicle.

The film caught my fascination right away with the character of Lancelot. He is portrayed as an expert swordsman, drifter, loner and all-around lost soul. The beginning of the picture reveals something integral to understanding his character: Lancelot takes on an intimidating dude in a swordfight contest at a village he just drifted into. After Lancelot prevails, the big guy asks him for advice on how to be as skilled a swordsman as Lancelot. Lancelot tells him that he needs a couple of obvious sword-fighting skills, to which the man confidently replies, "I can do that." Then Lancelot tells him the last quality he needs: "And you must not care whether you live or die."

This is a powerful scene; Gere plays the character very convincingly (in fact, if you hate Gere, this film will give you a new-found respect for him). This character-defining episode reveals HOW Lancelot is the only one able to prevail against an incredible and decidedly deadly weapons gauntlet later in the story. And, speaking of that gauntlet sequence, it's fabulous.

The rest of the film is just a solid medieval/British Isle adventure, with the requisite forest scenes and all.

One small criticism would be that, although I enjoyed the heroic episode wherein Lancelot rescues Guinevere in Malagant's cave fortress, its pretty implausible. But these are larger-than-life figures, right?

"First Knight" should satisfy your hunger for a medieval British isles flick and might surprise me with the intriguing character of the suicidally brave Lancelot.

19. The Odyssey (1997)

PG-13 | 176 min | Adventure, Drama, Fantasy

The warrior King Odysseus leaves his idyllic life in the kingdom of Ithaca to fight in the Trojan War. After winning the war, he now must endure a lengthy, ten-year journey to return, and ... See full summary »

Stars: Armand Assante, Greta Scacchi, Isabella Rossellini, Bernadette Peters

Votes: 12,778

While the cast, locations and score are excellent, the story is conveyed in a relatively dull manner in the first half and is hampered by the manifestations of "the gods." Yes, I realize the filmmakers' were only trying to be true to Homer's epic, but some of these manifestations are eye-rolling and take the viewer out of the story. This explains why 1954's "Ulysses" and 2004's "Troy" played down this element or cut it out altogether. However, after the first half you start to accept it as part of the adventure/fantasy and roll with it, particularly because the second half is nigh exceptional, starting with the crew's confrontation with the three-headed Scylla, which is a truly horrific sequence, and then the entire final act, especially the action-packed fight between Odysseus & his son and the brutish suitors of Penelope.

Assante isn't larger-than-life as Douglas was in "Ulysses," but he evokes Odysseus' intelligence, guile, and versatility, as shown in the poem. Once you catch a grip there are some potent scenes/acting, like the initial revelation of Odysseus with various Ithacans. Furthermore, some parts have a palpable spiritual quality. Unfortunately, it does take a while to get into the groove, but the second half is more than worth it (not to mention the score and the magnificent Mediterranean locations).

Lastly, some people have erroneously summed up the moral of the film as "Don't anger the gods." While this is true on the surface, the subtext is way more than this and totally applicable to reality. It's revealed in the second half: *** SPOILER ALERT*** Odysseus was condemned to wandering from crisis to crisis for a decade because of his arrogance after his victory at Troy. Before finally returning to Ithaca we observe a humbled and enlightened man. This is the core message. Once Odysseus is humbled a potent nugget of wisdom is revealed:

Sometimes it's necessary to temporarily kowtow to the arrogant in order to assess the situation and bide your time for an effective strike.

20. Dragonslayer (1981)

PG | 109 min | Action, Adventure, Fantasy

68 Metascore

A young wizarding apprentice is sent to kill a dragon which has been devouring girls from a nearby kingdom.

Director: Matthew Robbins | Stars: Peter MacNicol, Caitlin Clarke, Ralph Richardson, John Hallam

Votes: 13,587 | Gross: $14.11M

"Dragonslayer" takes the "Jaws" route by not fully showing the beast until well into the second hour of the film. Prior to that revealing moment the film expertly builds up a heap of horrific anticipation concerning the creature. The first virgin sacrifice scene is particularly terrifying. When we finally DO see the monster it's not a let down. Many viewers attest that this dragon is the best dragon to ever appear in film, even though the picture was made in 1981.

