There’s nothing quite like a great high fantasy movie if you’re trying to get yourself in the mood for some tabletop D&D. Although the genre has definitely had its share of bad movies – both high-profile and not – there are some films that are definite standouts. These eight movies never fail to get our roleplaying juices flowing.
Think we missed one? Tell us what it is in the forums!
When a thief named Gaston (Matthew Broderick) escapes from the dungeons, he seems doomed until he is befriended by Captain Navarre (Rutger Hauer), a knight with a hawk companion. He soon learns that the Captain is cursed to turn into a wolf at night, and the hawk is actually the Lady Isabeau (Michelle Pfeiffer), whose curse turns her into a hawk every day. The unlikely comrades team up to take on the evil Bishop (John Wood) and break the spell that curses them. It features great sword fighting, a perilous quest, and compelling characters.
When a baby girl found in the river becomes the object of the evil sorceress Queen Bavmorda’s wrath, the dwarf Willow Ufgood is tasked with taking her to safety. Pursued by the minions of the queen, he teams up with the swordsman Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) and other trusty companions. Standing against them are the queen’s daughter and her general. It’s a classic struggle between good and evil, and as a bonus, one of the brownie guides Willow uses is played by Kevin Pollak.
For years, the king has been sending virgins as sacrifices to appease an ancient dragon, but when his daughter is next in line, he turns to an old wizard (Sir Ralph Richardson) and his young apprentice (Peter MacNicol) to slay the beast. This isn’t just a hack and slash action film, though. It’s a bit slower, but the development and the payoff are worth the wait. Best of all, despite being 35 years old, the special effects (done by ILM, the company behind Star Wars) still hold up fairly well today, especially with regards to the dragon.
This one is especially poignant with the passing of David Bowie yesterday. Bowie’s portrayal of Jareth the Goblin King was one of the many highlights of Labyrinth, the tale of an annoyed teen who inadvertently summons him to her home, where he steals her little brother away. Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) must rescue the baby from the Goblin King’s labyrinth before midnight, or her baby brother will become a goblin. The setting is fantastic, Jim Henson’s puppetry brings many of the fantastic creatures to life, and Bowie excels as the Goblin King, who may not be as evil as he seems.
The Princess Bride
The Princess Bride is one of the most beloved movies in recent memory, and with good reason. The tale of the farm boy Westley (Cary Elwes) and his love Buttercup (Robin Wright) is a great one, made all the better by the stellar performances accompanying them from such folks as Mandy Patinkin, Wallace Shawn, and Andre the Giant. There’s even an appearance from Billy Crystal, who concocts a pill to bring Westley back from being ‘mostly dead.’ It’s one of the most fun fantasy movies, and almost everyone wants to play a swashbuckling character like Westley in your tabletop game (even if they don’t admit it).
Conan the Barbarian
Everyone who’s every played a fighter or a barbarian that wields a huge two-handed sword has had Conan the Barbarian in mind. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s portrayal of Robert E. Howard’s Cimmerian barbarian was a huge moment both for the character and the actor. The sweeping sets, the gritty battle sequences, and the great quotes “Conan! What is best in life? Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women!”It perfectly embodies the look and feel that you’d expect if you’ve ever read one of Howard’s Conan novels, or played a D&D campaign.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
If this isn’t the most quoted movie at your D&D table, I’m not sure I want to play in your game. The Monty Python troupe took a simple premise – King Arthur recruiting his Knight of the Round Table – and turned it into a complete gem of a film. Each of the knights has ridiculous adventures, they meet a sorcerer named Tim who conveys them to a killer rabbit, and the group only barely survives an attack thanks to an animator’s heart attack. It only gets more nonsensical when the police arrive to break up the movie. This movie turned 40 last year, but it’s lost none of its luster.
The Lord of the Rings series
There’s really no question that Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films would be here, right? They’ve taken the universe that D&D was largely based on and brought it to life. Now more than ever, when new players are rolling up wizards, they think of Sir Ian McKellan as Gandalf, and warriors of Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn (Judging by my table, all the halflings want to be Peregrine Took). No matter who your favorite character is, you can’t be a D&D player and watch this movie without feeling a powerful urge to drag out your dice.