Excalibur (1981) - Rotten Tomatoes

Excalibur (1981)



Critic Consensus: John Boorman's operatic, opulent take on the legend of King Arthur is visually remarkable, and features strong performances from an all-star lineup of British thespians.

Movie Info

According to reports from the set, director John Boorman commandeered the Arthurian adventure Excalibur in the manner of a medieval war lord, expecting his cast and crew to figuratively die with swords in hand if need be. As a result, everyone in the film looks as though he or she is prepared to slit the throat of anyone who looks at them cross-eyed. Nigel Terry stars as the idealistic King Arthur, whose establishment of the idyllic Camelot does not take into account the fact that others are not as noble or altruistic as he is. The fly in the ointment is the covetous Morgana (Helen Mirren), who sets the wheels of Camelot's destruction in motion by bringing Arthur's attention to the love affair between Queen Guenevere (Cherie Lunghi) and Sir Lancelot (Nicholas Clay). Props essential to the action are the elusive Holy Grail, and of course, the magical Excalibur sword. Far removed from the prettiness of the musical Camelot, Excalibur is set amidst the mud and maggots of Boorman's grim (and occasionally erotic) vision of pre-Norman England. Thomas Malory's Morte D'Arthur is listed as the source material for Excalibur, but, as is customary with Boorman, there is plenty of embroidering on the original.more
Rating: R
Genre: Action & Adventure, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Directed By:
Written By: Rospo Pallenberg, John Boorman
In Theaters:
On DVD: Sep 21, 1999
Warner Bros. Pictures


Nigel Terry
as King Arthur
Cherie Lunghi
as Guenevere
Nicholas Clay
as Lancelot
Patrick Stewart
as Leondegrance
Helen Mirren
as Morgana
Paul Geoffrey
as Perceval
Robert Addie
as Mordred
Clive Swift
as Sir Hector
Charley Boorman
as Boy Mordred
Mannix Flynn
as Mordred's Lieutenant
Barbara Bryne
as Young Morgana
Brid Brennan
as Lady in Waiting
Barbara Byrne
as Young Morgana
Kay McLaren
as Aged Morgana
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for Excalibur

Critic Reviews for Excalibur

All Critics (38) | Top Critics (6)

Give Boorman credit for the loopy grandeur of his imagery and imaginings, for the sweet smell of excess, for his heroic gamble that a movie can dare to trip over its pretensions -- and still fly.

Full Review… | November 6, 2013
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

There is humor here (in the form of a vaudeville Merlin, played by Nicol Williamson) as well as a diminution of scale that seems intended to help audiences through the thornier byways of Boorman's vision.

Full Review… | November 6, 2013
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Exquisite, a near-perfect blend of action, romance, fantasy and philosophy, finely acted and beautifully filmed by director John Boorman and cinematographer Alex Thomson.

Full Review… | October 8, 2008
Top Critic

For all its audacity, a misguided folly.

Full Review… | January 26, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

What a wondrous vision Excalibur is! And what a mess.

Full Review… | October 23, 2004
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

Mr. Boorman takes these myths very seriously, but he has used them with a pretentiousness that obscures his vision.

Full Review… | August 30, 2004
New York Times
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Excalibur

Simply the best Arthurian legend movie ever made. John Boorman was at his best directing this film.

John Manard

Super Reviewer


Set in the wilds of Ireland and with a pretty full cast of Irish actors which set in motion the careers of both Liam Neeson and Gabriel Byrne whilst also utilizing some classic/cult British names for spice.

Like Robin Hood there are many stories of the legendary King Arthur and his Knights of the round table but this film is probably the most accurate in terms of an adaptation from original writings. This film is based around the tales from 'Le Morte d'Arthur' and seems to follow each 'segment' quite closely (haven't read it so I'm not sure).

The overall essence of this film is like a fairytale of sorts, a kind of slightly cheesy shiny armoured fantasy with glittery sets, soft colours, strong religious/iconic imagery and a 'Clannad' vibe running through it. The film reminded me of the classic British TV series 'Robin of Sherwood' which also starred the dastardly Robert Addie and the classic British fantasy film 'Krull', I think the latter took inspiration from the look of 'Excalibur'.

The design and look of this film is really very good, its clearly rather dated but it still has a high polish to it and looks quite epic. The locations are really well used and do give an impression of old medieval England and the costumes all make the sale. Of course this being the 80's the armour does look a bit fake, plastic and too shiny in places, there is a kind of music video feel to the proceedings in places, some sets look a bit too sparkly, some characters have some dubious haircuts and to be utterly honest the acting/dialog is pretty hilarious in places but you can't deny the effort and scope of this historical fantasy.

This being in the days before CGI and when historical epics were all the rage the battle sequences here are small with some blood and minimal gore. You can easily tell they didn't have allot of people to make grand battles so clever editing is used with lots of darkness and fog, luckily Old England was a foggy place...or so I've been led to believe. The other slightly amusing thing was the soundtrack, there was original work here but the use of classical pieces slapped on top of key moments didn't really work. The combination of certain scenes and certain pieces of music felt very rickety and really did seem crowbarred in badly, you can see what the director was going for but it comes off more like something out of 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail'.

The plot is straight forward and it doesn't get dull despite the heavy romance of the tales, the film is rich and vivid in design and imagery giving the whole production much flare and class which works brilliantly because you know these were the days when everything was hand crafted. The film is a cult classic with a powerful poster that demands your attention, oh and Nicol Williamson as Merlin is also another good reason to view with his unique quirky take on the character spouting some glorious moments, 'oh that's grand'.

Phil Hubbs

Super Reviewer

Still the movie that sticks closest to the King Arthur myth in its original form, this film is like a strike with a two-hand blade. Beautifully filmed in real set pieces and landscapes the film never feels cheap or fake, despite of its early 1980s origin. Same goes for the costumes, weapon and armor. Things are dirty, bloody and feel accordingly real. Of course, the story does contain Merlin's magic and ultimately the search for the holy grail, so the film does not pretend to be an actual medieval history lesson. But even with a couple of clumsy scenes and dialogs, the film delivers on every level: The battles are cool, there is eye candy, romance, fantasy and gore. When the knights ride through the cherry tree fields to the music of the Carmina Burana you know there is hell to pay. A mesmerizing and fascinating piece of film making of Wagnerian proportions that stood the test of time.

Jens S.

Super Reviewer

Excalibur Quotes

Merlin: Look into the eyes of the Dragon and despair! I destroy you, I consign you to oblivion!
– Submitted by Brian f (22 months ago)
Merlin: Behold Excalibur! The sword of power! Forged when birds and beasts and flower were One with Man, and death was but a dream!
– Submitted by Brian f (2 years ago)
King Arthur: What is the greatest quality of knighthood? No poetry, just a simple answer.
Merlin: Alright then. Truth! That's it, truth. When a man lies he murders some part of world. You should know that.
– Submitted by Brian f (2 years ago)
Merlin: You betrayed the duke. You stole his wife. You took hist castle; now no one trusts you. It's not for you, Uther-- hearth and home, wife and child.
Uther: To kill, and be king? Is that all?
Merlin: Perhaps not even that. Give me the child.
– Submitted by Brian f (2 years ago)

Discussion Forum

Discuss Excalibur on our Movie forum!