Ranking the best medieval set (or themed) action movies based on how ultimate they are.
The Middle Ages are a fascinating period of human history, despite the often unjustified romanticization of the times. Medieval settings can be an awesome backdrop for adrenaline-charged adventures featuring ferocious sword fights and huge armies clashing with each other. Many of them belong to the best the action genre has to offer, and in this article we present you the Top 10 best Medieval action films of all time!
10) King Arthur (2004)
Action specialist Antoine Fuqua’s take on the Arthur legend gave us an action-packed epic, that featured no magic but was more grounded in actual history. Arthur (Clive Owen) and his band of knights are sent into the North of Britain to escort a Roman nobleman to safety before the region is overrun by savage Saxons. A dangerous voyage begins during which Arthur forges new alliances and learns to appreciate the beauty and mystery of these wild lands.
King Arthur delivers a standard story and overused character cliches. Fuqua makes up for this by expertly utilizing the gorgeous landscape and harsh weather to create breathtaking images. Arthur and his companions ride and wade through mud and snow, and there’s lots of fun medieval action to be had along the journey. A fantastic soundtrack by Hans Zimmer further ennobles the epic vibe. King Arthur is not perfect, but a fun popcorn actioner overall.
9) Black Death (2010)
Black Death takes two of the most gruesome occurrences from medieval times, the plague and witch hunts, and melds them into a grim and gripping adventure. Witch hunter Ulric (Sean Bean) and his squad are sent across a devastated England to investigate a village that has been unaffected by the deadly disease. The church suspects a necromancer doing his evil bidding, and upon their arrival the men are caught in a murderous plot, and face terrors that are shaking the very foundation of their beliefs.
Our catholic elite squad meanders through haunting landscapes filled with plague victims, witch trials, castigating pilgrims and burned-down villages. Director Christopher Smith delivers a fantastic film with haunting images that is rooted in the tradition of European Medieval exploitation flicks, albeit his take is a lot less voyeuristic and supplemented by a handful of brutal combat sequences. By sword or by plague, death comes for everyone in this film!
8) The Scythian (2018)
In a decade sparse on high-quality medieval action flicks, The Scythian turned out to be a fantastic addition to the genre. Russian nobleman Lutobor becomes entrapped in a conspiracy and needs to flee from his land to rescue his family from the grip of the savage tribe of the Scythians. Together with honor-bound Scythian warrior Marten, he takes up the long and dangerous journey through the steppe.
A straightforward plot, surreal atmosphere, and stunningly intense action sequences are the ingredients for this high-octane action fest The world of The Scythian is filled with violence and tragedy, and almost every man is a warrior or bandit. The many fights deliver ultraviolent medieval action at its best with a raw and intimidating intensity. This film will not allow you to catch your breath for even a single minute!
7) A Knight’s Tale (2001)
According to A Knight’s Tale, jousting knights were the rock stars of their days! When his master suddenly dies, squire William (Heath Legder) decides to take his place in a jousting tournament. He wins, and thanks to his talent makes a name for himself in the jousting circuit, while also trying to win the heart of noble girl Jocelyn. Following William and his friends from tournament to tournament may sound like a flimsy plot but there is just so much fun to be had here. A spirited performance from the cast brings this posse of charming troublemakers to life, and they deliver their witty lines with terrific comedic timing.
Writer and director Helgeland spices things up further with some fun anachronisms, and we get some fantastic jousting action with armor being smashed, lances splintered, and unlucky knights hitting the dust hard. A Knight’s Tale radiates so much energy that the Middle Ages suddenly seem like the most fun period ever in human history!
6) Flesh & Blood (1985)
Paul Verhoeven’s first venture in Hollywood already carries all the trademarks he would become (in)famous for: unfiltered violence and sex (sometimes in the same sequence), and the lack of a moral compass of almost all protagonists. After sacking a city, Martin (Rutger Hauer) and his mercenaries are betrayed by the king who denies them their looted treasure. As revenge, they abduct the king’s future daughter-in-law and hide in a castle, to which the king’s son lays siege with his army.
