Dragonslayer (1981)

dragonslayer 1981 movie poster disney
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 9/10

Great dragon

Some dated FX

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Dragonslayer

Studio:  Paramount Pictures/Walt Disney Productions

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

Release Date(s):  June 26, 1981

MPAA Rating:  PG

dragonslayer vermithrax firebreathing dragon

It’s getting a little hot in Urland

A dragon is menacing the kingdom of Urland.  Seeking aid from Ulrich of Craggenmoor (Ralph Richardson), Ulrich’s apprentice Galen Bradwarden (Peter MacNicol) finds himself out on an adventure to prove himself as a great wizard.  Vermithrax has been kept appeased through lotteries where the less affluent members of the kingdom are forced to give up their virgin daughters to the dragon.  Galen and a young woman named Valerian (Caitlin Clarke) must find a way to stop the lottery while Princess Elspeth (Chloe Salaman) sets to rectify her father’s mistakes…the dragon will awaken and a dragonslayer must rise!

dragonslayer elspeth killed dragon welps chloe salaman

The dragon welps scared the crap out of me as a kid

Directed by Matthew Robbins (who wrote the script with Hal Barwood), Dragonslayer is a fantasy adventure.  The film was a joint venture between Walt Disney and Paramount Pictures and utilized ILM to do the special effects.  The film was met with mixed viewers from critics but gained a cult following after performing poorly at the box office.  The movie received Academy Award nominations for Best Visual Effects and Best Original Score.

I loved Dragonslayer when I was young.  We rented a CED player (before we got a VCR) for my birthday and Dragonslayer was one of the films we got…and I watched it a number of times.  With a high fantasy concept and great looking special effects, Dragonslayer was a kid’s dream.  Due to aspects of the story, a *****spoiler alert***** is in effect for the rest of the review.

dragonslayer model dragon

You killed my kids…now I’ll kill you

The story feels like it borrows from a lot of sources.  The film borrowed a lot of aspects of Tolkien and Robbins freely admits that…but Tolkien wasn’t as well-known as it is today.  The story also faced some criticism for seeming to borrow some of the framework of Star Wars with Galen learning from the old wizard Ulrich.  The studios also wanted to capitalize on the Dungeons & Dragons craze which was just starting.  These pieces are laid on top of a story about a world where magic is ending…and the fight with the dragon is the final battle.

The acting for the film is fair.  It was Peter MacNicols first role and he does give off a very “Luke Skywalker” feel in the role (the studio didn’t want an all British cast).  Peter Eyre gives a nice performance as the evil king and it always ticked me off as a kid that he is proclaimed “the dragonslayer” when he had nothing to do with the slaying (but a realistic aspect of the story).  Ralph Richardson has little screen time as Ulrich but he makes the most of what he has, especially since he’s dealing with a lot of special effects.  Both Caitlin Clarke and Chloe Salaman do a nice job as the female leads and it always surprised me that Salaman meets her fate with the dragon…and it isn’t pretty.

dragonslayer ending king peter eyre

One again a leader taking credit for his people’s accomplishments

What sells Dragonslayer has some great special effects.  The design on Vermithrax is awesome and I’d still argue that it is one of the best designed dragons on film.  With a nice combination of scale models and blue-screens, the effects don’t always hold up but high definition transfers show that it is still better than a lot of movies from the period.  Some of the ending effects are quite cheesy, but in general, the effects are very good.  I was always a bit freaked out by the dragon whelps which provided at least one good jump for a kid.

Dragonslayer probably won’t win over younger audiences but ’80s fans it holds a very soft spot.  The movie is goofy and not very well balanced, but I can forgive it since it is still fun and brings back good memories…and it holds up better than some might expect.  It might not match up to the dragons of Reign of Fire or Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire now, but it still is a strong contender.  By upending some of the story expectations (aka saving the princess, becoming a great wizard, etc.), the movie still can surprise.  Battle the dragon again!

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.

Leave A Response