Conan the Barbarian (1982)
November 22, 2022 8:44 AM - Subscribe

[TRAILER] Orphaned boy Conan (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is enslaved after his village is destroyed by the forces of vicious necromancer Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones), and is compelled to push "The Wheel of Pain" for many years. Once he reaches adulthood, Conan sets off across the prehistoric landscape of the Hyborian Age in search of the man who killed his family and stole his father's sword. With beautiful warrior Valeria (Sandahl Bergman) and archer Subotai (Gerry Lopez), he faces a supernatural evil.

Also starring Max von Sydow.

Directed by John Milius. Screenplay by Milius and Oliver Stone, based on the pulp stories by Robert E. Howard. Score by Basil Poledouris.

65% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Currently streaming in the US on Tubi and Showtime. Also available for digital rental. JustWatch listing.

Today, I'm posting a half dozen 80's fantasy films that were on repeat on cable back in the day.
posted by DirtyOldTown (22 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
That movie has no business being this good. Great score, great Arnolding, great story that really feels like a kick-ass D&D campaign (or flip the order, still works).
posted by WaterAndPixels at 10:15 AM on November 22, 2022 [6 favorites]

Fifteen or so years ago, I followed Warren Ellis' blog. He used the line "Conan! What is best in life?" as a sort of content warning when linking to, say, a photo of an especially baroque body modification. I can't shake that association.
posted by adamrice at 10:30 AM on November 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

The end of this film is exactly the same as the end of Apocalypse Now, also written by Milius.
posted by abraxasaxarba at 11:15 AM on November 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

65% is way too low. Is this the best film ever made, of course not. Is it the best fantasy film ever made? Up until The Lord of the Rings, unquestionably. Match it against Peter Jackson's three films and I think it does a comparable job of world building at a fraction of the cost and run time.

I adore this movie.
posted by Eddie Mars at 1:14 PM on November 22, 2022 [3 favorites]

Yeah it's so good. I can't imagine Stone and Milius working well together, but maybe that's why it works?
posted by Carillon at 2:45 PM on November 22, 2022

This movie is so, so much better than I thought it was going to be. I have discussed on MetaFilter before that I use contemplate this on the tree of woe as the valediction on my letters.

If you get a chance listen to the commentary by Arnold and Milius. I’m 90% sure they’re both drunk, Arnold regularly forgets or is confused by vast portions of the plot, and if you take a shot every time Milius slurringly refers to Sandahl Bergman as a “Valkyrie” you will soon be as drunk as they are.

I have gotten some talkings-to for admitting this but this film is also my favorite James Earl Jones performance by a mile.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 3:56 PM on November 22, 2022 [4 favorites]

We can now all agree that the "following the hawk" guy was right, yes?
posted by praemunire at 4:05 PM on November 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

The most cogent things I have ever heard Milius say about the movie were in Frazetta: Painting with Fire and most of that is about how DeLaurentis wouldn't allow Milius to hire Frazetta as a designer for the movie because Frazetta wouldn't sell DeLaurentis any of his originals. Something Frazetta essentially never did, for anyone.

This is a great film, sometimes in spite of itself. Quotable, with something to say, and full of action. Thulsa Doom is one of the great movie villains. After calling a follower to kill themselves, just to make a point, and the to say, "What is steel compared to the hand that wields it? Look at the strength in your body, the desire in your heart, I gave you this! Such a waste. Contemplate this on the tree of woe. Crucify him!" What a beast you must be, Parasite Unseen. ;)
posted by Ignorantsavage at 5:50 PM on November 22, 2022

This film is in my top 3 movie bubble.

I came to this young, and it imprinted on me.

The score (instrumental soundtrack) was by Basil Poledouris.

I somehow got my grubby hard drive on a high quality rip of the score. I was able to trade on that (and other stuff) on (kazaa? somethingS like that?) for PDF scans of ttRPG books.

The post-hoc release - I like the ending much more than the theatrical ending, notably that the princess helps and is ultimately (SPOILER!1) borne home by Conan. There are a few more scenes, but they look hokey but feel like they belong.
posted by porpoise at 9:42 PM on November 22, 2022

I have a CD of the score in a closet somewhere - it was great music to get ready to go to an industrial club to.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:59 AM on November 23, 2022

My wife and I played the main theme as we entered our wedding reception.
posted by RakDaddy at 7:13 AM on November 23, 2022 [8 favorites]

It was the role Arnold was born to play! And big ups for the score!
posted by davidmsc at 10:18 AM on November 23, 2022 [2 favorites]

"What is best in life?"

Hot water, soft toiilet paper and painless dentistry.
posted by Fuchsoid at 7:07 PM on November 23, 2022 [6 favorites]

I love this movie to death and it's so good to read all this praise. Friends think I'm nuts for how much I love this movie, but I really do think it's underrated. What I love about it is the sparseness. So much of the movie happens in the cinematography and score (and the score doesn't have the effect of emotional button pushing - it supports the story rather than driving it).

The opening with the narration and the epic theme. "Let me tell you of the days of high adventure!"

Plus some classic dialog.

