- Medieval war movies have often struggled to find commercial success at the box office, despite positive critical reception.
- The Last Duel, The King, and The Green Knight are recent medieval war films that were well-made but underperformed commercially.
- Ridley Scott’s Director’s Cut of Kingdom of Heaven is considered an excellent medieval war epic and a must-watch for fans of the genre.
Medieval war movies are generally few and far between, and several worth watching have flown under the radar. While World War II films have remained consistently appealing for decades in Hollywood, sword-and-sandal war movies have been far less consistent in their success. The Golden Age of Hollywood popularized historical epics, and they had a slight resurgence in the ’90s and 2000s with films like Braveheart and Gladiator that found commercial success. Great medieval movies flew under the radar between eras, flopping at the box office despite positive critical reception.
Many of the best medieval war movies include Shakespeare adaptations or massive epics like Braveheart and Kingdom of Heaven. Beyond the commercially successful epics from acclaimed directors, many foreign medieval movies have excellent production value. Not to mention, movies like The King and Outlaw King have been released on streaming services in the past decade and were met with decent critical acclaim, but rarely found audiences.
10 The Last Duel
Directed by Ridley Scott (2021)
One of the many great historical epics that bombed at the box office in recent years was Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel. Written by and starring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, along with Jodie Comer and Adam Driver in the leading roles, The Last Duel had all the ingredients for a modern reinterpretation of the historical epic genre. The film examines the era’s flaws rather than glorifying the idea of honor and chivalry, as many medieval films do.
Like many recent Ridley Scott films, The Last Duel performed poorly at the box office. The 2021 movie received primarily positive acclaim, but succeeding commercially with non-franchise titles has been a considerable challenge in Hollywood. Of course, the steep production cost of a medieval war film adds to that challenge, though it’s impossible to deny the results. The film is beautifully shot, and the production value of Ridley Scott’s war films is unparalleled. The performances are stellar, the plot is riveting, and The Last Duel is a medieval movie that fans of the genre shouldn’t miss.
9 The King
Directed by David Michôd (2019)
- Release Date
- November 1, 2019
- David Michôd
- Nick Wittman , Ivan Kaye , Ben Mendelsohn , Tom Glynn-Carney , Andrew Havill , Lily-Rose Depp , Joel Edgerton , Timothee Chalamet , Dean-Charles Chapman , Jack Bandeira , Thomasin McKenzie , Steven Elder , Sean Harris , Robert Pattinson , Edward Ashley
- 140 minutes
The reviews don’t do The King justice, as the Netflix original is well-made and quite entertaining as a medieval war epic. Loosely based on Shakespeare’s Henry V plays, the 2019 film sees iconic young stars Timothée Chalamet and Robert Pattinson facing off as rival leaders. The King has one of the most incredible battle speeches in war movies, bolstered by a powerful musical score from Succession’s Nicholas Britell. The medieval action is the best part, as the film’s battle sequences are on par with the best in the genre.
8 The Green Knight
Directed by David Lowery (2021)
The Green Knight
- Release Date
- July 30, 2021
- David Lowery
- Dev Patel , Emilie Hetland , Ralph Ineson , Helena Browne , Alicia Vikander , Joel Edgerton , Erin Kellyman , Barry Keoghan , Anthony Morris , Sean Harris , Kate Dickie , Sarita Choudhury
- 125 minutes
David Lowery’s The Green Knight is one of the more unique, artistic medieval films in recent years. It’s not exactly a war movie, but it’s centered around Arthurian legend and the medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Like The Last Duel, The Green Knight takes a modern, revisionist approach to the medieval knight genre. It’s trippy and enigmatic, lending itself to the fantastical side of medieval legend. In terms of medieval historical films, David Lowery’s movie is one of the most distinctive experiences in cinema.
