Sword fights are awesome.
They’re a top draw when it comes to fantasy, as the sword symbolizes ye olde times.To many they symbolize honor, chivalry, and good old fashioned adventure.
While fiction and film have certainly romanticized what is essentially a glorified death knife, there remains a special place in the minds of many for the respect held toward those who’ve mastered (or at least look like they have mastered) a trusty blade. Even though they DO NOT make a *SHING* sound when drawn from the scabbard.
The following is a short list of the top sword-fight scenes in fantasy films. However, a few rules are to be followed for this specific list:
- *must use swords – that means Martial Arts are for another list
- *must have a fantasy element to the story
- *non-animated scenes/characters (sorry Anime). That also rules out a couple of my other favorites from videogames — so that, too, will have to make another list someday
Also, to add some depth in measuring the value of these fights, I’m implementing a scale for various aspects of each fight. They go as follows:
Badassery/Tension: 1 to 5
Efficiency/Choreography of Fight: 1 to 5
Fun Factor: 1 to 5
Style: 1 to 5
They shouldn’t need much explanation. The Badassery/Tension scale is meant to measure how much fear we feel for the characters, how serious the situation is, how high the stakes are. Efficiency/Choreography means how believable the fight is — too often are sword fights flashy and silly. The Fun Factor is for the overall enjoyment of the action — the environment in which the combatants are fighting, why they’re fighting, and (rarely) the banter.
- The Princess Bride
This is a classic, light-fantasy movie adored by generations. Since 1987 sick little boys have had their grandfathers come into their room and show them this movie about unforgettable characters, chocolate-coated miracles, and true love. No really, if this movie is on your “I’ll get to it list,” you have homework.
The first fight scene, between Inigo Montoya and The Man in Black, is one as much of banter as of blades, and for tha reason the Fun Factor and Style ratings are high up there. The movie itself is a bit dated, with a score that sounds like it was performed on a synth keyboard (something not unusual for movies of the age, I mean, come on, man, it was the 80s) and an environment that is obviously the confines of a stage — all ends up detracting a bit from the Tension/Badassery as well as Choreography scores, but not unsatisfactorily so. The fight is still great – just not for actual fighting itself.
Badassery/Tension: 2 | Efficiency/Choreography of Fight: 2 | Fun Factor: 5 | Style: 4
So Troy gets a bad rap for its extensive list of historical inaccuracies, plenty of which can be looked up in a heartbeat. The artistic liberties taken with putting together this movie, in addition to it largely being based on a myth, makes for adequate Fantasy criteria if you ask me. I still count it among my most enjoyed Ancient War movies on account of the excellent soundtrack and good action, but fewer moments are as memorable to me as the opening fight between Nimbled-Footed Achilles and Boagrius the Lacking a Title.
The fight is actually a bit unsatisfying in it’s own Ong Bak or Raiders of the Lost Ark sort of way, but that adds heavily to the scores since it’s something of a bold move in cinema to show a fight like this. There was something of a buildup regarding the prowess of each character, though not much — it’s all in the music, and of course anyone who’s heard of Achilles before and that whole near-invulnerability thing. This fight gets a high score in three of the elements and a low in one for the same reason: it’s over too fast. The situation is tense thanks to the music, the (ahem) strike is wicked, the style is unique, but it’s over in a fraction of the time of the build-up.
Badassery/Tension: 4 | Efficiency/Choreography of Fight: 5 | Fun Factor: 1 | Style: 4
- The 13th Warrior
Back in the olden days, when it was acceptable to cast a man of Spanish descent as an Arab, The 13th Warrior took us on a largely unbelievable journey from the sands of the Mediterranean to twelve days north of Hopeless and a few degrees south of Freezing to Death. If you’re into Vikings squinting their eyes at monotheists and fighting off bearskin-wearing Neanderthals, then this movie is for you.
There are a number of good fights to be had in this flick, but my most memorable is fight between the character Hergerd the Joyous and Angus the Red-Haired Giant. This fight ranks in the top-five because there is serious tension in the air — by the time this fight rolls around, we’ve long-since come to utterly adore Hergerd, and as it turns out the fight is all part of scheme. What it lacks in style it makes up in efficiency, and the actual purpose of the fight makes the result all the sweeter.
Badassery/Tension: 5 | Efficiency/Choreography of Fight: 4 | Fun Factor: 3 | Style: 2
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail
And you thought that first Monty Python reference was just for fun. No way, the fight between King Arthur and the Black Knight goes into the mix because it’s downright unforgettable. Like much of the movie, it’s ridiculous, and that is the point.
The tension is pretty much non-existent – the contrast of dramatic music and King Arthur’s calm, self-assured expression results in us having pretty much no fear for the character, and the choreography is expectedly silly as well. However, I never would have thought that seeing someone dismembered would be so funny, and as a child when first viewing this I was rolling on the floor. The fact that movie producers who attempt to do something similar to this will immediately be accused for paying homage or outright plagiarism, which maxes out the style score.
Badassery/Tension: 1 | Efficiency/Choreography of Fight: 2 | Fun Factor: 5 | Style: 5
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
I can still remember seeing this in theaters. I was nearly free of High School and had heard very little this Johnny Depp guy, though at the time I was rather familiar with the work of Hans Zimmer (the film’s music composer, considered among the best in the industry). There is a subtle use of melody and rhythm during the, to me, most remarkable fight in the movie and one of the most coolest fights in cinema.
There’s a lot of stuff happening here. As an audience, we’re not quite sure whether Jack is someone to root for, while at the same time William is painted as the Goody Goody hero, but the class of character between the two makes for an interesting dynamic. What we have is more or less a conflict between agents of Order and Chaos. There’s something animalistic about Jack Sparrow when juxtaposed to Will Turner, even something vaguely sexual in the manner he wields his sword – which no doubt helped get the fan-girls all riled up.
Between the music, the choreography – timed well to the music – the time spent to have us already invested in the characters, the end result is a fight that, while not exactly remarkable, ends up being really really enjoyable to watch.
Badassery/Tension: 5 | Efficiency/Choreography of Fight: 5 | Fun Factor: 4 | Style: 3
*** Honorable Mentions ***
- Star Wars Episode 4 and Episode 1
As much as the Star Wars “Prequels” has something of an infamous reputation, there’s something about the concept of the Duel of the Fates showdown that’s a lot deeper than I perceived it on my first viewing. The outcome of the fight between Qui Gon Jin and Darth Maul – essentially a battle over what would essentially happen to the young and impressionable Anakin Skywalker, could have quite possibly altered the the timelines of Star Wars saga. Personally, I like to think that Darth Maul might have gained stewardship of Anakin, and perhaps a Reverse Darth Vader might have been produced as a result.
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe 2004
I actually am not actually particularly fond of this movie. I am, however, hugely admiring of the source material, and I grew up on a 1979 animation of the same name. That doesn’t detract from my appreciation of the swordplay in the most modern adaptation. Jadis is an interesting character, though she’s a bit one-dimensional (she’s a children’s book villain, what do you expect), and part of this is shown in the duel between Jadis and Peter during the ending battle scene. She’s got style, she’s got finesse, she’s got skill — too bad she hasn’t Fuzzy Jesus on her side.
Got your favorite sword-fight scenes not listed here? Let me know in the comments, I’m always open to exploring new stuff.
In the future: Top 5 Martial Arts Fights, Top Five Sword Fights (animated) and others!