For better or for worse, the height of medieval fantasy existed in the '80s, when knights in armor were often accompanied by heavy guitar riffs. The exaggerated grandeur and pageantry of the decade lent itself well to the mythical proportions of the genre, even if the visual effects couldn't capture the necessary magic so well. That being said, films like Willow and Legend captured our childhood imagination, building on our palette for the time when Game of Thrones would be well received.
Thanks to films like the Lord of the Rings trilogy in the early '00s, there's been a bit of a resurgence in this particular style of film, where sword and sorcery combine to chronicle tales of brave warriors, mystical magicians, and daring damsels. With a Game of Thrones prequel series, a Lord of the Rings series, and The Witcher series all out in the next couple years, there's no better time to be alive for a fan of medieval fantasy. So here are the 10 best films in the genre according to IMDb.
10 THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (8.8)
The first of Peter Jackson's epic Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of the most beloved medieval fantasy films of all time. With its spectacular visuals, beautiful world-building, and dynamic performances, it redefined the fantasy genre for decades to come.
Four hobbits, an elf, two humans, a dwarf, and a wizard set off with the One Ring to Mount Doom. They must traverse the whole of Middle Earth to get there before the Dark Lord Sauron and his forces of evil overtake them. Full of humor, heart, and plenty of exciting action, the film remains a benchmark for all similar films afterwards.
9 HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (8.1)
A wholesome adventure about a young boy and his dragon launched an entire franchise of films surrounding Hiccup and his dragon, Toothless. As a young boy who comes from a tribe of warriors, he's expected to slay a dragon as a rite of passage into adulthood, but he winds up befriending one instead.
While the pair are at first unlikely allies, they soon form a bond around their mutual misfit nature. Hiccup discovers new things about Toothless and new things about himself as they train to protect their family and friends from harm. While it's fun for kids, it's also fun for the kid in all of us.
8 THE PRINCESS BRIDE (8.0)
One of the most exciting fantasy films of all time and an '80s classic, The Princess Bride is a near perfect blend of slapstick humor, wit, action, and romance. It features a beautiful couple, hilarious sidekicks, menacing villains, and cameos by the era's biggest stars.
The film follows a poor stable boy as he becomes the Dread Pirate Roberts and attempts to win the love of Princess Buttercup, the fairest in the land and promised to an evil king. He will have to match wits with thieves, battle rodents of unusual size, and prove his worth in swordplay in the name of true love. With so many memorable moments from the hilarious script, it's inconceivable to leave it off any list.
7 EXCALIBUR (7.4)
You've never seen the legend of King Arthur told the same as Excalibur, the '80s fantasy epic starring young British thespians like Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, and Helen Mirren. It's a violent look at the Dark Ages and the heroes, villains, and creatures that inhabited it.
Arthur pulls the fabled sword from the stone that sheaths it, marries Guinevere, and builds Camelot into a glorious kingdom of wealth and prosperity after many wars. Life is idyllic until Morgana, his evil half-sister and a sorceress, takes the form of Guinevere so that the baby created from their unholy union will one day sit upon the throne.
6 WILLOW (7.3)
From the mind of Star Wars creator George Lucas comes Willow, the story of a small individual who makes a huge difference. Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) leads a contented life in his village, a farmer by trade who aspires to be a great magician. When a human child is found in a basket by the river of his tribe, he's pressed to lead the party to return her to her people.
He is aided by several fairytale creatures and Mad Mardiggan (Val Kilmer), once one of the most capable swordsman in all the land, now a womanizer and a thief. The child is wanted by an evil sorceress who has foreseen her death from the child's pure magic. The quest ends in a climactic battle of good versus evil that will have you cheering.
5 LADYHAWKE (7.0)
There's nothing as painful as being forced apart from the one you love, a lesson a young thief learns when he joins forces with a mysterious knight on a black horse. Captain Navarre (Rutger Hauer) rides with a magnificent hawk, who by night transforms into a beautiful woman, Lady Isabeau.
Navarre also undergoes a transformation into a sleek wolf, leaving the only time they have to see each other as humans the twilight before they change. An evil bishop who desired Lady Isabeau for himself put a dark curse on them, but the thief decides he'll help them overthrow him and break the enchantment.
4 MALEFICENT (7.0)
In one of Disney's first recent forays into live-action, Maleficent did well enough at the box office in 2014 to inspire several other live-action adaptations like The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast. It took the classic tale of Sleeping Beauty and applied an appropriate twist, and featured Angelina Jolie in a career-defining role as Maleficent.
We get to see the fairytale from the point of view of the iconic Disney villain, the Dark Fae who wasn't invited to baby Aurora's christening. She gives her the gift of death upon a spinning needle, but once she spends time with an adult Aurora, she finds it difficult to want the curse enacted.
3 DRAGONSLAYER (6.7)
When a dragon terrorizes the lands of Urland, it's up to a wizard's apprentice to save the kingdom in the 6th century. The grand wizard Ulrich (Ralph Richardson) is sent to defeat the dragon with his spells - if he doesn't the kingdom will have to continue sacrificing virgins to it, including the princess.
When the famous wizard is killed, Galen his apprentice must take up the spellbook and break its reign of tyranny. If you're looking for all the classic elements of medieval fantasy, then you're in for a treat with Dragonslayer - it has dragons, knights, wizards, princesses in peril, and tons of cheesy '80s puppetry and stop-motion visual effects on display.
2 LEGEND (6.5)
Before he starred in Risky Business and Top Gun, a young Tom Cruise starred in Legend, the medieval fantasy epic about a protector of the forest who must protect a young princess. A strange dark force has swept the land, and an evil warlord is looking for the most mythical creatures to enhance his power.
He seeks unicorns, who have become scarcer and scarcer as they go into hiding. He kidnaps the princess in the hopes that the forest protector will deliver unicorns to him, but he's eventually outsmarted by the princess herself. Watch it for an amazing performance by Tim Curry as the Lord of Darkness, and a beautiful soundtrack by Tangerine Dream.
1 DRAGONHEART (6.5)
In the days of knights and dragons, a dragon gives half of his heart to save a dying prince. When the prince grows up, he becomes a tyrannical ruler with a dark nature. His mentor, Sir Bowen (Dennis Quaid), becomes disillusioned with his ward and leaves the castle. He soon comes across the last dragon, Draco (Sean Connery), who he enters into a uniuue partnership with.
They scam villages by Bowen pretending to rid them of their "dragon" by "killing" Draco, but their scheming is cut short when they realize the tyrannical prince is going to doom the kingdom. As Sir Bowen readies to mount an attack on his former pupil he must make a difficult choice, because to kill the man means to kill the dragon.