Following the success of 1982’s Conan the Barbarian, filmmakers the world over suddenly saw the opportunity to rip off — make their own — versions of that film and make some money. It came easy to the Italians, who had their own peblum crazy of Hercules films in the 1950’s and 60’s. To quote Joe Bob Briggs, these films have the three B’s: babes, beasts and blood. And because I was around ten years old when they started getting big, they’re some of my favorite movies. Here are ten that I like.
Disclaimer: These aren’t a top ten. If your favorite movie isn’t on this list, make your own. Or tell me about it — maybe I’ll find a new favorite!
1. Conan the Barbarian: Robert E. Howard may have died in 1936, but the paperback boom of the 1960’s ensured that his characters would live forever. A movie of his Cimmerian barbarian had been proposed since 1970, but it would take twelve years — and the discovery of Arnold Schwarzenegger — before it could happen. The cycle established in this movie — tragic childhood, body breaking torture and eventual revenge in adulthood — forms the muscle-bound backbone of nearly every movie that came in its bloody wake. Arnold would appear in a legitimate sequel, Conan the Destroyer, and a spiritual one, Red Sonja. To this day, rumors of Conan the King still circulate. 2. The Sword and the Sorcerer: This Albert Pyun film was amongst the first to emerge in the wake of Conan’s success. Here, the rogue Talon uses his triple blade sword to battle RIchard Lynch — look for him in plenty of these films — to win a night with the princess Alana.
3. The Beastmaster: If you had cable in the 80’s and 90’s, there’s no way that you missed this series of movies. Dennis Miller once joked that HBO stood for “Hey, Beastmaster’s On.” Originally created by Don Coscarelli, this series is all about the adventures of Dar, a barbarian who can speak 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 a syndicated TV series.
4. Deathstalker: There are four movies about the Deathstalker character and you really don’t need to watch them in any particular order. The first one does have plenty of great gladiator fights and an appearance by future Phil Spector victim Lana Clarkson, who would go on to star in Barbarian Queen before her unfortunate demise.
5. Fire and Ice: So much of the success of Conan can be attributed to its paperback covers, which boasted the artwork of Frank Frazetta. This animated film, directed by Ralph Bakshi, also features the writing of Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway, who adapted many of Howard’s Conan tales in the Marvel Comics adaptions. This movie is like those covers come to life and worth finding.
6. Ator the Fighting Eagle: Joe D’Amoto made four of these movies and you’ll either love them because you grew up watching them on VHS or on cable, or you’ll be shocked at how shoddy they get. I’m in the former camp, of course.
7. Conquest: What happens when you let an absolute maniac like Lucio Fulci create a barbarian movie? One shot in eternal fog, that starts with werewolves ripping a woman in half and has dolphins save our crucified hero and a villain who is naked for the entire movie. They could have stopped making sword and sorcery movies after this one. In fact, all movies should have stopped after, as it’s really a senses-shattering assault.
8. Sorceress: Imagine if someone infused the Corsican Brothers, but as Playboy centerfold sisters, and then had them fight people with swords, then the whole movie ended with a flying tiger battling a giant witch head. Stop dreaming and start watching!
9. Ironmaster: This movie is more than just swords. This movie is about how metal was first used to make swords. And George Eastman — nearly a patron saint of this site — wears a giant lion head and kills people left and right.
10. The Barbarians: Instead of one Conan, why not have two? Ruggero Deodato takes a break from cannibals to instead give us this tale of a traveling sideshow battling the evil Richard Lynch and brings George Eastman and Michael Berryman along for the ride.
Of course, I left so many movies out. I know someone is going to write an angry comment like, “How dare you leave out Throne of Fire!” or “How dare you forget the Kevin Sorbo Kull the Conquerer movie!”
Check out our Letterboxd list of sword and sorcery films to see every one we’ve covered on our site!
There are so many 80’s sword and sorcery movies that at times, it’s hard to make a definition as to whether or not they fit. Masters of the Universe is based on the He-Man toys that were influenced by Conan, but it’s such a science fiction movie that it’s hard to put it squarely into the sword and sorcery category. The same can be said of Krull and Yor Hunter from the Future, films that have many qualities that get them close, but not all the way.
Additionally, there are plenty of Hollywood blockbusters that have elements of the genre, but aren’t strictly sword and sorcery. Movies like Legend, Clash of the Titans, Willow and Dragonslayer are more on the side of fantasy.
Did we miss any of your favorites? Let us know!