Cleverly hidden underneath its high-budget look lurks an exploitation flick with lots of nasty stuff, cynical humor and some raw contemplations about the dawn of a new age, The Renaissance. Hauer is the villain here for the most part, but he is just so darn charismatic that we can’t help but occasionally root for him. And there’s plenty of bloody sword fights and other types of brutal medieval warfare put on display, so action aficionados will not be disappointed by Flesh & Blood.
5) Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
One of the great adventure tales received yet another iteration, but Kevin Costner’s effort to upgrade swashbuckling action for the 1990s is one of the best. The most famous socialist of the Middle Ages, Robin of Lucksley (Kevin Costner), and his motley crew take it up against the diabolical Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman). In the process they disburden him and other rich folks of their wealth and redistribute it among the peasants.
The film is an action-packed rollercoaster ride that moves at a relentless pace. Production values are top notch and create a fantastic immersion into this medieval world with its lush forests and romantic castles. Kostner is as charming and stoic as always, but our attention naturally tends to gravitate towards Rickman’s legendary role as unhinged Sheriff of Nottingham. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is classic blockbuster cinema at its prime. It delivers endless excitement and spectacle, just make sure to turn off the end credits before Bryan Adams takes over.
4) Ironclad (2011)
Ironclad is a film made with one single purpose: to put as much bad-ass action on the screen as possible! To thwart the invasion of England by the French Army, king John (Paul Giamatti) plans to seize Rochester Castle, which lies close to the expected landing point of the enemy. A rebel squad led by templar knight Thomas (James Purefoy) takes control of the castle, and a long, bloody siege ensues. Siege towers and catapult attacks wreak havoc galore, and combat is just incredibly brutal in this film.
Ferocious hacking and slashing are the name of the game, with skulls being smashed and bodies impaled at a staggering frequency. Purefoy and Giamatti give intense performances as fanatic leaders on both sides. Killer action scenes and an A-list cast are the key ingredients for this perfect package of medieval action!
3) Braveheart (1995)
Mel Gibson’s opus magnum re-imagined the medieval history genre big time. In Braveheart, he tells the story of William Wallace who leads the uprising of the Scots against the English occupation. The film became the first modern medieval epic with a countless number of iconic sequences.
Braveheart is cinematic perfection on every level, with bombastic set pieces, spectacular cinematography, and an iconic soundtrack. The film’s emotional power will even make hardened action fans secretly wipe away a tear. It also redefined medieval action with its immersive and ferocious mass fights that became some of the greatest battle sequences ever put on screen!
2) Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
Of all the mega-blockbuster history epics that came after Gladiator, it was up to Ridley Scott himself to create the worthiest successor. It is the time of the crusades. The city of Jerusalem, which is ruled by the Christians, is under constant threat from the Muslim army of Sultan Saladin. Young nobleman Balian (Orlando Bloom) arrives in the Holy Land, and his actions will decide the fate the city.
Scott took one of the most bizarre chapters in medieval history, but he did not care much about the broader political context or historical accuracy. Instead, he delivers an action drama with stunning visuals, gigantic set pieces, and stellar performances from an all-star cast. The action is fantastic, with ferocious fights from duels over skirmishes to armies clashing violently in huge battles. Kingdom of Heaven is a breathtaking history epic of an intensity and scale we haven’t gotten since.
1) The 13th Warrior (1999)
In 1999 Hollywood went all in on the Viking theme, and The 13th Warrior became the most epic medieval film ever. A group of twelve mighty Viking warriors is selected to travel to the aid of king Hrothgar whose kingdom is terrorized by an army of monstrous creatures, with the Arabic diplomat Ahmad Ibn Fadlan (Antonio Banderas) sent along with them on their heroic quest. The film impresses with breathtaking panoramic landscapes of misty forests and mountains and has the most epic soundtrack since Conan The Barbarian.
The charismatic and believable characters deepen the immersion even further, but the centerpiece of the movie are the skirmishes between the Vikings and their unrelenting bestial enemies. The brutal attacks of the savage foes emerging from the mist are staged intensely, with highlights being the night-time combat sequences and some frenetic horseback action. The 13th Warrior is an incredibly captivating action-adventure, and deservedly takes the top spot in our ranking of best medieval action flicks!