Conan the Barbarian (1982)
By Charles Cassady Jr.,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Raunchier and bloodier than you remember.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Conan is more "heroic" than just about every character on view in that he isn't wantonly cruel. Still, he's revenge-driven and merciless in battle. His companions and friends are thieves and outcast wizards. The barbaric time-period is multicultural, with most colors, races, and genders in the fighting (though women tend to be gorgeous, thin, and half-naked, as a rule).
Violence & Scariness
Bloody sword impalings, a crucifixion, a dog attack, body parts in a cannibalistic stew, and bloody beheadings, including one of the child Conan's mother. Conan punches out a camel, not a great moment for animal rights onscreen, and dismembers a monster snake.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Sex and partial nudity. Topless and nearly naked slave girls and tavern wenches, entwined in palace orgies, sacrificed to cults and tossed to Conan to procreate (and he cooperates). Conan has softcore sex with his lover Valeria, and there are strong overtures of homosexuality in a character of a cult priest.
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Products & Purchases
A line of Conan comic books and paperback novelizations, before and after this feature, hacked their savage trail through the marketplace.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Conan and his lover get notably drunk.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that -- even though Conan is a star in his own long-running series of Marvel Comics books -- there's R-level sex and bloodshed in the form of sword impalings, torture, dog attacks, bloody axings, and gladiatorial beat-downs (even of animals). There's female nudity, too, as a young, enslaved Conan is "bred" with unwilling females like cattle and enjoys a very physical relationship with his love interest, a beautiful thief. Not that most viewers will notice amidst the hard-R content, but the movie also contains some anti-religious themes.
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Where to Watch
Based on 5 parent reviews
All time classic with cult status
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Sword and sorcery doesn’t get more dark and gritty.
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What's the Story?
CONAN THE BARBARIAN adapts for the screen the virile adventure stories of American pulp writer Robert E. Howard, set in a mythical prehistoric age before the sinking of Atlantis. Conan is son of a village sword-maker in a northern tribe. His village/family are massacred for no good reason by bandit-mystic Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones). Sold into slavery, Conan bulks up thanks to years of hard labor (and is now played by Mr. Universe bodybuilder-actor Arnold Schwarzenegger). He proves a champion in the gladiatorial ring. Unexpectedly freed by his master, Conan goes on a vengeful quest to find Thulsa Doom, whom he finds is recruiting masses of suicide-crazed religious pilgrims via his powerful snake cult.
Is It Any Good?
With a script co-written by Oliver Stone, this sword-and-sorcery hit aspires to be more serious in intent than a lot of films with longstanding comic-book tie-ins, but it's pretty ponderous. Compared to Robert E. Howard's agile prose, this plot dutifully stomps its way from point A to point B without too many surprises or detours. The villainous Thulsa Doom (whose messianic-suicide cult may be some sort of knock against organized religion) doesn't do very much at all, even with lackluster magical powers, and the sword-battle scenes are shot in flat, no-frills fashion.
While Schwarzenegger strikes artful poses and has the required physicality, he really isn't given much of a character to play. Conan just reacts rather than acts. No wonder movie critics of the savage era of 1982 (who failed to appreciate the future California governor in the documentary Pumping Iron or some of his non-action roles) initially wrote off the star as a talentless slab of imported Austrian meat. In later roles -- and in the 1984 sequel Conan the Destroyer -- Arnold flexed his humor and charisma muscles just as much as his biceps and pecs.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the character of Conan, and what makes him ostensibly a good guy in this violent, brutish landscape. Also, why do you think that this incarnation of Conan is clearly made for adults and not for the ages who enjoyed the comic book series? Do you think this would be a compelling story without the hard-R content? Were you aware of some of the anti-religious themes (specifically a quote from Nietzsche), and why do you think they were included in a movie like this one?
- In theaters: May 11, 1982
- On DVD or streaming: May 30, 2000
- Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow, Sandahl Bergman
- Director: John Milius
- Inclusion Information: Black actors, Indigenous actors
- Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
- Genre: Fantasy
- Run time: 115 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- Last updated: April 30, 2023
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