The Engineer’s Room: Of Swords and Sorcery

With the release this month of the J.R.R. Tolkien biopic, Tolkien (2019) and the final episodes of HBO’s Game of Thrones (2011), our thoughts naturally turn in the direction of the fantasy sub-genre, “swords and sorcery.” The term was coined in 1961 by author Fritz Leiber to describe the work of pulp novelist Robert E. Howard and his Kull, Solomon Kane, and Conan stories:

I feel more certain than ever that this field should be called the sword-and-sorcery story. This accurately describes the points of culture-level and supernatural element and also immediately distinguishes it from the cloak-and-sword (historical adventure) story.[1]

While the 1930s and ‘40s were the heyday of the sword and sorcery novelist, with Conan and its many imitators flooding the pulp fiction market, the 1980s were the heyday of the sword and sorcery movie – starting, appropriately enough, with Conan the Barbarian (1982).

Now, to be precise, Tolkien and Game of Thrones aren’t swords and sorcery – they’re high fantasy, another of the fantasy sub-genres. The term was coined by author Lloyd Alexander in 1971 and is characterized by taking place in an alternate world where magic is real, good and evil are clearly drawn, and the characters have epic goals to achieve and obstacles to overcome[2] – often involving the saving of the world or the preservation of the human race. Plus the occasional elf, dwarf, or fairy.

In contrast, sword and sorcery is often a personal tale or on a local scale – the stakes are high from the perspective of the participants, but they lack the grand scope of and epic stakes of high fantasy, such as Lord of the Rings (1978). Also, the main character tends to be morally ambiguous, rather than clearly good or evil. (Conan is, after all, a thief by trade.)
Given the fact that most book stores and many movie Web sites blend science fiction and fantasy into one large melting pot, we cannot really expect them to tell the difference between sword and sorcery and high fantasy when it comes to selecting favorite films from the fantasy genre, so we’ll forgive Flickchart’s rather loose definition.

Best Sword and Sorcery Films of All Time

Or, at the least, some good fantasy movies featuring magic and a bit of mayhem.

