1982s Conan the Barbarian was a surprise hit for Universal Pictures, popularizing star Arnold Schwarzenegger and sparking a wave of swords and wizardry films in the 1980s. Even more impressively, it has grown into a fantasy classic, with Schwarzenegger regularly pushing director John Milius to do another sequel with him. The same isn’t true for most of the Swords and Sorceries movies that followed. The subgenre was shoddy to begin with, and the quality dropped significantly as a result Conan the BarbarianThe success.
But the subgenre’s ultimate failure lies less in the quality of the product and more in the lessons Hollywood learned from it conan. Not only were they proven wrong, but they were totally unaware of the tumultuous changes taking place in the industry. In the simplest sense: while Conan the Barbarian raised money, those in power felt it was not raising enough money and altered subsequent efforts accordingly. The sword and sorcery genre was all but destroyed before the decade was out.
Conan the Barbarian was an R-rated fantasy
Fantasy films gained importance after the great success Star Wars: Episode VI – A New Hope, as advances in special effects made it easier to produce the kind of spectacle that audiences expected. This included adult-oriented efforts like that of 1981 Excalibura sophisticated – and X-rated – retelling of the King Arthur legend. Conan the Barbarian was more youthful, based on the pulp stories of Author Robert E Howard rather than something with Arthur’s literary pedigree. But Howard’s work contained a Darwinian brutality that Milius successfully transferred to the big screen. Conan the Barbarian depicts a merciless world in which the strong prey on the weak and only through long and terrifying trials do the heroes discover something of a moral compass.
The film was a huge hit – grossing more than $70 million on a budget of $20 million – and oddly enough, it wasn’t the only R-rated Swords and Sorcery movie to be featured in raised money this year. Although far less respected (it stinks), The sword and the magician has grossed nearly $40 million on a budget of $4 million, leveraging the same type of hard-R content as Conan the Barbarian. This has helped set the sword and sorcery genre apart from others family-oriented fantasy films of the era, such as dragon slayer And Krullas well as the certification Conan the Barbarian‘s approach, which is as serious as a heart attack.
Hollywood decided that the swords and sorcery genre was for kids
And yet, the most important lesson Hollywood seemed to take from the film was that it would have made even more money had it been kid-friendly. The most obvious example is the continuation: Conan the Destroyer, which arrived two years later. Milius was replaced behind the camera by Richard Fleischer: a veteran of Hollywood’s Golden Age and director of family-friendly fantasies like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea And Fantastic trip. Howard’s world shed some of its brutality in the process, being replaced with a PG rating and a more fairytale atmosphere, along with actively comedic characters like Tracey Walter’s thief Malak. Despite a higher budget, he grossed less than half of the first film, effectively ending Schwarzenegger’s association with the character. (The less is said about it 2011 Jason Momoa versionthe better.)
Similar efforts followed from 1983 Hercules with Lou Ferrigno in the 1985s Red Sonya, which Fleischer also directed. They also bombed, and the year 1987 was disastrous masters of the universe arrived, the trend had just come to an end. In the midst of all this, the home video revolution has fundamentally changed the game. The tweeners and teens who couldn’t see Conan the Barbarian in theaters they could watch the R-rated mayhem on home video and see what they were missing. Removing the genre’s harder edges left nothing but louder, sillier versions of family-friendly fantasies. In trying to expand the genre’s audience, Hollywood turned away the very audience it was trying to reach.
It goes beyond R-rated content. Milius revolved his world around a constant struggle for survival, and then showed his protagonists hesitantly rising above it. It takes more than bare boobs and bloodletting to achieve that, even without turning it into a Saturday matinee. At least Schwarzenegger understands the issue, which is why he regularly urges Milius to return to the character. None of the other directors of the time recognized the appeal of the subgenre as well as he did. Conan the Barbarian is a classic for the same reason as the rest of the genre: the people making the decisions completely misjudged the space.