Top Fantasy Movies From the 80s

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on May 13, 2011

Unless you have been living under a rock you know that Conan is back! That’s right later this summer everyone’s favourite barbarian will once again be on the silver screen, in 3D no less. The news and trailers of this release got me thinking back to the original release of Conan back in the 80’s. From there it wasn’t hard to begin thinking about all the other great and not so great fantasy movies from that era.

The movies on the list aren’t ranked and there is no rating. They are all worth seeing for one reason or another. Some have begun cult favourites in their own right and continue to endure as popular movies to this day. In each case I’ve provided my memories or brief thoughts about each film. I’ve also included a plot hook inspired by each movie. In some cases these plot hooks aren’t spectacular, but the movies listed below do represent the most basic of fantasy films.

Conan the Barbarian

If anyone had told you when this movie released that the star would one day be the Governor of California, you would have laughed. At the time of its release Conan was a great fantasy film that captured the imaginations of many.

Plot Hook

An evil warlord who wronged a party member long ago has resurfaced and is once again causing destruction. It is up to the party to end the reign of terror!

Clash of the Titans

There is a scene in this movie where the heroes are fighting a group of skeletons at the top of a cliff. The scene has stayed with me over the years as a great battle sequence full of drama. If you are looking for a film the plays up on Greek mythology Clash of the Titans has it all.

Plot Hook

Love and fate intertwine; the only way to save a romantic interest of a player is to slay a great evil.

The Dark Crystal

Jim Henson’s puppets are the primary draw in this whimsical tale. Regretably the plot doesn’t hold up. However, if you can suspend disbelief (it is a fantasy movie and you do play D&D) there is certainly enough there to entertain. At the very least, it’s a break from CGI and a return to a different type of movie making.

Plot Hook

An eldritch device was damaged and broken long ago during the war of the ancients. Over time it has leaked dark magic that has deformed the world. Recently a youngster discovered the broken piece and now seeks the party’s aid to restore the item and return balance to the world.


Excalibur is the best movie ever filmed about the Arthurian legends. It explores the story fully and features high production values for its time. First Knight might have had Sean Connery, but it has nothing on Excalibur. This film is well worth watching.

Plot Hook

The king requests that the party kill his bastard son, a ruthless warlord bent on conquering the kingdom. What will the party do with this new found information?


Once again the combination of live action and Jim Henson’s puppets in this film strike a chord. Unfortunately, the plot leaves something to be desired. However, if you are looking for a fantasy movie filmed in a different way, Labyrinth may just be what you are looking for. Of course David Bowie as the Goblin King is another reason to watch.

Plot Hook

Goblins have been stealing children from a local village. The party must venture into their lair and rescue the children.

The Neverending Story

As a kid the blend of the real world and a fantastic one grabbed my attention. The theme song was grating, but the movie remains a favourite. I have after all always wanted to fly on the back of a dragon! Sadly there were two sequels to this film. I can’t say that I would recommend either.

Plot Hook

The party is resting between adventures. One night in the tavern a village elder reads an ancient story from a scroll. Unknown to all, the scroll and text are magical in nature, the events of the story begin to unfold in real life and the party must deal with the consequences.

The Princess Bride

I’m not sure how much I really need to say about this movie. It’s a classic. Great action, great drama, great comedy and some of the best lines in any movie. If you haven’t seen it, go rent it now. If you have seen it, go and watch it again. I just did.

Plot Hook

The Princess has been kidnapped and the party must rescue her before two peaceful nations are plunged into a deadly war.

The party meets a mysterious pirate. The pirate informs the party that he is willing to swap places with them, allowing them to loot and plunder. Of course there is a bounty on the pirates head.

Red Sonja

I remember watching this movie for two reasons. That guy from Conan was in it and Brigitte Nielsen was hot. The rest of the movie is actually rather forgettable. There was almost a sequel or remake a few years ago, but nothing came of it.

Plot Hook

An artefact of great power has fallen into the hands of an evil warlord. Only the party can save the day.

~ I know it’s weak, but have you seen the movie?


