From the Errol Flynn classics like Captain Blood to recent releases like Deadpool, swordplay has long been a highlight of action movies both PG and R. Swords work as an extension of the arm, adding an element to choreography that simple fist-on-fist is incapable of achieving. And especially skilled-swordsmen can make a half-rate movie great, or elevate an already exciting script. Some, with a flick of their wrist or simple lunge forward can incapacitate their foes. Whether in a duel to the death or fighting an army of skilled warriors, the following swordsmen have proved they are the best again and again. Their ability with a blade is unparalleled, be it long-sword, cutlass, or rapier.
Though we at Screen Rant certainly do not suggest going out and purchasing an expensive and dangerous katana, it’s hard to resist wanting to spin it around and pretend you are one of these blade-wielders. Here are the 15 Best Swordsmen In Movie History.
15 Westley from The Princess Bride
One of the most quotable cult-classics ever, The Princess Bride is a comic love story for the ages. Rob Reiner’s adaptation of the beloved book was adapted by the author William Goldman himself. Goldman is also known for writing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Marathon Man, and All the President’s Men, so you can rest assured the screenplay is impeccable.
Goldman’s story follows a farm-boy Westley’s quest to save his true love Princess Buttercup from the evil Prince Humperdinck. Thought to have been killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts, Westley (Carly Elwes) later returns as a mysterious Man in Black. He defeats the master fencer Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) in a duel, proving that he is the superior swordsman. So though it was tough to choose between Montoya and Westley, honors must go to the victor.
14 14. Achilles from Troy
Before show-running Game of Thrones, a show that confusingly features at least five of “the best swordsmen/women in Westeros,” David Benioff wrote a movie called Troy. Loosely based on Homer’s The Iliad, the film follows Achilles (Brad Pitt), a literal demi-god, in his quest to defeat Hector and Agamemnon.
Along the way, Achilles proves he is skilled with a sword, and due to his ancestry, practically invulnerable. He defeats Hector (Eric Bana) in a painful and exhausting battle. Though he falls in the movie, and in the myth, because of his heel, Achilles remains one of the greatest swordsmen in film. He is told by his mother that he will die, yet he heads to battle anyways. That’s pretty badass.
13 Maximus from Gladiator
The Roman general Maximus Decimus Meridius is played by Russell Crowe in Ridley Scott’s 2000 historical epic, and both actor and film won Oscars that year.
As a general, Maximus is a brilliant military strategist and warrior, leading his army to many victories. However, after being betrayed by Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), Maximus finds his family murdered and himself sold into slavery. He is trained by his master Proximo to become the greatest gladiator in Rome. With his knowledge of battle and indifference to death due to trauma, Maximus proves an impossible man to beat.
Maximus uses his popularity with the crowds in the Coliseum to further his plot for revenge against Commodus, now emperor. He continues to win in the ring until Commodus himself challenges Maximus. Stabbing him in the side before the fight, Commodus hopes to win and win back the favor of his people. But even with a deadly wound, Maximus defeats Commodus and frees the slaves of Rome in his final act.
12 Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean
While it is debatable that Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is even the best swordsman of the Pirates of the Caribbean series, he is certainly the most fun to watch. Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), and many others are also talented swordsmen, but none of them have the same flair that Depp brings to the role.
Depp’s swagger seeps through his character’s bedazzled wardrobe, his drunken gait as iconic as his dreaded locks. Sparrow defeats many a pirate and soldier with his cutlass, each victory surprising even him. He takes the cake for being a blast to watch, and for being one of the only actors to stick around for Black Pearl’s four sequels.
11 William Wallace from Braveheart
Mel Gibson’s historical drama Braveheart tells the story of Scottish war-hero William Wallace (Gibson). Wallace leads the Scots in the First War of Scottish Independence against King Edward I of England. Despite the historical inaccuracies riddled throughout, the movie received acclaim, winning Best Director and Picture at the 68th Academy Awards.
Aside from being a superb public speaker, Wallace is also a great swordsman and leader. He decapitates and murders dozens of Englishmen himself as he leads his army to victory again and again. Though he is eventually defeated and betrayed by his comrades, Wallace refuses to submit to the English King. Instead of begging for mercy before being beheaded, he shouts “Freedom!”