Rank Title EIDR ID
1 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) 10.5240/E030-107B-C08A-BF93-AC79-B
2 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) 10.5240/B07E-E305-8057-CD37-0887-E
3 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) 10.5240/598E-D2AE-1B7D-67EB-3F75-6
4 Highlander (1986) 10.5240/DBA6-1A0B-66B2-ABF7-D345-0
5 Excalibur (1981) 10.5240/1D3A-E502-98DD-7537-F350-Z
6 Conan the Barbarian (1982) 10.5240/6D8F-6BF8-4318-DF7D-6CC5-V
7 Willow (1988) 10.5240/5808-5356-6306-612C-125B-Y
8 The Sword in the Stone (1963) 10.5240/473E-479D-7DC3-9C2B-06C8-L
9 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) 10.5240/074E-596C-285C-7A04-1A01-F
10 Die Nibelungen: Siegfried (1924) 10.5240/B104-428A-A3D8-662A-55A8-Z
11 Legend (1985) 10.5240/3C46-EF41-5EB7-66AC-35EF-A
12 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) 10.5240/D481-7435-BA9B-F001-5C0A-N
13 Dragonslayer (1981) 10.5240/15FB-124B-5F9E-465C-F3FD-M
14 Conan the Destroyer (1984) 10.5240/8ACF-0394-7E86-075E-C371-G
15 The Lord of the Rings (1978) 10.5240/4A5D-527B-D479-BAAD-C6B3-7
16 Die Nibelungen: Kriemhild’s Revenge (1924) 10.5240/D3E6-66C4-E14D-DA79-C01F-J
17 The Beastmaster (1982) 10.5240/E793-BEF5-DAC9-7B39-C96A-D
18 Krull (1983) 10.5240/D902-915D-87EF-0A26-3DFF-J
19 The Black Cauldron (1985) 10.5240/A903-A9EC-2A20-0191-2E86-A
20 The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) 10.5240/9B11-B26E-7EC5-1306-66F9-U
21 The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) 10.5240/F685-6CC3-B644-962D-142C-T
22 Dragonheart (1996) 10.5240/8198-94DC-D89D-4703-CC22-Y
23 The Hobbit (1977) 10.5240/62E8-8D7A-856B-0DF4-C2EA-J
24 Fire and Ice (1983) 10.5240/2CA4-64F8-B6DF-962D-5A32-D
25 Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) 10.5240/8715-3AFF-5F75-5935-BD8F-X
26 Red Sonja (1985) 10.5240/6936-025B-6391-21CA-5EFE-6
27 Masters of the Universe (1987) 10.5240/6A02-B4F5-6E25-5D32-F8F5-X
28 The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982) 10.5240/3294-77FE-BF96-E238-BCE4-M
29 Futurama: Bender’s Game (2008) 10.5240/AA1D-05AA-5DB8-2721-6311-5
30 The Flight of Dragons (1982) 10.5240/65F7-4592-84D6-5615-85AF-A
31 Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) 10.5240/9CE4-7576-D9E2-FB74-DBB3-K
32 Merlin (1998) 10.5240/4658-EE1E-4C96-47A3-219A-X
33 Beowulf (2007) 10.5240/449B-F8BE-6EA5-69E5-D84F-P
34 Highlander: The Final Dimension (1994) 10.5240/04C2-3221-066D-1095-A11D-K
35 The Return of the King (1980) 10.5240/BFEE-4E5D-B0B6-F883-69C9-G
36 Your Highness (2011) 10.5240/7ABC-7761-5ED6-909F-B63D-7
37 Solomon Kane (2009) 10.5240/B966-1320-A7AA-CB58-9BAD-U
38 Warcraft (2016) 10.5240/3CBE-932C-ADE9-338D-628A-3
39 Maciste all’inferno (1925) 10.5240/0DC4-7FD7-7AC2-2E7D-0E61-Q
40 The Deathstalker (1983) 10.5240/6535-1420-F506-5F3D-0458-9
41 Kull the Conqueror (1997) 10.5240/FB93-7645-6865-D9B3-D93C-4
42 The Barbarians (1987) 10.5240/D14C-89E7-047F-EB94-CB9E-7
43 The Bride with White Hair (1993) 10.5240/E072-0FA9-CDF2-15BA-27A2-C
44 The Secret of the Sword (1985) 10.5240/3F90-8E14-7F26-9120-D00B-W
45 The Warrior and the Sorceress (1984) 10.5240/581E-AFDC-DFDD-936E-899B-V
46 Conquest (1983) 10.5240/18A7-4100-2581-6C30-032E-8
47 Conan the Barbarian (2011) 10.5240/94F8-0041-1BC7-9B76-8ABB-T
48 King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017) 10.5240/797E-152C-4776-EE9D-1433-2
49 Yor, the Hunter from the Future (1983) 10.5240/7823-BBCF-0698-2004-8840-5
50 Sword of the Valiant: The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (1984) 10.5240/E10A-7472-3EAC-75A7-50AE-9
51 Dungeons & Dragons (2000) 10.5240/FC9E-16F1-7FA3-59A6-DEAC-Z
52 Berserk: The Golden Age Arc – The Egg of the King (2012) 10.5240/0B5F-F793-6C46-C0C5-9EEC-N
