By many accounts, the legend of King Arthur and the historical facts about King Arthur vary from country to country. Though there are countless stories written from the 6th Century to today, written in every European language imaginable, the most definitive stories on the “King of the Britain’s” is Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory and The Once and Future King by T. H. White.
King Arthur has found his way into modern “pop culture” from movies, television, comic books and anime. He has been portrayed by Sean Connery, parodied by Monty Python, entertained as a Broadway musical and animated by Walt Disney. He even has his own brand of flour!
There are more than 50 movies and television series dedicated to his story. He has been portrayed in Japanese anime, DC Comics and even on Nickelodeon. Here are, what I consider, the best representations of King Arthur in all forms of media.
Camelot 3000, DC Comics (1982-1985) Written by Mike W. Barr and penciled by Brian Bolland, Camelot 3000 tells the story of King Arthur’s reawakening to save England in the year 3000. With the help of Merlin and reincarnated Knights of the Round Table, he faces off against an alien threat and Morgan le Fay. This is a great series, combining fantasy and sci-fi through a well-written story that includes elements of the grail legend mixed in with the traditional Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot love triangle.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) I know this is a comedy and not a true representation of the Arthurian legend, but you have it admit, it’s freaking hilarious. You can’t go anywhere and talk about Brave Sir Robin, the Knights of Ni or the “Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch” without someone breaking out in laughter. This is, without a doubt, the epitome of King Arthur pop culture wrapped up into one movie; and if you disagree with me, “your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!”
Merlin, BBC Television (2008-2012) This BBC television series focused on a young Merlin (Colin Morgan) and his relationship with Arthur Pendragon (Bradley James). It took some creative licence with the characters and the story of Camelot, but it was masterfully done. The fact that magic was outlawed, Merlin had to protect the future King Arthur because he would restore magic to the kingdom. The series only lasted five seasons but it has a loyal following that keeps it alive in syndication today.
The Sword and the Stone, Walt Disney (1963) One of my favorite Disney movies that tells the story of young Arthur as Merlin teaches him things about the world through a series of misadventures from shape shifting into a fish, a squirrel and a bird. The wizards duel between Merlin and Madame Mim, who in my opinion is far worse a villain than Morgana le Fay, is the best part of the movie. The cartoon image of the Arthur pulling the sword from the stone is something everyone can recognize.
Quest for Camelot (1998) I realize that I’ve put two animated movies in a row, but this one counts more as a musical to me. I never really got into “Camelot” so this counts as a musical for me. It tells the story of an adventurous girl, a young blind hermit and a goofy two-headed dragon who race to find the lost sword, Excalibur, and to save King Arthur and Camelot from disaster. Great music including “The Prayer” sung by Celine Dion and a duet between comedy icons Don Rickles and Eric Idle as the two-headed dragon. With Pierce Brosnan (as in 007 James Bond) voicing King Arthur, this is a wonderfully entertaining movie.
I have to give honorable mentions to Excalibur (1981) which has, what I think, is the first on-screen sex scene with a knight in full armor; King Arthur (2004) with Clive Owen and Kiera Knightly, who shows meaning behind the term “less is more” in costuming; and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1949) starring Bing Crosby because you can’t outdo the original (i.e. Black Knight starring Martin Lawrence).
I would love to hear some of your favorites I may have missed here. Feel free to include them in the comments below.