Vintage fantasy epic is great, despite a too-graphic death.
  • Review Date: January 10, 2005
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Release Year: 1981
  • Running Time: 108 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

A princess sacrifices herself in the name of nobility and fairness; however, in a subversion of movie cliches, she is not then saved gloriously by the hero but instead perishes in a horrible and graphic way. The movie also sexualizes the "virgin sacrifice" theme, with attractive young women in floaty white garments serving as sacrifices to the dragon.

Positive role models

Most of the characters, including main characters Galen and Valerian, are fighting the evil dragon to prevent it from harming humans. Against such a terrible threat, most of the characters look noble in contrast. The character of the king, however, is slippery and double-dealing and meets a terrible comeuppance by the movie's end.


The dragon is quite realistic and scary and may horrify younger or sensitive viewers. For a fantasy movie about a dragon, the violence is lower than modern levels, but at one point a human is incinerated by the dragon's breath and we see him shrieking in the flames. At another point, a noble princess we expect to be saved is instead killed by baby dragons, who gnaw on her legs and tear off her foot as we see the white bone sticking out. Beloved characters die suddenly onscreen, one from being stabbed in a tense and scary scene.


There are brief instances of nudity, such as when Galen dives into the water and we see him nude from the rear; he then discovers Valerian is a female by glimpsing her naked body from the side as we see a flash of side-breast and buttocks. The girls sacrificed to the dragons are virgins; the movie doesn't explain what a virgin is, but children may ask.


No cursing and only the mildest epithets: "You fool!"

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

At a festive party, there are references to drinking ale and guests wave cups in the air and toast each other.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Dragonslayer is a 1981 fantasy film and is one of the best swords and sorcery movies out there. The movie really builds up the tension, and viewers see bursts of smoke and fire, falling rocks, a shaking ground and other indications that something big is lurking for the first half of the film. When we finally see the dragon, it's quite terrifying and realistic as it looms over our hero, blasts him with fire, and flies menacingly over him in the sky. There's one moment of horrifying violence: A princess who nobly offered herself up as a sacrifice isn't saved by the hero as the viewer expects but is instead dispatched by the dragon's young, who hideously gnaw on her legs, exposing bone. All that said, Dragonslayer is still fresh and believable, by turns charming and scary, and a wonderful whole-family viewing choice for parents and older kids who enjoy medieval settings, magic, and dragons.

What's the story?

DRAGONSLAYER follows the quest of sorcerer's apprentice, Galen (Peter MacNichol), who sets out to kill a dragon and stop a cycle in which virginal girls are sacrificed in order to keep the beast from destroying an entire kingdom. Galen makes a valiant attempt at killing the dragon, but when the beast returns, Princess Elspeth discovers that her father, the King, has kept his daughter's name off of the list of girls to be sacrificed. As another sacrifice day draws near, Elspeth puts her name on the list and Galen decides to battle the dragon again, unaware the creature is guarding a nest filled with eggs that are on the verge of hatching.

Is it any good?


This medieval fantasy-adventure is filled with moral dilemmas, giving kids a lot to think about. For example, the king negotiated a terrible deal with the dragon, but it was better for his people than the uncertainty they had before. This poses the question, when the community is at risk, how do you decide what to do? And, Galen doesn't know what he doesn't know. He thinks because he knows a few tricks, he has enough magic to defeat the dragon. He's wrong, of course, and the princess dies because of his mistake. But when the time comes, and he has to know the right moment to destroy the amulet, he is able to trust himself, and he gets it right. Dragonslayer also reveals a world in which religion eventually replaces magic.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how to decide whether to fight, compromise, or run. How have you seen those questions presented?

  • Do you think this movie seems dated, or does it stand the test of time? Is it a classic?

  • If the movie was remade, who would you cast in the various roles?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:June 26, 1981
DVD release date:October 21, 2003
Cast:Caitlin Clarke, Peter MacNicol, Ralph Richardson
Director:Matthew Robbins
Studio:Paramount Pictures
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Adventures
Run time:108 minutes
MPAA rating:PG

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Adult Written byDr3w November 9, 2011
age 18+

Disney Made This?

I think I should mention that the above-mentioned nudity is very brief. You see the guy's bare bottom VERY clearly as he jumps into the lake, and then a murky underwater shot of the woman where nothing is too clearly defined, yet her breasts and bottom are semi-visible. I actually turned the movie off at that point, but I thought I should mention that the nudity is not as explicit or prolonged as I would have expected from reading the reviews here. Still, not appropriate for our family, so I don't think I'll be recommending this film. Also, the intensity level of this film is fairly high with some gory scenes included. Despite the Disney label, this is not a movie for the family.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Adult Written byjace August 17, 2010
age 17+

beware, nudity and intense disturbing violence

nudity, in a PG movie!!!??
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Parent of a 8 and 11 year old Written byMattmchugh March 26, 2012
age 10+

Excellent monster movie, but some disturbing violence

There are several grisly deaths here. Impaling by spear. Burned alive by fire breath. And, most upsetting, a dead girl dismembered and eaten by baby dragons -- which are then stabbed and decapitated. This is not for little ones. Still, all that lends an air of realism and peril that makes the movie that much more effective overall. Made a decade before "Jurassic Park," this movie has -- without a doubt -- the best stop-motion animated dragon ever put on film. Budding film buffs should see it just for that. Finally, there's an interesting subtext of Christianity vs. magic -- where magic is suggested to be more effective -- that might make some viewers nervous. But there's no preaching either way and most kids (certainly not kids raised on Harry Potter!) won't notice anything except a good, somewhat gory, adventure.
What other families should know
Too much violence


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