Quite some time ago I was asked to put together one of these little collections for epics. Maybe I’ll tackle that later but in this post, I’ll tell you what my favorite movie swashbucklers are.
First, let’s define our terms. For me the “swashbuckler” genre consists of movies with the following characteristics:
- Costume drama
- Features swordplay
- Set between about the Middle Ages to roughly 1850 in Europe or the Americas.
Additionally, swashbucklers frequently have a strong humorous component although that isn’t required.
Consequently, Seven Samurai isn’t a swashbuckler because of its setting. The Magnificent Seven isn’t a swashbuckler because it doesn’t include swordplay. Mutiny on the Bounty is an adventure (maybe even an epic) but not a swashbuckler.
Here are my favorites. Following my custom I only include one picture each with the same leading actor.
The Black Pirate (1926)
No list of swashbucklers would be complete without a Douglas Fairbanks movie.
The Count of Monte Cristo (1934)
IMO this is the best movie version of the Dumas novel although the Jim Caviezel/Guy Pearce version is probably truer to the source material. What can I say? Robert Donat is probably my favorite actor.
The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)
Leslie Howard and the incomparable Merle Oberon make for very appealing leads in this best version of the novel.
The Prisoner of Zenda (1937)
As a kid I fell in love with Madeleine Carroll as Princess Flavia in this movie. What a cast! Ronald Coleman, Madeleine Carroll, Raymond Massey, Mary Astor, C. Aubrey Smith (the greatest profile in show business), David Niven but Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. stole the show as the roguish Rupert of Hentzau.
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
Picking just a single Errol Flynn movie is a severe handicap. IMO this is his best all-’round movie but in honesty you could populate a list of best swashbucklers containing only the movies of Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn.
The Black Swan (1942)
It was hard deciding on which of Tyrone Powers’s swashbucklers to include in this list. I picked this over the excellent The Mark of Zorro because I didn’t want to have a list consisting entirely of Zorro movies.
The Spanish Main (1945)
You might not think of him as an action hero but Paul Henreid, probably better known to you as Victor Laszlo in the classic Casablanca, made quite a few swashbucklers. This was probably his best.
The Three Musketeers (1948)
The Three Musketeers is probably the most-filmed story of its type and maybe of any source material. I know of at least eight different adaptations. Of all of them this version, featuring Gene Kelly, Lana Turner, Van Heflin, June Allyson, Angela Lansbury (!), Frank Morgan, Vincent Price, and Keenan Wynn, just to name the top-billed cast members, is the most fun.
The Crimson Pirate (1952)
I’m not sure whether to classify this movie as a spoof of pirate movies or just as a broad comedy. However you classify it, it stars Burt Lancaster and it’s tremendous fun. The scene with Burt Lancaster doing his acrobatics in the rigging of his ship is not to be missed.
Some of the greatest fencing in any movie.
The Princess Bride (1987)
Who says you can’t make a great swashbuckler any more in the age of irony? This movie, like the novel from which it was adapted, is one of the greats.
The Mask of Zorro (1998)
Among modern swashbucklers I think this is a standout. Antonio Banderas contributes a welcome goofy quality, Catherine Zeta Jones beauty and spirit, and Anthony Hopkins gravity.
And no, I don’t care for the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
That’s my list. What are your favorite movie swashbucklers?
Added The Princess Bride, Scaramouche, The Prisoner of Zenda and The Scarlet Pimpernel to my original list.