I've heard some complain that the protagonist, MacNicol, was wrong for the role. Nothing could be further from the truth. He's easy to relate to because he's a flawed human being with naive, boyish qualities, not a larger-than-life superhero (like, say, Conan or Beastmaster). I've also heard some complain that the heroine, Caitlin Clarke, is too "man-ish" looking. Well, duh, that fits into the whole sacrificial lottery plot. When Caitlin ultimately and uncertainly dons a dress and make-up she's woman enough.

The Dark Age sets/costumes/locations really impressed me. If you're in the mood for a top-of-the-line medieval flick with castles, dungeons, forests, villages, fair maidens, kings, sorcerers, etc. this is the one to see.

21. The Ten Commandments (1956)

G | 220 min | Adventure, Drama

The Egyptian Prince, Moses, learns of his true heritage as a Hebrew and his divine mission as the deliverer of his people.

Director: Cecil B. DeMille | Stars: Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, Edward G. Robinson

Votes: 58,038 | Gross: $93.74M

The screenplay fills in the holes of the biblical account with some fictional characters and events, like Nefretiri and Moses' mother almost getting mowed over by a colossal block of stone. There are also some changes in the story, like Joshua seeking and finding Moses in the desert after decades and the way the LORD enacts judgment on rebels after the golden calf incident wherein the script borrows from the account of Korah's rebellion (Numbers 16).

The sets, costuming, locations and special effects are colorful and spectacular while the drama is surprisingly compelling and moving. You can nitpick this or that, like Heston's stilted delivery after Moses becomes the promised deliverer and God speaking in Old English, but why bother when the film is so entertaining and even inspiring? The filmmakers used a lot of imagination in recreating what it was like for the Egyptians in the palaces and the Israelites in slavery. The sequences showing the Hebrews moving the aforementioned blocks of stone are awesome; as is the scene where Moses supervises the erecting of a towering obelisk. Brynner is outstanding as Rameses; he made baldness cool. As for women, Baxter, De Carlo and Paget are stunning, as are numerous peripheral cuties.

22. The Last Valley (1971)

PG | 128 min | Adventure, Drama, War

During the Thirty Years' War of 1600s, a band of Protestant mercenaries peacefully coexist with German Catholic villagers in a hidden idyllic mountain valley untouched by war.

Director: James Clavell | Stars: Michael Caine, Omar Sharif, Florinda Bolkan, Nigel Davenport

Votes: 2,592

During the horrible Thirty Years War in Europe (1618-1648) a band of mercenaries led by the merciless Michael Caine ("The Captain") and a drifter attempting to flee the horrors of the war discover a hidden vale -- the last valley untouched by the war. The drifter talks The Captain into wintering in the peaceful valley rather than pillaging it and raping/killing the villagers.

The first thing that made a favorable impression was the outstanding opening credits sequence. Many reviewers mention John Barry's magnificent score as a highlight and they're right. This credits sequence innovatingly depicts the theme of the Thirty Years War -- members of essentially the same religion at each other's throats.

Some have criticized the film for being anti-church or even anti-God. Actually the film's about the pursuit of God, truth, love and happiness in the face of the ultimate horror -- war. And not just any war, a war that lasted three decades wherein innocent civilians -- men, women, children & family members -- were needlessly slaughtered. The repugnance and terror of war caused The Captain to become a ruthless atheist, as he declares in one potent scene, and "tore the heart out of" Vogel, as revealed in another. But the last valley untouched by the neverending conflict has given them both hope again.

23. Ben-Hur (2016)

PG-13 | 123 min | Action, Adventure, Drama

38 Metascore

Judah Ben-Hur, a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother, an officer in the Roman army, returns to his homeland after years at sea to seek revenge, but finds redemption.

Director: Timur Bekmambetov | Stars: Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Rodrigo Santoro, Nazanin Boniadi

Votes: 38,415 | Gross: $26.38M

I wasn't expecting anything that great, particularly in light of it bombing at the theaters; but I was surprised by how good it is. The decision to make Judah and Messala non-blood brothers was a good decision, as were most of the other small changes, like what Judah does to the commander of the galley and the climax. The best parts are, of course, the brutal galley sequence, which is far better than Heston's version, and the chariot race, which is impressively amped up. The more direct depiction of the mighty Christ is another positive change; they chose the right person for the role (Rodrigo Santoro), far better than the relatively bland actor in 2016's "Risen." The only part with the Messiah that doesn't really work is the stoning sequence.

