15 King Arthur movies, ranked by insufferableness

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Sep 19, 2017

There are a lot of movies based on the myth of King Arthur and his Round Table knights. Like, a lot a lot. Especially early on, in the first few decades of the film industry, studios couldn't get enough of the Once and Future King of England and his valiant court of knights.

But while the adventures of a group of knights in the most magical mythical land in medieval history might sound like the perfect setup for an awesome movie, most of the time, these films fall pretty flat. That is in part due to the fact that they just keep making them and you can only watch the same story unfold so many times before it becomes the most tired thing you've ever seen. It's also due to the fact that King Arthur is actually pretty boring, which makes the majority of movies about and surrounding him largely insufferable.

Then again, there are a few gems, and with two different Arthur adaptations out just this summer, we decided to take a look at 15 of the most popular movies based on those myths either directly or indirectly, ranking them based on how much they made us want to impale ourselves on Excalibur.

Avalon High

A Disney Channel Original Movie that somehow looks and feels like a bigger investment than made-for-TV, but is also inexplicably worse than most of the cable network's usual additions. King Arthur is reincarnated as a teenage American girl who has to fight Mordred and befriends a teenage nerd who turns out to be the reincarnated Merlin? It's a really great premise that's just flushed down the toilet with horrible dialogue and weird plotting.

Transformers: The Last Knight

No, this is not a joke. The entire last Transformers movie was based on the idea that King Arthur and his knights sort of joined forces with Transformers to defeat their enemies. Literally, Transformers are the origin of magic on Earth, and in order to save the planet, he has to work with Merlin's descendant to find his staff and then do something at Stonehenge, because of course. This is not a movie you watch to think about. This is a movie you watch because you really like Transformers and are not at all turned off by Mark Whalberg's inability to deliver a line in a different tone of voice. The only part of the movie you need to watch is the first five minutes, in which Stanley Tucci plays a version of Merlin who is drunk off his ass.

Prince Valiant

A weird little movie in which Bill Compton and Izzy Stevens flirt awkwardly, despite the fact that she's engaged and he's a Squire pretending to be the Knight Gawain. In reality, he is Valiant, a character based on the old comic strip. Valiant is on a quest to retrieve the sword Excalibur from the Viking horde who stole it, led, of course, by Morgan le Fay who's intentions are murky at best. If he doesn't get it back, there will probably be some random on the throne, since Arthur is basically nothing without his sword best friend.

First Knight

Arthur stories are always more interesting when Arthur isn't the main character and this one focuses on the romance between Guinevere and Lancelot behind the back of the older Arthur (played by Sean Connery). Then again, Richard Gere isn't nearly as charismatic as the movie thinks he is. Upside? This is one of the few adaptations where Guinevere (Julia Ormond) not only has agency but is kind of a badass and a leader in her own right. She's easily the most interesting character in the whole movie.

Quest for Camelot

If you don't remember this one then … well, then you probably weren't a kid in the late 90s when every production house was trying to duplicate Disney's success with their princess renaissance. In this case, it was Warner Bros. who decided to check back in on Camelot years after Arthur's initial rise to power, focusing on a teenage girl who wanted nothing more than to follow in her father's footsteps and become a knight of the Round Table. This movie is ridiculous but it's also really sweet and it has an amazing cast. Cary Elwes plays a blind hermit with a pet falcon, Don Rickles and John Cleese play a two headed dragon, Jaleel White is a chicken who has an axe on his face, Celine Dion is in it for some reason, and Gary Oldman plays the most villainy looking villain of all time, and he cannot sing. Yes, there's also music. It's actually pretty great, except when it isn't.

King Arthur, Legend of the Sword

King Arthur is a medieval gangster who runs a brothel and trains to fight at some kind of 6th-century dojo. He's pretty much terrified of Excalibur because it gives him fiery visions of his evil uncle killing his parents. Jude Law kills a lot of women due to man pain and the lone woman in the movie could have solved all their problems with her giant snake friends but doesn't because of reasons. It's actually kinda fun at times, but Charlie Hunnam isn't shirtless nearly enough.

Sword of the Valiant

A 1984 reboot of a 1973 film (is it a reboot when it's the same director just trying again?), this adaptation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is an interesting choice. As before, Arthur stories are way more interesting when you're pulling from the myths surrounding the King, rather than just rehashing the same story over and over and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a legend you don't see terribly often on the big screen (you know, except for that other one). Starring Miles O'Keefe with an excellent haircut, and co-starring everyone from Sean Connery to John Rhys-Davis to Peter Cushing, the film tells the story of Gawain's attempt to thwart the Green Knight and keep his head. Along the way, he meets a magical woman who proves a useful companion and fights a whole lot of people, as knights are wont to do.

