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My Top Five Sword-Fight Movies

Friday, February 3rd, 2017 | Posted by Violette Malan

You don’t have to read many of my posts to know that The Princess Bride is pretty well my favorite movie. And though I love the sword fighting scene between Wesley and Iñigo, and the later one between Iñigo and Count Rugen, they are not actually my favorite sword fighting scenes. In both cases, it’s really the dialogue that makes the scenes memorable. So what movies would I rank above The Princess Bride in sword fighting wonderfulness?

Here they are, in the order in which I thought of them.

AramisThe Three Musketeers (1973, directed by Richard Lester)

One of the great things about this movie, along with its sequels The Four Musketeers, and The Return of the Musketeers, is that they all feature the same cast. There are good fight scenes in all the films (Oliver Reed is more impressive in the sequels), but it’s the first one I know the best. I particularly like the fantastic opening sequence, where D’Artagnan’s father teaches him the “secret thrust.” Anything between D’Artagnan (Michael York) and Rochefort (Christopher Lee) is well worth watching. There’s also some terrific ensemble fighting, notably the scene between the four leads and the Cardinals’ Guard in the convent courtyard. It should be noted that Christopher Lee was a fencer IRL as well.

The fencing instructor and fight choreographer was Bob Anderson.

cyrano-de-bergerac-gerard-depardieuCyrano de Bergerac (Jean-Paul Rappeneau, 1990)

I’ve enjoyed many a Cyrano, starting with the Jose Ferrer one, but this, with Gerard Depardieu in the title role, is the best. The great thing here is that Cyrano is supposed to be a fantastic swordsman, and you really get the feeling that he is. I also find the fighting a little rougher, and I wonder if the more rough-and-tumble fighting of the Musketeers movies could account for that, or whether it’s just the modern approach.

The Maitre d’Armes was Michael Carliez

captain blood 1The Adventures of Robin Hood (Michael Curtis and Wm Keighley, 1938)
Captain Blood (Michael Curtis, 1935)

I count these two together, as most if not all of the sword fighting took place between Errol Flynn (as the good guy) and Basil Rathbone (as the bad guy). The fight on the staircase in Robin Hood is iconic, and has been imitated a couple of times. I don’t know who the fight co-ordinator or fencing master was for these two films, but it’s a shame he went uncredited. I know there were earlier cinematic sword fights, but for me, this is where it all began. Basil Rathbone was also a fencer IRL.

Man in Iron MaskMan in the Iron Mask (Randall Wallace, 1998)

Dumas revisited. I think it lacks the humor of Richard Lester’s Musketeers movies, but it still has some beautiful sword play. Again, the ensemble scenes are terrific. Gerard Depardieu we know from his role as Cyrano, but the other musketeers, Jeremy Irons, Gabriel Byrne, and John Malkovitch are all marvelous.

No specific credit is given for fencing master, but Yannick Derrien is cited as “stunt master.”

Count-of-Monte-CristoCount of Monte Cristo (Kevin Reynolds, 2002)

This is the film with Jim Caveizel as the good guy, and Guy Pearce as the central bad guy. There’s not as much emphasis on the sword play in this movie as some of the others, but what’s there is prime, especially the last fight, where the bad guy gets it.

This film also has as its Maitre d’Armes Michael Carliez, here called “fight coordinator.”

It’s impossible to talk about sword fighting in movies without mentioning Bob Anderson (1922 – 2012). Of my list, he was only involved in Lester’s Musketeers movies, but he was a legend in the business, and we’ve all seen plenty of his work. Here’s just a few of the movies he worked on as fencing teacher:

Star Wars (Episodes IV, V and VI)
The Princess Bride
The Lord of the Rings
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl


Violette Malan is the author of the Dhulyn and Parno series of sword and sorcery adventures (now available in omnibus editions), as well as the Mirror Lands series of primary world fantasies. As VM Escalada, she writes the upcoming Faraman Prophecy series. Find her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @VioletteMalan.

41 Comments »

  1. One of my personal favorites was the duel climax of Rob Roy with Liam Neeson and Chris Roth. Claymore vs Rapier. Brute force vs finesse. And indomitable will wins!