"Food. I need food. I haven't eaten in days."
"Who says you will?"

or Max von Sydow's "Lions ate him! [laughs]"

Also, Sense8 riffed nicely on the "two stood against many" relationship of Conan and Subotai with Wolfgang and his bestie Felix.
posted by kokaku at 4:15 AM on November 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

This is the third movie I remember seeing in theaters because our D&D group's DM, Brett, took us to see them at the movie theater on Andrews Air Force Base. 15-year-old-me developed an instant crush on Sandahl Bergman. I also decided, knowing I'd never look like Conan, that I wanted to be Subotai, which has led to a quite successful 'career' as a LARP archer.

As is the way of all things, "Conan" feel weaker now than it did in 1982. We've become used to a different pace of action sequence and Conan's fights now feel slower, more thoughtful than they did then.

Infinitely quotable, for sure. "Do you want to live forever?"
posted by hanov3r at 6:00 AM on November 24, 2022

Bad idea to hook your slaves up to a hero machine so they get big and strong.

I don't know why this movie is so good and solid. It's just cheesy enough, just serious enough. It meanders and lingers like a 70s movie, longer than any modern movie would dare, but I don't think anything should be cut out.

I'm kind of interested in the remake just to see how they fucked it up. TBH I'm not even sure if I've aleady seen it.

Conan the Destroyer is more of a straightforward D&Desque fantasy adventure movie and it's okay cheese but it just can't be this. Maybe you can only tell a bildungsroman once.
posted by fleacircus at 4:14 PM on November 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

He is Cimmerian! He will not cry, so I cry for him.

There are a lot of movies and shows where I'm curious about how they got made, but Conan is so epic I just do not care. There's just so much there. Snakes that are arrows! The secret of steel! Randomly throwing witches into fireplaces! Absolutely nonsense camouflage! James Earl Jones' Prince Valiant wig! It's just... it's just Conan. It is its own thing.

I also love that Max von Sydow came to fame in Bergman's Most Ponderous Films, hit the 70s running and just leaned so hard into the 80's. Conan! Strange Brew! Flash Gordon! Dune! Seeing him pop up in the last batch of Star Wars movies just made me cackle in the theater, because of course. Of his time, always.
posted by phooky at 6:07 AM on November 25, 2022 [3 favorites]

I also love that Max von Sydow came to fame in Bergman's Most Ponderous Films

posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:41 AM on November 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

Bad idea to hook your slaves up to a hero machine so they get big and strong.

And then to compound that mistake by training them to be killing machines, well... Someone in the Doom organization played themselves.

I remembered liking this as a kid, because duh, but then watching it quite some time later as an adult, and yeah, it's amazing how well it actually holds up, especially when your last memory of Conan is from The Destroyer, which pales in comparison. I think there's something to the world-building here, where there's obviously a lot of stuff that happened before the events of the film that are just hinted at but still inform the story, like the Atlantean throne room, and whatever is going on at the mounds.
posted by LionIndex at 11:34 AM on November 26, 2022

training them to be killing machines

"It has been surmised that perhaps my lord was like a wild animal that had been kept too long. Perhaps, but whatever. Freedom! So long and unremembered dream was his!"

I though that this was a really touching part of the film - recall that there was a young redheaded boy who was Conan's keeper, and grew up with him, trained him, saw him flourish, and - whatever - decided to give Conan his freedom.

It's certainly not canon, but I really liked this bit of storytelling. It almost seems like the Doom organization completely forgot about Conan and the MMA slave trade. Which ties into Tulsa Doom reminiscing that, in his youth, he sought steel but now seeks psychological power over even more people.
posted by porpoise at 12:07 PM on November 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

This movie had heavy rotation on cable tv when I was a youth, and hence I watched it every time.
posted by xtian at 11:02 AM on January 12, 2023

I have somehow managed to go over forty years without seeing this, and having finally seen it, I wonder what sort of person I might have been had I done so. Not necessarily a better or more accomplished person, but I just can't imagine it not having some sort of impact on me, for good or ill. The thing that sets it apart, I think, from all the S&S and space opera films that followed in the eighties, is that John Milius seems to really believe in this movie and the sort of worldview that it espouses, without hesitation or faltering. Even the sequel seems to play it safe and mostly for laughs; you don't really look at Wilt Chamberlain in his barbarian gear without thinking, "Damn, 100 points in one game." When Valeria tries to talk him out of going after Thulsa Doom (the princess hostage is the thinnest of pretexts for that), you want to put a hand on her shoulder and go, ma'am, does he seem like the kind of guy who walks out of his own origin story?

I was almost dreading watching this because of all the memes and cultural baggage of the passing decades, but it's still amazingly fresh, and while it's not perfect (there are parts where the next part of the plot seems to take a bit longer to get to than it really needs to), and parts of it are hilariously implausible--after all the body building books that Arnold put out, all he had to do was push a thing for most of his childhood to get the same physique? Did any of his slavers think that teaching him all the martial arts was maybe not the best idea? Did they literally put him out to stud at one point?--it's still a weirdly affecting good time of a dungeon crawl.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:14 PM on July 14, 2023

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