The History of King Arthur on Film

Movies about The Once and Future King

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Warner Bros. Pictures

Tales of the gallant King Arthur have long been a popular subject for the movies. The legendary British monarch has appeared in films of nearly every genre, from drama to comedy to musical to science fiction. These films have depicted Arthur and other characters from the Arthurian saga, including Queen Guinevere, the wizard Merlin, and the brave Knights of the Round Table.

With the 2017 releases of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and Transformers: The Last Knight to theaters, the Once and Future King of Britain remains alive and well on cinema screens worldwide. In addition, here are eight other films featuring the legendary king that show off the variety of ways the legends of King Arthur have been told on movie screens throughout the decades.

01
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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1949)

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
Paramount Pictures

Mark Twain's classic 1889 novel about an American engineer who is transported to Camelot has been adapted into several films, but the most successful (and best known) is the 1949 musical version starring Bing Crosby as the Yankee and Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Arthur.

Decades later, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court remains one of Crosby's most beloved films.
 

 

02
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The Sword in the Stone (1963)

The Sword in the Stone
Walt Disney Pictures

One of the most enduring adaptation of the Arthurian legends came from Walt Disney, the animated classic The Sword in the Stone, the final Disney animated film to be released during Disney's lifetime). The film was adapted from T. H. White's novel, but took many liberties with the material to reflect the Disney style. The Sword in the Stone tells of Arthur's childhood and tutelage under the wise, but eccentric, Merlin. The movie also featured six new songs written by the Sherman brothers. Though The Sword in the Stone isn't held in the same regard as other Walt Disney films of the 1960s like One Hundred and One Dalmatians, Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book, it was a box office hit and remains a popular introduction to the world of King Arthur.

03
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Camelot (1967)

Camelot
Warner Bros. Pictures

Another adaptation of T. H. White's King Arthur novels was the musical Camelot, which premiered on Broadway in 1960. It was extremely popular, particularly after the cast performed on The Ed Sullivan Show. A few years later, John F. Kennedy's widow Jackie Kennedy cited it as one of the U.S. President's favorite soundtracks.

In 1967, a film version was released starring Richard Harris as King Arthur, Vanessa Redgrave as Guenevere, and Franco Nero as Lancelot. The movie version did not receive the same level of acclaim as the stage musical, and many viewers felt the original Broadway cast -- which included Richard Burton, Julie Andrews, Robert Goulet, and Roddy McDowall -- was far superior to the movie's cast.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail
EMI Films

Because of its popularity, the Arthurian legends have frequently been a target for comedy even before the Three Stooges parodied Arthur in the short Squareheads of the Round Table (1948). But no one did it better than England's most famous comedy troupe, Monty Python.

This comedy classic features Arthur and his knights searching for the Holy Grail in a series of outrageous misadventures. It includes jokes as simple as the sound of coconut shells being hit together to represent horses, and as ridiculous as a killer rabbit. Decades later, it is Monty Python's most-quoted and best-loved film. More »

Excalibur
Orion Pictures

Generally considered the best film ever made about King Arthur, John Boorman's Excalibur is a celebrated depiction of the Arthurian legends.Though Excalibur stars Nigel Terry as Arthur and Nicol Williamson as Merlin, it is perhaps best remembered for also starring Helen Mirren as Morgana Le Fay, Patrick Stewart as King Leondegrance, and Liam Neeson as Sir Gawain. The stellar cast performs what is often a very dark -- and sometimes very bloody -- version of Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. More »

06
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First Knight (1995)

First Knight
Columbia Pictures

Sean Connery had already appeared once in an Arthurian film, Sword of the Valiant (1984), before taking the role of King Arthur himself in First Knight. Connery plays an older Arthur who tries to maintain control of his kingdom by marrying the much younger Guinevere (Julia Ormond), though her heart belongs to the handsome Sir Lancelot (Richard Gere). The film was directed by Jerry Zucker, who is better know for his comedy films like The Naked Gun.

Though First Knight received negative reviews from critics, it was a box office hit.

07
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Quest for Camelot (1998)

Quest for Camelot
Warner Bros. Pictures

Disney wasn't the only studio to make an animated film about King Arthur. Quest for Camelot, which was produced by Warner Bros., is about a young woman who wants to be a Knight of the Round Table. Arthur -- voiced by Pierce Brosnan -- is more of a supporting character in this movie, though the action takes place in Camelot. Other voice actors for the film include Cary Elwes, Gary Oldman, Eric Idle, Don Rickles, and Jane Seymour.

Unfortunately, after a difficult production period and release delays Quest for Camelot received very poor reviews and was a box office bomb. Curiously, it is much better known for its soundtrack, which features songs by LeAnn Rimes, Celine Dion, Andrea Bocelli, The Coors, and Journey's Steve Perry.

08
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King Arthur (2004)

King Arthur
Touchstone Pictures

With so many Arthurian films exploring the fantastical elements of the legends, 2004's King Arthur purported to be a more "factual" telling of the story starring Clive Owen as Arthur and Keira Knightley as Guinevere. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Antoine Fuqua intended King Arthur to be a bloody, violent depiction of Dark Ages warfare that drew from Celtic folklore, but Disney (the parent company of Touchstone Pictures) required them to release a PG-13 film.

King Arthur didn't quite fulfill its promise of being a "realistic" depiction of the Arthurian legends -- most viewers will recognize that many aspects of the film make it impossible to be a realistic depiction of fifth century A.D.—and the film was not as successful as Disney had hoped. King Arthur also received negative coverage when Knightley revealed that she was unhappy that her chest was digitally enlarged on the poster