The sword and sorcery genre is all about medieval-style battles and powerful magic users. The first of the best movies from this genre were released in the early 80’s, and their popularity was likely increased by the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game that was published in 1974. What follows is my opinion of the top five sword and sorcery films in chronological order. I consider these films as equally good. I did not include the second ‘Lord of the Rings’ movie because it would heave meant less variety in the top five, and I rate it as slightly inferior when compared to the other LOTR films.
1. Excalibur (1981)
This could be the best movie ever made about the Arthurian legends. The visuals are absolutely stunning. Weapons and armor looks like it is ready for actual battle. The magic users have the right auras of either mysterious power — as in the case of Merlin — or seductive darkness, as personified in the sorceress Morgana.
2. Dragonslayer (1981)
The first film to portray dragons as believable visual menaces, ‘Dragonslayer’ was ahead of its time. The sound editing is also superb, with an intense wooshing sound whenever the dragon prepared to release a torrent of flame. However, this movie is far from being just a special effects display. Story highlights include the relationship between the apprentice magician and his master, and the struggle of young women for equality in a chauvanist medieval world.
3. Conan the Barbarian (1982)
This movie helped launch Schwarzenegger’s career, and despite his thick accent and relatively few speaking lines, he delivers a nuanced performance with strong combat scenes and a dash of humor. Sandahl Bergman is impressive as Valeria and Max von Sydow delivers an exceptional performance as King Osric. James Earl Jones plays the role of Thulsa Doom, one of the creepiest villains to appear in a fantasy movie.
4. Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
This movie began a franchise that has been the most faithful and accurate of any LOTR film adaptation in history. Even if you didn’t enjoy reading Tolkien’s books, you probably enjoyed watching this movie if you’ve seen it, thanks in part to Peter Jackson’s excellent pacing and direction. The first time you see Ian McKellen as Gandalf, you know he was born to play the role.
5. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
The final movie in the trilogy, ‘Return of the King’ doesn’t disappoint. The Dark Lord Sauron rallies his forces for an epic siege of Minas Tirith, with dramatic shifts in the ebb and flow of battle, and personal fights between major figures on both sides. The hobbit Sam stages a daring rescue of Frodo from an Orc-controlled tower. The movie does a great job of depicting the friendship between the two ring-bearing hobbits, up to the last moments of their quest.