It’s been a number of years since I last watched Willow. Some memorable quotes from Val Kilmer in the role of Madmartigan are a highlight. Epic battles, swords and sorcery what else could you want in a movie?

Plot Hook

A child of prophecy is born. Many are afraid of the threat the child represents to them and set about to kill the child before she reaches maturity. Only the party can intervene.

If you haven’t seen it yet, here is the new Conan trailer. Enjoy!


What is your favourite movie from this time period? Have I left a must see off the list?

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1 david May 13, 2011 at 12:37 pm

dude if you’re gonna put Red Sonja on you should include “The Sword and the Sorcerer” too! Its classic fantasy cheese with the scar’d faced villain of the 80’s one Mr. Richard Lynch as the evil usurper king and makes a deal with a spell casting heart sucking out of yer chest demon sorcerer, played by Night Court Richard Moll!, and a boy heir who’s fable sword with three blades that can shoot from the hilt and skewer foes from afar! Not to mention a crucifixion where the now grown up boy heir pulls the spikes from his being crucified out himself and then proceeds to whoop much ass. I’m pretty sure THIS was the movie that either started the Midwest devil/demon Christian vs dnd movement or whole heartily played on those fears to sell tickets!

Oh and you also forgot The Beastmaster with Marc Singer! For shame! 😉

-david – My Gaming Blog

2 callin May 13, 2011 at 1:21 pm

For me Ladyhawke truly stood out.

3 Fauxcrye May 13, 2011 at 1:26 pm

You should check out Dragonslayer. It and few others should be on this list.

4 Kilsek May 13, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Wow, the Conan trailer looks AWESOME! I mean, they really are nailing the fantasy ACTION to the T with it, holy cow… haha Extremely excited!

5 Wimwick May 13, 2011 at 1:37 pm

@ david
Ok, you got me on The Beastmaster. It is actually one of my favourite 80s fantasy flicks and I’m ticked I left it off the list. I will have to check out The Sword and the Sorceror.

@ callin
Ladyhawke was a great film, thanks for adding it to the list.

@ Fauxcrye
Thanks for the additional movie in Dragonslayer. I’m hoping the community will add more of the movies that I missed. It’s supposed to rain for the next 5 days where I am and I will need something to do.

@ Kilsek
Yeah, the trailer looks pretty good. I am very interested in this movie.

6 Paul May 13, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Let’s not forget Hawk The Slayer. Yeah, I said it. It was not an epic fantasy, but it was what most of adventures looked like LOL.

7 Rhetorical Gamer May 13, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Krull. You forgot Krull.

If you include animated features (but not “just for kids”) then you forgot the Last Unicorn and Flight of Dragons as well.

All three are amazing.

8 Greyhawk Grognard May 13, 2011 at 2:24 pm

I’d definitely include The Sword and the Sorceror, Beastmaster, and Hawk the Slayer in such a list. Maybe Legend and Dragonslayer as well. There was also a made-for-TV movie called “Archer: Fugitive from the Empire” that’s hardly ever on reruns, but quite fun. Highlander should probably be in there, too, although I’m not as great a fan of it as some of my friends.

Heck, I might have to make a list of my own now.

9 Bill May 13, 2011 at 2:38 pm

Reading this recap of ’80s fantasy movies really took me back to my childhood. I would watch “Willow”, “The Neverending Story”, and “The Princess Bride” ad nauseum! In fact, they’re still three of my favorite movies; I’m even taking a break from rewatching “Willow” to type this. I also loved “The Last Unicorn” though I haven’t yet gotten around to reading the Peter Beagle book on which the movie was based. Another fantasy movie I’d watch over and over again growing up (and still today) was the Rankin-Bass animated production of Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” although it wasn’t from the ’80s (1978, I believe). That movie, along with all the other fantasy movies I watched growing up, inspired me to further study medieval literature, so much so in fact that I am now pursuing my doctorate in English with a specialiation in the literature of the Middle Ages and Renaissance!

10 Tourq May 13, 2011 at 4:22 pm

Paul, you stole my thunder. I was so going to mention Hawk the Slayer!