In any case, I found the movie engaging from the get-go. The action is interspersed with some quality dramatic scenes, like Judah and Esther's reunion in the alley under an overcast sky. But some dramatic parts could've been more effective if the filmmakers simply slowed things down rather than rush to the next scene to make sure they don't lose those with ADHD. The miracle at the end is a good example; it could've been a more moving sequence if done right. But you can nitpick this movie, or any film. At the end of the day, this new version of "Ben Hur" cuts out the fat for a more kinetic take on the tale. I could care less if the major roles were played by "no name" actors, because they all do a fine job. For comparison, I'd watch this over the overrated "Gladiator" any day (the arena scenes are far more convincing, as far as the outdoor auditorium and spectators go).

24. Conan the Barbarian (2011)

R | 113 min | Action, Adventure, Fantasy

36 Metascore

A vengeful barbarian warrior sets off to get his revenge on the evil warlord who attacked his village and murdered his father when he was a boy.

Director: Marcus Nispel | Stars: Jason Momoa, Ron Perlman, Rose McGowan, Stephen Lang

Votes: 91,319 | Gross: $21.30M

This modern reboot gets a lot of things right, like Momoa as Conan and the authentic look/feel of the Hyborian Age. The film's not bad at all and pulsates with energy, but it needed more depth, epic-ness and uniqueness to pull it out of its "blockbuster" mediocrity. It's violence for the sake of violence, which gets dull by the 90-minute mark, plus the last act is just cartooney overkill.

Nevertheless, it's entertaining from beginning to end. Isn't this the most important factor when viewing a movie, particularly an action-adventure one? Yes, it lacks the epic-ness and magic of the '82 version; and its focus on wall-to-wall action limits the film's effectiveness, but it's still a very worthy Conan movie. It's serious and brutal, and -- thankfully -- lacks "cute" characters. It's certainly better than "Conan the Destroyer" and leagues better than "Red Sonja" and (rolling my eyes) "Kull the Conqueror."

25. Rob Roy (1995)

R | 139 min | Adventure, Biography, Drama

55 Metascore

In 1713 Scotland, Rob Roy MacGregor is wronged by a nobleman and his nephew, becomes an outlaw in search of revenge while fleeing the Redcoats, and faces charges of being a Jacobite.

Director: Michael Caton-Jones | Stars: Liam Neeson, Jessica Lange, John Hurt, Tim Roth

Votes: 38,673 | Gross: $31.60M

The location cinematography of the Scottish Highlands is breathtaking (far better than "Braveheart"). Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange are fine in their parts as Rob Roy and his wife. The sword-fighting (between individuals) is perhaps the best ever in cinematic history. The film also possesses a completely realistic vibe -- no anachronisms or campy humor here; the pic really helps one realize what life was like in rural Scotland 300 years ago.

What works best, to my mind, is Tim Roth's outstanding performance as Rob Roy's foppish-but-deadly nemesis. This is a villain you love to loathe. The Roth character is so over-the-top foppish that he almost appears effeminate; but this is only a disguise as he's actually a ruthless master swordsman. Surely this is one of film's top villains ever! (It doesn't sound right to say "good villain," does it?).

Unfortunately, the story itself doesn't have a lot of drive from beginning to end. One's attention may wander at points. Of course this may not be an entirely bad thing in light of the schizophrenic editing of many films post-"Armageddon." (In other words, the leisurely pace can be refreshing).

There are aspects of extreme sexual brutality (a rape scene) and vulgarity (a man shoves his fingers up a woman's nightgown); as well as overt love-making -- definitely material not appropriate for children. There are also overt scenes of, believe it or not, urination; many may regard this as needless, but (for me) it helped drive home the point of what every-day life was like back then (e.g. Where do you pee if you're living in a shack out in the hills? Or, in the middle of the night, if there's no upstairs bathroom?).

The story's lack of drive prevents "Rob Roy" from attaining true greatness in my mind, but the positive aspects definitely achieve greatness.

26. Robin Hood (2010)

PG-13 | 140 min | Action, Adventure, Drama

53 Metascore

In 12th century England, Robin and his band of marauders confront corruption in a local village and lead an uprising against the crown that will forever alter the balance of world power.

Director: Ridley Scott | Stars: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Matthew Macfadyen, Max von Sydow

Votes: 241,045 | Gross: $105.27M

Ridley Scott is a master filmmaker as far as look, feel and sound go, but I typically find myself sort of detached from his adventure epics (e.g. "Gladiator", "Kingdom of Heaven" and "1492: Conquest of Paradise"). Don't get me wrong, I enjoy them, but the storytelling keeps me at a distance. He needs to pick better screenwriters IMHO. Anyway, "Robin Hood" (2010) struck me the same way, but not as much, particularly the first half.