10 Darth Maul from Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Perhaps the most controversial choice on this list, Darth Maul is neither a true swordsman, nor a character from a well-received film. The Phantom Menace is arguably the worst of the Star Wars franchise, but it does feature some of the best fight choreography. Darth Maul Ray Park) also gets some of the most badass moments in the prequel trilogy.
Wielding a double-bladed lightsaber (no, technically not a sword, but close enough), Darth Maul flips around two Jedi Knights, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon, with ease. In a movie devoid of interesting plot or characters, Maul stands out as one of few saving graces. Though the Star Wars films feature many great Jedi, Maul truly has the strongest mastery of the lightsaber-related arts.
Though he is defeated in the film, canonically (as of the recent Star Wars Rebels season 2 finale) he actually survived being sliced in half and falling down a pit on Naboo. He’s back, a better swordsman than ever, with some fancy robot legs.
9 Conan the Barbarian
Though less funny than the orange-haired talk show host, Conan the Barbarian is certainly the more talented fighter. Created by Robert E. Howard, Conan has appeared in hundreds of comics and pulp novels, and dozens of films, games, and television shows.
Conan is a Cimmerian, a warrior skilled with blade and mind. He journeys around the world, defeating pirates, thieves, and monsters alike. Described by Howard and drawn in comics as a gigantic beast of a man, the role of Conan was always going to be difficult to cast. Luckily, famous producer Dino De Laurentiis found his star; the 1982 Conan the Barbarian cemented Arnold Schwarzenegger as a hot commodity in Hollywood.
Arnold perfectly embodied the physicality of Conan, and he truly looked awesome dealing blow after blow to soldiers with his humungous great sword. Plus he beheads Thusla Doom (James Earl Jones) and then tosses his head down about 100 stairs.
8 Lady Snowblood from Lady Snowblood
Aside from being a huge inspiration for Tarantino when creating Beatrix Kiddo, Lady Snowblood is a master swordswoman in her own right. The character of Yuki comes from the manga and subsequent 1973 Japanese action film of the same name. Portrayed by the luminous Meiko Kaji, Yuki is a girl born in a prison out of pure hatred, her mother’s final act on earth. She is more asura demon than woman and her only mission is to get revenge on those that ruined her mother’s life.
As a child, Yuki trains with the priest Dokai, by being pushed down hills in a basket and doing backflips from terraces. As an adult, she avenges her mother by tracking down and killing the three remaining people responsible for her mother’s rape and the death of her brother and father. She uses a sword held in a hilt disguised as an umbrella to slice and dice her way through dozens of soldiers. Snowblood, as she becomes known, travels far and wide, and eventually cuts a woman in half.
Only imagination can answer the question if Yuki would beat Kiddo, but regardless of the survivor, it would certainly be close.
7 Aragorn from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Aragorn II, son of Arathorn, Ranger of the North, heir of Isildur, and rightful King of Gondor and Arnor. He also helped a couple Hobbits on a quest involving a magical piece of jewelry.
Aragorn was portrayed in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy by Viggo Mortensen, though that wasn’t always the case. Stuart Townsend was cast first in the role, but Mortensen replaced him because Jackson felt he was too young. It ended up being an excellent choice; Mortensen won acclaim for the role, ranking 31st in Empire’s list of the "Greatest Movie Characters of All Time."
In J.R.R. Tolkein’s books, Aragorn carries with him a sword forged by his ancestors and incredibly powerful. Jackson decided to wait to give Aragorn this sword until the final film, Return of the King. The pay-off of seeing Mortensen swing Anduril around during the Battle of Morannon is worth the wait.
6 Katsumoto from The Last Samurai
A tale about the dying tradition of the samurai in the late days of feudal Japan, The Last Samurai features many terrific fight scenes. Though Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) is one of the few swordsmen to survive the numerous onslaughts of Japanese soldiers with guns, it is his master that remains the strongest warrior.
