Conan the Barbarian (1982)

conan the barbarian poster 1982 movie arnold schwarzenegger
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 7/10

Introduced the Arnold to the masses, nice representation of Howard's work

So-so effects look dated

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Conan the Barbarian

Studio:  Dino De Laurentiis

Genre(s):  Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Action/Adventure

Release Date(s):  March 16, 1982 (Spain)/May 14, 1982 (US)

MPAA Rating:  R

conan the barbarian arnold schwarzenegger

Taste the bite of my blade!

Orphaned in a raid by Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones), Conan of Cimmeria (Arnold Schwarzenegger) grows up working a mill as a slave while building strength but never forgetting his anger.  Escaping the life of a gladiator, Conan finds himself teamed with a Hyrkanian thief named Subotai (Gerry Lopez) and a warrior woman named Valeria (Sandahl Bergman).  Taking on the Tower of Serpents in the city of Zamora, Conan and his allies are recruited by King Osric (Max von Sydow) to free his daughter (Valérie Quennessen) from the clutches of Thulsa Doom.  With revenge in his heart, Conan accepts the offer and sets out to free the princess and avenge his people.

Directed by John Milius, Conan the Barbarian is a sword-and-sorcery action film.  The film adapts the stories of Robert E. Howard who first introduced Conan in Weird Tales (December 1932) in “The Phoenix on the Sword”, and the character later was adapted by Marvel Comics in 1970.  Oliver Stone helped write the script for the film, and the movie was released to mixed to positive reviews while gaining a cult following.

conan the barbarian thulsa doom james earl jones hair

Do you not love my glorious locks?

Conan the Barbarian was one of those films you rented a lot, or you could always catch it on TV.  Both it and its 1984 sequel Conan the Destroyer were in heavy rotation on Saturday and Sundays so in some ways the stories blend together for me.  Watching them back-to-back, you can see the quality level of Conan the Barbarian and the step down that Conan the Destroyer was.

The story is classic Conan.  Not only does it provide the character origins, but it has him battling one of his biggest foes in Thulsa Doom.  While the Valeria character (introduced in “Red Nails”) was important, it might have been nice to see Bêlit (introduced in “Queen of the Black Coast”) who more resembles the Valeria character and was more of an equal for Conan.  Still, the characters and the story feels true to Howard’s character though Conan wasn’t always portrayed as the brute strength hero.

conan the barbarian thulsa doom snake

You’re being awful judgy about snakes, Conan…

Arnold Schwarzenegger shot to stardom following the Conan movies.  With only a few films under his belt (and most of them dubbed), Conan allowed him to showcase his muscles and his ability as an action star.  James Earl Jones adds a touch of class to the movie (though it still cracks me up to see him in his wig) along with Max von Sydow.  Sandahl Bergman is good as the romantic foil for Conan and Mako is solid as Akiro the wizard.  Gerry Lopez rounds out the group as Subotai, and the movie is surprisingly diverse for the time.

Conan the Barbarian is rather violent which is often forgotten due to repeated edited airings on TV.  The R-Rated adventure adds some needed seriousness to the movie and despite not having a massive budget, the movie looks big and booming.  In addition to the strong visuals, a good score provided by Basil Poledouris adds a very strange feel to the raid of the Temple of Set which always feels pretty inspired mixed with the violence.

conan the barbarian body paint arnold schwarznegger

I kind of thought my camouflage would work better…my bad

Conan the Barbarian sparked a lot of Conan copycats.  While Conan the Barbarian (for the most part) did it right, a lot of the other sword-and-sorcery movies that followed (including Conan the Destroyer) felt like half-baked rip-offs.  Conan the Barbarian feels like it should be easy to bring to the screen, but obviously with multiple attempts, it isn’t as simple as you’d think.  Conan the Barbarian was followed by Conan the Destroyer in 1984, but plans for a proposed third film Conan the Conqueror fell through (the script became the basis for Kevin Sorbo’s Kull the Conqueror which was another Howard creation).  A relaunch of Conan the Barbarian was released in 2011 starring Jason Momoa as Conan.

Related Links:

Conan the Destroyer (1984)

Red Sonja (1985)

Conan the Barbarian (2011)

Kull the Conqueror (1997)


Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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