Fighting over land might now have fallen out of style (though not really), but Medieval movies see that phase in human history as yet another opportunity for dramatization and romanticism. After all, one of the most war-torn eras in European history ought to be ripe for stories.
So there’s really no shortage of Medieval movies. But knowing which among them is Game of Thrones lite or is the prime inspiration for Game of Thrones is why we’re here. Some medieval movies are more compelling, more accurate, or more thematic than others. And if you’re down for some Netflix knight nights, check out the following medieval movies we recommend.
We’re going to have to steer clear from Arthurian tales and medieval movies with overt fantasy elements because strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. We’ll stick mostly to period pieces for now.
The King (2019)
First up is an acting marvel from both Timothee Chalamet, a French actor who plays an English king, and Robert Pattinson, an English actor who plays a French noble. The two could have just swapped roles to ease their tongues.
In any case, Timothee Chalamet steps into the shoes of the legendary Henry V during the most challenging phase of his rule, which was apparently in the beginning. Having just inherited the kingdom from his estranged father, Henry V finds himself and his newly acquired empire beset on all sides by disrespectful French nobles and from within by doubtful allies.
Henry V’s efforts and rocky start eventually became the highlight of the Hundred Years’ War.
Henry V (1989)
Can’t get enough of Henry V? Understandable. He was one of the few great warrior kings of Europe. Here’s another retelling of Henry V’s tale courtesy of thespian Kenneth Branagh.
This one is different since it’s based on Shakespeare’s play about the same king.
Henry V chronicles one of the fiercest battles of the Hundred Years’ War, the battle of Agincourt. Here, Henry and his army face disheartening odds in French territory while trying to invade the country, as was England’s legacy before Henry’s father died.
Braveheart is simply among the highest-rated medieval movies of all time, and it was directed and acted by Mel Gibson. This film is a raw and inspiring peasant rebellion movie featuring lots of angry and naked Scots outmaneuvering and outsmarting larger and more well-equipped English armies in a war for independence.
The film is a visceral and romantic delight to the senses– something that rivaled 1960s Spartacus in portraying uprisings. It’s about William Wallace’s heroic rise from peasant to war hero as he leads his ragtag Scottish army against the full might and oppression of England after an English garrison commander murdered his wife.
Braveheart is also painfully inaccurate compared to its source material and way too embellished, so don’t treat it as some kind of knowledge base for how Scotland gained its independence. At best, it’s a rough idea of Scotland’s struggle for independence and how it picked its national hero.
Outlaw King (2018)
For something more historically accurate compared to Braveheart, Outlaw King does a better job of respecting the time period.
Outlaw King is not about William Wallace but rather Robert the Bruce (who was also an important character in Braveheart). You can treat the Outlaw King as Braveheart’s chronological sequel as Robert the Bruce somehow continues what William Wallace started, which is Scotland’s War of Independence.
It’s subjectively less appealing or stirring than Braveheart and is undeniably grimmer, but nevertheless, it’s a great pick for a medieval movie.
The Northman (2022)
Vikings were also a big part of the medieval period as much as knights. While Hollywood is still intent on portraying them as unwashed nude bastards who charge headfirst into battle rather than armored and efficient warriors, you can’t deny that the former portrayal is more exciting to witness.
The Northman relishes this kind of portrayal to a certain extent.
The movie is a revenge epic about an unspecified Viking prince named Amleth, whose father was murdered by his uncle just as he was about to inherit his kingdom.
This vengeance-fuelled Viking raiding romp is a brutal affair with crass action and lots of bashing, crushing, and mangling, all shot in artistically fluid cinematography.
The Name Of The Rose (1986)
Not all medieval movies have to be about killing a fat lord who took your land and your sheep or waging war over a bad birthday gift.
Sometimes, they can also be a whodunit murder mystery within the confines of an extremely paranoid religious establishment. Such was the case for The Name of the Rose.
This historical mystery film has Sean Connery starring as Friar William of Baskerville, who was called upon by authorities to solve a monastery murder mystery in a medieval abbey or church. Sure enough, several more monks wind up dead during the investigation, and it’s up to William to find the truth while trying not to get killed.
It’s a refreshing change of scenery from all the epic warmongering of other medieval movies.
A Knight’s Tale (2001)
A Knight’s Tale offers a more personal story where a peasant squire managed to climb up in an inspiring and heartfelt rags-to-riches story. Heath Ledger plays this squire as William Thatcher as he jumps from one jousting tournament to another to gain fame, nobility, and the heart of a fair maiden of his dreams.
Along the way are insecure obstacles that don’t want William to break free of the status quo. It’s a more casual take on medieval movies, and A Knight’s Tale is a lot more lighthearted compared to the typical slaughterhouse of medieval period dramas.
That’s what makes it unique. And besides, it solidified Heath Ledger’s role and acting ability as a leading man.
The Last Duel (2021)
As expected, there had to be a Ridley Scott movie here, and it’s not the polarizing Robin Hood. Instead, here’s a more solid war epic, The Last Duel.
The Last Duel is a star-studded Ridley Scott period piece about knights, chivalry, and justice. Two French knights find themselves at a deadly trial by combat after one knight assaults the other’s wife, also putting her life in danger. This is the film’s premise, and more political twists happen along the way.
If you ever wanted to see Matt Damon and Adam Driver as knights who want to kill each other over their honor, eventually sparking off bigger conflicts. It’s a lovely return to form for Ridley Scott with his big-budget historical films.
Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
Not many directors would attempt something as big as this, but leave it to Ridley Scott to create a historical war drama about the Crusades.
Kingdom of Heaven is a fictional retelling of the Third Crusade, which focuses mainly on the life of a blacksmith-turned-crusader-turned-baron in his quest for redemption. This leads him to Jerusalem as he becomes the city’s reluctant defender against Saladin’s Islamic Saracen army.
It’s a controversial film regardless of the stance it took, but Kingdom of Heaven is undoubtedly anti-Christian, often portraying most Templars and Crusaders as fanatical power-hungry despots (minus King Baldwin).
That was a bold direction to take but nevertheless made Kingdom of Heaven a breathtaking war movie. It’s a shame that one of the film’s weakest parts was its protagonist; Orlando Bloom didn’t seem ready for such a huge lead role.
The Seventh Seal (1957)
Speaking of the Crusades, The Seventh Seal is one of the deepest commentaries about the aftermath of such a daunting campaign. The movie follows the story of a crusader knight who returned home to Europe only to find his country and home in turmoil, ravaged by plagues and poverty.
And it’s not just any plague; it’s the Black Death or Bubonic Plague– something that wiped out a third of Europe’s population. During this overwhelming ordeal, the knight challenges Death to a chess game, waging his life as a reward for victory.
The symbolism isn’t exactly subtle here, but the execution and the dialog, as well as the spiritual and philosophical implications of the movie, make it an instant classic.