Marvel at the Brutal Brilliance of John Milius’ iconic Conan the Barbarian!

Greetings ghouls! So, what if I asked you what best represents 80’s fantasy? Wait, why would you say that? Optimus Prime and Teela? How would that even work? Anyway, what I meant was what film best represent the fantasy genre in the 80s? There are so many choices it can be near impossible to pick! But for me, one film has always been at the top of the heap, John Milius’ iconic Conan the Barbarian!


As I’ve mentioned numerous times on this very site, I am a huge fan of the works of the authors appearing in Weird Tales magazine of the 1930s. One of the most prolific of these authors was Texan Robert E. Howard who wrote of the adventures of a myriad of characters including his most beloved creation Conan the Barbarian, a cunning barbarian with a healthy disdain for sorcery and civilization.

Conan’s popularity endured for decades, eventually becoming a top selling comic book series from Marvel comics in the 1970s. With the character firmly entrenched in the public consciousness, Hollywood took note and began work on a feature film. With a script by Oliver Stone, direction by John Milius and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger in the title role, Dino De Laurentis’ Conan film was a unique cinematic experience as existential as it was violent.

The film combines Nietzscheian philosophy, commentary on religion, fascism and feminism, and insane levels of violence all while adapting elements of Howard’s original stories. The end result is a brutal yet exhilarating feature that is unforgettable.

I won’t go too deep into the plot, as you should watch the film for yourself, but the basics are as follows: Conan’s parents are murdered by enigmatic villain Thulsa Doom (played with outlandish style by James Earl Jones), and the young barbarian is sold into slavery. Growing strong by turning the Wheel of Pain, a giant device utilized as a mill, Conan is eventually sold to a new master to become a pit fighter, which he excels at. Soon Conan is freed and begins his journey of revenge against Thulsa Doom with the assistance of his companions: the archer Subotai, female warrior Valeria, and a wizard (who gains the name Akiro in the films sequel Conan the Destroyer). What transpires is 129 minutes of savagery, snakes, witches, vulture biting and Max Von Sydow.

The film can easily be obtained right here.

Special thanks to the awesome Sean Hartter for providing both colors and the logo for my illustration for this article!

Until next time, Stay Spooky!

Daniel XIII

Daniel XIII: equally at home at a seance as he is behind the keyboard. Raised on a steady diet of Son of Satan comics, Kaiju flicks and Count Chocula comes the proprietor of The House of Thirteen Doors. What arcane knowledge lurks behind the preternatural eyes of the Ouija Board Kid?

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8 thoughts on “Marvel at the Brutal Brilliance of John Milius’ iconic Conan the Barbarian!

  1. Glad someone else can see the brilliance and the underlying themes of this film. Most people laugh at me when I say there is a message to Conan The Barbarian. If you ever listen to Milius’ commentary, you see how deep that message is.

  2. @The Retroist Indeed! But even those harsh “life goals” become modified over the course of the film…Conan does indeed smite his enemies, but the price he pays (the death of Valeria) weighs heavy on him. It’s those quiet moments of introspection (on the steps of the Tower of Power or in the throne room in the closing sequence) that give the film it’s power. That and the gallons of blood…and the giant snake.

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