    Comment by thedarkman - February 3, 2017 8:59 am

  2. To thedarkman: thanks for reminding me about this film. I’ve always heard great things about it, but somehow haven’t seen it. I’ll put it back on my list of movies to watch.

    Comment by Violette Malan - February 3, 2017 9:49 am

  3. One of the legendary movie swordfights is apparently from the 1952 movie SCARAMOUCHE. It’s between Stewart Granger and Mel Ferrer. I haven’t seen it, but by all accounts it’s pretty epic. Have you seen that?

    Comment by Rich Horton - February 3, 2017 10:02 am

  4. And when the subject comes up, I’m incapable of not banging on about one of my favorites, On Guard (Le Bossu) by Philippe de Broca, which has some truly dazzling fencing scenes.

    Comment by Joe H. - February 3, 2017 10:08 am

  5. To Rich: I did see it, but I was very young at the time, and don’t really remember it. My father was a big Jose Ferrer fan (I think you meant Jose, Mel is his son) and we watched whatever movie came on TV

    To Joe H: thanks for reminding me of another one that should be on my list. I’ve heard great things about it.

    Comment by Violette Malan - February 3, 2017 10:19 am

  6. Don’t miss out on the french film Le Bossu. Seriously, it must be seen. Has some really good fencing scenes.

    Comment by Hampus - February 3, 2017 10:47 am

  7. Actually Mel Ferrer (no relation) — Mel was five years younger than Jose, much less well known, though he did direct Jose in at least one movie.

    Jose’s actor son was Miguel Ferrer, who just died.

    Comment by Rich Horton - February 3, 2017 11:19 am

  8. To Rich: Oh crap, you’re right. I knew that too, re both Mel and Miguel. My apologies, I must be distracted. That, and because when I think of “Mel” I think of “Torme.” Definitely not known for fencing.

    Comment by Violette Malan - February 3, 2017 11:30 am

  9. I love Erroll Flynn (the man was shaped by the gods to be a movie hero) but my favorite single swordfight is between Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone in the Mark of Zorro. In speed and intensity, I don’t know of another battle from the classic age of movie swashbuckling that can match it. It truly seems like every move is genuinely intended to kill the other man.

    Comment by Thomas Parker - February 3, 2017 11:45 am

  10. Oh, and Tony Curtis and Ross Martin in The Great Race!

    Comment by Thomas Parker - February 3, 2017 11:45 am

  11. The Adventures of Robin Hood is one of my favorite movies. That sword fight at the end is amazing.

    I read somewhere that they paid the stunt guys $200 an arrow to get shot. They wore heavy padding but there were some bruised ribs and such.

    Comment by Glenn - February 3, 2017 12:37 pm

  12. To Thomas: Oh my god! I can’t believe I forgot the Mark of Zorro. You’re right, that particular fight was incredible. The speed of it is shocking, and they absolutely look like they’re trying to kill each other. I hope that was good acting!
    I don’t think I’m at all familiar with The Great Race. I know Tony Curtis was in Taras Bulba with Yul Brynner, but I don’t think he did any fencing in that one.

    Comment by Violette Malan - February 3, 2017 12:40 pm

  13. To Glenn: I’ve never heard that, but I hope it’s true. I know that Howard Hill, world champion archer, did a lot of the actual shooting, including the trick shot where the arrow is split. He also played the archer Robin Hood goes up against in the contest, Philip of Aron (?) something like that anyway.

    Comment by Violette Malan - February 3, 2017 12:43 pm

  14. The Great race is a wonderful “epic comedy” from the early 60’s. Part of it is a parody of the Prisoner of Zenda – that’s where the swordfight comes in. Curtis and Martin start with foils and finish with sabres. The moment that comes in all these battles, where the arrogant master swordsman realizes that he’s outmatched, is perfectly played by Martin.

    Comment by Thomas Parker - February 3, 2017 1:25 pm

  15. Fred Cavens was the uncredited fencing director on nearly every big-budget Hollywood swashbuckler of the 1930s, including Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood. His work includes that great final fight in The Mark of Zorro (referenced above) between Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone — who could really fence. Rathbone said that Power was the best actor-opponent he ever faced on screen, and I quote: “Tyrone could have fenced Errol Flynn into a cocked hat.”