7 Outlaw King
Directed by David Mackenzie (2018)
- Release Date
- November 9, 2018
- David Mackenzie
- Stephen Dillane , Tony Curran , James Cosmo , Aaron Taylor-Johnson , Steven Cree , Alastair Mackenzie , Sam Spruell , Billy Howle , Florence Pugh , Chris Pine , Duncan Lacroix , Callan Mulvey
Like The King, the 2018 Netflix original Outlaw King received mixed reviews from critics. With a 62% on Rotten Tomatoes, the primary critique of the film was its lack of historical inaccuracy. While that may be fair, it’s still impossible to deny how excellent the battle sequences are in Outlaw King, and its star-studded cast are all incredibly entertaining. It’s the sort of film that’s hit or miss, depending on how invested in the genre its audience may be. As a modern medieval war film, it fits the niche perfectly.
Directed by John Boorman (1981)
John Boorman is a fascinating 20th-century filmmaker, and director Zack Snyder frequently cites him as a leading inspiration. 1981’s Excalibur is the perfect cross between medieval war and ’80s fantastical films like The Princess Bride and Labyrinth. Decades later, it’s still one of the best King Arthur movies, and it’s highly esteemed for its intense visuals and human approachto the mythological figures, giving them depth they hadn’t been depicted with on film before.
5 Kingdom Of Heaven (Director’s Cut)
Directed by Ridley Scott (2005)
Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven underperformed commercially and with critics, but an extended Director’s Cut fleshes out the plot and improves significantly on the theatrical release. Like many other historical epics, Kingdom of Heaven was a movie that the director couldn’t stop meddling with, with Ridley Scott returning to add 50 minutes of scenes, solidifying it as an excellent medieval war epic. There’s no film about the Crusades available that’s grander or more thoroughly constructed than Kingdom of Heaven, and the director’s cut is a must-watch for medieval lovers.
4 Joan The Maid
Directed by Jacques Rivette (1994)
There are several fantastic explorations of Joan of Arc in film, with 1928’s The Passion of Joan of Arc commonly considered one of the best films of its era. The two-part movie in the 1990s, Joan the Maid 1: The Battles and Joan the Maid 2: The Prisons, is one of the most dazzling adaptations to date. French filmmaker Jacques Rivette was known for lengthy films, and Joan the Maid is no exception in its intimidating runtime. While not as fast-paced and exciting as other medieval war epics, it’s thorough, sophisticated, and a worthy character study of such a formidable figure.
3 Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Directed by Shekhar Kapur (2007)
Another highly formidable figure, Queen Elizabeth I, was played by the incredible Cate Blanchett in two films. 1998’s Elizabeth is a beautiful character study and a must-watch medieval biographical drama. The sequel, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, which received an abysmal 35% Rotten Tomatoes score but a more favorable 59% Audience Score, leans more into the historical war epic genre. It’s not as well-written as the first film, but Blanchett’s titular performance still makes the epic sequel worth trying.
20 Best Medieval Movies Of All Time
The best Medieval movies are some of the most popular historical films ever, with these 18 proving to be beloved classics that time will never forget.
Directed by Justin Kurzel (2015)
- Release Date
- December 4, 2015
- Justin Kurzel
- Sean Harris , David Hayman , Michael Fassbender , Jack Reynor , Paddy Considine , Marion Cotillard , Elizabeth Debicki , David Thewlis
- 113 Minutes
Another excellent modern Shakespeare adaptation is the 2015 Macbeth film, starring Michael Fassbender. While not as stylistic as the 2021 version with Denzel Washington, the 2015 film’s excellence comes from its epic war sequences. Michael Fassbender is excellent as the titular character, and he’s supported by stars like Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, David Thewlis, and Sean Harris. Despite being well-reviewed, Macbeth underperformed at the box office and deserves a re-visit.
1 Arn: The Knight Templar
Directed by Peter Flinth (2007)
Another international installment to the medieval war genre, the Swedish film Arn: The Knight Templar, is based on author Jan Guillou’s Crusades trilogy. Arn: The Knight Templar and its sequel Arn – The Kingdom at Road’s End are solid medieval war films with casts of recognizable actors. Notably, Stellan Skarsgård is excellent in both installments. His sons, Gustav and Bill Skarsgård, are both in the sequel. While not as popular as a Hollywood film might’ve been, The Knight Templar is as well-crafted as any.