Sword and Sorcery and Screenplays: Succeeded by Superheros

Written by BronzeGerenuk

Fantasy is a largely popular genre for film and TV, with the majority of people have heard of The Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. In spite of this, Hollywood seems to have completely abandoned a genre of similar import, sword and sorcery, replacing them with superhero flicks. The most famous example of classic sword and sorcery, Conan The Barbarian (1982) with Arnold Schwarzenegger has all the hallmarks of movement; man with cool sword, a romantic element, powerful wizards, and some supernatural beast. It was a massive hit, becoming a commercial success that became a classic for years to come, spawning several sequels, and even a possible revival in recent talks. It also paved the way for other movies that not so subtly ripped it off and took inspiration from it. Red Sonja, Deathstalker, Thor the Conqueror, The Scorpion King, and many more to name can claim direct ‘lineage’ from Conan. Nevertheless, this trend seems to have peaked in the eighties, with fewer and fewer similar movies releasing in the subsequent decades. No studios seem to be in a hurry to make more of these stories, unless with a nostalgic callback to Conan.

The godfather of the Sword and Sorcery genre, Conan

On paper, the formula works; these movies are often similar to more recent fantasy movies, except with a focus on the personal journey of the protagonist: a lone, capable hero on an adventure involving a light romance while they fight off inhuman adversaries. Yet, while aesthetically this genre lies derelict, it may not be dead. While the fantasy setting of these stories isn’t prevalent, the overall structure remains and the spirit of adventure lives on in a few superhero movies. For example, lots of superheroes have strength/power greater than the average person. Many also attempt to complete a personal goal, or at least one to save a larger group of people, all while finding a romantic interest along the way.

Of course they aren’t carbon copies of the old sword and sorcery movies, but it seems like an extension of the genre. A once popular smaller scale genre retrofitted for contemporary audiences. Natural story structure is easy enough to repeat, both superheroes and sword and sorcery follow the hero’s journey. Nevertheless, the popularity of each genre seems to come one after another, as if the writers of one jumped to another. This in mind, the superhero genre is already moving on from these roots, with more complex stories being told while mixing and matching with other genres. But, for a short time this story ‘outline’ largely for superhero movies in the 2000s. Iron Man, Captain America: First Avenger, Thor, Spiderman even stretching to earlier movies like 1989’s Batman or Blade can all be seen as valid replacements of the old-school movies into something new. That doesn’t mean, however, that there isn’t room for more sword and sorcery movies again. Superhero movies are finding themselves as a genre, leaving room for sword and sorcery to come back. The only question is if audiences want to see that again. Perhaps it’ll even be ironically labeled: “fantasy superhero movies” as criticism.  

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