Lord Moritsugu Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe) trains Algren and a band of others to maintain the glorious traditions of the samurai. He is loyal to a fault and adheres to the code of the samurai. He is also such as a skilled warrior that only he can defeat himself. He falls by his own hand with the assistance of Algren, committing seppuku as he watches the last of the samurai die.
5 Shu Lien from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
One of the greatest martial arts films of all time, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon features several spectacular fighters. Honors here must go to Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) for being able to defeat Jen, another skilled fighter, wielding the Green Destiny, a sword of immense power. Her weapons are continuously destroyed by the superior sword, so she has to improvise.
The fighting in this sequence is expertly choreographed, and shows the true skill that Shu Lein holds. There’s also a hilarious moment of comedy when Shu Lein chooses a weapon far too heavy to use. Despite the odds being against her, she defeats a worthy opponent in one of the best swordfights ever put to screen.
She also displayed some fighting prowess years later in the less-than-stellar sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, pictured above.
Destroying all box-office expectations, Deadpool was an rated-R superhero movie with insane action and heart to boot. Ryan Reynolds perfectly embodied the Merc with a Mouth, bringing to life a previously fringe hero.
Deadpool’s duel katanas are his signature weapon and, unlike many superheroes with a moral compass, he has no problem using them to murder. His acrobatic moves, accompanied by witty one-liners, make him a joy to see on the big screen.
Deadpool has superpowers, so it is sort of unfair to compare him to many of the mortals on this list. He also uses guns almost as frequently as his katanas. But Wade Wilson’s constant breaking of the fourth wall as he eviscerates dozens of bad guys earns him a spot with the rest of these swordsmen.
Zorro has been played most recently by Antonio Banderas, originally by Douglas Fairbanks, and one time by legendary actor Anthony Hopkins. The character of Don Diego de la Vega was created by pulp writer Johnston McCulley as a sort of Spanish Robin Hood. Part of Diego’s shtick is pretending to be an inept swordsman, while actually having the upmost amount of skill. Diego masquerades around early 1800s California, fool by day, playing hero as his secret identity of Zorro when the time calls.
Along with his signature black mask, cape, and sombrero cordobes, Zorro always carries a rapier. It functions as both a fashion statement and a fast and deadly weapon. Zorro uses it to embarrass and defeat his foes and impress the ladies. He always makes sure to leave behind a “Z” in the enemy’s clothing or skin, his distinctive calling-card.
2 Beatrix Kiddo from Kill Bill
The Bride (Uma Thurman), as she is better known, is a woman set on revenge. After a massacre at her wedding orchestrated by her former lover, she tracks down each and every person responsible. Luckily, she trained for years with Pai Mei, a master of kung-fu with some terrific facial hair. She is able to pluck the eye right out of a person’s eye socket and do flying kicks through the air.
Her weapon of choice: a Hattori Hanzo katana, the greatest samurai sword ever forged. It was made specifically for Beatrix by Hanzo even though years earlier he swore never to make another sword again. Convinced by her that her quest is a righteous one, he comes out of retirement to do his best work yet.
Beatrix is certainly worthy to wield the Hanzo. She uses it to defeat O-Ren-Ishii (Lucy Liu) and her legion of fighters, the Crazy 88 in one of the most action-packed third acts ever. Even out of context, it is a fight worth watching.
1 The Samurai from Yojimbo and Sanjuro
The nameless wandering ronin of Akira Kurosawa’s epics Yojimbo and Sanjuro is one of the most bad-ass characters ever. Imagine Indiana Jones with a samurai sword or James Bond minus the ladies and misogyny. Played with skill by Toshiro Mifune, who also starred in Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, he never gives away his true name, referring to himself as “mulberry bush” and “camellia” in the film and its sequel respectively.
The samurai wanders into the countryside and helps out the people of the village, defeating gang members and bringing prosperity back to the people. He defeats his enemies with such a lackadaisical attitude it is impossible not to smile and cheer. Mifune walks around with the perfect stance of a samurai; each time his blade is revealed, the audience witnesses a phenomenally choreographed show. Though Kurosawa’s two films refrain from blood for the most part, those that watch Sanjuro are treated with a gory finale at the hands of the greatest swordsman in film.
Are there any other swordsmen that should have a spot on this list? Let us know in the comments!
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