Conan the Barbarian might not quite be a household name now, but the character is still an American icon. Moving from novels to comics and finally to the big screen, the character is perhaps best known for his 1982 feature film. Conan the Barbarian The film is, in many ways, an overlooked classic, as despite its praise, the majority of viewers don’t fully understand the impact it had.
As well as making the character himself more mainstream, he launched both a wave of sword-and-sorcery adventure films and the movie career of star Arnold Schwarzenegger. Likewise, despite its seemingly simplistic storytelling, it was very much a topical reflection of its time, showing much more depth than one might expect.
Conan the Barbarian 80s Hot Themes
Directed by John Milius and adapting the Robert E. Howard character of the same name, the 1982 film Conan the Barbarian was the end result of a decade-long attempt to bring the character to cinema. The basic plot has Conan, played by muscleman Arnold Schwarzenegger, becoming a fierce but downtrodden warrior who seeks revenge on the wizard who killed his family. Featuring all sorts of battles, scantily clad men and women, and cheesy and general ’80s charm, the film embodied the adventure film tropes that would come to define the era.
The overly macho tone is of course intentional, as Conan has always been a powerful and manly character. In fact, some of the film’s critics noted that the film didn’t quite capture the true level of carnage and sexuality in the classic stories. Nevertheless, there is still some literary depth to Conan the Barbarian, even looking outside of Howard’s works. For example, the treatment of swords, curses and prophecies recalls stories such as The Iliad and Beowulfshowcasing the triumph of one man’s will against seemingly inhuman and impossible odds.
This robust individualism was also consistent with the “Reaganomics” of the time. These hints were reinforced by the “Communist” aspects of the villainous Thulsa Doom (played by James Earl Jones), who was an amalgamation of various Robert E. Howard creations. Doom was also meant to be analogous to cult leaders such as Jim Jones, fears that these religious figures were just as strong as those of Communism. Of course, this is all just subtext, and the meat of the movie is a frolicking good time that can’t help but be overdone. Even so, the film’s influence and legacy cannot be understated since Conan the Barbarian will continue to influence fantasy films for years to come.
The Lasting Legacy of Conan the Barbarian
As mentioned, Conan the Barbarian was a major launch pad for Schwarzenegger’s film career. Having been best known for his bodybuilding, Schwarzenegger would soon become a household name following the success of Conan. Cast due to his extremely muscular build, he was considered the spitting image of Frank Frazetta. Conan artwork. The role would even be used during his political campaigns, with Schwarzenegger being referred to as “Conan the Republican”. Sandahl Bergman was cast as heroine Valeria, a role for which she became the latest recipient of the Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year. Sadly, it’s still her biggest role to date, as she was first and foremost a dancer.
The greatest proof of film’s legacy was easily the boom in sword and sorcery films made afterwards. These films were clearly based on the aesthetics of Conan the Barbarian, which had eschewed the Greco-Roman/Middle Eastern look of previous sword and sorcery films for something entirely its own. The following years saw the release of films such as Legend, Ladybug, the master of beasts and Krullnone of which would probably have been realized if Conan the Barbarian was not as successful as it was.
Conan the Barbarian could thus be seen as the fantasy equivalent of the first star wars film. At the same time, one could argue that the former had an even bigger impact on its genre than the latter. While star wars was followed by the vaguely similar Battlestar Galactica and a cinematic revival of the classic star trek, there weren’t as many obvious scams as one would expect for such a pop culture juggernaut. On the other hand, most of the sword and sorcery fantasy films of the following decade have their roots in Conan the Barbarian.
Fantasy Movie Won’t Get Creative Reboot Until Peter Jackson Releases The Lord of the Rings adaptations nearly two decades later. This is a fact attested by Conan historian Paul Sammon in the book Conan the Phenomenon: The Legacy of Robert E. Howard’s Fantasy Icon. The film is now 40 years old, and its swordplay and Schwarzenegger’s use of muscle are still renowned today. Having now grossed hundreds of millions of dollars, the 1982 Conan the Barbarian was perhaps the best example of rugged manly fantasy of the decade.
Conan the Barbarian can be streamed on Hulu.
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