Kick-started by the success of Conan the Barbarian in 1982, the '80s were a boom time for sword-and-sorcery films. High-profile flicks included Conan and its lesser sequel, Conan the Destroyer, as well as its semi-spinoff Red Sonja, starring Brigitte Nielson as the ravishing redhead; Beastmaster, whose modest success led to two sequels and a TV series; Legend, memorable not so much for Tom Cruise but for Tim Curry's creepy demon Darkness; and of course, Highlander and its sequels.
But for every
moderately successful sword-and-sorcery film, there's at least three or four
you've probably never heard of -- filmed with no budget, trash can lids instead of swords, and some of them have shockingly real stars such
as Jack Palance, Sean Connery, and Patrick Swayze. Despite their lack of fame, some of these movies and their fantasy hero stars reached pinnacles of awesomeness that Schwarzenegger's Conan can only dream off, whether it involves hanging with cyclops, causing every damsel and warrioress in sight to pop their top, or wielding a sword that shoots two other swords. Grab your favorite leather loincloth and come along on a magic journey of the 10 biggest badasses from '80s fantasy movies you never heard of (or at least can't remember the names of).
10) Sir Gawain from Sword of the Valiant
Cannon Films is best remembered for a slew of action films in the late seventies and early eighties, including most of the films that living Internet meme Chuck Norris became famous for. Their modest success may explain why they were able to lure real stars to Sword of the Valiant, a 1984 fantasy film based on the Arthurian poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
Gawain is played by Miles O'Keefe, a weightlifter who is better remembered for the Ator films (seen below). Sporting a very He-Man-ish blond bob, O'Keefe's Gawain manages to hold his own against the Green Knight, played by Sean Connery during that long dark period between Diamonds are Forever and Highlander. The film also features John Rhys-Davies and Peter "Grand Moff Tarkin" Cushing in one of his final roles.
9) Prince Talon from The Sword and the Sorcerer
While you may never have heard of Sword and the Sorcerer, it was the most successful independent film of 1982, grossing $40 million at the box office. The film starred Lee Horsley as Prince Talon, a hunkular hero who battles an evil sorcerer (played by Richard Moll, a.k.a. Bull from Night Court) to save a kingdom--you know, the usual.
None of that matters, though. What's important is Prince Talon carries a triple-bladed sword that can shoot its fucking blades at you. Launched by what appears to be a pretty advanced compressed air system in this pseudo-medieval era, the aluminum blades send Talon's foes flying. Forget Darth Maul's double-bladed lightsaber; this thing one-ups it and then some. It's a broadsword, it's a ranged weapon, it's two, two, two weapons in one!
8) Nomad from Steel Dawn
Just a few months after he hit it big with Dirty Dancing, Patrick Swayze starred in Steel Dawn, an '87 science fiction/fantasy film set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where humanity fights for survival and blah blah blah whatever. Swayze plays the Nomad, a swordsman with no name who wanders from village to village searching for his mentor's killer. He eventually comes upon a village being terrorized by a local warlord whose retinue includes said mentor's killer, so Nomad settles in for a good ass-kicking. It's no Road House, of course, but Steel Dawn reminds us of a time when the words "Swayze" and "action film" made more sense together than "Swayze" and "drag queen."
7) Ator, the Fighting Eagle
Miles O'Keefe IS Ator, the Fighting Eagle -- yet another muscled-up barbarian with a furry loincloth and a giant broadsword. An '82 Italian rip-off of Conan the Barbarian, in Ator and its sequel (known in the U.S. as The Cave Dwellers, and later the target of a popular Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode), we're led to believe that Ator is a master swordsman as well as a chemist, scientist, engineer, and of course, gentle lover.
While he's clearly a handy swordsman -- judging from the pile of corpses he leaves behind -- I guess the engineer part must be true too. In The Cave Dwellers, Ator lays siege to a castle by flying over it in what's very clearly a 1980s-era hang glider, which he apparently made in about half an hour. As MST3K's Tom Servo puts it, "OK, so he kills a deer, he tans the hides, he stretches the skins, he makes an anodized aluminum frame, he learns how to extrude and weld -- all in about five minutes?" Yes, he does, Tom. And that's why he's Ator, the Fighting Eagle.
6) Cabot from Gor
Loosely based on the highly controversial novels of John Norman (who espoused a concept of universal female sexual submission to men), Gor tells the story of Tarl Cabot (Urbano Barberini), a professor who finds a magic ring that transports him to the planet Gor, where he befriends a platinum-haired midget and does a lot of swordfighting.
Gor was filmed concurrently in 1988 with its sequel, Outlaw of Gor, which, like Cave Dwellers, is better known because it was featured on an episode of MST3K. While Jack Palance only has a bit part in Gor, he's the main villain in Outlaw, wearing a ridiculous outfit and looking vaguely aware that he's supposed to be some sort of wizard or something.