As already said, this does bring back memories of a fantastic childhood. I think I’m going to go back there, with a big bucket of popcorn…

Thanks Dungeon’s Master.

11 Paul May 13, 2011 at 4:59 pm

Sorry Tourq, it is ingrained in my psyche 🙂 I mean, who did not want one of tbe repeating crossbows?

12 Erik May 14, 2011 at 12:14 am

I’m glad someone else already mentioned Krull. I don’t think any movie epitomizes 80’s fantasy like Krull.

Also, I think the skeleton fight was from Jason and the Argonauts (1963), not Clash of the Titans.

13 Seb Wiers May 14, 2011 at 2:05 am

Clash had a skeleton fight that was pretty much a direct homage to the one in Jason and the Argonauts.

I saw pretty much all of the 10 above in the original theatrical release (skipped on Willow). I was pretty young for some of them- I’m surprised my folks took me to see Excalibur.

14 froth May 14, 2011 at 10:04 am

damn rhetorical gamer beat me to krull

15 David Flor May 14, 2011 at 9:07 pm

“Conan the Destroyer” (1984) is probably more D&D-like than the original Conan. I mean, they have a whole party there: Conan, Grace Jones, Wilt Chamberlain, Mako as a wizard and even a rogue going up against all sorts of nasties.

16 Andrew May 16, 2011 at 12:36 am

And “Spy Kids 2” had a skeleton fight that was a direct ripoff from “Clash” and “Argonauts.” Seriously. If you ever had the misfortune to sit through that piece of trash Robert Rodriguez movie, there’s a skeleton fight that looks like they found the original claymation plates from one of those movies and just stuck it in. R.R. likes to cut corners, so maybe it was cheaper to pay royalties on that old footage than to have a CGI team come up with something that would have actually fit the story.

P.S. I’m not fond of Rodriguez. Or Tarantino for that matter. Ed Wood made better movies in my opinion.

17 Ragnarok May 17, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Crap behing on my reading.
First movie that came to mind is Beastmaster. Why can’t rangers be like that guy.

18 Victor Von Dave May 19, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Yes! Thank-you Greyhawk Grognard! That movie (Archer: Fugitive from the Empire) has been lodged in the back of my brain and the tip of my tongue for the past couple of decades.
I always thought that bow was completely kick-ass, and the image of the main character being chased by a pack of lizard men, with that high pitched horn, has stayed with me all these years… but I couldn’t for the life of me remember what it was called, and no one I described the movie to had any idea what I was talking about.

19 wonnacottyledon May 23, 2011 at 10:52 pm

@Bill Oh man, I love the old 1977 animated Hobbit. The songs that went with it were great, especially the goblin tunes. Funky guitar and bass licks over otherwise standard fantasy stings and flutes. So good. Another awesome old animated movie (also from 77) is Wizards. Twin magi brothers are born into a post-apocalyptic fantasy wasteland where elves and mutants (read: goblins, orcs, trolls) do battle. It even has a “robot” who functions more like a humunculus construct, reprogrammed via magic to switch sides. It’s a great source for hooks to a modern vs. ancient culture story.

I think some of these movies are great not because of the compelling story or the great acting, but because of the great aesthetics and mood they convey. The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, for example, both have weak stories, but the settings and characters are so interesting to look at – the Skeksis’ decadent finery decaying around them, the almost undersea-like forest where the Gelflings meet, the huge Observatory and its whirling planetary mobile; the Goblin City from Labyrinth is how I imagined many an Imperial shantytown we visited in adventures.

One movie that hasn’t been touched on much is Legend, whose aesthetics are in some parts just amazing. The sparkly white forest scene with the unicorn is exactly how I imagine the Feywild to look. Some of these movies are great as jumping-off points for campaign or encounter settings.

Sweet list.

20 Sqilly August 2, 2012 at 1:14 am

Legend not being mentioned makes me pretty sad

21 Dave June 19, 2013 at 3:26 am

Just a minor comment – that fight with the skeletons was in Jason and The Argonauts, not Clash of the Titans.

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