King Arthur

2004's King Arthur took a more "historical" approach to the tale of the King and his Round Table knights, setting them in a war against the invading Saxon forces, and introducing Arthur as a Christian king ruling over a country still very much ruled by pagan beliefs. It's actually a pretty solid movie that really didn't need to be a King Arthur film at all, but was just banking on name recognition to get butts in seats. Biggest draw? Kiera Knightly's Guinevere kicking so much ass in a knit tube top.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

If you love Bing Crosby, you will enjoy this movie. Based on Mark Twain's novel of the same name, the movie follows Hank Martin, a blacksmith who ends up falling through time to the 6th century and who uses his skills and knowledge of the future to become the King's court magician and invent a pistol hundreds of years ahead of time because he's bored. It's also a musical, naturally, full of fun song and dance numbers you'd expect from a Crosby starrer. Nice way to spend an afternoon, if not a little dragging.

A Kid in King Arthur's Court

I know. I'm ranking this one ABOVE A Connecticut Yankee, which is probably a sin of some kind that will have me locked up in film hell for all eternity, but hear me out. The basic premise of A Kid in King Arthur's Court is the same as its predecessor - kid gets thrown back in time and ends up befriending Arthur and his knights - but with a few big differences. First of all, it's a kid's movie, so it's a lot of fun in a juvenile kind of way. Calvin invents roller blades and bicycles in order to impress the Princess, for example. But the biggest difference between this 90s children's movie and it's 1949 predecessor is the fact that the two princesses (including a young Kate Winslet) are total badasses.

The Fisher King

Probably the loosest adaptation on this list, 1991's The Fisher King is based on the legend of the Holy Grail. Set in modern times, it follows a shock jock named Jack (Jeff Bridges) who, after suffering a bit of a breakdown, befriends a homeless man named Parry (Robin Williams). Parry sees visions of knights and is convinced that the Holy Grail is stashed in an apartment on Fifth Avenue. It's a slightly surreal, almost beautiful story about fantasy and faith and healing wounds in others in order to heal yourself.

Excalibur

Want to learn the entire story of King Arthur in under two and a half hours? Then it's time to pop in this 1981 epic adventure that follows the sword of power from the hands of Uther Pendragon to the stone to Arthur's court. It's got the Round Table, Lancelot and Guinevere, the Grail Quest, and Arthur's death at the hands of his illegitimate son, Mordred. It's also got some of the more problematic aspects, like Uther's desire for, and manipulations of, another man's wife. If nothing else, watch this one for a young Helen Mirren playing the crap out of Morgana, Arthur's half-sister and a powerful sorceress, who brings a whole new meaning to boob armor.

The Sword in the Stone

There's a reason this 1963 animated film is a Disney classic. Unlike most of the Arthur adaptations, this one concentrates on the Once and Future King as a boy in the days before he pulls the sword from the stone. It follows the magician Merlin's attempts to educate young Arthur, which leads to all manner of classic scenes, like swimming in the castle moat as fish, an ill-fated squirrel love story, and Merlin's magical packing skills. The most memorable scene, though, has to be the magic battle with Madam Mim, in which Merlin proves that brains can be stronger than brawn.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

No, this is not number one. You can send your complaints to my editor. It was a tough choice, but someone has to come in second and this time, that honor goes to Monty Python's hilarious feature film in which Arthur assembles his knights, avoids Camelot (tis a silly place), battles bridge trolls and Black Knights, and is sent on a variety of misadventures in an attempt to locate the famed Holy Grail. Endlessly quotable and infinitely rewatchable, this is a must watch movie for any fan of Arthur and laughing.

Camelot

1967's Camelot - based on the Broadway musical from a decade earlier - is the essential Arthur adaptation. An epic, sweeping romance that tells the story of the rise and fall of Arthur and Camelot framed around the love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot. Yes, this story is done to death, and yes, blaming the fall of Camelot on an unfaithful woman (who then becomes a nun because of all the trouble the affair causes) is troublesome at best, but this movie is Hollywood spectacle at it's finest. Giant set pieces, wonderful musical numbers, and an entire scene in which Guinevere goads three different knights into trying to kill Lancelot because she doesn't trust him.