Before Game of Thrones, there was Excalibur

A nostalgic look at the 1981 fantasy blockbuster, “Excalibur,” that launched the careers of some of the UK’s most successful actors.

Excalibur movie one sheet

When you think of HBO’s Game of Thrones, what comes to mind? Probably gloriously epic fantasy battles, creepy magic, sexually seductive witches with prolonged lifespans, amazing scores, a plethora of UK accents, magic swords, ageless wizards, political machinations, and titillating sex scenes.

But what if I told you that almost 30 years to the day before Game of Thrones premiered on TV, there was a movie that had all those same elements?

On April 10, 1981, John Boorman’s Excalibur hit the movie screens and was the #1 movie at the box office (FYI: GoT premiered April 17, 2011).

Strictly bad-ass

There are no words that can describe the existential and unmitigated joy a young, Dungeon & Dragons playing, sci-fi/fantasy nerd loving, prepubescent heterosexual boy received watching this cult classic. Well, actually, there are two words I can think of. Bad. Ass.

I was too young to have watched or read any of the reviews at the time, but what I remember of the film was that not only were the battles and magic scenes cool, but the story was great also.

The movie is Boorman’s take on the classic Arthurian legend. Every storytelling aspect of the film was engrossing and superbly acted:

  • From the opening scenes of Arthur’s father, Uther Pendragon using Merlin’s magic to defeat his enemy and conceive Arthur while magically disguised.
  • Uther stabbing Excalibur into the famed stone, cursing it so that no one could wield it but him (or his heir)
  • The boy Arthur easily retrieving it during a seasonal festival to find a “new king”
  • The political mischievousness of Morgan Le Fay (Arthur’s half-sister played by Helen Mirren of all people)
  • The creation of the Round Table and Camelot
  • The introduction of Lancelot as the greatest knight in the land, and his love for both Arthur, and Guenevere, Arthur’s wife
  • Lancelot and Guenevere’s scandalous love affair
  • The defeat of Merlin by Morgana and his later vengeance
  • The arduous quest for the Holy Grail that eviscerates nearly all the remaining knights
  • Their scandalous love affair
  • And of course, the epic battle at the end

Pretty much everything you might love about GoT is packed into a tight, 2-hour and 20-minute runtime.

What a cast!

And did I mention the amazing cast? In addition to Hele Mirren, you have Ciará Hinds, Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson, and Patrick Stewart. The main characters were Nigel Terry as Arthur, Nicol Williamson as Merlin, Nicolas Clay as Lancelot, and Cheri Lunghee as Guenevere.

My personal battle hymn

One of the most memorable aspects of the movie for me was the use of Carl Orf’s “O Fortuna” from “Carmina Burana.” Not even Michael Jackson’s epic use of it for his concert film could replace the permanent imagery of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table riding into battle.

And in this, I reveal the true nature of this post—which is to inspire you in these seemingly dark times, to have a “battle hymn.” Something that inspires you to press on and fight for what is just and right. I want you to have a theme that makes you want to lift your proverbial sword, and do battle.

I know it sounds corny and silly and totally bereft of any logic. But hear me out. Think about when you’re working out. Or when you’re on a long run. Pick a battle hymn that does the same for you with regards to all that’s going on in the world.

What cinematic score, rebellious rap song, or rock anthem will move you to make a difference?

Author: Ron Dawson

Ron Dawson is a brand and content marketer, satirical author, cinephile, and filmmaker traveling the world. He has strong opinions. For the love of all that is holy, Do NOT get him started on the plight of the Star Wars saga or the final season of Game of Thrones. He also believes 500 Days of Summer is a perfect film. Naturally, he loves the movie Blade Runner (pick your version.)

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