Robert Eggers’ The Northman is a tense, thrilling, and brutal historical epic that showcases the director’s best impulses. The film is part of a larger renaissance of interest in the historical Scandinavian people commonly known today as Vikings. From television shows like the aptly named Vikings to movies like The Northman and even video games like Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and God of War, mainstream audiences can’t get enough of the Vikings.
The Northman offers a vicious and unforgiving take on the Vikings. Indeed, the common perception is that they were ruthless and barbaric raiders and pirates, beliefs showcased in most of their on-screen portrayals. And while not every Viking-centric film or TV show is as raw as The Northman, most take a similar approach to their larger-than-life Norsemen, who have become an almost mythical part of pop culture.
True to his bold and unrestrained sensibilities, Robert Eggers’ The Northman is a gory yet breathtaking revenge epic, a visual feast for those who live for carnage. Starring Alexander Skarsgård in the titular role, the film, loosely inspired by the legend of Amleth, follows a young warrior on a revenge quest to save his mother from the hands of his brutal uncle, who killed his father years before.
Co-starring Nicole Kidman, Ethan Hawke, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Willem Dafoe, The Northman is a brutal yet satisfying epic that will keep audiences entranced by the carnage on screen. Much of the praise goes to Skarsgård‘s beastly performance, but Kidman and Dafoe play pivotal supporting roles. Fans of Eggers’ austere oeuvre won’t leave the cinema disappointed.
A sequel to the unexpectedly successful Vikings, Vikings: Valhalla chronicles the end of the Viking Age, starting with the crucial Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066. The series follows prominent historical figures such as Leif Erikson, his sister, Freydís Eiríksdóttir, and Harald Hardrada, the King of Norway.
Valhalla takes place 100 years after the original Vikings series and presents the events that led to the decline of the Viking Age, including the increasing tension with the English. The series also showcases the conflicts within the Vikings themselves, as Christianity becomes stronger while paganism fades away. Vikings Valhalla is one of the best shows on Netflix right now, and its success led the streamer to renew it for seasons 2 and 3
No one expected a show from the History Channel, of all places, to become such a crossover hit. However, Vikings defied expectations with a clever mix of action, adventure, and historical drama. Inspired by the saga of legendary Viking hero Ragnar Lodbrok, the series debuted in 2013 and went on for six seasons, concluding its successful run in 2020.
Vikings sets most of its action at the height of the Viking Age, portraying Ragnar’s famous raids on England that eventually secured him the Scandinavian throne. Spoiler alert: Future seasons focus on his sons after Ragnar dies in season four. Vikings received mainly positive reviews throughout its run, although some criticized its many historical inaccuracies.
Before Drive and The Neon Demon, Nicolas Winding Refn made Valhalla Rising with Danish superstar Mads Mikkelsen. Set at the end of the Viking Age, the film follows a Norse warrior and a boy who join a band of Christian Crusaders hoping they can find the Holy Land; instead, they find themselves in a strange and uncharted land where they get haunted by dark visions.
Like Skarsgård in The Northman, Mikkelsen dominates Valhalla Rising with his sheer physicality and elevates it with raw magnetism, delivering a suitably unhinged performance that’s on-brand with his now-iconic oeuvre. The film takes glee in its violence, delivering uncompromising and often shocking sequences without sacrificing its thematic power.
Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf might be one of the most forgotten works in the director’s filmography, but it’s an impressive achievement nonetheless. An admittedly loose adaptation of the Old English poem of the same name, Beowulf follows the lead character as he battles and kills the beast Grendel, provoking the ire of his seductive mother.
Made at the height of the motion-capture craze, Beowulf received praise for its groundbreaking visuals and pure cinematic spectacle. However, scholars heavily criticized its adaptation of the poem and the many liberties it took. Still, Beowulf successfully capitalizes on Zemeckis’ talent as a storyteller while avoiding the disturbing uncanny valley approach that made The Polar Express such an awkward watch.
Based on Michael Crichton’s 1976 novel Eaters of the Dead, itself a loose adaptation of the Beowulf poem and Ahmad ibn Fadlan’s accounts of the Volga Vikings, The 13th Warrior stars Antonio Banderas and Omar Sharif. It centers on an exiled Muslim ambassador who joins a band of Vikings as they battle a strange evil thought to come from legends.
Unlike some of Crichton’s best adaptations, The 13th Warrior lacks an intriguing plot. Instead, it sacrifices narrative cohesiveness in favor of lavish production values and spectacle. Banderas, then at the height of his stardom, failed to deliver at the box office, and The 13th Warrior grossed only $61 million internationally, making it one of the most notorious box office bombs of all time. Yet the film’s epic scale and intense battle sequences are worth a watch, provided you can ignore the questionable dialogue.
One of the most obscure Vikings films out there, The Vikings Sagas borrows heavily from the Njáls saga, although it tells mainly an original story. Set at the height of the Viking Age, it centers on Kjartan, a young man who, with the help of an older Viking warrior, must defend his girlfriend and lands from a horde of bloodthirsty raiders.
Faithful to the classic hero’s tales of Viking legend, The Vikings Sagas doesn’t ask much of its audience. Still, it’s a worthy addition to the ever-growing canon of Viking movies, one that deserves far more attention than it currently receives.
The sword-and-sandal epics of Golden Age Hollywood are legendary, and The Vikings is a proud part of that rich legacy. Starring Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis and based on the 1951 novel The Viking, the film tells the story of two feuding men, Prince Einar and the slave, Eric, who are brothers, unbeknownst to each other. Their rivalry intensifies when Einar kidnaps a girl he intends to claim, although she’s already in love with Eric.
Douglas and Curtis, experienced thespians in the genre, give it their all, delivering a suitably intense take on the brothers’ rivalry. Lacking the brutality that would characterize future Viking sagas, the film instead showcases the rivalry at the center of its plot. The Vikings was a massive success, even spanning a television series, Tales of the Vikings. While the acting and special effects haven’t aged well, The Vikings is still cheesy fun that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
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