The film focuses on how Robin of Locksley became Robin the hood. You could say it's a prequel to other film versions of the character. What's strange about this being a prequel is that Robin (Russell Crowe) is clearly in his mid-40s, which means he doesn't even become Robin Hood until his mid-to-late 40s. Cate Blanchett who plays Maid Marion was 40 during filming, not a spring chicken either; and decidedly grim. I have no problem with an older Robin Hood, but don't expect him to have the acrobatic daring-do of, say, Errol Flynn's depiction (who was only 28 when the classic "The Adventures of Robin Hood" was shot).

In any case, "Robin Hood" strikes me as the most realistic version of the character and his medieval setting. Kevin Costner's version from 1991 was generally realistic too, but Rickman's Sheriff of Nottingham gave the film a campy edge (albeit entertaining) and there was some eye-rolling witchcraft dabblings as well (not that some people didn't practice witchcraft back then, but it just came off cartoony). Both of these versions are in contrast to Errol Flynn's approach to the character, who displayed a blatant joie de vivre ("joy of living") and superhuman heroics. I enjoy all three takes, but none of them are great. Despite the shortcomings of Costner's version it somehow reached iconic status, something of which this version won't ever attain. As noted above, the first half is a promising foundation, but the second half drops the ball as far as engaging storytelling goes. Still, the climatic battle sequence on the coast is visually spectacular and second to none.

While I suppose this film doesn't deserve to be on a "Best of" list I include it here to represent the Robin Hood flicks, which are worth checking out.

27. Hercules Unchained (1959)

G | 105 min | Adventure, Fantasy

While negotiating peace between two brothers contesting the throne of Thebes, an amnesiac Hercules is seduced by the evil Queen Omphale.

Directors: Pietro Francisci, Mario Bava | Stars: Steve Reeves, Sylva Koscina, Gabriele Antonini, Patrizia Della Rovere

Votes: 1,775 | Gross: $5.45M

Californian muscleman Steve Reeves plays the titular hero/god to perfection. Reeves is most known for his Hercules role but interestingly only played the part twice, in this film and the first one "Hercules" (1957). Anyway, one good side-effect of watching Reeves is that it will likely inspire guys to get in shape (the same effect as watching Stallone as Rambo).

In this film Herc is married to the beautiful Iole (Sylva Koscina), but he forgets his wife and homeland after drinking of the waters of forgetfulness and falls under the spell of Queen Omphale (Sylvia Lopez) of the isle Lidia. So Herc is caught between two beauties: Sylva and Sylvia.

"Hercules Unchained" can be enjoyed by both kids and adults. It's a fun fantasy adventure with dated "effects," but it also addresses quite a few mature themes.

One theme is the boneheaded predilection of men to sexual gratification and their intrinsic weakness to the spell of feminine beauty. Herc is married to cutie Iole (Sylva), but it wasn't too hard for him to fall under the power of Omphale (Sylvia). And he has the perfect excuse -- "Aduh, I forgot" (!).

Another theme is that feminine power can be used for good or evil, productivity or destruction. Sylva uses her feminine charms to catch herself a manly hunk (Reeves) for a husband and family, while Sylvia uses her womanly power to capture (literally) a never-ending succession of studs. Sylva wants a lifelong mate and family, whereas Sylvia is a black widow who kills her "conquests" after she gets bored with them and puts 'em in her trophy case, so to speak (you'll see what I mean).

Look around and you'll easily see both types of women in real life. One girl I knew in high school, for example, would catch herself a hunk boyfriend and ultimately start cheating on him as soon as she got bored; she would then let go of the boyfriend and officially hook up with the guy she was cheating with; once she got bored of him she'd start cheating with the next guy, ultimately dropping the boyfriend for him, ad nauseum. She was notorious, just like Omphale (Sylvia). She would even break up best friends with here expert feminine powers. The lunkheads could never come to the realization of what she was actually doing because they were too susceptible to her bewitching charms.

Interestingly, Sylva is beautiful in a cute way, whereas Sylvia is beautiful in a sharp, leggy and glamorous way. Both are well worth catching the film for if you're a red-blooded male.

