Six Great “Fencing” Movies

It’s trivia about me time! As some of you probably do not know, in a not-so-distant past life, I was a fencer. Yeah, like with swords and stuff. I fenced for 17 years (started in high school, on through “adulthood”) and was nationally rated for most of that time. I’ve got some shiny medals, and there might be a few people out there who are still afraid of me. Anyway. As a fencer, I am always interested in sword-fighting in movies, and in having a conversation the other day with my brother, who is himself a fencer and works for awesome fencing supply company Fencing.Net*, we hit upon a great idea for a list: great fencing movies! Now, when I say “great fencing movies,” I’m narrowing it down to a very specific field. Here, even though I know I won’t avoid lots of comments telling me what I left out, are the caveats to this list.

1. We’re talking modern movies, from the past twenty-five years or so. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’ve never seen an Errol Flynn movie. Yes, I’ll fix that post-haste.
2. A more accurate name for this list would be Great “Dueling” Movies. We’re focusing on movies involving sword-fighting that is most like that which spawned “real fencing” (not counting sabre, sorry), and not anything kung-fu or broadsword related.
3. Additionally, while there are some movies that involve “real” fencing (tournament fencing, like what I did), I have an issue with them; that being that while they may start out on a strip, they almost always end up with chandelier-swinging. I have never, ever, swung from a chandelier with an epee in hand. Ever.

And so, in order of release, six great “fencing” movies. Enjoy!

The Princess Bride (1987)
Let’s just start with this one and get it out of the way, shall we? The Princess Bride is, at this point, a classic. It’s got great fencing scenes, and they get bonus points for discussing technique while they’re fencing. As far as I know, Patinkin and Elwes weren’t doing most of their own work, but it’s still a joy to watch. And really, if you haven’t seen this movie, I question whether or not you ought to be reading a blog about movies.

The Three Musketeers (1993)
Yes, the Disney one. I loooove this movie. It’s not the most accurate (but probably not the worst offender, either), and it’s just so darn fun. Everyone looks like they’re having such a good time, and they also look like they’re pretty decent fencers. I read an article some years ago about the training that all of the leads did for this movie, and apparently they all worked quite hard to do their own fighting. While I feel it necessary to showcase the “first fight” scene in which all four good guys can be seen in action, I feel the need to at least mention the final duel between D’Artagnan (Chris O’Donnell) and Rochefort (Michael Wincott), if only because Wincott is an excellent stage fencer. It’s my understanding that he does actually know how to fence, and I think it definitely comes through in his performance here. Across the board, a fun and excellent “fencing” movie. Highly recommended.

Rob Roy (1995)
To be honest with you, I haven’t seen Rob Roy. But, I have always known that it had good fight scenes. To be completely accurate, Rob Roy (Liam Neeson) does fight with a broadsword, but because of the final duel between his character and that of Tim Roth, we’re going to go with it. Although this scene comes at the end, I don’t think it’s really all that spoilery. Tim Roth is almost always a bad guy, after all. The fighting in this scene is really fascinating: Neeson is obviously uncomfortable with the dueling style, but has moments where he shifts to his own techniques, and you can see the change happening. And Roth, if he’s doing his own fencing, is really awesome.

The Mask of Zorro (1998)
I am not an Antonio Banderas fan, but I’m forced to admit that he is fabulous as the legendary Zorro. I was really surprised and impressed by the fighting in the movie when it came out. In one of the scenes where Don Diego (Anthony Hopkins) is training Alejandro (Banderas), he’s shouting out lots of numbers, right? Those are actual positions in fencing. And to the best of my memory, what Alejandro is doing in response are, in fact, the correct positions! That made me happy. The most fun scene, though, is this one between Alejandro and Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Combining fencing and sex appeal? That’s an awesome fight scene.

The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
While the Pirates movies have, at this point, jumped the shark, the first one surprised everyone by actually being a good film. It made a bona fide star out of Johnny Depp, and had a rollicking good time (and made a ton of money) doing it. When my brother and I were considering movies for this list, we tossed out the idea of Pirates, and I couldn’t remember any good fight scenes. Thank goodness for Youtube, since I had completely forgotten the excellent meeting between Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp). Many have posited that this fight scene pays homage to the Princess Bride. I can see it, but I think it also stands on its own merit in terms of action, excitement, and humor.