53 Otrantský zámek (1977) 10.5240/72C3-CFBE-D031-C5BD-EEB0-8
54 Deathstalker II (1987) 10.5240/A83E-276E-F4B3-3CFD-2279-U
55 Sorceress (1982) 10.5240/5055-1E45-4430-D854-9357-W
56 Le chevalier des neiges (1912) 10.5240/3E5B-FBF9-202B-3629-B137-9
57 Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time (1991) 10.5240/7BEF-E792-2E44-A960-3761-R
58 The Iron Crown (1941) 10.5240/9F1E-292B-0184-0DC1-B9EB-W
59 Ruslan and Ludmila (1972) 10.5240/C9F2-A7DC-9903-68BF-8C96-N
60 Die Nibelungen 2: Kriemhilds Rache (1967) 10.5240/0C8D-CA45-9ED6-B1E6-291B-6
61 Hercules in the Underworld (1994) 10.5240/078F-7578-74B2-70A8-B4D1-O
62 Eragon (2006) 10.5240/D9FE-E784-179D-3E66-E0D7-N
63 Black Angel (1980) 10.5240/639C-D30E-9826-E98F-0CDB-Q
64 Taro the Dragon Boy (1979) 10.5240/4A24-2A9B-B0EB-53B5-1445-X
65 The Sword and the Dragon (1956) 10.5240/7FCA-8E40-A459-17B9-8FD3-1
66 Hercules and the Amazon Women (1994) 10.5240/0DAC-2C55-82F5-FED9-F6AD-J
67 The Magic Sword (1962) 10.5240/876D-331C-2F04-30C6-055C-1
68 Deathstalker IV (1991) 10.5240/D69D-CD50-F2B2-7C93-11BF-K
69 The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016) 10.5240/08F9-5D80-D124-4F79-DA96-W
70 The Killing of Satan (1983) 10.5240/D1B2-27BE-D6F4-5ADF-7B24-S
71 Lionheart (1987) 10.5240/5214-6315-CC05-A49F-01CB-9
72 Hundra (1983) 10.5240/24E3-64DC-FA30-73D5-D85D-0
73 Perseus Against the Monsters (1963) 10.5240/9A1B-AA62-018D-7E86-2F78-P
74 The Devil’s Sword (1984) 10.5240/5609-1D00-2489-2721-EEFD-R
75 The Great Wall (2016) 10.5240/3259-086E-ADDF-5B68-B518-A
76 Beruseruku: Ougon jidai-hen II – dorudorei koryaku (2012) 10.5240/20A0-3F9D-6D76-5B89-2FAA-F
77 In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (2007) 10.5240/2E88-919E-AFE5-2702-9F65-Z
78 Beastmaster III: The Eye of Braxus (1996) 10.5240/1D68-94CC-F5D9-71EC-D214-M
79 The Sword of the Barbarians (1982) 10.5240/C1BB-59B6-8490-536A-3E3F-W
80 Doctor Mordrid (1992) 10.5240/88BB-E8E9-E0CA-28FA-CF36-P
81 Wizards of the Demon Sword (1991) 10.5240/CFB9-9062-7050-17D8-9E24-E
82 Amazons (1986) 10.5240/5634-9030-0C1F-A17B-D5B3-L
83 Gor (1987) 10.5240/F1AE-AC1D-6658-5839-87C6-B
84 Merlin and the Sword (1985) 10.5240/9A50-1894-63D8-0BCD-30A5-S
85 Gunan il guerriero  (1982) 10.5240/AA33-DBD5-04F6-47F7-D747-W
86 The Blade Master (1984) 10.5240/2986-D468-99AE-EAA8-3400-B
87 Barbarian Queen II: The Empress Strikes Back (1990) 10.5240/75FC-B627-EBF9-E186-9188-T
88 Thor the Conqueror (1983) 10.5240/738D-6CFF-8476-24E1-9430-1
89 Berserk: The Golden Age Arc 3 – Descent (2013) 10.5240/7AFC-5580-3B16-73FB-BA60-U
90 Lilovyy shar (1987) 10.5240/7D71-4BA8-F921-9C7E-9AFB-C
91 Gor II (1988) 10.5240/1132-E600-56FB-CD4B-8B8C-7
92 Ator, the Iron Warrior (1987) 10.5240/0E9F-7A98-680A-6E46-DB7A-S
93 Quest for the Mighty Sword (1990) 10.5240/C8C1-9EAB-99F4-50DF-E0A9-T
94 Dragonheart: A New Beginning (2000) 10.5240/3226-7AEB-B55B-03E9-2294-A
95 The Dungeonmaster (1984) 10.5240/8AC8-6A31-5060-D4AC-51C8-2
96 Ator, the Fighting Eagle (1982) 10.5240/CD7B-3F16-6465-EBFF-49CD-9
97 Merlin: The Return (2000) 10.5240/4C60-3A27-0335-0F04-5190-S
98 O princezně Jasněnce a létajícím ševci (1987) 10.5240/D2AE-805D-5CF6-8FD7-5F19-6
99 Arthur’s Quest (1999) 10.5240/5854-8F6F-7710-6C61-40C1-0
100 Dragon Half (1993) 10.5240/14D5-7221-68DE-DF35-D763-A


[1]Not to be confused with “sword and sandals,” AKA the gladiator movie or the low-budget biblical epic, largely of Italian origin from the late-1950s through the mid-1960s.
[2]Which is why high fantasy is also known as “epic fantasy.” For its part, “low fantasy” takes place in the real world (or something very like it) with the addition of soupçon of magic.