Another theme is that of negative rivalry. The two siblings vie for kingship (or control) of Thebes. Proud rivalry begats enmity and violence, and ultimately mutually assured self-destruction. Both actors are outstanding, fittingly displaying a palpable royal pomp.

The sets and costuming are noteworthy. Mario Bava did the cinematography and special effects, as well as some directing, so the film has that colorful Bava look.

28. Season of the Witch (2011)

PG-13 | 95 min | Action, Adventure, Fantasy

28 Metascore

Fourteenth century knights transport a suspected witch to a monastery, where monks deduce her powers could be the source of the Black Plague.

Director: Dominic Sena | Stars: Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, Claire Foy, Stephen Campbell Moore

Votes: 86,359 | Gross: $24.83M

This is basically the American version of “Black Death,” a European film released around the same time. Both movies are dark, gritty and brutal in their depictions of Medieval Europe, but “Season of the Witch” is more of a stereotypical blockbuster with modish protagonists, amusing one-liners and CGI-laden climax. “Black Death” is deeper, more thought-provoking and realistic, which is why I give it the edge in overall value (see my review).

“Season” is the more conventionally entertaining movie and anyone who appreciates Dark Ages-based flicks are highly encouraged to check it out. Films which come to mind include “In the Name of the Rose” (1986), “Kingdom of Heaven” (2005), “Robin Hood” (2010), “Ironclad” (2011), “King Arthur” (2004), “Dragonslayer” (1981), “Red Riding Hood” (2011), "Tristan + Isolde" (2006) and “Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves” (1991). It’s as good, or better, than any of these.

The Medieval cinematography (castles, dungeons, villages, dark forests and breathtaking mountains) is mind-blowing and the two protagonists are great with their amusing rapport. Furthermore, Foy is easy-on-the-eyes. Look out for a thrilling rope-bridge crossing a la “Sorcerer” (1977). Although the climax is over-the-top cartoony, the tone up to that point is quasi-realistic.

29. King David (1985)

PG-13 | 114 min | Adventure, Biography, Drama

This is a movie about the life of Israel's king David.

Director: Bruce Beresford | Stars: Richard Gere, Edward Woodward, Alice Krige, Denis Quilley

Votes: 1,926 | Gross: $4.80M

You'll see all the following happenings in the picture:

Samuel's choosing of David as successor to King Saul; Israel's battles with the Philistines; the fight with the hulking Goliath and David's victory with a sling shot; David playing his harp to soothe Saul's torment; Saul's increasing jealousy and hatred of "the man after God's own heart"; David & Jonathan's brotherly love; David's wandering in the wilderness with his men, fleeing Saul; his stealing of Saul's spear while he sleeps in a cave, sparing him; Saul's suicide; David dancing in his skivvies when the Ark of the Covenant is brought into Jerusalem; Michal's love and, later, hatred of David (as he dances before the LORD); David secretly ogling the nude Bathsheba bathing from his palace roof and the ensuing adultery; David's indirect murder of Uriah (Bathsheba's husband) and Nathan's rebuke; Amnon's rape of his half-sister Tamar; Absalom's justified slaying of his half-brother Amnon; Absalom's stealing of the Israelite's hearts; Absalom's death and David's grieving

The film is worthwhile if you desire to see these numerous events depicted before your eyes. The cast, sets, costumes, locations and filmmaking are for the most part of the highest order for 1985. Edward Woodward is excellent as the jealous and bitter King Saul, even though he lacks Saul's height (as he was a head taller than any other Israelite). Most aspects of the David/Goliath challenge are great, like the troops shown on two separate hills. Cherie Lunghi possesses an intelligent and unique beauty as David's first wife, Michal, while Alice Krige is beautiful as Bathsheba.

Despite the numerous events covered in David's life, the film only runs 1 hour and 50 minutes before the closing credits. The problem with this is that there's at least 3 hours of material and shortening it down to less than 2 hours prevents the viewer from being captivated by the myriad characters and happenings. This will leave some struggling to connect with the people and their stories.

Although the gist of the story is accurate there are inaccuracies that some nitpick, e.g. Goliath challenged David and the Israelites himself, he didn't speak through another man; David picked up stones before going out to fight the giant, not while fighting him; Absalom waited a long time before slaying Amnon, he didn't do it immediately; etc. Changes like these aren't that big of a deal and were made for dramatic or condensing reasons.



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