Excalibur Movie Poster Image

Excalibur

Epic King Arthur saga with illicit affairs and brutality.
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Release Year: 1981
  • Running Time: 143 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Staying true to source material, the narrative endorses and dramatizes medieval notions of the divine right of a king to rule as a monarch literally chosen by God. Still, there's an original-sin suggestion that Arthur's birth (a result of his father's treacherous lust and Merlin's sorcery) has sewn the seeds of his destruction. Plenty of illicit behavior that's all part of the mythology.

Positive role models

Sharp, simplified lines between good (Arthur, Percival) and evil (Morgana, Mordred), with the shades of gray being the adulterous lovers Lancelot and Guinevere, whose taboo affair seems to happen out of sheer destiny and inevitability. Fighting/yielding is the usual solution to arguments. 

Violence

Frequent jousting and sword-battling, some of which results in blood spilling, throat slashing, impalements, decapitations, near-drownings, and hacked-off limbs, though everything has a less-than-realistic look thanks to the vintage effects. Rotting corpses, one of which is shown getting an eyeball pecked out. A villain beats and strangles his own mother.

Sex

Intercourse between knights, queens and kings -- one guy is fully armored, the woman is completely nude. Sir Lancelot shown naked from the rear. Lancelot and Guinevere have nude adultrous sex. While not depicted explicitly, Morgana bewitches her own half-brother, King Arthur, and deliberately gets pregnant by him.

Language
Not applicable
Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Social drinking, cups around the Round Table. Communion-style drinking in a wedding ceremony and from the Holy Grail.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Excalibur is no bedtime-fairy tale. Sex, gore, and death are fairly explicit in this version of the Arthur story, with bare breasts and buttocks especially in the Lancelot-Guinevere affair. Violence in combat includes impalings, sword- and axe-thrusts, throat slashings, beheadings, and a near-drowning, though the edge is taken off by the old-fashioned special effects. A matricide by strangulation. Nightmare imagery of rotting corpses dead in their armor. Christianity -- at least a Dark Ages brand of it -- is treated respectfully.

What's the story?

In the Dark-Age British Isles, ageless wizard Merlin (Nicol Williamson) gives warlord Uther Pendragon (Gabriel Byrne) the invincible sword EXCALIBUR, forged at the dawn of time, a weapon-symbol to unite the squabbling fiefdoms. Pendragon makes peace with his main rival, only to grow obsessed with the man's wife, and he resumes fighting -- over her. The wizard casts a spell that grants Pendragon's lusts, on the condition Merlin take custody of the child that results. He is Arthur (Nigel Terry), raised ignorant of his royalty, a humble squire in a noble knight's family. Arthur accidentally proves his right to the throne by pulling Excalibur from the stone in which a dying Pendragon embedded it. Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table build a kingdom and of peace and prosperity, until his treacherous half-sister Morgana (Helen Mirren) and a forbidden love affair between Queen Guinevere (Cherie Lunghi) and champion knight Lancelot (Nicolas Clay) bring evil and unrest upon the land.

Is it any good?

QUALITY

Don't expect this to be a modern "thrill ride" action epic crowd pleaser, but what such a saga would look like if some bard from 1100 A.D. or so hopped into a time machine to go to film school. The story of Arthur, Guinevere, Merlin and Lancelot has been done so often, in print and on film (even as a Broadway musical and a devastating spoof) that Excalibur filmmaker John Boorman must have decided not to waste time/dialogue evoking the iconic characters as real people. Only Merlin, a capering, trickster-like creature (providing the lone comic relief) has a personality; the rest of the cast (such distinctive actors as Liam Neeson, Patrick Stewart, and Gabriel Byrne, anonymously encased in armor) are as flat as figures in a tapestry, perhaps intentionally so. Emphasis is instead on the Celtic natural-world backdrop -- the mythic, emerald-green Irish shooting locations -- and a medieval mindset of brutal violence, might making right, and paganism (just barely) surrendering to Christianity.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the centuries-old appeal of the story of King Arthur. How does Excalibur compare to other versions?

  • How does the violence in this movie compare to more modern movies? Is it less intense because it's less sophisticated?

  • How does the period clothing and setting affect the way the sex is depicted, if at all? Does it seem less realistic than if it were depicted in a modern setting? Or more shocking? Romantic?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:April 10, 1981
DVD/Streaming release date:September 21, 1999
Cast:Gabriel Byrne, Helen Mirren, Liam Neeson, Nigel Terry, Patrick Stewart
Director:John Boorman
Studio:Warner Home Video
Genre:Fantasy
Run time:143 minutes
MPAA rating:R

This review of Excalibur was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Great handpicked alternatives

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Parent of a 8 and 11 year old Written byMattmchugh March 26, 2012

Excellent Arthurian version, but full of violence and sex

The Arthurian legend is packed with violence and peppered with sex, and this film skimps on neither. Still, there is really only one scene that is completely inappropriate for older pre-teens: a sex scene, very early on, that's pretty much rape. Makes perfect sense in the story, but it is definitely too intense for under-13. If you can fast forward past that, there's just some discreetly obscured nudity and implied coupling. However, there is still lots of bloodly, limb-hacking combat. Again, it fits the story and subject matter perfectly -- and it's light-years from the gratuitous sadism of moden horror movies -- but it's unflinchingly realistic, so be warned. This is, by far, the best version of the Arthurian legend ever put on film, but it is meant for adults. Mature mid-teens, maybe, but I'd go no younger.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Kid, 11 years old April 27, 2011

dont watch

dont watch very much nudity and has a bad message
What other families should know
Too much sex
Teen, 15 years old Written byDevin ghost March 18, 2017

Not for kids

Not for anyone under 18 because there is a lot of sex and gore and deaths in this movie