Stardust (2007)
If you’ve been paying attention (not likely), you’ll know that I usually do lists of fives. It just seems like a good number. This one was no exception until yesterday afternoon when I was stopped dead in my tracks by the realization that I was leaving out one of my favorite movies of the past few years. Stardust, based upon the excellent novel by Neil Gaiman, was hailed as the new Princess Bride (it really set the bar for modern-day fantasy movies) upon its release, and I think it’s a worthy successor. It’s got everything, including some excellent fight scenes. The best one, though, comes late in the movie, when evil witch Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) uses already-dead Septimus (Mark Strong, a BOM favorite) to fight our hero, Tristan (Charlie Cox). Zombie fencing! It’s a brief but impressive scene, especially when you consider that supposedly, Mark Strong did this work himself. I’ve compared him to Michael Wincott before, and it’s an apt comparison, right down to his abilities with a sword.

So there you have it. An action-packed list of some excellent fencing/dueling. I pretty much want to go home right now and re-watch some of these movies. How about you?

*Yes, this is a shameless plug. What of it?


16 responses to “Six Great “Fencing” Movies

  1. Awesome list! The only one I haven’t seen is Rob Roy (yes, shame on me!) but Neeson and Tim Roth, heck yeah. The Princess Bride one definitely tops the list, and Zorro is a guilty pleasure of mine 🙂

    I didn’t know you’re a fencer, VERY cool!

  2. It’s a shame that you haven’t delved into any Errol Flynn. Those movies showed up on TBS all the time back in the day!

    Check the EF version of Robin Hood – it has some good fighting scenes and is an overall fun movie. That should get your intro to Errol Flynn done.

    One other movie that has fairly accurate fencing is “Hook”. While the movie itself is sort of a dud, the scene between Hoffman and Williams has Hoffman actually executing some real fencing bladework (counter-6 parry).

    Based on the opening paragraph I understand why Highlander (there was only one Highlander movie, the others never existed) was left off, but it was staple viewing during fencing road trips.

  3. How about the fencing scene in Young Sherlock Holmes?

    • I should watch that one again sometime … it’s been too long. I tried to focus on ones that feature more than just one scene, but I do think I remember that one being good, too. 🙂

  4. In Zorro where he is calling out the numbers the positions Banderas gets into do not match. A point which I commented on while watching the movie and which made Tracie Bond swear she would never watch another fencing movie with me again.

    • Aw. I thought some of them did, anyway. Can’t say I blame Tracie … I think in general, watching movies with you is often fraught with … well, if not peril, with something, anyway.

  5. Rudy Volkmann

    There were some nice fencing scenes in “young Frankenstein”

  6. how about ‘the count of monte cristo’ [2002], would that qualify?

    and definitely not from the past 20 years, but have you seen ‘scaramouche’ [1952]? still pretty impressive, even today!

    [ ]

    • To the best of my memory, The Count of Monte Christo doesn’t have a ton of sword-fighting, so I don’t really count it. But to be honest, I mostly don’t count it because I think it’s one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. 🙂

  7. Actually most of the fencing in Princess Bride was done by the actors, even the left handed stuff. The gymnastic flip was a double, though.

    See the classic 1938 Adventures of Robin Hood, not just for Flynn, but for Basil Rathbone’s swordplay, too. He may be best known for playing Sherlock Holmes, but among actors he was one of the best swordmen.

  8. Errol Flynn has four great fencing movies, Robin Hood, The Sea Hawk, Captain Blood, and Don Juan. You should also see the 1974 version of The Three Musketeers and it’s sequel, The Four Musketeers. Tyrone Power’s Mark of Zorro is also excellent.

  9. Thanks – I enjoyed the list! 🙂 I just had to post a correction (sorry!): Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin were indeed doing all of the fencing in this scene themselves – they’d trained under Bob Anderson for months to prepare for it and I believe it holds the record for the longest fence scene in a movie …and it is still the best, to my mind, even if the comments about historical fencing don’t make sense!!! 🙂 Jaimie

  10. By the Sword should be on this list. Maybe toward the top.

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