A fantasy movie without a battle is like a slice of plain toast. Although still edible, it will most likely be boring, dry and tasteless. Ok, so that’s not always the case, as there are some great fantasy films without the clash of swords. But when beasts and armies meet on the fantasy battlefield, it makes some of the most epic moments in film. Everything from Greek legends, to giant monsters of fiction have clashed on the fantasy scene, and I have really enjoyed making this post and especially choosing my Top 5.
Following on from my Top 5 Sci-fi battles, below is my favourite fantasy battles from some of the best the genre has to offer. I have spanned many decades in my choices, offering an idea as to the movies I like the most. Definitely one of the hardest to narrow down, but also loads of fun re-watching those fantastic battle scenes. Enjoy!
5: King Kong (1933)
A bad-tempered Eighth Wonder of the World VS a T-Rex, the only suitable opponent in Earth’s history
I have chosen this perennial 1933 monster movie, because when held against the remakes, many would be pleasantly surprised by the raw brutality of the original film. It really does feel like Kong is a true movie-monster, and a mindless and very dangerous ape to boot. This makes it even more shocking when the capitalist motivation and memories of the Victorian freak show, drive Denham and company to take this uncontrollable beast back to the mainland. Or as Doctor Ian Malcolm would say: “the worst idea in the long, sad history of bad ideas”.
I have picked Kong’s fight against the T-Rex, because it is that moment in the film when the viewer realises the true strength of the beast. But what is also poignant about the scene, is that it can be seen as both the defence of a woman by a misunderstood creature, an action some may even perceive as love, or the instinctive actions of a dangerously petulant and selfish monster, whom doesn’t want to lose his favourite toy. I have to swing for the latter, especially when you see Kong absent-mindedly playing with the jaw of the T-Rex after he has snapped it in half. As I said before, fairly brutal even for today’s thick skinned audience.
4: Beowulf (2007)
Grendel (our monster) VS Beowulf (the man that is here to kill our monster)
When I watched Zemeckis’ grotesque creation burst into that doomed mead-hall in glorious Blue ray, I thought it was one of the best fantasy scenes I had ever seen. It was one of the most terrifying things I had even seen as well. The almost strobe-like effect of the blue camp-fire on the monster’s skin only adds to the horror. The animation, visuals and sound are so refined, it serves as a fantastic backdrop to a rather unfortunate-looking Grendel, screaming in an ancient language and tearing the legs off terrified Heorotilites.
Even though our hero’s battle with the beast is clearly the more significant scene, the monster’s ambush of the unlucky merry-makers, and their fruitless battle against him, is such a shocking moment in the context of the generally harmless frivolities building up to it, that I had to put it in my list. Zemeckis’ motion-capture paintbrush works its magic so freely, that it dances with the boundaries of brutality, finishing with Hopkins staring down his forgotten son and willing his own demise. Fantastic scene in a fairly underrated fantasy movie.
3: Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
Jason and Co VS a bunch of not-so-funny bones
No doubt the most famous battle from the undisputed master of stop-motion animation. Even though I had to bump Medusa vs Perseus down to honourable mention status, there was no way Harryhausen’s best work was not going to make my Top 5. This was the moment that he achieved a god-like status in visual effects, and his techniques became integral to the entire genre for a generation, going on to influence future fantasy film-makers such as Peter Jackson and his Rings trilogy.
Aeëtes, in pursuit of Jason after steeling the Fleece, sows the Hydra’s teeth after praying to the goddess Hecate, producing a skeletal warrior from each. Frozen in fear, the heroes watch as these menacing creatures rise from the ground and creep slowly towards them, before bursting into a ferocious and relentless attack. Fantasy film at its best, the ensuing battle has to be in my Top 5 and showcases Harryhausen’s talent more than any other.
2: 300 (2006)
300 suspiciously toned warriors VS Persian cannon fodder
The first wave of Xerxes’s dark army crashing violently against the glistening shields, spears and bodies of Leonidas and company’s human wall, is practically fantasy-battle porn. Zack Snyder’s take on The Battle of Thermopylae at the Hot Gates, is the ideal backdrop for some fantastically crafted fight scenes, with warriors, giants and huge beasts all getting sliced and diced by the famous 300.
I love this battle for the tension build-up, which is broken by a well-aimed spear thrown from the defiant ranks, acting as the classic fantasy-battle catalyst to spark the initial attack. Butler’s rousing battle cries may be slightly cheesy, but soon the blood starts to flow, as Snyder puts those glossy touches to the action at just the right moments. A great fantasy battle, with plenty of geeky phalanx tactics and cool spear-deaths to drool over.
1: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
NATO VS an army bred for a single purpose…you know the rest
The Fields of Pellennor from Return of the King may have been more epic (albeit slightly anti-climatic), but for me the defence of Rohan at Helms Deep was not just the peak of Jackson’s trilogy, but is also the best of on-screen fantasy warfare. Jackson uses all the tools at his disposal, showcasing the perfect balance between computerised imagery and live action. Using the night and rain as cover, the camera never lingers for too long in one place, blending it all seamlessly together.
The pathetic fallacy of the sudden downpour at the start turns the scene in to a doomed scenario, draining the hope from the faces of the brave men behind the walls. This is Jackson’s finest moment, building up the tension with wordless gnarling and stomping from the enemy, only to be snapped with the unintentional unleashing of an arrow. A classic already, The Battle of Helms Deep has always looked amazing and will no doubt continue to be untouched by age.
I hope you enjoyed my Top 5 Movie Battles. You can find other genres in the links above!
Honourable mentions: LOTR: The Return of the King (2003): Battle of Pelennor Fields, Clash of the Titans (1981): Medusa vs Perseus, POTC: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003): Black Pearl vs Interceptor, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973): Kali vs Sinbad