    Comment by Lawrence Schick - February 3, 2017 1:35 pm

  16. Someone obligingly created a youtube clip of that fantastic Rathbone vs. Power fight.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nB8tiSMCwRE

    Comment by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones - February 3, 2017 1:38 pm

  17. To Thomas: this is sounding familiar to me, especially the parody of the Prisoner of Zenda bit. Somehow I have an image in my mind of Ross Martin wearing a moustache and holding a sword in his hand.

    Does anyone remember The Scarlet Pimpernel with Leslie Howard? It’s been ages since I’ve seen it, and I can’t be sure whether there’s a sword fight in it There certainly should be.

    Comment by Violette Malan - February 3, 2017 1:38 pm

  18. Thanks Howard. You must have been posting this just as I was writing my last comment. Just as wonderful as I remember it.

    Comment by Violette Malan - February 3, 2017 1:39 pm

  19. Scaramouche is a lot of fun – it’s much more comedic than the Sabatini novel it’s based on. The Final fight is most notable for its length – several minutes – and variety (it takes place in an enormous theater, and Granger and Ferrer are leaping from balconies, falling down stairs, slashing through scenery flats, pushing through fleeing patrons etc. Improbable, but exciting.

    Comment by Thomas Parker - February 3, 2017 1:49 pm

  20. Great list.
    Just adding my voice to the chorus pushing Le Bossu (aka Lagardere and various other titles).
    Check it out, you won’t be disappointed.

    Comment by Davide Mana - February 3, 2017 1:52 pm

  21. What!? No love for the fight scenes in The Duellists? What I like about that particular film (and the Rob Roy final fight) was that it portrays the fear, uncertainty and desperation of sword fights.

    They are not about the flashiness of the swordplay, but the emotions of the fighter(s) and how it affects their performance.

    Comment by Pete Nash - February 3, 2017 1:58 pm

  22. I’d have to add Franco Zeferelli’s 1990 version of HAMLET to this list. The climax of the movie–Hamlet’s sword-fight with Laertes–is pretty amazing. Although it’s the only sword-fight in the whole story, the movie builds and builds to one helluva fencing match scene.

    Comment by John R. Fultz - February 3, 2017 2:28 pm

  23. As for TV shows, you can’t beat the BBC’s MUSKETEERS –which was sadly cancelled after three great seasons–a lot of terrific swashbuckling and swordplay there.

    Comment by John R. Fultz - February 3, 2017 2:30 pm

  24. Here’s the trailer for Le Bossu:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5WqiClOLNQ&t=24s

    Comment by Joe H. - February 3, 2017 3:09 pm

  25. To Lawrence: Thanks so much for this. I knew the information had to be out there somewhere. I’ve actually heard the name Fred Cavens, but not in this context. I’ve also heard the quote re Errol Flynn before. LOL

    To Pete: You know, I’ve never seen it? Another one for my must watch/rewatch list. I agree that the emotions make the scene. If it’s too coldblooded you tend to lose interest.

    To John: That one I have seen, and you’re right, it’s a great fight, but it didn’t have that much impact for me, so I didn’t include it.

    Comment by Violette Malan - February 3, 2017 3:16 pm

  26. Just two thoguhts–Fred Cavins was the instructor for Disney’s Zorro TV series-while the fights were short as a child I thought they were awesome (later as an adult I realized that Zorro really had no worthy opponents but he had such style) and I loved the sword fights in the Highlander TV series as well.

    Comment by Allard - February 3, 2017 4:07 pm

  27. Allard: In fact, by the time of Disney’s Zorro TV series, Cavens had been associated with the character for his entire working career, as he had also been the sword master for Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. in the original 1920 silent “Mark of Zorro.”

    As for the 1935 “Scarlet Pimpernel,” though it’s an iconic and essential swashbuckler, the only duels in it are the battles of wits between Leslie Howard and Raymond Massey. Somehow, though no blades are ever drawn, their conflicts are taut and tense, because it’s clear that the stakes are always death.

