The Ninjabot

Ranking the Best Sword and Sandals Heroes

Posted on August 27, 2014 at 9:28 am by David "Snackbar" Edmundson


One of the most enduring sub-genres of film in the 21st century thus far has been that of the “sword-and-sandals” hero. Basically, these are epic historical retellings featuring larger-than-life heroes who generally wield swords and trek along in sandals. The truth is, these are characters who the public never quite seems to tire of because let’s face it: We’re all looking for good sword-slashing, gods-defying, immortality-seeking fun on the big screen.

The most recent example is Dwayne Johnson’s portrayal of the ancient Greek legend Hercules, a role The Rock himself says he was born to play. So in the spirit of this latest sword-and-sandals epic, here’s our look back at the 21st century’s five greatest heroes of this kind, and where you can find them today.

5. Theseus (aka Henry Cavill) In Immortals

A lot of films have tried to imitate 300 since its success in 2006. In terms of pure style, Immortals may have done the best job of it. Silvery skies, comic-esque characters and battles, excess violence and supremely skilled warriors abound. Theseus (Henry Cavill) is the best of them, destined to save Greece. It’s good enough for a spot in the top-five, but ultimately Cavill is somewhat forgettable—much like his role as Superman in Zack Snyder’s distinctly average Man Of Steel.

No word on an Immortals sequel, and there isn’t even a mainstream video game to keep the action alive for you. However, for fans of Cavill’s performance, there’s always the upcoming Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice, in which Variety claims he’ll be donning a new suit, and, we’d add, hopefully a bit more of a pulse.

4. Conan (aka Jason Momoa) In Conan The Barbarian

OK, so the 2011 Conan The Barbarian failed rather miserably with both fans and critics. But watch it again with no expectations and you’ll find an incredibly entertaining set of rampages from an over-muscled brute with a sword and a thirst for revenge. Even better: now we get to watch this film knowing that Jason Momoa would go on to become Game Of Thrones’ Khal Drogo!

Unfortunately, theres’ no mention of a sequel, but Momoa will be expanding his increasingly awesome body of work with multiple appearances as Aquaman for DC. Additionally, there’s actually a rather entertaining Conan slot arcade available online to keep the spirt of the character alive. “The legend of Conan continues,” reads the game’s information supplied at InterCasino. While this is surely a little dramatic for a simple slot game, it’s still a fun way to enjoy the character. Additionally, you’re treated to accompanying art and images on a site that often hosts games designed around popular characters and fiction sagas.

3. Hercules (aka Dwayne Johnson) In Hercules

All you need to know about this film to enjoy at least parts of it is The Rock’s diet plan during filming. We all know The Rock is Herculean-level enormous on an average day. However, for this movie he got truly huge (and, you know, casually sported a costume beard that was literally made of yak hair). The film itself is rather intriguing at the start with Johnson portraying Hercules as more of a team player than an arrogant, self-sustaining legend. It ultimately falls off a cliff of sorts, though, because of poor direction and aimless storytelling, as well as one of the worst twists in recent memory.

Nevertheless, Hercules himself is a memorable and truly awesome character. Also, his best move of the film—standing in front of a charging monstrosity of an enemy and literally punching him in the face to send him flying backward—shall live on in sword-and-sandals (and fists) infamy.

2. Leonidas (aka Gerard Butler) In 300

King Leonidas may be the most significant hero on this list, simply because A) 300 sort of redefined epic history on the big screen, and B) the film spawned Gerard Butler’s entire career. He’s unstoppable in the field of battle, honourable to a fault, and just the right blend between ridiculous and genuinely heroic.

Unfortunately, his legacy is slightly damaged, though by no fault of his own. It’s simply because the closest thing we have to a new or current way to enjoy what 300 gave us is to watch its miserable sequel—just look at the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Oh, and there’s also a horrible PSP game that can take you back to Leonidas’s glory days in disappointing fashion. Oh, well.

1. Achilles (aka Brad Pitt) In Troy)

If we’re putting together this ranked list based on who would win in a sword-and-sandals fight, it’s hard not to side with Achilles. Brad Pitt brought an incredible elegance and strength to history’s greatest warrior. While Troy took its share of criticism (lots of it for historical inaccuracy, which is simply absurd given that it’s retelling a myth, not a history textbook), it’s really a pretty enjoyable movie.

As for the best way to keep enjoying the character today? Try actually reading The Iliad. True story: it’s more about Achilles than the actual Trojan War! Also, it just so happens to be one of the greatest pieces of literature of all time. Hopefully you knew that already.

Just Missing The Cut…

    • Maximus (aka Russell Crowe) in Gladiator – Probably the best of the bunch, but almost too serious for the ridiculousness of the genre… he’s in his own category.
    • Alexander (aka Colin Farrell) in Alexander – Just plain terrible.
    • Everyone In Lord Of The Rings – There’s just a sort of gap between straight-up fantasy and sword-and-sandals epics.
    • Milo (aka Kit Harrington) in Pompeii – Harrington is a budding star, but this film was miserable and his skill with a sword couldn’t save it.

What’s on your list?

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