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Excalibur (1981)

tomatometer

82

Average Rating: 7.2/10
Reviews Counted: 38
Fresh: 31 | Rotten: 7

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.

50

Average Rating: 5.4/10
Critic Reviews: 6
Fresh: 3 | Rotten: 3

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.

audience

81

liked it
Average Rating: 3.4/5
User Ratings: 49,331

My Rating

Movie Info

John Boorman directed this gloriously savage interpretation of Arthurian legend loosely based on Thomas Malory's novel Le Morte d'Arthur. By turns gleaming and filthy, tender and bloody, the film is a visually stunning epic which is never less than compelling. Nigel Terry is perfectly cast as Arthur, whose unwavering trust and faith are shown to be both quietly heroic and achingly naďve. Interestingly, the quest for the Grail is the least effective part of the film, despite bold cinematography

Sep 21, 1999

Warner Bros. Pictures

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All Critics (38) | Top Critics (6) | Fresh (31) | Rotten (7) | DVD (24)

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.

November 6, 2013 Full Review Source: TIME Magazine
TIME Magazine
Top Critic IconTop 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.

November 6, 2013 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop 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.

October 8, 2008 Full Review Source: Variety
Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

For all its audacity, a misguided folly.

January 26, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

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

October 23, 2004 Full Review Source: Chicago Sun-Times | Comments (10)
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

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

August 30, 2004 Full Review Source: New York Times | Comment (1)
New York Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The result is almost always the handsomest of films to behold. Storywise it has its moments, too, although it never quite achieves the difficult blend of grandeur and madness for which it strives.

November 6, 2013 Full Review Source: Sky Movies
Sky Movies

Excessive but occasionally inspired, Excalibur gives us grimy lumbering knights, gloomy castles, slithering dragons, mesmerizing magic, and (of course) the struggle between good and evil.

November 6, 2013 Full Review Source: TV Guide's Movie Guide
TV Guide's Movie Guide

Despite moments of high style and wit, [Excalibur] too often substitutes mayhem for magic.

November 6, 2013 Full Review Source: People Magazine
People Magazine

The search for the Holy Grail and the final battle are simply stunning sequences, and, while the dizzying pace leaves scant time for proper characterisation, Nicol Williamson, Nigel Terry and Helen Mirren make their mark.

November 6, 2013 Full Review Source: Radio Times
Radio Times

Perhaps the best-ever filmed version of the Arthurian legend.

November 6, 2013 Full Review Source: Film4
Film4

Remains the definitive big screen telling of the Arthurian legend.

April 28, 2013 Full Review Source: Three Movie Buffs
Three Movie Buffs

a work of hideous myopathy

May 6, 2011 Full Review Source: Film Freak Central
Film Freak Central

Excalibur is both sober and laughable.

March 18, 2011 Full Review Source: Combustible Celluloid
Combustible Celluloid

John Boorman's magnificent and magical Excalibur is, to my mind, the greatest and the richest of screen incarnation of the oft-told tale.

March 10, 2011 Full Review Source: Parallax View
Parallax View

Epic King Arthur saga with illicit affairs and brutality.

January 18, 2011 Full Review Source: Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media

Few directors have the visual imagination of John Boorman.

June 23, 2008 Full Review Source: Eye for Film
Eye for Film

One of my favorite films of its year, and far and away my favorite of this type of film. (And, yes, I include Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films in that assessment.)

February 27, 2008 Full Review Source: Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

...romantic and brutal, lyrically beautiful yet grittily realistic.

November 21, 2006 Full Review Source: Movie Metropolis
Movie Metropolis

It's like an excruciating Renaissance festival in a drug fog.

July 22, 2005
7M Pictures

Visually striking.

October 21, 2004
Movie Mom at Yahoo! Movies

Audience Reviews for Excalibur

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'.
February 17, 2014
phubbs1

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.
July 16, 2012
ironclad1609

Super Reviewer

Beautifully filmed in the wilds of Ireland, Excalibur tells the Arthurian legend in a way that is gritty, real, and at times heart breaking.

There have been hundreds if not thousands of films dealing with Arthur, but for me, this one has always held a strong place in my memory. Upon this viewing, a good 20 years since my previous one, I note that time once again (as I noticed with Chinatown) cannot stand up to my memory. My memory certainly recalled all the high points - and believe me, there are many, but had glossed over some of the achingly bad dialog and overdubbing. I had also forgotten the written prologue and the overuse of fade to black editing (you either love it or hate it - on this viewing it often felt like I was watching this on TV and each fadeout was a really good spot for a commercial interruption).

Still, for all that, the film certainly has its moments, and those moments shine. The cinematography and art direction are flawless (and nominated for an Oscar if memory serves) - the wonderful Wagner soundtrack fitting the moods of the film to a tee. The performances are often quirky, but I feel that in many cases it is due to the dialogue itself than to a lack of talent by the actors. Nigel Terry's Arthur grows from young, naďve, doofus boy to living embodiment of the soul of a nation. Nicol Williamson as Merlin does a wonderful job of spitting out the dialogue, and changing his vocal tones so you aptly feel this otherworldly quality about him - which is apropos. His interplay with Morgana (holy cow - that's Helen Mirren!!) is wonderful in a cat and mouse, odd duck flirty way.

Along the way you can also pick up some of the armored knights - Patrick Stewart and... isn't that Lliam Neeson as Gawain? This is all fun, and at times the story teeters on the absurd, but John Boorman always manages to then do something truly special - splitting the camera time between Lancelot and Guenevere's naked tryst in a green glade and the aforementioned quasi romance (a romance over power perhaps) between Morgana and Merlin, taking place in a stalagmite filled cavern (which Merlin calls the heart of the dragon).

It is scenes like this and the final battle scenes with a blood red sun casting its pall over the fog enshrouded countryside; all choreographed with that epic Wagnerian music that makes this film, for my money, the best Arthurian film - especially for taking a chance with a different theme - that Arthur and the land are one - which made the scene with the revitalized Arthur riding into battle through a field of flowering trees, the buds swirling around him like snow, all the more poignant and special.

If you can get past the creaky dialogue and appreciate the stunning visuals that still stand up today, you'll enjoy this film. As Merlin says at one point "a dream to some, a nightmare to others".
May 28, 2012
maxthesax
paul sandberg

Super Reviewer

    1. 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 (6 months ago)
    1. King Arthur: What is the greatest quality of knighthood? No poetry, just a simple answer.
    2. 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 (6 months ago)
    1. 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.
    2. Uther: To kill, and be king? Is that all?
    3. Merlin: Perhaps not even that. Give me the child.
    – Submitted by Brian f (6 months ago)
    1. Leondegrance: I saw what I saw. The boy drew the sword! If a boy has been chosen, then a boy shall be king!
    – Submitted by Brian f (6 months ago)
    1. King Arthur: Excalibur, I call on your power.
    – Submitted by russell b (13 months ago)
    1. Perceval: The king and the land are one.
    – Submitted by David P (14 months ago)
View all quotes (9)

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January 27, 2014:
Guy Ritchie Rumored for King Arthur Project
The movie, in development at Warner Bros., could serve as the opening installment in a six-film...
January 25, 2012:
Nicol Williamson: 1938-2011
The "Excalibur" actor's family has announced his December 16 death of esophageal cancer.
April 13, 2011:
Excalibur Turns 30
Happy 30th birthday to John Boorman's "Excalibur"!
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