    Comment by Lawrence Schick - February 3, 2017 4:20 pm

  28. No Samurai films?
    NO SAMURAI FILMS ?!?!

    Comment by gwood1 - February 3, 2017 6:19 pm

  29. To Allard: Was this the live-action series with, if I’m getting the name right, Guy Williams as Zorro? Because if so, I loved them as a child.

    To Lawrence: I’ve seen the 1920 Mark of Zorro as well. Sword play was great.
    I thought there might not be any sword fights in the 1935 Pimpernel, but I wasn’t sure. Though, come to think of it, if I wasn’t sure, that means they weren’t memorable in any case.

    Comment by Violette Malan - February 3, 2017 7:21 pm

  30. For some kick-ass sword-fighting (and martial arts), everybody reading this post should check out INTO THE BADLANDS. Second season coming to AMC in a few weeks.
    http://www.amc.com/shows/into-the-badlands

    Comment by John R. Fultz - February 3, 2017 9:29 pm

  31. […] SHE STABS IT WITH HER STEELY KNIFE. Violette Malan ranks “My Top Five Sword-Fight Movies” at Black […]

    Pingback by Pixel Scroll 2/3/17 The Pixel That Rowed The Scroll Ashore | File 770 - February 3, 2017 11:47 pm

  32. Jean Heremans was the fencing coach on Scaramouche. The movie is noted not only for the length of the climatic fight (7 minutes by my count, if I remember correctly), but of the mostly “what you see is what they did” stunts. (There were several injuries and close calls in those two weeks.)

    Comment by Jeff Stehman - February 4, 2017 12:02 am

  33. To Violette: Yes indeed it was the Guy Williams series–two seasons and four one hour episodes. When I typed that I had forgotten about the 1990 series with Duncan Regehr which my oldest son likes better-a clear sign of every generation has THEIR hero–so to speak.

    Comment by Allard - February 4, 2017 12:48 am

  34. To Jeff: thanks for this information. I feel it’s important from our pov to know exactly who the artists were when it comes to something like this. Credit where credit is due.

    To Allard: aint it the truth? I think the same might go for any iconic hero, like Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, etc.

    Comment by Violette Malan - February 4, 2017 11:15 am

  35. I recommend the Duellists also. The 2nd? duel is just brutal. It is also a beautiful movie to look at.

    Carradine was somewhat wooden but Keitel was masterful.

    Comment by Charles_Martel - February 4, 2017 1:51 pm

  36. To gwood1: Just saw your comment now. I didn’t include any samurai films because I just don’t know any well enough. I have to say I’m surprised no one else mentioned any either.

    To Charles: Carradine is usually wooden.

    Comment by Violette Malan - February 4, 2017 2:53 pm

  37. If we’re stepping outside of western traditions, then I think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon had some of the best sword fights I’ve seen — the one at night between Li Mu Bai and Jade Fox, and the one in the training courtyard between Yu Shu Lien and Jen Yu in particular.

    Comment by Joe H. - February 4, 2017 9:11 pm

  38. Let me toss in a bit of love for The Court Jester, where Mr. Rathbone has his final on-screen sword fight with neophyte fencer Danny Kaye, who winds up dueling with the fight coordinator as he was too fast for Mr. Rathbone, according to the gracious Mr. R. (who was age 64, at this point).

    Comment by Eugene R. - February 4, 2017 11:11 pm

  39. And I just watched the first episode of the 1957 Disney Zorro series and am impressed on a number of levels.

    Comment by Joe H. - February 5, 2017 12:01 am

  40. To Joe H. thanks for reminding me of this one. Definitely worth including in any top ten list.

    To Eugene: I actually thought about The Court Jester because you’re right, it’s a great fight. It came too far down on my list to be included here, however.
    Mr. R. was really a class act all the way.

    To Joe H. What a great idea, I’m going to look this up myself.

    Comment by Violette Malan - February 5, 2017 12:36 pm

  41. Great choices, everybody, and most of my favorites are here. But how about Leo McKern and Gene Wilder in Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother? A real hoot

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fe2zPbfhQRg

    Comment by Fletcher Vredenburgh - February 5, 2017 5:41 pm


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