Vector illustration of orange abstract cinema background with anaglyph glasses, clapperboard and a film reel

The 1980s were a golden age for fantasy. In the wake of Conan the Barbarian and Dragonslayer, Hollywood suddenly couldn’t get enough sword and sorcery. The boom was short-lived, however. By the end of the decade, only the B-movie studios were still making movies where bodybuilders in posing pouches and Playboy Playmates in leather lingerie pretended to be warriors from an age undreamed of.

Most of these movies are of dubious quality. For every classic like The NeverEnding Story or The Princess Bride, there are five films like Red Sonja or Outlaw of Gor. And yet, among the dross, there are some low-budget fantasy films that are not entirely without merit.


5. Barbarian Queen

barbarian queen movie poster

Many a fantasy film opens with a village being destroyed. Inevitably, the hero seeks out the blackguards responsible for killing their loved ones, enslaving their people, and kidnapping their betrothed. Barbarian Queen is one of the rare instances where the hero in question is a woman.

Despite being the kind of movie where all the female leads are forcibly stripped at some point, Barbarian Queen manages to be a feminist film. There is fan service, but none of the leads are made to seem weak. The tone is set early on by the warrior woman Tiniara, who kills her would-be rapist and takes his stuff. What truly makes this movie work, however, is the commanding performance of Lana Clarkson as Amethea, the titular Barbarian Queen. 

Clarkson stole the show as the amazon Kaira in the original Deathstalker and impressed producer Roger Corman enough to finance Barbarian Queen as a vehicle for her. Clarkson knew how to handle a sword and had the sheer charisma to sell lines like “I’ll be no man’s slave and no man’s whore, and if I can’t kill them all, by the gods they’ll know I’ve tried.”  Barbarian Queen is well worth watching for Clarkson’s performance and the twist on the classic formula.


4. She (1984)

She 1984 movie poster

Loosely based on the H. Ridder Haggard novel She, a History of Adventure, the only thing the 1984 movie She has in common with the book is an immortal warrior queen named She. The movie transposes this idea into a post-apocalyptic setting. Despite this, She is a fantasy film, with everyone fighting with swords, axes and magic instead of guns.

The plot finds She being abducted by two brothers, Tom and Dick, who need her to guide them to the land of the Norks to rescue their sister. (Apparently nobody else knows the way to the Nork fortress.) Despite this rough start, She eventually agrees to help the brothers of her own free will, with her right-hand woman Shanda along for the ride.

She offers no explanation for why she does this, but it may tie into a prophecy of a man who will steal her heart and bring about her destruction. This prophecy is quickly forgotten, however. The movie mostly follows She and her companions as they hack their way through several rival nations on the way to Nork country.

Written and directed by Israeli filmmaker Avi Nesher, She has to be seen to be believed, playing out like a drunkenly improvised Fallout fan film. It is visually interesting and well shot, and while the plot is nearly non-existent, it is never dull. Additionally, the movie benefits from the presence of Conan the Barbarian’s Valeria, Sandahl Bergman, in the title role.


3. Conquest (1983)

Conquest 1983 movie poster

Many fantasy stories feature an idealistic young hero with a magic weapon charged to fight evil and a wicked witch he is prophesized to slay. Conquest is one such story. What separates it from other fantasy movies is the fact that the hero of Conquest is truly awful at his job. 

The true hero of Conquest is an outlaw named Mace, who spends almost the entire movie saving the “hero” Illias from the consequences of his own naivety. This is one of the chief ways that Conquest defies the audience’s expectations. Another is by developing a truly awesome bromance between Illias and Mace, who grows to like the young hero despite liking animals more than people.

Directed by Italian horror master Lucio Fulci, Conquest is far bloodier than most fantasy films, yet oddly repressed by his standards. As a result, the practical effects are better than average, and the film is moodily shot. Throw in a soundtrack by prog rock legend Claudio Simonetti and you have one oddly engaging fever dream of a film.


2. Amazons (1986)

Amazons 1986 movie posterAmazons is a trope heavy film. The base plot involves an evil wizard, a magic sword, and a prophesized hero. The actual story, however, is far more detailed than that, thanks to a script by legendary African American fantasy writer Charles Saunders. Saunders’ plot features as much treachery and as many subplots as a full season of Game of Thrones

There’s a rivalry between the families of the two lead Amazons, Tashi and Dyala, which makes their being sent on a quest for a magic sword to slay the wizard Kalungo somewhat awkward. Unbeknownst to them, Kalungo is sleeping with Tashi’s mother, who encourages Tashi to kill Dyala once they have the sword. Nominally this is to avenge herself on her rival, but truly to let her acquire the one thing that can kill Kalungo in case he betrays her. But Kalungo is aware of this betrayal and sends an assassin to kill both daughters to get the sword for himself.

That is just one subplot.

Unfortunately, this complex story was handed to a production team that was more interested in fan service than fantasy. And yet, despite spending the entire movie in fur thong bikinis, Mindi Miller and Penelope Reed convincingly develop Dyala and Tashi from reluctant allies into sisters in arms. The original movie is worth seeing for their chemistry and Saunders’ story, but diehard fantasy fans would do well to track down the remastered BluRay of Amazons to enjoy all the cut scenes.


1. Deathstalker 2 (1987)

Deathstalker 2 movie poster featuring a buff dude and lady wielding an axe and a sword respectively

Deathstalker 2 should have been a disaster. Director Jim Wynorski was reportedly given two weeks to shoot a sequel to the original ultra-violent fantasy flick at a studio that was sandwiched between a landfill and an airport. The airport noise made shooting outside during the day impossible and the studio lot had more garbage in it than the landfill. This led Wynorski and his cast and crew to abandon the script they were given so they might improvise a sword and sorcery satire.

The resulting film is to fantasy movies what Evil Dead 2 is to horror. It is a movie that Is completely different tonally than the film it follows. It is also, like Evil Dead 2, far better than its predecessor.  

The story centers around Evie, a deposed princess and second-rate fortune teller, who is in need of a hero. Unfortunately, the best she can manage is the lecherous prince of thieves Deathstalker, who is pretty much Flynn Rider without the scruples. Still, the promise of wealth and fame is enough to get him on the road to adventure, though assassins, amazons and Evie’s evil twin stand between them and the evil sorcerer Jarek.

Despite being played for laughs, Deathstalker 2 works because its jokes are honestly funny. John Terlesky has spectacular comic timing as Deathstalker, whom he plays as if he were Bugs Bunny transformed into a human and trapped in a Conan comic. There are many scenes where the actors are visibly trying not to laugh, but you don’t mind because their enjoyment of the material is infectious. The final effect is not unlike a drunken Dungeons and Dragons campaign run by a gamemaster with a good sense of humor.


GIF of a dancing bowl of noodles

Subscribe for post updates, polls to decide what gets posted next, and bookish giveaways!

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

By Matt Morrison

Matt Morrison has been writing about comics and cheesy movies for nearly two decades. His work can also be seen at, ScreenRant, SuperHeroHype and No Flying, No Tights. When he is not reading and writing, he enjoys role-playing, cosplay and photography.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.